Friday, April 29, 2011

Wakefield 0 Curzon Ashton 1

I’m sitting on the patio with the sun beating down on me. My best friend in the world, Finley Palmer, is laid under my chair pondering his next crap score prediction. Mrs P is sipping on a Pimms and lemonade, whilst reading Alan Sugar’s autobiography. “Where do you fancy going Friday?” says Sticky Palms, suddenly realising we can spend a rare day together.

“I could drive out to “Carsington Water, we could have a pleasant stroll, and then maybe grab some lunch up in the Peaks?” “No thanks”, replies Mrs P. “Eh? You’re turning down a romantic day out with your husband.” “Yeah, that’s right; I’m off to a Royal Wedding party at my sister’s house.”

I lift myself out the chair, scamper into the house and fly up the stairs. The Non League Paper catches my eye on the bedside table. I lick my index finger and flick the pages towards Friday’s fixture list. Evostik Division One North: Wakefield v Curzon Ashton at College Grove, ‘Wakey’s’ final ever game at this venue, 3pm kick off.

I fumble in my pocket for my mobile phone. I hastily scroll through my contacts, frantically looking for the letter ‘T’. I press the green button. A man answers. He sounds like he’s in a public house. I can hear the till ringing, glasses chinking and music in the background.

The man’s voice is like music to my ears. “Trumpy, are you watching the Wedding on Friday?” “What wedding?” “I’ll pick you up at 11.30am on the dot.”

I saunter back onto the patio with the smuggest of looks. I’m putting my tracksuit top on and my Notts County baseball cap. “Where you going?” says Mrs P poking her head over her book. “I’m nipping down Clifton to watch Boots clinch the NSL championship.”

I pull into Green Lane. It’s a blustery old evening, but a cracking turnout for a school night. Clifton have a wind-assisted first half. They lead by a goal at the break. In all honesty it should be two or three nil.

There’s no sign of Boots legendary secretary Dick Durrant. I give him a call. Apparently he considers himself a bad omen for midweek fixtures. He’s holed up around the corner, awaiting the final whistle and hopefully a draw or win.

Boots grab an equaliser and bag the title. Big D appears on the scene. He’s armed with Cava. It’s sprayed and wasted as this great club celebrate. I like them a lot, as I do Clifton. I leave them to it.

It’s Friday morning. I’m full of cold and have a hacking cough. I’m a man of honour and won’t let Trumpy down. I nip down Bradmore Lane to the picturesque setting of Plumtree Cricket Club, who play at the back of the Griffin Inn.

‘The Skipper’ is playing against Unity Casuals, who were once a nursery club for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. Mick Newell, Andy Pick and former England off spinner Peter Such have all played for Unity.

I shoot up back to Keyworth to pick up the Legend. He just has a large bottle of Gaymer’s cider for company today.

We’re both hopping mad. Ken Bruce’s Pop Master has been cancelled for the day because of that bloody wedding. We’re channel hopping on the radio. The only station with music on is Capital. Not on your Nelly are we having that on. We have a chat instead.

Trumpy can’t remember leaving the kids birthday party last week. He was like a Charlie Chalk celebrity with the children. ‘The Skipper’ and Sticky jnr are always hounding him for an autograph.

He’s making final preparations for his Sun Holiday in North Wales next week. He has a string of pubs lined-up. Headquarters is a caravan on a cliff top in Abersoch.

Trumpy has little recollection of a birthday party he went to in Blaby in Leicester on Saturday. Although he does recall having a conversation with Kasabian lead singer Tom Meighan. I would have paid to listen to that little chat.

The motorway is empty. After a stop for petrol, we’re soon rolling into the car park of the Catchpenny, in the village of Fitzwilliam in Yorkshire. Cricketer and radio pundit Geoffrey Boycott was born in the village.

We’re greeted by a buxom auburn-haired barmaid with an orange glow. Trumpy has a cider and I have a Diet Coke. The bar food is simple, unpretentious and great value. I have hot dog, onions and chips for £3.

Trumpy and the rest of the bar are captivated by the Royal Wedding. There’s a huge cheer when the Royal Couple kiss. I’m too busy on the phone addressing issues at Notts County to bother about all this tosh.

Trumpy waves goodbye to the Yorkshire-tanned barmaid. We’re soon in the town centre of Wakefield and parked up right outside the turnstile at College Grove.

Wakefield is a city in West Yorkshire, on the edge of the eastern Pennines. It has a population of over 70,000 people. It was once famous for glass, textiles and coal mining. It’s an area once again decimated by the Conservative Party’s pit closure programme.

The city is known as the European capital of the Rhubarb Triangle. Notable people born in the area include: Coronation Street actress Helen Worth, actor Reece Dinsdale, footballer Chris Greenacre, former Doncaster Rovers manager Dave Penney, heavyweight boxer Paul Sykes, scientist John Radcliffe, ‘singer’ Jayne McDonald and indie band The Cribs.

There’s a bit of a commotion at the turnstile. The guy on the gate has run out of fifty pences and is well stressed. He’s not enjoying Trumpy’s humour. I’m not happy either. It’s 2.15pm and they have already run out of programmes. Entry is rather pricey £7.50.

