Sunday, February 26, 2017

Highgate United 1-2 Long Eaton United

On January 30th I tweeted this: "I said to Ms Moon, if  'The Lincoln' beat Burnley in the FA Cup we'll be staying the night in the Penthouse Suite at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester #Dreamer #Imps.

It's Saturday February 18th, 2;30pm. We're sat in the Audi, in standing traffic - all roads heading out of Burnley towards the M65 are gridlocked. Sticky Palms is shaking like a leaf. Not because little old Lincoln City have dumped Sean Dyche's Premier League Burnley out of the FA Cup, at juicy odds of 12/1. No, it's more serious than that. I start sweating profusely. I've dug myself a massive hole on social networks. How the chuff am I going to wriggle out of this one? The Riverside Penthouse Suites at the Lowry are £710 per night. I've just spent a King's ransom in Tenerife. Shocking hell; I blame heavy rocker, Sean Dyche for this and that bloody ref. Why didn't he disallow the goal ?

I'll try the fake phone call gag, see if that works. I fish my mobile out of my pocket and 'punch a few numbers out.' "Hello, is that the Lowry ? I was just enquiring to see if you have any *cough cough* Penthouse Suites available for this evening ? Sorry, what was that, Mr Mourinho has commandeered them all. Okay love, no worries." Phew that was a close shave.

We're back in Nottingham for 6:00 pm. Ms Moon nips down to Morrisons to fetch some tea. I peg it up to the Herbert Kilpin. I'm on Cloud Nine. I've never felt like this after a football match. I'm an emotional wreck. Following Lincoln City on and off for 45 years has seen more lows than highs. I confess to having jumped on the Cowley bandwagon. But what a journey we are having. The first Non-League club to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since 1914.

On Sunday morning I drive out to what was my favourite place to scout young footballers in inner-city Nottingham. Vernon Park, now known as Queen Elizabeth II Playing Fields, is in the suburb of Basford - a place that has seen its fair share of tragedy from gun crime and drug-pushing. It's a beautiful tree-lined park and a hive of activity. I sit on a bench, basking in the sunshine, watching a Notts Youth League fixture. As I walk back to the car, a melee breaks out between two pub teams on an adjacent pitch. The referee deals with it by dishing out a flurry of yellow cards.

Lunchtime is spent in the wonderful King Billy on Eyre Street, in Sneinton. I down a couple of Oakham Ales before the long slog home. I write up the Burnley v Lincoln blog. What a weekend we've had.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm back in Lincoln again, this time to watch the Whites of Lincoln United. The Ashby Avenue ground is close to Hartsholme Park, and is dwarfed by a block of high-rise flats. The Taxman pays me in. I get gassing to a few parents that I know, who have travelled from Nottingham - Basford United are the visiting team.

To be honest the game is bloody awful. Lincoln have more craft and guile. I'm really disappointed with Basford and their direct style of play, particularly when you consider that they play on a 4G surface. Their owner, Chris Munroe, is frustrated by what he's seeing. He shouts from the stands, "Get the ball down, and start playing." The highlight of the night is when we win first prize in the raffle - a box of McVitie biscuits.

We have a quiet night in, on Friday evening, apart from a quick tea-time beverage at the 'World Renowned Trent Bridge Inn.' I dash out of the house at 10:00 am on Saturday morning. I've only had time for two slices of toasted Warburton fruit loaf, accompanied by some Gouda cheese and a strong cup of Nescafe Alta Rica coffee.

I flick on Radio 2, it's the dying embers of Brian Matthew's last ever Sound of the 60s Show. I'm not sure which sacking has cheesed me off the most: 'Uncle Brian' or 'The Tinkerman' ? I drive up the Trent Embankment and onto the Nottingham ring road, before turning off up University Boulevard. I take a left turn into Highfields Park. Nottingham City Boys are playing. I like to keep my hand in, and ear to the ground; you never know when you are going to be called back into action, do you ?

I drive back home. Chichester-born singer Tom O'Dell is on the CD. Murphy the budgie used to love Tom. I miss my little lad so much; he was great fun, and a good companion, when you work from home. Tom's finished, so I switch onto Five Live's 'Fighting Talk.' A Blackburn Rovers fan and panellist is explaining to Colin Murray that he received a condolence card from a mate when Tony Mowbray was appointed as manager this week following Owen Coyle's sacking.

