Sunday, January 18, 2015

Walsall Wood 1-1 Shaw Lane Aquaforce

I
I've worked in Loughborough for the last six months and have become very fond of the place. I've enjoyed canal side walks and ambling around the town centre. Waterstones has become a favourite lunchtime haunt of mine. I must have made over 50 appearances at the Loughborough branch, hiding from the cold and rain. Staff in there must have thought I was some kind of serial stalker. I didn't even buy a book in there.

The reason for my rambling is that the office has moved to Ruddington, near Nottingham, ironically opposite a company I worked for over 15 years. It's literally a five minute drive from my house, and yet I'll be starting earlier and finishing later. Hopefully, good times lie ahead.

It's Friday evening and I'm sat in the Keyworth Tavern with Mrs P, drinking a pint of Castle Rock's awarding-winning Harvest Pale Ale. There's no sign of blog legend Trumpy Bolton. Rumours in the Keyworth News are that he's signed up to the January dryathon. I clock a poster on a wall by the entrance. It says there's a 'Ska Night' coming up in a few weeks. Trumpy's party piece is 'Special Brew' by Bad Manners. I'll be dropping by for that one.

On Saturday morning I receive a text at just gone 7:00am to tell me 'The Skipper's' game has been frosted off. It's been a frustrating time for my lad; his team have struggled to attract players this season. Had the Club not been so hasty in calling this one off, they would have found perfect playing conditions, with sun-kissed skies by 10:30.

I'm having problems with my youngest lad, Murphy the budgie. I open his cage door and beckon him to jump on my finger. He's staring head first into his mirror. I can see he is in a filthy mood. He swings his head back and brings it back with such force, that I'm surprised the head butt doesn't crack the glass in his mirror. I've not seen such a vicious assault since Dion Dublin stuck the nut on Robbie Savage in 2003. The reason for Murphy's mood swing is two fold: one, he's been overlooked for the managerial vacancy at Norwich City (they did appoint an unknown though) and two, I forgot to switch Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2. He's soon whistling to The Troggs 1966 hit 'Wild Thing', as I rustle up a bacon sandwich.

I scanned the FA Vase 4th round draw earlier in the week. The stand-out tie for me is between Walsall Wood and Shaw Lane Aquaforce from South Yorkshire. It's a tick-off for me. Pitch condition updates from 'The Wood' twitter feed have been excellent this week. They confirm the game is on.

There are a dozen hooligans wearing designer clothing and baseball caps, loafing about in my lounge. What's popping? It's D***y v NFFC on the box. 'The Skipper' is in the kitchen making everyone coffee. Having sampled one, there's still hope for Phil Neville yet.

Murphy is perched on the back row of the settee. He's soon diving for cover when Sticky jnr starts to trash the room after Henri Lansbury's 50 pence head puts the Rams 1-0 up. I leave them to it. I punch the postcode into the sat nav and head towards the A50 and A38. I switch on 'Radio Red', it seems that the Tricky Trees have settled down a bit and are beginning to carve out a few chances.

I begin to lose reception as Zaire-born, leading scorer, Britt Assombalonga puts Forest on level terms. Murphy will be hiding on top of the curtain rail, as Sticky jnr goes mental. I press a couple of buttons and chance upon Radio D***y. They have a couple of clowns commentating; one of them is Craig Ramage, who takes great pleasure in slagging off Stuart Pearce for most of the game. I remember this bone-idle waste of space playing 50 times for the Pies in the late 90s. Derby-born Ben Osborn's late winner makes the moment even sweeter as Ramage bleats down his microphone. Poor old Murphy will probably be in intensive care.

I can't find a decent hostelry in the Good Pub Guide for love or money in this area of Walsall. I swing the 'Rolls Royce' into the Oak Park Leisure Centre. I walk past the Shaw Lane team coach and wander through some wrought iron gates, before parting with £7 on the gate, including  a programme.

The place is already bustling with folk. I notice a memorial pithead in the distance to the far side of the changing rooms. I get chatting to a tall bald-headed fellow who says he recognises me. I bloody hope not, as it turns out to be former Football League referee Phil Prosser. He once ran the line in a Champions League game between PSV Eindhoven and Bayern Munich. Phil now mentors young referees. 26 year old Lisa Rashid is today's official.

