Monday, December 28, 2015

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City

I can't believe it's taken me 51 years to tick-off Anfield (Ground No.76).There was a missed opportunity a couple of seasons ago when Notts County pulled Liverpool out of the hat in the League Cup. I chose not to travel, as the Pies punched above their weight for the one and only time during Chris Kiwomya's ill-feted reign. It took Liverpool 120 minutes to finally see the visitor's off.

It's Boxing Day morning. Christmas Day was of mixed emotions for me. It was the first time my boys and I had not been together on Christmas Day. I met them in the Pear Tree, in Keyworth on Christmas Eve to exchange presents. There was no decent real ale on. I gave DJ Stag the swerve and headed back into town, before enjoying some beers in the Crafty Crow and Roundhouse.

Ms Moon pilots the Land Rover Freelander over towards my old stomping ground, Keyworth. She's singing along to her new 1980s CD that Santa bought her. We drive through 'The Bronx' and up a cul-de-sac. A ruddy-faced man walks down his drive. His bright orange Slazenger polo shirt lights up the gloomy skies. His Sainsbury's carrier bag is orange too. Trumpy Bolton will be on his best behaviour today, as he is accompanied by his wife, Jayne. He's soon swigging out his litre bottle of cider, having already seen off three tins of ale down the hatch for breakfast. He's certainly in the mood for a bit of kissing and canoodling with Mrs B.

As we breeze down the A50 and up the M6, Trumpy fills us in on his forthcoming 7 day drinking spree in Tunbridge Wells and old London Town, to see the New Year in. We pull into some services at Crewe, so Ms Moon can get her fix of Coffee and a solitary Silk Cut Silver. Trumpy spots a group of Japanese tourists queuing for a McDonalds - Bolton claims they are relatives of the Foxes' Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki.

The counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire are on a state of Red Alert. Many towns are under water. I have watched football, and met so many people in the North of England during my 10 years of groundhopping. I pray to God that they are all safe and okay.

We hit the outskirts of Liverpool in under two hours. Trumpy Bolton has the monk-on as we sail past a Wetherspoons in West Derby. It's £10 to park the car just south of Anfield. Bolton sniffs a pub out up the Anfield Road called the Arkles. He's as light on his feet as 24 year old Leicester winger Riyhad Mahrez as he manoeuvers  his way though a crowded bar to shout up the round to a miserable old bat of a barmaid. The bar has the heat of a blast furnace, as we exit outside, there's a huge cheer as Stoke take the lead against United.

I down a couple of pints of Guinness in the Flat Iron up the road, as Bolton moonstomps to 'Nite Klub.' by The Specials. Ms Moon finds a floating fingernail in her glass of Coke. I leave Ms Moon people-watching as I peg it on a circuit of the ground. Redevelopment of the Main Stand has begun. I pay my respects to the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough. I was there that awful day. I also notice a memorial plaque to commemorate the 39 who died at the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985.

It's our third visit to the city this year. In the summer we took in Southport v Wigan in a pre-season friendly. A few months ago we watched Cammell Laird batter North West Counties League leaders Colne FC 4-0.

I part with £7.50 for a beefburger, fried onions and a tray of chips. Ms Moon wolfs the scran down, as she hasn't eaten all day. It's £47 for the ticket and £3.50 for an excellent programme. I scan the names of Liverpool's 50 man squad, 15 of them are out on loan. The ground is impressive and packed to the rafters. We're reunited with a nervous Mr and Mrs Bolton.  'The Thinkerman' (Claudio Ranieri), as he is now called, has restored the German, Robert Huth to his back-line. An injury-ravaged Liverpool still have a star-studded midfield.

City's 3000 away following have poor banter - they sing 'Feed a Scouser' to the tune of 'Do They Know it's Christmas Time.' It's a sight to behold, as red and white scarves are raised above heads, as Gerry and the Pacemakers is belted out the PA system.

