Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sleaford Town 2 Holbeach United 1

It’s Sunday morning and tipping it down with rain. Sticky junior’s fancy feet are dancing down the wing, bamboozling the north Notts full back. I’ve pressed all the right buttons today; he is fully wound up. His team are a bunch of pretty boys. They all wear gel and look in the mirror too much. Life is too comfortable. Today is different though. There’s no bawling or yawping from the sidelines, for a change. The boys play with belief and style. They are allowed to express themselves, the transformation is astounding. Bagthorpe are passed off the park. We win 4-1. I’m made up for them. Attack is the best form of defence.

I steal away from the game before its finale. I’ve a big junior game to watch in town. A manager has tried to put me off saying the match might be off due to a waterlogged pitch. They always say that when they’re hiding a player. First rule of scouting: trust no-one. He turns out to be a beauty. I’ll go for a second viewing next Sunday.

The Taxman is back after a long lay- off. He had the mother of all Saturday’s last weekend. His lad got injured playing football and ended up in casualty. He then trooped down The City Ground and watched another miserable performance by the Tricky Trees against a ten man Canaries. To cap it all off, some low life put a screwdriver through his car door and broke in.

The Taxlady (they’re like coppers, they marry each other) is fed up with him getting under her feet, and has enrolled him on an art class, at a school, out in the Vale of Belvoir somewhere. He was late for his first lesson and had to stand outside the head teacher’s office at break time. But as you can see from the above picture, his painting is coming on a treat.

I didn’t realise that Sleaford was more than 20 miles from Newark. The ground is a piece of cake to find though, thanks to Sleaford Town’s secretary. Chris Jones’ superb instructions. Eslaforde Park is only a year old, and lies on the edge of the town.

Sleaford is in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire and has a population of 15,000. It once supported many of the major seed companies. The RAF airfields in the vicinity played a vital part in securing victory in the Battle of Britain, during the Second World War. Plastic surgery was pioneered in Sleaford back in the 1940s.

Famous people born in the area include: Magic Roundabout narrator Eric Thompson, Elton John’s songwriter Bernie Taupin, actress and comedian Jennifer Saunders, former Leicester City goalkeeper Mark Wallington and Brian Clough’s favourite gardener and plumber Gary ‘Bing’ Crosby. Serial maneater Abi Titmuss was also born close to the town.

I noticed on the Sleaford website that a Lincoln City fan penned a ground review for his blog on Eslaforde Park. He basically slagged the place off, very harshly in my opinion. He makes cheap jibes at the wooden fencing and modern clubhouse. He’s got some nerve; Sincil Bank is hardly the Mecca of football grounds. I support Lincoln by the way.

The Taxman and I are both impressed. It’s £5 admission and £1 for a good standard programme. There’s a column from both the manager and chairman, and also match reports from first team and youth team games.

White Van Man has failed to make the team bus tonight. He’s got his oven on gas mark 6 for thirty minutes, cooking another steak and kidney pie. Villarreal are playing his favourite team in the Champions League. Yawn yawn.

I shout the teas up. Disappointingly, a tea bag is thrown into a polystyrene cup with boiling water poured onto it from an urn. We help ourselves to milk. We mark it with a five, although it does warm the body from the biting chill blowing in from the North Sea.

The music from the PA hut is fairly random. I’d put the DJ as an over 55. He plays the Scissor Sisters. Abba and the Beach Boys.

Tonight’s visitors Holbeach are from 20 miles down the road. They have played the hosts twice already in the league this season and hold the upper hand. This evening is a County Trophy Quarter Final tie.

It’s a feisty opening five minutes. The visitors are running Sleaford ragged. Nimmo is sent crashing into the advertising hoardings by Sleaford skipper Paul Ward. The Holbeach front two are electric. Treacher pounces onto a poor back pass and finishes with ease.

The goalkeeper boots the ball away in disgust, narrowly missing my cup of tea, as I’m on the phone to Bilborough Pelican legend and Nottinghamshire’s number one groundsman: Swifty. He’s cooking a corned beef stew for him and his cat. Well there was someone meowing in the background. He hears Holbeach’s goal live and exclusive from The Groundhopper.

They could have extended their lead, but poor refereeing sees a free-kick awarded, instead of advantage being played.

