Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dunkirk 2 Grantham Town 2

The Groundhopper shuffles about nervously in the departure lounge at East Midlands Airport. He stares vacantly into his Costa cup of coffee. I don’t know if I’m more apprehensive about BMI Baby flight number WA2205 to Faro, in Portugal, or the fact that I have to spend two weeks in the company of that little monkey ‘Gangsta.’

The mini guy ran me ragged at Wolverhampton Wanderers early on in last season’s campaign. I’ll be entertaining him and his brother more than Charlie Chalk in the next few weeks.

We shuffle towards Gate 23 as our flight number is announced over the tannoy. A guy is sat down, flicking his way through the pages of the Daily Mail. He’s wearing a blue Polo shirt, jeans and some sandals. His hair is swept back. A pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses are perched on top of his head. Gangsta’s mum points out that it’s ex England cricket captain Michael Vaughan.

The Architect whips Vaughan’s autobiography from out of his hand luggage. He hands it to my godson (Will) who politely asks ‘Vaughany’ to sign it. ”No problem, Buddy”, he replies. It’s a great start to one of our best holidays, spent with our closest friends.

Three days later Sticky Palms is staggering out of ‘Jokers Bar’. It’s early evening and Duckworth Lewis has done for Notts in the Twenty20 Finals Day at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.

I trudge up the steps into the sun-soaked streets of Carvoeiro. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief at an astonishing catch snaffled up by the gangling West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard that singled the end of the road of our cup dreams for another year.

A girl catches my eye as I look to cross the road. I recognise her immediately. She’s an old flame from over 25 years ago, my first real love. Coincidentally, we are staying in the same resort. We laugh and joke, as we catch up for ten minutes or so.

Mrs P coughs and splutters on her Gordon’s gin and tonic, on our return to the pool side, when she is told the news by ‘The Skipper’ and Sticky Jnr that my ex is in town. “Make mine a large one, please barman” says Sticky.

Two weeks later we land on a rain-drenched runway. Boy, I’ve missed my football. ‘Uppo’ has kept me updated on Dunkirk’s recent games. They are bang in form and the Gingerbreads are not going to fancy their visit to Lenton Lane.

It’s an unexpected lie-in for Sticky Palms on Saturday morning. I quickly jump into the shower and have a spruce up. It’s two weeks since I scouted the inner city for talent. This morning I decide on a cruise around the local parks and recreation grounds of Nottingham. I’m dressed in my civvies, but take some ID in case I’m challenged in the crazy world of political correctness.

I see a few training sessions and talk to a few chairmen and managers. I arrive home to a ham, Jarlsberg and mayo baguette. The diet is off until Tuesday, so I manage to cram down a Belgian cookie too.

My little furry friend, Finley the rabbit, requires a cage make-over. He’s in a playful mood and wants to play hide and seek. I tell you what readers he has more bolt holes than the Saudi Arabian, Islamic extremist, Osama Bin Laden.

I return to the house to see Nottingham born Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott have scored a Test record eighth wicket partnership of 332 runs. I channel hop to Sky Sports 1 and watch the speedy Theo Walcott smash a shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net at Blackburn’s Ewood Park, to put ‘The Arsenal’ one to the good.

I’ve arranged to meet Rammers at the best real ale house in Ruddington – the White Horse. I order a Batemans XB at the bar for a pricey £2.90. I listen to a toothless man swearing and ranting at his other half – he looks like Shane McGowan’s dad.

Rammers arrives on two bells. I order him up guest ale. For once his sun tan is kosher – he’s been coaching football at a summer camp in Texas.

We leave his car in the pub car park and travel together in ‘Sally Gunnell.’ I park in a lay-by right outside the ground. Entry is £5, with a further £1 for a well-produced and informative programme.

We avoid the bar and position ourselves opposite the dugouts. I’m not particularly in the mood to hear the bellowing dulcet tones of one of the Grantham Town management team. He has been sent to the stands more times than those pair of jokers at Lincoln City – Chris Sutton and Ian Pearce.

