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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Brackley Town 0-1 Salford City

I drop off White Van Man at his crib on 'The Bronx' in Keyworth. He's straight up to his pit to watch Liverpool v Arsenal.  It's been good to spend some time with the 'Big Man.' I head over to the Ruddington Fish Bar - I'm 'Hank Marvin.' Ms Moon is holed up in a hotel in Brigg, Lincolnshire, for a sales conference. Fleetwood Town FC spend the night there before rolling over 'The Iron' 2-0 and moving into the automatic promotion places in League One. Trawlermen manager, the German, Uwe Rosler, is underestimated, and wasn't given the chance or time to build a team at Wigan or Leeds.

I'm stuffed after a large portion of mixed kebab meat and chips. It's the first Saturday night in a long time without an alcoholic beverage. I retire to bed at midnight after Barca trounce Celta Vigo and Match of the Day - today has been a footballing fiesta.

The Wagon and Horses at Bleasby, near Southwell, is ticked-off on Sunday, with a superb pint of 'Infinity' from the Blue Monkey Brewery, before we polish off a roast dinner at the Cross Keys in Upton. The only downside to the day is The Good Karma Hospital on ITV - it's the new Wild at Heart, and causes a rise in Sticky Palms' blood pressure.

Oh, where to go on Saturday ? 'The Lincoln' are playing 'The Arsenal' in an FA Cup quarter-final. The Imps have handled the 9,000 ticket allocation badly in my eyes. There's a strict criteria set by Arsenal. They want traceability of all tickets. I'd be happy to show my driving licence, passport or any ticket from the Cup run. 'The Lincoln' choose not to go down the general sale route. Oh well, in all honesty, I never fancied a trip to the Emirates. Middlesbrough or Millwall were more my bag.

Tuesday night is spent down at Lenton Lane on the banks of the Trent, as young guns AFC Dunkirk pit their wits against a more experienced Clifton All Whites. Poor fayre is served up, with only a Niall Mellis penalty for Clifton separating the two sides.

I'm up at Heanor Town on Wednesday evening - I flipping love it up here. They're a club with a fantastic ethos and good values - not only that, the pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy are a must. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a 46-page programme, which includes a blog written by some bloke called Sticky Palms (self-indulgent moment). I grab a quick chat with Press Officer Tony Squires and legendary 'On The Road' blogger Malc Storer, before seeing Heanor thump Leicestershire team St Andrews 4-0.

There's an SOS from Joe Palmer up at Leeds Beckett University on Thursday evening. Train fares are extortionate, any chance Dad can pick him up ? I start work at the crack of dawn on Friday, before sailing up the M1 towards 'Dirty Leeds.' It's great to spend some time with my youngest, even if it's only for a few hours in the car. Dad and lad tick off a McDonalds in Bobbers Mill, Nottingham, before I drop him off in a deserted Pear Tree car park in Keyworth.

There are more pressing issues at hand. Ms Moon and I haven't played Scrabble for a few weeks since a Sticky Palms spat following a controversial 1-0 loss. I head into town and get my ears lowered at a barbers on Mansfield Road. The lad in the chair next to me has just come out of prison. He tells the guy shaving his 'barnet' that he used to spend 23 hours a day in his cell.

I drop by at Waterstones on Bridlesmith Gate and ask for directions to the dictionary section. The dirty deed is done. I celebrate with two pints of ale in the Herbert Kilpin. It's another nasty, vicious game of Scrabble, with sledging and verbals of the highest order. I lose by 100 points. Is Ja a real word ?

We're awoken by some scruffy, little Heinz variety mongrel dog, yapping on our street, early on Saturday. I threaten to throttle the little excuse of a mutt. Ms Moon says I'll get sent to prison. I quite fancy 23 hours a day in a cell reading my Kindle.

Ms Moon goes shopping, whilst I stretch my legs around Colwick Country Park. We head towards Brackley at midday. Graham Norton and his posse are getting on my wick on Radio 2. We exit the M1 at Junction 15A and are soon pulling into the car park of the thatched roof New Inn in Abthorpe. 

The homely bar is full of locals. We're reliably informed that the barmaid is having a crafty fag in the backyard. A rather flustered, red-cheeked lass sheepishly sneaks in through a side door. I enjoy a pint of Hook Norton Gold. Ms Moon opts for rump steak, whilst Sticky prefers fish 'n chips.

St James' Park is a 20-minute drive away. I came here with 'The Taxman a few weeks ago. We park up on a residential street, a few minutes' walk away. It's £12 pound on the gate. The DJ, when I came v Kiddy 10 days ago, was on flames. He played loads of Indie music as well as The Libertines and Razorlight.

I first came here 7 years ago with blog legend Trumpy Bolton. It's a wonderful club, full of friendly folk. Trumpy drank so much that day - they're still counting the takings. Sadly, no stand is named after him. Somebody ought to do that - he'd sponsor it. 'The Trumpy Bolton Stand' - it's got a ring to it.

