Saturday, February 27, 2010
She’s livid. I’ve never seen her so cross. She’s stomping around the house with a face like thunder. I try to console her but she’s having none of it. Her Friday night format is in tatters. She’s trying to find the customer complaints number on the internet. I wouldn’t fancy being on the other end of the line when she gets through.
Yes you’ve guessed it – Mrs P has just found out that EastEnders has been cancelled tonight. In its place are egg-chasing Sheep and Frogs. Why can’t they put this on BBC Wales?
The corporation are rumoured to be axing one of my favourite digital stations – 6 Music. Why can’t they get rid of the rugby from their schedule? We settle down with a bottle of wine and watch Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun (from Nottingham) and the Winter Olympics – now that is money well spent.
It’s Saturday morning. Finley and Groundhopper have had another spat. The little monkey has ripped up his Sunday Times bedding and scattered it all over his yard. He gets a finger-wagging off Groundhopper. As a punishment his new bedding will be a copy of my brother-in-law’s Daily Mail.
‘The Skipper’ and Sticky junior both have big games today. I’ve promised junior that’ll pop up the ‘Rec’ and watch his fast feet. Finley predicts a 2-1 away win for Cotgrave.
I was on my way up to the Frederick Gent School in South Normanton when I got the call to say the pitch was waterlogged. Faced with a backlog of domestic chores, I inform Mrs P that I’ve been commandeered to the Highfields Sports Centre, on University Boulevard, where Notts County u18s are playing Chesterfield u18s.
It’s bitterly cold and drizzling with rain. I park the car behind the Stick and Pitcher pub, where Beeston Hockey play, and walk across the boggy field towards the main pitch.
It’s Notts County’s first year back at under 18 football. The team was hastily cobbled together last season. It’s a collective of lads released from professional clubs or plucked from the obscurity of local junior league football.
The manager of the youth team is former Birmingham City, D***y County and Notts County defender Michael Johnson.
The Pies’ young guns take the lead with a scrappy goal. I recognize the Number Four for Chesterfield. His name is Craig Clay and he is from Clifton near Nottingham. I had him down the Pies four years ago when Howard Wilkinson controversially rubber-stamped the approval of the closure of the centre of excellence.
The boy is a cut above the rest. It breaks my heart that he wears the blue of Chesterfield and not the black and white stripes of the Magpies. He is to be offered a pro deal and has already been on the bench for the first team. I exchange pleasantries with his father.
Young Notts cave-in. It’s 3-1 as I depart. I later learn that the defeat is even heavier. I make a brief visit to the technical area to speak with Mick. It’s best to keep your head down in these situations.
I’ve a game on in Carlton at 1pm at the Richard Herrod Leisure Centre. I drive up Carlton Road. I’m still shocked with the amount of pubs that are boarded-up or up for lease. I think of the legendary pub crawls on Friday nights to the Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Devonshire, Smithy’s and the March Hare.
I turn left in Carlton Square, past Carlton Police Station and swing a right into the leisure centre car park. An adult’s team hang around the changing room doors.
I introduce myself to the manager of the boys’ team. He is abrupt and unfriendly. His handshake is limp. He says he doesn’t like scouts coming to watch his team (I rang him up earlier in the morning to tell him I’d be on site).
The pitch is a mud bath. The boys are already struggling 20 minutes into the game. I’ve seen enough; nothing has tickled my fancy. Besides I have a more important appointment at Keyworth Recreation Ground.
I drive down London Road. I’d like to say that the place is a hive of activity with it only being an hour before the Notts County v Hereford United game kicks off – but it isn’t.
This week fans voted online for their favourite toon for the players to run out to at the start of the game. Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ was declared the winner. One wag remarked it should have been the Three Degrees 1973 hit – ‘Sven Will I See You Again.’
I’m driving down the Melton Road and enter the leafy suburb of West Bridgford. It’s the home of the fur coat and no knickers brigade. Fake bar Fire ‘n Ice is just around the corner.
The Groundhopper is ravenous. I pull into a side street and dive into Canterbury’s Delicatessen and Sandwich Bar. The shop radio has the Dale Winton Show on. The camp DJ is playing the 1971 hit ‘The Pushbike Song’ by The Mixtures.
There’s huge queue at this popular deli. Sticky selects a bacon, Stilton, mango and mayo granary baguette. I wash it down with a bottle of Fanta fruit twist, whilst listening to the excellent John Murray describing Carlos Tevez’s equaliser at Stamford Bridge.
