Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lincoln City 3-1 Brighton Hove Albion

It's Friday tea-time and I'm pegging it up the Colwick Road towards Nottingham city centre. It's been a rotten week back at the ranch. I've been struck down with the flu, which fair knocked me out for 36 hours - it was that bad I've not had a sniff of alcohol all week. The news gets worse folks; I've passed on my germs to Ms Moon. She's laid up in bed with only a hot water bottle for company.

The Brighton FA Cup tie is preying on my mind. It's dominated my thoughts for most of the day. I wander down Bridlesmith Walk before I snuck in the front door of the Herbert Kilpin. For those that don't know, Herb is a Nottingham lad who founded the famous Italian club A.C. Milan. A pint of Kilpin slips down the hatch, before I opt for a stronger citrus craft ale brewed in the 'Smoke.' Herbie would have been 127 years old yesterday.

I grab a couple of curry take-outs from Sainsbury's before returning to HQ, putting on my nurse's outfit and performing Florence Nightingale bed care with the good lady. She struggles her way through an episode of Emmerdale Farm and a double helping of Corrie before retiring to bed. Both Ms Moon and Lincoln left back, Sam Habergham will be having an 11o'clock fitness test to see if they are available for selection. Both are key players. There's just time for me and Murphy the budgie to laugh out loud at Darren Bent's shanked own goal. He must have selected the wrong pair of 'thousands and thousands' of trainers he has confessed to own.

I spend the night on the couch as Ms Moon coughs and splutters her way through the early hours. The plan was to catch the train, have a spot of lunch, take the game in, before meeting friends in the Steep Hill area of Lincoln, close to the castle and cathedral, to celebrate a close friend's birthday (Keebo).

Brighton fans, let me explain. I've supported Lincoln City for over 45 years. My late father took me to my first game in 1970 v Crewe Alexandra. An Irish lad from Finn Harps scored our solitary goal - my Dad missed it; he was having a pee at the time.

I've seen FA Cup defeats by the likes of Rochdale, Emley and Telford. I was at WBA 40 years ago, the last time we reached the 4th round, when a Bryan Robson goal cruelly robbed us of glory. I've travelled away on a Monday night to York City for a Freight Rover cup game. I've arrived home at 3:30am on a Wednesday morning after a League Cup tie at Southampton's old Dell ground. But I've let it slip a bit, of late. I was infuriated with the Chris Sutton era and hold him 100% responsible for the Club's demise. Groundhopping the Non League has become my obsession for the last 10 years.

My mojo has returned with the appointment of the Cowleys. I confess to having firmly jumped on the bandwagon. I attended both Ipswich Town games. There was no chance of a ticket in the home end for today. Ms Moon has called in a favour. Sue's cousin's husband, is a Seagulls' season ticket holder. Graham has very kindly put himself out and bagged us a couple of tickets in the away end. Ms Moon passes a late fitness test on Saturday morning, during an episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore. If I'm honest, PC Alf Ventress, the bone idle sod at Aidensfield Police Station, looks in better health than the princess.

Plans for a day trip out on the choo choo are abandoned, as I volunteer to drive. Drinky poos for Ms Moon are a no-go. I'll be on the sauce with the gang later though, particularly if the Imps upset the applecart.

The journey down the A46 is without incident. Paul Gambacinni is pumping toons out from 1966 on Radio 2's Pick of the Pops. The inevitable clogged up roads begin to emerge in South Hykeham, before we finally park up at the back of Robey Street, near my dear old Nana's warden-aided flat.

We walk up the High Street at a snail's pace as Ms Moon has an Elizabeth Taylor diva moment of nose blowing and a sneezing fit. Much needed snap (northern term Brighton fans) is devoured at local chippy.

The city is alive with folk as we troop down Scorer Street, the birthplace of former Leeds United and Arsenal striker Lee Chapman (husband of the actress Leslie ..... with the lips), towards Sincil Bank. Ms Moon's family originate from Brighton. I can see her hanging her snotty nose over one of those bloody awful half and half scarves - not on your Nelly, darling.

Lincoln is a cathedral city with a population just shy of 100,000. Famous people born in the 'Shire' include: Sir Issac Newton, Tony Jacklin, Margaret Thatcher, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Tory MP Anna Soubry.

