Sunday, December 18, 2016

Celtic 2-1 Dundee

It's 5am on Friday morning and a bleary-eyed Sticky Palms is trudging down the stairs. I wolf down a bowl of porridge and slurp on a cup of green tea. My work colleague Lee and I are on the early flight to Glasgow for the Ideagen PLC Christmas party. I kiss Sleeping Beauty (Ms Moon) goodbye and head out of the door.

We cruise down the M42, arriving at Birmingham Airport with time to spare. The flight's delayed by an hour - it could have been worse as the Flymaybe 8:30am to Edinburgh is delayed by four hours. Customers are kicking off big style, venting their rage down the phone lines to Flybe customer service reps.

We jump in a taxi and head out of Glasgow, with its slate grey skies, up to our office in East Kilbride. The taxi driver is a Partick Thistle fan. He rambles on about the time he saw Scotland beat England 1-0 in 1964 - he missed the goal as he was dispatched to the bar to shout up the pints and pies.  We enjoy some banter in the commercial department before the trip back to the Hilton Glasgow. There's time for a quick cat nap and bath, before stepping out onto William Street and up to the Bon Accord on North Street. The cheerful tavern stocks an amazing 380 malt whiskies. I sink a couple of real ales from the Oakham Brewery.

The party is held in the hotel ballroom on the third floor. The highlight of the night is when a couple dance to 'Let it Go' from the film Frozen - the lady's partner literally does let her go. The poor woman twists on her stiletto's before unceremoniously crashing and slumping to the floor. The whole room are in stitches. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. The woman's friend (who looks like Bella Emberg off the Russ Abbot Show) on the next table, is not amused at my laughter. She asks me if I'd like to step outside - and I don't mean a hand-in-hand romantic walk down the River Clyde. Even Lee, who is from Mansfield and goes down the gym every day, is scared of her. I make my excuses and head upstairs for the night. Tomorrow we'll be doing some hard yards.

We refuel with a hearty breakfast in the hotel dining room and case the joint for 'Bella Emberg' before slinking off and checking-in at the Novotel just around the corner on Pitt Street. I suggest to Lee that I fancy stretching my legs and pegging it up to Parkhead. Kevin McSharry at work has tipped us the wink of a traditional Irish pub on the Cathcart Road called the Brazen Head. We jump into Ladbrokes and place a few bets - both of us expect Celtic to rack a few up today.

We finally come across the Brazen Head and boy oh boy it doesn't fail to disappoint. I'm taken aback at the memorabilia on show in the bar. Walls and ceilings are bedecked in flags, photos, scarves and shirts. The Guinness is poured beautifully and left to settle by a friendly bartender. Crystal Palace are playing Chelsea on the TV. We're as snug as a bug sat on bar stools, as the pub begins to fill up. A band member strums his Irish Ukulele as the group sing a few Celtic songs. The punters clap and cheer. The atmosphere is electric. We sink a few more pints before heading up to the Gorbals.

When I think of Scotland it reminds me of my Glaswegian pal Jim Henry and the brilliant comedy series Still Games. Jim had a brother called Rab (not related to C Nesbitt) who used to get me copies of the popular Celtic fanzine Not the View - so I've always had a soft spot for the Bhoys.

Celtic were founded in 1887 with the purpose being to alleviate poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow. The club has been crowned Scottish League champions on 47 occasions. 1967 was the Bhoys' Annus Mirabilis - they won every competition they entered including the European Cup, where famously the team were all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow. Celtic have only ever had 18 managers. Billy McNeill made 822 appearances for the Bhoys.

Their most expensive export was Victor Wanyama who they sold onto Southampton in 2013 at a £11 million profit. Celtic also hold the record for the highest attendance for a European club competition when 136,505 fans rocked up at Hampden Park for the 1970 European Cup semi-final versus Dirty Leeds United. In November 2008 Gil Heron, Celtic's first black player, passed away at the age of 88. He was the father of the jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron, who received critical acclaim for the well-known song 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.' *Thanks Kev McSharry for this nugget.*

Celtic Park comes into view. I take a wander around 'Paradise' and snap a few photos of the statues of Bhoys legends Jock Stein, Jimmy 'Jinky' Johnstone and Billy McNeill. Lee is gagging for a beer and I'm dying for a 'Jimmy Riddle.' We enter the turnstile in the Lisbon Lions Stand.  As I exit the toilet I find a crestfallen Lee with a face like a smacked arse - he's received some devastating news, alcohol isn't sold in Scottish football stadia - the bastards  .... how could they do this to us ? I thought they loved a bevvy up here ?

