Sunday, February 25, 2018
I'm still cross on Sunday morning as Ms Moon and I stroll hand-in-hand around Colwick Country Park, adjacent to Nottingham Racecourse, on a crisp winter's morning, blessed with wall to wall sunshine. 'The Princess' drops me outside 'Pryzm' nightclub on Lower Parliament Street - an area blighted by knife crime and fisticuffs in recent weeks. It's a run-down part of town, that has had its time. In its heyday bands such as New Order, in 1984, played gigs here, when it was The Palais - but then again, so did Mel and Kim.
I turn right at the Victoria Centre and head up Mansfield Road for a haircut at Wisdom Hairdressing. Nottingham's No.1 Kurdish barbers. Refreshed, after having my ears lowered, I drop into The Peacock, one of the last remaining Victorian inns left in the city - with table service in the Lounge by ringing the bell. I sink a pint (Harvest Pale) in the Bar listening to Canadian Indie singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco on the iPod shuffle.
A plaque outside says that famous authors D H Lawrence and John Harvey (Resnick) have frequented the joint over the years. So did my Dad. It was HQ back in the day for all the journalists from Radio Nottingham. I treated my Dad, a competitive man, Frank, for lunch in here once, having beaten him 2 and 1 on the 18th Green, up at Wollaton Park Golf Club - he didn't speak to me for two hours after ... lol.
Next port of call is the Horn in Hand on Goldsmith Street (the artist formerly known as the Spread Eagle and Fagins). I waltz in just as Norwich City nod home a 95th-minute equaliser in the East Anglian derby. Big Mick McCarthy looks like he's swallowed some broken glass.
As I exit the pub I hear burning rubber and the sickening sound of a cyclist being unseated from his bike, before being thrown over his handlebars and crashing onto the tarmac. A dazed and confused Kamikaze Deliveroo cyclist says he 'switched off' (a bit like Lincoln City at Crawley) as he jumped a red light. A top of the range Mini has clipped the rider. They remind me of the family from the BBC 'sitcom' Outnumbered (probably from West Bridgford). They seem more concerned about the minimal damage to their precious car, than the well being of the boy, despite his error. I shoot from the hip when I write up the previous day's happenings (at Crawley). It's well received in Sussex, but less so in Lincolnshire. I'm sure we'll bounce back from two losses in seventeen outings (?)
I spend Tuesday and Wednesday evening watching football in Sandiacre and Heanor respectively. The latter enjoy a last-gasp winner versus a Worcester City side that includes former Kidderminster Harriers, WBA, Coventry City and Notts County striker, Lee Hughes, still turning out at 41 years old - probably out of necessity.
It's Friday evening and I'm on the 'Keyworth Connection' Trent Barton Bus. I lived in the village for 45 years. Tonight former Nottingham Forest 'keeper, Head of Youth Development and Clough and Taylor's Chief Scout, Alan Hill, is waxing lyrical at Keyworth United FC about his time at The City Ground, working for the greatest manager of all time.
I have a Scoop up The Salutation, where Alan ('Hilly') was the landlord for five years, before hooking up with 'Dafty', Bobby and the 'Mayor of London' in the Keyworth Tavern. A wonderful evening is spent listening to Alan Hill story-telling. We land the £100 quiz first prize despite the diehard presence of a tanked-up 'A' Block in the audience.
My favourite Clough tale is when BC signs 15-year-old Cockney, Gary Charles, on a four-year contract. Having told the lad he'll play for England one day, Clough instructs the young Londoner to take his beloved black Labrador, 'Del Boy' for a walk down the banks of the River Trent. An hour later a panic-stricken Charles reports back in, minus Clough's pride and joy, who has slipped his leash. After a fruitless two hour search for the black Lab, Hill and Charles trudge into Clough's office to break the bad news. They knock on the door to see the wag-tailing man's best friend at Clough's side. "We've just brought the lead back, Boss."
We hit the road to 'Darlo' at 10am on the nose. There's a pit stop up on Mapperley Tops at Costa so Ms Moon gets her coffee fix - without it we're all doomed as Fraser used to say on Dad's Army. Two hours of Graham Norton practically tips me over the edge. Kylie Minogue is his special guest - she's as dull as dishwater, although 'Better the Devil You Know' is a guilty pleasure.
