Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sporting Club Braga 1 Newcastle United 2

I’m in the kitchen at work pouring out from the pot another award-winning brew. I feel my phone vibrate. I fish it out from my pocket. The text is greeted with a smile as wide as the Tyne Tunnel. It reads: “Newcastle United are playing in the Algarve Cup when we are on holiday in Portugal, shall we take the kids?” It’s never a good time to broach the subject of groundhopping with Mrs P, particularly when we are on holiday.

“I’ve heard Vilamoura is a classy joint love, perhaps you and Wendy can spend the evening there, strolling around the shops and sampling the fine restaurants that are on offer, whilst ‘Dafty’ and I entertain the kids.” Hook, line and sinker, readers!

It’s Saturday morning. We’ve been holed out at the Balaia Golf Village for nearly a week. Tears streamed down Mrs P’s face last Tuesday when sea blue skies were replaced with cotton wool coloured clouds for the day.
The Estadio Algarve is an awkward bugger to get to, but Reception have kindly arranged a taxi with a local firm (“Anna’s husband”). We’ve been stung for 50 euros each way. The kids spend the first few hours of the morning trying to catch a glimpse of our neighbour, Sam Oldham, who has made it into the Olympics gymnastic squad. GB perform well and qualify ahead of China.

‘Dafty’ and I slip away for a few hours and sink a couple of pints of Super Bok at a local Portuguese bar. There’s time for some horseplay in the pool before a pre-match meal of pizza and chips.

‘Gangsta’ is wearing his new blue Michael Jackson hat that he has been hanging his nose over the last few nights on the local Strip. “Anna’s husband” asks if we’re sure if there’s a game on tonight, as we sweep off the A22 and into desolate stadium car park. Suddenly an opening appears where a small gathering of Toon fans are milling around a ticket booth swilling pints of Carlsberg lager (Newcastle Brown not available).
I part with 20 euros for an adult ticket. The kids cost 10 euros a piece. The boys squeeze through turnstile number six. Suddenly a bespectacled, moustachioed, jumped-up security guard, resembling Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army, places his arm across my chest. “Non camera.” I try to explain that it’s only a friendly and that half the crowd have camera phones. But he’s having none of it and points towards a prohibited camera sign hanging on an adjacent wall.

I’m ushered into the ‘Supervisor’s Office’, where I’m greeted by an attractive, slim Portuguese lady. I arrange to collect my belongings after the game. I’m flipping fuming, readers.

The kids and ‘Dafty’ are in hysterics. They merrily snap away as we take our seats on the upper tier. Hopper has proper got the bottom lip on. ‘Live is Life’ by Austrian pop-rock band Opus is bouncing out of the stadium’s speakers.
There seems to be more atmosphere in the lower tier. We sidle past a distracted steward, who is less vigilant than the fool who confiscated my camera, so we’re closer to the action. The stadium announcer tries to pump up the crowd that has now swelled to nearly 1000, with hits from Queen, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.

The Estadio Algarve was purpose built for the 2004 European Championships. It hosted three games including a quarter final match between Sweden and Holland which ended goalless (Sticky doesn’t do 0-0s). A taxi driver told me it’s mainly used for pop concerts and cultural events. I remember on a previous holiday in the Algarve that Sean Paul and Simple Minds played here.

It has a capacity of 30,000. It has two huge curve-covered stands running along both touchlines. Both ends behind the goals are open. It would be a schoolboy error to forget the sunscreen on a sweltering Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It’s the third consecutive game tonight. Panathinaikos are also competing in this round robin tournament. The pitch looks worn and is cutting up.
The boys are hanging over the tunnel high-fiving all the players as they walk out onto the pitch to another god forsaken tune. If you want to make us feel welcome how about a bit of funk and soul from Geordie duo Smoove and Turrell.

Braga is a city in north west Portugal with a population of 170,000. They have qualified for this season’s Champions League. In 2011 they reached the Europa League final where they lost 1-0 to rivals Porto.

Newcastle upon Tyne is in north east England with a population of 280,000. It is famous for its wool trade, coal mining and ship building. Famous custodians include: Sting, Neil Tennant, Mark Knopfler, Cheryl Cole and Ant and Dec. It’s a hotbed for producing brilliant footballing talent. Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Andy Carroll and Michael Carrick are all from the area.
There are a group of four Geordies sat in front of us. One of the guys enquires whether former Toon midfielder Hugo Viana is in the SC Braga line-up. ‘Dafty’ informs him that he is on the bench. The guy says that his daughter (Laura) has a huge crush on Viana, and promises to hound him for an autograph at the break.

Everyone in the stadium is taking photos now apart from Sticky, who has even left his malfunctioning HTC phone back at the apartment. What a miserable beginning to the evening this has been. I’m cheered up by the flashing white teeth and permanent smile of Newcastle’s 20 year old winger Sammy Ameobi. He’s as tall as a giraffe but has legs like pencils. He’s sharp out of the blocks but is inclined to turn inside onto his favoured left foot.

