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

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