Sunday, March 25, 2018

Morecambe 0-0 Lincoln City

I've enjoyed my away days with 'The Lincoln' over the last few weeks. Danny Cowley has had to change his tactics since being rolled over and outrun at Crawley Town. 4-3-3 has seen us pick up seven points from our last three games.

Ms Moon and I love it Oop North; she doesn't take much arm-twisting when I dangle the carrot of an overnight stay in The Sun Inn and Hotel in the nearby city of Lancaster, following the Imps' visit to the Globe Arena in Morecambe.

We've the week to get through first. On Tuesday evening I have a trot over south of the water (Trent) to Clifton All-Whites, a club where I have coached and is held dear to my heart. Former Lincoln City striker Darren Huckerby began his career at the club. He had the pace of the cartoon character Roadrunner. The first time I saw him play was on the wing for the Imps at Notts County's Meadow Lane. He tore a strip off former Manchester United Scottish under 21 international defender Graeme Hogg that night. Ironically the Pies had released him a year earlier for being too small. Doh!

Radford FC are the visitors at Clifton. I was at their snowed-off League match last Saturday and found myself wandering around Radford, a tasty inner city area of Nottingham, having a few scoops on my tod. I like their manager Big Glenn Russell. He's a writer's dream who always makes me feel welcome at Selhurst Street, despite me being a Jonah. He'll often phone me after a game to seek my opinion of proceedings.

I stand with 'The Taxman' to the left of James 'Tosh' Turner's (legend) dugout. He's wearing an old Notts County manager's coat, with the Munto badge sewn on it from Sven Goran Eriksson's ill-fated reign as Director of Football. I honestly think that I gave him that coat, as they are limited edition and I gave mine away to somebody.

I was hoping to buy a half and half scarf as I follow both clubs home and away during midweek jaunts. Radford run out deserved 1-0 winners in a highly-charged and competitive game. Big Glenn celebrates his birthday with a few scoops after in the clubhouse. Tosh will be gutted that luck wasn't on his side with a strong penalty claim waved away and a point-blank header crashing off the crossbar. But Radford have heart and soul, with a will to win.

Ironically, we spend the afternoon in Lincoln city centre on Wednesday. It's a trip down memory lane for Sticky as we visit Chatterton's the butcher, Stokes High Bridge Cafe and a gin-shop on Steep Hill, where I buy three samples of Pickering's gin that will make my head explode. More importantly we snap up two tickets for the trip away to Morecambe from the Sincil Bank office.

It's Friday evening and to be honest I'm fagged out after a debut 10-mile bike ride around Colwick Park, adjacent to Nottingham Racecourse. Ms Moon has gone into Nottingham city centre for scoops with some old work colleagues. I decide I need a warm-down, so take a stroll up to the Free Man at the top of Carlton Hill. I down a pint of Shipyard before returning home and settling in for the Holland v England friendly.

Scoring 14 Premier League goals doesn't count Jack s**t for Jamie Vardy, a player who gives every ounce of energy for his country. He's pulled England out of the mire on a few occasions. It's clear that his high-tempo game doesn't suit Gareth Southgate's possession-based tactics. England look the business and win 1-0. Vardy comes on for the last 22 minutes and actually doesn't get a touch of the ball. How very strange.

We're on the road at 9am. Ms Moon needs to tick off another shop that sells Costa Coffee. Wilford Lane's Co-op welcome her with open arms. The M6 behaves itself. We're parked up on the seafront by twelve bells. The wind has dropped with the old seaside town drenched in sunshine.

There's an emergency stop for Ms Moon at the Poundshop for a hairbrush, whilst Sticky Palms sinks a pint of Sunbeam at the stunning art deco Midland Plaza Hotel, complete with panoramic views across the bay.

We can't find a chip shop open on the front for love or money. We're pointed in the direction of Blackburn's Bay Cafe on The Crescent. I order up a couple of haddock and get chatting to some Lincoln lads in the queue. I clock a Codhead (Grimsby fan) in the shop with a 'Harry the Haddock' inflatable fish tucked under his arm. What the chuffing hell is he doing here? The Mariners are meant to be at Coventry City? Turns out it's his Stag weekend and he's with a minibus full of Imps. Ah, bless him.

