Monday, March 31, 2008

Notts County 0 Mansfield Town 0

I’m refreshed and revitalized after a four day break in Austria. My sister-in-law got married out there. It has a population of over eight million people, and its most famous includes: Mozart, Strauss, Franz Klammer, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the most despicable and evil man ever to have set foot on this planet, no, not Crawley Town’s manager Steve Evans, but of course Adolf Hitler

They don’t talk about Adolf much up in the Tyrol mountains, but I couldn’t help but laugh, whilst supping a fine litre of German beer up the mountain last week, when an Austrian woman, who had lost her child, was screaming at the top of her voice “Adolf Adolf.” No wonder the poor little bugger scarpered off.

I was going to sit in the away end today; I’m still cross that they closed the Notts County Centre of Excellence a few years ago. This club broke 120 young hearts; and showed little remorse. But The Angler is on board today, and he is a Pies fan and wants to sit in the main stand. He met his wife here 45 years ago. Sticky junior and “The Skipper” make a guest appearance.

I blagged a couple of freebies last season and saw County put in sterling performances against Lincoln and Walsall. Steve Thompson, in my opinion, was harshly sacked by the Pies. He was doing a decent job with limited resources and was forced to sell his best player in David Pipe, who is now having a successful time at Bristol Rovers.

I miss old Thommo’s razor sharp wit; we’re now stuck with two dour Scotsmen either side of the Trent. Notts appointed the management dream team of Ian McParland and David Kevan; the jury is still out. The air hangs heavy over Meadow Lane right now.

Talking of dream team, Mansfield Town’s prospective new owner the cranky John Batchelor is toying with idea of changing the Stags name to Harchester United after the fictional Sky TV programme. It’s certainly whipped up a storm of publicity for the North Notts club.

They too, have had an eventful period. This week former Stag, the talented Paul Holland, was named as manager of the club. During the week he also released five players. Little loyalty was shown to likeable Lancastrian Billy Dearden; he was shown the door a few weeks back, despite a cash bonanza cup run; only narrowly ended by Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough.

We park in County Hall and troop across Trent Bridge, passing the Cricket Club and City Ground. The clouds are low and there is a steady drizzle of rain. We pass the now derelict Casa Bar and walk past one of Mrs P’s favourite establishments: Topknot Hairdressers. We snake through Turner’s Key and over the canal and past another abandoned public house: The Trent Navigation.

I pay a whopping £32 at the gate, £20 for me and £12 for the kids. It’s a further £2.50 for an average programme.

We’re sat in “A” Block on the edge of the eighteen yard area. The state of the pitch is atrocious. It’s by far the worst I’ve seen this season, and I include Leicester City’s Walkers Stadium in that. They’ll be no doubt blaming the ground share with Nottingham Rugby Club, but let’s face it; we’ve not had a harsh winter. There’s more sand on this surface than Skegness beach.

I notice Big Pos junior in front of me; he’s supported Notts all his life. It’s almost an art form the way he devours his Pukka- Pie and peas. He makes White Van Man look an amateur.

There is, as Colin Slater would say “drama at the lane” before the game. Notts ‘keeper Russell Hoult falls awkwardly whilst warming up. He is carried off and looks a certain non-starter. As a precaution Notts call up rookie ‘keeper Tim Sandercombe to the bench.

It’s five minutes before kick-off, the atmosphere is fever pitch. Mansfield have almost filled the old Spion Kop end and the County Roadside are in good voice. My phone goes off, it’s Mrs P, she’s in Sainsbury’s at Castle Marina. Do I want Abbotts or Bombardier in cans or bottles? I’m just about to watch the biggest game of the season and she comes up with this little conundrum. Bottles of course.

The Stags are magnificent in the first half, they football Notts off the park. County can’t get anywhere near ex-Manchester City midfielder Jonathan D’Laryea and the Irishman Stephen Dawson. Nathan Arnold on the left and Matt Hamshaw on the right cause problems for Notts with their pace. Skipper Jake Buxton is resolute at the heart of the defence.

In the early stages Dominican Republic forward Jefferson Louis forces the now fit again Hoult into a good save from a deft header. He’s had a somewhat chequered career, including thirteen clubs, and is still only 29.

Michael Boulding’s pace and trickery causes difficulties for Mike Edwards. He cleverly plays in Nathan Arnold, whose crashing shot comes back off the woodwork.

