Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dunkirk 2 Grantham Town 2

The Groundhopper shuffles about nervously in the departure lounge at East Midlands Airport. He stares vacantly into his Costa cup of coffee. I don’t know if I’m more apprehensive about BMI Baby flight number WA2205 to Faro, in Portugal, or the fact that I have to spend two weeks in the company of that little monkey ‘Gangsta.’

The mini guy ran me ragged at Wolverhampton Wanderers early on in last season’s campaign. I’ll be entertaining him and his brother more than Charlie Chalk in the next few weeks.

We shuffle towards Gate 23 as our flight number is announced over the tannoy. A guy is sat down, flicking his way through the pages of the Daily Mail. He’s wearing a blue Polo shirt, jeans and some sandals. His hair is swept back. A pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses are perched on top of his head. Gangsta’s mum points out that it’s ex England cricket captain Michael Vaughan.

The Architect whips Vaughan’s autobiography from out of his hand luggage. He hands it to my godson (Will) who politely asks ‘Vaughany’ to sign it. ”No problem, Buddy”, he replies. It’s a great start to one of our best holidays, spent with our closest friends.

Three days later Sticky Palms is staggering out of ‘Jokers Bar’. It’s early evening and Duckworth Lewis has done for Notts in the Twenty20 Finals Day at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.

I trudge up the steps into the sun-soaked streets of Carvoeiro. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief at an astonishing catch snaffled up by the gangling West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard that singled the end of the road of our cup dreams for another year.

A girl catches my eye as I look to cross the road. I recognise her immediately. She’s an old flame from over 25 years ago, my first real love. Coincidentally, we are staying in the same resort. We laugh and joke, as we catch up for ten minutes or so.

Mrs P coughs and splutters on her Gordon’s gin and tonic, on our return to the pool side, when she is told the news by ‘The Skipper’ and Sticky Jnr that my ex is in town. “Make mine a large one, please barman” says Sticky.

Two weeks later we land on a rain-drenched runway. Boy, I’ve missed my football. ‘Uppo’ has kept me updated on Dunkirk’s recent games. They are bang in form and the Gingerbreads are not going to fancy their visit to Lenton Lane.

It’s an unexpected lie-in for Sticky Palms on Saturday morning. I quickly jump into the shower and have a spruce up. It’s two weeks since I scouted the inner city for talent. This morning I decide on a cruise around the local parks and recreation grounds of Nottingham. I’m dressed in my civvies, but take some ID in case I’m challenged in the crazy world of political correctness.

I see a few training sessions and talk to a few chairmen and managers. I arrive home to a ham, Jarlsberg and mayo baguette. The diet is off until Tuesday, so I manage to cram down a Belgian cookie too.

My little furry friend, Finley the rabbit, requires a cage make-over. He’s in a playful mood and wants to play hide and seek. I tell you what readers he has more bolt holes than the Saudi Arabian, Islamic extremist, Osama Bin Laden.

I return to the house to see Nottingham born Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott have scored a Test record eighth wicket partnership of 332 runs. I channel hop to Sky Sports 1 and watch the speedy Theo Walcott smash a shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net at Blackburn’s Ewood Park, to put ‘The Arsenal’ one to the good.

I’ve arranged to meet Rammers at the best real ale house in Ruddington – the White Horse. I order a Batemans XB at the bar for a pricey £2.90. I listen to a toothless man swearing and ranting at his other half – he looks like Shane McGowan’s dad.

Rammers arrives on two bells. I order him up guest ale. For once his sun tan is kosher – he’s been coaching football at a summer camp in Texas.

We leave his car in the pub car park and travel together in ‘Sally Gunnell.’ I park in a lay-by right outside the ground. Entry is £5, with a further £1 for a well-produced and informative programme.

We avoid the bar and position ourselves opposite the dugouts. I’m not particularly in the mood to hear the bellowing dulcet tones of one of the Grantham Town management team. He has been sent to the stands more times than those pair of jokers at Lincoln City – Chris Sutton and Ian Pearce.

