Sunday, September 14, 2014

Harrogate Railway 3-1 Clitheroe

It's Friday night, most Non League fans have got FA Cup fever, Sticky has a different sort of fever. A high temperature, runny nose, hacking cough and sore throat sees me spend the night under the duvet on the sofa with Murphy the budgie for company. I'm 50/50 for tomorrow.

Not many groundhoppers with these ailments would be pulling on their Parka jacket with a furry hood, packing their rucksack, with a pristine conditioned plastic programme cover and a Tuppawear container with Marmite sandwiches, with a flask of tea. Sticky is made of sterner stuff. I pass a late fitness test carried out by Dr Finley, the rabbit. His crap Non-League tips are back open for business. He says whatever game I go to will be 2-1 to the home side.

I switch on Sky Sports. Ryan Sidebottom is celebrating Yorkshire's County Championship title at Trent Bridge. It's a ground where he has played the best cricket of his career. His 6-30 for on Friday morning has done for Notts. How they must wish they had dangled the carrot of a three year deal.

I hurtle down the A46, A6097 and up the A614 into north Notts. I turn right into the old mining village of Bilsthorpe, where in 1993 three miners died after a roof caved in. I pitch up at the Bilsthorpe Sports Ground and view a youth game. I've already made my mind up to travel to North Yorkshire to watch Railway v Clitheroe.

Blackburn Rovers supporter and comedian Lee Mack is on Radio 2. Big Audio Dynamite is booming out the radio speakers as I sail up the A1. I overtake the Boston United team coach which is on its way to Stockport County. The Pilgrims suffered a 7-1 midweek home defeat to Oxford City, who the previous Saturday were thumped 8-1 at home to AFC Fylde.

Tom Tom has a Dicky fit and brings me off a junction too early. After negotiating a few tight bends I soon hit the spa town of Harrogate. It has a population of 75,000 and in 1982 hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Notable people born in the town include: footballers Andy O'Brien and John Scales, actor Hugo Speer and commentator Jon Champion. Electro-Techno band Utah Saints are from Harrogate.

I pass Harrogate Town's Wetherby Road ground on my right. It's a hefty £12 on the gate for their game against Solihull Moors. Customers spill out onto the pavement as they queue for lunch at Betty's Tea Rooms. I clock a short stay car park in the town centre. Just around the corner is the Royal Baths. Wetherspoons have transformed a former ballroom into a pub called the Winter Gardens. There is a large dining area and upper gallery.

The service is sloppy and the barmaid is surly. The real ale situation is an omnishambles. The Ruddles and London Pride are off. A sulking Sticky Palms settles for a pint of Stella Artois. I return to the bar ten minutes later to order up a sandwich. Staff are swanning around looking disinterested. The Bar Manager couldn't give two hoots. I down my Stella and head for the door. I can't even be bothered to fire off a complaining tweet to J D Wetherspoons.

Railway's Station View ground is on the edge of town in an area known as Starbeck. I wanted a second view after seeing them knockout Garforth Town in the previous round. I take a stroll around Starbeck, admiring the terraced housing and tight streets.

It's £6 on the gate and £1.50 for the programme of the season It has a nice little quiz question: Who was the first foreign manager to win the FA Cup? The ground has bags of soul and character. There's a large red-bricked, two-tiered clubhouse adjacent to the car park. Behind the dugouts on the far side is the raised Shaun Glenn Stand. I take a pew and strike up a conversation with a guy who reminds me of how vital, financially, this game is to Railway.

The pitch is on a huge side-slope but is like a carpet. These two teams fought it out on Monday evening in a League game, with Railway scoring a late winner.  A guy wearing a jacket, shirt and tie and drainpipe trousers is calling all the shots for Clitheroe. A fitness coach is carrying out the drills. The Railway PA man has side-splitting humour. He calls the 'keeper 'Top of the Stops.' The Stone Roses boom around the stadium.

Clitheroe is in the Borough of Ribble Valley in Lancashire. Goalkeeper Carlo Nash was spotted playing for Clitheroe by Crystal Palace. They have the lion's share of possession in the first half.  There's some neat build-up play but a reluctance to pull the trigger.

A small ruddy-faced man dressed in a beige corduroy jacket with a salmon pink shirt and sandy coloured shoes is pacing up and down the terracing. He swears at the fitness coach, over a difference of opinion over a Clitheroe player, despite having a broad Lancastrian accent. A Railway player takes a shot in the face and is felled to the ground. The ref stops the game so the player can be treated. There's an altercation between a Railway fan and the Clitheroe warm-up man.