Perhaps we could nip up the Gorbals to see if some of the lads have any of that Buckfast Tonic wine that was blamed this week by a Dundee sheriff for drink-fuelled thuggery in Scotland. It nets the Buckfast Abbey Trust in Devon a cool £8.8 million per annum.

We take our seats up in the Gods of the Lisbon Lions Stand, enjoying the panoramic view of Parkhead and the landmarks of the city of Glasgow. Lee scoffs a meat pie and a cup of tea, still shaking his head at the alcohol ban.

Celtic are running away with the SPL. 20-year old French striker Moussa Dembele was awarded immediate cult status after a late winner versus Rangers a few weeks ago, following on from a hat-trick against them earlier in the season. He finds himself sitting on the bench today.

The atmosphere is electric despite Shakin' Stevens blasting out of the PA system. I'd expected a bit of Simple Minds, Orange Juice or even 'Donald Where's Your Trousers' by Andy Stewart - all are sadly absent. Dundee's greatest ever singer is no longer with us. In 1981 I paid £2.50 on the door at the Nottingham Boat Club at the back of Forest's City Ground to watch Dundee's finest - The Associates. The distinctive high-pitched tenor voice of Billy Mackenzie is something I will never, ever forget. On 22nd January 1997 Billy was found dead in his father's shed. He was only 39 years old.

Dundee sit deep, keeping ten men behind the ball. Celtic swarm all over them like a rash. Time and time again their full backs are left for dead by the overlapping wing backs, with the final killer ball being hoofed away with a desperate clearance. Brendan's Bhoys are overdoing the passing, nobody wants to take the responsibility of unleashing a shot, something that Dundee aren't afraid of on their rare forays into the Celtic half. A couple of efforts whistle past the wrong side of the post. Leigh Griffiths sees an effort kiss the woodwork after a wonderful give and go, while Tom Rogic squanders a chance when it looked easy to score.

Dundee are hanging on the ropes and desperate for the half-time whistle, so they can re-group. With seconds remaining Celtic are awarded a free-kick 22 yards out. Griffiths clips the ball beautifully with his left foot, sending it over the wall and into the net. Dundee manager Paul Hartley, an ex Bhoy, will be as sick as a parrot.

Celtic up the tempo in the second half and go for the jugular with ex-Notts County loanee Callum McGregor operating on the Celtic right wing. The game is all but over when the Israeli, Nir Bitton, guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

The Dens Park team don't know when they're beaten. The warning signs are there when they hit the post, moments later they pull a goal back from another former Notts County player Marcus Haber.
With a minute remaining substitute Faissal El-Bakhtaoui spurns a golden chance when skying the ball over the bar having been put clean through.

Attendance: Over 53,000 I'm hearing.

Man of the Match: Lee 'Lennie' Godber - for putting up with me all weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Bilston Town 1-2 Willenhall Town

We spend the evening in the Cock, in Wivelsfield Green, Sussex. I sink a few pints from the Harvey's Brewery stable and remarkably win a few games of pool. It's an early start and long journey back to Nottingham on Sunday morning, that's only broken by a Burger King breakfast at Newport Pagnell services.

On arrival back home, I notice a cork from a 'vintage' bottle of Rioja, I bagged from Morrisons in Netherfield, has somehow fallen out of the bottle, that was sat on the mantelpiece and ended up on the carpet. I seal the area off and call in the lads from Heartbeat to carry out forensics - they'll soon have this case mopped up. There are a few green and yellow feathers scattered around the room, no obvious clues folks. Murphy the budgie is pulled in for questioning, as it appears there has been no forced entry. Those bungling fools at Aidensfield Police Station release him without charge.

