Monday, June 10, 2019

2019/2020 Groundhopping Itinerary

Abbey Hulton Utd, Appleby Frodingham, Avro, Barrow AFC, Bacup Borough, Bewdley Town, Burgess Hill Town, Campion FC, Coventry Copsewood, Dodworth Miners' Welfare, Droitwich Spa, Dulwich Hamlet, Esh Winning, Hilton Harriers, Kendal Town, Long Buckby AFC, Needham Market FC,  Padiham, Portsmouth, Prescot Cables, Ramsbottom Utd, Racing Club Warwick, Rushden and Higham Utd, Rylands, Saffron Walden Town, Shildon, Silsden AFC, Smethwick Rangers, Soham Town Rangers, South Shields, St Albans City, Stoney Middleton, Stourport Swifts, Sunderland, Thame United, Tow Law Town, Wednesbury and Woking.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Newark Flowserve 0-0 Clifton All Whites

'So, Sticky, why did you leave Keyworth United when the Development team was playing so well?' This is a question I've had to bat-off when asked by so many people I've bumped into in the last few months. It certainly wasn't results related - we were on a six-match unbeaten run at the time. In my final two games at the helm, we beat League leaders Ruddington Village 3-1, on their own patch, and knocked out top three side Stapleford Town in the League Cup, 5-3, after being 3-1 down with 25 minutes remaining, to reach the semi-finals.

Behind the scenes it was utter chaos. I will never be controlled or allow others to pick MY side for me. It became clear that I was unable to 'work' under these conditions and felt it best to leave, rather than to let it fester. I resigned 24 hours before the Newark Flowserve game, on the condition that the lads weren't told until after the match. I had a great relationship with First Team Manager Ian Marley and wish him well for the future. It has broken my heart to see the lads lose 5 games out of the last 6 since my departure. They gave their all and played for the badge in every game I managed. But I will leave the team in the hands of those who know best.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm driving down Burton Road in Carlton. I turn onto Gedling Road, before taking a left-hand turn onto Westdale Lane East. I've been tipped the wink by Ms Moon's best mate, Jill, that 'Phil's Plaice' is the best chippy in the vicinity. It's up against some stiff competition: Oceans, Plains' Fish Bar and the Carlton Fryer have passed previous scrutiny with flying colours.

The staff behind the counter are so friendly. We discuss Line of Duty (not a Scooby Doo, need to binge watch from series one) whilst a fresh haddock fries in the spitting hot oil. It's £5.15 for a fish 'n chip special - a tad on the pricey side. I wolf it down on a nearby cul-de-sac. It's marked with an 8 out of 10. We'll have a re-visit for kebab meat and chips after a night on the sauce in Nottingham.

Also on tonight's menu is an under 21 Champions League final, at AFC Mansfield, in Forest Town, between Southwell City and an unbeaten Handsworth Parramore, from Sheffield, where blog legend budgie, Murphy Palmer, was born. I coached against their under 19 side a few years ago - they were a horrible lot. Southwell defend stoically and catch Parramore out on the counterattack to take the lead, and again shortly after with a cracking finish to make it 2-0. The South Yorkshire team let themselves down and are reduced to ten men when some Muppet tells the ref to eff off. They pull a goal back and throw caution to the wind, only to be caught out again. Southwell, at the end of the game, get into a huddle and loudly sing 'Championy'

Wednesday night is to be my penultimate game of a stop-start season, due to coaching from October until the end of February. I drive across the top of the A52, out Ashbourne way, towards the Staffordshire town of Leek. There's a Northern Premier League Division One West playoff game between Leek Town and little old Colne FC from up in the hills of East Lancashire. Ms Moon and I love Colne; their manager Steve Cunningham is a passionate man, who is devoted to the beautiful game.

I chance across a pub called the White Lion, which is adjacent to Harrison Park, the home of Leek Town. The pub advertises homemade pub grub; a unique selling point in an area full of soulless Marston's pubs with mass-produced food and zero atmosphere.

Colne Manager, Steve Cunningham, is tucked away in the corner of the pub having some pre-match tucker. I would have said hello, but he's with some staff/committee members, with his mind firmly fixed on the game. The chit-chat is only of football. He tries to remain calm, chilled and relaxed, but inside his stomach will be churning with butterflies. The landlord of the pub very kindly allows me to leave my car at the pub. I say thanks to him as he patrols the car park, preventing fans from dumping their vehicles there - "the food was superb by the way mate." 

Harrison Park is a classic old school ground. I do a full circuit, passing the cheery, visiting fans who have made the 140 mile round trip from Lancashire on a school night. I take a pew in the stand with a bird's eye view of proceedings. I really want Colne win. I've seen them lots of times and like the way they play the game on the deck.

The Leek Town DJ, wins hands down PA Man of the Year. He plays a complete Northern Soul set, not seen since Wigan Athletic v Nottingham Forest back in 2013. Colne concede within 15 minutes to a well-worked goal. They always look a threat with 20-year-old striker Alex Curran leading the line. They equalise on 35 minutes with a rocket of a left-foot shot from Reece Webb-Foster and have another goal chalked off for offside.

We draw for breath at half-time and enjoy some more toe-tapping keep the faith Northern Soul. Colne continue to play the better football and have another goal disallowed which looks harsh on first viewing. It's starting to get chilly as the ref blows on 90 minutes. In extra time Colne are out on their feet, having played out a Lancashire Cup Final 48 hours earlier. They have already been reduced to ten men after an alleged elbow.

The most extraordinary incident happens with seconds remaining. A Leek corner comes sailing in from the right, it's headed goalwards, Colne 'keeper Hakan Burton makes a spectacular save, only to see the rebound fired home by super sub Michael 'he scores goals' Grice. Steve Cunningham is on his haunches and totally devastated. An idiotic Leek fan jumps the advertising hoardings and races up the pitch to confront the visiting supporters. He's pushed to the ground by a Colne player, who is shown a straight Red card by the referee. It's an astonishing end to a captivating evening of entertainment with passion showed by both teams. I'm gutted for Cunningham, who seems a genuinely nice guy.