The game is played at a ferocious pace, no quarter is given in the early stages, honours are even. Leicester's stand-out player is the tenacious French midfielder N'Golo Kante. He snaps in the tackle, picks up the seconds and can pick a pass. It's another hat-tip to the City Head of Recruitment for spotting this bargain buy from Caen in the summer.

Wes Morgan and Huth have a cigar on whilst dealing with the lumbering and clumsy Kenyan, Divock Origi. It turns out to be a game-changer when he limps out of the attack on 38 minutes to be replaced by the discarded Belgian, Christian Benteke, who proves to be a bit of a handful.

It's deadlock at the break. The Leicester fans are frustrated and over-expectant of their team. Liverpool swarm all over them in the second half. They're passed off the park by Henderson, Lallana and the wonderful Coutinho. The goal duly arrives on the hour after some wonderful build-up play, with Benteke guiding the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

City have nothing left in the tank. They look leggy and listless. The ineffective Vardy is withdrawn from the attack, little improves, although there is a grandstand finish.

Man of the Match: N'Golo Kante

Attendance: 44,123

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Yorkshire Amateur 1-4 Hemsworth Miners' Welfare

I pick up the 'Rolls' from Rammers's stately home, and drive over to Morrisons in Gamston. I've got to pick up some guacamole and sour cream for the chilli con carne I'm preparing for supper. Four cans of Grolsch are £4.48 - they have been for six months now. It's about time they were on special bloody offer. I'll be tweeting them later to have a moan about that.

Sunday is spent in town, mooching about the place for Christmas presents. I've had to take on more responsibility this year. I snuck into the 'King Billy' on the way home, and sample some of the fine Oakham Ales they have as guest beers this week. I knock up the St Andrews blog, as Steve McClaren's Newcastle United complete a remarkable comeback against a sloppy-looking Spurs, having looked dead in the water at half time.

I notice on Monday lunchtime, on the FA website, that Leicester Nirvana have been drawn away in the final 32 of the FA Vase against hot favourites Hereford FC. We might stop the night in Malvern, and chalk a few pubs off from the Good Pub Guide.

I'm on the road in Suffolk for two days during the week on business. I stay in a Premier Inn that is situated adjacent to the marina in Ipswich. Portman Road is close by. I need to tick-off this ground. Sadly, tonight they are away at Craven Cottage in London.

I'm up early doors, by my lazy standards of late, on Saturday morning. Ms Moon is putting in another 12 hour shift. Murphy the budgie is blowing his whistle more loudly than Premiership referee Martin Atkinson to 'The Sound of Silence.' by Simon and Garfunkel. I'll leave the window open for the little fella, as he's flying up the M6 shortly to watch his beloved Norwich City get a tonking at Old Trafford.

I've arranged to stay over at 'our Mark's' up in York. The nearest ground to his house, in the village of Upper Poppleton, which I haven't been to, is Yorkshire Amateur, in the Bracken Edge area of Leeds. I drive down to Newark, and join the A1 at South Muskham. Graham Norton is getting on my wick. I'm desperate for a new car, complete with DAB radio. In the meantime I settle for a game of 'Radio Bingo.' 'Respectable' by Mel and Kim is on Radio Sheffield. I remember them selling out Ritzy in Nottingham back in 1987. Allegedly, Mel and Kim mimed the whole gig - Milli Vanilli style. Mel Appleby tragically died at the age of 23 from cancer.'

Merry Christmas Everyone' by Cardiff's finest, Shakin' Stevens lifts my spirits, as I pull off the A1 onto the A64. I have difficulty wiggling my hips though, as the steering wheel is a major obstruction.

My brother is wrapping some Christmas lights around a tree in the garden as I pitch up outside his crib. We exchange chit-chat over a ham and cheese baguette, kindly made by my sister-in-law, before jumping into his car, and heading out on the A64 towards Leeds. We have York City v Morecambe as back-up, if Yorkshire Amateur are watered off.

