Thursday, December 30, 2010

Radford FC 0 Gedling Miners' Welfare 3

It’s Tuesday evening, December 28th. I’m sat in the Snug of the Lord Collingwood public house in the picture postcard North Yorkshire village of Upper Poppleton, close to the city of York. I’m enjoying a pint of Christmas Cracker real ale. Mrs P, ‘Our Mark’ and his wife are sat with me.

I delve into my pocket for my phone. I’ve two missed calls from my sister in-law and brother in-law (Plod). No disrespect, but they wouldn’t both be trying to contact me, unless it was absolutely necessary. My heart sinks and my hand begins to tremble. I know the news isn’t good.

My mind goes back to when I received bad news about my father over ten years ago, as I begin to punch out the numbers on my mobile. I can’t look Mrs P in the eye. It turns out my mother in-law has took a nasty tumble at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. She has been rushed into the Queen’s Medical Centre University Hospital, in Nottingham, with a suspected broken hip. She will be having corrective surgery tomorrow.

Poor old Mrs P is unable to enjoy the rest of the evening, as she is sick with worry. We decide not to tell the kids until the morning, as they both worship the ground that Nana walks on. The operation is a success. We can look forward to our get together on New Year’s Eve.

The following night (Wed) is a momentous occasion for Sticky junior. He’s gutted to be missing the Forest v Sheep game but is delighted with the Blackberry updates he’s receiving from The City Ground. Predictably he hammers his Uncle Craig (Plod & Ram) with a few teasing texts).

I later notice on the highlights that Nottingham born Kris Commons is kissing the Rams badge and pointing out his name on the back of his shirt to the Forest fans. This tosser is out of contract in June and will be heading to pastures new. There should be a banning order preventing this fool from entering our city.

It’s Thursday evening. The Radford v Gedling MW game has passed a 4pm pitch inspection. Reports suggest that the frost has thawed but water levels have risen, the surface will be heavy. Some of the players haven’t kicked a ball for nearly six weeks.

Mrs P and Sticky jnr have nipped off to the QMC for the visiting hours graveyard shift. ‘The Skipper’ and I are in ‘Sally Gunnell’ heading down to the ten pin bowling centre on Lenton Lane industrial estate. He’s having a night out with his pals from Clifton All Whites Football Club.

I’m hopeless around the inner city, so have brought my Tom Tom sat nav. The fuse in my lighter connection has blown up and the sat nav is dead. I’ll have to bluff my way to the ground.

I drive down Derby Road and turn left opposite the Savoy Cinema. I turn Radio Nottingham on, it’s a bad start to the evening, they are playing George Benson’s 1983 hit ‘In Your Eyes.’ I’m smack in the middle of Radford. The night is still and the place feels eyrie. I pass a few ‘Rat on a Rat’ signs. One or two pubs are boarded up.

I had planned on visiting a hostelry that was in the Good Pub Guide 2011, but time isn’t on my side. I’ve also got with me my new Panasonic camera which Mrs P has persistently pointed out has cost an arm and a leg (no new budgie to report on folks, we cling onto the hope that he will arrive on my birthday).

I turn left off a vibrant Radford Road, opposite the Asda superstore, into Randall Street. You would never guess you were at a football ground as the Selhurst Street arena is concealed with huge mauve coloured gates.

I park up at the back of some dimly lit terraced housing. I squeeze Sally Gunnell in between a white van and a Bentley.

Radford is one of the most multi-cultural areas in our city. It has a large ethnic minority which includes: West Indian, African, Asian and Eastern Europeans. It is a place not without social issues. Two days after this game the junction of Hartley Road and Alfreton Road was sealed off by police following reports of shots being fired at 6am on New Year’s Day.

Radford was once the home to Raleigh bicycles, Player’s cigarettes and Manlove, Alliott & Co Ltd – inventors of incinerators for waste disposal.

Famous custodians from the area include the writer of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe and Hi-de- Hi actress, Sue Pollard.

There is a belief in hope not hate. Groups such as UNITY, headed up by former Ilkeston Town midfielder Morris Samuels, endeavour to unite the troubled areas of the Meadows, St Anns and Radford. It’s a project that I’m keen to get involved with.

A friendly official from the Pheasants lets me in through the gate. It’s £4 admission and £1.20 for one of the best programmes I’ve read this season: a huge pat on the back to its editor, Howard Bacon, for this labour of love.

I’ve already noticed one or two of Nottingham’s larger characters amongst the crowd. Big Glenn Russell, the Pelican manager is in attendance. He’s seems rather subdued, just lately, on the world’s greatest football message board (NSL).

Radford Football Club were established in 1964. In 1977 they became the first amateur club in Britain to be allowed to wear advertising on the front of their shirts. Former Notts County, Lincoln City and Bristol Rovers striker Devon White once played for the club.

I take a few snaps with my new camera. The on-board memory only stores six photos, so I’m well miffed when I’ve run out of photos before the game starts. I’ll get a memory card tomorrow.

I take a leisurely stroll around the ground. Behind the far goal is wasteland that backs onto some three storey flats. Sirens blare out from nearby Radford Road.

I stand to the right of the Gedling MW dugout, I like their manager Graham Walker, he certainly appears to know his onions.

The game is delayed by five minutes when an alert linesman spots a hole in the top right hand corner of the far goal. Nobody seems in a particular hurry to remedy it.

My phone vibrates in my pocket, the bald eagle has landed, Big D is in the building. He collects a cup of tea from the snack bar and hooks up with Sticky. He’s not on great form as he’s suffering from an ear infection. He prefers the less traditional methods of treatment like fiddling with a cotton bud or pouring TCP down his tab hole.

There’s an early scare for Welfare in the first minute, with their ‘keeper Ross Cherry having to be alert to prevent Radford’s Luke Attenborough from scoring.

