Sunday, April 24, 2016
We're not here for cricket, 'the best League in the World' has a match on tonight. The dying embers of the Notts Senior League season has turned into a three horse race for the title. Ruddington Village, one of the front-runners, are taking on inner city team Unity FC - Sticky's favourites. Unity is a project that was set up in 2005 by my good friend, youth worker, Morris Samuels. The project confronted gun and knife crime head-on, in a postcode gang war. Its aim was to unite the Meadows, St Anns and Radford. As Head of Recruitment at Notts County Academy my interest was immediate, and not just for selfish reasons. I love Nottingham and want it to be a safer place to live for everyone.
Morris gives me a big hug as we queue for cup-a-soup and tea at the refreshment bar. Unity are by far the best team I've seen this season in the NSL. They take the lead with a beautifully crafted goal created by former Pies scholar Reece Fyfe ('Rico'). He sets up the winner late in the second half to keep the title race wide open. This boy will play at a far higher level.
Ms Moon is out on Friday evening, Mica Paris (who?) is singing at the Riverbank Bar on Trent Bridge. I'm on one of my solo mini pub-crawls - Billy-no-mates. I amble through Sneinton, past the 'King Billy' (I shed a tear, I usually call in) on Manvers Street and onto Lower Parliament street in Nottingham city centre. I've got my dog-shit coloured shoes on that have knocked the tea ladies dead on my journeys to Non League football grounds in Yorkshire and Lancashire. We've never got on - they're chaffing into the top of my heel, causing a blister. The final slog up Derby Road to the micro-pub The Room With a Brew is a killer.
A knowledgeable landlord eases the pain by talking me through the eight real ales on the bar. Nelson's Oak from Hampshire is amber nectar. I've sunk it and it's gone in the bat of an eyelid. I've been tipped the wink about the Junkyard on Bridlesmith Walk. Tony 'Dogman' McDonald has warned me about the pretentious pricing structure. I pay £4 for 2/3 of a pint of filthy dishwater - I'll be giving this joint a wide-berth from now on.
Ms Moon presents me with a signed copy of a Mica Paris CD. It's an utter head loss moment, but at least it will come in handy as a coaster for a mug of tea. Facebook confirms that Mr and Mrs Trumpy Bolton are on their way to town to celebrate St George's Day - it's 9:00am. It's just a short journey up the A610 today. On researching the Swanwick area for a decent boozer I chanced upon the village of Heage which sits high up between Belper and Ripley. More astonishingly they have a recently restored a six sail working windmill.
Bloody hell, just our luck, the sails have been dismounted and are laying on the ground, some timber has rotted away, so no flour will be made today. Piers conducts an interesting tour of the mill. Dame Ellen McArthur, born in Whatstandwell, re-opened the windmill in 2011 after it laid in disrepair since 1953. We'll return when it's fully functional and buy some flour from Bakewell's Farmers' Market.
The pub's calling. The Black Boy is only a mile away. It too has recently been renovated. It's slightly disappointing as it seems to be a half-finished project. The Tribute ale is nowt to write home about, tops on taps in the toilets are missing and the hand-drier doesn't work. The homemade food is tip top though. Lambs liver splashed with onion gravy and home-cooked chips is a winner.
I love this ground. It's high up with sweeping views of the countryside. The only covering is to the right of the clubhouse behind the dugouts. It's adjacent to some allotments. A youth is smashing golf balls into a temporary net he's assembled.
It's my third viewing of Blidworth, but they ain't at the races today - eh Roger. They're firing blanks and leaking goals in defence. Swanwick Pentrich are two up at the break, one of the goals is a wind-assisted freak cross from 40 yards out.
It's just not Blidworth's day, they're scuffing shots and shanking clearances. They concede a third goal and are lucky to see their sub not sent off for kicking out at a defender. It's sensible refereeing by Mr S T Sears (Tommy) - an old work colleague of mine from Calverton Colliery, who blows the final whistle thirty seconds later.
