Sunday, May 2, 2010
Notts County 5 Cheltenham Town 0
It’s Christmas Eve 2005. Sticky junior (9yrs old) and ‘The Skipper (7yrs old) are driving Mrs P up the wall. I’m in my first season as the Talent Identification Officer for Notts County FC Centre of Excellence. I’ve some urgent business to attend to in St Anns, an inner city area in Nottingham.
I’ve had a 12 year old boy on trial for 6 weeks. He’s different gravy. One or two of the other boys won’t accept him. It’s the old animal instinct – they are jealous of him. The boy is suspicious. He feels intimidated and threatened. He won’t sign the forms to join the Pies and I want to know why.
I meet up with a social worker friend of mine. We stroll up to the boy’s house. We spend two hours trying to persuade him to put pen to paper. He’s having none of it. I walk away empty-handed. Merry Christmas Sticky.
Fast forward the clock five and half years to last Monday evening. I’m walking behind the goal at the world renowned Nottingham Forest Academy. A pony-tailed boy has put Notts County under 17s one up against Forest u17s. It’s took me five years to get him back. He’s the best player on the park by a country mile. He snaps in the tackle and covers every blade of grass. Welcome back Curtis, it’s been worth the wait son.
It’s Saturday morning. Mrs P asks if I would like some crumpet. You can’t beat a bit of crumpet first thing in the morning, readers. I like mine covered in Marmite.
I have to rake up some leaves that have fallen off the Magnolia tree before heading oop north again. Finley (pet rabbit) is giving me a helping hand. I put the i-Pod headphones close to his ear. He does a little bunny hop and pogo to ‘Reptilia by New York indie band The Strokes.
An hour later I’m stood with the Pies’ Head of Youth and my scout from Mansfield. The ground in question (a secret in case those scallywag scouts from Florist read this) is bathed in glorious sunshine.
We watch a one-sided game and conduct our business in the clubhouse afterwards. It’s been a long, hard season and I’m desperate for a rest. Sadly, there will be no respite, as I’ve summer tournaments to trawl for the next four months.
I nip around my brother-in-law’s to collect a blow-up bed. We have guests staying tonight. Life has been cruel to this chap – he supports D***y County, reads the Daily Mail and works for the most under-performing police force in the country (HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s words, not mine).
He’s showing off his new Panasonic, state of the art, high definition television. He flicks on ITV. Midsomer Murders has just started. It’ll be the first arrest he’s seen all year.
I’ve arranged to meet Sticky junior outside the ground. ‘The Skipper’ jumps in the front seat and chats away to me as we drive down the A606, past all the blooming cherry blossom trees and through leafy West Bridgford.
We park up in County Hall and pay a quick visit to the smallest sweet shop in the world, which is just over Trent Bridge on the north side of the river.
It’s bedlam around the ground. Everyone seems to be downing cold beers, biting on a burger or filling their face with a pie. It’s a carnival atmosphere.
All the boys from the centre of excellence are milling around outside the main gates. They are to be paraded around the ground at the half time interval.
Sticky junior, ‘The Skipper’ and the pals take up their normal spot in the Family Stand. The stewards in there have had to have counselling since their last visit. Junior has invested in an air horn to crank up the atmosphere.
I sit in my usual spot, alone, at the back of the Derek Pavis Stand. I notice a guy with a retro knitted Notts County scarf, with all the names of the players on it from the early seventies. He used to work behind the counter of the cult record shop Selectadisc on Bridlesmith Gate. I remember buying ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ by The Cure off him for £3.29 in 1979.
Mercurial midfield maestro, Don Masson, swans out onto the pitch. He takes a bow and a standing ovation from the 11,000 crowd. He is today’s guest of honour.
The Cheltenham mascot, (a Robin), tries to waddle past the Kop unnoticed. He is slaughtered in a good-natured way.
A huge, fat lady slumps into the seat next to me. All leg room and body movement is restricted. She wiggles her hips and shakes her booty to the club classic ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless. It’s the most sobering thought of the day.
Cheltenham is a spa town in the county of Gloucestershire. It has a population of 110,000. It sits on the edge of the Cotswolds. The Cheltenham Festival is held each year in March. A pie-eyed Sticky Palms has been in attendance on numerous occasions.
Born and bred Cheltonians include: golfer Paul Casey, Killing Joke lead singer Jaz Coleman, actors Robert Hardy and Martin Jarvis, classical composer Gustav Holst, former Rolling Stone Brian Jones (died aged 26), ski jumper Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards Rocky Horror Show writer Richard O’Brien, crap TV presenter Kate Thornton and last but not least, Notts County manager Steve Cotterill.
I pause for thought. I start thinking about the time our school dished out free tickets for a game between Notts and Sheffield Wed, in November 1974. It was one of my first trips down Meadow Lane. I stood high up on the Spion Kop. Ian Scanlon scored a hat-trick in 165 seconds. It left a lasting impression on me.
I begin to chuckle to myself. I’ve just remembered how I saw Sven Goran Eriksson, nine months ago, standing between Mr and Mrs Magpie, waving at an excited and expectant crowd. What a crazy season it has been.
Cheltenham form a guard of honour for the League Two champions. Notts switch ends and kick towards the Kop.
The opening moments feel like a testimonial game. The Robins miss a couple of half chances. Their left winger, Medy Elito, on loan from Colchester, has a good touch and great technique.
Cheltenham concede a sloppy goal on 20 minutes, with Graeme Lee popping up at the far post to nod home a Ben Davies corner. The Robins lose possession immediately. Davies pumps the ball forward, Hughes’ first touch is sublime, his finish is breathtaking. The Kop rise as one and mimic his ridiculous celebration – “Let’s all do the Hughsie.”
On 25 minutes Ben Davies swings in a free-kick, it appears to be forced into the net by the hand of Lee Hughes, but no flag is raised or whistle blown.
The Pies are rampant. Bargain basement Bosman buy of the season, Craig Westcarr (11 goals and a boatload of assists), blazes over the bar.
But once again it’s ‘Rocky’ Ravenhill who has caught ‘The Groundhopper’s’ eye. His crunching tackles, water- carrying from defence and intelligent use of the ball are delightful.
Hughes completes his hat-trick on the half hour, cutting in from the left and bending a shot into the goalkeeper’s bottom left hand corner.
The Robins are conscious of their poor goal difference. They reshuffle their pack at the break and go for a more defensive 4-5-1.
The game has gone for them. What must poor old Nottingham Forest loanee Matt Thornhill be thinking? He looks too good for this level and would surely be a useful acquisition for the Pies, should he become available.
Luke Rodgers makes it a five star performance with a cool finish following a flick on by Westcarr.
Kasper Schmeichel bids a fond farewell to the Meadow Lane faithful on 88 minutes. Sticky junior phones me up in injury time. He’s had his air horn confiscated and is threatening to invade the pitch. I switch him off to savour the moment of watching the Notts’ players climb onto the podium, two by two, for the trophy presentation.
Spare a thought for Ian McParland, sensationally sacked in late autumn, with the Pies in the chasing pack. What must he be thinking now? After all, it’s the team he assembled.
It’s the final game of the season for The Groundhopper. I need to recharge my batteries folks.
Attendance: 11,331 (528 from Cheltenham, who were first class)
Man of the Match: Ricky Ravenhill