Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bradford Fire Disaster

It's Saturday, 11th May, 1985. Early spring sunshine lights up Rectory Field, in Keyworth, as local rivals 'The Millers' and Plumtree Cricket Club lock horns. I've completed my bowling spell for about the hundredth time up that bloody, steep hill ('The Ashley Road End') that only a madman would volunteer to run in from - I amble rather than run-in if I'm perfectly honest.

I'm grazing down at fine leg and staring out towards the black railings that run along Nottingham Road, which leads you into the village Square. He'll (Dad) be here soon. The first signal of his arrival will be his pacesetting 5-year-old faithful black and white cocker spaniel, Sadie Palmer, with an out-of-breath, mad as a hatter, chain-smoking Frank Palmer following in hot pursuit.

God help you if you bowled a bad ball or had a fielding mishap on Frank's watch. You'd soon be on the end of his razor-sharp, sting-in-the tail wit - even more so if you were his lad. He would grace you with his presence shortly before the tea break, so he could scrutinize the scorebook and verbal volley any underperforming player. His usual beeline would be for me, so he could receive a full report on the afternoon's play and dish out a bollocking or two. Today, there is no sign of him, which is rather strange, and odd, as Saturday is his day off from his job as East Midlands news reporter for the Daily Mirror.

The umpires remove the bails and tea is called. I'm getting quite anxious about Dad's no show. I ask a few spectators of his whereabouts, everyone just shakes their head. I'm pulled to one side by a committee member before I reach the pavilion. I start to shake and tremble when I'm told there has been a fire at Bradford City's Valley Parade ground during their team's Division Three championship title celebration game against my team Lincoln City.

Dad is on the M1 northbound, on his way up to the scene. It's only the second Saturday I can ever remember him working. The previous time was in June 1974 when 28 people were killed in an explosion at a chemical plant in Flixborough, North Lincolnshire.

56 supporters perished in the fire with a further 265 injured; with many of the survivors bearing scars for the rest of their days. It later transpired that the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette end that found its way through a gap in the seats, falling onto some litter that had mounted up under the wooden-roofed stand. What should have been a day of joyous celebrations ended in the saddest day in the Club's history. I attended quite a few Lincoln away games that season and often sat in the home end, to avoid any trouble when exiting the ground. Due to my love of cricket and its camaraderie, I didn't travel that day. Two Lincoln fans lost their lives too. The Imps named the Stacey West Stand after them.

Monday of this week marked 35 years since the fire. I'm alerted to one of the most moving, tragic tales I've ever read. It reduces me to tears. Award-winning ex-Guardian journalist, Daniel Taylor, who now writes for The Athletic, attended St Peter's Primary School, in East Bridgford, as a kid. It's a village close to the town of Newark, in Notts, and is 11 miles east of Nottingham. Taylor had a friend called Martin Fletcher, who had moved into the village from the Bradford area. On that fateful day Martin, his brother, Andrew, dad John, uncle Peter and grandad Eddie, went to the match at Valley Parade to enjoy the celebrations. Only Martin came home.

Martin was wearing a baseball cap at the game. It was said that the thin layer of protection of the hat may have saved his life. Sign up for The Athletic and read the article. It will make you weep and put life into perspective. I've never been to Valley Parade, but hope to in the near future, so I can pay my respects. I was up in Bradford, 12 months later, watching Nottingham Forest play The Bantams in a League Cup tie at their temporary home at the Odsal Stadium, whilst the stand was being rebuilt.

It's Sunday morning. Ms Moon and I are having a mooch about the Marks and Spencer Food Hall on Victoria Retail Park, in Netherfield. This chuffin' shop does some serious damage to my bank balance, particularly in the red wine section. After running up a three-figure bill, I suggest to Ms Moon that some fresh air wouldn't go amiss. The good lady had read, the previous day, on Spotted in Carlton, that there is a conservation area called Netherfield Lagoons that's close by.

It's a nature reserve that is located on the Trent Valley flood plain. It was used by nearby Gedling Colliery to dispose of their coal slurry. It now attracts a number of wildfowl and smaller birds, along with a few twitchers (bird-watchers). It's slightly overcast and a tad blustery as we enjoy an hour's stroll around the lagoons. It was once the property of UK Coal but ownership has since been passed onto Gedling Conservation Trust. I'll be taking a second viewing, as I notice a railway viaduct in the distance that needs further investigation.

I've supped my final three cans of the Neon Raptor popular brew, Dr. Galapagos, a mango milkshake IPA. Left Field Brewery has fired over a mixed case of craft ales, but supplies are running low. I ordered 15x cans from Honest Brew, a company recommended by a work colleague. Having placed the order, I received a further email to say there was a 15x day waiting time on delivery. I fired off a couple of curt (to-the-point) emails expressing my disappointment. I'm hardly filled with confidence when they let it slip that Yodel is their chosen courier.

I book a day off work on Friday. I foolishly bought 5x additional holidays for this year, mistakingly assuming I could tour England and Wales watching cricket and football. I spend the day in the garden digging, planting and pruning. It's a hobby that I've grown to love, which hasn't always been the case.

I rustle up scrambled egg and smoked salmon on toast for brunch on Saturday morning. We jump into the car, make a short journey, crossing the 'Gaza Strip', into Sneinton, before parking up in Lidl on Carlton Rd. We wander around the perimeter of St Anns, a happy hunting ground for Sticky Palms when he scouted for 'The Pies'. We end up on Lower Parliament street which leads us up into the city centre. The first port of call is Trinity Walk, the birthplace of legendary prize-fighter William 'Bendigo' Thompson (you're obsessed with him aren't you Sticky?).

