Sunday, October 26, 2014

Desborough Town 0-1 Deeping Rangers

It's a miserable Monday lunchtime. I'm sat in the 'Rolls Royce' on an industrial estate in Loughborough. It's pelting it down with rain as I nibble on my cheese and ham sandwich. I'm scrolling through my twitter timeline as I listen to the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. The BBC has just released results from a Price of Football Survey. I hear Vine bleating about Kidderminster charging £4.50 for a pie. I bet the fool has never even been to the Aggborough to sample it.

Ackers and I were guests of honour at Kidderminster Harriers v Cardiff City for a League Cup tie ten years ago. We were doing a tour of 108 grounds in England and Wales for charity. At the time it was £3 to buy this cottage pie that Vine is moaning about. It's the most famous delicacy in Non League football. Nigel Clough always ordered 20 portions for his Burton Albion players and staff each season for the coach journey home. I tweet Vine to redress the balance. He reads it out just before the one o'clock news. It cheers me up for the rest of the day.

I spent the other Tuesday night in the company of my good friend Jon Garton at Heanor Town, who were playing high-flying Tadcaster Albion. Nearly 280 folk turned out on a mild evening to watch a bruising encounter. Former Manchester United, WBA and Nottingham Forest midfielder Jonathan Greening played for Tadcaster. His brother Ricky is leading scorer for Albion in the Northern Counties East Premier League. The visitors deservedly won 2-1.

I'm reading a cracking book written by the journalist and author Charles Nevin, it's called 'Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love.' There's a chapter on the town of Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born. Nevin mentions a pub in Bottesford on the Notts/Leics border that was run by Stan Laurel's sister Olga. Laurel and Hardy stopped the night there in 1952 before appearing the following day in Nottingham. There's a plaque on the wall that Trumpy Bolton and I will be driving over to see next Saturday, on our way to Holbeach for a FA Vase cup tie.

I'm struggling to come to terms that I no longer scout for Notts County. It was my decision, but Saturday mornings feel empty without meaning. I stumble upon Sooty's magic wand while I'm rummaging in some drawers. I break down in tears. I didn't mean to leave Sooty in the toilets in Guiseley. I hope he's okay.

Comedy genius Sticky jnr cheers me up with his attempts at rustling up a cooked breakfast. "Dad, how do you crack an egg?" I don't think James Martin needs to worry about his job on Saturday Kitchen. Junior has a big cup tie in the village of Underwood this afternoon, where the author D H Lawrence set many of his books. Murphy Palmer the budgie mops up some Marmite on toast before I dash out the house.

My mate Phil picks me up for the trip to Desborough. The Graham Norton Show is on the radio. Ultra Nate's 'Free' is blasting out the car stereo. Tom Tom takes us off the M1 at Fosse Park and onto the ring road. We pass Everards Brewery. I close my eyes and daydream about necking a pint of Sunchaser or Tiger.

I clock a sign for Aylestone Leisure Centre. Aylestone Park is a football club that former Leicester City striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker started his junior football career at before being spotted by the Foxes. We're soon on the A6 entering the village of Kibworth Beauchamp. We swing a right into the the Coach and Horses car park, which is being power washed by a young, disinterested lad.

We're treated like royalty by the landlord. I saw a few negative reviews on Trip Advisor. I'm only here for the beer. I down a pint of Wainwright from the Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. We sit in the cosy bar. Tony Blackburn's Pick of the Pops is playing songs from 1972. The best by a country mile is 'Backstabbers' by The O'Jays. A bacon and brie sandwich and a basket of chips is a steal for £5.

Desborough is just over the Leicestershire/Northants border. It's between the towns of Market Harborough and Kettering and lies in the Ise Valley. It has a population of just over 10,000. We park across the road from a Co-op. The Desborough Co-operative Society was founded by local men in 1863. Sticky Palms loves the Co-op.

It's a short walk to the ground. It's £5 on the gate. I stump up £1 for a raffle ticket. I should be in with a shout, as I'm not expecting too many to show up today. The ground has seen better days, but this is what attracts me to it. It has low level cover behind the goal and up the nearest touch line. The Social Club is tucked away outside the ground. The old clubhouse was destroyed in a blaze back in 2008. It had a viewing gallery above the pitch. It has bags of soul and character.

