Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nottingham Forest 3 Lincoln City 1

I caught “The Skipper” and Sticky junior in a compromising pose the other evening. I burst through the bedroom door to find those pair of soft lads swaying side to side and singing in unison to Leona Lewis’ new single, Bleeding Love (I googled it .. honest.) What a pair of pretty boys. No wonder they can’t get a decent tackle in for their local team at a weekend.

I wasn’t going to blog the replay, but hey, I might enjoy reading it one day. When all the pain has gone. It’s taken 50 years for these two teams to meet in a competitive game and yet we have met twice in the space of a few weeks. How ironic I have to sit with the Forest fans at both fixtures.

The Nuclear Scientist is driving; he’s brought The Landscape Gardener with him. “The Skipper” is given a late-night pass by Mrs P. His best mate is NS’s son. Sticky jnr has a prawn sandwich for supper, he’s watching Un***d on the box at The Theatre of Hate.

We park in Lady Bay, a good hike from the ground. It’s peaceful, they’ll be lucky to break the 7000 barrier. Why couldn’t the two clubs agree on a price reduction for tickets? NFFC and their disregard for public relations … tut tut.

We are ten rows from the back of The Brian Clough Stand. You would probably have to walk 20 yards to get a light. Lincoln City are my team. When the ball is bouncing around in our area my heart is in my mouth. It always skips a beat when our No.7 is on the ball.

Tonight we play in the white shirts and red shorts I saw them win in at Field Mill. It was to be another 15 games before we won again. It was a bitter sweet moment for me that the victory came against Notts County. We are still rock bottom. We have sacked a manager who knew his onions. A manager who was building for the future. Tonight we have seven players in our squad 21 or under. For the last hour of this game both are central defenders are just 18 years old.

CC has a fully fit squad to pick from. He is even afforded the luxury of shipping a couple out on loan. Emile Sinclair has gone to Brentford and Irishman Alan Power to Conference side Grays. I’m hoping Calderwood will be charitable and give £500,000 Megson misfit Scott Dobie a place in the starting line-up. It would be a huge lift for the City of Lincoln if this joker was to start. Forest would have to employ a man in a boat to fish all his misplaced efforts from out of the Trent.

I heard Calderwood, pre-match; champion our stylish midfielder Lee Frecklington. It would not surprise me to see our grand fromage move down the A46 permanently.

It’s all Forest, although Lincoln try to play a passing game. Forest carve out plenty of chances and we are riding our luck. They take the lead on 35 minutes with a brilliant goal from Commons following a one two with Cohen. I’m a happy man at the break. Damage limitation is the only thing on my mind.

Nottingham Forest FC take a further step up the incompetence Premier League ladder with the discovery that only one refreshment bar is open for the entire Upper Brian Clough. They’re getting nowt off me; I’ve already shelled out £23. The disc jockey plucks out a gem from nowhere. The Happy Mondays Kinky Affro is the second best tune I’ve heard at a game this season. The Nuneaton jock played Everything Will Be Alright by The Killers. The game is dead and buried early on when Tyson shakes off the attentions of Lincoln’s Watt to finish smartly. On the hour Tyson doubles his tally converting a Davies cross.

Lee Frecklington is magnificent in the second half. Why has no-one took this boy on? He clears countless corners with his head. He has the best touch of any player on the night. He’s got pace and is not frightened to receive the ball in tight areas. He produces a stunning save from Smith with a 25 yard left foot pile driver. I’m not a big fan of Smith. At Sincil Bank he chose not to sign autographs for the boys. They won’t be asking again. They’d sooner Dale Roberts put pen to paper. I howl at every blunder Smith makes. He can slice a ball and punch fresh air for a living. Southampton must be laughing their b***ocks off at the £500,000 they banked for him.

Yes it could have and should have been a cricket score. But we deserve our consolation goal from the industrious Jamie Forrester. Youngsters John-Lewis and Hone have impressed for Lincoln.

Forest 3 Tyson 2 Commons Lincoln 1 Forrester

Attendance: 6783 (2229 visitors who were largely subdued)

Man of the Match: Lincoln 7 Jacket

Monday, November 26, 2007

Burton Albion 1 Cambridge United 2

What a total lack of professionalism last Wednesday night. I was well and truly lost for words at the end of that performance. Embarrassing, lacklustre, pathetic and upsetting are a few of the words I’ve heard describing that awful moment last week. I know it was the first time he’d been picked but the guy couldn’t even catch a cold. No, no, not Scott Carson but Rodney Marsh’s attempts, on the high-wire, at catching flags on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. He only got the camp four meals. Rodney you plonker!

I’m due a dose of Burton Albion, it’s over two months since I’ve been. They play the best football I’ve seen on the Non League circuit. Why hasn’t a league club tapped up young Nigel? On my last visit I saw them pass and play high-flying Torquay United off the park. Tonight they entertain Cambridge United who are enjoying a renaissance of their own.

