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 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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Skegness Town 0-0 Clifton All Whites

I'm in the 'Rolls Royce' driving up Ruddington High Street. At my side is 'The Skipper.' For the last 10 years he has captained his village team on a Saturday. On Sundays he has represented one of the most famous football clubs in our Shire - Clifton All-Whites. Famous players to have donned their all-white strip include: Jermaine Jenas, Jermaine Pennant, Viv Anderson, Darren Huckerby and Garry Birtles.

We swing in through gates of their Green Lane ground. It's the first pre-season training session of the season. The first team manager is James 'Tosh' Turner. This effervescent, bubbly, enthusiastic character and brilliant coach is setting up tonight's drills with his mobile phone glued to his ear. He beckons me across: "Sticky, what yer doing on July 19th ? Fancy Skegness Town away."

It's Friday night. I've had a few quiet beers on the patio. Marouane Fellani pops round to introduce himself to my rabbit, Finley. It's 11:00pm. I laid flat out on the sofa coughing my guts up. I've had the dreaded lurgy all week. I lost my voice for a few days - not great news when you're in the customer services game. Murphy is perched on top of my pillow, plucking all the feathers out.

It's teeming down with rain on Saturday morning. I grab a few bits and bobs together before heading out to the east coast. The A46 is a breeze these days. I turn the radio on. Murphy the budgie will be whistling his little head off at Herman Hermit's on the Sound of the 60s Show on Radio 2.

I'm in 'The Lincoln', birthplace of Sticky Palms. The rain has cleared. Lincoln Cathedral dominates the skyline. The journey through Wragby and Horncastle is painstaking. Reports are coming through that Tosh and the gang have tipped up at Wolfies Wine Bar on the seafront. Tosh allows the boys a few looseners as part of this team-building exercise. It's an old Brian Clough trick.

I decine his kind offer of a 'few sociable scoops' and head towards Gibralter Point Nature Reserve. I walk through the bracken and heather, over the sand dunes and onto the beach. It's a beautiful, peaceful spot to wile an hour away or so.

I drop into the Bateman's Brewery at nearby Wainfleet. I neck a pint of 'Yella Belly' and enjoy a spot of lunch. I roll up at Skegness Town's  Burgh Road ground in plenty of time for kick off. The first person I bump into is Sean. He's managed my boy for the last five years and is passionate about the Club. I scour the room and note that their are lots of families from Clifton who have made the trip.

Skegness is a seaside town in the civil parish of East Lindsey. It lies 43 miles east of Lincoln, with a population just shy of 20,000. Butlins in Ingoldmells was the site of the UK's first holiday camp. Notable people born in Skegness include former Liverpool and England 'keeper Ray Clemence and Rainbow lead singer Graham Bonnet.

Skegness Town were formed in 1946. The black comedian Charlie Williams once played for the Club. His catchphrase was "Me old flower." He used to respond to rascist heckling from punters by saying: "If you don't shut up, I'll come and move in next door to you."

I take a customary stroll around the ground. It's a health hazard to the right of the clubhouse as I attempt to reach the only seated area. The grass is knee-high full of nettles and thistles. Planks of wood and broken fencing are strewn about the place. I'm going to have to put a call in to Tommy Walsh off Ground Force.

I take my seat in the stand. Five pensioners on the back row are enjoying some banter. I ask if it's okay if I take a photo. "We're Lincolnshire's most wanted" quips one OAP. I look across to the far side. Dressed in all red, including his face, is Tosh's sidekick, Steve Hardie.  There has been a reversal in fortune since his arrival. Tosh and Steve led Clifton to the Central Midlands South Division title last season. Steve looks to have spent the close season at the Clifton Kwik Tan Salon.

Clifton are wearing a rather fetching red strip. It was donated to the Club by QPR'S Jermaine Jenas. There's nowt doing in the first period as both teams struggle with the stifling heat. The linesman on the far side is having a 'Weston Super-Mare.' A spectator remarks that the 'lino' once cost him a year's ban. I enquire why. "I threatened to knock him out at my lad's game." Oh dear.

Sean shouts me up a cider at the break as I start to think the unthinkable. This could be a 0-0. Tosh makes a few changes. Ben Clark, with his brilliant first touch and gifted footballing brain is replaced by former Nuneaton striker Nicky Kennerdale.

The entertaining Jaylee Hodgson has a cigar on at the back. He's had more clubs than Peter Stringfellow. He never wastes a ball, working in tandem with the impressive Jake Richardson.

Tosh throws on a couple of 16 year old kids with 30 minutes remaining. It's a managerial masterstroke. Clifton get the ball wide to their young guns. The Skegness defence is peppered with crosses. Only an outstretched leg prevents young Ross from opening the scoring.

