Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hereford FC 3-1 FC United of Manchester

I'm fagged out on Sunday morning after yesterday's long trip to Forest Green Rovers in Gloucestershire with Trumpy Bolton. We popped into the Pear Tree in Keyworth, an old haunt of mine, for a quick jar. I was hoping some of the lads from the team I'm going to run, Keyworth United Development, would be sinking a few scoops in the bar, celebrating coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against a side who had only lost once all season. I can see from the WhatsApp group that they're all getting showered, shaved and groomed for a big night out that will last into the small wee hours.

Ms Moon and I head south of the water for a change, into 'Bread 'n Lard Island' (West Bridgford).  It's full of well-to-do and high society. The social media rumour mill is awash with tweets that suggest that Lord James Turner of Clifton has upped sticks and pitched up in the land of fur coat 'n no knickers. It won't be long before he's sporting a flat cap, tweed jacket and Oxford brogues.

We enjoy an excellent breakfast served up at Cote Brasserie on The Avenue, before stretching our legs for three miles around Rushcliffe Country Park, Ruddington, an area of Nottingham that I have worked at for near on 15 years. After the walk, I enjoy a pint at The Embankment in 'North Bridgford' before hopping on an NCT bus into town, where I wander down to Hockley and call by the Fox and Grapes in Sneinton for much-needed refreshment. I pore over the Sunday papers and glance at the League Two table. What a sorry state of affairs there is at Notts County right now. They were gubbed 3-0 at home to fellow strugglers Cheltenham Town in a vital six-pointer. They are managerless and rudderless - let's not forget they were favourites to win the League at the start of the season

Tuesday evening is spent up in Mapperley Tops at Gedling Miners' Welfare on a bitterly cold evening. I make my seasonal debut at the Plains Fish Bar where a small fish, chips and curry sauce is the bargain-price of £4.20. The chips are down at the Welfare as the Miners' have had a run of bad luck and misfortune. Popular manager Chris Marks has taken a break. I'm still met with a cheery smile by Clubman Tony Hay. Gedling twice blow a one-goal lead, before bowing out of the League Cup 3-2 to a slicker, fitter outfit in Belper United from Derbyshire.

I'm chuckling to myself on Wednesday tea time as I drive over Lady Bay bridge towards Keyworth. The management team has organised a one-hour boot camp for the lads at a new gym on Debdale Lane Industrial Estate in the village. Every single lad turns up; I feel really proud of the team spirit that has been fostered in recent months. I stand and admire the boys grafting and sweating their gonads off.

This weekend will be the last time Ms Moon and I can go away for a while, as I take charge of the team as Manager from 1st December. I won't be blogging every week, but hope to post some ramblings on a fortnightly basis.

I feel a bit light-headed on Saturday morning courtesy of a Tesco finest Shiraz that was on special offer. We're on our way to Herefordshire at just gone ten bells. The journey is seamless apart from the Graham Norton Show and the dire choice of music he plays. The plan is to spend the night in the sleepy market town of Ross-on-Wye.

I thought it be best to park the car at the football ground and walk into town. Despite the traffic being gridlocked we manage to shoehorn the car into a space in an overflow car park. Lunch is spent at the Spread Eagle, a bustling, traditional city centre pub on King Street. Ms Moon loves a homemade fish finger sandwich that's accompanied by some dirty fries.

We take a wander back to the ground. I'd already checked with a very friendly steward that we can pay cash on the away turnstile. I like to be among the United fans as they create a good atmosphere and sing one or two good ditties. I love the old school floodlights, they are proper football porn.

Hereford is a cathedral city and county town of Herefordshire which lies on the River Wye and has a population of just under 60,000 people. It's 16 miles east to the border with Wales. The British Army Special Air Services (SAS) are based in Hereford. Major employers in the town include: cider producer Bulmers and Cargill Meats (formerly Sun Valley) - the Wye Valley Brewery and Weston's cider are also from the area. The puppeteer for The Muppets and Yoda from Star Wars, Frank Oz, was born in Hereford as was singer Ellie Goulding and Crystal Palace footballer Connor Wickham.

Hereford FC were founded as a phoenix club to Hereford United FC. They inherited the Edgar Street ground. In 2016 they reached the FA Vase final at Wembley, only to lose 4-1 to Morpeth Town from north east England. Controversially the club sacked popular manager Peter Beadle in September of this year. They somehow find themselves playing in the National League North - don't ask me, haven't a clue, but it must include some gruelling journeys up and down the M5 and M6. Today is an FA Trophy tie, with the visitors F.C.United of Manchester making the 290-mile round trip.

