Friday, October 31, 2008

Spalding United 1 Shepshed Dynamo 2

I’ve had a terrific week off work and have spent some quality time with my family. We’ve been golfing at Edwalton, indulged in a Big Mac or two and visited the Snowdome at Tamworth. As White Van Man often says: it’s all’s good.

I’m still buzzing from events at Eastwood Town’s Coronation Park last Tuesday night. What a night of drama that unfolded there. I’m now, for the first time this season, picking out some exciting games.

It’s Friday afternoon and Halloween. We’ve been invited around my brother-in-law’s abode for a party. Life has dealt him a cruel hand; not only is he a copper, but also a born and bred D***y County supporter. He’ll be taunting the kids about the Forest game on Sunday.

Mrs P is busily face painting the kids ghostly white. Sticky Palms has been ordered to enter into the spirit of things. I race around the village in hot pursuit of a Peter Beardsley or Martin Keown scary mask, but everywhere is out of stock.

Today’s my first peek of the season at Shepshed Dynamo. White Van Man’s mate, Screats, has recently joined them, and is captain.

I leave ‘The Skipper’ kicking his heels, awaiting his Notts FA Shield Cup tie. Sticky junior is doing his homework under close supervision from Mrs P.

The road to Spalding is not a particularly driver friendly one. White Van Man is due to pilot, and has been winding me up all week, as he drives like a maniac. He’s been having a dummy run on Grand Theft Auto, on his X Box. He texts me on Saturday morning to inform me he’s warmed his wheels up.

I’m saved by the bell, when I get a call from him at 1pm to say Screats’ dad is driving. It’s a huge relief, and I pack my clean pants back into my drawer.

We get in Screats’ dad’s 4x4. He’s got Radio 4 on; I don’t think WVM has ever heard of this station. He’s soon having a mumble and grumble about it. He fumbles with the dialler. I live in hope of Everton v Fulham on Five Live or Radio Nottingham’s Matchday Programme. He settles instead for the ghastly Heart FM. They’re playing that freak Michael Jackson. I visualise ‘The Skipper’ moonwalking to it. It’s followed by James Blunt. I think I’m going to slit my wrists.

We by-pass Grantham, hit the A1 for a short while and onto the A52, We drive through the village of Donington where something dreadful happened two days ago. Thieves ram raided the local Co-op Shop and scarpered off with the cash point machine. Why the Co-op? Bless em.

We arrive in Spalding a good 20 minutes before kick-off and park in a local car park at 70 pence for the afternoon.

Spalding is a market town in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire. It lies on the River Welland and has a population of 30,000 people. It’s well known for its flower festival.

Spalding is the sausage capital of the world. They don’t come much better than a Lincolnshire sausage.

In 2008 Tulip Radio was issued a full time broadcasting licence and will be on the air from 2009. Famous people born in the area include: the shot putter Geoff Capes, down the road in Holbeach, and my Godson’s Cocker Spaniel, Alfie Daft.

The Tulips were formed in 1921 and play in the Unibond Division One South. Their home ground is called the Stewart Halley Playing Field. They are managed by former Cambridge United, Everton and D***y County striker Alan Biley. He has a mullet like Rod Stewart.

It’s £7 on the gate and £1.30 for a programme that turns out to be a cracking read. The highlight of this offering is a column entitled ‘The Voice of Reason.’ I’m not sure who the contributor is, but what a thought provoking piece he has penned. He takes a pop at some of the supporters and playing staff over recent events and performances.

Despite joining ‘The Tulips’ fans forum I’m not allowed to post a link onto it, or in fact post any message at all. Programme editor and matchday secretary Ray Tucker dominates the board; he’s started the last 30 threads.

Shepshed is a town in north west Leicestershire, just off Junction 23 of the M1 motorway. They’ve had an upturn in fortunes since the arrival of ex Gedling Town manager Lee Wilson. They are 4th in the League.

A group of Shepshed fans spot me taking a few photos. They shout out my name and ask me where White Van Man is. Predictably the big fella is queuing up at the snack bar.

It’s a lovely old ground. There are a plethora of portakabins scattered about. It’s tree lined and backs onto terraced housing. The main stand is steep, has a double staircase and offers a panoramic view of the town. The pitch is flat and in good condition, particularly considering that these two teams only met here four days ago,

The PA guy’s taste in music is extreme. First up is Scott McKenzie’s, San Francisco. Next is Jennifer Rush and The Power of Love. WVM calls this a toon: he must have heard it on Heart FM. The guy’s swansong is Tonight I’m Yours by Rod Stewart. Bloody hell I’m dreading half-time. It must be Jimmy Saville spinning the discs.

The visitors make a lively start. Their leading scorer, Shane Benjamin has an abundance of tricks and flicks. He opens the scoring on eight minutes, finishing acrobatically, from a flick on, following a long throw in by Screaton.

