Sunday, May 8, 2016
I can hear the Nottingham racecourse PA announcer calling out the horses names as I slam shut the front door. I jaywalk across Daleside Road, which is clogged up with rush-hour traffic, and head down Racecourse Road towards the Colwick Hall Hotel. I peer through a clearing in the hedge as horses are loaded into the stalls; they're out in a flash.
I chance upon an elderly gentleman sat on a chair at one of the entrance gates, with a snowy white owl perched on his shoulder. Kim is five years old and lives on a diet of one day old chickpeas. I continue my walk, dropping into the Starting Gate, as my thirst needs quenching. I sink a pint of Spring Fever from the St Austell Brewery at £2.57 with CAMRA discount.
I stroll through some woodland as the vista of the grandstand at the racecourse comes back into view. The first horsebox I clock is one of leading flat trainer John Gosden from Newmarket. Three year old fillies are eating up the turf as they gallop up the final furlong in the 6:10pm. John Gosden's Snow Moon has won by three lengths at even money. All the clues were there Sticky - the snow owl, Gosden's horsebox and Ms Moon with her snotty nose, back home, slouched on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle. I should have put my house on it.
It's Saturday morning and I'm having a chinwag with nasty Norwich fan Murphy Palmer the budgie. I took him to the vets last week to get his nails clipped. In the surgery waiting room he was surrounded by dogs whimpering, cats meowing and parrots squawking. Above it all you could hear Murphy whistling the Canaries anthem 'On the Ball City.' It was a different scenario on the operating table. He greeted the veterinary surgeon with a 'Glasgow Kiss' before being grabbed around the neck in a lock, with the vet's first two fingers and with a terrifying look his nails were clipped. He's still traumatized to this day.
We're in the 'Rolls Royce' today - Sticky is piloting. I hare down the A50, through Stoke and onto the A500. Today is the final game of 'our' groundhopping season. We've not missed a Saturday game since July 12th. I've earmarked The Badger at Church Minshull for lunch which is also a Good Pub Guide tick-off. It's a recently refurbished 18th Century coaching inn. I have a pint of Badger from the Tatton Brewery. Co-pilot Ms Moon has Stilton and celery soup accompanied with Beef and horseradish sauce on sour dough. Sticky plumps for Whitby scampi on flatbread.
Winsford is a short 15 minute drive away. 1874 Northwich groundshare with Winsford United at the Barton Stadium. On 15th November 2012 disillusioned fans of the Northwich Victoria Supporters' Trust voted with broken hearts to run a democratically supporters-run club.
Northwich is a town in Cheshire with a population of 20,000. It was once well known for its salt mines. Famous folk born or raised in the town include: The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess, singer Rupert Holmes (Pina Colada hit is a classic), FA boot 'n run merchant Charles Hughes and goalkeeping cousins Michael and Andy Oakes.
We park up on West Dudley Street, a no through road. A blue-aproned chef from the Phoenix Chinese and English takeaway throws away uneaten bagged-up food into a wheelie bin. The Top House pub is stacked out with beer-swilling Colne fans who are basking in the baking heat.
A draw today is enough for the visitors to clinch the North West Counties League title. We caught them on a dark, miserable day up in Birkenhead. Cammell Laird were ruthless on and off the pitch. Colne were thumped 4-0. They lost all discipline. Three players were shown Red and two coaching staff were ask to leave the technical area. Fair play to manager Stephen Cunningham for fronting it up and apologising on behalf of the club on Facebook. He went up in Sticky and Ms Moon's estimations.
The ground is a belter. It's £6 on the gate and £2 for the programme. On the nearest touchline is a rickety old stand with blue tip-up seats. Behind the far goal is a grassed area making the view at least 30 yards to the goal net. There is cover running along the farthest touchline and an open end behind the nearest goal.
Colne FC manager Steve Cunningham is a clever guy. He allows his team a relaxed warm-up, to relieve the tension. He shakes folks hands, fusses his Mum, acknowledges anyone who wishes him good luck. Ms Moon admires him. Inwardly this guy's stomach is churning. Nine months work rests on one game. Leading scorer Jason Hart is suspended.
