Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wisbech Town 2-1 Cleethorpes Town

It's Saturday morning and Murphy Palmer, my little green and canary yellow budgie, is flipping fuming and spitting feathers. 'The Angler' has popped round to do a spot of decorating. He has got the David Andrews show on Gold blasting out his Roberts radio, while he hangs up some wallpaper. Murph's not having 'Tiger Feet', 'I Will Survive'and 'Delilah.' We usually listen to the Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s on Radio 2.

It's his bloody fault that the Lounge wants decorating anyway. He's pecked no end of wallpaper off in the last few years. He's threatening to dive-bomb 'The Angler' and stick the beak in. I move the little fella into the kitchen for his own well being.

I've a few chores to carry out before I earn my pass-out to Cambridgeshire. One is to clean out Finley the rabbit. He's up for one of his crap Non League tips. "Cleethorpes to win 3-2", he says through gritted teeth. It's like being Dr Dolittle in this bloody house. Don't worry Fenman fans, Finley hasn't got a prediction right in eight years of guessing.

 
I was going to watch Keyworth United's version of Georgie Best today, after taking his brother 'The Skipper' to his Midland Junior Premier League game in Cannock, Staffs. Clifton cry off, so I make alternative arrangements.

I drive down the A46 and turn onto the A52 towards Grantham. I was hoping to meet up with 'Ackers', who lives in Whittlesey, but he's watching another FA Vase game across at Holbeach, where I went a few weeks ago. There's a really sad story to tell, that happened after the game. The Gorleston joint-manager was taken ill and sadly passed away from a heart attack caused by a blood clot, after his appendix were removed. He was in his early forties, and married with four children. The football is unimportant, the tale is tragic. God bless him.

The Sat Nav has a hissy fit on the A1, I lose the signal and miss the turning to Barnack. I have to crawl through Stamford. The Daniels (Stamford FC) are bidding a teary farewell to the Kettering Road ground today, after a 118 year stay. I saw Buxton play there a few years back. I was besotted with their centre midfielder Anton Foster. I bumped into him in the street that day. I got all star-struck and bottled out of asking him for his autograph.

 
I drive off-piste before arriving in the picturesque village of Barnack. I'm taken aback at a UKIP poster plastered in someone's front window. The author Charles Kingsley spent his childhood growing up in the Rectory.

I'm here to tick off another entry in the Good Pub Guide. The Millstone is an Everards pub, tucked away in a back lane. It has a timbered bar and there's cosy feel about the place. I would normally have plumped for a pint of Tiger or Beacon, but I clock a guest ale from the Castle Rock Brewery, in my neck of the woods, called Carl Froch.

There's a family gathering in the bar. I peruse the menu and order up a smoked bacon and melted Stilton cheese 'Doorstep' sandwich. It's delicious. 'Promised You a Miracle' by Simple Minds from the album New Gold Dream is on the pub sound system.

 
The trip to Wisbech is straight forward enough. I stick to the A47. The fields are waterlogged but the Club are confident that this appetising FA Vase 2nd round match will take place.

I bump into a Halifax Town fan in the car park. We talk about their former striker Lee Gregory who is now plying his trade for Ian Holloway at Millwall. It's a rather hefty £7 on the gate, not sure if the Club have hiked up the price because it's a Cup game. I bag a programme and some raffle tickets; I feel a little flush today.

Wisbech is a market town and inland port in the Fens of Cambridgeshire with a population of 30,000. The River Nene runs through the centre of the town. Local farmer Tony Martin gained notoriety after shooting dead an intruder at his isolated farmhouse just outside Wisbech.

The Fenmen were formed in 1920. They have played at this modern stadia since 2010. I have already viewed Cleethorpes Town at Nostell MW earlier in the season.I liked the look of them that day. The Elgoods Fenland Stadium is mobbed out today. The bar is jam-packed too as the community turn-out on the road to Wembley. There's a good following from Cleethorpes too. I get chatting to a bloke who has brought along his little daughter. It was a two hour trip from the seaside resort in Lincolnshire.

I stand on the far side of the ground, next to a small stand. The dugouts, changing rooms and social club are on the far side. I expect the game to be tight and evenly balanced. The first half is as good as I've seen this season. Livewire winger Billy Smith is running the show for the Fenmen. He's turning the full back inside out as he ghosts his way down the wing. He's finally clattered by a crunching tackle. "Get up you tart" is shouted from the away end, the offender sees a yellow card waved in his face. A helicopter eats up the skyline. A local wag remarks: "Here's the Sky TV cameras."

The Cleethorpes manager has a voice like a foghorn and is built like a brick outhouse. His nature is aggressive and he is quite scary. He calls the linesman an oxygen thief. It's unpleasant and unnecessary. He'll probably be running the doors in Grimsby town centre this evening. Cleethorpes enjoy a good spell of pressure and take the lead with a beautifully executed goal guided into the bottom corner of the net by Jack Richardson.