County are dire, truly awful. Their full-backs are short on pace, and the visitors exploit this. Before the break both Louis and Boulding have shots saved by Hoult. Edwards and Michael Johnson work overtime to keep their side in the game.

I’ve been watching the work rate of loan forwards Danny Crow and Ryan Jarvis. I’ve seen more movement from Big Pos eating his Pukka-Pie. Looking at Crow’s waistline, it would seem he’s shifted a fair few pies in his time. Jarvis, the big Southern Jessie, even sports a pair of gloves.

Due to a crackling PA system and a malfunctioning microphone we are unable to grab any half-time scores. It’s a cracking impersonation of Norman Collier. This once mighty fine club is dying on its arse.

I’ve spotted Burton Albion’s manager Nigel Clough in the stand; it looks like he’s checking out next year’s opposition. The Brewers play a beautiful game of football at The Pirelli Stadium, on a surface you could play Subbueto on. God only knows what he makes of the Meadow Lane pitch.

The kids are moaning more than Charlie McParland, they want some chips. I refuse point blank, and tell them if they don’t start behaving I’ll bring them down Notts again next week!

The second half is a drab affair, although Notts do improve slightly. Mansfield are disheartened not to have been ahead at the break. McParland squeezes the midfield.

Jason Lee and Spencer Weir-Daley are warming up, last season they scored 24 goals in this league, and yet they cannot force their way into one of the worst Notts teams I‘ve seen in years.

Weir-Daley is unlucky to see a shot deflected away for a corner. Mansfield come flying forward in a last ditch attempt to grab the points. Ex-WBA winger Simon Brown floats a cross in from the left, which Stags’ winger Matt Hamshaw blasts over from eight yards out.

The referee finally blows for time (thank God.) I’ve shelled out over thirty pounds, to watch a load of overrated journeymen serve up utter tripe. Notts have kept four consecutive clean sheets and are inching their way to safety. But poor old Mansfield are down on their luck today and look doomed.

Arnie Schawrznegger might be back, but I for one, won’t be.

Pies 0 Stags 0

Attendance: 10,027

Man of the Match: Jonathan D’Laryea

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Loughborough Dynamo 1 Alvechurch 1

The flag was at half mast at White Van Man’s abode this morning. His beloved, favourite food haunt, the White House Cafe, closes today. He devoured his final full English at 8am. I’ve promised to take him to a proper cafe next week.

It’s been a tortuous week on the television front; Mrs P has been in soap overdrive, thank God for Rob Grillio’s charming offering on the world of the footballing anorak. I’ve read this fine publication, whilst the good lady has trawled her way through the likes of Holby City, Holby Blue and Hotel Babylon.

I’ve promised Mrs P I’ll cook her a meal tonight, and rise early. I’m as fleet footed as Staveley Miners’ Welfare striker Lee Gregory, as I fly up and down the aisles at Morrisons, in pursuit of watercress and sea bass.

White Van Man has turned a freebie down at Villa Park to come on the hop today, The Taxman also gets his pass stamped.

I fancy another peek at Dynamo; they were very impressive last week. They are easily the best passing side I’ve seen at Step 5 level.

Loughborough is in Leicestershire and has a population of over 50,000. The town’s university is top rated and is famous for its sports scholarships. Sebastian Coe, Steve Backley and Paula Radcliffe have all studied there. Mrs P’s favourite, and top anorak, Roy Cropper was born in the town.

WVM’s mate Screats used to play for Dynamo, when he studied at the nearby university. I imagine the club must pick up a few young players this way. I also know my way to this ground like the back of my hand. Much to Mrs P’s displeasure, I spent three consecutive Sunday’s in a row, a few years back, tracking an Under 11 player at the club.

It’s a twenty five minute journey down the A60. As we enter the town we are met with a hail of smoke. I thought for a moment that Keyworth United reserve team manager Alan Jackson had lit up one of his legendary Hamlet cigars, but it is in fact an old steam train they are testing on a disused railway line.

We pull into Watermead Lane in plenty of time. I’m disappointed there’s no big sign saying ‘Welcome to Loughborough Dynamo Football Club.’ Loughborough Dynamo were formed in 1957.

It’s £5 admission and a further £1 for a gem of a programme. There are a couple of interesting articles written by two well known groundhoppers.

It’s straight into the bar for some light refreshment. Some guy has just scored for Spurs against Pompey, but I don’t even recognize him. It’s a tidy and busy bar. The walls are full of old photos and pendants.

