Sunday, August 9, 2020

Tansley FC 4-3 Dove Holes

I feel a million dollars, as we head back to Nottingham from the Peak District, after a smashing day out hoovering up cream teas, viewing a cricket match and watching a game of football, for the first time in six months. I decline Ms Moon's kind offer to drop me off in 'The Sneinton Triangle' for a few real ales in the sun-soaked rooftop garden (3G surface) of the King Billy - I dont do 3G. I've got a few craft ales chillin' at the back of shelf three in the fridge. I sit on the patio, in the garden; shifting a few beers until sunset.

Sunday is spent weeding and feeding the garden. I fire up the laptop at 3pm and publish my first football blog since March 7th - the hits and page views are far better than I'd anticipated (over 500). Roll on next Saturday, when Stapleford Town entertain Dunkirk FC, at Hickings Lane, a ground I've never blogged from. What could possibly go wrong?

It's gone wrong folks; big time. There'll be no blog from 'Stabbo.' Those spineless, gutless, faceless, fusty, suited and booted bureaucratic buffoons from The FA and DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) have pulled a fast one and put the brakes on. The general public (Londoners) can pack the beaches like sardines at Brighton, Bournemouth and in their second homes in upper-class Suffolk, but a 100 odd working-class folk can't watch their local village play a 90 minute game of football; breathing much-needed life and support into communities who have suffered more than enough.
I see decent, articulate folk, on social media, tweet Government agencies, for most of the week, begging for them to reconsider and reverse their decision to ban spectators from watching games, where as little as 50 folk will rock up, to watch family members play the beautiful game. They are wasting their time; it'll fall on deaf ears, just like it does when you appeal a Red card - common sense is not on their agenda or radar.

Stapleford Town would have been a great day out. I was going to meet a colleague from work, Alex, for a couple of beers in the Horse and Jockey. We'd have then hooked up with Nottinghamshire football legend 'Upo', who is celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary. 'Upo' would have sworn, cussed and had me in stitches throughout the game. A few post-match beers would have been shared (Upo's round) in 'Stabbo', where we'd chewed over the fat before the short journey home. But no, those Herberts at the FA and DCMS have robbed us of that.

'Stabbo's' ground is in a public park, so I would be well within my rights to watch the game. But you just know 'The Gestapo' ('FA Fun Police') will swarm the place and want to make an example of someone. I message STFC to say it's best I don't blog from there and that I'll catch up with them later in the season.
It's a club I hold in high esteem after a moment of class from them the season before last. Keyworth Utd Development side lost 15-0 (fifteen) in the first game of the 2018-2019 season. I took over as manager a few months later, and as luck would have it we drew them away in the quarter-final of the League Cup. We were 3-1 down with 20 minutes remaining. All the lads were caning me (particularly the unused subs) about tactics and team selection. I kept my cool and threw on a 16-year-old. We won 5-3 in a barnstorming finish. The Stapleford management and players took it on the chin and shook every one of my players' hands and were very complimentary about my 'Young Guns.' That has stuck with me to this day since.

Monday and Tuesday evening are spent cycling east and west down the banks of the River Trent. There's always a strong headwind on the rowing course at Holme Pierrepont Country Park (the artist formally known as the National Water Sports Centre). It's more tranquil on Tuesday evening as I park up at the Ferry Boat Inn in Stoke Bardolph. I cycle down the river and meet up with 'Bruiser' (ironic nickname - he's an athlete) outside Tom Browns Brasserie, on the banks of the Trent, in the village of Gunthorpe.
We cycle up to Lowdham, turning right across the railway crossing, and head out to Caythorpe, passing the Cricket Club where a nervous 17-year-old Sticky Palms opened up the bowling on his Keyworth Cricket Club debut in 1981. Hoveringham is the final port of call, sadly The Reindeer Inn, which backs onto another beauty of a cricket ground, isn't open on Mondays and Tuesdays. We stop for a well-earnt refreshment (blackcurrant and soda) at the impressive Old Volunteer in Caythorpe. Bruiser strikes it lucky with a £1.25 round of drinks, thanks to the government's. 'eat out to help out' deal  ... lol.

So, where to go on Saturday, after my midweek head wobble following The FA announcement? I trawl the Non-League Matters message board and club twitter accounts. A club in the Peak District village of Tansley has a 2pm kick-off versus Dove Holes FC, who we saw last week - they'll think we're stalking 'em  ... lol.
I manage to stay out of the pub on Friday evening. My usual sidekick, Tony Mcdonald, is in Turkey on his jollies. I sink a few beers in the garden, whilst listening to Tony Blackburn's Golden Hour on Radio 2. I was at a corporate do at the Gateway Hotel, on Cinderhill Island, in Nottingham, a few years ago. Having sunk a few scoops (rocket fuel Stella at the time) Tony Blackburn appeared on stage and started to play a 'set' (I use the word 'set' loosely- TB is no Pete Tong)). He shouted out to the audience "does anyone ever listen to my breakfast show on Gold FM?" A beer-fulled Sticky Palms shouted out "Nooo.... it's rubbish." Blackburn asked for the lights to be turned on and I was outed. Funnily enough, I was never asked back.

