Thursday, January 31, 2008

Leicester City 1 Crystal Palace 0

It’s the night of March 31st and as blind little Tim gets tucked up in bed his mum says “If you pray really hard tonight, tomorrow you will be able to see!” So little Tim prays like never before. Morning comes and Tim is still blind. “Mummy mummy” he cries out. “I prayed so hard last night but I’m still blind.” His mum gently pats him on his head. “I know son.” She said............. “April Fool!”

Cooperman is on a training course. I’ve copped for his season ticket. The Architect and I go Dutch on another ticket. It’s cost £26. I booked it over the phone at lunchtime. They picked up the receiver after one ring. I’ve phoned NFFC many times and have yet to speak to a human being.

I’ve been to Leicester’s old ground, Filbert Street more times than White Van Man has mopped up a Full English. And yet, here we are, The Architect and I, lost in a concrete abyss. We’ve picked up some signs for Hinckley. I’d be happy to end up there, as tonight they entertain Vauxhall Motors in the Blue Square Nationwide North. It would give me the chance to cast my beady eye over the much sought after Scouse winger, Paul Taylor.

The Eagles are unbeaten in the last 15 league games. They have taken to Neil Warnock like a duck to water. Warnock has the trusted Mick Jones and Keith Curle on his coaching staff. He has shored things up. Clint Hill, Nottingham born Shaun Derry and Neil Danns have all recently put pen to paper.

Mad cap Foxes manager Ian Holloway has also been very active in the market. New signings Steve Howard and Barry Hayles lead the line this evening.

We are relieved to have found HMP Leicester. We’re close to the ground and park at a Leisure Centre.

We collect the tickets from a caravan outside the main ticket office. The stadium, like Derby’s, is a much of a muchness. A plastic palace. The pitch is in a state of disrepair. The Architect is confused and enquires if we have taken a wrong turning and ended up at the rugby ground at Welford Road.

Leicester City have finally begun to produce their own. Lineker, Heskey and Joachim is a poor return of top flight footballers from 30 years of youth football. But now one or two are knocking on the first team door. Home grown Stearman and Mattock are in the starting eleven.

Crystal Palace FC was formed in 1905 and are from South East London. Well known folk from the Streatham area include: Edward Woodward, Tracey Emin, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and the cricketer Mark Butcher. Selhurst Park is one of the trickiest grounds to find, even with sat nav.

Stevenage Borough’s Peter Taylor has managed both the Foxes and the Eagles. He made a pig’s ear of it at both. Out tonight’s squads Palace’s Jamie Scowcroft and Paul Dickov have worn both sets of shirts. I note that Teddy Sheringham’s son Charlie has a squad number of 37 for the visitors.

The game is complete and utter garbage. There’s very little talent on show. The Eagles Shaun Derry shines out like a Belisha beacon. He makes the game look so easy, on a wretched surface.

The Foxes Gareth McAuley and Patrick Kisnorbo are a pair of powerhouses. They are built like a brick wall. They babysit the youthful full-backs. The same can be said of Palace duo Matt Lawrence and Mark Hudson. Both these teams are built on a sound defence. It’s a stalemate. Both teams cancel each other out.

There’s nothing doing at the break. They wheel out Birchenall for a bit of public relations. They’ve won the Masters or something. The Architect and I are too busy pissing ourselves at the state of the pitch.

People around me are munching on their beloved Walkers crisps. I buck the trend and have a bag of Golden Wonder. They feel betrayed.

Ineffective Hungarian winger Zsolt Laczko misses a gilt edged chance just after the break. He looks like he could do with a double helping of Goulash.

On the other flank the Canadian Iain Hume complains and moans at every opportunity. He fails to beat his man for most of the night and his delivery is poor. But then again I wouldn’t fancy a night out with Palace’s Clint Hill.

On 61 minutes a text comes through from home. Vera Duckworth is six foot under. Mrs P has a feet up on the sofa and is looking forward to watching the ITV drama The Palace. Certainly no-one at The Walkers Stadium is enjoying watching this Palace.

The highlight of the night is on 75 minutes. The chavs at the back are causing a few problems and the boys in blue turn up on the scene en masse. While a dozen or so deal with the situation, two of the plod stand near to the exit, tossing it off. The bloke in front can’t see and stands up. The woman behind can’t see. There’s a huge slanging match. The police become involved. We’re finally getting our £26 worth. We miss five minutes of this dreary encounter. A chavster is shown the red card.

Palace’s Clinton Morrison hits the back of the net but the linesman has flagged. White Van Man is texting me. He’s ripping me to shreds. “0-0” son .. 0-0.” The clock is ticking. Palace defend deep. Oakley plays the ball in and the industrious Hayles steers the ball home. It’s chavtastic.

Dudley Campbell races away from the visitors defence but fails to press home their advantage. The game is over. It never deserved a goal. Both sets of supporters have been vocal. We walk out to Hey Jude by The Beatles. Help, I need somebody!