It's a short drive over to the West Midlands, after the long trek to Burnley last weekend. Gambaccini is having a 'mare on Pick of the Pops. He plays a load of soft American rock pants from 1985 like Journey and Chicago. I threaten to jump out of the window if he spins another chuffer - it's a close call as he plays 'Run For You' by the Canadian singer Bryan Adams.

Shirley, in Solihull, where Highgate United play, has a population of over 35,000. Notable people to have grown up in the area include: Mandy Rice-Davies, the British model famous for the 'Profumo Affair', former England rugby captain Martin Johnson and Top Gear talentless smug TV presenter Richard Hammond.

I was aware of a footballer being killed after being struck by lightning during a Cup game at Highgate many years ago. What I didn't realise was, that it's 50 years to the day. In 1967 the Club were playing Enfield in an FA Amateur Cup quarter-final when a bolt of lightning sent several players to the ground. Defender, Tony Allden, aged 23 years old, never regained consciousness and died the following day in hospital. As an act of goodwill, Aston Villa staged the replay, with over 30,000 people attending.

Within the hour we're on Tythe Barn Lane and pulling into the ground, where there is limited car parking space, due to a rugby game. Ms Moon gets herself wrapped up to the ninepins, whilst Sticky has a stroll about the joint. I poke my head into the Clubhouse. A lady is making a speech. I put two and two together. It is the widow of Tony Allden, who tragically died in the game 50 years ago. It's a beautiful, heart-warming, touching, moving moment. Players from both teams that day are in attendance.

We stand next to the home dugout, opposite the newly named 'Tony Allden Stand.' The guy next to us strikes up a conversation. He was a committee member, but just likes to write up the match reports for the website. I mention that we're from Nottingham and like to visit a different ground each week and write a blog. "Are you the bloke with the budgie ?" "I am mate, he sadly passed away a few weeks ago."

The pitch resembles something from the 70s Sunday afternoon TV show Star Soccer - think of a mud-clogged Baseball Ground, and you won't be far off the mark. We hold a minute's silence for Tony Allden. I catch a small boy out of the corner of my eye, stood next to a junior goal net. He has his foot resting on a ball, arms behind his back and is stationary - it's a beautiful moment.

Long Eaton take an early lead. Moments later the most extraordinary incident I've witnessed in 10 years of watching  Non League football happens. The Gate right back, who I've seen somewhere before, and reminds me of former NFFC full back Viv Anderson, powers down the wing before delivering an inch-perfect cross which is spooned over the bar from eight yards out by the centre forward. The full back boots an advertising hoarding in frustration and is immediately shown a Red card for 'violent conduct.'

The whole ground is gobsmacked with the ref's decision. The boy seems so placid and languid. Long Eaton take advantage to make it 2-0. It's flipping freezing and drizzling with rain. We shout up a couple of cups of Bovril and seek warmth in the Clubhouse.

The pitch has become a quagmire. Highgate never give up and deserve what would appear to be a consolation goal, with ten minutes remaining. With a few minutes left, Highgate's best player, the left back, floats a cross in which the No.11 somehow heads wide of the post.

The referee, who has had a torrid time, brandishes another Red card to the Long Eaton No.6 following a two-footed lunge. At least he got that one right, as even the referee's observer is mystified by the first Red card of the afternoon.

Man of the Match: Highgate Left Back (Quality)

Attendance: 207

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City

It's a Wednesday evening, March 31st, 1982. I'm stood on the 'Popular Side' terracing at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank with my dad, leaning against a red-painted crash barrier. Over 6,000 fans have rocked up to watch this Division 3 (old money) promotion tussle between the Imps and Burnley.

'The Lincoln' are 1-0 up with two minutes remaining. Dad announces he's off to the chippy on Shakespeare Street for a fish supper -  before they start queuing out of the door - he had a habit of leaving games before the final whistle. He's barely exited the stadium when a huge roar comes from the Claret and Blue Army. 18-year-old Trevor Steven has broken my heart by grabbing a late equaliser for Burnley. It effectively ends our promotion hopes. Burnley are soon crowned League champions. Trevor Steven goes on to win 36 England caps. In 1987 the Imps are relegated, out of the Football League. Burnley finish a point above us. "Funny old game Saint."

