Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nottingham Forest 1 Sheffield United 1

I’m slouched in my swivel chair, in the office at work. The phones are ringing off their hooks. People are babbling on about servers, ISPs and installations.

A lady walks through the door, towards my desk. I recognise her. I’ve known her for over 30 years. She hands me over a sealed envelope. It has my name scrawled on it. I don’t recognise the writing. Maybe the person who penned it wishes to remain anonymous.

I open the letter. I’m careful not to smother it with my mucky paws; police forensics may want to examine it. Inside is one piece of paper 8” x 5” – shorthand notebook size. The letter is creased in half. I unfold it.

Written in pencil, to disguise their handwriting, are the words ‘Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 Notts County 2 … Eat One.’ (Which according to the Urban Dictionary means up yours).

Who could this be? Whoever it is, they must be a fool. They didn’t even have the courtesy to write ‘4-2 after extra time.’ And it was against ten men.

Anyway why should I care? Yeah, I work part-time at Notts County, but I don’t support them. I used to follow Lincoln City, but I refuse to go until Chris Su**on is removed from his post. Until then, I support Bridlington Town and Cammell Laird.

But I’m curious. Who do I know who supports Wolves? And then it dawns on me. The crafty little monkey. It’s got to be him. I’ll bide my time. ‘Gangsta’ might only be six years old, but Groundhopper will teach him a lesson.

Four days later I’m driving down the A610 Eastwood by-pass. I’m returning home from a scouting mission. I’ve bagged a good player. My mood is good. I turn on the radio. Five Live are commentating on the closing stages from Molyneux. It’s one a piece.

Stephen Warnock whips a ball into the box, the much maligned Emile Heskey heads home the winner. I arrive back at base. I reach for the telephone book. I flick to the letter ‘G’ (for Gangsta).

I grab the landline and punch in the digits. I ask to speak to ‘Gangsta’. He begrudgingly tares himself away from his PSP. I’ve caught the young man on the hop. I sing a few well known Aston Villa ditties down the phone. I just manage to blurt out ‘eat one’ before the line goes dead. You’re only as good as your last game ‘Gangsta’.

It’s Tuesday morning. I’ve arranged to hook up with Rammers for the Unibond Division One South game between Quorn and Newcastle Town. He texts me to say he’s got a runny nose and is 50/50.

Ten minutes later I take a call from JK. He’s about to board a flight to Germany and has three spares for the Forest game tonight.

Sticky jnr and Sizzers have decided to join me. They’re in the bedroom watching the inbetweeners. If Mrs P catches them we’ll be all for the high jump. ‘The Skipper’ prefers to snuggle up to Mum and watch Holby City.

Mrs P is at the gym. Sticky junior is on the blower to Sony, trying to set up a PS3 fake account. You have to be eighteen years old. The fool tries to hoodwink the customer services bloke. He’s talking like the deep-voiced USA soul singer Barry White. The guy’s having none of it. ‘Angry Kid’ boots the settee in frustration.

We jump in Sally Gunnell (not much to look at but a bloody good runner) at 6.45pm. It’s a bad start to the evening when junior turns on Radio Trent. The new single by Ollie Murs is on. Yuk!

We park in Marks and Spencer’s car park in leafy West Bridgford. It’s £1 for the night. It’s a pleasant stroll down Bridgford Road. We turn right into Hound Road. A couple of chavs are parked up on plastic chairs, in their front garden, swilling cans of Carling Black Label.

I snaffle up a programme on the corner of the Colwick Road. It costs £3 and is a fine publication, as you would expect with seasoned journalist John Lawson as its programme editor.

We finally find our seat on the front row of the Brian Clough Stand, level with the penalty box, close to the Trent End.

I look out towards the away end. The turnout is pitiful, (1178) even for a school night. Is it because of extortionate pricing? Or just plain old apathy?

They must have changed the DJ/PA announcer; he’s not a patch on the old one. I used to love it when he knocked out an old Charlatans, Stone Roses or Happy Monday’s track at half-time.

I can see my mate from work – ‘Shifty’ - sitting in the ‘Lower Exec.’ He’s a wannabe DJ and will be despairing at the music on offer from the HMV Superstore. Girls Aloud, ‘The Promise’ is about as modern as it gets.

Sheffield is in South Yorkshire and has a population of over half a million people. The River Sheaf runs through the city. It was once well known for iron, steel-making and coal mining.

Celebrities from Sheffield include: the politicians Roy Hattersley and David Blunkett, Sean Bean, Michael Palin, newsreader Sir Alastair Burnett, World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Bolton defender Gary Cahill, athlete Jessica Ennis, the boxer Naseem Hamed, referee Uriah Rennie and QPR manager Neil Warnock.

Forest, fresh from a 3-1 victory over Swansea, attack with real purpose. Local lad, Lewis McGugan, has rediscovered his swagger. Body fat has been reduced, as has his fighting weight. He fires in a cross from the left, which Stephen Jordan hurriedly clears away.

