Saturday, March 23, 2013

Colchester United 0-1 Bournemouth

Brian Clough anecdote by Archie Gemmill “In September 1970 I was playing for Preston North End when my manager, Alan Ball [father of the World Cup winner] told me Derby were interested in signing me. Ball and I, Brian Clough, his assistant manager Peter Taylor and the Derby secretary Stuart Webb all met at the Pack Horse Hotel in Bolton. There was no doubt who was in charge from the moment he swept into the lounge bar. Clough dominated the room, deciding exactly how he wanted the bar staff to arrange the table for our negotiations.

Brash, big-headed, just as he had appeared to me on television, Brian had everyone running around after him. There was another offer from Everton, but Clough was determined to sign me. After the hotel, he came back to my house. I said: 'I’m away to my bed. I’m signing nothing tonight.’ With that, Clough plonked himself down on the fireside rug, took off his shoes and announced he would sleep there for the night.

In the morning, Betty [Gemmill’s wife] was preparing breakfast when she heard someone come into the kitchen. Clough was standing there rubbing his hands together, dressed in no more than his boxer shorts. He ate a hearty breakfast and then, before I had a chance to put my last forkful into my mouth, he dragged me into the sitting room to finalise our negotiations and sign all the papers.”

It’s a quick getaway for Trumpy and Sticky from Warrington Town’s Cantilever Park. Trumpy is crying his eyes out into his empty one litre plastic bottle, which only hours ago was full of cider. Two pieces of bad news have just been relayed to the legend: Lewis McGugan has notched a late winner for the Tricky Trees, a team Trumpy despises and his beloved Foxes from Leicester are 2-0 down at Pride Park.

We agree on a 9.30 am meet for our trip to Colchester on Good Friday. “Don’t come any earlier, as the pubs aren’t open till midday”, remarks a sulking Bolton.

It’s been a miserable, tiring week at work. We settle around the TV on Tuesday evening and watch a performance with blood, guts, courage and spirit; sadly it’s in the operating theatre of Holby City and not England on the pitch in Montenegro.

I quaff a pint of Sanctuary from the Blue Monkey Brewery on Thursday lunchtime in the picture postcard village of Wysall, as we bid farewell to my old boss, who is moving to pastures new.

I pull up the blinds in the kitchen on Friday morning to be greeted with blue-painted skies. I pour myself a strong cup of coffee and rustle up a couple of poached eggs. New York indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs are belting out their new single on 6Music.

I notice on the Colchester United message board that a very friendly U’s official has kindly offered to usher Trumpy and I pitch-side for a few photo opportunities before the game. It’s a lovely touch.

BBC Five Live’s northern football reporter, Peter Slater, has invited me to link in with him on LinkedIn. Trumpy and I met Peter a few seasons ago at Bury’s Gigg Lane. Perhaps he’ll offer Trumpy a job fetching beer and sandwiches from the corporate hospitality suite.

I’m outside Bolton’s house at 9.30 am on the dot. His set doesn’t look too good folks. The ‘Primarni’ shirt hangs below his charity shop blue jacket. He swings his East Midlands Airport carrier bag, where a bottle of Bulmer’s pear cider is buried at the bottom.

A cheese onion toasty has already been washed down with a bottle of Tanglefoot ale. As we pull on the A1 southbound, Ken Bruce’s Pop Master is about to start on Radio 2. Sticky storms into a healthy lead in the first round; Trumpy is aghast. There’s a Montenegro type comeback from Bolton in the second round, as honours end even.

Trumpy tells an extraordinary tale from last Saturday. He nipped into town (Nottingham) at 10 am and was back home for 4 pm. In that time he downed pints at the following watering holes: The Roebuck, Joseph Else, Coach & Horses, Yates’ Wine Lodge, The Bank, the Bell Inn, the Canal House, the Monkey Tree and finally the Stratford Haven. It’s a session that Best, Reed, Katona and Denise Welch would have struggled to live with.

