Sunday, February 16, 2020

Gainsborough Trinity 1-3 Stalybridge Celtic

It's 3 a.m. on Friday 7th February. I sit bolt upright in bed, as an alarm rings from my phone. I shave and shower in silence as Ms Moon wakes from her slumber. Hubert, my no.1 favourite taxi driver, collects us at 4 a.m. on the dot. The journey to Birmingham Airport via the M42 is without incident and very little traffic too.

Check-in with Jet 2 is a breeze in the park. We enjoy breakfast in 'Spoons (sorry, no beer consumed Trumpy). Ms Moon needs two pints of coffee to fight the tiredness and lift her mood. What could possibly go wrong, as our flight is called ahead of schedule? Ms Moon is informed by a sheepish air stewardess, posted at the top of the plane steps, that the 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys' (French Air Traffic Control) are on strike.

We're sat on the tarmac for over two hours without shifting. Ms Moon has managed to read: Chat, Take A Break and Women's Realm before our pilot is given the all-clear for take-off to Tenerife South Airport. I bury my head into a book written by the comedian and Farnborough Town fan, Andy Smart, called A Hitch In Time, whilst Ms Moon flicks through a few pages of Sir Elton John's autobiography.

Our patience is rewarded with an upgrade to our apartment, situated halfway up 'Heart Attack Hill' at the resort of Los Cristianos. Base camp, 'early doors', is spent on a bar stool, high up in Manhattan's Bar, overlooking this wonderful, old resort.

We enjoy a long walk up to the harbour village of La Caleta and a bus ride to the coastal town of Los Gigantes, with sweeping views of the island from the hotel clifftop. The highlight, of course, is the groundhopping up into the hills of the south of Tenerife.

I've managed to find a new league where I haven't ticked off many teams. I sent CD San Lorenzo Constancia a message on Facebook asking them to confirm the Saturday kick-off time. 6 p.m. allows us both a few extra hours of sunshine by the pool.

I wander across to Hotel Sur Tenerife and show the address of the ground, on my phone, to a bemused, head-scratching taxi driver. I mumble San Lorenzo (it's only 10km up the road) and receive the thumbs-up and a "si senor" from our man in the driving seat.

It's a six-mile death ride, readers, that's reminiscent of a scene from the 1970s TV series Sweeney Todd Flying Squad, with George Carter driving a Ford Granada and Jack Regan riding shotgun. We're also tuned in to the Spanish version of Capital FM which has Sticky raising his eyebrows and gesticulating to our man to change channels. After a few false dawns, which include two rubber-burning emergency stops, whilst asking locals for the whereabouts of Calle Joao Garcia Allo, the ground is finally located.

We both emerge from the taxi mentally drained and 15 Euros lighter. The ground is perched on top of a hillside in the village and at the bottom of a mountain. The views are stunning and surreal. It's 6 Euros each on the gate and a further Euro for a raffle prize which is a box of overripe fruit.

After negotiating the 'San Lorenzo Baby Squad' (eight kids under 12, who could out-sup the South Normanton Shandy Squad') we stand on the 'Spion Kop', which has four steps, and admire the view.
I've set out a low expectation to Ms Moon which prove to be wise words after a dull as dishwater first half - in hindsight, I'd have been better off staying in the resort and watching the 'Tricky Trees take on 'Dirty Leeds.'

Thank the Lord we don't win the raffle, although I could have bartered the fruit with the returning taxi driver instead of parting with 15 Euros. San Lorenzo hit the back of the onion bag on three occasions in the second half after some comedy defending from the visitors, Guancho, who are located in Puerto De La Cruz, in the north of the island.

That utter buffoon of a taxi driver arrives on time and rattles down the hill at breakneck speed, tooting his horn and gesticulating at anything or anyone that dare get in his way. White as a sheet, I climb the steps of Players Lounge and shout up a Jameson and ginger. I stare out to the Atlantic Ocean with its crashing waves and thank our lucky stars that we're both still alive to re-tell the tale. Unlike 'Fat Fraudster' media mogul, Robert Maxwell, who was found in the 'soup' (man overboard) only a few miles from this very spot, after a final meal in the island's capital Santa Cruz on 4th November 1991.

There are no complications on our journey home, although Hubert, the taxi driver, avoids Clifton Bridge like the plague, as it's closed indefinitely due to structural damage. I turn in for an early night, leaving Ms Moon to catch up with Love Island.

I sleep fitfully and end up in the spare room. I'm grumpy and moody when I eventually roll out of bed at 8 30 a.m. Royalty are travelling to Lincolnshire today on the groundhop, so I need to get the car washed and valeted by the eastern European lads at the Gedling branch. I smother toasted crumpets in butter and Brie (I've forgiven the French ATC lads) and say goodbye to Ms Moon who will no doubt watch back-to-back to back-to-back episodes of Emmerdale Farm.

It's the same old scenario that I'm met with on Spinney Road, Keyworth. Blog legend, Trumpy Bolton, has legged it up the road even though I'm bang on time. He throws his coat on the back seat and his plastic bag of booty (litre of 'apple juice') into the footwell. I've already turned off Graham Norton as a precaution and double-checked that both Adrian Durham and Jim White aren't on TalkSport, as the Ledge will blow a gasket.

I mention that I don't do 0-0s as he discusses his beloved Leicester's bore draw at Molineux the previous evening. He's slightly concerned and miffed at their recent form. He scrutinises the performances of Kasper Schmeichel - I agree and say that Brendan Rogers will replace the Danish 'keeper in the summer.

