Sunday, August 12, 2018

Blyth Spartans 8-1 Chester FC

Sunday morning is spent weeding in the garden, reflecting on a wonderful day out in Bristol and Clevedon yesterday. Ms Moon and I enjoy some fine dining and quality cuisine at the Hammer and Pincers, Wymeswold, in the Charnwood district of Leicestershire. I fire up the laptop on our return to HQ and knock out the Bristol City v Nottingham Forest blog, sat in a sun-drenched garden, with Pickering's Gin for company. 3,000 hits show there's life in the old blog yet, and room too for the forthcoming vlog (software and instructions downloaded, training to commence shortly).

On Tuesday teatime I sink the best pint of Bass, ever, at one of my old haunts, the Wysall Plough - I tell Ms Moon it's for research purposes. Wysall is a 'Thankful Village' - 12 men were sent to War in 1914 and returned home safely. There are 52 other Thankful Villages in England and Wales, compare this to only one in France. The villagers in Wysall raised £118 as a thanksgiving celebration and bought the church their first clock in 1920.

I make the short journey over to the Packe Arms, in Hoton, to hook up with White Van Man and Big Ed, for tea, before racing over to the Dovecote to see Ilkeston Town narrowly defeat Shepshed Dynamo 3-2 in the Midland Football League. The following evening is spent yet again in this neck of the woods, watching Quorn AFC with an old mate, Bobby Oldham. The visitors, Long Eaton, are well-beaten 4-2. 45-year-old Russell Hoult, with 445 professional appearances under his belt, has the 'keeper's gloves on for Quorn.

Early on Friday evening I sink a couple of pints of Shipyard at the Woodthorpe Top 'Spoons on Mapperley Tops, ironically adjacent to the war memorial. In another twist of fate, an ex-soldier is proudly showing his friends a phone clip of him playing the Last Post at a ceremony. I spot an astonishing photo of Lord's cricket ground on social media, where England and India have been dodging the showers for most of the day.

I'm like an overexcited little kid at Christmas. Sticky Palms is wide-eyed and bushy-tailed before the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. I'm singing 'I'm So Excited' by the Pointer Sisters in a high-pitched silly voice that wakens Ms Moon from her slumber. I shoot down to Netherfield Costa and make sure the princess is fuelled to the brim with a Latte, as she can be a tad irritable and tetchy first thing in the morning.

I'm raising money for Help for Heroes this season to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War. It's £1 per goal at each new ground visited and £5 for each Thankful Village I visit. As Dermot O'Leary spins 'Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode we roll into Norton Le-Clay and nearby Cundall - both sleepy villages in North Yorkshire, who saw all their armed forces return home in 1918.

A grouchy Ms Moon ticks off another Costa at Northallerton services as an angry wasp chases a petrified Sticky Palms around the car park. By 11:am we're parked up on the seafront at Seaton Sluice, just a few miles down the road from Blyth.

In the car park we chance upon a council warden, a member of the public and a young chap from the travelling fraternity having a set to about the well being of a Shetland Pony, who has a nasty flesh wound on his leg. The lad claims to have taken the pony into the sea, so the salt can cleanse the wound - it does look suspicious, but we don't want to get involved, with threats of calls to the police - it's a very strange and delicate situation.

We wander down the beach and clamber up the sand dunes towards the harbour and more importantly the Kings Arms that overlooks the bay. It's Seaton Sluice Harbour Day. All monies raised are going towards the RNLI. There are fairground rides, bouncy castles, face-painting and a band warming up at the carnival.

The pub is bustling with folk. I've arranged to meet a Nottingham-based Blyth Spartans fan called Kevin Marshall - we have mutual acquaintances, but have not met in person before. It's a bit like a blind date. Kev and his other half went to Edgar Street in Hereford to watch Spartans last week, so is a man after my own heart. Ms Moon and I enjoy fish, chips and mushy peas. Kev and I quaff a pint of Abbots ale and an 'Inspired' from the Hook Norton Brewery.

We stick the car on a side street called Arcadia Terrace in Blyth. Ms Moon says she'll remember the name as Election Day by Arcadia (a Duran Duran project) is one of her favourite tunes. Talking of Toon, Newcastle have been beaten 2-1 by Spurs at St James' Park.

Blyth is a town that lies on the coast of Northumberland with a population of 37,000. The main industries that helped the town prosper were coal mining and shipbuilding. The Royal Navy's first aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was built here in 1914. Notable people with connections to the town include: Captain Richard Been Stannard, recipient of the Victoria Cross, Dire Straits singer Mark Knopfler and Brighton Hove Albion defender Dan Burn.

Blyth Spartans were founded in 1899 and play their home games at Croft Park. They are well known for their famous giant-killing feats in the FA Cup. In 1978 they reach the 5th round of the FA Cup. Notable former players include: John 'Budgie' Burridge, Graham Fenton, Marcus Maddison and Alan Shoulder.

We take a pew perched up high in the Port of Blyth Stand. It was £12 on the gate, £2 for a programme and a further £2 to gain access to the stand. I bump into a groundhopper who supports Dagenham and Redbridge. He arrived in Newcastle in the early hours of the morning and spent four hours in the casino, so hasn't had any sleep. He's a bit of a character and makes me chuckle.

Blyth have lost their two opening games. Chester FC are unbeaten and are co-managed by former Salford managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley. I am a Jonah when it comes to watching Jonno and Bernard's teams - I think it's three wins in 10 outings - current form would suggest they should be okay today.

I was expecting the Spartans PA guy to play some Dire Straits, Sting or heaven forbid, Jimmy Nail, but sadly there's no music today. although the teams are announced over the tannoy. Ms Moon is amused by a saying painted on the stand behind the goal. It says 'Spartans Do Not Ask How Many Are The Enemy, But Where Are They?'