It’s a cutting and biting wind out there today. WVM is wearing his Russian fur hat; he looks like one of Roman Abramovich’s bodyguards. We choose not to sit in the charming and unique stand behind the goal and choose instead to stand parallel to the eighteen yard area, with the wind behind us, and protected by a large fence.

Alvechurch look a very young team. They are managed by tough tackling former Sunderland and Grimsby Town player Shaun Cunnington. Ex-Arsenal and Leicester City striker Alan Smith began his career at the club. The guy next to me is a die-hard fan; his coat is covered in badges. He explains they are a bit short today, two lads are working, one has gone to Blackpool for the weekend and another can’t get a babysitter.

They should have taken the lead after five minutes. A cross from the right by Ferran is headed over from eight yards out by an unmarked Manning.

Dynamo soon begin to find their rhythm and play the fast flowing game I saw last week at Coalville. Karl Noble and Karl Brennan are pulling all the strings in midfield. But today they are trying to walk it into the net. Considering the amount of pressure they exert on the visitors defence, they have very few shots on goal.

WVM and The Taxman taunt me that it’s going to be 0-0. But there are goals in this game, something has to give.

I get the teas in at the break and what a cracking cuppa it is too. I’d rate it an eight again. I buy WVM a bacon cob for driving. I can’t say I actually saw the cob as it disappeared quicker than the Italian army in the Second World War.

Loughborough Dynamo turn on the style in the second period. Callum Riley is magnificent and has a tremendous first touch. He uses the ball intelligently and is roasting Alvechurch left back Jason Chiltern.

Leading scorer Kris Nurse has hit the net thirty times this season, but he’s having no such luck today. Alvechurch ‘keeper Joshua Coney beats away a rising drive from Nurse.
Alvechurch force a corner and Dynamo’s excellent goalkeeper Matt Nurse tips a point blank shot over the bar. Dynamo fail to heed that warning and are punished from the resulting corner.

Nobody picks up Alvechurch defender Sam Brooks and he heads home from close range.

Dynamo pile on the pressure but find the visiting ‘keeper in fine form. The Alvechurch bench are begging for the referee to blow for time. Dynamo are awarded a free-kick about 40 yards out, Karl Noble floats it into the box, where it skims off the head of Adam Hart and out of the reach of Joshua Coney and into the roof of the net.

They have deserved their equalizer and I can’t believe some of the moans and groans that have come from a minority of the home support today. Their team have given everything and it is only because of anxiety and expectation that they haven’t won today.

Special mention for referee Mr J Glover of Nuneaton, he is easily the best official I’ve seen this season. He has played his part in an entertaining game, which was played in a good spirit.

Loughborough Dynamo 1 Hart Alvechurch 1 Brooks

Attendance: 92

Man of the Match: Sam Brooks.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mickleover Sports 1 Winterton Rangers 4

It’s the Easter holidays and Mrs P has took the kids to Asda to kill a bit of time, before her luncheon date at the pretentious haunt of footballers’ wives and peroxide blondes – Fire n Ice in West Bridgford. I take a call at work from a sobbing Sticky junior, he’s begging me for permission to buy 50 Cent’s latest offering. I tell him there’s more chance of me buying a D***y County replica shirt, with Claude Davis printed on the back, than allowing him to purchase that crock of crap. He lets rip with a verbal volley that the New York hip-hop star would have been proud off. It’s a straight red for junior.

There’s no White Van Man tonight, he claims to be playing table tennis again. Man United play Bolton at Old Trafford; it’s beauty versus the beast. Luckily The Taxman is in the swing of things; I pick him up at 6.40pm.

It’s a fairly uneventful journey down the A50 and A38. When we reach Mickleover we pull over and ask for directions to the Mickleover Sports Ground. We’re parked up in the spacious car park for 7.30pm.

Runaway leaders Winterton Rangers from Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire are in town tonight. They have plunged the NCEL into disarray by not applying for promotion into the Unibond League. It’s their second successive promotion. They have scored 89 league goals this season, at an average of three per game.

It’s £5 admission and another £1 for a top notch programme. I bump into the programme editor, and congratulate him on his fine publication. I also tell him he has way too much time on his hands.

Mickleover is a suburb of D***y and is two miles outside the city centre. Tomorrow’s World presenter Judith Hann was born down the road in Littleover.