Four of us travel from Nottingham they include: The Architect, a debut for The Caretaker and a hungry White Van Man whose stomach rumbles all the way down the A50. We are parked up and drinking in the worst bar on the Non League circuit by 7.10pm. It reminds me of something in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. It’s grey, dark and characterless. And even worse than that, a town which prides itself on the art of brewing beer provides me with the worst pint of bitter this season. Corporate clowns Coors’ Worthington Bitter is disgusting. I’d rather pay £3.30 for a pint at The George Hotel, Stamford.

White Van Man takes a tour of The Pirelli Stadium’s eating establishments. He saunters back into the bar with a smile as big as a Cheshire cat. He often waxes lyrical about his drinking binges from Budapest to Bridgford, but I’ve yet to see him in my presence drink anything stronger than a cup of tea. It’s still £12 admission. And the programme is still £2.50 and poor value. We meet up with Robbo and he shows off about some bricks he bought a few years ago with his name on.

Cambridge has a population of over 100,000. Famous people born in the city include: Grease star Olivia Newton John and Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters. Cambridge United are now in the safe hands of former Northern Ireland international Jimmy Quinn. He has managed at Reading, Swindon and Shrewsbury and knows what it takes to get his side back to a higher level.

This club have produced some mighty fine players. Flashing through my mind now are Steve Claridge, John Taylor, Alan Biley, Dion Dublin, Dave Kitson and Gary Rowett. I visited Abbey Stadium a few years ago with Lincoln and saw a drab goalless draw but I liked the ground and playing surface.

John Beck has managed both Lincoln and The U’s. There was never a dull moment with Beck at Sincil Bank. He paid Preston North End £25,000 for Gareth Ainsworth and two seasons later sold him on for £500,000 to Port Vale. What a winger he was, the best we’ve ever had. Lincoln finally sacked Beck when he sneaked off on a skiing holiday, forgetting to tell the chairman, who was sunning himself in Australia. He lost his case for unfair dismissal. And Sincil Bank has been a boring place without him.

The Brewers have been scoring goals for fun of late and against useful opposition. Both Halifax and Exeter have felt the force of strike partnership Clare and Harrad in recent games, with Burton scoring four times away from home on both occasions.

Cambridge are going to be a tough nut to crack and begin the game the better of the two sides. Former West Ham and Canvey Island striker Lee Boylan looks the part. The Brewers defence has to be alert to his movement. Quinn has them organised and has done his homework. They are zipping the ball all over the park and stifle Burton’s midfield, packing it in a 3-5-2 formation.

Burton take the lead against the run of play. For once Gilroy receives the ball to his feet and exploits the space in front of him. He nonchalantly flicks the ball across the face of the goal with the outside of his foot where it is met by the boot of the in-form Shaun Harrad. Burton 1-0.

Cambridge fight back. Ex Chelsea trainee Robert Wolleaston tries his luck from 25 yards out. It’s just over. Burton begin to take the initiative. The U’s keeper Danny Potter makes a fine save from a Mark Greaves header.

Burton’s groundsman provides the half-time entertainment. He is pole-axed from a shot by one of the subs warming up, whilst he is forking the area. He can’t find his spectacles.

The Brewers PA system spins Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around. No wonder Britney Spears turned to alcohol if she had to listen to that c**p everyday. If that CD was in our house it would definitely go around and around, out the back door and straight into the dustbin.

The U’s restore parity on 50 minutes courtesy of a deflected free-kick from Stephen Reed. The game ebbs and flows. Burton’s talismanic forward Daryl Clare slips the attention of the U’s rearguard but once again finds keeper Danny Potter in fine form. Harrad somehow misses the rebound from ten yards. The game is hotting up and thank Christ for that, as it’s so cold. I can barely feel my feet. I stand behind WVM to retain some warmth.

Clare is clearly frustrated at missing that sitter. He is shown a straight red for an elbow on Peters. It’s a silly challenge and costs his side the game. United make a double substitution. Lively left winger Courtney Pitt, once of Chelsea and Portsmouth enters the fray. He is joined by lumbering journeyman Leo Fortune-West. Once again Andy “Ronnie” Corbett is having a torrid time at right back. Pitt leaves him for dead and plays in a delightful ball for Scott Rendall to convert in front of the travelling faithful. They like Cambridge have been on song in the second period.

The game is now stretched but Cambridge are strong. Fortune-West and Wolleaston both go close. They deserve their win, not many teams have stopped Burton’s fast flowing football this season. For the Brewers, McGrath, once again, is magnificent in the middle of the park. But it’s a virtuoso display of goalkeeping from Danny Potter that wins the game for Cambridge.

Burton 1 Harrad Cambridge 2 Reed and Rendall

Attendance: 2263 (374 from Cambridge who all read a book at half time)

Man of the Match: Danny Potter

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dunkirk FC 1 Oldbury United 2

I’m laying in the bath, it’s 6pm. I can hear the wind whipping up and the rain battering the window. It’s Mrs P’s soap night. I don’t care that I might get a soaking this evening; it can’t be as depressing as watching Holby City or D**by County. I have a close scare, pre-match, when I can’t find my thermals. I’m informed by the good lady of the house that they’re in the washing machine. They are quickly transferred to the spin dryer. I’m going to need them tonight, Dunkirk’s ground is unforgiving.