I take a few snaps and a few deep breaths before passing through the visitors' turnstile - how the bloody hell am I going to cope with all this stress? Fortunately we're at the far end of the Stacey West Stand (named after two supporters who died in the Bradford Fire Disaster) close to where the Lincoln 'singing section' is.

I stand in silence for close on 25 minutes, barely passing comment with a well wrapped up Ms Moon. I'm as nervous as hell and the good lady can feel my tension. The warm ups are a blur as the players walk out to the centre circle. Both sets of fans exchange banter. Brighton top the Championship, as are Lincoln in the Conference. The whole stadium sings "We are top of the League" - it's a beautiful spine-tingling moment.

Danny Cowley picks the same starting eleven that defeated Ipswich. Chris Hughton has shuffled his pack, making nine changes from the 2-1 win over Cardiff City. They should have enough in reserve to turn over Lincoln, especially with leading scorer Glenn Murray back from suspension.

I like Brighton Hove Albion and particularly their manager Chris Hughton, who blog legend Trumpy Bolton and I bumped into at Bury's Gigg Lane a few years ago, when he was watching his son, Cian, playing right back for the Imps.

The Imps begin nervously and get caught napping on six minutes with 'keeper Paul Farman parrying a Murray header. Theo Robinson has an effort chalked off for offside. I quickly spot the linesman's flag to prevent me from passing out, such is the fragile state of my body.

Brighton ooze class and start to boss the game. Steve Sidwell and Non-League bargain buy, Solly March, display their long range passing. The warning signs are there, as a shot from distance by March beats Farman, all ends up, only to cannon off the woodwork.

Lincoln fail to heed the danger signs and are caught dozing again. The menacing Murray flicks on a header, nobody picks up the runner, Richie Towell, who lifts the ball with the outside of his boot over Farman and into the net. The Brighton faithful are in good voice, they sing: "1-0 to the Nancy-boys."

The Imps are hanging on the ropes and desperate for half-time so they can regroup. Murray is leading the Imps' defence a merry dance. He has a deft touch for a big fella and is full of running. The big man is unfortunate to see another chance go the wrong side of the post.

The big news at the break is that Wycombe Wanderers are 2-0 up at White Hart Lane. They are managed by Lincoln's greatest ever player, Gareth Ainsworth. I believe he will manage at the top one day.

The second half is sensational. The game turns on its head, on the hour, with a ridiculous and unnecessary challenge on Robinson. The 'keeper has had a kamikaze moment and has fallen awkwardly. The poor sod is in extreme pain as he kicks the floor time and time again with his boot. He's carted off with either a broken arm or dislocated shoulder.

There's an age before the Irishman, Alan Power, can take the spot kick. Brighton are in his ear, with the cocksure Murray having plenty of gas. Third choice 'keeper, 37-year-old Caspar Ankergren is the sub 'keeper. Power coolly rolls the penalty to the left-hand corner of the net, sending the Dane the wrong way. A flu-filled Ms Moon looks more alive than an ageing Caspar.

Caspar gets his second touch of the ball minutes later, retrieving it from the back of the onion bag after a 'Darren Bent' moment from Brighton defender, Fikayo Tomori, following a wicked cross from Nathan Arnold. Lincoln can smell blood and go for the jugular. Caspar has had a 'Weston Super Nightmare' since his unexpected arrival. He plays his defence into trouble with a short pass rather than going long - Uwe Huenemeier panics quicker than Dad's Army from Sussex's Walmington-on-Sea. Robinson doesn't waste the opportunity.

Ms Moon grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly. I can't and won't look at her as tears stream down my face. My head is pounding and my stomach is churning when it's announced that there's 8 minutes injury-time on the clock. Farman keeps out a couple of stinging shots before referee Andy Madley calls time on the best day out I've ever had in 45 years of watching football.

Attendance: 9,469

Man of the Match: Graham the Brighton fan for putting himself out for us ... Cheers

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FC Halifax Town 4-2 Salford City

It's 4:50pm on Saturday 7th January. I'm stood up, arms aloft, at Ipswich Town's Portman Road, clapping furiously along with 5,000 Lincoln City fans. We've seen a pulsating FA Cup tie that has finished all square at 2-2. The Imps were minutes away from causing the shock of the round, but couldn't quite get over the finishing line. We've footballed 'the Tractor Boys' off the park. I do a little jig to Sports Report on Five Live. Lincoln are in the 4th round draw for the first time in 40 years.

