Sunday, April 28, 2013

Athersley Recreation 0-1 Pontefract Collieries

It’s Sunday evening. I decide to burn off my Sunday roast dinner and Stella Artois. I stroll down the jitty, past Sainsbury’s and up Nottingham Road. To my left are black railings leading to the Keyworth Rectory Playing Fields. I glance at the War Memorial as I sidle up to the entrance.

It’s a venue where I’ve chugged up that unforgiving bloody hill and bowled over after over of long hops for nearly 20 years. I stare towards the playing square. The Club is two hundred years old in 2015. They’ve upped sticks and moved to a safer environment on the edge of the village. The wires have been removed and the wicket is grassed over. I feel sad and emotional as I think about the fun I’ve had up here over the years. Maybe my two boys can rediscover their zest for the game and play for the Club that their Dad is so proud to be associated with.

There’s a pleasant start to the weekend with a couple of pints of the guest ale at The Plough in Normanton-on-the-Wolds. I follow the Midland Youth Cup final with interest. My boss at Notts County, Mick Leonard, is taking the team this evening. I scour my Twitter timeline for the latest score. We go on to lose 4-2 after extra time, having played a lengthy spell with ten men. I note that 16 year old Gino Kelleher is the Pies star man.

I sleep soundly thanks to a couple of large glasses of Rioja reserve. Mrs P makes a startling admission at the breakfast table. As an eight year old, she once wrote to Jimmy Savile to see if he could fix it for her to be on the Krypton Factor assault course. It’s a skeleton that she has kept in the cupboard for over 35 years.

I check the headlines on the BBC Football website. News is emerging that Hereford United’s players have been told by text that there’ll be no pay packet for April. Murphy Palmer, my green and canary budgie doesn’t seem too concerned. He sinks his beak Suarez style into my ear lobe. He’s odds-on favourite for Gold at the Budgie Pecking Event in Rio 2016.

I drive up to the village. Sandie Shaw’s 1965 hit ‘Always Something There to Remind Me’ is being played on Radio Nottingham. I grab a bacon and egg baguette at Canterbury’s deli on Main Street. It’s no Roy and Hayley’s Cafe – it serves posh nosh and is the real deal.

I head down to the Lenton Lane area of Nottingham to view a game with my boss Mick, who appears pretty chipper despite the cup loss. Two of the top sides at under 15 level in the Midlands battle it out in a cup tie. We’re approached by a dead ringer for Terry Hurlock, to ask if we have permission to be on the ground. He appears miffed that we’ve actually been invited down by the manager of the home team.

I bump into Nottingham Forest diehard fan Jitz Jani. We discuss the opening day of the Nottinghamshire Cricket Premier League season, as hailstones fall from the darkening skies. It’s time to head up to South Yorkshire. I cruise up the M1. I slip on a CD. It’s the 1982 album ‘New Gold Dream’ by Simple Minds. ‘Someone, Somewhere in Summertime’ is the stand-out track.

Expectant Hull City fans congregate in pub car parks all over the town, before their big clash at Oakwell. Police keep a watchful eye on the ‘Hull City Ultras.’ I stumble across a Hungry Horse pub on the outskirts of Barnsley town centre, next to an Aldi supermarket and car dealership.

I have a chuckle at the advertisement for the Michael Jackson tribute act that was on the previous evening. Two old lasses are shuffling towards the door: “Did you go to the ‘Michael Jackson’ concert last night ladies?” enquires The Groundhopper. “Nay lad” remarks one, as they Moonwalk their way to the bar.

I settle for a pint of Stella and a southern fried chicken sandwich. World Championship snooker is on the pub TV sets. The Sat Nav has had a wobble in the middle of what was once a National Coal Board pit estate. A young girl waves her arms in the general direction of Sheerien Park on Ollerton Road.

I clock a sign for ‘The Rec’ and turn right up a narrow driveway. It’s £4 on the gate. The programme is £1.50 and good value. I’m gobsmacked to read that former WBA and Birmingham City forward, Geoff Horsfield has bought the 60 year lease to the ground. What a top lad. It’s just about the most heart-warming football story I’ve read this season. It’s allowed a community to have a hub for their society.

The DJ reels off three records in a row from Cornershop, Erasure and The Cult. I’ve already fell in love with the place. The ground is fully railed with wooden panels round three sides of the ground, with metal fencing at the far end of the ground. There are two stands, one of which has black, white & brown tip-up seats.

