Monday, March 17, 2014

Wellingborough Town 2-3 Spalding United

I'm driving the 'Rolls Royce' down University Boulevard. Nottingham University is on my right, whilst to my left are the Nottingham Science Park and Nottingham Tennis Centre. I swing into Beeston Hockey Club and drive down a dirt track.

Former Great Britain shotput champion Geoff Capes is a guest on the Danny Baker Show. Capes is a keen budgerigar breeder. He says that some budgies can live up to 20 years. I best not relay this news to anyone in our house - no-one likes Murphy Palmer, my budgie. I've not been to Holbeach United's ground, where Geoff is from. Perhaps Murphy and I can take a game in and drop in for tea.

I can hear the sound of footballs being kicked and coaches barking out instructions. I watch a game for half an hour or so. Notts County Youth Team are playing on the next pitch. I can see my boss, Mick, on the far side of the pitch, alongside the other coaches.

I spot former Nottingham Forest and England midfielder Steve 'Harry' Hodge lurking near some trees. He's here to watch his son play. Jordan Richards is playing on the right flank. I went to watch him on four occasions for Grantham Town Under 16s before he finally signed a scholarship with the Club last May.

The game is scrappy and the pitch is bone hard. I leave just before half time with the score goalless. The M1 to Northamptonshire is trouble free. I clock a minibus full of Stags fans on their way to the soulless Sixfields Stadium to take on the in-form Cobblers of Northampton.

I'm playing Radio Roulette. The best song I hear is Soft Cell's 1982 hit 'Torch.' I know a pub I frequented a few weeks back who serve up decent snap. I drop into the Stags Head at Great Doddington. I shout up a Kronebourg and devour a plate of ham, egg and chips. Caro Emerald's album is on the pub's sound system. My boss from Notts phones to say the U18s have beaten Rotherham 5-0.
The Dog and Duck ground is only a short drive away. Wellingborough is a market town and borough in Northamptonshire, that lies on the River Nene. It has a population just shy of 50,000. Well known former residents include: Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, Bauhaus frontman Pete Murphy, snooker player Peter Ebdon and former Coventry and Luton midfielder David Bell. The broadcaster Sir David Frost attended Wellingborough Grammar School. I pass a road enroute to the ground called Frost Close.

Wellingborough Town were originally formed in 1867 and are nicknamed the Doughboys. Notable former players include: former Liverpool full back Phil Neal and Vic Watson who signed for West Ham United in 1920 and who scored over 300 goals in a 15 year career at Upton Park.

I pull into what I think is the car park for Wellingborough Town. It's actually the home of United Counties League Division One team Wellingborough Whitworth. I'm fleeced of £2 and told that if I choose to park at the retail park across the road then I'll probably get clamped.

It's £6 on the gate. I'm instantly attracted to the ground. Folk sit on chairs on the patio outside the clubhouse, drinking refreshments. Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' booms out the PA system. I watch the Tulips from Spalding do a short, basic drill. Their bald-headed No.6 is excitable and highly-strung. I earmark him for an early booking or telling-off.

I walk past the the brightly blue and yellow painted Peter Ebdon Stand. The pitch is worn and heavily sanded in the goalmouth areas. The teams walk out to Sash 'Encore Une Fois.' Spalding United are 22 points clear at the top of the table. Confidence is sky high. I manage to scribble down the teams despite the PA guy having a Norman Collier moment.

The visitors take the lead in controversial circumstances with the ref's assistant flagging that a header had crossed the line. The Doughboys gaffer is giving the lino pelters across the pitch. 'Webby' is running around like a headless chicken. He talks the talk but ain't half bad in the air for a little un. Parity is restored from the penalty spot following a blatant foul. There's a commotion going off at the ground next door. I shimmy up a concrete fencepost to see someone belt home a penalty in the Wellingborough Whitworth game. A bullet header from Nathan Stainfield puts the League leaders 2-1 up at the break.

What the bloody hell is this on the PA. The DJ has dipped into his personal record collection and is playing Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon.' Even Thom Yorke's Radiohead are less depressing than this. Spalding sit on their slender lead as Wellingborough fight tooth and nail. They deservedly equalise from a corner. They then contrive to fluff a sitter, only to see Spalding substitute Josh Ford seize onto a through ball and thump home the winner. The Tulips can even afford themselves a late penalty miss.