I’m immediately taken aback with the huge slope on the College Grove ground. Behind the nearest goal are the club offices and bar. Trumpy is straight in for a pint of John Smiths which has him pulling a face, like he’s sucking on a lemon.

The legend immediately goes into one, ranting that his pet hates in life are: Sarah Cox, Peter Tatchell and Alex Salmond.

There’s a large stand running along one side of the ground, which has yellow tip up seats. We stand on the concrete steps above the Curzon Ashton dugout. Their manager is decked out in a club tracksuit but strangely chooses to sports a pair of black shoes.

I’ve never seen either team play before. I do remember Brian Clough signing tricky winger Steve Wigley from Curzon Ashton. He became big pals with Stuart Pearce. He’s currently assistant manager at Bristol City.

The pitch is one huge dustbowl. Everytime someone is tackled a huge cloud of dust appears, as if Starsky and Hutch or The Sweeney have pulled into the car park. The game is dire. I enquire if Curzon have rested a few for their play-off game on May Day Bank Holiday.

Nobody appears to be in a particular good mood, me included, with my runny nose and irritating cough. One solitary fan stands behind the goal. I sarcastically ask him if this is the ‘Away End.’ “Not a clue youth”, is his reply.

I meet a groundhopper from York, who is taking photos from the most elevated view in the ground. I engage in conversation, but I’m quite clearly boring the bloke to death and interrupting his passion for photography.

The one moment of quality happens on 40 minutes. A quick free kick finds Curzon forward Daniel Broadbent in space. He allows the ball to bounce once before thumping a shot over Czech ‘keeper Jan Zolna and into the net.

I stop a chap with an AFC Bournemouth replica shirt on and ask him what the heck he is doing here. He’s on his way to Hartlepool v the Cherries, which is being played tomorrow. The guy’s a proper hopper and has a series of games lined-up this weekend. He intends stopping at his stepsister’s in South Shields for a few nights.

Trumpy is opened-mouthed and aghast with the list of games the guy intends to go to. West Yorkshire cup ties, Level 7 fixtures in the north east. “It’s only like that stupid pub ticking-off game that you play” I remark to the Legend.

Plumstead rapper Tiny Tempah is on in the bar, obviously not live, just one of his daft toons. Trumpy downs another bitter. Sticky Palms is that racked off even he drowns his sorrows with a pint of Stella.

You can’t blame the two teams; it’s the pitch that is beating them. Wakefield’s Number 7 shows flashes of brilliance, but nobody really catches the eye apart from Broadbent’s brilliant first touch and movement.

Trumpy has got his eye on Wakefield’s physio ‘Carol.’ She has blonde hair and is extremely attractive. “I’d be going down with a groin strain every five minutes if I was a player”, remarks Bolton.

We stand near the exit as the game peters out. A couple of groundhoppers are comparing notes of stadia in the Manchester area. It’s all too much for Trumpy. I can’t half pick em readers.

Attendance: 208

Man of the Match: Bournemouth Groundhopper.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Notts County 1 Brentford 1

We’re walking out of Bury’s Gigg Lane. Police surround a coach that has had a window put in. The coach is from Bootle on Merseyside. An Irish team were paraded around the ground earlier today; I hope it’s not their bus.

Trumpy Bolton has had one hell of a day. He’s downed near on a gallon of ale and has met Chris Hughton and Five Live reporter Peter Slater.

We jump in the Rolls Royce and head out of Bury. I try to put Lincoln’s defeat to the back of my mind. But I can smell the fear of relegation. They lack experience and have people playing out of position. We badly need the return of leading scorer Ashley Grimes, who is on loan from Millwall.

A ray of sunshine appears from over the Pennines in Leeds. Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club have rolled over the Tykes for 86. We’ve been outplayed for the best part of two days, but Chris Read’s men never know when they are beaten.

As we near home I tune into ‘Radio Red’ (Radio Nottingham). The Tricky Trees are playing the Foxes of Leicester (Trumpy’s team). Chris Weale has thrown a Paul McKenna shot into his own net. ‘U Reds’ are 3-2 up. Trumpy requests that the radio is switched off. He sulks over another alcoholic beverage in the Three Ponds in Watnall.

We both bizarrely spend the rest of the evening at a girl’s thirteenth birthday party in our village. After all that driving over the hills of Derbyshire and Lancashire, I retire to bed after a limp effort of just two bottles of Peroni.

Domestic chores dominate the weekend. It’s now the fag end of the season and I’m looking forward to a footballing bonanza in the next fortnight or so. I nip into the inner city to watch a player on Saturday lunchtime. The tip is that he’s playing a year up. Sadly, he’s not on the team bus today.

I call in at Clifton All Whites Green Lane HQ. Their Reserves are up against Boots Athletic. Big D, Barthez and Yogi are viewing the game. Goals are scored in the 118th and 119th minute. Clifton win 4-3 on penalties.

I snatch glimpses of the Old Firm game on Sunday. Neil Lennon cups his hands over his ears and gestures towards the Ibrox crowd on his way to tunnel. It is alleged that Glasgow Rangers handed out over 40,000 Union Jack flags to their supporters.

On Sunday evening we all watch the excellent BBC drama ‘United’, starring David Tennant, who plays Matt Busby’s assistant Jimmy Murphy. It’s a story I’m interested in, as my father was a rookie reporter on the Daily Express in Manchester in 1958.