Man of the Match: Windy Miller
Quiz Answer: Chris Eubank
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Fast forward a year and look at them now. One of their talisman is skipper Wes Morgan, a bargain buy from down the A46 road in Nottingham. He was brought up in the Meadows, a tough inner-city estate, rife with crime and drug dealing. Big Wes was released by the Pies as a 14 year old. He refused an offer to return there two years later because of weight issues, opting instead to ply his trade with local Non League outfit Dunkirk FC. He was soon spotted by Nottingham Forest and played on trial at a game in Sheffield. John Pemberton offered him a contract if he promised to wear a bin bag for a year and shed two stone. The rest is history.
Leicester City's biggest fan is blog legend Trumpy Bolton. This incredible man has followed the club's fortunes through thick and thin. He's hooking up with me on Saturday for a day out in Scunthorpe. He's comedy gold and a writer's dream.
Tuesday evening is spent at the gorgeous setting of Attenborough FC's Strand ground, on the edge of a nature reserve. Wollaton are the visitors, as they chase down a second consecutive NSL title. The Taxman, a groundhopper from Essex and I are treated to an enthralling game of football. Attenborough score a wonder goal, when a Nick Knight 60 yard ping from out on the left is hammered into the roof of the net with a first-time volley from a 16 year old winger. Wollaton leave it late, until the last kick of the game, to snatch a victory that is harsh on the Attenborough young guns.
It's Friday tea-time and I'm with Ms Moon in the Malt Cross on St James's Street, just off Nottingham's Market Square. It's a refurbished former Victorian music hall, with a vaulted glass roof and a gallery that looks down onto the bar area. I sink the 'Pint of the Season' Navigation's Charles Henry Strange IPA. It has a kick like a mule, and doesn't half get my juices flowing.
It's tipped it down with rain all night. Bottesford Town, near Scunthorpe, have assured me that their ground drains like a sieve. Photos on twitter suggest different, as pools of standing water put the game in doubt.
I'm down a sleepy West Bridgford at 8:30am. I collect the football kit from the laundrette and grab a bacon cob for breakfast at No.8 Deli. I check-in with Trumpy Bolton, we have a couple of back-up games at Gainsborough and Handsworth Parramore, who play in Worksop and would count as a tick-off.
Bolton is wandering his way through the 'The Bronx' when I clock him on Spinney Road. Graham Norton is playing Geordie synthpop band Dubstar as Bolton clambers his way into the front seat, plonking down a litre bottle of cider in the footwell. He shakes my hand and wishes me a Happy New Year.
I've inserted my Leicester City ear filter. It's to no avail as Trumpy rattles on about his three day bender in the city of Sunderland last weekend, which is topped off with a Jamie Vardy double. He has no recollection of returning to his Premier Inn headquarters on Saturday evening. The legend announces he's booked two nights in Glasgow in July when the Foxes take on Celtic in the International Champions Cup.
Trumpy has a pub to tick-off in the village of Kirton in Lindsey, it's where Catherine Parr the sixth wife of King Henry VIII once used to live. It's a tidy little town, but the Queen's Head isn't much to write home about. Bolton downs a pint in a time that would have had Roy Castle excitedly clicking his stop watch and Norris McWhirter confirming him to be a record breaker.
Next port of call is The Shires just down the road. A pint of distinctly average Black Sheep Ale is accompanied with a chip cob. 'Stevie Don't Wonder' by Olly Murs hastens our departure. I sneak Graham Norton back on as Trumpy guzzles his way through his litre of pear cider. We both singalong to 'This Charming Man' by The Smiths. I check my twitter timeline, Bottesford Town confirm that they've been hosed off.
We pop into the White Swan in Blyth enroute to Worksop, it's a nice little Good Pub Guide tick-off. Bolton necks another pint before one of his infamous sneezing fits. Handsworth's twitter is reporting a cloud burst along with puddles of water on the pitch; we're going to end up watching Linby Colliery Welfare v Keyworth United at this rate.