The journey up into the Peak District follows a similar path to last week. We drive through Linby, join the M1 at Junction 27, come off at 28 and steadily climb up into the hills. Ms Moon is not having Melanie Sykes and Alan Carr on Radio 2. I meet her halfway with Smooth Gold hosted by Jenni Falconer (pants) - so is the music. I ask Ms Moon to drop me off on the hard shoulder after hearing Ocean Drive by Lighthouse Family. I've got a treat lined up for Ms Moon as she's never been for a stroll up the canal at Cromford.
It's baking hot as we meander onto the canal, passing a rugby and cricket club. Ms Moon refuels with water as I venture a tad further towards Ambergate with the 'pen 'n ink' of the sewage works for company. There's just time for a 99 ice cream and chocolate flake before the 15-minute death ride up some of the tightest roads ever seen since the Lake District.
We stick the car outside a church as parking is limited near to the ground. We wander up the hill and chance upon a couple of spotty teenagers, who point us in the right direction. We hear the shrill of the referee's whistle as we leave our contact details as part of the Covid (over the top - we're outside) risk assessment.

The Fete Field has a narrow playing surface. We're restricted to standing to the nearest roped-off side of the pitch. The lack of quality is replaced with an exciting ebb 'n flow. The opening goal is comedy gold. The equaliser is a goal worthy of a Champions League stage. The full-back hits a howitzer of a shot from 35 yards out, which cannons off the inside of the post before nestling into the net on the opposite side of the goal. It's 3-3 at the break and has been thoroughly enjoyable.

I get gassing to a knowledgable groundhopper from Wolverhampton. He's a lovely chap. It always raises a smile when a 'Hopper' times each half with a stopwatch and when they write down the half time and full-time score in a notebook - I'm surprised his pen doesn't set his notebook on fire in today's seven-goal thriller.

The bronze coloured referee (sun-tanned) is the biggest poser dressed in black since Roger Milford at the 1991 Spurs v NFFC FA Cup final. He strokes his hair and stretches his muscles at any break in play. His 'banter' with the players falls on deaf ears. But fair play to the young 'un, he lets the football flow and bosses the game.

Man of the Match: Ms Moon (for her driving)
Attendance 41 (head count)

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Wirksworth Ivanhoe 5-0 Dove Holes FC

Rewind the clock back to March 20th:                                                                                                                    
It's 5pm and I'm emptying the beer fridge at the World's finest taproom, Neon Raptor, in the 'Creative Quarter' of Sneinton Market in inner-city Nottingham - it forms what I call 'The Sneinton Triangle' along with Castle Rock's Fox and Grapes and King Billy on Eyre Street.

I settle up with the proprietor and dash out of the pub with my large stash of cans boxed up. I swing through the front door of the Fox and Grapes as a BBC Breaking News alert flashes up on my phone. Bumbling buffoon Boris Johnson has announced that all pubs are to close from midnight until further notice (probs three months). I down a pint of Snow White pale ale before wishing the barman farewell.
I zig-zag up Carlton Road whilst balancing my two boxes crammed full of craft ale; peering over them to catch the eye of any oncoming pedestrians.  

Ms Moon is revving up the car in Lidl car park like a getaway driver whose accomplices have just robbed a bank or jewellers. We speed off up towards Carlton, heading home, where we will spend pretty much the next three months together, holed-up in our crib.

It's been the longest spring on record; I've worked from home throughout. I may have mentioned in previous dispatches before of my dislike at working away from the office - it's one of the reasons I threw in the towel from life on the road and working from home, to return to an office-based role as a Digital Sales Executive (very posh Sticky).

We've both tried to remain positive during dark times. I've walked and cycled for miles and miles. I've discovered parks, alleyways, nature reserves, lagoons and millionaires' rows that I had no idea existed. It was difficult to even contemplate thinking about football as over 40,000 people lost their lives to Covid-19. 

A chink of light and ray of hope appeared as the lockdown was eased. How did I cope with the closure of pubs? Pretty easy really. I readjusted like most folk did. I joined more beer clubs than Trumpy Bolton. I found a passion, an expensive one mind yer, for craft ales. Left Field Beer, Polly's in Mold, North Wales, Verdant in Cornwall and Deya Brewery, based in Cheltenham, have had some serious shilling(s) off me, and have kept many a DHL courier from going on furlough. Add to that beer shops called Hopology in Bread 'n Lard Island, The Bottle Top on Ruddington High Street and Brew Cavern in Flying Horse Arcade, Nottingham - it's pretty safe to say I've done my utmost to keep the craft ale industry afloat.

It's Monday morning at the crack of dawn. I'm lying in bed in a delightful fisherman's one-bedroom cottage called 'The Ingle' that is sat in 'The Rock' overlooking Barmouth seafront in north west Wales. Wind and rain has battered the cottage throughout the night. It's the end of our four-day stay; we were both desperate for a break and like most folk have cancelled a trip abroad.

Wales was a blast. We visited Bala (a beer shop was involved), Porthmadog, the beautiful seaside town of Criccieth on the Llyn peninsula and completed a 10-mile return walk up the estuary to the coastal village of Fairbourne. You were only allowed to frequent the beer gardens in Wales as drinking inside is still not permitted. Blog legend, Mr Trumpy Bolton, tipped us off on a couple of beauties in the villages of Penmaenpool and the historic town of Dolgellau. 

In 1966 a pleasure boat called the 'Prince of Wales', carrying 42 passengers, hit a toll bridge in Permaenpool. 15 people, including four children, lost their lives in the water. What should have been a straight forward eight-mile trip up the estuary from Barmouth to the George III Hotel ended in tragedy. All 42 people aboard ended up in the water and only the brave actions of hotel staff prevented a heavier loss of life.

Thursday is a glorious day with the sun dripping like honey. I finish work at 4.30pm and drive along the A60 Loughborough Rd before turning into County Hall. I whip out my old faithful boneshaker from the boot, fresh from the repair shop. I cycle in a westwardly direction down the Trent, past the delightful riverside apartments that sit above the water. I jump on a track that runs along the back of the Michelin two-star restaurant Sat Bains and Dunkirk FC. I pass Unity Casuals Cricket Club and pick up the route again at Grove Farm Sports Complex. 