Leicester 1 Hayles C Palace 0

Attendance: 21,764

Man of the Match: Shaun Derry

Friday, January 25, 2008

D***y County 1 Preston North End 4

Things are bad at home. Mrs P is sick and tired of the football, cricket and occasional little bet. Anyway, I booked a table for two last night for 8pm. And by 9 O’clock things were ten times worse. She hadn’t even potted a single bloody red ........

Mrs P has let it slip that she pays £25 for a haircut at Topknot. Having recovered from this earth shattering news, I, myself, have decided to go upmarket.

Word is out at work that I’m off to watch D***y County at The Sheep Dip. I’m booed and hissed at in every corridor. I’m undercover and heading towards the land of the lamb sarnie. I’ve been looking for a cup shock all week. And all eyes are pointing towards Pride Park. Preston North End are red hot favourites. But I think the Rams can produce an upset.

I’m driving down Brian Clough Way. I cross the border. I’m in bandit country. A Sheeps***er at work has tipped me off that there’s some wasteland near KFC, where I can park. I’m queuing up to pay and dangle a fiver out the window: “£8 please mate.” I nearly choke on my lamb sandwich. I could get one and half haircuts on our patch for that price.

I’m strolling towards the ground. It’s 1.30pm. I take the camera out of my pocket, to take a few shots. Those pair of clowns (my sons) has put dead batteries in my camera. I have already decided the punishment: they will be forced to watch a whole episode of Dancing on Ice tomorrow night. Amongst the maze of takeaways and retail parks is another Nottingham Secret Agent. Boots the Chemist provides me the batteries, sandwich and drink I so desire.

I saunter up to the Ticket Collection window. I booked yesterday. The girl on the phone was first-class, and has sorted me out a prime seat. I only queue for a few minutes: “Enjoy the game sir.” This club do not lack in customer relations. Perhaps Nottingham Forest FC could send over their staff for a training day?

Derby lies on the River Derwent and has a population of 236,000. It’s famous for Rolls Royce, Railways and Toyota. Actor Alan Bates and the engineer Richard Arkwright were born in the area.

Preston North End has a population of 180,000, Famous people born there include: Sir Tom Finney, Andrew Flintoff, John Inman and the nauseating Mark Lawrenson.

The Rams snared the sour-faced, lemon-sucking Billy Davies from North End. He was found out in the Premier League; just like many of his signings.

My team, Lincoln City, signed their greatest ever player from PNE. His name is Gareth Ainsworth, and we paid £20,000 for his services. He is a Lincoln legend.

I take my pew; it’s a birds-eye view. I’m on top of the tunnel. Injured, suspended and unwanted D***y players sit close by. The ground is fairly unremarkable. The playing surface is more superior at nearby Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium. A Girls’ Aloud rancid tune ‘Love Machine’ filters out the speaker system. According to the morning papers Ashley Cole is one human love machine.

The Sheep, not unlike Forest, have a good track record of youth. They have nicked a few from Nottingham, including Lionel Ainsworth and Tom Huddlestone. Giles Barnes was once at the NFFC Academy, but he didn’t like it.

Preston settle very quickly. Their play is bright, inventive and incisive. They pass and move. . Already the Rams look ill at ease and laboured. Argentinean striker Emanuel Villa is making his third appearance for the club today. I hope they’ve checked his passport. The last one they had, Esteban Fuertes, had a very dodgy one.

This Preston side is packed with pace. New manager, Alan Irvine, is now flying solo, after a few successful years as David Moyes’ deputy. Andy Todd is under pressure from North End’s Chris Brown, he’s dispossessed. Brown cleverly waits for support. He lays the ball back to Karl Hawley. He still has a little bit to do but finishes clinically. The D***y flock around me are livid. I wear my secret smile.

Todd and his partner in crime, Claude Davis are causing me endless entertainment. They are like Laurel and Hardy. Billy Davies shelled out £3 million for this clown. He barely wins a header all afternoon. And rarely finds a white shirt when attempting a pass.

Brilliant interplay from Sedgwick, Hawley and Carter, sets-up the influential Simon Whaley to strike home the visitors’ second goal. Around me they are frothing at the mouth.. The bloke behind me is having kittens. He’s been ranting and raving since the first whistle. And so has Rams’ Assistant Manager, the ruddy-faced Stan Ternant. He stands in the technical area, heading and kicking every ball. Read his autobiography, it’s a classic.

PNE are desperate to put the game to bed and score the goal of the game on the stroke of half-time. It’s another patient, subtle build up. Todd contributes with another ghastly error. Hawley has found space and curls the ball around the outstretched hand of D***y keeper’ Lewis Price. Their defending has been shambolic. Hawley and his teammates salute the Preston faithful. “Can we play you every week?” The Rams predictably are booed off.

The day becomes even more beautiful when the disc jockey plays Mr Brightside by The Killers. D***y are booed back onto the pitch. Andy Todd has been carted off to the funny farm.