Chester haven't a clue where the enemy lies. They are hit by a north-eastern whirlwind. Comedy defending sees Daniel Maguire ('Nippa' they call him) take advantage. I'm not sure who leaps higher for the second goal on 18 minutes, Kev next to me or Green in the box. Holmes completes the first-half rout on 42 minutes to make it 3-0. A standing ovation by the Spartans supporters sends a tingle down my spine. Kev Marshall is grinning from ear to ear and has risen from his seat to applaud each goal. In contrast Chester are booed off by angry supporters who have made the 400-mile round trip.

A bewildered and shellshocked 'Jonno' and Bernard stomp down the tunnel. What I'd give to be a fly on that dressing room wall. I take a wander around the wonderful Croft Park ground at the break. Ms Moon treats me to a Double Decker from 'Paula's Pantry.'

The second half is a horror show for the visitors. Dudley misses an early chance before Reid makes it 4-0 on 55 minutes. Things go from bad to worse with skipper Roberts shown a straight Red for a dangerous tackle in the centre circle.  An own goal by Howson makes it 5-0, before Stopworth scores a consolation goal. Chester then see a shot spectacularly cleared off the line. Before further goals from Wrightson, Buddle and 'Nippa' ensure £9 is pledged to the Help for Heroes charity (+ £10 for visiting two Thankful Villages.

An emotional Anthony Johnson bravely fronts up to the Chester FC TV cameras after the game. He says he is 'embarrassed', 'shaking with rage' and has asked for some of the players to 'rip up their contracts.'

It's been another day of making memories for us two to cherish. The takeaway for me is what a beautiful game of football Blyth Spartans have played today.

Attendance: 737

Man of the Match: 'Nippa'

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bristol City 1-1 Nottingham Forest

It's Friday evening and an excited Sticky Palms, on the eve of the new football season, is on the Carlton No.27 bus heading into Nottingham city centre. Tomorrow I'll be chalking off my 85th Football League ground, as I close in on completing my 45-year old quest to visit the '92'. I peer out of the double-decker top window, staring down on the 'professional drinkers' at a Wetherspoon's establishment called the Free Man on Carlton Hill. Folk are spilling out of the front door onto the pavement -it's like a scene from the cobbled streets of San Antonio back in the day.

The reason for my trip into Nottingham is to drop by the offices of ICN on Stoney Street, in Hockley, at the heart of the city's 'Creative Quarter.' The Mayor of London' owns the company and is going to teach me how to set up and edit a vlog, to run alongside this blog I've written for over 12 years. After a quick editorial with one of his young guns, Alex, we all retire to the Southbank Bar on Friar Lane, where I quench my thirst with a couple of New Dawn citra pale ales from the Navigation Brewery. England and India (well Virat Kohli going solo) are pitting their wits in a dramatic finale to the Test match at Birmingham's Edgbaston.

I head home cradling a small Five Guys burger wrapped up in foil. Reading are playing D***y in the Championship curtain raiser. A late Tom Lawrence header from a brilliant Mason Bennett cross sees the Sheep grab a fortuitous three points. Ms Moon is on the lash up on Mapperley Tops, so I turn in early for a good night's kip.

I'm up at the crack of dawn and greeted with the remnants of a Chinese takeaway scattered about the kitchen surface. I bid farewell to a dozing Princess and head over to Nottinghamshire's 'premier resort' - West Bridgford. Piers, a Tricky Tree diehard, messaged me the other day with an offer of a ticket for Ashton Gate - I bit his hand off.

I flick on the radio, Tony Blackburn is playing 'Hey Big Spender' - ooh the irony. Aitor Karanka has thrown the kitchen sink at recruitment in a desperate attempt to reach the Premiership, after 20 years in the doldrums and wilderness.

I take a left turn off the Melton Road before spinning the car onto Stanley Road - not to be confused with where Paul Weller was brought up - an album voted the 46th greatest of all-time by Q Magazine readers. We're soon bombing down the A453 and onto the M42. I've known Piers for a few years now and have shared some cracking group weekends away with him, that he has meticulously planned, with no stone unturned, at Whitby, in North Yorkshire and Abersoch in North Wales.

The chance to visit the town of Clevedon, in North Somerset, is too good an opportunity to turn down. We're parked up on the front by 10am. We tuck into eggs benedict  (a West Bridgford housewives' favourite) at a seaside cafe, admiring the wonderful vista of the Bristol Channel and 150-year-old pier, which we stroll down in an effort to walk off the breakfast. Famous residents in the past include: bowls player David Bryant, darts player Bob Anderson and punk rocker Sid Vicious, who used to practise spitting off the pier - better than peeing off it like Monty Panesar did in Brighton.

Travel guides recommend we park the car up at Bedminster Cricket Club - it's only a ten-minute stroll up to the ground. We hook up with a Bristol City fan who lives in Cardiff and engage in conversation. He says he has relatives up in Shirebrook, near Mansfield. I remark that the actor John Hurt was born in the old mining town. "Yeah, I know, my auntie used to babysit for him." he replies.

Bedminster is in a hipster part of Bristol. We're both dying of thirst, so dive into the Bristol Beer Company Tap Room. I enjoy a pint of Hawaii Juice-O - it's amber nectar and down the hatch in five minutes, as we soak up the sunshine, ambience and street art.  We're sat in the much-needed shade in the Atyeo Stand 45 minutes before kick-off.

Bristol has a population of just less than half a million. The city is associated with the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London Paddington, two steamships: SS Great Britain and SS Great Western and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Notable people born in Bristol include: cricketers: Chris Broad W G Grace and Andy Stovold, footballers: Jack Butland, Keith Curle, Larry Lloyd (middle name Valentine; I'm not brave enough to ask him to confirm this)) and Marcus Stewart, ice skater Robin Cousins, snooker player Judd Trump, actor John Challis (Boycie from Only Fools and Horses), comedian Lee Evans and TV director Stephen Merchant. The city has always had a vibrant and underground music scene. Massive Attack, Nick Kershaw, Portishead, Pigbag and Rip, Rig + Panic were all Bristol-based.