Sticky Palms and Ms Moon finally tip up in the delightful hamlet of Hurworth-on-Tees for lunch at the Otter and Fish, a gastropub in the village. Our kid lives down the road in York; he retired on Thursday, so we meet him and his wife (Sarah) for lunch to celebrate. Lunch is heavenly, and so is the Black Sheep ale brewed just 30 miles down the road in Masham. Godley and Creme's brilliant No.3 hit from 1981, Under Your Thumb, is on the pub iPod shuffle.
Darlington FC were founded in 1883 and are nicknamed the Quakers. Their chequered history is well documented. I never saw them play at their old ground at Feethams; hence my visit today. The last time I saw them at Sincil Bank was back in 1990 when they turned us over 3-0. Our second worst manager in the Club's history (Chris Sutt** tops the list), Alan 'Sniffer' Clarke was sacked straight after the game. I'm not saying I was back home in Notts early that day, but recall seeing Des Lynam on Final Score.
It's £5 to park the car, which to be honest cheeses me off. The steward explains it's one of the few ways to make money as they have to rent the ground off Darlington RFC (at £60k per annum as I find out later). I love the ground; it has a real football feel about it. I get chatting to a Kiddy fan. I mention that I like the way they play and rate their talisman Elton Nwgatala and flying winger Emmanuel Sonupe.
Manchester Non-League DJs are the benchmark when it comes to pre-match sets. Darlo's isn't doing too bad: Shed Seven, Electronic and Leicester-based indie band, Kasabian keep the ice-cold blood circulating in my toes. Ms Moon and I are both wearing five layers and yet still the bitter northerly chill and biting breeze finds the bones.
Kiddy dilly dally from the off and are fortunate not to be behind in the early stages. I strike up a conversation with a lovely Darlo fan. He gives me the lowdown on the politics. There's no love lost with the tenants, the Rugby Club. They seem to take pleasure (the Rugby Club) to rub the football club's nose in it where possible. No DFC signage is allowed. Staff blatantly sport Darlington RFC clothing at all food and drinks outlets.
It makes me feel sad that the Quakers, a former Football League club steeped in history, don't have their own home. The unscrupulous affairs of ex-owner and safe-cracker George Reynolds have been well documented. We passed the white elephant of a stadium on the A66 which was once the George Reynolds Stadium, home to Darlington FC, before their demise and relegation to the Northern League.
The first twenty-five minutes of the second half is scrappy and disjointed. Kiddy send on their big guns, Joe Ironside and Emmanuel Sonupe, a former Tottenham Hotspur scholar. The game opens up. A ball is pinged towards Ironside who flicks a header over a Middlesborough loanee 'stopper'who is punching thin air. The ball rebounds off the foot of the post to a gleeful Ironside who levels up the game.
Both teams desperately search for the winner. It's cult hero, Stephen Thompson who makes it 2-1 to steer away Darlo from the relegation battle at the bottom of the National league North.
Man of the Match: NFFC legend Alan Hill and Darlo's No.5, Josh Heaton
Sunday, February 18, 2018
I don't have to stress about how 'The Lincoln' have gone on, as we picked up a useful point in a dull as dishwater 0-0 at Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium on Friday evening. I missed most of the game due to being on a five-hour flight back from Tenerife. I caught the closing moments on Twitter following a desperate closing-time shop at Tesco in Carlton. A confused and bemused cashier on the till looks on in disbelief at a fist-pumping Sticky Palms as the full-time score is confirmed on the Live Scores app, as I clock up the points on my Tesco Clubcard.
I swing onto 'The Avenue' in West Bridgford, the most overrated street in our county. It could be the hive of all activity with bustling pubs, sun-drenched back gardens and bars packed to the rafters. West Bridgford Town Council (probably freemasons) and their doddering, dithering, dinosaur culture refuse to give the thumbs up to new licensees. Palms are greased by brands such as Pizza Express, Gusto and Marks and Spencer. One of the best real ale pubs, the Stratford Haven, previously a pet shop, took a painstaking five years to be granted a pub license. They'll be no Ashes Test in 2019 or 2023 to get the tills singing and ringing.