35 years later and I'm heading up to Burnley on the M6. Ms Moon is riding shotgun. I'm still devastated by the death of my little budgie, Murphy Palmer, last weekend. I named him after legendary City manager, Colin Murphy, who was in charge that night, 35 years ago.

It's like having a driving lesson when Ms Moon is in the passenger seat. A few words are exchanged in the lorry car park at Lymm Services just off Junction 20. We swap seats. The next few miles are driven in silence. The only voice to be heard is Sir Tim Rice on Radio 2's Sound of the 60s show.

Murphy the budgie died of a broken heart - regular readers of this blog will concur with this statement. 24 hours before his death, news was leaked of Brian Matthew's unceremonious sacking by Radio 2's programme controller. Murph worshipped Uncle Brian. He even used to send him birthday cards each year with a green and canary-yellow coloured feather placed in the middle of the card. He'd drop them off at 'Wogan House' before the 120-mile flight home.

Following peace-keeping negotiations, that Kofi Annan would be proud of, speaking terms are resumed in McDonalds at Blackburn and Darwen services. Ms Moon grabs a much-needed coffee, whilst I have my annual Big Mac meal.

Burnley town centre is gridlocked as 'The Lincoln' and a convoy of coaches roll into town. We stick the Audi in a car park at £4 per pop down Plumbe Street. We wander past Burnley Miners' Social Club. I need a pint to settle my nerves. But have to say that they don't look particularly welcoming on the door. 20 members of the Burnley hooligan firm the 'Suicide Squad' were jailed in 2014 following a melee in the Club.

Burnley is a market town with a population of 70,000. It was a prominent mill town during the Industrial Revolution. Its local brewery is Moorhouses, which was founded in 1865 and whose award-winning brews include the Pride of Pendle.

Famous folk from the town include: Sir Ian McKellan, TV writer Paul Abbot, Chumbawamba, broadcaster Tony Livesey, cricketer James Anderson, Jay Rodriguez and Sticky and Murphy's favourite TV character, Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden). Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell is a big Clarets fan and was a colleague and friend my late father - they both worked on the Daily Mirror.

Burnley were founded in 1882 and are a founder member of the Football League. They won the old Division One in 1960 and were European Cup quarter-finalists in 1961. Highest transfer fee paid out is £13 million for Norwich City's Robbie Brady (Murphy the budgie was quite cross about that one). Highest transfer fee received was £7 million from Southampton for Jay Rodriguez. The youngest player to have represented the Clarets is legendary striker Tommy Lawton.

I'm already a jibbering wreck as we join the crowds strolling towards Turf Moor. My anxiety is heightened knowing that once again, during this Cup run, we'll be sat with the opposition. We pass a group of Burnley supporters from France who look to be parading the FA Cup. It was £10 for the ticket (thank you so much, you know who you are). I'm delighted to see we are seated adjacent to the Lincoln end.

The DJ is on flames as he plays the Stone Roses and 'Reward' by the Teardrop Explodes. They know how to build up a game in the North. I chance upon the guy who got us the tickets and express our gratitude. Ms Moon is being chatted up by a steward, who asks her whether she has been skiing, when we've actually just returned from Tenerife.

The turnaround in Lincoln City's fortunes is remarkable and down to two men - former PE teachers Danny and Nicky Cowley. They've tinkered with the side - only three out of the starting eleven are Cowley signings, but boy oh boy are Sam Habergham, Sean Raggett and Alex Woodyard vital cogs in the Lincoln engine room.

We both like Burnley and particularly their manager Sean Dyche. We had the pleasure of being in his company up at the Hand in Heart, on Nottingham's Canning Circus. The guy was first class and just wanted to reminisce with Ms Moon about pubs back-in-the-day in Nottingham, as Dyche was once an apprentice at Nottingham Forest.

My stomach churns, my spine tingles and my nerves jangle as the teams emerge from the tunnel. We're sat with the 'Darby and Joan', so don't anticipate any issues. The 3,210 travelling Imps are housed in the David Fishwick Stand. They're in fine voice; easily outsinging Burnley.