We pass a field where the 'Leeds Festival' takes place each August. 'Our Joe' usually gets spangled up here every year. He'll be living in 'Dirty Leeds' soon, if he gets his grades, as he has had an offer from the University of Leeds.

The ground backs onto a building site. I later discover that the Club sold some land to the rear of the nearest goal, where some new houses are now being built. My favourite dog-shit coloured shoes are now caked in mud, which is splattered all over the entrance.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a programme. Yorkshire Amateur were founded in 1918, and have played at Bracken Edge for over 93 years. Former Sheffield United and Leeds United striker Brian Deane began his career at the club.

I poke my head into the clubhouse. There are many framed football shirts of ex Premiership players adorned to the wall. Horse-racing is on the wide screen TV. We grab a Yorkshire Tea as we make our customary circuit of a new ground. The changing rooms and a stand in disrepair with blue, brown and pink seats are on the nearside touchline. A steep grass bank dominates the far goal, with standing on the far side and houses behind the nearest goal.

We bump into a committee member and former referee. He tells me an amusing anecdote about Brian Clough. In the 1960s Cloughie brought down a Sunderland youth team side to play in West Yorkshire. My man, Geoff, had the honour of officiating the game. As he was getting changed after, there was a knock at the door, and in walked Clough. "Can I just say young man, that'll be the first and last time you ever referee one of my games." Geoff was still chuckling now, as he retold the story for probably the umpteenth time.

I notice a couple of flags fluttering in the breeze. 'Poey is Innocent', says one. Apparently, it's a reference to an 'innocent miner' being jailed during the Miners' Strike, after an incident in Fitzwilliam, a village where Geoff Boycott was born. Ironically, there's no minute's silence for Kellingley Colliery that became the last deep coal mine in England to close yesterday.

League leaders Hemsworth MW start the game slowly. The 'Ammers' begin brightly. The highlight of the first 20 minutes is when Sticky Palms gets his mucky mitts on the matchball. The pivotal moment of the game happens in the 35th minute. 'The Ammers' striker is wiped out when through on goal. The official waves play on. Hemsworth's Shane Kelsey threads a ball through to Bill Law who has made a diagonal run, he thumps a shot under the 'keeper and into the net. Just as the home team are about to kick off, their 6 jacket is shown a straight red card for something he has said.

I check the scores at the break. Murphy will be singing at the top of his voice in the away end at Old Trafford. The hood on my bargain-buy coat, snapped up in a sale at Tug 24 in Whitby, gets an outing, as driving rain sweeps in. The visitors push on in the second half. Left winger Shane Kelsey is a cut above. I saw the boy at Shaw Lane last season. He has equal ability with either foot. He fluffs a chance. His Dad remarks that it will mean "a slice off his Sunday roast tomorrow." Kelsey scores a beauty, with a shot that loops over the 'keeper into the roof of the net.

4-1 is unjust on Yorkshire Amateur. They have spurned chances of their own, and have played the best part of an hour with 10 men. The day gets better with a visit to The Maltings in York city centre - it's Yorkshire Pub of the Year 2015. I can't arf pick em.

Attendance: 43

Man of the Match: Yorkshire Amateur 'keeper.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

St Andrews 1-5 Leicester Nirvana

I'm on the 44 bus into town. It's a Saturday evening. I'm buzzing after witnessing the 4-3 win to Clifton in 'El Classico' at Elms Park. Tosh 'n Steve from All Whites will be throwing some Northern Soul shapes at the Dancing Slipper on the Avenue in West Bridgford. The Lambrusco will be in full flow.

Ms Moon and I jump off the bus on King Street. We're off to Johnny Vegas's Christmas Party at the Just the Tonic Comedy Club in the Cornerhouse complex in Nottingham. We're badly in need of some tucker. I've had nowt to eat since scoffing a bag of jelly beans at the game. We try about a dozen restaurants - there's no room at the inn.