I pull into the Keyworth Recreation Ground car park, on Elm Avenue, ten minutes later. The local derby between the u14 sides of Keyworth and Cotgrave has just kicked off. My son, Jack, wears the green Number Seven shirt. He has played for this Club for eight years. There was no set-up like this when I was a youth.
Keyworth is a village 7 miles south-east of Nottingham city centre. It has a population of 7000. Former Notts County centre half Brian Stubbs was born in the village. Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Family – Ed Balls – went to the school at the top of my road.
International cricketers Franklyn Stephenson and Sir Richard Hadlee have both lived in the village, as have England international footballer Neil Webb and former Nottingham Forest manager Frank Clark.
Keyworth United Community Football Club were recently awarded a large grant from the Football Foundation to upgrade their facilities. Work has started on a new clubhouse and changing facilities.
Sticky Palms raised some money for them back in 2004 with a whistle-stop tour of 107 football grounds over a six day period. It nearly killed me.
I spot ‘The Angler’ (junior’s grandad) standing by the Village Hall. He’s chatting to the legend that is Arthur Oldham – the greatest manager in Keyworth United history. In his time at the helm he introduced two players to the Football League: David Riley (Nottingham Forest) and Mick Waite (Notts County).
Arthur’s son, Bobby, coaches the team. I will be forever in debt to this guy for introducing me to scouting and Notts County Football Club. He is a brilliant coach. Winning is not the be all and end all. He has sixteen players at his disposal today, each is guaranteed 35 minutes.
Another impressive stat is that all 16 boys go to the same school. It’s not just about football, but is also a social occasion and get together. The boys are tight-knit and some would say too nice.
Cotgrave can go joint top with a win today. Keyworth have different ideas though and exert real pressure on the visitors’ defence, kicking down the hump-backed slope. Sticky junior is on top of his game. He puts the Green Army one up with a close range finish. He looks embarrassed to of scored. Dad gives him the thumbs up. The Cotgrave management raise their voices.
The Cotgrave ‘keeper, Darren, keeps Keyworth at bay with a string of spectacular saves from make-shift striker Sam Dixey.
Cotgrave Colts level things up with a tap-in from Siswick (junior’s best mate) following some spillage by the goalkeeper.
In the second half Cotgrave turn up the heat. Their midfield imports from Bulwell and Gedling take a stranglehold of the game. Sticky junior’s a fit lad but the heavy going has done for him.
Josh Stolworthy is a colossus at the heart of the Greens’ defence. Two years ago he had a serious illness. What a player he is turning out to be. He’s powerless to stop a further two goals from hitting the back of the net.
I drop a dejected junior back home. I nip down Platt Lane (KUCFC HQ) to watch the second half of the first team’s game against high-flying Bilborough Pelican. The Greens are already three to the good.
Nottinghamshire Groundsman of the Year Neil Swift is in the Pelican technical area. Groundhopper roars with laughter down the phone to him. Big Glenn (BP manager) stands motionless with his trademark baseball cap and tracksuit on.
Both are back in the dressing room before the final whistle is blown. They’ve had a man sent off and have been spanked 6-2. Barthez is all smiles.
I’m walking past the Pelican changing room. There’s steam coming out of the door, not from the showers but out of Big Glenn’s tabs.
Man of the Match: Josh Stolworthy.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
It’s Friday evening and Groundhopper has got the face on. It started so well with a couple of cans of Kronenberg 1664 and quick surf of the ‘net’, whilst listening to the Simon Mayo Show.
We have chicken fajitas with cheese, red onion, peppers, sour cream and salsa. But now a dark cloud has descended on our living room. A cloud that hangs around for two hours. I’ve had to sit through a double helping of Coronation Street and EastEnders. It’s meant to be entertaining. Nobody’s laughing or joking when Bradley swallow dives off the Queen Vic roof or when Joe is found floating on top of Lake Windermere.
Another person not laughing is ‘The Skipper’ who has been asked explain an extortionate phone bill that he’s ran up. He’s banished to his bedroom and his piggy bank is raided.
It’s Saturday morning. Finley the rabbit is cock-a-hoop: his team Bury won last night. This morning his living quarters get their weekly valet from Sticky Palms Cleaning Services Ltd. The little fella does a bunny hop and lands on his back; he’s so pleased to see me.