The final whistle goes. It's my first 0-0 since Jan 2012. Bloody hell, all those so-called mates of mine will be terrorizing me on the social networks this evening. It'll be the usual suspects - White Van Man , Bruiser and The Zuffler.

Tosh has a pub crawl lined-up for the lads. I'll catch up with him again on Tuesday when they travel to Gedling Miners' Welfare.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cogenhoe United 1-8 Histon FC

It's Thursday July 10th. I'm piloting the 'Rolls Royce'  through the picturesque village of Widmerpool in south Nottinghamshire.  Buried in the churchyard of St Peter's is the former assistant manager of Nottingham Forest, Peter Taylor. He died in the Majorcan resort of Cala Millor, where I'm off on my hols in a few weeks. I haven't got time to pay my respects right now, as I'm picking up Big Bear Baker, the Mayor of London and Mad Dog from Willoughby.

We jump on a bus to Trent Bridge; it's the second day of the First Test v India. It's the usual roll call in the Southbank Bar.  We bolt down a big breakfast; with a pot of coffee and not real ale. Prime seats are taken in the middle section of the Radcliffe Road End .

If only the cricket was as good as the banter. England won't bowl at the stumps and India won't put out the rod. We sink a few in the NFFC Supporters' Club at lunch. The most exciting part of the day is when India lose a flurry of wickets. The last wicket stand is painstaking and productive. We get to see England bat for an hour before piling into the Larwood and Voce and the Stratford Haven for some post match real ales. I stumble into a taxi with Barthez at nine bells. I've work in the morning. I can't be hanging.

It's been an eventful few months since my last groundhop. I've lots to share with you all: a new job, retirement from youth football and a real ale trail in Nottingham. I'd been looking at a game the previous weekend. Potential fixtures fell by the wayside as teams either double-booked fixtures or failed to raise a team. Thorne Colliery and Winsford United will have to wait until later in the season.

It's the usual drill on Friday evening. I sit on the patio, sinking a bottle of Beaujolais, kindly bought by a parent from the team I used to run. I watch the sunset, chuckling away at the endless anecdotes in Danny Baker's 'Going to Sea in a Sieve.'

I'm dispatched down the garden early doors on Saturday morning. There's lots of chopping, huffing and puffing. I have a quick wash. What the hell is the theme tune of Eastenders blaring out the bedroom door of 'The Skipper' for ? The lazy sod is watching it on catch-up. 'The Skipper' is making his debut for Clifton All-Whites Ressies. I drop him off at the ground and wish him good luck. I hook up with Phil as we take the familiar route down the M1 South.

I love the Stag's Head at Great Doddington. The village has some beautiful stone buildings, decorated with glorious hanging baskets.  I enjoy a refreshing pint of Kronenbourg 1664 and a brie and bacon ciabatta, whilst basking in the lunchtime sunshine.

The village of Cogenhoe (pronounced Cook-nuh) lies 5 miles east of Northampton. It has a population of 1500. Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves once lived in the Old Rectory in the village. I never knew he had it off with Valerie Singleton - a Blue Peter badge for that one kid.

It's all kicking off near their Compton Park complex. The village fete is taking place today, with a car boot on Sunday. It's busy in the car park as there is also a cricket match in play.

It's a rather pricey £6 on the gate. The programme is £1 and is sadly without squad names or player profiles. We are treated to seven pages of United Counties League news, which is copied and pasted from Press releases. I should be okay for a signal as a Talk Talk phone mast is fitted to one of the floodlight pylons.

It's a tidy enough ground. I prefer them to be in the heart of the community, like they are in the old mining towns. The cricket match next door provides some noise and cheers. A batsman is dismissed; a fielder pipes up with the Billy Smart's Circus theme tune.

I've no idea if this is the Histon first team, as they look a little fresh-faced and young. The under 21s had played a little earlier. I've always admired Histon who are also a village team. I'm a big fan of their former striker Dan Holman, who signed for Colchester United  on Friday from Braintree Town.

Looking at the size of the Cogenhoe team I can't see them lasting much longer than an hour in this baking heat. The pitch is well manicured and in perfect nick. Histon are managed by Brian Page, who I know has done very well at youth level for the Club. It's great to see him given a chance with the first team. Not sure about his choice of headgear today - he wears a flat cap. I thought it was the 70s Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan for a moment.

There's no pattern to the game in its early stages until Histon striker Franklin Mensah lampoons a shot over the 'keeper into the roof of the net. The youngsters gain confidence and are 4-0 up by the break, with one or two smart finishes.

Cogenhoe boss Andy Marks tells his players to get tighter to the two runners in midfield who are bossing the game. I give 'The Skipper' a call; he's as happy as Larry with a 4-0 victory over Newark Town stiffs. The second half is a non event. Cogenhoe manage to bag one, a further four from the Stutes gives Sticky Palms a good start on the goal front this season.