Saturday, July 30, 2011

Daventry Town 2 Enfield Town 0

It was around 3pm when I heard the news that she would have to be kept in overnight. They said she was comfortable and were hopeful of performing surgery sometime the following morning. It’s a restless night for Sticky Palms; nights apart have been rare during our long and loving relationship.

I get the call at midday that the operation has been a complete success. The necessary paperwork has been signed, the management have released her, I’m told I can collect her at 5pm.

It’s a tearful reunion. I cling tightly to her body, particularly where the new welding has taken place, not ever wanting to let her go. £137 to get her battered body back on the road for another year: well done ‘Sally Gunnell.’

It’s Sunday morning, I’m sat on the patio eating breakfast, watching the boys play cricket in the back garden. Sticky jnr bowls a half volley, ‘The Skipper’ is onto it like a flash, dispatching it through the covers for four. It ricochets off the wheelbarrow, loops up in the air and drops over the fence into our next door neighbour’s garden.

They are not just any old neighbour, it’s ‘George and Mildred’ – who regular readers will know that Sticky Palms has had his run-ins with in the past. ‘The Skipper’ is inconsolable with grief. He has just lost our one and only brand new Incrediball.

I climb onto the step ladders and peer over the fence. I spot the ball nestled at the bottom of a raspberry bush. I ask Finley, our rabbit, if he fancies digging a tunnel from his cage under the fence to retrieve the ball. He says today is Sunday and his day of rest. I reply that he’ll never land the part as an extra in Watership Down.

Six hours later Sticky jnr plucks up the courage to knock on ‘George and Mildred’s’ door. He talks like Inspector Blakey off On the Buses; she looks like Olive, Arthur’s wife. The ball has mysteriously disappeared. They claim they have never seen it. The bastards have confiscated it. I call Sticky jnr back home.

I’ve had a couple of Stellas and I’m about to lose my temper with them. I shout over the fence that they must have more balls in their house than JJB Sports. I’m flipping fuming readers.

Half an hour later Mrs P walks into the lounge with an orange ball in her hand, it had been left in the porch by an anonymous person. They have been shamed into returning it back. I click open another Stella in celebration.

It’s Friday evening. Taggart and I are being driven into Nottingham city centre by a very attractive South African lady. We walk past the 4500 miles from Delhi restaurant on Maid Marian Way, across the road is the Park Plaza hotel. A handful of Indian cricket supporters are milling around the entrance waiting for the Indian team bus to arrive from Trent Bridge.

I have a few beers at the Castle Inn and Fat Cat, but I’m not in the mood and feel dog tired. I’ve been on the phone for 20 minutes sorting out a problem at the Pies. I’m tucked up in bed before midnight.

Sticky jnr needs a hand with his papers; he has the biggest round in Keyworth. According to the headlines the Tax Office is in ‘chaos’ and Cheryl Cole is returning to X-Factor.

The lads are playing a Test match in the back garden. Finley takes one for the team at extra cover. He’s injured his left front paw, a little bit like ‘Swanny’ did yesterday for England. I ask him for a score prediction, he replies he’s wounded, and can I ask him later.

I drive down to Highfields Hockey Centre on University Boulevard. Notts County Youth are entertaining Cheltenham Town. We could be three up in the first 90 seconds. We give away a soft goal and never really get going.

I drop the boys off at Plumtree for cricket. Mrs P has made me a chicken and cheese baguette for lunch. I watch a bit of cricket as India appear to take control of the 2nd Test at Trent Bridge.

The Nuclear Scientist arrives on cue. We drive down the A46 and onto the M1 southbound, leaving at Junction 18. Jonathan Agnew keeps us entertained on Test Match Special.

Daventry is a market town in Northamptonshire with a population of over 20,000. Due to its good transport links the town has become a major warehousing and manufacturing centre. Daventry International Railfreight Terminal is a major terminal for freight change between road and rail.

We pass one after another of huge industrial estates. Eddie Stobart and Wetherspoons are just two of the major players. ‘Dog Attacks on the Rise’ is the headline splashed on the front page of the Daventry Express.

I’ve not bothered bringing the Sat Nav as I perversely enjoy the challenge of finding a ground. After crossing more roundabouts than can be found in nearby Milton Keynes we finally stumble across Communications Park.

It’s £5 entry but sadly no programme issued for today’s friendly game. We’re both dying of thirst, so snuck into the plush clubhouse. NS has a shandy whilst Sticky Palms raises the bar with a pint of San Miguel. It’s a kind of dummy run for my 10 days in Ibiza.

We get chatting with the friendly bar staff. They recommend viewing the game from the balcony on the second floor.

We climb the stairs and position ourselves smack bang on the half way line. It’s a pleasant enough ground. Trees are behind one goal with some scrubland across the far side.