Gainsborough and Stalybridge fans, please be sat down when I roll out the next line. Trumpy Bolton has had a mission in the last 42 years of his life to visit one pub in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland. He has a crumpled, old, dog-eared atlas, where each place visited is highlighted off. There aren't many places left to visit, but one is the village of Stow.

The Cross Keys has been in the Top 3 Lincs dining pubs and has had a Chef of the Year winner. It's a bit too posh for us. Bolton settles for two pints of Lincoln Gold (the litre of cider in the car has long vanished). Linger by The Cranberries is on the dukey as we head out of the door towards our next destination.

I'd been umming and ahhing all week on whether to venture up to Humberside and tick off Hall Road Rangers in the Northern East Counties League - the weather has put paid to that. We choose Gainsborough over Grantham, as it's a far better ground and town.

Trumpy has eyed-up a traditional fish and chip restaurant called Adam's Bay which also has rave reviews and has the added bonus, for Bolton. of a licence to sell alcohol. He washes down mini Haddock, chips and mushy peas with Magners cider and settles the bill to the dulcet tones of Rock Your Baby by George McCrae.

Gainsborough is a town in the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire with a population of just over 20,000. It's 18 miles from Lincoln and 15 miles from Scunthorpe. Well known personalities from the town include the actor John Alderton (Please Sir), actress Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndyke and Coronation Street producer Bill Podmore.

Gainsborough Trinity have played football at The Northolme since 1884. The ground is a belter and would definitely feature in my all-time top ten. They became Football League members in 1893 and remained in the Second Division until 1912; ironically replaced by newly-elected Lincoln City. Trinity are managed by former Sheffield United and Birmingham City midfielder Curtis Woodhouse, who is also a former British light-welterweight champion.

We stick the car at the rear of The Ping Stand - custom made golf clubs from the leading supplier are made in the town. We watch the fag end of WBA v NFFC. Trumpy is in heaven when he hears that three real ales are on offer in what must be the greatest social club on the Non-League circuit. He nearly chokes on his Kelham Island beer when Matty Cash, from arch-rivals Forest, scores with a breathtaking last gasp strike.

A barrel has gone as Trumpy emerges from the bar just in time to see some slack defending from Lincoln City loanee Jordan Adebayo-Smith, who gifts the visitors an early lead from the penalty spot. Stalybridge look far sharper and brighter of the two teams. Their big number 9 Craig Hobson poses problems, but sadly can't keep his gob zipped up. He's shown a straight Red before half-time, with Trumpy Bolton already cosied up in the bar, tucking into a pint of Exmouth Gold.

Even with ten men Stalybridge are comfortable on the ball. They score a beautiful goal on the break and despite Trinity reducing arrears, manage to hold on and add to their tally, following a faux pas by a defender.

Attendance: 457

Man of the Match: Matty Cash (NFFC)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Burton Joyce 5-3 Cotgrave

I glance back towards the turnstiles of York City's Bootham Crescent, for one final time. 88 years of football being played here will be confined to the history books, this time next week when Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley bring their Chester team here for the final ever League game on the hallowed turf - unless further delays are announced.

We enjoy a cracking night out, pacing up and down the cobbled streets of York city centre. We tick off The Minster, Eagle and Child, Phoenix, Golden Ball and re-visit, for Sticky Palms, the excellent Brew York, with its superb range of real ales and craft beers. We finish the night off with a dirty kebab.

I'm as fresh as a daisy in the morning after sleeping like a baby in Sprakey Airport's basement flat. My Godson, Will, is as white as a ghost after a double-figures session. We drop him off at his Uni digs before heading home to Nottingham. I take advantage of Ms Moon nipping down to the Marks and Spencer Food Hall at Victoria Retail Park, in Netherfield, by sloping off for a couple of jars in the wonderful Old Volunteer, on Burton Road - it's in all the pub books, folks.

Monday night is a washout. Emmerdale, a double helping of Corrie and Love Island on ITV2 puts me in a coma by 9.15 pm. I'm excited for Tuesday, to be honest. I dash out of the doors of Ideagen PLC at 4 pm on the dot. I'm parked up in Lincoln by 5.15 pm, despite crawling in traffic for the last couple of miles.

Kenny Jackett's promotion-chasing Portsmouth are in town. With the amount of blues and twos in action, it looks like all police leave is cancelled - although I don't sense or see any trouble. 1000 Pompey fans have made the 425 mile round trip on a school night - I salute them all.

I am cursing them, though, as I walk through the doors of the Ritz Wetherspoons on High Street, as I had hoped to experience a new dining cuisine (bacon and Brie baguette). The building was opened in 1932 as an Odeon cinema (the same year as York City's Bootham Crescent). I have many happy memories of watching films, as a little lad here, such as Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats, with my lovely Nana - it was just a 15-minute walk from her warden-aided bedsit. I do an about-turn as the bar is six deep with beer-swilling, well behaved Pompey fans.

I squeeze down the Glory Hole, off the High Street, and wander onto the Brayford Waterfront. Another 'Spoons' is bustling with folk. I usually frequent Ask Italian pre-match, as the snap is decent and the restaurant is a lucky charm - 'The Lincoln' never lose when I dine here. The Taxman and I had a poor dining experience here for the Bolton Wanderers game a few weeks back. The service was poor and the kitchen staff had the handling skills of Fawlty Towers Spanish waiter, Manuel.

Stevie Wonder is on the Ask Italian dukey as I peel off four layers of clothing. A bitter wind chill is blowing in from the North Sea (Skeggy) with sub-zero temperatures expected. I hoover down a posh spicy sausage pasta dish and some garlic bread. I pay my dues and tip an excellent waiter before heading to the ground with the hordes of Pompey fans.

