Saturday, January 30, 2010

Brackley Town 2 Didcot Town 2

The crowd are pouring out of Villa Park. The Groundhopper is gutted not to have seen a goal. I’m getting hammered with texts from White Van Man: “£43 for a 0-0 son.” I’ve proper got the face on; the game needed a goal.

A guy’s got a radio on. There’s late drama at Old Trafford. Rooney’s come up trumps again in ‘Fergie time.’ I really wanted to watch that game. I don’t do nil nils. It’s the only thing in life that really cheeses me off, well apart from Wild At Heart.

I walk past a poster advertising Sleeping Beauty at the Birmingham Hippodrome, starring Joe Pasquale and X-Factor runner-up Ray Quinn (who?) Oh well, it could have been worse folks.

It takes an age to exit the Powerleague car park. There are bloody roadworks on the M6. It takes an hour to crawl through them. There’s not a workman in sight.

‘The Guvnor’s’ radio is on the blink. We’re spared that clown ‘Spoony’ on 606. The closet Cockney Scouse fool is still in Dubai on his jollies. Junction 9 on the M42 is closed. What a night this is turning out to be.

A tired old Sticky Palms staggers through the front door close to 1am. I’m never going to Birmingham again.

I spend Friday night touching up the blog and seek solace in a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.

It’s Saturday morning. We wake up to a frost-covered lawn. I was keeping the scouting local this morning but I doubt that there will much on.

I throw a couple of old doors into the back of the ‘Rolls Royce’ and head down to West Bridgford Recycling Centre. I call in at West Park on my way home. I fight my way through the parked-up 4x4s, Mercs and BMWs. I watch three games. There’s nothing doing.

I’m worried about the weather. Snow is dotted around the country. Tomorrow morning I’m meant to be in Sleaford – I think I’ll give it a miss.

I get a text off ‘The Reaper.’ He’s across at Leamington Spa buying a bathroom cabinet off former Nottingham Forest captain, Riccardo Scimeca. He says he’s a ‘lovely bloke.’

I drive home. I give Finley’s crib a spruce up. I have three chews in my hand. He takes the middle one first – it means he’s predicting a score draw in today’s game.

I call up Brackley Town. They’ve had a dusting of snow overnight. They’ve gritted all the hard-standing areas and cleared the pitch of snow. The referee from the Northampton Town v Burton Albion gives the game the green light.

Both my lads are playing football today. I wish them luck, say goodbye to Mrs P and head out the door. It’s 11.30am.

I’m tooting my horn outside Trumpy’s house minutes later. It’s a familiar routine. He staggers round the corner. His striped shirt hangs outside his blue tracksuit bottoms. The plastic carrier bag has a litre of cider nestling in the bottom of it.

Trumpy has had a busy morning, arranging for a skip to dispose of all his empties. He still manages to cram in a couple of McEwans, half a cider and a slice of toast – he admits the toast was a slight distraction.

Trumpy rings Rocester FC as a plan B but manages to ring the wrong number and spends five minutes talking to a little old dear who probably hasn’t seen anybody since the home help came yesterday.

As we sail down the M1 and up the A43, Trumpy treats me to endless anecdotes of his week away in ‘Bonnie Scotland’ at Yuletide. There was four foot of snow in Aviemore. The legend was well prepared though, with his plastic bag and pair of trainers.

He saw the New Year in with bagpipes and fireworks in the town centre. He’s normally in bed snoring his way through Jools Holland after a twelve hour bender.

Readers from Brackley and Didcot will be unaware that Trumpy’s sole aim in life is to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland. With this in mind we stop off at a delightful village pub in Chackmore called the Queens Head.

The lounge is thriving. The room has low beams and stone floors. Trumpy orders fish ‘n’ chips and real ale. The Groundhopper opts for a chicken, brie and avocado baguette, washed down with a Stella. The legend also has a pint of Stowford Press cider. He enquires with the barmaid how much the homemade jars of chutney and pickles are.

We drive towards Brackley, past the delightful setting of Stowe School. We hit the icy, snow-covered country lanes. Luckily we are in the ‘Rolls Royce.’ We are in Brackley an hour before kick-off.

Brackley is a market town in south Northamptonshire with a population of 15,000. It is close to the Silverstone race track. German motoring giant Mercedes have bought a controlling stake in the Brackley based Formula One championship team Brawn GP.