The Munich Air Disaster was his first big story. He spoke to Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton by telephone, as they lay in their hospital beds. I still have the cutting of his front page splash in my loft.

Both my lads are touched and moved by the drama. They are visibly upset when it is announced that Duncan Edwards has passed away.

It’s Monday morning. The Pies have a ‘two for one offer’ on today, if you can manage to get down to the Ticket Office before 1pm. The Nuclear Scientist is up for the game, and so are my lads.

We park up on Iremonger Road, and stroll up to the ground, passing Mower World. I notice that the Trent Navigation is up for lease again. It has had more owners than Portsmouth FC.

We return four hours later and park on Daleside Road. Martin Allen has put a smile back on the faces of the World’s oldest Football League club. He’s a people’s person. He writes off-the-wall statements on the Club website, and has already struck up a fantastic rapport with ‘Uncle Colin’ on Radio Nottingham.

He joshed with Slater after a recent win at Tranmere Rovers about his tweed jacket and brogues. I am hoping with the belief in his company Pro FC that he might bring in one or two rough diamonds from the Non League scene in the summer.

I read his ‘Sunday Sermon’ this morning. He wrote a gripping and thoughtful piece about his feelings and emotions from The County Ground at Swindon on Saturday. He described the disgraceful actions of some Robins’ supporters, whose treatment of Paul Hart (another proper football bloke) was disgusting and vile.

We walk at the back of the Derek Pavis Stand. Mr and Mrs Magpie give us all a high five. We take a pew up in the heavens smack opposite the 18 yard line, to the Kop side of the ground.

The Bees have brought a couple of coach loads, which is more than can be said of the Imps at Bury on Friday. Martin Allen took Brentford to the play-offs twice between 2004-2006.

Brentford is a suburb in west London in the London Borough of Hounslow. Well known people born in Brentford include the actor John Bardon who plays soap character Jim Branning in EastEnders and former Crystal Palace and Coventry City footballer Richard Shaw.

The Pies are on the back of two away wins at Tranmere and Swindon. Lee Hughes and Alan Judge are back to full fitness and will start the game today.

The atmospheric ‘Air That I Breathe’ by Manchester 60’s pop group The Hollies blasts out from the speakers. The players march out to the theme tune from the Great Escape. Girls from Hooters Bar, dressed in skimpy orange outfits, act as cheerleaders.

Allen is dressed in a white shirt and navy blue tank-top. He looks like 70’s golfer Seve Ballesteros when he won the British Open. He prefers an elevated view of the game. He leans on the back of the dugout.

Notts begin the game brightly. Pearce and Edwards are reunited in the centre of defence. Judge pairs up with Stockton-on-Tees born midfielder Neal Bishop. There’s no ‘Rocky Ravenhill’ today. He’s lived up to his nickname – 11 yellows and two reds have done for him.

Karl Hawley appears to have had his confidence restored as he continues to win his battle with the boo boys. I saw him destroy D***y County in an FA Cup game a few years back when he was with Preston North End. He was man of the match by a country mile that day. Hawley has two strikes on goal in the opening 20 minutes.

The Bees have pride and position to play for. They look relaxed and play with confidence, particularly with the speed of their counter-attack.

Brentford have the best chance of the first half. Robbie Simpson plays in Lewis Grabban on the left hand side, he pops a shot off which is blocked by the legs of County ‘keeper Stuart Nelson. The rebound is fired wide of the right hand post.

Craig Westcarr replaces a hobbling former Manchester United trainee Febian Brandy. The first half peters out and becomes very scrappy, with very little goal-mouth action.

I look up towards the commentary box. I can see the legend that is Colin Slater, dressed in his Sherlock Holmes outfit. Behind him Dean Yates chats to former Pies’ ‘keeper Steve Cherry.

Sticky jnr texts in, he’s been chatting to the Hooters girls and has been trying to get their mobile numbers: that’s my boy. Keyworth Utd Reserve team manager Alan Jackson is sat in Block B in the Pavis Stand. He’s probably at the back of stand smoking his second packet of Hamlet.

The Pies again start well. The impressive Judge fires over. But Brentford are rapid on the break. German striker Jeffrey Schlupp, on loan from Leicester City, forces a near post save from Nelson, having just been introduced to the game.

Dangerous winger and ex Pie Myles Weston, booed with his every touch, floats a cross in from the right, which Marcus Bean fails to convert.

The game opens up as both teams search for a winner. Martin Allen is getting hot and sweaty; he peels off his tank-top and tucks in his shirt.

Westcarr smacks a shot from 25 yards out, it hits the defender full on and pole-axes him to the floor. The linesman incredibly awards a penalty. There’s a long delay while Osborne receives treatment. Weston winds up penalty-taker Craig Westcarr. The spot kick is brilliantly saved by Moore.

Moments later the Magpies are awarded another penalty for handball. Lee Hughes successfully converts, despite scuffing the ball.

Mad Dog is sent to the stands by the man in the middle for allegedly kicking the ball away. He’s sat with the crowd and directs traffic from the stand, as the game reaches a crescendo.