Mickleover Sports FC were founded in 1948. They share this complex with the cricket club. Along one side of the ground is a splendid three hundred seater cantilever stand.

There is a huge turnout of groundhoppers this evening. On Friday the Central Midlands League hold their annual groundhop. It’s a chance for groundhoppers of the world to unite and get a few grounds in. I have a chat with a guy from Beverley, who is in the area on business. He is, like me, not a proper hopper, but a lover of the beautiful game.

The game has a frenetic start. I’ve not seen anything quite as fast and furious as this since a Vase qualifier at Gedling Miners’ Welfare last September. The Winterton defence and midfield are all over the show. Their goalkeeper Ben Simpson looks a bag of nerves. This is evident on ten minutes when he has to deal with an impossible back pass; all he can do is head it straight to Mickleover’s Mark Finlay, who finishes superbly.

Winterton Rangers are not at the races, as their manager keeps saying “it’s too easy.” Mickleover miss out on a chance to make it two. There is a massive hole in the centre of the park, as both teams throw men forward; it’s like a cup-tie.

Winterton’s Nathan Would hoists a ball in from the right, so high, that when it comes down from the night sky, it has snow on it. The ball is nodded down for leading scorer Rob Northern to smash home.

Both goalkeepers are kept busy, as the shots come thick and fast. The game ebbs and flows. Shortly before the break Winterton’s David Watson makes it 2-1 after Mickleover fail to clear their lines.

We take a stroll to the Tea Bar at half-time. The Taxman hasn’t lost his touch and chats up a rather posh lady, who originates from Stamford, but now resides in nearby Burton. She appears more suited to the horse and hound fraternity.

There’s a noisy groundhopper queuing up for a brew. He shouts out loudly, to anyone prepared to listen, that this is the best game he’s seen this week; it’s only bloody Wednesday.

The second half is one-way traffic. Winterton Rangers prove to all and sundry why they are top of the tree. They are a youthful outfit, who shrewdly pick up young lads rejected by the likes of Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Hull. They remind me of Staveley Miners’ Welfare, who I saw a few weeks ago.

Their best player on show tonight is leading scorer Rob Northern. He is a chaser of lost causes and is nimble-footed. He harries and harasses the Mickleover defenders for the entire evening. Northern sets up Watson for his second of the night with a slide rule pass. His partner Holt’s persistent is rewarded, following more hesitancy in the Mickleover defence, to put the game well and truly to bed.

Winterton have been worth the sixty mile worth trip, and we talk of nothing else, during our pint and a half at The Plough at Normanton-on-the-Wolds, after the game.

Mickleover 1 Finlay Winterton 4 Watson (2) Northern and Holt.

Attendance ? Nearly all hoppers

Man of the Match: Rob Northern.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coalville Town 0 Loughborough Dynamo 3

A sickening sight was witnessed by Sticky junior and myself on Saturday morning. “The Skipper” had nipped off to AFC Vernon on a scouting mission. Keen to collect some Brownie points, I went into town with Mrs P. Whilst the good lady had a mosey around the M&S Food Hall, me and junior sat outside a continental cafe on Low Pavement, eating a bacon and egg cob. And that’s when it happened. Junior, for once, stopped talking. He went as white as a ghost. I was incandescent with rage. The police did nothing about it. Yes, you’ve guessed it, some tosser was walking round Nottingham city centre with a D***y County shirt on. The Galleries of Justice is just round the corner; they should have taken the guilty party there, and hung him!

I arrange to meet The Auctioneer at the delightful Cap and Stocking Pub in Kegworth. He is from Yorkshire and supports L**ds Utd, but I don’t hold this against him; he is welcome on the hop. The pub is tucked away in the back streets of Kegworth. I’m seriously hung-over and elect to have a pint of Charles Wells Bombardier.

I nipped out for a couple with the Nuclear Scientist last night. We bumped into Jacko at The Tavern and reminisced about the beautiful game his team played last week. It ended up a bit messy.

Coalville is in North West Leicestershire and has a population of 30,000. It’s another old coal mining town. Nearby is the Snibston Discovery Park, an interactive museum focusing on mining, transport and engineering. The best I can come up with for a famous person from Coalville is GMTV Soap TV “journalist” Tina Baker. I only seem to remember her on Fat Club. Apparently Coalville is famous for its club night “Passion” held at the Emporium. It attracts all the top international DJs.