Bristol City were founded in 1894 and are nicknamed the Robins. They have played at Ashton Gate just short of 115 years. Record transfer fee paid is £5 million to Angers for Senegalese striker Famara Diedhiou (currently serving a six-match ban for spitting at an opponent). Record transfer fee received is £15 million from Aston Villa for Jonathan Kodjia. Notable former managers include: Joe Jordan, Roy Hodgson, Tony Pulis, Steve Cotterill and Sean O'Driscoll.

The ground is impressive, particularly the Lansdown Stand which has an 11,000 capacity and towers above the pitch. David Bryant would love a game of bowls on the lush surface, which at first glance looks artificial. The DJ plays The Killers, Caesars and Madness and the brilliant Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, who hold cult status in the city.

The teams emerge from the tunnel with the beer-fuelled, overexcited Forest faithful singing 'Dawson is back.' The Tricky Trees are soon on the back foot as the Robins rampage down the left-hand side, playing some fast flowing breathtaking football. A corner is floated in and directed towards goal by O'Dowd but brilliantly beaten away by Romanian 'keeper Costel Pantilimon. Seconds later the ball is returned back into the box with ex-Ram, Andreas Weimann, leaping higher than others to nod home the opening goal.

The home crowd come alive; the away following are in shock and dumbfounded. City are rampant and terrorising Tricky Tree right back Tendayi Darikwa, who has little support, with folk not tracking back. The bloke behind me asks why Forest have 'a dwarf' on the near post' as another corner comes sailing in, with Ben Osborn dramatically clearing off the line.

A chink of light appears for Forest as Gil Dias seizes upon a misplaced pass. He ventures forward and plays in Murphy who dithers instead of shooting first time, choosing to shift the ball onto his left peg before fluffing his chance.

Forest fans are sobering up now and venting their anger at Irishman Daryl Murphy. One shouts out "are we playing with a cardboard cutout?" I remark to Piers that Murphy is usually good for a goal. Karanka has clearly kicked an underperforming Forest up the jacksy at half-time. They play with fire in their belly from kick off. Murphy makes amends within 30 seconds of the restart, guiding a header into the bottom corner following a pinpoint cross from the Algerian, Adelene Guedioura. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' bellows out from the away end, as Forest get a vice-like grip on the game.

Joao Carvalho starts to get on the ball and weaves a bit of magic with his quick feet and sharp turns. Joe Lolley enters the fray and has an immediate impact, forcing a great stop from City 'keeper Maenpaa. The Robins' Bryan forces another fine save from the shovel hands of Pantilimon, before the excellent ref, Darren Bond, calls time on a very entertaining game.

Forest have spent some lolly on their foreign contingent, but it is 'one of their own' Ben Osborn, at the club since the age of nine years old, who is head and shoulders above the rest.

Attendance: 22,395 (Away following 2,692)

Man of the Match: Ben Osborn

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Nelson 1-3 Ramsbottom United

It's Friday the 18th May, 'North' and West Bridgford are swarming with a sea of Sky Blue scarves and shirts, as Coventry City and their huge away following, pack out the Trent Bridge Inn, Southbank Bar and The Embankment (Jessie Boot's first dispensary). They have been fortunate to come away from last Saturday's first leg play-off game at the Ricoh Arena with honours even, after a last-minute miscarriage of justice. The Pies' full back, Matt Tootle, wins the ball as clean as a whistle on a greasy, rain-soaked surface. The buffoon of a referee deems otherwise and points to the spot. Notts' owner, 'Big Alan Hardy' is incandescent with rage and shoots from the hip on social media (a regular occurrence). He fires out more tweets than Donald Trump.

I sit in the Derek Pavis Stand with 'Bruiser' (Forest fan) and his Dad and view proceedings. Kevin Nolan's route one tactics are baffling and Stan Laurel head-scratching, as Coventry gain momentum and possession, to race into a two-goal lead. To their credit, Notts fightback and are cruelly denied an equaliser, with Jonathan Forte incorrectly flagged offside by another bungling official.

I've been sat next to three lads who wouldn't be out of place in the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. They show no interest in engaging with me at the break. I smell a rat. It all becomes apparent when Coventry seal Notts' fate with a decisive winner-takes-all third goal. The guy next to me starts fist-pumping and his actions are quickly recognised by the baying-pack of Pies' fans sitting in the vicinity. I fend off a few hooligans who offer the infiltrators outside for fisticuffs. They are soon scurrying back down the stairwell when the three lads stand up - not one is below 6'5". I whisper in the ear of one of them that it might be best to skiddadle, before they are lead out by 'Norris Cole' one of the stewards.

The football season is over. We enjoy sun-soaked evenings sat in the back garden, on our new outdoor furniture, reading, chit-chatting laughing and drinking copious amounts of alcohol - like most of the country. We bask in the glory of relative, unexpected World Cup 'success.' I'm gutted when we're paired with Croatia in the semi-finals, as I've had a £5 each way bet on the Eastern Europeans, as the lads at the car wash had told me they were nailed on at 33/1. England run on an empty tank in extra time - but the country is lifted in desperate, gloomy uncertain times - the feel-good-factor can't last forever.

I enjoyed some sun on my back in Lisbon. Whilst the lads pounded the fairways of the local golf courses, I jumped on the train several times to make the 40-minute journey into Portugal's capital. They were still sweeping up the debris in the streets after Ronaldo's astonishing hat-trick versus Spain a few days earlier. The Mayor of London and I found a cosy backstreet bar in the Bairro Alto district of the city. We watch an unconvincing Portugal struggle to beat an impressive Moroccan outfit.

I've been planning this year's groundhopping schedule for months now. I've seven grounds left to complete the 92 League grounds - there's an outside chance that it could be this season. I'll keep Pompey in the back pocket, as I wouldn't mind finishing off at such an iconic ground, steeped in history and tradition.

Nelson - or 'Little Wembley' as the locals call it, has been on the radar for ages. Ms Moon has a hen night, so is unable to make the team bus - White Van Man and Big Ed are drafted in, with it being a blog debut for the latter.