Clitheroe take the lead just before half-time. Zach Clark is in acres of space on the left, he cuts inside and unleashes a shot into the bottom corner of the net. Railway reply immediately through Lamin Colley, who won them the game at Garforth. The suited and booted Clitheroe manager, Simon Garner abuses the linesman for not flagging offside. He boots the Crofton Building Services advertising hoarding with his shiny leather shoes, before limping to the changing rooms for half-time.

Mr Ruddy Face has already had a tantrum and stormed off for a brew. I mention the manager's outrageous behaviour to Clitheroe's lady chairman. Not only will his foot need treatment by the physio but the bucket man will need to nip to Clarks at the break to bag a new pair of shoes.

On 47 minutes Clitheroe's skipper is shown a straight red for an elbow on my man Colley. Mr Ruddy Face suffers a headloss. He pours abuse on the officials with a stream of expletives. His parting shot, before disappearing into the distance is "you gutless bastard." The Clitheroe bench are petulant. They take their eye off the game to make fun of the officials. They are pathetic. Railway score again with the Clitheroe 'keeper cleaning windows.

Leading scorer Nathan Cartman puts the game to bed. He rounds the 'keeper and rolls the ball into an empty net to put Railway into the hat for Monday's draw.

Man of the Match: Greg Kidd

Attendance: 116

Quiz Question: Ruud Gullit

Monday, September 8, 2014

King's Lynn Town 2-1 Nantwich Town

For the benefit of King's Lynn and Nantwich Town fans: I've written this blog for over 8 years. My favourite character is a pal of mine called Trumpy Bolton. I'm not saying he enjoys a tipple or two but he'd probably drink Coronation Street's Peter Barlow under the table.

He has one aim in life and that is to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland. He has a dog-eared atlas with all the places he's been to highlighted off. in a yellow marker. He keeps credit card bills and receipts from places he has visited in ring-binders, filed meticulously in alphabetical order.

It's Saturday morning 7:30am. I'm driving the 'Rolls Royce' to Clifton to drop off 'The Skipper' as he's making his debut in the under 18 Midland Junior Premier League in Wolverhampton. Radio Nottingham are playing 'Troublemaker' by Olly Murs. Olly's not in good books in our yard. We'd asked him to retweet that it's 'Non League Day' and have not heard a sausage from him.. Different when he was begging me and Murphy the budgie for his votes in a sing-off on X-Factor.

I head back home and wolf down a huge fry-up  in the cafe in my village. I drive up 'the Bronx' to pick up the legend. A rather impatient Trumpy Bolton is pacing up and down the street. He's wearing his trademark striped polo shirt and cotton traders blue tracksuit bottoms.

He's soon telling tales of a recent adventure to the Shetland Isles, where he chalked off 25 pubs in three days. The 12 hour crossing was 'brutal' as they caught the fag end of a hurricane blowing in from the USA.

The legend chortles about a no-show from Graham Norton on his Radio 2 Saturday show a few weeks ago, as Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' is played on the station. We overtake the Harrogate Town team bus, who are enroute to Lowestoft Town, in the Conference North today.  We firm up a date to visit either Holbeach United or Pickering Town. Trumpy has one pub to tick off today; it's the Anchor Inn in Sutton Bridge.

Bolton has already polished off a litre of pear cider in the car, as his eyes light up at a bouncy castle in the car park. The place is mobbed. There's a kids party on in the back garden. Bolton necks a couple pints, whilst Sticky sips at a pint of cider. I'm pleased to get out of the place, the service is appalling and the children are a bloody nuisance, tearing around the bar.

We hit the town of King's Lynn at lunchtime. Trumpy claims to know the area like the back of his hand. We park outside the cop shop.  It takes a full ten minutes of moaning and complaining before we finally stumble across the Dukes Head Hotel in the market place. There are more tears from Bolton when he is greeted with the news that the real ale pump is out of action. He downs a pint of Tetley's in two minutes flat and heads back to the car.

King's Lynn is a sea port and market town in Norfolk, with a population of just over 40,000. Notable people born here include: Queen drummer Roger Taylor, motor racing driver Martin Brundle, Welsh rugby international George North and former Kent cricketer Martin Saggers. I once came here on a school geography trip. We wandered around a tin fruit factory and saw a boat-load of Skoda's stacked up on a ship from Hamburg. It's all I can recall.

We park up near to The Walks. Bolton sniffs out a back street boozer called the Lord Napier. It's exterior would suggest it's seen better days, but inside we find it to be a belter of a pub. We're joined by Ackers and his 5 year old son Daniel. The 'Bonkers Conkers' real ale is going down a treat. Trumpy orders a cheese 'n onion roll that is the size of a Scooby snack. "Should keep me going until Wednesday" he chuckles.

