Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ilkeston FC 1-1 Blyth Spartans

Mrs P is on one of those girly spa day thingys out at Kettering in Northamptonshire. Murphy the budgie and I are chuckling away like Muttley off Wacky Races that a Take That tribute band and an overnight stay are part of the package deal. It's a proper boys' night in. First port of call is a catch-up with 'The Zuffler' at the Ruddington Arms. We chew the crud over a pint of golden ale, before I call in at the award-winning Plumtrees Fish Bar on Nottingham Road in Keyworth for a large piece of haddock.

Murphy loves pecking at the batter. He'll never reach the average age of a budgie with some of the crap I feed him. He'll have the same cholesterol as the world's fattest man - Daniel Lambert, who died in 1809 at a pub in Stamford. He was that fat they had to knock the wall out because the undertakers couldn't get him through the door.

Murphy is spitting out his batter bits and I'm choking on my wine as we watch our first 0-0 of the season between Cambridge United and the overrated Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United. I wish LVG would sort his 'syrup' out; he could do with a good old short back 'n sides. Ted the barber at City Gents on Queen St, Nottingham, would have sorted him out back in the day. We're up with the larks on Saturday morning.

'The Skipper' is playing his first game since God knows when. We drop in at a garage in Ruddington. I fill up with petrol, while he refuels with a Subway breakfast. He jumps out the car at the world famous Clifton All-Whites FC, a breeding ground for talented footballers. I head off back to Keyworth and drop into the Village Bistro where I demolish a full English breakfast accompanied with an Americano.

Clifton are coasting when I return back to their Green Lane ground. 'The Skipper' bags a beauty in front of his Dad, with a clever give 'n go. I'm stood with legendary First Team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. He receives more voicemails than News International and makes Harry Redknapp look like a mug on Transfer Deadline Day. The screen on his phone is smashed to smithereens. It's been lost more times than Mark Thatcher.

'The Skipper' enjoys a celebratory refreshment and a tray of chips, before we return to base. Sticky jnr is unsure of a starting place for the Stiffs, as he's not fully recovered from a knock he picked up the other week. I'm not giving up an afternoon to watch him park his arse on the subs' bench.

Tosh has already mentioned that the game of the day is up in inner city Nottingham, one of my favourite haunts, where I used to pick up players for fun when I worked for the Pies. Radford are entertaining League leaders Blaby and Whetstone from Leicester, in the East Midlands Counties League.

It's a bugger to park your car around here. I turn into Selhurst Street off a bustling Radford Road, which is a must-see attraction for those who haven't been before. It's my favourite part of multi-cultural Nottingham. There's Bob Hope of parking my car round here. I'll need a can opener to prise open the 'Rolls Royce' door. I abandon the 'Rolls' on a shady side street off Berridge Road and participate in a spot of jaywalking across Radford Road, minus the baseball cap and headset.

Sought after John King has just put Radford 1-0 up as I squeeze through the turnstile with my four layers of clothing on. I've jumped on the Radford bandwagon as they enjoy a nine game winning run. Confidence is soaring high as young Joe Meakin puts them two to the good with a brilliant dead ball strike. Blaby are all over the show. Their coaches are lost for words and tactics. In fairness they deservedly peg one back before the break.

There's a grandstand finish, with another Meakin bullet, Blaby reply immediately from the kick off. Big Glenn's face is on full beam at the final whistle. The ref has dished out more cards than Clintons, and has sent a player off for Radford. There's not one bad tackle in the game. The referee's assessor is a prized pillock. He spends most of the afternoon joshing with the crowd, instead of keeping his eyes on the game.

It's while I'm flicking through the Non League Paper, after a successful Sunday morning's shopping, where I've bagged a couple of new groundhopping coats, that I notice that Ilkeston are playing host to Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League. A quick text reply from The Taxman confirms an ITV free night for Sticky on Monday.

I pick up 'The Taxman' at 7:00pm on the dot. We have a good old moan about our teenage boys on the short journey to Ilkeston. Sticky jnr has been holed up at College for three hours after leaving his keys in the boot of his car and his spare key in the glove compartment. A nice little bill will have to be settled by junior before the locksmith can set to work.