I meet Ms Moon on Friday tea-time in the Crafty Crow, close to Nottingham Castle and quaff a couple of real ales. I'd earlier popped into Weaver's, a wine and spirits merchant on Castle Gate, where I bagged a bottle of Pickering's Original Gin. I enjoy a few stiff ones in the back garden whilst Ms Moon catches up with the soaps.

The tropical rain disturbs my sleep at dawn the following morning. I fill up with diesel at Morrisons and get the car washed by the Eastern European lads, who I generously tip after the Croatian World Cup journey.

I make the short trip over the water to Big Ed's house in Clifton Grove. I hear rubber burning and a radio blaring out as White Van Man (Starsky and Hutch style) parks up his vehicle. We chew the cud on the best way to head up to Lancashire, as I want to avoid the M6 like the plague.

White Van Man adjusts the front seat; he's almost lying horizontal, Big Ed sits in the back as quiet as a mouse. I've done my research folks, as the Big Man loves his fish 'n chips. Sadly the best chippy in the world, Grandma Pollards, close to Todmorden, just off the M62, is closed for a week. 6Music presenter Stuart Maconie recommended that chippy in his Pies and Prejudice book.

I fancy a shufty around the Upper Calder Valley town of Hebden Bridge. We park up on the High Street and peg it up to the Crown chippy as WVM's stomach has been rumbling for a while now. The Big Man is salivating and chuckling as he orders up pie, chips and gravy. Ed and I sample the haddock, which we eat on the bridge admiring the views of the River Calder and Hebden Water.

WVM's pie vanishes quicker than a Trumpy Bolton pint of real ale. He eyes up a custard pie at a nearby bakery - even I get in on the act with a vanilla custard slice. We jump back in the car. I nearly wipe out two cyclists at a junction, as we head out of town and onto the moors. They were pedalling that quick they were probably taking illegal substances, as you do in that 'sport.'

Sat Nav takes us on a death ride across the moors - I feel like punching it in the face. I barely get the car out of second gear - it's like a scene from Father Ted when Dougal can't go over 5 mph in the milk float (a Mickey take of the film Speed) I'm sweating like a good 'un by the time we park outside Victory Park.

Nelson is in the Borough of Pendle, in Lancashire, close to Burnley. It has a population just shy of 30,000. It was a mill town during the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th Century it was well known for making confectionaries such as Jelly Babies and Victory V.

Notable folk to have been born or lived in the town include: West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine, who played for Nelson CC between 1929 and 1938 (a life covered in a brilliant book by Harry Pearson), footballer and manager Mike Phelan (lovely bloke, stopped in our hotel in Portugal once), actor John Simm, from Life on Mars, antiques expert Eric Knowles and Emmerdale Farm actress Nicola Wheeler (contact Ms Moon or White Van Man for further details).

We wander up a path to be greeted by two lads on the gate. It's £5 in (thanks lads, and for lunch too). There's no sign of a programme or teamsheet; it is only a friendly after all. The ground is a little belter. There's a low-roofed green-painted wooden stand running alongside the furthest touchline. On the opposite side are the dugouts, with the backdrop of twenty or so grey-stoned cottages. The furthest goal is dwarfed by huge trees that sway in the stiff breeze that is blowing in some inclement weather.

Nelson FC were founded in 1881. They were a founder member of the Third Division North of the Football League, before losing their Football League status in 1931. Former Liverpool manager Joe Fagan has played for the Admirals.

We do a customary circuit of the ground. Big Ed dives into the clubhouse for a cup of  Maxwell House. I take a gleg at all the memorabilia and press cuttings pinned onto a noticeboard. Ramsbottom are a couple of leagues above Nelson, so will fancy their chances. We had to bail out from visiting there with Ms Moon when her Audi A3 clutch gave up the ghost.

WVM is still spewing at my pathetic attempts at driving across the moors - we'd have been here in half the time had he been behind the wheel. He shouts out I'll be walking home if it's 0-0 just as Rammy open the scoring on 30 seconds after a breathtaking move and raking pass out to the wing. - "I can't half pick 'em Son".

Lord knows what 'Big Ed' thinks about watching one man and his dog, when his team, NFFC, average over 20,000 - he seems to be enjoying it though. Nelson restore parity. The Nelson Twitter account has caught my attention and has us in stitches here are a few tweets:

"2pm ko today, so the boys are back in time for Love Island."

"30 secs gone 1-0 to Rammy, 'keeper should have done better #poppadomwrists

"Jake Lloyd has gone down on the far side with sunburn #gingerproblems

"Gaz Lloyd turns up late on half-time after a round of crazy golf with his Mum."

Lancastrians are well known for their sense of humour. Ramsbottom put the game to bed after a defensive faux pas, and are 3-1 up by the time we're on the M65 heading back home.

Man of the Match: Nelson Tweeter.

Next Blog: Bristol City v Nottingham Forest

Sunday, May 27, 2018

2018/2019 Itinerary

Next season's visits to include:

Appleby Frodingham, Ashton Athletic, Ashton United, Bamber Bridge, Barrow AFC, Bacup Borough, Bewdley Town, Boldmere St Michaels, Blyth Spartans, Campion FC, Colwyn Bay, Coventry Copsewood, Droitwich Spa, Eccleshill United, Forest Green Rovers, Godmanchester Rovers, Hereford FC, Hilton Harriers, Kendal Town, Luton Town, Nelson, Newark Flowserve, Padiham, Portsmouth, Prescot Cables, Ramsbottom United, Runcorn Town, Shrewsbury Town, Silsden AFC, South Shields, Spennymoor Town, Stone Old Alleynians, Stoney Middleton, Swallownest, Tideswell Utd, Trafford FC, Wednesbury,  Wellingborough Whitworth and Wrexham.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Holbrook St Michaels 5-2 Linby Colliery Welfare

It's Thursday evening and I'm driving down Loughborough Road (A60) past the mint green-topped offices of Nottinghamshire County Hall, on a sun-drenched Trent Bridge. It's my penultimate game of the season. On Tuesday I saw an in-form Radford FC turn over second-placed Teversal 2-1 up at Carnarvon Street, in the north of the county. Big Glenn's Pheasants are on flames. 'The Milky Bar Kid' (Ryan Smith) bagged his 27th and 28th goal of the season - he plays with a heart and soul.