The poor old PA guy is suffering a nervous breakdown. He plays a Boyzone CD and leaves it running. It's the first time I've contemplated suicide since Lincoln City appointed Chris Sutton as manager in 2009. It's too late for a refund, the teams have kicked off. Both clubs are mid-table, although Desborough have played more games.

The woodwork is rattled at both ends as the match begins at a frantic pace. The visitors are wasteful in front of goal, as chances are spurned. A shanked clearance flies over my head and ends up in the undergrowth. Folk are looking round at me to fetch it. Chuff that, I've got my £40 black winkle pickers on from Gordon Scott up Lister Gate in Nottingham.

Deeping take the lead with a beautifully executed goal. I grab a bottle of water at the break and watch the highlights of WBA v Everton on Setanta Sports in the Club. I'm gutted not to have won the wine, chocolates or biscuits in the raffle, as I notice the winning numbers chalked up on a blackboard.

Desborough are terrific in the second half and totally dominate the game. Deeping rely on blocks, clearances, saves and the occasional counter-attack. I watch the final 15 minutes sat on a wooden bench in the stand. I've thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Attendance: 54

Man of the Match: Sticky jnr who danced his way through Underwood MW and D H Lawrence.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nostell Miners Welfare 1-5 Cleethorpes Town

It's 7pm on Friday evening. I'm stood at the bus stop outside The Fairway pub in Keyworth, with my boy Sticky jnr. Big Col Stol is giving me pelters from the pub's smoking shelter. We're off out to see some old work colleagues who have been made redundant this week. I could have hung around for some wonga, but I was desperate to leave and couldn't miss out on the opportunity that came my way.

Sticky jnr is growing up a bit now; he's 19 in November. We had some run-ins when I ran his football team last season. I'm proud to say that he never received one caution. He's landed an apprenticeship at Barratt Homes. It was all going swimmingly on his induction week. On his second day on site in Leicester I received a text to tell me he had cut his thumb. See picture below  ...... ouch. The fool played football for his local village team at night. He didn't volunteer to go in goal.

The night out with my old work colleagues makes me feel flat and sombre. 'Shifty' has landed a job and 'The Zuffler' has a second interview, ironically in Loughborough, where I work. Some of these folk I'll never see again. It makes me feel sad. We only manage three pubs in the Canning Circus area of Nottingham: Hand and Heart, Organ Grinder and The Falcon, before I jump on the 12:30am Trent Barton bus outside The Approach on Friar Lane.

Saturday morning seems strange. I no longer work for Notts County as Head of Talent ID at the Academy. I'd usually be dashing around a few games in Nottingham city centre, before heading off groundhopping. It will leave a huge void in my life.

'The Skipper' is playing football at Tividale near Dudley. A parent has very kindly taken him. It's just me and my faithful budgie, Murphy Palmer in the house today. Sticky Palms Cleaning Services are in full flow. Windowlene, Domestos and Jif are given an outing in the bathroom. Forget Hilda Ogden or Winnie off Early Doors, I'm the boss when it comes to cleaning.

I jump in the Rolls Royce and head down the A46, up the A6097, joining the A614 before jumping on the A1. I fell in love with a pub I went to twice last season in Ossett. It's only 8 miles from Nostell's ground. I sail up the M62 and I'm soon parking up outside the Brewers Pride opposite a tractor.

I love the flagstone floors and open fires. There are usually seven guest ales on. I plump for a pint of Farmers Blonde from the Bradfield Brewery in Sheffield. I scan the lunchtime menu. Beer-battered haddock in a ciabatta sounds rather appealing and turns out to be so.

Tom Tom sends me through the city of Wakefield. I'm soon back out in the open countryside in the village of Crofton. I have a spot of bother finding the ground, before an opening appears at the end of a housing estate, as some filthy black clouds hover over the Crofton Centre, the home of Nostell Miners Welfare.