Big D doesn’t appear to be that interested. He tells me he’s booked in for a four day wedding celebration at Sorrento, in Italy, in late summer. Talk then turns to the latest happenings on the cobbled streets of Weatherfield, in Manchester. Big D is worried and concerned for that bungling, murdering idiot, John Stape. I remark that he reminds me of Stan Laurel with his blank expression and continual head scratching.

We take a break from ‘The Street’ when Gedling’s Luke Smith, on 17 minutes, curls a cross in from the left; it’s met with a Bryan Robson type run from the excellent Danny Roberts, who heads the ball into the roof of the net.

Radford look to be blowing a bit already. The effort levels are there, but they are poor in the final third and appear to have little or no game plan.

The first 45 minutes has served up poor fare. Big D has seen enough, he slips away to catch up on John Stape’s latest mishap.

I bump into Nottingham’s most famous groundhoppers, Malcolm Storer and Daft Lad Kev, from next door. They’ve both been desperate for a game. It’s their first ever visit to Selhurst Street. Radford FC very kindly reserved them a car parking space on the front grid.

Malc is trying to raise some cash for the APTCOO charity (children’s special needs). I hand him over a small donation.

Welfare double their lead early in the second half. An excellent corner from Luke Smith evades all in the box, an alert Ben Greenhalgh, a first half substitute for Stephen Cox, is lurking at the back post, he stabs the ball into the back of the net.

The £4 entrance fee is fully justified moments later. A mazy run by full back Liam Corrigan puts him deep into the Pheasants half, he releases the ball to Greenhalgh on his right, who skips inside and curls the ball into the far corner of the net. It’s the game’s ‘Champagne Moment.’

I’m next to the Radford dugout. Their management are normally game for a laugh, but tonight they are less animated, without passion and almost resigned to defeat. It’s a shame as Radford is a fantastic club, with a vibrant social scene and an important place in the community.

The game ends on a sour note with an awful tackle on two goal hero Greenhalgh. The offender escapes unpunished.

There’s just time for a quick chat with the charming Gedling MW official, Tony Hay, before heading home to watch John Stape’s latest calamity at the doctor’s surgery.

Attendance: 88

Man of the Match: Danny Roberts (no relation of Alf)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nottingham Forest 3 Crystal Palace 0

I really want a Budgie. I thought I’d cracked it earlier in the year when Mrs P planted a box of Trill seed in my snap bag on my birthday – it was just a practical joke though.

My thoughts have turned to Christmas and I’m hoping that a little green and canary fellow, who I’ve named Murphy (after the legendary Lincoln City manager Colin Murphy), will arrive on the morning of December 25th. I can teach him to whistle the EastEnders theme tune (to annoy Mrs P) and the kids will be feed him swear words. I’m not holding my breath though.

I managed to make it 4 games in 6 days this week but not all went to plan. I was all set for the FA Trophy replay between Eastwood Town and Rushden & Diamonds. I logged onto the Badgers’ website at 6pm. There was an announcement saying that the game has been cancelled due to ‘unforeseen circumstances.’ I presumed it was down to power cuts reported in the area.

The Taxman and I shot over to Quorn’s Farley Way Stadium. Lincoln United ran out worthy winners, despite playing over an hour with 10 men. I switched my phone on when I got home to find a text from Rammers. Rushden and Diamonds goalkeeper Dale Roberts, whose previous clubs include Nottingham Forest, Alfreton and Eastwood had died suddenly. I was in shock and totally numb.

The following night was a proud moment for anybody involved in the youth set up at Notts County (I am the Talent Identification Co-ordinator for the club). We played Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup 3rd Round.

Liverpool took an early lead. A disallowed goal for the Pies on the stroke of half time proved to be a decisive turning point. We were blown away in the second period. Liverpool’s multi million pound world wide scouting network, versus little old me and my boss Mick – hardly a level playing field is it?

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sat in the Larwood and Voce pub in Trent Bridge Cricket Ground. It’s our works’ Christmas party. I have a couple of Harvest Pale Ales. We move onto the Stratford Haven. We bump into Barthez, Tuckers and Bagpuss. They’re all steaming as they have been on the pop since midday.

We stroll into the Monkey Tree on the Avenue. Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club are holding their Xmas party in here. The world’s greatest glove man, Chris Read, is sat at a table in a Bananaman outfit. He had the misfortune to bump into a drunken Barthez in the toilets a few hours earlier.

It’s Saturday morning, 4.30am. I’m trudging downstairs with a duvet and two pillows. I watch the ‘afternoon’ session at Perth’s WACA ground. Southampton born 6ft 8” fast bowler Chris Tremlett bowls a furious spell of short pitch bowling. There’s no fist pumping from Brad Haddin today, he boots the ball through the covers when he’s bowled by Tremlett.

Sticky jnr is fast asleep. I don’t want to disturb the highly-strung teenager, he might kick off. I do him a favour and deliver his papers for him. The Daily Mail front page predicts that the ‘Big Freeze’ is to continue until the end of Jan. I collect some tips off junior’s customers – snooze you lose, readers.

I nip into town for some shopping. England’s top order collapse quicker than Gillian McKeith. The highlight of trip was hearing David Essex’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ in Clinton Cards. My mate Shifty at work does a cracking impression of that song. I was ripped off for £8 for two cards by the way.

I stroll round to the Nuclear Scientist’s crib; he’s piloting today. The foot well in his Jaguar is overflowing with empty Ginsters sandwich wrappers, Walkers crisps packets and half full plastic bottles of Buxton’s Spring Water.

NS forced his 12 year old lad to watch Band of Brothers on DVD last night. The poor little sod has tossed and turned for most of the night.

Twenty eight of us are meeting up at the Goose in Gamston for the game today: 21 kids and 7 adults. I shout up 7 Cokes, 7 bowls of chips, 2 pints of Hardy Hanson’s Rockin Rudolph (yum yum) and a cup of coffee. Total cost £28: Non League days out are a lot cheaper.