Trumpy is disappointed when we arrive at Brackley Town’s St James’ Park – he thought he was going to Newcastle United. We park on the main road a few minutes’ walk away from the ground.

Brackley are second in the Zamaretto Premier League, whilst the visitors, Didcot, lie just above the relegation zone. It’s a brave call by Finley to predict a score draw.

It’s £8 admission. Trumpy treats me to a programme at a price of £1.50. I later find it to be a corking read.

Trumpy has already sniffed out the bar. It would be in my top five in the last three years of groundhopping. He shouts up a Theakstons bitter, Sticky has a Kronenberg 1664

I’ve just come back from the loo to find Trumpy with his fists raised, doing a little jig. D***y have beaten the Tricky Trees at the ‘Sheep Dip.’

The game has kicked off. The volunteers have done a cracking job making the ground safe. There’s an ice-cold chill. Trumpy is already having a little moan about it.

Didcot belie their lowly league position and play a super game of football. They look well drilled and well coached. Former Swindon Supermarine striker Mark Draycott hits a fine strike from distance just over the bar.

The Saints take the lead after 15 minutes. Ben Mackey curls in a ball across the face of the goal; it’s headed home by Owen Storey, who’s lurking at the far post.

Brackley enjoy a spell of pressure and have further chances to increase their lead through ex Southend United striker Mark Rawle and Mackey.

Didcot regroup and get themselves back in the game on 34 minutes with Michael Alexis bundling the ball home from close range. There’s a huge cheer; they’ve brought a decent following.

I’ve not always been impressed with the quality of players on my trips to the south Midlands but these two teams are not the norm. Banbury and Bedford were bloody awful when we saw them a few months ago.

Trumpy’s happy now he’s back in the bar. He celebrates with another pint of Theakstons. The half-times are coming through. The Pies are beating Barnet 2-0.

I leave Trumpy to finish his drink and go and watch the second half. Phil John is running the show for the Railwaymen. He has high energy levels and quick feet. He gets his head on an inswinging free-kick to put Didcot 2-1 up.

Trumpy’s hooked up with the Didcot posse. One of them gets a text alert letting him know that Wolves have equalised at Hull City. “Are you from Wolverhampton?” asks Trumpy. “Yeah” replies the guy. “It’s a sh**hole announces the legend. Oh dear thinks The Groundhopper.

The Saints are stung into action. Didcot’s centre half has limped off the pitch. Their defence is under the cosh. Didcot’s Aussie keeper, 24 year old Matt Trott, is performing miracles. He tips one over from Rawle but is finally beaten on 80 minutes with a fine turn and shot from Ben Mackey.

It’s a grandstand finish. Trumpy returns from his final pint of the day to witness an astonishing display of goalkeeping from ‘Rolf Harris.’ He’s punching, diving and kicking his side towards a point.

Trumpy applauds the ‘keeper and shakes the hands of a few Didcot fans and their children. He’ll have the freedom of the town when we visit the Oxfordshire club next season, for him to chalk a pub off and for me to tick the ground off.

Attendance: 251

Man of the Match: Mark Bosnich.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0

It’s Monday morning and I’m in the kitchen at work making an award-winning pot of tea for two. I let it brew and take a pew. The office door nearly bursts off his hinges as ‘The Guvnor’ (senior manager) breezes into the room. He has a smile as wide as the Dartford Tunnel. He puts the thumbs up. “I’ve two tickets for next Wednesday my old China plate.” (He’s a Cockney).

“Excellent boss” replies The Groundhopper. “How much are they?” “£43 my old cock sparrow.” I feel my chest tighten and gasp for air. Oh well, at least it gave the company the chance to dust down the defibrillator and give it outing. I remember coming round and seeing a sea of eyes peering down on me. “You alright Groundhopper?” I hear a voice shout out. “Er, not really. Who’s going to tell Mrs P I’m spending £43 on a football match.”

I’ve took the piss since Christmas. I’ve ticked off Stoke, Coventry and Stocksbridge, now an expensive, cheeky mid-weeker in Birmingham. I keep it to myself for the rest of the week, but decide to test the water 48 hours before kick-off. I break the news gently by text.

