Saturday, February 25, 2012

Newport Pagnell Town 0 Kings Lynn Town 2

I’m driving back from scouting about in inner city Nottingham. I’m tuned in to the brilliant ‘Fighting Talk’, hosted by Colin Murray on Five Live. They’re doing a round called sporting events you wished you hadn’t missed. The racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght is a guest on the programme, he tells an amusing tale.

In 1996 he was invited to his colleague’s wedding. The guy was called Jonathan Legard, who is a well-known motor racing commentator on the station. Lysaght ummed and ahhed over the invitation, as he realised it was the final day of Royal Ascot and he had not missed that meeting in years. Legard was too good a friend to let down, so Lysaght gratefully accepted his kind offer.

During the groom’s speech, Legard let it slip that Frankie Dettori had gone through the card at Ascot, riding the winner in all seven races. The horse racing correspondent of the BBC missed out on the historic feat because of his pal’s wedding. All he could do was drown his sorrows.

I spend a pleasant Friday evening with Mrs P. We drop Sticky jnr off at a party out in the sticks and head back to the Wysall Plough, one of my favourite hostelries. They do the best pint of Bass in the area. We eat a bowl of chorizo pasta at home on the sofa whilst watching the gripping finale of ‘Inside Men’, starring the brilliant Steven Mackintosh.

You-know-who has crashed out at a mate’s house, it means poor old Sticky Palms is covering paper round duties again on Saturday morning. The Daily Express, short on Princess Diana conspiracy theories, predict spring time temperatures to rise up to 81 degrees. Two poached eggs on toast accompanied by Siouxie and the Banshees ‘Christine’ on 6 Music, is the perfect start to the day.

I glance at the clock, it’s 9am, Trumpy Bolton will be cracking open his first can of McEwan’s. Murphy is whistling, Mrs P is ironing and Finley Palmer (rabbit) predicts a 3-2 win to The Linnets.

Trumpy is already half way down his road. He has an Asda bag full of goodies (cider). He had three weeks off the sauce in January. He looks in the mood for a refuel. Recent jaunts have taken him and Mrs Trumpy to Epsom and Norwich for long weekend breaks.

We firm up a groundhopping date for Good Friday when Cheltenham Town entertain the Bees of Barnet at Whaddon Road. It’s a new ground to be ticked-off. For anyone new to this blog you need to know that Trumpy Bolton’s sole aim in life is to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Scotland and Wales. He has played this stupid game for over 30 years now.

First port of call is an idyllic, quaint country pub in the village of Chapel Brampton called the Brampton Halt. The setting is stunning. To the rear of the pub is the Northampton and Lamport Steam Railway.

We shout up a couple of pints of London Pride. The food looks overpriced and pretentious. We share some ciabatta, spring rolls and chorizo sausage. We have come off the beaten track slightly and have to drive through Northampton to get to Newport Pagnell. We see signs for Althorp House, where Princess Diana was laid to rest.

We arrive in Newport Pagnell at 1.30pm. We park on the high street and dive into The Cannon. Trumpy enjoys a pint of White Shield. The place is busy with folk playing dominoes and watching rugby.

Newport Pagnell is in the borough of Milton Keynes. It has a population of just over 15,000. It is home to the Aston Martin sports car. The town is mentioned in The Smiths song ‘Is it Really so Strange?” The lyric being - “I Lost my Bag in Newport Pagnell.” It is also mentioned in the Cinzano adverts starring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins.

Sticky and Trumpy had an unfortunate incident close to Newport Pagnell Services whilst enroute to Brentford v Chester 25 years ago. I had to come careering off the motorway as my back wheel was about to fall off. Trumpy was most upset as Griffin Park has a pub on every corner.

We finally rock up at Newport Pagnell Town FC, home of The Swans. The club was founded in 1963. They moved to their present location, the Willen Road Sports Ground, in 1972. The clubhouse is currently undergoing a makeover.

Trumpy has already made enquiries with the barmaid as to whether she’ll be keeping the bar open during the game. A couple of ladies are selling freshly made cheese and onion cobs. At £1.80 each they are better value than the posh nosh we had up the road a few hours ago. While T Bolton necks a couple more pints I pay my £5 on the gate and £1 for a glossy-covered informative programme.

I’m immediately taken aback with the ground. It has neatly trimmed conifers around it’s perimeter. Two covered stands run along both touchlines. The far end is open, whilst the clubhouse is tucked away behind the nearest goal. The pitch is cut short and is undulating. It slopes towards the clubhouse.