My mood is still buoyant on Sunday morning. I'm buzzing. I wine and dine Ms Moon at the Staunton Arms out in the Vale of Belvoir. We bump into White Van Man, who is on full power as he ploughs his way through a sea of Yorkshire puddings piled up high on his plate. He's been sunning himself in Tenerife, where we're due to go in a few weeks' time.

Me 'n Murphy the budgie huddle around the laptop waiting patiently for the FA Cup draw on Monday evening, whilst Ms Moon watches Amos Brearly change a barrel of Watney's in the cellar at the Woolpack Inn. Murphy asks me if I can get him a ticket for Sincil Bank if Lincoln pull Norwich out of the hat - "sorry son, you'll have to use the floodlight pylons as a perch, and we won't be talking all week before the game either." Murphy needn't fret, Brighton at home it is, providing we win the replay.

12th January is a sad day as Paul Hawksbee announces on his show the passing of Graham Taylor, Lincoln's greatest ever manager. It's the reason why I love football, because of the team he built with buttons in 1975. What a send-off we'll give him at Sincil Bank next Tuesday.

We're due up at Thackley FC in Bradford on Jan 14th to watch NCEL leaders Cleethorpes Town. The game is frozen off. I'm very kindly invited for a second viewing of Notts County. There's a new sheriff in town; his name is Alan Hardy. He became the owner earlier in the week following some last minute takeover hitches. There's a feel-good factor about the place and a buzz in the air as I take my seat to watch a local derby versus Mansfield Town. Over 11,000 rock up at 'the Lane' and see a battling display from the Pies. It stops the rot of a club record ten consecutive defeats. It will feel like a win.

Ms Moon meets me outside the black wrought iron gates at the Meadow Lane main entrance, before whisking me up to York for the evening. I down a real ale in the Blue Bell on Fossgate. We enjoy evening dinner with my brother and sister-in-law at the delightful Italian restaurant Il Paridiso Del Cibo da Paolo, which comes highly recommended.

It's Tuesday afternoon and I've taken the afternoon off work. I drive up to Rainworth, a village in north Notts, where the murderer Donald Nielsen aka the Black Panther was overpowered by a group of coal miners outside the local chippy after taking two policemen hostage, having just robbed a post office in 1975.

It's flipping freezing up here as I watch Mansfield Town and Notts County Under 23s play in a Central League cup fixture. The Stags beat the Pies 2-1. I blast out the car heating as I hurtle down the A46 towards Lincoln. It's the club's biggest game in 40 years.

I park up near to my dear, late Nana's house, before heading up the High Street into town. I guzzle down a pint of Samuel Smiths at £1.90 a pint in the Widow Cullens Well, at the top of Steep Hill. I thaw out in front of a roaring log fire before making the reverse journey. It's an Al Fresco chippy tea before collecting my ticket and taking my seat behind the goal opposite the Stacey West Stand - named after two supporters who tragically lost their lives in the 'Bradford Fire Disaster' in 1985.

Lincoln are superb again, despite Ipswich bringing in their big guns such as: Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Jonathan Douglas and Leon Best. The ending is incredible. On the counterattack, substitute Adam Marriott plays the ball through the eye of a needle to Nathan Arnold who rounds the keeper before slotting the ball home into an empty net. I apologise to a steward for hugging and kissing him - how was I suppose to know he supported Manchester United.

It's Saturday morning. Ms Moon and I are due a decent day out oop North. Halifax v Salford is the game of the day in the National League North. Sat Nav predictably takes us off the M1 and onto the A616, bypassing the Pennine town of Stocksbridge, where not only Jamie Vardy once plied his trade, but also Brentford's Scott Hogan, who is rumoured to be the subject of a £10 million bid from West Ham United.

There's the chance of a Good Pub Guide tick-off up at the Old Bridge in Ripponden. We walk over the medieval packhorse bridge, which the River Ryburn flows under. The pub has thick stone walls and antique oak tables. I have a pint of Riwaka from Roosters Brewery up in Knaresborough. We both choose homemade vegetable soup and a beef sandwich. It takes an age to arrive - Sticky P ain't a happy bunny. I settle up the bill, without a tip.

The Shay is only 15 minutes away. We park in a leisure centre and wander down Hunger Hill towards the ground. It's £16 each on the gate and £3 for an excellent programme, which is full of content. Halifax is a minster town in the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire. It has a population of over 80,000 and is well known for its Mackintosh's chocolate and toffee products including Rolo and Quality Street. Eureka! The National Children's Museum, was opened by Prince Charles in 1992. The Halifax Building Society was also founded in the town.

