Friday, November 20, 2009

Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1

It’s over a year since we lost her. We’d been together for over 30 years. I remember how lonely she looked when I took that final photograph last October. I never thought I’d see the likes of her again in my village.

I’m up the bottle bank on a Sunday afternoon, disposing of the empty bottles of pinot grigio and chardonnay. I spot a workman erecting some fittings to a shop doorway. And that was when our love affair was rekindled. I rub my eyes in disbelief. I do a little jig of delight. Yes, you guessed it: the Keyworth Co-op shop has reopened after a 12 month absence. She’s moved across the road, opposite the bookies. Happy days are here again.

It’s Friday morning and our road is a hive of activity. Large chauffer driven Mercs cruise towards the primary school at the top of our road. I thought for a moment that perhaps the Keyworth Co-op had sent a car round for me, so I could cut the ribbon and salute the opening of the new shop. But no, the big guns are in town.

The Labour Party are swarming all over Nottinghamshire. Crossdale Drive Primary School has a big wig in its ranks today. He was once a pupil at the school and was born a sand wedge away from Sticky Palms’ crib. It’s the unfortunately named Ed Balls, who is Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Family Ministerial responsibilities.

The guy looks ghost white. He’s terrified. And Sticky knows why. He‘s going to be grilled by my personal friend, the 6 year old Wolves fan - ‘Gangsta.’, who has blagged his way onto the school council. ‘Gangsta’ doesn’t suffer fools readers – I’m still recovering from our day out at Molyneux.

‘Gangsta’ delivers his question like the consummate pro. He’s already scribbled down on his Christmas list that he wants two tickets for Question Time. Ed Balls stumbles and mumbles his way through the answer.

It’s a job well done by the youngster. Unfortunately he’s led to believe that he’s just interviewed legendary Wolves striker Steve Bull and not a government minister. Doh! It’s the death knell of the Labour Party. Rushcliffe MP Kenneth Clarke can light up another cigar and click open a can of Stones bitter – his seat is well and truly safe again.

It’s Saturday morning. I’ve slept like a log. The day begins on a sour note. Postman Pat has delivered a leaflet asking me if I’d like to join the Conservative Party. I’d rather have a season ticket for D****y County Reserves. It made one hell of a paper aeroplane.

The blue rocket, piloted by the White Van Man, arrives promptly at 10.30am. It’s a nine hour shift for The Groundhopper. There are debuts on ‘The Hop’ for ‘The Glass Collector’ and ‘Roscoe.’

White Van Man is still feeling a tad off-colour. It’s rumoured that he fell victim to the Swine Flu outbreak during the week. The Pukka pie factory, at Syston in Leicestershire, has had to suspend production, while the big man rediscovers his appetite. His illness was so severe that he was only able to post on Facebook once every two hours, instead of flooding his wall. And boy things weren’t half ‘messy.’

We pick up ‘Cobman Al’ at Ravenshead and head up the A614 towards the A1. We’re soon clambouring out the car for a stretch and a bacon roll at one of White Van Man’s favourite roadside establishments, opposite Clumber Park.

The car is full of Forest diehards, except for an Imps fan and a Manchester United armchair supporter. White Van Man tells tales of his sojourn to Egypt last Christmas.. ‘The Glass Collector’ tells endless anecdotes from his time behind the bar of the Salutation Inn, when former Forest chief scout Alan Hill used to run the hostelry.

Someone’s phoned through to ‘Roscoe’ that there are tailbacks on the A1. WVM skilfully navigates up the M18 and onto the M1. The Big Man is in cruise control. We were going to stop in Yarm for a pint but elect, instead, to park up early, close to the ground, facing the right direction.

Middlesbrough is a town that sits in the Tees Valley conurbation of north east England. It has a population of 150,000. It has a reputation for its smog and industrial pollution. The town lies on the south bank of the River Tees. It was once a major player in the production of iron and steel. In 1911 the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company built the Transporter Bridge, which is one of the largest of its type in the world.