I love riding down here past 'Owen's Place', through Beeston Marina and onto Attenborough Nature Reserve. I'm proper fagged out folks when I arrive home and slump into my garden chair. I'm soon refreshed with a Rhubarbra Streisand craft ale from the Brew York stable.

It's Friday evening and I'm back in the garden again, this time with a watering can in hand despite the threatening rain clouds. Ms Moon has her bestie Jill around for a few drinks and her son Jamie. I take it steady with a can of High Roller from Play Brew in Smoggy Land, Middlesbrough.

I jump in a cab at 7.30 and head south of the river for a few looseners with some pals at a mate's house in West Bridgford. The lads have been hacking it round Radcliffe On-Trent Golf Club in the sweltering heat all afternoon. We head back north over the river. A table has been booked for food at Brewhouse and Kitchen on Trent Bridge. 

The maitre d' announces there's a 45-minute wait for drinks; it takes nearly as long for the menus to arrive. Staff want no interaction and poor old Bobby has to order all the food on an app. How can pubs possibly survive with this attitude? The night is saved by our waiter George, who is quick on his feet and speedy with his service. 

The evening ends with the usual omnishambles that is expected of The Avenue in West Bridgford. We've already walked past a perfectly good watering hole called  Waterside Bar and Kitchen, adjacent to the Tricky Trees City Ground. I'd previously done a reccy of the joint a few Sundays ago and was mightily impressed with the sun terrace renovation - the lads are having none of it, preferring the poncy gin and cocktails bar of Fur Coats and No Knickers territory. CV19 restrictions curtail the evening for Sticky Palms.

We're up and at 'em for 10.30 am on Saturday. I'm bursting at the seams to watch a game of footy, and there's the chance of a double bill of seeing cricket too. I've lined-up some posh sandwiches (poncy) and a cream tea for 'The Princess' at the Trip Advisor 5 star rated Coffee Bunker in the Derbyshire Dales village of Wirksworth.

The trip is a breeze. We shoot up the A60 turning off at Papplewick, going through the back of Hucknall and the village of Linby before joining the M1 at Junction 27. It's a hefty £3 to park the car for a few hours in the village centre. We walk up the narrow, cobbled streets peeking into shop doorways. Sadly for Sticky the local tap house and beer shop is closed for now.

Lunch is spent at the cosy and welcoming Coffee Bunker as we polish off lamb and mint wraps followed by scones smothered in raspberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. It's like a scene from Brideshead Revisited during lunch. Four toffs have rocked up for jasmine tea and pretentious flavoured water. They talk about how they'll make their first million by shooting some films for YouTube TV.

The Recreation Ground is a mile away from the village centre. The ground is a beauty, with the added bonus of a cricket match on too. We do a full circuit of the boundary prior to the football starting. An elderly gentleman takes his place on a memorial bench. He says he's excited to be viewing his first cricket fixture of the season. We wander past a deserted bowling green and hop over a fence before taking up a viewing point on the halfway line. 

The vista up into the hills, shrouded with low white fluffy clouds, is stunning. God, I have missed YOU; the beautiful game: the early breakfast, the banter in the car, the pub lunch, Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops, the guy on the gate, the one-liners, the swearing, the euphoria of a goal being celebrated; even the dishwater colour of a clubhouse cup of tea. Then there's the drive home with moi dissecting the game as Ms Moon switches off Five Live's Sport Report for Rylan Clark-Neal on Radio 2. My spine tingles and my eyes fill with water as we hear the shrill of the referee's whistle that kicks off the game I appreciate it even more now because it was taken away.

All the lads are enjoying it; the thrill of just being out there with your mates. The warm-up. The camaraderie. The game. The pub. Wirksworth race into a 2-0 lead and play some lovely football. The visitors enjoy a good spell 15 minutes before half-time, but are wasteful in front of goal. They concede three more in the second half as endless substitutions disrupt the pattern of play. 

Man of the Match Bill 6 Jacket for Wirksworth. Only player over 30 years old and looked like he enjoyed every second of the game.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bradford Fire Disaster

It's Saturday, 11th May, 1985. Early spring sunshine lights up Rectory Field, in Keyworth, as local rivals 'The Millers' and Plumtree Cricket Club lock horns. I've completed my bowling spell for about the hundredth time up that bloody, steep hill ('The Ashley Road End') that only a madman would volunteer to run in from - I amble rather than run-in if I'm perfectly honest.

I'm grazing down at fine leg and staring out towards the black railings that run along Nottingham Road, which leads you into the village Square. He'll (Dad) be here soon. The first signal of his arrival will be his pacesetting 5-year-old faithful black and white cocker spaniel, Sadie Palmer, with an out-of-breath, mad as a hatter, chain-smoking Frank Palmer following in hot pursuit.

God help you if you bowled a bad ball or had a fielding mishap on Frank's watch. You'd soon be on the end of his razor-sharp, sting-in-the tail wit - even more so if you were his lad. He would grace you with his presence shortly before the tea break, so he could scrutinize the scorebook and verbal volley any underperforming player. His usual beeline would be for me, so he could receive a full report on the afternoon's play and dish out a bollocking or two. Today, there is no sign of him, which is rather strange, and odd, as Saturday is his day off from his job as East Midlands news reporter for the Daily Mirror.

