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