Parking is a nightmare on Sandy Lane. We abandon the car across the road. We're hesitant to pay-in as a grumpy official won't confirm whether the game is on or not. There are pools of water in the goalmouth.
Trumpy's gone missing, he'll be lining-up the Strongbow. I get gassing to a youth coach, who's a really nice guy. I mention I saw Handsworth U19s earlier in the season and how taken aback I was at the behaviour of their bench towards the match officials. They were 2-0 down at the time, a scenario they weren't familiar with. Top of the table Handsworth Parramore were formed in 2014, due to a merger between Handsworth FC and Worksop Parramore. Handsworth is a city centre suburb in Sheffield. Notable folk from Handsworth include the actor Sean Bean and my nasty budgie Murphy Palmer.
Fat Boy Slim is on the PA. Mansfield Town have thumped Notts County 5-0 in a lunchtime kick off at Field Mill. The clouds have lifted, the wind has dropped and the sun is beaming. Armthorpe is in South Yorkshire, it's where former England and Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan was born. They are in the nether regions of the Northern Counties League, you wouldn't have thought so as they are out the traps fast. No.9, 'Charlie' is too good for these. His touch and movement bamboozle the Handsworth defence. It's no wonder they leaked 5 goals up at Tadcaster last week.
Poor old Armthorpe couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. 'Charlie' has a hammer of a left foot, he sees a couple of efforts whistle over the goal. How they've managed not to register a goal, God only knows. Handsworth bang in a further four goals as the vistors heads drop and the towel is thrown in. Kieran Wells scores the third goal with an outrageous finish with the outside of his boot. He's somehow a friend on Facebook, I don't recall a bromance. He does hilarious live chats and is well worth a follow.
Man of the Match: Trumpy and Charlie
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Lunch is served in a plush dining room on a table set for twelve. White Van Man loves his Sunday roast and is not one for hanging about when it's served up on his plate. There's a load of commotion when his beef rocks up a lighter shade of pink. It's soon sent back to the kitchen in a hurry before being swiftly charcoaled and returned to the table. WVM eats under protest before performing a sharp exit with steam coming out of his ears. Lessons learnt: never mess with the Big Man's food.
The Taxman and I revisit the wonderful Selhurst Street ground of Radford FC, set in one of Nottingham's multi-cultural areas. The place smells of football and reminds me of the setting of one of Alan Sillitoe's 1960s black and white films. Sticky Palms is a big fan of Radford gaffer Glenn Russell. He certainly knows how to assemble a squad and keep them all happy. It's our second look at the visitors South Normanton. The first half is a tremendous advert for the East Midlands Counties League. Both teams spurn chances, after Radford take an early lead through Carey Knight. The Pheasants run out 1-0 winners despite finishing the last 25 minutes of the game with just 10 men. The race for the title is hotting up with a number teams still in the hunt for silverware.
I walk into town to meet Ms Moon from work on Friday tea-time. I fancy an ale or two at the revamped Cock and Hoop on High Pavement. Ms Moon has a penchant for bubbles. I enquire how much a bottle of Prosecco is, £25 is the reply. I jokingly tell the barmaid that I don't want champagne before about-turning and heading off up to the Bell where the fizz is £15 a bottle. I can't arf pick em, readers.
I'm up with the larks and in Marks and Spencer's food hall in the leafy Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford by 8:30am on Saturday. I get my ears lowered at the Barbers Lounge on Gordon Road. I grab Ms Moon a skinny latte from Costa in Colwick. Murphy Palmer the budgie is whistling his wee head off to Stevie Wonder's Place in the Sun on the Brian Matthew show as I walk through the front door.
We're speeding down the A453 and onto the A50 as the skies begin to brighten. Hanley's excellent twitter account confirms today's game is on. Graham Norton is already getting on my wick. The buffoon plays Reach by S Club 7 twice in a row. Why couldn't he play S Club Party? - me and Murphy love that one.