 
The Fenmen equalise on the stroke of half -time following good work down the right, a ball is played in for Josh Ford to bury his shot into the corner of the net. I get chatting to an Ipswich Town fan from Sandringham at the break (don't tell Murphy). He used to live down the road from me. He refers to Norwich as the Budgies. Lucky I didn't have Murphy perched on my shoulder, he'd have pecked his eyes out for saying that. Murphy would love it here, the Wisbech PA guy is playing our favourites Little Mix. We voted for them every week in the X-Factor.

The second half doesn't quite have the same ebb and flow about it. Wisbech take the lead through Ford again, following some poor defending by Cleethorpes from an inswinging corner. It could be more had it not been for a string of saves from the visiting 'keeper. 'Our man' is deathly quiet now, but seething inside. He encourages his team, but sends out very little information. His No.7 works his socks off, but they rarely work the 'keeper.

Wisbech hang on in a tense finale to find their way into the last 64 of the FA Vase.

Man of the Match: Josh Ford

Attendance: 218 (looked a lot more)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nuneaton Griff 3-5 Uttoxeter Town

 
You never know what sort of journey a Non League player may have taken. Last week I visited Halesowen Town. In 2008 they snapped up a winger who had been released from Wycombe Wanderers called Ikechi Anya. On Friday evening, in a European Championship qualifier, the 26 year old terrorised Republic of Ireland and Everton full back Seamus Coleman in front of a full house at Celtic Park. Six years earlier he'd been stacking shelves in a supermarket.

I'm in a vile mood on Saturday morning. I've tossed and turned for most of the night. I'm tired and tetchy. Murphy the budgie is subdued and Finley the rabbit has a poorly eye. His crap non league tip is that whatever game I choose will be 2-2. The fool hasn't got one right in 8 years.

I drop 'The Skipper' down at Clifton All-Whites; his under 18 team are entertaining Leamington BS in the Midland Junior Premier League. I drive back to Ruddington and nip into the Co-op to get some cash. The heavens open outside, it's siling down with rain. It's deja vu from last Saturday. I play about on my twitter. The till girls will think I'm stalking them. They won't have the gall to ask me to leave. I propped up the Keyworth Co-op branch for years, buying endless special offer Argentinean Malbecs (not in 1982) before its sad demise.


 
Clifton are bloody awful in the first half and are 3-0 down at the break. I bump into legendary First Team manager James 'Tosh' Turner. He looks the business in his Norwich City managers coat. His best buddy is former Newcastle, Leeds and Man City striker Darren Huckerby, who was released by Notts County at the age of 16. A monumental clanger, that was. 'The Lincoln' reaped the benefits.

Tosh is going through his texts in the Clubhouse. An anonymous one arrives asking him to collect his laptop that is cluttering up the doorway of Gino's Ristorante Italiano in Church Street, Ruddington. It's an eatery that King Billy Davies and his cronies used to eat at. Tosh is baffled by this. It must have been a heavy session last night.

This great Club, who have been magnificent with my boy, are holding a memorial today to remember club stalwart Keith Elliott. They have named a bus after him and are also unveiling an engraved stone later today at spot he used to stand at each week. I meet indie rock legend Jake Bugg's cousin. He's slightly out of tune, but seems content in his pushchair.

 
Bloody hell, Tividale's game against Brigg Town has been hosed-off and has bit the dust. It's a toss-up between Lichfield Town and Nuneaton Griff. It's gloomy, dank and dark as I speed up the M42. I've clocked a hostelry in the Good Pub Guide in the village of Coleorton, in north-west Leicestershire, called the Kings Arms, that needs ticking-off.

I walk into the bar. Buster Bloodvessel is banging out 'Special Brew.' Talking of brew, there are five real ales on show. I'm rubbing my hands with glee. Three locals are chatting bollocks at the bar. I wait a full five minutes; there's not a sign of any member of staff. I do an about turn and storm out the pub. I'll give em pelters on Trip Advisor later.

I search the net for decent boozers off the M42. I find a brilliant website that recommends The Dog and Doublet in Bodymoor Heath, close to Aston Villa's training ground. It's a wonderful old building on the canal, with an interesting interior. Meg Richardson from the Crossroads Motel serves me up a cheese sandwich and a pint of Wainwight. Even the Phil Collins music doesn't put me off.

 
Lichfield Town haven't replied to my tweet, while Nuneaton Griff have: Nuneaton it is then.  Nuneaton is a town with a population just shy of 80,000 in the county of Warwickshire. Due largely to munitions factories, the town suffered from heavy bombing by the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War. On the 17th May 1941 100 people were killed, 380 houses destroyed and over 10,000 properties damaged.

Nuneaton’s born and bred footballers include: Trevor Peake, John Curtis, Peter Whittingham, Nigel Winterburn and Matty Fryatt. Other cult celebrity are: Larry Grayson, Mary Whitehouse, Dean Richards, Paul Bradley (that dimwit Nigel off EastEnders), referee Stuart Attwell, film director Ken Loach and Victorian novelist George Eliot.