Sunderland v Bolton is on the car radio. The Black Cats lead with a solitary goal from Danny Welbeck. We park up on the Radcliffe Road, adjacent to a frozen Grantham Canal. The kids throw branches and stones at the ice-covered surface.

As we enter the ground I notice a stationary police van with 6 coppers inside tossing it off drinking coffee. We’re in Block M of the Brian Clough 12 rows back. It’s a bird’s eye view.

It’s a pitiful but understandable turn out by the visitors (739). They are down on their luck and are a club in financial crisis. It will need someone with the skills and experience of George Burley to get this club back on course.

Crystal Palace play in the South Norwood area of south London, in the borough of Croydon. It has a population of 15,000 and lies on the River Wandle. The author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, Arthur Conan Doyle, once lived in the area. Boxing commentator Harry Carpenter was born in South Norwood.

Its most famous resident is Pickles the dog, who bagged a £6000 reward, when finding the stolen Jules Rimet World Cup in 1966 underneath a hedge, wrapped in paper. He was invited to the celebration banquet where he was allowed to lick all the plates clean. Pickles met a tragic end when he choked on his own lead chasing a cat in 1967.

The Eagles were founded in 1905 but have been located at Selhurst Park since 1924. Their record league defeat was 9-0 to Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. Goalkeeper Perry Suckling was man of the match.

Defender Jim Cannon holds the record for the most league appearances (660). Their youngest ever player is John Bostock, who took to the field aged just 15 years old. He was soon snaffled up by Spurs.

Their record transfer fee received was for Andy Johnson, who went to Everton for a cool £8,600,000. Their biggest outlay was for French defender Valerian Ismael for 2,750,000. He went on to appear in only 13 league games.

Players to have played for the Reds and Eagles include: Neil Shipperley, Dougie Freedman (now Assistant Manager and also the scorer of Palace’s fastest league hat-trick), Ian Wright and Stan Collymore.

A list of celebrity fans include: the comedians Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Ronnie Corbett, Sean Hughes, ventriloquist Roger De Courcey (Sticky Palms caddied for him once) DJ Kid Jensen and the cricketer Mark Butcher.

I browse at the excellent John Lawson produced programme, which is good value, even at £3. There are some interesting interviews. A journalist talks up 19 year old forward Nialle Rodney, who has made just one league appearance.

I take note that the Academy side have lost their last two games. Nothing has come through since 22 year old Lewis McGugan.

A minute’s silence is held for Dale Roberts, the former reserve goalkeeper, who died in tragic circumstances last Tuesday. The silence is shattered by latecomers singing as they walk along the banks of the Trent, unaware of the moment.

The opening 20 minutes are as dull as dish water. Palace are set up for a draw and Forest can’t break them down. The Reds start to pepper Argentinean ‘keeper Julian Speroni. McGugan stings his hands from distance. He also claws away another curling effort from the Long Eaton youngster – no wonder he’s been crowned Palace player of the Year three years in a row.

Forest take the lead on 30 minutes when Luke Chambers heads home a flighted corner from McGugan. A yellow card is issued on 35 minutes; one of the kids has lobbed a sweet at someone eight rows down, Sticky Palms immediately reaches for his top pocket.

Once again Speroni comes to the rescue when a threaded through ball by the excellent Majewski finds Earnshaw whose effort is blocked.

Half-time can’t come soon enough. The Rockin Rudolph ale has taken its toll. There’s grim news from Elland Road – Leeds are one up, but plenty of Christmas cheer from Pride Park as D***y look to be tumbling to a fourth consecutive defeat.

Sheffield Wednesday loanee Marcus Tudgay opens his account on 47 mins lobbing over a stranded Speroni.

Palace go two up top at the break, and have brought on exciting 18 year old Ivory Coast striker Wilfried Zaha. His feet are fast and his pace frightening, he keeps Bertrand on his toes.

Speroni foils Earnshaw, once again as Forest run riot. The outstanding Majewski makes way for Welsh international Aaron Ramsey, a lad I first saw play for Wales U16s at Rhyl five years ago. His performance for the final 15 minutes of this game is breathtaking.

McCleary replaces an ineffectual Paul Anderson, who has had a wretched game. The 23 year old former Bromley winger makes no mistake from 12 yards following good work by Nathan Tyson.

Palace are awful. Midfielder, Neil Danns, who has given the ball away for most of the afternoon, later apologies to the Palace fans on his Twitter account.

Man of the Match: Julian Speroni and the 739 brave souls who made the trip.

Attendance: 22,359

Monday, December 13, 2010

Notts County 2 MK Dons 0

I’m in the Rolls Royce driving back from Peterborough. I feel gutted for the 132 Rochdale fans who are making the long, tiring journey home, to the Lancashire mill town.

There was an icy chill blowing off the River Nene, down the ground and into the away end. I was shivering for most of the second half. I’ve got the heaters on full blast. My nose is streaming and my throat is on fire.

To make matters worse my car radio has auto tuned into Peterborough Heart FM – bloody hell readers, they’re only playing the awful ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ by Lionel Ritchie. I quickly hit the ‘search’ button. I’ve never been so relieved to hear the dulcet tones of Pete Waterman on Smooth FM.

I’m back home just before midnight, having dodged a couple of foxes on the A1. Mrs P has had a girly night. There are a few wine bottles stacked up. I’m stone cold sober; everyone appears to be talking gibberish. I climb the wooden hill and leave them to it.

I’m awake for 7.30am. I’ve promised Sticky jnr I’ll give him a dig out with his morning papers. I quickly check the Daily Mail for its front page headline, as it’s a constant source of amusement. For once it’s not about Princess Diana, Zola Budd or the Labour Party; instead they’re slaughtering the son of Pink Floyd star David Gilmour, for swinging on the Union Flag at the Cenotaph during the student riots, earlier this week.