Notable Haligonians include: Thompson Twins singer Tom Bailey, John Christie the murderer from 10 Rillington Place, Paralympics Gold medalist Hannah Cockcroft, the wrestler Big Daddy, Arthur Ellis who was famous for his dipstick in the gameshow It's a Knockout, footballers Paddy Kenny and Frank Worthington, Yorkshire CCC player Alex Lees, the controversial Judge Pickles and singer Ed Sheeran.

FC Halifax Town was founded in 2008. They replaced Halifax Town AFC who went into administration. The oldest player to represent the club is former Tricky Tree striker Nigel Jemson who was aged 39. Striker Lee Gregory - who I often eulogise about on here from his Staveley Miners' Welfare days - holds the record for League goals for The Shaymen. He left the club for Millwall in 2014 for £250,000.

Calderdale Borough Council have proper spruced the place up, since my last visit with blog legend Trumpy Bolton back in the 80s, when a Terry McPhillips goal was enough to see off the Minstermen of York.

Compo, Cleggy and Foggy from Last of the Summer Wine are sat in the row behind us. They are Calderdale and West Yorkshire's moaning champions. The referee is told to 'get your hair from out of your eyes', after a blatant free kick is missed (the ref is as bald as a coot)

It's a lively start by both teams, but it's the visitors who begin to get a stranglehold on the game. They're 2-0 up at the break and coasting. Ms Moon has fetched some coffee that can only be described as dirty dishwater. Come on FC Halifax, you're a great club, but sort the coffee out - nobody drinks Mellow Birds these days .... lol.

I clock Salford midfielder Scott Burton in the concourse. We often enjoy some banter on twitter.  I wander across to introduce myself. The UK's best blogger, Uwdi Krugg from Where's the Tea Hut, used to wax lyrical about Scott when he was playing for Runcorn Town. I've watched him many times since and I'm totally miffed why nobody in the professional game hasn't taken a punt on him. He can put a tackle in - 10 yellows this season proves that - it's the reason why he is suspended for today's game.

I get gassing to Compo and the lads. I remark it's next goal the winner. They're still roaring with laughter when the Shaymen restore parity with two goals in two minutes, the second goal is worth the gate money alone.

On-loan Halifax striker Daniel Nti is running the show. I saw him at Loughborough University a few years ago. York City's Gary Mills has farmed him out to the Shaymen for a month.The diminutive Matty Kosylo makes it 3-2 from the spot, before former Liverpool Academy striker Adam Morgan puts the game to bed with a smart finish.

Salford joint-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley will be seething with a crazy 20-minute spell. I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in the Salford dressing room as the referee blows the final whistle.

We really can't arf pick em.

Attendance: 2,157

Man of the Match: Matty Kosylo

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ipswich Town 2-2 Lincoln City

It's Monday evening on December 5th and I'm holed up in a hotel bar in Warrington supping a pint of San Miguel. We crowd around my work colleague's iPad for the FA Cup 3rd Round draw. I'm a bundle of nerves. The balls are emptied from the famous purple velvet bag. Ipswich Town are first out of the hat - I wouldn't mind a day out there, it would be League ground No.80 for me. I nearly fall off my bar stool as Lincoln or Oldham are shouted out next.

Later in the evening I'm constantly checking 'Live Scores' at the dinner table, as Lincoln storm into a three-goal lead in a pea-souper of a fog at Sincil Bank. There's a late rally from the Latics as they claw back a couple of consolation goals. It's all in vain - Portman Road here we come.

Fast forward the clock to Christmas Day morning. Ms Moon hands me over a white envelope. I'm nearly in bits when I pull out a ticket for the 'Big One' in Ipswich. I give her a big hug and race down the stairs to share the news with Murphy my yellow and green budgie - he doesn't care too much for the 'Tractor Boys' - he's a Norwich fan.

I can't sleep the night before the game. Even though I'm 52 years old, I'm just too excited and anxious about the match. I down a coffee and have a couple of slices of toasted fruit loaf, in the morning, before leaving Ms Moon curled up on the sofa watching another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore -  Claude Greengrass has been nicked again for selling-on stolen goods. Blaketon's going to throw the book at him. Murphy asks who will look after Alfred the mongrel ?