The ground is a short walk away and appears to be in a dip. There's a large queue. The Linnets usually attract over 500 supporters. It's £10 on the turnstile and £2 for a programme packed out with adverts.

The original King's Lynn FC was founded in 1879. The Club was wound up in 2009 with debts of £77,000. The Walks is a cracking ground. The masterpiece main stand runing along the near touchline is the star attraction. We stand on the terracing behind the goal the Dabbers of Nantwich will attack in the first half.

We're told that the game is to be broadcast live on Radio Norfolk by the PA man, as he warms-up the crowd with Dario G's 'Carnival De Paris.' A furious and ruddy-faced T Bolton catches up with us. Earth-shattering news has reached him that the bar is closed for a wedding reception. He's crying into his £3.50 tin of John Smiths.

Nantwich start brightly. An effort is cleared off the line by the last defender. The Linnets take the lead slightly against the run of play, when a supposed cross from Jack Ramm on the far right catches the 'keeper napping and somehow ends up in the back of the onion bag.

King's Lynn double their lead with a low left foot drive from former Nottingham Forest winger George Thomson. I remember signing his brother, Rory for Notts County a few years ago. They live in a village on the Notts/Leicestershire border.

At half-time Trumpy harangues the commercial manager and questions her about the bar being closed. He's introduced to Buster Chapman, the Club Chairman. Buster apologises to Trumpy. He says it was booked over a year ago and they had hoped to move the fixture. They end up chatting about Buster's other passion: Kings Lynn speedway team.

Nantwich peg one back through Aaron Burns to set-up what should be a grandstand finish. King's Lynn continue to work the Nantwich 'keeper. Trumpy perks up with 25 minutes to go when Linnets sub Steve Spriggs trots onto the park. Trumpy spent a good 20 minutes chatting up his mum at Newport Pagnell a few seasons ago.

There's a health and safety incident on 80 minutes. Ackers' lad is caught red-handed by an eagle-eyed steward, hanging upside down like a monkey on one of the safety barriers. He gets a dressing down from the surly club official.

King's Lynn have been good value for their win. There's still time for a final real ale in the Rose and Crown in the old mining village of Cotgrave in south Notts.

Attendance: 552

Man of the Match: T Bolton

Monday, September 1, 2014

Garforth Town AFC 1-2 Harrogate Railway

It's Friday tea-time and I'm driving from work up the A60 from Loughborough to Nottingham. I'd be normally looking forward to a cold Stella, some 6 Music and a read of the Nottingham Post. Something's preying on my mind though. It has sent shivers down my spine for most of the day.

I burst through the back door and scamper up the stairs. I put on a vest and a pair of shorts and borrow Sticky junior's dressing gown. I walk out the back door and down the garden steps to the Rocky theme tune. I partake in a brief bout of shadow boxing, followed by the 'Sticky Shuffle.'

I plonk myself down in a garden chair. Junior is like the smiling assassin. Even that crap Non League tipster, Finley the rabbit, is having a ringside chuckle.  The bucket of ice cold water is tipped on top of my head. I don't squeal or show a flicker of emotion; the reason being I can't get my breath. Thank God that is over.

I get out of bed on Saturday morning, feeling my calf. Looks like I've picked up an injury following the 'Sticky Shuffle.' I'm out the door pretty damn quick. I've a few junior football games to watch before the trip up north.

I spot a couple of pubs on Nuthall Road in Bobbers Mill that I need to chalk off - the Nags Head and The Whitemoor. AA Routefinder has suggested the best route to Garforth is up the A1. I've had some rotten luck on that bloody road just lately. I stick on the M1 and its laborious stretches of 50mph speed limit. I exit at Junction 46 and join the A63 towards Selby.

Garforth is a town within the City of Leeds Metropolitan Borough in West Yorkshire. It has a population just shy of 25,000. Like many places in the north, it relied heavily on the coal mining industry. Kaiser Chiefs guitarist Andrew White was brought up in the town.

I'm struggling for a decent boozer out the Good Pub Guide. I pull into the Miners Bar and Kitchen,
which is adjacent to a Hungry Horse pub. The place looks like it's had a bit of a revamp. A friendly barmaid pours me a pint of Distant Sun golden ale from the Caledonian Brewery. I order up a small Tex Mex. The place is hardly swamped with customers.

Jesus Christ what the hell is this. They must have nipped out to the local Iceland to fetch it. The garlic bread is cremated and the you could play hoopla with the onion rings at a local village fete. "Everything to your satisfaction sir." "Yes thanks love." It is what it is, as Billy Davies used to say, after conceding another late goal. No need for Tricky Trees fans to worry today, as they lead Sheff Wed 1-0 at Hillsborough.

