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.