It's my third look at Salford in the last month or so. I saw them 'throw in the towel' at The Shay and put in an inept performance at The Lamb last week. Joint-manager Bernard Morley gave an honest and forthright interview after last week's debacle. He said the game was 'lost in the warm-up.' A warm-up he surveyed from the safe haven of the dugout without intervention. Salford didn't look comfortable on the 3G - it didn't suit their style of play or tactics.

I reckon someone from Manchester has hijacked the decks as the teams walk out of the tunnel to the brilliant 'Come Home' by James. There's a lively start to the game. It's toing and froing. Salford seize upon Brackley's 3-5-2 formation and punt the football forward quickly. Josh Hine finds himself one on one, but fluffs his chance by firing straight at the 'keeper.

Morley prowls the technical area, appearing more vocal and animated. He's overseen the warm-up. Him and 'Jonno' seem more chipper as the ink has barely dried on two-year full-time contracts. The Ammies are tense on the field of play. It doesn't take long for one or two to fall out. 

While you can't question the energy or effort levels, the distribution is poor. The ball is like a hot potato. Sticky's favourite, Scott Burton, vents frustration at the bench, telling Jonno and Bernard that the team have time to take a touch and get on the ball.

It's deadlock at the break. We don't do 0-0s. I saunter off to take some photos of flags behind the goal, where Brackley and Salford fans have sung and shared banter. Ms Moon brings back coffee, tea and some chocolate.

It looks like one or two Salford fans have been asked to leave the ground ? It's an assumption, but why else would you shimmy 15 foot up a tree to watch the game ?

The game is crying out for a goal. Mrs Norris whips in a corner from the left, Phenix bravely heads it back, Nottingham nods it onto the bar, before slotting home the rebound from close range. The whole Salford dugout punch the air in delight.

We have more pressing matters. At half-time the 'Dogs For Good' charity had collared (get it) Ms Moon. Bless her, she only had 10p in her purse. A distraught and embarrassed 'Princess' informs me of this on my return from the toilet. I have £5 on me. She races around the ground to chuck it in the bucket.

The game fizzles out. There's endless substitutions, as Salford change formation to 4-4-2 and 4-4-1. Neither team trouble the 'keeper. But at least the Salford camp seem happier at the final whistle.

Attendance: 738

Man of the Match: Phenix

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tamworth 2-0 Salford City

It's Sunday morning. Ms Moon and I are leaning on the boot of the Audi, lacing up our walking boots in the car park of the Belvoir Brewery, in the village of Old Dalby. Gold Cup winning grey horse, Desert Orchid, used to graze in the fields at a local stud a mile down the road in Ab Kettleby.

White Van Man has organised a 10km ramble over stiles, traipsing down footpaths and through the surrounding villages of Nether Broughton and Upper Broughton. The conditions are testing and the walk exhausting, due to a plethora of puddles and mud-caked fields. Three hours later, we're both out on our feet, and close to death. We leave White Van Man to polish off a carvery at the brewery - I hope the Yorkshire puddings are spot on, or at least Aunt Bessie's.

I haven't the energy or ability to walk up to the King Billy in Sneinton for my lunchtime constitutional. 'Ms Moon Taxis' drop me off 50 yards from the pub door. I slump in my seat and down a pint of Citra from the Oakham Ales stable. There's no Ms Moon taxi home; the 'Princess' charges treble time after 3 pm on a Sunday - plus the omnibus edition of 'Come Dine With Me' is on the box.

It's Tuesday tea-time. Most of the day it's lagged it down with rain. The Taxman and I had hoped to go to Coalville v Grantham Town in the Northern Premier League. There's a late change to the schedule. I'm enjoying the Conference North, and have clocked that Brackley Town are entertaining Kidderminster Harriers.

I pick up a fragile Taxman who is still feeling the after effects of an afternoon session with the 'Monday Club' at the Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, yesterday. We head over to Brackley in rush-hour traffic, listening to the excellent Simon Mayo on Radio 2. We grab some tea in Silverstone at the Green Man on the A43, before the short journey to St James' Park (not the one in Newcastle).

I've already phoned up the Club, as countless games fall by the wayside due to waterlogged pitches. I'm reassured that the game is ON. I can see why; you could play Crown Green bowls on this playing surface. Trumpy Bolton reminds me on Facebook that we've been to Brackley in 2010. I reply that they're still counting the bar takings and that the Club have named a stand after him. The Harriers can consider themselves unlucky, going down to two late strikes from substitute David Moyo.

I have a quiet night on Friday evening. Just the one pint in the White Horse in Ruddington, with Barthez, and a few jars with the 'Mayor of London' in the Herbert Kilpin, before retiring for a curry at the Balti House in Heathcoat Street, in Nottingham.

I switch on the radio on Saturday morning. Dermot O' Leary has replaced 'Sir' Brian Matthew on Radio 2 - it reminds me of when former Nottingham Forest boss Frank Clark used to draft in old 'Pineapple Head', Jason Lee for Stanley Victor Collymore, such is the gulf in class. Murphy the budgie will be turning in his grave.