I’m back in the house for a bit of Marmite on crumpets for breakfast. Mrs P is off to Tesco in Loughborough. I decide to have a quick run-around West Bridgford to see if I can spot any talent (footballers not women).

I’m driving down Station Road towards Plumtree when suddenly my wing mirror falls apart off ‘Sally Gunnell.’ Mrs P has conveniently forgotten to tell me that she caught it on the garage door yesterday. I have to make some running repairs.

I glance at the non league fixture list. Plenty of games have succumbed to the weather. I’m not taking any chances today. I ask the lads if they fancy an afternoon at the oldest football league club in the world. They both love coming down ‘The Lane.’

It’s an easy passout for Groundhopper when the kids tag along. Mrs P will turn a blind eye to two games in less than 24 hours. Before all that though, Sticky Palms Cleaning Services are called into action. My best pal, Finley Palmer, the rabbit, needs a cage make-over.

He’s sprawled out on the floor enjoying a brief spell of winter sunshine. He’s still got the monk on with me that he’s banned from having a trot out in the garden following an unexpected overnight stay (he escaped) a few weeks back, when the dirty stop out didn’t come home until 8am.

I have chicken soup, cheese and bread for lunch. I snatch the last five minutes of Dan Walker on the BBC’s Football Focus. He’s live at Villa Park. They show a wonder goal from Dalian Atkinson, ironically against Wimbledon, from back in 1993. It’s a mazy run, starting in his own half. He finishes it with an audacious chip.

‘Sizzers’ and ‘Growler’ are on board. We have to nip up Martins newsagents as jnr wants to buy a 3 litre bottle of pop. He’ll never smuggle that past the eagle-eyed stewards.

We park in County Hall. I notice that the ‘world renowned Trent Bridge Inn’ has its windows boarded-up. It’s been snapped up by controversial pub chain J D Wetherspoon. The Groundhopper blog’s resident drunk, Mr Trumpy Bolton, will be cocker hoop with the news.

The kids are at an age that they’d rather be seen dead than sit with Dad at a football match. They make their debut in the Kop Stand and leave me to gather my thoughts at the back of the Derek Pavis Stand.

I sit with The Nuclear Scientist and legendary Keyworth Utd Reserves manager ‘Jacko.’ Rumours are sweeping around the ground that ‘Jacko’ has blagged his way in as a pensioner.

Milton Keynes is a town in Buckinghamshire with a population of just under 200,000. It was, like Peterborough, designated a new town in 1967. The only time I’ve ever been was when Joe Kinnear’s Tricky Trees played at the National Hockey Centre a few years ago. My abiding memory of that evening was another inept performance by Marlon King.

I found the town to be soulless and short on character and pubs. I suppose it was only to be expected with it being a new town.

Milton Keynes has no dedicated radio station, just the Home Counties Heart FM – I don’t think Sticky Palms will be tuning in when he’s in the vicinity.

Well known folk from the town include: Arsenal first team fringe player, Mark Randall and Somerset batsman James Hildreth. The Formula One motor racing team Red Bull are based in MK.

Milton Keynes Dons were founded in 2004, under very controversial circumstances. That story is for another day. They play at Stadium: MK, which has a capacity of 22,000.

Scouser, Karl Robinson is the youngest manager in the Football League, having only just turned 30 years of age. His assistant is John Gorman. Former German international, Dietmar Hamann, is on the coaching staff; he will be joined early in the New Year by ex Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. Luke Chadwick is also in the squad.

The Pies have had a change of manager since my last visit. Paul Emerson Carlyle Ince has instilled discipline and a hard work ethic since his arrival. There’s certainly a steelier look about them in the first half. The defence appears to have found a backbone.

Sticky’s favourite, ‘Rocky’ Ravenhill is patrolling the middle of the park. He tops the roll call with 20 appearances this season and also the disciplinary charts with 9 bookings and a sending off. He makes it double figures with a caution for persistent foul play.

MK Dons don’t look particularly interested in attacking Notts. Aaron Wilbraham cuts a lonely figure in their forward line. He has a fine first touch for a big fella and can hold up play. He also receives a yellow card for leaving a flailing elbow into Mike Edwards’ upper torso.

Neal Bishop lacks the composure to put the Pies one to the good, he blazes horribly wide from a good position. He sinks to his knees, with exasperation all over his face.

The much coveted Magpies’ midfielder Ben Davies has had 48 shots at goal this season, 29 have been on target. He races onto a Mike Edwards through ball but is thwarted by a fine stop from Dons’ ‘keeper David Martin.

Notts will rue those missed chances at the break but Ince will be encouraged by a 20 minute spell of attractive, high tempo football. NS treats me to a coffee – it’s stone cold, apparently the machine was on the blink.

I have a flick through the superb matchday programme. I looking for the Colin Slater column as he often has something interesting to say. He’s a big admirer, like I am, of York City manager Gary Mills. He has just been made Manager of the Month in the Blue Square Bet Conference. Don’t rule out a late charge for the play-offs.

I have a quick chat with my boss Mick. The youth team have had a run out at Loughborough University this morning. They are due to play Liverpool on Wednesday evening in a FA Youth Cup 3rd round tie.

The second half is drab and dreary. Both sides give away possession cheaply. With 15 minutes to go Wilbraham slings another elbow out and is asked to take an early bath.

The Dons manager who has been laughing and joking with the crowd starts moaning at the fourth official. He dressed more for a round of golf than to coach a football team. He wears a sweater, a Simon Cowell collar up shirt, trousers and shoes.

Ince’s final throw of the dice is to throw on his lad Thomas and the prolific Lee Hughes. Young Ince’s impact on the game is instant. He seizes upon a poor clearance and rifles home a shot from the edge of the box.

Five minutes later it’s game, set and match to the Pies with a sublime, curling shot from Hughes which bags all three points.