“Darling, (it’s a good start), Clive (big boss) has blagged some tickets for the Villa v Arsenal game. I might need a financial contribution for my birthday. Can I go?” The reply takes 5 seconds: “How much?” I reply: “Can’t tell you that.” Mrs P replies: “You can’t go then.” It’s time for a wonder strike from Groundhopper: “I love you.” “You still can’t go. Game set and match to Mrs P.

It’s the day of the game. Two nights on the couch is not good for my glass back. It’s been I leave the house for work at just gone 7am. I feed Finley (our rabbit). I stroke him and chat to him. Conversation has been thin on the ground since ‘The Arsenal’ text.

I shoo ‘The Guvnor’ out the door at 5.15pm. He drives his VW Passat like Michael Caine off ‘The Italian Job’. He often opens up the office at work. He drives round the corner into our driveway on two wheels when he’s late. We all whistle ‘Self Preservation Society’ as he gets out of his car.

The Guvnor’s job title is operations manager, which is quite ironic having surveyed the workings of his motor. The glove compartment door is hanging on its hinges, there’s an empty can of oil strewn across the floor and his radio is malfunctioning.

I’ve never seen the guy get flustered; he takes everything in his stride. He’s only ever bollocked The Groundhopper once, when I was told NOT to press a button during a company stocktake, but decided, for a gag, to do it anyway. It brought the entire company to a standstill.

We get held up in the village of Kegworth, close to East Midlands Airport. A Boeing 737 crashed into the motorway embankment on the 8th January 1989, killing 47 people, just a few hundred yards from where we are queuing in traffic.

The journey is simple and unaffected by the rush hour mayhem. It’s down the M42 and M6. We’re parked up in the Salford Stadium Powerleague car park for the bargain price of £4 – security included.

My groundhopping coat, a bargain £34.99 from H&M, makes a welcome return. ‘The Guvnor’ prefers a more upmarket ‘Next’ look.

We take a wander past boarded-up houses and deserted high-rise flats, awaiting demolition. I treat ‘The Guvnor’ to some tucker at a burger van, en-route to Villa Park. We have two hot dogs with onions and a couple of cans of Coke. Total cost is £7.

The lady at the van is spooning on the onions when I hear Burslem pub singer Robbie Williams singing ‘She’s the One.’ - It’s put me right off my food.

Aston is in inner city Birmingham and has a population of around 25,000 people. It underwent large scale development after the war – hence the ugly skyline. It’s well known for its university and professional football club.

Celebrity fans include: Black Sabbath rocker Ozzy Osbourne, violinist Nigel Kennedy, Radio 1 disc jockey Emma B and Dads Army actor Ian Lavender (Private Pike). You may remember he used to wear an Aston Villa scarf whilst on inspection parade.

Aston Villa were founded in 1874. The won the old Division One back in 1981 under the shrewd stewardship of wily old fox Ron Saunders. I seem to recall that they only used 14 players all season. The following year Dennis Mortimer lifted the European Cup.

Sticky Palms loved Aston Villa when he was a kid. My favourite player was flying winger Tony Morley, with his quick feet, direct play and inch perfect crossing. I remember him scoring a cracker at Everton’s Goodison Park.

Players to have worn the shirts of both Villa and Arsenal include: the most despised man in the county of Nottinghamshire, David Platt, bookies favourite, Paul Merson and goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer.

It’s cough, cough … uh hum .. £43 for the ticket and £3 for a fairly run-of-the mill programme. We’re sitting in the Doug Ellis Lower. Arsenal’s allocation is a measly 2500.

There’s a strong stench of beer amongst the Arsenal fans. ‘The Guvnor’ is on the ‘dog and bone’ to his ‘trouble and strife’. I notice an old man walk by with a Villa steward. He walks with a stoop. It’s only when he gets up close that I realise it’s BBC commentator John Motson, on his way up to the TV gantry.

I’m flicking my way through the programme when I notice a useful piece of trivia: Who scored the first ever Premiership goal at the Emirates Stadium? (Answer at bottom of page). There’s a Q&A with Villa striker John Carew. He lists The X-Factor as his favourite TV programme – surely he should be doing warm-downs when that crap is on?

Arsenal are missing the Africans, whilst Villa are without, Warnock and Carew (probably watching Celebrity Big Brother). Nicky Shorey has impressed at Nottingham Forest while on loan and has been recalled. But a right-footed Luke Young is preferred at left back.