I'm listening to Five Live. The brilliant Conor McNamara and the biggest idiot in England (refused to play for them once), Chris Sutton (killed my club) are at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid for the Real v Bayern Munich Champions League second leg. Sutton is waffling on as music blares out of the ground's PA system. I recognise the tune at the drop of a hat and nearly crash the car into the central reservation. Real Madrid's 'DJ' is playing 'Rock 'n Roll' by convicted rapist Gary Glitter, who was arrested under Operation Yewtree (BBC related, as it happens) and jailed for 16 years in 2015. You'd have thought the BBC would have faded it out - I shake my head in disbelief.

It's a tight squeeze to get the 'Rolls Royce' into a spot at a jam-packed Green Lane, home to the mighty Clifton All Whites, whose alumni include: Jermaine Pennant and Jermaine Jenas. I get chatting to a few Non-League folk who frequent the circuit.

The cheery, happy-go-lucky, chrome-domed James 'Tosh' Turner (a very dear friend) wanders over to me to say hello. It's his ninth year as manager - "just one more" he says, like he does when you're out on a session in Notts or Majorca with him. High-flying Dunkirk are in town tonight and share a healthy rivalry with Clifton.

All Whites take a shock lead on the stroke of half-time, but are pegged back a few minutes later by a goal from the industrious Ben Moore. Scott Litchfield restores Clifton's lead with a howitzer of a strike from 25 yards - it's a goal of high quality. Back come Dunkirk, with their old warrior Steve Chaplin evening things up, to set up a grandstand finish.

Cult hero and housewives' favourite Ollie 'the Hitman' Clark is having the game of his life - Sticky P loves him to bits, particularly when he gets booked, so I can wheelbarrow my winnings out of Corals bookmakers on Ruddington High Street. He duly obliges with a customary caution (No.14 for the season) dramatically waved in his face by an overzealous official. I know he'll knuckle down. His Dad shouts out from the dugout "get us a winner, Son." Minutes later, after a faux pas by the cocky Clifton 'keeper, Clark skillfully guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net, setting off wonderful, raucous celebrations - he wheels away in the direction of the bench before being mobbed by his team-mates. All I can think of is, don't take your shirt off Ollie, or it'll be an early bath.

I have a day off on Friday in lieu of working this coming Bank Holiday Monday, when I head off up to Dunblane, in Scotland, to play tennis with Andy and Judy Murray - I'm actually in the town on a piss up (Sales Conference). I spend the day in the garden, potting plants and scarifying the lawn. I shower up before jumping on the No.27 bus into town.

I alight from the bus at the Southwell Road stop before pegging it up London Road past the oldest Football League Club in the world, who were founded in 1862. The Pies are already in the League Two play-offs; my team, Lincoln City, need to secure a point tomorrow at Sincil Bank versus Yeovil Town, from Somerset, to be in the shake-up.

I waltz through the back doors of The Embankment and shout up a pint of Lowry from the Hydes brewery in Manchester. I plonk myself on a corner seat in the superb, sun-soaked beer garden - the best in North Bridgford, full of proper Nottingham folk. I'm joined by my best mate Dafty. We chew the cud and catch up over a couple of beers, before crossing Trent Bridge towards The City Ground.

It's £4 on the turnstile (thanks Dafty) for the under 23 play-off final (whatever that means) between Forest and the Trotters of Bolton. I look at the team-sheet and notice a lad playing for Bolton whose grandparents I met on my jollies in Nerja, southern Spain, last summer.

Despite the procession and turnover of managers, the Tricky Trees have still managed to produce and risk playing youth in their first team - only King Billy Davies (a legend in his own lunchtime) turned his back on the Academy. Nick Marshall, previously, and current Academy Director, Gary Brazil, should take credit for this. We clock Darius Henderson lurking in the back row of the main stand - he's a talent scout working in the USA.

Bolton play Forest off the park in the first half and are two to the good at the break. First team boss Aitor Karanka is viewing proceedings from the Directors' Box, along with his entourage. Forest rally in the second half, clawing a goal back. It's not enough to win the game. After the final whistle, following a fine performance, 21 year-old NFFC 'keeper, Liam Bossin, appears to push the ref in the chest and is shown a straight Red - you wouldn't get my boy Ollie Clark stooping that low! I manage a quick scoop in a deserted Cock and Hoop in Nottingham's Lace Market, before grabbing a Five Guys burger and jumping in a taxi home.

I'm up at nine bells, making up a sausage sandwich, ironically at the same time as former snooker player John Virgo (off the BBC's Big Break) appears on Danny Baker's 'Sausage Sandwich Game' on Five Live. I'm out, about and driving solo up the A610 before 10:00am. The Central Midlands League have organised a groundhop weekend up in Derbyshire. Weird and wonderful 'Hoppers' will be pitching up in the village of Holbrook from all over the country; indeed some will be from Europe - it's comedy gold and not to be missed.

I need to tick off Holbrook St Michaels, close to the town of Belper. I zip up the A610 admiring the scenery and floral displays in the gardens and the villages of Denby and Kilburn. Holbrook is to die for, but must endure some harsh winters - I've still to visit the Dead Poets Inn public house, a Good Pub Guide entry.

The ground is situated in the tranquil setting of Holbrook Hall. It's a bargain £3 for entry and car parking. Today's attendance of 212 turns out to be a club record. I take a wander up the far touchline of this beautiful tree-lined venue. Trestle tables are set out with Hoppers selling books, badges and programmes. I spot a couple of books on Non-League grounds in Lancashire and West Yorkshire and immediately snap them up. I strike up a conversation with the stallholder Mike Float (yes there's a joke in there somewhere, perhaps he's related to 'Milky' from Radford). Mike (not Milky) has upped sticks from the south and moved to Whitby, in North Yorkshire - I'm green with envy.