There’s a Club Shop, Social Club and Snack Bar. I stick my head into where the PA man is spinning his toons to congratulate him on his choice of music. He’s dressed up in a penguin suit.

The teams, somewhat bizarrely walk out to the theme tune from ITV’s The Bill. Athersley, sporting Newcastle and Notts County colours, require just one point to gain promotion to the NCEL Premier League.

Pontefract Collieries and Sticky Palms have previous. Their ‘Management’ behaved appallingly following a 3-0 drubbing at Worsbrough Bridge. Six ‘penguins’ are stood behind the goal Athersley are attacking. They are banging two sets of drums. Ringo Starr won’t be having any sleepless nights. I take a gentle stroll around the ground. There are 14 hoodies, 12 flat cappers and 10 bobble hat-wearers.

A ball is launched out of play, Sticky Palms outstretched foot cushions the ball; it’s flicked into the welcoming arms of a youngster close by. A better first touch you won’t see today. Collieries play with a lot more heart than on my last viewing. They have a goal chalked off for a foul on the ‘keeper.

The game is nervous, fraught and tense. Athersley play without fluidity. They have a succession of corners and have a stonewall penalty turned down. It’s 0-0 at the break with little sign of a goal. Regular readers will know that Sticky doesn’t do 0-0s.

‘The Rec’ DJ continues his good form at the break. ‘All Together Now’ by The Farm and ‘Hush’ by Kula Shaker, comfortably win this guy Non League DJ of the Year. There’s a notice in the wooden green-painted ‘Gents’ of the consequences of taking and dealing drugs. I grab a coffee and position myself next the ‘Ponte Carlo’ dugout to see if them pair are misbehaving. It’s not long before they are haranguing the officials. The ref is “weak” They chew on the lino’s ear more than Murphy the budgie does on mine.

Thankfully, Collieries impress. They are quick on the break and not short on ideas. With 18 minutes remaining they are awarded a controversial penalty on the linesman’s say so. It’s comfortably dispatched by Andy Catton. A guy behind the goal in a copper-coloured hoodie has lost the plot. His cheeks are the colour of his top. I seriously worry about the health and sanity of the Athersley manager, who is still spitting feathers following the spot kick.

Athersley huff and puff but can find no way past impressive Ponte ‘keeper Sam Andrew. The day ends happily though with rivals Cleethorpes slipping up at Clipstone MW.

Attendance: 171

Man of the Match: Sam Andrew

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Selston 2-2 Wollaton

I’m striding across the turf at Arnold Town’s Eagle Valley ground, towards the dressing room. My little team have just conceded a sloppy goal on the stroke of half time in the Nottinghamshire County Cup final. People shout encouragement to me from the stands. I have to choose my words carefully in the changing room.

We’re 2-0 down against a team (Underwood Villa) with a 100% record. No shame in that. We’ve played with nerves and created very little. Two goals have come from sucker punch long throw-ins. My centre-half has fresh-aired a clearance and my ‘keeper has been rooted to his line. I tell them to remember the 99 things they’ve done well and not the one mistake they have made.

I jab each player in the chest and tell them how magnificent they have been for us this season. I shake each players hand as we exit the changing room and wish them good luck. We play a beautiful game in the second period, pinning back our opponents. These boys have never let the club down. Their hearts are massive, as big as a bucket.

Adam gives us hope with a stunning executed free-kick, ten minutes from time. We pepper their goal, but it’s not to be. The occasion has been fantastic. Not one bad tackle, no bad-mouthing, respect for one another. The referee is outstanding. He congratulates my boys on their behaviour. What a day out we have had.

I settle down on Friday evening to a bottle of Red and the desperately sad tale of flawed footballer Justin Fashanu on my Kindle. Mrs P is watching worst ITV drama in history. It’s called the Ice Cream Girls and composes of a script I could have written in my lunch break.

It’s 9 am on Saturday morning, the console on my mobile is flashing. The team we’re meant to be playing today can’t raise a side I’m not happy; it’s too short notice to whizz down the M1 to watch the final ever game at Barnet’s Underhill ground. It’ll be a sell-out crowd.

Murphy is whistling his little green and canary head off to ‘Love Cats’ by The Cure, as I gaze out the kitchen window at the clear blue sky and the blossoming Magnolia tree that has finally sprung into life after a month of frosty mornings.