The match is a terrific advert for the Premiership. The tempo, endeavour and skill levels do not disappoint. Local boy Gabriel Agbonlahor stings Almunia’s hands in the opening moments. The Gunners respond with an effort from the Brazilian, Denilson, who has started the game well.

Villa’s big cheese (grand fromage) is Stevenage born winger Ashley Young. He teases, torments and terrorises French full back Gael Clichy. His touch is exquisite. His pace is frightening. Young whips a free kick just wide of the upright as Villa grab hold of the game by the scruff of its neck.

Belgian international, Thomas Vermaelen, is performing like a Sunday morning pub footballer. He’s hacking folk down, being caught out of position and lacking in pace. He’s can hardly walk (through injury) and yet Arsenal let him play on for 20 minutes.

Vermaelen raises the white flag and is replaced by former Notts County legend Sulzeer Campbell. He’s fresh from his day out in the seaside town of Morecambe with the ‘Magpies.’

There’s plenty of banter between the two sets of fans. The Arsenal fans are noisy, but they lack the wit of FC United of Manchester (who I saw on Saturday). Why don’t they sing ‘Chim chim-in-ney chim chim-in-ney chim chim cher roo?’I can’t hear the Villa fans. They are clearly singing, but the acoustics are stuck in a bubble. It’s like they’re miming on The X-Factor.

We’ve reached the fag end of the first half ( ‘mystery time’ Motty used to call it) and the game is crying out for a moment of magic. Cesc Fabregas picks up a loose ball in midfield, he drives forward, waltzing past a few flimsy challenges, he feints a pass, draws back his right foot, strikes the ball cleanly, only to see it bounce back off the base of the post.

‘The Guvnor’ needs his caffeine fix. He’s always hammering the percolator at work. He barges his way through a sea of bodies at the refreshment bar, whilst Groundhopper nips to the loo. Amazingly stewards patrol the toilets. The Kenco coffee is £2 per cup – I couldn’t bring myself to sample a cup of turgid tea.

I peer up at the TV screen – Lincoln City (my old team) have conceded a goal at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium inside 30 seconds. ‘We' are managed by a centre forward, with no managerial CV. He’s miserable and incompetent. I am supporting Lincoln United until he is removed from the post.

The second half is a privilege to watch. Both sides want to win the game so badly. Villa, always, always look for Young, who hugs the touchline like O’Neill’s assistant, the chain-smoking John Robertson, used to. One of his endless supply of away-swinging crosses eventually finds £12 million Stewart Downing at the far post with the goal at his mercy. He shuts his eyes like a frightened schoolboy and heads over.

Andrey Arshavin has moved into a more central position, as Arsenal persist with their narrow quick-passing game that deserted them in the first half. He wriggles away from his marker, draws Brad Friedel; his shot is beaten away, but falls to the feet of a mostly anonymous Tomas Rosicky, who crashes the rebound against the underside of the bar.

‘Mystery time’ has reared ugly head. Arsenal have a corner. I don’t do nil nils readers. All my regulars know that. A ball is floated in, for once Villa fail to clear their lines. Notts County reject Sol Campbell strikes a shot on target, it’s just about to find the net when a stray leg diverts the ball away from goal.

How romantic and sensational would have it of been for ‘The Solster’ to notch a winner. For the record he has been magnificent, has have all four central defenders tonight.

Attendance: 39,601

Man of the Match: Ashley Young.

Referee: Probert 8/10

Quiz Answer: Olof Mellberg

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stocksbridge Park Steels 1 FC Utd Manchester 1

I’m thrilled at seeing the ten goal bonanza at Wollaton FC. Big D and ‘Willy’ are sinking a few pints in the clubhouse. I leave them to it and make the short journey home down the A52. Sticky’s straight to the beer fridge; life has never been better. Even my old team, the team I used to support – Lincoln City – have blagged a win in north London, at Barnet.

I’m as happy as Larry. I feel like ‘Singing in the Rain’, like George Sansome did on Britain’s Got Talent. But readers, there’s always, always a dark cloud on the horizon.

The first time I notice it is when the signature tune strikes up for the show. The audience are in rapturous applause. A silver-haired fellow wanders down the studio steps; alongside him is a rather plump lady (fat lass).

Yes folks, Mrs P has struck an all-time low in her TV watching schedule – it’s ‘All Star Mr and Mrs.’ I bury my head into the world of non-league match reports and do not resurface until I hear the familiar voice of former Radio Trent disc jockey – Dale Winton – on ‘In it to Win it.’ Tell you what though folks, that Gary Lineker’s missus is worth a second look.

