Monday, May 1, 2017

Southport 1-1 Lincoln City

The company I work for has its financial year end on Friday. The heat is on to bring home the bacon. I alleviate a wee bit of pressure on Tuesday evening with a stroll around Rushcliffe Country Park, before making the short journey to the ROKO Health Club in West Bridgford.

The Notts Senior League is at the fag end of the season. Magdala are playing title-chasing Clifton All Whites. Some would say the highlight of the game is a 25-yard free kick dispatched into the top corner by mercurial striker Ben Clark. I preferred a failed scorpion kick attempt by a spectator, who was trying to tap an alehouse clearance back into play. The match ball finds its way through a small hole in the fence, leaving a scurrying, red-faced supporter chasing the ball through the car park before it ends up in rush hour traffic on Wilford Lane.

It's 6 pm on Friday evening, I'm finally shutting down my laptop for the weekend. I've landed a couple of big orders at the close of play. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  I'm so exhausted that I haven't the energy for my usual start of the weekend stroll and early doors activity at the Trent Bridge Inn or King Billy in Sneinton.

Ms Moon is excited on Friday evening. She has been monitoring the fluctuating prices of hotels in the docks area of Liverpool on She pounces upon a two night deal in the Malmaison boutique hotel on Princes Dock, including breakfast.

It's not even 8 am on Saturday and I'm already parking up at Costa Coffee on Daleside Road. Ms Moon is not at her best on early starts. I'm hoping a large skinny latte can keep her calm. Dermot O'Leary bangs out some decent tunes as we head up the M6 north. I grimace my way through the nauseating Graham Norton and that daft agony aunt he has on each week.

We drive painstakingly through four junctions of 50 mph speed restrictions before jumping onto the M58. We're pulling teeth again in Ormskirk, as the town is gridlocked with traffic. A stressed out Sticky Palms pulls into some godforsaken retail park on the outskirts of Southport. A full English breakfast restores inner calm in Tesco. One or two Lincoln fans are knocking about and in the party mood.

We head up to Haig Avenue, home of Southport FC. The Sandgrounders were founded in 1881 and are currently managed by former Stockport County and Blackpool striker Andy Preece. Both Mark Wright and Peter Davenport have previously managed the club.

Southport is a large seaside town in Merseyside, with a population of 90,000. Its attractions include Lord Street, a tree-lined boulevard in the town centre, once the home of Napoleon III of France. The town is at the centre of the English Golf Coast, with nearby Royal Birkdale Golf Club hosting the 2017 British Open Championship. On the 9th December 1886 the worst lifeboat disaster in England occurred off the Southport coast. A cargo ship on its way to South America got in difficulty in storm-force winds. Twenty-eight lifeboat crew lost their lives that night.

Born or raised notable folk from Southport include: Soft Cell singer Marc Almond, Confessions actor Robin Askwith, golfer Tommy Fleetwood, comedian Lee Mack, Red Rum's trainer 'Ginger' McCain, actor Sir Anthony Quayle, actress Miranda Richardson, goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer, who won a European Cup winners medal twice, footballer Jack Rodwell, historian A J P Taylor and chef Marcus Wareing. On the 11th October 2016 actress Jean Alexander, who played Coronation Street nosy parker Hilda Ogden, celebrated her 90th birthday. A few days later she passed away in Southport Hospital.

The Southport DJ has put some thought into their set. The Stone Roses and Joy Division are the pick of the bunch. A lady PA announcer sportingly congratulates the Imps on their title win and plays 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond. Southport show some class by forming a guard of honour for the Lincoln players and staff.

Over two and a half thousand visiting supporters have made the 300-mile round trip. Manager Danny Cowley has made wholesale changes of late. Only four regulars start. Sticky's favourite, Terry Hawkridge, is playing in the unfamiliar position of left back.

City soon get a grip on the game. They open the scoring through Peterborough United on loan striker Lee Angol after unselfish work by the impressive Jack Muldoon. Big Lincoln striker Matt Rhead is proper showboating. His touch is deft and outrageous. His headers and chest-downs are played into a colleagues path. He sees an effort come off the woodwork.

Lincoln are trying to run the clock down and are playing with ten men, due to an Angol injury, after already subbing three players in a triple change. Southport are awarded a free kick out on the far right touchline. Neil Ashton pings in a ball which hangs in the wind, it sails over the Lincoln 'keeper who is 'cleaning windows' to give Southport a share of the spoils and deny the Imps a 100 points total. Danny and Nicky Cowley will be cross.

There's a bit of a commotion outside the ground. Traffic has come to a standstill. A rather uncouth and rotund Southport supporter is shouting out that he'll 'stab you all' to the Lincoln City supporters. We watch on with amusement as the local plod try to restrain the blithering idiot.

We finally rock up at the Malmaison in Liverpool after a tortuous drive and a Ms Moon hissy-fit with the new sat nav. The evening is spent in the real ale region of town. I tick off a few good pub guide entries before a revisit to the delightful Liverpool Philharmonic Rooms - a beautifully preserved Victorian pub on Hope Street. We return to the Malmaison; Sticky is particularly worse for wear.

I'm still hanging on Sunday morning, as we walk down the docks and into a much-needed breeze that'll hopefully blow away the cobwebs. We jump on a tour bus and enjoy the guides one-line gags before alighting at Queens Square and heading up to Goodison Park on the No.19 bus.

The place is already bustling with folk despite it being still 90 minutes before kick off. I love the preamble and build up before a game, but often fret about collecting tickets. I managed to bag two tickets for £39 each on the StubHub, so I'm pretty chuffed with myself. Ms Moon loves a big game.

I clock a foreign supporter sporting one of those awful half and half scarves, posing in front of the Dixie Dean memorial statue. I feel the red mist descend. I would have said something, but the bloke looks as hard as nails and would have probably sparked me out.

