Tuesday, August 16, 2011

South Normanton Athletic 3 Real United 2

The Boeing 737 taxis the runway at Ibiza Airport. Sticky Palms breathes a huge sigh of relief. It’s the start of a ten day break with my madcap family.

A Spanish taxi driver waves a placard in the air with our name on it, as we lug our cases through arrivals. Within 25 minutes we are wheeling our luggage through reception of the Tropic Apartments, on the edge of the eastern resort of Santa Eulalia.

We are met by a stony-faced receptionist (Russian). She delivers the sombre news with a deadpan face – the hotel is overbooked – there is no room at the inn, well, at least not until tomorrow.

I turn to look at Mrs P’s reaction. It’s a face I’ve seen pulled a million times readers, like when I announce I’m off to Manchester for the day with Trumpy Bolton or that there’s extra-time at a FA Cup extra preliminary round 100 miles away.

We’re offered two days all-inclusive as compensation. I snap their hand off and we make hay over the long weekend.

Five days later I’m dashing around the marina on a sultry Tuesday evening, like a man possessed, trying to find out the latest score in the local derby between Forest and the Pies. Mrs P was hoping to enjoy a romantic table for two at a little Italian restaurant close to the water’s edge.

My phone starts buzzing; Craig Westcarr has scored a late equaliser. The game has gone into extra-time.

I deliver the news to the kids when I arrive back at the hotel. There’s a vibration in my pocket, ‘Hughsey’ has made it 3-2. I’m doing the ‘The Hughsey’ on the marble floor of the hotel. I throw my arms backwards and shuffle my feet; it must look like a Michael Jackson Moonwalk. Sticky jnr has proper got the monk-on.

My phone goes off again; it’ll be the final score. I feel for my glasses in my shorts pocket. I read the text with disbelief: ”Wes Morgan scored a 122nd minute wonder-goal, NFFC go through on sudden-death penalties.”

I neck my Bacardi and coke, bid farewell to any stragglers still drinking in the hotel bar and collapse in a heap on the bed. I couldn’t have felt any more exhausted than if I had played in the damned game myself.

I park my backside pool-side for the remaining 8 days of the holiday and bury my head in two delightful books: ‘Changing Ends’ by Mike Bayley and ‘92 Pies’ by Tom Dickinson. Only a boat load of mosquito bites dampen my spirits.

It’s Saturday lunchtime; we’re touching down at East Midlands Airport. It’s been a hot and sticky old ten days. I selfishly leave Mrs P to unpack the cases and head down to Meadow Lane. I’m still sulking that I missed an epic at The City Ground last Tuesday evening.

I sit high up at the back of the Derek Pavis Stand. Notts are short of energy and ideas. It looks as if they gave their all across the water a few days ago. Charlton aren’t much better but are gifted two goals.

West Ham’s on-loan Colombian forward Cristian Montano pulls a goal back for the Pies, but if anything it will be the Addicks that are disappointed that their win was not more convincing. Bradley Wright-Phillips is the arch villain, missing three gilt-edged chances to put the game beyond reach.

I have a fairly lazy day on Sunday. Notts County under 10s have a tournament in the morning at Radcliffe on-Trent. I spend the afternoon fleetingly watching Manchester Utd and Chelsea on Sky – both look impressive. I particularly like the look of the Chelsea full back Jose Boswinga, who rips the Stoke left back to shreds.

It’s Tuesday tea-time. I’m down at Finley’s yard. His score predictions have been ultra impressive this season. “5-3 to South Normanton” he whispers in my ear.

I waltz through the back door. Mrs P is preparing meat balls with spaghetti in chilli sauce. A sheepish Sticky junior slopes into the kitchen; his face looks disfigured. “Have you heard Dad?” “Flipping heck,” says Groundhopper, “you look like you’ve had 30 seconds in the ring with Carl Froch.”