Paul Jewell has shuffled his pack and his team begin with more purpose. Earnshaw pulls one back on 55 minutes. And then, shortly after, the most overrated player in the Premiership, Robbie Savage hits a lazy left foot swinger into the goalkeeper’s hands when it looks easier to score.

The bloke behind me goes on and on and on. My patience finally snaps on 71 minutes when I ask him why he doesn’t write in for a trial. He’s not amused, he’s 65 years old.

Preston still pour forward; they’re a pleasure to watch and worth the £15 admission fee. Karl Hawley has been different gravy. He’s run himself into the ground and milks the applause when he is subbed. I’m the only person in the West Stand to applaud him off. People look at me as if I’m from out of space.

They rattle the woodwork twice, before ex-Kopite, Neil Mellor, escapes the flimsy offside trap, but is pulled to the ground before he can pull the trigger. Welsh international Lewin Nyatanga is sent off. Mellor tucks the penalty in the bottom right hand corner of the net. I think it’s four. Where’s my abacus? They celebrate as one, in front of the magnificent 1300 travelling support.

I’m walking back to the car, smiling like a Cheshire Cat. My sides are still splitting. I’m firing texts off to a few Forest fans. A police car flies by, its lights flashing, sirens blazing. Is it on its way to the home dressing room to arrest Claude Davis for impersonating a Premiership defender?

D***y 1 Buckteeth PNE 4 Hawley 2 Whaley and Mellor (Pen)
Attendance: 17,344

Man of the Match: Karl Hawley



Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eastwood Town 2 Hednesford Town 2

With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person, which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote ‘The Hokey Kokey’ died peacefully at the age of 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him in the coffin. They put his left leg in ...... And that’s when all the trouble started.

I’ve decided to toughen up them pair of pussycats who live with me. I’ve sent them down to a Boxing Club in the notorious Meadows area of Nottingham. ‘The Skipper’ sings as he skips: “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and goes by the name of Joe P.”

We’ve a car full today for our trip to Coronation Park. I’m joined by White Van Man, The Taxman and a debut for The Plumber. He was a combative midfielder for our village team. He’s fell out of love with the game and these days prefers to Snowboard.

WVM is unhappy about the speed restrictions on the A610. He’s having a good old moan and shedding a few tears about the 40mph and 50mph limit. He compromises at 70mph.

There’s no time for me to visit David Herbert Lawrence’s bedroom today; we head straight for the club function room. It’s one of the best on the circuit. I settle for a Pepsi Max and shout them up. Sheffield Wednesday are turning over the Blades on Sky TV. It’ll not be long before Bryan Robson is propping up the bar again. Ex-Owl, David Hirst, analyzes the game. Lucky Eastwood has a big screen up because you wouldn’t fit him in a 34” television.

I get a text from Mrs P at 2.30pm. ‘The Skipper and her have had an altercation, resulting in him packing his bags and leaving home (he’s only ten). I text back and tell her The Badgers v The Pitmen is more important and I’ll address the situation on my return.

Eastwood manager has recruited former Lincoln United gaffer John Ramshaw as his assistant. He’s a personal friend of WVM. They exchange nods.

Phil Starbuck has managed to cling onto his job at Hednesford. He was under pressure a few months ago, when I saw them comfortably beat a disappointing Ilkeston Town.
Black clouds hover in the sky as Eastwood elect to kick down the slope.

The linesman on our side has a remarkable resemblance to the mass murderer Peter Sutcliffe. I don’t think I’ll be querying any of his decisions.

The Pitmen have a bright opening and look the livelier of the two teams. WVM’s mate, Iain Screaton, has recently joined the Badgers. I saw him last only 40 minutes at Frickley in December, before being asked, by the referee, to take an early bath. Hednesford forward, Ross Dyer, leaves him for dead in the early stages.

Ex-Lincoln United and Ilkeston Town stopper, Ben Scott, is in the nets today for the visitors. His goalkeeping can be best described as Kamikaze. He’s fortunate to stay on the field of play after a handball 30 yards out his area.

A very brave away fan quibbles a free-kick. ‘Peter Sutcliffe’ is not happy. He tells the fan: “I’ve flagged, he’s the made the decision, end of f***ing story.” We are wetting ourselves.

Eastwood take the lead against the run of play. Lindon Meikle has been farmed out onto the wing. The ball falls fortuitously to his feet. And he lifts the ball over the stranded Scott. The legend that is David Eyres is playing left back for the Pitmen today. He had a successful professional career in the North West. He has made over 700 appearances for Blackpool, Burnley, Oldham and Preston. When I went to Oldham on my charity tour they gave us two t-shirts signed by him. But today he is struggling to contain the livewire Meikle.

Screaton is beginning to get the measure of Dyer and is superlative in the air, winning a string of headers.