We take our seats up in the heavens on the second to back row. The view of the ground is stunning. I first came here in 1986 with Nottingham Forest. Dave Watson scored two for the Toffees that day on his debut. An ashen-faced Ms Moon returns from the refreshment bar having just parted with £5 for a bottle of water and a bag of Starburst - Opal Fruits in old money. Welcome to the Premier League, 'Princess.'

The teams trot out to the Z Cars theme tune. It's a relief once all the pomp and ceremony is over and the game finally kicks off. Everton are unfortunate to see an effort come back off the woodwork in the first minute. Chelsea start to get a stranglehold on the game. Diego Costa is rinsing the two Everton central defenders. He turns them inside out and is a joy to watch, including his theatrics and childish behaviour when decisions don't go his way.

Chelsea up the gears in the second half and score a wonderful goal through the Tenerife-born Pedro. Cahill scores a second before Willian kills off any chance of a comeback. Everton are without pace. One or two regulars are injured, but the highly rated Lukaku and Bartley flatter to deceive, with the crowd getting on their backs. Only Tom Davies rises above the mediocrity.

Man of the Match: Jack Muldoon

Attendance: 3,462

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Colne 0-0 Droylsden

We're staying in the Holiday Inn just outside Royal Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire; it's bloody awful to be honest. We don't give two hoots. After a failed attempt and a Sticky Palms 'red mist moment', we finally jump into a cab and head into town. There's a warm welcome at the Cricketers Arms before being tipped the wink about the White Horse down the road.

A lot of folk are 'sniffing' behind closed doors in the toilets when I waltz in - I thought I was on the Avenue in West Bridgford for a brief moment. Evening dinner is taken in the glorious Good Pub Guide main entry - the Star and Garter, before retiring to bed at 'Fawlty Towers.'The weekend is topped off with a stroll around Charlecote Park, a National Trust owned 16th-century country house on the banks of the River Avon, surrounded by deer.

It's Easter Monday and I feel worse for wear after scoffing a Guinness Easter egg and a few glasses of Chateauneuf-du-pape on Sunday evening, both kindly bought as gifts by Ms Moon. I walk off the after effects and head down towards Meadow Lane. Paul Cook's Pompey are in town and in party mood. If results go their way the 5,000 travelling army can celebrate promotion to League One.

The pubs around Trent Bridge and close to the ground are stacked out with folk. I stroll along the banks of the Trent, crossing over the Wilford Suspension Bridge. I notice a kiosk is open, adjacent to the old Town Arms pub, which is soon to re-open as a Brewhouse and Kitchen, with its own microbrewery and 50 craft beers. I buy some fruit pastilles and mints for the match. It might freshen up my pallet and kill off any bad breath that is hanging around.

I meet 'The Taxman' outside Notts County's main entrance. I admire all the Pompey fans who have taken the time-out to have photos posing next to the Jimmy Sirrel and Jack Wheeler statue. We take a pew in the Derek Pavis Stand. Portsmouth are different gravy. They pass Notts off the park. Their fans invade the pitch at the final whistle. Notts County owner Alan Hardy shows a touch of class by allowing the players and fans to celebrate together.

I'm loving my football right now, even though it's the fag end of the season. I meet my two boys on Tuesday evening for tea at the Gamston Lock, before sloping off to Regatta Way to watch champions elect West Bridgford FC. There's a classic smash and grab performance from local rivals Radcliffe Olympic, who nick a goal at the death to leave Bread 'n Lard Island FC needing four points from their final two games to lift the East Midlands Counties League title.

I'm at a works' leaving do at The Embankment for a big Nottingham Forest fan on Friday evening. He watches 'The Lincoln' now and again, so I make a special effort to attend. Four pints is enough for me these days, particularly when it's between 4.5% - 5.5% ABV.

I make the fatal mistake of checking-in with Ms Moon who is on the sauce back at HQ with a mate. "Can you call in at KFC for some supper ?" Bloody hell, I hate that place and the incompetent buffoons that work there. I'm told there's a fifteen-minute wait for chicken on arrival- the red mist descends again.

We're up and out the door at ten bells. It's a bit of a trek up to Colne. Ms Moon is feeling rather chipper that she can flick around with the DAB radio. Frank Skinner has too much rattle on Absolute. I listen to Graham Norton through gritted teeth. Although I do have a 'Dad dancing' moment (despite piloting) to Mai Tai's 1985 hit, 'History.'

We turn onto the M62 and M606, skirting around the edge of Bradford city centre, before heading up the Keighley Road. The Dog and Gun at Glusburn is as good as it gets. It's my third visit. I have a pint of Mary Jane pale ale from the Ilkley Brewery. The homemade steak and potato pie is a steal at £7.95. Ms Moon mops up fish, chips and mushy peas.

Colne is a town in Lancashire six miles north-east of Burnley, with a population just shy of 20,000. With the Industrial Revolution, cotton manufacturing became the main industry in the town. By 1891 there were over 30 cotton mills in the town. Notable people born or raised in the town include: Wallace Hartley, bandleader on the RMS Titanic, Sir William Pickles Hartley, the jam manufacturer and Natalie Gumede, who played Kirsty Soames in Coronation Street.

It's a beautiful sunny day. We both fall in love with Colne immediately. It has bags of character and history. I'm desperate to see the memorial bust of Wallace Hartley. I ask a lady in the library for directions, she says it's on the other side of town. The Titanic sunk at 11:40pm on April 14th 1912. When all hope was lost, Hartley moved the band onto the deck, with one of their final tunes being the Star Spangled Banner. Over 40,000 people lined the streets of Colne for Hartley's funeral.