We cruise past the sugar beet factory at Bury St Edmunds and chug down the bustling high street of Long Melford, where Bolton brags how he downed a pint in all eight pubs in a lunchtime session.

First port of call today is a Chef & Brewer establishment in the village of Great Horkesley. Trumpy shouts up two pints of Asphall Cyder and a pint of Adnams Southwold. Yes readers, he always drinks 2 pints to my every one. Scampi, chips and mushy peas are a steal at £4.95.

Next stop is the Three Horseshoes in Fordham. The landlady queries why I’m taking photos of the joint. She’s well tidy and makes a real fuss of Trumpy, who has bought 2 pints for himself, a Pepsi for me and a take-out bottle of raspberry and lime Kopparberg cider.There’s a Brat Pack evening in the pub tonight. Trumpy remarks that his uncle does a Frank Sinatra tribute act. “Both are shite”, he remarks.

The Weston Homes Stadium is plonked in the middle of nowhere. It’s the completely different experience to my usual non-league soiree. We have to part with £6 to park the car on an industrial estate, a 15 minute walk away from the ground.

Bolton requires a hip replacement and is none too chuffed with the hike to the ground. He has a drunken rant about Mark McGhee, Steve Wright, Adrian Durham and Sarah Cox It brightens up the day.

Colchester is a historic town in the county of Essex with a population of 100,000. It claims to be the oldest Roman town in Britain. Brit Pop duo Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon met at Stanway School, in the town, to form the band Blur.

Other notable personalities from Colchester include: ‘and in no particular order’ Dermot O’Leary, cricketers Neil Foster & Graham Napier, love rat Darren Day, and snooker player Ali Carter.

Colchester United were formed in 1937 and are nicknamed The U’s. I nipped into their old Layer Road ground on my charity tour of 108 grounds back in 2000. Capacity at their new ground is 10,000. Record signing is Steven Gillespie £400,000 from Cheltenham. Record fee received is £2,500,000 for Nottingham Forest cult hero Greg Halford from Reading.

Former Republic of Ireland international and Charlton Athletic midfielder Mark Kinsella is the Joe Dunne’s assistant manager at Colchester United.

I’ve arranged for a couple of tickets to be left on, unfortunately there appears to have been as they say on Fawlty Towers ‘a bit of a cock-up on the catering front.’

After queuing for an eternity we finally bag two tickets for the South Stand at £20 a piece. The programme is £3 and is a good read. The teams are just kicking off as we take our seat behind the goal the Cherries of Bournemouth will be attacking.

There’s an icy blast blowing down the ground. It’s not long before Trumpy is shivering. We’ve both under clubbed on the amount of clobber we are wearing.

Bournemouth soon find their groove after a bright opening by The U’s. League One Player of the Year, Matt Ritchie is tormenting the Colchester defence. He has a low sense of gravity and a beautiful touch. He always wants the ball and is rarely wasteful in possession. Ritchie shows the full back a clean pair of heels on 18 minutes; his cross is bundled into the back of the net by Brett Pitman.

Poor old Colchester, not sure if the wind is playing a factor, but I can’t see them scoring in a month of Sundays. The Cherries are wasteful in front of goal. No-one is more guilty than former Brentford and Rotherham striker Lewis Grabban. He misses a hatful of chances as on loan Chelsea ‘keeper Sam Walker single-handedly keeps his side in the game.

We both dive down to the soulless concrete concourse for a warm. There’s no cosy-carpeted clubhouse with character like you get in the Non League. ‘Jerk it Out’ by Swedish rock band Caesars blasts out the ground’s speakers, as we view the half time scores.

Colchester look hungrier with the wind at their backs, but take an age to deliver the ball into the box. On the hour journeyman striker Clinton Morrison is removed from the attack; we didn’t even notice he was playing.

The Cherries are dangerous on the counter-attack. Harry Arter forces Walker into action on two separate occasions. Colchester’s Billy Clifford clips the ball from the edge of the box; it curls agonisingly the wrong side of the post with the ‘keeper beaten.