I fill up with petrol on Meadow Lane, close to Notts County's ground. Tim Rice is still sitting in for Brian Matthew on Radio 2 - we hope Brian gets better soon as he doesn't half knock out some belting tunes.

I jump on the A1 at Grantham and head south towards the A14. There's a procession of cars with red and white scarves hanging out of the back windows, fluttering in the wind. Graham Norton is getting on my wick. I slip on Tom O'Dell's latest CD. Tom and I are singing so loud that 'we' manage to miss the junction 54 exit on the A14. I'm soon parked up a stone's throw away from Portman Road.

For the record, I was born in Lincoln in 1964. My father was a journalist for the Daily Mirror which is the reason why we moved to Nottingham in 1969 as he was appointed East Midlands correspondent. My Dad was a massive Imps fan, so we kept going back to Sincil Bank, witnessing at first hand the two great teams built by Graham Taylor and Colin Murphy - who I named my budgie after.

I've been to hundreds and hundreds of Imps games including some big ones like Fulham away in 1982 when we were so close to being promoted to what is now the Championship and the sell out to Wycombe in 1988 when we returned to the Football League courtesy of two Phil Brown goals.

My father passed away in 2000 - it knocked me for six, as it was sudden and unexpected. Sincil Bank without him seemed a very lonely place for me. I went to the Millennium Stadium for the 2003 play-off final versus Bournemouth and have taken in the odd fixture or two in the last few seasons, but I've put my heart and soul firmly into groundhopping.

I love Notts County and Nottingham Forest and have enjoyed some great away days with my mates, but Lincoln are my team. I still experience butterflies before hearing their score on 'Sports Report' when driving home from a game on Saturdays.

Coaches and cars are to filling up the car park as the 'Impvasion' begins to take shape. A frantic phone call to back home confirms I've left my debit card at the petrol station. I've only a £1 coin in loose change, which will only get me an hour's parking.

I wander around a fairly unremarkable town centre. I need five £1 pound coins for parking or I'm up the shoot. I clock a local newspaper billboard headline - it suggests Ipswich are under pressure and not relishing this cup tie. Ladbrokes share this feeling too, with the Imps a stingy 9/2 to win.

I dash into Poundland and grab a four pack of fruit pastilles. I hand over a £10 note to a bemused lass on the till who isn't too chuffed when I ask for nine £1 coins in return - "well you are called Poundland, love, so you should have plenty."

I'm as nervous as hell and there's still two hours to go before kick-off. Plenty of Lincoln fans are milling around the back of the Patrick Cobbold Stand. I best not go for my usual pint of real ale as I'll be up and down to the loo all game, with my nervous system in overdrive. I take a few snaps of the Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson statues, before entering the turnstile at 2pm.

Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk, with a population of over 130,000, which is located on the estuary of the River Orwell. It is well known for its Tolly Cobbold Brewery (now Ridley's) as well as farming and agriculture. Eighty people were killed during bombings in the Second World War. Notable people born in Ipswich include: Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Play School presenter Brian Cant, film director Trevor Nunn, actor Ralph Fiennes and footballer Kieron Dyer.

Ipswich Town were formed in 1878 and are managed by an under-pressure Mick McCarthy, whose direct style of play won't go down well with a club famous for the attractive way it plays the beautiful game. Sir Alf and Sir Bobby would be turning in their graves if they saw today's playing surface - it looks bloody awful.

Lincoln have sold out of their 5,000 ticket allocation. They top the Conference, marshalled superbly by sought after manager Danny Cowley, who miraculously led part-time Braintree Town to the play-offs last season on a shoestring budget.

The noise is deafening as the teams emerge from the tunnel. Ipswich have a few injuries, whilst the Imps are pretty much at full strength. I live in hope more than expectation. I just want the lads to put in a performance and not take a drubbing - a goal would be an added bonus.

My stomach is churning and my spine tingling as referee Lee Probert blows his whistle to start the game. The Imps look unsettled for the first five minutes. One or two players appear to have selected the wrong studs - particularly full back Bradley Wood - who seems to spend more time on his backside, due to the slippery surface.

In City's first attack Matt Rhead flicks a header onto Theo Robinson who plays a ball out to the wing, Nathan Arnold takes a touch before delivering the perfect cross for Robinson to sweep the ball home. I'm hugging and grabbing folk I've never met in my life. There's barely time to draw breath when Tom Lawrence equalises after a long mazy run. His shot seems to go under the body of a floundering Imps' 'keeper Farman.