Daventry Town are managed by former Republic of Ireland and Aston Villa midfielder Mark Kinsella. The chairman has made a few wonga from the mobile phone industry. He has certainly splashed out a few bob on this fine-looking clubhouse.

Enfield Town, from the Ryman League Division One North, are today’s visitors. It’s my first view of a London non-league side in ages. Well known footballers born in Enfield include: Michael Duberry, Henri Lansbury and Steve Morison.

Enfield are sporting a ghastly red and gold striped kit. Their helpful secretary, who we’ve been chatting with for the last hour informs me the new kit will have the same colours but with hoops.

The visitors look the more accomplished team in the opening half an hour. They have pace down both flanks. Both their forwards are always on the move.

News arrives by text from Mrs P that Cotgrave already have seven men back in the hutch. Sticky jnr has bagged 5 wkts, while ‘The Skipper’ has weighed in with the other two. It’s a bitter sweet moment for me as I really ought to be there. What sort of Dad am I?

Twice Enfield spurn chances, blazing over the bar when in good positions. Daventry begin to gain confidence. Former Yeovil and Peterborough United striker Howard Forinton leads their line. He was banned from the game for four months last season, after being found guilty of betting on a game he was playing in (Redditch v Stalybridge Celtic).

Daventry finish the half with the upper hand. I particularly like the flashes of brilliance from 21 year old Romanian playmaker Claudia Hoban, who I first spotted playing for Blackstones last season.

We’re back in the upstairs bar again. NS opts for shandy again; Sticky Palms plays it safe with a Diet Pepsi.

The sun is beating down and the pitch is already beginning to look a little worn. Daventry play a higher tempo game in the second period. Enfield have thrown on a few second string and trialists.

Daventry’s exciting young winger, Casimir Pangne, plays a give and go, he bursts into the box and pokes the ball into the corner of the net. The goal is met with silence from the charming Enfield secretary.

Daventry double their lead later in the half with a header from Scott Cross following a sublime ball in from ‘Claudia.’

Enfield have run out of steam and ideas. Their second string have made little impression. We jump into the car and tune into Radio 4 LW, just in time to hear Stuart Broad take a hat-trick in one of the most eventful tests at Trent Bridge in living memory.

Man of the Match: Sticky jnr (Sorry Broady)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

St Neots Town 3 Peterborough United 7

It’s Wednesday evening. It’s drizzling rain out of the slate-grey skies. I’m stood on the Victoria Embankment watching sixteen boys playing football with jumpers for goalposts. They’re laughing and joking.

There are acres and acres of land on this flood plain. Apart from a few dog walkers there’s no-one in sight. A short chip and run away is the notorious Meadows Estate in Nottingham. It’s been a breeding ground for footballers. Well known include: Jermaine Pennant, Julian Bennett, Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson.

The Meadows is an architectural disaster. It has endless snickets and an ugly design. Nottinghamshire Police used to patrol it on bicycles. It’s a place where I like to scout for young footballers, lads that are looking for a pathway to escape.

The boys have finished their match; the score is 17-16. They head back up to Trent Bridge after a debrief from their coach. It’s been a team-bonding exercise. There are high jinks and frolics as the lads walk along the banks of the Trent.

They all disappear into McDonalds on the Radcliffe Road. They re-emerge half an hour later with stomachs full and aching limbs. They are a smashing set of lads, no trouble whatsoever. They’re respectful, polite and well-brought up. And another thing; I’m proud to be their football coach.

We’ve survived relegation by the skin of our teeth. Next season we will once again play top-flight football in our County. I’ve strengthened the team, but it remains full of local lads. I could trawl Nottingham recruiting players like other sad managers do in our league. But they are all missing the point. Football is about playing with your mates, building relationships and having memories.

Bring on the season. I won’t be bullied out of the ‘job’ like I was four seasons ago. I will be running the side NOT the parents. We won’t be arguing with referees or querying decisions. We’ll be respectful to our opponents. Any child protection issues will be dealt with swiftly and not swept under the carpet like they were four years ago.

I’ll still groundhop with Trumpy Bolton now and again, but Saturday’s this season will be mainly taken up watching these boys playing the beautiful game.

I’ve already racked up 20 pre-season goals. I saw Arnold Town and Boston United share six goals, Lincoln City thump four past Ilkeston and Crewe’s Shaun Miller bag five in a 9-1 romp at Quorn.

I rise at 5.30am. That bottle of Red has done for me. I begin to write this blog, pausing occasionally to slurp a much-needed cup of Alta Rica coffee. I might as well deliver Sticky Jnr’s papers. The tabloids are filled with sickening images from Norway, as news emerges that a madman has gone on the rampage killing over 80 teenagers at a youth camp on Utoeya Island.

Sticky jnr has emerged from his slumber. We jump in ‘Sally Gunnell’ and head down to the Munch Box in Ruddington for breakfast. We both wolf down a full English cob.

I’m having a potter around the garden. I lift Finley out of his cage and ask him for another of his infamous crap football predictions. He says that St Neots will ‘get a good hiding.’