I make my excuses and dart for the exit - wish I'd gone to that Hungry Horse now. Garforth Town's Wheatley Park Stadium on Cedar Drive is only a short distance away. The club were formed in 1964 and are nicknamed The Miners. In 2003 they were bought by Simon Clifford, a man who was once recruited at Southampton by Sir Clive Woodward.

Massive press attention surrounded Garforth during Clifford's spell at the helm. Having strong connections in Brazil he managed to wheel out the legend Socrates onto the pitch for the final 12 minutes of a game against Tadcaster Albion in front of over 1300 fans. Lee Sharpe also turned out for The Miners.

In September 2010, he was up to his tricks again, announcing that Paul Gascoigne was to be named as manager. Gazza had a change of heart, though. Clifford left a legacy, including a battered old yellow van with 'Brazilian Soccer Schools' painted on the side. It is said that Manchester City's Micah Richards was discovered at one of his soccer schools.

A friendly steward gives me the low-down on the Clifford era. Not been seen for a while by all accounts. I have a pint of 1664 in the bar that leaves you feeling like you've been drinking in a leisure centre. The Burnley management team of Sean Dyche and Ian Woan celebrate a point against Man Utd in the live game on TV.

It's £6 on the gate. "Sorry mate, no programmes today, trouble at the printers." That old chestnut pal, I say under my breath. The ground is fairly unremarkable apart from a large stand with an elevated view and one of the best playing surfaces I ever seen at this level.

I earwig a conversation between two Harrogate Railway officials. It seems there's been an oversight, between them the bungling fools have forgot to bring any water bottles. I stand on the far side of the pitch next to a couple of flat-cappers. Garforth's 'keeper is the tallest man on the planet - he reminds me of Zeljko Kalac who played for Martin O'Neill's Leicester City.

Garforth play with a stiff breeze at their backs. Passes are overhit and chances are snatched at until the 20th minute when a well-flighted free kick is headed in (looked like handball from where I'm stood) by Curtly Martin-Wyatt. Railway lose their confidence and are pleased to hear the half-time whistle. Christ on a bike, the music blasting out from the PA is amongst the worst I've heard in eight years of groundhopping. I couldn't even put a genre to it. Railway nip out to Tesco's for a 24 pack of bottled water.

The first 25 minutes of the second half is utter tosh. Neither team look like they'll score in a month of Sundays. Railway throw caution to the wind, bringing on Lamin Colley and play three up top. The boy is like a breath of fresh air. He ghosts past defenders, leaving them trailing in his wake. He sets up the equaliser for Cartman. It's a shame that Colley's left his shooting boots in the railway sidings as he scuffs, tops and shanks efforts at goal. Baker plays a give and go before firing Railway into the next round of the FA Cup.

Man of the Match: Lamin Colley

Attendance: 120

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Penistone Church 1-0 Worsbrough Bridge

I daren't look in Tosh and Steve's face when crafty smoker, Felix Hogg taps in the winner with the last kick of the game between Bulwell and Clifton. They must be sick to the pit of their stomachs that deja vu has reared its ugly head again twice in a week. It's on the drive home that we find out that Bulwell born cricketer Luke 'the Bulwell Bomber' Fletcher has hit the winning runs off the last ball to hand Notts a quarter final home tie against neighbours Derbyshire.

It's Friday evening. I having the death ride from hell. Sticky jnr is chauffeuring me to a real ale trail in Arnold. Bless him, he's never driven down the Nottingham ring road before. He drops me off close to the newly refurbished Robin Hood and Little John. The Zuffler, Simon and Sticky snr head towards Mansfield Road and stop off at the Vale Hotel, Doctor's Orders, The Gladstone and Bar Deux.

Quote of the night comes from The Zuffler: "Ron Atkinson has more chance of landing the Crystal Palace job than Malky Mackay", has me spitting real ale all over the floor. Zuff advises that I catch a taxi back into town. I walk from behind the Council House towards Friar Lane to catch the 12:30 bus back to my village. Two Chinese lads are playing table tennis. I thought I'd dreamt it for a moment. I was going to have a quick game before I hopped on the bus, but don't fancy a 21-0 drubbing.

I roll out of bed, get washed and shaved, before heading out to watch a game. I'm driving through my favourite part of Nottingham - Canning Circus. It has a mini pub crawl of its own - there's the Organ Grinder, The Falcon Inn, Sir John Borlase and the Hand and Heart. I pass Radford Boulevard, an area of town where I have picked up so many talented boys, who I hope one day will play for Notts County first team.

