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