Sunday, February 27, 2011

Millwall 0 Nottingham Forest 0

I dodge the puddles in Coalville Town’s Owen Street car park. I feel as high as a kite. I’ve just witnessed a breathtaking game of football. The best in five years of groundhopping.

I crank ‘Sally Gunnell’ up. The 693 medium wave frequency lights up on the radio. Five Live shoot across to The New Den. The referee has had to stop play for ten minutes as missiles rain down on the visiting goalkeeper and Referee’s Assistant. Decisions aren’t going their way.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I suddenly remember I’m due to chalk off this ground next week, with the Tricky Trees of Nottingham. I log on to eBay, to check out the chances of bagging an A-Z street map of South Bermondsey. I’ve a feeling I might need to know the rat runs and bolt holes of the back streets.

I remember Millwall beating my team, Lincoln City, 3-2 in the 1983 Football League Trophy final, held at Sincil Bank. Some of their fans caused total mayhem in the City that night

Millwall has been on the radar for a while. I’ve only Barnet and Charlton Athletic, left to do in London, to complete the full set. I try to tick-off two new League grounds each season. I once visited 107 grounds in 5 gruelling days, by car, for charity.

I’ve not viewed Forest in two months. They are in the same rich vein of form as this stage last season. Sticky Junior accompanies me on Tuesday evening. Mrs P has managed to snap up some tickets in the Bridgford End.

Struggling Preston North End are the visitors. The Lilywhites nick a point at the death, with an added time equaliser from Billy Jones. Sticky junior has a tantrum and boots Finley’s cage when we get home.

King Billy has an injury list as long as my arm. Earnshaw, Tyson and the on loan Paul Konchesky are the latest casualties.

It’s Friday night and stage one of our weekend away. ‘Dafty’ is piloting, White Van Man is his wing man, Mad Dog and Sticky Palms provide back up.

We sail down the M1, A43, M40, M25 and M4. We are buzzing Lord Geoffrey’s bell at his swanky bachelor pad on Putney Heath by 9.30pm.

We dive straight into The Telegraph pub and sink five rounds of drinks. I have a few pints of the guest ale from the Tintagel brewery in Cornwall.

My sleep is fitful. The windows rattle and the rooms shake – not from the wind and rain but from the adjacent settee, where WVM snores his head off.

Wimbledon Common is a five minute drive away. We were hoping for a bat round it this morning, but the heavens have opened. We enjoy a hearty breakfast at the thriving Windmill CafĂ©. White Van Man mops up a ‘full English’ with double bacon and double sausage.

The place is jam packed with cyclists. Mad Dog is unmoved, he’s recently returned from a week away, cycling 500 miles across India for charity.

We jump on the bus and hop on a couple of trains. Destination is London Bridge. I notice small pockets of Crystal Palace fans milling around the station. We snuck into All Bar One, opposite the station. There are a few old school Millwall boys in the pub, but everyone appears calm.

I feel anxious and hungover. Most of the boys neck two drinks – it’s just a pint of Dutch courage (Grolsch) for Groundhopper. We’ve been joined by Piers, who is a dead ringer for the comedian Harry Enfield.

Everyone is quiet now, as we prepare ourselves for the ‘Walk of Death.’ We keep our wits about us as we pull into South Bermondsey train station. The carriages are packed to the rafters with Forest and Millwall fans.

A host of famous people born in these neck of the woods include: Charlie Chaplin, Boris Karloff, Michael Caine (not many people know that), Leslie Grantham, Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Rio Ferdinand, Kenny Sansom and David Haye.

Actor Daniel Day Lewis, presenter Danny Baker and Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle are all celebrities with an allegiance for Millwall.

The Lions have just celebrated their 125th anniversary. Notable former players include: Tim Cahill, Sam Allardyce, John Fashanu, Neil Ruddock, Mick McCarthy, Teddy Sheringham, Tony Cascarino and Kasey Keller.

Record transfer fee received is £2 Million for Irish winger Mark Kennedy from Liverpool. Record payout was £800,000 for striker Paul Goddard from Derby County.

We alight the train and trudge down the platform. Immediately we spot a sign telling away supporters to turn right. It’s a narrow pathway with a ten foot metal fence either side. Within minutes we are outside the turnstile.