It’s a no-show from The Taxman tonight; he’s too busy pilfering mail from post boxes, looking for the two computer discs containing 25 million child benefit records, which HM Revenue and Customs have mislaid. White Van Man claims he is down the gym. It’s more likely he’ll be propping the bar up or be at the food counter.

Barthez makes his debut with groundhopper this evening. I pick him up in Ruddington en-route. As you might gather, he’s eccentric and mad cap like the French stopper.

Dunkirk is just outside Nottingham City Centre, on Lenton Lane. Three clubs play in a 500 metre stretch; Greenwood Meadows and Bilborough Pelican being the other two. Restaurant, Sat Bains, is situated on this lane. It has a Michelin star.

Tonight’s game is a FA Vase second round replay between Dunkirk FC and Oldbury United. We’ve had heavy rain in these parts of late. I ring the ground at 7pm, and Dunkirk confirm the game is on.

The Boatmen (it’s on the banks of the River Trent) were formed in 1946. They played in the old Notts Alliance but have kicked on and performed well in the Central Midland Supreme Division last season. Nottingham Forest stole Wes Morgan from Dunkirk and haven’t done too badly out of him. He’s played over 150 games for The Reds. Jake Sheridan is another from these parts. Gary Mills signed him for Notts County in 2005. He’s now back with Mills at Tamworth.

Oldbury are from the West Midlands and play two leagues above Dunkirk in the non-league pyramid at Step Five level. They have an ongoing legal dispute with their landlord and have been thrown off their own ground. They celebrate their 50th anniversary playing their home games at Pelsall Villa’s ground. The two teams played out a stalemate last Saturday. Reports suggest that Dunkirk were a tad unfortunate.

Oldbury has a population of 10,000. The comedian Frank Skinner and boxer Pat Cowdell were both born in the town.

We’ve time for a drink int the refurbished bar and sit on one of the comfy leather sofas. I only have half a bitter, I don’t like drinking on a school night. EastEnders is on the television set in the corner of the bar. That programme haunts me. Ian Beale whinges and complains to anybody who’s prepared to listen to him.

The whole ground has had a lick of paint. Entry is £4 plus a £1 for the information packed programme. The pitch is heavy but in excellent condition. The huge poplar trees sway in the evening breeze. We choose to stand in a covered section on the opposite side to the dug outs. In the distance, above all the power pylons, are the high-rise flats on the Clifton Estate.

Dunkirk are managed by ex-pie David Harbottle, who is a legend on the Notts non-league circuit and a bit of a character. He has an eye for a player and has assembled a strong, young, mobile unit. The Meadows area of inner-city Nottingham is close by, and is a happy hunting ground for recruitment for clubs like Dunkirk. At junior level this club is respected and feared, I bought my U9’s here last season, we grabbed a 1-0 win, we rode our luck that day. I see their manager here tonight; we have a chat at half-time. Last night Dunkirk U19s travelled to Alfreton and beat them handsomely. Apparently the natives were restless.

The rain has relented and the wind has dropped. It’s a perfect night for football. I saw Dunkirk earlier in the season; they swept aside a very poor Blackwell Miners’ Welfare. They played that night with gusto, courage and passion. But they have lost their big cheese: Marquin Smith has gone to pastures new at Carlton Town. That night I saw him play, a few months ago, he was a cut above the rest. Another youngster from the engine room that night, Jack Reid, has since joined Heanor Town.
Former Forest striker David Johnson has signed for Dunkirk but his appearances have been fleeting. He doesn’t make the squad tonight but still makes the effort to turn up and support his team. He’s no Big Time Charlie.

It’s not a game for the feint-hearted. Oldbury players and supporters are surprised by the physical presence of the hosts. I’m not. Harbottle has his team well and truly wound up. Oldbury don’t like it up em.

Oldbury are more comfortable on the ball, but Dunkirk give them little time or space. The game springs to life towards the end of the first period with referee Kemsley awarding a hotly disputed penalty, after a foul on Boatman forward Joel Wilson. The Oldbury keeper is controversially sent off and Wilson coolly converts the spot-kick. Oldbury are livid and seek vengeance. The referee can’t blow quick enough for half-time.

The visitors’ ten men settle well in the second half and begin to pass the ball. Dunkirk give away an unnecessary free-kick, deep in their own half. From the resulting free-kick, The Cricketts grab an equaliser through Anton Johns, who heads home a wicked ball sent in from diminutive winger Danny Yearwood. Dunkirk have their chances but are crying out for a left sided player. Thompson’s deliveries from set-pieces are spot on.

Dunkirk are rattled, the game turns sour; there are off-the-ball offences all over the park. Oldbury begin to find gaps down the Dunkirk right flank. Danny Yearwood scores the winner following great work by Oldbury left back Dimmock.

