Sunday nights are grim in our front room, as ITV pull out all the stops to proper cheese me off. First up is Strictly Dancing on Thin Ice starring squeaky Schofield. After two hours of this dross being shown, whilst I peruse the Times Sport or the Non League Paper, they follow it up with a third series of Wild at Heart – has there ever been a more dire programme shown in the history of Independent Television? For those of you who saw an antelope writhing about in agony on the ground as if he’d been clattered by Julian Bennett, I can confirm that he just had a mild bout of rabies which an African witch doctor soon cured. Anyway it’s been crap since Amanda Holden got burnt alive in the jungle.
Sticky junior arrived at home from school the other day waving a Notts County v Port Vale ticket in my face. Of course he’d not paid for it; apparently there was a buy one get six free at the school tuck shop. The rumour was that the girls’ football team won a competition which meant the school received 200 free tickets. I’d also heard the head teacher was dishing tickets out rather than pupils serving detention.
We were round The Architect’s house last night for the D***y v Forest FA Cup clash. Forest were a tad fortunate to come away with a draw, but would have been encouraged by the second half performance. We did see a red card; unfortunately it was given to Mrs P’s Godson for a minor off-the ball offence in The Architect’s lounge.
It’s Saturday morning and I really do need to increase my scouting activities; the weather is killing me. ‘The Skipper’ has a big cup tie this afternoon versus Dunkirk. The manager lives in Heanor, so I do him a favour and pop down to our home ground and inspect the pitch. It’s white over and there is a small patch of ice in one goal area. The sky is sea blue and the sun shines brightly; I give it the green light. It’s on to West Park to check out some junior games but the place is deserted.
Clubs have a nasty habit of overreacting when it comes to postponing games. Council grounds and local clubs become overprotective about their pitches. Secretaries get caught up in the pomp and ceremony of it all. How can all these amateur games be called off so quickly when no rain is due for twenty four hours? At least you can take a rain check in the morning.
White Van Man and I had been looking forward to seeing ‘The Mighty Lairds.’ I’d arranged to meet Cammell legend Glocko at the New Manor Ground. I check the White Ball Project forum to find the pitch is waterlogged. I phone Glocko; he’s just warming up ‘The Rattler.’
I scour the internet for alternative fixtures. I’ve never seen Southport play in my life; north-west teams are normally good value. I’ve enjoyed watching Marine, Skelmersdale, Burscough and the beautiful Cammell Laird over the years.
I phone White Van Man up; he doesn’t fancy travelling too far. Hucknall it is then.
I watch the first forty minutes of ‘The Skipper’s’ cup tie against staunch rivals Dunkirk. We are one goal to the good when WVM appears on the scene tooting his horn. I’m wracked with guilt that I can’t be here for the end of his game.
We drive down the ring road. WVM has been driving down ‘The Smoke’ all week and tries his normal party trick at Crown Island, darting into the right hand lane, only to drive straight on, cutting up all and sundry in his path. He roars his head off with laughter.
We arrive at Watnall Road a good half an hour before kick-off. WVM snaffles up the final programme; it must be a small print run. I take a few snaps.
It’s £9 entry and a staggering £2.20 for the programme. The publication is fine .... but £2.20??
Everything seems expensive; I begin to smell a rat, this club have fallen on hard times. Tea is £1 and marked with a six out of ten. Hucknall Town only remained in the Blue Square Conference North because of the financial struggles of other clubs. Mick Galloway, their former manager, was sacked a few weeks ago. The veteran Bryan Chambers has taken over, ably assisted by former Middlesboro and Notts County defender Richard Liburd.
Hucknall is seven miles north-west of Nottingham and has a population of 30,000. Footballers from the area include: tough tackling Crystal Palace midfielder Shaun Derry and ex-Spirerite Stephen Blatherwick.
The actor Robin Bailey is from the town. The poet Lord Byron is buried in the local church.