The fourth official indicates an agonising six minutes added time. Brentford look fagged out but are awarded a free kick. The ball is cleared to Sam Saunders, who threads a ball through to Schlupp, who is allowed to turn by Sam Sodje and get a shot off that Nelson can only help into the corner of the net.

The goal is scored 30 seconds from time. The hush and silence is frightening. There's no anger, just disbelief.

Attendance: 6879

Man of the Match: Neal Bishop

Thanks to Ralph Shepherd and John Sumpter for allowing me to reproduce some action photos from the game.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bury 1 Lincoln City 0

It’s a Bank Holiday Monday in May 1988. The team I have followed all over the country since the age of six are on the verge of the greatest comeback since Lazarus.

Twelve months ago, whilst fielding at the long on boundary at Bottesford Cricket Club, I heard the crushing and devastating news that Lincoln City had been relegated to the GMVC (the Conference). Torquay United had scored in added time, caused by a police dog biting a player.

Colin Murphy has been reappointed as manager. He’s assembled a team of street fighters. Three points today against Wycombe Wanderers mean that the Imps will be crowned as champions, and will return to the Football League.

I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep. There’s no pot of tea or hearty breakfast. My stomach’s churning, and I’m deathly pale.

‘Keebo’ picks me up at 1pm. We head down the Fosse Way in his white 1100cc Mini Metro. His girlfriend is with us, and so is mine.

There’s no time for a visit to the grandparents or a saunter around the city centre. It seems awfully quiet outside Sincil Bank, there’s still half an hour to go before kick off. I can hear ‘Perfect’ by Fairground Attraction on the crackly PA system.

The home turnstiles are shut – it’s a sell out. Nearly 10,000 people have rolled up. We have to stand with ‘The Choirboys’ in the ‘Away End.’

My guts are aching and my sugar levels are low. Barry Fry’s Barnet have led the table all season, but are being pegged back in the final furlong. Fry says to “stick your mortgage on the Bees.”

Mark Sertori settles my nerves with a first half goal. The tigerish Phil Brown blasts home the winner, with minutes remaining. I weep tears of joy. We celebrate at Reno’s on Alfreton Road, in Nottingham. It’s the greatest day of my football-watching career.

It’s Tuesday evening. I’ve just arrived home after watching ‘The Skipper’s’ side take a second half mauling. We’re short of personnel. It’s round pegs in square holes. The victorious team are criticised and vilified by their coaching staff. His half-time team talk (they were only 2-1 up) beggars belief. They play with fear and without enjoyment.

Despite an 8-1 victory their parents on the sideline bitch and moan about their sons’ playing time. I know who I would rather play for.

I switch the radio on and try and erase that image out of my mind. The greatest radio commentator in living memory, Colin Slater, is live and exclusive at a packed Prenton Park for the Tranmere v Notts County six pointer relegation showdown.

Martin ’Mad Dog’ Allen is the latest manager to be appointed ‘down the lane.’ He is like a breath of fresh air and an interviewers’ dream. He gives Slater 10 minutes of his time at the end of the game. It is pure radio gold.

I break up on Wednesday for nearly a fortnight. It’s a gorgeous sun-drenched morning on Thursday. Mrs P and I head out to the picturesque setting of Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. The place is mobbed.

We have an ice cream and watch the world go by. A grass snake slithers out the undergrowth and wriggles its way towards the Deer Park.

We wine and dine at the Badgers Sett in Cropston. It’s only a few miles away from the village of Rothley, where missing child Madeleine McCann is from. Former England cricket captain Mike Gatting once got himself in a spot of bother with a chambermaid at the Rothley Court Hotel, many moons ago.

It’s Friday morning and Sooty has just made a pot of tea. I’m listening to Radio Nottingham. Former Notts County Executive Chairman Peter ‘Teflon’ Trembling is being interviewed about the fallout from the Panorama documentary on Munto Finance. The DJ cheekily plays ‘Fantasy’ by Earth Wind and Fire.

Finley’s cage is bedecked in Nottingham Forest regalia. Finley is a Red and tonight his team are playing his biggest nemesis – the Foxes of Leicester. He’s a stubborn little bugger; he turns down a Foxes glacier mint and a Foxes custard cream.

I’m in debt to Mrs P for the pass out; after all it is Good Friday. Trumpy Bolton waltzes round the corner with his St Georges t-shirt on. He’s tooled up with his litre of cider. He’s already had a tin of McEwans and blue WKD vodka.

We’ve got Pop Master on Radio 2 as we sail up an empty M1. Trumpy claims to have bagged 39 points on one occasion. He racks up 30 points today, and is way too sharp for Sticky Palms.

It’s the normal route, off at Junction 29, through Chesterfield and up into the Peak District. The roads are as dead as a door nail.

First port of call is a relatively new Marston’s establishment called the Fallow Deer, which is situated on the edge of Chapel en-le-Frith.

As we drive into Cheshire, Trumpy becomes frustrated, as a lot of hostelries aren’t open until midday.

Trumpy has a big bash on in Blaby, in Leicestershire tomorrow evening. Two members of Leicester indie band Kasabian are expected to attend. I’m sure the Legend will introduce himself.

We’re now in Denton and sat in the Lowes Arms on the main drag. I’m enjoying a pint of Captain Reckless from the Hornbeam Brewery, in Denton. I order a steak baguette covered in Stilton cheese and onions. The dreadful Michael Buble is on the pub sound system.