One of the Northwich subs complains that he has forgot his suncream. Cunningham strikes up a conversation with some Northwich committee members. He says that he likes 1874 Northwich very much, but won't miss the North West Counties League if they go up. It's said without any malice - just maybe one or two clubs have niggled him.
The pitch is bobbly and bumpy and killing these players. Northwich are direct, Colne don't trust the pitch. Their game is hurried. They snatch at chances as nerves set in. Northwich waste two good chances as neither 'keeper is fully tested. I'm stood next to a Runcorn Town fan who can't abide Runcorn Linnets. If the Linnets score 6 goals at Padiham and Colne lose, then they will be crowned as champions - they're already two the good.
Colne have rocked up with 250 fans. Two of these are different class. Landlords Winsford United have been broken into two days ago. The bar has been trashed and the till smashed to smithereens. They walk circuit after circuit of the ground politely asking for donations to help Winsford. They raise £178 - this is why I watch and support Non League football. It brings a tear to my eye when they announce what these boys have raised.
It's still nip and tuck in the second half. Cunningham sends his troops out early to avoid a claustrophobic changing room. Danny Boyle begins to come alive, as his partner Ben Wharton, a good hold-up player, is well shackled by 1874 centre half Craig Farnworth. Colne's long throws are always speared in too close to the 'keeper who is catching for fun.
The game-changing moment happens on 65 minutes. A boy called Joel Melia is thrown on by Cunningham as Colne go 4-3-3. Cunningham is sweating buckets when he hears Linnets are 3-0 up. Meila's impact is instant. His low sense of gravity and positional sense creates width for the team. He survives a couple of bollockings from Cunningham, but the boy is never say die. I saw him play for Barnoldswick at Tadcaster during a 5-0 drubbing - he has the heart the size of a bucket.
Meilia picks up the ball on the right, he drifts past a defender, muscling him off the ball, before pulling the ball back from the byline. Danny Boyle flicks it up before firing a shot it into the corner of the net, despite the 'keeper's best efforts. The reaction is tear-jerking. Subs, coaching staff and players run to pile on Boyle - the relief to all is breathtaking.
Cunningham instructs the subs and coaches to form a line before the final whistle. The celebrations are wild and ad-hoc. We leave them be. It's not just about today - it's a been a long season.
Man of the Match: 1874 Northwich 5 Jacket - brilliant.
Monday, May 2, 2016
It's 7:00am on Saturday morning, I'm mooching about the kitchen making a brew. Today I'm ticking off my final Northern professional football league ground. It's 78 out of 92 after a painstaking 40 years of travelling up and down the accident-prone motorways of England.
We leave Murphy the budgie sulking on his perch, waiting with anticipation for his Uncle Brian Matthew and the Sound of the 60s Show on Radio 2. Ms Moon has fuelled-up with a large skinny decaf latte from Costa Coffee, where I'm on first-name terms with all the staff.
The dreaded M6 rears its ugly head with breakdowns and roadworks galore. We're hooking up with Oxford United fan Chris Hepburn, who has very kindly snapped up some tickets for us on the away terrace. Ms Moon and 'Heppers' used to work together as teenagers at Asda in West Bridgford, Nottingham, back in the day. It will be the best part of 30 years since they last met. I'm playing the part of Eamonn Andrews off This is Your Life.
Graham Norton has banged out a couple of good tunes including 'Stop Me' by Mark Ronson featuring Melbourne-born singer Daniel Merriweather. We're heading up Botcher Gate into the city centre. It's a grim part of town with some ugly buildings including a hotel we were supposed to stay in. Ms Moon cancelled the reservation after a flurry of poor reviews on Trip Advisor. It's adjacent to the Sexual Health Clinic - I'm not sure if the two are in a partnership.
The haunting voice of Nick Cave on the radio adds to the depressing surroundings. Professional drinkers clog up the entrance to Wetherspoon watering holes the Woodrow Wilson and the William Rufus, that are situated only a few hundred yards apart. A plethora of retail parks cause traffic congestion. We finally pitch up at the back of the old fire station, before wandering up to the King's Head on Fisher Street.