Man of the Match: Jamie Brassington


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Norton United 0-1 Glossop North End

I'm shivering and shaking at Radcliffe Olympic's Wharf Lane ground. I'm stood with perennial moaner The Taxman. The game is in its dying embers. There's a minute to go and the score is 6-3. We slope off to the Keyworth Tavern for a real ale. I check the score on returning home. It's 7-4! It would have been my highest aggregate score of all time.

The weekend is dominated by football once again. I draw a blank scouting in Clifton, an area famous for raising footballers such as England's first black full international player, Viv Anderson and former Norwich City striker Darren Huckerby. Saturday afternoon is spent in the affluent town of Southwell. Sol Campbell was rumoured to have been moving out here during his ill-feted short stay at The Pies in the Munto and Sven era. I'll make no bones about it, my Under 16s are bottom of Division One, whilst Southwell are flying the flag at the summit. We play a beautiful game and are delighted come away with a 2-2 draw. It feels like a win.

It's Sunday afternoon. I'm back home from scouting and rooting around in the garage. I've bought a new bike. The skies are glorious, with the sun beating down. I pedal out into the countryside for the first time in two years. An hour later I arrive home beetroot faced and breathless. 'Stella Sunday' is restricted to three cans. I let notorious, crap Non League tipster, Finley Palmer, out for his first run of the season. He lies on his back and lets me brush him.

I spend Sunday evening flicking through the Sunday Mirror TV listings. I’m steaming when I noticed that the BBC have commissioned Michael McIntyre to host a chat show. Middle class suburbia will be wetting themselves with excitement.

4:30 on Tuesday can't come quick enough. I love the North West Counties League: it's fast, furious and violent. An intriguing top of the table clash is taking place tonight in Burslem, home to pub singer and Port Vale shareholder, Robbie Williams.

I leave my car at Gotham, a place recently in the news, due to some joker (get it?) pinching the village sign as a souvenir in memory of comic book superheroes heroes Batman and Robin. Phil is piloting. The A453 is to be avoided at all costs. We slip through the back of Kegworth and onto the A50. Former Radio Nottingham DJ Simon Mayo keeps us company on his Radio 2 Drivetime show.

It's time for a spot of tea at The Dapple Grey in the horse-racing market town of Uttoxeter. Sticky Palms favourite screen writer and film director, Shane Meadows, is from these parts. An Amstel is swilled the down the hatch with a Cajun chicken burger for company. We reach Stoke at the fag end of rush hour.

Burslem is known as the 'Mother Town.' It is one of six towns amalgamated to form the city of Stoke on-Trent. It has a population of 21,000. Dart players Phil 'The Power' Taylor,Ted Hankey and Motorhead bassist and vocalist, Lemmy were born in the area.

The Community Drive ground is situated off an estate, perched on top of a hill with panoramic views of Stoke city centre. It's £5 on the gate. This ground has been on the hitlist for sometime. Uwdi Krugg from the brilliant 'Where's the Tea Hut' brought it to my attention. I adore grounds that aren't out in the wilderness and remain in the heart of the community.

It has a unique two-tier view as you walk in from the turnstile. You can watch the game from above the stand. I wander past the nearest goal and pick a spot to the left of the away dugout. Glossop North End are the visitors. They are in a fine run of form. Glossop is a market town in the High Peak of Derbyshire with a population of over 30,000. The fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was a pupil at the local grammar school.

I bump into a Glossop supporter who is worse for wear. I recall the hey-days of the 2008/2009 FA Vase run.  I saw them score a last ditch winner in their 4th round tie with Stewart & Lloyds from Corby.

The pace of the game is frightening and the tackling ferocious. The referee blows his whistle more than a Bow Street Runner. Glossop have guile and skill. Norton rely on huff, puff and hoof.

Everyone is so friendly. A Norton substitute appreciates that we have travelled from Nottingham. I exchange small talk with a Stokie groundhopper, whose love of the game is a beautiful moment to share.

The referee is missing loads of off-the-ball. The linesman on our side is neither use nor ornament. The Glossop 'keeper wipes out a Norton forward just outside the penalty area. No action is taken by the official.

We traipse up to the refreshment bar for a piping hot cup of coffee. Thankfully Williams hasn't been wheeled out to 'sing'a few tunes as part of the half time entertainment.

The second half is scrappy. Glossop are by far the better side. The goal they deserve is worth the gate money. The ball is shifted around the midfield, it finally finds its way to  Kieran Lugsden, who finishes emphatically to give the Hillmen a deserved victory.

