Monday, May 2, 2016

Carlisle United 0-2 Oxford United

It's 7:00am on Saturday morning, I'm mooching about the kitchen making a brew. Today I'm ticking off my final Northern professional football league ground. It's 78 out of 92 after a painstaking 40 years of travelling up and down the accident-prone motorways of England.

We leave Murphy the budgie sulking on his perch, waiting with anticipation for his Uncle Brian Matthew and the Sound of the 60s Show on Radio 2. Ms Moon has fuelled-up with a large skinny decaf latte from Costa Coffee, where I'm on first-name terms with all the staff.

The dreaded M6 rears its ugly head with breakdowns and roadworks galore. We're hooking up with Oxford United fan Chris Hepburn, who has very kindly snapped up some tickets for us on the away terrace. Ms Moon and 'Heppers' used to work together as teenagers at Asda in West Bridgford, Nottingham, back in the day. It will be the best part of  30 years since they last met. I'm playing the part of Eamonn Andrews off This is Your Life.

Graham Norton has banged out a couple of good tunes including 'Stop Me' by Mark Ronson featuring Melbourne-born singer Daniel Merriweather. We're heading up Botcher Gate into the city centre. It's a grim part of town with some ugly buildings including a hotel we were supposed to stay in. Ms Moon cancelled the reservation after a flurry of poor reviews on Trip Advisor. It's adjacent to the Sexual Health Clinic - I'm not sure if the two are in a partnership.

The haunting voice of Nick Cave on the radio adds to the depressing surroundings. Professional drinkers clog up the entrance to Wetherspoon watering holes the Woodrow Wilson and the William Rufus, that are situated only a few hundred yards apart. A plethora of retail parks cause traffic congestion. We finally pitch up at the back of the old fire station, before wandering up to the King's Head on Fisher Street.

I shout up a pint of Boltmaker from the Timothy Taylor stable. Ms Moon has soup with a chicken baguette, I opt for a full English fry-up that I hope will keep me going until our evening meal at the Pheasant Inn at Casterton, just outside Kirkby Lonsdale. We take a window seat and peer out into the street. Heppers rocks up after two days of horse racing at Redcar and Musselburgh. He's reunited with Ms Moon, who says the last time she saw him he resembled Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran.

The pub jukey or i-Pod shuffle treats us to the Teardrop Explodes and EMF. Five Star's 'System Addict' results in a mass exodus across the road to the bookies. Heppers is a bundle of nerves as Oxford United stumble across the finishing line. We kill a bit of time at William Hill's. Ms Moon fancies an Oxford and Man Utd double. We park up at a youth centre, a ten minute walk away from Brunton Park.

Carlisle is a city and county town of Cumbria and is located at the confluence of the rivers Eden, Caldew and Petteril. It lies 10 miles south of the Scottish border and has a population of over 70,000 people. Carr's (now United Biscuits) began baking in 1831. I've  always manage to find a half-eaten packet of their water table biscuits in the cupboard, but never have any cheese in the fridge. Production was halted in January 2016 after the factory was flooded. Both the builder John Laing and the haulage company Eddie Stobart have their HQ in the city.

Notable people from Carlisle include: the footballers Kevin Beattie, Grant Holt, Paul Simpson and Matt Jansen, former England rugby captain Steve Borthwick, Woodrow Wilson's Mum, Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallet and the broadcaster and journalist Melvyn Bragg.

Carlisle United were founded in 1904 and have played at Brunton Park since 1909. Well known ex-players include: Peter Beardsley, Stan Bowles, Matt Jansen and Rory Delap. Notable former managers: Bill Shankly, Nigel Pearson and Bob Stokoe. Record transfer fee paid: Joe Garner £140,000. Record sale: Matt Jansen to Crystal Palace for £1.2 million.

We head down the Warwick Road, past red-bricked Victorian houses with huge bay windows. The Beehive pub is across the road - Northern Crisis are playing there over the weekend. We're directed by a friendly steward to the far side of the ground. It's £16 to stand on the terrace (thanks Chris) and just £2 for a programme. The ground is proper old school. I love the two tier rickety old stand to the right of the away end.

Ms Moon and I viewed Carlisle up at Morecambe a few months back. They didn't turn up for over an hour, but a couple of inspired substitutions turned the game on its head, when they scored two goals in a minute to snatch a game from the jaws of defeat.