We had hoped to see Ronaldo the bull take his customary parade around the ground, but there's no sign of the old lad. At least he enjoyed his day out at Wembley. The visitors from Manchester also have a new manager in Neil Reynolds who they snared from Bamber Bridge, close to Preston.

It's £15 to sit in the Len Weston Stand and £2.50 for a programme. The stand is steep and affords the supporter a panoramic view of this wonderful old ground and city. The home officials make a fuss of us and are super friendly and polite. 135 supporters have made the long trek south. The DJ is having a throwback to the 1970s as he plays Chic, Sister Sledge and The Whispers.

F.C. United are wearing their famous red shirts and white shorts - Ms Moon enquires as to which team is 'United.' Despite constant pressure by the Bulls, it's the visitors who take the lead against the run of play with the ball fortuitously falling to Jack Banister, who lifts a shot over the 'keeper and into the net. Hereford are in debt to their shot-stopper, Matt Yates, who makes two fine saves before the break.

Hereford continue their good form from the first half and draw level from a corner with an excellently executed header from Cullinane-Liburd just after the restart. Minutes later half-time substitute Tommy Sullivan smashes a shot which hits the back of the net to put the Bulls 2-1 ahead - it's nothing more than they deserve. They put the game to bed on 79 minutes with a goal from hardworking striker Mike 'The Beast' Symons to put them into the hat for the first round draw. One or two United fans have breached security and are now sitting up in the stand with us, rather than on the terrace. They try to rally their team, but there's nothing left in the tank; they are running on empty.

Man of the Match: 'The Beast'

Attendance: 1,067

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Forest Green Rovers 0-1 Morecambe

It's 6:30am on Thursday, November 10th and I'm sat in a bar at East Midlands Airport caressing a glass of diet Coke. 'Chopper Harris' is sinking a pint of Guinness. Our Jet 2 Boeing 737 hits the skies bang on time as we begin our five-day adventure (bender) to Tenerife. We're staying in the heart of the liveliest resort on the island, Playa de las Americas - for the record I'm 54 years old and three quarters. Fast forward 15 hours and I'm having to escort a drunken 'Chopper' back home to Parque 3 Santiago - he has the balance and control of Arsenal forward Danny Welbeck.

Each morning is spent tucking into breakfast at El Cedro, where two full English and four coffees comes in at less than 10 Euros. It gets rowdy on Friday evening. We're at the Royal Garden, on the front, having a peaceful gin and tonic, watching the sunset over the Atlantic, seeing if Robert Maxwell's final Cuban cigar washes ashore. Suddenly there's a rumble and a commotion. You tend to hear him before you see him; yes folks, the Big Man has rocked up with 'Bruiser' and Paul.

Saturday is the mother-of-all benders (well that's what I thought at the time). Chopper and I are stepping out by eleven bells and heading up towards the resort of La Caleta, 7km away (disgraced ex football TV pundit Ron Atkinson lives up there). We take in bar after bar before calling by the Big Man's HQ, Leonardo's, to watch the scores coming in. Only one result really interests Sticky Palms; Keyworth United Dev 7-0 Ravenshead United. We return to 'HQ' later after a session and bite to eat at Bad Bobs, to watch the 'Big Fight.' Chopper is out for the count quicker than Scouse cruiserweight Tony Bellew.

Events take a turn for the worse on Sunday. After spending one hour looking for my passport - Chopper found it in the oven (don't ask) - we jump on a bus from Los Cristianos up to the island's capital city, Santa Cruz. I've bagged a couple of tickets from a lovely chap called Chris Todd, who runs an ex-pat bus, up to CD Tenerife. Santa Cruz is the most unremarkable place and is also dead as a dodo. We sit in a bar in the centre of town contemplating what to do next, as Chopper is desperate to watch the Manchester derby. He searches on Google maps before hunting down a tiny sports bar on a narrow, cobbled side street. One TV is showing Barca' v Real Betis, the other has Chelsea v Everton. Three hours later after watching Barcelona and 'United' both get tonked, we stagger up the road to the CD Tenerife Supporters' Bar. We'd earlier drank that little bar dry (watching Barca) and ate copious amounts of tapas - for just 33 Euros.

I've not seen a 0-0 at a new ground since April 2017, when Ms Moon and I saw Colne v Droylsden fail to register a shot on target, up in the Lancashire hills. I've grave concerns about tonight's game after reading up on the stats. A couple of gins go straight down the hatch before we peg it up to the ground.

