Monday, March 28, 2016

Malvern Town 4-2 AFC Bridgnorth

I live across the road from Nottingham Racecourse and more importantly Colwick Country Park. We take in a lung-bursting walk on Sunday lunchtime around the perimeter of the racetrack and through the park, which is bathed in glorious sunshine. Our thirst is quenched in the Old Volunteer on Burton Road - the 'Best Newcomer' in the Great British Pub Awards in Notts 2015. Flipside Brewery have turned this Carlton pub on its head. I quaff a pint of chocolate orange stout called 'Half Time.' Ms Moon describes it as 'disgusting' as she knocks back a Diet Coke.

Ironically, I'm back in Carlton on Wednesday evening, as Carlton Town and Spalding United play out a dour 0-0 draw on a bone dry bumpy surface at Stoke Lane. I had hoped to catch in action the visitor's 16 year old forward Jonny Lockie, who recently spent time on trial at Everton, Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth. It's a no-show from the youngster, as he can't bunk-off from college in time for the trip over to Nottingham.

I've broken up for Easter early. I'm always at my most dangerous when I'm bored. I leg it into Nottingham on a solo mini pub crawl. The highlight of the tour is the re-opening of the Lord Roberts in Hockley - another shrewd acquisition by the Flipside Brewery.

We're met with sun-kissed skies on Good Friday. It's spent walking 14 km down the canal to The Victoria Inn in Beeston. We're too fagged out to peg it back, so hop on a tram into town. We drop into the Bell on Angel Row, just off Nottingham's Market Square. It must be over 20 years since I sunk a pint in this fine establishment. I shan't leave it so long next time.

We're up with the larks, with cases packed early, on Saturday morning, as we escape for the weekend to the sleepy market town of Ludlow in Shropshire. First port of call, though, is the spa town of Malvern in Worcestershire, where we'll be watching football later in the day.

Graham Norton plays possibly the worst record I have ever heard in my life - it's Yoko Ono singing 'Walking on Thin Ice.' I'm still recovering from the moment as we park up on the outskirts of Malvern town centre.

I have a moral dilemna. I've just spotted an old coaching inn that has been tastefully restored by the pub chain Wetherspoons, whose watering holes we're not a big fan of. We take the plunge to tick-off this Good Pub Guide entry. A cloudy pint of real ale is changed without fuss, their customer service response on Facebook is first-class.

A pleasant lunchtime is spent with Ms Moon's brother in-law at the glorious surroundings of the Nags Head. The pub frontage doesn't do it justice. There is a fine range of ales, a chatty atmosphere and two roaring open fires. Malvern Town's Hdanywhere Community Stadium is only a short drive away.

Malvern has a population of just over 30,000. The British composer Sir Edward Elgar spent much of his life in the area and is buried in Little Malvern cemetery. Other famous folk from this neck of the woods include: Charles Perrins (Lea and Perrins sauce), TV presenter Anne Diamond and the first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

We are greeted by two cheerful guys on the turnstile. It's £4 each and £1 for an excellent and well written programme. A jolly lady in the tea bar serves up a couple of hot drinks. Black clouds are rolling in from the Malvern Hills. The only real cover is the main stand on the near side of the ground. A football card is doing the rounds in the stands. We pay £1 each and scribble our names underneath 'Notts Forest' and Notts County - ironically D***y County is announced as the winner.

It's a second look at the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division and at AFC Bridgnorth too. I wasn't impressed with what was served up in their top of the table 0-0 bore draw with Shawbury United a few weeks ago -  nor with some of the comments coming out of the Shawbury dugout.

Malvern win a vital toss and choose to attack with the wind behind their backs. The visitors spurn a early chance which proves to be vital as Malvern put Bridgnorth's defence under constant pressure, using the swirling wind to their advantage. It's 3-0 before you know it.

At the break I take a peek at the newly refurbished clubhouse. I spot an old guy sporting a West Bromwich Albion beanie hat.  He has a dog for company that is the size of a drowned rat. I approach the gentleman to ask if it would be okay to take a photo of his mutt for the Non League Dogs twitter account and website. "No you can't, I don't want you to", the bloke replies. I'm taken aback. I about turn and come across Ms Moon outside as she stubs out a tab end. I'm not sure who looked more miserable, the dog owner or his forlorn looking mongrel. I've never liked WBA since they knocked 'The Lincoln' out of the FA Cup in 1976. I was spat on that day and had my scarf grabbed by a Baggie hooligan. Murphy the budgie and I will be following 'the Wolves' from now on. They remind me of Hugh Johns on Star Soccer with Derek Dougan and John Richards leading the line, back in the day.

