Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wrexham 1-0 Barnet

We're tucking into breakfast on a sun-drenched patio at the H10 Estepona Palace in the Costa Del Sol. I don't recall Ms Moon and I chatting about anything in particular when the good lady suddenly drops out a pearler: "I used to love watching Soldier Soldier on ITV; it won lots of TV Times Awards. Robson and Jerome did a brilliant version of Unchained Melody; it blew The Righteous Brothers' version right out of the water."

A piece of bacon dangling from my mouth drops onto my plate. I have a coughing fit and wave frantically in the direction of waiting staff, gasping for air and a glass of water. It's a good half an hour before I get my breath back. I spend the rest of the day shaking my head in disbelief. NB 1,872,000 copies of THAT song by those two Herberts were sold in the UK (don't drop your bacon sandwich or Five Guys burger when you read this fact).

On Saturday teatime I get a clear run down the A1 southbound, after attending the Auckland derby, and arrive back home at 7pm, following my County Durham footballing weekend bonanza. I adore the Northern League, and can't wait to get back up there again, before winter sets in. I'll sling some bait out to see if Ms Moon fancies an overnight stay in Corbridge or Hexham.

Tuesday evening is spent at Owen Street, home to Coalville Town, who are playing Buxton in an FA Cup replay. I pop in en route to see my old mate, Coops, who is recovering well after major heart surgery. The two teams failed to trouble the scorers up at Silverlands, in the first game. The Ravens have Buxton on toast, and coast into the next round with a 4-1 victory and a £9,000 winning check. They play the game at a furious tempo and press' their shell-shocked opponents 'Our Joe's' old team-mate, Tim Berridge, fires home the winning goal.

I'm down at Carlton Town's Stoke Lane ground the following evening, watching a new-look Millers put in a five-star performance. Sticky's favourite, tigerish and tenacious midfielder Oliver Clark, scores a brace.

I'm drip feeding myself the behind the scenes documentary at Manchester City called All or Nothing. It certainly gets across how passionate and caring their Catalan manager Pep Guardiola is. The star of the show, without doubt, is the Belgian, Vincent Kompany. One of the most heart-warming moments of the fly on the wall doc' is when a group of young children are interviewing Kompany. He is asked who he would spend one day with, dead or alive. He says it would be with Nelson Mandela and goes on to explain his cause and that Mandela served 27 years in prison for a crime he committed. A little boy asks Kompany what his crime was. Kompany pauses for some time and swallows before saying "his crime was being black." The room is filled with silence, sadness and bewilderment.

We have coffee and crumpets smeared in Marmite for breakfast on Saturday morning, as we listen to Dermot O'Leary on Radio 2 playing 'Aint No Pleasing You' by Chas 'n Dave, following the passing of Chas Hodges. I noticed on the Nottingham Post Facebook feed that a ten-mile stretch, west and east, on the A50 from Uttoxeter to Stoke, is closed for the entire weekend - this will cause havoc with the schedule. Forget 'Sally Traffic' and Lynn Bowles, there's only one person to put a call into during my hour of need.

'Trumpy Tours' tells me to pull off the A50 onto the A38 towards Rugeley and then pick up the A34 to Stone and onto the A51 to Nantwich. Sounds easy enough but when you've got the irritating Graham Norton on the radio for company, you can soon flip your lid.

After a painstaking two and a half hours we finally pull into the Egerton Arms in Broxton, just shy of the Welsh border, in Cheshire. It's a neatly kept mock-Tudor dining pub. The Welsh Pride ale is spot on; the same can't be said about the snap. We're not perennial moaners or groaners about restaurant food, but the steak sandwich is cold, as are the 'French fries' and Ms Moon's coffee. A waitress asks if everything is ok, I reply, "No, not really, the food is stone cold and so is the coffee, but hey, que sera", and leave it that. A fussing restaurant manager deducts the drinks from the bill. I don't make a song and dance about it and thank him for his gesture. A Will Young tune on the pub iPod shuffle hastens our departure.

It's £3 to park in the neighbouring Glyndwr University, adjacent to Wrexham FC's Racecourse Ground. Wrexham is in Clwyd, in the north of Wales and has a population of 60,000. It is well known for its Wrexham Lager brewery that was established in 1862 and became the first brewery in the U.K. to produce lager beer. Notable folk from the town include: footballers Mark Hughes, Joey Jones, Jason Koumas, Robbie Savage and Tom Lawrence, presenter Tim Vincent and the dance band K-Klass (Rhythm is a Mystery).