Attendance: 5172 (322 from Milton Keynes)

Man of the Match: Mike Edwards

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Peterborough United 2 Rochdale AFC 1

It’s a saga that has ran and ran and ran. It has now come to a gripping conclusion. It’s been front page news in all the Red Tops for weeks now. Gossips suggest that there has been vote rigging. A man walks into camera shot carrying a white sealed envelope. He’s a small chap, wearing a navy blue jacket. I bet he’s been stopping in a swanky hotel, on expenses. He has a strange accent. I have to cock my ear towards the TV to catch his words.

He slowly opens the envelope and removes a small, square piece of card. And then he says the immortal words that our nation has waited to hear for what seems an eternity ... “and the winner is ......... Stacey Solomon.” Unlucky Shaun.

It’s two weeks since I’ve been to a game – it’s nearly killed me folks. Training has been cancelled at Notts County’s Centre of Excellence. I’ve mooched and brooded about the house listening to Five Live. I’ve snatched and grabbed as little TV as is possible. Only The Apprentice has caught my attention.

It’s Thursday evening, I‘m walking down the passageway past Finley’s hutch. I blow him a kiss. It’s a boys' night in. Mrs P is off to the Trent Arena to see Simply Red (oh dear). I have a glass of red wine and share a block of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with ‘The Skipper.’ Sticky jnr is up at youth club.

Mrs P rolls in just before midnight and disturbs my sleep. Three hours later the alarm at Sainsbury’s is sounding off. It’s a full half hour before it’s finally dealt with.

It’s the day of the game. I’m bushed folks, but quite excited. Peterborough United’s London Road ground is a new tick-off for me. I’ve seen games at 61 League grounds and at 8 Conference stadia. I take a short lunch and turn down the offer from colleagues of a drink at the White Horse at Ruddington.

I’m away at 4pm. I drive down the A606 through the town of Melton Mowbray, the home of the pork pie and the birthplace of Nottingham Forest flying winger Paul Anderson. I skirt around the town of Oakham and onto the bypass and hit the A1.

I’m listening to the amusing Peter Allen on Five Live’s Drivetime show. He ‘s reporting that Manchester United left back Patrice Evra has said that Arsenal are “nothing more than a football training centre.”

Allen then interviews WBC Super Middleweight champion Carl Froch. He mispronounces the Nottingham born boxer’s name and gets a dressing down from Froch.

I’m catching up with a good friend tonight. His name is ‘Ackers’ and he lives in Whittlesey. Ironically, just as I’m passing the McCain Food factory, its biggest customer, White Van Man, phones me on my mobile. The Muppet is roaring and swearing down the phone like a good un. He rips my lack of driving skills to bits. Tomorrow he’s jumping on a train and going on the piss in Lincoln. He’ll be catching an early one back though, so he’s back in time for the X Factor final.

I have a cup of tea at Ackers’ house and play with his twin boy and girl. He also has a beautiful two year old Airedale Terrier. We jump in Ackers’ 4x4 and head into the city.

Peterborough is a cathedral city in the east of England. It has a population of over 160,000 and is in the county of Cambridgeshire. The River Nene flows through the city centre. It was designated a new town in 1967.

The city is well known for Perkins engines, British Sugar, Indesit, Pearl Assurance and Thomas Cook. Famous people from the area include: Henry Royce, the co-founder of Rolls Royce, the actor Paul Nicholas, TV presenter Jake Humphrey, Talk Shite presenter Adrian Durham, Erasure lead singer Andy Bell and Tottenham midfielder David Bentley.

In 1995 a train crash sequence was filmed in Peterborough at a former sugar beet factory, for the James Bond movie Golden Eye, starring Irish actor Pierce Brosnan.

We park close to the cathedral, adjacent to a theatre and a floating Chinese restaurant on the river. We’ve already decided we are going to stand on the terraces in the away end. I’ve a soft spot for Rochdale AFC and I’m not a particularly big admirer of Posh’s Director of Football, Barry Fry.

It’s an astonishing £20 to stand up. I bag a glossy programme for £3 – it’s a ten minute toilet read.

Peterborough United were founded in 1934. They gained League status in 1960. Centre forward Terry Bly plundered 52 goals in their first season.

Peterborough are nicknamed "The Posh", a moniker coined in 1921 after the then manager of Fletton United, was reported to say he was "Looking for posh players for a posh new team".

The record transfer fee received by Posh is £700,000 from Tottenham Hotspur for midfielder Simon Davies. They are owned by Irish property developer Darren MacAnthony. They’ve not been shy in the transfer market over the last few seasons, shelling out large fees for Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean, Lee Tomlin, George Boyd and Sticky Palms’ favourite Lee Frecklington.

In stark contrast Dale are a mixture of Bosman transfers and experienced pros. Their captain, Gary Jones, has made over 400 league appearances for the Club.

134 Dale fans have made the trip. Most have come by car as the Club cancelled any official coach travel. Dale hit the self-destruct button last season when appearing to coast their way to promotion. It was a rather limp and lame effort at the finishing line.

Keith Hill, their brilliant young manager, was like a tired old record in his dislike for Notts County last season. There was no love lost between the two clubs.

Sticky Palms is panicking right now. I’ve just remembered I’m wearing a Notts County beanie hat. I quickly turn it inside out before the Rochdale Lynch mob turn on me. The remaining 132 visitors are too busy nattering about the real ale pubs they have frequented in the nearby city centre.

Rochdale begin the brighter of the two teams. They want to get it down and play. Jones is instrumental in the middle of the park. Unfortunately they lack a cutting edge and creativity in the final third.

Posh up it a notch and go close on a few occasions before finally taking the lead on 20 minutes through former Aldershot striker Aaron Mclean, who smashes home a shot through a posse of players past an unsighted Dale ‘keeper.

Dale are hanging on the ropes as Peterborough swarm all over them. Their summer recruit from Rushden & Diamonds, Lee Tomlin, is dancing his way through the Dale defence. He plays a give and go with Mclean only to see his effort hit the outside of the post.