Against the run of play the Blades take the lead with their first meaningful attack. Jordan swings in a free-kick from the right; journeyman striker Richard Cresswell rises to bury his header.

Forest hit the panic button. Luke Chambers, not a man to trust in possession, plays a suicidal ball to Moussi, who’s easily dispossessed. Former Barnsley forward, the Maltese international, Daniel Bogdanovic, bears down on goal; Lee Camp makes a brave save.

Camp keeps his side in the game, saving a Stephen Jordan volley and a ‘Worldy’ tip around the post from Mark Yeates, following a sloppy pass from McGugan. Forest’s only answer is a left footed daisy-cutter from McGugan, which is unfortunate to go wide.

London born midfielder Leon Britton is bossing the game. His passing is sublime; his first touch exquisite. New boss Gary Speed has his team playing with style and purpose.

‘King Billy’ will be relieved to get his troops back in the changing room so he can regroup and change tactics. The Blades didn’t want half-time to come, and neither do I when the DJ continues his miserable run of form with The Jackson’s 1981 hit ‘Can You Feel It.’

Sticky jnr and Sizzers have ploughed their way through two Powerades, a couple of chocolate bars and a packet of Midget Gems. Junior enquires if he can buy some food. He’s told to ‘eat one.’

The DJ scores a late consolation goal with Dizzee and Calvin’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’

Sheff Utd are happy to let Forest play it out from the back, up to the half way line. But United stand firm. Their Number 23, Kyle Bartley, has headed, kicked and cleared the ball all evening. He hasn’t given Dexter Blackstock a sniff.

Davies tosses Dele Adebola into the fray. The Groundhopper admires him. He has a good touch for a big man and knocks folk about. He clatters (accidentally) into the unfortunate Bartley, whose night is ended on a stretcher, with a suspected fractured cheekbone.

Big Dele has previous (accidents). I saw him mash up Boro hardman Emanuel Pogatetz at the Riverside Stadium last season. As Elvis Costello says ‘Accidents Will Happen.’

The Reds equalize on 67 minutes. Former £3 million rated ‘keeper, Steve Simonsen, has looked uncomfortable with his kicking and positioning. Forest captain Paul McKenna tests his handling ability from 25 yards out, Simonsen can only help the swerving shot into the net.

Nathan Tyson is thrown on in a last ditch attempt to inject some much-needed pace. He’s taking the rip down the left hand flank. The right back surrenders with cramp.

Despite the efforts of their two best players – McKenna and Gunter – Forest fail to test the Blades stopper further.

On the balance of play, a draw is a fair result.

Man of the Match: Leon Britton

Attendance: 19,782

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brigg Town 3 Nuneaton Town 3

It’s Thursday 16th September, the day before Mrs P’s 41st birthday. Sticky Palms is in a right old flap. The presents are sorted, the flowers ordered and the table booked, but there are more pressing matters.

Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club have been holed up at a rain-sodden Old Trafford for three days now, with barely a ball bowled. The County Championship is slipping from our grasp. Somerset and Yorkshire emerge from the chasing pack.

It’s the final day. Yorkshire’s batting, for the only time this season, has capitulated. By lunch they are out of the running. Somerset seem certain of a win at Durham’s Emirates Ground.

Notts need 400 + and three Lancashire wickets. Samit Patel and overseas batsman Adam Voges bludgeon the home attack. Durham’s tail wags. Our final pair of Sidebottom and Darren Pattinson require 15 more runs to secure maximum batting points.

Sticky Palms is at work, pacing up and down the stairs between the Warehouse and the Technical Department. The Cricinfo live desktop scoreboard sits in the right hand corner on my taskbar. I daren’t even take a peek.

We eke out 400. Three wickets are required in 16 overs. I’m driving home from work. BBC Radio Nottingham shoot over to Dave Bracegirdle, who’s commentating from Manchester. Kolpak signing, Andre Adams, has taken two wickets in three balls. We are the champions. A tear trickles down my cheek.

We’ve not clapped eyes on one another or spoken to each other since sharing a beer in the marquee at the Keyworth Show. I glance at my phone, on my desk at work; the display is lit up with the words ‘Trumpy Calling.’

The legend has stopped off for a beer in Penrith in the Lake District. He’s been up since 2am and has already piloted to Stirling, in Scotland, to drop a car off. His pint of cider is empty before the barman completes the credit card transaction. It’s his warm-up act for Saturday’s main event at Brigg.

We (the family) spend Friday night down in the delightful surroundings of Plumtree Cricket Club. They were my fierce rivals when I played, but my two boys are settled down here. It’s just the one Black Sheep for Sticky Palms. I turn in for an early night.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m crouched down in Finley’s crib (pet rabbit) dishing out a 7 day ban for garden hopping. The furry fellow takes it badly. I console him with some treats that he gently takes from the palm of my hand.

I shoot off down to Highfields University Playing Fields to watch Nottingham Schools City Boys trials. I spot my man; find out where he’s playing tomorrow and head back home to pick Trumpy up.