We stroll past Foreman's Punk Bar and what was The Bluebell, one of Frankie Palmer's old haunts. All the old journalists from Central TV and Radio Nottingham used to congregate in there. Dad tipped us off that the landlord had bought a two-year-old racehorse. I must of backed the bloody thing over 10x times without a return on investment.

Eventually, we arrive at The Arboretum on Waverley Street, close to the Commonwealth War Graves in Nottingham City Cemetery. The Arboretum is stunning. It's peaceful and tranquil with the copper beech trees and weeping willows in fine form.

We peg it up Peel Street towards Mansfield Road. I want to prove to Ms Moon that the final plaque of the day isn't just the name of a public house on Bridlesmith Walk. Herbert Kilpin, one of nine children, was born at 129 Mansfield Road and was the son of a butcher. To cut a long story short, he was the founder of Milan (A.C.) Football and Cricket Club and is another one of 'Nottingham's Own.'

Rest in Peace #56

Sunday, May 10, 2020

This is Chilwell

It's February 19th, 1981. Sticky Palms, 'Ackers' and 'Browny' sheepishly walk, heads bowed, into a packed out Shipstones boozer, on Wollaton Street, Nottingham, called the Tap 'n Tumbler. 'Browny' is sent to the bar, as he looks the oldest - I only turned 17 years old two weeks ago. Ackers isn't 17 until August. We neck a few pints of 'Dutch courage' before crossing the road onto Talbot Street, home to the music venue and nightclub Rock City.

The Stranglers are on their Meinblack tour. I loved their first three albums - Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes and Black and White - at a push The Raven, their fourth album, wasn't bad either. I'm ghostly white and a bag of nerves as bouncers frisk clothing and quiz music-goers about their age. I weigh ten stone wet through and am a lanky streak of piss, with a baby face to boot. "Are you 18?" asks Paddy on the door. "No, I'm 19, pal."

The place is mobbed with folk wearing The Stranglers trademark donkey jackets. The beer, Stones bitter, is disgusting but flows freely. The band appears on stage at ten bells precisely. They belt out a couple of tunes before stopping mid-set. A group of undesirables (probs from D***y) have been flobbing (spitting) at lead singer Hugh Cornwell, who quite rightly is none too chuffed. He warns that action will be taken against the next offender.

A few minutes into their next tune on the playlist, 'Hanging Around', a huge sea of phlegm lands on the black leather jacket of Franco-English bass guitarist, Jean-Jacques Burnel. JJ, a blackbelt in karate, throws his instrument to the floor, jumps into the crowd and full-on Jackie Chan karate kicks the perpetrator in the throat. The lad is sparked out in the mosh pit and is carted off to the front doors by Max and Paddy and sent back over the cattle grid.

On May 3rd, 2020, The Stranglers' brilliant keyboard player, Dave Greenfield, passed away, aged 71, another victim taken by CV19 virus. Incredibly, drummer, Jet Black, is still going strong at the ripe old age of 81 years - admittedly he no longer tours with the band.

I'm all excited for the VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations on Friday and have a little treat lined up for Ms Moon. I often ride up the Trent on my bike to Beeston Weir and Beeston Marina. I rarely venture into the town centre. A poster off the NFFC 'Lost That Lovin' Feeling' message board tipped me off about some of the street art that's on display in Beeston. There are also many famous names, in Notts folklore, who have lived in the town, and have blue plaques commemorating their stay.

I'm so excited that I'm wide awake at 4.30am. I toss and turn for an hour or so. Those chuffing pigeons are scurrying up and down the solar panels, cooing and fluttering their feathers. My patience runs thin. I trudge down the stairs, flick on the kettle and make a pot of Yorkshire Tea for one, accompanied by Marmite on toast smothered in melting butter.

I'm dog tired as I stretch out in my armchair. I pick up a book and read a few pages of the life and times of Nottingham legendary prize-fighter 'Bendigo.' I stare out towards the far end of the garden at the beautiful red rose bushes that blossom on the trellis that the Catholic church backs onto. It's time to brighten up the garden. Morrisons and DIY stores on Victoria Retail Park, in Netherfield, will be open now - the early bird catches the worm and all that. Ms Moon pulls back the lounge curtains to find a sea of plants on the patio. I've brought some rhododendrons, clematis, some climbers and bedding plants - that's Saturday afternoon sorted out.

We start our tour of Beeston and Chilwell outside the Victoria Hotel, one of my favourite haunts from the Castle Rock stable. 'The Princess' and I love a Sunday lunchtime roast dinner here after a long walk down the canal and river. Next port of call is Beeston railway station, where a couple of trains have just pulled in. I take a snap of a blue plaque close to the platform.

A five minute walk away is Linden Grove. We chance upon a couple of neighbours chatting at social distance (two metres folks). On the wall, above the doorway, is one of the most impressive plaques I've ever seen. In 1931, Leader of Indian Independence, Mahatma Gandhi, visited his nephew at this very house we are now looking at. The current owners campaigned for a plaque and even named their baby, Josh, in honour of Gandhi's nephew, Joshi.

We take a stroll into Beeston town centre. The murals of fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, Porridge and Rising Damp actor Richard Beckinsale and Northern Soul singer Edwin Starr are impressive. I visited Starr's grave up at Wilford Hill Crematorium, close to Ruddington, with my work pal 'Shifty', one lunchtime. Starr, who had hits such as War and Eye to Eye Contact, died from a heart attack, whilst soaking in the bath at his Beeston home, in 2003, aged 61 years old. There's a mural of 12-year-old Owen Jenkins playing rugby. I often stop off on my bike at Beeston Weir, where he lost his life, in saving another. The memorial makes my spine tingle.