I have eyes only for one pub this evening. I enter the revolving door (not to be confused with the Nottingham Forest manager's hot seat). I adore the Test Match Hotel and its art deco interior. The place is stacked out with cheery England rugby fans and Forest supporters drowning their sorrows.
My football fix on Tuesday evening is back at Sincil Bank in Lincoln. I've never seen the Red Imps lose in over ten years when I've sat in the Selenity Stand. I ring up the ticket office in a flap on Tuesday lunchtime. They've only got restricted view tickets. I'm superstitious and daren't move.
I always get knots and butterflies in my stomach when I watch 'The Lincoln.' I'm not a diehard since I lost my Dad, but still enjoy an outing, particularly since the Cowleys arrived on the scene and re-built the club and ethos. I'm hovering outside the ticket office at 6:30pm; even the Cheltenham Town team bus has only just rocked up.
I got the green light for Crawley away from Trumpy Bolton (and Ms Moon) a few weeks' back) I collected terrace tickets the other evening at £16 each. Trumpy has been on the sauce in Leicester the previous evening when he saw the Foxes beat the Blades of Sheffield 1-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter-final - ooh the irony that Owls' fan Jamie Vardy has scored the winner.
I pick up the legend in the village of Keyworth just before 9am. He's halfway down a bottle of Hopping Hare ('breakfast' as he calls it). I've not seen him since bumping into one another at the Trent Bridge Inn on Christmas Eve.
We're both excited as it's ground 84/92 for Sticky and 85/92 for Bolton. He's immediately fiddling with the DAB radio as he's not having Graham Norton on Radio 2. Ironically, 'Just Like Heaven' by The Cure, formed in Crawley, is blaring out of the car speaker on Radio X. Back in the day they were one of my favourites. I saw them with my brother at York University on the 'Three Imaginary Boys' tour back in November 1980. I used to worship the ground that lead singer Robert Smith walked on.
Trumpy relaxes as he begins swigging from his litre bottle of pear cider as we get strapped in for the 350 mile round trip to Sussex. The M25 never fails to surprise me; even at a weekend. We're still parked up opposite Crawley Town Hall before twelve bells.
Bolton beats me 3-1 on pints as we head towards the ground. The club car park is full. An unhelpful, shoulder-shrugging steward sends us in the wrong direction. We finally rock up at the New Moon pub, just a five minute walk away. 'The Lincoln' have taken it over and have draped their flag over the front entrance. The old bill come waltzing in to check us over.
Crawley is a town and borough in West Sussex. It's 28 miles south of London and 18 miles north of Brighton. Notable people from the vicinity include: travel journalist Simon Calder, boxer Alan Minter, footballer Kevin Muscat (mad as a box of frogs) and sports presenter Dan Walker.
Crawley Town, nicknamed the Red Devils (or Reds), were founded in 1896. They are managed by former Leeds and Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell, who is married to ex 'Emmerdale Farm' actress Sheree Murphy.
Trumpy sidles into the Redz Bar as I opt to bask in the late winter sunshine in the away end. The DJ's set ain't bad, but not up there with the Northern Non-League scene. The Killers, Hard-Fi and Oasis are the pick of the bunch.
The Red Imps have lost one game in the last seventeen. The Red Devils are in a rich vein of form too. Trumpy comes ambling across the terrace, muttering under his breath about the closure of the food bar. He returns from the snack counter with a Cornish pasty. I like the ground, it reminds me of Stevenage Town. Two seated stands run along the touchline, with terraces behind both goals.
Lincoln are way off the pace and can't get a sniff of the ball. There's wave after wave of attack. How we aren't three or four down I'll never know. The game gets niggly. Green is a lucky lad not to see two yellow cards. Referee, Mr Kettle, is at boiling point as he blows for half-time. A seething Danny Cowley, clearly frustrated by an inept Imps display, is sent to the stands as he tries to defend skipper Luke Waterfall.