The stadium is a belter and holds 23,000. I'm starting to feel worse for wear after neat Amarettos and goldfish bowls full of gin. It's not bloody well helped by a couple of buffoons banging their drums two rows down. The game has 0-0 written all over it. The visitors, Albacete (near Valencia) are woeful and couldn't hit a Pamplona bull with a pair of castanets. CD Tenerife swarm all over them, doing everything but score. The Big Man and Bruiser are going to rip me to bits - 2,000 miles for a chuffing 0-0 - I shed a tear at the final whistle.

We sink a few more gins before returning to our resort. Chopper suggests we drop into The Dubliner for a nightcap to see the lads - five hours later I collapse into my pit, still singing Sweet Caroline and 'Laid' by Manchester band, James. It's deja vu on Monday evening, following an epic day out which began with a 'Lads' Lunch' up in the hills - the Big Man retired early (3pm) to watch Tipping Point and Home and Away, the rest of the boys pushed on. Sticky Palms aged 54 and 3/4 ends up on all fours after more stumbles than Raheem Sterling due to another sing-song at The Dubliner. After four failed attempts at opening the patio door, I call for a paramedic (Chopper).

It's Friday evening, how the hell did I get out of Tenerife alive? Tuesday was the longest day of all time. The three-day working week has lasted a lifetime. Not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips in the last 100 hours. I've drunk more water than Robinson Crusoe. I venture out up Carlton Hill to the Free Man a comedy 'Spoons watering hole. I sink a pint of Shipyard and catch up with Ms Moon before trotting up the road to The Brickyard for a swift one. Lights are out for 9:30pm; Tenerife has done for me!

A few weeks ago a 270-mile round trip to Nailsworth, in Gloucestershire, sounded a great idea. On Saturday morning I feel battered, broken and shattered, just like Tony Bellew (and Chopper) the other weekend. I'm on Spinney Road at the heart of the 'Keyworth Bronx.' I can see the Big Man's van parked up and 'Big Ed' knocking on his door - "he'll still be in his pit me duck" I shout, as I wind down the window. We do a Facebook live of Trumpy Bolton pottering down the hill towards us. He's had a pint of 'Fursty Ferret' for 'breakfast' and is full of cough and cold - it's only 10 o'clock.

It's been a sad old few weeks for Trumpy and his wife, Jayne, following the tragic helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium. He went to Leicester to pay his respects and both were at Cardiff City for an emotionally-charged afternoon, where their team played their hearts out.

We travel Coventry and Stratford way, before hitting traffic that's heading to Cheltenham races. Forest Green play in the small, picturesque town of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. We find a free car park, high up overlooking the town. Trumpy has a couple of cracking pubs lined-up. The first is the Britannia, a former manor house, with a big log fire. Bolton necks a couple of ales as Sticky devours a brie and bacon burger. The second boozer is a snorter. Egypt Mill is a converted 16th Century mill with working waterwheels and a stone floor bar. It's two more real ales for the legend, as Sticky struggles with a half, still feeling the after-effects of 'the Reef.'

After two aborted attempts, we finally rock up at The New Lawn. We're fleeced for £7 to park the car. A very friendly steward ensures we aren't double-parked ( must of heard I tripled parked in Tenerife) so we can get a quick getaway.

Trumpy has got the moaner-meter on full power. It takes an age to purchase a ticket (I know, before you start, should have done it online). How was I to know they had a kids' deal on? There's worst to come for Bolton when time is called before he can buy a pint at the Green Man. He's seething and starving by the time he catches up with me in the South Stand behind the far goal.

Forest Green were founded in 1889 and are owned by green energy industrialist and former New Age traveller, Dale Vince, the owner of Ecotricity. Mark Cooper is the gaffer; he's managed more clubs than Peter Stringfellow and seems to have beef (sorry Dale) with Danny Cowley at 'The Lincoln' - fair play as we always seem to beat 'Rovers.'

Morecambe are today's visitors and have one of the best managers in the League in Jim Bentley. Year after year he keeps them up on a shoestring. Ms Moon and I have loved our two trips up to the Globe Arena.

Trumpy has got the hump because of a beer-free zone. I suggest he hunts down the famous Forest Green vegan pie. He returns with a tray of chips soaked in curry sauce. Forest Green play a neat passing game, but nobody is prepared to take a risk, shoot or cross. The Shrimps are rapid on the counterattack. They force the Rovers 'keeper to make a few good saves. Resolute defending sees the visitors go in at the break at 0-0.

Trumpy has a smile as wide as the M5 at half-time as bucket loads of lager are wheeled into the 'Beer Zone.' I listen to a bungling DJ play Rockafella Skank by Fat Boy Slim three times. Trumpy spends the second half looking through his beer goggles counting how many visiting supporters have made the 400-mile round trip. He says there are 72. The PA guy announces 94. "Does that include the team and coaching staff?", chortles Bolton.