The Leicestershire team play with confidence and guile and it is only the athleticism of Tulips’ keeper Luke McShane that prevents Benjamin from doubling their lead.

The impressive Screaton and his partner Millns snuff out the direct style of play Spalding United dish up. Robinson and Swinscoe boss the midfield.

The Tulips’ Nicky Young forces a save from Hateley, and Screaton scrambles the rebound off the line.

Shepshed increase their lead on 39 minutes. Sam Saunders drives down the left wing, his delivery into the box tees up his twin brother Ben to smash the ball home from close range.

Spalding attacker Ricky Miller is out to spoil the party, and is showing acts of petulance, instead of concentrating on the excellent attributes his game possesses. He instead chooses to show the darker side of his nature. The referee loses patience and cautions him. Miller has proper got the face on. He has a goal chalked off for offside. He leaves his calling card on Iain Screaton, with a late challenge. Spalding United skipper Stanhope is asked by the referee to calm the youngster down.

Rod Stewart makes another outing at the break, as I dive into the safety of the cosy bar, with its laminated floor, to watch the latest scores.

Alan Biley looks a forlorn figure, as he meanders across the pitch. He’s lost his boyhood looks. These days he’s more Worzel Gummidge than Rod Stewart. He even talks like the TV scarecrow.

Shepshed are less fluent with the wind at their backs. Benjamin misses out on putting the game to bed; his shot flying past the far post.

The game is close to its conclusion. Shepshed’s recent signing from Carlton Town, 21 year old Martin Ball, is thrown on for the last 25 minutes. He’s clean through on goal but dilly dallies on the way. The ball is hoisted forward and seized upon by the sulking Miller. He shows a burst of speed and enters the area, but falls to the ground as if shot by a sniper. The referee gives a very dubious penalty.

The visiting bench, who have chillaxed for most of the game, go ballistic. Manager Lee Wilson has way too much to say on the matter. The linesman is waving his flag faster than the Italian Army. A raging Wilson is sent to the stands. Luke Kennedy tucks away the resulting penalty.

Shepshed survive some late pressure. White Van Man and I watch the final moments of the game from behind the goal, alongside Wilson. I was going to ask him whether he will be watching X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing on his return home tonight, but the moment doesn’t seem right. He’s still blowing a gasket.

Man of the Match: Ian Robinson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eastwood Town 2 Wrexham 0

I’m beginning to have grave concerns about ‘The Skipper’ (my youngest lad.) He has taken a sudden, unhealthy interest in the singer Michael Jackson. He must have seen him on one of the SKY music channels. He can do all the moves, and I often catch him singing Billie Jean and Thriller. He’s also started asking questions about Jackson’s private life. I’m praying to God he doesn’t ask if he can go to Neverland for the weekend.

I had the happiest text message of my life last week. I was nibbling away at a cheese and ham pita bread, whilst reading the Non League Paper in the staff canteen. My mobile bleeped. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief at the text message: “please can you go to a match next Tuesday, as I’m having a Body Shop party.” Had it been a Body paint party I might have stopped in, but I knew there would be an FA Cup replay somewhere in the vicinity. I skipped back up the stairs for the afternoon shift.

Pelican legend Swifty interrupts my pre match Sainsbury’s Toad in the Hole with an interesting piece of trivia. Eastwood sub keeper, Ian Deakin, only let one goal in all season when he played for Pelican U12s, and that was an own goal. The team scored 126 of which Deakin bagged ten as an outfield player.

I’ve arranged to meet White Van Man in the pub car park at 6.10pm. We’re going to get up to Coronation Park early, as they’re expecting a large crowd. He’d caught me earlier, red-handed, during broad daylight, taking a photo of his car the ‘Green Goddess’ outside his house. I thought he’d be at work. He’s already warned me to put a clean pair of pants on for the 65 mile cross country trip to Spalding on Saturday.

As I get in the car I notice he’s got Heart FM on. Shania Twain is on for the fifth time today. Thankfully he switches it off and tells me a few more anecdotes.

WVM is the fastest driver on the circuit. He narrowly failed to land the part as the getaway driver in the remake of The Italian Job. He has also been promised to be Colin Calderwood’s chauffeur next Sunday, should, in the unlikely event, NFFC lose at ‘The Sheep Dip’ We go round Crown Island in the wrong lane and cut half of Nottingham’s rush hour traffic up; I’ve already got butterflies.

We park in the secure car park at Coronation Park at 6.45pm. Kick off is at 7.30pm. It’s a bitterly cold night and snow is already moving in from the west and affecting southern counties. WVM has three pairs of socks on and I’m sporting my new coat from H&M at a bargain £34.99. I’m wearing a beanie hat to keep my wing nuts warm.