Friday night soon comes around, and boy oh boy am I looking forward to a long weekend before spending three days holed-up at a Hilton Hotel, in Dunblane, for a sales conference. I have a quick pint of Rattlesnake craft ale at The Brickyard - I would have had a second one, but there's just one lass behind the bar at 6:30pm on a Friday - I send a moaning tweet to Lincoln Green Brewery. I nip next door to 'Spoons for a pint of Elsie Mo from the Castle Rock Brewery at £1.49 with a 50p off CAMRA voucher.

I nip down Carlton Tesco first thing on Saturday morning. I've fallen out with them to be honest since the announcement last Sunday that the butcher's counter will be closed three days a week. I love a chinwag with Sandra whilst she slices up my garlic sausage, corned beef or haslet. Ms Moon fancies a sausage sandwich. I notice a new range of Aberdeen Angus beef ones - Tesco's finest too. I stroll into the kitchen as the good lady fires up the grill. She empties the shopping from the bag before blowing a gasket: "what the bloody hell are these sausages? I said pork." We don't speak for an hour, as Ms Moon misses out on breakfast. For the record the sausages were awful;  I didn't tell her though; I ate them through gritted teeth.

The Taxman rings the doorbell at bang on midday. It's gone 12:15 by the time we depart due to Sticky Palms sorting some bedding plants out. Google Maps suggests it'll be nip and tuck whether we'll make it in time to Clipstone for the EMCL cup final. I'm not banking on The Taxman to step on the gas as he drives slower than Driving Miss Daisy.

We hit the old coal-mining village of Clipstone, up in north Notts, at 12.59 pm, just missing out on kick off. It's £5 on the gate (£3 for The Taxman, the old codger). I buy a couple of raffle tickets. I bump into loads of folk I know: Tony Hay is here from Gedling MW, Big Glenn from Radford and Dave 'White Van Man' from Shepshed.

The pitch looks bobbly and rutted despite it hosing it down for most of the week. We go for a wander and say hello to my favourite manager of all-time, Lord James Turner esq, who now resides off The Avenue in West Bridgford. There's been little progress on the growth front of the hipster beard that showed up in Selston a few weeks back.

Sorry lads, but the game is absolutely shocking. Maybe it's stage fright or pitch conditions, but I can't talk it up. Clifton will be happy to still be in the game on 90 mins as they have posed little goal threat, with the opposition twice having seen efforts bounce back off the woodwork.

I seek further entertainment at a cricket match being played on the Welfare adjacent to the ground. There's a wicket at the cricket as a portly batsman tries to swipe an off-spinner into orbit. God, what would I give for a goal - Sticky doesn't do 0-0s. Clifton, to a man, have defended for their lives. Martin Ball has been outstanding with last-ditch tackles; putting his head in where others fear to tread.

The game goes to penalties. Two of Clifton's first three spot-kicks end up in a neighbouring fairground, landing on the coconut shy. Newark deserve to win, but then again they attract players from far and wide, so Clifton should be proud of their performance, pushing The Highwaymen to 120 minutes of football without conceding a goal.

See you next season folks. Thanks for reading 'em. Back in July.

Attendance: 201

Man of the Match: Martin Ball

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Boreham Wood 3-3 Eastleigh

It's Easter Bank Holiday Monday and I'm stood on the 'Spion Kop' (four concrete steps) viewing the D H Lawrence derby between Selston and Eastwood CFC. A win for Selston will see them crowned as champions of the East Midlands Counties League. I say hello to Mr and Mrs John Harris and daughter Lucy. Over 500 folk have rocked up despite it being a long weekend.

The Eastwood 'keeper is wasting time from the first minute; it's not long before the clown is cautioned by the referee. He's a lucky lad to stay on the pitch when he sarcastically claps the ref after conceding a second goal, having been nutmegged for the first one, to put Selston well on their way to the title.

I catch up with north Notts and South Yorkshire groundhopper,  'Dudsey' at the break. We have a good natter as Selston appear to have put the game to bed by taking a 3-1 lead. I keep my beady eye on proceedings at Sincil Bank, where the Mighty Imps need a point to secure the 'Division 4' title, which will see Sky Bet payout Sticky Palms £55 for a £5 each way wager I placed last August - let's not forget that Notts County were 2/1 bookies' favourites back then.

Astonishingly, the Badgers of Eastwood score two late goals in a dramatic finale at the Parish Hall ground. The final whistle is blown, the two teams have played out a 3-3 thriller in breezy conditions. Players, management and supporters anxiously refresh social media on their mobile phones in a desperate attempt to find out how rivals Newark Flowserve are faring at West Bridgford. There are huge cheers, celebrations and tears flowing when news filters through that Flowserve have lost 2-1. I'm delighted for Selston, it's a properly ran club, with some smashing volunteers. The ground has a lovely community feel about it, with a roped-off cricket pitch and pavilion to boot.

I try something different on Tuesday evening. 'Dafty' and 'Mad Dog' have clocked there's a Notts Sunday Senior League cup final to be held at Basford United's Greenwich Avenue ground between Hucknall Town and RHP Sports (Newark). Basford's ground isn't my cup of tea; it's nothing personal, it's just that I can't abide artificial playing surfaces - nobody seems able to put a tackle in.

The game and standard surpass my expectations. Hucknall's line-up have the baller of the game in Kye Simpson, who scores an absolute banger at the fag end of proceedings, having bulldozed Stan Collymore style halfway down the pitch. I'm unsure who he plays for on Saturdays; I need to ask the 'Bearded Wonder' Malc Storer, my Hucknall correspondent. 'Mad Dog' spends most of the evening in and out of the snack cabin. I've never known a bloke eat so much tucker and yet still maintain a decent weight.

I take a lot of pride in my lawn. It was in a right old 'two an eight' when we first bought the house, but I got it looking mighty fine last summer (no water meter). I spread it with feed, weed and moss killer on Tuesday. The heavens open over the next few days following a Sticky Palms Indian rain dance on the patio.

I meet Ms Moon, Jamie and Lily in the laugh-a-minute Wetherspoons on Carlton Hill. There were one or two half cooked fools who suffered sunburn following a baking hot Easter weekend. I was lathered in all day factor 30 Piz Buin. I call in at The Brickyard for an expensive pint of Snake Charmer craft ale at 6% ABV. I stagger down the hill and up the wooden hill for an early night - tomorrow is going to be soo long.