I'm chuffed to bits for Morecambe when their skipper Aaron Wildig scores at the death to send the visiting supporters into wild celebrations, which will last long into the night on their long journey home. I think of the little boy and Dad who we saw earlier in the town earlier today. What a memorable day out for Dad and lad.

Attendance: 3,085

Man of the Match: 'Chopper Harris'

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Kirton Brickworks Res 1-2 Keyworth Utd Development

It's April 30th, 2014 and the final whistle has just been blown at Dunkirk FC's Lenton Lane ground. Dunkirk U18s have beaten Keyworth U18s 7-3 - I can't 'arf pick 'em. I shake hands with the opposition and wearily trudge off towards the dressing room for the final time, where I thank each and every player for the efforts over the season and for the twelve years they have represented the Club and village

I've also coached the Keyworth U16s all season, with my good pal Jon - another team I've been involved with for over ten years. I'm fagged out, stressed out and over and out. We have a joint presentation evening; it's emotional and I'm desperately fighting to hold back a flood of tears, but I have to let go for my own sanity. I had hoped the club would run an Under 19 floodlit team the following season - that invitation never came; I felt my vision and passion wasn't shared, it was a massive missed opportunity that would have an impact in the years to come. The blame lays squarely at the foot of my door, but my fuel tank was running on empty.

Fast forward the clock four years and I'm stood down Clifton All Whites one evening watching CAW Dev v Keyworth Dev in an NSL Division Two fixture. The visitors are going through the motions. Nobody seems to be enjoying it. Both my boys are playing; it's breaking my heart to witness it when I know I can make a difference. I want to give it one last go and suggest to someone at the Club that if a vacancy arises next season, I'd be willing to step in. "Why not come now?"

It's Wednesday evening and I'm sat in the Platt Lane clubhouse two hours before kick-off with Keyworth Utd Dev manager Chris Thompson (the lads love this guy). We both have a passion for the game, but more importantly, share a vision for the future. We want to work with the first team and provide a pathway for our young guns. A club can't function properly if teams are run as separate entities, as they were last season. I don't want a side choc-a-bloc full of mercenaries who drift from club to club, not giving two hoots about playing for the badge or wearing the famous green shirt.

I've been involved with the Dev team for over a month now. Chris Thompson, since his involvement, has turned the team on its head. They shipped 50 goals in their first 9 games and only registered one win. We're now unbeaten in the last three games, and guess what? 15 out of the 16 playing squad have come through the youth system. Three lads out of the back four are 16 years old - "you'll never win anything with kids." Training is compulsory, which all the boys have bought into. We're very lucky to have a FA Level Two coach called Phil Anstey onboard, who generously gives up his time to help the lads out.

AFC Clifton are tonight's visitors. We get the boys pumped up and warmed up for kick-off. I take my place in the dugout for the first time in four years. Some folk will say 'what's all the fuss about, Sticky, it's only NSL Div Two?' Just seeing these boys with smiles on their faces, enjoying the dressing room banter and sharing a drink with each other after the game, win or lose, means the world to me.

I say to Chris that I'll sit back and have a look at the opposition for the first 15 minutes. It lasts for all of 45 seconds when hesitancy at the back should see us go a goal behind. I'm pointing, cajoling and gesturing to the lads. We concede a goal to a well-struck free-kick that's poorly defended, before our talisman, Tom Siswick, gets us out of jail, after being slipped in with a slide rule pass by 'Woody.'

Our fitness levels are astounding in the second half as we swarm all over the visitors up the famous Platt Lane slope. Chance after chance goes begging. 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' sees an effort tipped onto the crossbar and young Shyan sees a close-range header sail over the bar. A stonewall penalty is turned down in the dying embers. The lads have given their all and are disappointed to only take a point against a team who have lost one game in ten outings.

The drive back from Bury St Edmunds on Saturday evening was a nightmare. It was teeming down with rain for most of the journey. I'm exhausted and pretty much hit the sack on arriving home. I wake up to the tragic news of the death of five people in a helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium in Leicester. One of the dead is said to be the Club's owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Our great friends, The Boltons, are Foxes through and through. They are 'both totally numb.'

It's a bit of a Keyworth themed week, folks. Ironically the first team are down at AFC Dunkirk on Tuesday evening. I say hello to manager Ian Marley and his assistant Sam Ralph before viewing proceedings to the right of the away dugout. The Green Army are under the cosh for the first 20 minutes, before taking a vice-like grip on the game. Things are looking good at 2-1 up at the break.