Jack Muldoon spurns an early chance, ballooning his effort over the bar, following good work by the dangerous Nathan Arnold. Lincoln match Burnley all over the park, although the Clarets have the clearer chances. We take 0-0 at half-time. Someone remarks on my facebook page that Sticky doesn't do 0-0s - I'll chuffing well settle for one today.

The highlight of half-time is a little lad behind me using a plastic knife to draw a smiley face in his Hollands pie before demolishing it. He's quite sharp for a little 'un. Lincoln fans sing "We're top of the League." The boy replies, "Yeah, top of the Non-League." He particularly enjoys the 'No They Never No More' song, referring to Blackburn Rovers as "Bastard Rovers."

Joey Barton is up to his usual antics in the second half. I'm not sure who he has bet on to win the game. He has more than met his match in Lincoln Heavyweight Champion Matt Rhead, who has terrorised the Scouser all afternoon. A deserved booking comes his way, after shoving Top Valley boy Terry Hawkridge in the face and trying to con the ref into red-carding Rhead. Barton's legacy will be being remembered for stubbing out a cigar in a colleague's face and for the cowardly assault on a teenager in a Liverpool street, resulting in a six-month prison sentence.

Burnley striker Andre Gray is having one of them days - he couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. He scuffs, shanks and balloons shots high, wide and handsome. Lincoln have gone toe to toe with Burnley, a team who have the best home record in the English leagues.

The game is in the dying embers when City are awarded two corners in quick succession. The second one from Sam Habergham is pinged towards unmarked Imps' skipper Luke Waterfall, who is stood within what appears touching distance from Sticky Palms. Waterfall heads the ball back to the far post. The next passage of play appears to be in slow motion as Sean Raggett nods the ball over Tom Heaton, with the 'keeper appearing to claw it back from behind the line. I lean forward, hand over mouth, I feel the flood of tears filling my eyes. I look at the Ref, he looks at his assistant, before awarding a goal. Ms Moon's mouth is wide open, her face frozen. It's like when you get a phone call to say a close relative has passed away - it's just total shock. I bury my head into Ms Moon's shoulder. I'm shaking and crying my eyes out. Even worse, we've been rumbled by the 'Darby and Joan Club.'

They're not robbing me of my moment of glory. We remain silent, dignified and respectful. Burnley's fans are leaving in their droves, with hushed tones. City are magnificent in the final five minutes of the game; it's pure theatre as Burnley pepper the Lincoln goal. Special mention must go to Waterfall and Raggett. They deal with everything that's thrown at them. Towering headers, shuddering challenges, with the heart and courage of lions - how on earth are these boys playing in the Conference?

The final whistle is blown. I can't take it in and I'm shaking like a leaf. Fair play to the Clarets fans, many stay behind to clap the Lincoln players off. I break down in tears in the car park. It's too much to take in. Who says the FA Cup is dead ?

Man of the Match: Team Lincoln

Attendance: 19,185

Sunday, February 12, 2017

C.D Buzanada 3-0 U.D Lanzarote

It's Saturday February 4th at 04:30 am. I jump in the shower and scrub up, before flicking on the kettle for a brew. Murphy the budgie has already been transported to his Auntie Val's for a week's holiday, although he's not too chuffed about the 'broccoli shortage,' I knock Ms Moon up for our early morning flight to Tenerife. The journey to East Midlands Airport is silent apart from the dulcet tones of Chris Hawkins on Radio 2. The good lady can be a tad grouchy without her Costa Coffee fix.

I lug the suitcase across the tarmac from a nearby business park. It's flipping freezing and all I'm sporting is a short-sleeved shirt. We breeze through the Thomas Cook check-in desk and a minuscule queue in security. We wolf down a bacon and egg cob and down a much-needed coffee in Frankie and Benny's.

I'm a nervous flier. I bury my head into a paperback book called 'Chasing Shadows - The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck' - it's a disturbing read and not for the feint-hearted. We touchdown at 12:30pm at Tenerife South, collect our luggage off the airport carousel (no Ryanair hiccups this year) before checking in at the Hotel Malibu Park, in the resort of Costa Adeje.

The meet and greet is with 'Pep Guardiola.' We don't even get our feet through the front door of the hotel. The news is grim: "Senor, the apartment is being refurbished, you have to relocate to a different hotel." I'd have normally kicked-off, but saw this coming a mile off, from recent reviews on Trip Advisor.

