Sunday, March 12, 2023

Hebburn Town 0-2 Carlton Town

It's Sunday lunchtime and I'm wandering up hipster Hockley towards Nottingham's Market Square. The weather is brassic. I'm wrapped up to the nines, but already sweating. There's no cosy pint by a roaring fireside. I call by Pret a Manger, where I bag a chicken sandwich to eat whilst on the hoof. It's only when I take my first huge bite that I remember we have roast chicken for tea. What a nincompoop I am.

I stroll up past the train station. There's no choo choo today. One of my favourite meanderings is through the Meadows, where a number of footballers from Nottingham Forest and Notts County were born and bred. A police Maria is positioned, in view, just off the Bridgeway Centre.

I'd seen a number of Everton fans drinking outside Cured, a canalside bar, just down from the station. Everyone was behaving and there was no sign of disorder. I cross Trent Bridge and take a sharp left turn where I follow the water. I look across the river towards where Everton manager Sean Dyche now lives. He could actually swim to the game. Be better not to though, as not many come out of that body of water, once in; not alive anyway.

I'm in my seat nice and early, positioned in the Lower Brian Clough Stand. The DJ, probably under instruction, plays the same boring set every home game. Doesn't every club play 'Freed From Desire' by Italian electro-pop singer Gala? I suppose it's better than Nana Mouskouri and Demis Rousoss, who are probably on the set list at owner, Evangelos Marinakis's other club, Olympiacos, who currently sit in third place in the Greece Super League.

Everton start brightly, particularly in midfield, where they pass it around Forest with some lovely two touch and give and go football. They take the lead through a Demarai Gray penalty, but are pegged back through a Brennan Johnson tap in. Forest are off the boil and off the pace too. They are caught napping and concede a sloppy goal, scored by the impressive Mali international Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Dyche deploys some dirty unsettling tactics in the second half, sitting on a 2-1 lead, when a third goal would have put the game to bed. Players theatrically fall to the floor as the game threatens to boil over. Felipe, Shelvey and Gibbs-White fall into the honeytrap, as their emotions get the better of them.

The game's best player, Brennan Johnson, is on fire and sending the Everton full back dizzy. He scores a brilliant equaliser after cushioning a clever pass from the returning Ryan Yates. He goes desperately close to getting the winner too. It's a breathtaking game for the neutral and I have good fun with the Everton fans, who I accompany back to the train station.

Monday afternoon is spent at my new favourite haunt, back in Hockley, coincidentally. It's £5 to watch any film on a Monday at Broadway Cinema.  What I like about this independent picture house is the different array of films from around the world. 'Close' is a coming-of-age drama about the intense friendship of two Belgian schoolboys, who drift apart at senior school. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. It makes me feel really sad as I leave through the exit doors. I soon cheer up after a couple of beers at the Herbert Kilpin on Bridlesmith Walk.

It's Tuesday afternoon and I'm sitting in The Wheatsheaf at Burton Joyce. Nige Harlow sinks a second pint of Guinness as I stare at my lime and soda. We're picked up by 'Club Shop Ken' and 'DJ Murph.' The Mighty Millers are playing up at Hebburn, in South Tyneside, this evening. It's a 300 mile round trip, but it's at a ground I've wanted to tick off for some time.

On the car radio, Five Live is broadcasting a Press statement from prime minister Rishi Sunak. He announces new legislation to stop illegal immigrants, arriving on boats, from applying for asylum. The whole car is stunned into silence. The speech is made with neither compassion nor apology.

We roll into the car park of the Green Energy Sports Ground just shy of 6.45 p.m. I tag along with Murph and manage to grab a cup of tea and some biscuits kindly laid on by the Hebburn Town committee, who are friendly and welcoming. Carlton Town manager Tommy Brookbanks enters the room. He points at the teapot and says "Well Sticky, we did say we'd meet for a drink one day." It's great to see Tommy with a smile on his face again, as times have been hard for him and Mark Harvey of late. Support for these guys has never waivered.