I’m tooting my horn, but there’s no sign of the legend. I walk up his drive to find him having problems locking his door. At the fifth attempt he finds the keyhole. The Old Speckled Hen and McEwan’s have already kicked in.

He plonks his litre of pear cider in the footwell. He’s decked out in his checked shirt and Cotton Traders tracky bottoms. The 1970s mullet looks in fine fettle.

White Van Man is posing on his front garden. He has a flask full of vodka that he’ll drink at the Forest v Swansea game. He brags that it’s been six weeks since alcohol last passed his lips. Trumpy jokes it’s been six minutes since his last alcoholic beverage.

We drive down the Fosse way towards Lincoln, onto the by-pass and take a left turn onto the A15 signposted to Brigg.

There’s no need to turn the radio on as Trumpy retells a summer’s worth of anecdotes. He spent a week in the Scottish Highlands chalking a few pubs off. He went in one watering hole when England were playing Bulgaria in a European Championship qualifier. When the fourth goal went in Trumpy started singing ‘Four Lions on my Shirt.’ The locals were unimpressed.

He’s spent the last few weekends away on drinking sprees in Market Harborough, Cromer, Boroughbridge and Manchester. He talks excitedly about the world renowned Trent Bridge Inn being bought out by Wetherspoons. Trumpy is reluctant to discuss Leicester City’s 6-1 pummelling at Portsmouth last night.

For those new to this blog, Trumpy’s mission in life is to visit every village/town/city in England and to make a financial transaction by credit card or cheque. He’s been doing this extraordinary hobby for over 30 years now.

We pop into the Royal Oak in Snitterby. The landlord, who looks like Catweazle, won’t take credit card or cheque. Trumpy is unmoved. We press on to the Brandy Wharf Cider Centre. It’s a dream come true for the legend. We both select a pint of Kingston Press Cider 4.5ABV.

The landlady and T Bolton wax lyrical about the umpteen ciders they’ve sampled in their lifetime. There are sixteen different ciders on offer here. Sticky P bags a litre bottle for £3.99. Lincs FM 102.2 are playing American rock band Kings of Leon. They are an all-brother band.

Notts County Head of Youth, Mick Leonard rings me up to let me know that the Pies u18s have smashed my old team Lincoln City 4-1. Defeat today for the first team against Stevenage would surely single the end of the road for comedy duo Chris Sutton and Ian Pearce.

We dine at the Queens Head in North Kelsey. There’s only room in the Snug. T Bolton washes down his cheese burger with another pint of cider. We make a hasty exit when the CD player randomly chooses the cheesy ‘Another Day in Paradise’ by Phil Collins.

We’re in Brigg for 2.30pm. We’ve compared diaries and penned a few dates for games in the future. Trumpy fancies Ossett, Redditch, Louth, Hyde and Histon.

I park the Rolls Royce on a side street. We wander up a snicket and through a side gate. There is a queue at the turnstile of 40 people or more. They’ve turned up in force from Warwickshire. It’s £6 on the gate. The programme is £1.50 and is great value.

Brigg is a small market town in North Lincolnshire. It has a population of just over 5000. The town is the home of the Falcon Cycles factory. The actress Dame Joan Plowright, the widow of Sir Laurence Olivier, was born in the town in 1929.

Brigg Town were formed in 1864 and are nicknamed the Zebras. They’ve won the FA Vase twice – in 1996 and 2003.

There’s no hesitation from Bolton he’s straight into the bar for a pint of bitter. Sticky Palms meanders around the ground.

I’m sat in the stand looking out on this impressive stadia. The Brigg dugout is to my left. Their assistant manager is already winding me up with his unnecessary quibbling of every decision. He childishly enquires where the referee is from.

I see that Trumpy has blended in with the visiting supporters and is shielded from the blustery conditions. I walk across to meet him. It’s a poor first half with little indication of what’s to come.

The Nuneaton fans are cocksure of victory. Their team play keep ball with little indication of urgency. Brigg, to their credit, play a passing game, with one player up top. There are a few half chances but the strong gale spoils the game.

Former Coventry City winger Donovan Simmonds has a change of pace, his cross is headed against the bar by Lee Moore.

On 40 minutes Nuneaton take the lead. The lively Moore seizes on a mistake and thunders home a shot.

Trumpy doesn’t hang around for the one minute added time indicated by the excellent official Mr R W Martin; he joins the queue at the bar for a couple of more sherbets.

I glance up at the TV set; the Imps are losing to Stevenage 1-0. I spot a signed, framed Tranmere Rovers white shirt on the wall. It has a ticket and programme inside it from an FA Cup clash with Brigg in 2001.

I stand close to the goal Nuneaton attack expecting them to rack em up. Brigg immediately equalise. A smart move down the right results in Chappell converting a cross.

Trumpy comes staggering out the bar; it’s another goal he’s missed. He’s just in time to see Nuneaton gain the lead with a header from Stuart Pierpoint.