I settle into my seat in the Selenity Stand, safe in the knowledge of knowing that my eyes have never witnessed an Imps League defeat from this view in over 20 years. The Lincoln pre-match 'playlist' is off the scale, folks. Blossoms, Editors and Kasabian get my feet tapping, restoring blood circulation to my frozen feet.

The first half is as dull as dishwater as both teams eye up one another, cancelling each other out. I'm looking forward to a half time cup of Bovril as Harry Anderson, too clever for his own boots, is needlessly dispossessed. A free-kick is given away, which is thumped home from 22 yards out by the Republic of Ireland international Ronan Curtis, three minutes into added time.

Rumours are rife that Nottingham Forest loanee, Tyler Walker, is to return home to his parent club. Tonight, due to a dead leg, he is on the bench. Our talisman can't add to his 16 goal tally, as the Imps contribute to their own downfall, by gifting the visitors a penalty kick, after some farcical playing-out from the back. I usually have a strop, on my way back to the car, when we suffer a loss. I gesticulate and moan with anyone remotely interested on Shakespeare Street.

Thank the Lord it's the weekend; I've had a tough week in the office. I jump on the No.27 bus into Nottingham and alight on Southwell Road, close to the Motorpoint Arena. I shed a bucket full of tears, as I pass the Neon Raptor Tap Room in Sneinton Market - there's no date night with their rocket fuel craft ales this evening. Tonight I'm venturing out south of the river to the land known to the bitter and twisted (me) as 'Bread 'n Lard Island.'

It's the Big Man's (Bish) birthday bash at The Botanist on The Avenue in West Bridgford (there I said it). I wander in and clock 'Big Ed' (ironic nickname) sipping on a non-alcoholic bottle of Heineken. I order up a pint of Neck Oil from the Beavertown Brewery. We're soon joined by 'Bruiser', Big Man' Moyes and Rotton. A pattern begins to emerge as the bottles of zero per cent 'lager' appear on the scene. The Shandy drinking side, south of the river, rears its ugly head - I thought I was back in South Normanton for a moment. I enjoy my hot Cumberland Scotch egg and prawn linguine, accompanied by a large, stiff gin - thank you, Big Man, for settling the bill, I thoroughly enjoyed it with a great bunch of lads for company.

I toss and turn in bed. The noise of fireworks lights up the sky. Simpletons are celebrating BREXIT, none more so than in the Tory stronghold of South Normanton, where the 'Big Babies Squad' will be off their pea-brained minds on vodka Red Bull - I thought the Neanderthals were celebrating the Silver Jubilee up there a few weeks ago, when we were greeted with a sea of Union Jacks in a village decimated by Thatcher's pit closure programme.

Ms Moon and I are up and at 'em after a decent lie-in on Saturday morning. We enjoy a croissant and a salted caramel bun before heading up to Gedling Village, where former Nottingham Forest and England midfielder Steve Hodge grew up - read his book The Man With Maradona's Shirt, it's class.

We park the car close to All Hallows Church. Mission today, on the celebrity grave hunt, is to find the final resting place of two Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club legends: Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury; buried a cricket pitch length apart.

It's Shaw I'm really interested in. I had a 'drop your bacon sandwich' moment earlier in the week during research, (yes, I do some prep for this blog, you cheeky sod, reader). I discovered that Alfred Shaw, born in Burton Joyce, bowled the first-ever ball in Test cricket for England v Australia in 1877 and also was the first player to take five wickets in aTest innings. Even more astonishing is that he is buried less than two miles from our house.

The church and spire are huge. You would presume that it's filled with hundreds of graves; it isn't. I soon locate Shaw's grave. The lettering is barely legibly; battered by over a hundred years of harsh weather, at one of the highest points in Notts. Shrewsbury's grave is close to the front gate. In 1903 he took his own life, after incorrectly believing he had an incurable disease. We drive, in silence, up to the Travellers Rest on Mapperley Plains.

The Poplars, home to Burton Joyce FC, is a ten-minute drive away. Burton Joyce is a village in the parish of Gedling district, with a population of just under 4,000. Notable residents from the past include Sherrie Hewson of Coronation St and Benidorm fame and Matthew Horne the actor who played Gavin from the hit TV show Gavin and Stacey. It was reported on Dec 20th, 2018, that Horne had been struck by a train close to the Lord Nelson pub in the village; he escaped with minor injuries.

The last time I came here, only a few years ago, was dark times for the Club. They could only raise nine men for a midweek fixture. There was no Senior section the following season, which is astonishing for a set up that boasts over 30 teams at junior level.

I'm gobsmacked to be asked to part with £3 per person at the 'turnstile' (Tupperware box outside the clubhouse). When did this creep into the Notts Senior League?  I can think of many fantastic community clubs who don't charge in this League, such as Keyworth United and Cotgrave. I bet their bar tills are ringing to four figures too, as engaged villagers proudly watch their boys. For the record, 22 people from close on a 4000 population make the effort today (at least eight are from Cotgrave).

We stand with a strong wind at our backs and get chatting to a couple of friendly folk who follow Carlton Town - one of Sticky's faves, who have been hosed off today. Cotgrave won't be that chuffed that I've rocked up, as I've seen them rolled over this season by Woodthorpe Rangers and Keyworth United respectively.

Burton get the ball down and play a game that's easy on the eye. A goal has been coming and duly arrives with the fast feet of Reece Campbell who dances his way through a static defence before finishing with aplomb.

