Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gornal Athletic 6 Coventry Sphinx 0

If you walk out our back door, down some steps into the garden, past Finley’s cage, there is a house and bungalow nestled into the corner of a cul-de-sac, adjacent to ‘Sticky Towers.’ They were built by a guy who my Dad described as his ‘only friend outside of journalism.’ In the house lives a lad called Sam, his father, Bobby, coached my son at football. His Dad, Arthur Oldham, is a well-known local figure.

Sam’s life has been on hold for over a decade now. He has chased the sporting dream. He moved away from home, when he was younger, to Huntingdon, to train as a gymnast. There was no Playstation, Youth Club or cinema. Early mornings and late nights were, and still are, spent in the gymnasium. His goal was the London 2012 Olympics.

A few weeks ago that dream came true. The hard graft and dedication paid off; he won a Bronze Medal. A relative of Sam’s placed a bet of £5 at 200/1 that he would win a medal at the Games. Bet Fred has refused to pay out £1000, as it was a team event, and not an individual medal. A complaint has been registered with The Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) and it is hopeful that the bet will be honoured.

Friday night is spent slurping Stella and watching a rejuvenated Nottingham Forest grab a deserved point at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. Sean O’Driscoll appears to be a humble and gracious man, unlike the Trotters’ Owen Coyle, who comes across as a bitter and sarcastic individual. He’s not enjoying wearing dead man’s shoes.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way into ‘Bread and Lard Island’ (West Bridgford). I swing the ‘Rolls Royce’ into the library car park. Mrs P asks if I’ve money for the parking fee: “no I haven’t.” Neither has the good lady.

A traffic warden is on the prowl, licking his fingers in anticipation of dishing out his next parking ticket. He looks like Inspector Blakey from ‘On the Buses.’ Mrs P has to go and buy a six pack of Tuna chunks, for the record in brine, from the nearby Co-op, so we can pay the parking charge.

We stroll around the Farmers’ Market. Sticky samples some cheddar and ginger and piri piri Scotch eggs. The cafe culture is in full swing on ‘The Avenue.’ All seats are taken outside ‘Copper.’ I plonk myself on a chair in the cafe. The place is full of folk tapping away on iPads and netbooks.

I check-in on Twitter. Sticky junior’s best mate, ‘Sizzers’, has successfully begged a retweet off Olympic medallist Sam Oldham. That rat, ‘Sizzers’, has more followers than me now. Game on son. We sit chewing the crud whilst sipping latte and watching the world go by.

I pass a guy on the street who is wearing a retro claret and blue Tranmere Rovers shirt, with the name ‘Muir’ printed on the back. This of course is Ian Muir, who scored 142 goals in 314 appearances for the Birkenhead club.

We arrive home to be met by the sulkiest budgie in Keyworth. I forgot to leave the radio on for Murphy and he’s proper got the face on. He’s been in big trouble this week as he has pecked off the ‘full stop’ on my keyboard. Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’ gets him fluttering about the cage.

Black clouds begin to roll in and there’s a rumble of thunder as I begin my journey to the West Midlands. I hate driving to Birmingham, and today is no exception. The M6 & M5 are clogged up with Bank Holiday traffic. There are three entries in the ‘lucky dip’ section of the Good Pub Guide in Lower Gornal, but a late arrival scuppers any best laid plans.

I presume I’ve driven through Dudley, as I’ve seen the remains of a castle and cable cars near Dudley Zoo. Well known characters from these neck of the woods include: Sue Lawley, Duncan Edwards, Lenny Henry and Billy Dainty. The town is twinned with Fort William in Scotland and Bremen in Germany.

I park up in a residential area close to the ground. I’m bloody parched after that piri piri Scotch egg, so I dive into the Peacocks Sports Bar for some light refreshment. I tell you what readers; they’re hardly a barrel of laughs in this bar. I thought I’d walked into Royston Vasey or the Crossroads Motel. I try to exchange in some small talk with a guy who has just seen Dudley-born Sam Allardyce’s West Ham Utd get tonked by Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. Perhaps he misunderstood my East Midlands accent.

The ‘Mini Sizzler’ is lighting up the fires in anticipation of some brisk business, as punters roll out of the bar and head towards the turnstile. I’ve read about the Garden Walk Stadium on various groundhopping forums. It doesn’t fail to disappoint as I hand over £5 to a young guy at the entrance. I’m told that the printers are on holiday, and so no programmes have been issued; that old chestnut, eh?

The clubhouse is positioned at the top of 20 concrete steps which provides an outstanding view of the area. It’s like a mini Spion Kop, which is very unusual for this level. There are four navy blue-painted crash barriers.