As we stroll back to the car a glum-faced child, with tears streaming down his cheek, has a tantrum with his mum, as they exit the amusement arcade. I witnessed these same scenes at Scarborough when Ms Moon spent all her tuppences on the slot machines.

We park up in a junior school, just a short walk away from the ground. A few seasons ago we watched Morecambe cruelly concede two late goals to a promotion-chasing Carlisle United. We were struck then by how friendly the club was and have followed their progress ever since. Legendary manager Jim Bentley should win awards for keeping them up on a shoestring budget.

Morecambe is a town in Lancashire with a population of 35,000. It was known back in the day as 'Bradford by-the-Sea' due to its railway connections with Yorkshire. It was once a thriving seaside resort that has suffered decades of long-term decline. Both piers have bit the dust. For a number of years the Miss Great Britain Beauty Contest was held in the town. 

Eric Morecambe took his stage name from the seaside town. Other famous folk from here include: Dame Thora Hird and 'Charity' from 'Emmerdale Farm. World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is from the area. On February 5th 2004, 21 undocumented Chinese migrant labourers, hired to pick cockles at £5 for 25kg, by Chinese Triads, trafficked in on containers that docked in Liverpool, were found dead after being cut off by an incoming tide.

It's £21 on the gate to sit in the stand. I don't bother with a programme, donating to charity instead. We've half an hour to kill as my chest tightens and stomach churns. It's a massive game for the Imps who are desperate for a win to stay with the chasing pack. The DJ plays a decent set that includes: Manic Street Preachers, Elbow and Style Council.

Lincoln have a great first fifteen minutes and are proper on the money. Alex Woodyard and Lee Frecklington take a vice-like grip of the midfield as we stroke the ball about on a gluepot surface. Blackburn on loan defender Scott Wharton goes close with a header. The guy next to me is 'Mutt and Jeff.' We strike up a conversation but I have to keep repeating myself. It gets worse when he puts on his beanie hat which covers his ears. He reminds me of Cheryl's Dad (Joe) off the Royle Family.

The first half is nowt to write home about as neither side threaten goal. Morecambe seem content with a point as they inch away to safety. The DJ cheers me up as he plays 'Friday I'm in Love' by The Cure and 'Geno' by the brilliant Dexy's Midnight Runners.

I rave about the pies (the meat ones, not Notts County). Morecambe's are meant to be Michelin star. I'm still sulking about our inability to break down the home defence, so Ms Moon disappears down the concourse to very kindly buy one. I've a face like thunder when she returns ten minutes later. The pie is soaked in gravy. Sticky doesn't do gravy ( yes I know, a weirdo). We don't speak for ten minutes, a bit like Matt Rhead and Matt Green in the first half. I apologise after we scuff another chance over the bar.

The Shrimps defend magnificently in the second half as Lincoln and particularly bargain-of-the-season Neal Eardley bombard them with a series of crosses. They are proving a tough nut to crack and start to gain confidence. A deflected shot clips the crossbar before McGurk sees a 25-yard free kick crash off the bar with Lincoln 'keeper Allsop beaten. Lee Frecklington's last-ditch effort curls agonisingly wide of the post. Seconds later the ref blows for full time.

Sticky doesn't do 0-0s, but on this occasion I'll have to suck it up as Morecambe, despite bizarre time-wasting tactics, have deserved a point from the game. 'The Lincoln' have huffed and puffed but failed to blow the house down.

Quiz question: Who is the only Non-Adult (17 years old) to have scored a penalty in the Premier League? Answer next week.