We arrive in Coalville in good time. We drive past the Clock Tower which acts as a War Memorial to those that lost their lives in the two World Wars. A couple of youths show disrespect by skateboarding around the landmark.

Owen Street Sports Ground is concealed down a side street, not far from the town centre. It’s a charming ground, situated in a dip. Above it appears to be an old colliery spoil heap. Towering in the distance is the winding gear of the old pithead.

Coalville were formed in 1926 and were originally called Ravenstone Miners Athletic, hence the nickname The Ravens. They have been at this ground for over a decade now. They reached the first round of the FA Cup a few seasons ago and the monies raised have helped develop the ground.

There’s time for a quick half of Greene King IPA in the bar. Scotland are playing Italy at rugby. We turn our backs to the television and read the impressive programme. A couple of boys are clambering over the furniture and are reprimanded by a club official.

Black clouds hover over the ground, the wind has dropped and we are in for a wet afternoon. The Coalville Town DJ is no Paul Oakenfold and plays a tune that has never graced the Emporium: it’s Teenage Dirtbag by Whetus. It’s a slight improvement on Atomic Kitten who featured in the Cap and Stocking an hour earlier.

We decide to sit down today, it’s beginning to drizzle. The Ravens attack our end of the ground. There’s nothing doing in the first twenty minutes, The Auctioneer might as well have stayed in bed on his boat that’s moored up at Sawley Marina.

Coalville beat Dynamo convincingly earlier in the season. Ravens’ striker Carl Lawrence netted all four for his team that day. Today he is suspended and has gone on holiday.

Loughborough Dynamo are a tidy outfit but their intricate passing game produces nothing in the early stages. The tackling is tasty, as you would expect in a local derby. The Auctioneer is not fussed by the physical side of the game; he’s seen it all before; he supports “Dirty Dirty Leeds.” He talks fondly of halcyon nights in Europe. Sadly the nearest they get to going abroad these days is the pre-season tour to the Emerald Isles.

Dynamo get their act together, Craig Noble goes close following a great period of passing football. Dynamo look sleek and play stylish football. Their coaches John Folwell and Joe Sargison are well known students of the game in Notts. Their team shuffle the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. Coalville can’t get near them.

The Loughborough full-back Spriggs realises he’s played the first twenty minutes without shin pads and waves to the bench for some.

They finally take the lead on the half hour; a four man move is neatly finished off by former Notts County trainee Kris Nurse. They are beginning to look good value.

Midfield general Karl Noble is calling all the shots and should have made it two before the break, but is thwarted by Coalville goalkeeper Chris Gibson, who makes a brilliant save.

The Auctioneer is craving for a tray of chips, but there is a ten minute wait at the Refreshment Bar. We settle instead for a Cadbury’s Crème Egg and a packet of Walkers Salt and Vinegar. The tea is poured from a pot and is a steal at 40 pence. It’s one of the best brews of the season and we mark it with an eight.

The conditions are more testing after the break, as the rain becomes more persistent. The Coalville faithful optimistically stand behind the goal their team attack. It’s hard to see them troubling the scorers today, Loughborough Dynamo look comfortable.

Dynamo turn it up a notch after the break. The Ravens create very little and hardly trouble the visiting goalkeeper. Nifty winger Callum Riley completes Coalville’s misery with two smart finishes. He scampers in from the left hand touchline, a position he has hugged for most of the afternoon, and elects to finish with his stronger and trustier right foot.

A Coalville player boots the ball away in disgust after the second goal; it lands at the feet of The Groundhopper. The teams are waiting to kick-off and everyone is looking for the ball. I try to blast it in the general direction of the centre circle, but only succeed in shanking it like Forest goalkeeper Paul Smith. It dribbles a miserable 15 yards along the ground. Despite the cold and the rain I feel may face glow red with embarrassment. Groundhopper stops play.

There’s no answer from Coalville, despite their endeavour, they’ve been beaten into submission. There’s further good news for the visitors: league leaders Atherstone Town have lost heavily at home to Market Drayton. It’s game on for them.

White Van Man texts me, between prawn sandwiches, to tell me a ragged looking Man Utd have scraped past D***y at The Sheep Dip.

I’m walking towards the exit, the linesman turns around and says hello to me. I recognise him. I scouted his boy a few years ago when I worked for the Pies. The last time I saw him was at a presentation night at Meadow Lane, when he doubled up as an Elvis impersonator. His boy’s at Mansfield Town now and he’s doing okay.