Famous people born in the area include: the greatest manager of all-time – Brian Howard Clough and alleged match-fixer, Don Revie (‘Dirty Dirty Leeds’). Also born in the town were: Stewart Downing, Chris Kamara, (‘unbelievable Jeff’), Jonathan Woodgate (‘Bungalow’) stunt cyclist Peter Beagrie, actress Wendy Richard, Coronation Street ‘Kabin’ star Thelma Barlow (‘I don’t really know Rita’), cricketer, Liam Plunkett, comedian, Bob Mortimer, magician, Paul Daniels (not a lot of people know that) and finally world renowned (?) pop duo, Journey South.

Sticky Palms likes Middlesbrough FC. I once wrote to Gareth Southgate for a charitable donation and he very kindly replied. I was sorry to see this honest, decent man lose his job. He’s been replaced by the disagreeable Gordon Strachan. He’s a man who often acts the goat during interviews.

Middlesbrough FC were formed in 1876. Notable former players include: Brian Clough, Bernie Slaven, Juninho, Fabrizio Ravanelli, and hatchet man Graeme Souness. Famous former managers are: Jack Charlton, Bruce Rioch, Bryan Robson and Steve ‘Singing in the Rain’ McLaren. Players to have represented both clubs include: Colin Cooper, Mark Crossley, Viv Anderson, Paul Wilkinson and Mark Proctor.

Boro are in poor form. Three home wins in eight games and only seven goals to show from it. Strachan’s freshened it up, bringing in Dave Kitson, Marcus Bent and Isaiah Osbourne on loan.

I take a wander around the stadium. I walk past the Willie Maddren Suite. He was a former player so cruelly taken away, at such a young age, by motor neurone disease.

The Riverside Stadium lies on the banks of the River Tees. It looks like they’ve brought the old iron gates with them from Ayresome Park. Statues of former greats Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick are situated close by.

It’s £26 to sit in the South Lower Stand. I shell out £3 on a programme that’s not a patch on the one I procured at Wolves a few months ago.

I’ve not seen the Tricky Trees since Sven Goran Eriksson stood next to Mr and Mrs Magpie last July at Meadow Lane. They took their foot off the gas in the second period, but the young Pole (Majewski) and the busy Paul McKenna, left a lasting impression on The Groundhopper that day.

Forest are unbeaten on their travels. ‘King Billy’ keeps it real and keeps it fresh. McGugan, Majewski, Blackstock and Earnshaw all have to settle for a place on the bench.

Dave Lee Travis must be employed as the Middlesbrough disc jockey, as we are put through the mill with toons from Blondie, Rush and Glenn Frey. The teams come out the tunnel to Detroit rock band The White Stripes.

NFFC are all over the show in the opening moments, as they struggle to cope with Boro’s pace and movement. The Reds’ defence looks about as safe as a Chinese fire drill.

Boro have already pressed the panic button on two occasions in the Reds’ defence, before they take the lead on 5 minutes. Guy Moussi’s touch deserts him, the loose ball is threaded through to Argentinean playmaker Julio Arca, he smashes a shot on target, which Lee Camp can only parry to a gleeful Leroy Lita, who stabs the ball into an empty net.

The goal has quietened down the huge away following. Forest continue to look at sixes and sevens. Their first touch is awful, passes continually go astray. Loan signings Osbourne, Kitson and Lita enjoy their new lease of life.

Austrian hard man Emmanuel Pogatetz is sporting a mask. It’s not long before his head is swathed in bandages follow a clash with Adebola. He persists in chirping and finger-wagging for the remainder of the game.

The bloke behind me has made his thoughts on 34 year old journeyman Dele Adebola quite clear. What he fails to see today is how the big man holds the ball up. He has a deft touch. He shrugs off the challenges of Wheater and a weary-looking Sean St Ledger. Adebola wins his fair share of headers. He plays in David McGoldrick shortly before the break, but the former Southampton striker spurns a golden opportunity.

McGoldrick’s transfer to the Saints staved off administration for neighbours Notts County. On the evidence of this outing he looks desperately short of confidence.

Billy Davies will be stripping the paint off the walls with anger in the dressing room. Forest are performing well below par.

We are entertained by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May from Top Gear at the break. They tease the Riverside crowd by revealing Newcastle United shirts. 'Dave Lee Travis' enters the 1990s with Fat Boy Slim’s Rockafellow Skank.