Holbeach pay the price on 5 minutes, Lunn sends Dunn scurrying away down the left wing, his inch perfect cross is headed home by Shaw.

It’s a pulsating game of football, being played at a furious pace. Old scores are being settled. There’s no love lost. Sleaford’s ‘keeper Andy Scott keeps his side in the game with two magnificent saves from Treacher and Nimmo as Holbeach begin to run riot.

The Sleaford captain is the grey haired 43 year old Paul Ward. Apparently he got 100%in his referees’ exam. Well you’d have thought so the way he has tried to undermine the official. He’d have been more use donning the black outfit tonight, as his performance as a player is a joke in the first period. Treacher and Nimmo are taking the mick. He’s fortunate to still be on the field of play at the break as he constantly barracks the official.

A lady is walking around the ground selling raffle tickets, as always I oblige. We get chatting. She tells me she used to live in Melton Mowbray. It’s The Taxman’s old stomping ground. He’s terrorised many a small business in the town. It’s a small old world. It turns out her son used to play for my village team and ended up at Sheffield United.

Shaw goes close again, his shot smashing against the crossbar. Sutton heads the rebound over the bar.

The Taxman and I are turning blue by now; it’s perishing cold. I must nip on the IRA website and order a balaclava.

The clubhouse is grand. It’s carpeted and has a good vibe. There are not many goals about in the Champions (?) League. Ha ha ha. There are plenty of photos on the wall and a signed Sheffield United shirt is in a frame.

The players trot out to ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ by Ohio Express: Hells teeth Carruthers.

Sleaford are awarded a penalty when the Holbeach ‘keeper upends Shaw en-route to goal. Lunn makes no mistake from the spot.

The game has had an edge since the kick-off. It all boils over on the hour. Holbeach’s best player the wonderfully named Tommy Treacher leaves his studs down someone’s ankles. The referee has no alternative but to brandish a red one.

It kills the game stone dead. Gaps appear that Sleaford fail to exploit. Holbeach still manage to work Sleaford ‘keeper Scott, but without reward.

Things perk up on 74 minutes with a text from Mrs P asking me if I fancy Sunday roast at the mother-in-laws? Mrs P is down ‘the smoke’ this weekend. I reply with a ‘yes.’

Another person letting his mouth run away with him is Holbeach player manager Shaun Keeble. He's sent to the stands by the referee. It says on his profile that he enjoys watching his sons playing football, well he'll have plenty of time for that, but the bad news is kids that Santa's sack will be a little lighter this year as dad has a hefty fine to pay.

I’ve missed out on the raffle by three tickets, but hey, who cares. What a lovely family club Sleaford Town is. A change of skipper wouldn’t go amiss though.

A pint of Jennings, sat by an open fire, ends a perfect evening.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holbrook Miners' Welfare 2 Dunkirk 0

My oh my, Sticky Palms was nursing one hell of a hangover last Sunday. I’d been to the Cricket Club’s annual dinner the night before. I caught up with a few old friends and gave the old Rioja a bit of a tonking. Sticky junior cheered me up with a spirited performance for his under 13 team, before finally going down 5-4 to the last kick of the game.

“Where’s Goole?” Flipping heck Mrs P has been reading the first paragraph of the blog again. She’s rumbled that the White Van Man and I are heading north on December 13th to watch Shepshed again. I’m surprised she didn’t interrogate WVM when she caught him at the bacon and pie counter, not for the first time, at Sainsbury’s the other evening.

Mrs P is in sparkling form at the minute. Saturday night is her Tic-Tac-Toe: Strictly Come Dancing, X-Factor and I’m a Celebrity. The Groundhopper seeks sanity in the kitchen, listening to Five Live’s Premiership evening kick-off.

I’ve sat and watched Ant and Dec, with their lame jokes, and camera crew canned laughter. I’ve racked up the creepometer points; it’s another week without a midweek game. I’ve my eye on two in two days next week.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m filling the car boot up with branches off the trees I cut a few weeks ago. I tell Mrs P I’m off down to the recycling centre. On the way back home I can’t resist popping in to West Bridgford’s West Park to watch a few junior matches.