Harry Kewell will be chilling out, sinking a few cans of Fosters and watching his missus pulling pints in the Woolpack on UK Gold at the break, as his team have played 'The Lincoln' off the park. Another Killers track is the highlight of the interval. Trumpy is unimpressed with what he's seen. He asks if we can sneak off and watch the second half at Horsham FC in the Isthmian League.
Lincoln are rampant now as they search for a winner that some would say they little deserve. Kamikaze defending sees them concede a penalty, before Crawley seal victory from a set-piece that is once again poorly defended.
I feel sorry for the lad next to me. He's travelled up from Salford, near Manchester and follows the Imps home and away. Both he and I had expected much more but will travel home empty-handed and angry after a poor first half showing.
I'm seething on the long journey home. I won't be playing The Cure You Tube playlist when I finally return to Nottingham.
Attendance: 2,809 (702 Imps)
Man of the Match: Salford Imp
Sunday, February 11, 2018
It's 8:30pm on Friday evening, as our TUI 737 plane touches down on the East Midlands Airport runway, after a turbulent, near-on five-hour flight into 60mph winds. We're met with freezing temperatures after seven days of sun-kissed Canary Island blue skies.
Base camp was at the Hotel Bahia Princess, in the southern resort of Costa Adeje. Of course, we ticked a ground off; we always do. A 20 euros taxi ride saw us head up into the hills towards the small town of Las Zocas, in the San Miguel region, who were hosting CD Mensajero, a club based in Gran Canaria. It's the fourth ground I've visited in Tenerife (Tercera Division 12 Canary League). It was 8 euros in. We didn't bother with the raffle as the prizes were a bag of potatoes and a homemade Madeira cake, baked by Ronaldo's mum. The game was a cracker, with a last-gasp winner from UD Zocas sending the locals into raptures and more importantly towards a crowded bar, with celebrations set to run deep into the night.
We chilled out the rest of the week. Ms Moon very kindly booked a whale and dolphin watching boat trip and a one-hour full body massage, back at the hotel, for my 54th birthday. I stayed off the beer as Tenerife doesn't do real ale. Sadly, I overindulged on the Hendricks gin which resulted in a couple of gincidents. I bagged a bottle of the said gin in our resort, before foolishly packing it into my hand luggage to avoid any breakages. Security were having none of it, as the bottle showed up on the thermal image machine. It was confiscated, or as the blithering idiot of a guard put it, 'destroyed.' - yeah by you and your mate.
I ploughed my way through a couple of good reads from the safety of my sunbed. The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club, by former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook (some cracking anecdotes in this book) and The Long Road From Jarrow by 6Music presenter Stuart Maconie.
I leave the Princess to catch up on Emmerdale, Corrie and Coach Trip: Road to Tenerife (she'll enjoy that one). We'll meet later in West Bridgford for dinner and drinks after the game. I jump on the No.25 bus outside The Doghouse pub (a punk rock and heavy metal venue) on Carlton Road. It's a bit grim at the bottom end of Sneinton. All the old classic pubs such as the Duke of Devonshire, Duke of Cambridge and White Lion have bitten the dust. Lower Parliament Street is just as bleak. It's littered with 'To Let' signs and washed out windows. Antibo, the Italian restaurant famous for two for one meals, is now a derelict building, having been closed for over six years.
I nip into Pandora, a jewellery store in Victoria Centre. I buy a couple of charms for Ms Moon's bracelet and a safety chain, before pegging it down to Arkwright Street for my first liquid refreshment of the day.
BeerHeadZ is a Grade II listed green and white painted 'Cabman's Shelter' to the right of the Railway Station on the corner of Carrington Street and Queens Road. I order up a pint of Auckland pale ale, crafted in Yorkshire. I get chatting to a couple of cheerful chaps from Bottesford and Bradford who are real ale aficionados.
I take a stroll up Arkwright Walk, through the Meadows, before crossing over Trent Bridge. Ten minutes later I clock a lanky streak of p**s walking in my direction. It's none other than Sticky junior (aka the 'Keyworth Georgie Best'). He sparks up a cigarette as we head towards the Main Stand turnstile. The boy has already had a few scoops with his pals at the Hubble Bar on Pavilion Road. His nerves kick in as he rolls-up another fag as I chat to 'Big Al' a friend and ex-work colleague. We're joined by Johnny Haslam, a Forest die-hard, born just outside Hull.