I can hear my stomach rumbling, as I dejectedly queue in the rain to get in the club. They're not serving food until the interval. Vegas is running late. You can only get that disgusting muck called Carling on tap at the bar. I've proper got the face on. Vegas rolls up an hour late. He has no set. He looks dishevelled, and slurs his words. We have a few laughs, and tuck into some chill con carne. We still make it back for Match of the Day. I roar with laughter at Chelsea's defeat to the Cherries of Bournemouth. It's far funnier than anything Vegas put our way. They were 8/1 on the coupon. It was a banker, and a coupon buster, all in one.

The Rudd and Clifton blog gets over 500 hits on Sunday evening. West Bridgford's official twitter account ain't happy with Sticky for calling them 'Big Time Charlies.' They'll shower me with Costa Coffee, when I finally blog from Bread 'n Lard Island. I gave WB manager Chris Marks man of the match for Wollaton back in 2008; so I'm hoping that he forgives me.

I'm down one of my old haunts on Wednesday evening with The Taxman. Keyworth United are entertaining Hucknall Town in the Central Midland Floodlit Cup. Keyworth's a tidy ground now, and a club on the up. In Connor Scott-Parkin, they have one of the League's best prospects I have spotted this season. The game is tremendous. It goes to extra time after a couple of long-range distance goals. Keyworth finally bow out on penalties 4-2. It's been an entertaining evening.

I'm up and out the door at the crack of dawn on Friday morning. I've a business meeting in Colwyn Bay, North Wales at 9:30am. It's a beautiful drive along the A55, with sweeping views of the coastline. I manage to take a sneaky peek at Colwyn Bay's ground. I hope to tick this off later in the season, when the weather is kinder and milder.

I'd hoped to visit a few real ale hostelries in Derby before taking in Mickleover Royal British Legion v Clay Cross in the Central Midlands South. It's leathered it down with rain for most of Saturday morning. Their twitter confirms the game is off. I'm back on the 44 bus into town. I usually like to peg it into town. I'm soaked to the skin just walking to the bus stop. I can't see many games surviving this downpour.

I'm a lazy shopper in town. I usually end up quaffing a couple of real ales in Castle Rock's Keans Head in Hockley or the King Billy in Sneinton. I pick a few bits up, and meet Ms Moon in the Marks and Spencer Food Hall for a Wiltshire Ham and cheese toastie, before pegging it back to Colwick to see what games are on.

The most mouth-watering tie of the FA Vase last 64 teams, is in inner city Leicester, between St Andrews and Leicester Nirvana. Two sides which are revered and feared at youth level in the city. Rammers is on the blower. He fancies Pinxton v Nuneaton Griff, but it's already been hosed off, like many others in Notts and Derbyshire today.

St Andrews twitter confirm that despite a heavy playing surface, the game will go ahead. Murphy Palmer, my budgie, turns his back on the TV, as Everton's Romelu Lukaku nets against his beloved Canaries.

I fill up with petrol and grab a packet of Bassett's Mint Favourites. Rammers has got a 'mansion' in the village of Widmerpool, where former Nottingham Forest assistant manager Peter Taylor is buried in the churchyard. It's like the Lord of the Manor, as I press the buzzer for the black wrought iron gates to open. It would be easier to break into GCHQ.

Rammers is kitted out in his Stags training gear and a Blue Square North managers coat.  He knows Leicester city centre like the back of his hand, so offers to drive in. John is pretty much semi-retired now. Although he still keeps his hand in by doing some supply teaching. One of his former pupils is Darren Fletcher from Five Live and BT Sport. The last time I saw John, he was waving goodbye to the Torquay United fans at Sincil Bank following the end of his caretaker manager role and a 2-0 reverse to 'The Lincoln.' (my team).