I’m attracted to today’s game because of the league leaders Kings Lynn Town. I saw them throw away a two goal lead at Peterborough Northern Star over the Christmas period. Winger Steve Spriggs put in a performance that went into my notebook that day.

I position myself next to an uncouth father and son from Norfolk. Dad is about 70. He has a stud in his ear and could win Olympic Gold for swearing. The referee is their primary target. Trumpy rescues me ten minutes into the game. He’s on the far side of the ground, basking in the sunshine. He’s hooked up with a Wellingborough Town committee member.

The guy from Wellingborough is pleasant company. He has a passion for the game. Next to him is a Milton Keynes season ticket holder. He’s keeping note of the shots on goal, bookings, free-kicks and corners. The Linnets have already forced the NPT keeper to tip an effort around the post.

It’s the home side who begin to tighten their grip on the game. Damien Lawless and Daren Dykes are a brilliant partnership up top. Kings Lynn can’t handle Lawless in particular. He has a deft touch and a turn of pace on a tricky surface. Twice he sees efforts cannon off the woodwork. I remark to Trumpy that Kings Lynn may be more suited to playing up the slope.

There’s a pint of Kronenbourg 1664 waiting for me in the bar. Nottingham Forest are producing a coupon-busting performance at St Andrews. I hope White Van Man is tucking into the corporate hospitality. I turned his very kind offer down, I’d much rather be here at this very friendly club.

I fancy the Linnets to kick on in the second period, they don’t disappoint. Jack Defty’s flick-on is pounced upon by Spriggs who fires the ball past the keeper and into the net. Minutes later centre half Stuart Wall rises unchallenged to head home their second.

I get chatting to a chap who has two sons playing for Kings Lynn. Luke and Jamie Thurlbourne both look tidy players. Their father is modest and unassuming.

Trumpy has finally emerged from the bar, he’s missed both the goals. He claims to have seen plenty flying in on ‘Soccer Saturday.’ The legend starts complaining about an old lady who is stood next to him who is wearing some ‘Grandma’s Perfume.’

Mr Thurlbourne strikes up a conversation with a bubbly lady. Turns out to be Steve Spriggs’s mum. I congratulate her on her son’s goal. She says he hasn’t scored. Mrs Spriggs was that busy chin-wagging with her pal she missed her lad’s goal. She exchanges in some banter with Trumpy. As per normal readers, he has all the lyrics.

The final whistle blows. What another fantastic day out. Kings Lynn have turned it on in the second half, but The Swans have put in a gritty performance with Lawless twice denied by the woodwork.

Man of the Match: Newport Pagnell goalkeeper

Attendance: 260

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Greenwood Meadows 3 Dunkirk 2

It’s Saturday tea-time, I’m swanning about in the kitchen rustling up a chilli con carne, to make up for being AWOL on Valentine’s Day. I’m on a massive high. ‘The Skipper’s’ team put in a great shift earlier today at the League leaders. We were winning 2-1 and had them at 3-3, before finally running out of steam.

Murphy Palmer (baby budgie) is whistling Five Live’s Sports Report theme tune, as he perches on the clothes horse in the dining room. In a matter of minutes the 10 week old youngster is spitting his feathers out and squawking like a good un, when he hears James Alexander Gordon say: “Norwich City 1 Leicester City 2.” His favourite team, The Canaries, have been dumped out the FA Cup by Finley’s foe, The Foxes.

I try to explain to Murphy that I’ve never seen Lincoln City play at the Twin Towers in 48 years of following the Imps, and that he can’t just expect a trip to Wembley in his first season of supporting a club. Murphy turns his back on me, jumps on his swing and gets the hump for the rest of the evening.

I check-in with my boss at Notts County to report on a successful morning of scouting for youth. The Pies have been thumped 3-0 by the Monkey Hangers of Hartlepool and the youth team have bowed out of the cup, suffering a 4-2 reverse against Hull City at Highfields.

The chilli is simmering on the stove and the rice is bubbling away in the pan, as I scroll through my Twitter timeline. I splutter on my Stella when I see a tweet from Radio Nottingham – “Notts County have parted company with Martin Allen.” What in the Dickens has gone off?