Linby Colliery Welfare are the visitors and play like they've been on the lash in Hucknall the night before. I'm fond of Linby as I spent three years working there at the colliery back in the 80s. Today they are on the end of a 5-2 tonking.

I'm back in the car and on the blower to Ms Moon. I'm avoiding Sincil Bank like the plague; my heart won't last for 90 minutes. It's a gorgeous day as we stroll around Nottingham's Creative Quarter in Hockley, before diving into Sexy Mamma's on Heathcoat Street, where we eat Al Fresco. I stay teetotal with my mind firmly fixed on 'The Lincoln' as we shell out £17 at the Nottingham Broadway Cinema kiosk to watch the critically acclaimed Funny Cow. Maxine Peake blows us away with an award-winning performance loosely-based on the life of northern female comedian Marti Caine, along with the prejudices and blatant racism of the 1970s.

We're half an hour into the film and the bloke behind me is already irritating the living daylights out of me by unwrapping his sweets and slurping his cola through a straw. I light up the whole cinema (it only has 40 seats) by checking Live Scores on my phone - Christ on a bike, cider-drinking Yeovil are 1-0 up at Sincil. 

The film is gripping, sad, funny and dark - so is my mood. I lose signal and get the Apple 'wheel of misfortune.'  - it's an old -fashioned news blackout. It's 5:30pm the film has ended and I have no idea of the final score at Lincoln. I exchange pleasantries with a guy in the toilet (about the film) as Ms Moon hotfoots it down to Marks and Spencer to grab some tea. I enter the outside world on Broad Street, that's blessed with wall to wall sunshine and streaming with folk. I take a deep breath and fish my mobile from out of my pocket. A text comes through from my brother on his hols in Corfu. It simply says "we never make it easy do we?" I burst into tears, like I do now, writing this. Up the Imps xx

Attendance 212 at the game and 31 at the cinema.

Man of the Match: Maxine Peake in Funny Cow.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

AFC Kilburn 5-3 Keyworth United

It's Saturday 9th September 2006, blue skies and sunshine saturate Keyworth United's Platt Lane mini soccer pitch. Storm clouds have gathered and vultures have circled for most of the summer, as two parents from my Under 9 side have clashed, and they just won't blow away. As manager of this wonderfully brave, gifted and beautiful team, I'm at my wits' end.

The previous season we had romped to the Young Elizabethan League Division One title, brushing aside the inner-city big guns of AFC Vernon and Dunkirk. I actually got accused by a Keyworth committee member, of 'playing to win.' (lol).

My little team are losing 5-3, anarchy breaks out on the sidelines in full view of my lads. Enough is enough. I resign after the game. Karen, my wife at the time, tries her best to talk me out of it. The stress of running the team has caused me many sleepless nights. My son, Joe, was devastated and heartbroken at my resignation. I stay away and don't even watch the team and my lad for a few months, as a parent very kindly steps in and restores the boys' shattered confidence.

Fast forward the clock four years. The manager, a close friend and confidante of mine, has formed an incredible and unbreakable bond with the boys; they'll run through a brick wall for him. He has a serious illness which he doesn't like to make a song and dance about, but I can see he is struggling. I help him out and rediscover my zest and love for coaching. We reach the Notts FA Shield final and lose out narrowly - we don't play to win and everyone gets a game. The boys give their all in every match and are proud to wear the shirt.

The final season sees me at breaking point. I'm running an under 16 side and Sticky junior's under 18 team. The under 18s are challenging and so are the opponents. Sticky junior is comedy gold, but runs on a short fuse, that when lit, can flare up at any given time. I know he loved it when I was his manager for that final season; he played for the badge and with his heart in every game.

A story I must share, happened out in the Vale of Belvoir, just off the A52. We'd beaten our opponents 4-3 at 'the home of football' in our first encounter - 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' was unplayable that day. He rang rings around the left-back, who had more dizzy spells than Dot Cotton off EastEnders. 'Junior' bagged a brace, his mate, Tom Siswick (could catch pigeons for a living), the best centre-forward I've ever clapped eyes on, scored in what John Motson once called 'mystery time.' There was bad blood at the final whistle. We were 3-2 down with two minutes to go. One of their players sarcastically asked me what the score was, but didn't take too kindly to me asking the same question five minutes later.

In the return fixture, we were 3-1 down with ten minutes to go. Thankfully it was roll-on-roll-off subs. Sticky junior had blown a gasket earlier in the game, so I hauled him off and put him in the cooler for ten minutes; a bit like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. He had two goals chalked-off for offside by a cheating linesman (parent) - I never questioned this btw. A pumped-up Junior was unleashed with ten minutes remaining, hitting the onion bag twice in the last five minutes - his final goal was celebrated by sliding on his knees, on a rain-soaked surface, falling two yards short of 'our man' running the line, with Junior's index finger pinned to his mouth, in shush mode, directed to all and sundry. There was a bit of a commotion in the car park after - I drove out the place like Starsky and Hutch on two wheels, with the Keyworth flag flying out of the sunroof.

The reason I'm sharing this with you is that it's Wednesday evening and I'm standing at a windswept Platt Lane with the 'Big Man', watching Keyworth United v Matlock Town Reserves. I look at the Green Army team; only one lad from our village is playing. To my knowledge, not one lad from my 18s and 16s team play football anymore. Why is that?  Why haven't KUFC tapped into their youth production line of talent, which has, at its peak, had over 25 teams? The Cricket Club do.

Keyworth are swept aside and soundly beaten 4-0 by a bunch of 16 and 17-year-olds, who are, admittedly, training each day at an Academy. I don't see anybody playing for the badge - most won't be hanging around or even playing for 'Us' next season.

I'm still cross about the game two days later and pondering on whether to give them a second chance up at AFC Kilburn, near Belper, a ground I need to tick off. On Friday I have a disastrous day at work and honestly can't wait for close of play. There's a chink of light on the horizon, with a new real ale house opening on the top of Carlton Hill.