A freak hailstorm batters the playing surface, making the centre circle a no-go zone. Bridgnorth pull a goal back, but the damage has already been done. 'Milky' plays a give and go with Luke Corbett before rifling home the winner. Bridgnorth's best player Kevin Buxton scores the goal of the game with a 30 yard delicate chip which catches the home 'keeper off his line.

Attendance: Not a Scooby

Man of the Match: Luke Corbett

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Redditch United 1-0 Histon FC

On Sunday we take a ride out to Shipley Country Park in Heanor. It's the artist formerly known as the American Adventure Theme Park, which closed in 2007. Rumours are circulating that the place might re-open. I can't see it myself, it certainly won't be Merlin Entertainment ploughing their money into it following a monumental 'human error' cock-up with the 'Smiler' ride at Alton Towers.

We walk in beautiful surroundings, looking out towards 700 acres of landscape where D H Lawrence set many of his novels. There's time to drop into The Crown at Beeston, with it's 14 real ales and a plethora of nooks and crannies.

I'm reunited with The Taxman on Wednesday evening. We're driving up to the old mining town of Blidworth in north Notts, to watch a Central Midlands South fixture versus Bulwell. The tea hut is perched on top of a hill. I've forgotten how good the view is from up here. It's a lovely game of football, and a tremendous advert for this League. Blidworth run out winners 3-2. I bump into Mickey Gould, one of the best youth scouts that has ever worked for me. Mickey is always good for a tuffie. I fleece him of a few Cough Candies for most of the evening.

I've spent most of the week holed up in eastern England. Diss, Bury St Edmunds, Boston and Louth are all ticked off for business meetings. I've taken little interest in the Cheltenham Festival after spotting that Ryanair were sponsoring a few races; we have previous. It's a relief, on Friday evening, to sit in the comfy surroundings of the Crafty Crow on Friar Lane, opposite Nottingham Castle. I sup a couple of real ales, one of which is called 'Big Dipper' which has a salty caramel taste. Ms Moon and her daughter are sinking a bottle of Prosecco.

Sport Relief has a painful ending, the fishmonger's wife from Welwyn Garden City (Alesha Dixon) is comparing the fag end of the event - at least it reminds me to wash up.

Ms Moon makes me an Alta Rica coffee, as a bleary-eyed Sticky Palms makes his way down the stairs. She says that Murphy is enjoying the Brian Matthews radio show. How many more times do I need to explain it ? The legend's surname is Matthew, with no S in it. Golly gosh, Brian would be cross.

Brian is out of sorts today. I bang out a few tunes from my computer, one of which is Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. Ms Moon says she prefers the Paul Young version. It's a 'drop your bacon sandwich moment.' I feel a tear down roll down my cheek as she says it. Paul Young v Ian Curtis ?

I flick through the Nottingham Post and notice that Rushcliffe Borough Council have released their latest hygiene ratings for eating establishments in the area. They choose to slaughter a recently refurbished pub with a one star rating, when the real story is a one out of five score for the Good Pub Guide 'Nottinghamshire Dining Pub of the Year' - the Martins Arms in the picturesque village of Colston Bassett in the Vale of Belvoir, where Stilton cheese is made.

We leave Radio 2 on for Murphy the budgie. He's asking whether Tony Blackburn will back on the Pick of the Pops show this lunchtime after his 'holidays?'

First port of call is the picture postcard town of Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire. The Bluebell pub is situated on the High Street; it has a lovely ambience around the place. I admire the timber-framed dining room as I shout up a pale ale. We enjoy a 'Dirty Burger' as Bow Wow Wow, Japan, Blancmange and a string of 80s hits are piped through the pub speaker system.

We have a mosey about the joint. Not too many chains are around here, apart from the standard Costa Coffee shop. The Valley ground at Redditch is smack in the middle of the town centre. Ms Moon shoe-horns the Insignia into the corner of a pot-holed car park.

Redditch is a town in north-east Worcestershire with a population of 84,000. In the 19th Century, it was the centre for the needle and fishing tackle industry. In the 1960s, it became the model for modern New Town planning. Automotive retailer Halfords and engineering giant GKN both have their HQ in the town.

Notable people from Redditch include: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who was found dead at the age of 32 after drinking the equivilant of 40 shots of vodka at 40% ABV. Also from the town are: actor Charles Dance, Huddersfield Town striker Joe Lolley, Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin and One Direction 'singer' Harry Styles. Redditch is twinned with the French town Auxerre. Redditch United were founded in 1891. Notable former players include: Scott Dann, Kevin Francis, Lee Hendrie and Matt Smith.

