Friday, February 28, 2014

Irchester United 2-2 Oadby Town

My 50th birthday has been and gone. We had a little shindig at ours. All the characters from the blog were in attendance apart from Trumpy Bolton, who was holed-up in Bournemouth after watching the Foxes beat the Cherries.

The Zuffler very kindly bought me a ticket to watch my favourite Geordie funk 'n soul band, Smoove and Turrell at The Donkey Pub on Welford Road in Leicester. It was another night to remember.

The following Saturday I'm up at the windswept old pit village of Rainworth near Mansfield, where the armed robber and murderer 'the Black Panther' was famously pounced upon by the afternoon shift of Rufford Colliery in 1976.

My Under 16 team have had the misfortune to draw Mansfield Town in the semi-final of the Notts FA Shield. John Ramshaw is their Head of Youth and a good friend of mine. We're hanging in there at 1-0 when I clock 'Rammers' on the touchline. We exchange plesantries. I ask him who the Stags are playing later in the day. Turns out it's the Shrimpers of Southend. Old Rammers will be able to compare false tans with Phil Brown.

It's Saturday morning and Brian Matthew is on fire on his Radio 2 Sound of the 60s Show. He plays two corkers on the bounce - 'Homeward Bound' and 'Last Train to Clarksville.' Murphy the Budgie is not impressed. The green and canary-coloured budgie is tense and moody ahead of Norwich's clash with Spurs on Sunday.

Folk have asked why Chris Hughton hasn't taken a punt on Murphy and chucked him straight in the first team on the wing. Sadly, his disciplinary record for head-butting has seen countless appearances before the Budgie FA.

Sticky junior has woken up with a hacking cough and tight chest. It means the mighty Keyworth United Under 18s will be down to the bare bones for the visit to Beiruit (Netherfield) tomorrow.

Mrs P has gone on one of those team-bonding thingies at a spa in Northamptonshire. I scour the interweb over a bowl of porridge. The Ukrainian President has done a bunk. It's like a scene from the film Mrs Doubtfire as Sticky Palms vaccs up, cleans the bathroom and washes the 'Rolls Royce.'

I'm on the road to Northamptonshire, a county that has never really captured my imagination. I've got behind a lass on a horse that has a bigger arse than Heather off Eastenders. I finally find my way onto the M1. Smoove and Turrell's 'Eccentric Audio' is blasting out the speakers.

I pull into the Stag's Head in Great Doddington for a bite to eat. I have a pint of real ale and a Brie and bacon wrap. It's an old stone-built pub, with a split-level dining area. The only downside is the droning voice of Middlesbrough pop singer James Arthur.

Irchester has a population of 5000 and lies two miles from Wellingborough and Rushden. Its best known feature is the country park, where Groundhopper makes a unscheduled pit stop for the toilet. Former Liverpool penalty king and Graham Taylor's assistant, Phil Neal, was born in the village. He won a staggering 8 League titles, 4 European Cups, 4 League Cups and a UEFA Cup.

Irchester United's Alfred Street ground is only a few miles away. There's ample parking. It's a bargain £3 on the gate. A wafer-thin issue of the Romans Review is £1. I head to the Social Club to avoid the biting wind.

I already like the joint and its community-shared vibe. The club has gaming machines, a pool table, dart board, jukebox and table skittles. A rock band called Empire will be head-banging like Murphy Palmer later this evening. It's time to venture out, though. There's a small stand behind the nearest goal with three rows of seats that are so close to the goal you would feel the full force of a shot from leading Oadby goalscorer Courtney Meade.

The ground is shared with the Cricket Club, which is roped-off. Irchester took a 9-0 gubbing off the United Counties League Division One leaders Oadby Town less than a month ago. They should be 1-0 down after 15 seconds with Meade lifting the ball the wrong side of the post.

Irchester make them pay moments later with what appears to be an own goal following a free-kick from the right. Courtney Meade has banged in 25 goals this season and has begun to attract the attention of higher League clubs. He glides along the tacky surface and has a change of pace. His body language and lack of aggression are clues to why he still plies his trade at this level. He equalises on 15 minutes with a thumping shot into the roof of the net.

The Irchester coach is cheesing me off. He hurls a torrent of abuse at the Oadby centre half and referee following claims of a kick-out by the defender. His language is foul, abusive and unnecessary. Women and children are close by. The official takes no action against him.

I go for a warm in the Clubhouse. King Billy's Nottingham Forest have thrown the towel in at Turf Moor. Notts County are 2-1 up in a relegation battle with Shrewsbury Town. Former Leicester City player Jon Stevenson nudges Oadby ahead two minutes into the second half. Oadby press forward but can't find the winner. I grab a quick chat with former Leicester City and Aston Villa centre forward Julian Joachim. He's still turning out at the age of 39.

Irchester score out of the blue at the death. As I walk out of the ground I overhear a guy in a Hertfordshire FA coat being quite rude to a punter who was only asking a polite question.