I take a pew on a wooden bench on the back row of a stand on the far side of the ground. Phil and I have a good chinwag. He tips me the wink on one or two grounds that I ought to visit, Brocton being one of them.

'The Wood' have done well to get this game on. The pitch is heavily sanded on the touchline close to the dugouts. Shaw Lane could have scored in the first 30 seconds, while 'The Wood', a minute later, actually do, with a textbook finish by Evans.

Poor old Shane Kelsey has an equaliser controversially chalked-off, Morris is the perpetrator, lazily walking back in an offside position and then clumsily colliding with a defender. Kelsey doesn't have to wait long for justice. He equalises from the spot, following a stonewall penalty. Shaw Lane enjoy a golden thirty minute spell as the chances stack up. Tackles are flying in, and there is a flurry of yellow cards, but the game is well controlled by young Rashid, as Phil scurrilously pens notes in his book.

I bump into some groundhoppers from Northampton at the break. One of them is related to Newcastle United goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who has been farmed out to Nottingham Forest on loan. There are long queues at the bars. I hot foot it back to the stand. There's no sign of Phil; I must have bored him to death.

The second half and extra time is dire. The game's best player, Shaw Lane's left back, Luke O'Brien is controversially sent off for a professional foul, even though he isn't last man. There's a cameo performance from one of Sticky's all-time favourites, Anton Foster.  Shaw Lane play for an hour with ten men, but deservedly earn a draw, forcing a replay.

Attendance: 169

Man of the Match: Luke O'Brien.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stapenhill 0-2 Radford FC

I'm still cooing over the eleven goal thriller at The Dovecote. In 45 years of watching football, it's my biggest aggregate scoreline. Christmas is a quiet affair. I'm dry on New Year's Eve for the first time in living memory. I spend most of it chuckling away at Danny Baker's autobiography, 'Going Off Alarming.'

Last Saturday I accompanied White Van Man and Bruiser to the Leicestershire Midland League derby between Quorn and Shepshed. It ended honours even at 1-1. WVM must have had Grand Theft Auto 6 as a present for Christmas, as we hurtle down the tight country lines near Prestwold, where ironically there is  a purpose built 1.8 mile racetrack, where his skills might be put to better use. Highlight of the day at Quorn is when the tea lady tells a head-shaking Bruiser that there's no tucker on at the snap cabin.

 
It's Saturday morning. I'm clipping a fruit stick onto Finley the rabbit's cage. It's a treat from his Uncle Fod for tipping him that Lallana would bag at anytime versus Swansea the other day. Finley's no mug when it comes to the Premiership, but is an utter fool on the Non League circuit. He sticks his floppy ears out his front door to assess the gusty conditions, before predicting a 0-0 bore draw. Big Glen Russell at Radford FC doesn't do 0-0s Finley. Anyway, it's been three years since I saw my last competitive blankety blank (Skeggy v Clifton doesn't count, Tosh took em on the lash at lunch).

Finley has been suffering recurring nightmares since Christmas. My bad readers. I let him in the lounge one cold afternoon. We curled up on the sofa and watched Watership Down together. I totally forgot the film has a few dark moments and a couple of rabbits bite the dust. He's only just got over Glenn Close butchering that pet rabbit in Fatal Attraction - unfortunately that was my fault too.

I nip in the lounge before dropping 'The Skipper' off at Clifton All-Whites. Murphy the budgie is dive bombing Mrs P. He's squawking and squealing. Who can blame him when he's being force fed Whitney Houston on the Graham Norton's Radio 2 show - well, she's not actually on it, because she died in a scalding hot bath in Beverley Hill back in April 2012 due to an overdose of prescription drugs. 'So Emotional' by the Newark born singer (that's the one in New Jersey, not to be confused with the town near Lincoln) is irritating my little feathered friend.