Brigg restore parity on 74 minutes following a spell of pressure. Danny Buttle’s left wing cross is met at the far post by Tommy Spall. Moments later the Nuneaton full back treads on the ball and falls in a heap, substitute Ryan Paczkowski buries his shot into the corner of the net.

The Nuneaton fans are gobsmacked. Their team have controlled the game and yet have fallen behind. A two year old Nuneaton fan is sobbing his heart out in his pushchair. He’s not bothered that his team are losing – he’s dropped his lollipop.

Substitute Chris Dillon bails them out of a tricky predicament, when he plants a firm header into the roof of the net from a left wing cross.

The game’s set up for a gripping finale. It’s like water off a duck’s back for Trumpy. He’s back in the bar to complete his hat-trick.

Attendance: 276

Man of the Match: Referee, Mr R W Martin (didn’t even notice him)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rugby Town 1 Bedworth United 0

I’m back from Uncle Sam’s 65th birthday party. I’m straight into the beer fridge. I click open a can of cold Stella. Condensation drips down the side of the can. Sticky Palms is buzzing. I’ve coached ‘The Skipper’s’ team for the first time in three years. Ghosts and demons have been exorcised. I enjoyed every second of it.

We played a team who spanked the reigning champions the week before. I scouted it, did my homework. We were 2-2 with 15 minutes to go but ran out of steam. I‘m going to get involved again, make us stronger, more organised and better disciplined.

I sidle into the lounge. Mrs P is laid out on the sofa watching the X-Factor. Her mood is good; it was her birthday yesterday. I bought some cool presents, sent her a bouquet of flowers and wined and dined the good lady at a gastro pub in north Leicestershire.

A bald, ageing, short chap, with glasses and stubble, is struggling to reach the high notes, as he belts out a Motown classic (Tears of a Clown) on TV. Simon Cowell is going to slaughter him. How did this poor sod pass the audition? The programme researches will get a right royal rollicking. He’s so appalling that I fear his out of tune melody will shatter Mrs P’s Chardonnay wine glass.

“They’ll never put this joker through” remarks The Groundhopper. Mrs P turns towards me with a steely look of disbelief in her eyes. “It’s ‘One Night Only With Phil Collins’ you plank” she replies, “not the X-Factor”. “Well after that shoddy performance thank Christ it’s for only ‘One Night’ says Groundhopper, as he surfs the net for a non league midweek fixture.

It’s Sunday morning. Mrs P and Sticky junior are already up and at em, and on their way to the old mining town of Hucknall, in the north of the county, for a Notts Youth League under 15 game.

The Groundhopper drops ‘The Skipper’ off at Lenton Lane in Nottingham. Clifton All-Whites are playing a close and fierce rival. I’ll catch the second half.

I drive back down the A52 and drop into Keyworth United Community Football Club to take a game in. Their chairman, Robert Clegg, waves me over. We talk about teapots and ceramic mugs.

The girls in the Tea Bar pour me a cup of char out of a huge stainless steel pot. It has golden look about it. The milk is poured to perfection. The spoon stirs the brew three times in an anti-clockwise direction.

I take a slurp. It tastes like a champion real ale and receives a 9 out of 10. It’s the leader in the Clubhouse, just like I was at the Whitby Crazy Golf Open Championship, before Sandra carded a suspicious round of only 19 (?).

I race back to Clifton to watch ‘The Skipper.’ The reigning champions have played hoof ball; we’re disappointed to only get a draw.

The night is spent with Mrs P on the sofa catching up on the laugh out loud cult Channel 4 TV comedy, The Inbetweeners (Series One). My sides are aching at their schoolboy humour. Even Mrs P is mildly amused.

It’s Tuesday morning. I’m fending off unfounded claims, by e-mail, of a lack of scouting protocol. Why do I do this job, when all people want to do is make my life a misery? I’ll leave a legacy, if nothing else.

White Van Man has made tentative enquiries, by text, about my movements tonight. He’s still sulking over his Champions League no score draw last Tuesday evening. Ladbrokes have boasted it was one of their biggest ever football betting coups in one single match. The Groundhopper doesn’t do 0-0s.

The ‘Big Man’ is caught red-handed by ‘The Skipper’ in the chippy buying a ‘Fish Supper.’ He’s in denial, despite being covered in batter bits. He leaves me a garbled answer phone message with a list of excuses on why he can’t make the trip tonight –it’s like a post match interview with Arsene Wenger on Sky.

Rammers fails a late fitness test too. He shoots off to Hucknall Town v Bradford Park Avenue. It’s just me and my faithful old midweek sidekick - The Taxman.

We breeze up the A46 and onto a free-flowing M1. I’ve switched on The Taxman’s moaner meter. It’s a bit like Hughie Green’s clapometer from Opportunity Knocks.

He’s been to visit the Duke and Duchess of Peterborough (his in-laws) at the weekend. He hates going there. I bear the full brunt of his anger.