I'm wide awake at the crack of dawn. I shower, shave and have a toasted crumpet, smothered in Anchor butter and a large lump of Stilton cheese (I'm sure you wanted to know that). I fill up the car with fuel before heading over to Keyworth. Two of my best friends are aboard the Fun Bus today - Trumpy Bolton and the Big Man. Ironically they live just a few doors down from one another.

Trumpy comes trooping down the road clutching his litre plastic bottle of Koppaberg cider filled full to the brim. He whines that I'm early and that he's only managed to gulp down one bottle of Ghost Ship. He's not had time for his usual weekend breakfast delicacy of chicken liver pate on toast. It's 7.30 a.m. by the way, folks. I have to stop the car for Bolton, a mile later, outside Keyworth United's ground. "You want the toilet already Trumpy?" asks the Big Man. The legend just wants to take off his new coat from Littlewoods.

He's soon guzzling the cider and waxing lyrical. The Boltons have just returned from the mother-of-all benders in the market town of Marlborough, in Wiltshire, where he drank the county dry. The Big Man mentions an article in the Press about a beer-mad grandad who claims to have visited 50,000 pubs, supping over 125,000 pints. Trumpy chortles before confessing that he's beaten the chap on both counts.

We're soon parked up in Britain's first-ever designated New Town - Stevenage. There's a bit of a palaver on whether we can rummage enough change up for the two hours 'breakfast' time parking we require. To be honest, the town is a bit of an eyesore. Whoever designed these buildings should be brought to task.

The Standard Bearer 'Spoons ain't too shabby though. Trumpy makes a darting off-the-shoulder Jamie Vardy run to the bar. He shouts up two pints of Ruddles for himself, a pint of Silver Adder for Sticky and a cup of tea for the Big Man. I push a couple of 50p off vouchers into the palm of his hand; his eyes light up.

The Big Man has a fry up, whilst I have a 'West Bridgford Breakfast' - eggs Benedict. There's no Hugo, Tarquin or Darcy dashing around the pub, playing dobby on and cheesing me off, like they do at Cote D'Azur on The Avenue. Trumpy's brekky is pathetic, it consists of two slices of toast and marmalade. He complains that he might only have room to eat one slice.

Trumpy has slurped five pints by the time we exit the pub - the Big Man can't even match him with cups of tea. I ask the Legend if he's off to the King Power tomorrow to watch his beloved Foxes versus 'The Arsenal.' "I'm on the beach, Chap", he replies. The litre bottle of Koppaberg has been dispatched down the hatch. A thirsty Bolton is frothing at the mouth and salivating at the thought of a session in the Boreham Wood social club. We park a short stroll away from Meadow Park.

Borehamwood is a commuter town with a population of just over 30,000. It's situated close to Elstree Studios where many films, sitcoms and reality TV shows have been shot. Former Blackburn and Spurs midfielder, Tim Sherwood, was born in the town. The Club were formed in 1948. My team, Lincoln City, nicked their fleet-footed Portuguese winger, Bruno Andrade ( 'The Lincoln Ronaldo'), last summer for a song. His return on investment for 'The Lincoln' has been nothing short of astonishing.

A charming, and very helpful steward, on the bar door, says we can pay £20 to sit in the East Stand. An anxious Bolton needs confirmation that he can slip in and out of the bar throughout the game. Trumpy necks a San Miguel shortly before kick off. We take our seats towards the back row of the stand. To be honest there's bugger all doing in the first half an hour. 0-0 is looming on the horizon; these pair of Herberts will make my life hell on the 100-mile return journey home if that's the end result.

Eastleigh, with nothing to play for (already in the play-offs) take the lead with a flowing move and smart finish. A thirsty Bolton returns to bar and misses the leveller from Ralston Gabriel. There are a few concerns in the social club that the San Miguel barrel may need changing as Trumpy ups the gears and his game.

Eastleigh breeze into a 3-1 early second-half lead. Trumpy, oblivious and unaware of the scoreline takes a seat a few rows in front of us, whilst gnawing his way through a Twix bar. He sees impressive 'Wood' sub, Bradley Ash, reduce the deficit, before remonstrating with a few cheeky blighters (under 8s) who he has overheard saying that the Gunners of Arsenal will tonk Leicester City in Sunday's lunchtime kick-off. A finger-wagging Trumpy staggers back to the bar to supervise the changing of the said San Miguel barrel. He misses the goal of the game, a stunning 25-yard strike from Keiran Murtagh.

'Hopper' and the Big Man don't do 0-0s and we can't 'arf pick em. We make a sharp exit, calling by the Tap and Run, a pub and kitchen in the picturesque village of Upper Broughton, on the Notts/Leics border. It's owned by the cricketers Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney, and is close to the village of Ad Kettleby, where Desert Orchid used to spend his summer holidays.

Attendance: 502

Men of the Match: Trumpy Bolton and the Big Man - fantastic company xx

Monday, April 22, 2019

Ilkeston Town 0-4 Walsall Wood

I've been tipped the wink of a 'ground to die for' out in Staffordshire by a Stokie groundhopper. It's located just outside the city centre. Prior to the game, I grab a bite to eat at a ghastly Marston's pub, close to the ground. Foley Meir are playing their final game of the season against Eastwood Hanley in the Staffordshire County Senior League. It's £2 on the gate, which includes a free programme. The views are breathtaking, looking out over the city centre, where Stoke Minster sticks out like a sore thumb. I do a full lap of the McIntosh Arena before taking up a vantage point on top of a mound above the dugouts.

Foley Meir football their visitors off the park in the first half, and are soon two to the good. An extraordinary incident happens midway through the game. The visiting striker has had a bit of rough and tumble with a home defender. He exchanges words with the Foley Meir manager; it's much ado about nothing until he starts swearing uncontrollably before firing over a mouthful of saliva in the direction of the Meir bench. A young referee's assistant bottles it, whilst the man in black claims to have not witnessed the incident. Thankfully the Eastwood Hanley coach sees sense and removes the perpetrator from the field of play. Foley Meir go on to win the game 4-1.

