Monday, July 27, 2009

Notts County 2 Nottingham Forest 1

Steven Gerrard was yesterday found not guilty of causing affray during a bar room brawl at the Lounge Inn in Southport. The jury found that Gerrard had acted in self-defence when landing a couple of swift upper cuts to the chin of company director and club DJ Marcus McGee. What, however, didn’t come out in court is the shocking musical taste that Stevie G admits to. No wonder Mr McGee wouldn’t let Gerrard take over the decks, when Stevie confesses his favourite singers are Phil Collins and Britney Spears. The judge should have hauled him back in court and put on the black cap.

Sticky junior (my eldest son) is a right practical joker. He’s always playing pranks on me like offering me fake chewing gum or leaving buckets of water on top of doors. He topped the lot last Tuesday morning though. He sent me a text at work to tell me Sven-Goran Eriksson was to be the new director of football at Notts County, a club where I am the talent identification officer for the centre of excellence. I sent a text back to him saying ‘ha ha, very funny.’

It’s Wednesday 22nd July. Sticky junior was on the money. Sven-Goran Eriksson has been appointed director of football at the oldest league club in the world. Mr Eriksson has brought in 71 year old Tord Grip as his general advisor. It is as we say at work a ‘drop my bacon sandwich’ moment. It must go down as one of the biggest coups of all time.

I don’t go down the Club that much. My remit is to find the best talent I can in the East Midlands. I spend most weekends in inner city Nottingham, Derby and Leicester trying to unearth the next Jermaine Pennant.

I love scouting for ‘The Pies.’ The previous director of football at Notts County, Howard Wilkinson, rubber-stamped the closure of the centre of excellence three years ago. It broke my heart. That year I watched over 120 games for County. I put the Club before my family. I have sulked and skulked about but have been given a second opportunity, which I intend to grab. I just hope that I can be a part of this exciting era.

It’s Saturday morning 5.30am and Sticky is up and running. Notts County U18s play Nottingham Forest later this morning – it’s an aperitif before the big one at Meadow Lane at 3pm.

‘The Skipper’ has got a tournament at Ellis Guilford School in Basford. He’s guesting for Clifton FC. It’s a busman’s holiday for The Groundhopper.Everybody wants to talk about Sven, but Sticky’s trying to get some good young uns for him. I haven’t got time for a chinwag. ‘The Skipper’ plays in an unfamiliar right hand side role. He scores a beauty.

I slip away at just before 11am and head towards my old hunting ground – the Nottingham Forest Academy.

Mr Eriksson and Mr Grip are viewing proceedings. I’ve got my kit on but decide to stand opposite the dugouts. I perch myself on top of the grass bank. To gain a birds’ eye view. I feel a total outsider amongst the preying eyes of Tricky Trees fans.

County’s youngsters have only been together for a short while. They give a good account of themselves against a more experienced Forest. ‘We’ lose 2-0 and ride our luck at times. But we are young and will learn from this. I look towards the Forest bench. They have more coaches than the National Express.

I don’t hang around. I worked here for a while but never really felt the love. I always pined for a return to ‘The Pies.’ My bosses Mick Leonard and Darren Davies have performed a miracle in the restoration of the centre of excellence. The Groundhopper will bust a gut for them and the Club.

I race home and grab a turkey and Emmental cheese sandwich. Mrs P is in a talkative mood; she’s been shopping with her mum in Loughborough.

'The Skipper’ has got through to the final in his tournament. Reports suggest that he’s settled in nicely. We leave for Meadow Lane without him.

Sticky junior is fiddling around with the CD player desperately trying to get a scratched Hip Hop CD to work. Thankfully it won’t boot up. Those robbing toe rags at County Hall are charging £4 to park the car. We sling the car in the Nottingham Forest Main Stand car park instead. No charge. Cheers you Tricky Trees.

Nottingham Forest U18s coach, the ex Scotland international Eoin Jess, is sauntering out the car park en-route to the match. His youngsters follow him as if he’s the Pied Piper.