There's a bumper ground this evening (816) following a campaign by a local supermarket to let flag waving kids in for free. Ilson's youth policy is literally paying dividends. Kieran Wallace and Che Adams have signed for young Clough at the Blades, while other youth have been snapped up by QPR, Fleetwood and Chester.

Blyth's wing wizard, Jarret Rivers has been reported to have turned down personal terms with Cambridge Utd. We get a slightly elevated few stood on the concrete steps to the right of the away dugout. The first half is as dull as dishwater. Ilkeston play it route one to the lumbering journeyman Robert Duffy and then pressure the ball to pick up the 'seconds.' Blyth look lethargic and leggy after their 180 mile coach journey from Northumberland.

Neither 'keeper is troubled in a stalemate of a first half. Ilkeston get the ball down and work the channels, after Duffy limps off after being pole-axed by the visiting 'keeper. Substitute Samba scores with almost his first touch. Ilson have further chances to put the game to bed. With the clock ticking in John Motson 'mystery time', Dale curls in a beautifully flighted cross which skims off the head of Steven Turnbull into the roof of the net. Spartans can feel a shade fortunate as they have looked a little off colour tonight.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Walsall Wood 1-1 Shaw Lane Aquaforce

I've worked in Loughborough for the last six months and have become very fond of the place. I've enjoyed canal side walks and ambling around the town centre. Waterstones has become a favourite lunchtime haunt of mine. I must have made over 50 appearances at the Loughborough branch, hiding from the cold and rain. Staff in there must have thought I was some kind of serial stalker. I didn't even buy a book in there.

The reason for my rambling is that the office has moved to Ruddington, near Nottingham, ironically opposite a company I worked for over 15 years. It's literally a five minute drive from my house, and yet I'll be starting earlier and finishing later. Hopefully, good times lie ahead.

It's Friday evening and I'm sat in the Keyworth Tavern with Mrs P, drinking a pint of Castle Rock's awarding-winning Harvest Pale Ale. There's no sign of blog legend Trumpy Bolton. Rumours in the Keyworth News are that he's signed up to the January dryathon. I clock a poster on a wall by the entrance. It says there's a 'Ska Night' coming up in a few weeks. Trumpy's party piece is 'Special Brew' by Bad Manners. I'll be dropping by for that one.

On Saturday morning I receive a text at just gone 7:00am to tell me 'The Skipper's' game has been frosted off. It's been a frustrating time for my lad; his team have struggled to attract players this season. Had the Club not been so hasty in calling this one off, they would have found perfect playing conditions, with sun-kissed skies by 10:30.

I'm having problems with my youngest lad, Murphy the budgie. I open his cage door and beckon him to jump on my finger. He's staring head first into his mirror. I can see he is in a filthy mood. He swings his head back and brings it back with such force, that I'm surprised the head butt doesn't crack the glass in his mirror. I've not seen such a vicious assault since Dion Dublin stuck the nut on Robbie Savage in 2003. The reason for Murphy's mood swing is two fold: one, he's been overlooked for the managerial vacancy at Norwich City (they did appoint an unknown though) and two, I forgot to switch Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2. He's soon whistling to The Troggs 1966 hit 'Wild Thing', as I rustle up a bacon sandwich.

I scanned the FA Vase 4th round draw earlier in the week. The stand-out tie for me is between Walsall Wood and Shaw Lane Aquaforce from South Yorkshire. It's a tick-off for me. Pitch condition updates from 'The Wood' twitter feed have been excellent this week. They confirm the game is on.

There are a dozen hooligans wearing designer clothing and baseball caps, loafing about in my lounge. What's popping? It's D***y v NFFC on the box. 'The Skipper' is in the kitchen making everyone coffee. Having sampled one, there's still hope for Phil Neville yet.

Murphy is perched on the back row of the settee. He's soon diving for cover when Sticky jnr starts to trash the room after Henri Lansbury's 50 pence head puts the Rams 1-0 up. I leave them to it. I punch the postcode into the sat nav and head towards the A50 and A38. I switch on 'Radio Red', it seems that the Tricky Trees have settled down a bit and are beginning to carve out a few chances.

