Sunday, March 22, 2015

Norwich City 3-1 Nottingham Forest

I've got this little budgie called Murphy, he's not named after the twins Jacob and Josh at Norwich City, but former Lincoln City manager Colin Murphy. He was born in Handsworth in Sheffield, the same place as the actor Sean Bean. He's supported Norwich City since he was a little lad; it's because he sports the same colours.

It's Tuesday evening, Mrs P is watching those two twonks on Masterchef. Murphy is sat on my shoulder staring at the Live Scores app on my phone. He suddenly starts crying and blubbering like a little baby. I glance at my phone, James Vaughan has put the Terriers of Huddersfield 2-1 up against the Canaries of Norwich in the 96th minute. Within two minutes he's pecking on the glass of my mobile in delight as Jamaican youngster Jamar Loza poaches an equaliser with the last kick of the game.

It's Saturday morning, Murphy is nowhere to be seen. He's upped and gone, flapping his wings on the long journey east to Norwich. The Big Man (the artist formerly known as White Van Man) had forgot to buy my feathered friend a train ticket. I'm up at the Big Man's for a full English. The fried eggs are served sunny side up. Breakfast is mopped up with a slice of bread and butter.

'Rotton' drives us to Nottingham train station in his Mini. Sticky squeezes into the back, as the Big Man rides shotgun side. It's a gruelling 15 minute drive due to Capital FM being station of choice. I have a bit of moan. He changes it to Smooth FM. Now that's better. We meet Bruiser at the station. He annoys the taxi driver by blasting his horn to sound his arrival. He's still cooing over his tick-off at Marseille's stadium in the South of France a few weekends ago.

The train departs bang on time and is soon rattling its way through Grantham and Peterborough. There are a few Chesterfield fans making their way to London Road to watch the Spireites. The Big Man reads the Mirror and terrors a few 'rowdy birds' on Facebook, while Bruiser gives me the lowdown on the Tricky Trees - I haven't watch them since December 2013.

We're met off the train by Keyworth United legend Dean Bennett and his family. Deano lives just outside Norwich city centre. Norwich  lies on the River Wensum in the county of Norfolk, with a population of 140,000. It has the most visited library in England. It had 1.3 million visitors in 2013. ITV Anglia is based in the city. Famous custodians from the area include: news reader Carol Barnes, war heroine Edith Cavell, turkey farmer Bernard Matthews, actor Sir John Mills, Horatio Nelson, singer Cathy Dennis, politician Ed Balls and footballers Danny Mills and Chris Martin.

I once visited Carrow Road back in 2004, whilst touring 107 grounds in five days for charity. Club legend Darren Huckerby very kindly gave me a signed football which raised £100 at an auction. Former striker Chris Sutton is never mentioned in our house. He is solely responsible for the demise of my club, Lincoln City.

Record appearances for the Canaries is held by 'keeper Kevin Keelan at 673. Record transfer fee received is £8 million from QPR for Leroy Fer. They shelled out £8.5 million on Dutch flop Ricky Van Wolfswinkel from Sporting CP. He's currently been farmed out on loan to St Etienne. Players to have played for both Forest and Norwich include: Dave Phillips, Jim Brennan, Matthieu Louis-Jean, Justin Fashanu, Darren Huckerby, Chris Woods, Ian Butterworth, Rob Earnshaw, Gary Holt ( now Norwich 1st team coach) and Grant Holt.

We wander through Norwich's version of Nottingham's Cornerhouse complex. We finally tip up at Wetherspoons' the Queen of Iceni. The place is mobbed out with folk. I sink three pints of 1664. News is filtering through that Middlesbrough and Brentford are both getting beaten. Bruiser is a proper shirker when it comes to drinking. He double-parks a couple of Foster shandies. There's a good ambience in the bar, with both sets of fans chanting.

It's been an expensive day The train ticket is £42, match ticket £35. The programme is great value at £3 and a terrific read. I leave Bruiser and the Big Man tucking into some of Delia's award-winning pies. I take my seat in The Jarrold Stand and admire the view, but not the pitch, which looks sub standard.

Forest kick against a swirling wind. Gardner and Lansbury sit deep as the Tricky Trees invite Norwich to attack. The Canaries full backs hug the touchline, peppering the penalty area with an endless stream of crosses which are dealt with superbly by Wilson and the impressive Lascelles.