It's £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. I love the ground to bits. We pass the snack bar and walk towards the double decker main stand, with its corporate hospitality on the second tier. The far end is open with the dugouts opposite the main stand. Behind this are six concrete steps with a covered terrace. Finally, behind the nearest goal is a terrace with red crash barriers and plastic tip-up seats to the rear.

There's a real community feel about the place. The junior teams are involved. Some of the signs erected tingle the back of my spine. One says, 'never be afraid to get on the ball.' We grab a tea and coffee and position ourselves between the two dugouts. The pre-match music is bloody awful (sorry DJ). The teams walk out to 'Into the Valley' by The Skids (best toon by a mile).

The first half is tense. Redditch hit the upright of the post as the visitors defend the slope resolutely. I get gassing to a couple stood next to me. Their son is playing for Redditch after being recently released by WBA. He looks out of sorts and dwells on the ball too long. Academy football is played on snooker table surfaces, players are rarely pressed and are encouraged to express themselves.

Histon had a player called Isiah Brown who they sold on to WBA, he ended up at Chelsea, and is currently on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. He's part of the What's App group that the 34 on loan Chelsea players participate in.

Settle-born John Newman's latest single is blasting out the PA as I head towards the loo. I chance upon 'Holte' (Villa fan) a black labrador draped in a Redditch shirt. The second half is far more entertaining as the strong smell of cannabis drifts up the terrace. Histon are lightning quick on the break, but piss poor in the final third. They are deprived of a deserved point in the closing stages when a pinpoint cross is headed home by Redditch defender George Carline.

Man of the Match: Sam Ling (Histon)

Attendance: 452

Sunday, March 13, 2016

AFC Bridgnorth 0-0 Shawbury United

We're heading out of Mickleover towards the village of Ticknall in Derbyshire. It's where the TV and radio personality Ted Moult used to farm. He was famous for the Everest Glazing adverts in the 80s. 'Fit the best, fit Everest"  - he committed suicide in 1986. Anyway, I digress, I need to tick-off the the Wheel Inn, which I mistakenly thought was set in the grounds of Calke Abbey, a grade one listed country house.

We're hurtling through the grounds of the Abbey. After two miles there's no sign of a pub. I grab the Good Pub Guide out of the glove compartment. You idiot Sticky, it's just around the corner from the Abbey.

I spin the car round and drive back the way I came in, ignoring all the 'No Exit' signs. Dog walkers, ramblers and car drivers frantically wave their arms and shake their fists in anger as they scatter in different directions. I know I'm going the wrong way, but I need to get to the pub. We feel like Bonnie and Clyde in the getaway car. If Alan Turner, the Estates Manager, catches me going the wrong way he might issue me a ticket, or a box set back catalogue of Emmerdale Farm DVDs. I neck a pint of Marston's at what turns out to be a bloody gastro pub - it shouldn't even be an entry in the Good Pub Guide.

I don't venture out much during the week. I have a business meeting in Shrewsbury, but that's about it, as I recover from my trip to Ireland. I watch a disturbing but brilliantly moving documentary on BBC2 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Dunblane School Massacre, where 15 pupils aged 5 years old and their teacher were gunned down by cold-blooded murderer Thomas Hamilton. The poor, haunted headmaster relives the day. How can he have continued to live a normal life? I'm not ashamed to admit to have shed a tear or two during the heartbreaking documentary.

My mood has lightened, it's Friday evening. Ms Moon and I share a few drinks and some chicken wings in the basement of Bunk, a cocktail bar, on Stoney Street, in the thriving Lace Market area in Nottingham city centre.

Murphy the budgie is in a sombre mood, sat on his perch listening to Space Oddity by David Bowie on the Brian Matthew's 60s show. I never quite get why Brian has to record the show. Surely the 87 year old veteran DJ gets up for a pee, like I do most mornings at 5am. All he has to do is jump in a chauffeur driven Limo to the studios of Radio 2.

I was all set for a trip to Scunthorpe with Trumpy Bolton to see Bottesford Town v Glasshoughton Welfare in the NCEL. Trumpy has to pull out on Thursday evening, as he has to pick up Mrs TB from the hospital. It's the stage of the season where you need to be watching tense promotion fixtures.

I spot a top of the table clash in the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division between Bridgnorth and Shawbury. Should be plenty of action in this one. We avoid the M6 like the plague, and drive down the A5 to Cannock, before picking up the M54 towards Telford. We're parked up in the High Town just after midday.