One or two of the coaches bawl and shout at the kids. They scratch their heads in disbelief that the instructions they bellow out are not carried out by the players. Some play with genuine fear. Every coach should read ‘You’ll Win Nothing with Kids: Fathers, Sons and Football by Guardian journalist Jim White. It epitomised my one dreadful year I had in charge of a team. I couldn’t walk away quick enough.

I drive away from West Park quite upset. People often ask why I don’t always watch my sons play. The above paragraph is the answer why. When I coached, I encouraged the boys, it somehow got results.

On the way out the car park I spot the Notts County centre of excellence manager strolling around the ground: those bloody Pies are everywhere.

Eammon Holmes is on the radio. He announces that Southampton ‘singer-songwriter’ Craig David is to be a guest on the show. Holmes claims that the R&B star has sold 13million records worldwide. I nearly crash the car. Never mind naming and shaming BNP coppers on the net, let’s have a list of the idiots who bought all his albums. I bet they are going at two for 50 pence at Colwick Car Boot Sale.

‘The Skipper’ has a cup game in town today. He confesses to not having cleaned his boots. He gets the hairdryer treatment off dad. As captain he should lead by example.

Just before I leave White Van Man is on the blower. He’s all buffed up for his West Bridgford shandy bender. He’s splashed the Brut all over. He has a load of friends coming over from Norwich for the evening kick-off at the Tricky Trees.

I haven’t a Scooby Do which way to go today. I opt for the A453, A50 and A38. It takes 45 minutes. Holbrook is a charming village. There’s an array of pubs to choose from. The Dead Poet’s Inn looks the pick of the bunch, but I’m running a little late and can’t find the ground.

Holbrook is a village 5 miles north of D***y and lies on the southern tip of the Pennines. It’s close to the old mill town of Belper, which has one of my favourite football grounds.

Holbrook Miners’ Welfare FC were formed in 1996. They are nicknamed The Brookies and play on Shaw Lane in the village. I get myself in a terrible pickle and can’t find the ground. An elderly gentleman, walking his dog, guides me in the right direction. Santa, that Tom Tom can’t come soon enough!

I pull up in The Welfare car park. They’ve never had a coal mine here but apparently a lot of miners lived in the village, hence a Welfare. The views into the D***yshire hills are delightful, even on a bitterly cold day.

Dave Harbottle’s big guns, Dunkirk, have rolled into town. I spoke briefly to him last Sunday. He was bitterly disappointed with their 2-0 reverse at Blackstones in the FA Vase. They were a bit skinny that day, but are nearly at full strength today.

It’s £3 entrance. I ask for a programme. I’m told they’ve sold out. I look around the ground there are about ten people milling around. Everyone else is in the Welfare. I ask what sort of print run they have. I’m told, in fact, that the printers have let them down. Urm.

I wouldn’t fancy it here on a gusty old day. Boy, I bet it’s bleak then. The pitch is on a slope and has taken a battering from the elements and a midweek game. On one side of the ground there is shelter under the Robert Parker Stand. This is named after a player who died suddenly at the age of just 27.

I checked out the website before I came and it’s excellent. And it’s a bloody good job it is, as where else would I get my information from?

Dunkirk’s personnel are unrecognisable from the team I saw thumped 4-1 by Alvechurch in an FA Cup qualifier back in August. Carder and Soar provide strength at the heart of the defence. Ex Chasetown cup hero and Forest trainee Nick Hawkins is in centre midfield. Whilst the much travelled pairing of Aaron Brady and Alan Jeffrey provide the firepower.

Dunkirk come flying out the traps. Speed merchant Adey Bascombe really should have given them the lead in the early stages, but his shot is blocked by the ‘keeper. Tom Baker also misses two good chances. Harbottle is furious.

One or two of ‘The Boatmen’ start to bend the referee’s ear. Harbottle’s having none of it and tells his players to stop making excuses and get on with it. He manages a quick hello to me, in between snarling at his team.

Holbrook improve in the final quarter of the half and force Darren Wheater- Lowe into a couple of fine saves. Both teams look to keep it on the carpet.

I’d seen Nick Hawkins playing for Quorn a few months ago and thought he looked a bit tasty that day. No disrespect to Dunkirk, but I’m shocked and surprised he’s chose to pursue the game at this level. He’s having a bad day at the office. He’s scuffed a couple of corners and shanked a free-kick. He’s beginning to get frustrated and it’s having a knock on effect on the rest of the team.

