It’s a filthy morning. I’m stood behind the goal at Dunkirk FC, on the banks of the River Trent. It’s driving down with rain. “The Skipper’s team are in cruise control mode. They are unbeaten in the league since September. Today they win 2-0; it could have, and should have, been more. Six of the boys perform at their optimum level. When they play like this they are untouchable. I feel privileged to have once been part of this. But I will never ever coach kids’ football again.
It’s Grand National day and yours truly has been dispatched up to the local bookies. “The Skipper” thinks it’s his lucky day and has produced a “bluey” from thin air. I don’t hold out much hope. We lay out £11 in total.
Sticky jnr is unusually quiet today. Tomorrow he has a big cup semi-final, and it’s preying on his mind.
It’s the Abacus Lighting Central Midlands Football League Manor Pharmacy Premier Division for me today. (Try saying that when you are pished) It’s a 50 mile round trip to Meden Vale home of Welbeck Welfare FC.
I’m on my lonesome today; I sometimes like it that way. White Van Man is working at The City Ground, and both The Taxman and Nuclear Scientist, for their sins, have invested in season tickets. Quite frankly I’d rather sand down the skirting board than watch that lot.
It’s a hectic lunchtime; there’s an FA Cup semi-final and a high profile Premiership game on. I choose to listen to, instead, Radio Nottingham’s excellent Matchday programme. Their front man Robin Chipperfield is a smooth operator. He has all the reporters at the grounds in a spin with the fiendishly difficult football question: Which Premiership player has had the most touches of the ball this season?
I’m driving up the A60 through Mansfield and it seems like I’ve been in the car for ages. My sense of direction is appalling and I start to flap that I’ve missed a turning. I’ve brought no map and do not have the luxury of a Tom Tom. It’s just me and Sally Gunnell.
I finally see a sign for Meden Vale and throw a right hand turn. I played cricket at the back of Welbeck Colliery Miners’ Welfare about twenty years ago and wonder if that’s where they play football.
Mansfield Town prospective owner John Batchelor is talking on the radio. He is reviled in the town and has been subjected to vitriol from the natives in the past few weeks. He is complaining that he has had to pay for his car parking and matchday ticket for today’s game against Barnet.
I chance upon a chav strolling down the street. In between blowing huge amounts of smoke, from his rolled-up cigarette, towards my direction, he very kindly informs me that the ground is at the bottom of this cul-de-sac. It’s a grim, tough and uncompromising area of Nottinghamshire.
Parking is limited, but I manage to squeeze Sally between two cars. My new Krooklock, that Mrs P kindly bought for me, makes its debut.
The ground is tucked away in a valley. But it adjoins the most remarkable landmark I’ve seen football played at this season: a working coal mine. It immediately reminds me of Coalville Town’s ground.
Welbeck Colliery is one of the last few remaining mines in England. It probably only employs three or four hundred miners, but it is important to the economy of Meden Vale. It’s the second most dangerous job in the world: the most dangerous, of course, is playing alongside D***y County defender Claude “The Clown” Davis. That’s not good for anyone’s CV!
I’m sat in the car, there’s a huge hailstorm. Welbeck Welfare continue their warm-up routine; there’s no sign of table-topping Ollerton Town.
Welbeck Welfare Football Club were formed in 1991. They are mid-table but have scored an astonishing 91 goals. Sky TV should get their cameras down here as they have also let in 99. Unfortunately for Sticky Palms their leading scorer is at work today. I’m reliably informed it is 16 years since they have had a goalless draw.
I pay £2 admission and another quid for a well edited programme. I’m taking a few photos of Welbeck Colliery, when I’m pounced on by a little jolly fellow. His name is Rob Hornby and he organises the Central Midlands Football League Groundhop. He makes me very welcome and introduces me to the officials of Welbeck and Ollerton. He is with a guy called Rambler who is a groundhopper from Leicester.
I know one of the officials today. I used to “work” with linesman Tommy Sears when I pen-pushed at Calverton Colliery years ago. He was a useful goalkeeper in his day.
Ollerton Town are awarded a penalty in the first minute. It’s put away with ease by their number ten Dean Hankey. No chance of a 0-0 today. I text White Van Man immediately at the Nottingham Forest Ticket Office.
Ollerton make an assertive start and swarm all over the home defence. They are looking to fill their boots. There are already gaping holes in the Welbeck defence. But the Welbeck ‘keeper is in fine fettle. Injuries disrupt the game and Ollerton have to make two substitutions. It affects their game. Woeful finishing means that Welbeck are still in the game at the break.
Rambler and I have had a stroll around this charming ground and have perched ourselves at the top of a grass bank; it’s the perfect vantage point. We get some cracking photos of the game with the colliery as a backdrop.
I treat my new friend to a cup of char. It comes in a mug and is only 50 pence. I’d mark it 8.5. We notice Welbeck’s number nine pop out of the changing rooms for a crafty fag. He only comes alive when the ball arrives at his feet.
Ollerton get frustrated in the second-half and spurn further chances. Welbeck look like they have a goal in them but fail in the final third.
The Ollerton left-back is a useful player, he’s played in down the left hand side and has the chance to shoot, he cleverly drills the ball across the face of goal, Dean Hankey is lurking at the far post and scores his second of the afternoon.
I’ve had an enjoyable afternoon with Rambler, he’s tipped me off about some good grounds to visit in Leicestershire; I’m only ten minutes from the border. We arrange to meet again. I bid farewell to Rob Hornby.
I’m driving back through Mansfield. “Harchester United” fans are pouring out of Field Mill. They look despondent and dejected. They have thrown away a two goal lead. Barnet’s equalizer is a bitter pill to swallow as it’s scored by a former Stags player. Their final game of the season is at Dagenham and Redbridge. It could be the biggest game of their history. The Groundhopper might take that one in.
Next week my all-time favourite Non-League team Cammell Laird are in town. They play Spalding on Saturday and Quorn on Sunday. I’m tempted to go to both. Don’t tell Mrs P though!
Quiz answer Gael Clichy
Welbeck 0 Ollerton Town 2
Attendance: about 30, at least 15 from Ollerton.
Man of the Match: Welbeck ‘keeper.