Next on his agenda is his loathing of The X-Factor. We both sing off the same hymn sheet on this particular subject. Their latest coup is to send through an ex-hooker to Boot Camp who has a string of childhood convictions. You can’t half pick em, Simon.

We arrive in Rugby in just under 45 minutes. Parking is free at the Butlin Road ground. I notice from the temperature gauge in the Rolls Royce that it’s a mild 19 degrees. The Taxman has brought about four layers of clothing from Nottingham’s Primarni branch. He looks like he’s on the production team of the TV reality show 71 Degrees North.

Rugby is a market town in Warwickshire which is situated on the River Avon. It has a population of over 60,000. It is the second biggest town in the county.

It is famous for the invention of the game of rugby by William Webb-Ellis at Rugby School in 1823. It is also the birthplace of the jet engine built by Frank Whittle at the British Thomson-Houston works in 1937.

Trumpy Bolton will be delighted to hear that in the 1960s the town of Rugby had the second highest amount of pubs in England, per square mile. Thankfully Trumpy has failed to make the trip tonight.

Famous folk born in the area include: the poet Rupert Brooke, the actor Tim Pigott-Smith and England cricketer Ian Bell.

Notable people to have attended Rugby School are listed as follows: Lewis Carroll, Salman Rushdie and Neville Chamberlain.

It’s £8 to gain entry and a rather hefty £2 for a well produced programme. The club was founded in 1956 as Valley Sports. With the help of Football Foundation grants they have developed the stadium into a cracking ground for this level.

I’m taking a few snaps with a camera that ‘The Architect’ has lent me to try out as a potential Christmas present. A blazered Rugby Town official stops me in my tracks and asks me if I’m The Groundhopper.

His name is Mike Yeats, who is a director of the club. He welcomes us to Butlin Road and very kindly offers the warmth and hospitality of the boardroom at half-time. It’s a touching, warm and friendly gesture.

We house ourselves in the impressive Main Stand, which was opened by former Aston Villa striker Darius Vassell in 2003.

The teams stroll out the tunnel to the thumping sound of the testosterone boosting ‘Firestarter’ by The Prodigy. Even the young lady referee, Sian Massey from Coventry, looks pumped up for the game.

The first half is mind-numbingly boring. Bedworth are incapable of shutting up shop and would gladly settle for a goalless draw, even after 15 minutes. Their side are full of Shepshed misfits, who followed ‘Grumpy Jimmy Ginnelly’, like sheep, back west, after an unproductive spell at the Dovecote.

Rugby try and play the game in the correct manner, but lack penetration or purpose. Nobody seems fired up, despite The Prodigy doing their upmost.

Gunderlach and Hamilton have openings but look incapable of hitting a cow’s arse with a banjo.

The Taxman has peeled off about two layers of clothing by now. His clothes are strewn all over the stand.

The game is as dull as dishwater. It will be a miracle if Bedworth see out the ninety minutes without conceding, although former Shepshed workhorse, Luke Barlone, has caught the eye with his strong running and hold up play.

The excellent lady referee thankfully blows for half-time. Perhaps they can turn the lights off and play the entire Prodigy back catalogue for the next hour or so.

We decline Mike’s kind offer of a hot drink in the boardroom. I’ve been in one or two of them. I feel ill at ease and uncomfortable in that environment. What if the Chairman asks me if Finley, my rabbit, has escaped from the garden lately? Or if ‘Angry Kid’ (Sticky junior) has kicked off recently?

We queue at the Tea Hut. I purchase two Bovrils at £1 a go. You need to invest in a tea pot Mike.

We take a gleg in the VS Bar. There are stacks of mementos, photos and trophies on display. VS Rugby beat Halesowen in the 1983 FA Vase final.

The Taxman nips to loo to splash himself with cold water. It’s that mild, he only has his string vest to go.

There’s a quicker pace to the second period. Even Bedworth United come out to play. The chances stack up for Rugby but they find their former ‘keeper James Martin (not to be confused with the chef off Saturday Kitchen) in sparkling form.

He puts in a shift like Sylvester Stallone did in Escape to Victory. He’s finally beaten on 71 minutes when powerhouse substitute Warwick Alexander, who looks as if he’s about to burst out his shirt, completes a subtle move by smashing home a first time shot that nestles in the corner of the net, after scraping the inside of the post.

The game fizzles out (it never fizzled in). It’s been a warm pleasant evening, spent in fine company at a top ground. What a shame the match didn’t live up to my expectations.

Attendance: 233

Man of the Match: Saturday Kitchen’s James Martin.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gresley FC 1 Lincoln Moorlands Railway 2

It’s Sunday evening. Mrs P and Sticky junior are chatting in the lounge, ‘The Skipper’ is on Call of Duty upstairs and Countryfile is on the TV. The Groundhopper peers over his Non League Paper as Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury have a mosy around the Pembrokeshire coast.