The biggest employers in the area are Rolls Royce and the insecticide firm Doff Portland. Hucknall Colliery closed in 1986; an Aldi supermarket is now on the site of the old mine. Hucknall is the northern terminus for the Nottingham tramline.
Southport is a seaside town in Merseyside and has a population of nearly 100,000. Famous people born in the area include: Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, the historian A J P Taylor, the actress Miranda Richardson, Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain and English Indie rock band Gomez.
They are former members of the Football League and play their home games for over 100 years at Haig Avenue. I visited it four years ago on my charity whistle stop tour of clubs to have played in the League since 1964. It was a beautiful summer’s evening and the players were training.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was recently arrested in Southport following a late night brawl at the Lounge Inn in the town.
Earlier in the season Southport sold winger Craig Noone for a record fee to Plymouth Argyle. He had trials at Royal Antwerp a few seasons ago. I saw him play for Skelmersdale at Belper a while back; he was quality. The rumour is that the Premiership awaits him.
The Hucknall DJ is spinning Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits. To make the Southport fans feel at home he plays a duet featuring Paul McCartney; it’s called ‘The Girl is Mine’, I can feel my cup of tea coming back up.
We observe a minute’s silence for a club and League official. I spot an old friend in the crowd who I used to work with at Linby Colliery. We holidayed away in Ibiza, Corfu and Tenerife in the mid eighties. Dunkirk director Mark Harbottle is also here, spying on the opposition they have been drawn against in the Notts Senior Cup. I get a text from Mrs P, it’s bad news for Mark’s team, they’ve just been knocked out the YEL Cup, ‘The Skipper’ will be ecstatic.
We stand near the end that Southport attack as they are third in the League, whilst Hucknall are rooted to the bottom. But you wouldn’t realise it in the first 45 minutes. Hucknall look organised and determined. The visitors play like they just have to turn up to get the three points.
Ricketts and Sucharewycz go close for town. Southport’s only real effort is a curling shot from midfielder Alan Moogan. The pitch is not in great nick but they’ve done well to get the game on.
The highlight of the half occurs on 41 minutes. WVM is digging me in the ribs; I look up from my programme to find him frothing at the mouth. She’s tall, blonde, wearing leather boots and tight jeans. Now I know why we were charged £9 at the gate.
I treat WVM to a hot dog and I’m fleeced for £2.50; I wouldn’t mind if it went to the club but it appears to be ran by an outside catering company. They have already run out of pies and peas. WVM appears to be slavering again; it turns out to tomato ketchup from his hot dog.
We go in the social club; it is on par with any other I’ve been in. WVM gets me a Grolsch. I chat to a Mansfield Town fan who’s wearing an Alfreton Town scarf. He’s relieved to hear that his team are one up at Lewes. We briefly see the half time scores before someone puts back on the Channel Four Racing.
The second half is a scrappy encounter; Hucknall play five at the back and are hard to break down. Players I’ve seen perform so well for Burscough and Marine in the past are distinctively average today. Kilheeney and Booth flatter to deceive. Hucknall Town scrap for everything but lack the quality to upset the applecart.
The girl with the boots and jeans has another outing. I turn to WVM and say: “It’s a football match not a bloody catwalk”, but he is mesmerised.
Southport push forward in search of a winner but they have neither craft nor desire: how on earth are they third? A lady Southport supporter, sitting close by to us, complains all the time about Hucknall stealing a few yards at free-kicks and throw-ins. Her bleating and moaning irritates me. Robinson, Moogan and Duffy waste opportunities for Southport.
Timons and Sucharewycz defend resolutely; they put up the shutters. It’s petering out to be a 0-0 bore draw: “We don’t do 0-0’s son.” At least the Hucknall PA man didn’t play Michael Jacksons Thriller at the end of the game, now that would have been a good Mickey take.
Sticky junior rings in from Meadow Lane, he's seen a six goal thriller. It must be the first time Notts have scored four at home since about 1906. He's ripping me to shreds: "0-0 dad, 0-0." We can't half pick em!
Man of the Match: Gary Sucharewycz