He starts to break-dance like Leroy off Fame. His body and head spin round and round. His paws point upwards. People have said to me to get him on Britain’s Got Talent, but I don’t want any complicated contractual negotiations with Simon Cowell.
Finley has already wolfed his breakfast. He’s now standing on all-fours begging for some chews. But before Groundhopper hands them over Finley has to predict the result of today’s game. He has divided loyalties. When we go on holiday he’s looked after by two police officers (my in-laws). Finley puts his prejudices to one side and predicts a 4-1 thumping for the Plod.
I feel under the weather. There’s been a heavy frost which has put paid to my trip up to Mansfield. I arrange instead to meet my boss, Mick, at Vernon Park, in inner city Nottingham.
Before leaving the house I check my car tax disc is valid and that I’ve legal tread on my tyres – those boys in blue are never off duty.
My brother-in-law is a policeman. I was going to ask him to join me, but he’s too busy reading the Daily Mail and watching the ‘rugger.’
I drive past the Queens Medical Centre. The traffic surveillance unit are setting up their speed cameras.
It’s only a twenty minute journey but it stills gives me the chance to listen to Five Live smooth operator Danny Baker. Today he’s talking about how glam rock music carried its tunes onto the football terraces. For example ‘Ooh Teddy Teddy ......... Teddy Teddy Teddy Teddy Sheringham is in fact from the song ‘Son of My Father’ by Chicory Tip.
Vernon Park is a hive of activity. There’s a soccer school on for the young ones, while on an adjacent pitch an under 10 game is taking place. Mick turns up and we adjourn for coffee. Mick’s got the hump as he is entertaining a guest down at The City Ground this afternoon where the Tricky Trees pit their wits against Middlesbrough. Groundhopper was at the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
I like Vernon Colts and particularly their Irish chairman Pat Gordon. Notts County raided their club when they re-opened their centre of excellence. We have tried to repay them by donating balls, kit and equipment. Mick even arranged for Sven-Goran Eriksson to present their charter standard award a few weeks ago.
I drive over to Bulwell to take a few snaps. I pass the Bulwell Tattoo Shop – I bet they do a roaring trade in there. I nip to the cop shop. There’s not a boy in blue in sight – it must tea break again.
I drive back to Vernon Park to watch a 12.30pm kick off. Sticky junior has a game at 1pm at the glorious setting of Wollaton Park. It has stunning views, roaming deer and a demanding 18 hole golf course.
It’s a brave effort by junior’s team. They’re beaten 4-2 by Wollaton Hall u14s. Nothing floats my boat. A Forest scout stands across the far side of the pitch. The surface is too tacky for Sticky junior to display his dribbling skills. He sensibly sticks to a short passing game.
I’m soon back on the ring road heading back down to Basford. I turn right, past Stockhill Fire Station, and navigate my way onto Greenwich Avenue.
Bulwell is a market town on the northern edge of Nottingham. It has a population of 30,000. It once had a coal mine, brewery, landfill site and quarry, which employed local residents. Arsenal’s 1971 double-winning manager, Bertie Mee, was born in the town.
The Scots Grey pub, in the town centre, won the FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup in 2009, in an exciting final held at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium. I saw them win their quarter final tie down at Greenwood Meadows’ Lenton Lane ground – they looked a cracking outfit.
Basford United Reserves are playing on one pitch, while to the far right Caribbean Cavaliers u11s entertain Holy Spirit Celtic. Sandwiched between the two is the big match.
There’s no programme been issued today as the guy who writes it is stuck at work. I get chatting to a Police fan and a Bulwell supporter.
The Police do well to raise a team. One or two will be on Smog patrol at The City Ground; others unavailable include: Officer Dibble (cat-sitting) PC Alf Ventress (on a tea-making and biscuit buying course) and PC Rowan (on a Club 18-30s holiday).
Bulwell are still riding on the crest of a wave after an injury-time winner a few weeks ago against their landlords Basford United caused a few dollies to be thrown out the pram. It was all played out live and exclusive on the world’s best message board, following a skillful piece of copy and pasting by the NSL press officer. One or two took the hump and the thread, much to Groundhopper’s disappointment, was removed.
At least the tea urn has found its way out of the pram and back into ‘Tony’s Teahut.’ The tea pot fails to make an appearance, but at least the brew is wet and warm.