It's a straight forward drive up the M1, exiting at Junction 35a, joining the A616, before turning off onto the A629 towards Huddersfield. I have a nice little low beamed pub lined-up in the village of Shepley called The Farmers Boy.

I'm welcomed by the landlady, as she pours me a pint of Copper Dragon. I order up a beer battered haddock butty. A pub bore is droning on about the sacking of Mark Robins at nearby Huddersfield Town. "Players got him the sack, supporters can't pick the manager." #yawn

I navigate my way to the town of Penistone, driving through small hamlets, whilst admiring the dry stone walls and stunning scenery. Penistone is in the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley, with a population of 10,000 people. Everton defender John Stones attended Penistone Grammar School.

The Church View Road ground is rammed full of vehicles. I make a u-turn and park up outside some old people's bungalows. It's £4 on the turnstile and a £1 for a cracking programme. The ground is everything I'd expected. First port of call is the newly refurbished clubhouse. Aston Villa and Newcastle Utd are playing out a snore draw on BT Sport.

The clubhouse is a corker. They've two real ales on tap. I have a cup of Kenco coffee instead as it's hosing it down with rain and I need something to warm me up. A chap behind me is holding court about how he performed his Ice Bucket Challenge in the bath. An area is cordoned off so club officials can share a pot of tea and some sandwiches at half-time.

The game begins in drizzling rain. Finley the rabbit has refused to predict the score, his baby brother, Murphy the Budgie has gone for a 2-1 win for Worsbrough. Murphy will be disappointed to hear that their best player, Adam Podmore was wiped clean out by an opposing 'keeper, so has missed the team bus.

I stand on the far side of the ground, admiring the low covered stand on the opposite side and the black slated roofs of terraced housing in the distance.There's controversy on the half hour when Briggers centre forward is upended by the Church 'keeper. The referee has no alternative but to brandish a red card. Astonishingly the replacement 'keeper saves the penalty. If anything Church look more dangerous with ten men.

I back in the clubhouse for a warm at the break. Forest, Notts County and 'The Lincoln' are all in front at half time. Reports are coming in from inner city Nottingham that Sticky jnr has been withdrawn by Keyworth United's manager after 75 minutes so that he can spark up a fag.

The visitors are bloody awful after the break. Alvin Riley turns the Briggers left back inside out, before firing in a cross which appears to be turned into his own net by a defender. Penistone are rampant now and go in search of more goals.

Worsbrough's No.9 is having a Weston Super Mare. He couldn't trap a beach ball in a telephone box. He's shanking, topping and slicing his shots on goal. Briggers don't look like scoring in a month of Sundays. Their captain has proper got the monk on. He's effing and jeffing. I earwig him and the No.8 talking. They have a £10 bet on whether they will score or not.

Three old fellas are asking me to find out the Castleford and Leeds rugby league score on my phone. Bloody hell, I don't even follow rugby league. I'm getting all stressed out because I can't get a signal. "I think Leeds are winning, gents", I say sheepishly.

The victory is greeted by a huge roar from supporters around the ground. Penistone Church FC has a real community feel about it. Everyone mucks in and visitors are made to feel welcome. Hopefully I'll catch them again on their travels in the NCEL Division One.

Attendance: 111

Man of the Match: Penistone Church Skipper (3 jacket - different gravy)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bulwell 2-1 Clifton All-Whites

I am sat in a Spanish bar in the harbour of Cala Bona, in Majorca peering out towards the Med.  I wave my hand to gain a waiter's attention. He knows the score - Sticky loves his Tanqueray. I feel my phone vibrate. I fish it out my pocket. It's Tosh, the manager of Clifton: what the heck can he want at this time of night? "What's that Tosh, you've booked a late deal to Majorca and want to hook up for a drink on Thursday lunchtime." I see a pair of piercing eyes across the table: "Fancy another Gordon's, love ?"

It's 8 Euros on the bus to Cala D'or. We're meeting up with Terry, who is the general manager at Bulwell FC. He's staying at a villa tucked away behind the marina. We've arranged to meet in Smugglers Bar.

Bloody hell, it's hot today. I traipse down to the harbour from town, I'm sweating buckets. Thank Christ I'm wearing my Olly Murs straw boater. Smugglers is closed. I clock a local bar further down the street. The three of us are soon quaffing pint after pint of a local brew. Terry mentions that Bulwell and Clifton are to cross swords in the Central Midlands South Division a week on Wednesday. I promise to blog it. I have no recollection of the taxi journey home. As Tosh would say, I'm well and truely spangled.