Man of the Match: Jon Stevenson

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ashton United 2-0 Rushall Olympic

I'm in a reflective mood on Friday evening as I sink a bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot, not on offer from Budgens (£7.49). On Sunday I'm having a little soiree to celebrate my forthcoming fiftieth year on planet Earth. Close friends and family will be joining me for a special 'Stella Sunday.'

My boss has invited me to watch Lincoln City v FC Halifax on Saturday. He used to play for the Shaymen. I'm hearing the Imps just launch it these days, so turn down his kind offer. The little U16 team I run on Saturday's have been rained off against Mansfield Town in the Notts FA Shield. Lord knows why they are in the competition, as most of their boys will be offered scholarships next season, while we're just a village team. I rib their Head of Youth, John Ramshaw, who is down in Devon with the First Team for the Stags' clash with Plymouth Argyle.

The weather forecast looks depressing with wind and rain sweeping in from the west. News looks encouraging from Ashton under-Lyne though, with both their Evostik teams hopeful of some play tomorrow. The Tameside Stadium and Hurst Cross have been on my radar for some time now.

It's Saturday morning and time for a birthday haircut. I can't be bothered to drive to Ruddington to get it chopped. I drop into a local barbers. I mention to the lass cutting my hair that I'm 50 next Wednesday, foolishly expecting a compliment. Not a sausage readers. Not a tip for her either.

Mrs P will be sauntering around some dreadful retail park in Thurmanston, near Leicester as I get to grips with cleaning the bathroom - it's the only job I'm any good at. Murphy is rocking on his swing to 10CC's 'Life is a Minestrone.'  All's good on the M1. I turn off at Junction 35A and by-pass the town of Stocksbridge. What a super ground they have there. I've fond memories of seeing FC United of Manchester play there a few years ago.

I head up the tight back streets in the High Peak village of Tintwistle and sling the 'Rolls Royce' in the car park of the Bulls Head. A familiar figure comes bounding up to me. It's Stanley the mongrel from four years ago. I order up a ham sandwich and some hand-cooked chips. Stanley perches his chin on my knee and slavers down my jeans. He about takes my fingers off when I offer him some ham. I wash it down with an award-winning Wren's Nest from Howard Town in Glossop.

The market town of Ashton under-Lyne is only a short drive away. It has a population of over 40,000 and sits on the River Tame in the foothills of the Pennines. Ashton United were founded in 1878 and were previously known as Hurst FC. Legendary forward Dixie Dean ended his career at Surrey Street, whilst World Cup winner  Alan Ball played here as a teenager.

Rich and famous born in Ashton under-Lyne include: Britain's first Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, Arthur Brooke, founder of the Brooke Bond Tea Company, singer-songwriter George Formby, Sir Geoff Hurst, Last of the Summer Wine actor Brian Wilde, 'Tracey Barlow' off Corrie, actor Ronald Fraser, cricketers Andrew Harris, Harry Pilling and Gary Yates and the footballers Alan Wright and Mark Robins.

It's a bit ropey for parking. I squeeze the car in the last available spot, smack opposite the Social Club. I have another pint. The dying embers of QPR v Burnley are featured on Sky. The room is full of noise and laughter. I really like the joint.

It's £7 on the turnstile and £2 for a programme. The ground is a belter, with sweeping views of the hills. I immediately recognise a Rushall Olympic player warming-up. It's none other than Dele Adebola. I once saw him go toe-to-toe with Middlesbrough's version of Jean-Claude Van Damme - Emanuel Pogatetz.

Chuffing hell it's blowing a gale. I need to find a bolt-hole to escape from it. I stand in front of a brick wall that shields me from the elements. Christ on a bike, how old is this referee? He looks about 16 years old.

There's a guy behind the far goal dressed in coaching gear bawling out instructions to the Ashton players. In eight years of groundhopping I've never witnessed this before. He's like Brian Glover in Kes.

Ashton are leading Rushall a merry dance. Their right winger is rinsing his full back. They take the lead on 18 minutes through Aaron Chalmers. An extraordinary thing happens moments later. Ahmed Obeng breezes past an Ashton defender, only to be blatantly pushed to the ground inside the area. The paperboy looks at his assistant for help, but receives no communication. The ref reluctantly blows for a free-kick. I'm giving the linesman pelters. "How can you have not seen that?" I enquire. An elderly, distinguished gentleman, suited and booted asks if it was a penalty. "Not even a free-kick, Sir," lino replies. Holy smoke.

Poor old Rushall's luck worsens on 45 minutes with Martin Pilkington finishing for the second time of asking. Jesus wept, the DJ plays two in a row from Olly Murs and Robbie Williams. I hide in the Club Shop, which is an Aladdin's Cave of it's own. I clock a guy at the tea bar pouring half a pot of pepper into a polysteyrene cup of steaming hot Bovril - it must be a northern delicacy.

There's a late start to the second period as the 22 year old referee finishes delivering Saturday's edition of the Manchester Evening News. It hoses it down for the second half as Ashton continue to pour forward. They hit the woodwork twice as Rushall throw men forward and chance their arm. I exit at bang on 90 minutes to thaw out in the Rolls Royce.

Attendance: 139

Man of the Match: The Ref (He was really good)