Saturday, July 27, 2013

Alsager Town 2-5 Witton Albion

I’ve made a crazy decision. I’ve coached ‘The Skipper’s’ under 16 team for a number of years now, but I’ve pretty much lurked in the background when it’s come to Sticky junior’s team, preferring to watch when I can Anyway, who in their right mind would want to run an under 18 team? Er, well me, actually.

I took both teams down the Trent Embankment the other Monday evening. Twenty four rocked up in the sizzling heat as we played 12 a-side with jumpers for goal posts. Supper was wolfed down at McDonald’s on Radcliffe Road, opposite Trent Bridge cricket ground. The lads were as good as gold. The team-bonding evening worked a treat. I’ll keep you informed with the trials and tribulations of the season ahead.

Friday evening is spent relaxing on the patio, tucking into a special offer Cote Du Rhone, recommended by The Zuffler on our weekly sojourn to the Ruddington Co-op. Finley sits on my knee, letting me brush his fur, as I wade my way through Stuart Maconie’s brilliantly written Hope and Glory. Finley asks if he can shout up one of his crap non-league predictions. He says Witton will win 2-0 at Alsager. I think it will be more convincing than that, son.

I rustle up poached eggs on toast and have a little chat with Murphy the budgie. He’s already packing his case for his holiday at Will and Gangsta’s crib. I’ve got to be in Grantham for 10:00. Notts County under 16s are taking on Grantham Town under 17s.

I scroll through my Twitter timeline and notice that Notts CCC overseas player David Hussey has had a social media spat with Derbyshire’s Dan Redfern. It’s clearly some sort of overspill from the shortened 20/20 game at Trent Bridge the other night.

Danny Baker on 5 Live has deserted me for Florida, as I drive down the A46 and onto the A52. Greg James and a huddle of bloggers waffle on about the Ashes series. I pull into the Grantham Meres Leisure Centre. A parent kindly buys me a cup of coffee as we catch-up with all the gossip.

  I stretch my legs around the athletics track. Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha’ is playing on the Gingerbreads public address system. I’m hardly dressed for the occasion. I look like the man from Next, with my white cotton shirt and cream shorts. Mick, my boss, won’t be impressed with the flip flops either.

I spent three cold and wet Saturday mornings at this venue last season running my eye over a player. We finally offered him a scholarship in the spring time. His name is Jordan Richards. His dad was the late, great Pedro Richards, who made 399 appearances for the Pies in the 70s and 80s.

I sit in the dugout with former Notts left back Darren Davies. Grantham’s boys tower above ours. We never look in trouble for the first 20 minutes, retaining possession and passing crisply. Costly errors gift the home side a 3-0 half time lead. It’s probably best to bail out; Mick and Darren aren’t going to be too happy with the sloppy goals we’ve conceded.

A few years ago I went to watch Uppo’s Dunkirk against Grantham in the FA Cup. It was at the time the Boatmen had the “Three Degrees’ up top. The Gingerbreads conceded two late goals which resulted in a replay. Grantham fans were gutted to have only drawn against a ‘pub team.’ Three days later Dunkirk won the replay 3-2, scoring in the dying embers of the game. “3-2 to the pub team” didn’t go down too well on the messageboard.

I head west, towards Derby. I hit Stoke at 1pm and navigate onto the A500 and A34 towards Congleton. I’m soon pulling up at Robinson’s public house called the Red Bull in the village of Church Lawton. It’s situated on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The service isn’t particularly efficient. The landlady is an age on the phone. She reminds me of Sybil off Fawlty Towers. I’m finally poured a pint of golden ale called Cumbria Way. I find a picnic table next to the lock and watch a procession of barges chugging down the canal.

The town of Alsager is only a few miles up the road. It’s to the north west of Stoke and east of Crewe. It has a bustling high street with a hotchpotch of shops. The Wood Park Stadium is situated in a ‘tasty’ part of town. The car park is already full.

Two old ladies are walking down the road, dawdling behind them is an ageing dog. “Never misses a game” one of the women tells me. “What’s your dog called ladies?” enquires Groundhopper. “Tom Tom” replies one of the old girls.”Did he manage to find the ground okay?” Neither of them bats an eyelid.

It’s £5 on the gate. No programme is issued today. A proper groundhopper would be in a flood of tears after that bad news. Portakabins are at the top of the steps. In July 2011 the old clubhouse caught fire.