Five days later I'm stood with 'The Skipper' watching the dying moments of Clifton v Hucknall. All Whites are one to the good and are running down the clock. Hucknall score in the 94th & 96th minute. I can visibly see that Tosh and Steve Hardie are rocked and hurting.

I'm out the door at work at 5:30pm on the dot. I fly up the A60 from Loughborough to Nottingham. I'm greeted with the most exciting news of the day on arrival at home. Mrs P has bagged a 'Taste the Difference' ham hock and cheese sandwich for 74p, down from £3.

Regular readers will know that for the last 8 years Finley the rabbit has had a stab at the scoreline of any game I blog. He doesn't want to offend either Tosh or Terry. "1-1" he whispers in my ear.

A rather tetchy 'Skipper' is on board this evening - he's collecting his GCES from school in the morning, so is a tad anxious. He's banished to the back seat and told that Capital FM and their six records played a day will not form part of our short journey. 'The Taxman' makes a welcome return after 6 months on the bench. I've missed his moaning and groaning about Billy Davies and Nottingham Forest.

Bulwell play at Basford United's Greenwich Avenue ground. It's £3 on the gate, including a programme and free entrance for under 16s. Basford United are the big money men of the Midland Alliance. Plenty of dollar has gone into sprucing up the ground. I'm taken aback at the quality of the pitch - you could play crown green bowls on it. It's hardly surprising though, when you have a qualified groundsman like Neil Swift at the helm.

I love nights like this, when all the local characters congregate at a game. The roll call is impressive: Malc and Kev the groundhoppers, Big Glenn on a spying mission from Bilborough Pelican and John Harris from Priory Celtic are celebrities amongst a crowd that will swell to 60 (head-count).

Clifton start the game like a house on fire. Jake Richardson bosses it at the heart of defence and joins in attacks, Ben Richardson has a terrific touch and technique, whilst winger Connor Hardy works the full back. They're ahead on two minutes after a mix-up at the back. They are wasteful in the final third: Gill and Hardy spurn chances, whilst Danny Johnson's delightful chip comes back off the woodwork.

An elderly Scottish chap is running the line on our side of the ground. Tosh and Steve will engage in some banter with him as they're both fluent in Scottish.

Tosh is called into action with the smelling salts for a dazed 'Banno.' Terry roars with laughter at the theatrics. All this for £3. It's better value than that ham and cheese sandwich. There's been action at both ends, with the unfortunate Dwayne Soar, of Bulwell, breaking his nose after colliding with his own player. There's been some brilliant swearing throughout the evening, as the excellent young referee blows for half-time. Bulwell shade it by 79 swear words to Clifton's 78.

I bump into Swifty at the break; he delivers the most devastating news of the evening: the Co-op on Strelley Road is closing, those bastards Asda have bought it. I will never wear my George underpants again. The Bulwell No.8 wanders out the changing room for a crafty fag, a bit like Wilshere does at The Emirates.

'The Skipper' is refuelled with a tray of chips smothered in tommy ketchup - he'll be choking on them if he doesn't pass his O' Levels tomorrow. I don't know what Terry has put in Bulwell's tea, but they are a different proposition now. They work the wings, particularly the right flank, where gaps appear following a Clifton double substitution. They equalise at the death following a beautifully flighted cross from Jake Fisher on the right.

The referee has already indicated to his two officials that time is up. Finley the rabbit will be doing the moonwalk and bunny hops in his run. Eight long, barren years of crap non league tips in association with Sainsbury's are about to come to an end. I ring up Sainsbury's to order a bag of carrots as a reward, just as Felix Hogg taps in the winner for Bulwell:

"Errr mate  ..... cancel those carrots, will you."

Attendance: 60

Man of the Match: The Referee (Sam Kane)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tadcaster Albion 5-0 Barnoldswick Town

I drive up Nottingham Road towards Keyworth village centre. I swing left in The Square onto Selby Lane, one of the most affluent parts of my village. I'm soon breezing through the countryside towards the village of Widmerpool. At first I don't recollect where St Peter's Church is located. Memories flood back of a friend's wedding over 25 years ago.

I park up on some scrubland across from the churchyard. I want to pay my respects to one of the greatest talent spotters this country has ever produced. I walk through the gate, up some steps and branch off to the right. It doesn't take long to find his grave. There are no fresh flowers and his headstone is lob-sided. Peter Thomas Taylor is laid to rest here. How Nottingham Forest could with him right now and one of his Non League gems like Garry Birtles or Peter Davenport.

Five days later I'm walking through a sea of German replica football strips with the names Muller and Klose printed in black lettering on the back of white shirts. I'm in the Majorcan seaside resort of Cala Millor. Clough and Taylor always brought the players out here after to celebrate a League title or European Cup final win.