The umpires remove the bails and tea is called. I'm getting quite anxious about Dad's no show. I ask a few spectators of his whereabouts, everyone just shakes their head. I'm pulled to one side by a committee member before I reach the pavilion. I start to shake and tremble when I'm told there has been a fire at Bradford City's Valley Parade ground during their team's Division Three championship title celebration game against my team Lincoln City.

Dad is on the M1 northbound, on his way up to the scene. It's only the second Saturday I can ever remember him working. The previous time was in June 1974 when 28 people were killed in an explosion at a chemical plant in Flixborough, North Lincolnshire.

56 supporters perished in the fire with a further 265 injured; with many of the survivors bearing scars for the rest of their days. It later transpired that the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette end that found its way through a gap in the seats, falling onto some litter that had mounted up under the wooden-roofed stand. What should have been a day of joyous celebrations ended in the saddest day in the Club's history. I attended quite a few Lincoln away games that season and often sat in the home end, to avoid any trouble when exiting the ground. Due to my love of cricket and its camaraderie, I didn't travel that day. Two Lincoln fans lost their lives too. The Imps named the Stacey West Stand after them.

Monday of this week marked 35 years since the fire. I'm alerted to one of the most moving, tragic tales I've ever read. It reduces me to tears. Award-winning ex-Guardian journalist, Daniel Taylor, who now writes for The Athletic, attended St Peter's Primary School, in East Bridgford, as a kid. It's a village close to the town of Newark, in Notts, and is 11 miles east of Nottingham. Taylor had a friend called Martin Fletcher, who had moved into the village from the Bradford area. On that fateful day Martin, his brother, Andrew, dad John, uncle Peter and grandad Eddie, went to the match at Valley Parade to enjoy the celebrations. Only Martin came home.

Martin was wearing a baseball cap at the game. It was said that the thin layer of protection of the hat may have saved his life. Sign up for The Athletic and read the article. It will make you weep and put life into perspective. I've never been to Valley Parade, but hope to in the near future, so I can pay my respects. I was up in Bradford, 12 months later, watching Nottingham Forest play The Bantams in a League Cup tie at their temporary home at the Odsal Stadium, whilst the stand was being rebuilt.

It's Sunday morning. Ms Moon and I are having a mooch about the Marks and Spencer Food Hall on Victoria Retail Park, in Netherfield. This chuffin' shop does some serious damage to my bank balance, particularly in the red wine section. After running up a three-figure bill, I suggest to Ms Moon that some fresh air wouldn't go amiss. The good lady had read, the previous day, on Spotted in Carlton, that there is a conservation area called Netherfield Lagoons that's close by.

It's a nature reserve that is located on the Trent Valley flood plain. It was used by nearby Gedling Colliery to dispose of their coal slurry. It now attracts a number of wildfowl and smaller birds, along with a few twitchers (bird-watchers). It's slightly overcast and a tad blustery as we enjoy an hour's stroll around the lagoons. It was once the property of UK Coal but ownership has since been passed onto Gedling Conservation Trust. I'll be taking a second viewing, as I notice a railway viaduct in the distance that needs further investigation.

I've supped my final three cans of the Neon Raptor popular brew, Dr. Galapagos, a mango milkshake IPA. Left Field Brewery has fired over a mixed case of craft ales, but supplies are running low. I ordered 15x cans from Honest Brew, a company recommended by a work colleague. Having placed the order, I received a further email to say there was a 15x day waiting time on delivery. I fired off a couple of curt (to-the-point) emails expressing my disappointment. I'm hardly filled with confidence when they let it slip that Yodel is their chosen courier.

I book a day off work on Friday. I foolishly bought 5x additional holidays for this year, mistakingly assuming I could tour England and Wales watching cricket and football. I spend the day in the garden digging, planting and pruning. It's a hobby that I've grown to love, which hasn't always been the case.

I rustle up scrambled egg and smoked salmon on toast for brunch on Saturday morning. We jump into the car, make a short journey, crossing the 'Gaza Strip', into Sneinton, before parking up in Lidl on Carlton Rd. We wander around the perimeter of St Anns, a happy hunting ground for Sticky Palms when he scouted for 'The Pies'. We end up on Lower Parliament street which leads us up into the city centre. The first port of call is Trinity Walk, the birthplace of legendary prize-fighter William 'Bendigo' Thompson (you're obsessed with him aren't you Sticky?).

We stroll past Foreman's Punk Bar and what was The Bluebell, one of Frankie Palmer's old haunts. All the old journalists from Central TV and Radio Nottingham used to congregate in there. Dad tipped us off that the landlord had bought a two-year-old racehorse. I must of backed the bloody thing over 10x times without a return on investment.

Eventually, we arrive at The Arboretum on Waverley Street, close to the Commonwealth War Graves in Nottingham City Cemetery. The Arboretum is stunning. It's peaceful and tranquil with the copper beech trees and weeping willows in fine form.

We peg it up Peel Street towards Mansfield Road. I want to prove to Ms Moon that the final plaque of the day isn't just the name of a public house on Bridlesmith Walk. Herbert Kilpin, one of nine children, was born at 129 Mansfield Road and was the son of a butcher. To cut a long story short, he was the founder of Milan (A.C.) Football and Cricket Club and is another one of 'Nottingham's Own.'

Rest in Peace #56

Sunday, May 10, 2020

This is Chilwell

It's February 19th, 1981. Sticky Palms, 'Ackers' and 'Browny' sheepishly walk, heads bowed, into a packed out Shipstones boozer, on Wollaton Street, Nottingham, called the Tap 'n Tumbler. 'Browny' is sent to the bar, as he looks the oldest - I only turned 17 years old two weeks ago. Ackers isn't 17 until August. We neck a few pints of 'Dutch courage' before crossing the road onto Talbot Street, home to the music venue and nightclub Rock City.