Hall misses an easy chance for Hednesford. But it’s soon two nil. Scott shanks a clearance straight to Sheffield FC loanee, Leon Wainman, who finishes coolly. Eastwood play with confidence. Their new signing from Guiseley, Marc Smith has terrific aerial ability. His flicks and nods often finding a black and white shirt. Screaton fails to reach half-time. This time it’s a hamstring injury and not his usual red card.

The Taxman and I have a walk round this delightful ground at the break. I notice a guy with an earpiece in and ask him how Forest are doing. They’re one nil down at cash strapped Swindon Town.

Eastwood can’t put the game to bed and sit on their lead. The play becomes scrappy. Hednesford begin to perform with belief. They are deservedly back in the game on 78 minutes when former Bluenose, Chas Sheppard hits a 30 yard fizzer into the corner of the net.

Hednesford search for an equalizer. Gaps are appearing in the home defence. Portuguese under 21 international Mario Pedro fresh airs a shot from six yards out. Nagington has been a major influence on the game since his introduction on the hour. Wicked Eyres’ corners cause panic in the home defence.

Time is running out. By now, I’ve strolled behind the back of the goal and have joined the excitable Hednesford supporters. They urge their team to restore parity. And are rewarded in the dying moments when a Nagington shot hits the base of the post, leaving Pedro a simple tap in.

They can’t be denied a point; they’ve never given up the ghost. Their fans are euphoric. It’s been entertaining fare.

WVM is weaving in and out the traffic. There’s more bad news from headquarters. Sticky jnr has been given a two week ban from the swimming pool. Too many high jinks at inflatable fun. Red card for Palmer.

Eastwood 2 Meikle and Wainman Hednesford 2 Sheppard and Pedro
Attendance: 311
Man of the Match: Richard Cooper, Eastwood Town

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wollaton FC 2 Kimberley MW 0

Fantastic news from EMI records with the announcement that Port Vale supporter and pub singer, Robbie Williams has gone on strike. Let’s hope it lasts as long as the Miners’ Strike of 1984.

Mixed news to report on the Junior Football front. There was a smile a mile long for Sticky jnr last Sunday with his first goal of the season, whilst ”The Skipper” had his game waterlogged off.

I was going to take in the Clifton FC v Notts Police game today, as it’s often a feisty encounter. But it has fell victim to the inclement weather. Instead it’s a short journey down the A52 to the Wollaton Sports Association Ground. It’s a Nottinghamshire Senior League fixture between Wollaton and Kimberley MW. And it’s the lowest level of football I’ve witnessed this season; it’s below Step 7.

Wollaton is only a few miles out of the city centre and is considered to be in an affluent part of Nottingham. Sticky Palms made his cricketing debut here in 1977 and was run out without facing a ball; we didn’t do quick singles in those days.

Another piece of history for you, I first wined and dined Mrs P back in August 1988 and took her out on our first date to the Admiral Rodney in Wollaton Village, opposite this ground. Who needs World Service and Harts? She wasn’t impressed.

Wollaton is well known for its park, golf course and deer. During the Second World War Wollaton Park housed prisoners of war and American soldiers. The WSA is a beautiful tree-lined ground with Tennis, Bowls and Cricket also on offer. And is at the heart of the community.

Wollaton were formed in 1954 and lie 3rd in the table. Kimberley MW were founded in 1926 and are in the bottom half. It’s free admission and I miss out on a programme due to the large and unexpected turnout.

The Kimberley keeper is warming up with one of the subs as I stroll across the cricket pitch. Kimberley play in the Man City away strip, as do all their teams. Wollaton sport sky blue. The surface is heavy but perfectly playable. All credit to the groundsman.

Wollaton kick-off and score what some are saying is the quickest goal in NSL history. It was certainly in less than twenty seconds, as a Darren Standage cross finds the visitors’ defence dozing leaving new boy Jonty Bradshaw with a simple side foot home.

The Kimberley coach is having kittens. The regular guy called Alf is on a three week ban and hides amongst the undergrowth barking out the occasional instruction to no-one in particular. Miners’ Welfare are angry and frustrated and fall out with management and themselves. Everyone is to blame. I recognise some of the coaching staff from a racing trip I go on each year with the Lord Nelson at Basford.

Kimberley MW look disjointed and lack cohesion. They can’t string two passes together. The one thing they do have is a bit of pace and it takes them a while to suss out the ball over the top is the route to success.

Wollaton are composed on the ball and spread the play. They look balanced and organised. Marks and Turner control the midfield. Standage and Hogg look dangerous down the left. While forward Gadsby has a lovely first touch.

The Kimberley coaching team show displeasure with referee Chris Ward, who is sporting dark shades and is missing a few challenges. They start to call him Roy Orbison.

The home keeper’ Worster is as solid as a rock. His handling is superb, considering the greasy ball and surface. He plucks the ball from the air from corners and his kicking is accurate.