Bridgnorth is in a town situated on the Severn Valley, with a population of 12,000. It is said that papers found from 1941 suggested that had Adolf Hitler been successful in Germany's invasion of Great Britain in the Second World War, he would have made Bridgnorth his personal HQ.

I've heard the Old Castle can get busy. I get a tab going and order up a pint of HPA from the Wye Valley Brewery. This low-beamed and open plan bar is bustling with customers. The bar staff are already turning folk away. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers are on the i-Pod shuffle. Sticky opts for his old favourite of a Brie and bacon baguette.

We've plenty of time on our hands. We take a stroll through the castle grounds, admiring the War Memorial monument and the old Norman Tower, which leans to one side, as it does in Pisa. We jump on the funicular railway, and enjoy a stroll down the river bank.

Bridgnorth's Crown Meadow ground is only five minutes away. It's adjacent to a skate park and children's adventure playground. It's £4 on the gate and £1 for a programme, that's light on content.

Ms Moon dives in to what looks to be a relatively new clubhouse. I take a peek at the ground. A seated stand runs along the nearest touchline, the dug outs are to the far side, with a covered stand behind the nearest goal. I'm alarmed by the amount of litter and rubbish that is strewn amongst the undergrowth. There's polystyrene cups, cans, crisp packets and sweet wrappers piled up. It would be proactive, maybe, to organise a litter pick with some of the junior sides to smarten the place up a bit?

The pitch looks tired and battered from the recent elements. I flick through the programme and notice that former Wolves and Northern Ireland full back Mark Clyde is the manager at AFC Bridgnorth. They are chasing down today's visitors Shawbury United. The old Bridgnorth club was formed in 1949, but having been besieged by financial difficulties folded in 2013.

We stand on the far side between the two dugouts. Behind us are a row of bungalows. Neighbours are either chattering over the fence or pottering around the garden. An old guy leans on his fence drawing hard on a cigarette whilst the teams complete their warm-up.

The standard isn't great, I guess it's Step 6. A visiting substitute sparks up a cigarette as the referee whistles for kick-off.  The Shawbury dugout seem particularly tense and unpleasant. The players are high with testosterone. Bridgnorth's No.4 is cautioned by the entertaining Geordie referee for a late tackle. Some moron sat on the visitor's bench shouts out "Send the Gyppo off." They are reprimanded and warned about their conduct by the official. He won't tolerate racism.

There's no sign of a goal, although the forwards for both teams look lively. Lexie, a Siberian Husky dog has rocked up at the game. It's far more entertaining watching her rolling around in the grass and playing with the children. I scroll down the 'Live Scores' on my phone. It's another standard Saturday for the football-watching public of Nottingham. Both Forest and County are losing, and have failed to trouble the scorers.

The game is awful in the second half. No-one has the ability to drift past a player or put in a decent cross, corner or set-piece. I haven't done a 0-0 since Hinckley v Luton four years ago. That night a boy missed five gilt-edged chances, three of them ended up in the car park. Burnley ended up paying £6 million for him in the summer. He's already bagged 22 goals for Sean Dyche's Clarets this season.

There's no Andre Gray on show here though. Shawbury's No.7 who has been looking for trouble from the word go lunges in and reacts to some handbags. He is quite rightly sent off. Shawbury actually finish the stronger as Bridgnorth fail to capitalize on having the extra man.

Man of the Match: Lexie, the Siberian Husky

Attendance: 125 (Head-Count)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mickleover RBL FC 2-4 Blidworth Welfare FC

We're stopping in the historical town of Lancaster for the night. The Morecambe FC experience has been wonderful. We sling the car overnight in the train station car park. We're booked in at the stone-walled Sun Inn on Church Street with its ten well-kept real ales. The Lancaster City FC bus drops off a youth in the town centre. They've nicked a point down at Ossett in West Yorkshire. I chastise the boy for sparking up a cigarette, as we exchange some banter.

An enjoyable evening is spent quaffing real ales and eating pasta at a local Italian restaurant. The skies are royal blue in the morning as we make the hard slog up to Williamson Park, where we visit the Ashton Memorial, enjoying the gorgeous views of the Lancashire coastline, whilst drinking coffee on a sun-kissed terrace.

I'm up and about at 3:30am on Tuesday morning, destination is Dublin Airport. I spend the rest of the week in Cavan, Limerick, Belfast and Longford. I pound the streets of Belfast in the pouring rain on Wednesday evening. The previous night Glentoran entertained Cliftonville. I fancied it, but was holed-up in the deep South.