Attendance: 1,883 (676 from Lincoln)

Man of the Match: That Grimsby fan in the Lincoln away end.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Radford FC A -A Graham St Prims

The journey back from Chesterfield's Proact Stadium is seamless. It's been an eventful day that has a happy ending. A supporter's life has been saved; they are recovering at a hospital in Derby. 'The Lincoln' have played well in patches and have turned up the heat in the second half; as they have a habit of doing. After a gruelling midweek battle at Field Mill, we'll take the four points out of the six on offer.

Ms Moon drops me off outside the Willowbrook pub (or as I call it the 'Winchester Club' off Minder) on Gedling Road. 'Dave' pours me a pint, there's no sign of Arthur Daley or Terry McCann. Christ on a bike, the place is stacked out with folk. What the chuff is going off? Bloody hell it's the Six Nations rugby. I'm stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If I go home Ant 'n Dec will be on, and they do my duck in.

I quaff a couple of scoops before retiring to my armchair, where I bury my head into The Boy on the Shed by Paul Ferris. It's a fascinating story of a Catholic boy brought up in the mainly Protestant town of Lisburn, in Northern Ireland. A gifted player, he later became a professional footballer at Newcastle United, where he gives a captivating insight into the club under the Keegan, Gullit and Robson tenure.

On Sunday lunchtime I steer clear of any hostelries in North and West Bridgford as the Tricky Trees take on the Rams in an early afternoon kick off at The City Ground. I sink a few pints at the Fox and Grapes in Sneinton before returning home to knock up the Chesterfield blog, which to my amazement has clocked-up nearly 3,000 hits.

I'm glued to the TV on Monday evening as serial killer, supervillain and cult hero Pat Phelan continues his reign of terror on the cobbled streets of Weatherfield. When we had Murphy the budgie, he always asked for the towel to placed over the cage when either Phelan or Fiona Phillips were on the television. Murph and I had a secret pact that if we ever won the Postcode Lottery we'd refuse to answer the door or accept the £30,000 winning cheque if Phillips trespassed on our manor.

I'm desperate for a midweek football fix, as this inclement weather is killing me and my world of Non-League football. I peruse the fixtures on Malcolm Storer's excellent On the Road blog. I check the Midland League and spot that Loughborough University v Shepshed Dynamo play on Tuesday night. I have lunch with my bestie work buddy, Lee, at the delightful Rancliffe Arms in Bunny, ironically on the Loughborough Road. I stay late at the office before heading back down the A60 away from Nottingham.

I saw a kid at Harrowby Utd in Lincolnshire, a couple of seasons back, called Danny Durkin from North Hykeham, just outside Lincoln. He'd already bagged 20 goals before the New Year. His Dad said he was a first-year student at Loughborough Uni and that he couldn't even force his way into the fourth team. The Uni played at the same level as Harrowby. Baffled by this I dropped the 'Head of Coaching' an email to query it. His reply was, 'you try and pick out players when over 400 trial?' "Thought that was your, job pal." Footnote: Durkin has already banged in 25 goals for Leicester Nirvana this season, at the same level.

It's entertaining fayre at Holywell Park as the Scholars and Dynamo play out a 2-2 draw. I like the look of Shepshed forward Shay Brennan. He makes intelligent runs, can hold a ball up bringing others into play and has finesse and class in front of goal. How he isn't playing further up the Pyramid is a mystery to me.

I can't be arsed to watch Barca v Chelsea on Wednesday evening. The Blues of Stamford Bridge only put a shift in when they feel like it. I'm glad they fall short in the Nou Camp and hope Trumpy Bolton's Leicester City can see them off on Sunday in the FA Cup.

I meet Ms Moon in the Free Man, a Wetherspoons establishment on the top of Carlton Hill. As a rule of thumb, it's not my cup of tea. From the upper tier of the Carlton No.27 bus the scene outside the front door is usually of chain-smoking, shaven-headed, drunken states hugging one another at any time of day. Inside we're pleasantly surprised. I get chatting to 76-year-old Sneinton-born Ernie Raven, who ran Carlton FC for 30 years - it warms the cockles of my heart; what a lovely chap.