I stroll behind the goal and position myself on the far side of the ground. The sun peeps out from behind the clouds as the two teams enter the field of play. I noted on the Coventry Sphinx website that their season ended in turmoil with the resignation of the Chairman and Management Team, following the decision not to apply for Level 4 status which would have set the Club back £100,000.

Kick-off is delayed for the removal of dog pooh, a common occurrence in Non-League football. A guy shuffles past me carrying a clipboard. He’s suited, booted and means business: he’s the referee’s assessor. Great!

The visitors are bloomin awful. They have clearly lost a lot of players that brought them success on the field last season. The game is over as a contest after half an hour as the Peacocks blow the Sphinx away. I catch the match ball from a Sphinx ale house clearance, Geoff Boycott would be proud.

My phone goes off; it’s the greatest ever youth scout in the East Midlands. ‘Gouldy’ has unearthed another gem. We have a little natter for five minutes while Gornal play keep ball.

I spend the final ten minutes of the first half viewing the game from the ‘Spion Kop.’ Folk are moaning about how bad the ‘Mini Sizzler’ burgers are. In fact they are moaning and groaning about everything. Bloody hell, they can’t half moan round here.

One team that has got the right to have a good old moan and groan today are Exeter City who have had to make a 550 mile round trip to Accrington. Even worse than this is the late postponement of Reading’s game at the Stadium of Light (600 miles). Sphinx deteriorate in the second period.

There centre back is treading water and gasping for air. The excellent Ravi Sangha completes a hat-trick. A free kick from Gater thuds off the crossbar.

I take one final, admiring glance at the ‘Spion Kop’ before departing the ground. I trudge past the Referee’s Assessor who is meticulously jotting down notes. “10 out of 10 for the Ref mate” I smirk. “Thanks”,he replies.

Attendance: 60

Man of the Match: Ravi Sangha

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hemsworth Miners Welfare 3 Rossington Main 4

I’m driving out of Highbury, the one in Fleetwood, and not where ‘The Arsenal’ used to play in north London. Rain is pelting down and bouncing off the ‘Rolls Royce’ windscreen as we head out towards the M6.

What a charming and engaging club Fleetwood Town are. The stewards and bar staff are friendly, obliging and courteous. Their mascot, ‘Captain Cod’, is a legend. He was flamed good and proper by the Tricky Tree supporters, but took it in his stride by flapping his fins.

Two days later I tweet him my match report; he retweets it to his Cod Army followers. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the North West. Sticky junior and I have spotted that Forest are due at Bloomfield Road, home to the Tangerines of Blackpool, during October half term. We’ll book a day out on the supporters’ coach for that one.

The two highlights of the week have been the performance of Sean Bean, playing a cross-dresser in the brilliant Jimmy McGovern drama ‘The Accused’ and Mrs P writing off a saucepan which she forgot to turn off whilst boiling three eggs for my snap tin.

It’s Friday evening, and I’m driving along Cotgrave Lane. Sticky junior is off for a night’s dossing in Cotgrave, an old mining village. Mrs P has gone to a leaving do at the swanky Sanctuary Restaurant in Saxondale.

I grab a pizza. Murphy sits on my shoulder as we listen to Five Live’s ‘Kicking Off’ show presented by Colin Murray and featuring the amusing Perry Groves and Pat Nevin. I take a wander round to the ‘Nuclear Scientist’s’ crib on Debdale Lane. We neck a couple of bottles of real ale and fight it out on the table tennis table. Honours are even as I turn in for an early night.

I give the Brian Matthew’s Sound of the 60s show a wide berth on Saturday morning – it was piss poor the previous week. Mrs P tootles off shopping in Clifton. I ask her to pop into Wilkinson’s to fetch me a new pair of reading glasses, as I crushed mine the other evening. I take my under 15 squad for a light training session, mindful of the humid conditions. The season starts on Sept 8th and it will mean I can only groundhop on Saturdays every so often.

I manage a quick chat with Keyworth’s favourite rabbit, Finley Palmer. Poor old ‘Fin’ had a torrid time with his Euro 2012 score predictions. He gives Hemsworth Miners Welfare the kiss of death by predicting a 3-1 home win. The silly old sausage hasn’t taken into account the gruelling extra time they played out at Runcorn Linnets in an FA Cup replay last Tuesday.

I head up the A614 and onto the A1. Nottingham-born radio presenter and commentator, Darren Fletcher, is reporting on the Championship opener between Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. ‘Gangsta’ will be kicking-off back in Nottingham as his team fall behind to a headed goal by Argentine striker Luciano Becchio.