Wrexham FC were founded in 1864 and are nicknamed the Dragons. They are the oldest club in Wales and the third oldest professional club in the world. This will be their tenth consecutive season in England's fifth tier of football. Highest transfer fee received is £800,000 from Birmingham City in 1997 for Bryan Hughes. Highest transfer fee paid is £212,000 for Joey Jones from Liverpool in 1978. The Dragons goalkeeping coach is Finland's Jussi Jaaskelainen, who made 474 appearances for Bolton Wanderers.

Well known former managers include: Brian Flynn, Brian Little, Dean Saunders and Gary Mills. Back in 2004, I visited the Club whilst raising money for the British Heart Foundation. Despite their precarious financial position they still donated a signed football which I was able to raffle off - Geraint Parry, the gentleman who helped me with this, is still the club secretary.

Ms Moon nips to the garage to stock up on chocolate and water, whilst a very helpful cashier sorts out our tickets to sit in the Yale Paddock at £19 a pop, right behind the dugouts. A well-produced programme is £3. It's a wonderful old ground that has kept its character despite modernisation. To our left is the sad view of an empty Kop end, with a plethora of red-painted crash barriers. It's hard to believe that over 13,000 people packed this ground out to the rafters in 1992 when the Dragons knocked out a full-strength Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup.

I saw Barnet  at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank twelve months ago; they played some smashing football and were unfortunate to lose 2-1. Not long after, their young coach, Ross Eames, was replaced by Mark McGhee. They've won three games on their travels and will be a threat today, despite missing a number of key personnel, including star striker Shaquille Coulthirst.

The Dragons are on the back of a 3-0 reverse down 'the Smoke' on Sutton Town's artificial surface and a goalless midweek draw up in Harrogate on the same surface with a 700 following.

To say that the first half is lacklustre and dull as dishwater is an understatement. It's cat and mouse as nobody puts a tackle in. Barnet's colossus is 21 year old on loan Shrewsbury defender Zak Jules. Dragon attackers bounce off him or are ushered out of play. The boy can play too; he has a cigar on, a wand of a left foot and never breaks sweat. The game is desperate for a goal. Wrexham get the ball down and a well-worked move is finished off with a Stuart Beavon daisy-cutter, who is drifting in from the left-hand flank.

The Bees of Barnet are urged forward by their 77 following who have made the 360-mile round trip. Despite a good spell of possession, they rarely trouble the Wrexham 'keeper. We scarper on 85 minutes, confident in the knowledge that nobody could hit a cow's backside with a banjo if they tried.

Attendance: 4,727

Away Folowing: 77

Man of the Match; Vincent Kompany

Sunday, September 23, 2018

West Auckland Town 1-1 Bishop Auckland

It's 8:30pm on Sunday 16th September. A stressed-out and bad-tempered Sticky Palms is slumped in seat 15C, with his hands covering his ears, on a TUI 737 jet, on Malaga Airport's runway, in the Costa Del Sol. Not only has our 10-day sojourn in Espana come to an end, but there's further bad news to report. The Captain has announced over the tannoy that we ain't going anywhere soon and I'm (we are) surrounded by crying babies screaming the plane down.

Jesus wept, just get this big bird in the sky, son. I can't even seek solace by burying my head into the Non-League Paper, as the squealing and squawking arrives in stereo sound. The main perpetrator is a four-month-old baby girl on the seat next to me, who's from Dirty Leeds. I mention to Dad as to whether she knows that their 'Dirty Lot' grabbed a last-gasp equaliser at Millwall's New Den yesterday afternoon, hoping it would cheer up the little Tyke. Dad says she was as 'good as gold' on the journey out here - well she bloody would be mate! I ask him whether I can borrow her dummy as I feel a tantrum coming on.

We're in bed for just gone twelve bells - the holiday is a distant memory. I taught Ms Moon how to play the card game, cribbage, on sultry gin-swilling evenings on the hotel balcony - another bad move, as I lost the first game 2-0, which resulted in me taking the defeat quite badly, locking her out of the hotel room, leaving the good lady at the mercy of the blood-sucking Spanish mosquitos.

We stayed in the resort of Estepona, not far from Marbella and Puerto Banus. We tried to hunt down the Big GC from TOWIE; but she was still mopping up an all-inclusive full English breakfast. Estepona is where both the singer Cilla Black and Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore had unexpected deaths. Whilst we were out there a drug dealer from Leeds was mowed down by the Spanish plod, just a mile down the road from our hotel.