Ms Moon is queuing for coffee in an independent coffee shop as I people-watch a few drunks swaying and shouting outside the Duke of Lancaster on the High Street. I have a tearful moment to myself as I watch Lincoln City run the clock down on 'Live Scores.' Two goals from the twinkle-toed Terry Hawkridge sees the Imps over the finishing line and back in the Football League. I take a stroll down the street. Imran Khan's barber's shop is doing a roaring trade. Blimey, Jemima must have taken him for a few bob if the poor sod has to cut hair.

There's a respected groundhopper writing a book called '100 Grounds to Die For', if he's not been here I'll kick myself. I'm gobsmacked with the sweeping views down into the town and up into the hills.

Colne need something from the game to ensure a play-off spot. Droylsden, from Greater Manchester, are playing for pride. I'm mystified by this, as I saw them up in Lancaster before Christmas when they played a beautiful game of football.

Over 500 fans have rolled up to support their community club. Manager, Stephen Cunningham, lives and breathes the Club - it will be a great achievement to finish in the top 5.

Colne spurn an early chance, Adam Morning fluffs an opportunity with only the 'keeper to beat. The Bloods of Droylsden pick up from when I last saw them up in Lancaster. Their game is uncomplicated. The passing is beautiful and purposeful. It's only in the final third where they fail to produce.

The guy next to me is all tracksuited up. When you scout you should just blend in with the crowd and call people's bluff. I find out in seconds who he's watching. The game's got 0-0 written all over it (again). I don't get Cunningham's tactics as they put 10 men behind the ball. Maybe he knows Trafford are losing, so a play-off spot is secured.

In the second half Colne drop deeper and deeper. Droylsden are always on the ball, but lack creativity. The brilliant Colne fans see their team over the finishing line after a few late scares. Cunningham punches the air with delight. Farsley Celtic, near to Leeds, will be their play-off opponents.

Attendance: 568

Man of the Match: Wallace Hartley, Bandleader of the Titanic.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stratford Town 4-1 Kettering Town

'The Lincoln' are at home versus Chester on Tuesday evening. The Taxman is riding shotgun. We're sailing down the A46 in 'Magnum' - my new wheels. I stick the car at the back of Robey Street, where my Nana used to live in warden-aided accommodation. Time is on our side. 'The Taxman' treats me to a chippy tea at a pop-up shop on the High Street. We collect our tickets and park our backsides in the Software Europe Stand.

I'm desperate to see the Imps back in the Football League. The only reason we got relegated was because of that blithering idiot Chris Sutton and his disastrous tenure as manager. I view the game through gritted teeth, kicking every ball inside my head. We nick a goal in the first half and see the game out despite playing the last 25 minutes with ten men, after a straight red card for a pumped-up Alan Power. Gateshead manager Neil Aspin is sat a few seats away from me. The Imps are due up the north east on Easter Bank Holiday Monday. Richard Dryden is also in the stands. Neil Warnock, when manager of Notts County, paid Exeter City £250,000 for his services in 1991.

The weekend can't come quick enough. I quaff a few pints at the Six Barrel Drafthouse on Thursday evening, as Ms Moon sees off a bottle of prosecco. Good Friday is spent traditionally with Leicester City diehard Mr Trumpy Bolton. We had hoped to commence battle over Pop Master on Radio 2 at 10:30 am. Sadly, I'm not picking up the Legend until 11:00 am. He's loitering on a street corner as I squeeze the car down Spinney Road in Keyworth.

Trumpy's all excited about the return leg of the European Cup against Atletico Madrid at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday. He called for Ranieri's head long before the players downed tools and took sides with 'Shakey.' The running and sprint statistics versus Liverpool (Shakespeare's first game in charge) are embarrassing compared to Ranieri's final few matches at the helm.

We pretty much toss a coin as whether to head up the A614 or down the A46 - Sticky's mucked up, the traffic is gridlocked in Newark. First tick off is the recently refurbished Blacksmiths in Clayworth. Bolton necks a pint and a half as Sticky broods over his diet coke. We're soon back on the road again; Trumpy's keen on The Sweyn Forkbeard a Wetherspoons in Gainsborough.

Gainsborough Trinity's Northolme ground is only a few minutes drive away. Bolton turns his nose up at the Worthington's Creamflow bitter. He swills some of my J2o blackcurrant around his mouth to freshen up his taste buds.

Trinty's ground is a belter. The last time I came here, over 10 years ago, Droylsden were the visitors. I remember chatting to a dad of a player. The lad was called Jamie Tandy - best remembered for having a cigar stubbed out in his face by Joey Barton at the Manchester City Christmas Party. I was saddened to read that Tandy himself appeared in court in 2015 for beating up his partner. It was said in court that he had twice tried to take his own life.

We sit at the back of the Ping Stand. A group of young lads are being mischevious. Trumpy Bolton keeps his beady eye on them. Salford have a Billy Smart's Circus moment, Trinity forward Nathan Jarman seizes upon the opportunity and finds the bottom corner of the net with a smart finish, Salford throw the kitchen sink at them. Efforts hit the woodwork and shots are scuffed and shanked, with the home 'keeper making a 'worldy' at the death.

It's Saturday morning and part two of my footballing fiesta. I race down to Netherfield Retail Park, bag a pair of shoes from Next, fill up the car with petrol and grab Ms Moon a Costa coffee, before hitting the M1 and M69. We're back on DAB radio again, as part of the package of my new wheels. The downside is that Ms Moon has tuned into Absolute 80s.

I've clocked the White Swan Hotel on Rother Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. I fancy a tipple and Ms Moon is gagging for a coffee. The hotel dates back to 1450. We mull over the morning papers, lounging in Chesterfield leather chairs. The hotel is one for the notebook, particularly when there's a deal on.