I notice, as the Police take the field, that one or two of their bigger lads enjoy the guilty pleasure of a hearty fry-up in the works’ canteen: note to chief constable, let’s get these boys back walking the beat or riding a bike, like they used to in the Meadows area of Nottingham a few years ago.
I recognise today’s referee. He’s more familiar to junior football. Bulwell v Notts Police may be out of his comfort zone. He’s certainly not in the mood for a laugh or a joke. It takes the Police 5 jacket approximately 2 minutes to cheese him off – it’s the first of many cautions.
I’m amused by the fact that it’s a policeman’s name going into someone’s notebook rather than a member of the general public going into a policeman’s notebook.
Gretton is the second player booked on five minutes, after a clumsy rather than malicious challenge. The referee has chosen to set a dangerous precedence. I’m stood next to Stuart Gretton’s dad – he’s fuming.
Bulwell are bang in form, having only lost twice in their last 13 outings. Notts Police arrive here on the back of five straight losses.
I elect to stretch my legs and take a stroll around a bustling Greenwich Avenue. Bulwell manager, Geoff Pallett, is leant against the railings chatting to the NSL chairman and FA Council member, Kevin Presland.
Geoff is serving a six week ban following an indiscreet remark made to a linesman. Part of the ban includes remaining 10 metres away from the dugout. He’s a lovely chap, with a passion for the game. He’s fostered a genuine, harmonious team spirit within the club. Bulwell seem happy on and off the pitch. They all sink a few pints after the game at the nearby Lime Kiln public house.
Bulwell are soon in front. A free-kick is floated into the box and is headed home, unchallenged, by Stuart Gretton for the opening goal of the game.
Notts Police’s best efforts are from distance. They fall further behind before half-time with a blistering free-kick from lively winger Danny Fuller.
I’ve not eaten since breakfast. Tony at the tea bar twists my arm and forces a pie down me. We’re in no rush as the Police will wants at least two brews before they return to action.
The second half flows beautifully. New signing, Ady Carter, for the Police, plays on a different planet. His movement is sublime, his touch exquisite and his passing is often first time. He is head and shoulders above anyone on the pitch.
He reduces the deficit with a shot from a standing start which arrows into the net. Bulwell are on the ropes for a ten minute spell but tight offsides and decisions going against them frustrate the Police.
Bulwell’s equivalent is Alan Jeffries. His raking passes to the wing and time on the ball suggest he has played at a higher level.
Bulwell find another gear but are met with the agility of Police ‘keeper Joe Parlatt. He pulls off a string of fine saves off but is finally beaten from close range by Gretton.
The scoreline is a fair reflection of another excellent game. Sticky loves the NSL. He only needs to tick off two more grounds to complete his set.
Man of the match: Ady Carter
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Finley Palmer (pet rabbit) is being a bad lad. He won’t go to bed at night, he’s off his food and water and keeps pulling his freshly laid bed of hay out of his crib and into his yard. I tackle Mrs P about the teenager’s petulant behaviour.
Her take on it is very simple: she thinks Finley has spotted the box of Trill budgie seed that’s kicking around the back door. The box of Trill she bought me as a gag for my birthday. Finley thinks he’s got competition if Murphy the budgie arrives on the scene. The cute little fella is attention-seeking.
We have a heart to heart in his yard. I tell him that it’s unlikely that Murphy will be flying in for a while as Mrs P has put a block on it. It doesn’t half cheer the wee man up. We’re back on talking terms again; after all he is my best friend.
I ask him who he thinks will win the Central Midlands derby between Pinxton and Sutton on Saturday. “Dad, it has to be an away win banker”, my furry friend replies.
It’s Thursday evening. ‘The Skipper’ bursts through the kitchen door gasping for breath. The lazy so and so was chillaxing on the sofa, eating a custard cream, when he heard top totty Georgie Thompson pipe up on Sky Sports News that Notts County had been sold again.
Silver-tongued spin doctor, Peter Trembling, has exited the club, as has director of football Sven-Goran Eriksson. Harts restaurant, World Service and Sat Bains will be laying off a chef or two, that’s for sure.
I’ve wiled away the evenings reading former Mansfield Town midfielder Paul Holland’s autobiography – ‘Talking Double Dutch.’ I remember seeing them down ‘The Lane’ the season they were relegated to the Conference, and thinking what a good passing side they were. His book is an interesting read. He had to retire from the professional game at the peak of his career, aged just 28 years old.