The guy on the gate wishes me good luck as I hand over my ticket. Ooh heck, I don’t like the sound of that. Whatever does he mean?

Piers laughs that he experienced more bother at Crewe. He then confesses he actually scalded himself on a spilt cup of tea at Gresty Road. We hang around the concourse, during the build up to the game drinking dreadful Carlsberg lager.

I spot a mate called Johnny who I’ve not seen in years. Football brings us together. He holds the Nottinghamshire Cricket Evening League Longest Ever Over award, when in 1985 he bowled a 15 ball over, including 7 wides.

We’re on the top deck of a two tier stand. As with a lot of modern stadia, the ground is much of a muchness. I’ve missed my customary stroll around the perimeter of the ground. That’s the beauty of the Non League.

Former Lions and Reds centre half, Colin Cooper, is guest of honour. He works tirelessly for a charity in the memory of his son, who he lost in tragic circumstances.

Ackers has just texted in. He tells me to keep an eye on Millwall 16 jacket, Scott Barron, as he is dating a relative. He has made 36 appearances this season but only makes the bench today.

Both sets of fans enjoy some banter. I don’t find the atmosphere or experience intimidating.

Millwall start like train, despite having lost their previous two games. Their lively Algerian winger Hameur Bouzza fires over from close range. Morgan and Chambers have it all on policing a robust Steve Morison. He looks a steal at £130,000 in comparison to the £1 million the Reds shelled out on David McGoldrick

Everyone is stood up in the Away End. White Van Man doesn’t do standing. He slumps into his seat. He is a Manchester United armchair supporter, but confesses to missing out on their drab 0-0 draw in Marseille on Wednesday, preferring instead to watch Tool Academy on Sky.

After some under-cooked passing, Lewis McGugan begins to find his range. He shrugs off a challenge, makes a buccaneering run and pops a shot off from 25 yards out, Millwall keeper David Forde dives low to his left and puts the ball out for a corner.

The game lacks momentum. One or two are off colour for Forest. Raddy Majewski is off the pace, whilst Paul Anderson is off form and out of position. Millwall bizarrely put ten men behind the ball.

White Van Man has seen enough and heads off to the Pie Stall. Mad Dog had earlier chewed his way through one, marking it with 4.5 out of 10.

Darren Purse is flattened by a McGugan 30 yard blockbuster of a free kick. Lynch, a round peg in a square hole at left back misses a good chance having cantered to the back post.

The Lions fans are incensed by the refereeing of Kevin Hill from Hertfordshire. He’s already carded three Millwall players and is proving unpopular. He’s a brave man after last week’s events.

I bump into another one of those characters that only Nottingham can throw up. His name is Jitz. He supports India and England at cricket. I ask him who he wants to win the World Cup. “Anybody but Pakistan,” he chuckles. He confesses to having read four years worth of my blog, whilst on a boring Health and Safety course the other week. He’s been on the sauce since 10am and is well oiled.

It’s a scrappy beginning to the second half, with neither side threatening goal. Chris Cohen tightens his grip on the midfield. He mops up any loose balls and keeps his game neat and tidy.

Forest up the tempo. Majewski fires wide, whilst McGugan forces another fine save from Irish ‘keeper Forde.

Former Bromley winger, Gareth McCleary, replaces an ineffectual Paul Anderson. He forces a reflex save from Forde and uses his pace to good effect down the flanks. A mazy run leaves three players trailing in his wake; his final effort is hit weakly and saved once more. Please God not a nil nil.

Billy’s final throw of the dice is to introduce Welsh international Rob Earnshaw, who somehow contrives to scuff a shot from 10 yards out with the goal at his mercy.

We’re waiting for the Metropolitan Police to clear the ground, so we can catch the train. Everybody seems grumpy. It’s two points dropped. Lee Camp hasn’t had a save to make.

We end up in Bar 366 in Earlsfield. It’s full of drunken, soppy England Rugby fans, who are man-hugging one another, singing along to Take That’s Greatest Hits. They need to man up. You’d never see this sort of behaviour in Kirkby or Sutton.

Final port of call is a Retro bar at Clapham Junction. Buying a round of drinks is not for the feint-hearted. Heaven 17s ‘Temptation’ is the pick of the night. There’s a man of the match performance from White Van Man, who sweeps up a rowdy young blonde off her feet, literally.