I begin to lose reception as Zaire-born, leading scorer, Britt Assombalonga puts Forest on level terms. Murphy will be hiding on top of the curtain rail, as Sticky jnr goes mental. I press a couple of buttons and chance upon Radio D***y. They have a couple of clowns commentating; one of them is Craig Ramage, who takes great pleasure in slagging off Stuart Pearce for most of the game. I remember this bone-idle waste of space playing 50 times for the Pies in the late 90s. Derby-born Ben Osborn's late winner makes the moment even sweeter as Ramage bleats down his microphone. Poor old Murphy will probably be in intensive care.

I can't find a decent hostelry in the Good Pub Guide for love or money in this area of Walsall. I swing the 'Rolls Royce' into the Oak Park Leisure Centre. I walk past the Shaw Lane team coach and wander through some wrought iron gates, before parting with £7 on the gate, including  a programme.

The place is already bustling with folk. I notice a memorial pithead in the distance to the far side of the changing rooms. I get chatting to a tall bald-headed fellow who says he recognises me. I bloody hope not, as it turns out to be former Football League referee Phil Prosser. He once ran the line in a Champions League game between PSV Eindhoven and Bayern Munich. Phil now mentors young referees. 26 year old Lisa Rashid is today's official.

I take a pew on a wooden bench on the back row of a stand on the far side of the ground. Phil and I have a good chinwag. He tips me the wink on one or two grounds that I ought to visit, Brocton being one of them.

'The Wood' have done well to get this game on. The pitch is heavily sanded on the touchline close to the dugouts. Shaw Lane could have scored in the first 30 seconds, while 'The Wood', a minute later, actually do, with a textbook finish by Evans.

Poor old Shane Kelsey has an equaliser controversially chalked-off, Morris is the perpetrator, lazily walking back in an offside position and then clumsily colliding with a defender. Kelsey doesn't have to wait long for justice. He equalises from the spot, following a stonewall penalty. Shaw Lane enjoy a golden thirty minute spell as the chances stack up. Tackles are flying in, and there is a flurry of yellow cards, but the game is well controlled by young Rashid, as Phil scurrilously pens notes in his book.

I bump into some groundhoppers from Northampton at the break. One of them is related to Newcastle United goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who has been farmed out to Nottingham Forest on loan. There are long queues at the bars. I hot foot it back to the stand. There's no sign of Phil; I must have bored him to death.

The second half and extra time is dire. The game's best player, Shaw Lane's left back, Luke O'Brien is controversially sent off for a professional foul, even though he isn't last man. There's a cameo performance from one of Sticky's all-time favourites, Anton Foster.  Shaw Lane play for an hour with ten men, but deservedly earn a draw, forcing a replay.

Attendance: 169

Man of the Match: Luke O'Brien.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stapenhill 0-2 Radford FC

I'm still cooing over the eleven goal thriller at The Dovecote. In 45 years of watching football, it's my biggest aggregate scoreline. Christmas is a quiet affair. I'm dry on New Year's Eve for the first time in living memory. I spend most of it chuckling away at Danny Baker's autobiography, 'Going Off Alarming.'

Last Saturday I accompanied White Van Man and Bruiser to the Leicestershire Midland League derby between Quorn and Shepshed. It ended honours even at 1-1. WVM must have had Grand Theft Auto 6 as a present for Christmas, as we hurtle down the tight country lines near Prestwold, where ironically there is  a purpose built 1.8 mile racetrack, where his skills might be put to better use. Highlight of the day at Quorn is when the tea lady tells a head-shaking Bruiser that there's no tucker on at the snap cabin.

It's Saturday morning. I'm clipping a fruit stick onto Finley the rabbit's cage. It's a treat from his Uncle Fod for tipping him that Lallana would bag at anytime versus Swansea the other day. Finley's no mug when it comes to the Premiership, but is an utter fool on the Non League circuit. He sticks his floppy ears out his front door to assess the gusty conditions, before predicting a 0-0 bore draw. Big Glen Russell at Radford FC doesn't do 0-0s Finley. Anyway, it's been three years since I saw my last competitive blankety blank (Skeggy v Clifton doesn't count, Tosh took em on the lash at lunch).

Finley has been suffering recurring nightmares since Christmas. My bad readers. I let him in the lounge one cold afternoon. We curled up on the sofa and watched Watership Down together. I totally forgot the film has a few dark moments and a couple of rabbits bite the dust. He's only just got over Glenn Close butchering that pet rabbit in Fatal Attraction - unfortunately that was my fault too.