The Club play in the village of New Crofton, which appears to have had some money thrown at it, probably from the Coalfield Regeneration Trust. They were formed in 1928 and are nicknamed 'The Welfare.' Former Stockport County and Norwich City striker Oli Johnson began his career here.

Those black clouds have opened up and emptied vast amounts of water onto an already sodden surroundings. I sit in the car, with steamed up windows, as it rains cat and dogs on the roof. I finally venture out five minutes before kick-off, only to be told by a friendly club official that the start time has been put back by 15 minutes.

The thunder and lightning is spectacular. It sets off house alarms. Power is lost in the community centre for a few brief seconds. I walk into the entrance, past the National Union of Mineworkers flag. Nostell Colliery closed in 1987. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a cracking programme, my favourite of the season so far. There's even a folded team-sheet inside the programme; a nice touch that.

I sit in the main stand that towers over the pitch. I admire the new playing surface. They've spent close on £100,000 on a complete make-over. It is a beauty. The new drainage system is put to the test on its first outing, as it's sheeting down with rain.

I get chatting to a guy from the FA. He asks if I'm a groundhopper. I haven't brought a rucksack, programme cover or Tupperware sandwich box, so how the hell does he know? "You're not a referees' assessor are you?" I ask the man. "Yes mate." he replies. "Bloody hell." I say under my breath.

The Welfare are struggling a wee bit this season, whilst visitors Cleethorpes Town are flying high. They were in my neck of the woods last week, playing against Radcliffe Olympic in the FA Vase. The teams walk out to some God damn awful rap song. I'm begging for a power cut as the rain continues to lash down.  Two brave saves by The Welfare 'keeper prevent Cleethorpes taking the lead in the first minute.

The first injury of the day is on ten minutes when Sticky Palms bangs his head on a barrier, bending over to pick my programme up. I'm as hard as nails, physio is not required. Cleethorpes take the lead with a bullet header from an inswinging corner out on the left.

The game has a real ebb and flow about it. The heavy surface proves a great leveller. Cleethorpes passing game is a joy to watch, without an end product. Nostell get the ball forward quickly, using the 11 jacket's pocket rocket pace.

I've noticed on my Livescore app that former Lincoln City winger Lennell John-Lewis has scored for the Mariners. I love the Grimsby Town chant to the Beach Boys song 'Sloop John B' - "His name is a shop, Lenell John-Lewis, his name is a shop."

The Welfare equalize on 46 minutes following some sloppy defending. The visitors are rocked for ten minutes or so and let Nostell come onto them. The visitors take the lead, replicating their first goal. It ends up 5-1, a tad harsh on Nostell who were in the game for an hour.

Attendance: 42

Man of the Match: Referee Colin Whitaker (different gravy)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC 2-1 Rossington Main

It has broke my heart to resign as Head of Talent ID and Recruitment at the Notts County FC Academy. I'll miss trawling the three to four mile radius of inner city Nottingham each weekend, looking for fresh talent. They call scouts the 'Nowhere Men.' I'm the man who stands away from the crowd, dressed in plain clothes.

The guy I have reported into for over seven years is Mick Leonard, who played in goal for the Pies and the Spireites for over 500 games. He has been nothing short of first-class in his support for me in the role. One or two youth players are already regulars in the First Team. There's a conveyor belt of talent waiting to come through. For me though, it's time to move on.

It's 6:15pm on Friday evening. Murphy the budgie is sat on my hand predicting tomrrow's FA Vase score in Chorlton, Manchester. He whistles three times for West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC, sadly there's not a sausage for Rossington Main.

A grey Mondeo estate toots its horn outside my yard. It's blog legend White Van Man (aka the Big Man). As I slip into the passenger seat I eye-up the four cans of Stella that the Big Man has treated me to. He's just back in town after a trip to Borneo and Malaysia. He went with Bruiser, who is the biggest shirker in south Notts.

Blimey O'Reilly, the M6 is like a car park. Folk are shelling out big bucks for rides on Nottingham Goose Fair this weekend. You won't get a bigger thrill than the 'Death Ride' WVM' gives me on the country lanes off Junction 17 near Holmes Chapel. We pull up outside our plush apartment in Didsbury Village at 8:30 on the nose.

