Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lincoln Moorlands 2 Shepshed Dynamo 3

It’s a day I’ve been dreading for months now; I’ve got to take her in for surgery. We’ve been together for ages; we’re a partnership. I could have upgraded to a better looking model, but we’re like Morecambe and Wise, Bodie and Doyle or Stanley and Hilda Ogden.

I kiss her goodbye at 7am. I’m told to expect the worst. I’m at work and off my food. The call comes through at smack on 1pm. My hand trembles as I lift up the receiver. “Mr Palmer, your car has passed its MOT.

I clench my fist and raise my arms above my head. I let out a huge “you beauty.” It’s another year groundhopping with ‘Sally Gunnell.’

It’s Monday evening and I’m sat in the Larwood and Voce Stand, at Trent Bridge, the home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. It’s the Outlaws’ biggest night of the year – the Twenty/20 quarter finals against Sussex. Nearly 10,000 people have rocked up in West Bridgford.

Notts have a habit and a reputation for bottling it on the big occasion. History looks like repeating itself. We bat appallingly but manage to muster a miserly 141, thanks to a few lusty blows from ‘Sid’ Sidebottom.

Sussex race away at the start, with an abundance of extras accumulated from wide deliveries from our big guns. It’s all going ‘Pete Tongue.’

There’s a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Our manager, Mike Newell, has an uncanny habit of snaring players away from other counties when they are out of contract. Ex Lancashire medium-pacer, Steven Mullaney, bowls a sublime spell of slower deliveries and yorkers to put us through to ‘Finals Day’ at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire. Sticky has reserved a seat in a Portuguese bar for the day.

Tonight sees the return of White Van Man. He proper slacked off towards the back end of last season. But you can always guarantee his availability when his big pal Screats is in action. He has Shandy drank his way through the summer in Albufeira, Newcastle and York with a grand finale in Lloret de Mar, where he crossed swords with an Eastern European bouncer.

Lincoln is the birthplace of Sticky Palms. He was born in the Bromhead Hospital, on Nettleham Road, on Wednesday February 5th 1964. He has followed Lincoln City for over 40 years, but stopped caring about their results last season, following the appointment of the arrogant former Chelsea misfit, Chris Sutton. The bloke is a joke.

A Celtic XI visited Sincil Bank at the weekend. There was a shed load of trouble at the Golden Cross public house on the High Street. Police made over twenty arrests. Celtic fans had their feathers ruffled by alleged sectarian chanting.

I pedal home from work – it’s been a daily ritual since April, as I need to shift some weight. Mrs P is about to depart for the picturesque setting of Belvoir, where ‘The Skipper’ has a cricket match.

The good lady has knocked me up a mackerel salad. I sit watching the final session of England v Pakistan at Trent Bridge. Eoin Morgan has to use a final referral to avoid an incorrect LBW decision.

I wander down the alleyway towards the Fairway public house car park. It’s an alleyway the poor old ‘Skipper’ witnessed four hooded robbers walking down a few weeks ago, en-route to robbing our local supermarket.

White Van Man is treating me to an executive ride in a plush company vehicle. I’m dreading he’ll have Radio Trent or Heart FM on the car radio. Screats’ dad (Screats is captain of Shepshed Dynamo) is also travelling.

We hurtle down Wynbreck Drive. WVM gesticulates with local plumber and Keyworth United legend Robbie Marchbank, who almost has his passenger side door wiped out by the Big Man.

WVM heads in the direction of Leicester to pick up the Fosse Way. The slip road he intended to take is closed. The air is blue with obscenities. We do a u-turn on a silent A46.

The new dual carriageway, due to be opened in 2012, is shaping up nicely, but for now we are restricted to a 40mph speed limit.

WVM has the deadly boring, New Zealand born, Radio 1 DJ, Zane Lowe, on his car radio. The guy is held in high esteem and is often referred to as the ‘new John Peel.’ He has the personality of a plant.

Screats’ dad offers WVM a cheese and tomato sandwich. The big man replies that he is a salad swerver and turns the opportunity down flat.