Just down the road, at what looks like an old mill, which are now flats, is a plaque dedicated to my man Bendigo, who retired to this cottage after a lifetime of scrapping and drinking. The book I'm reading about him is bloody brilliant. What a legend he is. There's another plaque of him up Trinity Walk, in Nottingham, where he was born - I'll save that for a rainy day.

I decide to head towards Chilwell, passing a cycling shop which was run by a well-known character called Sid Standard. He died in his 70s after colliding with a tractor. Further up the road is the old Barton's bus depot where T H Barton 'The Guv'nor' worked. The old Keyworth 6 Barton bus has got me out of trouble on countless occasions.

We walk into Chilwell, turning right down Cator Lane. On the school gates is a plaque that remembers old pupil Richard Beckinsale, Lenny Godber off Porridge. He died, tragically, of a heart attack at the young, tender age of 31 years old, leaving a widow, the actress Judy Loe, and two young daughters, Kate and Samantha, who later went on to become fine actresses.

Our final visit of the tour is also a sad and sombre story. On 1st July, 1918, a catastrophic explosion ripped through a shell-filling factory, killing 134 people and injuring a further 250 workers. It was the biggest loss of life from an accidental explosion in the entire First World War. We pay our respects at a cottage where chief engineer and survivor of the blast, Albert Hall, lived.

We walk past The Cadland pub, named after a locally-trained racehorse that won The Derby in 1828. Cadland dead-heated the first race but won a deciding heat with The Colonel by half a length. On what is a poignant day we take in the War Memorial on our way back to the Vic Hotel.

I rest up, slumped in my garden furniture, on the patio, for the rest of the day, sinking a craft ale or two. We were going to support the local chippy, but it closed early. I make my debut on the Deliveroo app and order a Scooby Snack burger from the daddy chain, Five Guys. After all, the Americans formed a massive part of the Allied army, 75 years ago.

I'm on my bike and heading down to the banks of the Trent by 9.30 on Saturday morning. The sun's shining and the skies are clear, as I ride under Gunthorpe Bridge and head out towards the village of Caythorpe. I pass Caythorpe Cricket Club, who were revered and feared in the South Notts Village League back in the early 80s. I made my First XI debut there for my village in 1981. They had two opening batsmen called Eric Screaton and Graham Baguley who put the fear of God into bowlers with their stroke-play. They were both back in the hutch, early doors, as a fearless, cocky, lanky 17-year-old streak of piss trundled in from the Road End.

I get chatting to the landlady at The Black Horse Inn, on Main Street, in the village. She expects to be open for social-distance drinking by August. The next village, Hoveringham, is another beauty too, folks. I cycle up past The Reindeer and onto the cricket ground. The Club were left £250,000 in a will by a former President and player, back in 2018. What a lovely, heart-warming story.

My memories of playing here are fairly bleak, particularly on May 4th, 1991. It was a hot day, the heat was stifling and sapped your energy; certainly not a day to be fielding first. Keyworth CC 2nd XI rolled into town after enjoying pre-match 'liquid refreshments' in The Reindeer. Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest were playing one another in the FA Cup final. All the lads were desperate to watch the game, in the pub, which you could if you batted first.

I walked out to the wicket to spin up with the opposition skipper, with strict instructions from the lads to bat first, so some could watch the game. I didn't like the look of the wicket; the ball always seemed to stay low and shoot through. On my return to the changing room, I informed the lads that we'd be fielding first. "You t**t Sticky, you lost the toss didn't you?" I replied, "No lads, I won it." Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day.

Man of the Match: Lenny Godber.

Footnote: Roger Milford, who looked in the mirror more times than Billy Davies, gave the weakest refereeing performance ever seen at Wembley Stadium. A game that's remembered for Paul Gascoigne being stretchered off in tears and not for the serious foul play he committed on the pitch.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

This Is Leicester

It's Boxing Day 2015. Ms Moon and I are driving over Lady Bay Bridge, in the Land Rover Freelander, towards 'Trumpy Towers', in the village of Keyworth. Leicester City are having the season of their lives and are two points clear of 'The Arsenal' at the top of the Premier League table, after a 3-2 win at Everton's Goodison Park.

A ruddy-faced man, wearing a tangerine Slazenger T-shirt, emerges from his front door with a lady in toe. I recognise her to be none other than Mrs Trumpy Bolton; dare I say it, an even more die-hard Foxes fan than her hubby - and she was born in Leicester too.

Today will be my 76th new ground. In over 40 years of watching football, I haven't managed to tick-off Anfield. It's not often Lincoln City play there, although my dad watched the Imps, stood on the Kop, win 2-1, in the 1950s, whilst he was a reporter on the Liverpool Echo.

'Stan Flashman' has come up with the goods again - somehow getting tickets for another big game, that was sold out weeks ago. The blog legend has already supped three cans at the 'breakfast table' and is now grimacing as he untwists a bottle top off his trusty litre of cider. He spits his dummy out as Ms Moon sails past a 'Spoons in West Derby on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre.

Bolton sniffs a pub out on Anfield Road. He zig-zags his way through the crowded bar like 24-year-old Algerian mercurial wing wizard, Riyad Mahrez. He shouts up four drinks to a miserable old bat of a landlady, who looks like Shane McGowan's mum. I down a couple of pints of Guinness at The Flat Iron pub, just down the road, as Trumpy Moonstomps to 'Nite Klub', by The Specials, that's blasting out of the jukebox speakers. We make a sharp exit to the ground after Ms Moon discovers a floating fingernail in her glass of Coca Cola.