My feet are numb and my body is shivering. I follow the 35 strong crowd into the Welfare. I’ve only got a £20 note and realise they may struggle to change this at the tea bar. They haven’t got change, and were going to let me have a freebie; thankfully a punter comes to the rescue and changes my money.

I don’t know if it’s because of the weather but I’d rank the tea with an all-time high mark of nine. Len Goodman would have given it a ten. Notts County are 3-0 down at Dagenham. Ian McParland won’t be crowing about this result, like he was at Barnet last week.

We’re all back outside again, braving the elements. I’m not really up for it and neither are Dunkirk. An alehouse ball comes sailing through the air, Carder tries to guide it back to his ‘keeper, but gets too much on it, Wheater- Lowe has raced out too far. A lapse of concentration and Dunkirk are behind.

Dunkirk withdraw their ineffective forward line, who in fairness, have received very little service. Phil Massingham shows more desire and skill. He holds the ball up, awaits support and plays people in. But they still can’t work the ‘keeper.

The winning goal is a beauty. Holbrook sweep the ball across the pitch from left to right. A diagonal long range cross is expertly headed home by Joe Ashdown.

There’s a late rally by Dunkirk but it’s not to be. Their bench is disconsolate, the players know they have under achieved. I’m hardly their lucky charm; in five attempts I’ve yet to see them win.

The game should have been put to bed in the first twenty minutes, but Holbrook rode their luck, and won comfortably in the end.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Loughborough Dynamo 1 Shepshed Dynamo 5

There was no midweek fixture again for Sticky Palms; I hope Mrs P took a mental note. I had to endure three nights of ITV’s The Commander, starring ex Brookside babe Amanda Burton. I had a bit of a crush on her when she lived on Brookside Close. The Commander was predictably a load of codswallop, but hey Mrs P enjoyed it, and after all, it’s all part of my cunning plan to keep the good lady sweet during the evenings, before I drop the bombshell that I’m off to Goole and Solihull on consecutive Saturdays.

It’s a free reign for me this weekend on the scouting front. Thankfully I will not be scouting what some are saying is the closed shop of schools’ football. I opt instead to enter the lion’s den, or should I say, ‘The Sheep Dip.’ Yes I’ve crossed the cattle grid, and hope to return with some of their flock. I’m in D***y.

D***y County have missed this one; he’s a beauty. He’s tall, athletic, elegant, and got balance, poise, pace, delivery and finishing. Eat my goal. I book his place down our academy.

I arrive home in buoyant mood. There’s just time for a cheese and ham toasty, before bundling ‘The Skipper’ and Snooksy into the car, and picking up ‘The Nuclear Scientist.’ He’s thawed out and dried out, following our ‘Super Sunday’ soaking in Blackburn last week. We had the most miserable run back on the M6. The rain was bouncing off the bonnet.

Senegalese R&B singer Akon is on Radio 1 with his new single ‘Dangerous’ blaring out the speakers. I quickly tune into Five Live where Steven Gerrard has just made it 2-0 to Liverpool at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.

White Van is peering through his window awaiting our arrival. If there was an Olympic event in swearing he’d be a cast iron certainty to be on the podium. But the kids are in the car, and today is a no swear zone. It’s going to kill him. The last time he felt this bad was when he went a whole weekend without a Pukka pie.

Our village has been in the news this week. Twenty five years ago a young girl was brutally attacked and murdered, the case remains unsolved. The last sighting of the killer was in the Generous Britain public house. in Costock. We’re driving past there now; it’s not the sort of pub you just stumble across. It is said he has local knowledge.

It’s a busy weekend in Loughborough, as well as the Dynamo derby, there’s also a local fair in the town. When we park up at Watermead Lane there are a few stationary wagons from the fairground adjacent to my car.

NS and WVM are both teasing me about my new H&M jacket (£34.99 in all good stores) that I’m sporting; they reckon I look like a proper hopper. I don’t carry a rucksack or a plastic cover to keep my programme dry. These pair of clowns are way off the mark. NS is wearing a £10 ski jacket from Asda, while WVM has got something on he bought from a bring and buy sale at the church hall.