I'm up in Warrington on Tuesday evening, dining out with colleagues in the hotel restaurant. I check my phone to find that 'The Lincoln' are 3-0 up in a pea-souper fog against crisis club Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup second round. The visitors claw back two late goals, leaving a trembling Sticky Palms biting on his fingernails through six minutes of added time. Ms Moon and I are booked in for the third round tie at Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground.

Wednesday evening is spent at The Stag Ground as Kimberley Miners' Welfare and Awsworth Villa lock horns in the Notts Senior Cup. I love it up here. I meet up with my good pal Johnny Buttery as well as bumping into 'Hobbo' 'Swifty', Danny Staley and John Harris. In front of an impressive 153 crowd, Kimberley earn local bragging rights with a 2-0 win.

I catch the fag end of the first day of the 4th Test between India and England in the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. England have drafted in 24-year-old batsman, Keaton Jennings from Durham. He's clonked India for a ton, but I don't know much about him. It's hardly a surprise to find he is once again another South African player that 'we' have fast-tracked through the system. His parents were proudly watching from their Mauritius holiday home when the boy was on 96 not out. An untimely power cut sadly saw them miss out on seeing his debut Test century.

I knock off from work and dash into town on Friday tea-time. I zip around town shopping for presents before calling by 'the Kilpin.' I sink three pints of Kilpin whilst enjoying random tunes on the iPod shuffle such as Dead Souls by Joy Division.

Ms Moon and her close friend Jill, have already sunk a bottle of prosecco on my return. They head off out into West Bridgford as Murphy and I curl up on the sofa watching a boring Brighton and Leeds game. I eventually switch the tosh off, placing on my headphones, listening to New Order's double album 'Substance.'

The good lady comes crashing through the door at one bells. I tried to stay awake in case she was attacked with a Cappucino, as West Bridgford is the coffee capital of Notts, or half a shandy if the Plumtree CC lads were on their Christmas outing. There's been a schoolgirl error on Ms Moon's behalf, of no snap before the session. A double cheeseburger won't be enough to save the day. I always have a 'Georgie Best Undercoat' (a pint of milk) before venturing out.

A deathly white, bleary-eyed Ms Moon, struggles her way through another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore on Saturday morning. Greengrass has got himself into a right old 'two an eight' again. Aidensfield are set to play Whitby Cricket Club in an annual charity game. Claude has offered even money on Whitby winning, everyone is piling in, including the Aidensfield team. PC Ventress bowls a pile of poo as Whitby win off the last ball, leaving a disgruntled Greengrass paying out a bundle full of tenners in the local boozer.

I manage to knock up a chilli con carne in the kitchen, whilst listening to Fighting Talk on Five Live. Justin Moorhouse is asked about today's clash between MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon. He refers to it as a neighbourly dispute about an overgrown hedge. I've had to tell Murphy the budgie that Brian Matthew is convalescing down in the seaside resort of Eastbourne, in Sussex, and won't be back on his show on Radio 2 until next week, at the earliest.

The clouds begin to darken as we head towards the Black Country. Paul Gambacinni is spinning the discs from 1981 - it was a pretty awful year chart wise. I treat Ms Moon to a high-pitched version of 'Body Talk' from Leee John and Imagination - it nearly shatters the windscreen.

It's tipping it down with rain as I exit the car outside the ground leaving Ms Moon to shoot off down the road to fill up with petrol. It's a fiver on the gate and £1 for the programme of the season. I take a wander around the ground before bumping into Chairman Graham Hodson and Vice-Chairperson Denise Frankham. I'm made so welcome, taken into the hospitality area and given a tour of the ground - what lovely, genuine people they are.

Ms Moon joins me in the main stand as the rain continues to pour from the darkening clouds. It's a local derby as the Landlords take on the Tenants in this West Midlands Regional League game.

Bilston is a town near to Wolverhampton with a population of 25,000, which was extensively developed for factories and coal mining. The local steelworks were closed in 1979 with 2,000 job losses, having been in production for 199 years. Bilston Town FC were founded in 1894 and play at Queen Street in the town. It was reported by the BBC in 2006 that the ground had been vandalised 120 times in six years.

Notable people born in Bilston include: the actor James Fleet, the bumbling 'Tom' in Four Weddings and a Funeral and also in the Vicar of Dibley, Slade drummer, Don Powell and Bert 'The Cat' Williams, MBE, Wolves and England 'keeper, who has a local sports centre named after him.