Leicester City are unable to cope with a star-studded Reds' midfield. The Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho, a snip at £8.5 million from Inter Milan, runs rings around them, finding small pockets of space to thread his passes through. Too many Foxes are having an off day. N'Golo Kante and Mahrez rise above the mediocrity. They are the bargain buys of the season at £5.6 million and £350,000 (€450,000) respectively.

Jamie Vardy, running on half-empty and nursing a groin strain, is well shackled by the Liverpool defence. They barely have a shot on target. The visiting fans are angry with their team's performance. Expectations and targets are set higher than I'd imagined. The truth is though, that an injury-ravaged Liverpool are in 9th position and were there for the taking.

Four years later, and almost to the day since the Foxes won the Premier League title in 2015, I'm sat in my armchair, flicking through a book of Jonathan Northcroft's brilliant account of that season. It's called Fearless. Northcroft pens a number of incredible anecdotes in his book. Crewe Alexandra had Vardy watched nine times by their chief scout whilst he was playing up on the Pennines in the Northern Premier League  at Stocksbridge Steels, in South Yorkshire. They had him in on trial at Gresty Road for a few weeks, whilst Dario Gradi was on sick leave and former Stoke City and Notts County manager Gudjon Thordarson was in the hot seat. Vardy was shoved out on the right-wing and failed to impress the Icelandic.

Mahrez's story is even more remarkable. After hovering around lower league football in France, he found himself on trial at St Mirren, up in Paisley, Scotland. Seven goals in four reserve team outings wasn't enough to convince dithering management to award the Algerian a contract. He packed his bags, upped sticks and returned back home to France.

It's Thursday evening and I've worked throughout the day, making calls and attending demonstrations of our software. I pack my laptop away, rummage around in the shoe cupboard for the faithful old black and white striped Adidas trainers, before sliding open the French window door and heading up towards Carlton Hill.

I shed a tear as I turn right onto Standhill Rd; walking past a deserted Brickyard pub, one of my favourite Lincoln Green hostelries. I end up on Porchester Road and slog it up to Woodborough Road, passing The Punch Bowl and the old Mapperley Hospital. I remember playing an Evening League game for Keyworth Cricket Club, as a 17-year-old, in 1981. It was an old psychiatric hospital. The patients were often allowed to wander around the grounds, unattended, and mingle with spectators and players. I would have a chat with some poor sod recovering from a nervous breakdown, whilst I was grazing down at fine leg. His angst and anxiety would increase after seeing me bowl an over of utter filth.

I find myself walking down a place called Private Road, in Mapperley Park - it's Millionaires' Row. It leads me onto Mansfield Road. Just up the road is Carrington, where The Gladstone Inn is housed. I could kill a pint of real ale right now. The last time I sunk one was when Boris Johnson announced on Friday, March 20th, at 5pm, that all licensed premises were to close from midnight, until further notice.

I make a right-hand turn and walk up over Sherwood Rise, a hipster area of Nottingham, that has appeared on the trendy Channel 4 show Location, Location, Location. I'm not knocking it, mind yer, as it has a few nice bars and restaurants including Ginza, a first-class Japanese eatery. We had an epic Ergo Computing Christmas Party there back in 2003. It resulted in Keyworth United legendary 'keeper and good pal 'Barthez' getting a shiny, black eye, as the party spilled over to Ritzy, on Upper Parliament Street, where a Christmas reveller didn't enter into the festive spirit.

I'm winging it by now, and don't have a clue how to get home, as a few filthy black clouds blow in from D***y way. I stroll up a path adjacent to Woodthorpe Park. The pitch and putt course is in a state of disrepair. I join the road on Woodthorpe Drive and pass a place called Breck Hill Park where Carlton Town FC junior teams play. I close my eyes and visualize a seven-year-old Joe Palmer floating a last-minute free-kick, over a wall and into the roof of the net, to win the 2005 Carlton Tournament. I was stand-in coach that day and was helped by former Tranmere Rovers and Millwall forward Chris Malkin, whose lad, Joseph, is causing quite a stir at Non-League Nantwich Town.

I'm on a deserted Mapperley Plains. Those rolling black clouds have emptied its load, causing a torrential downpour. I've forgotten my golfing umbrella that Keebo lent me. I'm cussing, cursing and blowing a gasket, as I peg it down Westdale Lane, wearing jeans that weigh like lead. I smell like an old, wet dog on my return home - stripping to my pants and slumping into an armchair like Jim Royle off the BBC sitcom The Royle Family.

Friday night is spent up in the bedroom (steady readers) it's the two weekly Baker Cup Quiz with the lads I go abroad 'golfing' with every year. It's a 'good walk spoilt' for the lads but has helped me enjoy spots in Majorca, Lisbon and Budapest over the years. I'm crap at the quiz but enjoy the craic and a couple of stiff gins. Thanks to Wayne, up in the Toon, for sorting.

There's a commotion during the quiz, which sees me dashing downstairs and into the lounge. Ms Moon's jaw has dropped and she looks like she's seen a ghost. Turns out Yasmeen, sick to the back teeth of the verbal abuse from Geoff, on Corrie, has shanked him up in the jugular. The bloke's 'brown bread.' An easy case for Greater Manchester Police to solve. If not, Street favourite, Norris Cole, will grass him up.

Man of the Match: Ginza, in Sherwood and 'The Tinkerman' (swapped his full-backs and won the Premier League)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

This is Beeston

It's Saturday, April 25th, 2015. I'm driving the 'Rolls Royce' up through the hills of Lancashire towards the old mill town of Burnley, and more importantly Turf Moor, a ground steeped in footballing history. My partner in crime, Trumpy Bolton, is riding shotgun and swigging on a litre bottle of liquid that can only be described as a 'Molotov Cocktail' - a mixture of cider and WKD; it looks like screen wash.