WVM cranks it up a notch north of Newark. We sail through South Hykeham and North Hykeham and pull into Lincoln Moorlands’ Newark Road ground at 7.30pm on the dot. No Sat Nav required - Sticky’s grandma and grandad used to live a stone’s throw away from the ground.

Sticky takes a trip down memory lane and strolls down to grandma and grandad’s house for old time’s sake. The ground is hidden away at the back of the Newark Road.

It’s £2 entry. There’s no programme or team sheet available. The ground is I remember it. There’s a large social club. The playing area is bordered by trees and new housing. The pitch looks scorched and parched.

WVM and I took a peek at Shepshed a few weeks ago at Radcliffe Olympic. There has been serious upheaval in the boardroom, with cuts to the playing budget. The squad assembled at Radcliffe looked young, cheap and cheerful. Tonight’s line-up looks a lot stronger. Three are on trial from the Sleaford. Former Nottingham Forest youngster Adam Newbold fails to make the trip.

Moorlands are unbeaten in pre-season. Unibond Division One South Grantham Town are one of their scalps. Their front pairing of Sean Cann and Ben Good have played at a higher level. Cann particularly impressed me 18 months ago when bagging a brace at The Dovecote for the Whites of Lincoln United.

Dynamo look ‘on it’ from the off. They get the ball wide and retain possession. Screats has had a week on holiday in Majorca. He’s a steadying influence at the back but has hamstrings like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strings. He applies spray and cream during a break in play. In four years of groundhopping I’ve yet to see him complete the full ninety minutes. I still have sleepless nights over his two-footed assault on a Frickley player two seasons ago.

Screats and ‘Jonah’ have Cann and Good in their pockets. Cann is more interested in mouthing off.

Shepshed take the lead. Former Nottingham Forest scholar Max Wright hares down the right wing, his cross is coolly turned in at the near post by the game’s best player Rob Norris.

The quick-footed Norris soon becomes the creator supreme, setting up trialist Ryan Oliver to stab the ball home from close range.

We have a coffee, a tea and a full fat Coke for WVM at the break. I notice that former flame-haired Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour is guesting at a ‘Gentlemen’s Evening’ at Moorlands Railway Social Club in a few weeks time. He’s probably still paying off that hefty divorce settlement that his ex-wife turned him over for a few years ago.

The Social Club is top drawer – it even has two full length snooker tables. The room next door is having some sort of ‘Quiz Night.’ It certainly seems a safer place to down a pint than the Golden Cross on the High Street.

It’s a no-show from Screats in the second half. I notice him clutch his tight hamstring whilst chatting to his dad and WVM.

I’ve been that busy chuckling at the Pakistani wicketkeeper on Sky Sports at half-time, that by the time I’m outside again, Lincoln Moorlands have pulled a goal back. Suddenly they are in the ascendancy. Gavin Saxby, the Shepshed ‘keeper, has to pull off a couple of worldies to keep the visitors in the game.

I’m stood with Ryan Oliver’s dad. He has a large smirk all over his face. Not only has his son scored a goal but he’s also won 1st prize in the raffle. He’s presented with a large bottle of Cockburn’s port. I remark it’s not much good without a piece of Stilton cheese.

I finally hook up with our mob. Screats is telling us all what a great header his disallowed goal was in the first half and can I give him the big un in this blog. I reply he’s got a head like a fifty pence piece.

Young Max Wright wraps things up for Shepshed. Moorlands reduce the deficit on the stroke of full-time.

Man of the Match: Rob Norris

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kidderminster Harriers 3 Nottingham Forest 0

It’s Sunday June 27th. England have been sent packing by a youthful, vibrant German team. A divided camp has contributed towards one of England’s worst displays in living memory. Cappello’s tactics are baffling.

Sticky Palms crushes another can of Stella Artois and hurls it into the blue recycling bin. I tidy up the patio after a family barbeque. There’s an eyrie silence around our village. The World Cup is over.

I decide to water the front garden. I look up from my watering can towards my two boys’ bedroom windows. ‘The Skipper’ removed his England flag days ago after a Robert Green faux pas had gifted USA with a deserved equaliser.