It’s £6 admission, £1 for the kids and £1.50 for one of the best programmes in this league. There’s a message from the chairman, tales from a real groundhopper, reports on the ladies’ team, match reports from the last two away games and a review of some of the programmes in the League.

Loughborough Dynamo were formed in 1955 and have made great strides in recent times. Despite blowing the Midland Alliance title at the back end of last season, they were still deservedly promoted. I watched them twice last season and loved their style of play. They’ve settled in nicely into a higher standard of football.

Loughborough is in Leicestershire and has a population of over 50,000. The town’s university is top rated and is famous for its sports scholarships. Sebastian Coe, Steve Backley and Paula Radcliffe have all studied there. Mrs P’s favourite, who is also a top anorak and potential groundhopper, Roy Cropper (David Nielson) was born in the town.

It’s my second look at Shepshed; they were impressive at Spalding a few weeks back. They have a blend of experience and youth. Iain Screaton is their captain and was born in our village. He studied at Loughborough University and played for Loughborough Dynamo a few years back. He is a no-nonsense central defender who is superlative in the air. Thou shalt not pass is his motto. He can also play a bit.

The slate grey skies are full of rain again. We seek warmth and comfort in the spacious clubhouse. There’s a separate kiosk for food and drink. The girl behind the tea bar tries a hastily attempt at a rebrew. At least she fills the pot up, but unfortunately, due to the size of the queue, pours it out too early. The tea only gets a six out of ten; it’s too weak. ‘The Skipper’ and Snooksy have a ‘Glasgow salad’ (a tray of chips)

Considering the amount of water that has fallen from our skies over the last seven days, the pitch has to be seen to be believed. The surface is flat and lush. Perfect.

The ground is a shade too far out of the town centre to get the attendances it deserves. There’s a lovely old wooden stand behind one goal. The clubhouse and changing rooms are situated in the same area,

I spot Shepshed fan Andy Mac and ask him what went wrong at Glapwell last week. He says they were 3-2 down, and conceded one chasing the game.

The visitors look razor sharp in the opening exchanges, this is despite Wilkes going close for Loughborough Dynamo.

Shepshed’s right back Ricky Hanson forces Matt Nurse to push a 25 yard free kick onto the crossbar. Two minutes later Nurse, on his 100th consecutive game for Loughborough, is not so lucky. He comes careering off his line, but fails to clear his lines, whilst scampering back to his goal, the ball is played across the field to Sam Saunders, who nonchalantly side foots the ball home into an empty net.

Shepshed double their advantage on 11 minutes. Screaton claims a touch from an in swinging corner from Rob Norris. I’m taking a photo at the time, so can neither confirm it nor deny it.

The Shepshed fans have a non-stop repertoire of songs from behind Matt Nurse’s goals. It’s refreshing to hear this on the non-league circuit. They were pretty chipper at Spalding a few weeks back too.

Ian Robinson is giving a master class in the art of the midfield player. He breaks up attacks, sprays the ball around the park and supports the attackers. What a player.

Shepshed have forty winks on the half hour when Wilkes reduces the deficit, towering above Matt Millns to head home. Then star striker Kris Nurse wriggles away from the visiting defence, but takes an age to shoot; finally curling a shot over the bar.

It’s been a brilliant advert for Unibond Division One South.

We trudge back into the clubhouse, and the cup of tea served up at the second time of asking is different gravy. It’s accompanied by a glass of brandy to deal with the shock on hearing that Notts County are 4-0 up at Underhill. On loan Scunthorpe United striker Jonathan Forte has bagged a hat trick on his debut.

NS sees more goals for the visitors and wants to move to the other end of the ground. The romantic side of me fancies an equaliser.

Shepshed cuts the hosts to ribbons in the second period. The home defence has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese. The team from across the motorway carve out chance after chance.

Sam Saunders put the game out of sight with a cool finish on 69 minutes.

Substitute Shane Benjamin is unlucky not be in the starting line-up, he is replaced today by Scott Rickards, who has an arrogant swagger about him and has played at a higher level.
Benjamin is first to grab the ball when Shepshed are awarded a penalty in the 74th minute. He repeats this feat in the dying moments, once again with a spot kick.