I only met Martin Allen once. He was charming, inquisitive and thoughtful. People were made to feel welcome. His radio interviews with legendary Radio Nottingham commentator Colin Slater were like gold dust. ‘Mad Dog’ will be sorely missed but I’m sure he’ll wash up at another club in crisis, before steadying the ship and moving on to pastures new.

Sunday is spent tearing around Nottinghamshire. I drop ‘The Skipper’ off in Arnold for a football match and head across the other side of town to view a game. The opposition fail to show. I catch the fag end of my boy’s game. They scrape a scoring draw.

Notts County Centre of Excellence are playing teams from Stoke City down at the University Playing Fields. I bump into ‘Uppo’ the joint manager of Dunkirk. He confirms kick off is 7.45pm on Tuesday.

It’s the day of the game. I’m holed up in the Warehouse with Funk and Soul guru ‘Shifty Edwards.’ He’s got some god damn awful radio station on from Melbourne in Australia. I gently persuade him to ‘listen again’ to Huey Morgan’s late night show on Radio 2. A couple of Mrs P’s jam tarts and a pot of tea for two go down well.

I’m already eagerly awaiting tonight’s crunch match. Greenwood’s and Dunkirk’s HQ are on the same dimly lit lane, under Clifton Bridge, just outside Nottingham city centre. Bilborough Pelican’s Brian Wakefield Memorial Ground is at the top end of Lenton Lane.

Sticky junior and ‘The Skipper’ mop up all the pancakes Mrs P can throw at them. I share some millet seed with Murphy. I pick up legendary Keyworth United Ressies manager Alan Jackson at 7.15pm on the dot. Radio Nottingham are playing ‘Somebody I Used To Know’ by Belgian musician Gotye.

‘Jacko’ swings his left leg up onto his neighbour’s wall to tie up his shoelaces. He’s wearing his Great Britain manager’s coat that he’s had since the 1948 London Olympics. Any talk of cigars is taboo this evening.

His team took a pounding on Saturday; bless em, they only had nine ‘fit’ men. The list of excuses, for not turning up, is astounding. Two of his players overlaid for a 2pm kick off.

The journey is short and sweet, as we roll into Greenwood Meadows Lenton Lane car park before 7.30pm. ‘Jacko’ spots immediately that only two floodlight pylons are working.

I’m quite shocked to pay £5 on the gate. I thought with it being a Notts Senior Cup game that it would be only two or three quid. There’s no sign of any programmes. Already a host of characters from the local scene are rocking up. Amongst them are: Roberto, ‘Yogi’, Big Glenn (a personal favourite), ‘Lowey’, ‘Tosh’, ‘Nidge’ and Big D.

I suddenly notice former Greenwood manager and Alan Biley lookalike Neville Silcock parading around in his tracksuit. He retired last season but has been tempted out of retirement following concerns about the recent demise of the club.

I have a quick chat with Nev. Uppo is on ball-boy duty. I get a quick grunt from him as he crouches down to collect another ball. He’s got his rugged dishevelled look. Benny Hawkins from Crossroads springs to my mind.

Shaggy-haired sidekick ‘Sideshow Bob’ (Dave Harbottle), strides towards the bench. A black-rimmed spectacled ‘Robbo’, their coach, looks like he’s just arrived back from a Point to Point meeting in neighbouring Leicestershire, with his navy blue Barbour jacket and his shiny black shoes. The Dunkirk bench is like a scene from the popular BBC One series Hustle.

Big D is on good form, as we hook up with him and Roberto. We reminisce about a severe ear infection he had at Radford a few years ago, which he treated somewhat bizarrely with Listerine. It didn’t cure his earache but his ear smelt like a eucalyptus plant.

Bloody hell, there’s been a goal. Jaylee Hodgson, who has had more clubs than Robbie Keane, seizes on confusion and uncertainty in the visitors’ defence to put Greenwood one up.

Jacko’s phone is constantly going off with a stream of excuses for absenteeism this coming Saturday. He’s already down to 7 players. At this rate he’ll be staging his NSL Div One game at the Powerleague, just down the road from here.

Dunkirk are soon back on level terms, after a catalogue of errors in the Greenwood defence results in Lavelle White steering the ball into an empty net. There’s little of note to report. The game is hurried, without width and lacking any real quality. “You’ll have f**k all to write about”, chunters Uppo with his head bowed, en-route to the dressing room.

We have an amble around the ground. Jacko doesn’t seem to be moving too freely. In the distance is the Imperial Tobacco factory. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since the day I lost my mother over 16 years ago, but I could quite easily spark up a John Player Blue right now.