The Sat Nav is having a wobble as I hit a new road off the A1. I’m soon driving up Kirkby Road in Hemsworth. I’d planned to pop into the Victoria Hotel for a swift one, but the place looks deserted and the building in disrepair. Further up the street is the Hippodrome Bingo and Social Club – Mrs P would like a bit of ‘eyes down in there.

Hemsworth play football in the village of Fitzwilliam. It’s the birthplace of Geoffrey Boycott and footballing brothers Cyril and Peter Knowles. The latter scored over 100 goals for Wolves before voluntarily ending his career to become a Jehovah Witness. Cyril Knowles played over 400 games for Tottenham Hotspur and was once a youth team player for Hemsworth FC. He is well known for the song ‘Nice one Cyril’ which charted at number 14 for the Cockerel Chorus in 1973. He died at the young age of just 47.

I clock where the MDC Sports Stadium is before pulling up at The Catchpenny public house situated on a busy crossroads. It’s a pub where I shared a pint and some hot dogs with Trumpy Bolton on the day of the Royal Wedding.

The landlord is a right miserable so-and-so. A group of blokes crowd around a TV set to watch the Racing Channel from Newmarket and Newbury. Racing Posts are thumbed through and the formbook is studied. A nervous punter rolls up a cigarette. Minutes later a losing betting slip is screwed up and tossed into the air.

I enjoy a pint of Kronenbourg 1664 in a sun-drenched beer garden, overlooking the busy main road. I squeeze the car through the ‘James Hanby’ gates into a spot in the club car park and head back out the ground to watch a cricket match that’s taking place.

 I stroll around the edge of the boundary and chance upon a couple of pensioners sat on a wooden bench behind the bowler’s arm. I ask if Boycott was born here. “Aye, he was born t’other side of that fence lad.” I ask if they ever see him around. “Nay lad, not seen him in ages.” I’ve never forgiven ‘Sir Geoffrey’ for running out my boyhood hero, Derek Randall, in the Silver Jubilee Test at Trent Bridge in 1977.

Its £4 admission and £1 for an excellent programme. They have a quiz page with a superb question: Which English player has scored the most Premiership goals without getting a full cap?

I walk in from behind the clubhouse and I’m immediately taken aback with this tight little ground. On the far side are the dugouts with perspex see-through side panels and white tip-up seats. Adjacent to this is a small stand with green tip up seats. There are neatly trimmed conifers, metal fencing and concrete panels. The nearest side is where the clubhouse is situated. It has been funded by the Football Foundation. There is a small, raised concrete terrace outside the bar, where most of the locals congregate.

The bar food is generous in helpings and competitive in pricing. Sausage and chip cobs are the big seller. They even have Yorkshire pudding on the menu. An elderly PA announcer shouts out the teams above the din of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town.’

Hemsworth are brimming with confidence and are two the good within 12 minutes. A ball is sprayed out to Will Kemp on the right wing; his cross is turned into the net by Neil Towler. The second is courtesy of an error by the ‘keeper who’s washing windows – as Boycott would say “my granny could have caught that in her pinny” – Towler gleefully taps the loose ball home.

The game’s best player, Kemp, limps off on 25 minutes. His replacement, Robbie Crapper, is every bit as good. The game turns on its head on the half hour. A needless penalty is given away and is coolly converted by Sidebottom – that’s Dean, not Ryan. On 42 minutes its 2-2 with a close range finish by Ben Clark. Rossington even have the audacity to hit the post with a 25 yard left footed howitzer by their 9 jacket.

A majority of the 97 crowd pour into the bar for liquid refreshment. Sticky opts to bask in the West Yorkshire sunshine. I admire the range of T-shirts on view. Folk are pretty cool in this neck of the woods. There’s Jimi Hendrix, The Stone Roses and When Saturday Comes. Some cheeky sod is sporting the same little blue number that I bought from Next, which I’m wearing today.

It’s déjà vu on the opening day of the season, as I scroll down the live scores: NFFC are 0-0, the Pies are winning and Lincoln City are losing.
The game takes a well deserved breather. Rossington remarkably take the lead. McLaughlin chases a lost cause, the keeper commits a howler and the ball is walked into the back of an empty net. Hemsworth are soon back on level terms with Swift drilling home a shot from the edge of the area.

It’s a classic game of non league football; I don’t want it to end. The visitors regain the lead with 15 minutes remaining with a peach of a free kick from their captain Dave Holvey. Hemsworth literally throw the kitchen sink at them but Rossington hang on for a famous victory.