Braga play keep ball for the first 20 minutes as the Magpies chase shadows. Ivory Coast international Cheick Tiote looks sullen and moody. He loses possession and fakes an injury. He takes an age to get to grips with the pace of the game. Demba Ba drops deep as Pardew plays Cisse on the shoulder with Ameobi wide right and the impressive Sylvain Marveaux on the left.
Good news arrives on 25 minutes with the official opening of the first bag of Haribo’s that 'Gangsta 'and Will have smuggled in past that miserable dumb-ass of a steward. On 35 minutes Cisse blazes over following good work by Danny Simpson and Ameobi. On the stroke of half time good chances fall to Braga’s Amorin and Cesar.

At the break Shola Ameobi is wheeled out to sign autographs and pose for pictures. He says that former Tricky Tree James Perch is the best golfer in the Club. Looking at his playing time last season I’m not least surprised. Sticky Junior attempts some banter with ‘Perchy’ but the miserable sod is having none of it.

‘Laura’s Dad’ is waving what appears to be some old fish n chip paper in the air. Hugo Viana has scrawled a personal message to his daughter. “She’ll be made up marra.”
There is an increase in tempo and tempers in the second period. Tiote gets hold of the game by the scruff of its neck. He breaks the world record for the number of fouls in a ten minute period. The referee’s patience finally snaps. He waves a yellow card in Cheick’s direction.

The Toon are awarded a penalty following a theatrical dive by Marveaux. Demba Ba, who has spent most of the evening bad-mouthing the officials, steps up to take the spot kick, only to see the keeper make a great save. He coolly rolls in the rebound. “You’re not singing anymore” chant the ‘Toon Army’ in the direction of the four Braga fans who have made the long trip south, and who are congregated in the stand on the opposite side of the ground.

Braga equalise immediately, must to the disgust of perennial moaner Alan Pardew, who has been meticulously penning notes all evening. A fine move is finished off by Amorim.

Both teams go for the jugular in a very entertaining 45 minutes. The winning goal arrives on 75 minutes following a moment of brilliance from former Tranmere and Wigan full back Ryan Taylor. His 25 yard floated free-kick leaves Beto rooted to the spot.
There’s still time for Braga to smash an effort off the post and for their 6’ 4” Brazilian defender Douglao to be dismissed for bawling in the assistant referee’s face. Four bags of Haribos have been demolished: Now where’s that bloody camera of mine, Mainwaring, you stupid boy. Man of the Match: Fabricio Collocini

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hucknall Town 3 Lincoln City U19s 2

The summer has been a washout. It’s hosed it down for days now. Sticky, ‘The Reaper’ and ‘The Auctioneer’ need cheering up, and have earmarked Saturday June 30th for ‘Real Ale Trail Part Two.’ Part one was the Mansfield Road run, in Nottingham, with The Gladstone on Loscoe Road easily winning the pub of the day award.

Maid Marian Way has sun-kissed blue skies as we traipse up to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, reputedly the oldest inn in England. Next stop is the Blue Monkey’s Organ Grinder on Alfreton Road. We laugh, joke and take the rise, on the open sun terrace.

The Reaper takes us on a tour of Radford, an often troubled area of Nottingham. I recognise the street names and associate them with shootings that have occurred here over the years. We bump into former Nottingham Forest and Sampdoria defender Des Walker in the Tap Room of the Pheasant Inn in Radford. The swanky, cool bars of Hockley and West Bridgford are not for ‘Our Des.’

Four more pubs are chalked off in Basford, before we stagger onto a tram into town before catching the ‘Keyworth Connection’ home. I am buzzing and steaming. It is by far the best afternoon of the year. Cheers Reaper, for the social history tour.

It’s nearly 90 days since I last did a groundhop. I spot that my old team Lincoln City (I used to support them until Chris Sutton rocked up with his daft mate and ruined our Club) are sending their young uns to the old mining town of Hucknall. I book myself in.

The comedy moment of the week arrived last Sunday. I’m on a three mile circular walk of our village. ‘The Skipper’ is having a ‘Sunday snooze’ in his bro’s bed, following a late-night sleepover at a pal’s house. An hour later he walks into the lounge, where Mrs P is doing a spot of ironing. “What’s for breakfast Mum?” The fool is dressed in his full school uniform. He thought he’d slept through and it was Monday morning.

The Arabs have swept into The City Ground. Tricky Trees fans are on the crest of a wave. And why not, after 15 years of mediocrity? Steve Cotterill was wearing dead man’s shoes, just like former Notts County manager Ian McParland was when Munto and Sven rolled in.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m regretting that special offer bottle of red wine I saw off last night. Bad news folks, Sticky Junior has ragged in the paper round, and boy do I miss it. I flick on the radio to find Danny Baker in fine fettle. His intro music is ‘The Headmaster’s Ritual’ from Meat is Murder by Manchester band The Smiths.

I spend a few hours in the garden to show willing. I am unquestionably the best weeder in Keyworth. Mrs P arrives home from West Bridgford Farmers’ Market with my favourite cake, which is accompanied by a ciabatta for lunch. I’ve a night out at the Brazilian restaurant Tropeiro on King Street in Nottingham with White Van Man and the gang this evening.