I'm in the car, driving back across to Nottingham. I flick on Five Live; Sticky's favourite commentator, Big John Murray, is in situ at the Etihad Stadium for the Man City v Spurs, Champions League quarter-final 2nd leg. Murray says it's 2-2, I look at the clock, it's 8.12. pm; that can't be right? What the Dickens is going off?

I burst through the French window patio door, back at HQ, an hour later. I glance at the TV, Ms Moon is watching this morning's episode of Jeremy Kyle - pray for Sticky readers. "This is wack, can we watch the second half of the Champions League, please Princess? I have to justify the BT Sport subscription fee." The game is pure theatre which builds to a crescendo with an unbelievable ending. Good old VAR, eh?

I had the opportunity (green light) to drive up to Carlisle United's Brunton Park, to hopefully watch Lincoln City clinch the Division 4 championship. The thought of jam-packed motorways and caravans being towed along at 40mph, whilst the occupants admire the Lake District scenery, has turned me right off. Instead, we spend a gorgeous, sun-drenched day in Nottingham. We eat al fresco at Sexy Mamma Love Cichetti in Hockley, a hipster area of Nottingham. Killing time before watching a film, we bask in the sunshine at the Hockley Rebel, where I sink a pint from the Tiny Rebel stable based in Newport, South Wales.

I switch my phone off as we enter the Broadway Cinema, just shy of 3 p.m. Two thousand of Lincoln's flock will be biting their fingernails, whilst we watch, Wild Rose, starring Julie Walters and Radio 2's 'Whispering Bob Harris.' It's a feel-good film set in Glasgow; we both thoroughly enjoy it. On the way out I slip into the gents and switch my phone back on - ten man Lincoln have lost 1-0. I commiserate with a couple of real ales in Sneinton Market and a few more at HQ - The Brickyard in Carlton. I took a punt on them at 8/1 back in July. Nowt daft though, just £5 each way.

Saturday morning is spent at Brookfields Garden Centre, up at Mapperley Plains, a posh area of Notts where Freddie Mercury's mum lived, until her death at 94 years old, in November 2016.  We buy a couple of rose bushes as I continue to reconstruct (blag it) the garden. I wave Ms Moon off at twelve bells; she's spending the night with her daughter in Cheltenham.

Apologies folks, I've gone big time on the snap front. I break into the packaging of a pretentious Wensleydale and carrot chutney sandwich on soft, malted bread from the Marks and Spencer food hall on the drive up to Ilkeston. Paul Gambacinni is playing the cringeworthy 'Honey' by Bobby Goldsboro on Radio 2's Pick of the Pops. It somehow reached No.2 in the charts in 1975 - cough up now folks if you shelled out 50p for this garbage.

I was going to have a quick pint in either the Burnt Pig or Spanish Bar, but 'Ilson' are expecting a crowd in excess of 1,000, so parking might be tricky. I swerve an ale and join the queue to park in the ground. The parking attendant is oblivious to the traffic blocking the main road as he talks to all and sundry about the weather and what a nice Easter he's having. I part with £2 and I'm told to find a spot at the back of the ground.

The glorious weather has flushed out the locals as they turn out in their droves - there's an easy 1500 in attendance here. It's £5 on the gate. I buy a 50/50 ticket and grab a team sheet. I bump into Martyn Cheatle and Simon Morgan who are raising money and awareness for prostate cancer, by cycling from Barnsley to Amsterdam. I mention that Walsall Wood are dangerous opponents and I think they will win the game.

The 'Ilson' 'Ken Bruce' plays it safe with a few pre-match tunes toons from George Ezra, Rag'n'Bone Man and Jack Savoretti - I prefer it more leftfield myself, like a lot of northern Non-League disc jockeys do.

A win today for Ilson will see them pretty much assured Step 4 football next season. Former Aston Villa striker, Darren Byfield, Walsall Wood's manager, will send out his troops all guns blazing. This is how it pans out. Ilson are under the cosh from the start and their defence are asked questions.

Walsall Wood race into a three-goal lead within the first half an hour, following some pitiful defending. I'm unsure if it's stage fright, incompetence or a lack of tactical nous, but the Robins fall well short. Wood's left winger John Atherton is running rings around the Ilson full back who is hooked on 25 minutes, as are two more players during the break. There's a fourth sub at half-time as 'Ken Bruce' is replaced by 'Steve Lamacq' who pumps up the crowd with Primal Scream and The Hives.

I've been chatting to a hungover Aston Villa fan who spent yesterday on the sauce up in Bolton watching Villa continue their charge up the Championship table. I mention that I saw them pass Martin O'Neill's Nottingham Forest off the park a few weeks ago. I clock Ilkeston Town owner Alan Hardy wandering around the ground (probably in a daze) with a phone glued to his ear. Notts County coach and former 'Ilson' manager, Steve Chettle, hangs onto his coat-tails.

Ilson are having one of those days. A chink of light emerges on 65 minutes when they win a penalty and Wood are reduced to ten men. Jamie Walker fluffs his lines, his spot kick is hit with little conviction and is easily saved. Wood go for the jugular and score the goal of the game, despite being one man light, through Kaylum Mitchell, which puts them top of the table with a plus-one goal difference.

Man of the Match: John Atherton

Attendance: 1578

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Lincoln City 1-1 Cheltenham Town

I'm fist pumping my way through a police cordon, celebrating Lincoln's Portuguese winger Bruno Andrade's injury-time howitzer of a shot at Stadium MK. Ms Moon is parked up in the getaway car at the side of Asda. I ride shotgun as we head out of the ghastly, gloomy retail park and onto the M1 North. My heart is beating ten to the dozen; not due to Bruno's spectacular strike, but because it's the first time I've had to run in decades.