The Boatmen get the ball into good areas but there’s no-one on the end of them. They lack that little bit of composure and quality. The game ends in pandemonium with Dunkirk’s Mark Nangle sent off for an off-the-ball offence. He incurs the wrath of the travelling support and for once, has to bite his tongue.

The visitors have that extra bit of class but you can not fault the honesty and endeavour of the home side.

Dunkirk FC 1 Wilson (pen) Oldbury United 2 Johns and Yearwood

Attendance: 50 (Including 8 from Oldbury, 7 of which moaned and groaned all night)

Man of the Match: Oldbury’s Lee Dimmock

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stamford AFC 0 Buxton FC 1

People have been blanking me in the corridors at work this week, word is they’re not happy at me bad-mouthing Heartbeat legend Alf Ventress. We have something at our company called key performance indicators. Basically it’s the company monitoring what you get up to all day. Had the West Yorkshire Police Force had this system in place in the 1970s then they would have turfed out this bone-idle, biscuit dunking waste of space in a matter of weeks.

I’d forgotten how beautiful a place Stamford was, I’ve been trying to get here for weeks. My lifelong friend, the Factory Manager, lives in Peterborough and we have agreed to meet up today.

I drive up the A606 past signs for Long Clawson, where they make Stilton cheese and through Melton Mowbray, home of the Pork pie; they love their cholesterol in Leicestershire.

I drive past the Red House restaurant in Upper Broughton. I saw that clown Joe Kinnear and his sidekick Mick Harford wining and dining in here a few years ago on the eve of a big game against the sheep. The following day Irish comedian Barry Roche had kicked a coffee cup, instead of a ball, and JK was history.

I’m parked up at the ground in fifty minutes, parking is free. The Buxton team bus is just pulling up. I want a photo of Anton Foster but I don’t want the guy thinking I’m stalking him.

I take a stroll into town. The infamous Daniel Lambert died in Stamford in 1809; he weighed in at just over 52 stone. He used to travel the country exhibiting himself. He died suddenly in the bedroom of a public house. They had to knock the wall down to get him out. It took twenty men to lower him into his grave. Let’s put it this way, you wouldn’t want to be behind him in the queue at the village fete pie stall. Stamford AFC are nicknamed The Daniels, in his memory.

This town is gorgeous; it’s numero uno on my sojourns, by a country mile. I must surprise Mrs P and bring her here one day. Not on a Saturday though. Even Pizza Express is built in the same stone wall that surrounds the town.

Every papershop sells USA Today; the yanks love this place. There’s no chance of a pick and mix from Woolworth today. It’s way too posh to have a Woolies. I walk over a bridge which the River Welland flows under.

The Factory Manager is having trouble finding the ground so I slip into the Bull and Swan; it’s in the Good Pub Guide. I’ve been stood at the bar ten minutes and no-one has taken a particular interest in attending to my thirst. The owner is swanning around and only one girl is serving. Sod this for a game of soldiers I’m off to a proper pub.

The George Hotel is just down the road. The views en-route to this Lincolnshire Dining Pub of the Year are stunning. I’m served instantly and order a pint of Adnams Broadside: “That’ll be £3.30 please sir.” I nearly die at the same spot as Daniel Lambert. £3.30! I can watch Greenwood Meadows and Dunkirk for that.

I finally hook up with the Factory Manager; his sense of direction is appalling, worse than mine. I can not believe we visited together 108 football grounds in five days, driving over 3500 miles without getting seriously lost. God bless sat nav.

It’s £8 to get in and £1.80 for a fantastic value programme. Buxton have put a few on the gate. The Bucks’ leading scorer Mark Reed has recently joined Vauxhall Motors, who have the hottest property in non-league football, a lad called Paul Taylor. Remember that name because next year he will be in the Football League. Ilkeston’s Neil Ross has replaced Reed at Silverlands.

The ground looks a little tired; the two stands look in need of a refurbishment. But it has soul and atmosphere and it’s close to the town.

The playing surface looks fine and the pitch is on a slope. Buxton dominate the first half without playing particularly well. Stamford are awful, devoid of any ideas. They continuously give away possession and are pinned back in their own half. Turley, Walker and Ross miss chances for the visitors.

We nip in the social club for a cup of tea at the break. It’s a cosy old place. Norway’s Alan Neilson has signed a shirt that’s in a frame from an international match that was held at Stamford’s ground back in 1994 between Wales and Norway.

The Daniels proudly display their history in the clubhouse. There’s a trophy cabinet on the wall surrounded by pictures of old teams and pendants. The bar staff and tea bar personnel are friendly and courteous.

Not the same can be said of Stamford’s captain Lee Colkin. His first half performance is dire; he fails to find a home shirt with a pass in the entire 45 minutes. As for his movement, I’ve seen Daniel Lambert move quicker at the buffet bar.