We don’t hang around for injury time; there’s plenty of that due to Bournemouth’s time-wasting tactics and play-acting dramatics. Bolton endures a 15 minute hobble back to the car.

Attendance: 4727

Man of the Match: Sam Walker (Colchester)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Warrington Town 2-1 Salford City

It’s Saturday March 2nd and Sticky Palms is pacing up and down the touchline at Keyworth United’s Platt Lane complex. The reason my groundhopping has tailed off is because I coach ‘The Skipper’s’ team. We are drawing 2-2 in the Nottinghamshire County Cup semi-final. The final minutes of the game are ticking away. Dunkirk are our opponents. They are revered and feared in junior football.

The Skipper’ hits a slide-rule pass to a boy that’s been with us since he was eight. Adam scurries away from a tiring defender. He holds his nerve and blasts the ball into the back of the net. I can’t look at his Dad because I know I’ll burst into tears. What a journey we have had. I will make sure we enjoy the final at Arnold Town’s Eagle Valley ground on April 13th.

It’s Friday evening and I’m mooching about in the wine section at our local Sainsbury’s. That blooming 12% rocket fuel Rioja, that did for me the other week, is on offer again. I give it the swerve and plump for a bottle of Hardy’s Stamp. Mrs P has fallen victim to the dreaded lurgy. It means we can tuck into a fish n chip supper.

I’m down in the kitchen for 7.30 am on Saturday. I put my headphones on and do some research on the Cheshire town of Warrington, whilst listening to ‘Gravel Pit’ by American East Coast hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan. I was reminded of the song yesterday on 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie show.

Twitter is reporting on the death of ‘faulty microphone’ comedian Norman Collier. The north west’s top blogger, Uwdi Krugg, tweets that the ‘Samba Boys’ of Runcorn have landed in Manchester for the NWCL top of the table clash with Maine Road.

We have royalty travelling in the ‘Rolls Royce’ today. Mr Trumpy Bolton is aboard the team bus, following a three month spell on the sidelines. The upholstery is treated to some lemon fresh spray that will hopefully overpower the cider fumes from his trusty litre plastic bottle of Bulmer’s.

Mrs T is giving ‘Trumpy Towers’ a lick of paint. “Get me out of here” says Bolton, “and if you get the chance love, the lawns need cutting." He slams the door and makes a hasty getaway. The legend has had two rounds of pate on toast for breakfast, washed down with a tin of McEwans.

He confesses to having successfully completed the ‘Dryathon’ in January. A stone has been shed and a penchant for green tea has been discovered. He claims that a sniff of the barmaid’s apron today may have him doing hand-stands, following a week off the sauce.

Warrington and Runcorn fans please remain seated while I reveal that Trumpy Bolton’s sole mission in life is to complete a financial transaction, usually involving a pint of cider, in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland. He has a dog-eared, crumpled old atlas with each place visited highlighted off.

He has rediscovered his zest for the Foxes of Leicester. Recent away trips have doubled-up into binge-drinking weekends away in Ipswich, Blackpool and Huddersfield. He even bagged two tickets in Suffolk to see cheery Cockney duo Chas n Dave.

There’s almost a multiple pile-up on the A50 when the legend announces he is getting wed next year. Plans are afoot for a stag weekend in the Isle of Man – I’ll be checking out the local non-league scene in Douglas.

I chuckle at a tourist sign in Stoke that says Cultural Quarter.Ironically it’s close to Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.

First port of call is the Queens Arms, a Wetherspoons in the town of Winsford. We park in a ropey area of the town. A battle-scarred youth passes us on a dodgy back street. It’s only midday and trade is already brisk. Trumpy shouts up a pint of cider and two pints of Oracle from the Salopian Brewery in Shropshire.

He sits gooey-eyed, in silence, admiring the drinking prowess of a young girl, who effortlessly downs 3 bottles of WKD in the space of half an hour. I wolf down a chicken and bacon salad before departing to our next watering hole.