We're soon unpacked down the road at the Altamira Hotel, adjacent to the beach and a choppy Atlantic Ocean. We walk the five miles into Los Cristianos, calling by for scoops in the varying bars and cafes that litter the pavements, looking out towards the spectacular views of the coastline. We return to the hotel in the late evening, worse for wear. before retiring to bed after an exhausting day. But looking forward to ticking off our second Canary League ground at midday on Sunday.

I pull back the curtains and slide open the patio door. I'm greeted with clear blue sun-soaked skies. A wander is taken down to Harriet's Tea Room at Playa Fanabe, where we tuck into a hearty full English breakfast. The added bonus today, is that it's my 53rd birthday. We're made very welcome by front-of-house, Will, who grew up in Malvern.

The taxi ride inland is only 10km to the village of Buzanada. We're dropped off right outside Campo Municipal de Futbal Clementino de Bello. There is already a hive of activity and buzz around the place as we part with 8 Euros each on the gate - there's little point in buying a programme. A guy on the gate, who is also selling water melons, apples, pears and oranges, very kindly arranges for a taxi to pick us up after the game.

The ground is a belter. There are extraordinary views out to the nearby hills and mountains. Half a dozen supporters are already perched high above the furthest goal with a bird's eye view of proceedings below.

There's an open-air bar and changing facilities behind the nearest goal. We opt to stand on the far side at the top of some concrete steps where you can lean on a wall and shade from the scorching sun. Supporters get stuck into a few local beers as Sticky untwists the top off a bottle of water before taking a large swig in an attempt to re-hydrate his body.

The game is played on an artificial surface, which is desperately in need of relaying. It's saturated in water from sprinklers. It's more 0.01G than 4G. The players might as well wear trainers.

U.D. Lanzarote are today's visitors. I've no idea if they've flown in or hopped on a Fred Olsen ferry. They look well fed and watered, with at least seven of them well over 6' 4". They will be wary of   C.D Buzanada who ended their 43 match unbeaten home record with a 5-1 gubbing earlier in the season.

In the opening exchanges the visitors look to bully Buzanada, particularly from corners, set-pieces and long throws. Slowly Buzanada inch their way into the game. The 11 jacket is like a whippet. He shows the full back on countless occasions a clean pair of heels and has a good delivery too.

It's 0-0 at the break and Ms Moon is already fretting that it might end up goalless. I take a few snaps of the folk sat up on the hill above the far goal. There's little point in striking up a conversation with any of the supporters, as it's clear that not too many can speak English. I can do a 'Manuel' from Fawlty Towers, or an impressive Inspector Clouseau - neither are much use.

U.D. Lanzarote play like they've had a night on the tiles in nearby Playa de Las Americas in the second half. C.D. Buzanada, urged on by an excitable coach, run them ragged and are 2-0 up on the hour following some fast-flowing football, with the visitors chasing shadows in the searing heat. The game is put to bed with 8 minutes remaining with a far post finish from a substitute.

We spend the rest of the holiday relaxing by the pool or walking up and down the coastline. I get through a trilogy of football books written by the excellent Calvin Wade, who for the past three seasons, with a number of pals, has followed every round of the FA Cup, FA Trophy and FA Vase. The tales are heart-warming, with humour and right up my street.

The plane lands early Saturday evening at East Midlands Airport. We're both tinged with sadness and already missing Tenerife. I drop Ms Moon off before shooting down to Morrisons at Netherfield to buy some provisions. I call in at Auntie Val's to pick up Murphy who has been unusually stressed whilst we've been away.

Back at home I top up his food container and promise him I'll nip to Aldi in the morning to see if any broccoli has arrived from southern Spain. I turn in for bed after a couple of games on Match of the Day. I whisper goodnight to Murphy who already has his head tucked into his wing and is fast asleep. I carefully place the towel over his cage and quietly close the lounge door.

Ms Moon comes into the bedroom in the morning looking shaken and visibly upset. She doesn't need to say anything, as a picture paints a thousand words. My little lad, Murphy, has passed away during the night. I just hope he wasn't in any pain. I loved him to pieces and will miss him so very, very much.

Rest in Peace, Murphy.

Sticky xxx