The sun peeps out from behind some white fluffy clouds as we amble down the banks of the River Avon. Lunch is taken at another cracking Good Pub Guide entry called Encore, before taking the short trip to Tiddington, home of Stratford Town FC.

I've blogged 'The Hop' for over 10 years now. I first came here in 2010 and saw one of the most beautifully executed goals by Dunkirk FC's Darren Garmston. Kettering Town are today's visitors. They are coached by my good mate John Ramshaw.

We're situated 20 yards to the left of the away dugout. 'Rammers' must be getting proper nesh in his old age. I've seen him wear short sleeve tops and shorts in sub-zero temperatures. Today I clock him striding across the pitch in a full tracksuit.

It's not long before 'Rammers' is pulling his hair out. On three minutes a free kick is punted forward, the 'keeper is rooted to his line as George Forsyth powers home a header. Rene Howe and Nottingham-born Aaron O'Connor are leading the line for the Poppies; they have a wealth of experience. Their finishing prowess sadly deserts them. It's left to 17-year-old winger Ben Baker to show the veterans how it's done with a cool finish on the half-hour.

Ms Moon has spotted 'Jack the Collie' on her way back from the tea hut. He has his head through a hole in an advertising hoarding. I get gassing to his owner. Jack never takes his eye off the ball and is not interested in any fuss or being stroked. He sulks like a big baby when the referee scoops up the match ball having blown the whistle for half-time.

Kettering take a pummelling in the second half as one or two of them throw the towel in. 'Jack the Collie' has got it on him at the final whistle as the ball is put away for another week. He'll be climbing the walls until next Saturday when he watches Leamington FC down the road in their final home game of the season.

Attendance: 309

Man of the Match: Jack the Collie

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bradford Park Avenue 0-0 FC United of Manchester

We exit the Software Europe Stand at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank. The Imps have secured a 1-0 victory versus Bromley FC. I've not enjoyed the game one iota. It's a scruffy, nervous and tired performance. The city's Steep Hill is negotiated with the minimum of fuss. Ms Moon has completed the course for the third occasion - it's a walk in the park when you've kicked the ciggies into touch.

I spot an elderly couple gripping a rail, and gasping for air. I offer to lug their belongings up to a nearby hotel where they are spending the night. We finally dive into the Magna Carta at the top of the hill for a well-earned beverage or two, before jumping on the choo-choo back to Nottingham. Prosecco and local ales are polished off at the Crafty Crow opposite Nottingham Castle.

Sunday is Doomsday. It has slipped my mind that I'd promised Ms Moon a shopping spree up at McArthurGlenn off Junction 28 on the M1. We wolf down a first class breakfast on Mapperley Top, at Copper Cafe, before the daunting trip up to Mansfield. I can't get out the joint quick enough. I tick-off Jeff Banks and Calvin Klein. Ms Moon is beaming from ear to ear after a successful shop.

It's the week from hell on the road as a client relationship manager. There are fleeting visits to Southampton, Gosport, Salisbury and Hereford before returning home for the weekend. I receive a text from 'The Zuffler' that reads 'RIP legendary DJ Brian Matthew.' Regular readers will know that Sticky and Murphy the budgie loved listening to 'Uncle Brian' on his 60s show on a Saturday morning on Radio 2. It turns out to be a massive faux pas by the BBC. Brian Matthew remains critically ill in hospital. He hasn't died, despite his employer reporting he has.

I hear the hooting and tooting of a car horn outside the house. My mate Lee is sat in a magnum grey Ford Mondeo Titanium. It's Sticky's new wheels. I cruise up the M1 North on Friday evening, before turning off at Junction 33. Sat Nav guides me in to Rotherham Titans Rugby Club.

Ms Moon is walking over hot coals, at a temperature of over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, for charity. I need to cool down myself first, so sink a pint of real ale in the plush clubhouse. A pumped-up 'Princess' emerges from the changing room after a 'Neil Warnock' type team-talk. Her name is shouted out in a WWE style. The good lady keeps her nerve, gracefully negotiating the glowing coals. A couple of Strongbow ciders are necked, accompanied with pie, chips 'n mushy peas, before retiring for a few more sociable ones at the Ibis in Rotherham.

We check-out the hotel before a McDonald's breakfast on a soulless retail park. It's full of greasy old hairy bikers. There's an emotional goodbye in the Ibis car park, reminiscent of Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With The Wind - I'll be back in time for Ant 'n Dec's Saturday Takeaway, unfortunately.

I'm picking up 'The Skipper' from Leeds Beckett University; that's if the lazy so and so is out of his pit. It's great to be reunited with DAB radio (and my youngest son). Colin Murray is on flames as he hosts the award-winning 'Fighting Talk' on Five Live. They mention about the best final farewells in sport. Take a look at Kevin Keegan's at St James' Park on You Tube, it's amazing. He shakes hands with a 13-year-old Alan Shearer before being whisked away in a helicopter to pastures new.

'The Skipper lives next door to the 'Emmerdale Experience.' It's a bit too early to sup an ale poured by Amos Brearley or Mr Wilks. We head out towards the Pennines above Bradford. I've picked out a pub in the village of Thornton, with its stone built houses. The Bronte sisters were born here at 74 Market Street.

We're welcomed by a cheery landlord. I have a pint of Timothy Taylor's pale ale, while Joe has a bottle of fruit cider. Lunch is taken in a sun-drenched beer garden, as we enjoy the sweeping views of the landscape.

Bradford Park Avenue's Horsfall Stadium is a 20-minute drive away. Friendly stewards direct us to the Park Road car park on the far side of the ground. On entry I bag a programme, buy some raffle tickets and donate to the Salvation Army.