There’s no time for D H Lawrence, Woolworth’s pick n’ mix or Hilltop Chip Shop; tonight is a serious game of football.

We’re walking towards the turnstile, I can hear the nauseating ‘Crank That’ by Soulja Boy. Jack and Joe love that toon.

Eastwood chairman Robert Yong is a one-off. He cares passionately about the club and fans. He paid for all the coaches that travelled up to the Racecourse Ground on Saturday. He often contributes to the club’s message forum. And he’s approachable at games. He has the chance tonight to make a financial killing and hike up the admission prices. But he understands it’s the people’s game. Admission is a bargain£7 and a further £2 for the best programme I’ve read this season. Eastwood Town have raised the bar.

We snuck in the social club as WVM wants to spend a penny; it’s rammed, but the bar staff cope admirably. There is an abundance of stewards and police around. There’s a vast army of volunteers running the tea bar, but again the queues are dealt with swiftly. Eastwood Town are managing the big occasion magnificently. Everyone is friendly and forthcoming. Nothing is too much trouble. Ilkeston and Eastwood, I just can’t split them, as to which one is my favourite. They have so many similarities.

One small criticism though, I can barely hear the teams being read out though. The speaker system is crackling. As Dick says, who has just joined us, it has a Wheeltappers and Shunters Club feel about it.

Wrexham is the principal town of North Wales and has a population of over 40,000 people. Famous born and bred include: Manchester City manager Mark Hughes, Wigan midfielder Jason Koumas, Blue Peter presenter and crap actor, Tim Vincent and the 90s House Music group K Klass. It has a proud tradition of brewing lager. It’s most famous brewery Wrexham Lager was swallowed up by another corporate giant, Carlsberg, over eight years ago.

The Dragons currently lie in 8th position in the Blue Square Conference Premier League. They are unbeaten in the last five games since the arrival of Dean Saunders as manager. As well as being a brilliant player, I also remember Saunders used to do wicked impersonations of Tommy Cooper and Brian Clough.

Four years ago I did a charity tour of over 100 football grounds in Britain over five days. We arrived at a cash strapped Wrexham on a glorious late summer’s evening. They were trying to stave off going into administration at the time but still managed to donate a signed football for our cause. I’ll never forget that gesture and always take a keen interest in their results.

We have a walk around this homely ground. The young Wrexham following are congregated behind the goal at the bottom of the slope. Eastwood coach Richard Cooper is putting the Badgers through their paces. WVM and Cooper acknowledge one another.

Eastwood are a tasty 3/1 to win tonight. They have nothing to fear. The Badgers’ players have more League experience than their inexperienced Welsh counterparts. I bet Mr Young couldn’t resist a nibble at that price after all he is a major player in on-line poker games.

The atmosphere is reaching fever pitch; over 800 have crammed in on this freezing cold night. The Eastwood DJ has finally pulled the plug on his Now 71 CD. Let the battle commence.

We stand close to the Badgers dug out. Paul Cox and John Ramshaw, as always, are wearing shorts. Ramshaw’s been on the sunbed again, unless there was a heatwave in Wrexham last weekend. They could turn the floodlights off on our side, as he glows that brightly, he could light the pitch up. He won’t need to go in the make-up room if the BBC TV cameras come here for the next round and decide to interview him.

The game begins at a terrific pace and appears rushed. Eastwood are organised and string five along the middle. Striker Ian Holmes ploughs a lone furrow. Wrexham are there for the taking, there’s no Jefferson Louis, Simon Brown, Michael Proctor or Sam Aiston.

The Dragons move the ball around quite nicely but lack penetration. Eastwood attack with purpose. Two of my favourite players from 50 games of groundhopping last season are on show tonight.

Anton Foster is strutting his stuff in the centre of the park. The man is a colossus. He has a presence and the body of an Adonis. The Wrexham midfield won’t have come up against many like him. Tonight he’s playing a disciplined game.

Lindon Meikle is playing right wing; he speeds down the flank like a hare. He also has to mark impressive Wrexham full back Carl Tremarco, who’s not shy in getting forward.

Anton and Lindon play with their hearts. Both would be in my all star non league eleven.

Eastwood take the lead on 22 minutes. Dunning whips in an inswinging corner, Paul Robinson heads against the bar, a Wrexham defender slices a clearance against the post, but an alert Andy Todd pounces on the loose ball to head home.

The home supporters break out into a rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah and also the amusing ‘ay up Eastwood, Eastwood ay up.’

Wrexham show some urgency. Taylor fires over and the dangerous 21 jacket Williams forces Forest’s on loan 19 year old Irish ‘keeper Shane Redmond into action.

We stamp our feet to get our circulation flowing again, as the DJ puts Now 70 CD2 on.