Trumpy's beloved Leicester City are performing the 'Great Escape' after being anchored in the nether regions of the Premier League table for most of the season. Today is another six-pointer against the Clarets, who sit in 20th position. The Foxes have only been allocated 2469 tickets. Don't ask me how, but our man Bolton has managed to secure a couple of them off Stan Flashman, which are like gold dust and selling for extortionate prices on the black market.

Lunch is spent holed-up at Jimmy Anderson's Burnley Cricket Club, along with 800 visiting supporters, who have the tills ringing and singing. I rub my eyes in disbelief when two umpires appear from the pavilion, placing bails onto the stumps at both ends of the wicket. It's the first day of the Lancashire League season. 800 beer-fuelled lads and lasses cheer a bowler in, off a longer run-up than Dennis Lillee. The nervous batsman, shuffling in his crease, is a jibbering wreck. He chips a ball straight to mid-off, where a catch is snaffled up by the fielder. A disconsolate batsman trudges off to back to the pavilion, with the Leicester faithful, in unison, belting out 'cheerio, cheerio cheerio.'

The game (Burnley v Leicester) is on a knife-edge, with no quarter given, when on the hour Burnley are awarded a penalty after a reckless and needless tackle by Paul Konchesky. The experienced Matt Taylor steps up to take the spot-kick, despite not having done so for over five years. To the crowd's astonishment, Taylor loses his footing, before scuffing his penalty, which smacks the outside of the post, going out for a goal kick.

Trumpy and I are dancing and hugging one another as seconds later, Marc Albrighton, one of the greatest Bosman signings in Premier League history, is in space down the right-hand side. Unsung hero Albrighton eats up the ground and delivers a cross to die for. An exhausted Jamie Vardy, who has sprinted 80 yards down the pitch, bundles the ball into the back of the net, off his knee.

I'm reminded of this five years to the day, not just on a Facebook memory, with Trumpy and Sticky wearing 'Foxes are Fearless' T-Shirts, but also a recent Kindle book download, of a diary of the season after, when they astounded the footballing world, claiming the Premier League title at odds of 5000/1. The book is called Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City, The Greatest Miracle in Sports History, brilliantly captured and researched by acclaimed Scottish journalist Jonathan Northcroft. It's a riveting read and a steal at £1.99 on Kindle.

We've been in lockdown for over 30 days. I try to remain chipper and positive. With deaths approaching 20,000, many have been less fortunate. Families are having to cope with loss and bereavement; unable to attend funerals in some cases. I feel sad and so sorry for folk in this awful period of time.

I get into the routine of daily exercise after work. Getting on the bike or heading out for a walk is good for the heart, soul and mind. It's no coincidence, with little pollution in the skies or emissions from traffic, that the weather has been wall to wall sunshine.

It's Thursday evening and I'm cycling down Burton Road. I cross over at the lights on the A612 Southwell Road, close to Carlton Town's ground, and onto Stoke Lane. The last time I was here the car broke down after an eight-goal thriller between Real United and the world-famous Clifton All Whites. A dog walker got us out of the mire that evening, towing us back to Colwick where we lived at the time.

It's baking hot as I swing by the tranquil village of Stoke Bardolph (population 170) where I spent many a season, back in the 1980s, pitting my wits against Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph CC whilst 'turning my arm over' for Keyworth Cricket Club. They had a hot-headed all-rounder called Anthony Cockayne. He was a hard-hitting batsman and a 'quicky' with a temper to match. The Millers of Keyworth were the kings of banter and sledging, often having Cockayne 'on strings' and off with a strop.

I cycle past the old ground, have and a shufty about the village, admiring the defibrillator in the old red telephone box. Further up the road is Gedling FC's ground and the Ferry Boat Inn, a scruffy Hungry Horse pub, that's dying on its backside. I notice a footpath on the corner, adjacent to Burton Joyce Football Club. It's one for the notebook for Ms. Moon and me to explore on Sunday morning, as the weather forecast is set fair once more.

I find a distraught Ms. Moon in tears on Friday evening. I hug and console her, unaware of what has caused this meltdown. I fetch a box of tissues and gently wipe away the tears before she noisily blows her nose. It turns out she's been reading one of those rubbish TV chat magazines who are saying (pray to God) that ITV are running out of episodes of Emmerdale Farm and Coronation Street due to CV19. I start fist-pumping and do a Michael Flatley River Dance on the lounge floor - the good lady is unimpressed.

I'm up and at 'em on Saturday morning. I cycle down to Trent Bridge, again, as the sun begins to peep out from the light, white fluffy clouds. I shout 'You Reds' to Plumtree Cricket Club supremo, Mark Oldham, as he enjoys the fag end of an early morning stroll along the banks of the Trent - no mist rolling in, mind yer.

I join the Nottingham ring road, close to Clifton Bridge, which has planned, staged closures for the next nine months, that everyone in Notts was up in arms about; complaining and bleating about it on social media. But it's now fallen under the radar. I turn off onto a track that takes me past Dunkirk FC and the Michelin two-star, Restaurant Sat Bains - he's from D***y, so I had to suck it up on my one and only visit. Thankfully lamb wasn't on the menu.

I pedal on a path, adjacent to Grove Farm, with its empty football pitches. The River Trent is to my left, it looks so inviting and the water still on a day like today. Sadly it's not the case, as only half a mile or so up the river is laid a tribute to 12-year-old 'gentle giant' Owen Jenkins, who sacrificed his own life to save another at Beeston Weir. I always unsaddle here and pay my respects to this young, brave, selfless child, who lost his life trying to save a friend, who got into difficulty in the water, back in July 2017.