I shout up a pint of Boltmaker from the Timothy Taylor stable. Ms Moon has soup with a chicken baguette, I opt for a full English fry-up that I hope will keep me going until our evening meal at the Pheasant Inn at Casterton, just outside Kirkby Lonsdale. We take a window seat and peer out into the street. Heppers rocks up after two days of horse racing at Redcar and Musselburgh. He's reunited with Ms Moon, who says the last time she saw him he resembled Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran.
The pub jukey or i-Pod shuffle treats us to the Teardrop Explodes and EMF. Five Star's 'System Addict' results in a mass exodus across the road to the bookies. Heppers is a bundle of nerves as Oxford United stumble across the finishing line. We kill a bit of time at William Hill's. Ms Moon fancies an Oxford and Man Utd double. We park up at a youth centre, a ten minute walk away from Brunton Park.
Carlisle is a city and county town of Cumbria and is located at the confluence of the rivers Eden, Caldew and Petteril. It lies 10 miles south of the Scottish border and has a population of over 70,000 people. Carr's (now United Biscuits) began baking in 1831. I've always manage to find a half-eaten packet of their water table biscuits in the cupboard, but never have any cheese in the fridge. Production was halted in January 2016 after the factory was flooded. Both the builder John Laing and the haulage company Eddie Stobart have their HQ in the city.
Notable people from Carlisle include: the footballers Kevin Beattie, Grant Holt, Paul Simpson and Matt Jansen, former England rugby captain Steve Borthwick, Woodrow Wilson's Mum, Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallet and the broadcaster and journalist Melvyn Bragg.
Carlisle United were founded in 1904 and have played at Brunton Park since 1909. Well known ex-players include: Peter Beardsley, Stan Bowles, Matt Jansen and Rory Delap. Notable former managers: Bill Shankly, Nigel Pearson and Bob Stokoe. Record transfer fee paid: Joe Garner £140,000. Record sale: Matt Jansen to Crystal Palace for £1.2 million.
We head down the Warwick Road, past red-bricked Victorian houses with huge bay windows. The Beehive pub is across the road - Northern Crisis are playing there over the weekend. We're directed by a friendly steward to the far side of the ground. It's £16 to stand on the terrace (thanks Chris) and just £2 for a programme. The ground is proper old school. I love the two tier rickety old stand to the right of the away end.
Ms Moon and I viewed Carlisle up at Morecambe a few months back. They didn't turn up for over an hour, but a couple of inspired substitutions turned the game on its head, when they scored two goals in a minute to snatch a game from the jaws of defeat.
Oxford are warming-up at our end. I recognise coaches Chris Allen (ex NFFC) and Derek Fazackerly who followed Kevin Keegan around. They look to have a lot of young uns. It's the business end of the season. They'll need a win to stay with the chasing pack, and will need to do it without leading scorer and Sky Bet Player of the Year Kemar Roofe. The Oxford chairman has shouted up 1000 pints and 1000 pies for the travelling fans at the The Magpie on Victoria Road.
Oxford's manager is highly-rated coach Michael Appleton. He's settling in following a few false starts at crisis clubs Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn. The best warm-up songs are from The Killers and Dario G. £150,000 was spent on this freshly-laid pitch, following the floods. It's now, ironically, being doused with water from sprinklers.
Oxford play a beautiful game from the off. In the fourth minute Danny Hylton sees off the full back before finding Maguire, who is upended for a stone-wall penalty. Maguire keeps a cool head, with hands on hips, his run-up is short, arcing in from right to left, his strike is perfect and finds the inside corner of the net.
Local boy, Callum O'Dowda is running the show. His fleet of foot, change of direction and pace is bamboozling the Cumbrians. Oxford are shanking, scuffing and mistiming good opportunities as a sluggish Carlisle fail to get a grip on the game.
Penrith-born left back Danny Grainger is getting rinsed. He throws the ball like a hand grenade, and takes all the corners and set-pieces. Carlisle manager Keith Curle parades up and down the touchline in Savile Row attire. He's sporting a smoking jacket and beige trousers, fit to wear for a Gentlemen's Evening. His team inch their way back into the game, but find the Oxford rearguard in fine form.