I managed to get a game in, up at the Estadio Municipal Francisco Munez Perez Stadio (that's easy for you to say) a lung-bursting 50-minute walk away from the H10 Estepona Palace. The first half was abysmal and, Surprise Surprise, Cilla, it's 0-0 at the break. It livens up in the second period with three goals, two sendings off and a penalty miss. I did another Facebook Live which was the usual omnishambles.

I plan my working week out meticulously on Monday morning, which ironically includes an overnight stay at the Manchester Airport Premier Inn. The thought of staying in the hotel room for the evening would have had me climbing the walls. I take a ride out into the Cheshire countryside, get completely lost with my hopeless Sat Nav, before picking up two Runcorn Linnets supporters wandering down a dusty road track. It's £8 in on the gate as the hosts take on Northern Premier League opponents Warrington Town in the League Cup. It's sheeting it down with rain as a healthy 228 supporters (not bad as Liverpool are playing PSG in the Champions League) witness a 1-1 draw. A penalty shootout sees the Linnets win 4-3 on penalties.

I've conjured up a hare-brained scheme that needs the Royal seal of approval from the Princess. 'She' mentions a 'Girly Night' on Friday evening with her best friend Jill. I immediately crank up the laptop and navigate to the Northern League website, which covers mainly County Durham and Northumberland. "Erm ... any objections if I stay over in the North East on Friday evening, Pet?"

Hell's teeth, the A1 is an absolute pig on Friday teatime. The Doncaster by-pass is a car park. I'm booked in at the Darlington town centre 'Purple Palace', but can't find it for love or money as Sat Nav disappoints again. I abandon the 'Rolls Royce' in the Feethams Car Park (is this near the old Quakers football ground?) I bolt some tea down me in the Thyme restaurant before jumping back into the car and heading up to Crook.

I get in a right old flap as I'm met with an abundance of 'road closed' signs - flipping heck Sat Nav is having a Dicky fit. Google maps get me out of the mire and into the Tom Cowie Millfield Ground in the nick of time.

Crook lies 9 miles south-west of the historic cathedral city of Durham and has a population just shy of 15,000. Former Crook Town player, Jack Greenwell, was born in the town. He served as Barcelona manager for over seven seasons, a record that can only be beaten by the Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. He made 88 appearances for the Catalan giants between 1912-1916 after guesting for West Auckland in the 'World Cup.' Former Nottingham Forest manager and European Cup winner, Frank Clark, began his career at Crook Town in 1961.

I've been tipped the ground by northern groundhopper, Paul Brockett; it doesn't fail to disappoint with its two old rickety stands, steep grass bank and concrete steps on the terrace. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for the programme. The floodlights are enormous but not all are functioning. Holey Moley, all this way and the ref might call the game off. The Crook chairman is dashing around desperately trying to get the two remaining lights on - you've got to feel sorry for the poor fellow.

The game is a belter which I witness at the top of the grass bank with an elderly diehard Crook fan called Bob. The home side are 3-0 down in the first 14 minutes courtesy of some slapstick comedy defending. Poor old Bob isn't too chuffed, despite Crook pulling a goal back on the stroke of half time. They are unlucky not to win the game in the second half after fluffing two late chances having pulled the score back to 3-3 in a pulsating finish. Bob bids me a fond farewell and safe travels - what a lovely chap.

Crikey Moses, I've had more full English breakfasts than Gemma Collins in the last two weeks, as I polish off some bacon, hash browns and poached eggs in Darlington, before heading off to the village of Hurworth-on-Tees. I turn right into the grounds of Rockcliffe Hall with its spa and golf club. It's Middlesborough chairman/owner Steve Gibson's manor and is where 'Boro under 18s will play their Sunderland counterparts at 11am.

The game is tasty and played at a fast pace. I get chatting to a football agent who is full of bullshit. The scorer of the first ever goal in the Premier League, Brian Deane, is stood next to us wearing a flat cap. The Mackems take the lead against the run of play with a brilliant counterattack, before 'Boro deservedly equalise. I tick off the Bay Horse in the village where I quaff a pint of  Black Bull bitter from the Theakston Brewery before driving up to West Auckland.