The clock tick tocks towards 8pm. I tense up. I’ve dreaded this moment all day. My stomach is in knots. I remove my H&M fleece. I start to fidget. I walk to the kitchen to uncork a bottle of wine. I dip into the snacks and savouries cupboard and grab some Phileas Fogg Sea Salt crisps.

I return to the lounge. Countryfile has come to a close, the credits begin to roll. The atmosphere is eyrie. I stare at the remote control. I so badly want to press ‘103.’ I turn down a block of Galaxy chocolate.

How could ITV do this? An eighteen year run brought to an abrupt and brutal end. The bloody Tories and their cutbacks. 40,000 cops being made redundant – fair enough – but why couldn’t they leave PC Alf Ventriss, Gina, ‘Daft David’ and the gang alone?

Who’s going to look after Alfred the dog now? Will he be sent to the RSPCA in Scarborough? What about poor old Ventriss. Who’s going to want to employ that lazy so and so? He’ll be making his final ever brew at Aidensfield Police Station, anytime now. Perhaps he’ll upgrade to a tin of Marks and Spencer’s gold-wrapped chocolate biscuits, to mark the special occasion.

The only chance of Alf getting a job will be if Pickering Town FC employ him in their Tea Hut on a Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon.

I haven’t the heart or bottle to watch the final episode. I’ll get the 18 year box set for Christmas. Me and Murphy, the budgie (Santa better bring him this year) can watch them together. There’s a Help for Heroes concert from Twickenham on BBC1. We watch that instead. Scouse comedian, John Bishop, is well funny.

I’m full of cold and as miserable as sin. The weekend is manic. I spend Saturday morning in the grim surroundings of Grove Farm, by the River Trent, on Lenton Lane, watching Nottingham City Schools football trials. I jot a couple of names down in the notebook.

Saturday afternoon is spent down at my local football club, where former Nottingham Forest manager and local resident, Frank Clark, opens a new clubhouse and changing room facility, which has been in the pipeline for nearly 10 years now. The project has been a tiring drain on the club’s resources. The fundraising effort has been immense.

I played a small part six years ago when Ackers and I toured 106 football grounds in England and Wales over six days. I donated some money to the Club and the British Heart Foundation. We didn’t sleep for two nights – it nearly bloody killed me.

The Chairman of club (Rob Clegg) tells me he has bought 200 mugs for tea and coffee. Polystyrene can be consigned to the dustbin. Hopefully their smashing catering department can knock up a brew or two in a teapot.

Saturday night is spent at ‘Chopper’ Harris’ 40th birthday party, in his well manicured back garden, in the dry village of Willoughby-on-the Wolds. It’s a chance to reacquaint with old and trusted friends.

It’s the day of the FA Cup replay between Gresley and Lincoln Moorlands. I’m sat at work despairing at the weather blowing into Lancashire Cricket Club’s Old Trafford ground. Notts can’t get on the field of play and look to have blown the Championship title.

Mrs P has had a torrid 48 hours. Firstly she came down with gastric flu and now she appears to have caught my Man Flu. I hope she soldiers on like I did. I never moaned once (yeah right).

I arrive home from work and flop on the sofa. Mrs P is doing a spot of ironing. Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me is followed by the amusing Coach Trip. I suddenly hear someone snoring, perhaps it’s Finley …. Oops, no it’s not, it’s me. I’ve had a Winston Churchill power nap and woke myself up.

It’s chicken pie and mash followed by Sainsbury’s trifle for tea. I start getting ready for the arrival of The Taxman. The kids have got a Dance Anthems programme on Sky TV. Stretch and Vern’s ‘Boogie Wonderland’ re-mix booms around the room.

I flick on the cricket at Old Trafford. After two days of rainfall the game is brought to a close because of a spectacular sunset – ‘sun stopped play.’ We are doomed. Anybody but Yorkshire, please.

The Taxman arrives at 6.50pm. He’s hardly full of the joys of spring. He complains that he was short-changed by 91 pence at Morrisons, when he bought some ham off the bone which was on special offer. A similar thing happened to him in the Lounge of the Plough Inn at Normanton-on-the-Wolds last Tuesday evening, when the landlord forgot to give him 20 pence change.

We arrive in Church Gresley in 40 minutes and manage to park right outside the turnstile, in an already jam-packed car park.

Church Gresley is in south Derbyshire and has a population of nearly 5000. It is close to the town of Swadlincote, where Stoke City Premiership footballer Carl Dickinson was born, as was former British Heavyweight Champion boxer, Jack Bodell.

Gresley Rovers were formed in 1882. The club has played at the Moat Ground since 1909. In 1991 they reached the FA Vase final where they drew 4-4 against Guiseley. They lost the replay at Bramall Lane.

Former managers include Paul Futcher and Sky Sports pundit Garry Birtles. Following financial difficulties the Club was liquidated in 2009. They were reformed and placed into the East Midlands Counties League.

We queue with the ‘Gresley Baby Squad.’ It’s £6 per man and £1 for a corker of a programme. The ground is a beauty, just as I remember it. It should be a national treasure and never taken away from these fair folk.