That cheese and onion sandwich I ate at the pub has caused a right old thirst on. I call in at the Tea Bar and bag a bottle of ice cold water. A guy wearing some FA clobber is tucking into a pie and mushy peas. It’s a bit hot for that delicacy pal. I take a position up to the right of the Alsager dugout.

Alsager Town play in the NWCL (Step 5) while Witton Albion, from Northwich, ply their trade in the Evostik Premier League (Step 3). Former notable players to have played for Witton include: the comedian John Bishop, Nicky Maynard, Geoff Horsfield and Mike Whitlow.

Witton look more athletic and fitter than their opponents. They are soon knocking the ball about and carving out chances. The visitors are 3-0 up at the break. The first goal was hotly disputed by the Alsager bench. The poor young girl ‘liner’ got some grief. The second goal is well-worked.

I get chatting to a guy who has his little boy in toe. His lad is wearing a green Plymouth Argyle shirt with Ginsters splattered on the front and 27 Gurrieri printed on the back. He tells me that he saw Pascal Chimbonda turn out for Market Drayton during the week. Paul Jewell’s old sidekick, Chris Hutchings, is helping out there with the coaching.

I’m intrigued by the Alsager manager’s half time pep talk. He says to his players that they are not in Afghanistan and are not going to get shot (well definitely not by their strikers). He encourages them to play without fear and to try and enjoy it.

They play with more spirit and belief in the second period. One or two start to get noticed. ‘Angelo’ and ‘Leigh’ combine well. Both sides convert penalties in an entertaining 45 minutes. All I can think about, though, is whether Tom Tom can find his way home.

Footnote: The Alsager Town manager was Andy Turner who has played for a host of clubs including: Spurs, Portsmouth and Rotherham United. In 1992, at the age of 17, he held the record, for that time, as the youngest ever goal scorer in the Premier League. He hasn’t lost his appetite for the game, despite his brush with fame.

Man of the Match: ‘Tom Tom.’

Monday, July 15, 2013

Selby Town 2-3 Marske United

The sun is blazing in our back garden. Sticky’s got his feet up on the patio, and is sinking a Stella or two. I’ve got a few days off for the Ashes. Half a mile down the road, TV cameras are filing into the car park at Plumtree Cricket Club, where my two boys used to play.

The breaking news story is that Trent Bridge has banned Boring Billy and his bloody trumpet from the Ashes first Test. The Barmy Army are crying into the beer down at the PCG as they lock horns with their Australian counterparts in a 20/20 game.

I get little sleep, as I’m so excited. Dafty picks me up at just gone 8 am. We drive through Tollerton and down the Melton Road. Trent Bridge is a hive of activity. The place is absolutely buzzing. We park up on Henry Road and walk down the Avenue. Tim Abraham from Sky News is wandering down the road towards Cafe Nero, a haunt of Wee Billy Davies and his motley crew.

We waltz through the doors of the Southbank Bar on Trent Bridge. A band strikes up a tune, a guy starts rapping. He aint no Dizzee Rascal folks. Dringy is tucked away in the corner of the bar studying his correct score matrix. We shout up a coffee and a tea. Most of the boys are already on the lash. It’s not even 9 o’clock yet.

I polish off a huge ‘Big Breakfast.’ It’s piled high with chips. We cross the Radcliffe Road. Alan Brazil from Talk Sport limps over the road towards Ladbrokes. He’s just hosted a show from the ‘World renowned ‘Trent Bridge Inn. I’m with legendary leg spinner Jitz Jani. He clocks a group of Aussies and offers them some banter “4-0 to the India” is met with stony faces. Aussie don’t like it up em!

I’ve shelled out £80 for the best seat in the house (thanks Dringy). We’re on the top deck, with the wicket to our left. The flag of St George is rolled out. National anthems boom out of the speakers. The Red Arrows roar overhead. Let the drinking commence.

Sticky rekindles his love affair with Stowford Press cider at nearly £4 a pint. It’s £36 per round; that’s drinking, not golfing. The ball is swinging around like an Olympic hammer thrower. Cook and Root look set but both are back in the hutch before lunch. I miss the dismissal of KP as I’m drinking and chatting outside the TBI.