Wollaton have a glorious old school pavilion. It’s carpeted and has pictures on the wall of the junior cricket and football teams. They’ve ran out of milk behind the tea bar and I settle for a black coffee. The girls serving are pleasant and jolly. It’s a warm friendly club. I have a chat with the Pelican Colts U12’s manager. He’s a bit worried that the Notts County Centre of Excellence is being kick-started again.

Dick Durrant, the NSL Vice Chairman and Press Officer is here today. He does a cracking job promoting this league. I remember him being dropped first ball playing for Oxton CC v Keyworth and going on to score a ton. An expensive miss, that one. Garry Birtles is President of the NSL.

As Roy Orbison would say “It’s Over” for the Welfare on 63 minutes, when the whole of the visitors backline is drawn to the ball like a magnet, leaving ex Green Un Tony Murray with a simple header at the back post, from a Hogg corner.

Kimberley finally wake up and star man Robbie May gets on the ball. But it’s too late and they are well beaten, despite Wollaton having some late scares.

Leon, the Kimberley forward, is the brother of Nottingham born, ex-Ram, Lionel Ainsworth, who has just had a big money move to Watford from Hereford United.

I tell the guy next to me that Forest are one up. He tells me he supports D***y and he’s not interested. It’s the end of our brief friendship. We do not speak again, a little bit like Kimberley MW in the first twenty seconds.

Wollaton FC 2 Bradshaw and Murray Kimberley MW 0

Attendance: I counted 48, good turnout by Kimberley.

Man of the Match: Chris Marks

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arnold Town 0 South Normanton 0

Well it’s finally happened, Nottingham Forest have dipped their toes into the icy waters of the Blue Square Nationwide North and took on trial one of the hottest properties plying his trade in Non League football. Paul Taylor of Vauxhall Motors took just over sixty seconds to open his account for Forest in a reserve match against WBA. £100,000 should secure his services. And yes, he does come with a bit of baggage.

Faced with the prospect of watching the dreadful One Show, fronted by the perfect face for radio, Adrian Chiles, I decide to head out early and pick up The Taxman. White Van Man has tootled off to Calverton to watch his mate, the mercurial Tom Alldread, play for Gedling MW.

We’re in Arnold in 25 minutes. It’s their final season at Gedling Road and, quite rightly, there’s been little development here for years. Their fight for a move to pastures new has been a longer saga than Hollyoaks. But they’ve finally scooped the jackpot in grants and fundraising. The curtain will be raised at their new home at Eagle Valley, just off the A614 near Calverton, next autumn.

Arnold, population just over 20,000. The town hit the headline news in 2003 when Marian Bates, a local jeweller, was gunned down in her own shop in a senseless and tragic murder. The chief suspect remains on the run.

I remember my old PE Teacher being a decent centre half, for this club, back in the 70s, when Arnold graced the Midland League. His name was Tony Purcell. And he always seemed to sport a broken nose.

The Eagles have always produced good players and even tonight have an emphasis on youth. Ben Hutchinson is on the catwalk at he Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough. He has already broken his Premiership duck at The City of Manchester Stadium this season. Chris Freestone trod a similar path. Tonight 16 year old Josh Thornton leads the line, with sought after 18 year old Tom Watson parading down the right wing.

When I was scouting I was so close to picking up a gem from Arnold. His name was Jordan Bedward and he was playing a year up for the U14s when he was only twelve. His Dad foolishly (or maybe not) took him to Mansfield instead. I was gutted. Remember the name.

It’s £5 admission and £1 for a snorter of a programme. It’s called Eagle Eye and features a page from a well known groundhopper called Osbourne, who tells of tales of visits to Bristol and Bulgaria.

Ex- Forest full-back Bryn Gunn is first team coach and is chatting to a player before the game who has obviously got a trial.

South Normanton is in Derbyshire, near to Alfreton. They are in the bottom half of the table and are crying out to volunteers to help run their club next season. They are nicknamed ‘The Shiners.’

The game itself is a non-event. There’s a swirling wind with a forecast of worse to come. Both teams try to keep it on the deck. The only highlight of the first half is the booking of Shiners’ keeper’ Ross Whalin for time-wasting. When the truth is that the ball won’t keep still.

Eastwood management, Paul Cox and John Ramshaw are having a saunter around, on the prowl for young talent. White Van Man’s mate, Iain Screaton has just signed for the Badgers and used to be captain of Arnold Town.

Arnold press the game after the break and camp themselves in the South Normanton half. On 65 minutes there is an incredible blizzard. The sky is filled with rain, sleet and snow. Referee Dexter whips the players off down the tunnel and play is suspended for fifteen minutes.

Josh Thornton

By now we’re under cover and sat behind the goal with the humorous South Normanton Ultras. The players return but their fans take the rise out of Eagles’ 'keeper Broster. The pitch is a mass of water and sludge. “Thas not gonna dive are you keeper?” says the wag in the crowd.

Arnold continue to pour forward in search of a goal. The excellent Tom Watson shows sublime skill in atrocious conditions. He is turning the Shiners’ left back inside out.