Lincoln v Grimsby has sold out and I'm not feeling the Pies v the Stags; it'll be nip and tuck as there's too much at stake. It's attempt No.3 at chalking off Wellingborough Whitworth, my final tick-off in the United Counties Premier League.

I've put some timber on in the last twelve months which needs addressing for the summer season. I wander past Tesco before turning right down Station Road towards Netherfield. In 1970 my parents bought me my first bike from Graham Read's cycle shop. Nearly 50 years later the shop is still trading, but under a different name. I'll be pounding the canal towpaths, cycle paths and the picturesque Colwick Park on my new bike on balmy summer evenings (lol) in an attempt to shift a stone or two - you can't be called Sticky and weigh-in at 14 stone.

I walk past the Fox and Hounds on the Carlton/Netherfield Gaza Strip. It doubles up as Tommy Thompson's Boxing Club. I'm not sure if it was a bout gone wrong, but there was a serious fracas and affray in there on New Year's Day. I need to tick it off, but it doesn't look very welcoming.

The forecast doesn't look too good for the Midlands this afternoon. Ms Moon isn't feeling it, but wants to drive in case of snow, so I'm not alone. All's well until the M1. You can barely see your face in front of your hand, never mind the traffic. Wellingborough Whitworth and opponents St Andrews have both confirmed that the fixture is ON. 'The Princess' is getting stressed with the blizzard-like conditions. We abort the motorway at Junction 23 and head back oop North.

Blog legend, 'Big Glenn Russell', the manager of Radford FC, says that their Selhurst Street venue (On Call Arena) has been given the green light. Jesus wept, I've proper got the monk on (for any southerners reading this it means I've got it on me). To make matters worse there's been a crash on the M1. Even Paul Gambacinni can't cheer me up with the brilliant 1986 hit 'Digging Your Scene' by Dr Robert and The Blow Monkeys.

We roll into Asda on Radford Road twenty minutes before kick-off. I seriously think we're going to perish outside. I know how Captain Oates felt when he said in 1912 on the Terra Nova Expedition "I'm just going outside and may be some time." (it's minus 1 in Radford btw).

It's £5 on the gate and we throw in a couple of quid for some raffle tickets. Big Glenn tells me I'm barred (I've a reputation of being a Jonah). It must be cold as the big wuss isn't wearing shorts. We wander over to the far side and take cover; even the club shop and tea bar are closed as a stiff breeze blows across the ground as a snowstorm looms.

Ms Moon is sucking lemons. I seriously can't see the good lady going the distance as a blizzard and snow flurries blow in. Both teams give it their all in diabolical conditions. Radford take the lead with a smart finish from their lanky winger. The visitors, Graham St Prims, from across the cattle grid, restore parity with a scruffy equaliser. It must be cold as Big Glenn (a) doesn't shout out a loud cuss as the ball crosses the line and (b) doesn't hurl his baseball cap to the ground in a fit of pique.

The ref', who has been excellent by the way, under the beady eye of the assessor in the stand, has had enough and blows for half-time a few minutes early. Volunteer officials frantically try to mark the lines out covered by snow. The Ref's not interested and the game is abandoned - my first for weather since the Pies v the Wombles (Dons) in 2001 'down the lane' due to a pea-souper of a fog.

I've proper got the hump. I'm stewing and steaming (cross). They shout out the raffle numbers and I'm two off the winning prize - the red mist descends. The referee's assessor doesn't seem unduly concerned as he mops up the sandwiches, pork pies and cakes in 'hospitality.'

I bid farewell to Big Glenn, who thanks me for coming, despite the Jonah curse striking again. I wander up Radford Road before diving into a classic old street boozer called the Horse and Plough, an old Shipstone's house. I can't arf pick 'em.

Attendance: Not a Scooby, but we were one light at half-time. (Ms Moon watching Four in a Bed)

Man of the Match: Pat Phelan

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Chesterfield 1-3 Lincoln City

I am on the A60 approaching Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Nottinghamshire poet Lord Byron. I'm stressed out to the hilt as the clock ticks towards my company's financial year-end and the pressures associated with it in the world of sales. I need to chill out and relax for the evening. Christ almighty, I can't even do that, as Danny Cowley's Lincoln City roll into Mansfield Town's Field Mill.