We finally rock up at Gigg Lane a full one hour before kick off. I collect some tickets and snap up, for £3, what must be one of the best programmes I’ve ever read. It has 80 pages packed with information.

Bury is a town in Greater Manchester with a population of 60,000. It lies on the River Irwell. Bury emerged during the Industrial Revolution as a mill town centred on manufacturing textiles.

Famous folk born or raised in Bury include: former Prime Minister and founder of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Peel, comedian Victoria Wood, singer and Emmerdale actress Suzanne Shaw, Manchester United Sky TV pundit, Gary Neville, his brother Philip Neville, (think mum Jill is Shakers General Manager), goalkeeper Andy Goram, actress and serial pie-eater Lisa Riley, Cherie Blair and Vicky Binns (Molly Dobbs off ‘Coro’ – the one Kevin Webster has been servicing).

Bury are nicknamed the Shakers, a name which was bestowed up on them by a former chairman, who was an industrialist and ironmonger.

In May 2005 Bury became the first club to score 1000 goals in each of the top four tiers in the Football League.

In November 2005 they became the first club ever to be thrown out of the FA Cup for fielding an illegible player.

Well known former managers include: Bob Stokoe, Stan Ternent and Neil Warnock. Record transfer fee received was £1.1 million from Ipswich Town for striker David Johnson. Highest transfer fee paid was £200,000 for Chris Swailes from Ipswich Town in 1997.

We dive into the Social Club. It’s a Thwaites for Trumpy and a Guinness for Sticky. A friendly Leeds-based Shakers’ fan strikes up a conversation. He’s a mine of information. His mate has flown in from Norway for today’s game. He and Trumpy have a conversation in Norwegian. The guy is going to Hull v Middlesboro tomorrow and Chesterfield v Bury on Monday.

We’re sat among the press pack. There are a few old boy scouts scattered about. Surely they haven’t come to watch ‘The Lincoln?’ The ground is pretty much bog standard post Taylor Report.

Trumpy has clocked former Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton. He’s suited and booted and here to watch his son Cian, who plays right full back for the Imps. Three seats to our right is Five Live North West correspondent Peter Slater. I just know that Trumpy will want to introduce himself.

Bury start like Brazil. Kyle Bennett wriggles his way through a flat-footed Lincoln defence, he plays in Manchester United loanee Nicky Ajose, who screws his shot horribly wide.

The first half is woefully short on creativity or ideas. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe it’s the pressure. Lincoln play two banks of four, with their best player, the Ghanaian Ali Fuseini squeezed inbetween the defence and midfield. He breaks up the play and keeps possession. He’s way too good for us.

Peter Slater has yawned his way through the first half. He’s scribbled down a few notes, god knows what about. Trumpy claims he is playing a game of Sudoku.

Trumpy makes his way down the aisle and has a ten minute chat with Slater. They share a passion for motorsport. But Trumpy has one probing question for him: “Why is Sheila Fogarty leaving the Breakfast Show?”

Peter puts Trumpy’s fears to rest and explains that Sheila will be doing the phone-in at lunchtime. The Legend disappears downstairs for another cold beverage. He reappears, pogoing up the stairs to The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary.’

“Pleased to meet you Chris” he says to Hughton, as the two shake hands, “and you” says the charming Chris Hughton. What a day Trumpy is having.

There’s a slight improvement in the second period as the Shakers up the tempo. The Lincoln defence switch off from a corner, 20 year old on loan Leeds defender, Tom Lees sends a header crashing into the roof of the net.

Tilson refuses to change a tired-looking formation. Former Arnold Town striker Ben Hutchinson ploughs a lone furrow, with little support. In a rare attack ‘we’ hit the post but it’s flagged offside.

Bury try to put the game to bed but their sharp-shooters are off radar today. They certainly look better value than a negative Lincoln, who are clearly set up for a point, but have no Plan B.

Tilson throws on Drewe Broughton and Scott Spencer in a desperate attempt to snatch an undeserved point. If I’m honest, Trumpy looks more match-fit than these pair.

Chris Hughton departs without saying goodbye, Trumpy is deeply offended. Hughton’s lad looks a cracking prospect, and will no doubt leave for pastures new.

Bury run the clock down as we head down the gangway. Trumpy and Peter Slater say a tearful goodbye. On this evidence, it could be a while before I see Lincoln play in the Football League again.

Attendance: 4248

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eastwood Town 4 Alfreton Town 2

It’s the 18th December 1982. Sticky Palms is loved up to the eyeballs. The Steward’s daughter, at my local golf club, has caught my eye in the 19th hole. She is a lovely little birdie. A romance blossoms, football is put on the back burner.

I enjoy late night drinking sessions with her father in the bar. Her mother is on hand to rustle up pie, chips, peas and gravy from the golf club kitchen. Life is a bed of roses.

The time has come though, to introduce her to my first real love: Lincoln City Football Club. I hoodwink her into a Christmas shopping trip around Lincoln City centre. I wine and dine her at the famous Wig and Mitre public house, in the charming historic Steep Hill area of the city. We stroll together around the Castle grounds.