Attendance: 14,226 (2,500 visiting supporters)

Man of the Match: White Van Man

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coalville Town 4 Dunkirk 4

I’m having a spot of lunch at work. I’m browsing the Internet. I take a slurp of tea from my ‘Budgies are Cool’ mug. My attentions turn to a photograph I’ve just spotted on the BBC Football website. I suddenly start coughing and spluttering. I’ve spat tea all over my desk.

I’m laughing uncontrollably. Oh man, my sides are splitting. Tears fall down my face. ‘The Auctioneer’ becomes concerned and asks if I’m OK. I can only point in the direction of my monitor, as I hold my head in my hands, and try to compose myself.

‘The Auctioneer’ leans over my desk. The photo brings a smile to his face. It must be a practical joke played by some wind-up merchant on the BBC Sports Desk. The headline reads: ‘Chris Sutton linked with managerial vacancy at Ross County.’

Is this the same Chris Sutton who had 14 wins in 51 games at Lincoln City, a club I’ve supported for over 40 years? A man who once refused to play for his country. Later in the week Ross County appoint Jimmy Calderwood as manager, it’s the nearest of near misses.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m regretting my rediscovered love and zest for red wine. At least there’s no paper round duties today.

I can hear the wind and rain battering the window sill. Plans were to have a shufti around Derby and then to head up to Kidsgrove or Newcastle under Lyme. The rain has put the kybosh on that.

Firstly there’s a bit of grovelling to do. I volunteer for a few domestic duties, much to Mrs P’s surprise. She asks me to fetch her glass of water, when I mention I might rustle up a Chilli Con Carne this evening.

I browse the Web. Fixture after fixture is falling victim to waterlogged pitches. The kids have got Soccer AM on. They are showing 10 of the best goals of the season. Shaggy-haired former Lincoln City legend, Gareth Ainsworth, is nominated for a 35 yard blockbuster for his current club, Wycombe Wanderers.

I switch to the cricket World Cup. India have racked up close on 400 against Bangladesh. Two players have bagged tons.

The last game I really fancied has bit the dust (Greenwood Meadows v Ibstock). At this rate I’ll be off to town with Mrs P and the gang.

I make one last desperate attempt at finding a game. I pick up my mobile and press ‘U’. Ian Upton, manager of Midland Alliance side Dunkirk picks up the phone. The vibe sounds good; he’s not ranting and swearing down his handset. He confirms their game against high-flying FA Vase quarter finalists Coalville Town is ON.

I make no secret of my support for Dunkirk. I’ve viewed them 4 or 5 times this season and consider myself a lucky charm. I ask Uppo if the ‘Three Degrees’ are up front for them today. Sadly one of them (Lavelle White) is on his hols in Ibiza.

I slip out the back door. Finley wants a quick chat before I leave. He’s on fine form this week, since he joined Twitter. I’ve been less than impressed with some of his Tweets. He’s proper rinsed Sticky Palms. He predicts a 2-1 win for Coalville.

Talking of Finley, I have to fill up the car with petrol at his favourite village, which is called Bunny. I drive past Keyworth Playing Fields; it is damp and deserted.

There is a bore-off on the radio between Chelsea and Everton. Rammers’ hero, Graham Taylor, is the match day summariser. He is the greatest manager ever to grace Sincil Bank.

I drive through Gotham (no sign of Batman and Robin) and onto the notorious A453. A posse of police cars act as a welcoming party for the bus loads of Cardiff City fans who are en route to The City Ground for this afternoon’s game of the day in the Championship.

Five Live news reports that police have fired teargas and rubber bullets at protestors in Bahrain.

People will be turning Radio 5 off in their droves now, as Mark Pougatch interviews Sheffield Wednesday manager Gary Megson. Who could forget the turgid, mind numbing route one garbage he served up in his short stay in Nottingham? No doubt he’ll have the top button of his shirt undone and will be vigorously chewing on a piece of gum.

I come off the M42, following signs for Conkers, Calke Abbey and Snibston Discovery Park.

I’ve earmarked the Three Horseshoes public house in nearby Whitwick. It was recommended in the lucky dip section of the Good Pub Guide.

The area was decimated by the pit closure programme of the 1970s and 1980s. I notice a boy push off on his skateboard and head down a slope. He overtakes ‘Sally Gunnell.’