In the bar we meet up with some of the players' parents as well as another supporter, Jason Simpkins, who is sounding rather chipper and predicting, to those who are listening, that the Millers will take away all three points.

The ground is an absolute pearler. It's everything I'd hoped for. The snow has cleared from the excellent playing surface. Tommy and Mark have tinkered with the starting line-up. New signing Alex Troke is thrown straight in. He makes an impact and is a handful. It's a presence that's been absent and missing up top all season.

The lads are at it and looking sharp. Alex Howes puts Carlton deservedly ahead. It silences a gobshite in the stand who has shouted 'snap him' each time a Carlton player gets on the ball. I challenge the clown. The folk around him are embarrassed about his behaviour. It's absolutely bloomin' freezing. We all head back for a warm in the clubhouse. Spirits are high amongst the 'Magnificent Seven' supporters who have made the long trip. 

Something extraordinary happens just before the hour mark. Niall Davie pounces on the ball, deep inside his own half, (80 yards to be precise). He deceives two players and picks up a head of steam, as he bursts up the pitch, leaving a number of Hebburn defenders trailing in his wake. He smokes off the final player and despite the tight angle he squeezes the ball past the 'keeper and into the corner of the net.

Head of the Supporters' Club, Alan Murphy, covers similar yardage in celebrating the goal. I'm on the opposite side of the ground, stood on my own. I clench my fist and punch the air, much to the amusement of the 'Hebburn Baby Squad' who are sat behind me. In over 20 years of blogging Non League football, this must go down as one of the greatest goals I've ever witnessed. Davie is immediately christened 'The Carlton Maradona.' The lad deserves it, after showing the character to come back from a number of serious injuries.

The Millers see out the game with ease. Our fans are euphoric in the clubhouse afterwards. Hebburn Town are very gracious in defeat. It's a fantastic club, like many that have come from out of the Northern League.

Despite only a few hours' kip, I'm buzzing off that win in the north east last night, as I loiter outside Laguna curry house, located just off Maid Marian. I'm chuffed to bits for the Management, backroom staff, volunteers and supporters. They are all proper football people, who deserve their day in the sun.

'Cotgrave Trev' picks up me and 'Crazy Steve. 'Little Al' is already in the car. We're heading up Manchester way to tick off some Victoria Cross graves and CAMRA Heritage pubs. I didn't think I could top last night; it comes a close second. One of the VC graves we visit is in Weaste Cemetery, near Salford. I'm gobsmacked to see the grave of Busby Babe, Eddie Colman, who is laid to rest next to a soldier who was awarded a VC. Colman made 85 appearances for Manchester United, scoring one goal.

The rest of the day is spent in Eccles - yes, where the cake is from - three of the pubs are Grade II listed buildings. The staircase in the Grapes is a stunning piece of architecture. The icing on the cake is a fifth tick off in Cheshire, as the snow begins to fall. I arrive home at gone 11 pm, absolutely out on my feet.

The busiest week of all-time continues on Thursday. Tony Mac and Sticky spend two days in the north west ticking off pubs in Stockport and Manchester. A YOLK breakfast is polished off and the snow is beaten on the train trip north. We end the evening under the railway arches at Sureshot tap house, seeing off strong craft ales. As Mac says, "it's not a game for children."

A good night's kip is had at our apartment in Ancoats. Two workmen, in the city centre, tip us the wink on NQ Kitchen, a greasy spoon, that is 5 star rated on Google. We mop up a jumbo breakfast. The rest of the morning is spent strolling around the Northern Quarter, admiring all the murals and street art.

The highlight of the day is a bar called Disorder, a tribute to the Manchester band Joy Division. There's a mural of lead singer Ian Curtis on the wall. It's by the street artist Akse P19. The music playlist is out of this world. 'Fire in Cairo' by The Cure and 'Nothing Lasts Forever' by Echo and the Bunnymen are the pick of the bunch.

Even East Midlands Railway can't put a dampner on a day. The bunch of clowns cancel our train late in the day. Government run Northern Rail save the day. The quicker the railways are returned to the people, the better.

Attendance: 205

Man of the Match: 'The Carlton Maradona.'

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