Coalville Town 0 Loughboro Dynamo 3 Nurse and Riley (2)

Attendance: 205

Man of the Match: Karl Noble

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ilkeston Town 3 Whitby Town 0

My team, Lincoln City, won at Meadow Lane for the first time in donkey’s years last night. I’m still disappointed by the sacking of charismatic ex-Imp Steve Thompson and refuse to pay the £18 it costs to sit in the main stand. Nothing has improved with the appointment of the less experienced “Charlie” McParland. He’s tried to be clever by signing untried youngsters from Birmingham and Liverpool. They are now well and truly in the mire. I follow the game on page 319 of ceefax. We never look in trouble.

The real reason for my non attendance at The Lane last night is because I fancy a gleg at Whitby Town, who make the awkward midweek trip to Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground tonight.

White Van Man is playing table tennis at Rushcliffe Leisure Centre and makes his excuses; there must be some snap laid on for after. The Taxman returns after a short break and picks me up at 6.45pm. We chew over our sons’ game at the weekend. Sticky junior bagged another at the far post; his confidence is rising.

It’s £1 to park the car just outside the ground. We pay £7 at the turnstile and a further £1 for the programme. The Taxman cannot believe his eyes at the condition of the pitch. You could make the winning putt at the Masters on this surface. It is second only to Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium. It is like the Centre Court at Wimbledon on the first day.

The Ilkeston PA man has clearly had a bad day at the office; he spins the woeful Rihanna and played out Pussycat Dolls. The only escape is the smart social club. The team sheet is pinned up on the bar. We keep warm from the biting wind.

Whitby is in North Yorkshire and has a population of just under 15,000. Bram Stoker is believed to have written his Dracula novels at the Royal Hotel in this fishing port. Captain Cook has strong connections in the area too. 1960s pop star Arthur Brown of Fire fame was born in Whitby.

My father’s solicitor had an apartment up on the picturesque West Cliff. I’ve fond memories of family holidays up there until a few years ago. Whitby Town Football Club backs onto the apartments. I used to love a fish supper at the Magpie Cafe, washed down with a couple of real ales at the Duke of York, overlooking the estuary.

It’s Heartbeat country and I always took Mrs P to Aidensfield to see where PC Alf Ventriss used to brew his tea and where daft David used to walk his dog Alfred.

Both teams are struggling in the nether regions of the Unibond Premier League. It’s a six pointer.

We take our position level with the eighteen yard area on the main stand side of the ground.Ilkeston attack from the off. Their talisman, Adam Muller, looks in a menacing mood tonight. After just three minutes he races away from the visiting defence, and smashes a shot that Whitby keeper’ David Campbell does well to beat away; it falls to the feet of Lee Featherstone who makes no mistake from close range.

Moments later Muller slips the attentions of the Seasiders rearguard, racing away down the right flank. There’s nothing much on and he tries an outrageous shot from a tight angle which bounces off the woodwork.

Whitby have their chances too, although mostly from set pieces. Raw misses a free header, they have one cleared off the line and Phil Senior also makes a fine save. It’s a breathtaking passage of play.

By now I’m chatting to two guys next to me. They are a couple of groundhoppers from Liverpool. I have to say my limited experience of meeting them (that is groundhoppers not Scousers) has not been favourable. But these guys are charming and amusing. They have been to Stamford AFC the night before and had stopped overnight in a B&B at the romantically named Burton Lazars, near Melton Mowbray. They are impressed with Ilkeston Town Football Club. I tell them they are my favourites (apart from Cammell Laird) They tell me a few amusing anecdotes of their trips to Ireland.

Featherstone and Muller combine again, with the latter finishing emphatically. Ilkeston are well on top. I text Chester Barnes to tell him he’s missing a good game.

We grab a large cup of piping hot tea and seek refuge in the club house. Everyone is crowded around the television watching the Premiership half-times. We’re not interested and take a seat in the corner.

We strike up a conversation with two Ilson supporters. They are telling us a takeover is imminent following the recent death of their benefactor. Numerous Nottinghamshire millionaires’ names are banded about. There’s even talk of Keith Alexander being appointed in some sort of advisory role despite him earning a short contract at Macclesfield Town. There’s a huge cheer; D***y have conceded again at Stamford Bridge.

The PA’s choice in music fails to improve. New York gay disco band the Scissor Sisters are given an airing. Ilkeston is a town for men, but not these sort of men!

