It’s nearly three months since I watched the beautiful game. I’ve supped and slurped endless amounts of gin, wine and beer. I’ve read the gritty novels of David Peace. And I’ve parked my backside for most of the summer in the Larwood and Voce Stand at Trent Bridge. But my craving for football has never been far away. First port of call for 2008/2009 season is the Rockingham Triangle Sports Stadium in Corby.
White Van Man has cried off. He’s saving up for his trip to Poland, where for the first time in his life he will drink kosher vodka.
The Taxman’s a good lad though, despite having a little moan and groan, as we drive through his old tax inspecting stomping ground. It’s a gorgeous evening as we navigate the Rolls Royce (Mrs P’s new Mondeo) through the rolling Leicestershire countryside, slipping in and out of picture postcard villages.
The Taxman is in his element, he’s telling me tales of businesses visited in this neck of the woods whilst working for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Taxes. Shopkeepers and farmers must have been quaking in their boots.
We pull in at an ivy-cladded olde worldy pub in Rockingham Village, called the Sondes Arms. I’m ravenous, but have no time to eat. We settle for Black Sheep bitter.
Four Grimsby Town fans are huddled in a corner excitingly discussing the pre-season new signings that their manager Alan Buckley has made. One wears a number eleven retro shirt with Ivano Bonetti on the back. That’s the guy that Brian Laws allegedly threw a plate of chicken bones at one stormy evening at Kenilworth Road. I mention I support Lincoln City; they can’t exit the pub quick enough.
I notice a tea rooms up the road as we stroll out the pub; bless him, WVM would have loved that had he made the trip. He’s missed out on a cream tea. We pass a police van, its blue lights are flashing. It’s stationary and on the lookout for speeding motorists or travelling Mariners.
The Taxman has the AA directions but mucks it up. Ground one out of fifty and we are already lost. I immediately pull into the side of the road and do a u-turn outside the Glasgow Rangers Supporters’ Club.
There’s a shaven headed guy, with an earring through his nose, walking his two Pit-bull Terriers. I wind the window down but the two canine creatures are not too chuffed to see The Taxman back in town and lunge for his throat. I reassure a shaken Taxman that we’ll have a brandy on arrival at the ground. Thankfully they haven’t scratched “our” new car.
The Rockingham Triangle Sports Stadium is not dissimilar to Grantham Town’s ground. It has a large, fine main stand, but no other covered or standing areas. An athletics track runs around the perimeter of the pitch. The stadium was opened in 1985 by Neil Kinnock.
Corby is in Northamptonshire and has a population of 55,000. It drew a large amount of steelworkers from the depressed area of the west of Scotland in the early 1930s. In 1950 it was designated a new town. By the mid-eighties it was a ghost town, courtesy of Mrs Thatcher and her butcher American friend Sir Ian MacGregor. The steelworks were closed. At least a regeneration package enabled the council to build marvellous amenities like this.
Bristol Rovers captain Stuart Campbell was born in the town and played for Corby Town junior teams. Republic of Ireland internationals Eddie McGoldrick and Mark Lawrenson have both played for the club.
Grimsby is in north-east Lincolnshire and has a population of 87,000. Famous people from Grimsby include: actress Michelle Dotrice and maverick footballer and one of Cloughie’s favourites, the Mini-jumping, golf ball throwing Duncan McKenzie.
The Steelmen are currently enjoying their 60th anniversary. It’s £8 entry and £1.50 for a cracker of a programme. It’s full of up to date player profiles for both teams. Graham Drury is their manager and he has brought one or two from his previous club Stamford. His assistant Paul Holden has a M.B.E. for services to football.
Frank Sinatra belts out a bit of swing on a placid summer evening. Normality is resumed when the DJ slips on an R “n” B track.
We choose to watch the game opposite the main stand and perch ourselves on an elevated piece of ground. There’s a sign saying it’s illegal to do so, but I can’t see some old, stuffy cantankerous FA official having the energy to walk all this way around the ground to object.
The two teams have agreed to select different starting elevens for each half to save on the disruptive substitutions you often see in friendlies.
The Steelmen open the scoring inside two minutes. A corner is pinged in from the Corby right hand side, where former Notts County defender Mark Warren plants a looping header into the top corner of the goal.
There’s the persistent droning noise of a motorbike from the nearby racetrack. The Mariners are also in second gear. They look in need of a game and struggle to get Nottingham born Alan Buckley’s trusty passing game going. He was once manager of the Imps and performed a miracle to save us from relegation one season. But we got fed up with the triangular passing pattern.
Former Leicester City player Jon Stevenson is keeping the Grimsby defence on their toes. He reminds me of Nottingham Forest’s David Johnson with his pace, movement and touch.
Grimsby striker Danny North misses a sitter for the visitors and the ginger haired Paul Bolland flashes a header wide from a corner. “We never score from a corner” roars out from the travelling contingent. There’s no inflatable Harry Haddocks or “Sing When We’re Fishing.” The Corby supporters respond with renditions of theme tunes from “The A-Team” and Steptoe and Son.
The Steelmen move the ball around nicely and are dangerous in the final third. They are good value for their lead. Grimsby, like a lot of Buckley’s teams, lack a cutting edge.
The Taxman is clearly still traumatized by earlier events in the evening, and is now buying me a cup of tea and sausage roll. He turns down my offer of a hot dog. We have a short wait as the ball boys are given complimentary hot chocolates. We collect our thoughts and give the tea 7.5 out of 10.
Tony Battersby, the Corby substitute, hasn’t time to join me for a Pukka Pie, as he’s on duty in the second period. I’m still baffled how this guy has made a living from the game and fetched over £500,000 in transfer fees. He’s already on his fifteenth club. And only 32 years old.
We are perched up in the main stand now, where the view is more panoramic. Both sets of supporters are in fine voice. There’s plenty of banter.
A text comes through on 56 minutes Sticky junior has took 2-7 off three overs for Plumtree CC. Both he and “The Skipper” have played cricket every night this week.
Grimsby look sharper in the second period. Only Newey and Tilley have shone previously. But Hegarty gives them balance and width. They miss chances galore.
Corby are exciting on the counterattack and the home faithful sense a second: “Irn Brew Irn Brew come on Corby give us two.” Last season’s leading scorer Steve Diggin obliges, latching on to a though ball after good work by ex-Nottingham Forest trainee Robert Hughes. His low drive goes in off the post. He scored 30 goals in the British Gas Premier League last season and The Steelmen have done well to retain his services.
The visitors respond almost immediately when James Hunt's cross is side-footed home by Bore.
By now the Black Sheep Bitter and half-time cuppa is beginning to take its toll: we’ve a 40 mile journey home. There’s two minutes to go in a game going nowhere. Plenty of pretty passing but hardly a decent tackle all night. We retire to a very smart Gentleman’s’ Room. There’s a huge cheer from above; The Steelmen have scored again. Worse than that, lower league journeyman Tony Battersby has scored a rare goal.
We’re gutted we’ve missed a goal, but have watched an enjoyable and incident free game.
The night is finished off with a pint of Wainwright at The Plough Inn at Normanton-On-The-Wolds.
Corby Town 3 Warren, Diggin and Battersby Grimsby Town 1 Bore
Attendance: over 200
Man of the Match: Jon Stevenson.