Sunday, August 20, 2017
Two weeks later and I'm driving in the car, stressed out with work, the imminent house move and Lincoln City not having won again. My phone goes off. It's Dr Hamilton - no relation to the DJ and Fulham PA announcer 'Diddy David' or Formula One racing car driver Lewis - on the blower. My stomach begins to wrench. What if it's bad news? "Mr Palmer, your bloods are good, in fact they are excellent." Those buffoons at LV have put me through the mill. I thought I was in 'God's waiting room.' They can shove their life insurance right where the sun doesn't shine.
We get the green light for the house move; thank chuff for that. I manage to squeeze in a couple of games in between packing boxes. Radford's 'On-call Arena', on Selhurst Street, in inner city Nottingham, is my first port of call on Tuesday evening for an FA Cup replay. Boston Town, from Lincolnshire, are the visitors.
I stick the car in Asda, on Radford Road. It should be good for two hours before being clamped. I manage a brief chat with Radford's 'Director of Football', 'Big Glenn.' I'm a proper Jonah when it comes to watching the Pheasants. I think I've seen them win once in ten outings over the last few seasons.
I hook up with Mr and Mrs John Harris who have served Priory Celtic FC, in Eastwood, so well over the years. The game ebbs and flows, but has an undercurrent throughout. It ends like a Greek tragedy for the big man as Radford lose out 4-3 on penalties. I love Radford and I'm gutted for all involved. I daren't look Glenn in the eye as I exit the ground at 10:30 pm - the £1,500 prize-winning money is a lifeline for clubs like Radford. I peg it across the road to make sure those Bolts at Asda haven't put down the barriers and locked me in.
There's less to talk about on Wednesday evening as 'The Taxman' and I speed down the A46 to Lincoln United's wonderful, tree-lined Ashby Avenue. The game is a damp squib and ends up 0-0. I like both managers - Sam Wilkinson and Jimmy Dean. I'm particularly chuffed for Peterborough Sports gaffer, Jimmy Dean, as I know he'll be made up to come away with a point, thanks to his 'walking wounded.'
It's Saturday morning, 4am. I'm bolt upright in bed, playing on my phone. The good news on twitter is that Mastermind champion, Justin Moorhouse (from Phoenix Nights - couldn't scrub Tiger face paint off him) is playing Nottingham's Glee Club in October. I tweet my mate 'Dafty' at Dawn to let him know.
I cannot describe the feeling of excitement and joy at buying our first house together. There's only one part of the jigsaw missing. He comes hurtling around the corner in his 7.5 tonne van on two wheels, before performing a three-point turn on burning rubber in the cul-de-sac. White Van Man and his sidekick 'Rim' are done and dusted in just a few hours - they are different class. Contact me for a reference.
Some may say it's a little inconsiderate and selfish to still 'get a game in' on house move day. Ms Moon encourages this, as I've put a shift in over the last few months to hasten the move. My solicitor has been a joke. As Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet once said: "Communication let me down."
I unpack a few boxes and hack down the garden. The TV guys from Currys are fitting a new TV to a stand, as I slip out the door and head out towards the town of Bingham. I'm familiar with the place as I had swimming lessons here as a kid at Toothill School, as well as a few scoops in the local inns and bars - not when I was 8 years old. I remember once finishing a cricket game for the Millers at 9:45 pm following a rain delay.
Those pair of muppet TV engineers are re-directed back to 'Ours' following a brief Sticky Palms head loss on the phone in the pub back garden. Rain is bouncing off the windscreen as I pull up the track leading to Butt Playing Field - is it me; or does it just doesn't sound right.
I bump into JK jnr who is a big cheese at Bingham Cricket Club - they've been rolled out for just 29 runs. The football match will be played on a temporary roped-off pitch on the far side of the complex.
Wollaton FC are today's visitors - they filmed the Batman movie The Dark Knight at Wollaton Hall, only a short distance from their ground. The Notts Senior League is still 'the best League in the World' - you are guaranteed goals and quality banter.
The visitor's manager is a gruff Scotsman. He resembles Bill Shankly, apart from the black-rimmed spectacles he's sporting. Those same glasses are offered to a linesman when a decision doesn't go 'Bill's' way.
I scroll down the live scores at the break. The feel-good factor continues in our fantastic city - the Tricky Trees and Pies are 'one and two to the good' as retired local radio commentator Colin Slater used to say. The Pies' owner, 'Big Alan Hardy' will be beaming from ear to ear. What a shrewd appointment Kevin Nolan is turning out to be.