Forest cut Boro to ribbons in the second half. They go from the ridiculous to the sublime. Wes Morgan sees off Kitson and Lita, McKenna marshalls the midfield, whilst Anderson’s lung-bursting runs and electric eel movement are too much for Boro right back Williams. He has a reluctance to use his left foot and has no end product.

Garner, Anderson and Adebola all go close for Forest as Middlesbrough are pinned back in their own half.

Despite the blustery conditions and driving rain, Forest continue to play a beautiful passing game at pace. Earnshaw is introduced for a jaded McGoldrick.

Good work by Adebola and McKenna forces a handball by Wheater just outside the 18 yard area. Earnshaw calmly slots the free kick over the wall and into the top corner of the net.

Both sides press hard for the winner. But time is finally up. Forest will feel hard done by that they’ve only come away with a point.

Man of the Match: Brad Jones

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blaby & Whetstone Ath 0 Boldmere St Michaels 1

It’s Sunday November 8th. The Groundhopper has got his scouting hat on today. He’s at Melbourne Park, Aspley, in Nottingham. I’ve come to watch an all Asian team. I’m sat on a park bench chatting to a few of their parents. Both teams are warming up when all hell breaks loose.

Some moron, with a limp, lets his Staffordshire bull terrier of its lead. The beast runs amok. He’s biting some of the boys who are screaming with fear. A couple of them hang on the crossbar to avoid a foaming at the mouth canine creature. The parents I was speaking to have also scarpered.

It was a distressing moment to see all the kids trembling like that. We have a bit of a laugh about it once the offender and his owner had been frog marched off the premises. Someone quips that they are not surprised that the dog’s owner has a limp.

Everyone crowds around the TV set in the evening. The X Factor has reached a crescendo. Ten million eyes fall on smug Simon Cowell. Even Sticky Palms is torn away from the Non League Paper. Cowell has the chance to put the nation out of its misery.

I can still hear Mrs P’s cry of despair. She’s had a couple of Chardonnay’s. She shrieks at host Dermot O’Leary, as he announces that those pair of Emerald Islanders (Jedward) has survived the public vote. I haven’t the heart to tell her it’s all a fix.

I have a very quiet week by my standards. I’m down the training ground on Monday. I sample a few real ales the next three nights, while I ferry my boys to football training. Star Bitter from the Belvoir Brewery is the pick of the bunch at the Plough Inn, in the affluent village of Wysall.

It’s Saturday morning and old Sticky Palms is feeling as rough as a badgers arse. It was like a who’s who of blog legends up the Salutation Inn last night. I was with: The Architect, Chopper Harris, Barthez, The Nuclear Scientist, The Canadian, White Van Man and Jacko. I was on Guinness and despite skipping a round or two still feel decidedly dodgy.

I’ve arranged to meet my boss in the Hemlock Stone car park. We’re heading up to north Notts – I seem to spend half my life up there!

Mick is a real character. He makes me chuckle with his sharp observations and amusing anecdotes. He knows his onions and made over 600 League appearances in goal for Halifax Town, Notts County and Chesterfield.

We briefly visit a ground in Kirkby-in-Ashfield. We’ve been tipped the wink about a centre forward. The boy has an arrogance and swagger about him.

We shoot over to the village of Bagthorpe to watch a junior game. The sloping pitch is situated behind the Dixie’s Arms public house. They are still making breakfast cobs. We don’t miss out on the opportunity.

I’m talking to a young goalkeeper after the game. He’s sporting a Lincoln City keepers’ shirt. I tell him that the Imps are the team I support. His dad replies that they were giving the shirts away. Sounds about right.

I finally arrive home at 1pm. Mrs P has took ‘The Skipper’ to his cup game in Newstead village. I’m just locking up when I hear the toot of a horn at the front of the house. For the first time in three years of Groundhopping the White Van Man is giving me a treat. We’re riding in the white van.

It’s the death ride from hell. Lord only knows what the trip to Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium is going to be like next week. His part time job should be as a getaway driver. He smokes off an Asda lorry at the Hobby Horse roundabout and tares up the M1 for a junction.