 
After dropping 'The Skipper' off, I pitch up at Bread 'n Lard Island (West Bridgford). It's Nottingham's version of Knightsbridge. I've got to get my windows fixed otherwise I'm going to have more plasters on those frames than Jack Duckworth. I have a Mr Magoo moment as I walk past Specsavers without seeing it. Once again, they provide excellent customer service. I bag a Swiss cheese and chorizo Panini at the brilliant No.8 Deli on Gordon Road.

Bloody hell, my phone's going off, what's popping? Ooh heck, The Skipper's game is off: it's a no show from the opposition from Birmingham.

I play around with my new Garmin sat nav, recommended by resident blog drunk, Trumpy Bolton, as I drive the 'Rolls Royce' through Kegworth and onto the A50. I'm soon turning off onto the A38 and navigating towards the village of Repton in South Derbyshire. I pull up opposite the Bulls Head on the High Street.

Repton is famous for its private school. There's a huge list of former pupils including: Harold Abrahams, Roald Dahl, Jeremy Clarkson, Basil Rathbone, Robert Sangster and Derby midfielder Will Hughes. Former Ipswich Town defender Russell Osman was born in the village.

The Bulls Head is a beauty and candidate for Pub of the Year. I was tipped it by a Bluenose at work. I love the low beams and pillars. They have six real ales on hand-pull. I opt for a pint of Purity Gold brewed in nearby Warwickshire. The main dining area is stacked out with folks. It has a wonderful ambience. Wood-fired pizzas are proving popular, as are The Smiths and Jake Bugg (one of our own) on the pub sound system.

 
White Van Man will be regretting missing out on this trip, there's a chippy adjacent to the pub called Good Buy Mr Chips - it sells the best Pukka Pies in the area. Stapenhill is a 15 minute drive up the road. After negotiating a few tight country lanes, I roll into the Maple Grove car park half an hour before kick off.

I'm greeted by a friendly chap on the gate. I part with £5 for admission plus a programme. The Club official tells me there's a groundhopper from Wigan in the social club. Bloody hell, I bet he's caught three trains and a bus.

I bump into Radford FC manager 'Big Glenn Russell', who is warming the troops up. He's left star turn John King on the bench. Glenn has brought a few with him from disbanded Nottingham outfit Bilborough Pelican.

 
I like the ground, it's in a nice spot. It has cushioned leather seats in the nearest stand, with further cover behind the goal closest to the clubhouse. You can only view from three sides of the ground, with the dugouts being situated on the far side. There are some dreadful RnB toons blasting out the PA. Norman Collier's faulty microphone is once again in use as the PA guy reads out the line-ups.

'Big Glenn' nearly loses his baseball cap in the swirling wind as he jumps off his seat in the dugout and stomps into the technical area to remonstrate with his two centre backs: "Stay in the f***ing hole", he shouts.

Radford take an early lead through Dave Udoh. They're soon 2-0 up, slightly against the run of play, following a cool left foot finish by the impressive Sheriff Babatunde. It's the same old story at half-time, as I warm my hands with a piping hot mug of tea, Forest, Notts and the Stags are all losing.

 
Joe Meakin continues to control the midfield. He keeps it simple and can pick a pass. Surely he is destined for a higher level of football than this. Where are the spotters ?

I've chanced upon the 'Wigan Groundhopper' - I can't understand a bloody word he says - he sounds like Eddie Waring. He's got to catch a bus and three trains back oop north. He's not happy when the ref plays 8 minutes injury-time. Golden rules of proper Hoppers are that you never leave until the final whistle. I'm sure I see him shed a tear as his choice of bus sails up the road. I offer him a lift into Burton, but he's having none of it - he'll be lucky if he's home for Songs of Praise at this rate.

Attendance: 56

Man of the Match: Joe Meakin

Monday, December 22, 2014

Shepshed Dynamo 6-5 Continental Star

Word has got out in our yard that somebody in our crib has bagged a ticket for Olly Murs at the Nottingham Capital FM Arena. Me and Murphy Palmer the budgie are incandescent with rage. We used to idolise Murs on the X-Factor. Every week Murphy would peck out his number with his beak to keep him in the competition. We even bought straw boater hats and sang 'Troublemaker' in tandem. All we asked from him was a retweet for Non League Day back in September. We heard nothing; Jack diddly squat. If his CD turns up in our house on Christmas Day I will not be held responsible for Murphy's actions. He'll scratch and peck that CD to death.