There’s been some bad feeling on the unofficial Central Midlands message board. Admin has threatened to close it down. I hope he has second thoughts as there are some good lads on there, with a passion for the game.
It’s an early start for The Groundhopper on Saturday morning. There’s just enough time to rustle up a couple of griddled eggs on toast. Eighty two year old Radio 2 disc jockey, Brian Matthew, spins the classic single ‘Creeque Alley’ from The Mamas and the Papas.
I charge the iPod up and give Sally Gunnell a quick wash. The kids have downloaded The Cheeky Girls onto my Pod. I’ll have the pair of wind-up scamsters in the office when I get back tonight.
I’m on the road at 9.15am. They used to say many years ago in north Notts that if you whistle down a mine shaft you’ll end up finding a fast bowler. I hoping the same applies for junior footballers in the old mining villages of Pinxton, Selston and South Normanton.
Danny Baker’s superb radio phone-in is on Five Live as I drive up the M1. He’s talking about the time Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor came into his dad’s Rotherhithe newsagents and bought a packet of Rothmans cigarettes.
I exit at Junction 28 and drive up into South Normanton. I park up in the Frederick Gent School. I immediately spot a boy with potential. He’s lazy, lacks discipline and has a bad attitude, but when he’s on the ball he is poetry in motion. He’ll do for me.
I’m meant to be up at Selston for another game but time has flown and so has blood, following a collision of heads between two brave young players.
I’ve got to be at Kirkby-in-Ashfield’s Summit Centre for a 1pm kick-off. I’ve time on my hands, so decide to pop into Tesco Express for a spot of lunch. I grab a ham and smoked cheddar sandwich, a packet of salt and vinegar Disco crisps and a can of Pepsi Max.
I see three men hunched over the card section. Christ on a bike, I’ve just remembered, tomorrow is Valentines Day. Four blokes line up in a queue at the tills in Kirkby-in-Ashfield with a bunch of flowers in one hand and a Valentines card in the other – it just doesn’t seem right to me in this tough old mining town.
I enjoy my working lunch sat in the car. Chelsea are playing Cardiff City in the FA Cup. There’s a minute’s silence for former goalkeeper, the Serbian, Peter Borota, who died yesterday. He was only 56 years old. The ‘prawn sandwich’ brigade will not have heard of him.
I drive up to the Summit Centre, the home of Kirkby Town FC. I saw a cracking game of football here a few months ago, when they beat League leaders Louth Town 3-2.
I meet up with a guy who used to work at Mansfield Town. He tips me a few good young uns to keep my eye on.
I’m back up at Pinxton by 2.30pm, driving around the deserted streets. It’s a no-thrills former pit village with two boarded up pubs. I turn right at the Aquatic Centre and park outside Pinxton Miners Welfare Social Club.
I had every intention of popping in the Welfare but I have to field a few calls. It’s 2.55pm when I walk through the gate. It’s £2 admission. They also issue a programme priced at £1. I like the ‘meet the players’ section. One or two nicknames tickle me: Steven Darcy is called ‘Tip Ex’ and Ben Bacon is known as ‘Unit.’
There’s an article in the programme from a well known groundhopper called Osborne. He recalls his day out at Southport’s Haig Avenue when Ilkeston Town were the visitors back in November.
Pinxton is a village in the eastern boundary of Derbyshire in the Bolsover district. It has a population of just under 8000 people. Sporting folk from this area include: former cricketer and footballer Arthur Jepson and jump jockey Steve Smith-Eccles.
The latter pulled our betting syndicate out of a big hole one year on Gold Cup day at Cheltenham. Sticky stuck a tenner each way on Nicky Henderson trained Thumbs Up at 16/1 to bring the bacon home. Stevie Smith-Eccles drove her home up the famous old hill.
Sutton Town AFC are in a rich vein of form and are on a long unbeaten run. They stuck six goals past shell-shocked neighbours Kirkby Town last week; on their manor too.
There’s controversy in the opening moments when Pinxton’s ‘keeper collides with the Snipes’ forward. It’s a clumsy rather than a malicious challenge. The poor young ‘keeper can barely walk.
Sutton soon take the lead. Cam plays a reverse pass to the athletic Carlos Forbes, who’s wandering on the right wing. He hits a daisy-cutter of a shot across the face of goal, into the corner of the net. The Snipes play with confidence.