I polish off a raspberry and custard lattice bar and wash it down with an award-winning pot of Yorkshire Tea for one. I glance at the front page of the Nottingham Post, former Tricky Trees defender Wesley Morgan is up in court for a driving misdemeanour.

The Notts Senior League Groundhop began yesterday evening. Five games are to be played in 24 hours. 246 of those carrier bag holding hoppers rolled up at Magdala’s ROKO ground on Friday evening.

I jump in the Rolls Royce and head up the Nottingham ring road towards the M1. Danny Baker is commenting on Conference North team Hinckley United and there appalling goal difference of minus 99.

An eagle-eyed caller phones in to say his local side Woodford United have a deficit of minus 154. Baker laughs out loud like a madman. I exit at Junction 27 and drive through the village of Underwood, home to the Notts County Cup u15 Champions. There’s a Scarecrow Festival about to start.

I chug along the main drag in Selston, making a right turn at a petrol station before being stopped in my tracks by a couple of officials in high visibility coats. It’s £3 on the gate. I park up between the roped-off cricket square and the football pitch.

Selston is a hilltop village and civil parish in the district of Ashfield, on the Notts/Derbyshire border, with a population of 12,000. I have no recollection of ever playing football or cricket at their Parish Hall Ground. Some people would say they have no recollection of me ever playing football or cricket.

The place is already a hive of activity. There are bloody hoppers all over the place. Mind you Trumpy Bolton would be proud of them, as one or two tuck into a few alcoholic beverages. A special ale has been brewed called ‘Game Over’ to commemorate the Groundhop.

A marquee has been erected, where there are one or two charity stalls. Trestles have been laid out where eager hoppers can snap up badges and old football programmes. It’s not for Sticky, but each to their own.

There’s the sound and smell of bacon and sausage sizzling from the kitchen as Sticky shouts up a brew for Big D, who I’ve found milling amongst the NSL dignitaries. I enquire if they use a teapot. “You’re that Sticky bloke aren’t you?” chuckles a lady pouring out the tea. “That’s correct love, I’m Sticky Palms, Non League Tea Inspector, and you’ll be pleased to know that your tea is the best I’ve supped this season.”

The ground is right up there with the NSL greats. There’s a brick-built clubhouse and the covered George Elliot Stand to the far side of the ground. There’s a narrow concrete raised path that takes you around the perimeter of the ground, at the back of the nearest goal.

One of Nottinghamshire’s great characters is officiating the game. Cigar-smoking whistler Andy Rolph is Sticky’s favourite ref. Give him grief at your peril. He’s known on the local scene as Mohammed Al Fayed or Tom O’Connor.

The game begins in chaos. Selston give away possession, Wollaton storm forward and thump a shot against the bar following a wonderful save from the impressive Luke Wigley.

All these hoppers are as happy as Larry. They're either cooing and caressing their new badges or clutching hold of that sought after programme from a non league game in 1967. Three or four of them adjacent to us discuss the appalling gun culture in the USA.

Big D is holding court. He reels off a string of rib-tickling anecdotes. We witness Selston take the lead and also hit the woodwork before taking a position up behind the nearest goal for the second period.

Wollaton come out all guns blazing and equalise through Dane Rawson. Referee Rolph loves being the centre of attention He blows that bloody whistle more than a Bow Street Runner. Player after player is bollocked up hill and down dale. He dishes out more cards than Postman Pat. Former Grantham Town manager Wayne Hallcro receives a yellow one after a tasty challenge as a bit of ‘violence’ creeps into the game.

Former Lincoln United player Richard Ranshaw looks to have wrapped up the game for Wollaton with a rasping drive into the corner of the onion bag. But they have not allowed for what Dick calls ‘Rolphy Time.’

A corner comes in from the right with, seconds remaining ,and is cleared off the line for another corner. Another one is whipped in. It’s like the end of the Benny Hill Show. Stanhope, the visiting keeper is cleaning windows. The home ‘keeper, who has scampered up the pitch at the death, gets a touch on it, the ball falls to Tim Moore who calmly back heels the ball into the back of the net. There isn’t even time for the re-start. What a magnificent end to a brilliant morning’s entertainment.

Man of the Match: Hop Organiser, Rob Hornby

Attendance: 358