I arrive back at East Midlands Airport late on Thursday evening, I'm dog tired folks. I catch up on work emails on Friday, whilst dipping in and out of meetings. I clock into the Cross Keys public house on Byard Lane in Nottingham city centre. I'm straight on the Silver King ale from the Ossett Brewery. Ms Moon joins me, as we crack open a bottle of Prosecco.

The weather dictates our travels on Saturday morning. I've had an urge to visit Mickleover Royal British Legion FC for some time now, having heard sound reports on their ground. Hanley Town, in Stoke is today's back-up game. Mickleover RBL give me the thumbs-up on their twitter account mid-morning.

I'm lozzing around on the sofa reading a really sad article on the BBC website about former Notts County legend Tommy Lawton. Somebody has paid £450 for a begging letter that he wrote to Lord Attenborough in 1970, asking for a loan of £250. To put this in context, this is a man who scored 231 goals in 390 appearances, as well as bagging 22 goals in 23 appearances for England. I remember my father interviewing him for the Daily Mirror when he was the landlord of the Magna Carta in Lowdham, when he was stony broke and destitute.

I nip down to Aldi to grab a few groceries, and drop into Costa Coffee to treat Ms Moon to a skinny latte. Orange Juice's 'Rip it Up' is on the dukey. Blog legend Trumpy Bolton has checked into a Wetherspoons near Watford. He must have overlaid as it's nearly 11:00am. He's making a welcome return to this blog next weekend, when we travel up to Bottesford Town near Scunthorpe.

I flick through the 2016 Good Pub Guide. The Dragon at Willington looks a good call for a spot of lunch. It's only a 30 minute run in the car. The pub backs on to the Trent and Mersey Canal. The car park is choc-a-bloc. I order up a pint of Clod Hopper, and find a cosy table in the corner of the pub. Repton School is just down the road. It's where disgraced bully-boy TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson was 'educated' as well as Sherlock Holmes actor Basil Rathbone.

Two youths are wrestling over the remote control, as Burnley v Blackburn and Spurs v Arsenal are both lunchtime kick offs. The constant changing of TV channels irritates me. We quickly mop up the deli and steak sandwich before heading towards the Derby suburb of Mickleover. We pass a huge Tesco in Mickleover; another small town has sold its soul to a corporation that has killed local trade.

The ground and new-build Legion is at the rear of a new housing estate. We park adjacent to a healthy looking bowling green. A guy is polishing his car whilst listening to the dying embers of the North London derby. There's nobody on the gate as we walk through; it appears they aren't charging today.

We wander over to the far side, the place is like a ghost town. The pitch looks to have been rolled and well prepared. I do a head-count of folk, it's 18, top whack. I think about all the preparation it has taken to put this game on: the kit wash, arranging and looking after match officials, making the food, the bar staff, the admin, the warm-up - things that players and supporters don't understand.

I notice a memorial bench tucked away in a corner with a wooden shelter. It's in honour of Stephen Astley, who I presume lost his life in the Forces.*I'm unable to find any further information on an Internet search.*

Mickleover RBL have already announced on social networks that six players are unavailable today. Blidworth take an early two goal lead, as the home defence are at sixes and sevens. We manage a touch of the match ball on 11 and 13 minutes.

Despite Blidworth's dominance the star player on the pitch is the Mickleover 6 jacket. He's only a young un and small in stature, but he's tenacious in the tackle, brave in the air and has a beautiful range of short and long passing. He appears well coached, and too good for this level.

We climb the balcony steps before paying cash for coffee and tea cartridges. There's a commotion at the hot water machine as it appears to have run out of milk. I have a mosey about the place. There's entertainment most weekends, they run a Tote and there is a coach trip to Bury Market in April. I peer through a small window in a door and clock two full length snooker tables.

We view the first 15 minutes of the second half from up on the balcony. I can't see Mickleover's 6 jacket; he must have taken a knock. We walk past the home dugout: "where's your No.6 mate?", I ask the manager of Mickleover, "he was the best player on the park in the first half." "Tactical change mate, we've gone 4-4-2" he replies. I'm absolutely gobsmacked, the boy has bossed the game. We're all entitled to an opinion, but what game has this guy been watching ? Ironically they manage to equalise, before Blidworth throw on a few subs who contribute in scoring two goals to put the game to bed.

The Blidworth manager is a sound guy. I ask him if Max Curzon still plays for them, as I had him down at Notts County as a youngster, and know his Dad quite well from the Rock City days in the 80s. Apparently he's been rested for a big cup game next weekend. The guy apologizes to Ms Moon for his bad language - a touch of class, that is. We get caught in a hailstorm on our walk back to the car, it doesn't spoil a lovely afternoon, though.

Attendance: 18

Man of the Match: Referee