The last time I saw him he was shouting and bawling on top of a picnic table at Carlton Town’s Stoke Lane ground, having once again been asked to leave the sidelines, due to constant haranguing and barracking of an official – his side were coasting to a 3-0 victory at the time.

Our mate Screats had a short and unpleasant stay at Grantham Town last season. He was cold-shouldered and frozen out without explanation. It was no way to treat a non-league legend.

Grantham is a market town within the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. It has a population of 35,000 and is the birthplace of the wicked daughter of a local greengrocer who killed hundreds of communities, broke thousands of hearts and divided families for ever with the closure of the coal industry in the 1980s.

Other notable people born in the area include: serial killer and dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’, Beverley Allot, medium and psychic, Doris Stokes (wonder whether she can predict this scoreline from beyond the grave), Sky Sports presenter Clare Tomlinson (think Bryan Robson spotted her talent early in her career) and England cricketer Luke Wright.

Dunkirk are flying this season – Harbottle, Uppo and Danny Boyes have got them playing at a great tempo. They have bags of pace and energy. There’s the whiff in the air of a cup upset today.

I look across the pitch as the managers stroll to the bench. Uppo and Harbottle are decked out in sweaters and trousers. They appear set fair for a round of golf.

The Gingerbreads get the early goal they crave for. Frawley misses a header, former Worksop striker Matt Glass rounds the keeper, only for his ankles to be tapped. He goes down easily but it’s a cast-iron penalty. Malak is fortunate to see only a yellow card waved at him by referee Ricky Wooton from South Yorkshire. Glass makes no mistake from the spot.

Grantham striker Alex Haughton blasts over the bar after poorly cleared corner finds him lurking on the edge of the ‘D.’

Dunkirk slowly edge their way into the game. Defender Rob McCormick, a lad I picked up for The Pies in his youth, has a header cleared off the line.

Grantham struggle to deal with the in-swinging, whipped- in corners from Darren Garmston. Boatman striker Shannon Grant sees another effort prevented from crossing the line.

On the stroke of half-time former Grimsby Town scholar Gio Carchedi cleverly loses his marker and chests a ball to Matt Glass, who strikes a 20 yard daisy-cutter into the bottom right corner of the net.

Rammers has been invited into the Boardroom for a cup of tea. I tag along. It’s poured out of a China pot and is marked with 8 out of 10. The Dunkirk officials are welcoming and sociable. Grantham Town dignitaries appear aloof and disengaging.

The television set has the Challenge Cup final on from Wembley Stadium between Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves. I notice a framed, signed Ipswich Town shirt on the wall.

The Gingerbreads have umpteen chances to extend their lead, but are wasteful in front of goal. They pepper the Dunkirk penalty area without reward. Danny Hargreaves spurns their best opportunity, when leaning back to shoot over a gaping goal, when composure was a better option.

Dunkirk begin to lose their discipline; it’s their Achilles heel. The game becomes sour and there is an almighty melee after a bad tackle by Grantham’s Danny Steadman. They don’t do handbags in this neck of the woods.

Dunkirk’s Theo Smith has already been substituted but comes flying out of the dugout to get involved. He’s fingered by the linesman and sent to the changing rooms. The guilty party from Grantham escapes with a yellow card.

The Boatmen are reduced to ten men when Garmston receives a second yellow card. The game is dying a death and Grantham Town are coasting. The back three of Asher, Sucharewycz and Saunders have had a cigar on for most of the second half.

A fine five man move results in a peach of a goal for Chris McGeown. Grantham are running the clock down when Dunkirk are awarded a free-kick 22 yards out. Young Sam Buckle steps up to float the ball into the area. Grantham keeper Rob Murray comes to collect but for once catches thin air as the ball sails past him and into an empty net.

Uppo and Harbottle scurry to the 19th hole to celebrate.

Attendance: 125

Man of the Match: Matt Glass.


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