I'm joined by Sticky junior, Stolly and Sizzers for the second half. A trim-looking 'Tank' (Scott Litchfield) gives a masterclass in the art of finishing as he bags a hat-trick ensuring that Keyworth make it five consecutive League victories in a row.

Thursday is the most exciting day of the week. Today will see the arrival of a brand spanking new cribbage board from the Amazon depot in Bardon Hill, Leicestershire. I follow the tracking on the parcel for most of the day - crikey Moses it's been on the van since 10:am and it's now 6pm. Where the chuffing hell is it? I'm fuming readers. I head up to the Elwes Arms on Oakdale Road for a couple of pints of Guinness to calm down. Ms Moon is all beams and smiles on my arrival back at HQ. The eagle has landed. I'm still quite cross because I wanted to sign the parcel off with the driver; it's my board.

It's Friday evening and I'm flopped out in my armchair after a one-hour demonstration of the software I sell with a customer from the USA. The console of my phone lights up; it's James 'Tosh' Turner the first team manager at the world famous Clifton All Whites. He's holed-up at a wake at a community centre in Clifton. He wants to know if he can jump in for a lift to watch Keyworth United v Wollaton under the lights for some Friday night football.

I drop Ms Moon off up at Mapperley Tops. She's meeting her best friend Jill for a two hour Strongbow sesh in the poshest 'Spoons north of the river. I'm pogoing in the car and banging my head on the roof to 'New Rose' by The Damned as an unsteady Tosh staggers down the road in a 'whistle and flute.' He's had a couple of scoops and appears to be speaking Swahili as 'Relight My Fire' from Lulu belts out of the radio on the Tony Blackburn Golden Hour on Radio 2.

There's a good attendance at the 'Floody Friday' game. There's bad news for Sticky Palms though; half his team have rocked up and are on the sauce. Thank the Lord the 'Keyworth Georgie Best' is piloting tonight. Keyworth cruise to a 7-0 victory following a horror tackle by the Wollaton centre back, which sees the excellent referee Mick Leslie brandish a Red card - the youth is still protesting his innocence half an hour later as I wander back into the bar to check on the state of my gin-swilling star striker.

I'm like an excited little kid on Christmas Eve on Friday night as I toss and turn in bed, restless and excited for the game. Who's taking the free-kicks? What about the corners, both sides? Throw-ins? Penalties? Is it just me?

I drop Ms Moon off in town on Saturday morning as she has an open day at work. I'm mooching down Platt Lane by 11am; a full hour before the agreed departure up to north Notts. Chris and I chew the cud over a cup of tea and discuss tactics, as the lads begin to roll up - two are missing in action (Bingham) and need to be picked up enroute.

'Our Joe' is back from Uni in Leeds for his bro's birthday tomorrow. He travels as a fourth sub in case there's a no-show or late withdrawal. I'm as nervous as hell as we pull into the car park (the lads will be laughing when they read this).

The boys are blasting out the tunes on the Bluetooth speaker in the changing room. I was going to ask if we could listen to Paul Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops on Radio 2. 1967 & 1983 are today's years. I choose to set up the warm-up instead. We have a long chat about any complacency that might be creeping in, as our opposition are lower than us in the table.

I chat to a timid referee and explain we're trying to instil discipline with lads and are working with them on ways to accept decisions when they don't go their way. The first 15 minutes is scrappy and disjointed. We get a foothold in the game and start to play at a tempo we expect. Chances come thick and fast, but the Kirton 'keeper is equal to everything we throw at him. His performance is alien to anything I've seen at this level. I jokingly ask their manager if he's on loan from Mansfield Town.

Chris says not to be too harsh on the lads at the break. He's dead right; we've done everything but score. One and all have given 100% and played for the badge. Anyhow, Sticky doesn't do 0-0s.

The second half is a crazy game of football and not for the faint-hearted. We fanny about with the ball at the back, a clearance is hurried and returned back, wind-assisted from 55 yards, our keeper is caught cold and off his line. I turn away, my stomach churning, as I hear the ball hit the back stanchion and nestle into the net. 'Harby' our 'keeper is concussed and dazed. We make changes, bringing on 'Shirty' as an emergency 'keeper (he's 6ft 6").

These boys never know when they are beaten. We go 3-5-2. Incredibly our 16-year-old sub defender, Ben, puts us on level terms, following a brilliant move from open play. Woody coolly slots home from the spot to maintain our unbeaten run. Kirton are a very welcoming club and are sporting in defeat. I console their tearful 'keeper at the final whistle.

Man of the Match: Kirton 'Keeper

KUFC Man of the Match: Josh Stolworthy