Attendance: 97

Man of the Match: Rossington Main ‘keeper

Quiz Answer: Kevin Campbell

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fleetwood Town 0 Nottingham Forest 1

I’m home from Rotherham within an hour. What a smashing FA Cup tie I have just witnessed between South Yorkshire’s Parkgate FC and Runcorn Town from Cheshire. I will take another peek at Runcorn later in the season. They might have whinged and moaned with their irritable, squeaking, high-pitched Scouse twang, like Ron Dixon off Brookside, but they didn’t half play a beautiful game of football.

Saturday night is spent troughing through a half price Chinese banquet from Marks & Spencer. It’s accompanied by half a bottle of Red and a Gold Medal for Mo Farah. Sticky junior crashes through the front door at 2.30am. It sounds like he’s been on the sauce.

I’d spotted that Nottingham Forest had been drawn away at newly-promoted Fleetwood Town in the Capital One Cup a few weeks back. Sticky junior is NFFC crazy and immediately gives me the green light. I’m trying to do ‘the 92’ and this will prove to be a handy tick-off. JK drove to Wycombe Wanderers last year in the same competition; it’s my turn to return the compliment.
It’s 4.30am on Monday morning, the day of the game. I’m regretting that bottle of special offer Merlot I supped during the Olympic closing ceremony. I leave work at midday after an uneventful morning. ‘The Auctioneer’ has played a prank on the Warehouse lads and left an Albanian radio station blaring out the speakers.

I drive to the pet shop. Finley needs some sawdust and that idiot budgie (Murphy) wants a few treats. Murphy is squawking and flapping about the lounge. He starts dive-bombing. I wonder what is wrong with my feathered friend. He’s normally pretty chipper during the Jeremy Vine Show. Hang on a minute, this doesn’t sound like Jeremy. Poor Murphy is having to suffer Vanessa Feltz, who is standing in. I may have to book him an appointment with a budgie psychologist.

I pick JK up from his mansion in Tollerton at 3pm. His eldest lad, Josh, has missed the team bus, as he’s working in Scotland. His little brother, Lewis, snaps up his ticket. Sticky junior’s mate, ‘Sizzers’ is on board, but without a ticket.
The route is straight forward – A453, A50, A500 & M6. There are early warning signs that it’s going to be a long journey when Lewis, who JK pays a King’s ransom out on private education, asks if Fleetwood is near Portsmouth – he’s wisely dropped Geography as one of his options.

The radio is bloody awful – Capital FM, Signal FM & Rock FM only seem to have six records in their collection. If I hear Ollie Murs one more time I swear the ‘Rolls Royce’ will career off the Thelwall Viaduct. We hit the town of Fleetwood at 5.30pm, passing the Fisherman’s Friend factory, heading towards the docks, where I’ve pencilled in a visit to ‘Richardson’s Fish Bar.’
Fleetwood is a town and seaside resort located on the Fylde Peninsula, within the Wyre district of Lancashire, with a population of 26,000 people. It’s a famous old deep-sea fishing port. At its height in the 1920s it employed over 9000 people. The fishing industry collapsed in the late 60s and early 70s due to the ‘Cod War’ dispute with Iceland.

Syd Little, one half of ‘comedy duo’ (?) Little & Large lives in the town, as does professional darts player Wes Newton. The actress Kelsey-Beth Crossley, who plays ‘Scarlett Nicholls’ in Emmerdale, was born in Fleetwood. The seaside town has often popped up during filming in the TV programmes: GBH, All Quiet on the Preston Front and Mrs P’s favourite, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (yawn).

We all tuck into a hearty tea with a friendly service. Cod, chips, mushy peas, bread and butter and a pot of piping hot tea does not come cheap. JK very kindly settles the bill. We beat a hasty treat as Ollie Murs reappears on Rock FM. ‘The Auctioneer’ and ‘The Reaper’ have landed in Manchester where they are on a job. I arrange to meet them in ‘Jim’s Bar’ which is situated just outside the Highbury Stadium.
‘Sizzers’ snaps up a ticket for the Percy Ronson Stand. Ronson holds the record number of appearances for the Trawlermen. ‘The Auctioneer’ and ‘The Reaper’ are supping ale outside ‘Jim’s Bar.’ I grab a quick chat with Clifton legend Jitz Jani, and bump into Johnny Buttery, a travelling dog food salesman.

Forest are warming-up at our end, as we stroll past the toilets and onto the terrace. Fleetwood were originally found in 1908 but have reformed twice under different names. They are owned by Business Energy Solutions MD, Andy Pilley. Their record signing was ex Stocksbridge Steels striker Jamie Vardy, who they shelled out £150,000 from F.C. Halifax Town. Vardy recently left the Cod Army, joining Leicester City for over £1,000,000.