Ms Moon fails to make the team bus for today's clash between Tamworth and Salford. The good lady has a sales conference up in Brigg, Lincolnshire. I tip her a visit to the White Horse Wetherspoons pub and Brigg Town football ground - both ticked off with Trumpy Bolton - before waving the good lady off, in Sainsbury's car park, on Mapperley Plains, following a hearty breakfast in the Copper Cafe. It's like a scene from Gone With the Wind.

White Van Man is called up from the substitutes' bench. First port of call for 'Hopper' is the Nottingham Forest Academy, just off Wilford Lane. The Under 18s are pitting their wits against Coventry City, who were sensationally knocked out of the FA Youth Cup earlier in the season on the banks of the River Trent by Dunkirk FC, where they found the players and locals too hot to handle.

The Sky Blues win at a canter, 3-0 - the Tricky Trees field a side with a mix of 16s and 17s. White Van Man is in his pit ('armchair') watching Man Utd v Bournemouth. He makes me a brew before we hit the A453 and M42.

A coach from St Helens has broken down on the hard shoulder. It later transpires that Marine FC, from Liverpool, were on their way to Coalville Town. Non-League family pull together as a procession of cars from Coalville Town rescue the stranded Scousers. It ended 0-0. Sticky doesn't do 0-0s.

We park in a residential area of Tamworth, close to the official car park. I saw Dagenham and Redbridge pretty much clinch the Conference title here a few years ago. Tamworth is a large market town in Staffordshire with a population of 70,000. It lies on the River Tame which flows through the town. Up until 2001 it was home to the car manufacturer Reliant, who produced the three-wheeled Robin and Scimitar. The Lamb football ground, home of Tamworth FC is next to the Snowdome, the UK's first full-sized real snow indoor ski slope. Drayton Manor Park is also close by.

One of Sticky's heroes - Teardrop Explodes lead singer Julian Cope - was raised in Tamworth. Cope was staying with his grandmother in South Wales on his ninth birthday, on the day of the Aberfan Disaster in 1966. He later described it as having a profound effect on his life - 144 people, including 116 children, lost their lives that day. Premier League winner, Marc Albrighton was also born in Tamworth.

It's £14 to sit in the stands or £12 for on the terrace. We wander across to the far side of the ground, positioning ourselves adjacent to the Salford dugout. Murphy the budgie would have loved it here. His two favourite artists - Jess Glynn and Little Mix are booming out of the PA system.

Salford joint manager, Bernard Morley, is slouched in the dugout watching his team warm-up. Their away form is a concern. Only a few weeks ago I saw them wave the white handkerchief, at The Shay in Halifax, after being 2-0 up at the break. I'm somewhat of a Jonah, having never seen them win in five outings. It will be interesting to see what tactics are deployed on Tamworth's 3G surface.

Over 1300 supporters have rocked up at The Lamb. Bernard and Jonno are already getting an earful early doors. It only takes nine minutes for the Tamworth fans to pipe up with "you dirty Northern bastards' after Priestley clatters into the back of Dyer.

The Ammies (Salford) just don't look 'at it.' They pump up endless long balls to striker Mike Phenix, a willing runner. But where are the runners to support him ?  Salford fail to clear their lines properly on 40 minutes with Connor Taylor lashing home the loose ball. A miserable and fruitless 45 minutes ends in tears with the impressive Danny Newton hanging in the air at the back stick to head home a pinpoint corner.

Blimey, I can't see the Salford changing room sound system banging out the Stone Roses or Happy Mondays - it'll be Joy Division after that showing. They're shooed out onto the pitch after only a ten minute break.

Salford push the full backs on in the second half. Their talismanic midfielder, Scott Burton, is the sacrificial lamb. He's pushed back to protect the defence. They miss his energy, crunching tackles and will to win. One or two don't want to know - the Conference North isn't for pretty boys. They start to bitch and moan at one another. Phenix becomes disheartened and disinterested. There's a flurry of yellow cards brandished for indiscipline and dissent, as the Ammies lose focus.

All three Salford subs are thrown on in an attempt to chase a game that has long gone. One is former Ipswich Town and Leeds United midfielder David Norris - no relation to Mrs Norris, the cat from Harry Potter.

Morley has stood stern-faced, arms folded in the technical area. 'Jonno' sits on a brick wall next to the dugout. The joint managers barely exchange a word all afternoon. Something's not ringing right about the whole day. Credit must go to Tamworth who have chased down, hustled, harried and won individual battles all over the pitch.

We're driving home when I get a text from 'Our Joe' saying that 'Lincoln are s**t." That's rather odd, as we picked up a useful point away at Aldershot Town. There's a picture of a betting slip. The Imps have cost him close on £300 in an accumulator. Joe, you can't arf pick em.

Man of the Match: Luke Jones (Tamworth)

Attendance: 1301