The teams emerge from the tunnel to 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC - it's totally random.There is a minute's silence in memory of Lisa Skidmore, a local District Nurse, who was murdered last week, just a few streets away from the ground. A former player, Mel Ball, has also recently passed away.

The visitors come out the traps quick, looking up for it. Their star man Chad Birch puts them 1-0 up on six minutes. Player-manager Mark Habbershaw doubles their lead with a 40-yard Exocet missile of a shot. They even manage to fluff a penalty before the Steelmen reduce arrears with a header from a free-kick. I have to check in the programme that the linesman on our side is not Mr S Wonder as he raises his flag more times in the first half than the French army in the Second World War. Even the referee's assessor sat behind me is having a good old moan.

The game ebbs and flows in the second period. The visitors are reduced to ten men after a sub is shown a straight Red after a two-footed lunge. The sides are even in numbers, moments later, after a 20 man melee results in three more players being sent for an early bath.

I'm willing on the home team for a deserved equaliser that just won't come their way. What a tremendous day out, all for £5.

Man of the Match: Chad Birch

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lewes 2-2 Sittingbourne

It's 4pm on Saturday, Ms Moon and I are exiting the Bilsthorpe Sports Ground in north Notts following a five-goal thriller. We call on an old work colleague of Ms Moon's who lives in the village. She makes us a much-needed brew as we toast our frozen feet by the fire in a cosy lounge. There's a huge stench of cat excrement in the car, that Ms Moon has managed to tread into the driver's side car mat. I'm wretching, folks, all the way home, with the window fully wound down in freezing temperatures.

I spend Saturday evening with a few pals out in the Vale of Belvoir, at the Nags Head in Harby - the TMS cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew lives just down the road. 'The Mayor of London' is holding court after a recent business trip to India. I have a sleepless night on his sofa, drifting off fitfully napping, finally awakening early doors with a thick head. I'm back at HQ for 9:30am. The bloody heating is on the blink. If that isn't enough I have to endure three of hours of the good lady 'singing' to the Sound of Music, which she has somehow chanced upon with the remote control. Murphy the Budgie asks for the towel to be placed over the cage and puts in a request to borrow my headphones.

A sharp frost on Monday evening sees the Radcliffe Olympic v Borrowash Victoria League Cup tie get wiped out on Tuesday - a shame that, as I was hooking up with Jitz and Dringy. I meet an old Impero Software colleague in the Herbert Kilpin on Thursday evening - well it's been a couple of weeks since I ventured in. 'Staring at the Rude Boys' by The Ruts is booming out on the iPod shuffle - their lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead in his parents' bathroom following a heroin overdose on the 14th July 1980.

I get the brush-off from Ms Moon on Friday evening. Remember the old line a girl would sometimes throw at you, back in the day, when you asked her out on a date ? - "sorry I'm washing my hair." Well I fell victim to this cliche on Friday teatime, when an invitation for a drink in town is declined. Oh well, at least I get the chance to listen to the brilliant 6Music DJ and Colchester United fan Steve Lamacq spinning Half Man Half Biscuit's 'I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan.'

I'm up and in the shower at just gone seven bells on Saturday morning. We both don't want to break the news to Murphy Palmer the budgie that his favourite DJ, Brian Matthew, has been signed-off on the sick for a month. We're out the door before the show starts on Radio 2 - Murphy will be proper kicking off as he doesn't like his stand-in Sir Tim Rice - or Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We leave him pecking out a few words on a 'get well' card for Brian, that he says he'll drop off at 'Wogan House', before flying back up to Carrow Road to watch his beloved Norwich City.

We're off to the Dripping Pan today - a groundhopper's dream. Ms Moon's brother lives in nearby Burgess Hill. His partner, Suzie, is recovering and making progress from a major operation at Harefield Hospital. It'll be nice to see him and offer our support.

The main roads are as clear as a bell, even Tim Rice is on form as Sticky Palms bellows out hits from The Hollies (The Air That I Breathe), Herman's Hermits (No Milk Today) and The Walker Brothers (Make it Easy on Yourself). There's a quick pit-stop at Toddington Services before we finally tip-up at Burgess Hill, despite Ms Moon punching in the wrong postcode.