We drop into Grandma and Granddads and Nana’s on the High Street. “Well blow me down”, says Sticky browsing through the Lincolnshire Echo, “Lincoln City are at home this afternoon.”

“Why don’t we go and watch them?” says my new love. We walk hand in hand down Shakespeare Street. I pay her in on the turnstile and treat her to a steaming hot cup of Bovril. The Salvation Army brass band play Christmas carols on the pitch.

We lean together on a red-painted crash barrier on the Sincil Bank terrace. Here I am with my two big loves. Does it get any better than this? You old romantic Sticky.

Bournemouth are today’s visitors. They are managed by a virtual unknown called Harry Redknapp. It’s his first taste of management and his first game at the helm.

Colin Murphy’s Lincoln are in a rich vein of form. Our strike force is frightening – Derek Bell and Gordon Hobson are backed up by free-scoring midfield general, Glenn Cockerill.

Lincoln win the game 9-0. It could have been 20-0 but for the brilliance of Cherries’ ‘keeper Kenny Allen.

It inspires me to follow the Imps home and away again. The romance fades. I’m finally and unceremoniously dumped. Lincoln City is all I have left. I wonder what happened to that Redknapp fellow? He’s probably the sponge-man at Poole Town by now.

I spend Tuesday night in the delightful surroundings of Gedling Miners’ Welfare’s Plains Road ground. It’s an entertaining 2-2 draw, in what I have to say is my favourite League of the season (EMCL). Heanor Town are the visitors.

I bump into ‘Beardy Malc’ and ‘Daft Lad Kev’ from the On the Road blog. I also spend the second half in the company of Welfare official and Web Master, Tony Hay.

It’s Friday evening. I’ve mowed both the front and back lawns. It’s like a bowling green, readers. You could play a frame of snooker on it. I’m sat on the patio necking a pint of Stella, feeling pretty pleased with myself.

He’s trying to catch my eye. His ears prick up. He’s on all-fours, showing his sad eyes.I ring up the Rabbit FA. They confirm his six month garden hopping ban and shed hiding ban is at an end.

I put on my i-Pod, The Beloved’s ‘The Sun is Rising’ is on ‘shuffle.’ I lift him out the cage and place him on the top step. Finley Palmer is back in action. He scurries straight down the garden and shoots under the shed.

It’s Saturday morning. There’s an awful start to the day. My boss (Mick) from Notts County phones me ‘early doors.’ The reception is poor. I walk into the garden with my slippers on. There’s a heavy dew on the freshly cut lawn.

Twenty minutes later there’s a huge squeal. Somebody has traipsed mud all over the cream coloured lounge carpet. Forensics on my footwear are the perfect match. Oh bollocks, I’m in massive trouble.

It’s a packed footballing schedule. Sticky junior and his pals cadge a lift to the Cattle Market on Meadow Lane. The biggest wheeler and dealer in Keyworth is spending the morning at Arthur Johnson’s auctions.

I roll up in the car park of the World’s oldest Football League club. I nip into the Club Shop. The forecast is for a warm and sunny day. I bag a Magpies baseball cap and then head off to the Munch Box in Ruddington for a breakfast cob.

Forest are snooping about at the game I scout at. He doesn’t hang around for long though, he’s probably shooting off home to watch James Martin’s Saturday Kitchen.

I help coach ‘The Skipper’s team in the afternoon. We don’t do enough to win. but are gracious in defeat. Our opponents have no discipline and are unsporting. Their time-wasting tactics are an embarrassment and their manager is unpleasant. They question every decision. Never at anytime do they appear to be enjoying the beautiful game, like we do.

I enjoy a tea-time real ale with Mrs P at a countryside pub in the affluent village of Wysall. Chick flick Mamma Mia is on the box at night. I bury my head into a Non League publication.

It’s Tuesday evening. I’ve just left ‘The Skipper’s training session early. We have practised set pieces on the playing field in Tollerton. Notts County’s new incumbent, Martin Allen, also tried this earlier in the day, in a field off the M5, near a service station, on the way to Yeovil Town’s Huish Park.

Peter Allen and Anita Anand keep me amused on the short 25 minute journey north. I turn left just past the now derelict Man in Space pub. A flustered steward waves me away. I end up parking on a grass verge.

It’s 40 minutes until kick off but people are pouring down Chewton Street. There’s a bright, beautiful evening sunset over D H Lawrence country.

Alfreton lead the Conference North league by a country mile. Eastwood have one loss in the last 18 games. The televised Champions League game at Old Trafford and vital Npower Championship games at The City Ground and Pride Park will have a bearing on tonight’s attendance.

I’ve been itching to watch this reverse fixture, as the 2-2 draw at the Impact Arena on New Year’s Day was full of thrills and spills.

I take a stroll around Coronation Park. It has bags of character. The Clubhouse is raised above the ground. Two stands run along both sides of the halfway line. There is covered terracing behind both goals.

The PA guy is playing The Damned’s 1986 hit ‘Eloise, as I take a pew in the small stand on the far side of the ground.

I bump into Danny Boyes from Dunkirk FC, who I used to work with. I think The Boatmen are due to play The Badgers in the next round of the Notts Senior Cup – he is clearly here on a spying mission.

The teams enter the field of play. The Eastwood backline are huge. At least three must be over 6’ 4”. The biggest guy on the pitch must be referee Mr C Grundy of Sheffield. He must play rugby or be a policeman.