The last time I saw him he was shouting and bawling on top of a picnic table at Carlton Town’s Stoke Lane ground, having once again been asked to leave the sidelines, due to constant haranguing and barracking of an official – his side were coasting to a 3-0 victory at the time.

Our mate Screats had a short and unpleasant stay at Grantham Town last season. He was cold-shouldered and frozen out without explanation. It was no way to treat a non-league legend.

Grantham is a market town within the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. It has a population of 35,000 and is the birthplace of the wicked daughter of a local greengrocer who killed hundreds of communities, broke thousands of hearts and divided families for ever with the closure of the coal industry in the 1980s.

Other notable people born in the area include: serial killer and dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’, Beverley Allot, medium and psychic, Doris Stokes (wonder whether she can predict this scoreline from beyond the grave), Sky Sports presenter Clare Tomlinson (think Bryan Robson spotted her talent early in her career) and England cricketer Luke Wright.

Dunkirk are flying this season – Harbottle, Uppo and Danny Boyes have got them playing at a great tempo. They have bags of pace and energy. There’s the whiff in the air of a cup upset today.

I look across the pitch as the managers stroll to the bench. Uppo and Harbottle are decked out in sweaters and trousers. They appear set fair for a round of golf.

The Gingerbreads get the early goal they crave for. Frawley misses a header, former Worksop striker Matt Glass rounds the keeper, only for his ankles to be tapped. He goes down easily but it’s a cast-iron penalty. Malak is fortunate to see only a yellow card waved at him by referee Ricky Wooton from South Yorkshire. Glass makes no mistake from the spot.

Grantham striker Alex Haughton blasts over the bar after poorly cleared corner finds him lurking on the edge of the ‘D.’

Dunkirk slowly edge their way into the game. Defender Rob McCormick, a lad I picked up for The Pies in his youth, has a header cleared off the line.

Grantham struggle to deal with the in-swinging, whipped- in corners from Darren Garmston. Boatman striker Shannon Grant sees another effort prevented from crossing the line.

On the stroke of half-time former Grimsby Town scholar Gio Carchedi cleverly loses his marker and chests a ball to Matt Glass, who strikes a 20 yard daisy-cutter into the bottom right corner of the net.

Rammers has been invited into the Boardroom for a cup of tea. I tag along. It’s poured out of a China pot and is marked with 8 out of 10. The Dunkirk officials are welcoming and sociable. Grantham Town dignitaries appear aloof and disengaging.

The television set has the Challenge Cup final on from Wembley Stadium between Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves. I notice a framed, signed Ipswich Town shirt on the wall.

The Gingerbreads have umpteen chances to extend their lead, but are wasteful in front of goal. They pepper the Dunkirk penalty area without reward. Danny Hargreaves spurns their best opportunity, when leaning back to shoot over a gaping goal, when composure was a better option.

Dunkirk begin to lose their discipline; it’s their Achilles heel. The game becomes sour and there is an almighty melee after a bad tackle by Grantham’s Danny Steadman. They don’t do handbags in this neck of the woods.

Dunkirk’s Theo Smith has already been substituted but comes flying out of the dugout to get involved. He’s fingered by the linesman and sent to the changing rooms. The guilty party from Grantham escapes with a yellow card.

The Boatmen are reduced to ten men when Garmston receives a second yellow card. The game is dying a death and Grantham Town are coasting. The back three of Asher, Sucharewycz and Saunders have had a cigar on for most of the second half.

A fine five man move results in a peach of a goal for Chris McGeown. Grantham are running the clock down when Dunkirk are awarded a free-kick 22 yards out. Young Sam Buckle steps up to float the ball into the area. Grantham keeper Rob Murray comes to collect but for once catches thin air as the ball sails past him and into an empty net.