Plan A bites the dust, Blackstock pulls a hamstring and is withdrawn. The dangerous Antonio is drafted in from the wing to become a lone ranger. Ruddy hares off his line to save bravely from him. Osborne stings the 'keeper's hands with another effort. Forest look dangerous on the counterattack, but it's Norwich that have a lion's share of the possession.

It looks job done for the tactically astute Dougie Freedman as Forest soak up the pressure, with Darlow relatively untroubled. With seconds remaining, and within the blink of an eye, Norwich take the lead following a wonderful move started from the back. The ball is threaded through the eye of needle to Howson who somehow squeezes his shot past Darlow.

There's a mesmerising spell of play from Norwich in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Mancienne, a square peg in a round hole, is getting terrorised at right back. Another cross comes in from Olsson, it's cheekily back heeled into the net by Jerome.

Norwich are rampant. Chris Burke lazily fails to track back, Olsson takes a tumble, it's a stonewall penalty. Hoolahan scores his first goal at Carrow Road in over two years. The Canary faithful suddenly find their voice, including Murphy Palmer, who I swear is perched on the gantry.

A goal is pulled back after Ruddy parries an effort from Patterson, with Burke close on hand to tap home. A Lascelles header is chalked off with the hapless Ruddy cleaning windows.

The score and performance is too much to take for the usually partisan Bruiser. He is the original 'the bloke behind me.' It takes it's toll on the three guys in front of us who depart the stadium to escape Bruiser's effing, jeffing and constant moaning with ten minutes remaining.

There's an eventual end to the day when the train home is delayed and the British Transport Police summoned as drunken, loutish Forest fans fall out with one another over seating arrangements.

Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan

Attendance: 26,976

Monday, March 9, 2015

Underwood Villa Res 2-1 Keyworth United Res

It's a cold and blustery Sunday morning. I've been itching to go on this walk for time. I drive the 'Rolls Royce' through the leafy suburb of West Bridgford and over Trent Bridge. Nottingham Forest's wonderful, established football stadium, The City Ground, towers above the banks of the River Trent. I turn off London Road, past the Cattle Market. I pull up on Meadow Lane, outside the oldest Football League club in the world.

I worked tirelessly for the Pies for over seven years as Head of Recruitment at their Academy. I sometimes sacrificed watching my own boys play the beautiful game to be sent on a scouting mission in the back and beyond. It didn't matter a jot to some folk down there. It broke my heart to leave the Club. I had to resign as a matter of principle. Mrs P is with me. We walk down to Iremonger Road; it's named after legendary Notts' 'keeper Albert Iremonger, who made 564 appearances between 1905-1925.

It's a breathtaking three mile walk down the canal towpath. You can see at first glance the development that has taken place in our wonderful city. Anglers cast out for Bream, Perch and Gudgeon. Joggers pound the pavement, running endless miles in training regimes for their next marathon. Cyclists ring their bells to gain our attention.

We stop for coffee on Arkwright Street. I gaze out the window towards the architectural 1970s disaster that is Broadmarsh. The guy who rubber-stamped what was once voted the ugliest building in Nottingham has probably passed away by now. I bump into Big D on the canal. That's what's great about Nottingham, it's full of characters who make me laugh.

It's Friday evening, and after a stressful week at work, it's time to chillax. I'm in the Gamston Lock pub with the lads from work. It's my second appearance here in seven days. I down a couple of pints of Cocker Hoop from the Jennings Brewery up in Cumbria. One of the lads from work spills a full pint down my trousers. It doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for the evening ahead. The highlight is a couple of pints of Punk IPA in the Brew Dog in Hockley.

Christ, I'm rough as a badger's backside on Saturday morning. Murphy Palmer the budgie is still sulking over Norwich City's midweek 1-0 reverse against Wigan Athletic. Wigan, is of course, the home of Northern Soul. Murphy has banned this genre of music in our house until further notice. I've had to box up my Edwin Starr collection and carry it up to the loft. Murphy threatens to attack the aerial of my DAB radio if Brian Matthew plays a Northern Soul track on his Radio 2 show this morning.

Mrs P drops 'The Skipper' off for his Midland Junior Premier League cup tie on Saturday morning. I slope off up the Keyworth Bistro for a hearty breakfast. Our Joe's team look in fine fettle as they coast to victory in the first round of the cup against a team from Shrewsbury.

First team manager James 'Tosh' Turner is parading around the ground in his QPR tracksuit. He spent last night with his pal Jermaine Jenas at Noel Gallagher's Flying Birds gig at the Nottingham Arena. Rumour has it Tosh even got to go in the dressing room. Word spreads around the ground that Jenas and Gallagher are due down any minute. It's got to be a wind up.