I flick the radio on to hear Darren Fletcher describe the opening goal for Wigan-born Everton midfielder Leon Osman against Man City. David Platt has missed it; he’s preparing the oranges in the away dressing room.

Trumpy has sniffed out a Marston new build in the middle of nowhere. It’s a soulless joint. Sticky’s on Coca Cola now as Bolton ups it a gear in the drinking stakes. I’d put him in the same bracket as Best, Burton and Reed.

We hit the town of Warrington, on the banks of the River Mersey, at 2.15pm. The town embraced the industrial revolution and exploited the nearby Manchester Ship Canal, close to where the local football is situated. Back in the day, steel-making, brewing and textiles were the biggest employers in the area. IKEA opened its first store in Britain in Warrington.

On March 20th 1993 the IRA detonated two bombs on Bridge Street, in the town, the day before Mother’s Day. Two young boys tragically lost their lives. 56 people were injured, 4 seriously.

A list of notable people from Warrington include: Stones Roses lead singer Ian Brown, the recently deceased actor Pete Postlewhaite, Brookside’s Sue Johnston, Radio 2 breakfast DJ Chris Evans, Kerry Katona, BGT winner George Sampson, ex-England cricketer Neil Fairbrother, flat race jockey Paul Hanagan and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks.

 We cross over the Cantilever Bridge and park the Rolls Royce outside the Latchford Baptist Church. A group of lads point Trumpy in the general direction of another hostelry. Steely Dan is blasting out the juke box of the Cheshire Cheese as the legend necks another.

What a pair of buffoons we are, a wrong turning out of the pub door causes a 20 minute diversion. I pay my £7 on the gate and £2 for an informative programme. I notice an excellent stat in the programme. Two European Cup winning captains went to the same school: Phil Thompson (Liverpool) and Dennis Mortimer (Aston Villa).

We all stand in silence to remember those that lost their lives or were seriously injured 20 years ago. It’s a moving and special moment.

Warrington Town is a lovely club. They have Ollie the Owl as a mascot and attract loads of kids in club colours. The ground is neat and tidy. There’s a club shop and a modern brick-built clubhouse. There are seated areas on both sides of the ground.

Bolton checks out the opening hours in the Social Club, while I take my customary stroll around the ground. The home fans are in good voice. Lyrics are used to the tunes of Coronation St, The Beatles, Bananarama and Depeche Mode.

I find Trumpy slumped in a seat on the back row of the stand, stuffing his face with a steak and kidney pie. The game is nothing much to write home about. All the action seems to take place off the field of play.

I’ve clocked former Barnsley and Wigan midfielder Darren Sheridan to my left. The woman in front of him has stood up. Sheridan politely asks her to sit down as she is blocking his view. Unpleasantries are exchanged. The woman storms off eventually. Trumpy is captivated by it all.

The Warrington left winger skins a defender and pops a shot off. The ‘keeper can only push it out to former Bury and Morecambe striker, John Newby, who stabs the ball home for the opening goal.

Darren Sheridan’s mood hasn’t improved much. He’s fished a few betting slips out of his pocket and has got Sticky on the phone checking the latest scores. He takes the news badly that Liverpool, Villa and Alfreton are all behind. He scrunches up his coupons.

Bolton has purchased another pint and half from behind the bar. It could be a no-show in the second from him as Italy entertain Ireland in the Six Nations. I have a quick chat with the ‘Salford Three’ behind the goal. Apparently the team are in transition.

I also bump into Jon Newby’s father who is distraught that his lad has been subbed off. He proudly tells me how his lad scored Morecambe’s first ever League goal. His other son, a marketing manager at Chelsea, has just phoned in from Cowdenbeath where he is groundhopping.

I find Trumpy studiously looking up and down at Warrington’s manager, Shaun Reid (brother of Peter). Reid’s face is twisted and contorted. At no time does he appear to enjoy the game.

Warrington are 2-0 up by now. A nervy last 15 minutes are endured after Adrian Bellamy pulls a goal back for the visitors.

Attendance: 190

Man of the Match: Salford ‘Keeper