Half-time allows a nervous, ashen-faced Hepburn a couple of toilet breaks as his stomach continues to churn. He turns down offers of hot food and cold drinks, preferring to chew on gum more furiously than Sam Allardyce and Billy Davies.
Carlisle have had a Keith Curle hair-drying at the break. They play with more purpose in the second half. It's like a cup tie, as the Cumbrians turn the screw. Against the run of play Oxford make it 2-0 with a smart finish from Liam Sercombe, who fires under the 'keeper Gillespie from close range.
At the end of the game an exhausted Oxford team can barely raise their arms to clap the 2238 visiting supporters who have stood on an open terrace that has not been used since the visit from Everton in the FA Cup in late January.
Man of the Match: Callum O'Dowda (and Heppers) xx
Sunday, April 24, 2016
We're not here for cricket, 'the best League in the World' has a match on tonight. The dying embers of the Notts Senior League season has turned into a three horse race for the title. Ruddington Village, one of the front-runners, are taking on inner city team Unity FC - Sticky's favourites. Unity is a project that was set up in 2005 by my good friend, youth worker, Morris Samuels. The project confronted gun and knife crime head-on, in a postcode gang war. Its aim was to unite the Meadows, St Anns and Radford. As Head of Recruitment at Notts County Academy my interest was immediate, and not just for selfish reasons. I love Nottingham and want it to be a safer place to live for everyone.
Morris gives me a big hug as we queue for cup-a-soup and tea at the refreshment bar. Unity are by far the best team I've seen this season in the NSL. They take the lead with a beautifully crafted goal created by former Pies scholar Reece Fyfe ('Rico'). He sets up the winner late in the second half to keep the title race wide open. This boy will play at a far higher level.
Ms Moon is out on Friday evening, Mica Paris (who?) is singing at the Riverbank Bar on Trent Bridge. I'm on one of my solo mini pub-crawls - Billy-no-mates. I amble through Sneinton, past the 'King Billy' (I shed a tear, I usually call in) on Manvers Street and onto Lower Parliament street in Nottingham city centre. I've got my dog-shit coloured shoes on that have knocked the tea ladies dead on my journeys to Non League football grounds in Yorkshire and Lancashire. We've never got on - they're chaffing into the top of my heel, causing a blister. The final slog up Derby Road to the micro-pub The Room With a Brew is a killer.
A knowledgeable landlord eases the pain by talking me through the eight real ales on the bar. Nelson's Oak from Hampshire is amber nectar. I've sunk it and it's gone in the bat of an eyelid. I've been tipped the wink about the Junkyard on Bridlesmith Walk. Tony 'Dogman' McDonald has warned me about the pretentious pricing structure. I pay £4 for 2/3 of a pint of filthy dishwater - I'll be giving this joint a wide-berth from now on.
Ms Moon presents me with a signed copy of a Mica Paris CD. It's an utter head loss moment, but at least it will come in handy as a coaster for a mug of tea. Facebook confirms that Mr and Mrs Trumpy Bolton are on their way to town to celebrate St George's Day - it's 9:00am. It's just a short journey up the A610 today. On researching the Swanwick area for a decent boozer I chanced upon the village of Heage which sits high up between Belper and Ripley. More astonishingly they have a recently restored a six sail working windmill.
Bloody hell, just our luck, the sails have been dismounted and are laying on the ground, some timber has rotted away, so no flour will be made today. Piers conducts an interesting tour of the mill. Dame Ellen McArthur, born in Whatstandwell, re-opened the windmill in 2011 after it laid in disrepair since 1953. We'll return when it's fully functional and buy some flour from Bakewell's Farmers' Market.
The pub's calling. The Black Boy is only a mile away. It too has recently been renovated. It's slightly disappointing as it seems to be a half-finished project. The Tribute ale is nowt to write home about, tops on taps in the toilets are missing and the hand-drier doesn't work. The homemade food is tip top though. Lambs liver splashed with onion gravy and home-cooked chips is a winner.