Pinxton look to feed their left winger who has the sweetest left foot and a dangerous cross on him. But the huge Sutton 5 jacket misses very little in the air.
I’m sat at the top of a grass bank on a wooden bench. Behind me some youngsters play a game of football with jumpers for goalposts. ‘Vidic’ goes straight through the back of ‘Malouda’, Groundhopper awards a penalty.
At the break I share a hot drink with one of the scouts I used to work with at the Forest academy. The Tricky Trees are losing at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium. Mrs P phones in. She’s snapped up the last Marks and Spencer’s chicken and bacon pizza off the shelf. Yippee, it’s Sticky’s favourite.
I’m that busy gassing, that I’ve forgot to pop into the Welfare. The Forest scout describes it as a time warp. They even have a cigarette machine in the toilet, he remarks.
Pinxton pick up the pace in the second period, but no-one can get on the end of their left winger’s crosses. They waste a few opportunities too. Both sides play a decent game of football but struggle in the final third.
With minutes left, and the home side down to ten men, ‘Carlos’ beats the offside trap but is wiped out by old hop along in the Pinxton nets. Cam smashes the penalty into the roof of the net.
Pinxton play with bags of desire and character but don’t quite have the quality to open up the Snipes’ defence.
Man of the Match: Malouda.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I want a new addition to the family. I casually mentioned it before Xmas; even wrote it on my Christmas list letter to Santa. You’d be looking at getting change out of £50, including all the accessories: the cage, the mirror, the swing and the toys.
The little fella would only cost a measly fiver. He has to be coloured green and canary yellow. He would of course support Greenwood Meadows and Norwich City. I’ve named him ‘Murphy’ after the legendary Lincoln City manager Colin Murphy.
It was the worst Christmas ever. There was not a feather in sight. Never mind, I thought, my birthday is just around the corner – it gives me five weeks to work on Mrs P.
As the day (Feb 5th) drew ever closer I dropped subtle hints about ‘Murph’ but Mrs P was keeping cool and keeping stum.
It’s the morning of my birthday. I skip down the stairs and into the lounge; I’m sure I can hear a bird singing. It’s true, I can. It’s the larks in the garden. There’s not a sniff of a budgie. I get after shave, a dressing gown and some H&M vouchers. I convince myself that Murphy will be dive-bombing me in the lounge on my return from work.
I’ve been at work an hour or so. I decide to delve into my bag for a piece of fruit. I undo the zip on my rucksack. I notice another present tucked away under my snap tin. I rip the paper open and begin to do cartwheels around the office. It’s a box of Trill readers. Whoopee!
I burst through the front door when I get home. My heart is beating ten to the dozen. It’s going to be the start of a beautiful relationship. Sticky and Murphy? Or Murphy and Sticky? Who cares? What a partnership.
“Where is he? Where is he?” The kids are rolling about the floor. Mrs P’s sides are splitting. The Trill was a practical joke. There’s no budgie. “Never will be”, roars Mrs P. She’s allergic to feathers and has asthma. It’s the worst birthday ever. Watch this space readers. I WILL be buying a Murphy.
I took the weekend off from groundhopping to recharge my batteries. There’s an age group we need to strengthen at the centre of excellence. I trawl Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire in search of prey.
I’m back in time on Saturday afternoon to watch Sticky junior’s quick feet on the gluepot surface of Keyworth Recreation Ground. A team from Hucknall – a tough, old mining area in north Nottinghamshire – have too much guile and steel for the farmers’ boys.
I come up trumps in Grantham on Sunday afternoon – the birthplace of former British Premier and serial coal mine shutter – Margaret Thatcher. The game is played at the South Kesteven Leisure Centre – on the same pitch that Grantham Town first team, the previous day, thumped a pitiful Willenhall Town 4-1.
It’s Tuesday February 9th. I’ve pulled another muscle in my lower back and I’m writhing in agony on the settee at home watching Sky Sports News. I notice the red info bar running horizontally at the bottom of the screen. It lists the Zamaretto Premier League games. Rugby Town v Hednesford Town is not amongst them. Ooh heck, I best find another game.
‘The Skipper’ and Sticky junior have gone football training, whilst Mrs P is ‘working out’ (chatting to her mate) up the gym.
I lock up the house and step outside into the biting wind. Finley Palmer dives under his cage to avoid being put to bed. I enter his yard, crouch down to scoop up the wee fella and place him gently onto his bed of straw. He gets a ticking off for his hide and seek gag, as my glass back is causing me gip again.