I leave Tosh to roll the pitch on his tractor and head off up the Nottingham ring road and onto the A610. I decline an invitation to watch MK Dons v Preston North End in League One.The brilliant Big John Murray is commentating at Valley Parade on the Bradford v Reading FA Cup tie. Former Pies midfielder Gary Liddle sees a shot come off the post.

I drive through Eastwood, past the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre. A few years ago I thought I was being stalked by this groundhopper. Every game I went to, he would tip up at too. One Saturday I decided to visit the birthplace of D H Lawrence on Victoria Street in Eastwood. I was sitting in David Herbert's bedroom listening to a talk by one of the guides, when there was a knock at the door and in waltzed that bloody groundhopper. I couldn't chuffing believe it.

I roll through the village of Brinsley before pitching up in Underwood. D H Lawrence courted a lass from here who lived at Hagg's Farm. Back in the day this area was a colliery district. I had hoped to have a swift one at the Red Lion on Church Lane, which has an entry in the 'Lucky Dip' section of the Good Pub Guide. To be honest I'm still feeling fragile from Friday night, so decide to give the boozer the swerve.

I find Bracken Park, the home of Underwood Villa just off the Mansfield Road. The brick built clubhouse sits above the two football pitches. I can see Keyworth Utd are being put through their paces. The No.7 looks gangly. He wears socks over his knees and has black cycling shorts on. I see one of his trademark mazy runs, despite it being a passing drill. It's my lad of course - Sticky junior. He has represented his village for 14 years.

This is the lowest level of football I've blogged in eight years of groundhopping. I've no regrets. There are woods to the right. The setting is beautiful, the skies blue-painted, with a slight westerly breeze.

It's Division 2 of the NSL. What I do like though is that both teams invest in youth. Sticky junior's usual manager isn't here today. My lad has a lot of time for him. He's brilliant at motivation and relaxing the boys in the changing room.

Seasoned veteran Dave Fisk is helping out in Lee's absence. He always has an encouraging word or two for junior. Underwood has always produced good players. We picked up a lad for Notts at 16 years old, who went on to become a scholar with the Pies.

There isn't much doing in the first half The referee takes one in the chops following a Normington stray clearance. The game is in desperate need of a goal. Keyworth hold all the aces, particularly with young Goran Seymour on the left. They take the lead with a beautifully executed goal, which is started by young Tom Randall on the right and finished with a low drive by Seymour, following unselfish work by Burrell.

I hook up with Alan and Dave in the clubhouse. Alan kindly buys me a coffee as we watch the half times roll in. I glance at the food menu in the bar. I'm not really in the mood for any of Nobby's Nuts or a Fredo bar.

It's one way traffic in the second half, as the wind whips up. Young junior sees little of the ball. He seems to be receiving mixed messages from the coaching staff, when it's clear he should be tucking in a good 15 metres or so, as Villa run riot down the right hand side.

Villa restore parity with a comedy goal. Harbottle in the nets, who always sports a cap when around at our house, forgets his headwear for the game. A low sun catches him out, his reflexes are too late, a 35 yard free-kick somehow finds it way into the net. The winner comes ten minutes later, following Villa's umpteenth corner of the second half.

Junior and Goran are substituted. My lad is frustrated at not getting on the ball. I tell him to keep his chin up. There's always next week.

Attendance: 23 (Head Count)

Man of the Match: Goran Seymour

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Uttoxeter Town 1-2 Littleton

It's Friday evening, and I'm slouched in a leather chair in the Lounge of the Rancliffe Arms in Bunny. I'm with my colleague Joe Hendley from Impero Software, celebrating a successful month at work. I down a pint of Help For Heroes real ale and get chatting with a good friend of mine, Kev Flinton, who I haven't seen in over 20 years.

I arrive home to an empty house. Mrs P is on the lash with the girlies in Nottingham. I scour the fixtures on the Net. I clock Uttoxeter Town are entertaining Littleton from Evesham in the Midland League Division One. Uttoxeter impressed me a few months back in an entertaining game at Nuneaton Griff. I check facebook. Bruiser and Piers are taunting me from Marseille. They are at a French Ligue 1 game at a ground I haven't been to. Marseille throw away a 2-0 lead, going on to lose 3-2. Bruiser can't arf pick em.