We speed walk to the clubhouse, at the break, which isn't much warmer than outside and lacks any vibe. A lady counts today's takings on the gate. We don't bother with a tea, coffee or chocolate as we've been wiped out for change due to the admission charge. I've only got £20 notes on me (not being flash but was in West Bridgford last night, the Holmes Chapel of Notts).

The second half is a treat with two outstanding players bagging hat-tricks, scoring goals of high quality. BJ go 5-1 up with outstanding 17-year-old winger, Josh Gardner, claiming the match ball, or so he thought.

We're stood behind the goal with the 'Cotgrave Eight.' They're such lovely, upbeat people; not downhearted with the scoreline whatsoever. 21-year-old Lucas Cotterill celebrated his birthday last night with his girlfriend in Birmingham. He has the heart of a lion and is undeterred or affected by the score. He scores a brilliant hat-trick and sees another effort crash off the crossbar. Both he and Gardner will move up the football pyramid, and we'll be paying more than £3 to watch them then.

Attendance (headcount) 22

Men of the Match: Josh Gardner and Lucas Cotterill

Sunday, January 26, 2020

York City 1-0 Kettering Town

It's 9.30 a.m. on Sunday 19th January. Ms Moon and I are slouched in a booth at a Frankie and Benny's diner on a soulless industrial estate in Lenton, an inner-city suburb of Nottingham. It's a complete change of scenery to West Bridgford or Mapperley; our usual go-tos for breakfast or brunch.

Steve Wonder's 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours' is on the dukey, as a surly waiter punches our order into a mobile device. I stare out of the window at Showcase Cinema's empty car park as Ms Moon cranks up the coughing and spluttering. The good lady makes a late call. She won't be joining me for the 10.30 a.m showing of the Sam Mendes epic war film 1917, as it wouldn't be fair to annoy other cinema goers with her hacking cough.

The lady on the counter asks me if I'm 60. I explain that I've had a poor night's sleep and apologise for my Ken Dodd hairdo (I'm 55 and 7/8 btw). She asks if I want to be 60. By jove I do. I take a seat in the Showcase XPlus auditorium. I think back to when you could smoke a whole packet of Gold Leaf ciggies during a double bill of Tommy and McVicar at the Classic Cinema in 1980, on Market St, back in the day.

Only 50 odd people have rocked up for the early showing. Despite this, some clown decides to sit right next to me, noisily rummaging around in a bag of sweets, undoing the wrappers and chomping on them with his gnashers (dentures). I mutter under my breath and move a few seats down the row.

Two hours fly by, as 1917 proves to be a captivating and riveting watch. The film preys on my mind as I emerge into the daylight. I'm chauffeured into town by Ms Moon where I enjoy a couple of pints of Pentrich ales.

1917 didn't half whet my appetite for more. 'The Carlton Barry Norman' returns for a Tuesday tea-time matinee showing of Guy Ritchie's action crime comedy The Gentlemen. Five Guys, spookily located next to Showcase, has to be ticked off (again). I'm tucked up in bed at just gone 9 p.m. listening to Chelsea v Arsenal on Five Live - Love Island is on downstairs and I ain't watching that wack.

Nottingham Forest v Reading is Wednesday evening's entertainment. I use that word loosely as Sabri Lamouchi's tactics are baffling and painstaking to view at times. He loves a 'George Graham' 1-0 win, but his team often aren't equipped to see a game out.

I plonk myself in 'D' Block of the Peter Taylor Stand. Leeds and WBA are stuttering in the form table. Tonight is an opportunity for NFFC to make their mark and put pressure on the leading pack. Morale is high where I sit; a win is expected.

The first half is dire, with hardly a shot on goal. It will be a 45 minutes remembered for a masterclass of long-range passing by North Yorkshire born defender Michael Dawson, who was scouted by Forest on York Racecourse in 1997, at the age of 14 years old.

Reading set their stall out and don't look particularly interested. Mark Bowen, their manager (from the Mark Hughes stable) whinges and moans at the fourth official for most of the evening, as his team plonk 11 men behind the ball and stifle the game.

The Tricky Trees think they've won the game on 80 minutes. A cross comes in from the left, Sammy Ameobi scuffs his shot, but the ball falls fortuitously to 'Lewis Grabban Scores Goals', he makes no mistake from close range. I watch Lamouchi catch the attention of 'keeper Brice Samba (one of Sticky's favourites). He puts his index fingers on both temples and instructs the Congolese keeper to concentrate. A few minutes later Samba retrieves the ball from out of the onion bag after Forest concede a sloppy goal. On this evidence, the play-offs are the only route to the Premier League.

Friday night is spent in Nottingham's Creative Quarter in Sneinton Market. Neon Raptor is the best taproom on the planet. The company is world-class too. Tony 'Dog' McDonald is already sampling the new range of beers that were released today. We have Explosions in the Sky and Half Time Shuffle before moving onto the Fox and Grapes next door. The landlord was murdered in 1963 and the case remains unresolved. He was found unconscious at the bus stop where I'll catch the No.27 back home, later this evening. We finish the night off in Bunkers Hill, a pub often frequented by Nottingham Panthers ice hockey fans. Tony reels off a string of anecdotes that still have me chuckling late into the night.

York City are due to move out of their Bootham Crescent ground in the next few weeks. I've watched 'The Lincoln' lose there on so many occasions (or draw 0-0). I did see the Imps win 3-2, in 1985, on an April Monday evening, in the Freight Rover Trophy, with Keyworth legend Tim 'Wrighty' Wright (we're inventive with nicknames in Keyworth).