Frank Swift, the former Manchester City goalkeeper, used to play in the nets for Fleetwood. He later became a journalist for the News of the World. He was among the dead in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
The playing surface is in mint condition. It looks like a 3G surface. To our right is the impressive Parkside Stand, which cost a cool £4 million to build. Opposite it is the Highbury Stand, which curiously has the old stand tucked away behind it. JK remarks that maybe there are health and safety concerns about asbestos removal. Between 1948 and 1952 Highbury was also used for Speedway, with Fleetwood Flyers riding in Division Two of the National Speedway league.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is carrying out a shooting drill. It has to be said that he doesn’t look the most jovial of men. He throws a ball to the right foot of Republic of Ireland international Andy Reid. The Irishman scuffs his shot over the bar. He turns to remonstrate with the Dutchman.

Forest fans begin to file into the ‘Away End.’Supporters’ coaches have dropped into the seaside resort of Blackpool. There are an array of inflatables being tossed into the air and onto the pitch. The Fleetwood mascot, ‘Captain Cod’ is treated to a chorus of “get a proper job.”
Forest attack the far end. Guedioura, McGugan & the usually influential Polish midfielder Radoslaw Majewski struggle to find any space in a packed out midfield. There’s too much traffic as Fleetwood swarm all over the Reds. Jamie McGuire, a player I admired so much at Birkenhead’s Cammell Laird and Northern Ireland youth international Conor McLaughlin boss the game.

The first half is dull and uninspiring. A Danny Collins hoofed clearance scatters a pair of dozing seagulls perched high on the roof of the old club offices.

The away following mock Cod Army forward Jon Parkin: “Get your tits out for the lads.” The boy can play though. He bulldozes his way through the NFFC rearguard. Brendan Moloney is easily brushed aside and is sent sprawling to the ground. Fortunately for NFFC Parkin has no composure or confidence in front of goal.
Some buffoon has let a red flare off just behind me. A young steward shows no concern and continues to tap away at a text on his phone. Everyone is panicking about it being 0-0, after all ‘The Groundhopper’ doesn’t do 0-0s, particularly on 300 mile round trips. Sticky Palms has faith in Sean O’Driscoll, who makes a slight tactical change at the break by moving Greg Halford inside from the wide right.

Forest begin to find some width and success, with Reid becoming more effective on the greasy surface caused by the deteriorating weather conditions. McGugan takes hold of the game by the scruff of the neck, he fizzes a shot just wide of the post and sees a Blackstock effort bounce back off the bar from his left wing cross.

The goal finally arrives on the hour. A delicious cross by Reid requires two bites at the cherry by Blackstock. He runs towards the crowd whooping with delight, but avoids Sticky junior’s outstretched high-five. The chances come thick and fast as NFFC try to kill the game off. Halford, McGugan and Tudgay all spurn good chances.

Attendance: 3611 (1060 visitors)

Man of the Match: Jon Parkin

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Parkgate FC 2 Runcorn Town 3

I wheel my suitcase down the drive and fumble in my shorts pocket for the front door key. We’re back in Blighty after ten nights in the Algarve.

My heart is beating ten to the dozen. What reaction will I get? Is he going to turn his back on me and have the cob on? I race into the lounge. How did he take the news that Ken Bruce had put in a week’s holiday to be replaced by the atrocious Zoe Ball? Will Murphy have mental health issues? My poor little budgie; all alone for ten days, with only Radio 2 for company.

He flies out of his cage like Usain Bolt, landing on me and wrapping his claws around my neck. He’s tweeting and I’m blubbering like a baby. “Daddy’s home, Murphy lad.” He spends the remainder of the evening perched on my finger watching the Olympics.

It’s Tuesday evening and I have a dilemma. Notts County, a club I don’t support, but work part-time for, are playing their fierce rivals from across the water. Sticky junior and his pals are going, but I just can’t crank myself up for it.

A far more entertaining evening is spent down Lenton Lane, watching a feast of football served up by Ian Upton’s Dunkirk and Leicestershire’s Kirby Muxloe. ‘Uppo’ is on fine form and is sporting a pair of Bradley Wiggins sideburns. The Boatmen cruise to a 4-1 victory. I love every minute of it.

I pick up ‘junior’ and his pals from outside the Nottingham Forest Ticket Office. The Magpies have clawed back a two goal deficit. ‘Junior’ doesn’t want to talk about it. He has more excuses than BBC athletics pundit Michael Johnson.

I wine and dine Mrs P at our favourite hostelry – the Plough Inn at Normanton-on-the-Wolds - on Friday evening. We’re tucked away in a corner of the restaurant. A table for two, with a window view. The beer garden is stacked out on a gorgeous, sultry summer’s evening. One pint of Timothy Taylor’s and a glass of red wine ensure a rare night of undisturbed sleep.