Oxford are warming-up at our end. I recognise coaches Chris Allen (ex NFFC) and Derek Fazackerly who followed Kevin Keegan around. They look to have a lot of young uns. It's the business end of the season. They'll need a win to stay with the chasing pack, and will need to do it without leading scorer and Sky Bet Player of the Year Kemar Roofe. The Oxford chairman has shouted up 1000 pints and 1000 pies for the travelling fans at the The Magpie on Victoria Road.

Oxford's manager is highly-rated coach Michael Appleton. He's settling in following a few false starts at crisis clubs Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn. The best warm-up songs are from The Killers and Dario G. £150,000 was spent on this freshly-laid pitch, following the floods. It's now, ironically, being doused with water from sprinklers.

Oxford play a beautiful game from the off. In the fourth minute Danny Hylton sees off the full back before finding Maguire, who is upended for a stone-wall penalty. Maguire keeps a cool head, with hands on hips, his run-up is short, arcing in from right to left, his strike is perfect and finds the inside corner of the net.

Local boy, Callum O'Dowda is running the show. His fleet of foot, change of direction and pace is bamboozling the Cumbrians. Oxford are shanking, scuffing and mistiming good opportunities as a sluggish Carlisle fail to get a grip on the game.

Penrith-born left back Danny Grainger is getting rinsed. He throws the ball like a hand grenade, and takes all the corners and set-pieces. Carlisle manager Keith Curle parades up and down the touchline in Savile Row attire. He's sporting a smoking jacket and beige trousers, fit to wear for a Gentlemen's Evening. His team inch their way back into the game, but find the Oxford rearguard in fine form.

Half-time allows a nervous, ashen-faced Hepburn a couple of toilet breaks as his stomach continues to churn. He turns down offers of hot food and cold drinks, preferring to chew on gum more furiously than Sam Allardyce and Billy Davies.

Carlisle have had a Keith Curle hair-drying at the break. They play with more purpose in the second half.  It's like a cup tie, as the Cumbrians turn the screw. Against the run of play Oxford make it 2-0 with a smart finish from Liam Sercombe, who fires under the 'keeper Gillespie from close range.

At the end of the game an exhausted Oxford team can barely raise their arms to clap the 2238 visiting supporters who have stood on an open terrace that has not been used since the visit from Everton in the FA Cup in late January.

Attendance: 6948

Man of the Match: Callum O'Dowda (and Heppers) xx

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Swanwick Pentrich Road 3-0 Blidworth Welfare

It's a beautiful sunny, spring evening and I'm slouched in a chair in the glorious beer garden of the White Horse with legendary Clifton All-Whites manager and friend to the stars, 'Tosh Turner' who has very kindly shouted up two pints of Shipyard pale ale. We chew the cud as we make the short stroll over the village green, cutting through a snicket and into Elms Park. In the far corner of the park, bowlers are steaming into the crease, full pelt, at pre-season cricket nets. It's my kind of ground, tree-lined and at the hub of the community.

We're not here for cricket, 'the best League in the World' has a match on tonight. The dying embers of the Notts Senior League season has turned into a three horse race for the title. Ruddington Village, one of the front-runners, are taking on inner city team Unity FC - Sticky's favourites. Unity is a project that was set up in 2005 by my good friend, youth worker, Morris Samuels. The project confronted gun and knife crime head-on, in a postcode gang war. Its aim was to unite the Meadows, St Anns and Radford. As Head of Recruitment at Notts County Academy my interest was immediate, and not just for selfish reasons. I love Nottingham and want it to be a safer place to live for everyone.

Morris gives me a big hug as we queue for cup-a-soup and tea at the refreshment bar. Unity are by far the best team I've seen this season in the NSL. They take the lead with a beautifully crafted goal created by former Pies scholar Reece Fyfe ('Rico'). He sets up the winner late in the second half to keep the title race wide open. This boy will play at a far higher level.