Turns out that a wasp landed in his mouth, junior mistook it for food and now has a fat lip. Moments later he’s writhing around on the floor in pain, the chilli sauce has seeped its way into the wound.

I hear the loud sound of a car horn; must be ‘The Taxman’ right on cue. He’s spent the last week in Cornwall; not that it stops him from having a right old moan about the petulant behaviour of Junior Tax Kid.

The ring road is clear, as is the M1. We’re soon pulling off Junction 28. ‘The Taxman’ is ribbing me about the Tricky Trees penalty-fluke win over the Pies. He confesses to leaving early and missing all the drama.

We can see the floodlights to our left as we enter the town centre. South Normanton is an old mining village two miles outside Alfreton (who incidentally are entertaining Southport tonight in the Conference Premier). It has a population of 8000 people.

Notts County’s Centre of Excellence recruit quite heavily in this area. They breed them rough and tough in these parts. My main man in Mansfield is a top-drawer scout. I’ve spent many a wet and windy morning with him watching games at the nearby Frederick Gent School.

The main industries of the town were framework knitting and coal mining. They were known as Shiners due to the state of their trouser pants after a 14 hour shift sitting down. South Normanton Colliery closed down in 1952.

South Normanton Athletic are nicknamed the Shiners. They were re-formed in 2009 after folding a year previously. They play at the Exchem Sports Arena on Lees Lane.

I manage to pinch a Werthers Original out of ‘The Taxman’s’ glove compartment. I make a hasty exit out of the car, as John McGovern’s monotone voice has been driving me potty on Radio Nottingham.

We walk through a narrow, dark passageway. It’s £3 admission. No programme is issued tonight. I’m immediately attracted to the ground. It’s decked out in blue. There’s a blue concrete perimeter fence and hard-standing all the way round the ground.

A cold breeze wind blows down the ground. There are outstanding views out into the Derbyshire hills.

The first person I stumble upon is Real United head honcho Roger Henry. We shake hands and I introduce him to ‘The Taxman.’ It’s a community football club formed in 2008. It was primarily set up to discourage substance abuse and criminal activity amongst young people in Nottingham.

As a club we (Notts County) have donated kit to both the first team and a junior team during my time as a scout. I have a lot of time and respect for Roger. Former Notts County, Birmingham City and D***y County defender Michael Johnson is Real United President.

We stand to the left of the Real dugout. Former Mansfield Town defender Mark Clifford is Roger’s coach. The Nottingham team make a lively start. Young ‘Scratchy’ on the right wing has caught our eye. He goes close with a header. Clifford remarks: “he would have scored that if he chopped off his pig tails."

Diminutive forward Danny Briscoe bagged a hat-trick on Saturday for the Shiners; he’s already proving a handful for the visitors defence. He opens the scoring by rolling the ball into an empty net.

Real United are pinned back in their own half as South Normanton raise the bar. Against the run of play former Stags trainee Curtis Shaw rattles the woodwork from 25yards out on the left.

There’s a commotion in the Refreshment Bar at half-time, deadly rivals Pinxton FC are a goal down to the Notts Police, who this time last week would have probably struggled to raise a 5 a-side team due to the riots.

There’s plenty on offer on the snap front. Pies, peas, burgers and hot dogs are snaffled up. I can’t see a tea pot, so ‘The Taxman’ and I elect for a coffee.

Real United struggle with the pace of the game they quickly go two and then three down. Their players and coaching staff are a credit to the game. They cajole and encourage one another.

They pull a late goal back with a cracking effort following a cross by ‘Scratchy.’ With five minutes remaining ‘Scratchy’ blasts the ball into the roof of the net following a raking pass by the sublime 6 jacket.

Time has run out in an enthralling game which the hosts deserve to win. I’ve fell in love with Real United and will keep a close eye on when their next away fixture is.

The night gets even better with wins for Forest and U Pies. A pint of Thieving Magpie ends a perfect evening.

Man of the Match: Danny Briscoe.

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