Peterborough’s George Boyd spent a fruitless loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season. It is said that he barely broke sweat. He lacks the pace to be a winger but his fast feet and close control are a feature of his game. He curls a shot from 20 yards the wrong side of the post.

Zakuani, Mclean and Mackail-Smith all go close before referee Mr Haywood blows for half time. Rochdale are indebted to goalkeeper Luke Daniels. Gracie Fields, Lisa Stansfield and Cyril Smith are taking one hell of a beating.

We take a stroll to the snack cabin. I have a cup of Bovril, whilst Ackers selects an Oasis summer fruits. It’s £3.40 in total.

The toons on the public address system aren’t too bad. The guy plays ‘Cum on Feel the Noise’ by Slade, ‘Town Called Malice’ by The Jam and ‘Fools Gold’ by The Stone Roses.

Posh continue on the ascendancy. Mackail-Smith works his socks off. His work is rewarded with a far post finish in the 50th minute.

Rochdale respond with a double substitution. They shove two up top. Akpa Akpro keeps Nottingham born Chris O’Grady company. The other sub, Anthony Elding hugs the left touchline.

Dale winger Matt Done has swapped wings and is now playing down the right hand side. He twists and turns the Posh full back inside and sees his shot cannon back off the post.

Rochdale reduce arrears with 10 minutes remaining with a smart finish by Akpa Akpro following good work by O’Grady. It instils some confidence. The 132 following get behind their team.

The game is in its dying embers when Jason Kennedy bursts through on goal for what seems to be a certain equaliser, he’s about to pull the trigger when a last ditch challenge from Zakuani saves the points for the Posh.

Attendance: 4233

Man of the Match: Craig Mackail-Smith

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Loughborough Dynamo 1 Sutton Coldfield Town 2

An anecdote: It’s Sunday October 24th 1999. I’m in the south eastern Irish town of Waterford, which is famous for its crystal. It’s the birthplace of: Val Doonican, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Jim Beglin and John O’Shea. Twenty five of us are on ‘The Architect’s’ stag do.

It’s the weekend from hell. Sticky Palms is streaming with cold, but just couldn’t miss this gig. We’re stopping in the worst hotel (I use the word hotel loosely) in living memory.

We’ve been made to feel very, very unwelcome. There was friction in the hotel bar on Friday night. It would have been quieter stopping on the Faulds Road in Belfast.

It’s hammered down with rain for two days now. On Saturday eighteen of us braved a local golf course in monsoon conditions. The remaining seven are holed up in a bar, next to a bookies. They gamble and drink themselves into a drunken stupor.

We’re all now gingerly recovering in a cosy seafront bar in the charming town of Wexford. We make our way to the racecourse for an afternoon meeting.

The ‘Magnificent Seven’ from yesterday still have £100 left in the kitty. Their leader is a guy called ‘Wrighty’ – he is a living legend. He bangs the whole wad on a horse in the first race and immediately doubles all their money.

He’s determined to fritter their winnings away and backs another nag at 2/1 which wins by a country mile. Wrighty’s waving £400 notes (punts) in the air now.

A horse called KC Electric has caught his eye on the race card – it’s priced at 4/1. He sticks the lot on. It’s the first time I’ve seen a bookie rub his board and reduce the odds, just because a mate has had a bet.

KC is on the second circuit, three from home. He’s absolutely pissing it. He jumps the second from home like a stag. Wrighty has his hands on his hips and is doing an Irish jig of delight – the locals are lapping it up. The boys are going to drag nearly £2000 – oh my God.

He’s fifteen lengths ahead as the jockey straightens up approaching the final fence. Suddenly KC veers off at a right angle and clatters into the inside rail. He’s had a heart attack and so has Wrighty, as his two grand winnings go up in a puff of smoke. Talk about the luck of the Irish (bookie).

Nothing tickled my fancy on the midweek fixture list. After the floodlight failure at Stone Dominoes the previous week, I’ve took a decision not to venture too far in the evenings until the spring.

I sit in the kitchen on Tuesday evening and tune in to the delightful, veteran commentator Colin Slater, who is broadcasting for Radio Nottingham at Meadow Lane. Lee Hughes leaves it late for the Pies in a 1-0 victory over Swindon.

I pull the curtains open on Saturday morning. I’m surprised to see a dusting of snow on top of the frosty surface. It’s only 7.30am. A few days ago I trooped down the stairs in a state of excited anticipation. It was the first day’s play in the Ashes.

Australian Junior Wood Chopping Champion, Peter Siddle, had cut down to size a cocky and over-confident England side. His 6-54 included a hat-trick on his 26th birthday. I quickly check Sky Sports News – Australia have already racked up over 500.

I save Sticky jnr the bother of riding his bike in the slippery conditions and help him deliver his papers. The Daily Mirror is reporting that Arsene Wenger has ‘popped one in the onion bag’, which is more than can be said for his toothless strike force in Braga on Tuesday evening.

I’m tipped the wink that a kids game is on in West Bridgford. I have a cruise around in Sally Gunnell, dropping in at Rushcliffe Comprehensive, West Park and Regatta Way – all games are postponed.

I arrive home at 11am. Mrs P has that look in her eyes which suggests deployment to a domestic task is imminent. I volunteer to clean the inside windows. It’s probably the most mundane task in the world, readers.

I stick the i-Pod headset into my ears and away I go. A couple of 70s tunes soon get me reminiscing about Youth Club. I remember ‘Disco Night’ on a Tuesday when the DJ played Boney M’s ‘Sunny’ and George McCrae’s ‘Rock You Baby.’ Warrington born Stone Roses lead singer, Ian Brown, brings me back to the modern age with his solo hit ‘Sweet Fantastic.’

Mrs P has shot off with her mum to a retail park In Netherfield. Apparently we need a new toaster and hairdryer. It gives me the chance to have a little skive.