City aren't rocked one bit. Back they come again and again. Terry Hawkridge is outstanding. I used to watch him play for a pub side in Notts a few years ago. I'm not saying he was small then, but he used to do his paper round before the game. He snaps and snarls in the tackle as well as harrying and hustling the opposition. His passes are slide rule and purposeful.

It's 1-1 at the break but we've looked hungrier and played the better football than a lacklustre and shell-shocked Ipswich. In the second half City are magnificent. They cut the 'Tractor Boys' to ribbons and pass them off the park. Both Robinson and Arnold go close before a miscued header finds Robinson in acres of space. He calmly lifts the ball over an advancing 'keeper to send the visiting support into raptures.

I begin to hyperventilate. I seriously think I'm going to have a heart attack. Having hugged and kissed a few more people I find myself six rows further down the aisle following the celebrations. We're all doing the 'Dam Busters' simulation chant now - I'm preparing to land at RAF Scampton. The youth next to me says that he'll settle for a draw now. I agree; we're not the luckiest of teams, never have been. My phone is going off constantly with folk willing the Imps over the finishing line.

The bloke behind me is panicking whether he should cash out of an accumulator bet that includes the Imps when the inevitable happens. A desperately tired Matt Rhead is caught dwelling on the ball, a deflected daisy-cutter of a shot from Leicester loanee Tom Lawrence somehow beats the outstretched arm of Paul Farman before nestling in the bottom corner of the net.

It's a sickening blow as we have pretty much controlled the game. I'd have taken a draw at the start. Raggett and Waterfall have performed heroically at the heart of the City defence. What a game of football we have witnessed. My Dad would have loved it.

Attendance: 16,027

Man of the Match: Sean Raggett

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Coventry Sphinx 2-1 Shepshed Dynamo

We shuffle out of Celtic Park down umpteen flights of concrete stairs. The Bhoys have survived a late rally by a plucky Dundee. A stroll is taken through the Gorbals district and into Glasgow city centre. The mother of all sessions takes place amongst all the Christmas revellers.We even manage to blag our way into a private party. I rub my eyes in disbelief, shedding a tear or two, when scanning my bank statement the following morning. Glasgow is ticked off - I have no regrets at all - it's up there with London and Manchester as one of my favourite cities in the UK.

The lead up to Christmas seems to drag on and on. I meet for drinks with work colleagues in The Embankment where pizzas are two for one. I catch a game at the 'Costa Coffee Stadium' where a rejuvenated West Bridgford FC muller lacklustre league leaders Stapenhill. 3-1 flatters the visitors. A groundhopper collapsed at the game. It's a relief to find out, the following day, that the guy is sitting up in a hospital bed.

My season ticket is renewed and rubber stamped at my favourite watering hole, the Herbert Kilpin, on Bridlesmith Walk, in Nottingham city centre. Christmas Eve morning is spent with my wonderful two sons in the Trent Bridge Inn. We wolf down a full English breakfast, which will set us up for the rest of the day. We exchange gifts and say our goodbyes. I miss them so much,

Ms Moon and I finally walk into town at tea-time. Ironically, we bump into Celtic fan, Jimmy Henry, and his family on Station Street, before partaking in a few bubbles and real ale at the Bear and Lace and Crafty Crow.

Christmas Day is spent at 'Auntie Val's (Ms Moon's mum) - Murphy the budgie doesn't make the trip. Pandemonium breaks out during a competitive game of Monopoly. Ms Moon and her brother 'Alfie' play a mean game and end up with hotels on every property. I spend more time in jail than Ronnie Biggs. When I finally get out, I manage to throw 3x doubles and end up back in again.

It's Boxing Day morning and we're umming and ahhing whether to make the trip to Northamptonshire to watch a United Counties League local derby. I've overindulged on the Chateauneuf-du-pape. We agree that the best course of action is for me to go and watch Notts County and for Ms Moon to curl up on the sofa and watch a soppy film.

A stiff, cool breeze is blowing in from the west as I trudge up Daleside Road, wrapped up to the ninepins. I walk past Arthur Johnson auctioneers - a place I keep threatening to rock up to on a Saturday morning, when it's a hive of activity. I take a wander around the perimeter of the Meadow Lane ground, before paying £24 at the ticket office and £3 for a programme. I take a pew up in the Derek Pavis Stand.