Bradford is a city in the foothills of the Pennines. Famous people born and bred include: singer Tasmin Archer, cricketers David and Jonny Bairstow, James' lead singer Tim Booth, Sooty and Sweep gloveman Harry Corbett, footballers Len Shackleton and Fabian Delph, magician Dynamo, comedian Adrian Edmondson, 'singers' Gareth Gates and Kimberley Walsh, World snooker champion Joe Johnson, One Direction member Zayn Malik (sorry about that one), swimmer Adrian Moorhouse, novelist J B Priestley and Countdown host Richard Whiteley.

Bradford Park Avenue was founded in 1907. In 1970 they were replaced in the Football League by Cambridge United. The club went into liquidation in 1974 with debts of £57,000.

There's nothing on the game and I fear a 0-0 - I've not seen one at a new ground since North Allerton in September. We walk a full circuit of the ground. One or two folk on groundhopping sites have a moan 'n groan about the athletics track that sits on the perimeter of the community stadium. This is compensated by the panoramic views of the countryside,  rewarded by the climb of concrete steps on the far side of the ground. The DJ is playing a set from his indy iTunes faves - not published on twitter.

Both teams are safe from relegation. If they don't put a shift in, it's got 0-0 written all over it. FC United appear to have packed up their buckets, spades and sunhats for their end of season jollies. The first half is lacklustre, to say the least. We bask in the sunshine with the FC United faithful.

It has a proper end of season feel about it, with FC barely breaking sweat. People-watching is the winner in the first half. One or two from FC (supporters) have been on the sauce. There's the stench of spliffs wafting about in the air. Some guy next to us, so bored with what is being served up, is threatening to do roly-polies on the steep grass bank behind the goal at half-time - it would blow the DJ's set to smithereens.

The second half picks up a bit. We've moved down the other end, away from a foul-mouthed FC fan. BPA look the more likely to score, despite FC United fluffing an early chance. We witness the BPA No.15 get between the 'keeper and defender and from 6 yards, with a gaping goal, he tries to walk the ball into an empty net. He's caught dilly-dallying by a last-ditch tackle.

Neither side have the energy, effort or ability to carve out a decent chance. We troop back to the car, despondent, on the far side of the ground to catch up on the scores on Five Live.

Man of the Match: Brian Matthew (RIP aged 88)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lincoln City 1-0 Bromley

I felt exhausted last Saturday afternoon watching beer-drinking genius Trumpy Bolton in action at the Hive in Barnet. It was like poetry in motion as he potted scoop after scoop like a seasoned pro. I take it easy on Sunday, relaxing with Ms Moon and her Mum at the refurbished dining pub, Caunton Beck, in the village of Caunton, close to Southwell and Newark.

I'm stood on the banks of the River Trent, with a rather chipper Taxman, on Tuesday evening, adjacent to Sat Bains restaurant - the only two-star Michelin eatery in Nottinghamshire. We're not here for the posh nosh - it's more muck 'n nettles as Dunkirk and Radford go into battle on Lenton Lane.

Radford manager, Big Glen Russell ain't too pleased to see Sticky rocking up, as I'm a proper Jonah. He says 'eh up' but that's about it. It's a wonderful game of football with an ebb and flow about it. Radford claw their way back from 2-0 down, but finally run out of steam and ideas. Glen's on his best behaviour this evening after a misdemeanour the other week. I sneak past the dugout without catching his eye. I bump into a smiling Ian Upton when exiting the ground. I loved blogging the Boatmen when 'Uppo' and Dave Harbottle were joint managers.

It's been a frustrating week at work. I'm pleased to knock off on Friday afternoon. I stroll up to Enterprise car hire on Daleside Road, as my new Ford Mondeo Titanium is not due for delivery until Friday. I need a runaround for Monday and Tuesday as I'm in Southampton on business. 'Kip Keino' has given up the ghost. I think the clutch or gearbox is kaput.

I wander down 'Bread 'n Lard Island' (West Bridgford) before returning to Trent Bridge. I saunter past County Hall and cross over the Wilford Suspension Bridge, before heading through the Meadows where great footballers such as Jermaine Pennant, Wes Morgan and Pedro Richards were born and raised.

It's a glorious day. I have my fleece draped over my shoulder. I'm sweating buckets and gasping for air when I finally reach Listergate. I grab a copy of the popular cult football magazine When Saturday Comes from WHSmith and have a browse through it, whilst sinking a few real ales in the Herbert Kilpin, Six Barrel Drafthouse and the Curious Tavern in the hipster area of Hockley, next to the Lace Market.

I'm fagged out when I finally return home at just gone 6 pm. I must have clocked up some miles on the old 'plates of meat.' Ms Moon and I try to book a cruise, but there's no room at the Inn. I quite fancied Dubrovnik and Athens. We'll have to wait until next year. Southern Spain will do for now.

I wake up early on Saturday morning. I'm usually excited and looking forward to a random Non-League game. Not so this morning. I'm a jibbering wreck and have already got that jabbing, knotting pain you get in the pit of your stomach. I'll make no bones about it, I'm really worried about the Imps run of form, as they enter the final furlong of a long title race. They've played something like 52 games already. Canny manager, Danny Cowley, has recruited shrewdly in the loan market. It takes time to bed-in new recruits; time we haven't got.

I took Sticky Jnr to his first Imps' game back in 1998. Falklands veteran, Phil 'Sergeant' Stant, was in the managerial hot seat. His assistant was former Mansfield Town player/manager George Foster. Lincoln were on a miserable run of form and lost again, 3-2, to Leyton Orient. 'Stanty' was a popular guy amongst the supporters. Sadly, not the same can be said of his pal, George. "Foster out" rang around the stadium, with 3-year-old Junior leading the chanting. Foster was relieved of his duties on Monday morning. I often remind Sticky Jnr that he cost somebody their job.