West Auckland is a village with a population of 8,500.  It's steeped in coal-mining history, with the Colliery opening in 1838 and closing in 1967. The village team is famous as the 'Home of the First World Cup' - winning the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy (the Tea man) in 1909 and 1911. The coal miners pitted their wits against the football associations of Italy, Germany and Switzerland in the city of Turin. They retained the trophy in 1911 beating Italian giants Juventus 6-1 in the final. They were to meet Juventus 100 years later for a rematch  I remember seeing the film The World Cup: A Captain's Tale, starring Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy. A replica of the trophy sits in a cabinet in the West Auckland Working Men's Club.

The Club was founded in 1893 and play at the Wanted Metal Stadium, which is tucked away to the rear of a new housing estate. I take a stroll into the village, admiring the beautiful, long village green and War Memorial. I take some snaps of the 'World Cup' statue, before wandering past the derelict Queens Head and up to the Spar shop. A cheese and onion sandwich is a ridiculous £3; sod it I'll spend some dollar at the Club snack bar.

It's £6 on the turnstile and £1 each for a raffle ticket and golden goal ticket. I snaffle up a hot pork pie for £1.50. It's another ground to die for, with its old wooden stand and panoramic views. A plethora of signage is a photographer's dream. I sit in the back of the stand as Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake crackles out of the PA system - there certainly will be a river of tears from me if this ends up 0-0.

A 0-0 is off the cards after 9 minutes. West Auckland take the lead; quite how the visitors aren't 3-0 up after 6 minutes remains a mystery to the 474 supporters who have turned out in their droves. The first half is as good as it gets. Parity is restored by Chris Winn, who bulldozes his way through a flaky defence before firing home the equaliser. God, I love the Northern League.

We draw breath at half-time to reflect and ponder. Four old guys behind me are getting excited that Manchester United under 23s are travelling up to Bishop Auckland tomorrow for a lunchtime kick-off against Middlesborough. I was expecting some Cheryl Cole (Tweedy or Hernandez) on the decks at the break, instead it's Love Me For a Reason by The Osmonds - get me back on that 737.

The second half is a non-event. Bishop Auckland can't get on the ball, and when they do they are on the receiving end of many late, crunching tackles. They are indebted to their 'keeper Nick Liversedge who pulls off some fine saves and commands his area in general with some impressive punches.

Man of the Match: Bob at Crook and the friendly secretary at West Auckland who gave me a free team sheet.

Credit and thanks to Katie and Lee for the photo from Crook.

Attendance: 474

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Eccleshill United 0-1 Hebburn Town

It's Sunday afternoon and I'm slouched in a Chesterfield leather armchair in the window of the wonderful Embankment pub in 'North Bridgford', scrutinizing the Non-League Paper, whilst poring over a pint of Elsie Mo from the Castle Rock Brewery. Ironically, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', by Joy Division, is on the pub jukey. Hearts have been shattered and broken over the road at Notts County's Meadow Lane. The big love-in between Pies' owner Alan Hardy and 'future England manager' Kevin Nolan has come to an abrupt and sorrowful parting of the ways. Furthermore, there seems to be unrest in the boardroom with the immediate resignation of Nolan's drinking buddy, Non-Executive Director, Jon Enever, who churlishly announces it on his Twitter account. Vice Chairman, Darren Fletcher, the Five Live and BT football commentator, has also taken down any association with the World's oldest Football League Club from his Twitter profile.

The pub doors swing open and in waltzes an unshaven Charlie Slater from BBC East Midlands Today - probably called into action on his day off. He scouts the pub looking for folk to interview, to seek opinion and get a reaction. Customers shy away and politely decline to 'say a few words.' His eyes meet mine. "Mate, don't suppose you'd like to say a few words?" "No problem", I reply, "We're Lincoln City, we're top of the League." Slater shakes his head, about-turns and returns to his camera crew waiting patiently on Arkwright Street.

Bank Holiday Monday is spent up in County Durham at Spennymoor Town's glorious Brewery Field. I pay £1 for a bag of liquorice allsorts at a sweetie stall and stand on the raised terrace as Moors batter an out-of-sorts F.C. United of  Manchester 2-0 - their player-manager, Tom Greaves, walks a few days later. It just leaves me with Hereford FC to tick off in the National League North to complete the set - that's right, Hereford is proper oop North innit .. lol.

On Tuesday evening I witness a 2-2 thriller at Radford FC's Selhurst Street with Mr and Mrs John Harris and their daughter, Lucy, for company. Wednesday is spent at the World- famous Clifton All Whites watching my two lads play for their village team. They lose 5-3, but both get 90 minutes in the bank. I love to see my eldest lad taking people on. He's an old-fashioned winger with the fastest feet in south Notts; but needs to work on his tracking back and general fitness. 'Our Joe' is back in Leeds at Uni soon, for his final year, so I guess football isn't on his list of priorities.