Tom Tom comes good for once and safely navigates me to the Pingles Stadium on the outskirts of the town. I look across at the ground as I step out of the car. My hearts sinks. There's an eight lane athletics track running around the perimeter of the pitch. Hopper doesn't do grounds with running tracks. Oh well, it's a tick-off and they replied to my tweet.

 
It's £4 on the turnstile. The programme is a good un for a quid. I'm pounced upon by a raffle ticket seller and buy a strip for a further £1. I should have brought my bloody binoculars, the pitch is that far away. The Maxwell House coffee is not helping at 50p a shot.

I getting gassing to a referees' assessor. I find these guys, as a rule, secretive and unsocialable. This chap opens up a bit. I enjoy his company and tell him I'm a fully qualified ref. I can hear some music booming out of a sound system in the changing room. The minutes silence is ruined by a guy in the park adjacent, letting his petrol driven remote control car noisely run up and down a grass bank.

The game is open and the standard of play surprises me (Step 6). Uttoxeter force a good save from the 'keeper and see an effort bounce off the woodwork.The Heartlanders take the lead against the run of play. The visitors score twice on the stroke of half time.

 
I notice that Notts County are up the road at Coventry City's Ricoh Stadium. Northern Ireland 'keeper Roy Carroll is playing his second game in 24 hours. Lincoln City's game at Eastleigh in the Conference has been postponed due to a fire at the Imps' hotel, stopping them from collecting all their kit.

Uttoxeter, buoyed by their two quick strikes, start the better. They increase their lead but are soon pegged back to 3-3. Nuneaton Griff have been magnificent and are worth the draw. There's a a game -changer with 20 minutes to go, Griff's 9 jacket is stupidly sent off. He kicks out at the corner flag as he sulks off to the changing room. Uttoxeter seal the game with a brilliant left footed strike and an injury-time close range finish. 10 jacket for Griff has worked his socks off but teenager Ollie Richie has caught my eye, as well as Football League scouts, I'm led to believe.

The game has been breathtaking, and I for one will re-visit this League sooner rather than later.

Man of the Match: Ollie Ritchie

Attendance: 75

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Halesowen Town 2-0 Ramsbottom United

I'm pegging it out of Holbeach Town's Carters Park ground with blog legend Trumpy Bolton. The Tigers have breezed through to the second round of the FA Vase. The visitors from Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, have been mediocre. They might as well have put local lass Myleene Klass up top.  The legend has had a quiet day in the office. A bottle of Tanglefoot, four pints of real ale, two ciders and a litre plastic bottle of cider is below par for Bolton.

He's got his eye on that Eastern European Drink Shop on a street corner. I manage to distract him and whisk him away in the direction of the 'Rolls Royce.' My last memory of Bolton that day was him throwing some shapes to 'Party Fears Two by The Associates, in the Keyworth Tavern lounge at Coops' 50th birthday bash.

It's Saturday morning. Last night I hung my nose over a bottle of Rioja for £8.50. I sunk the lot whilst listening to my iTunes. I'm nursing a sore head as Murphy the budgie whistles his little head off to The Who's 'I Can See For Miles.' Brian Matthew is on fire this morning on Radio 2, as he follows it up with classics from The Four Tops and The Ronettes. I send a congratulatory tweet to Warrington Town manager Shaun Reid after their 1-0 giant-killing of Exeter City. Shaun will have snapped, snarled, sworn and chewed gum furiously throughout the night.

 
Murphy has been giving it large on Facebook about Norwich City's chances at a faltering Nottingham Forest. Tricky Trees fan Sticky junior has taken exception to these postings. It's just a short flight for Murphy today, up the A606 into West Bridgford. I haven't told him about the 4-0 drubbing at Middlesbrough in midweek.

I nip up the local hardware store to collect a bag of crack cocaine (millet sprays) for Murphy. I leave him head butting his mirror to David Morales 1994 dance anthem 'Needin U.' It's hosing it down with rain, and has been for most of the morning. A poster on the excellent Tony Kempster's Non League forum has advised folk to avoid the West Midlands like the plague due to worsening conditions. Halesowen Town tweet me to say they are confident that the game will go ahead.

I can barely see out the windscreen on the M6. Football in the West Midlands could be washed out today. I'm heading to my favourite hostelry of the season - the Windsor Castle in Lye, close to Halesowen. I love the flagstone floors and nook and crannies of this delightful pub. The scruffy frontage doesn't do it justice. It's Sadler's Tap House flagship pub. The beer is brewed on the premises. I plump for a pint of Boris Citrus. It's blooming gorgeous.

 
The music is outstanding and is on an iPod shuffle. It comprises of the The Buzzcocks, Bee Gees and old school Stevie Wonder. I order up a Mud City cheese sandwich, which is made locally by a cheese-maker in Worcestershire. I check my twitter timeline. Halesowen are asking for volunteers to fork the pitch.

The Grove is only a couple miles down the road. There's a hotchpotch of housing, take-aways and nail and beauty salons on the high street in Cradley Heath. I park up opposite the Yeltz Social Club. The rain has stopped and the skies have cleared.