I love this ground. It's high up with sweeping views of the countryside. The only covering is to the right of the clubhouse behind the dugouts. It's adjacent to some allotments. A youth is smashing golf balls into a temporary net he's assembled.
It's my third viewing of Blidworth, but they ain't at the races today - eh Roger. They're firing blanks and leaking goals in defence. Swanwick Pentrich are two up at the break, one of the goals is a wind-assisted freak cross from 40 yards out.
It's just not Blidworth's day, they're scuffing shots and shanking clearances. They concede a third goal and are lucky to see their sub not sent off for kicking out at a defender. It's sensible refereeing by Mr S T Sears (Tommy) - an old work colleague of mine from Calverton Colliery, who blows the final whistle thirty seconds later.
Man of the Match: Windy Miller
Quiz Answer: Chris Eubank
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Fast forward a year and look at them now. One of their talisman is skipper Wes Morgan, a bargain buy from down the A46 road in Nottingham. He was brought up in the Meadows, a tough inner-city estate, rife with crime and drug dealing. Big Wes was released by the Pies as a 14 year old. He refused an offer to return there two years later because of weight issues, opting instead to ply his trade with local Non League outfit Dunkirk FC. He was soon spotted by Nottingham Forest and played on trial at a game in Sheffield. John Pemberton offered him a contract if he promised to wear a bin bag for a year and shed two stone. The rest is history.
Leicester City's biggest fan is blog legend Trumpy Bolton. This incredible man has followed the club's fortunes through thick and thin. He's hooking up with me on Saturday for a day out in Scunthorpe. He's comedy gold and a writer's dream.
Tuesday evening is spent at the gorgeous setting of Attenborough FC's Strand ground, on the edge of a nature reserve. Wollaton are the visitors, as they chase down a second consecutive NSL title. The Taxman, a groundhopper from Essex and I are treated to an enthralling game of football. Attenborough score a wonder goal, when a Nick Knight 60 yard ping from out on the left is hammered into the roof of the net with a first-time volley from a 16 year old winger. Wollaton leave it late, until the last kick of the game, to snatch a victory that is harsh on the Attenborough young guns.
It's Friday tea-time and I'm with Ms Moon in the Malt Cross on St James's Street, just off Nottingham's Market Square. It's a refurbished former Victorian music hall, with a vaulted glass roof and a gallery that looks down onto the bar area. I sink the 'Pint of the Season' Navigation's Charles Henry Strange IPA. It has a kick like a mule, and doesn't half get my juices flowing.
It's tipped it down with rain all night. Bottesford Town, near Scunthorpe, have assured me that their ground drains like a sieve. Photos on twitter suggest different, as pools of standing water put the game in doubt.
I'm down a sleepy West Bridgford at 8:30am. I collect the football kit from the laundrette and grab a bacon cob for breakfast at No.8 Deli. I check-in with Trumpy Bolton, we have a couple of back-up games at Gainsborough and Handsworth Parramore, who play in Worksop and would count as a tick-off.
Bolton is wandering his way through the 'The Bronx' when I clock him on Spinney Road. Graham Norton is playing Geordie synthpop band Dubstar as Bolton clambers his way into the front seat, plonking down a litre bottle of cider in the footwell. He shakes my hand and wishes me a Happy New Year.
I've inserted my Leicester City ear filter. It's to no avail as Trumpy rattles on about his three day bender in the city of Sunderland last weekend, which is topped off with a Jamie Vardy double. He has no recollection of returning to his Premier Inn headquarters on Saturday evening. The legend announces he's booked two nights in Glasgow in July when the Foxes take on Celtic in the International Champions Cup.
Trumpy has a pub to tick-off in the village of Kirton in Lindsey, it's where Catherine Parr the sixth wife of King Henry VIII once used to live. It's a tidy little town, but the Queen's Head isn't much to write home about. Bolton downs a pint in a time that would have had Roy Castle excitedly clicking his stop watch and Norris McWhirter confirming him to be a record breaker.