I’ve had a quick scout around for Parker and Walters, who I said I would hook up with. But a majority of the crowd (1112) have an Eastwood haircut (skinhead). It’s like being in the moshpit at a Bad Manners gig.

The game lives up to its billing and keeps me on the edge of my seat. Alfreton kick down the slope. The blue-booted, Nottingham born striker, Liam Hearn, shows a nice turn of foot. The 24 year old has already bagged 25 goals this season.

There has been chances and hesitancy from both goalkeepers, when the Badgers take the lead on 9 minutes. Lindon Meikle outstrips the full back and fires a cross in, Chris Shaw thumps a shot that hits the bar, big Matt Rhead heads home the rebound.

Two minutes later and Alfreton are level. The ever alert Hearn taps home a rebound after a fumble by Eastwood ‘keeper Danby. A Badger’s fan next to me is so furious he boots his Thermos flask and spills its contents.

Hearn is pulling the home defence all over the pitch. He wins a penalty moments later, Josh Law (son of Alfreton manager Nicky Law) sees his spot kick brilliantly saved by Danby.

You just don’t want the half to end. More and more chances are created at both ends. The football is exciting, fast and has an end product. I’m mystified why Hearn, and on this performance, Meikle, ply their trade at this level.

On 27th minutes Michael Simpson puts the Badgers’ noses back in front with a clinical finish after a poor clearance by the Reds.

Danny has been making notes on his scouting mission. Dunkirk are going to have to build a brick wall to keep Eastwood out in their forthcoming cup game.

The second half is as equally entertaining. Nathan Arnold wastes a glorious chance straight from kick off. Minutes later Dan Haggerty gives Eastwood a two goal cushion.

Twenty two goal leading scorer, Lee Stevenson makes a couple of lung-bursting runs, but lacks the composure in front of goal.

Texts are flying in from Big D. The Tricky Trees are one up and the Pies are on their way to a record eighth consecutive defeat.

Alfreton pour up the hill like an advancing army, as the chances come thick and fast. Hearn and Clayton just can’t find their radar.

With eight minutes remaining former Nottingham Forest trainee Andy Todd puts the game to bed, walloping a shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards.

The Reds pull back a late goal. What an advert this has been for Non League football.

Attendance: 1112

Men of the Match: Meikle and Hearn.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Staveley MW 2 Louth Town 2

It’s a gorgeous, beautiful sun drenched Sunday morning. I’m stood at Ravenshead Leisure Centre in picturesque north Nottinghamshire. My mood is good. Yesterday, in the Nottinghamshire Young Elizabethan League Division One, our village U13 team, full of local lads, beat our relegation rivals, convincingly, away from home. The clean sheet has me beaming from ear to ear.

Today ‘The Skipper’ is playing for Clifton All Whites. Former Nottingham Forest and England international Des Walker is amongst our crowd on the touchline, watching his lad play.

I like the manager at Clifton. He is in it for all the right reasons. The boys respect him. His team have had a wretched run and are winless in their last seven outings. ‘The Skipper’ comes off the bench with 25 minutes to go.

He’s somewhat of a lucky charm. He’s already bagged six goals this season from full back and right midfield. He takes his position in the penalty box as Clifton are awarded a corner. We are one nil down and chasing the game.

The corner is whipped in from the right, a white shirted, unmarked player, rises like a salmon between two defenders and plants a firm header into the roof of the net. I’m asking whose scored. Is it Blair or Nick? And then I see that familiar cheesy grin. It’s goal number seven for my lad.

‘The Taxman’ and I drive out to Arnold Town’s Eagle Valley ground on Tuesday evening. There is a heavy and prolonged spell of rain which lasts over half an hour. On arrival I say a quick hello to Eagles’ manager Chris Freestone, who once appeared in an FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford for Middlesbrough.

Next thing I know is some big fat hairy-arsed South Yorkshire centre half has sent a clearance sailing over my head and into a farmer’s field. I decide to fetch the ball. I stumble into a five foot deep ditch. I’m soaked to the skin and covered in mud.

In the distance is the sound of gunshot fire. Am I the intended target? Bloody hell, I was only retrieving a football. I return to my spot, damp and soiled. How the hell am I going to explain to Mrs P about the state of my clothes and footwear?

It’s Friday evening. I’m in Nottingham, at a real ale house called Fellows Morton’s & Claytons. My old boss is retiring. He is legendary within our Company. ‘Shifty Edwards’ has cried off last minute with a feeble excuse. The turnout is excellent though, better than the warm ale that’s served up.

I finish off the evening by having two pints of the Portuguese lager, Sagres, in the Canal House. Before slipping away and catching the 11.30pm bus home. I’ve a busy un scheduled for tomorrow.

Sticky jnr and his mate ‘Chicken George have to be at The City Ground for 9am. They’re off to ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds.’ I ask Mrs P if she fancies a stroll around West Bridgford. The good lady has never turned down a shopping trip in her life.

We nip into Central News on The Avenue. It’s a paper shop that’s owned by Brian Clough’s son. You’d often find old Cloughie sat on a stool behind the counter, charming all the customers.