It's Friday evening and I'm driving up the A60 from Loughborough to Nottingham. I'm buzzing. I had the honour of ringing the sales bell at work today. I swing into the Rancliffe Arms car park in Bunny. I hook up with The Zuffler who I worked with for almost 15 years. We down a pint of Everards Sunbeam and have a catch up. We firm up a visit to Basford United's Greenwich Avenue ground when they entertain the Boatmen of Dunkirk on December 27th. As I walk into the house I'm accosted by 'The Skipper' in the hallway. His best mate plays for the Burton Albion youth team. They are rocking up in our patch tomorrow, to play Notts County out in Arnold.

I drive the back way, down the A46 and onto the A6097. Capital FM has been on the radio for 15 minutes; it's doing my duck in. They only have six records; one of them, by Swedish House Mafia, has been played on this station on every hour of every day since 1898. I'm getting suicidal tendencies. I threaten 'The Skipper' that I'll drive the car off Gunthorpe Bridge and into the River Trent unless he changes radio station.

 
Arnold Town's Eagle Valley ground is full of pot holes and puddles. It's the first time I've viewed Pies youth since I resigned as Head of Talent ID at the Club, a position I held for seven years. We watch a beautiful game of football played in a tremendous spirit. County race into a 2-0 lead, but are pegged back to 2-2 at the break. The winning goal comes early in the second half. I chat to a few players and parents that I've not seen in a while. 'Our' goalkeeper is only 15 and is making his debut. He's already spent a few weeks at Manchester United. Mick Leonard and I spotted this kid kicking-in at a tournament up at Eastwood four years ago.

I was going to watch Clifton All-Whites across at unbeaten Mickleover Royals, but a virus has swept through the Clifton camp. I've got Shepshed up my sleeve as back up. I wolf down a bacon sandwich. Murphy is doing somersaults on his perch; his team Norwich City have equalised at 'The Sheep Dip.' I head up the A60 and turn off towards the village of Hathern, where I once saw a player score a goal from inside his own half. I've got Smoove and Turrell's album 'Broken Toys on the CD player. The Zuffler and I saw them bring the house down at The Donkey on Welford Road in Leicester.

 
The Rose and Crown in Zouch is snided out with folk; I haven't time for a pint of real ale today. I turn into Butt Hole Lane and park up on a steep hill across the road from The Dovecote. It's £6 on the gate. I'm greeted by 'Van Man Dave' and the lovely Jackie Hughes. We have a little chinwag as I part with a couple of quid for a programme and £1 for a golden goal ticket. Dynamo manager Jeff Stocking is handing out gifts to all the staff - what a great touch this is. Shepshed are certainly one of my favourite clubs. I used to love it when White Van Man and I followed them for a few seasons when Ian Screaton played for the club.

There are a couple of brilliant questions in the programme: Name the Stockport County manager, who having gained promtion in 2008, refused to give an interview to Sky Sports, because of a dispute with the company over his broken Sky box? Who is the only footballer to have appeared on Top of the Pops twice on the same night? Answers at the bottom.

The Shepshed BWA supporters are unfurling their flags on the far side of the ground. They have promised on Twitter a few new songs today. The DJ gets the crowd in a Christmassy mood with songs from Wham and Mariah Carey.

 
Shepshed begin brightly. Courtney Meade is playing up top for them. Notts County sent me to watch this boy when he was at Oadby Town. He has pace, a good technique and a goal or two in him, but only comes alive when the ball is at his feet.

Dynamo lead 2-1 at the break. The main attraction has been the singing by the Shepshed BWA. Cowell and Walsh are missing a treat here. They'd definitely make 'Judges Houses' with their rendition of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' by Tightfit. As for their dancing - 'it's a ten from Len.' I have a quick chat with Shepshed Chairman Mick Sloan and some big friendly guy, whose name escapes me.