I nip in the lounge before dropping 'The Skipper' off at Clifton All-Whites. Murphy the budgie is dive bombing Mrs P. He's squawking and squealing. Who can blame him when he's being force fed Whitney Houston on the Graham Norton's Radio 2 show - well, she's not actually on it, because she died in a scalding hot bath in Beverley Hill back in April 2012 due to an overdose of prescription drugs. 'So Emotional' by the Newark born singer (that's the one in New Jersey, not to be confused with the town near Lincoln) is irritating my little feathered friend.

After dropping 'The Skipper' off, I pitch up at Bread 'n Lard Island (West Bridgford). It's Nottingham's version of Knightsbridge. I've got to get my windows fixed otherwise I'm going to have more plasters on those frames than Jack Duckworth. I have a Mr Magoo moment as I walk past Specsavers without seeing it. Once again, they provide excellent customer service. I bag a Swiss cheese and chorizo Panini at the brilliant No.8 Deli on Gordon Road.

Bloody hell, my phone's going off, what's popping? Ooh heck, The Skipper's game is off: it's a no show from the opposition from Birmingham.

I play around with my new Garmin sat nav, recommended by resident blog drunk, Trumpy Bolton, as I drive the 'Rolls Royce' through Kegworth and onto the A50. I'm soon turning off onto the A38 and navigating towards the village of Repton in South Derbyshire. I pull up opposite the Bulls Head on the High Street.

Repton is famous for its private school. There's a huge list of former pupils including: Harold Abrahams, Roald Dahl, Jeremy Clarkson, Basil Rathbone, Robert Sangster and Derby midfielder Will Hughes. Former Ipswich Town defender Russell Osman was born in the village.

The Bulls Head is a beauty and candidate for Pub of the Year. I was tipped it by a Bluenose at work. I love the low beams and pillars. They have six real ales on hand-pull. I opt for a pint of Purity Gold brewed in nearby Warwickshire. The main dining area is stacked out with folks. It has a wonderful ambience. Wood-fired pizzas are proving popular, as are The Smiths and Jake Bugg (one of our own) on the pub sound system.

White Van Man will be regretting missing out on this trip, there's a chippy adjacent to the pub called Good Buy Mr Chips - it sells the best Pukka Pies in the area. Stapenhill is a 15 minute drive up the road. After negotiating a few tight country lanes, I roll into the Maple Grove car park half an hour before kick off.

I'm greeted by a friendly chap on the gate. I part with £5 for admission plus a programme. The Club official tells me there's a groundhopper from Wigan in the social club. Bloody hell, I bet he's caught three trains and a bus.

I bump into Radford FC manager 'Big Glenn Russell', who is warming the troops up. He's left star turn John King on the bench. Glenn has brought a few with him from disbanded Nottingham outfit Bilborough Pelican.

I like the ground, it's in a nice spot. It has cushioned leather seats in the nearest stand, with further cover behind the goal closest to the clubhouse. You can only view from three sides of the ground, with the dugouts being situated on the far side. There are some dreadful RnB toons blasting out the PA. Norman Collier's faulty microphone is once again in use as the PA guy reads out the line-ups.

'Big Glenn' nearly loses his baseball cap in the swirling wind as he jumps off his seat in the dugout and stomps into the technical area to remonstrate with his two centre backs: "Stay in the f***ing hole", he shouts.

Radford take an early lead through Dave Udoh. They're soon 2-0 up, slightly against the run of play, following a cool left foot finish by the impressive Sheriff Babatunde. It's the same old story at half-time, as I warm my hands with a piping hot mug of tea, Forest, Notts and the Stags are all losing.

Joe Meakin continues to control the midfield. He keeps it simple and can pick a pass. Surely he is destined for a higher level of football than this. Where are the spotters ?

I've chanced upon the 'Wigan Groundhopper' - I can't understand a bloody word he says - he sounds like Eddie Waring. He's got to catch a bus and three trains back oop north. He's not happy when the ref plays 8 minutes injury-time. Golden rules of proper Hoppers are that you never leave until the final whistle. I'm sure I see him shed a tear as his choice of bus sails up the road. I offer him a lift into Burton, but he's having none of it - he'll be lucky if he's home for Songs of Praise at this rate.

Attendance: 56

Man of the Match: Joe Meakin