Attendance: 105

Man of the Match: 9 jacket for Glossop

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Braintree Town 1-0 Cambridge United

I'm stood at the top of a grass bank in sun-soaked skies on a Sunday morning at a school in the Gedling area of Nottingham. It's adjacent to a ground where a fence post was once launched at me by some drunken, drug-fuelled teenagers. It's a lucky ground for Sticky Palms and today is no exception.

We're down to ten men after 15 minutes. Don't worry folks, Sticky junior hasn't seen Red. He's suffering from a heavy cold and is withdrawn from the action without complaint (for a change). We're 3-2 up at the break but under the cosh. We go 3-4-2 for the second half and add a further nine goals to our tally. Sizzers bags 5, Big C grabs a hat-trick and poor old Owen misses a late penalty that would have completed a treble.

I've really enjoyed having one last season coaching my lad. It's been challenging and rewarding. We've amassed 17 points in Division One of the Notts Youth League. We've comfortably overachieved. It's time to let them go at the end of the season. That goes for my Under 16s too.

I'm still smiling on Monday morning, despite having to pack my bag for a two night stop-over in Essex. I hit the road in the afternoon with Paul Hawksbee and legendary Scottish manager and Talk Sport pundit Alan McNee for company. Destination is the seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea. I'm booked in at a hotel on the outskirts of the town.

I have a lonely meal for one in the restaurant. A ten ounce ounce gammon steak can't cheer The Groundhopper up; he's missing his faithful sidekick, Murphy Palmer the budgie. The evening TV schedule is appalling. Maxine Peak on BBC1's courtroom drama Silk is worth a look but that's about your lot. I should have gone to the cinema. No wonder Alan Partridge had a breakdown.

After a huge breakfast, I fire up the company car and go about my business. After calling in at a few local schools and carrying out some audits, I head to the town of Braintree and its Premier Inn, which is tucked away at the back of a garden centre. 'The Mule' is checking in. Tonight he'll experience first hand the trials and tribulations of being a groundhopper.

We have a couple of drinks and a meal at a tidy restaurant next door. I was going to drive but the receptionist has tipped me the wink that the roads are being re-surfaced and that it might be better to peg it to the ground.

'The Mule' ain't happy about having to stretch his legs but he has to abide by my rules. It gives him the chance to spark a couple of ciggies up on the 15 minute hike to the ground.

Braintree is a town 10 miles north west of Chelmsford and 15 miles west of Colchester. It has a population of over 40,000. It was once well known for its silk and wool trade. Famous folk to have grown up in the town or been born there include: Pineapple Dance Studios artistic director, Louis Spence and dance group The Prodigy,

Braintree Town were formed in 1898 and are nicknamed 'The Iron.' This is their third consecutive season in the Conference Premier. They are managed by former West Ham United FA Cup winner Alan Devonshire.

We follow the receptionist's directions, taking a left hand turn just after the Orange Tree pub. Cressing Road is in a less salubrious part of town. Cambridge United fans are packed in on the far terrace. They're second in the table and have a trip to Wembley to look forward to in the FA Trophy.

Poor old part-time Braintree haven't kicked a ball at the Amlin Stadium this year. They are six or seven games behind the rest. I've always liked the look of Dan Holman and Daniel Sparkes, who I saw terror Gainsborough Trinity for Histon a few seasons ago.

'The Mule' seems content. He's confused that Cambridge have more fans in the ground than Braintree. He's a big Norwich City fan, who often chats to Murphy our budgie about the Canaries on Facebook. The ground is fairly low spec for a Conference club but  has a certain charm about it. The orange-painted crash barriers brighten up the whole place.

I've already threatened 'The Mule' that'll I'll never speak to him again if the match ends up 0-0. Sticky doesn't do blankety blank. Christ on a bike, after half an hour this game has 0-0 written all over it. Braintree look the livelier. Dan Holman is on the bench as Devonshire eases him back from injury.

Daniel Sparkes is the game-changer in the second half, which is pretty much dominated by the home team. On loan Watford winger, Mensah, finds Sparkes in space, he steadies himself before drilling a low, hard shot into the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Braintree miss countless chances to put the game to bed. Cambridge are absolutely awful. I can barely remember the home 'keeper having to make a save. They are powder puff in attack. Matthew Barnes-Homer is blowing out his backside and is substituted with 15 minutes to go. I reckon me and 'The Mule' have covered more ground tonight walking to the game and back to the hotel.

Man of the Match: Daniel Sparkes

Attendance: 1016