On 8th September 1990, I was on a stag weekend in Amsterdam. We sunk bottles of Grolsch for most of the day, in sweltering conditions, before returning to the hotel to freshen up in time for the evening session. I flicked on Grandstand for Final Score. I scanned the screen for the York v Lincoln result, a game my father and brother were both attending. My heart sank when I saw 'match abandoned' on the TV screen. I ran out into the street to locate a phone box. My heart was beating ten to the dozen and tears fell down my cheeks. Reader, let me explain my panic and anxiety. My team were playing at the Bradford Fire Disaster in 1985 when 56 perished in the flames. I was also at Hillsborough in 1989. It felt like a curse.

I got through to Mum on the phone. She relayed the tragic news emerging from Bootham Crescent. York City winger and former Nottingham Forest apprentice, David Longhurst, suffered a heart attack on the pitch and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. He was only 25 years old. I went to the rearranged game to pay my respects. It was a horrible, sombre evening.

Bootham Crescent is a classic old football ground. The club have played there since 1932, but it's soon to be no more. I want one last look at the 'Old Lady.' Fate plays its part; it always does in my life. A close friend, 'Dafty', is taking his son, Will, (my Godson) back up to Uni, in York, after the Christmas break (students get more holidays than lecturers). Another bonus is that a mutual friend, 'Sprakey Airport', (cracking nickname, but long story) lives smack in the city centre. Jolly boys outing it is then, lads.

I say goodbye to Ms Moon who was out with her 'bestie', Jill, up Millionaires' Row (Mapperley Plains) last night. Are they out every Friday, Sticky? Dafty jumps onto the A614. Young Will is in the back fiddling with his phone. Cricket commentary from TalkSport is on the car radio, as England take a stranglehold of the 4th Test in Johannesburg.

We breeze up the A1 and are soon dropping off all Will's possessions at his college digs. 'Sprakey' lives on The Mount in York. It's in a glorious setting of the city centre. There's time for a quick brew and introduction to his family before we step out for the day.

First port of call is The Punch Bowl, a Wetherspoons pub on Blossom St. Trumpy Bolton will be appalled to hear that no 'liquid' was involved. Just full English breakfasts and cups of tea. Trumpy Bolton is in London btw folks, ticking off ground No.87 at Brentford's Griffin Park - another one that is soon to bite the dust.

We're joined by 'Our Kid' as the beers begin to flow. We have a swift one at The Ackhorne before the long (half an hour) walk up to the ground. The kick-off is delayed by 15 minutes as Kettering have had problems with their team coach.

It's £15 on the gate. Those lunchtime beers have taken their toll, as we all dash up to the Gents at the rear of the stand. The ground is a beauty. My eyes follow in a clockwise direction past the David Longhurst Stand, up the touchline towards the away terracing, where a healthy travelling contingent congregate. We're stood behind the goal in the singing section.

Kettering are managed by former Mansfield Town manager Paul Cox. He's ably assisted by my very good friend, John 'Rammers' Ramshaw - see how subtle we are about our nicknames? Former Newcastle United full-back Steve Watson (208 appearances) is in charge of the Minstermen. York are looking to bounce back into the Conference National League. Last week they lost away narrowly to League leaders Kings Lynn (280-mile round trip) 1-0 in front of over 4000 fans.

The first half is as dull as dishwater. Credit to Kettering who look the livelier team and have fresher ideas. Daniel Nti and Nottingham-born Aaron O'Connor (nickname 'Cizzle', that's more like it) are clever on the ball. They are fed passes, through the eye of a needle, by the intelligent play of Ben Milnes, another Nottingham lad who is the brother of Kent Cricket Club pace bowler Matt Milnes. Despite the Poppies' dominance, they are unable to carve out many chances. They do have a perfectly good goal chalked off by the man in black. I can only assume that York have had a kick up the butt during the break. They appear brighter and energised after the restart.

The goal that wins the game is well-worked. A cross fired in from the left-hand side is deftly steered into the back of the net by Jordan Burrow. Kettering are denied by some fine keeping in the latter stages, which prevents them from earning a point that they no doubt deserved.

I take one last look at this beautiful old school ground, that the club bought for just shy of £5,000 back in 1948. The Minstermen have been shunted out of town, close to a retail park. I bet you can't take a memorable walk through the old city like we did today.

Attendance: 2767 (204 away)

Man of the Match: Sprakey Airport

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Cottesmore Amateurs 2-3 Allexton & New Parks FC

The FA Vase tie between South Normanton and Wroxham is in its dying embers. Visiting supporters chant, cheer and dance respectively, and in time, to the beat of a toy drum, hit with a stick of a joyous supporter. Grant Holt, he of Norwich City and Nottingham Forest fame, has turned this Cup game on its head, since his introduction from the bench, on the hour. The Shiners ('Normo') were running scared of the big man; showing Holt way too much respect and more importantly space. He silences the haters, who have hurled abuse at him all afternoon, with a virtuoso performance that rolls back the years.

We exit the ground, with minutes remaining, as it's obvious to all and sundry (apart from Club officials) that it will all kick-off at the final whistle. I barge my way through the 'South Normanton Big Babies Squad.' The terrace is strewn with cans of Bass Shandy. Their behaviour has brought shame and embarrassment on the Club. Or so I thought.

I tweet South Normanton to complain (there wasn't a steward in sight on our departure). They backheel the blame and refuse to accept responsibility for allowing and ignoring abusive hate-chanting. I'm immediately blocked by their Twitter account. I'm tipped the wink by a 'man in the know' of the name of the clown who runs their account. He's not so brave when challenged.