The Dragons come out fighting in the early stages of the second half. They attack with vigour down the left wing. Meikle has to double up to keep Tremarco at bay. Eastwood seem content to sit on their lead and hold their shape.

There’s an enormous yelp and squeal on 71 minutes, Dick has burnt his mouth on the scalding hot mushy peas he purchased a short while ago at the five star tea bar.

Eastwood ensure a first round tie with Brackley eight minutes from time. Andrew Todd hits a weak shot from the edge of the area which former Foxes’ ‘keeper Gavin Ward is unable to hold, Ian Holmes gleefully smashes the ball home. There are people in tears of joy. What a moment. Even D H Lawrence couldn’t have scripted this one.

Centre backs Paul Robinson and Mark Hume have an aerial presence and miss very little all night. They look like a couple of Nottingham night club doormen. They spend most of the evening on sentry duty. No one passes them.

Ian Holmes takes a bow, he hasn’t ounce of energy left in the tank. Peter Knox comes on for a cameo role. He looks more like a cage fighter than a footballer. Dick remarks that ‘this boy puts himself about.’ He’s not wrong. Ten seconds later Knox is red carded by the excellent referee Dean Mohareb from Cheshire,for a desperate lunge at a Wrexham player. You could hear the contact 50 metres across the park.

The Badgers survive a few late calls. Shane Redmond makes a world class save from point blank range.

I’m stood next to Eastwood left back Chris Shaw. He is currently on loan up the road at Hucknall Town. He’s watching the game nervously. It’s great to see him cheering his mates on. He’s a good player; I hope he gets back in the team again soon.

It’s a magical night and I’m glad we’ve been a part of it. We bid farewell to Dick and jump in the ‘Green Goddess.’ Kuqi has equalised for Palace. White Van Man increases his speed by 10mph in frustration. But it’s Matt Thornhill who finally put the brakes on the Tricky Trees’ miserable run.

Man of the Match: Paul Robinson

Friday, October 24, 2008

Barwell 2 Coventry Sphinx 1

Juan comes up to the Mexican border on his bicycle. He's got two large bags over his shoulders. The guard stops him and says, "What's in the bags?" "Sand," answered Juan. The guard says, "We'll just see about that. Get off the bike." The guard detains Juan overnight and has the sand analyzed, only to discover that there is nothing but pure sand in the bags. He releases Juan and lets him cross the border.

A week later, the same thing happens. The guard asks, "What's in the bags?" "Sand," says Juan. The guard does his thorough examination and discovers that the bags contain nothing but sand. He gives the sand back to Juan, and Juan crosses the border on his bicycle.

This sequence of events is repeated every day for three years. Finally, Juan doesn't show up one day and the guard meets him in a Cantina in Mexico. "Hey, Buddy," says the guard, "I know you are smuggling something. It's driving me crazy. It's all I think about...Just between you and me, what are you smuggling?" Juan sips his beer and says, "Bicycles."

I feel a bit rough this morning, and by my standards have a lie in. The kids and Mrs P went to the school disco last night. I foolishly went round to The Nuclear Scientist’s for a game of table tennis. The Canadian beat me again. He got me drinking Hoegarden. I was Kerry Katonaed by 11.30pm.

I’m on a week’s leave from work and boy do I need a break. Mrs P has a list of jobs as long as Lincoln City’s current unbeaten run. I’m in the garden chopping and scything down bushes faster than Forest full back Julian Bennett clatters into wingers.

‘The Skipper’ has no game today and I’ve took the weekend off from scouting. He announces he wants to go down The City Ground to watch Nottingham Forest versus Cardiff. I race down the ground and get him a ticket next to where The Nuclear Scientist sits.

I’m on Selby Lane in my village; there are some glorious houses down here. I turn right into Stanton -on-the- Wolds. The properties here have long gravelled driveways. I pass the golf club and think of the happy times I spent up there as a youngster.

I hit the A46 to Leicester; it’s the most unexciting road in the world. I’ve been singing along to a CD them fools have left in my car: it’s Girls Aloud, I Don’t Speak French.

Former Radio Trent and Century FM reporter Darren Fletcher is commentating on the Everton v Manchester United game at Goodison Park, for Five Live. It sounds an entertaining match. Rooney is winding up all the ‘calm down’ Scousers by kissing the club badge on his shirt. Ferguson whisks him off.

Everton’s James Vaughan comes off the substitute bench. He is still the youngest player ever to have scored in the Premiership.

It’s straight over to the Stadium of Light where Newcastle’s Liverpudlian serial coward, Joey Barton, is also partaking in a spot of badge kissing. Bottles rain down from the stand towards his direction. I hope they are made of glass and smash.

I drive past a huge Co-op in Leicester Forest East; that gets Sticky’s juices flowing. I’m now in the historic town of Earl Shilton. The traffic is heavy, but not for long, as they are soon to open a by-pass.