I rise at 8am and prepare a pot of Yorkshire Tea for one – after all I’m visiting the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire later on today. I switch the DAB radio on to hear the fag end of ‘Good Morning Judge’ by Stockport 70s band 10CC, on the Anneka Rice show on Radio 2.

Brian Matthew’s Sound of the 60s has gone off the boil, folks. Apart from The Kinks, the first half an hour is dross. I switch off and listen to the brilliant Third Degree, Smoove re-mix of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head.’ It’s the coolest track on the planet.

Mrs P is off shopping again folks, to the big city of Nottingham. I’ll tell you what Lord Coe and your filthy rich Tory mates; if there was an Olympic sport called ‘Shopping’ then Mrs P would have bagged us another Gold by now.

I take the short drive down to Keyworth United’s HQ on Platt Lane. Sticky junior is making his debut for the ressies today. Occasional groundhopper, Alan ‘Jacko’ Jackson, is the manager and he’s none too pleased at the abuse aimed in his direction on last week’s blog. I give him a wide berth. Junior looks sharp and in the zone.

I nip back home and knock up a ham, cheese and coleslaw sandwich on Tiger bread. I root around in the fridge and find a ‘reduced price’ egg custard. All my postcodes are sorted and punched into the Sat Nav. I head out towards the M1 North.

I wearing that trendy little white number that I snapped up in the ‘Next Summer Sale.’ I‘ll knock the ladies from South Yorkshire dead in this outfit. Mrs P has done a good job of cleaning the blood from the shirt, following ‘the prawn incident’ in Albufeira.

‘Chappers’ is fronting the Olympics radio coverage for Five Live. He’s giving the ‘Performance Director of Swimming’ a grilling over the dismal displays from GB in the pool. The guy sounds Australian; no wonder we were sub standard.

Roddy Forsyth is reporting in from Peterhead, where Lee McCulloch has just scored Rangers’ first ever goal out of top flight football. Forsyth describes the pitch as one of the best he’s ever seen. The groundsman doubles up as a greenkeeper at Royal St Andrews Golf Club.

The motorway is empty. I’ve earmarked a pub to tick-off in the village of Wentworth, 4 miles outside of Rotherham. Sat Nav takes me off the M1 at Junction 35A. I swing the ‘Rolls Royce’ into a tight space in the car park of the George and Dragon.

Families are sat on a terrace, at the entrance of the pub, having a spot of lunch. I order a pint of Golden Pippin from the Copper Dragon Brewery, near Skipton. I walk into the sumptuous back garden. There’s a brick built bar and barbecue area called the ‘Dragon’s Den.’ The smell of cooked onions drifts across the garden.

The church bells are chiming and kids are clambering around on the adventure playground. The barman at the ‘Dragon’s Den’ brags about Yorkshire’s performance at the Olympics. I perform six three point turns in the pub car park. It’s straight out of the Reginald Molehusband school of driving.

It’s a short 4 mile drive in the rolling countryside before I hit the town of Parkgate. I pass the Music Factory Entertainment Group which is owned by 80s and 90s novelty pop act Jive Bunny.

The Roundwood Stadium on Green Lane is just up the road in Rawmarsh. It’s one of those complexes that are at the heart of a community. There’s an 18 hole parkland golf course, with a bowls club adjacent to it. Rotherham United uses two neighbouring, immaculately turned-out pitches as a training ground.

I stroll up a narrow pathway towards the turnstile. It’s £5 on the gate and a further £1.20 for a 16 page programme.

I fall in love with the ground immediately. It’s on high ground with Rotherham city centre forming the backdrop. I walk past the tea bar and a small stand with blue tip up seats.

I get chatting to an affable fellow whose lad plays centre half for The Steelmen. I amble up the nearest touchline past a blue-painted covered terrace. Concrete steps create a panoramic view of the steelworks. Modern housing backs onto the ground. The far end of the stadium is open. The opposite side of the ground has a neatly trimmed privet hedge running approximately 100 metres. Standing is not permitted.

What the hell is the referee phaffing about at? The game mysteriously kicks off at 3.06pm. I thumb through the programme to see who the officials are. All is explained; they are from Mansfield.

The pitch is immaculate; Lee Westwood could practise his putting on it. I’m later told that the Club have a full-time groundsman; he spreads fertiliser on the surface every four weeks. It’s nearly as good as my front lawn.

I get chin-wagging to a couple of friendly officials from Runcorn. I mention former Nottingham Forest winger Ian Woan, who Brian Clough paid the paltry fee of £80,000 for his services from Runcorn FC in 1990. Can you imagine a twice winning Champions League team dipping their toe into the lower leagues these days?