Sticky jnr is made of sterner stuff. His flag flutters in the evening breeze. It’s only on closer inspection that I notice he has scribbled in permanent black marker pen below the word England – ‘Are Shit.’ It makes The Groundhopper chuckle for the rest of the evening.

It reminds me of an interview with Patrick Viera I read in The Sunday Times a few weeks ago. He was talking to his colleague, the Manchester City full back Micah Richards, about his career ambitions. Richards said he’d like to win Premiership and World Cup. Vieira reply was: “How do you expect that to happen when you are the last player to arrive at the training ground and the first person to leave it.”

It’s Friday night and I’m sat in bed reading the wonderful ‘Brian and Peter – A Right Pair.’ It’s a book written by Clough and Taylor’s old chief scout Maurice Edwards. A bumble bee nose-dives from the curtains and buzzes around my face. I Usain Bolt it out the bedroom.

Mrs P reassures me that the bee has flown out of the window. Six hours later I’m awoken by Sticky jnr and his pals larking around in their tent in the garden. A bleary-eyed Groundhopper troops down the stairs and into the garden to remonstrate with them.

I’m back in bed when I hear a buzzing noise again – that bloody bumble bee is back again. What a start to the season.

It gives me a chance to download some music onto my i-Pod. ‘Shifty’, my mate at work, has got me into German producer Mr Confuse, who’s from Hannover.

I make an early start on my chores. I fill the car full of rubbish – Sticky jnr has cycle parts strewn all over the garden – it looks like Steptoe and Sons scrap yard. I drive down to the recycling centre in West Bridgford. I stick my Pod on. Blue Rondo a La Turk’s 1982 hit Klactoveesedstein blasts around the car.

I arrive home, mow both my lawns, bolt down a ham and cheese ciabatta, before leaving Mrs P to her hoovering. ‘Angry Kid’ (Sticky jnr) is playing cricket in the garden. He’s lost his temper and smashed the ball into next door’s garden. It’s six and out son.

The Nuclear Scientist has arrived in his Jag. ‘The Skipper’ and Snooksey make up the foursome.

The drive is uneventful. Five Live are at Grand Prix qualifying and Royal Ascot. The highlight of the journey is when we pass an Aston Martin garage close to Kidderminster. The kids’ eyes light up.

We arrive in Kidderminster in one hour and twenty minutes. We slip the Jag down a side street to avoid paying a parking charge.

The boys are dispatched to a sweet shop, whilst Groundhopper tours the perimeter of the Aggborough to take a few snaps.

It’s £10 admission and £3 each for the kids. I grab a team sheet from the club shop. It’s disappointing to note that Forest have sent their youth team to this fixture. Oh well, it will give me the chance to scout their team as Notts County under 18s are the visitors at Forest’s Academy next weekend.

The Tricky Trees are sending two sides out today. I looked into the possibility of visiting Peterborough United’s London Road ground, but was shocked to read on the excellent ‘Lost That Lovin Feelin’ message board that pricing was £22 for seats and £17 for terrace. It’s £10 entry at the Aggborough – it’s a no-brainer.

Kidderminster is a town in the Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire with a population of 55,000. It’s 17 miles south west of Birmingham and 15 miles north of Worcester.

The River Stour and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal flow through the town centre.

The town is famous for the modern carpet industry. The local paper – The Shuttle – is named after the shuttles used on the carpet looms.

Famous people born in the town include: the inventor of the Penny Black stamp, Sir Rowland Hill, Rachel Jones, the producer of the Chris Moyles Radio 1 show (Moyles – not fit to lick Chris Evans’ boots) and Alun Evans, who became England’s first £100,000 teenager when joining Liverpool from Wolves in 1968.

Ex Danish and Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby previously managed the club.

Harriers were the first team to host a floodlit FA Cup match, when on 14th September 1955 they played Brierley Harriers Alliance in a preliminary round replay.

On 14th September 199 Harriers were hosts to the world’s first ever senior football match to be presided over by three female officials against Nuneaton Borough.

Harriers faced Stevenage on 12th May 2007 in the FA Trophy final; the first competitive game to be played at the new Wembley Stadium.