We stand in between the two benches to capture any banter. Neither camp seems in the mood for it. Uppo’s moaning, Nev’s moaning and I’m moaning about Uppo and Nev moaning. Perhaps we could have a ‘Moan-Off’ instead of extra-time and penalties.

Uppo is making me chuckle. Greenwood have a coach called Kuki. He’s had more clubs than Jaylee Hodgson. Uppo addresses him as ‘Cookie’

There’s the sound of a gunshot going off. It’s probably folk killing vermin at one of the nearby factories. “Nothing changes round here” remarks one of the Dunkirk coaching team. “Meadows innit” a wag from the crowd pipes up.

Goal! Jaylee Hodgson has sprung the offside trap to put Greenwood 2-1 up. Back come Dunkirk with Ricky Law restoring parity, hitting the golfing equivalent of a wedge from 30 yards out.

Nobody fancies extra-time, Jacko is gagging for a pint – he hasn’t had one for over two hours. The referee is checking his watch when Mario Lopez races down the right wing and puts in a worldie of a cross, Jack Hopper leaps at the back post to head Greenwood into the Notts Senior Cup quarter finals. I can’t half pick em.

Attendance: 40

Man of the Match: Jacko

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loughborough University 2 Gresley 5

It’s Sunday February 5th. Sticky Palms is 48 years old today. I’m in the lounge unwrapping presents and opening cards. I get two Smoove and Turrell CDs, some Amazon vouchers, a back massage and some cash. There’s no Murphy Palmer, the green and canary-coloured budgie to report on folks. That dream is well and truly dead in the water.

Fast forward the clock to 4.30pm. Gangsta and the crew are round our crib. We’re having a few beers and soft drinks, whilst watching Super Sunday between Chelsea and Manchester United. There’s nothing much going off in the game. A girl catches my eye-line out of our front window. It looks like Emma from work. Maybe she has a friend that lives up the road.

Wendy, Gangsta’s mum, shrieks that ‘The Reaper’ is outside. I leap off the sofa and dash to the front door. No way folks, no way. ‘The Reaper’ is carrying a cage. It’s Murphy. It’s Murphy. Whey hey. Mrs P has a face like thunder. She’s in on the act. They’d all cooked up a cunning plan a few days ago. I had no idea.

Murphy scurries along the bottom of his cage. I’m mesmerised and can’t take my eyes off the wee man. ‘The Reaper’ has bought the exact specification. He’s eight weeks old, from Handsworth in inner city Sheffield and he’s beautiful. I sit with him for the rest of the evening. Mrs P can watch Dancing on Ice. In fact Mrs P can watch whatever she wants from now on. I’ve got my boy, after a two year campaign.

It’s been nearly a month since I last saw a Non-League game. I went to Nottingham Forest two weeks ago, the game was awful. I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy it. I crave for the semi-pro game. The weekend sees the entire county of Nottinghamshire wiped out by the freezing conditions. Even Real United v AFC Hucknall in the Central Midlands League is a victim of the ‘Big Freeze’, despite it being held on a 3G surface in Wilford.

Saturday morning is ironically spent trudging around the streets of Loughborough with Mrs P. We weave in and out of the stalls on the market place and end up drinking posh coffee and quaffing homemade scones at Tylers Department Store, on Carilion Court.

I go on a long walk with ‘The Angler’ in the afternoon, which ends up in the public bar of The Plough Inn at Normanton-on-the-Wolds. I enjoy a pint of St Austell ale as the half-time scores pour in.

Sunday is the highlight of the weekend. I leave Murphy’s cage door open on purpose. Within two minutes my feathered friend has collided into the Venetian blinds and got all tangled up on his first flight. But he is hard, my friends. He dusts himself down and settles on the clothes horse. Tempted by some Millet he’s soon back safely into his cage.

It’s Tuesday morning. ‘The Reaper’ reports on yet another celebrity death. The one-armed Irish pot washer, ‘Albert Riddle’ from Robin’s Nest (David Kelly) has died at the age of 82. I share a caramel slice over a cup of tea with ‘Shifty Edwards’ while I digest this news.

Before heading for the match I train Murphy to eat some millet spray from my hand. I bolt down by meat balls and spaghetti and head out the door just before 7pm.

I’ve rigged up the Sat Nav as it has a useful shortcut through Loughborough town centre. I’ve visited the Nanpanton Sports Ground many times before. I scouted my first ever youth player for The Pies from Loughborough Dynamo.