In the second period he commits a horrific two footed lunge at Bucks’ winger Turley. It’s in front of me and is x-rated. Referee Cooke from Mansfield has controlled this game well, at a simmering heat, but it’s always threatening to boil over. Colkin sees yellow instead of red. I notice this joker played over 70 games for Northampton Town. He should be stripped of the captaincy; he actually believes the challenge was fair. It was a leg breaker.

Paul Walker, Buxton’s forward, has worked tirelessly for the team, chasing a number of lost causes. He deservedly scores the winner on 48 minutes with a cool finish following another defensive lapse of concentration. Stamford at last begin to up the tempo but never seriously trouble Bucks’ keeper Hartley. I get my first touch of the match ball on 50 minutes. Bucks’ midfielder Anton Foster is not at his best today but he’s better than anything on show in the home midfield.

Stamford’s forwards Tony Battersby and Leon Mettam are both former Lincoln City players. Lincoln’s manager at the time Shane Westley foolishly paid 75k for Battersby's services. Notts County also paid 200k for him. He has made a career out of not scoring goals and not breaking sweat. Today is no different. Mettam seems more interested with bad-mouthing his own team mates.

There are a few cameo appearances from Aaron Lennon’s brother Tony, ex Forest midfielder, the albino looking Robert Hughes and a guy who was once described by the Nottingham Evening Post as the “New Roy Keane,” Irishman John Burns. I used to work with John a few years ago, he’s a lovely fellow.

John Reed, Buxton’s manager has assembled a side with balance and poise. Today they are not at their best but are too good for Stamford. The home team are second best in all departments. Only central defender Steve Julian can cover himself in any glory. I look forward to my imminent visit to the home of Buxton FC called The Silverlands. It’s the highest ground above sea level in England and I can’t wait to go.

Stamford AFC 0 Buxton FC 1 Paul Walker

Attendance: 305

Man of the Match: Gregg Anderson

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lincoln City 1 Nottingham Forest 1

I have waited for this weekend for so long, and I don’t mean the record breaking 17th new series of Heartbeat, which starts tonight ITV 1, 8pm. Although I will be watching it to see if PC Alf Ventriss gets off his fat arse for the first time in nearly two decades and feels a few Yorkshire scallywag collars.

Regular readers of these ramblings (god bless you) will know my team, for my sins, are Lincoln City. It’s 50 years since they have played Nottingham Forest in a competitive match.

You should have been in our room when the draw was made a few weeks ago: “Number 26, Lincoln City, will play number 32, Nottingham Forest.” I leapt off the settee did a whole lap of honour of the house and text the entire address book of my mobile.

It’s been a good morning; I went to watch “The Skipper’s” team. I used to coach them but people spoilt it. I’ve stayed away for a while but the time is right to support them again. We miss each other, and they have a new manager. They look to him and not for me anymore and I am fine with that. They destroyed one of the best teams in Notts today 4-1. They were magnificent.

White Van Man fails to make the team bus, I’m disappointed, and so are Puuka pies, they’ve had to cancel a shipment of pies.

We’re in a convoy down the A46. I’m with the Ribbon Maker, the Nuclear Scientist drives behind. It’s a trip down memory lane for Sticky Palms, I’m Lincoln born and bred.

I’ll be honest; it’s been a while since I’ve been. The trips are too painful since my father died. I prefer to follow the Imps on the road.

We hit Lincoln in 50 minutes and stop at a top chippy on Rookery Lane. It must be kicking off in town as police cars and bikes drive by with their sirens on, at full pelt.

We park at the bottom of Dixon Street, the birthplace of the greatest man on earth. My father Frank was born at No.67 on Aug 1st 1933. He later became a reporter on the Daily Express and Daily Mirror. He took early retirement to fulfil his dreams of being an author. He wrote eighteen detective thrillers. They would knock the spots off some of the crap on TV these days. (Apart from Heartbeat) He had razor-sharp wit and I miss him so much. Sometimes I feel alone.

We walk down Shakespeare Street over a bridge and turn left into Sincil Bank. There she is in all her glory, on top of steep hill, basking in the sunshine, that seventh wonder of the world. No, not the ground, but of course Lincoln Cathedral. Will the hidden imp be our lucky charm today? If you’re ever in the mire with the missus, take her to Lincoln for the day, it will put her in a good mood for weeks.

I’m in the Forest end; the kids insisted. Jesus, I hope we don’t score. The stewards are friendly, they’re all from Nottingham. A good idea that.

The memories come flooding back for me. Graham Taylor’s great side of the mid seventies, a young, raw Mick Harford leading the line and the win against Wycombe that restored us to the Football League. It’s not a pretty ground but it’s good for my soul. “Dad, didn’t we build this ground at home once with Lego?” Doh!

Paul Smith, the Forest keeper, is warming up, but the miserable sod won’t sign autographs for the boys. I console them: “Don’t worry lads he’d probably drop the pen anyway.”

Mark Shardlow from East Midlands Today comes up to the kids with a camera and microphone asking them what the score will be. They’re shouting 10-0. Flipping heck!