Mrs P asks me what contribution, if any, I’ve made to household this morning. I reply that I’ve dead-headed the hanging baskets – if looks could kill readers.

The Sat Nav can’t find the Hunts Post Community Stadium. Sod it, I’ll find it easy peasy; I mean come on, have I ever got lost on my travels before?

An hour and twenty minutes later I’m stuck in a bottle-neck in the picturesque market town of St Neots. The ‘Rolls Royce’ hasn’t moved in ten minutes. There are hundreds of Posh fans milling around, there’s a fun day at St Neots Rugby Club and it’s Regatta Weekend at St Neots Rowing Club.

Bloody hell, it’s gridlock folks, and you’ve guessed it: I’m lost. I phone Ackers, a childhood friend, we’re hooking up today. He’s also lost. I dump the ‘Rolls Royce’ the wrong side of town. I jog (come on Sticky, don’t you means walk briskly) onto the High Street.

I recognise a black Range Rover cruising down the road; it’s the legend Ackers. We’re soon at the ground.

St Neots is a market town that lies on the River Great Ouse and has a population of 26,000. The town is named after the Cornish monk St Neot whose remains were stolen from the village of St Neot on Bodmin Moor and concealed in the nearby priory of the same name.

John Bellingham, the only man to have ever assassinated a British Prime Minster (Spencer Perceval in 1812) was born in the town. Apparently he was none too chuffed to find out he was unable to claim compensation for being unfairly imprisoned in Russia.

Former Rock Folly and Coronation Street actress Rula Lenska was born in St Neots. She was once married to Dennis Waterman: would love to see Dennis and Trumpy Bolton on the sauce together.

It’s £5 on the gate (Cheers Ack). Fair play to the Saints, they could have made a killing, bearing in mind that Darren Ferguson has brought along his first team squad. The programmes have sold out. Shame that, quite enjoy reading the collection I’ve amassed over the last five years.

We head straight for the bar. Ackers has a lager shandy, whilst Sticky opts for an orange Lucozade – that ‘jog’ has got me in all of lather. Ackers bumps into a work colleague. He has a mate who is pished already. The man tells boring after boring anecdotes. I’m wearing a Notts County polo shirt, the bore asks me if I support Leeds Utd. I make my excuses and exit the bar.

The ground is top notch. It’s an out-of-town stadia, to the rear of a new housing development. A lot of thought has gone into design though. There’s a brick Clubhouse and also a separate bar at the far end of the ground.

St Neots Town are owned by a successful retired businessman and have not been shy in splashing the cash. I was sent on a spying mission by Sven Goran Eriksson’s Chief Scout at Notts County, Graham Carr, a few years back, during the Munto Finance saga. The Saints were playing at Northampton Spencer. St Neots manager was former Northern Ireland midfielder Steve Lomas, his assistant was Michael Hughes. Ex Fulham star Sylvain Legwinski was also on the coaching staff.

I find the perfect view and perch myself up the top of a bank behind Darren Ferguson’s dugout. Posh are already one to the good.

Paul Taylor has hit the onion bag. I remember this lad when he was at Vauxhall Motors. He has a good change of gear. He scored on trial for Nottingham Forest reserves after only 60 seconds. Sadly he was banned from the game for six months after failing a drugs test. It’s good to see him back.

Ackers has managed to give the resident drunk the slip. We catch up on the gossip. The Saints equalise on 30 minutes following a sustained spell of pressure by Posh, with defender Chris Hope hitting a stunning, curling effort into the top corner of the net.

St Neots Junior Konuda has been running rings around the Posh. The ball sticks to his feet like glue. He can pick a pass and run with the ball. He puts the Saints 2-1 up with a delightful finish. It was only a few years ago that he was playing parks football. He had a year with John Still at Dagenham & Redbridge but suffered a broken leg.

Posh immediately counter-attack. Big cheese George Boyd, who couldn’t quite cut the mustard at The City Ground, restores parity.

Moments later Peterborough take the lead through Boyd once again, following a fine passing move. I’ve been studying Darren Ferguson and he strikes me as being a bit of a miserable so and so – must run in the family.

Daddy’s helped him out though. Three have come in from Old Trafford on loan, whilst striker Nicky Ajose has signed a four year contract for an ‘undisclosed’ fee. Ferguson takes his players through a brief coaching session at the break. St Neots show off their pop up water sprinklers.

I’ve perked up now my two favourite players have emerged from the bench. Lee Frecklington and Lee Tomlin begin to boss the game. Both end up on the score sheet. Frecklington has recently come off the transfer list; there were strong rumours that Notts County were in for him. He scores from close range, only for St Neots substitute Lewis Hilliard to race down the other end, round the ‘keeper and squeeze the ball home.

We’ve seen enough and exit early to beat the rush. Now where the hell have I parked my car?