We're soon parked up in the historic East Sussex town of Lewes. We wander down the High Street before entering the John Harvey public house on Bear Yard, a bustling tap, named after the brewery's founder. It has a flagstone floor, a beamed bar and a flame-flickering woodburner. I enjoy a pint of Harvey's Indian pale and a brie and bacon sandwich. The waitress mucks up the order, but is very apologetic.

I settle the bill and leave brother and sister chatting to one another. I head back up the High Street following signs to the train station, whilst passing cafes, art galleries and chic and trendy bistros.
I can see the Dripping Pan in the distance and feel the excitement rise within me.

I cough up £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. Nothing can prepare me for the sweeping views of the South Downs and Cliffe Hill. I wander past the Club Shop, Rookery Bar and 'The Hatch' refreshment bar. There's a stand that runs along the touchline behind the dugouts with red tip-up seats. Behind the far goal is an open terrace with sixteen concrete steps. On the opposite side of the ground, people view the game at the top of a steep grass bank with a stone wall to their backs, that is taller than me.

I'm gobsmacked and awestruck with the beauty of the ground. I've visited over 400 now, but this would have to be in my Top 5. It is said that the ground is called the Dripping Pan (est 1885) as monks from the local priory used to dry the water from the nearby river to make salt. The Club has had a chequered history, but there's a real community feel about the place, with everyone mucking in for one another.

They've been managed twice by Steve King - a legend on the Non-League scene. I came across King myself when I worked at Notts County. Folk thought 'we' had some lolly when Sven Goran Eriksson was Director of Footballer. King, with his cashmere coat and pork pie hat, had the look of second-hand car salesman. He was hawking a boy around the circuit called Joe Ralls, who played for Farnborough Town youth team. My boss and I went to watch him and invited him in for a trial for the Pies. But he ended up signing for the Bluebirds of Cardiff where he has gone on to make over 100 appearances and is still only 23 years old.

Brighton Hove Albion's Solly March began his career at Lewes, with King once again instrumental in the transfer negotiations. We saw March give Nottingham Forest the runaround at the AMEX in August 2015 - he's already made 49 appearances for the Seagulls and is currently recovering from a serious injury.

Lewes FC made headline news last season when it was announced that the new wave band Squeeze would be sponsoring their shirts. The band's singer, Chris Difford, lives close by. Talking of music, the DJ is banging out a few pre-match tunes from Kasabian and Muse.

I stand at the top of the grass bank with my back to the wall, shielded from the cool air. I engage in conversation with a Barnet fan who looks like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses - he has more anecdotes than Albert. He used to play for the Bees back in the day and was also on the Lord's groundstaff. He's a keen Crown Green bowls player, who has been watching the Rooks since 1985 and is a fountain of all knowledge.

One or two Lewes players have picked up injuries from their trip to Guernsey - a few young uns have been drafted in. Sittingbourne take the lead in the third minute with a well-worked goal from a long throw-in, when a ball is played back to Joe Loft who strikes a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner of the net.

Lewes are battering Sittingbourne down the right-hand side but fail to find that cutting edge. Ms Moon and her bro tip-up at half-time. Andrew is like a Trumpy Junior (blog legend) with his beer-swilling skills and a king-sized Lambert and Butler cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Against the run of play Lewes concede a sucker-punch goal to the street-wise visitors. Most teams would be dead and buried, but back they come for more. The young ref has had a 'Weston-Super- 'Night' Mare, constantly bringing play back and not allowing the advantage. He caves in to an appeal for a penalty, which allows Lewes back into the game.

'Uncle Albert' has now joined the raucous crowd cheering the young braves on from behind the goal in the 'Rookery.' The equaliser is a beauty and well deserved for their never-say-die attitude. A free-kick is clipped into the area, the visitors perform the 'Mannequin Challenge' allowing Smith to ghost in on the blindside and head home. The crowd go ballistic. I raise my arms above my head and clap furiously. The moment is beautiful and a befitting end to a brilliant day.

Attendance: 485

Man of the Match: 'Uncle Albert.' and 'Trumpy Junior.'