Ms Moon and I potter up to Nottingham Railway Station. Tickets are collected and a much-needed coffee shouted up, before jumping on the 11:29 am train to Lincoln Central. We're treated to some old lady ringing her entire contacts from her phone. We get the whole potted history of her dysfunctional family. I can't alight the choo choo quick enough onto the platform.

We head towards the Brayford Waterfront - it's England's oldest inland harbour. After eyeing up a number of eateries we opt for the Handmade Burger Company. James Brown's 'Sex Machine' is on the dukey. I have a Belgian blonde (beer) and wolf down a burger soaked in blue cheese sauce, quicker than Scooby Doo. There's a nice ambience about the place and it manages to take my mind off the football for a short while until I check the Live Scores app - Tranmere Rovers have beaten Wrexham 1-0 at the Racecourse Ground. They're now top and slowly turning the screw. My stomach begins to churn again.

I collect the matchday tickets. We park ourselves to the rear of the Software Europe Stand. The DJ's set is not a patch on Salford City, Radcliffe Borough or Brackley Town. I'm clutching at straws when I say that 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond is the pick of a very average set.

Bromley FC are the visitors. I recently read a hilarious book by devoted fan Dave Roberts who followed them home and away for the whole of last season after returning home from the USA. Notable folk born in Bromley include: H G Wells, Pixie Lott, Peter Frampton and Clash drummer Topper Headon.

Ten minutes before kick-off, 95-year-old George 'Johnny' Johnson, the last surviving Dam Buster pilot from 617 Squadron, emerges from the tunnel to rapturous applause from the Sincil Bank faithful, and the 80 Bromley fans who have made the long trip north. It's right up there with any moving, touching and emotional moment I have ever witnessed in 45 years of watching football.

The game is scrappy. Lincoln hit the ball forward early. We look disjointed, nervous and short on confidence. Nathan Arnold is like a fish out of water on the wide left. Harry Anderson's first touch, on the right flank, deserts him time and time again, as the pressure begins to mount with a hard-working Bromley putting ten players behind the ball.

There's an opportunity to alleviate the pressure on 25 minutes, but a poorly taken penalty by Alan Power is comfortably dealt with by the Bromley 'keeper. The visitors enjoy a good spell of possession. Minshull and Higgs look comfortable on the ball. A cleverly worked free-kick sees a thunderous 20 yard shot cannon back off the woodwork.

The Lincoln PA man, Alan Long, is having a 'Weston' at half-time. Music stops playing from out of the speakers. Alan tries to salvage the situation. It sounds like the faulty microphone set that 70s northern comedian Norman Collier used to master on the Wheeltappers and Shunters Club.

Lincoln are desperate for a goal. I'm getting uptight. I've barely breathed a word to Ms Moon at the break. I'm not the only one who has 'got it on him.' Lincoln 'big cheese' Matt Rhead has moaned and groaned at anyone willing to listen to him for most of the game. It's hardly appropriate to go 'big time' when you only notched four goals in five months.

The Imps are well off colour and can barely string two passes together. Cowley makes a double sub. The impact is instant. Ginnelly and Lee Angol tee up Billy Knott, who sweeps home a daisy-cutter into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. The relief is enormous. Lincoln see the game out to grab what might turn out to be a valuable three points, come the end of the season.

Attendance: 6,843

Man of the Match 'Johnny' Johnson RAF 617 Squadron

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Barnet 3-1 Cheltenham Town

It's Saturday tea-time. Torrential rain is bouncing off the car windscreen as Ms Moon circumnavigates the Audi around the clogged-up roads of Manchester city centre. We dart through the swing doors of the Holiday Inn to be told by Reception that we've been upgraded to the Crowne Plaza next door - nice work Ms Moon. The rain has eased off as we pound the streets of Manchester, calling in at the Smithfield and Britons Protection for liquid refreshments, before dining out at the Wharf.

It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm heading back into Manchester, again, after a meeting up in Runcorn. I've had a pig of a day, nowt seems to have gone right. The M62 is at a standstill. It takes 90 minutes to complete a 30-mile journey. I'm feeling sorry for myself as I flop onto my Premier Inn bed in Prestwich. I flick the TV on, to be met with the horrific news coming from Westminster. It puts all my trivialities into perspective. I notice the following day a picture of a scarf draped over a red plastic seat at Charlton Athletic's Valley ground. PC Keith Palmer, a victim of the attack, was a season ticket holder at the Club. He sacrificed his own life, to save others.

I take a stroll around Colwick Country Park late on Friday afternoon, which is adjacent to Nottingham Racecourse, allowing time to drop by the Starting Gate for a pint of Tribute Cornish pale ale. Ms Moon asks if I fancy a game of scrabble. I decline the invitation, as it usually ends up in controversy, and in my case, tears.

I'm up and away at just gone 9 am on Saturday - I have a Royal engagement in one hour's time. It will be HRH Trumpy Bolton's third outing of the season. The Audi needs a clean and valet. The Kosovan lads do a tidy job. I always enjoy some banter with their boss, because if looks could kill, he probably would.

The roadworks on the Melton Road absolutely kill me. Trumpy Bolton is loitering on a street corner on the Keyworth Bronx, swinging his Kwik Save carrier bag full of booty (Dark Fruits cider), patiently waiting for me. We greet each other with a Happy New Year greeting; it's been that long, too long in fact. He's already had a couple of Fursty Ferret and crumpet and cheese for breakfast.

Graham Norton is non-negotiable on the radio; we both can't abide the overpaid blithering idiot. We've got some dodgy radio station on. The DJ plays 'Can't Stand Losing You' by The Police. I casually mention that Sting and the lads played a gig at Rushcliffe Leisure Centre to the fur coat 'n no knickers brigade of West Bridgford back in the late 70s before they hit the big time. "Yeah, I know", replies Bolton, "I was there." California punk band, The Cramps, were supporting them that night.