The second half is to die for - this League just never lets you down. Bingham's talisman, Tom Spencer, scores a pearler with his left foot. I remember the kid as a youngster, when he was in Leicester City's Academy - he's your thinking man's footballer. Bingham go 3-0 up and look home and dry.
The visitors have other ideas. They claw two goals back and take a grip on the game. Bingham survive a late onslaught to bag a deserved victory. As Bill Shankly once said: "Football's not a matter of life and death - and it's more important than a house move."
Men of the Match: White Van Man and Rim.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
It was set to be an easy peasy, up sticks house move - they never are though. Three months down the line Jack diddly squat has happened - it has dimmed my view of conveyance solicitors. Mine has been particularly, curt, rude and incompetent.
It's Friday afternoon. I hear another email winging its way into my inbox. I nearly choke on my green tea - yes I'm on that stupid diet still. The email reads: "Contracts exchanged. Completion 18th August." Hell's Bells. Heavens to Betsy. Holy Moly. I can't even celebrate with a tipple or two, as I only allow myself a scoop on Saturdays and Sundays.
I've had a football bonanza this week. I was all set for Radford FC v Boston Town in an FA Cup replay. A good hosing down in inner city Nottingham on Tuesday puts paid to that. I follow Notts County's exit out of the Carabao Cup at a soaking wet Scunthorpe United. The penalty shoot-out on twitter is agonising to scroll through - it's worse than Ceefax used to be.
Wednesday evening is spent in the idyllic surroundings of Quorn in Leicestershire. Retford Town from north Notts are the visitors. I'm accompanied by The Taxman and 'The Italian Stallion' - fresh from two weeks in the Canary Islands. Quorn have installed a 3G playing surface; which is a real shame, as their grass pitch was a belter. 'Rammers' strolls by. He's suited and booted in Kettering Town merchandise. The genial Geordie talks at 100 mph. A startled Taxman looks as if he needs an interpreter. Quorn run out 3-0 winners and pick up £1,500 prize money.
A 21-year-old lad catches my eye, wandering out of the bar. He is the best player I have ever coached. At eight years old he could have walked into any Academy in England. His left foot is as good as his right. He's out the traps like a greyhound. The end product is devastating and sublime. The boy hasn't kicked a ball since he was 18. There's more talent off the pitch than on it. Although a spirited Keyworth claw back a two goal deficit with a breathtaking final 20 minutes.
A load of Central Midlands League big wigs have rocked up - they walk about the joint like The Sopranos. The head of the 'Groundhopping Gestapo' is also in attendance.
I remark to a couple of supporters, as we exit the ground, what an enjoyable game we have witnessed. A bitter Hilton Harriers supporter complains vociferously about playing against '12 men' - the referee was excellent by the way. I wish him a safe journey home back over the cattle grid.
Sticky is going solo today - Ms Moon is at the opticians and hairdressers. On the upside it means I don't have to listen to the cringe-worthy Absolute 80s and their box of six records including Go West, Alexander O'Neal and Whitney Houston - I've sang better in the bath ... whoops!
The Danny Baker phone-in on Five Live is hilarious. Former Everton attacking midfielder Leon Osman is on the 'Sausage Sandwich Game.' Being a proper northern lad Leon prefers brown sauce on his sarnie. 'Colin Murray Meets' is next up. He interviews the grounded Geordie Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick, who tells an amusing anecdote about his Dad, a diehard Toon supporter and season ticket holder, having to support West Ham when they visited St James' Park, with his lad in the Iron starting XI.
I've lined up a pub just a few miles north of Clitheroe, in a picture postcard village called Waddington, up in the Pennines. The Waddington Arms is a little belter. It has stripped pine tables and cushioned bamboo chairs. The friendly staff rustle me up a Cajun chicken sandwich as I neck a pint of Lancaster Blonde. It's on the edge of the Forest of Bowland and has a two-level back terrace, with a neat and tidy tree-sheltered lawn. Ms Moon would love it here; I feel quite sad that she's not here to share it with me. I'll book us in for an overnight stay later in Autumn.
Clitheroe is in the Borough of Ribble Valley, 34 miles north of Manchester in the county of Lancashire, with a population of 15,000. It's most notable landmark is Clitheroe Castle, which is said to be the smallest Norman keep in England. Manufacturing companies in the town include: Hanson Cement, Johnson Matthey (formerly ICI) and Tarmac. The name Clitheroe is said to have come from Anglo Saxon for Rocky Hill.
Clitheroe FC were originally established in 1877 and play their games at the Shawbridge Stadium. They are managed by former Cardiff City, Wigan Athletic and Tranmere Rovers striker Simon Haworth. In 1996 Crystal Palace manager Dave Bassett paid Clitheroe £35,000 for goalkeeper Carlo Nash, who later played for Man City. Sunderland midfielder Duncan Whatmore had a loan spell at the club in 2012. BBC radio comedian Jimmy Clitheroe aka 'The Clitheroe Kid' was born in the town.