Kingston upon-Hull is a city in the East Riding of Yorkshire with a population of 260,000. The city suffered extensive damage during the Second World War (the Hull Blitz). It was UK City of Culture in 2017. Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull FC are well-known rugby league clubs that both play in the Super League.
Notable people associated with the city include: Paul Heaton and Norman Cook from The Housemartins, Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals, Mick Ronson, who was David Bowie's guitarist, poet and novelist Philip Larkin, actor Sir Tom Courtenay, actress Maureen Lipman, Roy North (Mr Roy from the Basil Brush Show), politicians William Wilberforce and John Prescott, aviator Amy Johnson (first person to fly solo from England to Australia), J. Arthur Rank from cinema fame and former footballers Nicky Barmby and Dean Windass.
Welsh-born rugby league winger Clive Sullivan played over 500 games for Hull KR and Hull FC. He died of cancer aged 42 years old. He was held in such high esteem in the city that a road was named after him that runs between the Humber Bridge and city centre (A63).
Hull City FC, nicknamed the Tigers, were founded in 1904. I used to love their old Boothferry Park ground. I went one Friday night, back in the day (1990) to watch Leicester City with Trumpy Bolton. The Foxes lost 5-2. Record transfer received for Hull is £12,500,000 from Southampton for the services of Ireland striker Shane Long. Biggest transfer fee paid out was £9,500,000 for Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez from Italian side Palermo.
I take my seat as the teams emerge from the tunnel - 'junior' has gone for another Heineken. I can't watch my football through beer goggles, unlike a beer-fuelled 'A' Block who are relentless and raucous. There's a rousing rendition of 'Mull of Kintyre.
Spanish manager Aitor Karanka is the latest incumbent in the electric chair. Forest's twelfth manager in just over five years, if you include caretakers. One win in nine League games has seen the Tricky Trees plummet down the Championship table. The goals have dried up too. There's no place in today's squad for highly-rated teenager Ben Brereton. Deadline day transfer activity at The City Ground made Harry Redknapp and Barry Fry look like novices.
Hull City and in particularly amenable manager Nigel Adkins have escalating problems of their own. No League wins in their last nine outings sees them hovering close to the basement. Forest start brightly, spurred on by the crowd. We're only seven minutes in when disaster strikes. Eric Lichaj hauls down Harry Wilson, on-loan from Liverpool. Jon Toral steps up to take the penalty only to see it brilliantly saved by Romanian 'keeper Costel Pantilimon. Celebrations are short-lived, with Toral making amends by nodding home from the resulting corner.
Matty Cash is unfortunate to see an effort, only minutes later, thump McGregor's left-hand post. The Tigers are lightning on the counterattack. They double their lead on 38 minutes with Wilson finishing off a wonderful four-man move at breakneck speed. A point-blank save from Pantilimon on the stroke of half-time saves Forest from further embarrassment.
The players' confidence is shot, as boos ring out, just like they did on my last two visits against Cardiff and Sunderland. Most of 'A' Block retreated to the bar on 38 minutes. Sticky junior joins them on 45 minutes. Not many are around to tap their feet to Justin Timberlake's 'Can't Stop the Feeling.'
There's been gallows humour in 'A' Block. They've poked fun at supporters in the Bridgford End and ridiculed the team - they've paid their money and take their choice. It turns to anger at the final whistle. Ben Osborn - 'one of their own' - perhaps naively begins to clap the crowd. The few stragglers left turn on him with a volley of abuse. The boy has tried his hardest, it's just that nothing has come off. His performance has been sub-standard. At least he chose not to hide or shirk responsibility, unlike some others.
Nigel Clough will have the Brewers of Burton pumped up for next week's clash at the Pirelli Stadium. Defeat in Staffordshire for Forest will leave them to fight out another relegation scrap.
Man of the Match: Nigel Adkins - spot on tactically. Exploited Forest's lack of pace.