Parkgate are denied a cast-iron penalty when Cusworth is hauled to the ground when through on goal. Moments later a Runcorn forward rounds the keeper and falls to the ground as if shot by a sniper, the referee waves play on.

Runcorn race into a three goal lead. Shanley smashes home a loose ball from 20 yards. McShane doubles their lead with a header at the back stick courtesy of a pinpoint free-kick from Scott Burton. It’s game over shortly before the break, with Potter converting from close range. Forbes- Swindells rattles the woodwork before the referee blows for half time.

I take a wander around the Pavilion Bar. Disgruntled golfers chatter about fluffed chips and lipped-out putts. Parkgate supporters sit in disbelief at their team’s first half horror show. I walk down the stairs and notice a poster advertising a ‘Sportsman’s Evening With Tommy Docherty.’

The Steelmen make a spirited come back. The crossbar is rattled again with Forbes-Swindells guiding home the rebound. The same player curls home a free-kick to set up a grand finale.

Runcorn hang on in ‘mystery time.’ They have the game’s outstanding player in Scott Burton, who at 24 years of age, was recruited a year ago from the Cheshire Sunday League. He has an edge to his game, is light on his feet, moves into space and has a turn of pace.

Attendance: 94

Man of the Match: Scott Burton

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Holwell Sports 0 Basford United 2

It’s Sunday lunchtime and I’m sat in a Portuguese bar in the resort of Balaia, in the Algarve. Sticky jnr, ‘The Skipper’, Will and ‘Gangsta’ are playing darts. ‘Dafty’ and Sticky are chatting to a dad and lad from Doncaster, who are slumped on a sofa watching the Hungarian Grand Prix.

A picture hangs on the wall of former Portuguese international winger Luis Figo. I mention to ‘Dafty’ that seven years ago, at a supermarket just round the corner from this bar, I nearly bumped into Figo, who passed me as I entered the shop front door. He clearly thinks this is a tall story.

 I shout to the barman: “Hey mate, is it true that Figo has a villa round here somewhere?” Yes”, replies ‘Manuel’, “he owns a property across the road behind Club Med. He was here a couple of weeks ago. He once came in my bar with Raul and Zidane.”

It’s a drop-your-bacon-sandwich moment. Can you imagine dropping into a deserted bar, on your way home from the beach, for a thirst-quenching beer, to find three Galacticos sat on bar stools chewing over the crud. Now that would be a story to tell.

The ten day stay in Portugal went without incident. ‘The worse skin rash in the world’ failed to make an appearance (a Portuguese pharmacist’s words from 2010, not mine). I had a slight skirmish with a king prawn, whilst sharing a dish of Paella with ‘Dafty’ in some posh gaffe in Albufeira old town, close to the water’s edge. Blood spurted out of the prawn splattering flecks all over my brand new white cotton shirt (from Next, £25 in the summer sale).

Mrs P and I spend a pleasant Friday evening together. We have a tea-time beverage in the picturesque setting of the garden of the Plough at Normanton on-the-Wolds. I successfully manage to negotiate a Marks and Spencer’s Paella without any further spillage to report. Insomnia rears its ugly head; fortunately Sticky junior is on a sleep-over in Cotgrave. I leave Mrs P in peace and grab a couple more hours in ‘Angry Kid’s’ bed.

I wake up to the news on the Lincolnshire Echo’s sports reporter’s Twitter feed, that on police advise, Lincoln City have been forced to postpone their pre-season friendly against Leicester City. Police intelligence (I didn’t know they had any) suggests that the ‘Baby Squad’ intend to wreak havoc in the city centre.

I make a brew and have a bowl of Mrs P’s Special K Red Berries. 6 Music’s Breakfast Show is playing Lush’s 1996 Brit Pop hit ‘Single Girl.’ Murphy is banished to his cage after dive-bombing Mrs P during the Women’s Double Sculls.

I rouse ‘The Skipper’ from his coma. He’s blagged a ticket for the Olympic football quarter final clash between GB and South Korea at the Millennium Stadium. I drop him off at JK’s, who I’ve not seen in ages. We have a catch-up and watch a re-run of the Olympics opening ceremony. I’m tickled by the Daniel Craig sketch at ‘The Palace’ and Mr Bean at the concert.

Thought I’d keep it fairly local today as I’ve a heavy schedule coming up. I’m planning on going to Parkgate, nr Rotherham, for their FA Cup extra preliminary round tie with Runcorn Town next week, and then up to Fleetwood for the Carling Cup game versus the Tricky Trees of Nottingham.

I scour the internet looking for a game to view on my long weekend away in north Wales at the beginning of September. White Van Man and I were banking on Caernarfon Town being at home on the Saturday. Our plans have been scuppered, as they’ve brought the fixture forward to Friday evening.