I clock the Sportsman's Bar beneath the Cala Millor Park Hotel. I order a bottle of ice cold San Miguel and get chatting to a lass behind the bar from St Helens. There are hundreds of photos of Nottingham Forest players and management. There's folks like Liam O'Kane, Ronnie Fenton, Alan Hill and of course Clough. Sadly there's not one of Peter Taylor, who died in this resort at the age of 62 in 1990.

I don't wake up until 9:00 on Saturday morning. Murphy the Budgie is livid; he's already missed one hour of the Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s Show. I try to make amends by unwrapping a honey bar I bagged from Wilko's in Loughborough for 50p. But the mardy little sod is having none of it and turns his back on me.

I make a pot of tea for one. I lob a Yorkshire Tea teabag (hard water only) into the pot. I have a breakfast for kings - Marmite on toast. I wander down the garden towards Finley the rabbit's crib. It's our favourite time of the week. For 8 years now Finley has had a stab at a Non League score prediction at the game I'm going to.

What the hell are my spectacles doing in Finley's yard? I only had one can of 1664 last night. I don't recall any rough 'n tumble or frolics with my eldest lad. I pick them up and place them in my pocket. Finley says that Taddy will thump Barlick 3-0.

The bloody A1 is a pain in the arse. There's standing traffic at Junction 34. I pull off onto the M18 and go up the M1. I'm spoilt for choice on the radio today: there's Danny Baker on 5Live, Test Match Special on Radio 4 LW or Patrick Kielty on Radio 2 - the latter plays a Northern Soul classic - 'Do I Love You' by Frank Wilson.

The news is thoroughly depressing though: one man is dead and 31 are seriously ill after illegal immigrants are found in a container at Tilbury Docks. There's been a murder in Urmston in Manchester and a plane has had to make an emergency landing at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster.

I roll up into the car park of the Old Sun Inn at Colton in North Yorkshire. It's too overcast and blustery to take a seat on the open terrace. I make myself snug in the bar of this 18th Century watering hole. A pint of Collingham Blonde is accompanied with a warm pork pie, mushy peas and a plant pot full of hand-cut Yorkshire chips. The music from the CD player is varied - we're treated to David Essex, Stevie Wonder and Kinobe - I'm that chilled out, I could have forty winks.

I've an FA Cup extra preliminary round match to go to. Tadcaster is a market town in North Yorkshire which lies on the River Wharfe. It has a population of 7000. It is famous for its three breweries: Tower (Coors), John Smith's and Samuel Smith's.

Tadcaster Albion were founded in  1892 (originally named John Smiths) and are nicknamed the Brewers. Today's visitors are Barnoldwick Town from Lancashire. I fell out with a pie-eating Barlick supporter a few seasons ago at Congleton Town. He spat flakes of pastry into my face and spilt gravy down my new coat from Next. I'll be hunting down that halfwit in the snack bar later.

The i2i Stadium is smack next to the John Smith's Brewery - there is no evidence of their sponsorship though. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for the programme which is a very informative and  professional read.

I'm taken a back at this beautiful tree-lined ground. With its quirky, steep wooden stand behind the nearest goal and the immaculate playing surface. That ruddy-faced pie-eater from Barlick will be rubbing his huge hands with glee at the thought of a fried chicken wrap or a Yorkshire Pudding wrap filled with beef and drenched in gravy (like my coat).

The stadium DJ thumps out some toons from Calvin Harris, Rudimental and Insomnia as the teams line up for the customary handshake.

Barlick took a 5-0 drubbing at Nelson during the week and they are soon behind to a Calum Ward 9th minute goal. Both teams spurn golden chances as Barlick inch their way into the game. The Brewers Josh Greening is light on his feet and has an exquisite touch. His brother Jonathan played for Man Utd, WBA, Fulham and Nottingham Forest.

The smell of yeast and hops drifts across the ground from the brewery. I scroll down my Twitter timeline. Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest are two a piece at the Reebok Stadium. Sticky junior will be jumping up and down in his bedroom.

The Barlick defence has more holes than a string vest in the second half. Carl Stuart bags a hat-trick as Taddy run riot. Amongst the mayhem there is a shining light for Barlick. Their diminutive 11 jacket Joel Melia is worth every penny of the gate money. He ghosts past the home defence with ease. The ball sticks to his boot like glue. He shimmies, drops his shoulder and fizzes a shot just wide of the upright.  I'll watch them again, just to see him. His non-stopping running and energy levels are why I watch the beautiful game at this level.