I ride through Beeston Marina. Normally I'd slope off for a pint in the beer garden at one of my favourite haunts, the Victoria Hotel. Beeston has a couple of other decent boozers too: the Crown Inn and The Star Inn. There are one or two famous folk from the town too: Van Der Valk actor Barry Foster, fashion designer Paul Smith (cracking taproom in one of his old shops on Byard Lane in Nottingham), Motown and Northern Soul singer Edwin Starr, sadly passed away in the bath, at his home in Beeston, in 2003, aged 61 years old. Porridge and Rising Damp actor Richard Beckinsale who tragically died at the young age of 31 years old, in 1977, lived in the town.

I continue my bike ride up to Attenborough Nature Reserve, completing a circular route before the return journey home. I stop outside the back of the Trent End at The City Ground for a much-needed thirst-quenching drink. I see a chocolate-coloured spaniel enter the water to chase some ducks. The owner is frantic with worry as 'Gemma' (the dog, not the owner) doggy paddles halfway across the river. It's relief to see her swim back to shore after 15 minutes of play-time.

Man of the Match: 12-year-old Owen Jenkins. A legend never to be forgotten.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Carlton to Castle Marina

An email hits my inbox from Sticky's favourite craft ale brewer, Neon Raptor, who are based in Sneinton, two miles from my crib. I rub my hands with glee, get all excited and do a little jig. Five minutes later Ms Moon waltzes into the lounge to find me in a flood of tears. She passes me a box of recycled Marks and Spencer tissues, they are as coarse as sandpaper and make my nose bleed. I suggest she'd be better off fetching the mop and bucket from out of the garage, as I've proper cried me a river.

Tears dry up and my mood quickly switches to anger. The email contained bad news, folks. It said "We have stopped production of beer, and have no available or planned beer due to COVID-19." I have to act fast as my stash is running low; almost empty. I source 10x cans of Doctor Galapagos mango milkshake and 10x cans of Liquid Zoo from Left Field Beer in Birmingham. I pay a king's ransom for my booty, but it's worth every penny, as on the black market some of Neon Raptor's beers are going for a ridiculous £7.50 per can. I tip off two mates: 'Dog' and Alex.

Apart from an early wobble on Monday morning, my performances on Ken Bruce's PopMaster are much improved, and averaging around the 21 mark. Ms Moon beat me twice on Monday. I make excuses and say I was concentrating on work. I have a Sam Smith strop on. Deep down inside, I'm seething folks. I don't speak to 'The Princess' until an hour into Steve Wright in the Afternoon - sore loser or what?

It's Thursday teatime and it's been a gorgeous sunny day. I saddle up on my Boneshaker bike and head out to Netherfield before jumping onto the Colwick Loop Road. I cross over Lady Bay Bridge and turn off down some steps that lead me onto the banks of the River Trent. I stop outside the Trent End, at The City Ground, gazing and reading the messages on personalised bricks and stones on the 150th Anniversary Wall. Some are heart-wrenchingly sad, as loved ones, who devoted their lives to the Tricky Trees, have passed away.

I reminisce about some of the games I saw in the Trent End, back in the late 70s, when supporters were treated like cattle; crammed in and fenced in. I was a big (still am) Lincoln City fan at the time and was green with envy at my schoolmates revelling and soaking up Forest's unexpected success. I was ridiculed for supporting my hometown team, who were turning heads and breaking records in Division 4, under the stewardship of rookie manager Graham Taylor.

I used to jump onto the Barton Keyworth 6 bus and join my mate, Ackers, in the Trent End. I was mesmerised, spellbound and obsessive about dumpy winger John Robertson, who I'd seen struggling for form under the previous manager Allan Brown, a dour Scotsman. I loved wingers and he was the best left-sided player I'd ever clapped eyes on. He hugged the touchline and the ball stuck to his boots like glue. Two-footed, he could cross the ball onto a sixpence. To this day, I still couldn't tell you what his stronger foot was (the same with Stanley Victor Collymore). He used to terrorise Aston Villa full-back John Gidman. His jinking, dazzling dribbling skills left many a full-back feeling dizzy and sat on their backside.

I fell in love with the second side Clough built. I can hear the roar now as Stuart Pearce emerged from the tunnel, running straight to the crowd, who are chanting "PSYCHO, PSYCHO PSYCHO" as he flexes his muscles and clenches his fists. A hushed tone would then descend on The City Ground, as the crowd waited with bated breath for one of the greatest managers of all-time to appear, resplendent in his trademark green sweatshirt; always giving the lads and lasses the thumbs-up - it sends shivers down my spine, just now, thinking about it, as I cycle down the banks of the Trent, past the Nottingham Boat Club, a venue where I saw The Associates, Orange Juice and Bow Wow Wow play back in the early 80s for £2.50 per ticket.

Talking of music, I can hear some toons blasting out from a barge that's moored up adjacent to Nottinghamshire County Hall. A guy is basking in the late evening sunshine on the roof of his boat. He looks a rum 'un and so does his Heinz 57 variety snarling dog. He plays a decent set though, including 'Would You?" (Go to Bed with me) by Touch and Go and a Traveling Wilburys track.

I head over a suspension bridge and pay my respects at the Victoria Embankment War Memorial. The Great War Memorial names the 13,482 people individually who died from Nottinghamshire during the First World War. It was opened on 28th June 2019, 100 years to the day since the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

I pass Notts County's famous old Meadow Lane ground. A sign on County Road says their next game is against Harrogate Town. Lord knows when that will be. When we moved from Lincoln in the late 60s, Dad took us to both Forest and the Magpies. Secretly, I know he was chuffed to bits that my brother and I chose to support Lincoln City. But we both enjoyed our trips to two clubs separated only by a river.