Halesowen is in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. It has a population of over 50,000. It was once famous for nail-making. Sandvik's UK headquarters are in the town. Notable people from the town include former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe and Rex Williams a World Professional Billiards Champion, who is still alive aged 81.

 
It's a £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. The ground is outstanding for this level. I walk past a bustling bar. There are queues at the cafe and club shop. A large terrace with sky blue painted crash barriers runs along the nearest touchline. There's another open terrace behind the far goal. The Harry Rudge Stand on the far side has 420 white and blue tip-up seats. Behind nearest goal is The Shed which is covered and the preferred choice of most folk today, who are trying to avoid the biting wind.

Ramsbottom United are today's visitors. I've heard rave reports on these guys by the north west's No.1 blogger Uwdi Krugg. One of my old favourites from Runcorn Town, Scott Burton is in Rammy's midfield. They are flying high in 3rd position in the Evostik Premier League.


 
 
Rammy are slow out the blocks. The Yeltz take the lead in bizarre circumstances. A sloppy backpass finds former Mansfield Town striker Iyseden Christie lurking near the penalty area. The wily old fox  pounces onto the opportunity and buries his shot emphatically into the back of the net. Christie bagged six goals in an FA Cup tie earlier in the season.

The Yeltz gain momentum and look likely to increase their lead. Rammy are bloody awful and toothless up front. They play with little width. Halesowen score again on the stroke of half time through Elliot Turner. Rammy almost reduce the deficit immediately with the move of the game, the final shot is tipped over the bar spectacularly by the home 'keeper.

Norwich are beating Forest; Murphy will be having a fit. Lincoln, my team, are losing at Eastleigh in the FA Cup. I notice that the tie between Weston Super-Mare and Doncaster Rovers was called off twenty minutes before kick-off. Those poor Donny fans have made a 400 mile round trip for nothing. I hope the club look after them.

Rammy must have had a right royal rollicking. They lift their game. Scott Burton is all over the pitch. He has poise, style and a change of pace. He bosses the midfield. The football they play is too tippy tappy for this gluepot of a surface. The crossing, creativity and end product is poor from the visitors.

The away fans are different class. They sing 'Oh Rammy United to the White Stripes 'Seven Nation Army.' They greet a goal chalked off for offside with a chorus of 'We thought we had scored, we were wrong, we were wrong. They make me chuckle.

There are a few scares in the Halesowen penalty box, but they fully deserve their win, often looking dangerous on the counter-attack. I bump into a Rammy fan on the way out. He is scathing about team selection and says Rammy played without fight or energy.

I check the final scores. Two late goals by NFFC have done for Norwich and Lincoln have been dumped out the FA Cup with a last gasp winner. It's a bad day at the office for Murphy and Sticky.

Attendance: 358

Man of the Match: Kristian Green

Many thanks to the volunteers who made this game possible.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Holbeach United 2-0 Gorleston

Gary Charles was a full back who played for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. He often used to make marauding, overlapping runs. He was probably ahead of his time. In 1992 his life was turned upside down when his car was involved in a traffic accident with a cyclist, who tragically died. The footballer was cleared of any blame. It haunted Charles, whose life spiralled out of control. He turned to alcohol, as his career began to plummet. Despite turning out for Aston Villa, Benfica and West Ham, his potential was never really fulfilled.

It was while serving a sentence for assault in Rutland prison that he received a letter from his old roommate Roy Keane, saying that he wanted to look after Charles. After being released from prison, Keane invited him into his family home and got him involved in coaching at Sunderland. He took his coaching badges and now coaches at the University of Nottingham, as well as being a part time scout. He has also remained sober for a number of years. See, Roy Keane isn't a bad guy, after all.

It's Friday night, Halloween, and the doorbell doesn't stop bloody ringing. I've dished out more sweets than Norris Cole. Enough's enough, Murphy the budgie is dispatched to the door handle and put on sentry duty. He should keep those pesky kids away for a few hours.

 
The wee man is whistling his little canary yellow and green head off in the morning to The Jacksons 'Show You The Way To Go.' He's celebrating Norwich City's 2-1 win over the Trotters from Bolton. We share some crumpets and Marmite, soaked in butter. Trumpy Bolton will be tucking into a bottle of Tanglefoot and nibbling on chicken liver pate on toast for his breakfast. Dr Murphy helps me check my blood pressure, which has been sky high of late. Tablets have helped it return to its normal levels.

I turn up Spinney Road on the Keyworth Bronx. I spot a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses chatting to an old lady on her doorstep. Trumpy will be giving them short shrift if they have the brass neck to knock on his door. Christ that sun is bright today, hang on a minute, it's not the sun it's Trumpy Bolton in his new salmon pink Slazenger polo shirt. If it had Chang emblazoned on it I would have mistaken it for the old Everton away kit.