First port of call is the Queens at Freehay near Cheadle. I have a pint of Lancaster Bomber as I chat to a charming landlord. A pub bore tells us a few long-winded stories of haunted hotels he has stayed in. He mentions that he's had a £50 each way wager on Holywell in the Grand National. I joke with him that I've had 50p each way on the same horse. We tuck into a homemade beef and merlot pie. Even Phil Collins 'In the Air Tonight' doesn't dampen my lunchtime. I admire the photos on the wall of Ian Botham and Lords cricket ground. The landlord is a gentleman and the service is first class.
The Sir Stanley Matthews statue is situated in the centre of Hanley. His ashes are scattered under the centre circle at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. I pose for a couple of snaps, before we dive into the Reginald Mitchell Wetherspoons, named after a local man who designed the Spitfire fighter plane. Hanley is one of six major towns that joined together to form the city of Stoke on-Trent in 1910. It is well known for pottery-making and coal mining.
Ms Moon is no fan of the Wetherspoons watering holes, Sticky, on the other hand, is all over them like a rash as he has £20 of CAMRA discount vouchers to plough his way through. I sink a pint of Squires Gold a springtime ale, Ms Moon sulks over a diet Coke. As we stroll back to the car we catch the town crier in action and a nervous bride posing for photos before taking the plunge in Hanley Town Hall.
It's a two mile drive to Abbey Lane the home of North West Counties League Division One leaders Hanley Town. It's £4 each on the gate and £1 for a programme, a friendly official points us in the direction of the clubhouse.
We wander in an anti-clockwise direction around the ground. We bump into local football enthusiast Kevin. He's dressed in Hanley Town clobber but also confesses to being a bit of a groundhopper. He's up in Scotland in a few weeks time to tick a few grounds off in the Edinburgh area. Olly the long-haired labrador is begging for a treat behind the nearest goal. One or two fans aren't talking to him as he failed to show up for Hanley's midweek fixture on Tuesday, preferring instead to watch Paul O'Grady's 'For The Love of Dogs' TV show.
We stand opposite the Colin Stair Stand, named after a former manager who died tragically and suddenly only a couple of seasons ago. We are served up utter tripe in the first 30 minutes of the game. Holker OB put ten players behind the ball and look content with nicking a point. Their sole striker is silver-haired and looks well into his forties. He's hardly going to work the channels or ghost past a defender with a change of pace. A couple of Hanley supporters will definitely win 'Spliff of the Season', it doesn't half pen 'n ink as the smoke drifts in the wind.
The weather has turned with driving rain replacing sun-kissed skies. We dive for cover in the clubhouse. Tea and coffee are £1 per cup. I bump into a Halifax Town supporter, who's also a groundhopper from York. He has spent the morning in Buxton and driving around the High Peak area of Derbyshire. He's not particularly impressed with the stadia or standard of football. He has more camera equipment than Lord Lichfield.
We shelter in the Colin Stair Stand as Hanley turn it on in the second half and run riot. They race into 4-0 goal lead. Poor old Kevin is running around the place like a blue-arsed fly retrieving scuffed efforts from hedge bottoms and adjoining fields. They even manage to fluff a penalty before running out 5-1 winners.
Man of the Match: Olly the Dog and Kevin
Sunday, April 3, 2016
I pick up the Good Pub Guide and start flicking through the pages. The Althorp Coaching Inn in the picture postcard village of Great Brington is in the main section and on further investigation looks a pearler. I'm astonished to read that the great-great-great grandfather of former USA President George Washington, Lawrence Washington, is buried in a vault in the church. It's going to be another Saturday lunchtime snooping around a churchyard.