It’s Friday night. I’m a tad worried about the inclement weather again. I’ve earmarked Stocksbridge Park Steels ground for quite a while now. It’s rained heavily up there for most of the day. There ‘Look Local Stadium’ is situated in the foothills of the Pennines.

I’m in the kitchen, sipping a pint of Kronenberg 1664. I’m listening to Five Live’s preview of the weekend sport to come, with the brilliant Mark Poutgatch. There’s a huge thud in the lounge.

I race through the door to make sure everyone’s ok. ‘What the hell’s happened?” I enquire. “Calm down” pipes up Mrs P, “There’s no need to worry it’s only Fat Pat, off EastEnders, she’s lying in a heap on the floor, having feinted at the B&B breakfast table.”

Saturday morning follows a familiar pattern to the previous week: An interrupted night’s sleep (insomnia), an early rise and traditional poached eggs. Brian Matthew plays Diana Ross and the Supremes 1968 hit ‘Love Child’ on his Radio 2 show. The lyrics are powerful and controversial for its day.

For those that don’t know I’m the talent identification officer (chief scout in old money) for Notts County’s centre of excellence. My remit is to uncover any emerging talent in the Midlands. This morning my team of scouts are out in force in the north of the county.

I ring up my snout in the Newark area. He tips me a lad who is playing in the old mining village of Clipstone. I drive up the A614 and turn off opposite Rufford Park, passing Center Parks Holiday Village.

The towering headstocks of the old coal mine are a feature of the village. I pull into a school; the game has already kicked off. I watch the first half. The player in question is not quite what we are looking for.

I head towards Debdale Lane, to meet up with my gaffer, but I’ve just missed him. I take in another game, but there’s nothing doing. I head up towards Stocksbridge.

It’s a routine run. I join the M1 at Junction 29 and exit at 35A. Mark Pougatch’s Five Live team are talking up Accrington Stanley’s chances against Fulham at the Fraser Eagle Stadium.

There’s a steep climb on the way into Stocksbridge. This must be one of the highest vantage points in the area. I can still see a smattering of snow on the top of the Pennines.

I park Sally Gunnell (not much to look at but a bloody good runner) right outside the turnstile. A Stocksbridge official is situated in the crow’s nest on the lookout for Mancs crossing the border. It’s the Battle of the Roses.

I check the game is on. A very kind official ensures I’m fetched a programme. I decide to stretch my legs and walk into town. I’m forewarned about the 1 in 3 gradient I’m to be greeted with on my return journey.

The high street is fairly unremarkable. It’s a bit of a one horse town. There are a couple of bars, Ned’s Pizzas and Capone’s Kebabs.I’m on the verge of an about turn, when I see in the horizon a moment of beauty and class – it’s the Stocksbridge Co-op. It’d be rude not to. I snaffle up a cheddar ploughman’s sandwich as part of a £3 meal deal.

I sit on a seat opposite the old Palace Cinema, cranking myself up for the steep journey back to the ground. I’ve only walked 500 yards and I’m already fagged out – it’s like walking up Scafell Pike.I notice a cemetery to my right. I’m that out of breath, I might as well dig myself a hole and jump into an early grave readers.

I’m finally back at the ground, with a face as red as a FC United shirt. It’s £7 on the gate. I’ve already paid £1.50 for another outstanding programme. It’s a £1 for a raffle ticket.

Stocksbridge is a small town in the civil parish of Sheffield, in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. It has a population of just over 13,000 people. Footballers born in the town include: Oxford United manager Chris Wilder and former West Ham player Peter Eustace.

The area was once famous for its steelworks. In 2003 Corus announced proposals to transfer steel melting processes from Stocksbridge Works to Rotherham Works, entailing the closure of the Melting Shop and the Hot Rolling Mill, with the loss of 350 jobs.

I’m straight upstairs into the cosiest bar ever (apart from Wollaton FC). The place is packed with Mancs. I fight my way through to the bar and order a pint of cider – that walk and sandwich has caused quite a thirst.

Preston North End versus Chelski is on the TV set, perched up in the corner of the room. Nicolas Anelka puts the Blues two up – not one person in the room bats an eyelid. The view from the bar of the ground, with the Pennine hills in the backdrop, are spectacular.