The poor old ‘Skipper’ is sprawled out on the sofa watching Villa play ‘The Arsenal.’ He’s full of cold. Whilst most of the country is covered in snow, Aston Villa sprinkle the playing surface with water prior to the match. I watch Marseille born midfielder, Samir Nasri, put the visitors two to the good.

I make a few calls. Anstey Nomads game has fallen victim to the snow and frost. Loughborough Dynamo is just about the only game still on.

Rammers picks me up in the Audi soft top outside the Fairway pub. I thought it was Penelope Pitstop pulling in for a Campari and soda.

It’s a straight forward drive down the A60, past the University, followed by a left hand turn down Water Mead Lane.

Loughborough is a town within the Charnwood borough of Leicestershire; it has a population of over 55,000. Coronation Street’s top train spotter and potential groundhopper, Roy Cropper, (David Neilson) was born in the town.

It’s £7 per man on the gate. The programme is £1.50 and is an absolute must toilet read. There’s controversy just before kick off with a text from Mrs P. There’s been an incident between her and a girl on the tills at Netherfield’s Tesco: Final Score is Tesco’s 1 Mrs P 0 – It’s not a good time to ask if Finley can sleep in the kitchen tonight.

We stand the opposite side to the dug outs. The pitch is coated in snow but perfectly playable. Rammers says hello to the referee – he’s probably sent him to the stands a couple of times in the last 20 years or so.

Both teams are keen to get the ball down and play. Sutton Coldfield have some big lads and look stronger on the ball.

We’ve been joined by an elderly, bubbly gentleman, who’s wearing a Unibond jacket and is wrapped in either a Carlton Town or Mansfield Town gold and blue scarf. He’s jousting with Rammers. Turns out it’s the infamous ‘Evening Post Brian’ who features in ‘Beardy Malc’s’ ‘On the Road’ blog.

Brian hasn’t half got some rattle. I nearly miss the first goal as he reels off yet another anecdote – he’s another character that the Non League throws up from time to time.

The Royals’ Owen and Marshall exchange passes and prise an opening for former Walsall scholar Harry Harris, who places his shot into the corner of the net.

On 23 minutes Sutton Coldfield are awarded the softest of penalties, which fortunately for Dynamo is superbly saved by their ‘keeper Laurie Pearson.

Dynamo enjoy a golden spell. Both full backs bomb down the line. It’s from a Noble cross that Dynamo equalize in the 39th minute with Jay Lee Hodgson nodding home at the far post.

It’s bloody freezing folks. We’re straight into the clubhouse. There’s a huge queue for tea. Rugby from Twickenham is on one TV, whilst there is horse racing from Newbury on the other – I’m interested in neither.

We stroll back to our usual spot. Sadly ‘Evening Post Brian’ hasn’t tagged along –it’s a shame because he didn’t half make me laugh. He’d phoned up ‘Beardy Malc’ in the first half to tell him that Rammers and Sticky will be pledging £20 towards his charity.

Big D has text in from the Darlington v York City FA Cup tie. That bungling fool Roscoe has tipped up an entire cup of Kenco coffee down his designer wind cheater.

There’s a nice flow about the game as both teams search for a winner. There are chances at both ends but The Royals have that little more cutting edge in attack.

The winner comes on 67 minutes. Harry Harris floats a 22 yard free kick over the wall and into the top corner. Dynamo don’t give up without a fight but the Royals just about deserve the win.

I can barely feel the end of my toes. We end up next to a log fire in the Swan and Rushes in Loughborough town centre and finish the day off with a couple of real ales.

Attendance: 128

Man of the Match: Craig Milligan

Monday, November 22, 2010

Radcliffe Olympic 2 Thurnby Nirvana 1

It’s Monday November 15th 2010. I’m sat at the back of the Derek Pavis Stand, at Notts County’s Meadow Lane. I’ve wearing five layers of clothing, a pair of gloves and a beanie hat – it’s absolutely freezing.

The pitch is frost-covered. The players that have chosen the incorrect footwear are slipping and sliding about on the crunchy surface.

It’s an FA Youth Cup 2nd round match against Shrewsbury Town. A carrot has been dangled – the winners will meet Liverpool at home in the next round.

‘The Guvnor’ (Paul Ince) is in the building. Shrewsbury Town’s manager, Graham Turner is seated behind the ‘Directors’ Box.’ Just over 300 people have made the effort on a wintry Monday evening.

‘We’ have cobbled this side together in a very short space of time. We currently top the Under 18 League. The Pies coast to a 2-0 victory. The margin should have been much wider.

The boy I brought in from inner city St Anns five years ago is different gravy. His hair is braided. He has a stature and presence on the pitch. The boy snaps in the tackle, closes down space and hounds his opponent.

I wake up the following the morning in agony. A huge lump has appeared on my elbow. The doctor diagnoses it as bursitis (fluid on the joint). Colleagues and so-called friends call me Quasimodo for the rest of the day.

I’m in the Jag with the Nuclear Scientist and The Taxman; we’re on our way to Stone Dominoes v Congleton Town. We pull into the car park which is plunged into darkness.

A little old lady walks past our car: “Game off” she cackles, “floodlight failure.” NS is none too chuffed. We stop at the Wysall Plough on the way back for a couple of Timothy Taylor’s.

It’s Friday evening. Mrs P packed her bags eight hours ago – she’s on a girlie weekend up in Manchester.

I crack open a bottle of Jacobs Creek. Sticky junior bursts through the door with a takeaway pizza – it’s a lad’s night in.

The boys slip upstairs and let a bit of steam off on ‘Call of Duty.’ I finish the evening listening to a set by the awe-inspiring Robert Smith of The Cure. It’s from the cult TV show The Tube from 1984. Smith is at his mean and moody best.

Mrs P texts in from the San Carlos restaurant in Manchester city centre – she’s sitting on the next table to Manchester City forward, Mario Balotelli.