Next port of call is The Shires just down the road. A pint of distinctly average Black Sheep Ale is accompanied with a chip cob. 'Stevie Don't Wonder' by Olly Murs hastens our departure. I sneak Graham Norton back on as Trumpy guzzles his way through his litre of pear cider. We both singalong to 'This Charming Man' by The Smiths. I check my twitter timeline, Bottesford Town confirm that they've been hosed off.
We pop into the White Swan in Blyth enroute to Worksop, it's a nice little Good Pub Guide tick-off. Bolton necks another pint before one of his infamous sneezing fits. Handsworth's twitter is reporting a cloud burst along with puddles of water on the pitch; we're going to end up watching Linby Colliery Welfare v Keyworth United at this rate.
Parking is a nightmare on Sandy Lane. We abandon the car across the road. We're hesitant to pay-in as a grumpy official won't confirm whether the game is on or not. There are pools of water in the goalmouth.
Trumpy's gone missing, he'll be lining-up the Strongbow. I get gassing to a youth coach, who's a really nice guy. I mention I saw Handsworth U19s earlier in the season and how taken aback I was at the behaviour of their bench towards the match officials. They were 2-0 down at the time, a scenario they weren't familiar with. Top of the table Handsworth Parramore were formed in 2014, due to a merger between Handsworth FC and Worksop Parramore. Handsworth is a city centre suburb in Sheffield. Notable folk from Handsworth include the actor Sean Bean and my nasty budgie Murphy Palmer.
Fat Boy Slim is on the PA. Mansfield Town have thumped Notts County 5-0 in a lunchtime kick off at Field Mill. The clouds have lifted, the wind has dropped and the sun is beaming. Armthorpe is in South Yorkshire, it's where former England and Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan was born. They are in the nether regions of the Northern Counties League, you wouldn't have thought so as they are out the traps fast. No.9, 'Charlie' is too good for these. His touch and movement bamboozle the Handsworth defence. It's no wonder they leaked 5 goals up at Tadcaster last week.
Poor old Armthorpe couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. 'Charlie' has a hammer of a left foot, he sees a couple of efforts whistle over the goal. How they've managed not to register a goal, God only knows. Handsworth bang in a further four goals as the vistors heads drop and the towel is thrown in. Kieran Wells scores the third goal with an outrageous finish with the outside of his boot. He's somehow a friend on Facebook, I don't recall a bromance. He does hilarious live chats and is well worth a follow.
Man of the Match: Trumpy and Charlie
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Lunch is served in a plush dining room on a table set for twelve. White Van Man loves his Sunday roast and is not one for hanging about when it's served up on his plate. There's a load of commotion when his beef rocks up a lighter shade of pink. It's soon sent back to the kitchen in a hurry before being swiftly charcoaled and returned to the table. WVM eats under protest before performing a sharp exit with steam coming out of his ears. Lessons learnt: never mess with the Big Man's food.
The Taxman and I revisit the wonderful Selhurst Street ground of Radford FC, set in one of Nottingham's multi-cultural areas. The place smells of football and reminds me of the setting of one of Alan Sillitoe's 1960s black and white films. Sticky Palms is a big fan of Radford gaffer Glenn Russell. He certainly knows how to assemble a squad and keep them all happy. It's our second look at the visitors South Normanton. The first half is a tremendous advert for the East Midlands Counties League. Both teams spurn chances, after Radford take an early lead through Carey Knight. The Pheasants run out 1-0 winners despite finishing the last 25 minutes of the game with just 10 men. The race for the title is hotting up with a number teams still in the hunt for silverware.
I walk into town to meet Ms Moon from work on Friday tea-time. I fancy an ale or two at the revamped Cock and Hoop on High Pavement. Ms Moon has a penchant for bubbles. I enquire how much a bottle of Prosecco is, £25 is the reply. I jokingly tell the barmaid that I don't want champagne before about-turning and heading off up to the Bell where the fizz is £15 a bottle. I can't arf pick em, readers.