Mark Pougatch is reporting live from Upton Park at the Championship top of the table clash between West Ham United and Southampton. Five Live talk to Roddy Forsyth about the recent demise of Glasgow Rangers. It is being reported that they have entered administration. I have little sympathy for the club, when you hear of wages being paid out and PAYE tax not being declared from offshore banking accounts. ‘The Taxman’ and his cronies have finally caught up with them.

Bloody hell, I’ve missed the ground. I re-programme Sat Nav, type in Watermead Lane and arrive in less than two minutes. The car park is packed. Big guns Gresley FC are in town.

Loughborough has had a university since 1966, but the institution dates back to 1909. It has a track record for producing top class athletes. Notable alumni include: Steve Backley, Sebastian Coe, David Moorcroft and Paula Radcliffe. England cricketers Monty Panesar and Chris Read have also studied there. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson is their patron.

Notable students who have gone on to play in the professional game include: Bradley Pritchard (Charlton), Lawrie Sanchez (Wimbledon) and Leon McSweeney (Hartlepool).

It’s £4 on the gate. The programme is £1 and proves to be excellent value. There is a page on all four teams that the university run. I met a guy on a course recently who is a student at the University. He says they are well coached but over-do it a wee bit.

The air is still, there’s a slight chill. You can hear the traffic in the distance roaring down the M1. We are warned by the PA announcer not to stand at the top of the grass bank as set out by FA guidelines. Shame that, I enjoy the panoramic view up there.

Ooh heck, I’ve positioned myself next to some strange old proper hoppers. They’re not particularly interested in engaging conversation with Sticky Palms. They discuss the African Nations Cup, Manchester United and Alex Ferguson. For one minute I thought I’d tuned into talkSPORT.

I leave them to babble on. Sticky’s date for the night has turned up. Gaz Hateley, in the nets for Gresley, is sporting a silky short-sleeved little number for Sticky. We arranged our rendezvous on Twitter. Not a hair is out of place. If I was a gambling man I’d say he uses VO5 mega-hold styling gel. He must look in the mirror more than Murphy Palmer the budgie. Gaz is fresh from his 5pm appointment at a tanning salon in the town centre. He looks like he’s about to walk on the set of Baywatch, rather than diving around a chewed up playing surface.

Gaz is soon bending down to pick up a ball that’s nestling in his net after one minute, following good build-up play and a fine strike by Jack Beckett. Hateley is incandescent with rage a minute later when Beckett waltzes through four flimsy challenges, Gazza- esque, to fire home my goal of the season.

The normally cock-sure away following are left dumbfounded. Fans and players alike appear to have their eye on Saturday’s FA Vase 5th round tie at St Ives in Cambridgeshire. Gresley’s confidence is crushed. The ball playing Jepson and Holmes in midfield misplace passes and get caught in possession. The Moatmen look a tad ring rusty. The Uni, on the other hand, play some champagne football.

The visitors get about the students – roughing them up some would call it. Gresley are gifted a goal from the penalty spot following pushing from a corner. Royce Turville smashes the spot kick straight down the middle. Parity is restored on the stroke of half-time. A cross from the right strikes the hand of a defender. Turville makes no mistake.

I climb the concrete steps, past the tip-up seats and head into the rickety old clubhouse. A man at the food hatch is pouring cups of tea from a stainless steel pot. I rub my hands with glee. “One tea please” I tell a small boy who is helping his dad in the kitchen. He ignores the pot and pours scalding water out of an urn, onto a tea bag and into a cup. I’m seething with rage that I’ve missed out on a proper brew. In our house he’d have been sent straight to bed.

Talking of bedrooms, Sticky Junior’s will be getting a good trashing as reports come through from the Riverside Stadium that NFFC have gifted ‘Boro’ a goal on 44 minutes.

I’m back outside halfway up the grass bank (sod it). Gresley look a different team; well they are, Rob Spencer has replaced Marc Goodfellow as the Moatmen go 4-3-3. Hateley makes a vital block in the opening moments.

On 50 minutes Gresley are awarded a free kick. James Jepson takes a longer run up than Steven Finn, Lowton does well to parry his piledriver, an alert Tom Betteridge slams home the rebound.

Gresley are rampant. The industrious Dean Oliver wraps up the game with two goals. The first a fine finish, the second a gift from goalkeeper Lowton.

Man of the Match: Dean Oliver