A doner kebab with Big Bobby Baker is a lifesaver at tea. It allows me to push on with the booze fest. I collect my winnings from the lunchtime to tea-time session runs prediction.

England collapse like a deck of cards. Swann and Broad don’t have the stomach for it. Broad, mysteriously fails to show up for a bowl. It’s left to Finn and Anderson to show some fight. I peer through my binoculars as a ball from ‘Jimmy’ nips back and clips the top of Michael Clarke’s bail.

We drink long into the night. I have a few Berlusconi’s (real ale) from Holden’s Brewery in Dudley, at the Stratford Haven and Monkey Tree. I stumble into a black cab at just gone 10.30 pm. I don’t want the day to end.

Two days later and once again I’m wandering out the ground. I punch out the numbers to our landline, as Mrs P’s mobile is going to straight to voicemail. It’s bad news folks, Mrs P has left her index finger in the food blender, with the power on. I inform the TCCB that she’s unable to replace umpire Dar on the fourth day.

It’s Saturday morning, it feels strange that I’m not off to the Test. The last three days, meeting up with my best mates, in tropical conditions, has felt like a three day bender in Ibiza.

It’s a big day in Sticky jnr’s calendar. Budgens wall is shut for the day to all dossers, as they are all up the Keyworth Show. I remind him of his drinking exploits the previous year: “yeah Dad, I was an inexperienced drinker back then.” He’s 18 in November.

I meet one of the lads who snouts about for me close to the M1. There are long delays on the A1, so we plump for the M18 and M62. We’re soon on the A19 and stop off at a delightful roadside inn, the Wheatsheaf, a mock Tudor building in the village of Burn, just outside Selby. ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ by Olly Murs, not forgetting folks, Rizzle Kicks, is on the kitchen radio, as Chef knocks Sticky up a Ploughman’s Lunch, which is washed down with a pint of Ashes Ale from the York Brewery. We sit in the back garden, basking in the sunshine, admiring the flourishing, colourful hanging baskets.

Selby is a town situated in North Yorkshire, 14 miles south of the city of York, with a population of 13,000. It once had a large shipbuilding industry. The Selby Canal brought trade in from nearby Leeds. It was once a market leader in coal mining. Wistow Colliery, which was part of the Selby Coalfield, holds the UK’s record for most coal mined in a week, with an astonishing 200,000 tonnes being produced. Former Grimsby Town and Watford goalkeeper, Steve Sherwood, was born in the town.

I take a stroll around this delightful little market town, with its striking church spire and bustling crowds. We pop into the back yard of the Griffin Hotel in Micklegate. Folk are crowded around the TV watching the cricket. I can’t bear to look at the score. It’s like watching every episode of Heartbeat, and then missing out on the last one.

It’s £3 on the gate. No programme is issued today. The clubhouse is to the left, with the dugouts over yonder.

The Rigid Group Stadium is the home of Northern Counties East team, Selby Town. The visitors are Marske United, which is situated near to the seaside town of Saltburn on the north east coast. The teams stroll out to the Pick of the Pops theme tune. The crazy DJ keeps shouting out “Shabba.”

There’s rustic feel about the place, with its perimeter red rail and parched playing surface. There’s a rickety old stand behind the nearest goal. I plonk myself on a wooden bench, gasping for air, trying to fathom out how the players can perform in this stifling heat.

The visitors, in a Sheffield Wednesday replica kit, are well drilled and technically superior. They play out from the back and from side to side. They overcook it in front of goal, passing it to death. The Robins do well to be still in the game at the break.

I meet a guy at the break who is an aficionado of the Northern League. He follows Marske, amongst others. “We’ve eight missing today”, his face is bowed and covered in disappointment. His passion and love is beautiful and heart-warming. The DJ comes good with The Specials greatest hits. Selby’s captain’s little boy throws a few shapes to ‘Rat Race.’

Selby play a better game in the second period and are unfortunate to fall behind to three quickly taken goals. They claw two back and are desperately unlucky not to equalise in the dying moments.

There’s just time for me to poke my head into the cosy social club. Pendants and pictures are hung on the wall. A TV is blaring out. There’s not a soul in sight. I have to dash back home to Nottingham; Mrs P’s finger wants dressing.

Man of the Match: 6 jacket for Marske

Attendance: 65 (Head count)