I'm up with the larks and in Marks and Spencer's food hall in the leafy Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford by 8:30am on Saturday. I get my ears lowered at the Barbers Lounge on Gordon Road. I grab Ms Moon a skinny latte from Costa in Colwick. Murphy Palmer the budgie is whistling his wee head off to Stevie Wonder's Place in the Sun on the Brian Matthew show as I walk through the front door.
We're speeding down the A453 and onto the A50 as the skies begin to brighten. Hanley's excellent twitter account confirms today's game is on. Graham Norton is already getting on my wick. The buffoon plays Reach by S Club 7 twice in a row. Why couldn't he play S Club Party? - me and Murphy love that one.
First port of call is the Queens at Freehay near Cheadle. I have a pint of Lancaster Bomber as I chat to a charming landlord. A pub bore tells us a few long-winded stories of haunted hotels he has stayed in. He mentions that he's had a £50 each way wager on Holywell in the Grand National. I joke with him that I've had 50p each way on the same horse. We tuck into a homemade beef and merlot pie. Even Phil Collins 'In the Air Tonight' doesn't dampen my lunchtime. I admire the photos on the wall of Ian Botham and Lords cricket ground. The landlord is a gentleman and the service is first class.
The Sir Stanley Matthews statue is situated in the centre of Hanley. His ashes are scattered under the centre circle at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. I pose for a couple of snaps, before we dive into the Reginald Mitchell Wetherspoons, named after a local man who designed the Spitfire fighter plane. Hanley is one of six major towns that joined together to form the city of Stoke on-Trent in 1910. It is well known for pottery-making and coal mining.
Ms Moon is no fan of the Wetherspoons watering holes, Sticky, on the other hand, is all over them like a rash as he has £20 of CAMRA discount vouchers to plough his way through. I sink a pint of Squires Gold a springtime ale, Ms Moon sulks over a diet Coke. As we stroll back to the car we catch the town crier in action and a nervous bride posing for photos before taking the plunge in Hanley Town Hall.
It's a two mile drive to Abbey Lane the home of North West Counties League Division One leaders Hanley Town. It's £4 each on the gate and £1 for a programme, a friendly official points us in the direction of the clubhouse.
We wander in an anti-clockwise direction around the ground. We bump into local football enthusiast Kevin. He's dressed in Hanley Town clobber but also confesses to being a bit of a groundhopper. He's up in Scotland in a few weeks time to tick a few grounds off in the Edinburgh area. Olly the long-haired labrador is begging for a treat behind the nearest goal. One or two fans aren't talking to him as he failed to show up for Hanley's midweek fixture on Tuesday, preferring instead to watch Paul O'Grady's 'For The Love of Dogs' TV show.
We stand opposite the Colin Stair Stand, named after a former manager who died tragically and suddenly only a couple of seasons ago. We are served up utter tripe in the first 30 minutes of the game. Holker OB put ten players behind the ball and look content with nicking a point. Their sole striker is silver-haired and looks well into his forties. He's hardly going to work the channels or ghost past a defender with a change of pace. A couple of Hanley supporters will definitely win 'Spliff of the Season', it doesn't half pen 'n ink as the smoke drifts in the wind.
The weather has turned with driving rain replacing sun-kissed skies. We dive for cover in the clubhouse. Tea and coffee are £1 per cup. I bump into a Halifax Town supporter, who's also a groundhopper from York. He has spent the morning in Buxton and driving around the High Peak area of Derbyshire. He's not particularly impressed with the stadia or standard of football. He has more camera equipment than Lord Lichfield.
We shelter in the Colin Stair Stand as Hanley turn it on in the second half and run riot. They race into 4-0 goal lead. Poor old Kevin is running around the place like a blue-arsed fly retrieving scuffed efforts from hedge bottoms and adjoining fields. They even manage to fluff a penalty before running out 5-1 winners.
Man of the Match: Olly the Dog and Kevin
Sunday, April 3, 2016
I pick up the Good Pub Guide and start flicking through the pages. The Althorp Coaching Inn in the picture postcard village of Great Brington is in the main section and on further investigation looks a pearler. I'm astonished to read that the great-great-great grandfather of former USA President George Washington, Lawrence Washington, is buried in a vault in the church. It's going to be another Saturday lunchtime snooping around a churchyard.