Ms Moon is out on Friday evening, Mica Paris (who?) is singing at the Riverbank Bar on Trent Bridge. I'm on one of my solo mini pub-crawls - Billy-no-mates. I amble through Sneinton, past the 'King Billy' (I shed a tear, I usually call in) on Manvers Street and onto Lower Parliament street in Nottingham city centre. I've got my dog-shit coloured shoes on that have knocked the tea ladies dead on my journeys to Non League football grounds in Yorkshire and Lancashire. We've never got on - they're chaffing into the top of my heel, causing a blister. The final slog up Derby Road to the micro-pub The Room With a Brew is a killer.

A knowledgeable landlord eases the pain by talking me through the eight real ales on the bar. Nelson's Oak from Hampshire is amber nectar. I've sunk it and it's gone in the bat of an eyelid. I've been tipped the wink about the Junkyard on Bridlesmith Walk. Tony 'Dogman' McDonald has warned me about the pretentious pricing structure. I pay £4 for 2/3 of a pint of filthy dishwater - I'll be giving this joint a wide-berth from now on.

The solo tour ends in the TBI, who have some cracking ales on, with Rye pale ale being a particular favourite of mine. I wave Ms Moon off to the Mica Paris (who ?) concert and sink another couple, before diving into a chippy for a kebab on the Radcliffe Road. The long trek back home is excruciatingly painful. Those shoes are going to have to go. Quiz question: Who is Mica Paris's cousin ?

Ms Moon presents me with a signed copy of a Mica Paris CD. It's an utter head loss moment, but at least it will come in handy as a coaster for a mug of tea. Facebook confirms that Mr and Mrs Trumpy Bolton are on their way to town to celebrate St George's Day - it's 9:00am. It's just a short journey up the A610 today. On researching the Swanwick area for a decent boozer I chanced upon the village of Heage which sits high up between Belper and Ripley. More astonishingly they have a recently restored a six sail working windmill.

Bloody hell, just our luck, the sails have been dismounted and are laying on the ground, some timber has rotted away, so no flour will be made today. Piers conducts an interesting tour of the mill. Dame Ellen McArthur, born in Whatstandwell, re-opened the windmill in 2011 after it laid in disrepair since 1953. We'll return when it's fully functional and buy some flour from Bakewell's Farmers' Market.

The pub's calling. The Black Boy is only a mile away. It too has recently been renovated. It's slightly disappointing as it seems to be a half-finished project. The Tribute ale is nowt to write home about, tops on taps in the toilets are missing and the hand-drier doesn't work. The homemade food is tip top though. Lambs liver splashed with onion gravy and home-cooked chips is a winner.

There's just time to tick-off another Good Pub Guide entry in the town of Ripley. The place is as dead as a door-nail. The landlord confesses to have just opened up - its 2pm. I have a pint of Barnes Wallis, the bouncing bomb inventor who was born in Ripley. A local in the pub warns us of a speed trap on the road into Swanwick. Ms Moon shoe horns the Vauxhall Mokka into a space in the car park. It's a bargain £3 a piece on the gate and £1 for a programme.

I love this ground. It's high up with sweeping views of the countryside. The only covering is to the right of the clubhouse behind the dugouts. It's adjacent to some allotments. A youth is smashing golf balls into a temporary net he's assembled.

We've arranged to meet Blidworth Colts chairman Roger Parkes. I scouted his lad for the Pies five years ago. Jamie had a career change at 15 years old when big-hearted Academy Manager Mick Leonard put him in touch with some horse-racing connections he had. Jamie is now an apprentice jockey at stables in Newmarket.

It's my third viewing of Blidworth, but they ain't at the races today - eh Roger. They're firing blanks and leaking goals in defence. Swanwick Pentrich are two up at the break, one of the goals is a wind-assisted freak cross from 40 yards out.

Ms Moon is beaming from ear to ear that the coffee at the tea hut is Gold Blend (a Nescafe upgrade and not Birds). I check the score at Meadow Lane, the Pies are 1-1 against Shaun Derry's Cambridge United. His Dad is a lifelong Notts fan who is sat in the away end sharing and feeling his son's anxieties and pain.

It's just not Blidworth's day, they're scuffing shots and shanking clearances. They concede a third goal and are lucky to see their sub not sent off for kicking out at a defender. It's sensible refereeing by Mr S T Sears (Tommy) - an old work colleague of mine from Calverton Colliery, who blows the final whistle thirty seconds later.