I must have passed a dozen pubs or more, but can’t see the Three Horseshoes for love or money. I head into Coalville and after a couple of wrong turnings, I take a left down Owen Street, the home of the Ravens (Coalville Town FC).

Coalville is a market town in North West Leicestershire with a population of over 30,000 people. It is an area rich in history for coal mining. A fire at nearby Whitwick Colliery in 1898 claimed 35 lives.

I came here a few seasons ago and saw Loughborough Dynamo turn them over. A new tick-off is not priority today, I just want to see a good game.

I park the car in a puddle covered car park. I pay my £5 entry and snaffle up a glossy, brilliantly edited programme for a further £1. I head straight to the Clubhouse for a cold drink.

The DJ has plonked a retro disco album on. First up is Barry White’s toe-tapper: ‘You’re My First, My Last, My Everything.’

I ring my boss Mick. Notts County Youth Team have drawn 1-1 at Lincoln City. It’s a good result considering we had six under 16s in the squad.

Three blokes are sat in the corner discussing the Royal Wedding. One guy is effing and jeffing. He says he’d like to torpedo Buckingham Palace – charming.

I speak with The Architect. Unfortunately his Granny has taken a tumble, so he won’t be watching Forest this afternoon.

I bump into ‘Uppo’ who is leant against the railings having a lucky pre-match smoke. Dunkirk are unbeaten in eight. He’s sporting his rugged, unshaven look. With his tea cosy hat he looks like Benny off Crossroads.

The ground is surrounded by the old colliery slag heaps. In the distance, towering in the cloudy skies is the winding gear from a disused colliery. The pitch has stood up well to the rain.

Coalville sweep forward from the off. The Ravens’ forwards Moore and Murdoch look menacing. Ironically Dunkirk spurn the first opportunity of the game with Jarrod ‘Jazzy’ Westcarr (brother of the Pies Craig) whipping in a pinpoint cross which Shannon Grant fails to convert.

Tragedy strikes on 7 minutes, with the unfortunate Ross McCaughey heading into his own net. The Boatmen are rocking, with their defence and midfield all at sea. Shots flash agonisingly past the post.

The pressure tells on 20 minutes with a needless lunge by Beck. Cameron Stuart sends 17 year old stand-in keeper, Jake Want the wrong way from the spot kick.

Dunkirk’s dug out is like a scene from the Guy Ritchie movie ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.’ One or two (supporters and all) let themselves down by abusing the referee. Uppo tries to redress the situation by humouring the man in black: “just give us one, hey ref, give us one.”

No-one can blame the ref for the third one, with a harmless, trickling shot by former Tamworth striker Jermaine Murdoch, after a short corner, is left by Elliott and Want, with both believing the other was dealing with it.

More vitriol and abuse is aimed at the officials, as it is alleged that the corner was taken from outside the quadrant, with a moving ball. I can’t see the ref giving the Boatmen too many 50/50s today.

One of the Coalville centre forwards is heard saying in passing that he fancies the Ravens to hit double figures today.

Dunkirk are underestimated. They have bigger bollocks than any team in this league. They play with heart, soul and spirit. Theo Smith fires a cross in from the right, a mostly redundant Bowles is waving at the crowd, ‘Jazzy’ bundles a shot over the line.

A minute later ‘Jazzy’ pounces on a loose ball down the left, burns the full back off for fun, floats a cross in to the far post, where it’s met with a textbook downward header by Shannon Grant: game on.

I’m mesmerised, captivated and taken in by the events. There’s no chance to draw breath. Dunkirk go for the jugular. Grant and Atkin run amok, Coalville’s number 6 is turned and turned again. Both scuff shots when it looks easier to score.

At the other end young Want redeems himself, tipping a Stuart free kick over the bar. The whistle goes for half time. The DJ plays Side 2 of his 70s Disco album: Harold Melvyn and the Bluenotes ‘Don’t Leave me This Way’ being his choice of track.

The Boatmen are up and at em in the early stages of the second half. Bowles makes a smart save from Grant, whilst a Garmston free kick whistles over the bar.

There’s an appalling challenge by Woodward on the improving former Forest scholar Daniel Elliott. Woodward escapes with just a caution.

With 15 minutes remaining Grant stabs the ball home from close range to set up a frantic conclusion. Eight minutes are left when Coalville attack down the left, the ball is played across the face of goal, where substitute Gardner rolls the ball into an empty net.