Talking of starting orders, I flick on Five Live, as the runners and riders approach the tape for the  Grand National at Aintree, in Liverpool. Ms Moon has a £5 stake on Tiger Roll at a measly 7/2. I admit if it jumps around the course it will win, but can't be bothered at such stingy odds. True to form Ms Moon is on the money; my two bets come in 3rd and 5th; my lolly is on the nose though. I haven't backed the winner of the National since Bobby Jo in 1999. I owe Ms Moon £22 winnings as she bet on my account. The tickets for the game are the same price. I start a Facebook poll asking if honours are even or should I cough up the winnings. I'm ran out of town folks 80/20 .. lol.

It's late on Tuesday evening and I've just returned from a game up at Kimberley Miners' Welfare, close to Junction 26 of the M1. I've spent the evening eating Fruit Pastilles and Jelly Babies with John Harris and family. He predicts a good hiding for a 'depleted' KMW versus Belper United. The Miners' run out comfortable 3-1 winners.

I've had a massive sugar rush and can't be bothered to climb the wooden hill. A documentary called Losers, on Netflix, has been given rave reviews by TalkSport's Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs. The first episode is about a boxer called Michael Bentt, who was London-born (East Dulwich), but raised in the Cambria Heights section of Queens in New York City. He sensationally knocked-out WBO Heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison in 1993 but went on to have a somewhat chequered career.

The second episode, in the series, is about Torquay United; my ears immediately prick up. I know what's coming here. In 1987, on a sultry, muggy May day in Bottesford, on the Notts/Leics/Lincs border, Sticky Palms is fielding/patrolling at fine leg for Keyworth Cricket Club. My team, Lincoln City, on the final day of the Football League season are in dire straits. Burnley are bottom of Division 4, but have beaten Leyton Orient. 'The Lincoln' have been thumped 3-0 at Swansea City's Vetch Field. At Plainmoor, Torquay United, needing a draw to stay up, are 2-1 down to Crewe with a few minutes remaining. Torquay player, Jim McNichol, sprints across the field to retrieve a ball, but manages to upset a police Alsatian dog called Bryn, who takes a chunk of flesh out of his thigh. Four minutes injury-time is played; yep, you've guessed it, the Gulls score again to send the Imps into footballing oblivion. They even show footage of the Mayor of Torquay presenting Bryn the German Shepherd with a juicy T-Bone steak.

In the summer of 2016, Lincoln City made the somewhat left-field appointment of part-time Braintree Town manager and Head of PE at FitzWimarc School, in Rayleigh, Essex, Danny Cowley, as their new manager. The club had been in the doldrums of the fifth tier of English football's Pyramid system; on one occasion nearly dropping out to the Conference North. What is astonishing is, with a tight budget and shrewd signings, Cowley and his brother Nicky won the Conference title and led 'City' to the quarter-final of the FA Cup; bowing out to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

I'm back up The Brickyard (my local) in Carlton on Friday evening. I make out to Ms Moon that I know all the locals - I don't really. I usually find a quiet corner of the pub and read my Kindle. Outspoken ex England and Notts CCC off-spinner Graeme Swann's autobiography is very entertaining. It passes a couple of hours and more importantly three pints of real ale, as I relax and take my mind off the big game tomorrow.

I have a restless night's sleep after watching another depressing episode of the Madeleine McCann disappearance on Netflix - one thing's for sure, Portugal's top copper hasn't much time for the McCanns. I'm already a bundle of nerves, so decide to do a couple of hours gardening. Ms Moon makes some sandwiches as another 'Fish 'n Chip Special' from Oceans will clot up my arteries and send me to an early grave.

Ms Moon has Virgin on her car radio system. It's no better than Absolute or Radio 2. She claims that they bang out some good toons, just as the first bars of a Nickelback 'song' begin to ring out. We eat our sandwiches in the car, outside a care home where my Nana lived out her last few years, on St Botolph's Crescent, close to Robey Street. Paul Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops is playing Bernadette by the Four Tops. I scarper from the car after 'Gambers' sticks on Edelweiss by Vince Hill.

We wander through a snicket onto the High Street. There's a real vibe around the place. The city is alive with folk. Flags are hanging from pub doorways, there's laughing, joking and football fans chanting - this is what The Cowleys have done for Lincoln; pride has been restored and the community is made to feel part of the club.

If I had a pound for every Costa coffee shop the Princess has ticked off, I could retire from selling software. A new one is ticked off - there are five chains in Lincoln #coffeeshophopping. We take a steady stroll towards Sincil Bank, down Scorer Street where former Leeds, NFFC and Sheff Wed striker Lee Chapman was born - you tell us that one every time Sticky  .. lol.

There's a corner shop on Sincil Bank that I usually dive into for some tuffies. I ate a whole bag of Haribos during the Lincoln v Exeter midweek game the other month. I was awake for most of the night and had enough energy levels to run further than Lincoln midfielder Mark O'Hara - I'll stick to a bottle of water today to keep the stress levels down.

Ms Moon has a suck and blow on her vape thingy whilst I squeeze through the door of a jam-packed club shop. I buy a couple of T-shirts and some shorts to lounge around in - not today, but I could have done as the ground is bathed in wall-to-wall sunshine. Tickets for the game a few weeks ago were selling so fast that I could only find room on the front row of the Stacey West Stand. Abba's, Gimee! Gimee! Gimee! (A Man After Midnight) is blasting out of the PA system as we take our seats.

Lincoln City legend Grant 'Hoof' Brown is inducted into the Club's Hall of Fame. I remember Colin Murphy shelling out over £50k to sign Sunderland-born Brown from Trumpy Bolton's Leicester City  in 1989 - that was serious money back then for a club the size of the Imps. Brown repaid Murph's faith with a club record 407 appearances. He's picked a few tracks to be played over the tannoy today which includes the excellent Summer by Manchester indie band The Courteeners.

Cheltenham Town aim to be the party poopers and are unbeaten in their last four outings. Ms Moon likes them as her daughter is restaurant manager in the spa town's Botanist restaurant situated in the Brewery Quarter. The Imps require a win to confirm promotion. I'm not happy that Danny Cowley has shaved his beard off during an eighteen match unbeaten run. What was he thinking?