Some young girls perform a dance routine before the match and the Lincoln mascot, Poacher, is quick to seize on the opportunity of a quick kiss and cuddle. The pre-match music is dreadful. They play two Queen songs in a row. How will the general public of Lincoln react when punk and two tone finally arrive on the scene?

Lincoln sacked their manager John Schofield a few weeks ago, a scandalous decision. For the first time in years the team played football and produced a fine crop of young players. We’ve lost a first-class coach. Peter Jackson has taken over, he looks like Dr Who. We have an immaculate minute’s silence for Remembrance Day. Sadly all I can think of is Frank.

“Stand up if you hate D**by.” We all rise as one. In all honesty the game is dire. Lincoln exert pressure early on without really troubling Smith. Although the non-autograph signing fool fumbles an early cross and is fortunate the ball falls back into his hands.

Forest take the lead on 25 minutes, slightly against the run of play. with a slick passage of passing. Tyson finds Commons in acres of space on the left, his cross is pinpoint, and is met by ex imp Junior Agogo, Marriott makes a hash of it and McGugan smashes the ball into the roof of the net.

“The Skipper” and his pal torment me. Shortly after Agogo heads against the underside of the bar. It’s all Forest. The Imps are soon on level terms, a wicked cross from full back Paul Green is sliced into his own net by Kelvin Wilson.

Imagine the release your body gives you when your side score a goal, mine is trapped inside me. I grip the seat, pretend to act disappointed and give “The Skipper” a tickle. The half-time whistle comes too soon for Lincoln.

At the break this guy comes on the pitch and does all these tricks with the ball, he is amazing. The Lincoln fans are in awe, they’ve never seen a player take more than two touches before. And under John Beck and Keith Alexander a player would be chastised for that too. Wes Morgan strolls over to the boys and signs autographs. I’ve always rated him at this level.

Early in the second period, Paul Smith shanks a clearance with his left foot straight to a Lincoln player who finds our French import Dany N’Guessan. His shot looks goal bound but Smith redeems himself, tipping his shot round the post. N’Guessan is blessed with the pace of Thierry Henry but has the intelligence and touch of Inspector Clouseau. He rolls around the floor after every hard challenge. He’s as soft as French cheese.

Forest begin to find some rhythm. Agogo misses a one on one, dragging his shot hopelessly wide with a left foot swinger. Commons hits the bar with an outrageous shot from miles out. Tremendous news filters through by text on 69 minutes, D**by are losing 5-0 to West Ham. I’m a Nottingham boy at heart.

The game peters out into a tame draw. Yes Forest are the better side but are no great shakes. Lincoln’s patched up team have done well. Scott Kerr is outstanding in the centre of the park and Lee Frecklington will look forward to the space and surface of the City Ground for the replay. But it is 18 year old Daniel Hone who has caught my eye. He hasn’t given the disappointing Tyson a kick today.

Lincoln have a poor record of public address announcers: they don’t fail to disappoint again today: “All Notts Forest fans, please have a safe journey home." It’s NOTTINGHAM Forest!

We haven’t played Forest since 1957 and yet now we are to meet twice in the space of ten days. But give me Meadows v Radford anyday..

Lincoln City 1 Wilson (og) Nottingham Forest 1 McGugan

Attendance: 7361

Man of the Match: Daniel Hone

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Greenwood Meadows 5 Radford FC 2

I missed my second Saturday game in a row due to The Architect’s brother getting married. But every cloud has a silver lining. I’m sat with my bro-in-law, at the reception. Life has been cruel to him, not only is he a copper, but he also supports D**by County. How unfair is that?

He’s looking a bit sheepish. I’ve had the best part of three bottles of red and we’re having are normal row about the police. I’m taking the p**s out of our beloved Metropolitan Police and their bungled attempts to catch Brazilian illegal immigrant Jean Charles de Mendes. Pc Plod suddenly mentions he worked in the notorious Meadows area of Nottingham for four years. I have a cunning plan: “Another bottle of red, officer?”

It’s Bonfire Night, 7pm. We park in the Portland Leisure Centre. We head down Arkwright Walk. The new Meadows have been described as an architectural disaster; town hall planners of that era should be named and shamed. It’s a series of rat-runs, alleys, snickets and cul-de-sacs. The paths are narrow; I feel hemmed in. The houses are crammed together without thought or feeling. They may not fill the skyline like the tower blocks of the sixties, but they are ugly and characterless.

It’s an impossible place to police. To our right is St Saviour’s Church built in 1863; it’s an outstanding creation of beauty surrounded by ugliness.

We sweep left past a closed circuit television camera into the Bridgeway Centre. Here lays a shrine to 17 year old gun victim Nathan Williams, cruelly taken away from his family and friends with a single gunshot wound in broad daylight. It brought a shell-shocked community together in grief. A year on from this senseless killing, pinned to a post, at the scene of his death, are cards, flowers, poems and messages from those he left behind. I am moved.

We walk past Poets Corner under a dimly lit subway and peel off the main drag down a narrow pathway.