We take a leisurely walk through Turners Quay, over the canal, ending up on Meadow Lane. The recently refurbished Trent Navigation is enjoying good times again. A sprinkling of Forest fans bask in the summer sunshine.

Mr Eriksson has brought a feel good factor to the city. It has been stimulating. Everyone is talking about it. The area is buzzing.

Sticky junior and Ben go into the ground whilst The Groundhopper has a float about, grabbing the opportunity to take a few snaps.

It’s £10 for adults and £5 for kids. Sticky junior blags a programme. I take a pew about 20 rows back in ‘B’ Block, level with the eighteen yard area. The Jimmy Sirrel Stand is a sea of red. Confident Forest fans are predicting a goal rout.

Oasis blasts out on the PA system. My phone keeps going off. White Van Man is trying to get in touch. I send him an abusive text.

Nottingham has a population of just under 300,000. It’s a city that has courted bad publicity over the last few years, with its gun crime, drug running, gang warfare and violence. Sticky Palms loves Nottingham though, with its friendly characters and their sharp wit. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

Nottingham is famous for lace, Robin Hood, Brian Clough and Jimmy Sirrel. Famous people born in Nottingham include: the actress Samantha Morton, bare-knuckled fighter William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson, Nottingham Forest general advisor David Pleat, ice skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, snooker player Anthony Hamilton, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke and fashion designer Paul Smith. Not forgetting also the beautiful Mrs P.

It’s a big game for Magpies’ manager Ian McParland. He used to work across the river. I’d imagine he doesn’t do friendlies. He was brought up in the old school era of County legend Jimmy Sirrel. A win today will mean the world to him.

The last time I saw these two rivals play each other was in 1993 when a Richard Dryden header secured a point for ‘The Pies’ at the City Ground.

McParland and his Glaswegian counterpart Billy Davies were team-mates at Dunfermline many moons ago. The youth culture encouraged by Colin Calderwood is on hold. The Forest young guns have been farmed out on loan. The Groundhopper’s favourite, Brendan Moloney has made the short trip across the water. ‘King Billy’ has six new players in his starting line-up.

Mr Eriksson is introduced to the crowd. He stands between Mr and Mrs Magpie. The boos from the Forest supporters saddens me.

The game takes time to settle down. Forest enjoy plenty of possession but it takes until close on 30 minutes for their first opening of the game with Robert Earnshaw forcing a smart save from Russell Hoult. The Welsh international spurns two further chances before the break.

Former Red, and newly installed Pies’ captain John Thompson, is putting in a tigerish performance in the midfield. Whilst for Forest new boys McKenna and Majewski look comfortable on the ball.

I’m expecting a bit of Abba, Cardigans or Roxette at the break but the DJ continues with his laddish music. Supporters are encouraged to buy a season ticket in the next seven days. They will be entered into a prize draw, with the winner having their ticket delivered to their doorstep by Sven himself.

The introduction of Luke Rodgers for Sean Canham reignites the Magpies forward line. He leaves Joel Lynch trailing in his wake and is unfortunate to see his shot cannon off the post.

Moments later Luke Chambers catches his studs in the turf and topples over. A gleeful Rodgers seizes the opportunity carefully placing the ball in the bottom right hand corner of the net.

One becomes two on the hour. Good play between Moloney and a rejuvenated Westcarr results in a peach of a cross from the latter. The ball is expertly guided into the net by Lee Hughes. It’s only a friendly but Forest are stung. I drop WVM a text: ‘easy, easy easy’

Hughes is substituted. He receives a standing ovation and a hug from McParland. His goal was greeted like a FA Cup final winner.

A slimline, hungry-looking Lewis McGugan hits a twenty five yard rasping shot which a crestfallen Kevin Pilkington can only help into net. ‘Pick that one out’, texts a sulking WVM.

It’s all set-up for a grandstand finish. But this new look Notts County are mentally tougher than the old one and finish the stronger of the two teams.

Attendance: 12,040
Man of the Match: John Thompson.

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