The Co-op Stand do their best to lift the lads but the game is edgy and cat and mouse. Nerves vanish on 18 minutes, the Cheltenham 'keeper goes down in instalments after a Shay McCartan 25 yard shot skips off a surface sprinkled with water and into the corner of the net. "We'll need another one as they are bound to score", I remark to Ms Moon, who is eyeing up a procession of supporters returning from the pancake stall. Cheltenham can't break through the Imps' rearguard.

Ms Moon's got the face on; the queue for pancakes is snaking around the back of the stand. The bloke next to me takes a huge bite from his pancake, a piece of banana, smothered in chocolate, drops onto my newly-polished black and white Adidas Sambas - he gets a filthy look as my nerves are frayed, and now is not the time to be scoffing chuffing pancakes.

Cheltenham get some joy down their left-hand side as Neal Eardley gets overloaded. Their goal is richly deserved and superbly crafted. A cross from the left is guided home by the head of substitute George Lloyd. There are chances at either end as the game plays out at a frantic pace.

Promotion is only announced five minutes after the game ends once Lincoln CEO Liam Scully contacts Rachel Riley, from Countdown, to run through all the permutations and calculations so that the news can be broadcast to the fans 'hot off the press.' Up the Imps.

Men of the Match: The Cowley Brothers - Billy Waters brilliant for Cheltenham btw

Attendance: 9,820 (164 visiting supporters)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

MK Dons 0-2 Lincoln City

The hotels in Oxford are ridiculously overpriced. We stop the night at a Premier Inn, four miles outside the city centre, at a third of the price. A taxi into Oxford is only £8. I sink a pint of real ale in the courtyard of one of the city's oldest pubs, the Turf Tavern, where a list of the rich and famous who have walked through their doors is chalked up on a blackboard. We sit on a wall, basking in the late evening sunshine in the beer garden of the Bear, which dates back to 1242. Drinks continue to flow at the four-floored Varsity Club, with its long list of cocktails and gin palace. There's time for a couple more drinks at the poshest 'Spoons in Oxford, before retiring to our room accompanied by kebab meat and chips.

I've lots of meetings on the road with work this week, and I'm only able to squeeze in the one Non-League game. The setting is sensational, though, with Matlock's Riber Castle providing the backdrop. I pull into the Cricket Club car park an hour before kick-off. A friendly steward tips me the wink of a chippy up the road. "Don't kick my head in, youth, if it's rubbish, will you?" The fish and chips are to die for; I don't even leave a batter bit on my tray. I give my man the thumbs up on my return to the car park - he cowers in jest.

It turns chilly as the sun drops at Matlock Town's Causeway Lane ground. I hook up with Big D (Dick Durrant) whose son, Ross, is in the nets for the Gladiators. Big spending Basford United are tonight's visitors in this Northern Premier League clash - they have recently parted company with their long-serving manager Martin Carruthers.

Basford will wonder how they've only come away with a point after dominating the game throughout. They have experienced campaigners Matt Thornhill and Liam Hearn in their ranks, who influence the game. Two late goals by Matlock earn them a point, when all looked lost. Dick and I enjoy some craic. He gives me the heads up on Budapest, where I'm due to visit in early June.

The MK Dons game has been on my mind for most of the week. If the Imps can avoid defeat then surely the title is within their grasp. I've only ever been to Milton Keynes once in my life, back in 2006, when Nottingham Forest lost 1-0 at the National Hockey Stadium. We were housed in a temporary stand behind the goal that evening. Every time the fans stamped their feet the stand began to shake, wobble and move. I remember eating tea in a pizzeria in Centre MK: and being unable to find a pub in the weird, visionary grid road system that was put in place.

I binge watch the brilliant After Life, starring Ricky Gervais, on Netflix, whilst perusing the runners and riders for the Aintree Grand National, hanging on the coat tails of the professional gambler who saw me bring home the bacon during the Cheltenham Festival - he actually says Tiger Roll will win, but isn't happy to back him at such a short price.

Early on Friday evening, I shift a couple of pints of craft ale at the wonderful Lincoln Green, Brickyard pub, on top of Carlton Hill, two miles outside Nottingham city centre. I peg it back home, full steam ahead, down the hill, just in time to catch the Southampton v Liverpool game. The Saints give a good account of themselves before getting caught out twice on the break, through Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson. I retire to bed and flick through a few pages of ex England cricketer Graeme Swann's entertaining autobiography.

Ms Moon returns home in the early hours after session on with her friend Jill up on Mapperley Tops. The Marks and Spencer's Lincolnshire sausages (an omen) are sizzling under the grill as I head down to Carlton Tesco to pick up the crusty cobs and Calzone cheese.

There's a coffee stop-off at Clifton, as a hungover Ms Moon drinks the place dry of Latte. The journey to Milton Keynes looks pretty straightforward on paper, but I'm wary of any delays on the M1. As per usual we end up at the ground two hours before kick-off. Imps' fans have been pre-warned of traffic chaos in the vicinity.

The MK Stadium is situated in a sea of retail parks and industrial estates. We do a full reconnaissance of the area before parking up at the back end of a business park, a full fifteen walk to the ground. I'm already not enjoying the experience. There's not your normal pub lunch followed by a stretch of the legs around a town centre, before heading past terraced-housing on tight back streets with cobbled roads, like you do at Sincil Bank.

I watch Non-League football most weekends. I love the community-feel good factor, the volunteers, the atmosphere in the cosy clubhouse, the raffle and 50/50 draw and how a club is situated in the heart of the town or village. Stadium MK (yuk) isn't even in Milton Keynes; it's situated in Bletchley, famous for Alan Turing's Enigma code-breaking machines during the Second World War. Turing, a man ostracised for being homosexual, was outed and humiliated; he accepted chemical castration as an alternative to a prison sentence. He died from cyanide poisoning in 1954. At an inquest, the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon in 2013.

Milton Keynes is in Buckinghamshire and was a designated New Town in the 1960s. It has a population of just under 250,000. Born and bred include: the footballer Dele Alli, Somerset cricketer James Hildreth and long jump Olympic Gold medallist Greg Rutherford.

Milton Keynes FC were 'founded' (reinvented) in 2004 - they stole the identity of Wimbledon FC, who were 'relocated.' The well-respected football magazine When Saturday Comes used to refuse to recognize them when they published their season review each August.