Mark Clarke marshals the Arnold backline as sweeper. Craig Mitchell sees a shot tipped over and Clarke grazes the woodwork. Normanton's Murdock peforms some desperate defending for the visitors.

There’s a minute to go and Normanton have hardly had a shot worthy of mention. The ball falls to Shiners' Martin Bowles. He strikes the ball sweetly. Brosster, in goal, makes a token gesture, sticking out a hand. It hits the base of the post and bounces to safety. “Keeper thas was right, thas not gonna dive tonight”

Special thanks to club photographer Mick Gretton for permission to use photos of the Arnold Town players.

Final Score: Arnold Town 0 South Normanton 0

Attendance: Nearly a ton and bucket loads of humour from Derbyshire.

Man of the Match: Mark Clarke

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Heanor Town 3 Greenwood Meadows 0

It’s Saturday morning and Sticky jnr has gone down his mate’s farm shooting rats. He was going to take Scott Dobie with him, but with three shots on target in three seasons, the place would be infested with vermin after 90 minutes.

I go and watch “The Skipper’s” team; they are currently in cruise control. But at least this week they pass the ball more frequently. It’s the only discipline I ever coached them. Parents and kids go for drinks and a bite to eat at the end of the game, but I head home.

The Nuclear Scientist picks me up in his Jag; it’s like being ferried around by Detective Chief Inspector Morse. We’re travelling down the A610 through Langley Mill. Five Live are covering the FA Cup tie between Chasetown and Cardiff City. It’s one a piece.

Heanor has a population of 23,000 and is in Derbyshire. Nigel Pearson, the footballer used to play for Heanor Town before embarking on a very successful career in the game. Associating himself with Bryan Robson in management and coaching has proved less fruitful. The American Adventure used to be the town’s answer to Alton Towers; sadly it’s no more.

Heanor Town had a managerial farce of its own this summer. It’s too complicated and tedious to drone on about on here but it has resulted in them using 42 players for the first team already this season. And no, before you ask, Barry Fry and Harry Redknapp were not involved.

We’re sat in the spacious social club. There’s horse racing on one TV and darts on the other. NS has a pint of mild and I sink to an all-time low in the drinking stakes by ordering an orange and mango J2o. And I’ve right got the hump. My camera is malfunctioning and I’ve only took one shot. NS is convinced it’s the batteries and kindly chauffeurs me into the town centre. We’re back in the club and now I’m well and truly miffed. The robbing newsagent’s I bought my batteries from have sold me some duds. Two years out of date. “Hello is that Trading Standards?”

Heanor Town are nicknamed The Lions and were formed in 1883. They share this fine ground with Heanor Cricket Club. They have two large covered terraces and were clearly playing at a higher level than this at sometime in their history. We pay £3 admission and another £1 for a well produced programme.

Greenwood Meadows are rock bottom but are Sticky’s favourites. I’ve never seen them lose. Their manager, I think he’s called Lloyd, is a lively character. And while he is not always politically correct, he makes me laugh. Two wins all season and 72 goals conceded and yet he still has an appetite for the beautiful game. I’m not chuffed with Lloyd though; he’s left my favourite, TJ Majoni, on the bench.

I notice the Lions’ goalie’s Dad (Belshaw) strolling round the ground. He used to be at Notts County’s Centre of Excellence. We have a quick chat.

The first period is utter dross. Meadows try to play football on the floor but are not up to the task and waste possession. Heanor play with energy but are direct and fall into Lloyd’s offside trap. Lions’ 10 jacket would have appeared on Roy Castle’s Record Breakers for the number of times a player was caught offside this season. Lloyd’s response is clear “Number 10, you were born offside.”

The game livens up five minutes from half-time when Sticky witnesses his third consecutive sending off. Meadows’ defender Tom Boyd is red carded for a professional foul.

At the break I get the teas in and check on the half-times. Notts are losing, Lincoln are drawing and the Stags are 2-1 up at Brighton in the cup.

We are now joined by Garts. His lad played alongside “The Skipper” all last season. And what a player he turned out to be. Garts has a snazzy camera on his phone and takes a few snaps for me.

Heanor coast the second half with their Number 9 Richard Groves helping himself to a hat-trick. Lloyd’s offside trap is breached with considerable ease. He’s still churning out the one-liners. “Number Ten, you’ve got the touch of a rapist.”

I’m moaning at Lloyd to bring on TJ Majoni. He obliges with 15 minutes to go. He has more shots in 5 minutes than the whole side can muster in three quarters of the game. Heanor goalkeeper Belshaw is equal to everything TJ throws at him. What a bright future lies ahead for him.

There’s a huge bloody phone mast outside the clubhouse and yet bizarrely I can’t get a signal to phone White Van Man the score in.

I’ve enjoyed the day and the match perked up a bit second-half. A good set-up and friendly folk and according to NS a cracking pint of mild.