The second half is a pleasure. On 16:07 Sticky Palms gets his grubby mitts on the match ball. It's a little game that us Groundhoppers play. Levi Porter is worth the gate money alone. He made 39 appearances for Leicester City. Quite why he has landed at The Dovecote is a mystery to me. He bags a brace in the second half as Dynamo go on the rampage. The Shepshed BWA are in fine form. News filters through that local rivals Quorn are getting battered  6-0. It's greeted with "We hate Quorndon."

One or two of the visiting team's players are going to ground with injury. The female physio is kept busy. Lucky I didn't bring Trumpy Bolton with me; he'd be faking a hamstring injury again. Incredibly Continenetal Star score three times in the final ten minutes. In the dying moments they go desperately close to levelling at 6-6.

What an ending. In 45 years of watching football and 8 years of groundhopping I have never seen 11 goals in a game. Many thanks to both sides.

Attendance: 137

Man of the Match: Levi Porter

Quiz answers: Jim Gannon and Steve Archibald

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Worksop Town 2-1 Westfields FC

 
It's been a sombre and sobering week. I attended the funeral of my former youth leader, mentor, friend and secretary of the Cricket Club. The speeches were spine-tingling, tear-jerking and moving. What a send-off they gave him. The only light relief in our household over the last few days has been when me and Murphy the budgie practise our Muttley the dog impressions. I've got to say that mine is coming on a treat.

I firm up the trip to Worksop with blog legend Trumpy Bolton. I've been trying to get up there for the last eight years. They were locked out of their Sandy Lane ground for a while by their Landlord. I had hoped to hook up with north Notts correspondent Dudsey; sadly he's on domestic duties.

Having valeted the 'Rolls Royce' and filled her up with petrol, I chug up the 'Bronx' to pick up our hero. He's instructing Mrs Trumpy on how to scrape frost off his car as he saunters down the drive swinging his Scottish Co-op bag that is filled with booty (cider).

 
It's a crisp winter's day as we head out towards to the A46. Trumpy's not having Graham Norton on; we compromise on Gem AM and George Benson's 'Never Give Up on a Good Thing' (Jesus wept). Trumpy recalls a string of tales from recent trips to Southampton and Cirencester. He's embraced the 21st Century by investing in an iPad. I can only imagine that some of the websites he visits are not for the faint-hearted.

He's booked into the Bristol Premier Inn for five days at Christmas so he can chalk a few more boozers off. He's intrigued by inner-city St Paul's and promises to pay them a visit. We pull into The Lock Keeper at Gateford, close to Worksop. It's just gone midday, but the pub is already bustling with folk. We have a pint of Marston's Pedigree. Trumpy is totally unmoved by Susan Boyle on the jukebox.

Trumpy is Leicester mad, be it football, cricket, rugby or speedway. He sneers in my direction when I mention I had a pint of 'Carl Froch' from the Castle Rock Brewery the other week in Cambridgeshire. "He's not in the same class as Tony Sibson or Rendall Munroe, the boxing binman from Leicester."

 
Next port of call is one of those dreadful Sizzling pubs called The Millhouse, just down the road from Worksop's ground. A few youths, looking worse for wear from the night before, are cheering on Newcastle United who are entertaining Chelsea. Bolton shouts up a pint of real ale and a Strongbow cider for himself; it's just a light refreshment for Sticky. I wolf down gammon and chips as the legend plays with his chicken breast and jacket potato, which can only be described as the palest and driest dinner I have ever seen in my life.

Senegal striker Papiss Cisse scores from close range to put the Magpies 1-0 up as Trumpy downs his fourth pint of the day. There's one of his legendary sneezing fits as we exit the pub. The ground is situated behind one of those ghastly retail parks.

We're flagged down by a guy in a fluorescent jacket. "Who are you?" he enquires. "You might find this hard to believe, but I'm a football supporter", I remark. "You could be the bloody Taliban for all I know", he quips as I'm ushered into a car parking spot.

 
Worksop is a town in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire with a population of 45,000. Coal mining provided thousands of jobs in the 19th and 20th Century. By the 1990s all the pits had closed. Premier Foods are now the town's biggest employer. Places of interest include Mr Straw's House and Clumber Park.