St Andrews were formed in 1973. The play just off the Aylestone Road, on Canal Street, adjacent to Aylestone Meadows. They reached the semi-final of the Vase last season, narrowly losing out to West Auckland from the north east.

We pitch up at the ground five minutes before kick off. The car park is full to the brim. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a programme. There's no music on the PA system. I thought they might have knocked up a Kasabian, Mark Morrison and Engelbert Humperdinck medley. We position ourselves to the right of the visitor's dugout, as the teams observe a minutes silence due to the untimely passing of a child of a Nirvana player.

The visitors are 2-0 up within 11 minutes, using their pace to get around the back and deliver. St Andrews pull one back with a towering header from a free kick. It's time to get the mints out. Murphy the budgie won't be happy that Rammers has snaffled up a couple of toffees. He likes to have a good old peck at them.

Nirvana's most dangerous opponent is 'Me Me' the German Shepherd dog, who is looking rather menacing on our side of the pitch. He poses for a photo, before seeing off a Golden Retriever and a Labrador, resulting in a yellow card and his lead being put back on. I tweet his photo in to @nonleaguedogs

The bar is choc-a- block with folk. Rammers shouts the teas up. I get chin wagging to a home supporter who says that St Andrews have a few injuries, suspensions and players cup tied. It's like listening to a Manchester United supporter with a list of excuses.

Nirvana are coasting in the second half. They add a further three goals and look good value at 33/1 to lift the Vase, if they can avoid any difficult trips up North.

The game's outstanding player has been Reece Morris. Small in stature, he has lightning pace and a football brain. He covers the ground like a young racehorse. His decision-making is spot-on, He's one for the notebook.

Attendance: 153

Man of the Match: Reece Morris

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ruddington Village 3-4 Clifton All Whites

It's Wednesday lunchtime, and I'm driving on a dangerous stretch of road between Leek and Macclesfield. The last time I piloted down here Sven Goran Eriksson and the Munto circus were in town. All the roads were snarled up. I never got a whiff of Macclesfield Cemetery.

Today is different. I drive out of town, and take a right hand turn into the cemetery. His headstone could be positioned anywhere. Time isn't on my side, I've a meeting in Bollington at 2pm. I spot a parking space, and squeeze the 'Rolls Royce' in. Luck is on my side. I literally step out of the car and walk towards the chapel, before I notice flowers and wrapped CDs  placed around the graveside

In the early hours of May 18th 1980, iconic Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life in the kitchen of 77 Barton Street, Macclesfield. He was aged just 23 years old, and had the world at his feet. New Order were formed from out of the ashes. If there's two things you can do over Christmas, then watch the film Control and read the book Touching From a Distance by his wife Deborah Curtis. Both ooze class.

I've been at death's door. Influenza has wiped me out good and proper. I drag myself from my sickbed and stupidly decide to take a peek at FA Cup giant-killers Salford City away at Grantham Town. I enjoy some craic with manager Anthony Johnson and star midfielder Scott Burton on Twitter.

Esteemed blogger, Uwdi Krugg, from the award-winning 'Where's the Teahut?' blog, tipped me the wink on Scotty when he was turning out for Runcorn Town. I viewed him at Parkgate (where Jive Bunny are from) in Rotherham three years ago, in an FA Cup tie, when he ruled the roost. He'd been plucked from the obscurity of Bolton Sunday League pub football. I passed on my recommendation to the Chief Scout at Notts County. The irony of him winning the BBC Man of the Match award a few weeks back when Salford dumped the Pies out of the FA Cup brought a satisfactory smile to my face.

It's Saturday morning. Ms Moon is having a pre-Christmas spring clean. I decide to stretch my legs. I walk past Nottingham Racecourse, along Daleside Road. Meadow Lane is heaving with folk, as they rock up for the weekly auctions that take place at the Cattle Market. I hang a left onto London Road towards Trent Bridge. Burgeoning brewery Castle Rock  have taken over operations at The Embankment, which was the old Boots Social Club, back in the day.