'The Lincoln' are stuck in a rut. I saw them get battered with a beer-fuelled Trumpy Bolton at Crawley Town, in Sussex, a few weeks back - I've not listened to Robert Smith's The Cure since. The following week that vile, horrible club, Crewe Alexandra, whacked us 4-1 at Sincil Bank - we miss our talisman Sean Raggett who set sail down The Wash to Norwich City in January.

I park up at the Water Meadows Leisure Centre. The place is mobbed with Imps fans - an incredible 2,000 following have rocked up on a school night. I've got an hour to kill before kick-off. I'm not sure if my stomach is wrenching and churning because of hunger or nerves. I grab my first Big Mac of the season at one of those soulless god-forsaken retail parks that have killed off our town centres.

I couldn't get in the Lincoln end; we've only gone and sold out again. I've a bird's eye view of proceedings on the second row of the upper tier in the Ian Greaves Stand. A lad that used to play for my local cricket club worked for Ian Greaves. I saw them both lift the Freight Rover Trophy at Wembley in 1987, along with 60,000 other supporters, when he saved a penalty to bring home the bacon. His name was Kevin Hitchcock and he didn't do too badly for himself after, either.

At least we haven't got to put up with that bungling fool Steve Evans and his thug of a sidekick this evening, as they've both upped sticks to London Road in Peterborough. Ex-Imp David Flitcroft (two games on loan in 1993) is at the helm along with 'Big Ben Futcher.'

The Red Imps are fed, watered and rested after a gruelling fixture pile-up in January and February. Tonight there can be no excuses. The first half sees a committed display from both teams, with no quarter given. Lincoln take their eye off the ball early in the second half and fall behind to a clever finish by Joel Byrom.

'The Lincoln' have worked their socks off as the game enters the dying embers. Former Stag and Lincoln sub, Ollie Palmer, has received some ferocious stick from the Stags singing section. The inevitable happens on 90 minutes. Matt Rhead is like a performing seal at Twycross Zoo, heading the ball upwards twice unchallenged in the box, before it falls to Palmer who sweeps a shot home despite Conrad Logan's best efforts.

Palmer heads straight to a silent and stunned Stags singing section, cupping both his ears in their direction. I'm sat on my hands with a smile as wide as the A60. A moron in the stand hurls a water bottle towards Palmer. Lincoln skipper Luke Waterfall, even more foolishly, launches it back up to the top tier. The referee correctly shows him a Red card.

I find a turn of pace at the final whistle as there's a chance it might kick off. Some blokes behind me have expressed an interest in fisticuffs. I'm back home with the kettle on before 10:30pm. I toss and turn for most of the night re-living the extraordinary ending to a fine game of football. Lincoln City are back on it, with our No.30 Alex Woodyard ("he never gives the ball away") outstanding once again. He was released by Phil Brown at Southend in 2013 and is now attracting much-deserved attention higher up the food chain.

I'm kissing the lounge floor on 90 minutes on Wednesday evening, as if the Pope has graced its presence, as Tottenham Hotspur bow out of the Champions League. A nice little correct score bet will pay for a few weekend scoops. Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas have blown smoke up Spurs backside for most of the match. Juventus are ruthless in the final third and are denied a stonewall penalty early in the game.

Friday evening is spent at a damp and dank Platt Lane as Keyworth United entertain Aslockton and Orston in a 'Floody Friday' Central Midlands League game. My brolly is broke and I'm soaked to the skin as KUFC run out easy winners. A bizarre event happens at half-time as an away supporter falls down a manhole as the cover gives way due to slippery conditions. The poor sod is battered and bruised - I hold his umbrella; at least it keeps me dry for five minutes.

I sit in my pants and T-shirt, on my return home, smelling like a wet old dog as England win the final One Day game in New Zealand to clinch the series. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid bowl beautifully in tandem as they rip through the top order.