In August 2001 Kidderminster picked up a record non-league selling-on fee of £700,000 for Lee Hughes, who they had previously sold to West Brom for £200,000.

The ground is neat, tidy and painted in red and white. There is terracing at both ends, with seating on both sides. The surface appears flat and lush. From the stand there is a panoramic view of the Malvern Hills.

Former Radio One 70s DJ Tony Blackburn must be on the Kiddy decks as we are subjected to Boney M, Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen. He tries to salvage the situation with Dutch Techno act 2 Unlimited.

Forest have a German celebrity fan called Ebbe. He’s followed the club for over 30 years. He and his missus are amongst the 153 travelling support who have made the 150 mile round trip today.

Mrs Ebbe wiggles her hips and shakes her booty to a Pigbag remix – it’s not for the feint-hearted and puts Snooksey off his £3 burger which he fumbles onto the floor (yes he is a goalkeeper).

Former Aberdeen and Scottish international Eoin Jess is at the helm today; he is assisted by keeper coach Steve Sutton.

Forest have sent a mixture of first year pros and second year scholars. Kidderminster look to be at near full strength.

The Reds have the better of the chances in the first 15 minutes. Republic of Ireland midfielder Robbie Gibbons has three efforts at goal, whilst 19 year old forward Nialle Rodney also blazes over.

The Harriers start to look threatening and begin to exploit space down the Forest right hand side. They take the lead on 30 minutes. A short corner is played back to triallist left back Aaron Griffiths, who hits a high curling ball into the area. Former Sheffield United, D***y County and Leicester City striker Lee Morris rises between two defenders to nod the ball home.

The young Tricky Trees drop deeper and deeper and play without penetration. The Harriers score again with an unmarked Chris McPhee smashing the ball home from close range.

Shortly before half-time Kiddy put the game out of reach. McPhee is set up by Morris, he strikes a shot from distance, it deflects off a Forest defender, wrong-footing Reds’ keeper Karl Darlow.

Mrs Ebbe tries to raise spirits at the break with an unusual dance routine to Black Eyed Peas smash hit ‘I Gotta Feeling.’ It’s a NO from me.

‘Tony Blackburn’ finally spins a decent toon – French House music act Supermen Lovers 2001 chart success ‘Starlight’. It’s rudely interrupted for a kids’ penalty shootout.

There’s no world renowned home-made cottage pie up for grabs at the tea bar, I settle instead for a cup of powdered tea at 75 pence per cup. It receives a mark of one out of ten, just for being hot. Yuk.

The visitors have four Greek Cypriots in their squad today, a fact the Kidderminster MC was very unhappy about as he bravely attempted to pronounce their names over the tannoy. A Forest wag in the toilets enquires whether Forest have a scout in the Ayia Napa area of Cyprus. Let’s face it folks Cyprus is hardly the hot bed of international football.

The game continues to flow in the second period. Gibbons rattles the underside of the bar from 30 yards out. Harriers also hit the woodwork, following a cheeky lob by Lloyd Kerry. Only a series of blocks and saves by Karl Darlow manages to keep the scoreline respectable.

Forest have been hugely disappointing. Yes I know it was the youth team, but we all expected so much more. It will be interesting to see if they can bounce back against a fully-charged Notts County next Saturday.

The spine of Kiddy's team have been impressive; Allbrighton has snuffed out Rodney, Briggs has controlled the midfield and Morris and McPhee have been busy up top.

Man of the Match: Keith Briggs

Attendance: 859.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Return of The Groundhopper

We'll be kicking off at the home of the world's best Cottage Pie - Kidderminster Harriers - who entertain the Tricky Trees, on July 24th. Roll on the season.

New list of grounds to visit this season is in the left hand column.

Characters returning to this adventure include:

Mrs P
Sticky junior (aka Angry Kid)
The Skipper
Finley Palmer (Rabbit)
Murphy Palmer (Imaginary Budgie)
The Angler
Big D
Mad Dog
The Taxman
Nuclear Scientist
The Architect
Trumpy Bolton
Screats' Dad
White Van Man (Now Warehouse Man)
The Guvnor
The Reaper
The Bearded Wonder
Daft Lad Kev