Jake Want beats away two efforts from the Ravens as the home side press up the pitch in an effort to finish off the Boatmen.

The game is in its dying embers. Dunkirk look like they are going home empty handed. Grant plays a ball back to McCaughey who whips a cross into the danger area, substitute Jordan Alls lays it off to Theo Smith who smashes home a first time shot which ripples the bottom corner of the net.

Sticky Palms tells Uppo to shut up shop, but he sounds like Russell Osman in the film Escape to Victory, when he bellows at the top of his voice: “Come on lads we can win this one.”

I ask the ref if we can play next goal’s the winner, but the spoil sport blows for time.

Attendance 132 (including a boat load from Nottingham)

Man of the Match: Anthony ‘Chink’ Gregory (Class Act)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blackstones 1 Northampton Spencer 2

It’s Sunday lunchtime; we’ve just spent a horrible morning at Vernon Park in Nottingham. ‘The Skipper’ has lost his fifth semi-final in less than 12 months. On the adjacent pitch two pub sides have been involved in a mass brawl. The emergency services have arrived to deal with the offenders. It’s in full view of 12 year old boys. What an example to set.

We arrive home. I walk out the back door. He’s on all-fours begging to be let out of his cage. I’m talking about Finley Palmer, our pet rabbit. Regular readers will know that 6 months ago he escaped from my clutches and spent a night out on the town. He turned up the following morning looking sorrowful and mournful.

The Rabbit Court issued a five month ASBO order. We’ve barely spoke in months. I’ve fed and watered him, and cleaned his crib out each week, in total silence. We’ve not shared any football predictions; I’ve not given him any special treats: I’ve proper blanked him.

But it’s time to forgive and forget. I lift the lid off his cage and plonk him at the top of the concrete steps. He shakes his head in disbelief, hops down the stairs, scurries to the bottom of the garden and dives under the shed.

It’s a full hour before he re-emerges. We entice him out with a carrot. I’m flipping fuming. I’ve had to act as a lookout, whilst listening to Mrs P’s i-pod by mistake. An hour of Westlife and Boyzone has sent me stir crazy.

I place Finley back into his crib. It will be late August before he makes another appearance in our garden again.

Highlight of the week was on Tuesday night when I sloped off on my lonesome to watch Greenwood Meadows entertain Holwell Sports, from Melton Mowbray, at Lenton Lane. I love watching Greenwood with their high energy and amusing manager Nev Silcock.

Nev and his coaching team were in a grumpy mood. The wisecracks were replaced with perpetual moaning and whining. The poor old referee was bearing the brunt of it. Come on Nev, cheer up, you won 3-1.

Sticky junior is sleeping over at a mate’s house. Poor old Groundhopper rises at 6.30am to carry out junior’s paper round. Events in Egypt dominate the front pages. The Daily Mail chooses to bleat about women’s pensions.

I’ve got one helluva of a day in store. First port of call is to watch the Notts County under 8s in a practise match at the University Grounds. I view proceedings and have a bit of craic with the coaches, before walking back to the car.

I say good morning to Mick Leonard, Darren Davies and Youth Team Manager, Michael Johnson – the U18s are playing Burton Albion at the same venue. I notice a lad from Nottingham is trialling out for the Brewers.

Next stop is Bilborough Pelican FC’s ground, which is at the end of Lenton Lane, and is shared with Unity Casuals Cricket Club. The football pitches are tendered and loved by Nottinghamshire 2009 Groundsman of the Year and blog favourite, Neil Swift. When the children were younger we had a photo of Swifty on top of the fireplace; the kids never got burnt once.

Swifty bollocks me for not mentioning him in the blog recently. His girlfriend is a manager at the Co-op. I’m hoping she’s good for some discount off a bottle of red wine. He’s in full flow now about the art of growing grass; it’s a good cure for any insomniacs out there.

‘The Skipper’ is playing at Swifty’s ground. It’s David versus Goliath. I fearful of a cricket score and have agreed to help our coach during the game. It’s our cup final. I had asked the lads if they wanted to get measured up for a ‘whistle and flute’ so we could have a stroll up and down the snooker table type surface that Swifty has nurtured.