The Stranglers are on their Meinblack tour. I loved their first three albums - Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes and Black and White - at a push The Raven, their fourth album, wasn't bad either. I'm ghostly white and a bag of nerves as bouncers frisk clothing and quiz music-goers about their age. I weigh ten stone wet through and am a lanky streak of piss, with a baby face to boot. "Are you 18?" asks Paddy on the door. "No, I'm 19, pal."

The place is mobbed with folk wearing The Stranglers trademark donkey jackets. The beer, Stones bitter, is disgusting but flows freely. The band appears on stage at ten bells precisely. They belt out a couple of tunes before stopping mid-set. A group of undesirables (probs from D***y) have been flobbing (spitting) at lead singer Hugh Cornwell, who quite rightly is none too chuffed. He warns that action will be taken against the next offender.

A few minutes into their next tune on the playlist, 'Hanging Around', a huge sea of phlegm lands on the black leather jacket of Franco-English bass guitarist, Jean-Jacques Burnel. JJ, a blackbelt in karate, throws his instrument to the floor, jumps into the crowd and full-on Jackie Chan karate kicks the perpetrator in the throat. The lad is sparked out in the mosh pit and is carted off to the front doors by Max and Paddy and sent back over the cattle grid.

On May 3rd, 2020, The Stranglers' brilliant keyboard player, Dave Greenfield, passed away, aged 71, another victim taken by CV19 virus. Incredibly, drummer, Jet Black, is still going strong at the ripe old age of 81 years - admittedly he no longer tours with the band.

I'm all excited for the VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations on Friday and have a little treat lined up for Ms Moon. I often ride up the Trent on my bike to Beeston Weir and Beeston Marina. I rarely venture into the town centre. A poster off the NFFC 'Lost That Lovin' Feeling' message board tipped me off about some of the street art that's on display in Beeston. There are also many famous names, in Notts folklore, who have lived in the town, and have blue plaques commemorating their stay.

I'm so excited that I'm wide awake at 4.30am. I toss and turn for an hour or so. Those chuffing pigeons are scurrying up and down the solar panels, cooing and fluttering their feathers. My patience runs thin. I trudge down the stairs, flick on the kettle and make a pot of Yorkshire Tea for one, accompanied by Marmite on toast smothered in melting butter.

I'm dog tired as I stretch out in my armchair. I pick up a book and read a few pages of the life and times of Nottingham legendary prize-fighter 'Bendigo.' I stare out towards the far end of the garden at the beautiful red rose bushes that blossom on the trellis that the Catholic church backs onto. It's time to brighten up the garden. Morrisons and DIY stores on Victoria Retail Park, in Netherfield, will be open now - the early bird catches the worm and all that. Ms Moon pulls back the lounge curtains to find a sea of plants on the patio. I've brought some rhododendrons, clematis, some climbers and bedding plants - that's Saturday afternoon sorted out.

We start our tour of Beeston and Chilwell outside the Victoria Hotel, one of my favourite haunts from the Castle Rock stable. 'The Princess' and I love a Sunday lunchtime roast dinner here after a long walk down the canal and river. Next port of call is Beeston railway station, where a couple of trains have just pulled in. I take a snap of a blue plaque close to the platform.

A five minute walk away is Linden Grove. We chance upon a couple of neighbours chatting at social distance (two metres folks). On the wall, above the doorway, is one of the most impressive plaques I've ever seen. In 1931, Leader of Indian Independence, Mahatma Gandhi, visited his nephew at this very house we are now looking at. The current owners campaigned for a plaque and even named their baby, Josh, in honour of Gandhi's nephew, Joshi.

We take a stroll into Beeston town centre. The murals of fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, Porridge and Rising Damp actor Richard Beckinsale and Northern Soul singer Edwin Starr are impressive. I visited Starr's grave up at Wilford Hill Crematorium, close to Ruddington, with my work pal 'Shifty', one lunchtime. Starr, who had hits such as War and Eye to Eye Contact, died from a heart attack, whilst soaking in the bath at his Beeston home, in 2003, aged 61 years old. There's a mural of 12-year-old Owen Jenkins playing rugby. I often stop off on my bike at Beeston Weir, where he lost his life, in saving another. The memorial makes my spine tingle.

Just down the road, at what looks like an old mill, which are now flats, is a plaque dedicated to my man Bendigo, who retired to this cottage after a lifetime of scrapping and drinking. The book I'm reading about him is bloody brilliant. What a legend he is. There's another plaque of him up Trinity Walk, in Nottingham, where he was born - I'll save that for a rainy day.

I decide to head towards Chilwell, passing a cycling shop which was run by a well-known character called Sid Standard. He died in his 70s after colliding with a tractor. Further up the road is the old Barton's bus depot where T H Barton 'The Guv'nor' worked. The old Keyworth 6 Barton bus has got me out of trouble on countless occasions.

We walk into Chilwell, turning right down Cator Lane. On the school gates is a plaque that remembers old pupil Richard Beckinsale, Lenny Godber off Porridge. He died, tragically, of a heart attack at the young, tender age of 31 years old, leaving a widow, the actress Judy Loe, and two young daughters, Kate and Samantha, who later went on to become fine actresses.

Our final visit of the tour is also a sad and sombre story. On 1st July, 1918, a catastrophic explosion ripped through a shell-filling factory, killing 134 people and injuring a further 250 workers. It was the biggest loss of life from an accidental explosion in the entire First World War. We pay our respects at a cottage where chief engineer and survivor of the blast, Albert Hall, lived.