Sticky jnr has a lie-in. Poor old Dad is doing the paper round again. The Daily Mail headline is ‘Queen Camilla.’ I’m more interested in the potential Bank Holiday the press are speculating we might be having because of the Royal Wedding.

I rustle up a full English breakfast for the boys and their mates. ‘The Skipper’ jumps in the car with me as we have a scouting mission down at the Highfields University Playing Fields.

Nottingham City Schools are playing South Notts Schools at all age groups. I notice all the Forest scouts in a huddle gassing again. It’s like a sewing circle at the Women’s Institute.

I bump into Big D. His lad, Roscoe, is an accident waiting to happen. He’s the Under 15 goalkeeper across the ‘dark side.’ He’s managed to break not one finger but two, on different hands. Apparently all’s good for texting and the Xbox.

We’re back home for a light bite. ‘The Skipper’ flicks on Sky Sports. ‘The Arsenal’ are pulverising Tottenham Hotspur 2-0. Stoke on-Trent referee, Phil Dowd is having an excellent game.

I pack ‘The Skipper off to his mate’s house – he’s on a sleepover there tonight.

I take a steady drive through the old coal mining village of Cotgrave, where former badminton world champion Nathan Robertson grew up.

I pass the real ale house the Rose and Crown and the Nottinghamshire Golf and Country Club. I have a mosy around the village of Radcliffe on-Trent. By the time I’m back in the car Spurs have clawed back Arsenal’s two goal lead.

I rock up at the highly recommended Black Lion pub, in the centre of the village and enter the public bar. The place is crowded, with a sprinkling of Spurs’ fans.

It takes an age to get served. It’s worth the wait as both the beer and barmaid are delightful. The Adnams Broadside is tip top. The pretty, blonde barmaid makes small talk with me about the football on the TV. Her voice is drowned out by the cheers for Younes Kaboul’s late headed winner.

Arsene Wenger hurls a water bottle to the ground and bounces a bottle top off the turf, like a basketball player.

I pull into Wharf Lane at 2.45pm and park adjacent to the skate park and recreation area.

Radcliffe on-Trent is in the borough of Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire. It has a population of 8000 and a cracking Co-op Shop.

Former Nottinghamshire and England cricketer, George Parr, was born and died in the village. The wonderful old stand at Trent Bridge (the Parr Stand) has recently been replaced by an uglier version to accommodate Test status.

You may have also heard of the ‘Radcliffe Road End’ at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club – this stand backs onto the A52 which leads to the village.

Radcliffe Olympic were founded in 1876. The Club President is former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke.

The Club enjoyed a successful FA Cup run this season. They finally fell victim to West Midlands club Tipton Town in a replay, following a six goal thriller at Wharf Lane, watched by over 500 supporters.

Watford and England goalkeeper, Scott Loach, played two games for Radcliffe Olympic back in 2004.

I’m met at the gate by Radcliffe secretary Michael Bradley. He’s worried about the playing surface – in racing terms it’s heavy going. It’s £5 admission, including a quality programme.

It’s a dark, dank, misty day. The setting is delightful. Trains from Nottingham to Bingham, Grantham and Lincoln run at regular intervals at the far end of the ground.

It’s the third time I’ve seen Nirvana play this season; I love their energy and youth. Their Management are easily distracted and frustrated by officialdom, though.

I stand close to the end Nirvana attack. Olympic are a bloody good side but I expect the visitors to dictate the play.

I only have eyes for Nirvana forward, Jordan ‘Bully’ Smith. His touch, pace, power and movement are ridiculous. He pounces on a through ball minutes into the game and is about to pull the trigger when he is upended by the last defender.

A more cast-iron penalty award I’ve yet to see. Referee Chris Stevens and his bungling assistant referee bottle it big time. The visitors’ bench are in uproar.

Smith and Melbourne waste further chances as Nirvana up the tempo. Olympic’s ‘Ginger Makelele’, skipper Craig Anderson, is unhappy with the performance of his highly-rated front trio – Massingham, Epps and Westcarr. He gets stuck into the three of them.

Radcliffe begin to respond. Grant Walton fizzes a shot just wide of the post and a deflected Epps’ effort grazes the crossbar.

The half ends with a Melbourne shot producing a fine block from Radcliffe ‘keeper Jamie Mountain, after being put through on goal.

A die-hard Radcliffe supporter dismisses the penalty claim in the ‘Tuck Shop’ at the break. I ignore his comments and enjoy instead a cracking brew poured from the pot – it’s nearly on par with the Keyworth United Clubhouse. Sticky Palms marks it with an 8.5.

Sticky jnr is on the blower. His team have beaten Southwell 2-1. He’s squealing down the phone that Lewis McGugan has thumped home another long-ranger for the ‘Tricky Trees.’

‘Young Will’, for Thurnby, is playing on the left wing. He’s a dead ringer for Nathan Tyson. The 18 year old leaves the full back for dead and curls in a pinpoint cross that ‘Bully’ somehow heads wide of the target, from point-blank range. ‘Bully’ then flashes a free-kick the wrong side of the post.

Radcliffe up it a gear. Epps smacks a shot from 25 yards out that the keeper tips onto the underside of the woodwork. Olympic take the lead on the hour. A ball is threaded through to Epps who finishes with aplomb.

What a match this is turning out to be. The two sides play a wonderful game in the second half. Even the referee begins to put a shift in.

Epps hits another rip snorting effort from distance. It’s déjà vu as Carter incredibly turns it onto the post. An alert Westcarr steers the rebound into an empty net. It’s harsh on the visitors who have given their all.

Seventeen year old Serbian sub, Samzo Alihodzic, hits a 25 yard pile driver three minutes from time. But Radcliffe manage to hang on for what some would say is a fortunate three points.

Attendance: 38

Man of the Match: Thurnby Nirvana captain ‘Wes.’