He’s already had an incident with a Chinese cyclist in Cambridge this week. It certainly hasn’t put him off from white knuckle- riding.

Bruiser phones in. He has a hot date tonight and is cooking dinner. WVM calls him ‘Candle’ – because he’s always being blown out.

We’re close to the ground but can’t quite find it due to a complicated one way system. An attractive young lady walking a black cocker spaniel dog guides us to the ground. It certainly made WVM feel a little hot under the collar.

It’s £4 entry and £1 for another splendid programme. The pitch looks perfectly playable despite it pelting down with rain for most of the day and night.

We amble past the small stand and rock up to the right of the Blaby dugout, shielded from the gusty conditions by a perimeter fence.

Blaby & Whetstone Athletic play at Warwick Road. They play in the Leicestershire Senior League at Step 7 level.

Today’s visitors are Boldmere St Michaels (the Mikes) they are from the Sutton Coldfield area of Birmingham. They ply their trade in the Aspire Midland Alliance at Step 5. On paper it looks to be a comfortable away win.

The Mikes look a class above in the opening twenty minutes. Lee Osbourne has already gone close for the visitors when they take the lead on seven minutes. Ricky Baker hugs the touchline and collects the ball from inside, he beats the full back for pace and clips a ball into Osbourne who spectacularly and skilfully steers a volley into the top right hand corner of the net.

The Groundhopper and White Van Man applaud the goal. It is beautifully executed. We have had our money’s worth already. We don’t do 0-0s readers!

Blaby kick with the wind and take an age to settle, showing their opponents far too much respect. But they begin to find their feet. Their young, athletic 6 & 8 jacket stamp their authority on the game.

They have two glaring misses before the break – one a header by Pallet, the other a shot well saved by Mikes’ ‘keeper Sean Butler.

To be honest we’ve lost a little interest in the game, not because of the lack of quality or excitement (it’s a decent game) but because today has thrown up one of those characters that you could only find at a non league ground.

The guy’s name is ‘Dorset John’ or ‘Lord Bath.’ He has a casual acquaintance with a lady in the Midlands and has dropped her off at a few charity shops in Leicester, while he ticks off another ground. He’s from Poole in Dorset.

He wears a bright orange jacket. He reminds me of Uncle Albert off Only Fools and Horses. He has more tales than Hans Christian Anderson. He was assistant kit man at AFC Bournemouth back in the 1990s when Stoke City manager Tony Pulis was in charge of the Cherries.

I remind him that Lincoln City beat Bournemouth 9-0 back in 1982. Harry Redknapp was manager at the time. It turns out that John and I were both at the game.

He reels off one anecdote after another and has Sticky Palms and WVM in stitches. We take a breather from the old fella and head towards a chaotic clubhouse. I can hear WVM’s stomach rumbling so treat him to a ham cob and a cup of tea. There’s no rating for the tea as it isn’t poured from the pot.

I glance up at the TV screen. The Pies are drawing 2-2 at Bury’s Gigg Lane. Predictably, Chris Sutton’s Lincoln have failed to trouble the scorers.

Dorset John must be enjoying our company as he hooks up with us both in the second half. I think WVM may have had enough though as he sticks his i-phone headset into his tabs and checks out a few scores.

I’ve lost all interest for the game now and only have eyes and ears for Dorset John. He’s told endless gags from the Pulis era and has now moved on to when Mel Machin was manager. Apparently Machin was a miserable old sod and John decided to move on to pastures new.

Blaby bust a gut in search of an equaliser. The Mikes’ Jason Holmes had earlier seen a shot deflected over which would have surely clinched the tie.

There’s plenty of huff, puff and endeavour but Blaby fail in the final third. It’s been a sterling effort to match a side two leagues above them but they just fall short.

There’s time for one final shaggy dog story from Dorset John. He recalls the time that Chelsea’s Russian international goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine signed a match ball while sitting on the toilet in the away dressing room.

We bid farewell. What a character. The van is revved up and we exit out the car park. WVM flicks on Heart FM, they are playing the 80s hit ‘Midas Touch.’ Where’s Dorset John when you need him?

Man of the Match: Dorset John.