Trumpy is on a high since Leicester City's renaissance. He was calling for Ranieri's head after an early exit from the FA Cup at Millwall. Last Saturday he went on the Mother-of-all benders before, during and after a 3-2 win versus the Hammers. I enquire what he had to eat that day: "one and a half doughnuts, on the train home", he replies.

The Legend announces that he will be making his debut over in the Algarve in the summer. Workers at the Superbock beer-bottling plant in Faro have been put on a seven-day working week until Bolton lands back on UK soil. Trumpy has already seen off a litre bottle of cider before we exit the M1 onto the M25.

We park up just off Chipping Barnet High Street, next to a pond awash with ducks. Barnet and Cheltenham fans, please be seated while I explain this; you may just keel over if not pre-warned. Trumpy Bolton wants to make a financial transaction (usually in a pub) in every city, town and village in England, Wales and Scotland. He has pursued this hobby for 40 years. He only has Brentford to tick off in the whole of Greater London, and that is because my old SRI Cavalier blew up en route to Griffin Park in 1988.

We've a pub sorted called The Monk. We poke our head through the door as the omens don't look too good with a 'To Let' sign erected outside. Two young lads tell us there's no food on today. A grumpy Trumpy chunters off up the street in search of another hostelry.

Bolton sniffs out another boozer up the road. He's unimpressed with a cocksure young 'un behind the bar. The lad is wearing a black leather bomber jacket. He looks like Tucker Jenkins off Grange Hill. The pub is nowt to write home about. The food is bang average, and so are Lincoln City, on the pub TV, who have fallen behind to an early Forest Green goal in their biggest six-pointer of the season at Sincil Bank. Bolton is upset again when the arrogant barman fluffs up his drinks order. We bale out while the going's good.

Barnet's ground is 6 miles down the road. Due to traffic congestion it takes an age. We drive past the John Keble Church in Edgware. Trumpy says he didn't know that the former Spandau Ballet drummer had turned to God (for older readers only).

Barnet FC were founded in 1888 and play at the Hive Stadium. They recently left Underhill, their home for over 100 years. The new ground is situated in Edgware, away from their community - work that one out. Supporters are shipped in by bus.

Former players that have gone on to ply their trade in the Premier League include: Dougie Freedman, Marlon King, Linvoy Primus, Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie and Albert Adomah. Jimmy Greaves and Dutch international Edgar Davids have also played for the club. Transfer record fee received is £800,000 from Crystal Palace for Dougie Freedman and record fee paid is £130,000 for Peterborough United's Greg Heald. Notable folk born or raised in Barnet include: actress Stephanie Beacham, singer Elaine Page, broadcaster Johnny Vaughan, former BNP chairman Nick Griffin and the cricketer Phil Tufnell.

I have a bottle of water in the bar as Trumpy quaffs a couple more Dark Fruits. I check my phone. I'm delighted to see 'The Lincoln' have stormed back to win 3-1. Ms Moon and I will be at Sincil Bank next Saturday when they entertain Bromley.

As we walk through the turnstile Trumpy clocks Big Mick Harford who Lincoln signed for free as a raw 17-year-old centre-forward back in 1977. Big Mick is Head of Recruitment at Luton Town. I would have shaken hands with him, but would have probably ended up in casualty with broken bones.

The Barnet DJ is playing Fire by Leicester band Kasabian. Trumpy chuckles that the Foxes fans haven't sung this song much at the King Power Stadium until recently. I'm disappointed to see Cheltenham striker Dan Holman is on the subs bench. I've followed his career at Long Buckby, Histon and Braintree Town. He banged in 30 goals last season in the Conference.

We're sat with the Press Pack and commentators for local radio. Trumpy is amused with the two guys behind him from Radio Gloucestershire. They seem rather chipper when they take the lead in the following a smart finish by Danny Wright.

The Bees have only won one game in the last thirteen. Last Sunday, up at Notts County, they failed to find the Onion Bag despite playing against 10 men for 70 minutes. An alehouse clearance is heading in our direction. A five-year-old boy runs to retrieve it before Sticky Palms puts his mitts out and scoops up the ball, before returning it to a ball boy. The little boy's bottom lip begins to quiver. Sorry son, that's my first touch of a match ball at a League game in 45 years of watching. Don't think it's going to come easy to you, just because you are only five years old. I daren't look at his Dad and pray to God that Big Mick Harford isn't his grandad.

The natives are getting restless as 'Nugent Out' rings out from the terraces and stands. The Bees find energy in the second half. Sub, Curtis Weston, thumps home a volley on 70 minutes. Leading scorer John Akinde, who hardly broke sweat  first half, puts the game to bed on 77 and 79 minutes following some woeful defending by the visitors.

The commentators from Radio Gloucestershire are holding a post-mortom. They are in total shock. They mention the 'Nugent Out' chants and remark that the fellow will probably be penning a two-year contract on Monday, such are the small margins in a game. Trumpy tells them that the Cheltenham skipper has had a stinker. One of the guys just shrugs his shoulders.

Attendance: 1,861

Rest in peace PC Keith Palmer.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Salford City 1-1 Stockport County

'The Princess' is piloting up the M1 North. Salford City have seen off Brackley Town with a scruffy, vital, winning goal. Attention is now turned to the FA Cup quarter-final. We should be at the Emirates cheering on the Imps (my team). The fact I've been at Portman Road and Turf Moor during the Cup run - yes I jumped on the bandwagon - counts for nothing with the Sincil Bank ticket office. No general sale tickets are available.