“Oi, you lot, get off the bloomin pitch” shouts a red-faced Swifty. We settle for Plan B and go into the changing room for a pre-match get together.

We manage to hold out for 25 minutes before the inevitable avalanche of goals. ‘The Skipper’ is off his game today, I think he found the pressure cooker atmosphere a touch too hot. I’m hoping we can relax a bit more next season in Division 2. And that the lads can gel and enjoy the fabulous facilities that our Club at Keyworth have built.

I say au revoir to Mrs P and race back home in the ‘Rolls Royce.’ There’s time for a quick wash and change before nipping round Rammers’ house. Wayne Rooney has just put ‘United’ one up in the Manchester derby.

Rammers is a legend on the Midlands non league circuit. He has managed and coached at more clubs than Gary Megson. It’s unbelievable with his fountain of knowledge and fully qualified UEFA Licensed badges, that an opportunity has not arisen this season.

I’m not complaining though because John is good company. He tells a tale of a sparrow hawk that swooped down into his garden earlier in the week, and lifted a shrew out of some shrubs. Unfortunately for Kes, John’s cat, Georgie, was on sentry duty on top of the garage. He leapt into the shrubs and flattened the hawk.

Despite John’s best attempts and a call to the RSPB, the hawk was declared dead at the scene. I will have to warn Finley to be extra vigilante next time he stays out late, as Georgie lives at the back of our garden.

Rammers says there are temporary lights on the A606 and that Melton Mowbray could be a logistical nightmare at this time of day. He takes me on a supposed short cut. I’m not saying we have gone out of our way readers, but I’ve had to stop twice for petrol.

After a ten minute drive around the beautiful, historic town of Stamford, we finally find Blackstones’ Lincoln Road ground.

I stick the ‘Rolls Royce’ on a side street, smack opposite the ground. We stroll towards the entrance and are met by a couple of friendly officials. It’s £5 each for entry including a programme (thanks John). Rammers also snaffles up a couple of strips of raffle tickets.

Stamford is a town in the county of Lincolnshire with a population of 20,000. The infamous Daniel Lambert died in Stamford in 1809; he weighed in at just over 52 stone. He used to travel the country exhibiting himself. He died suddenly in the bedroom of a public house. They had to knock the wall down to get him out. It took twenty men to lower him into his grave.

Other well known folk born in the town include: the author and creator of Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter and former Middlesbrough and Derby County striker, Malcolm Christie.

I‘m immediately impressed with the ground. It has the feel and look of a village recreation field. The Social Club is behind one goal, with a housing estate bordering the other goal. On our left is an old stand with green wooden seating, with further covering down the touchline. Opposite are the two dug outs, with older terraced housing behind it.

We have a quick peek in the Club. I have a can of coke and notice that most eyes are on England playing rugby.

It’s turned into a gorgeous day as the teams await the kick off. The waft of smoke from a bonfire hangs in the air.

My first observation is how excited the Northampton Spencer bench become when the referee has to make a decision. We decide after a dull opening to walk over and study their staff.

Spencer look the more stylish team. The athleticism of their front two asks questions of the Stones’ defence. Former Leicester City youth player, 19 year old Romanian, Claudiu Hoban, has already crashed a shot against the crossbar, with the rebound being headed over from six yards by the Number 10.

Against the run of play Blackstones take the lead. The away side are too busy arguing about another decision from the ref, to notice a quickly taken free-kick has sent Addie Staffieri motoring down the wing, his cross is bundled over the line by Elton Holmes.

The Spencer bench pour scorn on the officials. I remark to their small, rotund coach that his side switched off. He replies with hatred in his eyes: “What the f**k do you know about football?” To which I reply: “I know one thing mate, you’re losing 1-0.”

The queue at the Refreshment Bar shows no sign of easing. The guy pouring tea doesn’t appear hurried. I notice a sign advertising for a Groundsman. I’ll tip Swifty the wink.

Spencer do a warm-up routine before the second half. It reminds me of something Brian Glover did as the football mad sports teacher in the 1970 film Kes.

A filthy black cloud is hanging over the ground. We watch the beginning of the second half in the ‘Main Stand.’

We take another stroll. I expect Spencer to push on and win. Remarkably Blackstones spurn a couple of chances to extend their lead.

We’re stood behind the goal when Hoban swings in a left footed free kick from the right hand side. Blackstones ‘keeper misjudges the flight, the ball clips the underside of the bar and drops over the line.