Attendance: 122.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Notts County 2 Bradford City 1

We’ve known each other for twenty one years, for sixteen of those we have been married. I like groundhopping, she likes channel hopping. She irons the clothes listening to Boyzone. I wash the car to Bauhaus on the i-Pod. We rarely row. She is placid, even in the stickiest situations.

We have a ripsnorter of a bust-up once a year. It’s normally November 5th and it involves Sticky’s favourite furry friend – Finley Palmer - the rabbit.

It’s firework night and already I can see that Finley is looking a shade uncomfortable with the racket of a few firecrackers coming from close by. He shuffles nervously about his cage. I try and reassure the wee man but he’s shaking like a leaf. I broach the subject, with Mrs P, about the little fella coming in the house for the night. I’ll even turn the fire up for him to gas mark 3. Mrs P is having none of it.

Finley is serving a life ban. His appeal at the dinner table was unsuccessful. I let him in our crib three years ago. He got a bit familiar with the layout of the joint. He squeezed his way through to the back of the TV set and gnawed his way through the Sky TV cable. We were without Coronation Street and EastEnders for two days. It was the happiest day of my life. Finley gained cult status that evening.

Racked with guilt I head down to the Griffin Inn at the Plumtree for a firework display. My godson and his cheeky monkey of a brother - ‘Gangsta.’ – are at the same gig. It’s all a bit la-di-dah. You can’t move in the car park for 4x4s, BMW’s and Mercs. The fireworks are spectacular though.

I start thinking about the Notts County youth team. They have a potential banana skin of a cup tie at Malvern Town tonight. I text my boss Mick for the final score. I breathe a huge sigh of relief when the return text comes through: Notts have won in extra-time. ‘We’ were down to the bare bones.

It’s Friday, the day of the game against Bradford. I start the day off with a ‘Fat Rascal’ from the Munch Box in Ruddington. It’s a chaotic shift at work, the phones are red hot. A quiet pint at the Rancliffe Arms in Bunny, with some colleagues, makes a welcome change.

I arrive home from work. The kids are excited about tonight’s game. A few years ago, when Gudjon Thordarson was manager at ‘The Pies’, the football was dull and uninspiring. If the kids were naughty, or back-chatted me, I’d threaten to take them down to Meadow Lane. They soon started to behave. Now they beg to go down as the new era begins.

We’re in the car driving through Plumtree. The Melton Road is snagged up with traffic and has come to a standstill. Sticky junior is getting stressed that we might miss the game. I turn right in Tollerton and head down past Nottingham Airport and enter West Bridgford the back way.

The kids are bouncing up and down to Tinchy Strider’s ‘You’re Not Alone’ which features a sample of Olive’s 1997 hit (I know my toons readers .. lol). We park in County Hall which is free of charge tonight.

Sticky junior doesn’t want to sit with Dad anymore. He hooks up with some mates and ends up in the Family Stand behind the goal. He’s cadged a loud haler off one of his pals but I’ve banned him from bringing it. The Groundhopper meets up with The Nuclear Scientist in the Derek Pavis Stand. We sit halfway up, level with the eighteen yard area.

‘The Skipper’ and Snooksy spot a pal three rows back and decide to join him. My mood feels good. The DJ spins 'Living for the ‘Weekend’ by Staines indie band Hard-Fi. Gone has the crackling PA system and Norman Collier esque microphone. Notts County are in the money. Even near neighbours Nottingham Forest look on in envy.

Former Panathinaikos and FC Copenhagen manager Hans Backe makes an abundance of changes to the Notts County team – there’s no Schmeichel, Moloney, Jones, Lee, Thompson, Rogers or Hughes. In come Hunt, Clapham, Hoult, Akinbyi, and Hawley. Captain Neil Bishop plays in an unfamiliar role at right back.

Tonight’s visitors are the Bantams of Bradford City. They were on the receiving end of a five star performance by the Pies back in August. Revenge was swift and sweet, when they knocked Notts out of the Johnstone Paints Trophy a few weeks ago on penalties.

Bradford is situated in the foothills of the Pennines and is in the metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire. It has a population of just under 500,000. It was once famous for its textile manufacturing.