I pick The Taxman up at 6.30pm. I inform him that there’s a change of plan and that we won’t be following the 3500 Nottingham Forest fans down the M6 towards Warwickshire, but instead, will be heading north west down the A50 into Staffordshire.
The Taxman excitedly retells the tale of his mate’s 60th birthday party. It was held at the Langar Kart and Quad Centre. Ten people took part. I’m not saying that The Taxman is a slow driver but even the Anthill Mob overtook him. Apparently the owner of the track, with the evening sunset approaching, threw him some keys and told him to lock the joint up and turn all lights off. He never got out of second gear.
We breeze down the A50 towards Uttoxeter. I turn right at the roundabout where the McDonalds is situated. We’re soon driving over a hump-backed bridge in the picturesque village of Rocester in Staffordshire. It has a population of 1500 people and lies four miles north of Uttoxeter.
JCB is the region’s major employer. It has its world parts centre just off the A50. Sticky’s favourite English film director, Shane Meadows, was born in the area. I’ve not had a full night’s sleep since watching his spine-chilling thriller, Dead Man’s Shoes.
I’m piloting down the main street (the village only has one road). Two police cars are parked outside a town house. Plod is knocking on the door, probably begging for a brew. The Taxman nips into the local chippy to ask for directions.
The ground is smack in the middle of a huge building site. The JCB Academy is under construction. It comes at an estimated cost of £22 million and will take in its first intake of students later in the year.
Cash-strapped Rocester are a club in crisis. The Romans are still reeling with the news, only a few weeks ago, of the resignation of their chairman and company secretary. Talking to locals, it’s a situation shrouded in mystery. Rumour has it that the players are no longer being paid.
We park at the back of the building site. We trawl our way through the mud and sludge, along some planks of wood and through a single turnstile.
Admission is £5, very kindly paid by The Taxman. A superbly produced programme is snapped up for a bargain-price £1.
I like the quiz question in the programme: Who was the first British player to be transferred for £2 million pounds?
Rocester Football Club were formed in 1876 and play at the Hillsfield, on Mill Street, in the village. They ply their trade in the Aspire Midland Alliance. They currently sit just outside the bottom two.
Tonight’s visitors are Coventry Sphinx. They lie eighth in the table but have only won three times on their travels. Fifteen goals from 11 games is also a poor return. Oh dear folks, it’s looking like a 0-0.
We position ourselves between the two dugouts. I can’t be bothered to walk around the ground tonight. It’s way too dangerous with all this building work going on.
The first half is truly awful. There’s huff, puff, endeavour and effort but the game is devoid of any quality. To be fair the playing surface is more suited to growing potatoes. The Romans try to play football, whilst Sphinx look to hit the ball early into the channels or over the top.
There’s a blonde haired chap who is part of the Sphinx management team. He’s an unpleasant individual who swears at the linesman and mocks the locals about their accent. He’s wrapped up in a Coventry scarf, constantly chews on his gum and proper fancies himself. His behaviour is arrogant and unwarranted.
Chances are at a minimum, neither goalkeeper is tested. Half-time can’t come quick enough. On 47 minutes, the referee blows his whistle for what seems to be the umpteenth time, to end the opening half.
Sticky is straight to the tea hut. Apologies to Bardon Hill and Wollaton FC but this is the brew of the season. It’s poured from chest height by a buxom young lady. The texture is spot on, the temperature piping hot. Even that Jessie, Jason, off Dancing on Ice would give it top marks.
It’s straight in the clubhouse. We peer up at the half times on Sky Sports News. Forest, County and predictably my old team Lincoln City, are all behind. The Imps are losing to bottom of the heap Darlington. The sooner Chris S***on departs the better.
There’s a marginal improvement in the second period, but the lack of width and a whistle-happy referee kills the game stone dead.
With the game approaching the dying embers, White Van Man is on the blower. He’s roaring down the phone that I’m watching another 0-0. He’s watching Shepshed Dynamo in a Leicestershire County Cup game. Screats has been sent off again: He’s had more red cards than Joey Barton.
The only player with genuine class on the park – Kelvin Phillips – seizes upon a loose ball in the 95th minute, to tuck away his chance into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Thank the Lord!
Woman of the Match: The Tea Lady
Quiz Answer: Mark Hughes.