The week flies by, as I take annual leave on Tuesday. I'm stood on the touchline at Nottingham Forest's Nigel Doughty Academy chattering away to Leicestershire groundhopper Rob Campion. I notice a chubby lad up top with a ridiculous barnet. It's Tricky Tree striker Britt Assombalonga. He'll need to wear a few bin liners in pre-season to shed the excess weight after a 12 month lay-off. He scores a peach of a goal with a rocket of a shot from just outside the penalty area.
I meet my boys at tea-time in the 'World Renowned Trent Bridge Inn.' It's the most expensive Wetherspoons in Europe. Sticky Palms is looking forward to tucking into his £20 CAMRA discount vouchers. A pleasant evening is finished off by sinking a pint of Castle Rock's Elsie Mo in Jessie Boot's old dispensary in the recently refurbished Embankment on the north side of the river.
There's just time to nip down Daleside Rd on Saturday morning to fetch Murphy Palmer the budgie a honey bar from Pets Are Us. I have a tearful moment in the shop as I walk past some bunnies that resemble recently deceased blog legend Finley Palmer. The honey bar is an extortionate £1.69. Old fat lad can take his time pecking on this one.
As luck would have it the church front door is open, a Chubb alarm engineer is in deep conversation with a church warden. I seek permission to enter the church and take a photo of the vault in which Washington's great-great-great grandfather is buried. Permission is granted unlike last week when some grumpy WBA fan declined my request to take a snap of his scruffy mongrel for the Non League Dogs website.
We are made very welcome at this dog-friendly 16th Century coaching inn. I have a pint of Phipps NBC Indian pale ale from a local brewery as we enjoy a baguette and some home-cooked chips. We stretch our legs around this charming village. Ms Moon points out there are no Spencers named in the 30 soldiers who died in the First World War on the War Memorial. We stroll past the local post office which was once owned by the mother of radio disc jockey Jo Whiley, who grew up in the village. I nearly get wiped out as I cross the road by a cyclist who is wearing a Northampton Saints training top.
Fernie Fields is a 20 minute drive away. We seemed to have driven up the wrong entrance, so abandon our vehicle on some posh housing estate. We slip into the ground through the players' entrance without paying. I wander over to the turnstile on the far side and cough up £13 for two entries and an excellent programme. I nip to the loo, which is adjacent to the changing rooms, which are pumping out some serious tunes.
The ground is charming. I admire the neatly trimmed privet hedge that runs behind the far goal and along the farthest touchline. The pitch is like a billiard table, with a well manicured playing surface.
We chance upon a silver-haired gentleman in salmon pink trousers. Pete, denies being a groundhopper, despite going to three games a week. The guy is well animated and reminds of a thespian actor.
We position ourselves inbetween the two dugouts. The Holbeach 4 jacket, Ollie Gale, is the stepson of one of my best mates, Ackers, who occasionally joins us on the groundhop.
There's no real tempo to the first half. I'd have expected Holbeach to bust a gut as they chase down the leading pack with games in hand, they play with little urgency. Sileby's left back can launch a throw-in longer and flatter than Rory Delap. They fail to exploit this, when the best tactic would be to play down the channels and squeeze the full backs.
The visitors take the lead on 12 minutes with a superb finish from Sean Coughlan, who deftly lobs the ball over an onrushing 'keeper after an outrageous first touch. Ms Moon shouts up the hot drinks at the break as I get gassing to three elderly gentlemen. Princess Diana soon crops up in the conversation. It's fair to say her younger brother is not popular in these parts. Most folk are certain she is buried in the Spencer Vault in the church and not on the island on the Althorp Estate.
Holbeach are bloody awful in the second half, barely fashioning a chance. Sileby equalise with a superb header from a left footed inswinging corner. The referee waves away claims for a penalty as the Sileby forward falls to the ground after a heavy challenge. He leaves the field with what looks like a dislocated or broken finger. There's no qualified physio on either bench, so it looks like a trip to accident and emergency for the inconsolable striker.
Man of the Match: Dominic Okanu