Twenty five per cent of the city has southern Asian origin. Local celebrity include: the singer and X-Factor runner-up Gareth Gates, rugby coach Brian Noble, the boxer Richard Dunn (he fought Muhammad Ali,) the late Richard Whiteley, actor Timothy West, Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh , Britain’s last hangman Albert Pierrepoint, the author J B Priestley and the original Peter Crouch – Ian Ormondroyd.

Saturday May 11th 1985 was the most horrific day in the club’s history. Fire broke out under the main stand, due to a discarded cigarette end, during the game between Bradford City and my team Lincoln City. Sticky didn’t travel that day because he was playing cricket. Fifty six people perished in the fire, with a further 270 also injured.

The Bradford Disaster Appeal Fund raised £3.5 million for the victims of the fire. Two Lincoln City supporters were among the dead that day. Sincil Bank’s Stacey West Stand was named in their memory.

I went to the Osdal Stadium a year or so later to watch a League Cup tie between Bradford and Nottingham Forest. It’s a venue that hosts speedway, rugby league and stock car racing. The Tricky Trees won 5-0 but lanky forward Ian Ormondroyd rattled the woodwork twice at 0-0.

There’s a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day. It is immacutely observed. The moment is beautiful. I think of My grandad and those poor victims that died at Valley Parade on that awful day.

The opening half an hour is as dull as dishwater. Notts pass the ball around but the tempo is at testimonial game pace. Bradford play an ugly long-ball game.

Former Carlisle Utd and Preston North End forward Karl Hawley looks a tricky players for the Pies. He twists and turns and has an exquisite first touch. His partnership with Akinbiyi is in its infancy. They play like strangers. Hawley appears to be pulled down as he is about to release the trigger. Referee Ilderton waves away claims for a penalty.

Ricky Ravenhill – Sticky calls him ‘Rocky Ravenhill’ – takes a stranglehold of the midfield. He plays every game like it’s the last one of his career. He’s tenacious in the tackle and supreme in the air. He’d be the first on The Groundhopper’s team sheet. I’d throw him the captain’s armband too. I first saw him play in the red and white hoops of Doncaster Rovers in the Conference at Burton Albion’s old Eton Park ground years ago. He was the cream of the crop that night too.

Bradford begin to get some joy and test the makeshift Notts backline. Hanson sends Evans scampering away; he beats Bishop for pace and blasts a ferocious shot at Russell Hoult who beats his effort away.

The game hots up with Notts having further chances but finding Bradford stopper Simon Eastwood in fine fettle.

The half ends with a terrific ebb and flow. Jet heeled winger Scott Neilson, a recent signing from Cambridge City, and the grandson of Tottenham Hotspur legend Cliff Jones, bursts down the middle and unleashes a shot which once again Hoult deals with superbly.

Notts pour forward. ‘Rocky’ sees two shots blocked. Hawley pounces onto the loose ball to fire home through a crowd of players. The best two chances have fallen to Bradford and yet it’s Notts who take the lead.

I have to reprimand ‘The Skipper’ at the break for acting the goat. He’s singing stupid chants and annoying folk nearby.

Notts score the goal of the game immediately after the break. Following good work by Clapham, Akinbiyi and Hawley, the ball falls to Jackson. He waltzes through the Bantams’ defence and finishes clinically.

Bradford’s long diagonal ball poses the Notts defence problems for most of the evening as the tie starts to get tasty. A fiery Neilson gets in a tangle with Hunt and flicks a foot out in frustration. The Pies rearguard struggle to contain his pace and power.

The Bantams pull a goal back ten minutes from time through ex tennis pro and former Mansfield Town striker Michael Boulding.

Backe throws on Westcarr to inject some much needed pace. The Bradford ‘keeper makes another brave block with his legs. There are a few close scares as Notts try to close the game down.

There have been twenty six shots and twelve corners in an entertaining cup tie, in which the goalkeepers were king.

Fiery flame-haired Bantams' boss Stuart McCall remonstrates with the officials at the end of the game. What a player he was with City in his first spell there all those years ago.

Attendance: 4213 (493 from Bradford)

Man of the Match: both goalkeepers.

Referee 7 out of 10.