Heanor Town 3 Groves (3) Greenwood Meadows 0

Attendance: 76

Man of the Match: Richard Groves.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Nottingham Forest 2 Huddersfield town 1

If, like me, you have enjoyed the demise of Leeds United, or, even better than that, were amused by the 44 days of Cloughie taking the p*ss there, then you MUST read this book: The Damned United is written by Dave Peace and would be in my top three football books; only The Miracle of Castel di Sangro and David Conn’s The Beautiful Game can beat it. It’s a work of fiction but truly frightening and too close to the bone. At least BC didn’t have 13 year old kids throwing stones at his car like Dennis Wise did this week. I dunno, cockneys, no bloody sense of humour!

I was going to Eastwood Town v Witton Albion today but was offered some tickets for Forest. By half-time I was regretting it.

The Ribbon Maker picks us up, whilst his lovely wife cooks my family a roast dinner. I’m sitting in The Brian Clough Stand, Trent End side. I scan today’s line-ups and am disappointed there’s no place in the squad for comedy genius Scott Dobie. It looks like he’s holding hands with the overrated Nathan Tyson in the stands today. Dobie three goals in three years. Cost £525,000. Surely Bolton Wanderers will have him?

Cash strapped Huddersfield arrive with a blend of youth and experience. This year is their Centenary. They too have had a legendary manager. Bill Shankly is a man who could rival Brian Clough in the quote stakes. Bill Shankly when asked by a barber if he wanted anything off the top: “Aye, Everton.”

Huddersfield, population 150,000. Famous people from the area include: former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, record breaker, Roy Castle and “I shall say this only once” actor Gordon Kaye.

Players to have turned out for both teams include: David Phillips, Jim Brennan and Peter Withe. The Sex Pistols played their final ever UK gig in Huddersfield in 1977. Last of the Summer Wine and Mrs P’s favourite, the atrocious Where the Heart is, are filmed near the town.

Former Forest favourite Ian “Bomber” Bowyer is guest of honour at the game. He scored 96 goals in 564 appearances. He’s a European Scout for Portsmouth now, working for a proper guy: Paul Hart.

I last saw the Terriers play in a play-off semi at Sincil Bank a few years back. The Lincoln National Front were sat behind me that day, and were racially abusing Town’s Nigerian centre-half, Efe Sodje. I had a quiet word with them and showed an unexpected turn of pace at the final whistle. Scum!

Forest are still smarting from a 3-0 drubbing at thee Priestfield Stadium (and yes I know they had 19 shots). Gills’ manager Mark Stimson is a shrewd cookie and is buying in the bargain basement known as the Blue Square Conference. Two of them scored against Forest’s star-studded line-up last Saturday.

The first highlight of the game is an outrageous dive by Kris Commons, who is fortunate to escape a caution. The game is dull and lacks imagination. The Terriers offer no threat and fail to rumble Forest’s vulnerability.

The game turns on it’s head on 30 minutes. Terriers’ keeper’ Glennon makes a long swift clearance. Forest are caught short at the back. Wilson is in trouble and has Huddersfield’s Malvin Kamara snapping at his heels. Kamara goes down easily and referee Taylor points to the spot. Wilson is sent off and ex Evertonian Phil Jevons converts with ease. Heads are down; this Forest team feel sorry for themselves. Perch replaces Lennon at the break, it enables the influential Sammy Clingan to remain in midfield.

The game begins to flow and Forest pick up the pace. Huddersfield can’t decide to whether to sit on their lead or to finish it off. Next goal the winner. Terriers’ veteran Andy Booth plays the old fashioned forward role superbly. Wes Morgan hardly wins a header all day. Smith is solid in goal for Forest, while left full-back Matt Lockwood finally shows some form.

The chances come thick and fast for Forest, with both Commons and Holt unlucky at the far post. Ex Hammer Chris Cohen comes on for Grant Holt and plays like a man aggrieved at losing his place in the side. He scores his first goal for the club with a deflected, rising, looping shot over Terriers’ keeper’ Glennon. Town’s excellent Robbie Williams, strikes an upright from fully 30 yards out, with a thumping swerving shot. He’s put the ball on the money all afternoon.

It’s left to local boy makes good, Lewis McGugan, to fire into the roof of the net on 92 minutes and bring this famous old ground to its feet. He has been magnificent; barely 45 minutes before, his chin had been on the floor.

It sparks scenes of pandemonium. Calderwood is pogoing like Sex Pistol Punk Rocker Johnny Rotten at his last gig at Ivanhoe’s in Huddersfield. The kids I’ve brought are in tears of joy. It’s pure theatre. And I could have gone to Eastwood Town. Their most famous son, David Herbert Lawrence, couldn’t have written this one.

Forest 2 Cohen and McGugan Huddersfield 1 Jevons.