Ilkeston continue where they left off. They have a goal disallowed for a foul on Campbell. On the hour Knight races through and is upended by David Campbell. The ball appears to have been running out of play. The referee points to the spot. Campbell doesn’t wait for a card to be produced. The decision to send him off, to me, looks harsh. Former Nottingham Forest midfielder Ross Gardner places the ball to the sub keeper’s left. It’s game over.

Martin Carruthers the former Peterborough United striker is warming up and chatting to the crowd. He steals a couple of chocolate chip cookies off a steward. The match has become stop start and is littered with fouls. A wag behind the goal tells the referee to get on with it as he’s got a paper round to do first thing in the morning.

The game peters out. Robins’ manager Nigel Jemson is furious that his team fail to test emergency keeper Ashley Lyth. Whitby’s best player is their sub, number 14 jacket. He is tiny but runs at the home defence, twisting and turning. He also has a fine end product.

Whitby leading scorer Danny Brunskill is way off the pace tonight. He took a knock earlier in the game and has hardly showed since. It’s hard to fathom out, on this evidence, how he’s managed to break the net on 25 occasions this season.

Whitby have played some neat football but have no cutting edge. They have been swept aside by a resurgent Robins, who go to Osset on Saturday brimming with confidence.

We finish the night with a couple of pints of Jennings Cocker Hoop at a village country pub. Next stop Coalville.

Ilkeston 3 Whitby 0

Attendance: 211

Man of the Match: Adam Muller

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Kimberley MW 3 Keyworth Utd Reserves 4

A man rang the local paper to place an obituary for his recently deceased wife. He only had a pound and could only afford three words. He wrote “Margaret is dead.” The clerk felt sorry for him and gave him three more words for nothing. He wrote “Margaret is dead, fiesta for sale”

I wake up to the news that Tollerton resident Ryan Sidebottom has become the first Englishman to take a hat trick for four years. I’ve a feeling today is going to be a good day.

“The Skipper’s team win a penalty shootout against arch rivals West Bridgford to reach the YEL Cup Final. He scored his penno, smashed it straight down the middle. He misses this afternoon’s trip to Eastwood. He’s getting measured up for his cup final suit at Tweedies.

I was delivering catalogues for Mrs P the other day when I bumped into Keyworth United Community Football Reserve Team Manager Alan Jackson (Jacko). The stingy sod didn’t buy anything but he did invite me to blog his team And why not? They were due to play Caribbean Cavaliers at Ilkeston Rugby Ground in the Quarter Finals of the League Cup.

I’m sat in Las Iguanas Mexican Restaurant, with friends from work. The phone goes, it’s Jacko. Caribbean Cavaliers have been booted out the cup for fielding an ineligible player (allegedly). The game’s now at Hall Park, Eastwood against Kimberley MW Reserves.

I pick up The Nuclear Scientist. I’m driving Sally Gunnell (not much to look at but a bloody good runner). We’re off to watch Showbiz, Woolley, Moley and the crew. Hall Park, Eastwood is where my U9’s last season played some champagne soccer against the mighty Priory Celtic, in front of the chairman.

Keyworth and Kimberley play in the Nottinghamshire Senior League. It has the best message board in the world. I often lurk on there, watching them all fall out. This week we’ve had managers’ resigning, teams kicked out the cup and players admitting they don’t shower after games. It’s quality!

Keyworth is in South Nottinghamshire and has a population of 9000. Former Forest manager Frank Clark lives up Nicker Hill, in the same house that Neil Webb lived in. Other famous residents to have lived in the village include cricketers Richard Hadlee and Franklyn Stephenson. Big Franklyn was also a pro golfer. I bet you could hear a pin drop when Franklyn first walked in the Mens Bar at Stanton-on- the Wolds Golf Club. Brian Stubbs, Biddy Riley and Mick Waite have all played for Keyworth United and made their way into the professional game.

We park the car and walk up the hill. Jacko emerges from behind a cloud of cigar smoke. He has his Great Britain overcoat on. He is a real character and a lovely fellow. He went out of his way to make me feel welcome at the football club when my sons first started playing. He has a season ticket for the Keyworth Tavern Lounge and a standing order with Hamlet cigars. He runs through the team for me.

Simon Tuckwell (Tuckers) is there. It’s great to see him back. He was taken ill recently but looks as fit as a butcher’s dog. He is the housewives choice at our local school.