Famous residents from Worksop include: golfers Lee Westwood, Mark Foster and Maurice Bembridge, goalkeepers Darren Ward and Ian Bennett, Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, John Parr of 'St Elmo's Fire' fame, actor Donald Pleasance and former England manager Graham Taylor.

The guys on the gate are reminiscing about last week's top of the table clash with Tadcaster Albion. Jonathan Greening was sent off after three minutes for a flailing elbow. It finished 2-2 in a feisty encounter. Trumpy has blotted his copybook and needs to brush up on his research. The Grafton Hotel, Worksop's finest real ale house, is just around the corner.

 
It's £5 on the gate. The programme is terrific value for only £1. I also grab a couple of golden goal tickets. The Club claim to be the fourth oldest in the world. They were founded in 1861 and have played at Sandy Lane since 1992, although they were evicted by their landlords for a number of seasons. They plunged into financial meltdown last season when their owner pulled the plug. Notable former players include: Arsenal legendary manager Herbert Chapman, who was born down the road in Kiveton Park and former sausage factory worker Chris Waddle, whose son is one of the subs today.

Bolton is directed towards the bar by a friendly steward, as I take up my position to the left of the away dugout. There's no music or crackling PA today. The winners of this tie will be in the final 32 of the FA Vase.

Worksop look very sharp in the game's opening exchanges. Everything seems to come through pint-sized midfielder Conor Sellars, son of former Newcastle and Blackburn winger Scott Sellars, who until recently was Head of Academy coaching at Manchester City.

 
It's a pulsating first half with chances at both ends. The Tigers of Worksop take a deserved lead on 33 minutes, captain Jake Scott releases the ball to Conor Higginson, who cleverly chips the ball over the advancing 'keeper and into the onion bag.

There's controversy moments later when the linesman awards a penalty when the bearded No.7 from ZZ Top takes a tumble in the area. Westfields score from the spot.  Trumpy's bottom lip quivers when I tell him there could be extra time.

There's a biting chill in the air as I stumble across Trumpy in the clubhouse, perched on a stool, with glass in hand. It's poetry in motion as another pint of cream flow bitter is dispatched down the hatch. He checks in with Mrs Bolton to see if she's bled all the radiators.

I clock Basford United joint-manager Martin Carruthers in the bar. I presume he is on a spying mission, as the Nottinghamshire club are due in Herefordshire next weekend.

Westfields are reduced to ten men early in the second period with their defender being punished as last man as Sellars is sent flying. Trumpy asks a baffled spectator where are  the big screens.

The deciding goal comes in the 69th minute with Trumpy Bolton playing his part in it. After another visit to the bar, a clearance is collected by Bolton who is sauntering around the back of the goal. He nonchalantly flicks the ball up and throws it to a Westfields player to take a quick corner, which is immediately cleared up field. After great build up play, Elliott finally thumps home a volley to send the Tigers fans delirious.

A sub comes on for Worksop; he's as big as Tom Thumb. He doesn't look old enough to do a paper-round. Trumpy shouts out to the player in question that his Mum has just phoned up and she wants him home for tea because it's getting dark.

Attendance: 377

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brodsworth Welfare AFC 2-2 Ollerton Town

When I was a teenager I started going to Youth Club. I loved the socialising - playing darts, table tennis and football in the Barn. There was your usual waifs, strays and tearaways. They all looked up to one man at the Club, our youth leader Cliff. He had the coolest head I've ever seen on a man. If a fight brokeout and the perpetrators were hauled into the office for a dressing down, they took their punishment on the chin, such was their respect for the man. His job was no easy ride. The kids worshipped the ground he walked on. Cliff and his lovely wife Jean mentored and shaped the lives of so many in our village.

It was so much fun back in those days. The 'Film Nights' were legendary. Over 100 kids roaring on Rocky Balboa to his latest World title.. We had discos and day trips out to the Capital. I used to help Cliff set up the film nights and tidy up after. One evening he called me into the office and produced an envelope from out of his jacket pocket. Now, you have to remember I was a football nut at the time. "I want to thank you for all your help" he said. My fingers were trembling as I tore away at the seal on the envelope. Inside was a ticket for the League Cup final between Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers. I'd never been to Wembley before.