We could have got in the Arsenal end. But I've proper got the monk on with the whole saga. We tune into the game live on TalkSPORT. Lincoln give a good account of themselves in the first half. They're treading water for the final 45 minutes as the brilliant Chilean forward, Alexis Sanchez, runs riot.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm absolutely wetting myself with excitement. I'm in a 4x4 on the M6 with the 'Mayor of London' and his brother 'Big Bear Baker.' We're staying the night in Birmingham before heading over for Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival. We enjoy a few scoops in the city centre whilst watching the Foxes outwit Seville in the 'European Cup.' More beverages are consumed at Be At One Bar, before turning in for bed at some God unearthly hour, after Doner meat and chips.

A full English breakfast is wolfed down at the wonderful Regency building of the Lansdown Hotel in the spa town of Cheltenham. Some of the boys are already on the sauce. I wait until we're on the course, in the Guinness Village, before quaffing a few pints. The boys pile onto a horse called Willoughby Court at 14/1, because it's a village where the 'Big Bear' lives in Notts. It wins by a nose. The celebrations are raucous and the syndicate £500 to the good.

Sticky Jnr has been texting me a few duff tips. I ignore his last one in the 5:20, due to intoxication. It duly canters up the hill to romp in at 11/1. I'm never betting again or drinking. We sink pint after pint at backstreet boozers in the town, before the night ends in utter carnage back at Be At One Bar. A surly and rude French barman is serenaded with "getting sacked in the morning" after the worst bar service seen since Rene from Allo Allo mucked up a drinks order for the Gestapo.

Jesus wept, Cheltenham has made me a broken man. I'm tired, grouchy and penniless. I just need a nice quiet weekend in. What's that 'Princess?'  We're out on Friday night in Nottingham and staying over in Manchester on Saturday. Hell's teeth.

It's Saturday morning and we're both slouched on the sofa watching a re-run of The Bill on ITV Encore. PC Reg Hollis is more incompetent than the French barman. I summon the energy to scrub up, before we both jump in the car and head up the M1 North towards Manchester. 
Graham Norton is doing my nut in. I scan a few stations on the whack Audi radio, before stumbling upon Murphy Palmer and Sticky's favourite artist, Jess Glynne - Murph loved her to bits.

First port of call is the iconic Salford Lads' Club on the corner of Coronation Street. It was opened in 1904 by Robert Baden-Powell, who later founded the Scout movement. It was used in the sleeve for The Smiths album The Queen is Dead. There are a few folks taking snaps in the pouring rain, coming from the slate-grey skies. The journey to Moor Lane, home of Salford City, is only a short distance away. 

Salford is a city in Greater Manchester with a population of over 70,000. It was once well known for its cotton and silk spinning, and weaving in the local cotton mills. In 2011 Salford's MediaCityUK became the HQ for CBBC and BBC Sport. It is said the fictional setting of the soap opera Coronation Street is Salford. The folk song 'Dirty Old Town' written by local musician Ewan MacColl (father of the late Kirsty MacColl) is the origin of Salford's nickname.

Famous people born or brought up in Salford include: Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founder members of the Suffragette Movement, Joy Division and New Order band members Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, The Smiths frontman Morrissey, footballer Paul Scholes, Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays and the actors Robert Powell and Albert Finney.

We park up in a residential area just down the road from the ground. There's an over-the-top police presence. The lads are lined-up outside the away turnstile. Police horses parade up and down the street, leaving shit everywhere. 'The Boys in Blue' love a bit of overtime, particularly when 'United' and 'City' aren't playing at home on a Saturday. Chuffing hell; they'll only be 1500 or so supporters in attendance.

We sit in the Main Stand, sheltering from the wind and rain. I get chatting to a guy next to me from West Yorkshire, who knows Salford's George Green who's on loan from Burnley - he signed for Everton from Bradford City in a deal worth £300,000 in 2013.

I'm intrigued as to what set the Salford  DJ will play. Radcliffe Borough, up the road, are this season's benchmark. The guy on Salford's decks doesn't disappoint. He spins Primal Scream, New Order, James, The Charlatans and The Smiths.  

I check the full-time score from The City Ground. NFFC have scored in the last kick of the game to grab a point. There's no doubt that a seething Sticky junior will have sloped off before the final whistle to wave the Sheep off back over the cattle grid towards D***y.

Ms Moon arrives back grumbling from the Ladies toilets on the far side of the ground. There's no running water. She says that a few private number plates are parked behind the goal, suggesting that Phil and Gary Neville are in town.  

Both teams are desperate for points as they fight for play-off places. The game is an all-ticket affair, with the visitors controversially housed in the newly-covered terrace behind the furthest goal. The Hatters are soon in their stride, with Danny Lloyd as busy as a bee. He plays a give and go with Jimmy Ball before stroking the ball with his left foot into the bottom right corner of the net for his 24th goal of the season.

Salford are rocked by the goal, as three minutes earlier Josh Hine had fluffed a sitter, when losing his footing. Salford exert pressure on the Stockport defence who remain gallant and steadfast. Half time allows both teams to rest their legs from the boggy, rain-sodden surface. The DJ continues his pre-match form with a Stone Roses track.

Salford up their game in the second half. In all honesty, they are magnificent. Scott Burton crunches in the tackle, George Green ghosts through challenges and 22-year-old sub, Nick Haughton, on loan from Fleetwood Town, jinks and weaves his way through a tired Hatters' midfield and defence. They work the Stockport 'keeper, who punches bravely and tips efforts around the post and over the bar.

Hatters' substitute Kaine Felix spurns a golden chance to put the game to bed having rounded the 'keeper. Stockport are made to pay 10 minutes from time when Michael Nottingham is bundled over in the box. Sub, Richie Allen, coolly sends Hinchcliffe the wrong way from the spot kick to earn the Ammies a thoroughly deserved point.

Attendance: 1735

Man of the Match: Ben Hinchcliffe Stockport 'keeper