I finally reach the destination of Barwell. I’ve sussed out where the Kirkby Road Sports Ground is, so park up a side street and have an amble around the village. It’s a busy old spot. It also has the ugliest Co-op Shop I’ve ever seen. It sits beneath one of those concrete tower blocks they used to erect in the 1960s.

I’m standing in the centre of the village admiring an old public house. Close by is a fish bar that sells Pukka pies; poor old White Van Man has missed out again.

Barwell has a population of over 6000 people. It lies close to the town of Hinckley. Wigan stopper Chris Kirkland was born in the village. The area was once famous for shoe production.

Barwell was the victim of a meteor impact on Christmas Eve night in 1965. The village was showered with fragments. When put together, they were the size of a Christmas turkey.

Barwell FC were formed in 1992 and play in the Midland Football Alliance at Step 5 level. They are on a nice little unbeaten run and sit in 5th place in the table.

Coventry Sphinx were formed in 1946 and are currently in second place; chasing the leaders Market Drayton. Last season they reached the quarter finals of the FA Vase; bowing out to eventual winners Kirkham & Wesham (now AFC Fylde) in a replay at Sphinx Drive.

I park in the huge, impressive sports complex. They have an indoor bowling centre and cricket club. It’s £5 at the gate and £1 for a programme that has more adverts in it than ITV.

I’m feeling the after effects of my Thai red curry and that bloody Hoegarden; I settle for ‘The Bearded Wonder’s' favourite tipple: Vimto. The lady at the tea bar is very chatty and makes me feel welcome. She’ll have it all on today, as she’s on her own and Sphinx have brought a few.

I take a pew in the stunning cantilever stand that was opened by local boy makes good, Chris Kirkland. I’m surrounded by WAGS and players’ mums. They’re playing the superb Stop Me by Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather on the PA system.

The Canaries are Sphinx’s bogey team; they’ve already dumped them out the FA Cup. The home team elect to kick up the slope and into the swirling wind. The referee awards a free kick after two seconds; I’m not feeling the love between these two opponents.

Thacker and Murdoch look lively for the visitors; the latter has only recently been plucked from the relative obscurity of the Coventry Sunday Morning League. But he has strength and pace and holds the ball up well.

Sphinx take the lead on 12 minutes. McAteer finds the ball at his feet in acres of space on the edge of the area; he steadies himself, gets his body shape right, and blasts the ball into the roof of the net.

The tackles are flying in now and it’s not long before the young referee, Richard Cooper, of Whititwick , under the watchful eye of an FA assessor, is brandishing yellow cards.

By now I’m at the back of the goal chatting to a lovely guy who turns out to be Barwell chairman Dave Laing. He takes the time out to tell me a bit of club history and the ambitions and aspirations of Barwell FC. It’s whilst we’re stood there that Barwell deservedly restore parity, with a far post finish from Jouel Potter, that goes in off the post.

Moments later the game takes a turn for the worse. The Sphinx number five goes through the back of Potter. A melee ensues. Punches are thrown. The game is stopped for five minutes. Both linesmen are consulted. More yellows are dished out. Potter is lucky; he threw a couple of punches.

Potter looks a fine player; but moments later seeks revenge on the Sphinx five jacket. He slings out an elbow and is shown a straight red. There are no complaints. It’s the most incident packed 45 minutes I’ve seen this season.

A Barwell committee member is baiting the visiting goalkeeper. He calls him a midget and is roaring with laughter. He proudly boasts he’s going round the back of the goal in the second half to wind him up further. Is this really necessary?

Barwell’s right winger is Ryan Amoo. This guy somehow blagged himself a two year contract at my team: Lincoln City. As I‘ve said in a previous blog, there’s an 88 year old great granny up our street , who moves quicker across the ground, with her shopping trolley, than Amoo does. He misses an open goal from eight yards out. Nigel Julian also spurns a chance from point blank range, producing a fine save from the visiting ‘keeper. We all catch our breath at the break.

Amoo doesn’t show up in the second half. He comes walking round the pitch and leans on the dugout, eating a sandwich. He’s wearing a leather bomber jacket, designer jeans and shiny white trainers. He looks like ‘The Fonz.’

Why is that ten men play like eleven? Barwell are par excellence in the second half. The Sphinx spend most of it on the back foot; their defending is woeful. Second place; you are having a laugh.

The Canaries are coached splendidly by former Sphinx and Quorn manager Marcus Law. He has words of encouragement, and makes valid coaching points at crucial times.

The winner comes midway through the half. Man of the match Scott Lower goes on a long mazy run; he plays the ball across to the guy who replaced Amoo. He drills in an unstoppable left foot drive into the left hand corner of the goal. I find myself clapping, justice has been done.