I make the descent back into town, fighting my way through the crowds at the 'Food Festival' before parting with £8 on the gate and £1.50 for an absolute cracker of a programme. I snap up a golden goal ticket from a friendly lady. The ground is a pearler and on a side slope. The pitch looks in mint condition to the naked eye. I love the white-washed and grey-stoned cottages that back onto the Shawbridge Lane ground.
The DJ is on flames. We're treated to Bowie, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers. Massive Attack and The Editors. In the North they always raise the bar. I get gassing to a Droylsden fan whose brother plays for the Bloods. He's a quiet, gentle, softly spoken guy with his finger on the pulse of the Manchester Non-League scene. He's proper excited and full-on when the ref blows his whistle to start the game.
I saw Droyslden play a beautiful game last season on two occasions. They won neither and were poor in the final third of the pitch.. A similar pattern emerges today; there's no end product and they don't shift the ball quick enough. Clitheroe take the lead on 23 minutes through big unit Sefton Gonzales, who has played for every club in Lancashire. I rip open my golden goal ticket in anticipation. I grimace at 89 minutes printed on the ticket.
I wander around the ground at half-time and bump into Gip the Collie whose front paws are resting on the wall, eyeing up the ball, as the substitutes toss it off instead of warming up. Gip's not chuffed when the Red Arrows fly across the ground. The Blues increase their lead in the second half, and despite coming under pressure in the final 20 minutes manage to hold firm for an opening season win.
Man of the Match: Clitheroe DJ
Sunday, August 6, 2017
We've parked up the car on a side street in Crosby, just a few hundred yards away from the turnstile at Marine's wonderful 100-year-old ground. I loved the quirky stand and nooks and crannies behind the goal. The pitch was immaculate; you could have played bar billiards on it, but the game was as dull as dishwater. This was no fault of Marine, who put a full shift in. I just thought that Blackburn's U23 team were so bloody boring to watch - a bit like England.
It's a short 20-minute drive to Liverpool's Albert Dock. We book a late table in the hotel restaurant, before pegging it up through Liverpool One and heading towards the real ale quarter. We drink Al Fresco at the Fly in the Loaf, on Hardman Street - a former bakery. I down a pint of Okell's pale ale from Douglas, in the Isle of Man. The bar is packed to the rafters, as folk watch another pointless friendly between Hertha Berlin and Liverpool.
The Philharmonic Rooms, with its mosaic-faced counter and stain-glassed main hall, is just up the road. There's a disappointing choice of ales on the bar. We meet up with Ken and Joan from our holiday in Nerja, whiling away time, enjoying a few more scoops in Ye Old Cracke, before retiring for dinner.
After the breakfast, the following morning, we take a stroll up to the Pier Head, before jumping on the Liverpool Wheel. We don't hang about much after lunch as the M6 is bound to be a pig (it was).
I'm sat in the Brewhouse and Kitchen on Trent Bridge, by 3 pm, listening to the standing ovation, the raucous crowd and beer-fuelled chanting coming from Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, as Alex Hales tees off again in the T20. Notts chase down 223 runs despite Harry Gurney's filthy bowling. Hales tonks four sixes and 14 fours in a 47 ball century. What a stubborn, old fool I am, to sit on a nearby pub patio a stone's throw away, missing out on the occasion.
My last visit to The Asterdale, in Borrowash, was on 4th March 2008. That day a 19-year-old forward blew me away. He was playing for Staveley MW, on loan from Sheffield FC. I rang an assistant manager in the Northern Premier League, to tip him the wink, he replied: "if he can't get in Sheffield FC's side, there's no chance of a pick in our team. The boy's name was Lee Gregory - he's been the leading scorer for Championship side Millwall for the last two seasons. He was released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16 years old - as was Jamie Vardy. It's the great thing about Non-League Football; you never know who is going to rock up.
It's Friday tea-time and I've worked my socks off today. I weighed-in this morning following a three-week healthy eating plan. I'm delighted to announce I've lost 10lbs - you can soon start calling me Sticky, again. I wander down Racecourse Road towards the Colwick Hall Hotel. Hello, hello, hello. A police 'Tactical Support Unit' white van passes by full of rozzers. Perhaps I can help them out, after all I've a degree in criminology having watched all 372 episodes of Heartbeat. Ventress and Bellamy have taught me every trick in the book.