I'm in a filthy mood as the nerves and anxiety kick in at the magnitude of the game. Ms Moon, recognizing this trait, grasps the opportunity of some retail therapy and slopes off to ASDA for some 'coffee.' Marco chuffing Pierre White has got a restaurant here - I just want pie, mushy peas and mint sauce on a tray. Who the hell eats steak before a big game apart from Matt Rhead? - "raw please Marco, if you're asking?"

I leg it around the stadium in search of the Dele Alli statue; sadly there isn't one, well not until the add-ons kick in after a move to Spain. I pick up a programme for £3 before meeting Ms Moon outside Gate 3, minus the George bags (phew).

The tickets were £22 a pop for the 'Non-Signing Section.' The stewards are really friendly. Much to my amusement Ms Moon is frisked and her handbag is pilfered through - it's full of screwed up Costa coffee cups.

MK 'Dons', clearly threatened by a 5,500 away following have handed out Clappers and in conjunction with Nando's, free chicken, as the top two in League 2 go toe to toe. We are on the front row, with an excellent view. I get chatting to a steward (on his debut) and ask him if it's ok to jump the barrier if WE score a last minute winner. Deadpan, he tells me I'll get arrested.

The teams file out to a version of the 1969 hit 'Come Together by The Beatles - 35 years before MK Dons were formed.  My stomach tightens, vision is blurred and my heart beats ten to the dozen - it only happens when I coach, or watch 'The Lincoln.' The Imps are sporting a fetching all-grey away strip. Our Colossus, skipper Jason Shackell, has returned from injury. He replaces Cian Bolger, who can feel hard done by, after some sterling displays at the heart of the defence.

I get chinwagging to a lovely, old guy sitting next to me, who has travelled up from Sussex. He mentions that two players out of Lincoln's backline played together in the Premier League for Blackpool - Matt Gilks and Neil Eardley (signing of the Century).

'The Lincoln' are in great voice. After three minutes they sing 'You've Got No History' and follow it up with 'You're Only Here for the Nando's" The Imps see off early pressure and grow into the game, with Big John Akinde asking some questions. MK seem intent on scything down their opponents. It happens one too many times, when the lively Shay McCartan skips past his marker, only to be hampered. Akinde, as cool as Clough, strokes home the penalty.

Ms Moon makes a dart to the snack bar, trotting back ten minutes later with a bag of crisps and a Twix bar, but £2.80 lighter - should have stocked up at ASDA  .. lol.  At half-time, the whole ground rise as one to applaud, as participants from the Level Playing Field, a charity for disabled sports fans, do a circuit of the ground. It's a touching moment, with the parade also including members of the armed forces too.

'City' are under the cosh in the second half, as MK take a grip-like vice on the game. Wave after wave of attacks and crosses are defended stoically by the Imps' backline. Veteran 'keeper Gilks pulls off an astonishing point-blank save with minutes remaining. The good lady asks if 'Rheady' is warming-up. I reply that he's probably getting seconds in the queue at Nando's.

Ms Moon has very kindly shot off to pick up the car as it will be bedlam after the game. As I sidle out of my seat and race up the steps, Lincoln's Portuguese-born winger, Bruno Andrade, rifles home a shot to send the masses into delirium and the Imps a step closer to League One football.

Man of the Match: Mark O'Hara

Attendance: 15,851

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Didcot Town 1-2 Bromsgrove Sporting

The Big Man and I have witnessed an absolute humdinger of a game at Worksop Town's Sandy Lane, as the top two teams in the Northern Counties East League cross swords. I'm back in sunny Carlton well before 6pm. Ms Moon whisks me up to 'Spoons on Carlton Hill; it's cheap, cheerful and rowdy. A pint of Strongbow cider and an Elsie Mo from the Castle Rock Brewery is £3.98 for two drinks, with my 50p off CAMRA vouchers. This is in stark contrast to the pint of Arbor, a Bristol-based craft ale, that I'm necking an hour later at the splendid Brickyard, 50 yards up the road, at £6.46 - what's the mark up on that?

It's a glorious Sunday morning as a group of friends are gathered outside the derelict Red Lion public house in the village of Stathern, out in the Vale of Belvoir, in Leicestershire. The Test Match Special radio commentator, Jonathan Agnew, lives just down the road in Waltham on the Wolds. Gold Cup winner and housewives' favourite, Desert Orchid, used to spend his holidays in nearby Ad Kettleby.

The Big Man is chairman of the Groundhoppers' Sunday Walking Club. It's a tough old hike up Tofts Hill. There are stunning and breathtaking views looking out towards Belvoir Castle. We're feeling it in our legs when we arrive back in the village a few hours later. A pleasant lunch is spent at the Nags Head in Harby - a place I used to frequent with 'Lord Geoffrey' when I was holed up at his 'Southfork Ranch' for three months back in 2015.

Tuesday evening is spent at Radford FC's Selhurst Street ground in the heart of Nottingham's inner city. It is without a doubt one of my favourite all-time grounds. I'm usually on the receiving end of a verbal volley or two from Radford manager, Big Glenn Russell, as I'm a somewhat Jonah on his team - there's no sign of Big GR tonight; rumour has it he is serving a one-match stadium ban following an altercation with an official earlier in the year - that sounds totally out of character?  I text him five times during the evening to let him know his team have been soundly beaten 4-1 by Heanor Town. The highlight of the night is tucking into John Harris's bag of Revels - Sticky bags a coffee and a toffee one with one free dip. To be fair to Heanor, their third goal, a volley thumped home by Kyle Daley is a contender for goal of the season.

I sail up the M1 on Wednesday evening before exiting at Junction 27. Destination tonight is Selston FC's Parish Hall ground; another personal favourite of Sticky Palms. I stand behind the goal on the 'Spion Kop' - it has about six concrete steps. Selston chairman J C McKeith always gives me a warm welcome. He once insisted, during a Notts Senior League groundhop, that the lasses in the kitchen mashed my tea in a teapot - it was the finest brew that I've ever supped.