Graham Norton is immediately switched off, Bolton can't abide the Irishman. He's soon unscrewing the top off his plastic bottle of cider, while reeling off tales of his recent trip to Newcastle to watch his beloved Leicester City. He's turned down tickets for the King Power Stadium today, to spend the day with Sticky Palms. Trumpy returned home from a bender in Nottingham last Saturday to watch Leicester take Swansea on at the Liberty Stadium. He switched over to Strictly when the second goal went in, as he said it was 'more entertaining.'

First port of call is the Bull Inn at Bottesford, so I can take a quick snap of a plaque on the wall, which commemorates Laurel and Hardy's overnight stay at the pub in 1952, when Stan's sister Olga was landlady at the pub.

We come off the A1 close to the Adult Store, as Bolton's eyes light up. He has a pub to tick off in the tiny hamlet of Burton Coggles. He sticks his head through the kitchen window and gets chatting to a chef who's preparing lunch. The boozer doesn't open until midday. We finally roll up at a soulless and characterless Marston's new build on the outskirts of Bourne. Bolton necks two pints of Brakespear's Oxford Gold. It's an apple and mango J2O for Sticky.

Trumpy's eagle eye has spotted a Ginsters van parked up in the garage across the road. The driver is an old colleague of his. They have a chinwag for ten minutes, before we jump back in the 'Rolls Royce' and head into Holbeach.

 
The old market town isn't easy on the eye. We park up outside Holbeach United's Carters Park ground. A gang of youths are congregated outside the Eastern European Food and Drink shop. One is swigging from a bottle wrapped in a carrier bag. He wouldn't last five minutes in a drink-off with Trumpy.

We grab a window seat in the cosy Horse and Groom on the high street. We both sink a pint of Gangly Ghoul ale from the Greene King Brewery in Suffolk. Bolton scoffs a burger, whilst I mop up with a bacon and brie panini.

A black lady wearing a flat cap, tight blue jeans and leather boots is settling her bill at the bar. Trumpy reckons it's Beyonce.

 
It's a short stroll back to the ground. It's a gorgeous autumnal day. We pass the house where Nobel Peace Prize winner Sir Norman Angell was born. Holbeach is a fenland market town in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, with a population of 10,000. Former shot putter and the World's Strongest Man, Geoff Capes was born in the town. I thought it best not to tell Murphy that Geoff is now famous for breeding budgies.

It's £6 on the gate. I snap up a programme and a strip of raffle tickets. I'd been tipped by Ackers that the ground is a good un; it doesn't disappoint. Spectators are tight to the pitch. I leave Trumpy in the bar and head over to the far side of the ground. I pitch up next to the Holbeach dugout. Their manager Graham Drury is talking up their Vase chances. They are 40/1 to win the trophy.

There's still no sign of Bolton as the teams walk out to the 'Eye of Tiger.' The Tigers of Holbeach begin the game at a frantic pace. They are roared on by wind-up merchant Drury. The woodwork is peppered twice and a goal is chalked off for offside. Gorleston offer very little apart from danger at set-pieces.

Trumpy has seen enough. He troops off back to the bar. The legend misses the opening goal of the game on the stroke of half-time, with a low left foot drive from Lee Beeson. I've had a little chat with The Gorleston Three and a Morecambe Town supporter from Spalding. It's the beauty of the Non League that you get to meet so many different people. I notice that Gorleston have had some famous players turn out for them in the past. Martin Peters, Dale Gordon and Robert Fleck are amongst them.

Holbeach are coasting in the second half. They score a beautifully executed goal through Jamie Clarke, after great work from raw youngster Lee Dube. Bolton fakes a groin injury when he clocks the female Tigers' physio. He's spent most of the second half chatting to Jake Duffy's Dad, who is from Leicester.

We slope off with five minutes remaining, there's more chance of Murphy supporting Ipswich Town than Gorleston hitting the onion bag today.

Man of the match: Roy Keane

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Desborough Town 0-1 Deeping Rangers

It's a miserable Monday lunchtime. I'm sat in the 'Rolls Royce' on an industrial estate in Loughborough. It's pelting it down with rain as I nibble on my cheese and ham sandwich. I'm scrolling through my twitter timeline as I listen to the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2. The BBC has just released results from a Price of Football Survey. I hear Vine bleating about Kidderminster charging £4.50 for a pie. I bet the fool has never even been to the Aggborough to sample it.

Ackers and I were guests of honour at Kidderminster Harriers v Cardiff City for a League Cup tie ten years ago. We were doing a tour of 108 grounds in England and Wales for charity. At the time it was £3 to buy this cottage pie that Vine is moaning about. It's the most famous delicacy in Non League football. Nigel Clough always ordered 20 portions for his Burton Albion players and staff each season for the coach journey home. I tweet Vine to redress the balance. He reads it out just before the one o'clock news. It cheers me up for the rest of the day.

I spent the other Tuesday night in the company of my good friend Jon Garton at Heanor Town, who were playing high-flying Tadcaster Albion. Nearly 280 folk turned out on a mild evening to watch a bruising encounter. Former Manchester United, WBA and Nottingham Forest midfielder Jonathan Greening played for Tadcaster. His brother Ricky is leading scorer for Albion in the Northern Counties East Premier League. The visitors deservedly won 2-1.