There are dozens of different vantage points. The Taxman has noticed a huge, filthy black cloud blowing its way in from the west. He takes a pew on a wooden seat on the opposite side to the main stand.

88 year old former Radio 2 DJ, Sir Jimmy Young, appears to have made a comeback in the Gresley PA suite. Every song seems to come from the Fifties. I’m sure I even hear The Big Bopper.

A small group of supporters have congregated behind the goal. One of the subs warming-up smashes a shot wide of the goal; a young chap feels the full force as the ball hits him straight in the mush. “No wonder you’re sub” a woman cries out.

Gresley FC came back from the brink in Saturday’s original tie. A man from The Times was at Lincoln Moorlands on Saturday to report for the national newspaper.

It’s a mediocre first half. Gresley kick down the slope but their game is as hurried as their opponents. Somewhat, bizarrely, they only play one striker up top. They haven’t the pace, strength or quality to get past a creaking Railway defence.

McCann and Good look lively for the visitors but neither side carve out any worthwhile chances. Gresley have a lion’s share of the possession.

We meander around the ground to the Social Club at the break. Nothing’s really changed since my last visit. Neither TV set is switched on, which is quite strange. ‘One in a Cup’ Typhoo tea is on offer at the Tea Bar. It’s 70p a go.

Jimmy Young gets back on track with Abba’s ‘Winner Takes It All.’ The Taxman taps his feet to Bad Manners’ ‘Lip Up Fatty.’

We walk back to our seat in an anti-clockwise direction. I chance upon a groundhopper I know from Sileby, near Leicester.

We’re both having a moan and a groan about the quality of the football, when Moorlands midfielder Scott Lowman sets his sights from 35 yards out and thumps a shot goalwards. Former Shepshed stopper Gary Hateley is in the nets, supporters at Dynamo used to claim he had mirrors on both goal posts so he could admire himself, while waiting for a corner, he watches the ball whistle past his barnet, into roof of the net.

The game comes alive. Gresley’s Mickey Lyons, a former England youth international, is the pick of the bunch, with his inch perfect passing and light movement. How on earth has he found his way so far down the Non-League Pyramid?

After intense Gresley pressure, the home side somehow find themselves 2-0 down with Tom Garrick seizing onto an undercooked back pass.

Immediately from kick off Lyons plays an outrageous back flick to Carl Slater who blasts a shot that hits the back stanchion to reduce arrears. Garrick misses a sitter. Gresley camp inside the Moorlands area. Cross after cross come into the box from the right and left. Efforts are cleared off the line or go just wide of the post.

It’s been an enthralling second half. Gresley can consider themselves a tad unlucky. But it’s Lincoln Moorlands who go through to the Second Qualifying Round.

There’s still time for Lincoln keeper’ Zaccardi to trade insults with the ‘Baby Squad’ as the game ends in chaos.

Man of the Match: Mickey Lyons

Attendance: 247 (On a school night with Man Utd on the box)

Footnote: White Van Man watched a 0-0 on the TV … ha ha!

Friday, September 10, 2010

St Andrews 0 Bardon Hill 6

It’s Friday August 20th. It’s day ten of our summer holiday in the Algarve. Gangsta, Will, ‘The Skipper’ and Sticky junior are larking about in the pool. I’m sprawled out on a sunbed, under an umbrella, avoiding the baking heat.

I’ve succumbed to a horrid heat rash. The lady at the local chemist said it was the worst she’d ever seen – I don’t know if she was referring to my pot belly, treble chin or rash. I’m going stir crazy. I can’t swim or sunbathe because of this damn ailment.

I’m combing my way through an English-translated Portuguese paper, when suddenly my eyes light up. Local football team, Portimonense FC, have been promoted to the Portuguese Primeria Liga. They have a tea-time kick-off on Sunday against Naval. The town of Portimao is 30 minutes up the road. I can jump on a bus and still be back for evening dinner at O Lanterna.

I cough a couple of times and clear my throat: “Darling, I might not be here for the pool-side bingo on Sunday evening, can you call the numbers out?” Mrs P replies “If you’re thinking of going to a football match while we’re on holiday, you can pack your bags now and clear off home.”

I jump on the bus to Portimao. Everyone is in bed still. Sticky Palms needs to do a reconnaissance.

A café bar owner in our resort has tipped me the wink that the ground is being refurbished and the game might be held at Estadio Algarve near to Faro. The last time we came to Portugal, Jamaican rapper Sean Paul and Scottish new wave band Simple Minds played to sell-out crowds there.

Portimao has a population of 40,000. It is well known for sailing, power-boating, motor sport and beach soccer.

I pound the streets of this southern coast town. After three hours of non-stop walking and puffing and panting, I notice a brown tourist sign with a football painted on it. “Bingo.”