The skies suddenly darken and there is a heavy downpour of rain. I only came for the Farmers’ Market, but it appears we are a week too late. I bump into ‘Fletch’ in Marks and Spencer’s. We have a quick catch-up; I’ve not seen him in years.

I’ve got to be at Calverton for 11am; it’s Finals Day. I go plain clothed. I’ve one specific target and don’t want people knowing I’m here. Forest scouts strut around in their Tricky Tree tracksuits, with initials on their tops. I make sure they don’t spot me and keep my distance. I watch a cracking game of football. It’s cost me £2, I could have flashed my scouting pass but I like to contribute towards the upkeep of the Notts FA.

I drive back home. It’s all kicking off at the cricket in Mumbai. They’ve had to toss the coin twice as the match referee Jeff Crowe didn’t hear the captain call because of all the hullabaloo. Boycott and Vaughan are having a field day about it on Five Live.

I have some mushroom soup with bread and cheese. I catch the first half of Leeds v Forest. Mum is whittling. Junior had phoned in earlier to tell her he was walking around Leeds city centre with his pal. Bloody hell, I thought official supporters’ coaches ferried fans straight to the ground. Oh well, he should be OK, he’s not badged up or anything. “What’s he wearing love?” asks Sticky. “His Nottingham NG1 fleece.” She replies. Oooh heck, I hope he’s got his trainers on.

Forest control the game until Chris Cohen commits hari-kari with a desperate, unnecessary lunge on the half-way line. It looks a shocker on real time TV. Slow-motions are more forgiving. It’s a match defining moment. Cohen is shown a red card.

Billy Krankie gestures to the away following to increase the volume. Sticky jnr does his bit by text. I will have to check the Urban Dictionary for his lyrics on referee Mark Halsey. They are often heard on programmes such as Shameless and The Only Way Is Essex.

Is that a car horn I can hear? The ‘Blue Rocket’ is purring outside my drive. The White Van Man is furious about the Cohen sending off. A leggy, long-haired blonde, strolling down the street, soon has a calming and soothing effect on the Big Man.

Forest leak four goals whilst we are on the M1 and so do West Ham. We pull into the Inkersall Road car park 15 minutes before kick off. We came here 18 months ago and were treated like royalty by Staveley Chairman, Terry Damms.

I first viewed Staveley MW a few seasons ago at Borrowash Victoria. Lee Gregory led the line that day. He’s banging goals in right, left and centre for The Shaymen of FC Halifax. I’m convinced that he’ll one day play in the Football League.

It’s £4 on the gate and £1 for an excellent programme. Terry is delighted to see us and lines up the drinks. Top Tweeter, Daisy Bruce, is in the bar too, I introduce myself to her.

Staveley are runaway leaders of the NCEL Division One. They require just a point from today’s game to clinch the Championship.

The new Clubhouse is first class. The attention to detail is incredible. There are four flat screen TVs on the wall, trophies sit on the bar and the walls are filled with memorabilia. I notice a signed photo of World Cup final referee – Rotherham born Howard Webb.

Daisy’s Mum asks if I want to pick a Golden Goal time. I fancy an early goal and plump for three minutes.

Staveley MW are awarded a penalty after three minutes, sadly for Sticky it takes an age to take; I just miss out on the jackpot. Ryan Damms (Terry’s lad) sends the Louth ‘keeper the wrong way.

Ten minutes later Jordan Eagers is unfortunate to hit the upright, as Louth begin the game tentatively.

Staveley left winger Chris Coy goes on a mazy Ronaldo type run, amazingly his close range shot is superbly turned onto the post by the pink-shirted ‘keeper.

Louth weather the storm and gain confidence. Daniel Pawson converts a flick on from a corner to restore parity. The game is nearly as entertaining as Sticky junior’s texts. I can’t be held responsible for any Facebook status or insulting Tweets he’ll be sending on his Blackberry from the NFFC supporters’ coach.

I upgrade to a Stella at the break, WVM stays loyal to his Diet Coke. The Big Man has his eyes on a bowl of Roses chocolates that sit on the bar. They are meant to be for the kids. His shovel size hands scoop up four or five sweets. Terry will have to nip out to the Staveley Co-op to buy another tin.

Terry’s got a bad feeling about the game and appears nervous. Daisy is biting her nails and looking stressed. Me, I’m just enjoying the people watching.

The champions elect, assisted by the wind begin to pepper their opponents goal. We’re stood on the balcony outside the Clubhouse. WVM brilliantly catches a stray Staveley shot. He hurls it back to the Right Said Fred lookalike goalkeeper.

Staveley strike the woodwork for a third time. Twenty minutes from time Terry’s lad (Ryan) scores his 100th goal for the Club, nodding home at the far post.

The White Wolves don’t know when they are beaten. The Staveley ‘keeper is cleaning windows as a corner comes sailing in, Martin pounces on a loose ball to smash home the equaliser.

The game is in its dying embers when another excellent Louth corner sees a Carl Martin header crash off the underside of the bar. For once the woodwork helps and doesn’t hinder.

Terry dashes onto the pitch with bottles of Champagne. The League Chairman presents the Staveley skipper with the trophy. We quietly slip away before Terry notices that White Van Man has mopped up all the Roses chocolates.

Attendance: 123

Man of the Match: Sticky junior.