We're both delighted that Wroxham has made it through to the final sixteen of the FA Vase. Wembley is the prize, where the final two teams will tough it out. Sunday's blog is greeted with welcoming arms from the real footballing folk in Norfolk. The Chairman invites us to attend a game in the near future. I also learn that former Norwich City legendary left-back Adam Drury (wand of a left foot and 326 appearances) is The Yachtsmen's assistant manager and that Chris Sutton's lad also plays in the nets for Wroxham.

The blog didn't go down too well with the 'Baby Squad.' The English department at Frederick Gent Comprehensive School (in the village) has failed miserably if their grammar, spelling and punctuation is anything to go by, from the tweets aimed in my direction.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm sat in the 'Rolls Royce' outside 'The Taxman's' abode (mansion) in the village of Plumtree, where the greatest player I ever saw, John Robertson, once used to reside. 'The Taxman' traipses down his crazy-paved drive, throwing a couple of coats on the back seat before settling in 'shotgun.'

The brilliant Burnley-born broadcaster, Tony Livesey, is on Five Live's Drivetime show. As per chuffing usual BREXIT is the topic of conversation. I mention to 'The Taxman' of our recent trip to Sunderland and what the future holds for the city should the Nissan car plant close, as is widely predicted. Night shift has already been knocked on the head and 70% of cars produced are sold to the E.U.

Destination tonight is the love of my life, (Sincil Bank) home to the Mighty Imps. It's a team in transition. Flying winger, Bruno Andrade, has jumped ship to Salford City (could have graced the Championship) - with rumours of further departures for Michael O'Connor and fans' favourite Harry Toffolo.

I always park up on St Botolph's Crescent, just off Robey Street, as it's where my Nana spent her final years before passing away in 1994, at the age of 94 years old. I'm very superstitious when it comes to watching 'The Lincoln.' I've never seen them lose a League game when I've sat in the Selenity Stand, but tonight it's sold out. The only available seats left are in Block One of the Stacey West Stand (named after two supporters who lost their lives in the Bradford City Fire Disaster in 1985).

I'm always edgy and irritable before any Imps game. I was the same when I coached my local village team. A walk up the High Street takes my mind off it. The gates at the railway crossing are closed as the warning lights flash. A freight train with endless wagons chugs by towards a terminal on the east coast.

We take a left-hand turn down a narrow passage called The Glory Hole, adjacent to Lincoln's oldest cafe, Stokes, where I spent many a happy childhood hour with Grandma, Grandad and Mum. Tea is taken at ASK Italian on Brayford Wharf - 'The Lincoln' never lose when I dine here. The service is usually spot on - tonight it's an omnishambles. I hear a plate smash on the kitchen floor (my Ravioli) We're offered free drinks and told 'The Taxman's' 'chips are burnt'. After negotiation and use of a Tastecard, it's £20 all-in for two courses - not bad eh - I can't 'arf pick 'em.

We head towards Sincil Bank, turning left off High Street, onto Scorer Street, the birthplace of Lee Chapman, who scored 179 top-flight goals in England. Bloc Party, Shed Seven and The Charlatans are part of an excellent set by 'The Lincoln' DJ.

I had hoped to see the home debut of Arsenal loanee, Tyreece John-Jules, but sadly he took a knock at Shrewsbury on Saturday. He's the nephew of Sticky's favourite ever TV copper, 'Dwayne' (Danny John-Jules) off BBC One's Death in Paradise.

City's opening goal is to die for. There's a give and go. Toffolo whips a cross in which Harry Anderson reacts to the quickest, darting in from the right, catching the Bolton backline flat-footed, before planting his header into the roof of the net. It gets me jumping out of my seat.

Bolton have brought near on 1000 supporters; not bad for a school night, eh? They are second best for the first 45 minutes, but Lincoln can't finish 'em off. Manager, Keith Hill, makes a change at the break, with The Trotters coming out all guns blazing. They score a belter after good play by journeyman captain Daryl Murphy. They get on top and put City under the cosh. Shots rain in on the Imps goal, fortunately, most of them whistle over the bar.

The jury's out on Big John Akinde, but he proves to be a game-changer on the hour, with what might be his final ever game at Sincil Bank. Tyler Walker picks a ball up 22 yards out and unleashes an unstoppable swirling shot into the top right-hand corner. City run riot in the final five minutes scoring three times without reply. There's a spring in my step on the walk back to the car. The Taxman is mightily impressed with some of the 'Champagne football' Michael Appleton's men have displayed.

Friday night is spent 'early doors' in the Crafty Crow on Friar Lane, next to Nottingham Castle. Full Nelson, from the Wylam Brewery, based in Northumberland, is the pint of the season. We trudge up the hill past the old Nottingham General Hospital. Dinner is taken at Hart's Hotel. The food is to die for. Ms Moon has Sea Bass, whilst Sticky tucks into flat iron of beef. Stinky cheese is shared for dessert. It's the sublime to the ridiculous as we have a nightcap at Nottingham's best 'Spoons, The Roebuck Inn on St James's Street.

I drive up Carlton Road and sweep past the King Billy pub, another favourite of mine, in Sneinton. Today, Cottesmore Amateurs play Allexton New Parks in a top of the table clash in the Leicestershire Senior League. 'The Big Man' (the artist formally known as 'White Van Man' or Bish, lives on the 'Keyworth Bronx.' The view towards the village of Bradmore from his back garden, is ridiculous.

'The Big Man' drives like he's on the virtual reality game Grand Theft Auto. Corners are met on two wheels and everyone in the village gives way to him. To be fair, the trip to Leicestershire is steady, without incident and minus Century FM. He's happy as Larry after spending Christmas in the polar opposites of a blustery Newquay, Cornwall and the Canary Island of Tenerife.