Coventry Sphinx are awful. Apart from the last few minutes, when they throw bodies forward and go close twice, they’ve rarely troubled the ‘keeper.

I dash across the car park and jump into my motor. Sports Report is on. There’s more doom and gloom at Forest. But Lincoln make it four wins on the spin.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Forest Town 0 Calverton Miners' Welfare 0

It’s Friday night and I’m flicking my way through the Nottingham Evening Post’s Essential Guide. I notice that chirpy Cockney geezers Chas & Dave are playing a gig at The Maze, on Mansfield Road, in Nottingham. Now, The Auctioneer and I often sing along in unison to some of Chas & Dave’s greatest hits, during tedious moments in the working day. Who could ever forget: Rabbit, Margate or Snooker Loopy?

I fire a text off to The Auctioneer to see if he is up for the gig. Imagine my surprise, when checking on ticket prices, I find it’s £36 to sit down and nearly eighteen squid to stand up. Cor blimey guvnor, ur avin a giraffe. I’ll stop in, instead, and watch an episode of EastEnders on UK Gold, with Arthur Fowler in the Queen Vic, on ‘the old Joanna ‘giving all those cheerful (?) East End folk a good old fashioned knees up. It’ll be a darn sight cheaper.

I avoid scouting City Boys or South Notts Boys today; it’s been doing my duck in. I’m as busy as a beaver on household chores, to earn the pass out. I’m departing for Mansfield at 12.30pm, but I’ve not told Mrs P yet.

The Dentist phoned me last night, coincidentally, his son is playing up at Forest Town at lunchtime in a cup tie. We got to know each other when I worked for ‘The Pies.’ I arrange to see him up there.

There’s just enough time to make a couple of swaps in our Daily Telegraph Fantasy Football team. We bomb out Torres and the unfortunately named Shittu, and replace them with Santa Cruz and Michael Ball, the footballer, not the singer.

I grab a sandwich and watch Football Focus with ‘The Skipper.’ He’s hiding behind the settee, shaking like a leaf, and I don’t blame him. Martin Keown is on TV. He really shouldn’t be allowed on the box before the 9pm watershed!

I leave Mrs P peeling wallpaper off in our bedroom. I know it’s wrong, and I’m wracked with guilt. I’m on cooking duty tonight, to make up for it.

Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs died yesterday; they’re one of my fave bands. I’m playing Standing In The Shadows Of Love on the CD player. Next up is Mel and Kim’s That’s The Way It Is; I think Mrs P must have downloaded that one.

I’m on the pigging A60 again. The road is blocked in Daybrook; a Volvo has broken down. It takes an age to drive through this bottleneck.

I turn right before I hit Mansfield, on what appears to be a new road. Within ten minutes I’m in Forest Town. I clock some kids warming up on a pitch in the distance. I turn right at the Prince Charles pub and park up in the Welfare.

I decide to stretch my legs as I’ve time to spare. I walk back towards the pub and take a photo. I turn one hundred and eighty degrees, and woe and behold, there she is again, my knight in shining armour: the Forest Town Co-op Shop; chalk it off Sticky boy. Volvic lemon and lime water is on offer; I grab the last available bottle.

I stroll past the unmanned turnstile and walk across the first team ground and down a steep muddy bank, where I find an unassuming Dentist watching his lad play. The boys play an exciting game and keep the ball on the carpet. He calls his lad the ‘fox in the box’ and I can see why, when he poaches a brace. It’s not enough though, as they bow out the cup 4-2 aet.

It’s back up that muddy bank, Christ, I’ve put more miles in than Wainwright today. I’m back at the turnstile to pay my £3 and a further £1 for the programme. It’s an excellent publication; a total labour of love, it’s produced by Peter Craggs. He’s an engaging sort of chap and we natter for a few moments about local football, and the old Mansfield Colliery, which was situated close by.

Forest Town were formed in 1981 as a Sunday team, and were known back then as Village FC. They have also been called in their history, Smith Street FC and Mansfield Colliery FC.

They currently lie 5th in the Central Midlands Supreme Division and are managed by former Stags’ midfielder Gary Castledine.

Calverton Miners’ Welfare were formed in 1946. RJB Mining closed the colliery in 1999. Sticky Palms made his debut at the dole office.

Shane Meadows based his films Twenty Four Seven and A Room for Romeo Brass in the village. Olympic ice skating gold medallist and former PC Plod, Christopher Dean, was born in Calverton.

I’m chin wagging with Calverton coach Lol Boultby. He’s telling me that the oldest player in their team today is 24 years of age. It’s a brave and bold club policy that not many teams in the NSL would make, never mind this league.

Forest Town’s The Clod is a glorious ground. At first I’m disappointed with the view as a cycle track runs around the perimeter of the pitch. But there is a balcony that backs onto the Welfare. It has decking and tables and chairs out. Supporters bask in the autumnal sunshine, drinking coffee and beers.