We walk past The Cadland pub, named after a locally-trained racehorse that won The Derby in 1828. Cadland dead-heated the first race but won a deciding heat with The Colonel by half a length. On what is a poignant day we take in the War Memorial on our way back to the Vic Hotel.

I rest up, slumped in my garden furniture, on the patio, for the rest of the day, sinking a craft ale or two. We were going to support the local chippy, but it closed early. I make my debut on the Deliveroo app and order a Scooby Snack burger from the daddy chain, Five Guys. After all, the Americans formed a massive part of the Allied army, 75 years ago.

I'm on my bike and heading down to the banks of the Trent by 9.30 on Saturday morning. The sun's shining and the skies are clear, as I ride under Gunthorpe Bridge and head out towards the village of Caythorpe. I pass Caythorpe Cricket Club, who were revered and feared in the South Notts Village League back in the early 80s. I made my First XI debut there for my village in 1981. They had two opening batsmen called Eric Screaton and Graham Baguley who put the fear of God into bowlers with their stroke-play. They were both back in the hutch, early doors, as a fearless, cocky, lanky 17-year-old streak of piss trundled in from the Road End.

I get chatting to the landlady at The Black Horse Inn, on Main Street, in the village. She expects to be open for social-distance drinking by August. The next village, Hoveringham, is another beauty too, folks. I cycle up past The Reindeer and onto the cricket ground. The Club were left £250,000 in a will by a former President and player, back in 2018. What a lovely, heart-warming story.

My memories of playing here are fairly bleak, particularly on May 4th, 1991. It was a hot day, the heat was stifling and sapped your energy; certainly not a day to be fielding first. Keyworth CC 2nd XI rolled into town after enjoying pre-match 'liquid refreshments' in The Reindeer. Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest were playing one another in the FA Cup final. All the lads were desperate to watch the game, in the pub, which you could if you batted first.

I walked out to the wicket to spin up with the opposition skipper, with strict instructions from the lads to bat first, so some could watch the game. I didn't like the look of the wicket; the ball always seemed to stay low and shoot through. On my return to the changing room, I informed the lads that we'd be fielding first. "You t**t Sticky, you lost the toss didn't you?" I replied, "No lads, I won it." Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day.

Man of the Match: Lenny Godber.

Footnote: Roger Milford, who looked in the mirror more times than Billy Davies, gave the weakest refereeing performance ever seen at Wembley Stadium. A game that's remembered for Paul Gascoigne being stretchered off in tears and not for the serious foul play he committed on the pitch.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

This Is Leicester

It's Boxing Day 2015. Ms Moon and I are driving over Lady Bay Bridge, in the Land Rover Freelander, towards 'Trumpy Towers', in the village of Keyworth. Leicester City are having the season of their lives and are two points clear of 'The Arsenal' at the top of the Premier League table, after a 3-2 win at Everton's Goodison Park.

A ruddy-faced man, wearing a tangerine Slazenger T-shirt, emerges from his front door with a lady in toe. I recognise her to be none other than Mrs Trumpy Bolton; dare I say it, an even more die-hard Foxes fan than her hubby - and she was born in Leicester too.

Today will be my 76th new ground. In over 40 years of watching football, I haven't managed to tick-off Anfield. It's not often Lincoln City play there, although my dad watched the Imps, stood on the Kop, win 2-1, in the 1950s, whilst he was a reporter on the Liverpool Echo.

'Stan Flashman' has come up with the goods again - somehow getting tickets for another big game, that was sold out weeks ago. The blog legend has already supped three cans at the 'breakfast table' and is now grimacing as he untwists a bottle top off his trusty litre of cider. He spits his dummy out as Ms Moon sails past a 'Spoons in West Derby on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre.

Bolton sniffs a pub out on Anfield Road. He zig-zags his way through the crowded bar like 24-year-old Algerian mercurial wing wizard, Riyad Mahrez. He shouts up four drinks to a miserable old bat of a landlady, who looks like Shane McGowan's mum. I down a couple of pints of Guinness at The Flat Iron pub, just down the road, as Trumpy Moonstomps to 'Nite Klub', by The Specials, that's blasting out of the jukebox speakers. We make a sharp exit to the ground after Ms Moon discovers a floating fingernail in her glass of Coca Cola.

Leicester City are unable to cope with a star-studded Reds' midfield. The Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho, a snip at £8.5 million from Inter Milan, runs rings around them, finding small pockets of space to thread his passes through. Too many Foxes are having an off day. N'Golo Kante and Mahrez rise above the mediocrity. They are the bargain buys of the season at £5.6 million and £350,000 (€450,000) respectively.

Jamie Vardy, running on half-empty and nursing a groin strain, is well shackled by the Liverpool defence. They barely have a shot on target. The visiting fans are angry with their team's performance. Expectations and targets are set higher than I'd imagined. The truth is though, that an injury-ravaged Liverpool are in 9th position and were there for the taking.

Four years later, and almost to the day since the Foxes won the Premier League title in 2015, I'm sat in my armchair, flicking through a book of Jonathan Northcroft's brilliant account of that season. It's called Fearless. Northcroft pens a number of incredible anecdotes in his book. Crewe Alexandra had Vardy watched nine times by their chief scout whilst he was playing up on the Pennines in the Northern Premier League  at Stocksbridge Steels, in South Yorkshire. They had him in on trial at Gresty Road for a few weeks, whilst Dario Gradi was on sick leave and former Stoke City and Notts County manager Gudjon Thordarson was in the hot seat. Vardy was shoved out on the right-wing and failed to impress the Icelandic.