Cottesmore is negotiated within 45 minutes. I take a few snaps as 'Bish' gets his walking boots on. It's £2 on the gate and the folk are very welcoming and friendly. A guy who looks like ex-Grandstand presenter Des Lynam gets gassing. I recognise him from the Notts groundhopping scene. He follows his son who is a referee's assistant in the East Midlands Counties League.

There is a lady assistant running the line today. When I coached last year she refereed one of our games. She was bloody brilliant and easily the best official we had all season. I've told 'Bish' that the game will be a cracker, and so it proves to be.

An 'official' from Allexton gets chatting to us. He says only having 10 men in the previous fixture versus Cottesmore cost them three points. My experience of this League hasn't been the best, with many a Red card waved by the man in black.

'Our Man' from Allexton has loads of gas. It's zipped up early on after a thunderbolt of a free-kick by the home 11 jacket. He gasps and comes up for air with a string of C-bombs. It gets worse for 'Our Man' with a two-footed lunge five yards from where we are stood. It's a straight 'Red' and more C-bombs.  Cottesmore go for the jugular but can't finish 'em off. Allexton are galvanized and restore parity before half-time. I grab two teas and some chocolate at the break. Incredibly they go 2-1 up and deservedly so too. The game is like a Cup tie, but Allexton, despite being a man down, want it more.

We meet an elderly gentleman with a camera. He asks us how old he is? Bish says 21 and I say 80. "88 and a half" he proudly announces, "and I've marked out this pitch for years".

Cottesmore make it 2-2 with a header from a corner. Allexton are first to everything and play with massive hearts. They win the game after a faux pas by the home 'keeper, who gifts a visiting forward the winning goal.

Attendance: One Man and His Dog

Man of the Match: Gentleman 88 and a half years old.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

South Normanton Athletic 1-3 Wroxham

It's 4.55 pm and I'm traipsing down eight flights of stairs at Sunderland's Stadium of Light. 'The Lincoln' have put in their worst 45-minute shift since 1983, when, in atrocious conditions, they found themselves 0-4 down at Sincil Bank to Newport County, with John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan both bagging a brace.

Ms Moon and I join the hordes of Sunderland fans walking back into town over Wearmouth Bridge. They are as happy as Larry and I'm as miserable as sin. I'm seething and ashamed of our performance. Moments later, as we approach the Premier Inn, we bump into a small group of Lincoln fans. We share a moan and a groan at our ineptness. An elderly 'gentleman' earwigs our conversation.

 "You were crap, you were." "Yeah I know mate, should have been 8-0 or 9-0 to you" You were crap, you were." "Yes, we were mate." (*How many more times?*) "Crap, that's what you were." Like you were at Sincil Bank mate when we cuffed you 2-0." "Crap" "Sacked your manager after that loss, didn't you?" Crap you are" he says one more time before disappearing into the night,                       

We enjoy a great night out in Sunderland and meet some lovely, down to earth folk in Isis, Museum Vaults, The Cooper Rose and Ivy House. We're back in Nottingham at just after pm on Sunday. I enjoy a couple of pints in the Bread and Bitter on Mapperley Tops before settling in for the evening and writing the blog. It goes down well with the Black Cats supporters. The hit counter has more than 2000 visits.

Tuesday night sees the return of a chipper Taxman to the groundhopping scene. He's full of beans about his beloved Nottingham Forest, who have won three League games on the bounce. He picks me up and we head out to Arnold (they actually play closer to Calverton, but have been shunted out of town away from their community).

It's a Notts Senior Cup tie versus Southwell City. It's a closely contested game with the visitors taking the lead through a 30-yard wind-assisted wonder strike by Tom Robinson. Arnold improve in the second half; using the wind to their advantage. They score three times without reply. It's a shame, as I like the visitors who encourage playing youth in their set up.

It's a big night on Thursday evening with the return of Death in Paradise on BBC One. Murphy the budgie used to love that show. He'd whistle his wee head off when he heard the theme tune. DI Jack Mooney has the case wrapped up two minutes shy of the 10 O'Clock BBC News bulletin.

I'm in the dentist's chair on Friday morning (not the one the England squad frequented in Hong Kong prior to Euro 96). Halfway through a deep cavity filling, I start waving frantically. "Are you in pain with the tooth, Sir?" "No, that's fine, but can you turn Radio 1Xtra off, please?  I can't abide RnB" I have a few pints at Kean's Head on St Mary's Gate and Head of Steam on High Pavement, in Nottingham city centre, as the numbness wears off, before suffering the Soaps back at the ranch.

The plan had been to travel up to Lancashire and take in Longridge Town versus Newark Flowserve in the FA Vase. I was anxious about the weather and didn't fancy another five-hour return car journey. We're both disappointed as we were looking forward to staying over in the picturesque town of Clitheroe. Newark will find it hard up there against Lee 'Peggy' Ashcroft's Longridge Town. Striker Greg Smith has departed for Gainsborough Trinity and the in-form Zak Goodson is ineligible for the tie.

I shoot up to Morrison's on Saturday morning as I'm rustling up a Chilli at Chez Sticky's this evening. The brilliant Colin Murray is hosting Fighting Talk on BBC Five Live. I used to love his show on talkSPORT until Jim White rode into town with his name-dropping and click-bait tweets. I'm going to work at Morrisons once I retire (or get sacked) from the world of selling Governance, Risk and Compliance software. I'll be like Reg Holdsworth off Corrie, when he got the gig at Freshco's, after a successful spell replacing 'Big Alf Roberts' at the Corner Shop.