I glance through the window and notice a few plod unwrapping tin foil and tucking into their luncheon meat sandwiches. They're all tooled up and ready for 'The Millwall' and the arsenal that is Lee Gregory up top. Heavens to Betsy, I can't get out of the racecourse; all the gates are padlocked. I end up vaulting a metal obstacle before tumbling onto concrete .... ouch.
I get a tweet shout out by Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special at the fag end of the first day's play. They've been babbling on about famous confectionery shops in Blackpool. I pipe up that ex Notts and England 'Bodyline' fast bowler, Harold Larwood, ran a sweet shop in the town when he retired from cricket. Nobody knew that on TMS.
I manage to negotiate the rush hour traffic with ease and I'm parked up outside Heanor Town's ground by 6:50pm. I tuck into pie, chips and mushy peas and enjoy watching the game with legendary 'Bearded Wonder' groundhopper Malc' Storer. Heanor exit the FA Cup with a shock defeat to a plucky Aylestone Park from Leicester - Gary Lineker's old club. On the drive back home 'Radio Red' are saying that the Lions let the Tricky Trees off the hook. 'Dafty says that Lee Gregory wasn't firing on all cylinders.
We love Yorkshire. In groundhopping terms we have absolutely smashed it between Step One and Step Five level. Bradford gets a bad Press, but I'm fascinated about the place. Some of the hills, above, have breathtaking views, and equally importantly, great pubs, serving quality ales and top notch tucker.
Christ on a bike, we're listening to Alan Carr and Mel Sykes on Radio 2. To be honest folks it's not getting any better. They play Stars on 45, a Beatles medley, by some Dutch novelty act. Jesus wept, it's bloody awful - and that's just Ms Moon's high pitched shrill - I double check my mobile that Auto Windscreens are on standby in case the windscreen shatters.
Within a few hours we're parked up at The Hop in the village of Saltaire. It's an old, converted tram shed with a two-tiered bar. I have a 'Swedish Blonde' - she's absolutely gorgeous, as is the fish butty.
Having made good time we pop down to the Salt Mills. Bradford born artist David Hockney has a permanent collection of his work on display. Sir Titus Salt opened the woollen mills in 1853 and built the village of Saltaire to house his workers. He died in 1876. It is said that 100,000 lined the streets for his funeral.
Thackley FC was founded in 1930 by members of the Methodist Church, and is known as "the club in the woods" because of its idyllic setting in the heart of the Bradford countryside. The village is loosely bordered by the village of Idle to the south, where the comic actor Adrian Edmondson grew up.
We park up adjacent to Buck Wood. I can hear Kylie Minogue singing 'I Should Be So Lucky' on the PA as we approach the turnstile and part with £11.50 including a programme. We wander past the red and green painted stand with its white wooden benches. I met a groundhopper last night at Heanor who called the ground unremarkable. What planet are some of these groundhoppers on ? The welcome is warm, the ground tree-lined and the pitch is a labour of love. We fall in love immediately.
Ms Moon scoots off to the Tea Bar for a coffee. I'm stood on the opposite side to the main stand, close to the dugouts. I hear a knock on the gate behind me, that's locked from the inside. I open the door and let in a lady and gentleman, accompanied with a chair. "That'll be £10 please", I joke. Stewart and June Willingham have been involved with the Club since 1970. They make me feel so welcome. June asks me if I enjoyed lunch at The Hop. She has been following me on Twitter .. lol.
We're all having a good old chat and getting to know one another. The only thing spoiling the day is the Harrogate Railway manager and his grumpy assistant. They both have voices like a foghorn. Railway look tense and are told to settle down. The Management play every ball, question every decision and swear like troopers. I should have offered some of my blood pressure capsules to them.
It's 0-0 at the break. I saw two 0-0s in Yorkshire last season; I'm on for a hat-trick as neither side look like breaking the deadlock. The raffle numbers are shouted out. We miss out by three numbers. Last night at Heanor I was one off the 50/50 which was £35 - I'm still cross about that.
The second half is up there in Non-League entertainment that I've ever witnessed in the last 10 years. Thackley take a 2-0 lead. June and I celebrate with a Hello magazine photo shoot as the visitors peg one back. They quickly restore parity, whilst I take a photo of Thackley diehards Jazz and Muphy the Spaniels. They then take the lead with a sublime left foot finish from the edge of the box. 'The Foghorn' pats himself on the back for his double substitution. Thackley greyhound George Eustance equalises. Before we have time to draw breath Luke Stewart, playing on the shoulder, gets away, rounds the keeper and rolls the ball home to put Harrogate RA in the next round with a £1,500 prize-winning goal.
Couple of the match: June and Stewart Willingham. Thank you so much for making our day.