Attendance: 18,762

Man of the Match: Lewis McGugan

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Southwell City 3 Hatfield Main 1

We had a pre-Christmas scare at our house on the evening of Sunday December 16th. We were watching the BBC Sports Personality 2007 when Sir Bobby Robson received a Lifetime Achievement Award. They wheeled out a procession of former players who’d played for Robson in his managerial career. That is when the scare happened. Me, Jack, Joe and Mrs P all had to hide behind the settee, such was our fear. How could the BBC allow Peter Beardsley on television before the 9pm watershed?

I bottled out of a game on my Christmas vacation in Northumberland and chose instead to amble around the plethora of beaches and castles on this hidden and beautiful coastline.

As some will know my brother in-law to be is PC Plod and a D***y supporter. But on holiday he plummeted to an all-time low when he confessed to forgetting to bring the Quality Streets. I mean, I ask you, we rely on this man to uphold the law in this shire and yet he can not complete the simple task of buying a tin of traditional chocolates. We had to settle for some Celebrations instead. Bah humbug!

White Van Man is in Tenerife at the World Smirnoff Ice Drinking Championships. The Taxman volunteers to pilot as I’ve spent the last two days on the A1. We drive down the A46 and through the charming village of Thurgarton (I always took wickets there). Today’s game is in the Buckingham Insurance Central Midlands League Supreme Division.

Southwell is in Nottinghamshire and lies on the River Greet. It has a population of less than 7000 and is famous for its Minster. The writer, William Ivory, was born in Southwell. He wrote the BBC dramas Common As Muck and A Thing Called Love. He’s a big Pies fan and played the character Eddie in Coronation Street. Former Forest full-back Colin Barrett is from these parts. He scored a goal in 1978 that knocked Liverpool out of the European Cup.

The Bramley cooking apple was first seeded in the town. The Taxman and I call in at the Bramley Apple public house, there’s not a soul in. It has recently been removed from The Good Pub Guide lucky dip section and I realise why when the landlord informed me that Saturday evenings is Karaoke time. Oh well, at least he serves a fine pint of Springhead bitter from the brewery down the road at Sutton-On-Trent.

The ground is in a lovely setting just behind the Minster. It’s £3 entry, including a high standard programme. It has plenty of match reports, a crossword, stats, player profiles and a history of Hatfield Main. It’s a groundhopper’s dream.

The clubhouse is modern and thriving. Tea and coffee is 50p. The walls of the room are filled with photos, trophies and memorabilia. The public address announcer is shouting out the teams but I can’t hear him as I’m stuck in the clubhouse and can’t get out because the players are waiting to enter the field of play.

Southwell City FC was founded in 1893 and are unbeaten since September. Hatfield Main are from Doncaster, South Yorkshire. They have had some recent upheaval but are still in the top half of the table.

We are joined by The Till Man, his nephew, Max Pembleton, plays for Southwell. He was released by Notts County at 16 years old and is due to go to the USA to further his education and football. He rarely wastes possession and has a good brain.

It’s a good open game played in appalling conditions. Southwell take the lead in the 4th minute when a Hatfield defender fails to clear with his head, Carty pounces on to it and finishes with the outside of his left boot.

Southwell, playing with the wind, create further chances but fail to take them. It’s all a bit rushed but Southwell’s left-back Danny Johnson sticks out like a sore thumb. He has a beautiful left foot and always takes a touch.

Hatfield’s previous manager has taken a lot of his old players to Brodsworth Welfare in the Northern Counties League. They’ve had to recruit from local league football and at times it shows. Number two Liam plays nervously and without his earrings. I didn’t know that men from Doncaster wore earrings. The number 5, Chappell, is older than The Taxman and looks like Kenny Senior from Phoenix Nights.

There’s a flashpoint near to half-time when Hatfield’s Brown is dismissed for a late tackle. It’s a harsh decision by referee Sporne from Sheffield. Carty completes their misery on the stroke of half-time with a neat finish from an excellent cross by Kettle.

The raffle draw has been made and I miss out by one number. David Kettle’s Dad wins the whisky.

It’s driving down with rain now and the fir trees bend in the blustery conditions. The linesman on our side is a source of much amusement to the spectators. He’s a little podgy guy with a beard and a ponytail; I’ve seen White Van Man move quicker at the pie stall.

There’s a dreadful challenge by Hatfield’s 11 jacket in the 47th minute but the referee only produces yellow. Southwell continue to carve out chances, Pembleton hits the post and Kettle and Hennessey both go close.

Hatfield’s ten men never give up and are beginning to pump crosses in from the left. They are rewarded eventually with a great goal from their midfield general Kirk Frost who is full of running and has been excellent throughout the afternoon.

The Bramley’s survive some late scares and Kettle puts the game beyond reach following a dreadful mistake by the Hatfield goalkeeper, who is slow at getting down. A case of too many mince pies.

Southwell 3 Carty 2 Kettle Hatfield 1 Frost

Attendance: ??? Hatfield’s No.11’s Dad very noisy!! Missed a wedding to watch his lad.

Man of the Match: Danny Johnson left-back for Southwell.