I walk into the middle of the ‘stadium’ – I use the word stadium loosely. It’s a building site. There’s Bob Hope of a game being played here on Sunday. There’s not a blade of grass on the pitch – the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham is in better shape.

I catch the bus home. I pass another stadium – perhaps it’s the new one. If the game is at Faro, I’m snookered. Never mind Sticky, it was a good effort. At least it’s saved your marriage, for now.

It’s Sunday morning. I’ve had a wretched night, in Guest House Paradiso, in Royal Crescent, Whitby, on a lumpy mattress, in my single room. At least Dracula didn’t show up.

Bruiser, Widdow and Groundhopper pile into the car. We head home. The ‘youngsters’ insist we have the sexy, husky voice of Radio 1 Dublin born DJ Annie Mac, on the car radio. She’s not my cup of tea and the music is rubbish.

At least we don’t have to make numerous toilet stops for Bruiser (Captain Slackbladder), who for once manages to control his water works.

I saunter through the house at midday and immediately announce that I’m off for a lie down. It’s not gone down too well with Mrs P, though folks.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sat in my swivel chair at work, keeping an eye on the vital County Championship cricket match between Notts and Yorkshire on the desktop scoreboard.. The Auctioneer sits adjacent to me; he is a massive Tyke’s fan.

It’s lunchtime and I’ve lost all interest in the sport of cricket. Notts have been skittled out for a miserly 59. I’m never going to Trent Bridge again.

I phone The Taxman to check on his availability for tonight’s EMCL game. There’s been a slight domestic incident in his household – the fool has forgotten that today is his wedding anniversary.

He’s rushed out to the cheapest florist in the village and bought a reduced £2.99 bouquet of Chrysanthemums. Mrs Taxlady is not appeased by this peace offering. She tells me “not to rush back” when I pick up her husband at 6.45pm.

I take the Mick with my groundhopping but I would NEVER go to a game on my wedding anniversary – well not an evening kick-off.

I remember the 17th Sept 1996. My old team, Lincoln City (before that buffoon Chris Sutton was in charge) had a home cup tie against Manchester City. I didn’t even dare ask for the green light to go. We won 4-1. My all-time hero Gareth Ainsworth was brilliant. I often bring that one up when the good lady questions another groundhopping outing.

The tales of woe come thick and fast from The Taxman, as we travel down the A46, M1 and outer ring road – thank God it’s a short journey. I lend a sympathetic ear and turn down the volume on Five Live’s Switzerland v England preview.

Sat Nav appears to take us down a dead end and into a meadow. I can see the players warming up between a gap in the hedge.

It’s £3 admission, with no programme issued on a school night. The gateman recommends I shift my car from the outer car park and drive it onto the ground.

There’s very little signage to take photos of, but it looks a pleasant enough ground. We stand to the left of the home dugout. Opposite us is a small stand. Conifers tower over both goals.

Bardon Hill are a slick outfit; although they hit freefall at the business end of last season, having topped the table for the majority of the year.

There’s high energy levels in a competitive opening spell. St Andrews have raw talent, but play too narrow.

I receive a text from ‘The Skipper’ on 15 minutes which just says ‘Rooney’ – nice to see the scallywag Scouser making back page headlines for a change.

Bardon take a deserved lead on 30 minutes through a strike from White. They spurn further chances to extend their lead.

A Shar Pei dog has been let loose down our side of the ground. He seems a friendly sort, but has taken an instant liking to Groundhopper’s trouser leg. It’s making me nervous. I suggest to The Taxman that an early brew in the clubhouse might be worthwhile.

We are served tea by an attractive strawberry blonde. We can’t mark the tea as no teapot is involved. It’s what’s known in the trade as a DIY brew.

Sky are showing Rooney’s goal over and over again. I’m more interested in the blackboard on the wall which advertises in chalk that Rosie and Coleby are having a Pirates and Princess party. Gangsta and Will would love that.

St Andrews centre half looks like Spanish shaggy-haired defender Carlos Puyol. He’s half decent too and is having a terrific tussle with Bardon forward Paul O’Callaghan.

It all kicks off on the hour when the lineman rules that the ball is still in play. Bardon score from the resulting cross. St Andrews manager’s veins are sticking out his neck as he calls the referee an effing disgrace. The left back calls him an effing joke (he’s sent off) and the captain sarcastically suggests that the ref drops down a couple of leagues after his “12 week break.”

I wish they’d get that bloody dog on a lead, I’m sure he’s got a whiff of Finley’s scent on my jeans – we had a little cuddle before I left tonight.

Bardon bang another one in. The game is ended (for us) on 70 minutes with a serious injury to the excellent Paul O’Callaghan, who complains he can’t feel his neck.

The paramedics appear unrushed, despite arriving briskly. The referee is toying with the idea of abandoning the game. We take a straw poll, which decides on an early exit to the Plough Inn at Normanton-on-the-Wolds for a pint of Timothy Taylor’s.

NB: play was re-started and Bardon scored a further three goals.

Attendance: 19

Man of the Match: The Taxman.