I sit watching Sky Sports News before the short drive to Hucknall. There’s speculation that Canadian-born striker Junior Hoilett could be on his way to Loftus Road. I do hope so; I loved his speculative efforts on goal last season. I also notice that former Notts County full back Chris Short (brother of Craig) has joined Neil Warnock’s coaching staff at ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds.’

I make the short journey over to Hucknall via the village of Watnall. Priory Celtic’s John Harris has suggested I drop into the Royal Oak on Main Road, close to the Hovis Bakery. I am the pub’s one and only customer. Feeling a tad delicate from last night’s session, I select a half pint of St Edmunds bitter from the Greene King brewery and take a seat in the corner of the cosy bar. ‘A Town Called Malice’ by The Jam is on the jukebox.

A couple of locals sidle in through the front door. They exchange small talk with the landlady. One of them pours money into the fruit machine, whilst the other more wisely plays the trivia quiz game. “What’s the nickname of Charlton Athletic?” shouts out the guy. “The Addicks” a smart-arsed Groundhopper replies. “I’ll buy you a pint if I win”, remarks the punter. He’s knocked out on his next question.

Oooh, is that Lily Allen I can hear on the jukebox? Time for a sharp exit. Thank God that press conference has finished at Nottingham Forest. It went on longer than the EastEnders omnibus edition.

A couple of stewards rob me of £1 to park my car at the rear of Hucknall’s Watnall Road ground. “How much is it to get in?” I enquire. “£7” one replies. “What, to watch the Lincoln City youth team?”

It’s actually a fiver on the turnstile, with a further 50 pence shelled out on a programme, a piece of A4 paper folded in two. Team-sheets are free gratis. There are more stewards and Hucknall Town officials in the ground than supporters.

The first thing that strikes me is how long the grass is. I walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Former Lincoln City defender Grant ‘Hoof’ Brown’ is youth team coach at Sincil Bank. I can’t understand a word he barks out at the scholars; he’s from Sunderland. Brown made a club record 405 appearances for the Imps.

I notice a bald man, sporting a Lincoln tracksuit, studying the warm-ups. I wander towards the guy and attempt to strike up a conversation. I recognise him and I’m immediately in awe of him. He has twice managed ‘City’ and has legendary cult status in our household. Christ, I even named my budgie after him (he’s called Murphy .... not Colin). I ponder on whether to tell Colin Murphy that he’s my hero and that I named my feathered friend after him. I choose not to, in case he is offended by it. I miss my chance as ‘Murph’ walks away. I notice he is limping heavily.

I bump into Malc and Kev from the ‘On The Road Blog.’ We enjoy a bit of craic and catch up on all the gossip. ‘Rock DJ’ by the Burslem pub singer is booming out the PA system. “Thank Christ that has finished”, remarks an elderly gentleman. “Too right pal”, says Sticky.

Lincoln start the game like a house on fire. They have good movement and are a yard quicker than their more experienced opponents. They open the scoring through Karl Cunningham, son of former Lincoln, Newcastle and Manchester City striker Tony Cunningham. TC is now a Lincoln-based lawyer. I notice him chatting to Colin Murphy in the stands. ‘The Murph’ signed TC from Stourbridge back in 1979 for £20,000.

The Imps are totally bossing the game and increase their lead on the half hour, with captain Kieran Walker thumping a shot home from close range. I walk past Malc and Kev with a smile like a Cheshire cat – I’m a Lincoln fan again.

On 35 minutes the visitors concede a sloppy goal. The full back is dispossessed following a throw-out by the ‘keeper. The cross is steered home by striker Julian Topliss. On the stroke of half-time the Yellows restore parity with a good finish by striker Theo Sanderson.

Brett Marshall is the new incumbent in the Hucknall Town managerial hot-seat. He’s arrived from Retford Town, along with half of their squad. He’s either been to one of John Ramshaw’s tanning salons or recently returned from holiday. He’s dressed in a sharp pin-striped suit that he recently purchased from Oxfam on Hucknall High Street. I once saw him celebrate a Scott Pratt 45 yard winner, whilst at Kirkby Town, by running a full 50 yards down the touchline. I thought the guy was going to drop dead on the spot.

Marshall inspires his newly-assembly squad in the second period. The Imps play as if they’ve been given a half-time pep talk by Chris Sutton. Joel Goodacre puts Hucknall in front, lifting the ball over an advancing goalkeeper.

They spurn further chances to put the game beyond doubt as the Imps run out of steam. Lincoln’s impressive forward Jordan Thomas scuffs a penalty which rebounds off the Hucknall ‘keeper’s trailing leg.

Heavy black clouds begin to empty their load. I glance over my shoulder as a steward opens a side exit door. The ‘Rolls Royce’ is in poll position. I race home down the ring road, burst through the front door and head towards his cage. “Murphy ..... you’ll never guess who I bumped into this afternoon?”

Man of the Match: Colin Murphy