Man of the Match: Joel Melia

Attendance: 106

Sunday, July 27, 2014

St Ives Town 0-2 Histon FC

It's Friday June 13th. Forty colleagues crowd around me on the Sales floor of Ergo Computing, a place I've worked at for almost 15 years. I'm showered with leaving gifts and asked to say a few words. I'm struggling to keep my emotions. I'm touched by the lengths some folk have gone to, in ensuring I have a great send-off. I quaff a few real ales at the Ruddington Arms and say my farewells. It's time to close this chapter in my working life and move on to pastures new.

I'm sat with the Mayor of London and Big Bear Baker on the terrace of The Plough in the village of Wysall. It's a place where I will begin to write my book, when I finally get round to it. Earlier in the evening we'd stood aghast as Notts battered Yorkshire into submission in the T20 Blast. James 'Titch' Taylor thumped 'Sideshow' Sidebottom for 18 runs off 4 balls. James 'Aretha' Franklin smashes a six back over Tim Bresnan's head to win the game with 5 balls spare. I celebrate with a pint of 'Right Turn Clyde' from the Blue Monkey brewery.

I roll out of bed at 9:00am. Murphy is swinging on his perch, whistling his little head off to 'You've Lost That Lovin Feeling' by The Righteous Brothers. He's rewarded with some crack cocaine (sprig of millet) and a new chew bar. There's just time to re-fuel Finley the rabbit with some fresh water before dashing out the door. Finley's crap non league tip today is 3-0 to Histon.

I shoot across to Grantham before joining the A1 towards Peterborough. Trumpy Bolton is going to be a bit miffed as he'd earmarked a trip to St Ives a while back. But I can't hang around all season waiting for him to pick and choose.  Anyway, it's a good opportunity to catch up with Histon again.

It's sweltering outside and good to have the air con on. John Bishop is standing in for Graham Norton on Radio 2. He plays the 1989 hit 'Can You Dig It?' by Manchester indie band The Mock Turtles.

I pull into a long stay car park as I fancy a mosey around this historic market town. St Ives lies 12 miles north west of Cambridge. It has a population of 16,000. Former heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner and his family lived in the town having fled Hungary in 1956 following the Uprising.

First port of call is Boots. I snap up a bargain pair of sunglasses at half price. I'll have the ladies of St Ives in all of a flutter once I wear these bad boys. I give the face-painting stall a wide berth. I don't want to get stung like Young Kenny did on the 'Phoenix Nights Open Day.'

After a bit of a wander around I finally chance upon the Oliver Cromwell public house tucked away in a side street close to the river. I order up a pint of Broadland Sunrise and a smoked salmon baguette. I sit in the courtyard. A chap in the corner sparks up more ciggies than Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.

I wile away an hour or so pottering around the place. If you want your computing fixing, fish 'n chips, a Chinese take-away or a barbers then St Ives is the place to be. I pull into Westwood Road,, home of St Ives Town, in plenty of time. The club was founded in 1887. Striker Conor Washington scored 64 goals in 60 appearances. It earnt him a move to Newport County. He now plays for Peterborough United following a reported £500,000 transfer last season.

I grab a bottle of water from the Refreshment Hut and stroll across to the far side of the ground. I plonk myself in the stand and watch the rigorous warm-ups. Histon manager Brian Page eyes his team watchfully. There's no Gilbert O'Sullivan flat cap today. A guy in my stand annoyingly shouts down his phone like Dom Joly off  Trigger Happy TV. He then proceeds to have a sneezing fit as he downs a pint.

Histon will expect a stiffer test today than they did a fortnight ago at Cogenhoe. The first half is played at a pedestrian pace. Neither team look likely to hit the onion bag. Thoughts start to enter my head that there might be another bloody 0-0 on the cards. Ten minutes before half time Histon take the lead through McLaughlin.

I decide to go and stand on the opposite side as two young lads have cheesed me off all game by getting up and down at regular intervals as well as rattling their packets of Skittles and Haribos every ten seconds.

There's an extraordinary incident just before the break. St Ives 7 jacket scurries down the byline and whips in a fantastic ball, the keeper comes out and is smashed with the stray boot of an incoming forward. The referee plays on. A woman next to me is incandescent with rage. She's giving the referee pelters and ain't shy in an eff or jeff too. St Ives No.7 tells her to "eff off." It livens up a dull game.

The second half is far more entertaining. The Histon 'keeper is forced into some fine saves. Histon wrap the game up with five minutes remaining with a strike from Relizani. Once again Histon's Peter Clark has caught my eye. His darting runs, change of pace and passing skills will surely find a bigger and better stage than this.