 
I'm reading a cracking book written by the journalist and author Charles Nevin, it's called 'Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love.' There's a chapter on the town of Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born. Nevin mentions a pub in Bottesford on the Notts/Leics border that was run by Stan Laurel's sister Olga. Laurel and Hardy stopped the night there in 1952 before appearing the following day in Nottingham. There's a plaque on the wall that Trumpy Bolton and I will be driving over to see next Saturday, on our way to Holbeach for a FA Vase cup tie.

I'm struggling to come to terms that I no longer scout for Notts County. It was my decision, but Saturday mornings feel empty without meaning. I stumble upon Sooty's magic wand while I'm rummaging in some drawers. I break down in tears. I didn't mean to leave Sooty in the toilets in Guiseley. I hope he's okay.

Comedy genius Sticky jnr cheers me up with his attempts at rustling up a cooked breakfast. "Dad, how do you crack an egg?" I don't think James Martin needs to worry about his job on Saturday Kitchen. Junior has a big cup tie in the village of Underwood this afternoon, where the author D H Lawrence set many of his books. Murphy Palmer the budgie mops up some Marmite on toast before I dash out the house.

 
My mate Phil picks me up for the trip to Desborough. The Graham Norton Show is on the radio. Ultra Nate's 'Free' is blasting out the car stereo. Tom Tom takes us off the M1 at Fosse Park and onto the ring road. We pass Everards Brewery. I close my eyes and daydream about necking a pint of Sunchaser or Tiger.

I clock a sign for Aylestone Leisure Centre. Aylestone Park is a football club that former Leicester City striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker started his junior football career at before being spotted by the Foxes. We're soon on the A6 entering the village of Kibworth Beauchamp. We swing a right into the the Coach and Horses car park, which is being power washed by a young, disinterested lad.

We're treated like royalty by the landlord. I saw a few negative reviews on Trip Advisor. I'm only here for the beer. I down a pint of Wainwright from the Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn. We sit in the cosy bar. Tony Blackburn's Pick of the Pops is playing songs from 1972. The best by a country mile is 'Backstabbers' by The O'Jays. A bacon and brie sandwich and a basket of chips is a steal for £5.

Desborough is just over the Leicestershire/Northants border. It's between the towns of Market Harborough and Kettering and lies in the Ise Valley. It has a population of just over 10,000. We park across the road from a Co-op. The Desborough Co-operative Society was founded by local men in 1863. Sticky Palms loves the Co-op.

It's a short walk to the ground. It's £5 on the gate. I stump up £1 for a raffle ticket. I should be in with a shout, as I'm not expecting too many to show up today. The ground has seen better days, but this is what attracts me to it. It has low level cover behind the goal and up the nearest touch line. The Social Club is tucked away outside the ground. The old clubhouse was destroyed in a blaze back in 2008. It had a viewing gallery above the pitch. It has bags of soul and character.

 
The poor old PA guy is suffering a nervous breakdown. He plays a Boyzone CD and leaves it running. It's the first time I've contemplated suicide since Lincoln City appointed Chris Sutton as manager in 2009. It's too late for a refund, the teams have kicked off. Both clubs are mid-table, although Desborough have played more games.

The woodwork is rattled at both ends as the match begins at a frantic pace. The visitors are wasteful in front of goal, as chances are spurned. A shanked clearance flies over my head and ends up in the undergrowth. Folk are looking round at me to fetch it. Chuff that, I've got my £40 black winkle pickers on from Gordon Scott up Lister Gate in Nottingham.

Deeping take the lead with a beautifully executed goal. I grab a bottle of water at the break and watch the highlights of WBA v Everton on Setanta Sports in the Club. I'm gutted not to have won the wine, chocolates or biscuits in the raffle, as I notice the winning numbers chalked up on a blackboard.

Desborough are terrific in the second half and totally dominate the game. Deeping rely on blocks, clearances, saves and the occasional counter-attack. I watch the final 15 minutes sat on a wooden bench in the stand. I've thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Attendance: 54

Man of the Match: Sticky jnr who danced his way through Underwood MW and D H Lawrence.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nostell Miners Welfare 1-5 Cleethorpes Town

 
It's 7pm on Friday evening. I'm stood at the bus stop outside The Fairway pub in Keyworth, with my boy Sticky jnr. Big Col Stol is giving me pelters from the pub's smoking shelter. We're off out to see some old work colleagues who have been made redundant this week. I could have hung around for some wonga, but I was desperate to leave and couldn't miss out on the opportunity that came my way.

Sticky jnr is growing up a bit now; he's 19 in November. We had some run-ins when I ran his football team last season. I'm proud to say that he never received one caution. He's landed an apprenticeship at Barratt Homes. It was all going swimmingly on his induction week. On his second day on site in Leicester I received a text to tell me he had cut his thumb. See picture below  ...... ouch. The fool played football for his local village team at night. He didn't volunteer to go in goal.