The Big Man has come up trumps with the accomodation, despite the landlord being associated with X-Factor act Kingsland Road. I'm soon necking a pint of Boon Doggle at the Royal Oak. White Van Man jaywalks the main drag and hails a black cab. We head up to the more popular area of West Didsbury. First port of call is The Metropolitan, which back in the day was a grand Victorian railway hotel. I down a pint of Vanilla Porter, a Colorado craft beer. It's absolute nectar and makes me feel all queasy.

We hook up with legendary Keyworth United centre forward, Tom Aldred, who works for Barclays in Manchester. I'm gutted I've forgot my autograph book and pen for Tom to sign. We visit a few more bars, before calling in at The Drawing Room. Manchester loves to embrace its musical culture. We're treated to The Smiths, New Order and The Stone Roses. We retire to the apartment for a late Grey Goose nightcap. Sticky Palms collapses on the sofa in a heap.

It's 11:00am when we finally awake from our slumber. We head out onto Barlow Moor Road and dive into the Crema Cafe, for a full English breakfast, with black pudding from Bury. There's a commotion across the road in the churchyard. Cops are crawling all over the joint. Rumours spread of someone being attacked in the early hours. A crime scene is taped off. A couple of ageing cops walk into the cafe to make discreet enquiries.

They are questioning the till girl in Ladbrokes as I place a £1 bet on Jordan Rhodes to score the first goal for Blackburn (the bolt later misses a penalty).

West Didsbury has a population of 14,000 and lies 4 miles south of Manchester. Neighbouring Chorlton-cum-Hardy is of similar size and is the home of West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC. Notable residents gone by to have lived in the area include: Alcock and Brown, the first men to fly across the Atlantic, the Bee Gees, Doris Speed (Annie Walker) off Coronation Street and the actor Warren Clarke.

We drive down what appears to be a dead end. It suddenly opens up to reveal the ground situated in a dip. It's a beautiful setting. It's tree-lined, with grass banks and housing backing onto it. A cheerful chap on the gate charges us £5 and £2 for a programme.

We stroll across to the modern clubhouse. I'm too hungover for alcohol and opt for a Diet Coke. The place is bustling. You can buy beanie hats, scarves and mugs. WVM spots me biting my nails. An early goal will settle our nerves. In 7 years of groundhopping we've never done a 0-0. The PA is crystal clear, sadly there's no Mancunian music being played.

It's a beautiful sunny day, as 'West' kick into a light wind. White Van Man has spotted some 'gripper' on the 'West' bench; he'll be taking his eye off the ball for most of the afternoon. The home team's bald-headed No.8 clatters into an opponent. The 'Big Man' remarks he may be taking an early bath today.

It's like a scene from 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' in the 'West' technical area. They only just all squeeze in there. 'West' boss the game. It's a miracle that they take 44 minutes to open their account, with a scruffy goal from a 'Rory Delap' long throw.

I shout a tea up for WVM at the break. I'm served by a glum-looking club official. The committees of both clubs tuck into egg and cheese sandwiches with pots of tea. We are kindly offered some left-overs. I stare at the TV screen in disbelief. Barrow Town in the Conference North are entertaining Lowestoft Town. It's a 650 mile round trip. It's bloody madness for a part-time club.

My old boss from my previous job walks into the bar. He lives in east Manchester. We have a good rattle and catch-up in the second half, which once again 'West' dominate. Scott, (old boss) has the brass neck to flick back the matchball with the outside of his left foot before I touch it. How rude!

Baldwin-Willis appears to have put the game to bed for 'West' with a thumping drive. The crowd of 59 are left on tenterhooks with Rossington chalking a goal back five minutes from time.

The inevitable happens close to full-time with 8 jacket being dismissed for a second yellow card. When Sky sacked Keys and Gray, they should have called up WVM and Sticky, because we can't arf 'call it.'

Attendance: 59

Man of the Match: The Drawing Room, in West Didsbury: "Sheila Take a Bow"