The Brickyard, run by the Lincoln Green Brewery, opens its doors to the general public at 6pm. It's packed to the rafters and chaotic behind the bar. I notice a few big cheeses from CAMRA propping up the bar and adding to the pressure - they've got long beards so presume they are real ale dignitaries. I down a beautiful pint of 'Boxer Blonde' from the Bowland Brewery up in Clitheroe, Lancashire. It takes an age to get served, with first night nerves and all that. I pop into 'Spoons on the way back to HQ; it's deathly quiet in there. compared to the usual busy, bustling trade.

I flick the Fulham v Sunderland game on Sky. I've convinced myself that the 'Black Cats' can win despite the Cottagers being unbeaten in the last 21 games. I tell Ms Moon I've placed a 50p bet at a juicy 14/1 odds (put a fiver on really). I'm moonwalking like MJ on the lounge floor when 'We' take the lead. An equaliser on half-time and a late winner see me hit the wooden hill at 10pm - I'm never betting again.

I'm fretting for most of Saturday morning as the persistent rain batters the French windows. It's a toss-up between watching Kilburn or Holbrook St Michaels - the grounds are only a few miles apart. I'm cleaning the house for most of the morning and checking-in on Twitter for weather updates. I make the call to travel up to Kilburn at just before 2pm.

The first hour on Paul Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops' on Radio 2 is usually rank - we switch on to hear the morose 'Seasons in the Sun', by Terry Jacks - Number One pop pickers in 1975. I remark to Ms Moon that this was a favourite Trent End terrace chant back in the day. She asks me to recite it: "We had joy, we had fun, we had D***y on the run, but the fun didn't last, coz the b***tards ran too fast." - it's a Yes from Simon!

The year now is 1990. 'Gambers' plays the best DJ set since 'Rave On' at the Phoenix Nights Social Club, in Bolton, back in 2001. It includes: Jesus Jones, Adamski and is topped off by the Adventures of Stevie V and 'Dirty Cash' (Money Talks) -  unless you back Sunderland - Ms Moon politely turns down my request to stop the car so I can demonstrate some moves on Kilburn High Street (in Derbyshire, not north London).

I like the look of Kilburn; it seems a tidy place to live. We miss the turning into the ground, adjacent to the Chinese takeaway. The car park is jam-packed. Ms Moon sticks the car into a disabled spot - my leg's still hurting after falling off my bike and I've got a gammy right hand.

It's a bargain £3 a piece on the gate. It's a pleasant enough ground with terrific views. Standing water is everywhere apart from on the playing surface. We bump into Mark Antcliff, whose lad, Matty, is playing today - a lad I rate highly.

In a chaotic first half, Keyworth concede two sloppy, early goals. They peg one back with a daisy-cutter of a free kick from impressive left-back James Price. It's 3-2 at the break to Kilburn. To be fair to KUFC they've put a shift in compared to Wednesday evening - there's no hands on hips and throwing the towel in. It's nice to see a couple of young guns at the heart of their defence playing with heart and desire.

The goals continue to fly in after the break. I take a wander up to the away dugout to chat with Keyworth manager Paddy Sneath. He looks tired and drawn after a long season. Paddy is a lovely bloke and a respected coach on the circuit. But like me a few years ago, he's standing down and taking a break.

Attendance: 28 - Head Count

Man of the Match: Price - Keyworth left back

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Anstey Nomads 1-2 Dunkirk

I arrive home from Nuneaton relatively unscathed, minus fingernails, after 50 miles of a Grand Theft Auto death ride journey by the Big Man. After a couple of scoops at the Free Man on Carlton Hill and Old Volunteer, on Burton Road, I finally head home. Jesus wept, Britain's Got Talent is on the gogglebox. I fire up the computer and scan the full-time results in the East Midlands Counties League. The Boatmen of Dunkirk have won at the death, beating title rivals Teversal, thanks to an Adam Burton 93rd minute winner. I do a hands-on-hips little jig of celebration en route to the kitchen where I pour myself a stiff measure of Pickering's Original Gin.

It's a beautiful evening for cycling on Monday. The Big Man and I pedal down a sun-kissed Trent Embankment, past Holme Road (Nottingham Forest's old training ground) and down to the rowing course at Holme Pierrepont. 20km in the bank will help me reach my fighting weight for a six-day drinking binge in Lisbon in June during the World Cup.

I miss Lincoln City's vital promotion-chasing clash with rivals Wycombe Wanderers (managed by Imps' legend Gareth Ainsworth) at Sincil Bank due to working American hours - Sticky doesn't do 0-0s. Wednesday evening is spent in the old coal-mining village of Cotgrave, where Southwell City are the visitors at a sun-soaked Welfare ground.

I travel up to Ilkeston Towns New Manor Ground on Thursday, due to a venue switch, for Kimberley MW v Radford FC. The Pheasants are in a rich vein of form and dish out a 4-0 drubbing. All is quiet on the 'Kimbo' bench with rumours circulating that their potty-mouthed manager has spat out his dummy and left the club. Big Glenn Russell has a smile as wide as the A610. They'll be a good each-way bet for a Champions League spot next season.

It's Saturday morning and poor old Sticky is working his ass off in the front garden. I've dug deeper than the British Army in The Great Escape. Percy Thrower would be appalled to hear that I nearly put my spade through an electric cable, which would have resulted in a high voltage Sid Vicious mohawk hairstyle.

I'm getting all excited for the big game now, as I shower up and shave. Ms Moon has made a mini picnic as we venture out to north-west Leicestershire. We clock the Altrincham FC coach on the A453 in Clifton. A win today at Grantham will see them clinch the Northern Premier League title.

Bradgate Park is in Charnwood Forest and covers over 850 acres of land. We park up at Hunts Hill and have a pleasant stroll. A herd of deer emerge from the undergrowth and canter up the hill. We sit on a bench admiring the sweeping views of the countryside, whilst enjoying a spot of lunch.