The week flies by, as I take annual leave on Tuesday. I'm stood on the touchline at Nottingham Forest's Nigel Doughty Academy chattering away to Leicestershire groundhopper Rob Campion. I notice a chubby lad up top with a ridiculous barnet. It's Tricky Tree striker Britt Assombalonga. He'll need to wear a few bin liners in pre-season to shed the excess weight after a 12 month lay-off. He scores a peach of a goal with a rocket of a shot from just outside the penalty area.
I meet my boys at tea-time in the 'World Renowned Trent Bridge Inn.' It's the most expensive Wetherspoons in Europe. Sticky Palms is looking forward to tucking into his £20 CAMRA discount vouchers. A pleasant evening is finished off by sinking a pint of Castle Rock's Elsie Mo in Jessie Boot's old dispensary in the recently refurbished Embankment on the north side of the river.
There's just time to nip down Daleside Rd on Saturday morning to fetch Murphy Palmer the budgie a honey bar from Pets Are Us. I have a tearful moment in the shop as I walk past some bunnies that resemble recently deceased blog legend Finley Palmer. The honey bar is an extortionate £1.69. Old fat lad can take his time pecking on this one.
As luck would have it the church front door is open, a Chubb alarm engineer is in deep conversation with a church warden. I seek permission to enter the church and take a photo of the vault in which Washington's great-great-great grandfather is buried. Permission is granted unlike last week when some grumpy WBA fan declined my request to take a snap of his scruffy mongrel for the Non League Dogs website.
We are made very welcome at this dog-friendly 16th Century coaching inn. I have a pint of Phipps NBC Indian pale ale from a local brewery as we enjoy a baguette and some home-cooked chips. We stretch our legs around this charming village. Ms Moon points out there are no Spencers named in the 30 soldiers who died in the First World War on the War Memorial. We stroll past the local post office which was once owned by the mother of radio disc jockey Jo Whiley, who grew up in the village. I nearly get wiped out as I cross the road by a cyclist who is wearing a Northampton Saints training top.
Fernie Fields is a 20 minute drive away. We seemed to have driven up the wrong entrance, so abandon our vehicle on some posh housing estate. We slip into the ground through the players' entrance without paying. I wander over to the turnstile on the far side and cough up £13 for two entries and an excellent programme. I nip to the loo, which is adjacent to the changing rooms, which are pumping out some serious tunes.
The ground is charming. I admire the neatly trimmed privet hedge that runs behind the far goal and along the farthest touchline. The pitch is like a billiard table, with a well manicured playing surface.
We chance upon a silver-haired gentleman in salmon pink trousers. Pete, denies being a groundhopper, despite going to three games a week. The guy is well animated and reminds of a thespian actor.
We position ourselves inbetween the two dugouts. The Holbeach 4 jacket, Ollie Gale, is the stepson of one of my best mates, Ackers, who occasionally joins us on the groundhop.
There's no real tempo to the first half. I'd have expected Holbeach to bust a gut as they chase down the leading pack with games in hand, they play with little urgency. Sileby's left back can launch a throw-in longer and flatter than Rory Delap. They fail to exploit this, when the best tactic would be to play down the channels and squeeze the full backs.
The visitors take the lead on 12 minutes with a superb finish from Sean Coughlan, who deftly lobs the ball over an onrushing 'keeper after an outrageous first touch. Ms Moon shouts up the hot drinks at the break as I get gassing to three elderly gentlemen. Princess Diana soon crops up in the conversation. It's fair to say her younger brother is not popular in these parts. Most folk are certain she is buried in the Spencer Vault in the church and not on the island on the Althorp Estate.
Holbeach are bloody awful in the second half, barely fashioning a chance. Sileby equalise with a superb header from a left footed inswinging corner. The referee waves away claims for a penalty as the Sileby forward falls to the ground after a heavy challenge. He leaves the field with what looks like a dislocated or broken finger. There's no qualified physio on either bench, so it looks like a trip to accident and emergency for the inconsolable striker.
Man of the Match: Dominic Okanu