I push the doors open to the Nottingham Forest Club Shop. Rumours are rife about lack of stock and cash flow problems. I find this to the contrary. Sticky jnr will be enjoying their merchandise on Christmas Day morning.

I grab a Americano at Costa on Bridgford Road, at the heart of Bread 'n Lard Island, despite 'Rupert', 'Sebastian' and 'Tarquin' doing their best to spoil the occasion. West Bridgford FC looked to have wrapped up the NSL title  before Christmas, but are now 'choking it.' Two home losses on the spin have brought the Big Time Charlie's down to earth - although one or two have left for pastures new in the revolving world of the NSL.

I've 15 bin bags of clothes and clutter to drop off at the Rushcliffe Recycling Centre before heading off to Ruddington. The olde worldy High Street in the village is closed off to cars due to a Christmas Market. I park outside the Co-op, a place I've frequented most lunchtimes over the last 10 years. Tony Blackburn is playing 'Magic' by Pilot. It sold over a million copies in the USA back in 1975. It's a song the Leicester City fans used to sing about Argentinian midfielder Estebian Cambiasso

They have the best sweet shop in the world next to the chippy on Church Street. I gaze at the jars on the back shelves, as saliva dribbles from the corner of my mouth during an unexpected sugar rush. I snap up a bag of jelly beans for £1.

Clifton management duo of 'Tosh' and Steve will be discussing tactics over a two course pre-match lunch at Gino's Ristorante. It'll be prawn cocktail saturated in rose marie sauce, two rare sirloin steaks and a carafe of Chianti. Not many are dining at the White Horse just down the road. It was my favourite pub, before a fall-out with the miserable landlord. You know what they say readers - blood's thicker than water.

I park up adjacent to Rushcliffe Country Park. I've somehow worked for three different companies in the space of 18 months on this estate. I head up a snicket into some woodland, before entering a clearing where Ruddington Colts are playing football. Further along the footpath Ruddington Village adults are warming up.

I bump into an old school friend John Featherstone, who has Ruddington connections. I notice in the far corner that part of a tree has fallen victim to 'Hurricane Desmond.'

All Whites are pumped up for this one. I've received team news by text. They are strong all over the park. Ruddington are on fire, and top of the pile in the NSL. Local bragging rights are at stake. Clifton gaffer James Turner drinks in most of the watering holes in the village.

Ruddington take the lead on 5 minutes, following an omnishambles in Clifton's defence. Goals from Thompson and Richardson put the visitors 2-1 up. The Chalky Whites have rolled up. They're massive Pies fans, and should have been watching County play Hartlepools today. But they waved the white handkerchief up in Salford on a wet and windy night a few Friday's ago.

Barthez has also rocked up from his mansion at Ruddington Grange Golf Club. We get gassing to Clifton skipper 'Tank' who is miffed to be on the bench today, after attending a wedding last week. Tosh is milling around the tea bar at the break. He's usually up for a cup of Bovril, accompanied by a pot of pepper.

Steve Hardie, the Clifton assistant manager, is parading around in his QPR tracksuit. I guess it's a present from local boy done good, Jermaine Jenas. Steve quibbles every throw-in and offside. You could never dampen the man's enthusiam or passion for the game. Each goal is greeted with a Mourinho sprint down the touchline. I love his usual attire, a long grey knee-length coat. He looks like a pallbearer.

Ruddington are hungrier in the early stages of the second half, and restore parity. The goal of the game comes from Thomas who cuts inside from the right, before leathering a left foot shot into the roof of the net. Hardy appears to put the game to bed for Clifton with 10 minutes remaining. The Rudd 7 jacket scores a pearler with 8 minutes to go, before the young, stressed referee calls time with darkness descending.

What an advert for the game. Only a few bookings, and a beautiful game of football played in a good spirit and difficult conditions.

Attendance: 51

Man of the Match: Connor Hardy