Wily old Scotsman, Jimmy Sirrel, was putting down his marker as a shrewd spotter of talent when I first started watching Notts. Jimmy loved a winger and had a great scouting network North of the Border too. Stevie Carter and Ian Scanlon were the two on the flanks at the time. I remember, once, when we got free tickets, through school, to watch County v Sheffield Wed in 1974. Little were we to know that history was to be made that day. Mercurial and eccentric Scottish winger, Scanlon, scored a hat-trick in 165 seconds. My Dad, a reporter on the Daily Mirror, covered a story about Scanlon years later when he made false claims to have inherited a large fortune. He disappeared back up north, seeing his days out at Aberdeen and St Mirren. That day, though, stood with Dad on the Spion Kop, with its quirky scoreboard, is etched in the memory forever.

I enjoy a few hours of football quizzing and drinking copious amounts of beer and gin on Friday evening as I Microsoft Team-up with some friends that I've known for over 30 years or more. I struggle with the quiz, as the gin kicks in, but love the craic with the lads, who I miss dearly. Well done Bobby.

I'm back on the bike on Saturday morning, after a couple of rounds of cheese on toast for brekky. I pedal up Gedling Road, past The Gedling Inn, and turn right at the roundabout, which the All Hallows Church towers above. I noticed a cycle track sign to Burton Joyce the other day, whilst we were on our daily walk. I ride up to the back of Carlton le-Willows School. I clock a new state of the art 3G pitch  - Sticky doesn't do 3G folks and it cost £1 million to build too .. Wow!

I have to slam the anchors on when I reach a barrier with a no entry sign plonked on it - they are building a new Gedling Access Road that will link the B684 on Mapperley Plains and A612 Nottingham Road. Disappointed, I head back and chance upon a dog walker squeezing through a gate at Gedling House Woods and Meadows. He advises me to ride through the woods and says it should bring me out onto the road near Burton Joyce. It's like a scene from Last of the Summer Wine as I take a tumble from my bike on two separate occasions over dead tree stumps. I've been in these woods for chuffing ages now, it's like a scene from The Blair Witch Project. Crikey Moses, I don't believe it, everywhere is sealed off because of that bloody access road. I trudge back to where I started from, past the startled dog walker, who I blank as the red mist descends upon me.

I reach Burton Joyce without further incident(s). You'd need some serious lolly to live amongst its 3500 residents. No pub really takes my fancy. Gavin and Stacy actor, Matthew Horne, who's from the village', was 'struck by a train' on the crossings, as he stumbled out of the nearby Lord Nelson, in December 2018, after a few too many cans of Shandy Bass. I have a mooch about the place, but there's not much to report apart from a queue at the Co-op and a nice church on the main road, whose view is blocked by a huge Cedar tree.

I pull open the curtains at the crack of 8.30 a.m. on Sunday morning, shower, shave and grab a couple of apples and head out towards Carlton Hill. There's the odd jogger or elderly gentlemen returning from a newsagent with Sunday papers tucked under their arms. There are no queues at hand car washes or the humming of bus engines at the Nottingham City Transport depot.

I blank the Neon Raptor Taproom as I swing a left onto Pennyfoot Street as there's a blue plaque I'd like to see. In 1961, Stewart Adams, OBE, was part of the Boots team who developed the painkiller Ibuprofen. It's now one of the world's best selling drugs and another reason why Nottingham folk should be proud of where they're from.

I continue onto London Road and drop down some steps, close to a Premier Inn, that lead me onto the canal towpath. I peer enviously at folks eating breakfast on sun-soaked balconies that dwarf the water. I head towards the Waterfront, where last weekend pubs should have been packed to the rafters, with revellers basking in the Easter Bank Holiday sunshine. Today, apart from the odd jogger, cyclist or pigeon, you can hear a pin drop.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, all the Non-League managers, players, supporters and characters, who I have grown to love over the last 15 years, can meet down here for a few scoops or two.

Man of the Match: No man of the match, but I can't get out of my head that nearly 14,000 people, from our county, lost their lives in the First World War.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This is Nottingham

It's over four weeks since I last saw a game of football - it's coincided with the last time I put any fuel in the 'Rolls Royce' too. That day, Trumpy Bolton drank 'The Potteries' of Stoke-on-Trent high and dry of real ale, cider and Newcastle Brown Ale. Little was he to know that he would spend 23 consecutive days without a sniff of alcohol, due to the Coronavirus pandemic that's sweeping the world.

It's been a testing time back at the ranch. Ms Moon announced that she has been granted permission to work from home for the foreseeable. We've been swapping rooms and floors in an effort to set up a routine during these surreal times. I point out that Loose Women isn't an option.

The good lady goes for her 'one hour exercise' at close of play, wandering up to the Wimpey estate at the back of Carlton Rec. On her return, she watches the re-run of Tipping Point. As soon as I hear the theme music strike up, I'm up like a shot and scuttling down the back passage. Ben Shephard must have thought he'd died and gone to heaven when he got offered that gig. The contestants are as thick as two short planks. Some of the answers they give beggar belief. Hannah from Wales was asked which Welsh boxer won BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2007? "I know this one Ben, is it Barry McGuigan?"

I've cycled to Colwick Country Park a few times this week; it's beautiful, tranquil and just a stone's throw away from Nottingham's inner city. I usually pedal down into Carlton Square and head towards Netherfield (another place that is growing on me after a mooch around the other day). I take a right-hand turn, just before the railway crossing, past the Fox and Hounds public house, which still remains unticked off (one or two of the lads in there are rum 'uns). The road leads you onto a track that runs parallel to the Nottingham to Lincoln railway line. You cross the railway bridge and cycle up Vale Road, past The Vale Social Club (unticked) and before you know it you're in Colwick Park.