Mahrez's story is even more remarkable. After hovering around lower league football in France, he found himself on trial at St Mirren, up in Paisley, Scotland. Seven goals in four reserve team outings wasn't enough to convince dithering management to award the Algerian a contract. He packed his bags, upped sticks and returned back home to France.

It's Thursday evening and I've worked throughout the day, making calls and attending demonstrations of our software. I pack my laptop away, rummage around in the shoe cupboard for the faithful old black and white striped Adidas trainers, before sliding open the French window door and heading up towards Carlton Hill.

I shed a tear as I turn right onto Standhill Rd; walking past a deserted Brickyard pub, one of my favourite Lincoln Green hostelries. I end up on Porchester Road and slog it up to Woodborough Road, passing The Punch Bowl and the old Mapperley Hospital. I remember playing an Evening League game for Keyworth Cricket Club, as a 17-year-old, in 1981. It was an old psychiatric hospital. The patients were often allowed to wander around the grounds, unattended, and mingle with spectators and players. I would have a chat with some poor sod recovering from a nervous breakdown, whilst I was grazing down at fine leg. His angst and anxiety would increase after seeing me bowl an over of utter filth.

I find myself walking down a place called Private Road, in Mapperley Park - it's Millionaires' Row. It leads me onto Mansfield Road. Just up the road is Carrington, where The Gladstone Inn is housed. I could kill a pint of real ale right now. The last time I sunk one was when Boris Johnson announced on Friday, March 20th, at 5pm, that all licensed premises were to close from midnight, until further notice.

I make a right-hand turn and walk up over Sherwood Rise, a hipster area of Nottingham, that has appeared on the trendy Channel 4 show Location, Location, Location. I'm not knocking it, mind yer, as it has a few nice bars and restaurants including Ginza, a first-class Japanese eatery. We had an epic Ergo Computing Christmas Party there back in 2003. It resulted in Keyworth United legendary 'keeper and good pal 'Barthez' getting a shiny, black eye, as the party spilled over to Ritzy, on Upper Parliament Street, where a Christmas reveller didn't enter into the festive spirit.

I'm winging it by now, and don't have a clue how to get home, as a few filthy black clouds blow in from D***y way. I stroll up a path adjacent to Woodthorpe Park. The pitch and putt course is in a state of disrepair. I join the road on Woodthorpe Drive and pass a place called Breck Hill Park where Carlton Town FC junior teams play. I close my eyes and visualize a seven-year-old Joe Palmer floating a last-minute free-kick, over a wall and into the roof of the net, to win the 2005 Carlton Tournament. I was stand-in coach that day and was helped by former Tranmere Rovers and Millwall forward Chris Malkin, whose lad, Joseph, is causing quite a stir at Non-League Nantwich Town.

I'm on a deserted Mapperley Plains. Those rolling black clouds have emptied its load, causing a torrential downpour. I've forgotten my golfing umbrella that Keebo lent me. I'm cussing, cursing and blowing a gasket, as I peg it down Westdale Lane, wearing jeans that weigh like lead. I smell like an old, wet dog on my return home - stripping to my pants and slumping into an armchair like Jim Royle off the BBC sitcom The Royle Family.

Friday night is spent up in the bedroom (steady readers) it's the two weekly Baker Cup Quiz with the lads I go abroad 'golfing' with every year. It's a 'good walk spoilt' for the lads but has helped me enjoy spots in Majorca, Lisbon and Budapest over the years. I'm crap at the quiz but enjoy the craic and a couple of stiff gins. Thanks to Wayne, up in the Toon, for sorting.

There's a commotion during the quiz, which sees me dashing downstairs and into the lounge. Ms Moon's jaw has dropped and she looks like she's seen a ghost. Turns out Yasmeen, sick to the back teeth of the verbal abuse from Geoff, on Corrie, has shanked him up in the jugular. The bloke's 'brown bread.' An easy case for Greater Manchester Police to solve. If not, Street favourite, Norris Cole, will grass him up.

Man of the Match: Ginza, in Sherwood and 'The Tinkerman' (swapped his full-backs and won the Premier League)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

This is Beeston

It's Saturday, April 25th, 2015. I'm driving the 'Rolls Royce' up through the hills of Lancashire towards the old mill town of Burnley, and more importantly Turf Moor, a ground steeped in footballing history. My partner in crime, Trumpy Bolton, is riding shotgun and swigging on a litre bottle of liquid that can only be described as a 'Molotov Cocktail' - a mixture of cider and WKD; it looks like screen wash.

Trumpy's beloved Leicester City are performing the 'Great Escape' after being anchored in the nether regions of the Premier League table for most of the season. Today is another six-pointer against the Clarets, who sit in 20th position. The Foxes have only been allocated 2469 tickets. Don't ask me how, but our man Bolton has managed to secure a couple of them off Stan Flashman, which are like gold dust and selling for extortionate prices on the black market.

Lunch is spent holed-up at Jimmy Anderson's Burnley Cricket Club, along with 800 visiting supporters, who have the tills ringing and singing. I rub my eyes in disbelief when two umpires appear from the pavilion, placing bails onto the stumps at both ends of the wicket. It's the first day of the Lancashire League season. 800 beer-fuelled lads and lasses cheer a bowler in, off a longer run-up than Dennis Lillee. The nervous batsman, shuffling in his crease, is a jibbering wreck. He chips a ball straight to mid-off, where a catch is snaffled up by the fielder. A disconsolate batsman trudges off to back to the pavilion, with the Leicester faithful, in unison, belting out 'cheerio, cheerio cheerio.'