The night out with my old work colleagues makes me feel flat and sombre. 'Shifty' has landed a job and 'The Zuffler' has a second interview, ironically in Loughborough, where I work. Some of these folk I'll never see again. It makes me feel sad. We only manage three pubs in the Canning Circus area of Nottingham: Hand and Heart, Organ Grinder and The Falcon, before I jump on the 12:30am Trent Barton bus outside The Approach on Friar Lane.

 
Saturday morning seems strange. I no longer work for Notts County as Head of Talent ID at the Academy. I'd usually be dashing around a few games in Nottingham city centre, before heading off groundhopping. It will leave a huge void in my life.

'The Skipper' is playing football at Tividale near Dudley. A parent has very kindly taken him. It's just me and my faithful budgie, Murphy Palmer in the house today. Sticky Palms Cleaning Services are in full flow. Windowlene, Domestos and Jif are given an outing in the bathroom. Forget Hilda Ogden or Winnie off Early Doors, I'm the boss when it comes to cleaning.

I jump in the Rolls Royce and head down the A46, up the A6097, joining the A614 before jumping on the A1. I fell in love with a pub I went to twice last season in Ossett. It's only 8 miles from Nostell's ground. I sail up the M62 and I'm soon parking up outside the Brewers Pride opposite a tractor.

 
I love the flagstone floors and open fires. There are usually seven guest ales on. I plump for a pint of Farmers Blonde from the Bradfield Brewery in Sheffield. I scan the lunchtime menu. Beer-battered haddock in a ciabatta sounds rather appealing and turns out to be so.

Tom Tom sends me through the city of Wakefield. I'm soon back out in the open countryside in the village of Crofton. I have a spot of bother finding the ground, before an opening appears at the end of a housing estate, as some filthy black clouds hover over the Crofton Centre, the home of Nostell Miners Welfare.

The Club play in the village of New Crofton, which appears to have had some money thrown at it, probably from the Coalfield Regeneration Trust. They were formed in 1928 and are nicknamed 'The Welfare.' Former Stockport County and Norwich City striker Oli Johnson began his career here.

 
Those black clouds have opened up and emptied vast amounts of water onto an already sodden surroundings. I sit in the car, with steamed up windows, as it rains cat and dogs on the roof. I finally venture out five minutes before kick-off, only to be told by a friendly club official that the start time has been put back by 15 minutes.

The thunder and lightning is spectacular. It sets off house alarms. Power is lost in the community centre for a few brief seconds. I walk into the entrance, past the National Union of Mineworkers flag. Nostell Colliery closed in 1987. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a cracking programme, my favourite of the season so far. There's even a folded team-sheet inside the programme; a nice touch that.

I sit in the main stand that towers over the pitch. I admire the new playing surface. They've spent close on £100,000 on a complete make-over. It is a beauty. The new drainage system is put to the test on its first outing, as it's sheeting down with rain.

 
I get chatting to a guy from the FA. He asks if I'm a groundhopper. I haven't brought a rucksack, programme cover or Tupperware sandwich box, so how the hell does he know? "You're not a referees' assessor are you?" I ask the man. "Yes mate." he replies. "Bloody hell." I say under my breath.

The Welfare are struggling a wee bit this season, whilst visitors Cleethorpes Town are flying high. They were in my neck of the woods last week, playing against Radcliffe Olympic in the FA Vase. The teams walk out to some God damn awful rap song. I'm begging for a power cut as the rain continues to lash down.  Two brave saves by The Welfare 'keeper prevent Cleethorpes taking the lead in the first minute.

The first injury of the day is on ten minutes when Sticky Palms bangs his head on a barrier, bending over to pick my programme up. I'm as hard as nails, physio is not required. Cleethorpes take the lead with a bullet header from an inswinging corner out on the left.

 
The game has a real ebb and flow about it. The heavy surface proves a great leveller. Cleethorpes passing game is a joy to watch, without an end product. Nostell get the ball forward quickly, using the 11 jacket's pocket rocket pace.

I've noticed on my Livescore app that former Lincoln City winger Lennell John-Lewis has scored for the Mariners. I love the Grimsby Town chant to the Beach Boys song 'Sloop John B' - "His name is a shop, Lenell John-Lewis, his name is a shop."

The Welfare equalize on 46 minutes following some sloppy defending. The visitors are rocked for ten minutes or so and let Nostell come onto them. The visitors take the lead, replicating their first goal. It ends up 5-1, a tad harsh on Nostell who were in the game for an hour.

Attendance: 42

Man of the Match: Referee Colin Whitaker (different gravy)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC 2-1 Rossington Main

It has broke my heart to resign as Head of Talent ID and Recruitment at the Notts County FC Academy. I'll miss trawling the three to four mile radius of inner city Nottingham each weekend, looking for fresh talent. They call scouts the 'Nowhere Men.' I'm the man who stands away from the crowd, dressed in plain clothes.