It always saddens me, when I see fresh flowers tied to a barrier, close to a pedestrian crossing. It's a reminder of the tragic passing of a teenage cyclist, knocked off his bike, on his way to school, in 2012. A skate park was built in his memory. A solitary skateboarder negotiates the circuit as I ride by, looking out onto a deserted Colwick Recreation Ground, where as many as three full-sized football pitches were played on every Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, back in the day.

Colwick Country Park was opened to the general public in 1978, but the estate dates back to 1362. The park covers off 250 acres and is an easy, flat cycle ride, with views of the River Trent and two large lakes. By the time I arrive back at HQ, folks, I'm fagged out. It was my first cycle out, this season. I collapse into a garden chair gasping for air and water.

I can report there has been little improvement in Ms Moon's TV viewing schedule. I sit reading and weeping as Masterchef and Celebrity Great British Bake-off hit our screens. I'm compensated with part three of the excellent The Nest, a drama set in Glasgow; another of Sticky's favourite cities. I had the mother-of-all benders, there, with my boss a few years ago.

TV viewing plummets to an all-time low on Thursday evening. A moody and grouchy Ms Moon has already got the hump due to the lack of Emmerdale Farm on our screens this week (last time that happened was the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 -  also a harrowing time for blog regular the 'Big Man', as T-Bone steaks were withdrawn from pub menus). 'The Princess' flicks on Top of the Pops 2. Nicky Campbell, complete with an 80s mullet, is compering the show.

Anyone who waxes lyrical or gets all misty-eyed about how good music was in this decade has completely forgotten about 1989. Jason Donovan, Monie Love and Fuzzbox see the red mist descend upon Sticky Palms, as he sinks further into his armchair. Nicky Campbell scores a late consolation goal with 'this week's number one" - 'Back to Life' by Soul to Soul. I bury my head into 'Test Match Special Diary', for the rest of the evening, still aghast and raging at what I've just seen - including Campbell's mullet.

It's Good Friday, a day that, traditionally, I spend with blog superstar Trumpy Bolton. They'll be no early start in a 'Spoons, oop north, for us today, as football is the last thing on anyone's mind right now - apart from dysfunctional, bleating groundhoppers, crying out for the Non-League season to be completed, whilst the UK is about to announce over 10,000 deaths from CV19.

There's a farcical start to the day as we make the foolish decision to head down to the Netherfield Victoria Retail Park. The queue at Marks and Spencer Food Hall snakes around the edge of the car park. I take a wander up to Morrisons to see if they have any decent plants for sale in their gardening section at the front of the store - they haven't, and it's a bit early for bedding plants, as a couple of frosts can soon see them off.

Ms Moon is making steady progress in the queue, but I'm not hanging about. I peg it back home through Netherfield. The good lady arrives back with four bags of shopping, including a nice bottle of Red from Argentina. I clocked some shrubs outside Lidl at the bottom of Sneinton, t'other day, on one of my many walks.

Ms Moon chauffeurs me down Carlton Road. The queues are ridiculous. I want to show Ms Moon the wonderful Promenade I discovered last week and St Mary's Rest Garden, where Nottingham boxing legend William 'Bendigo' Thompson is buried. The good lady is mightily impressed. We continue our walk into town - what a depressing sight it is. There's no hustle and bustle of shoppers or chinking of glasses and singing coming from pubs and bars - the place is deserted and empty. I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.

En route to the car we pass a place of worship (Neon Raptor Tap Room) I may have mentioned this establishment somewhat before. For a gag, Ms Moon videos me crying into tissues that the pub is shut and the gates are padlocked, whilst playing Missing You by John Waite (no relation to Terry).

I'm up at the crack of 8 o'clock on Saturday morning. I rustle up scrambled eggs on toast. I jump on the bike and pedal like Chris Boardman (more like Stan) down Netherfield and onto the Colwick Road past the Starting Gate pub and onto a track that runs adjacent to the A6011. Before I know it I'm entering the final furlong, on the rails at Nottingham Racecourse. There's no horse running to place a bet on, and even worse than that, I'm locked in, and unable to gain access back onto Colwick Road. I throw the bike over an eight-foot padlocked gate and clamber over it, comedy style.

I cycle past Notts County's Meadow Lane ground and stop to look at the statue of their legendary manager Jimmy Sirrel and his sidekick Jack Wheeler. I scouted at the Academy and youth team level for a few years, and people often ask me who's the one that got away?

It was a poisonous, toxic atmosphere. during my time on the periphery at the Club (you could have written a book). I was keen to scout the Non-League for them, but a succession of chief scouts showed very little interest, preferring, instead, to sign the tired legs of 32-year-old journeymen on two-year contracts that contributed towards the Club's demise. Owner, Ray Trew, appointed a guy called Matt Alexander as head of recruitment - Matt's Dad, Keith Alexander, was ex-manager at Lincoln City, where Trew had previously been a Director.  I tipped off Alexander about a forward called Lee Gregory, who I had watched a few times in the Non-League. He went onto captain Millwall and is currently at Stoke City. It was too left-field thinking for Notts County and was never followed up by their dinosaur scouting department. I could mention Andre Gray, but that's another story.

I cycle over Trent Bridge, which is currently being re-painted. It seems a long time ago since the folk of Nottingham were raging at being stuck in gridlocked traffic on it's three main bridges. I head down to Holme Pierrepont (the artist previously known as the National Water Sports Centre). I up the gears around the rowing course as the sun shimmers off the water. I arrive home two hours after I left, refreshed and ready to attack the day.

Man of the Match: Ben Shephard