Uppo and Harbottle scurry to the 19th hole to celebrate.

Attendance: 125

Man of the Match: Matt Glass.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stratford Town 1 Dunkirk 2

The cat’s out of the bag. ‘The Skipper’s’ stitched me up. We were in Kidderminster a few weeks ago, ‘The Skipper' was buying pop and snap in a newsagents. I noticed a pet shop next door. There was a sign outside that said ‘BABY BUNNY’S NOW IN’ (awful grammar, I know).

I was intrigued. Let’s face it Finley (my beautiful rabbit) has some miles on the clock. I viewed the baby bunnies. I didn’t leave a deposit. They’re not in the same league as my Finley.

When we get home, ‘The Skipper’ breaks his neck to tell Finley that there may be a ‘For Sale’ sign being hammered onto his cage on Monday morning. Finley is not amused. We’ve not spoken to each other in days.

The weekend gets off to a bad start on Friday evening when Sticky Palms manages to spill Mrs P’s glass of Co-op’s special offer wine all over the new carpet and new settee. The rest of the evening is spent in silence.

It’s Saturday morning. The Groundhopper is up em and at em. I’m all excited, it’s the first league game of the season.

At 7.30am I drive into West Bridgford for a ‘holiday haircut’ at J&J Hairdressing on the Melton Road. John, the proprietor, has cut hair here for over 50 years. I’m back into the car and head into town, the ‘Rolls Royce’ needs a couple of new tyres on it.

I have to wait for a chubby mechanic to eat his bacon cob, slurp a cup of coffee and blow a couple of smoke rings from his rolled-up cigarette, before he opens up Big City Tyres for business.

I’m back home before 9am. Mrs P soon whisks me off to the Riverside Retail Park in Lenton for a spot of pre-holiday shopping. The good lady is not in the mood for gags or larking about this morning, she has a very important haircut on her mind at Topknot at 1pm. I remind her to avoid those menacing Huddersfield Town fans who will be lurking around the Trent Bridge area before the season’s opener against Craig Short’s Notts County.

I spot a pair of bright red swimming trunks in Boots. I waltz up to the counter to pay for them. I swear to God I’d knock the Portuguese women dead wearing these readers. Mrs P tells me not to be so ridiculous and to put them back on the shelf.

I wash and valet both the cars - the lawns were cut the previous night. I knock myself up a ham sandwich and watch Billy Smart’s circus (the Pakistan cricket team) on Sky Sports 1 for half an hour or so.

Me and Finley hold peace talks at 12.30pm, outside his cage. The little fella gets all amorous and grabs my ankle – ‘not now Finley.’

I pick up the Nuclear Scientist at just before 1pm. I ask him to sit in the back because he’s that small he can’t see over the dashboard ,or out of the windscreen without a booster seat. The Taxman ambles to the car in his own time.

The pair of them have just missed an entertaining joust between Five Live reporter Pat Murphy and for now, Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies. The fiery Scotsman is on top form. I love to hear his pre-match and post match thoughts on the excellent ‘Matchday’ programme on Radio Nottingham: he speaks from the heart and shoots from the hip.

Sat Nav takes us down the A46, M1, M69 and back onto the A46. I’m that busy gassing that I manage to miss a turning at a huge roundabout. The little lad in the back takes the rip out of me for the rest of the journey.

We skirt the edge of Stratford upon Avon and drive out towards the village of Tiddington. Mrs P and I once spent the weekend in the birthplace of the playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. I remember us holding hands together in the corner of The Garrick public house as we watched Manchester United thump Millwall 3-0 in the 2004 FA Cup final. – I know how to treat a girl.

Stratford upon Avon is a market town in the civil parish of south Warwickshire. It has a population of just shy of 25,000. Apart from William Shakespeare, the only other person of note, that I could find, who was born in the town, is the celebrity chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson.