I’ve still got my scouts’ coat on and have begun to come out in a sweaty rash. There’s nowhere to sit down, or room to take my coat off. I finish the cider off in four slurps and head outside again to cool down.

I sit alone in the main stand, listening to the sound checks. The DJ ought to audition for Heart FM. He plays three shockers in a row – ‘Love Really Hurts by Billy Ocean (Mrs P saw him live in 1980), ‘Mary’s Prayer’ by Danny Wilson and ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ by Candi Staton. It’s like being slumped against the bar in Madison’s nightclub in Nottingham circa 1980.

We’re not allowed to walk around the ground. A steward (from Sheffield Wednesday) explains that they’ve only 6 yellow coats on duty. Effectively only two sides of the ground are going to be open for their biggest crowd of the season.

I’m chatting to an FC United fan. To be honest I can’t get a word in edgeways. He’s telling me that ‘United’ only have a budget of £3000 per week. Also a lot of the revenue is swallowed up by not having their own ground or clubhouse – they play home games at Bury’s Gigg Lane.

He brags how he bought a ticket for the Champions League final on eBay. ‘Don’t tell the missus he chuckles.” Yeah and don’t tell mine mate (Mrs P) that I’m off to Villa v ‘The Arsenal’ next Wednesday at £43! Ouch!

We’re told to take our seats in the stand, as the players are ready to kick-off. The FC United fans are largely congregated behind the far goal. One or two of their flags have caught my attention. I leave the stand and head towards them to take some photos.

United flags are plastered all over the ground. I particularly like the ‘Pleasures Unknown’ one – a reference to the cult album by Manchester indie band Joy Division. I’m not so impressed with the Argentinean flag. (It’s a two fingered salute at the anti-Beckham brigade of 1998)

The United fans are class. Their repertoire of ditties amuses The Groundhopper. They change the lyrics to ‘Peaches’ by The Stranglers and ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by the Sex Pistols. They’re certainly more entertaining than players, who put in a ring-rusty performance in the first 45 minutes. FC United do chose though to keep it on the carpet.

The FC United following sing a British terrace favourite on 20 minutes and one The Groundhopper often sings at work: ‘We all hate Leeds scum.’ Everything is rosy in the garden.

The most controversial moment of the first half happens on 35 minutes with a text from Mrs P to say the boiler is kaput and is going to cost £500 to fix. Call it £543 if you include the Villa game.

United forward Joseph Yoffe races through on goal and is wiped out by Steels’ ‘keeper Ben ‘Kamkaze’ Scott. It’s only a yellow card. Phil Marsh’s curling effort is cleared off the line by a Steels’ defender.

Former Kilmarnock and Notts County winger Iain McCulloch (career finished by a collision with Man Utd ‘keeper Gary Bailey) rings me at the break. He’s been watching a game for me and has found a player. The conversation is short and sweet, as he mumbles more than Kenny Dalglish.

FC United ooze class and confidence in the second half as they attack ‘our’ end. There 4-3-3 formation begins to pay dividends. Jerome Wright and Carlos Roca run rings around the Steels. Their endless supply of crosses has no one on the end of them.

The Steels show a physical and cynical nature to their game and keep the referee busy with notebook and pencil.

United take the lead on the hour. A flowing move finds Roca in space on the right, he feints to go outside, cuts inside and buries the ball into the corner of the net. But they can’t kill the game off. Brett Lovell, a man better built for the game of rugby, is dismissed for a clumsy challenge.

FC United are running down the clock with the minutes ticking away, when a header from a free kick squirms out Ashton’s hands leaving Steels’ striker Andy Ring with the simple task of stabbing the ball into an empty net.

I’m desperately sorry for United. They’ve passed the ball beautifully but have lacked the killer instinct.

Attendance: 761 (600 + from Manc)

Man of the Match: FC United left back.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wollaton 4 Magdala Amateurs 6 (first set)

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m driving Sally Gunnell home through a snow blizzard. I struggle up the hill towards Keyworth. I’m relieved to finally reach our road – it’s only a 4 mile trip but Sticky doesn’t like driving.

I put Sally in the garage; she’ll be nice and snug in there. I walk around the back passage of the house. For a minute I thought I’d spotted the abominable snowman. I take a second glance.. How stupid of me. Of course, it’s my furry, shivering little pet rabbit, Finley P.