The pitch took a pounding from the severe weather conditions on Tuesday night for the game against Blidworth. The ground is cut up badly and won’t suit a side that likes to keep the ball down.

White Van Man is a non attendee today; he’s playing darts at the Hubble Bubble Bar in West Bridgford. He’s to keep me posted on the latest scores.

The teams trot out to the cringe worthy track Angels by Stoke pub singer Robbie Williams. I’ve written better lyrics in my lunch hour.

Forest Town begin the game with a stiff breeze behind them. They are camped in the Calverton half for the first twenty minutes of the game and keep Calverton ‘keeper Lance Walker on his toes. They play with an urgency and have good ideas. Number six Danny Tighe bosses the game. He finds space, and uses the ball intelligently. McCann and Short go close.

Calverton weather the early storm and grow in confidence. They hit Forest Town on the break. They have pace and movement. Calverton striker Warren Hatfield has a good chance blocked by Forest Town stopper Jason Johnson.

On the stroke of half time, Calverton are awarded a free kick just outside the area. Craig Boulton curls it over the wall, Johnson goes down too early, and the ball hits a divot and bounces off the woodwork, with the ‘keeper still on all fours.

I grab a cup of tea and phone Jocky Wilson for the latest scores. I am joined in the stands by The Dentist. The ‘fox in the box’ is enjoying a tray of well earned chips.

I’m in good spirits, relaxed and ready for the next forty five minutes. I don’t deserve, nor does anybody else, what Forest Town FC inflict on us next: it’s the dreadful Hello by Lionel Ritchie.

Calverton play a quality game of football in the second half; as good as I’ve witnessed this season. They play with flair and imagination. They are all over the home team like a rash and run amok.

My mate at work, ‘Gormhead,’ has his nephew playing today for Calverton. He has a stormer in the second half and rips the full back to shreds; his final ball is not bad either.

Forwards Boulton and Hatfield prove a real handful for the home defence, particularly Boulton, with his silky skills and close control. They fashion chance after chance and waste them all. Both are guilty of spurning gilt edged opportunities. I lose count of the number of shots that trickle by the left hand post.

Westwood dominates the midfield, whilst Marsh and Corcoran are a rock at the back. Forest Town are beaten into submission. The old heads lose to the young guns If Calverton had won by three or four it would have been no more than they deserved. This game, to them, will feel like a loss.

They are my tip for a Champions League spot. And I will be at Newark Town’s ground on December 6th when they are the visitors.

Forest Town 0 Calverton MW 0

Attendance: ?

Man of the Match: Craig Boulton

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Burton Albion 1 Mansfield Town 0

I’ve had nine days without a game and have enjoyed the break. I’ve concentrated, instead, on my scouting activities for the NFFC Academy. South Notts Boys, Ruddington Colts and Calverton MW have all had the pleasure of my company this weekend.

I did manage 45 minutes of the Nottinghamshire Senior League clash between Bilborough Pelican and Boots Athletic. The visitors snatched a late winner in an entertaining second half.

Pelican’s Jack of all trades, Neil Swift came swanning out the food bar with a huge chip cob in hand. I saw a ball bobble in the 79th minute, and mentioned it to Nottinghamshire’s numero uno groundsman, he wasn’t best pleased.

I’ve been relaxing with a good book by funny man Danny Wallace. And have scanned a bit of night time TV with Mrs P. We've sat on the sofa together and watched the brilliant Steve Coogan in the new BBC drama Sunshine. It’s co-written by the talented Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, who also wrote the cult BBC2 comedy Early Doors.

It’s my turn to pilot tonight; White Van Man is my wing man. The Taxman and The Architect complete the cast.

We’re in the Rolls Royce (Mondeo) I confess to not being the slickest of drivers. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ is one of many nicknames. White Van Man had earlier sent me a text suggesting that he’d be bringing his pillow and sleeping bag for the ‘long journey’ – it’s only thirty miles.

It’s a smooth, incident free drive; I touch 61 mph at one stage and brag about it to WVM; he looks at me non-plussed. He’s too busy with his football trivia and tales of Eastern European lap dancing clubs.

There’s a build up of traffic as we approach the Pirelli Stadium car park. There’s a yelp of excitement from Sticky Palms; I’ve spotted the Burton Co-op Shop, it’s another one to chalk off.

We’re redirected to an overflow car park near the ground. WVM kindly pays the £2 parking fee.

Burton upon Trent is in Staffordshire and has a population of 60,000. It’s famous for brewing beer. It is said that the local water contains a high proportion of dissolved salts, caused by the gypsum in the hills around the town. Unfortunately Burton Albion FC choose to serve the appalling Coors lager in the ground, but then again, they are a major sponsor. There’s no sign of Sticky’s favourite, Bass bitter, on the premises.