We had lunch at Cliff's sister's. I even remember a sneaky pint of Watney's bitter. Two Tone was all the rage down the 'Smoke.' Everyone wore black suits, white shirts, leather ties, winkle pickers and pork pie hats. The atmosphere at the Twin Towers blew me away. Forest lost. I didn't care. What a day. What a memory to take away. All because of one man.

 
I'm welling up writing this blog. Last Sunday evening I learnt of the devastating news of Cliff's untimely passing. He was one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever had the privilege to meet. He'd just retired as secretary of the Cricket Club, after 20 years as a volunteer, to look after his wife. I'll be there to say goodbye on Thursday. And I look forward to sharing anecdotes with others about Cliff and the Youth Club.

It's Saturday morning and there's one hell of a commotion downstairs. I walk into the Lounge. Murphy the budgie is on the dining room table dragging a millet spray and spitting all the seeds everywhere. He'll be in big trouble when the Gestapo get back. It's gone 10:00 and he's missed the Brian Matthew's Sound of the 60s show. He's a bundle of nerves about his team Norwich City and there recent slump in form. One win in the last ten is poor form. He applied to Delia Smith at the fag end of last season for the managerial vacancy, but was foolishly overlooked for Neil Adams.

Finley the rabbit hasn't been out of his cage in days now. I'm starting to worry about him and his crap Non League tips. He fancies Ollerton Town to win 4-2 this afternoon. It's a short trip to just north of Doncaster. There aren't many Good Pub Guide entries in those neck of the woods, so it's a re-visit to the delightful village of Laxton, near Ollerton, and its picturesque red-bricked Dovecote public house. Laxton is famously home to three huge medieval fields. A pleasant lunchtime is spent eating a ham sandwich, which is washed down with Castle Rock's award-winning Harvest Pale Ale.

 
Brodsworth is a village in South Yorkshire with a population of 3000 people. Brodsworth Colliery had the highest UK production for a three shaft coal mine in the country. It closed in 1990. I drive through the gates and park the car behind the Welfare. I already know that I'm going to love this ground. I can hear a bit of shouting going off. I rub my eyes in disbelief. Folk are playing bowls on a mud-caked green. Even the French aren't that mad. It's a massive hat-tip from Sticky for these guys.

It's a bit of a hike to the ground; I should have booked a taxi. The Welfare building is beautiful and also mobbed out, as there is a kids party on. It's £2.50 on the gate and £1 for a pretty good programme. Sticky loves his grounds that are located in the heart of the community. The Snack Bar and changing rooms are behind the nearest goal. A blue-painted stand with wooden benches runs alongside the nearest touchline, with further cover behind the far goal. The far side is open, with what looks like a leisure centre behind it.

The local community haven't turned out like Wisbech did last week. There's barely twenty people here. I grab a cup of tea from the Snack Bar, sadly not poured from out of a teapot. I see two kids throwing mud at one another. They're a couple of rum uns. The youngest is wearing a Man Utd shirt. I say to the oldest: "What do you think to Man Utd ?" "They're crap", he replies.  I position myself to the left of the visitors' dugout. There's a presentation taking place on the pitch. Brodsworth have won the Fair Play award for the season's first quarter.

 
It's a very lively start. Ollerton see efforts kiss, crash and thud off the crossbar. 'Broddy' take the lead from the penalty spot. Ollerton restore parity. A cross from the right is tapped home at the far post. Broddy score another in bizzare circumstances. I get my grubby mitts on the matchball on 25 minutes. The referee complains they'll be added time because it took me that long to retrieve a stray clearance.  The visitors are denied a stonewall penalty on the stroke of half time. The linesman and ref both bottle it. I ask the ref at half-time about the penno. If looks could kill.

Ollerton pile on the pressure in the second period. Another shot cannons off the woodwork before they deservedly equalise.

Man of the Match: Cliff Anderson

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