Local businessman, Alan Hardy, has announced that he is to buy the club from current owner Ray Trew. It certainly seems to have changed the vibe 'down the lane.' Positivity is in the air and morale is lifted amongst the supporters. It's quite a proud moment for me as I glance at the starting line-ups. Jordan Richards and Curtis Thompson are both playing today. They are local lads from the Nottingham inner-city areas of the Meadows and St Anns, who I brought into the club when I was Head of Talent ID at the Academy.

Notts are desperately short of confidence,  it's something to be expected from a team on such a long losing streak - Doncaster aren't much better. A cross from the left catches the defence cat-napping as Rovers take the lead. The game should be over as a contest, when minutes later, it's deja vu, with another cross coming in, only the woodwork saves Notts's blushes  I walk back home thoroughly depressed by the game. Emergency surgery is required in the January transfer market to prevent the Pies being sucked into a relegation scrap.

Disaster strikes on Tuesday afternoon. After a wonderful lunch out at the Old Bulls Head in the picturesque village of Woodhouse Eaves, near to Loughborough, the 'Rolls Royce' decides to conk out a mile from home. There's spillage all over the road. It looks for certain that there could be a parting of the ways, as a post-mortem will confirm she is off to the 'scrapyard in the sky.'

Measures need to be put in place. We drive down to Burgess Hill, in Sussex, the following day. Monopoly man 'Alfie' Moon is 'in the trade.' I borrow a Ford C-Max indefinitely.  I christen it 'Kip Keino' as it has more miles on the clock than the Kenyan long distance runner.

It's Saturday morning, a rather sad, miserable and forlorn looking Murphy the budgie is sitting on his swing. His hero, Brian Matthew, from Radio 2's Sound of the 60s show, is still on long term sick. Murphy ain't happy when I start dancing to Ray Charles 'Hit the Road Jack.' We leave him sulking on his perch.

An early midday kick-off suits us; we've been invited to a party at Taggart's estate in Widmerpool. The drive to Coventry is routine. Ms Moon takes the Audi up the A46, M1, M69 and back onto the A46. The ground is shoehorned into the back of a housing estate. The good lady parks up as I take a few snaps. It's £6 a pop on the gate. I didn't see a programme seller, so miss out on a match momento.

Whilst Ms Moon is in the burger queue I bump into some of the lads I know from Shepshed. The club is very dear to my heart. White Van Man and I followed them around the Midlands when our mate 'Screats' was captain. The PA guy is quite amusing; he shouts out the teams and plays some 70s classics.

Coventry is the ninth largest city in England with a population over nearly 350,000. The city suffered horrifically during the Blitz in 1940 when the German` Luftwaffe destroyed the 14th Century Coventry Cathedral. It was also famous for its car industry. Famous people from 'Cov' include: footballers Bobby Gould, Graham Alexander, Gary McSheffrey and Callum Wilson, the cricketer Ian Bell and singers Terry Hall, Hazel O'Connor and Paul King.

Sphinx make a great start, carving out a few chances that they fluff.  Ms Moon remarks on how quiet the travelling faithful are - we saw them at Heanor a year ago where they sang their hearts out. Ms Moon also says it has the makings of a 0-0. She gets the look of death off Sticky - we don't do 0-0s folks.

I've got four layers on but I am desperate for a warm in the Clubhouse. 'My team' Celtic are toughing it out with Rangers in the 'Old Firm' derby. Rangers nemesis, Dembele, has just bagged again. Ms Moon isn't feeling it, she's undercooked it on the clothing front. I send 'the Princess' to Audi and tell her to put the heating on for 10 minutes.

The second half is proper muck 'n nettles. Shepshed take the lead after a set piece goes tits up. They can't decide whether to stick or twist. Sphinx throw a couple of youth on from the bench with legs and energy. The equaliser comes from a brilliant cross. The inevitable winner is smashed home from close range despite a brilliant attempt by former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Ben Gathercole, who gets a strong hand on it.

The Coventry Sphinx manager is a big time Charlie and a bully to boot. He never makes a coaching point and constantly fishes his mobile phone from out of his pocket pretending to look at text messages He snaps, snarls and hurls abuse at the officials, telling them to "f**k off" or informing them they are "shit". The assistant ref is told to "get back on your turkey", which is pretty rich coming from a guy who has ate all the pies.

Man of the Match: Shepshed left back - No.3

Attendance: 182