I sleep like a log and rise at 8:00am. New Zealand have scraped home by one wicket against Australia in the World Cup. Murphy Palmer the budgie is mean and moody. He's been feathering all week. I can tell he's nervous about the East Anglian derby on Sunday. He'd love to 'Glasgow Kiss' Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy. I caught my little feathered friend red-handed the other evening eyeing up that new copper in Death in Paradise. Personally, I was appalled at her tight denim shorts, legs up to her backside and an off the shoulder T-shirt.

I wash the 'Rolls Royce' and grab a cup of coffee. I switch on the Danny Baker Show. That complete buffoon Chris Sutton is on the longest ever 'Sausage Sandwich Game.' This is the man who refused to play for England and single-handedly destroyed my team, Lincoln City. Baker's talk over music is the brilliant 'Quiet Life' by David Sylvian's Japan.

I drive across to Clifton. Today is 'The Skipper's' 17th birthday. He celebrates in style by bagging a brace for the world famous Clifton All Whites. I check-in with first team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. His mobile phone is glued to his ear, as he makes a few last minute transfer enquiries, before heading off to Mickleover for a Central Midlands League game. The chairman is overseeing the installation of the new floodlights, which is scheduled to take place next week.

My phone suddenly goes off with a text alert. It's White Van Man confirming that tickets and train have been booked for Norwich on March 21st when Forest take on the Canaries. At £77 it ain't cheap folks. It's a short trip to Uttoxeter. Crystal Palace are leading West Ham 1-0 courtesy of a Glenn Murray goal, as I turn off the A50 and head into the back of the town centre.

Uttoxeter is a market town in Staffordshire with a population of 12,000. Joseph Cyril Bamford was born in the town. JCB are now the third biggest manufacturer of heavy plant in the world. Sticky's favourite film director Shane Meadows is from Uttoxeter. Murphy the budgie asks for his towel to go over the cage when I watch the spine-chilling Dead Man's Shoes on DVD. The local racecourse is also well known, it is where the Midlands Grand National is held.

Uttoxeter's Oldfield Sports Club, on Springfield Road, is a piece of cake to find. There is no repeat of the last week's drama, when I verbally volleyed the Tom Tom. The ground is shared with the Rugby Club. It has a lovely old pavilion, which looks really cosy, but it's mobbed out with folk. I pay £3 on the gate and £1 for the programme.

The weather is a bit gloomy. The only place with any cover is behind the furthest goal. The dugouts are on the nearest touchline, with the rugby pitch on the far side. It's a bit of trek back to the clubhouse if you were to get taken short, as I often am.

I'm already green with envy at a rather portly chap dressed in a long green parka with The Who emblazoned on it, who has already touched the Match Ball twice in the first fifteen minutes. The Uttoxeter left back fancies himself as a bit of a Jack-the -lad. 'Cooky' from Littleton is giving him a bit of a going over. He whips a cross in tight to the by-line, it's swept home at the far post, to give the visitors a deserved lead. I notice in the programme that Littleton have produced a couple of Football League players: Joe Lolley at Huddersfield Town and Matt Smith at Fulham.

'Tox' are on level terms on 24 minutes. 'Jack the lad' hits a howitzer of a free kick from 22 yards out which goes in off the underside of the bar. I take a stroll to the refreshment van at the break. I bump into another referee's assessor. They are usually without character. This guy is different. He thanks me for my positive comments about the ref.

A guy is walking towards me, and he doesn't look too chuffed to see me. Bloody hell, it's that groundhopper from Wigan that I met at Stapenhill the other week. "I don't sound like Eddie Waring" he shouts at me. "He was born in bloody Dewsbury." He produces a book from his bag. It's called Lancashire English. I gratefully accept this very kind gift.

As the teams kick off, a guy walks by swigging a can of Red Stripe. Bloody hell, they don't mess about around here, that used to be proper 'Tramps Treacle.' back in the day.

It's a terrific game of football as both teams search for a winner. There's a melee on 85 minutes which sees Littleton's 10 jacket dismissed from the field of play. On 88 minutes a ball is cleared to Holloway who is 40 yards out and hugging the touchline. He's been the game's best player. His touch and passing has never deserted him. He hoists the ball towards goal, the 'keeper is stranded and despite furiously backpedaling, can only watch aghast as the ball hits the back of the net. Hollway takes the plaudits as he is piled on by his whole team.

There's still time for the referee to brandish two red cards as the game ends in chaos, but with a deserved victory for Littleton.

Man of the Match: Daniel Holloway