The guy I have reported into for over seven years is Mick Leonard, who played in goal for the Pies and the Spireites for over 500 games. He has been nothing short of first-class in his support for me in the role. One or two youth players are already regulars in the First Team. There's a conveyor belt of talent waiting to come through. For me though, it's time to move on.

It's 6:15pm on Friday evening. Murphy the budgie is sat on my hand predicting tomrrow's FA Vase score in Chorlton, Manchester. He whistles three times for West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC, sadly there's not a sausage for Rossington Main.

 
A grey Mondeo estate toots its horn outside my yard. It's blog legend White Van Man (aka the Big Man). As I slip into the passenger seat I eye-up the four cans of Stella that the Big Man has treated me to. He's just back in town after a trip to Borneo and Malaysia. He went with Bruiser, who is the biggest shirker in south Notts.

Blimey O'Reilly, the M6 is like a car park. Folk are shelling out big bucks for rides on Nottingham Goose Fair this weekend. You won't get a bigger thrill than the 'Death Ride' WVM' gives me on the country lanes off Junction 17 near Holmes Chapel. We pull up outside our plush apartment in Didsbury Village at 8:30 on the nose.

 
The Big Man has come up trumps with the accomodation, despite the landlord being associated with X-Factor act Kingsland Road. I'm soon necking a pint of Boon Doggle at the Royal Oak. White Van Man jaywalks the main drag and hails a black cab. We head up to the more popular area of West Didsbury. First port of call is The Metropolitan, which back in the day was a grand Victorian railway hotel. I down a pint of Vanilla Porter, a Colorado craft beer. It's absolute nectar and makes me feel all queasy.

We hook up with legendary Keyworth United centre forward, Tom Aldred, who works for Barclays in Manchester. I'm gutted I've forgot my autograph book and pen for Tom to sign. We visit a few more bars, before calling in at The Drawing Room. Manchester loves to embrace its musical culture. We're treated to The Smiths, New Order and The Stone Roses. We retire to the apartment for a late Grey Goose nightcap. Sticky Palms collapses on the sofa in a heap.

It's 11:00am when we finally awake from our slumber. We head out onto Barlow Moor Road and dive into the Crema Cafe, for a full English breakfast, with black pudding from Bury. There's a commotion across the road in the churchyard. Cops are crawling all over the joint. Rumours spread of someone being attacked in the early hours. A crime scene is taped off. A couple of ageing cops walk into the cafe to make discreet enquiries.

They are questioning the till girl in Ladbrokes as I place a £1 bet on Jordan Rhodes to score the first goal for Blackburn (the bolt later misses a penalty).

West Didsbury has a population of 14,000 and lies 4 miles south of Manchester. Neighbouring Chorlton-cum-Hardy is of similar size and is the home of West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC. Notable residents gone by to have lived in the area include: Alcock and Brown, the first men to fly across the Atlantic, the Bee Gees, Doris Speed (Annie Walker) off Coronation Street and the actor Warren Clarke.

We drive down what appears to be a dead end. It suddenly opens up to reveal the ground situated in a dip. It's a beautiful setting. It's tree-lined, with grass banks and housing backing onto it. A cheerful chap on the gate charges us £5 and £2 for a programme.

We stroll across to the modern clubhouse. I'm too hungover for alcohol and opt for a Diet Coke. The place is bustling. You can buy beanie hats, scarves and mugs. WVM spots me biting my nails. An early goal will settle our nerves. In 7 years of groundhopping we've never done a 0-0. The PA is crystal clear, sadly there's no Mancunian music being played.

It's a beautiful sunny day, as 'West' kick into a light wind. White Van Man has spotted some 'gripper' on the 'West' bench; he'll be taking his eye off the ball for most of the afternoon. The home team's bald-headed No.8 clatters into an opponent. The 'Big Man' remarks he may be taking an early bath today.

 
It's like a scene from 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' in the 'West' technical area. They only just all squeeze in there. 'West' boss the game. It's a miracle that they take 44 minutes to open their account, with a scruffy goal from a 'Rory Delap' long throw.

I shout a tea up for WVM at the break. I'm served by a glum-looking club official. The committees of both clubs tuck into egg and cheese sandwiches with pots of tea. We are kindly offered some left-overs. I stare at the TV screen in disbelief. Barrow Town in the Conference North are entertaining Lowestoft Town. It's a 650 mile round trip. It's bloody madness for a part-time club.

My old boss from my previous job walks into the bar. He lives in east Manchester. We have a good rattle and catch-up in the second half, which once again 'West' dominate. Scott, (old boss) has the brass neck to flick back the matchball with the outside of his left foot before I touch it. How rude!

Baldwin-Willis appears to have put the game to bed for 'West' with a thumping drive. The crowd of 59 are left on tenterhooks with Rossington chalking a goal back five minutes from time.

The inevitable happens close to full-time with 8 jacket being dismissed for a second yellow card. When Sky sacked Keys and Gray, they should have called up WVM and Sticky, because we can't arf 'call it.'

Attendance: 59

Man of the Match: The Drawing Room, in West Didsbury: "Sheila Take a Bow"