Rammers is checking out a huge shed in one of the gardens, where a guy keeps his pigeons. I’m taking a few snaps of a couple of roosters who are strutting in the undergrowth.

Spencer have thrown on a sub who looks older than me. He somehow bundles the ball over the line with a shot that Mrs P could have scored with. It’s enough to give the visitors the win they deserve.

Blackstones miserable day is completed with the dismissal of Holmes for a second yellow card. I finish the day talking to Northampton Spencer’s solitary away supporter. Even their committee aren’t here today.

Attendance: 73 (one away supporter)

Man of the Match: Georgie Ramshaw.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wollaton 0 Clifton 4

I’m in the office at work. I’ve just made a ‘four bagger’ pot of tea. It’s quality. I notice my mobile vibrating. On the display it says Mrs P is calling in. It’s unusual for her to contact me during working hours, unless it’s to check that I Sky Plussed Wild at Heart in HD.

I nervously and hesitantly take the call. “I’ve got some bad news for you” says Mrs P. Oh my god, hope the kids are alright, that nothing has happened to the in-laws, or God forbid, Finley Palmer (rabbit) hasn’t escaped from his cage again.

“I’ve had a mishap with your tea pot; it has fallen to the floor and is smashed to smithereens. I feel the back of my throat dry up. My heart beats ten to the dozen. I press the red button on my phone and cut Mrs P off.

A tear rolls down my cheek as I think of the good times me and that teapot have had. It was one of those little brown ones that your Granny used to have. I think back to the fantastic brews we have shared over the five years of its short life. I remember a particular good mash, one cold and bleak Saturday, back in February 2006.

I know that it wasn’t a malicious act that Mrs P carried out, but I can’t possibly speak to her right now. It’s a day of mourning. Mrs P rushed out to replace it with a black and white spotted one. But it’s just not the same.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m 47 today. I overindulged on the red wine last night and feel slightly worse for wear. I’ve a few schoolboy games to scout this morning. I wind the window down as I head into Nottingham, for some much needed fresh air.

Brian Blessed is shouting and yawping on Five Live. The presenter tries his best to prevent the ‘Bearded Wonder’ from swearing.

I finally end up down at the Highfields University Sports Fields. Nottingham Schools are handing out a good hiding to their Derby counterparts. I notice that bungling fool, Roscoe, (son of Big D) is in the nets for the u15s. We exchange pleasantries before I have a de-brief with my boss from Notts County.

I had earlier in the morning bumped into Justin Evans (‘Cookie’) who plays for Gedling Southbank. I josh with him that he’s had more clubs than Robbie Keane. He’s one of those characters you could only find in Nottingham.

Back home Mrs P has very kindly knocked up some carrot soup with bread and cheese. ‘The Skipper’ hasn’t got a game on today. I’d whizzed down to the Nottingham Forest FC earlier in the morning to purchase a ticket for the game against Watford. I was getting some peculiar looks as I was queuing up to pay. It was only when I walked outside that I realised that I’d got all my Notts County clobber on.

Mrs P is off to watch Junior down at Regatta Way in West Bridgford. He has a rematch up in Gainsborough next week and has a few old scores to settle with some moron who tried to snap his legs in two with a horror tackle.

I’m in ‘Sally Gunnell’ and on my way to Chilwell to watch a game. I switch the radio on. The vastly underrated Sunderland midfielder, Greenwich born Kieran Richardson, has given the Black Cats the lead at the Britannia Stadium.

The wind is whistling, the skies are darkening and the rain begins to beat down on my windscreen. I’m on the characterless and soulless Clifton Bridge, on the Nottingham outer ring road. I drive past Evans Halshaw, Showcase Cinema and the ten pin bowling alley.

The road towards Beeston is clogged up with traffic. I park up and spot a coach from Plumtree Cricket Club, who has come to watch his lad play. I view my game. The player I’ve come to watch doesn’t disappoint. He’s aggressive and competitive.

Time isn’t on my side, nor Sunderland’s, they’ve gone down 3-2. Jimmy Armfield is summing up the game for Five Live on their lunchtime broadcast. He doesn’t waffle on like David Pleat tends to.