We can’t get a cup of tea for love or money. The ressies can’t be bothered to go back to the changing room for a team talk as it’s a bit of a trek.

It’s only a parks ground but the pitch looks a darn sight better than D***y County’s Pride Park. The standard of football is a pleasant surprise. Both teams keep it on the deck. Shaw and the bustling Litchfield both go close, drawing fine saves from the Kimberley keeper’. The Keyworth stopper Ryan “Showbiz” Jennings is only small in stature but he’s agile and has a spring like Zebedee off The Magic Roundabout.

The more experienced Kimberley MW begin to find their feet and start to outmuscle the youthful visiting midfield. Jacko has six Under 20’s playing today. When I used to watch the first team a few years ago it was a resting home for the elderly. Keyworth United have finally put their faith in youth, and it is paying dividends. The first team are in their highest position for years and have won eight on the spin.

Jacko junior has a long throw only comparable to Tranmere Rovers defender Dave Challinor. It’s like winning a corner, particularly with the cross wind.

“Showbiz” pulls off a point blank save, but can only wave at the resulting, inswinging corner, palming into his own net. It’s harsh on the visitors, moments earlier Jackson junior had hit the foot of the post. There’s controversy in the 35th minute when “The Chief”, Kimberley’s greyhound mascot, pisses all over the home team’s water bottles. He gets a smack on the nose from his owner and a pat on the head from The Groundhopper.

The Nuclear Scientist is concerned about the low dark clouds. I reassure him that in fact it’s only Jacko and Cowlard lighting up again!

At the break Keyworth veterans Woolley and Moley tell the youngsters to play with a bit more belief. They fly out the traps in the second period. Jackson junior clips a cross in, Mickey Shaw makes it look so simple, tucking the ball away in the right hand corner. Keyworth are rampant. Young Tom Maddison gets hold of the game. He is spraying passes all over the park. He and young Joe Bellis are running the legs off the Kimberley midfield. Number 6 and 8 for the Welfare are good players but they don’t like it up em.

Wheeldon is sent tumbling and Keyworth win a free kick. Woolley asks the ref if he “fancies a quickie” and rolls back the years with a peach of a shot into the top left hand corner.

But Kimberley will not lie down. Keyworth lose possession on the right hand side and are punished. 2-2. Young Cozy has been blowing a bit and needs to preserve some energy for a night out in Leeds. He’s replaced in the final quarter by Craig Warren. It’s a Jackson masterstroke. Warren makes it 3-2 with a powerful shot following a great move and release from Mickey Shaw.

On 75 minutes I can hear the theme music from Beverley Hills Cops, it’s Jacko’s ringtone. Reports from HQ are that the first team are one to the good.

The grand finale is worth waiting for. Warren picks the ball up from around about the A610 and unleashes a thunderbolt from way out. Tuckwell, on ball boy duties behind the goal, takes evasive action, there’s no need to, it crashes into the roof of the net. I have seen over 80 games of football this season but have not witnessed a strike of this quality. The boy has been laid out on the grass all afternoon, looking fairly disinterested. But he has burst into life with his first touch of the ball.

Kimberley come roaring back, they hit the top of the bar. They score again with three minutes to go when Keyworth fail to clear. Jacko’s hair turns from grey to white. There is the rattle of cellophane. It’s Jacko opening another packet of Hamlet. We are surrounded by a sea of nub ends. It’s like a scene from the slight seconds department at the Hamlet factory.

Mrs P rings up on 89 minutes to see if I like Chicken Jalfrezi. “Never mind that love, we need another goal.” The referee finally blows the whistle. “We” are in the semis. “Tell me mam me mam to put the champagne on ice we’re going to Wembley twice.”

The game has been a fantastic advert for the NSL. There are a few contentious offside decisions but the Keyworth coaching staff, players and subs show remarkable restraint and RESPECT.

We retire to the best pub visited this season, bar none. We’re sat in the snug of the Nelson and Railway Inn in Kimberley. The lads have made me feel welcome. There’s plenty of banter with Woolley at the hub of it. He has been brilliant today. He’s 45!

There is a spirit and togetherness about these boys. I have searched for the soul of football for two years now. And today I found it, right on my door step. Thanks Jacko. Do you want to buy some polish from Mrs P’s catalogue for that trophy cabinet?

Final Score: Kimberley 3 Keyworth 4

Attendance: 12

Man of the Match: Ian Woolley