He’s covered in snowflakes and is not a happy chappy. Unfortunately, for him, he’s serving a lifetime ban from being in the house, following an unsavoury incident involving Finley’s gnashers and the Sky TV cable. It ended up with an onsite visit from the NTL engineer. Mrs P was judge and jury.

But Mrs P is at work readers. She’ll never know if the youngster has one sneaky soiree in the lounge again. Sticky junior is dispatched to Finley’s crib to collect the wee man. He’s scurrying about the house and thawing out nicely. It’s all going to plan. Suddenly there’s a crunching noise. Bloody hell, he’s only found an over-hanging computer cable and took a huge chunk out of it. It’s the third red card in his short career. He’s well on track to equal Steve Walsh’s Football League record.

‘The Skipper’ is in a relationship (as they say on Facebook). It’s not just any old relationship. He’s hooked into a beauty. Her family are ‘Local Food Heroes.’ Apparently their family butcher firm is celebrating its 25th year. We’ll never have to pay for a Sunday joint again, folks. I think we’ll have a nice piece of pork belly this week ‘Skipper.’

It’s Friday night and poor old Groundhopper is feeling it. A few hours ago I had a bigger hole in my tooth than D****y County have in their defence. The numbness from the injection has faded. I crack open a Stella to celebrate.

I turn on Sky Sports News. Rafa Benetiz has produced another scrap of paper from his pocket and is apologising to the City of Liverpool. I joke with the kids that the paper is really his weekend shopping list. “Yeah, he’ll be nipping to Londis when he leaves the Melwood training ground lads,” I say. “It’ll say: Fact, paella. Fact, tapas. Fact, omelette. Fact John West sardines. “Shut up Dad” they pipe up.

Suddenly we’re all booing and hissing at the TV. The most despicable man in sport is on the box, denying he got an edge on a Ryan Sidebottom away swinger. There’s no place in our house for South African skipper G****e Smith. Lucky Finley wasn’t in the room, he’d have jumped through the TV set and Glasgow kissed him.

It’s Saturday morning and Sticky’s flapping big style. He doesn’t want a blank Saturday and pines for the non-league scene. I’ve Burton Albion or Doncaster Rovers up my sleeve, but events hinge on a 10.30am pitch inspection at the Wollaton Sports Association. It’s a re-visit, but what the hell, I love that club.

I’m in the kitchen rustling up a couple of poached eggs. I make my first brew in a week. I’ve been cleansing my liver and kidneys with hot water and lemon. It’s a pot of tea for one for The Groundhopper. It is magnifique and tastes like Bollinger. I mark it with an 8 out of 10.

I’m listening to Brian Matthew’s Sound of the Sixties show on Radio 2. He plays the occasional humdinger. Today it’s Jamaican ska singer Desmond Dekker and The Aces, ‘Israelites.’ It’s my favourite part of the day. Everyone is in bed. It’s peaceful and tranquil. Just me and Desmond.

Uh-oh, Mrs P has risen from her slumber and has a list of jobs for The Groundhopper as long as Peter Crouch’s arm.

First job is to clean all the inside windows with my proper window cleaners’ blade. Thank God Jonathan Ross cheers me up with Public Image Ltd’s first single from 1978 - ‘Public Image.’ I’m pogoing readers whilst sliding the blade across the window, mopping up any excess water.

I’ve had enough now. I’ve cleaned more windows than George Formby. I check the best message board in the world. Wollaton manager, Ian Lowe, has very kindly posted that the game is 100% on. Referee John Beckett has taken the time out to travel down to the WSA and give the game the green light. Good on you John.

My boys are off down the Tricky Trees – it’s ‘Kids For A Quid.’ Mrs P is on the hunt for a new television – G****e Smith’s appearance last night has caused a crack in the screen. The coast is clear to head down to Wollaton.

I’m walking out the house past Finley’s cage. I’ve a blue chew (for Wollo) and a yellow chew for Dala) in my hand. Which ever one he takes from my fingers first will be Finley’s prediction of today’s winner. He snaffles up the blue one. Fair play Finley lad, Magdala are 2nd from bottom of the league.

I’m in the Rolls Royce. Alan Green is complaining about how turgid the Stoke v Liverpool game is. Only 10,000 Stokies turned out when Sticky was at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks back. Predictably, it’s a full house today.