The game (Burnley v Leicester) is on a knife-edge, with no quarter given, when on the hour Burnley are awarded a penalty after a reckless and needless tackle by Paul Konchesky. The experienced Matt Taylor steps up to take the spot-kick, despite not having done so for over five years. To the crowd's astonishment, Taylor loses his footing, before scuffing his penalty, which smacks the outside of the post, going out for a goal kick.

Trumpy and I are dancing and hugging one another as seconds later, Marc Albrighton, one of the greatest Bosman signings in Premier League history, is in space down the right-hand side. Unsung hero Albrighton eats up the ground and delivers a cross to die for. An exhausted Jamie Vardy, who has sprinted 80 yards down the pitch, bundles the ball into the back of the net, off his knee.

I'm reminded of this five years to the day, not just on a Facebook memory, with Trumpy and Sticky wearing 'Foxes are Fearless' T-Shirts, but also a recent Kindle book download, of a diary of the season after, when they astounded the footballing world, claiming the Premier League title at odds of 5000/1. The book is called Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City, The Greatest Miracle in Sports History, brilliantly captured and researched by acclaimed Scottish journalist Jonathan Northcroft. It's a riveting read and a steal at £1.99 on Kindle.

We've been in lockdown for over 30 days. I try to remain chipper and positive. With deaths approaching 20,000, many have been less fortunate. Families are having to cope with loss and bereavement; unable to attend funerals in some cases. I feel sad and so sorry for folk in this awful period of time.

I get into the routine of daily exercise after work. Getting on the bike or heading out for a walk is good for the heart, soul and mind. It's no coincidence, with little pollution in the skies or emissions from traffic, that the weather has been wall to wall sunshine.

It's Thursday evening and I'm cycling down Burton Road. I cross over at the lights on the A612 Southwell Road, close to Carlton Town's ground, and onto Stoke Lane. The last time I was here the car broke down after an eight-goal thriller between Real United and the world-famous Clifton All Whites. A dog walker got us out of the mire that evening, towing us back to Colwick where we lived at the time.

It's baking hot as I swing by the tranquil village of Stoke Bardolph (population 170) where I spent many a season, back in the 1980s, pitting my wits against Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph CC whilst 'turning my arm over' for Keyworth Cricket Club. They had a hot-headed all-rounder called Anthony Cockayne. He was a hard-hitting batsman and a 'quicky' with a temper to match. The Millers of Keyworth were the kings of banter and sledging, often having Cockayne 'on strings' and off with a strop.

I cycle past the old ground, have and a shufty about the village, admiring the defibrillator in the old red telephone box. Further up the road is Gedling FC's ground and the Ferry Boat Inn, a scruffy Hungry Horse pub, that's dying on its backside. I notice a footpath on the corner, adjacent to Burton Joyce Football Club. It's one for the notebook for Ms. Moon and me to explore on Sunday morning, as the weather forecast is set fair once more.

I find a distraught Ms. Moon in tears on Friday evening. I hug and console her, unaware of what has caused this meltdown. I fetch a box of tissues and gently wipe away the tears before she noisily blows her nose. It turns out she's been reading one of those rubbish TV chat magazines who are saying (pray to God) that ITV are running out of episodes of Emmerdale Farm and Coronation Street due to CV19. I start fist-pumping and do a Michael Flatley River Dance on the lounge floor - the good lady is unimpressed.

I'm up and at 'em on Saturday morning. I cycle down to Trent Bridge, again, as the sun begins to peep out from the light, white fluffy clouds. I shout 'You Reds' to Plumtree Cricket Club supremo, Mark Oldham, as he enjoys the fag end of an early morning stroll along the banks of the Trent - no mist rolling in, mind yer.

I join the Nottingham ring road, close to Clifton Bridge, which has planned, staged closures for the next nine months, that everyone in Notts was up in arms about; complaining and bleating about it on social media. But it's now fallen under the radar. I turn off onto a track that takes me past Dunkirk FC and the Michelin two-star, Restaurant Sat Bains - he's from D***y, so I had to suck it up on my one and only visit. Thankfully lamb wasn't on the menu.

I pedal on a path, adjacent to Grove Farm, with its empty football pitches. The River Trent is to my left, it looks so inviting and the water still on a day like today. Sadly it's not the case, as only half a mile or so up the river is laid a tribute to 12-year-old 'gentle giant' Owen Jenkins, who sacrificed his own life to save another at Beeston Weir. I always unsaddle here and pay my respects to this young, brave, selfless child, who lost his life trying to save a friend, who got into difficulty in the water, back in July 2017.

I ride through Beeston Marina. Normally I'd slope off for a pint in the beer garden at one of my favourite haunts, the Victoria Hotel. Beeston has a couple of other decent boozers too: the Crown Inn and The Star Inn. There are one or two famous folk from the town too: Van Der Valk actor Barry Foster, fashion designer Paul Smith (cracking taproom in one of his old shops on Byard Lane in Nottingham), Motown and Northern Soul singer Edwin Starr, sadly passed away in the bath, at his home in Beeston, in 2003, aged 61 years old. Porridge and Rising Damp actor Richard Beckinsale who tragically died at the young age of 31 years old, in 1977, lived in the town.

I continue my bike ride up to Attenborough Nature Reserve, completing a circular route before the return journey home. I stop outside the back of the Trent End at The City Ground for a much-needed thirst-quenching drink. I see a chocolate-coloured spaniel enter the water to chase some ducks. The owner is frantic with worry as 'Gemma' (the dog, not the owner) doggy paddles halfway across the river. It's relief to see her swim back to shore after 15 minutes of play-time.

Man of the Match: 12-year-old Owen Jenkins. A legend never to be forgotten.