I whizz around the aisles throwing in all the ingredients into my trolley. I usually ask other customers if I can't find a product. I don't like to bother the staff. A little girl is having a tantrum and has been sent to the naughty step at the back of the tills. Her bottom lip is trembling and her face is twisted and contorted. It reminds me of 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' when I used to sub him on 65 minutes to save him getting sent off or sin-binned.

We hit the road at 2 pm. We go up the back way onto the A60 towards Mansfield. I immediately tune into Paul Gambacinni's Pick of the Pops on Radio 2 - it knocks the spots off 1Xtra. 'Gambers' is on a roll. The year is 1993. He plays Jesus Jones, Lisa Stansfield (that mole, eh?), The Prodigy and The Frank and Walters from Cork in Ireland. I'm tapping my feet as we drive through the village of Linby. I'm saddened to see red paint daubed on the Horse and Groom pub frontage in a senseless act of vandalism. It's a village close to my heart as I spent three happy years there, in the mid-80s, working at the coal mine.

South Normanton Athletic have asked folk not block up Lees Lane and cheese off the residents. We pull into The Hub and park up for free in there. It's £6 on the gate. I buy a couple of 50/50 tickets too.
There's a hum about the place; the FA Vase final will be played at Wembley. It's the once in a lifetime dream of any amateur footballer.

South Normanton is an ex-mining village in the Bolsover District of Derbyshire, with a population just shy of 10,000. Framework knitting was another of their main industries. It is also home to the East Midlands Designer Outlet (McArthur Glen).

The Monocled Mutineer, Percy Toplis, was educated in South Normanton. He was superbly played by Paul McGann in a BBC dramatization in 1986. He was a criminal, murderer and imposter, who posed as an Army Captain whilst on leave from the First World War. On 6th June 1920, whilst on the run, Toplis was shot dead by a police officer from Cumberland. He's buried in an unmarked grave near the top of Penrith's Beacon Edge (I'll let Ms Moon hunt that one down).

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, Jordan Smith, is from the village too. When the Tricky Trees signed him he was an outfield player and only 10 years old. He's turned into a fine 'keeper and will certainly make a living from the game in League One or League Two.

South Normanton Athletic (originally known as South Normanton Miners Welfare) were founded in 1926 and are nicknamed The Shiners. I usually attend evening games when the temperatures are at their lowest.

The ground is situated on top of a hill and is susceptible to windy conditions. A St George's flag, hoisted up a pole, flutters in the stiff breeze. Bolsover has a Tory MP for the first time in history and people voted in this District to Leave the EU with 70% of the vote.

We get gassing to some Wroxham fans who have made the 260 mile round trip from Norfolk. They are lovely people and proper footballing folk. I say to them that I fancy their chances, but 'Normo' won't give them an inch, so they will have to earn a victory.

We do a lap of the ground and bump into former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt. I tell him I really enjoyed his anecdotes on the brilliant Undr the Cosh podcast and wish him good luck today.

We position ourselves on the far side of the ground out of the breezy conditions. 'Normo' kick down the slope with the wind at their backs. It's not long before a group of 15-20 lads start hurling abuse at the visiting support and in particular Grant Holt, who is sat on the sub's bench on the far side. The 'Normo' Neanderthals sing: "We are Normo. We are Vile. Grant Holt is a paedophile"

We're both appalled and shocked by this. The visiting support are told to 'go home and play with your kids.' There's a string of abuse hurled in their direction. A massive hat tip to the away following who carry on singing their amusing ditties.

On the pitch, Wroxham look lively from the off. 'Normo' score against the run of play with a strike by Hanslow, that somehow deceives the 'keeper. I'm a tad disappointed in Wroxham (The Yachtsmen) who pass it around without any urgency or final ball. Half time arrives and Ms Moon treats herself to a Mayfair Sky Blue tab in the 'Smoking Shelter.' I put my head around the clubhouse door, the Team Leader of the 'Normo Neanderthals' is lining up shots of Bass Shandy. I ask Ms Moon if we can start up a chant of 'Percy Toplis ... he's one of your own?' She says it's for the best that we don't.

Wroxham are getting nowhere as 'Normo' keep a stranglehold on the game. On the hour there's movement on the bench. Big Grant, who signed a professional wrestling contract back in May 2018, is thrown into the fray.

The Shiners drop deeper and fear Holt. Wroxham rally and start to play. They equalise from a corner on 65 minutes with a bullet header that hits the roof of the net. Back come 'Normo' who have given their all and have been a credit to the village (unlike the yobs). Hanslow sees a shot blocked with the feet of the visiting 'keeper.

I say to a groundhopper, stood next to me, that Holt will only need one opportunity. A ball is clipped to the far post and headed back towards the burly striker, who nods it into the far corner. He brushes away his colleagues and runs up the hill towards the unruly mob, who have given him dog's abuse. We clap and cheer as he cups his ear at his detractors. There's no comeback from the 'Baby Squad,' as they retrieve their spat out dummies.

Wroxham put the tie to bed, at the fag end of the game, as we make a hasty exit, with trouble looming. Credit to both sets of players for putting on a show. What a shame the Club chose not to deal with the morons who brought shame on their village. Not a steward in sight, on our side of the ground, for the whole game.

Attendance: 172 (Need Rachel Riley to re-count that)

Men and Women of the match: Wroxham Supporters - real football fans. Good luck next round.

NB: The Non-League Paper reported unsavoury scenes after the match with fighting and the police called. More on this next week. For sure, I won't be visiting Lees Lane again. I'm blocked on Twitter by the Official account for telling the truth.