Sunday, August 6, 2017
Thackley AFC 3-4 Harrogate Railway
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.