After a few moments we are in the old Meadows, the streets are alive with children playing and fireworks being launched at garden parties. The houses are three storeys high just like the Albert Finney movies filmed in Radford in the sixties. There is a spirit and soul to this community. Whatever negativity life throws at them they dismiss, and soldier on together.

When I scouted at Notts County’s centre of excellence I was obsessed with the inner-city. I often watched Meadow Colts, and landed a boy for The Pies at 15. He’s an apprentice at Field Mill now. I watch his progress with interest.

Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant is Meadows born and bred. He lost his mother to cancer at a young age and is the oldest of four children. Football gave him an outlet. He escaped the ghetto. He couldn’t even read or write.

Greenwood FC and Meadows Albion FC amalgamated twenty years ago. Radford first started playing in 1964 under the name of Manlove and Alliots, a local engineering firm. In 1977 Radford became the first amateur league side to wear advertising on their shirts. Both teams play in the Central Midlands Football League. I enjoyed the friendship, warmth and camaraderie of the Radford people on my visit last season.

I pick up The Taxman at just after 7pm. We are parked up at the ground in less than fifteen minutes. It’s £3 admission and a £1 for the programme.

I have a chat with Greenwood’s secretary Dennis Wakelin. I’d phoned him up the night before and told him I would introduce myself: “You won’t miss me” he replied: “I’m the fat bloke.”

I’m saddened to here that the Under 19 side has been disbanded due to cost-cutting. Surely there should be some sort of funding to keep these young lads off the street and give them a life experience.

Greenwood Meadows have had to spend £10,000 of club funds on fencing around the perimeter of the ground in the close-season. The whispers are that they have aspirations to play at a higher level next season. They currently lie second from bottom of the league, but they impressed me at Radford last season.

The Taxman gets the teas in at the snack bar; he’s as white as a sheet. He’s seen a sign behind the bar it says “No Loaded Firearms Allowed in the Clubhouse.” Apparently they have a Country and Western night on Saturdays.

The game kicks-off, there’s a waft of cigarette smoke in the air from the nearby Imperial Tobacco factory.

There are early chances at both ends in an open encounter. But it’s Radford keeper Scott Flinders who misjudges the bounce of a through ball; Greenwood’s Donachie rolls the ball into an empty net.

Radford strive for an equaliser, but on the half hour Donachie makes it 2-0 to the home side, pouncing on an aimless ball and finishing smartly.

Radford are in shock, they clearly fancy their chances but Meadows never let them settle or get into a rhythm. Speedy right winger Daniel Miller latches onto a long ball, and once again keeper Flinders is caught out of position, 3-0. Greenwood Meadows are still celebrating when Radford’s John Manders seizes on some hesitation in the home defence to reduce the deficit.

There are some guys from the FA here tonight, they are poncing about the joint and are suited and booted. I swear I actually caught one of them watching the game for one moment. They won’t go in the bar, no chance, not with that sign up behind the bar.

At the break we have a stroll around the ground and meet an inner city legend: Maurice Samuels. Maurice is a social worker in St Anns and is trying, through sport, to bring the communities of the Meadows, St Anns and Radford together. He has formed a football club called Unity FC. They have played youth teams at Forest and Blackburn and have acquitted themselves well. Blackburn Rovers have signed a 17 year old from Nottingham on a one year contract. Samuels mentors these boys and gives them hope not hate, love and not war. I know Mo well, we used to work together.

Radford drive forward in the second period but the Greenwood Meadows defence are immense; Miles, Miller, Wilson and Morgan fight tooth and nail for every ball. Donachie completes his hat-trick with a well taken header from a free-kick. The rout is completed ten minutes from time with his fourth of the night following a mix-up in the Radford defence. Substitute Bailey scores a late consolation.

Radford manager Julian Garmston is not a happy chappy and has moaned and groaned all night. The referee has felt the wrath of his tongue, unfairly in my opinion. He should look more closely at his team’s performance than that of the man in black, who may have missed a few tackles, but has allowed the game to flow.

Radford number seven Darren Garmston is a fine player, and at 23 can look forward to playing at a far higher level than this. Tonight he is, like his Dad, a frustrated figure.

Tonight has thrown two troubled communities together under one roof. Football is the winner.

Greenwood Meadows 5 Radford FC 2

Attendance: probably more than watched Channel 4’s Property Ladder

Man of the Match: Dave Donachie

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nottingham Forest 0 Oldham Athletic 0

Who scored the first ever Premiership own goal?

A surreal moment for Sticky last Wednesday. I had just dropped Dumb and Dumber off at their mates and was driving back home up Tollerton Lane, when I saw this guy on a mountain bike, dressed in Forest shorts, cycling in the opposite direction. To put it bluntly, the bloke looked about knackered. His face was etched in pain, his body twisted and contorted and his hair was a mass of sweat. The poor chap was breathing out his backside. It was none other than suave and sophisticated Scot, Colin Calderwood.