Anstey is a four-mile drive away. It's £5 on the gate. It's a cracking little ground which has recently had a major make-over. We chill on the raised decking, chatting to some of the players' parents, basking in the spring sunshine.

Anstey is a village north west of Leicester, with a population of 6000 people. It is known as the Gateway to Charnwood Forest. Whilst developing a site for the new Co-op store in 2002, remains were found, which according to archaeologists dated back to the 12th Century. Ned Ludd, from whom the industrial revolutionists The Luddites took their name from, was born in the village. In 1779 in a ‘fit of passion’ he smashed up two knitting frames. Snooker player Willie Thorne is from the area, and it is said that he learnt his trade at the Anstey Conservative Club.

I'm presuming 'Upo' hasn't rocked up yet; you tend to hear him before you see him. Radio Nottingham were asking for folk to call in who left the game early at The City Ground last weekend, missing two late Tricky Tree goals. I'd already seen him cough up on Twitter about a sharp exit. Upo on a radio phone-in rant would be comedy gold, with the bleep machine on overtime.

Dunkirk have a DNA and ethos that's instilled into their players at a young age. You are taught to appeal for everything, have a never-say-die attitude and play with aggression. Some folk just don't get it; Anstey being one of them.

I saw these two teams play out a humdinger down Lenton Lane a few weeks ago. The Anstey 'assistant manager' (some hipster with a beard) was bleating like a baby lamb at the referee about giving the Boatmen everything. "It's because they ask mate, so quit your moaning, I haven't paid £5 to hear you bellyaching all night." His eloquent reply had a few effs and jeffs and was delivered with venom.

I have forewarned Ms Moon that Dunkirk are world class at swearing, we've run through a few expletives so that she'll fully understand the lingo and matchday experience. It's tight at the top of the table with four clubs still in the running for the championship title.

You can feel the tension in the air as the players emerge from the tunnel. We're stood directly to the left of the away dugout, leaning on a red-painted rail. Dave Robinson and Craig Clark have done a cracking job at the helm for Dunkirk. They have a belief in youth and nurture it; unlike their predecessor. They have brought in the vastly experienced Jimmy Albans onto the coaching staff.

Jimmy has a voice like a foghorn and would piss an interview for a town crier in any parish of our county, but he does know his onions. He immediately susses out the pathetic time-wasting antics of the Nomads and is onto the referee in a flash. "You'll soon get tired of that," says someone from the Anstey bench. "I bet you I don't" he replies.

The first half is nip and tuck. Anstey take an age in everything they do. The referee, 'the timekeeper' as I like to call him, seems reluctant to hurry them along or even stop his watch. Albans complains about the speed of balls being retrieved and thrown back in. The ref's reply is "I'm not a ball boy.

I wanted a bet on young Ollie Clark getting a yellow card; he's had more bookings than Joey Barton. He clatters into an Anstey player on seven minutes and is duly booked and royally bollocked by his Dad. It seems to calm him down as his presence is felt on the game with his lung-bursting runs and precise, crisp passing. I saw him play his heart out at Holwell Sports a few weeks ago. An early booking will calm him down.

Young Timmy Berridge is up top, a lad I know well from Gotham FC and Clifton All-Whites. He will learn a lot from playing alongside Steve Chaplin. 'Chappo' is head and shoulders above anyone on the pitch (top ratter Ben Moore deserves a special mention too). He leads the Anstey defence a merry dance, with his deft touch, aerial dominance, hassling and hounding and intelligent play.

Jack Lane is Anstey's standout player. Ms Moon says he looks like 'Tinhead' off Brookside. He covers the ground like a gazelle and has a wicked shot and dead ball in his locker. Will Rawden, Dunkirk's left back, will need to be on his toes. Dunkirk come the closest to scoring in a frantic first half with a Berridge header bouncing off the bar, following a brilliant save by the Nomads' 'keeper.

Ms Moon isn't too chuffed with me as I've been chatting to a Leicester groundhopper in the first half. I knew he was a hopper as he'd got a Machine Mart carrier bag which was probably packed out with a flask, Tupperware box full of egg and cress sandwiches, a programme cover and an old tobacco tin to put his newly-purchased club badge in.

There's a commotion at the break. Ms Moon says I've an eight-inch grey hair protruding from out of my nose. My eyes begin to water when she asks whether she can pull it out. After twenty aborted attempts, I finally feel a tear fall down my face with the offending item trapped between my thumb and first finger.

Out of nowhere we hear a DJ on the PA system, and let me tell you folks the guy is on fire. He plays a superb set including: 'Cuba' by the Gibson Brothers. 'Green Onions' by Booker T & the M.G.'s and 'One Nation Under a Groove' (best start to a song ever) by Funkadelic.

I'm hoping Jimmy Albans has had a cold shower and calmed down as he's proper bollocked the referee uphill and down dale on his way to the dressing room at half-time. 'The bearded hipster' is poking his nose in The chilled-out referee will have been told in no uncertain terms to keep his beady eye on the farcical time-wasting antics from all at Anstey.

My man 'Chappo' is scythed down in the area with 20 minutes to go. Berridge steps up, only to see his penalty brilliantly beaten away by the Nomads' 'keeper. It's a pressure cooker atmosphere now, a situation the Boatmen will thrive on.

'Robbo' repeats "it'll come lads, be patient." His words ring true, minutes later. Berridge shows balls of steel, as he skips past two defenders on a diagonal run, before unleashing a shot into the bottom corner of the onion bag. The Dunkirk bench leap into the air in celebration. I raise a clenched fist and peck Ms Moon on the cheek.

The tables are turned on Anstey as Dunkirk run the clock down. Balls appear on all four sides of the pitch. Suddenly they have a bigger stock of footballs than JJB Sports. Berridge rolls the ball into an empty net to put the game to bed. The scenes are magical and heart-warming.

A late Anstey goal doesn't put a dampener on the day. We walk past four old guys. One pipes up, "Dunkirk just about deserved that." I put my hand on his shoulder and say "fully deserved mate, fully deserved."

Attendance: 137

Man of the Match: Steve Chaplin