I drive down the A52 towards Nottingham. and turn left at Crown Island. I’m soon parked up in the Admiral Rodney car park. It’s a place close to my heart. I took Mrs P out for a drink here on our first date back in August 1988.

My phone goes off. It’s Mick Leonard who is head of youth at Notts County. We haven’t trained or played for nearly a month now; it’s just a catch-up call. I mention that I’m at the WSA, just around the corner from his house, if he fancies taking the game in. The Pies have just been called off at Bradford City.

I walk up the entrance to the ground with honorary secretary Frank Hunt. He’s proud of the fact that volunteers have taken three days of their time to clear the pitch of snow.

I poke my head around the door of the cosiest clubhouse in Notts. No-one is about. It’s 15 minutes before kick-off. I meander around the perimeter of the ground. I pass the cricket scoreboard and the well kept gardens of the bordering bungalows. The pitch looks great but is heavily sanded in the bottom left hand corner.

I hear my name shouted out and look up to see Big D and his faithful sidekick Roscoe. It’s our third Saturday in a row together. Roscoe had a traumatic encounter at the Ricoh Arena tea bar last week. He doesn’t appear to be ‘over it.’

I notice a lonely groundhopper sat outside the wooden cricket pavilion making meticulous notes. I have had bad experiences with ‘proper hoppers.’ I even bumped into one in D H Lawrence’s bedroom.

A good crowd begins to congregate. It’s just about the only NSL game that’s beat the elements today. Nottingham is a city full of characters and one or two have rocked up today. Hobo from Kimberley is dressed up in full Russian headgear. Eccentric Welshman, Dennis Harris (Ilkeston Town chairman) has missed out on a trip to Fleetwood to grace us with his presence. I could go on and on (you already have Sticky).

Wollaton look sharper in the opening stages. They have the pace of Adey Bascombe and the width and craft of Justin Whatmore. They’ve already made a few openings when Bascombe escapes the attentions of the ‘Dala defence to stab home from close range.

I’ve been joined by Mick (my boss) and former Pies legend Iain McCulloch (1978-83, 215 appearances). He coaches the Notts County u13 youth team. His thick Scottish accent is hard to decipher. It’s akin to watching an episode of Rab C Nesbitt.

Wollaton have the move of the match on 30 minutes. They’ve pinged the ball all over the park, Whatmore delivers a centre, Bascombe heads goal wards and only a fantastic save by the pink-shirted ‘Dala ‘keeper prevents Wollo’s lead from being doubled.

‘Dala have been edging their way into the game. They pass to feet and work the channels well. Wollaton have no-one to match the energy and tenacity of captain Richard Wyman. Flinders, the Wollo ‘keeper, has already been called into action on more than one occasion, when they restore parity on in the 44th minute through Stephen Hillier. Within a minute the visitors are a goal to the good, with a smart finish by Ashley Robinson.

Poor old Nidge, the NSL photographer, has been skiving in the clubhouse, seeking out an early brew. He’s gobsmacked when I tell him that he’s missed two goals.The catering staff are top notch and serve a sublime cuppa. It’s up there with Bardon Hill Sports and is marked with an eight.Stoke score a late equaliser in the Sky game. Rafa should add goalkeeper to his shopping list (fact).

I take a stroll around to the Wollaton dug out to see how they are taking the news of the two late goals. I’ve just positioned myself close to where Ian Lowe is standing when Ashley Robinson pops in a third.

The industrious and tireless Hillier scores the goal of the game on the hour. He outmuscles the Wollaton defender and races away. He tucks the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. The guy has run his socks off.

The Wollaton assistant manager is irritated by an AWOL back four. He showers the team with foul-mouthed verbal volley. Sticky is amused, but hey, at least the guy’s got passion.

The game is played without fear. It’s jumpers for goalposts. There seems to be a goal every five minutes. The defending is comical (non-existent). The crowd are trying to work out the score. We agree on 4-6.

Big D is holed up in the clubhouse; it’s session on for him and ‘Willy’. Roscoe (‘Beadle hands’) is tasked with collecting the drinks – God help them if last week antics are anything to go by.

Sticky has time for a swift pint of Guinness before slipping away. I’m back home for 4pm, just in time to put Finley to bed and to let him know that his predictions are rubbish. “Stick to what you’re good at son - chewing computer and Sky TV cables”.

Attendance: 52

Man of the Match: Finley Palmer.