I catch up with legendary Hucknall groundhopper Malc 'the Bearded Wonder' Storer. He's such a lovely, warm chap and the fountain of all football knowledge in this neck of the woods. Malc' does so much to promote the Notts Non-League scene through social media - check him out on Twitter folks; his work is tireless @ontheroadblog

Clifton All Whites and the longest-serving manager in the universe, James 'Tosh' Turner are in town tonight. I grab a quick word with the wee baldy man at the break - he denies blanking me at Belper a few weeks back. He has a grin from ear to ear. His patched up side are 1-0 up against the League leaders. The Bells Whiskey Manager of the Month award beckons.

Tosh has changed since he moved to West Bridgford. A hipster beard has suddenly sprung up and he's even started drinking Porter. He's suffering from a touch of jet lag after a long weekend in New York - it's another thing the jet set folk of Bridgford like to boast of too - only joking Tosh .. lol.

That grin gets bigger on 80 minutes when Nathan Kelly puts them two to the good. In a breathtaking finale, Selston claw two goals back and miss further gilt-edged chances before the referee blows the final whistle. Tosh will still be chipper because that's the nature of the man; he's a glass half full sort of guy.

I meet Ms Moon for a few scoops on Thursday evening before we settle in for the night. We watch a depressing documentary about the 'Babes in the Woods' murders. A local man, Russell Bishop, is sensationally and mistakingly cleared of the murders of two nine-year-old schoolgirls from Brighton in 1986. He then, three years later, snatched a seven-year-old girl off the street, bundled her into the boot of his car before sexually assaulting her and leaving her for dead. Miraculously the girl survived and provided vital evidence to the police which led to the successful conviction of Bishop. Incredibly, on the verge of parole, nine years later, vital DNA evidence was discovered by scientists which led to two life sentence verdicts being delivered by a judge at Lewes Crown Court. I struggle to sleep on Thursday evening, tossing and turning, thinking about those poor young girls and their grieving families.

There's incoming news from the Canary Island of Fuerteventura where blog legend, Trumpy Bolton, and his lovely wife Jayne, are holed-up in an all-inclusive hotel for seven days. It is a tradition in those parts to have a glass of cava with your breakfast. What is unusual, is for a guest to pour a whole bottle on top of their corn flakes.

Ms Moon is riding shotgun and fuelled up with Costa coffee as we head out to Oxfordshire for the weekend. Despite being well travelled, neither of us have been on the sauce in Oxford - I did go on a stag night in Headington and also went to Oxford United's Manor Ground with Trumpy and Coops back in the day, where a Leicester City away following pitch invasion nearly saw the FA Cup tie abandoned.

There's no Danny Baker Show or Colin Murray's Fighting Talk on the car radio, as the 'Princess' won't tolerate that until her caffeine levels have risen - I suffer in silence to the Graham Norton Show on Radio 2. He does play a couple of toe-tappers from Joe Tex and Johnny Cash that ease the pain slightly.

The M1 and M40 are clear of traffic. We've arranged to meet a mutual friend called Chris Hepburn at a pub called the Red Lion in the quaint village of Chalgrove. Ms Moon used to work with him at Asda over 30 years ago when they were teenagers. I used to open the bowling for Keyworth Cricket Club with Chris's younger brother, Tim, around the same time - Tim is now living in the Cayman Islands. Ms Moon is mesmerised and caught in the moment as Chris describes seeing Duran Duran live in concert in the Cayman's a few months ago, as they are both big fans of the New Romantic band. I pipe up that I saw them at Rock City for £2.50 in 1981 - Heppers nearly chokes on his ale

'Heppers' is studying form in the Racing Post as he takes a swallow of a pint of Butcombe bitter in a sun-soaked beer garden. Ms Moon and I order up some drinks and sandwiches, as we catch up on the gossip. I know chuff all about horseracing, as previously mentioned in these journals, but have followed a professional gambler during the Cheltenham Festival, which made me a serious wad of cash, despite only placing small bets. I tip Heppers the wink on Auxerre who is running in the William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster this afternoon. 'Heppers' has very kindly penned a few tourist attractions (pubs) out on a map, so we can plan our evening.

The drive to Didcot's ground is only 25 minutes away. It's another one of those out of town grounds where the club has chosen or have been forced out of the old home; away from their community, where folk can actually walk to and from the ground like you can at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank.

Didcot is a railway town in Oxfordshire with a population of 25,000. It is also well known for its power stations. On February 23rd, 2016, part of the boiler house collapsed at Didcot Power Station, killing four men. In 2017 researchers named Didcot as the most "normal town" in England. Didcot Town were founded in 1907 and play at the Loop Meadow on the outskirts of the town. In 2005 they beat A.F.C. Sudbury in the FA Vase final.

Ms Moon pays us in at £9 a pop and £2 for a programme. The stadium is already filling up with the visiting supporters from Bromsgrove Sporting. Their team were pleasing on the eye down at Welwyn Garden City a few weeks back. They are fighting tooth and nail with Peterborough Sports for the one automatic promotion spot. Bromsgrove forward Jason Cowley scored a wonder goal against Corby Town last week that went viral. I even heard him interviewed on TalkSport's Hawksbee and Jacobs show. He is more than capable of playing higher up the Pyramid; who knows, even the Football League.

I confidently predict an away win to Ms Moon, as we position ourselves level with the penalty area that they will attack. Cowley takes six minutes to get off the mark, leaping unmarked to head a corner that loops over the 'keeper into the roof of the net. I expect an avalanche of attacks; this doesn't materialise due to the rutted and bumpy playing surface, which makes a comfortable first touch impossible.

There's a fun fair at the back of the ground that has grabbed my attention. Some god awful ride emerges from the ground and into the sun-kissed blue skies. I pray to God that Ms Moon doesn't ask to go on the helter-skelter at the break. I check the result of the Lincoln at Donny - Auxerre has romped home at 3/1 - that's all the drinks paid for at the Varsity Club later this evening in Oxford.

The Railwayman of Didcot are full speed ahead in the second half and deserve their equalising goal after some sloppy defending by the visitors. Sporting are on the ropes and survive a few scares before the impressive Charlie Dowd fires home the winner following a brilliant advantage played by the young referee.

Attendance: 305

Man of the Match: Charlie Dowd