Stratford Town FC were founded in 1941 but have played at the DCS Stadium on Knights Lane since 2008, following a £2 million grant received from the Football Foundation. I saw them in a FA Vase game a few years ago at Leicestershire side Quorn. They had a fantastic striker called Tony Robinson, who later went on to play for Tamworth in the Blue Square Conference.

Car parking is free of charge; we are shepherded into a spot by a fluorescent yellow-jacketed steward. We are pointed in the direction of the ‘Social Club.’

NS and The Taxman both order a lager; The Groundhopper settles for a bottle of water. The room is plush and fresh. Horse racing from Haydock Park on the TV set attracts little or no attention from the supporters in the room.

I get chatting with an elderly Stratford supporter. He’s optimistic about promotion after their 3rd place finish last season. I warn him not to take The Boatmen too lightly. I mention they play with pace, spirit and can battle when the chips are down. I sense the home team think they have this game in the bag.

I’m still purring over Dunkirk’s 4-2 smashing of Rainworth in the Notts Senior Cup last season. The football that night was total, the pace frightening.

We stand next to the Dunkirk dug out. ‘Uppo’, their manager, trudges across from the tunnel. The PA system is crystal clear. The announcer stimulates the crowd with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing.’ Good job I didn’t bring Finley with me.

Two more characters from the Dunkirk camp stroll across the pitch. The shaggy haired Dave Harbottle is joint manager, Danny Boyes is his coach – I know them both. They look nervous.

When you watch Dunkirk their technical area reminds me of the set of the Guy Ritchie movies ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ or ‘Snatch’. Today, everyone is seated.

Dunkirk are magnificent in the first half, I knew they wouldn’t disappoint. They run Stratford ragged. They play a 4-4-1-1 formation with the fleet-footed Darren Garmston sitting in the hole behind livewire striker Lee Day, who bagged 28 goals last season, attracting the attention of Championship side Swansea City. His partner in crime, Shannon Grant, is stood next to me, as he is serving a three match suspension.

The Boatmen have knocked on the door for a while but open the scoring in sensational style. Garmston picks the ball up 35 yards out, he nutmegs his opponent, waltzes around him, knocks the ball out his feet, sets his sights on goal and thumps a dipping, vicious shot over the keeper and into the roof of the net. It’s a show-stopping moment that makes my spine tingle. There won’t be a better goal to be seen in the overpaid profession of football today. The three of us clench our fists with delight.

Dunkirk are wasteful in front of goal. There’s no response from the home team, they seem content to lump the ball up to their lumbering, clumsy striker ‘Smiffy.’

On half-time Dunkirk deservedly double their lead. Tony ‘Chink’ Gregory converts a chance after a marauding run by the Dunkirk full back.

I shout the teas and water up at the break. The DJ sounds like he’s auditioning for Smooth FM by playing the dreadful Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Dancing on the ‘Ceiling.’

I meet an Ilkeston Town fan who always follows Dunkirk when ‘Ilson’ are away from home. He buys a pie and a burger – he looks capable of shifting both.

Some black clouds have rolled in so we decide to take a pew in the stand. Dunkirk just can’t finish them off. Lavelle White exchanges passes with Day, only to see his effort come back off the post and Theo Smith fluffs a sitter at the back stick.

Stratford slowly begin to turn the screw. ‘Smiffy’ has been replaced by the more mobile and energised 18 year old Nathan Eddington. He reduces arrears with a smart finish after a long ball is not dealt with.

It’s backs against the wall stuff now. Shots are blocked and cleared as Stratford lay siege in the Dunkirk area.

Substitute Westcarr hits the upright for Dunkirk. Harbottle and Boyes are up on their feet and looking tense. All I can hear is ‘Uppo’s’ dulcet tones – “stop giving the bloody ball away”.They manage to hang on for a fully deserved win.

We depart to Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera Sera.’ Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ would be more apt for The Boatmen.

Attendance: 213

Man of the Match: Dwayne Soar (class act)