It’s gone 2.30pm when I pull up adjacent to the Wollaton Sports Association. It’s exactly 47 years to the nearest minute since I arrived in this world at the Bromhead Hospital in Lincoln.

Wollaton is a village in the west of Nottingham. It is home to Wollaton Park which has a museum, deer, lake and golf course. The Park housed Prisoners of War during the World Wars and USA serviceman.

As mentioned in previous dispatches Mr and Mrs P had their first date in the delightful Admiral Rodney public house, which is situated opposite the ground.

Ex Notts County footballers who still live in the area include: Mick Leonard, Ian McParland and Iain McCulloch. Nottingham Forest striker and former Pie, David McGoldrick, was also brought up in the area. Award-winning actress Samantha Morton was born in Wollaton.

Calvin Harris and The Pet Shop Boys topped the bill at the ‘Splendour Festival’ in Wollaton Park last summer.

It’s my first blog of the season in the NSL. I’ve only the Notts Police to visit to complete a full set. I often browse the best message board in the world. Gossip is rife that one or two are jumping ship to the newly formed Central Midlands League South for the 2011/2012 season.

Forest Town bit the dust after four month rollercoaster ride. It is said that they felt unloved and unwanted. I was always suspicious of their arrival, it created, in my opinion, an unlevel playing field. They were pretty vocal when it was going well, particularly in the Vase. The silence from Mansfield was deafening when the club resigned from the league.

The game is already five minutes old. Wollaton are unbeaten in the last five league games and look the stronger of the two sides in the first 15 minutes. Clifton are indebted to their keeper for two smart blocks, with a Wollo forward clean through.

Clifton’s marquee signing last season was leading scorer Michael Evans, who netted 27 times as the All Whites clinched the NSL championship. He wriggles his way through the home defence, but loses control of the ball, which falls fortuitously to Neil Thompson who has made a lung-bursting run from deep in his own half; he rolls the ball into an empty net.

It’s blowing a gale and drizzling with rain, but there’s something romantic about this ground. It’s tree-lined down two sides. There are covers protecting the cricket pitch. All the hedges to the adjoining houses are neatly trimmed and the gardens expertly pruned.

Wollaton’s confidence is dented. Evans scores a scruffy goal when the home side fail to clear their lines.

Referee Andy Rolph is an entertaining fellow. He contributes to an entertaining game by letting the football flow. The standard of refereeing in this league is generally high.

Karl Mitchell picks the ball up on the right, as once again the Wollaton defence are at sixes and sevens. He drills a ball across the face of goal for Evans to expertly guide a shot into the back of the net.

Poor old Ian Lowe, the Wollaton manager, looks devastated. His side’s passing game has gone unrewarded. His wide men have little effect on the game. On my last visit, a year ago, Wollo’s defence shipped six goals.

I’ve been stood behind the goal that Clifton have attacked with the Wollaton right back’s Dad. He has an unsurpassable knowledge of the NSL scene.

The Clifton management puff their chests out. It’s been a pleasing opening half for the visitors, but the scoreline flatters them slightly.

I take a stroll to the cosiest clubhouse on the circuit. A group of lads are playing darts and swigging Budweiser lager out of bottles. People peer up at the latest scores on ‘Soccer Saturday.’ Marcus Tudgay has scored ‘early doors’ for the Tricky Trees.

A friendly, smiling lady pours a cup of tea out of the pot. The brew can only be bettered this season by Keyworth United FC. It’s marked with an 8.5.

Any hopes of a reversal of fortune for Ian Lowe’s team quickly vanish. They hit the top of the upright from a corner. Clifton counterattack in numbers; they produce the move of the match with four swift passes, another cross comes in from the right, and is bravely blocked on the line by the ‘keeper.

Scott Huckerby (brother of Darren) comes off the bench. The game is wrapped up by Clifton with another clinical finish from Evans following a left wing cross from Huckerby. Once again Clifton have numbers forward and have broke at a blistering pace.

Evans may take all the plaudits but Sticky Palms can’t take his eye off Clifton centre half Jake Richardson. His defending has been first rate, his heading world class.

I see a disconsolate Ian Lowe trudging towards the dressing room. He has kept his calm and cajoled his players, but if I was him I wouldn’t bother buying a National Lottery ticket tonight, particularly the ‘Lucky Dip.’

Man of the Match: Jake Richardson (5 Jacket)