Ms Moon and I enjoy tea at The Railway in Lowdham on Thursday evening. I make the short journey to Arnold Town's ground on Friday to see Gedling Southbank and Keyworth United draw in a six-goal thriller. The Green Army (players and supporters) seem to think the game is won before a ball has been kicked. The Taxman rocks up 20 minutes into the game, escaping the £2 admission charge. Is it a general rule of thumb to charge for an NSL game? Keyworth only spend five minutes in the changing room at half-time, following a lethargic and inept 'performance.' Young Sam Foster and seasoned campaigner Scott Litchfield come out of the game with their heads held high.

Ms Moon misses out on the trip up to Bradford due to holiday shopping and ironing (I do my own before all you Loose Women viewers pile in). The Big Man is drafted in after passing a late fitness test following a 48-hour stomach bug. I try to not to mention that the game is close to the 'Emmerdale Farm Experience' in Leeds - he hasn't missed an episode in over 30 years.

Within a few hours we're parked up at The Hop in the village of Saltaire. It's an old, converted tram shed with a two-tiered bar. Tourists and locals are in the beer garden basking in the late summer sunshine. The Big Man treats me to lunch and a pint of Silver King from the superb Ossett Brewery. He demolishes two brisket-wrapped in Yorkshire Puddings. There's nothing on the jukey; it's been replaced by Leicester City and Liverpool. The Foxes are 2-0 down; Trumpy Bolton will be drowning his sorrows on an all day sesh in Worcestershire.

Having made good time, we pop down to the Salt Mills. Saltaire is a Victorian model village located in Shipley. The Victorian era Salt's Mill and associated residential district located by the River Aire and Leeds and Liverpool Canal, is a designated UNESCO and World Heritage Site. Sir Titus Salt opened the woollen mills in 1853 and built the village of Saltaire to house his workers. He died in 1876. It is said that 100,000 lined the streets for his funeral. Bradford born artist David Hockney has a permanent collection of his work on display. 

We wander down to Roberts Park and its 14 acres. It's alive, kicking and has a cricket match taking place. We only have time to watch a couple of balls. The first is despatched back over the bowler's head, clearing the perimeter rope for a straight six. The second is feathered by the batsman into the keeper's hands.

Parking is easy-peasy outside Eccleshill United's Plumpton Park ground. The Club was founded in 1948. There is evidence that it was formed before this, but was disbanded due to the Second World War. They have played here since 1963.

It's £5 on the gate (thanks Big Man). I grab an excellent programme for £1 and a couple of raffle tickets. A very kind official gives us the lowdown on the club, as we admire the pristine condition of the playing surface. A stray shot from the Hebburn Town warm-up grazes the top of the Big Man's head, sending his sunglasses ten yards down the terracing. Despite being smothered in sun cream we use the stand as a hidey-hole from the baking, sweltering sunshine.

It's an FA Vase cup tie, at the Mitton Group Stadium with the long journey ending at Wembley Stadium. Hebburn is situated on the south bank of the River Tyne, sandwiched between the towns of Jarrow and Gateshead. Notable people from the town include: long-distance runner Brendan Foster and footballers George 'Geordie' Armstrong and Chris Basham. 

I'm sat next to Eccleshill diehard fan Marley the Cockapoo, dog. He's wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and donning his bandana. His bottom lip is quivering on 17 minutes when a cracking 50-yard cross-field ball by the visiting skipper is headed onto the crossbar, the 'keeper saves the rebound before the ball loops up for Armstrong to head Hebburn into the lead.

A large group of kids from a junior football team have added to the ambience and atmosphere with their chanting and clapping. Unfortunately for the Big Man they are all in the queue at the snack bar, preventing him from a much-needed full fat Coca-Cola. Sticky Palms ventures into the social club, where one or two visiting fans are worse for wear - not as bad as Corbridge-born Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce must be feeling right now, whose team are 4-0 down at Sheffield Utd. 

Eccleshill huff and puff but fail to blow the house down in the second half as the visitors put all the men behind the ball. The final whistle is blown, poor old Marley looks down in the dumps and off his food. I daren't look him in the eye.

Attendance: 111

Man of the Match: Marley and Charlie Slater the TV reporter.