The highlight of the day is in the 80th minute when White Van Man finally blots his copybook. He receives a text from a pal: “What does it say?” I ask. “F****ing hell” he replies. “Bristol City have equalised against Forest." The kids are in tears of laughter. Not bad Bish, nearly a whole afternoon without swearing. Good effort son.

Attendance: 286

Man of the Match: Ian Robinson (Unlucky Screats)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Blackburn Rovers 0 Chelsea 2

It’s been a quiet week on the football front for The Groundhopper. I’ve been on a roll of good games and had earmarked a midweek East Midlands Counties League clash between Kirby Muxloe and Gedling Town. I was driving home from work, and there was a pea souper of a fog descending on our patch. Mrs P was desperate to go to the gym, so for the first time in a while I baled out of a game.

The match finished 3-2; I missed a cracker. I elected instead to tot up some Brownie points. I plonked myself on the sofa and watched miserable Scottish cop show: Taggart, with Mrs P. I wrapped up the murder case in the first five minutes. Those bungling, drunken, Glaswegian detectives took a further 50 minutes to show any signs of progress.

I’ve been wetting myself at the prospect of going to Ewood Park on Sunday. I know it goes against the grain of my principles of watching grassroots football, but the chance to cast an eye on a side of Chelsea’s stature for £28 is too good an opportunity to miss. You’d have paid the same to watch Nottingham Forest v Birmingham last Saturday. It’s been ten years since I last saw a Premiership game.

It’s Saturday morning, twenty four hours before the game and Nottingham Forest have sent me scouting down South Notts Boys again; it’s a complete waste of time. I’m only present because D***y Schools are in town.

I watch ‘The Skipper’s team lose 2-0 in the afternoon. I’m happy with his form though; he plays with a massive heart, as does his best mate, who’s just returned to the team.

I was hoping to catch the second half of a local game, but the night is drawing in already. Mrs P and I slip away for an hour, for a teatime drink, at the newly refurbished Griffin Inn at Plumtree.

I‘ve a full day out at Blackburn tomorrow and a full evening of creeping is required. I even watch Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor. Mariah Carey is on the latter; she might sing a pile of pooh, but she’s still pleasing on the eye.

I’ve been fretting about the weather all week and have noticed on the BBC five day forecast that Blackburn is due to take a hammering from the skies tomorrow, as well as possibly on the pitch.

We’re on the A50, it’s tipping it down. ‘The Skipper’ and Snooksy are in the back, The Nuclear Scientist is piloting the Jaguar. He’s driving more like Detective Inspector Jack Regan from The Sweeney, than Inspector Morse. For once the M6 is clear of cars, but not the driving rain that pours down from the darkened skies.

The Nuclear Scientist is winding the kids up; he’s got his Johnny Cash double CD on. He’s more morose than Morrissey. The kids are kicking up a fuss and are asking what they’ve done wrong to have this inflicted on them. I eject the CD and put on Radio 1 for them.

We hit Blackburn in less than 2 hours. The kids spot a McDonalds and plead for a Big Mac. I normally have one a year; this will be my third in a fortnight. The music’s not bad in Maccy D’s though; they’re playing The Lightning Seeds, Life of Reilly; it puts me in the mood for football.

We park up a quarter of a mile away from the ground at the back of a local college; it’s £3. We stroll down the hill; fans from both sides mingle together. The rain is incessant.

Blackburn is an old mill town in Lancashire with a population of 100,000. It was a boomtown during the Industrial Revolution.

Blackburn has the highest proportion of Muslims living in a town, in the United Kingdom, outside of London.

BAE Systems are one of the town’s largest employers. Thwaites Brewery has been making real ale in Blackburn since 1824. They often have a guest beer on at my local.

Famous people from the town include: Russell Harty, Lee Mack, Anthony Valentine, Will Greenwood, Wendi Peters (Cilla off Coro) Ian McShane and Blackburn Rovers forward Matt Derbyshire.

We’re sat in the Frazer Eagle Stand opposite the Jack Walker Stand. We’re about 15 rows back, the seats are spot on. I’ve shelled out a total of £43 for ‘The Skipper’ and I on tickets for today; it’s a bargain.

I gaze around our stand; it’s nearly five minutes before kick off. All the faces in the crowd are white. The only Asians I can see are stewards. Why don’t the Asian community come out and support their team? Is it something to do with the Sabbath? The ground is just over two thirds full.