The Marmite Food Extract Company was founded in the town in 1902. This by product came from the yeast at the nearby brewery. I often have marmite soldiers with a chucky egg on a Saturday morning.

Branston is a suburb of Burton and is where in 1922 The Branston Pickle Factory was founded.

The Peel family originate from Burton, and of course Peelers later formed the modern day police force. Personally I much prefer to call them plod, old Bill or rozzers.

The actor Paddy Considine was born in the town. He recently starred in The Bourne Ultimatum. I remember him in the dark and sinister Shane Meadows film Dead Man’s Shoes. I’ve hardly slept a wink since I watched that DVD.

It’s £12 to enter the stadium and £2.50 for a programme very kindly bought for me by The Architect. It has not improved one jot since my last visit. It has 25 pages of adverts and the articles are as a dull as dishwater.

I detest the bar and choose not to partake in an alcoholic beverage. I long for the old romantic social club, outside Eton Park, with its patterned carpet and smoke filled bar.

We settle for a cup of tea, generously bought by The Taxman. It’s rancid. It comes in a corporate, customised, PG Tips plastic cup. Yuk. The cup is covered in a plastic top. A tea bag floats on the surface. It does well to be marked five out of ten.

We take our place on the halfway line, a few steps down, close to the pitch. Discounting ‘The Tricky Trees’ Bilborough Pelican (eh Swifty) and my back lawn, is there a better playing surface in the East Midlands than ‘The Brewers have? I doubt it.

The Stags live life on a knife edge. I saw them pass Notts County to death last March. They still fell out the League Two trap door. They have fielded an ineligible player, believed to be Bulwell born Aaron O’Connor. It may cost them four or more points in the long run. Current form is poor; one win in the last six matches.

Daryl Clare and John Brayford have moved to pastures new, but the ‘The Young Man’ still has an eye for a player and has bought well.

The Burton Albion DJ warms up with a Ska track and Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho We Hate Derby.’

Burton kick towards the vociferous 800 strong away following, who predictably heckle former captain Jake Buxton. It adds a bit of spice to this East Midlands encounter.

The game takes time to settle, there’s plenty of hustle and bustle. McEwan’s Mansfield play it cagey and nervously. They don’t want to come out and play.

Mansfield’s Paddy Gamble is the busier of the two ‘keepers. Twice he’s tested from distance by former Stoke City winger Marc Goodfellow. They are dealt with comfortably.

The Stags pick up the tempo and have a golden spell of intricate, exhibition passing. Naturally old ‘Pineapple Head’ Jason Lee is not involved, unless the lineman raises his flag for the half a dozen times he strays offside.

Jake Buxton doesn’t take long to make an impact, clattering into the back of D’Laryea to earn the game’s first caution.

The Brewers Andy ‘Ronnie’ Corbett normally saves his worst for us. Everything seems a huge effort for him, he lacks the basics. Mansfield’s nippy winger Nathan Arnold torments and teases him. Arnold puts his foot on the ball, his leg stretched out, inviting the challenge, when it comes, he just pokes the ball past Corbett, leaving him for dead. If only his delivery was as good.

Aaron O’Connor beats the offside trap and races clear. His first touch knocks the ball too wide. He gets in the shot, which Poole saves at the near post.

Burton take the lead on 43 minutes. The lively Goodfellow finds the industrious Irishman John McGrath on the edge of the area; he curls a shot into the bottom corner of the net. It’s slightly against the run of play, but Burton have worked the ‘keeper harder.

The Brewers Greg Pearson tops the Conference goal charts with nine. His first half performance is mediocre. In contrast his partner Lee Morris is just pleased to be out there following two serious knee injuries. He once fetched £3 Million when moving from Sheffield Utd to ‘The Sheep.’

Mansfield are shocking as a creative force in the second period and appear to be low on confidence. Their midfield does not have the killer ball in their locker. McEwan makes changes to no avail.

Between the 61st and 66th minute Mrs P and I have a text tiff about who’s on the rota for transport to football training tomorrow. I’m not impressed; you can tell that EastEnders and Coro have finished for the night.

Michael Simpson sees a speculative shot cannon of a defender for a corner when destined for the net, and there’s some desperate defending from former Man City trainee Jonathan D’Laryea.

Mansfield are camped inside the Burton half for the final quarter but offer little threat. Buxton wins countless headers from an aerial bombardment.

Two minutes from time Stags’ substitute Anthony Robinson drags a shot hopelessly wide from seven yards.

I’m disappointed with the quality served up, but both sides are organised and disciplined.

At least the local plod are on form. An Inspector Clouseau lookalike speedily waves us out of town, away from the gridlocked roads around the ground.

Burton 1 Mansfield 0

Attendance: 2871

Man of the Match: Darren Stride