I'm getting pumped up for the Chesterfield game on Saturday morning with one eye on the rain-drenched garden. I play 'Gravel Pit' by Wu-Tang Clan and 'Dare' by Gorillaz on my YouTube playlist. Murphy the budgie used to sit on my shoulder and enjoy me throwing a few shapes, bless him.

The club website advises us to park on Old Brick Works Lane, close to Chesters fish 'n chip shop. I clock an Aldi and take advantage of special offer Valpolicella Ripasso at £7.99 per bottle. We eat al fresco outside Tesco extra; a lunch kindly made-up by Ms Moon.

Chesterfield is a market town in Derbyshire with a population of over 100,000. It's best-known landmark is the Church of St Mary and All Saints, with its crooked spire constructed in the 14th Century. Queen's Park, in the town, is an attractive setting for cricket, with a bandstand and small pavilion. Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar said it was one of his favourite grounds. Ms Moon and I once had a picnic there.

Notable folk associated with the town include: Royal butler Paul Burrell, the model Jo Guest, ex Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom (Goldie's owner -the dog not the DJ), former Labour minister Barbara Castle, cricketers Nigel Illingworth and Geoff Miller, footballers, John Lukic, Bob Wilson and Matthew Lowton and former MI5 officer and the author of Spycatcher Peter Wright. Tony Benn was Labour MP for Chesterfield from 1984-2001.

I went to the Spirerites old Saltergate ground in 1979 when the Red Imps won 3-1. It was the only time my mother ever watched Lincoln. Crowd favourite Gordon Hobson (a Sheffield lad) was on flames that day. The modern build Proact Stadium lacks any real character. What idiot agreed to it being built in the middle of a retail park?

It's £24 to sit in the West Stand, with seats a spitting distance away from both dugouts. The DJ spins a few classics including: 'Getting Away With It' by Electronic and 'Kinky Afro' by the Happy Mondays. I spot suspended Imps' skipper Luke Waterfall at Danny Cowley's side. I was going to offer him a sip of my bottled water, but he might not see the funny side.

The first fifteen minutes is hurly-burly, huff 'n puff and lacks any real quality. Ms Moon points across to the far stand where a sea of stewards race up the gantry. A supporter has been taken ill. We can see clearly a medic performing CPR for what seems ten minutes. I'm shocked to see the game continue as a human shield is formed with blankets. The game is suspended by the referee on 25 minutes. An air ambulance is applauded in and out of the stadium, as are the stewards and St John's Ambulance staff. We pray to God that the supporter pulls through.

The result is immaterial now; I'm surprised to see the game re-started. I guess life goes on. Lincoln are still in the changing rooms as a ball comes sailing in from the left wing. A looping header at the back stick puts Chesterfield 1-0 up. Michael Bostwick nods home an equaliser on the stroke of half time to make honours even.

The Cowleys are bending the fourth official's ear, whilst former Nottingham Forest under 23 coach Jack Lester is calm, measured and unmoved. Both teams are desperate to win, for different reasons. The Red Imps 'keeper Ryan Allsop makes an outstanding save with an outstretched hand pushing a goal-bound shot around the post, as Lincoln start the second half sluggishly.

On loan Blackburn defender Scott Wharton, who has been a Colossus, leaps like a salmon to power home a header to send the 2,000 Imps behind the goal into wild celebrations. The Cowleys close the game down. Matt Rhead is withdrawn. He is in the form of his life after penning a new contract. He's won every header and his touch has been sublime.

Super sub Ollie Palmer wriggles through three challenges before an outrageous finish with the outside of his boot to send the Imps back into a play-off spot. It's horrible to see the Spirerites six points adrift of safety. I really hope Jack Lester can steer them to safety.

Attendance: 6,395

No man of the match as St John's Ambulance, paramedics, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance and Chesterfield FC stewards saved someone's life. Bill Shankly's famous quote about the game being more important than that is something that nobody in this ground will agree with. A donation will be made by this blog. Well done to all xx