The absent big time Charlie fans of Chelsea do little to dispel this myth. They’ll flock around Europe visiting the charming cities of Rome and Bordeaux, but they clearly don’t all fancy the 460 mile round trip up north on a dreary, bleak, wet Sunday lunchtime. They fail to sell out their end. Fair play though, to those that have travelled.

The programme is £3 and is worth every penny. Whilst flicking through it I notice the name of Thomas Hitchcock in the Blackburn Rovers Academy line-up. I used to play cricket with his father, Kevin Hitchcock. He made over 100 appearances in goal for Chelsea, and was until recently the ‘keeper coach at Ewood Park. He’s now taken up a similar role down the road at The City of Manchester Stadium.

Blackburn Rovers FC keep it real; it’s still a community club. On my charity tour of 100 grounds in five days, a few years ago, Graeme Souness very kindly donated a shirt signed by all the players. I didn’t even have the courtesy of a reply when writing to Chelsea asking for a donation.

Rovers are missing Emerton, Dunn, Santa Cruz, McCarthy and Reid. Scholari will have to tinker too, both Cole’s miss out, as well as Essien, Carvalho, Drogba and Ballack.

We have a minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives fighting for their country. It is immacutely observed by all. My spine tingles, my body’s goose bumped and my stomach’s churning. I think of grandad.

There are visible signs of water on the pitch; it’s now turned into a torrential downpour. The elements certainly don’t concern the visitors; they begin the game at breakneck speed. Kalou and Malouda are rampant down the flanks; they’re nearly as brisk as Cammell Laird speedster Eddie Jebb.

‘The Incredible Sulk’ looks in a menacing mood. He latches onto a Keith Andrews back pass on five minutes, waltzes round Paul Robinson, only to be clipped on the ankles. He tries his upmost to stay on his feet, but loses his balance on the slippery surface. It’s a stonewall penalty. Mr Foy of Merseyside waves play on.

Chelsea fashion chance after chance. Mikel and Anelka twice, are guilty of glaring misses. Robinson reigns supreme in the Rovers’ goal.

The visitors finally take the lead. Portuguese full back Jose Bosingwa storms forward unchallenged and shoots from distance, the ball fortuitously deflects off Anelka’s thigh, wrong footing Robinson and trickles through a pool of water, barely crossing the line.

Blackburn’s best chance of the half falls to 22 year old Chilean international Carlos Villanueva, Petr Cech makes a fine save.

It’s an enthralling encounter, played in ghastly conditions. Each player leaves a trail of spray when running with the ball.

I’m getting texts off mates telling me the game is going to be abandoned. Jesus, all this way for 45 minutes. God works in mysterious ways. Almost immediately the skies begin to lighten, and the rain eases off.

The Blackburn groundstaff furiously fork the half of the pitch that they will attack in the second period. We’re treated to Blackburn TV and a montage of goals, accompanied by The Killers track, Human.

I’m mesmerised, almost gobsmacked by Frank Lampard’s performance. He bucks the trend of the long sleeved shirt and gloves worn by so many today. He is unrivalled in this company. Blackburn don’t get within five metres of him. He strikes a thunderbolt thirty yard free-kick that cannons off the top of the bar. His distribution and touch simply beggars belief.

Former Chelsea youth player Jason Roberts has been a lone ranger for Rovers. He’s easily dealt with by Terry and the towering Brazilian Alex. He slips the net on one occasion, but fails to redress the balance, foiled by the ever alert Petr Cech.

It’s a plucky and spirited second half display by Rovers. But they have chased shadows for most of the game. Their legs have gone for the final ten minutes. Pederson can barely walk.

Lampard plays a pivotal part in Chelsea’s coup de grace. He seizes upon another loose ball, his energy levels not sapping from literally being Chelsea’s water carrier. The ball finally falls to Anelka, lurking at the far post. He deftly clips the ball over an advancing Robinson.

Anelka is denied the match ball, following more good work from Robinson, who smothers his shot.

There’s time for the man that Danny Baker once called Orville (Blackburn manager Paul Ince) to come waddling on the pitch to confront referee Chris Foy at the final whistle. I have to say, it’s the perfect weather for ducks.

Man of the Match: Paul Robinson