Bloody hell is that Mrs P’s car pulling in the drive? I best look busy. I dead head the marigolds, feed all the hanging baskets and give the bathroom a good old rub down. I wolf down a bacon sandwich. Murphy is perched on the clothes horse in the lounge having a good old peck at someone’s underpants.

Mrs P says goodbye; she’s off for some retail therapy with her mum in Newark. I’m soon tooting my horn outside the house of the Daily Mail’s number one reader. A rather trendy bloke, wearing a fetching green sleeveless jacket, steps out of the back door. If I didn’t know him better I’d have thought he was going clay pigeon shooting rather than a football game.

Semi-retired Jacko complains that domestic chores have interrupted his hectic Olympic Games TV coverage. He’s spent more time in his armchair this week than Jim Royle. Next pick-up is a chap I’ve not seen in months. I’ve missed his moaning, groaning and complaining: It’s The Taxman of course. Coming to think of it I’m surrounded by the Revenue, as Jacko too, is on the payroll.

There are tales of woe from the pair of them as we travel onto the A606, driving through the villages of Upper Broughton and Nether Broughton. We take a right hand turn and head towards Old Dalby, passing the Belvoir Brewery on our left.

The Taxman shouts the round up at The Crown Inn. We guzzle a pint of Wainwrights golden ale from the Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. We’re sat in the beer garden for all of five minutes before scurrying back into the pub to avoid a sharp shower. The Taxman announces that his son has just signed on for the Holwell Sports youth set-up.

We tip up at Welby Road five minutes before kick-off. Melton Mowbray is in north-east Leicestershire and has a population of 25,000. Famous people from the town include Monty Python star Graham Chapman and former NFFC winger Paul Anderson. It’s the home of the pork pie. Stilton cheese is made down the road at Long Clawson. Pedigree Pet Foods are a major employer in the town.

Jacko waves a £5 note at the gateman, believing that he’ll be admitted at the concessionary rate of £3. “How old are you mate?” “60”, replies Jacko. “Sorry, it’s 65 for an OAP mate”, says the turnstile operator, snatching the fiver out of Jacko’s grasp.

I came to Holwell a few years back for a pre-season friendly against Huntingdon Town. The impressive ground remains pretty much the same. The changing rooms are tucked away in the corner of the ground. A green-painted rail runs along the pitch perimeter. A small stand with blue tip-up seats is situated along the nearest touchline, adjacent to this is the tea bar. There is an open end behind the far goal. The dugouts run along the opposite touchline, with a covered terrace behind the nearest goal. It’s still pelting down with rain as we take our seats in the stand.

I notice Basford secretary Chris Munroe sitting with his son. Holwell Sports play in Murphy’s favourite kit, green and canary-yellow stripes, (WBA away) while Basford wear an all navy blue strip. Basford United are from inner city Nottingham. They are hot favourites to win this league after gaining promotion from the Central Midlands League. In their ranks they have a player called Darren Garmston, who a few seasons back scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen hopping for Dunkirk away at Stratford Town.

The Taxman has seen enough after ten minutes and retires to the lavatory. He’s missing nowt, as the game has no pattern or quality. ‘Gammo’ is denied the space he thrives upon as a youthful-looking Holwell close Basford down. The best chance of the half falls to Holwell. A left footed in swinging cross from the right wing is wastefully glanced wide by the Holwell forward.

Where the hell has ‘Captain Slackbladder’ disappeared to? Oh no, I don’t believe it, he’s only gone and bumped into another taxman. Three of the buggers, out of a crowd of 50. They’ll be talking about P60s, P46s & R40s .

 I fancy Basford to push on. I make my excuses and head over towards the goal they will attack. I grab a quick chat with one of their coaching staff, Danny Boyes, who is a well known figure on the local football scene. Former Sheffield Wed and Huddersfield Town defender Craig Armstrong is amongst their coaching staff.

Soon after the restart Basford take the lead. Theo Smith rounds the ‘keeper and rolls the ball into an empty net. Smith scores his second of the afternoon shortly after, tucking away his chance at the far post following a cross from the right.

‘Jazzy’ Westcarr runs riot down the right wing, having switched positions with Theo Smith. 22 year old centre forward Aaron Hooton has also caught the eye, with his clever hold-up play and deft touch. A 25 yard thunderbolt from rookie Holwell midfielder Tom Muggleton (son of former Foxes ‘keeper Carl) is tipped over the bar by Jake Want. I’ll definitely be viewing Basford again, now where’s the toilet?

 Man of the Match: Jarrod Westcarr

Attendance: 52