I double-checked it was CC with a contact down the ground; he confirmed Colin was in the vicinity and lives close by. Next time he’s roasting Kris Commons (I picked him at random) for not lasting the full 90 minutes, I’d fully expect Commons to say: “You’ve got a bloody nerve gaffer, Sticky saw you last week on your bike, reckons you were blowing out your arse!”

I finally got to watch the low-budget film of the year: Control, and wasn’t disappointed. I found the film uplifting and poignant. It’s a skilfully crafted piece of art by director Anton Corbijn. It will scoop some prizes and was mostly filmed in Nottingham. Sam Riley, who plays cult hero Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, is awesome. I don’t think I’ve seen a guy smoke so many cigarettes since yours truly at the Conference decider between Lincoln and Wycombe in 1988.

The Lace Maker is away in Portugal, I’ve borrowed his ticket. He he has a birds-eye view in the Brian Clough Stand. I’m accompanied by The Architect. I’ve not been to The City Ground since that rousing cup tie against the Foxes.

Oldham is in Greater Manchester and has a population of over 100,000. Its cotton mills were prosperous during the Industrial Revolution. Famous people born in Oldham include: the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, comedy genius Eric Sykes, Philip Schofield and Mark Owen.

In 1900, Winston Churchill became MP for Oldham. He, like Oldham right back Neal Eardley tonight, enjoyed smoking cigars. Top indie band, the Inspiral Carpets, are from the town as well. I remember watching Forest getting beaten 2-1 in a pea souper of a fog at Boundary Park back in December 1991.

The Latics’ manager John Sheridan managed one game under Brian Clough; I vaguely remember it being a League Cup tie versus Huddersfield Town. Rumours were aplenty; one being that Sheridan was signed behind the great man’s back, whilst Clough sunned himself in his Majorcan retreat.

Oldham haven’t won in five games and are having trouble in finding the back of the net. Mark “Norman” Crossley is on the bench tonight; he scored the first ever Premiership own goal in 1992. Former tricky tree John Thompson is injured, it’s a shame, I always rated him, and he did well under Paul Hart.

I did a whistle-stop tour of all football clubs in England for charity once and Oldham were terrific. They gave us a signed match ball, t-shirts signed by the legend David Eyres and introduced us to all the players, I’ve never forgotten that touch of class. Not quite the same could be said of the public relations department at Forest.

We have a couple of pre-match jars in the Stratford Haven; it’s a pub close to my heart, as my father officially opened it. It’s a real ale house. The Architect asks for a Carling, the barman gives him a look of disgust.

We’re strolling down the Bridgford Road towards Trent Bridge, past the characterless Fire & Ice: there’s not a footballers’ wife in sight! It’s an eerie feeling, Bridgford feels empty and soulless tonight.

Ian Curtis

We’re sat with the prawn sandwich brigade of the 1980s; I prefer the salt of the earth of the Main Stand, despite their close to the knuckle chanting at the Leicester game.

The ground looks half empty, perhaps like Mrs P, the lure of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is too hard to resist. One row back is a leggy, stunning blonde, I fumble for my camera, for the first time ever I’ve forgotten it.

It’s a bright opening; Chambers goes close for Forest as does McDonald for Oldham. The Latics attack in numbers. Eighteen year old captain Neal Ardley and seasoned pro Andy Liddell, exploit the space that Calderwood’s 4-3-3 provides down the Latics’ right flank.

The highlight of the half is on 27 minutes when the Harvest Ale and Stratford Gold can be hung onto no longer. I bump into White Van Man outside the Gents; he’s just finished his shift in the ticket office, and joins us.

The HMV Music Store provides us with Kula Shaker at the break. The Architect remarks that he heard Shed Seven at the Doncaster game a few weeks ago. It’s great to see Leicester player Clive Clarke, the victim of heart failure a few weeks ago, handing over three defibrillators to the club at half time.

Oldham, like many sides before them, realise there’s nothing to fear at this once great club, they throw caution to the wind and attack in numbers. Kilkenny and McDonald have pace, movement and intelligence. The Latics are pleasing on the eye, but the final ball is often wanting.

The arrival of Forest winger Arron Davies is like a breath of fresh air, he fizzes a shot wide with his first touch and torments Chelsea loan full back Ryan Bertrand. Oldham refuse to shut up shop, and chase the winner to the death. But they lack that little bit of quality and imagination; no-one could deny them a winner; they belie their lowly league position. There are no bad tackles and no bookings; referee Haywood has a fine game.

Forest are shot-shy, once again Agogo fails to silence his critics, and gives a performance that underlines why he has spent his entire career in the lower divisions. Holt carries an injury; Commons flits in and out the game and Tyson’s back on the treatment table. Forest look dead on their feet, they have chased the ball for most of the night. Wilson has a fine 80 minutes but that lapse of concentration that blights his game is there for all to see in the final stages.

It’s my first 0-0 in over a year, I’m distraught. I walk through the door at just after 10pm: “You’ve missed Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” says Mrs P. “And you missed Luke Chambers right back nightmare.” I reply.

Forest 0 Oldham 0

Attendance: 16,423

Man of the Match: Neil Eardley