Attendance: 14

Man of the Match: Windy Miller

Quiz Answer: Chris Eubank

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Handsworth Parramore 5-0 Armthorpe Welfare

There are pivotal moments and small margins in any sport, I witnessed such one 12 months ago. I was stood shoulder to shoulder in a raucous away end at Turf Moor with a beer-fuelled Trumpy Bolton, watching a nerve-jangling, nail-biting relegation tussle between Burnley and Leicester. The Clarets Matthew Taylor scuffed a penalty off the outside of the post. Thirty seconds later Leicester's Marc Albrighton hared up the line, his cross was bundled home by Jamie Vardy. A draw or loss up in the Pennines could have spelled curtains for the Foxes.

Fast forward a year and look at them now. One of their talisman is skipper Wes Morgan, a bargain buy from down the A46 road in Nottingham. He was brought up in the Meadows, a tough inner-city estate, rife with crime and drug dealing. Big Wes was released by the Pies as a 14 year old. He refused an offer to return there two years later because of weight issues, opting instead to ply his trade with local Non League outfit Dunkirk FC. He was soon spotted by Nottingham Forest and played on trial at a game in Sheffield. John Pemberton offered him a contract if he promised to wear a bin bag for a year and shed two stone. The rest is history.

Leicester City's biggest fan is blog legend Trumpy Bolton. This incredible man has followed the club's fortunes through thick and thin. He's hooking up with me on Saturday for a day out in Scunthorpe. He's comedy gold and a writer's dream.

Tuesday evening is spent at the gorgeous setting of Attenborough FC's Strand ground, on the edge of a nature reserve. Wollaton are the visitors, as they chase down a second consecutive NSL title. The Taxman, a groundhopper from Essex and I are treated to an enthralling game of football. Attenborough score a wonder goal, when a Nick Knight 60 yard ping from out on the left is hammered into the roof of the net with a first-time volley from a 16 year old winger. Wollaton leave it late, until the last kick of the game, to snatch a victory that is harsh on the Attenborough young guns.

It's Friday tea-time and I'm with Ms Moon in the Malt Cross on St James's Street, just off Nottingham's Market Square. It's a refurbished former Victorian music hall, with a vaulted glass roof and a gallery that looks down onto the bar area. I sink the 'Pint of the Season' Navigation's Charles Henry Strange IPA. It has a kick like a mule, and doesn't half get my juices flowing.

It's tipped it down with rain all night. Bottesford Town, near Scunthorpe, have assured me that their ground drains like a sieve. Photos on twitter suggest different, as pools of standing water put the game in doubt.

I'm down a sleepy West Bridgford at 8:30am. I collect the football kit from the laundrette and grab a bacon cob for breakfast at No.8 Deli.  I check-in with Trumpy Bolton, we have a couple of back-up games at Gainsborough and Handsworth Parramore, who play in Worksop and would count as a tick-off.

Bolton is wandering his way through the 'The Bronx' when I clock him on Spinney Road. Graham Norton is playing Geordie synthpop band Dubstar as Bolton clambers his way into the front seat, plonking down a litre bottle of cider in the footwell. He shakes my hand and wishes me a Happy New Year.

I've inserted my Leicester City ear filter. It's to no avail as Trumpy rattles on about his three day bender in the city of Sunderland last weekend, which is topped off with a Jamie Vardy double. He has no recollection of returning to his Premier Inn headquarters on Saturday evening. The legend announces he's booked two nights in Glasgow in July when the Foxes take on Celtic in the International Champions Cup.

Trumpy has a pub to tick-off in the village of Kirton in Lindsey, it's where Catherine Parr the sixth wife of King Henry VIII once used to live. It's a tidy little town, but the Queen's Head isn't much to write home about. Bolton downs a pint in a time that would have had Roy Castle excitedly clicking his stop watch and Norris McWhirter confirming him to be a record breaker.

Next port of call is The Shires just down the road. A pint of distinctly average Black Sheep Ale is accompanied with a chip cob. 'Stevie Don't Wonder' by Olly Murs hastens our departure. I sneak Graham Norton back on as Trumpy guzzles his way through his litre of pear cider. We both singalong to 'This Charming Man' by The Smiths. I check my twitter timeline, Bottesford Town confirm that they've been hosed off.

We pop into the White Swan in Blyth enroute to Worksop, it's a nice little Good Pub Guide tick-off. Bolton necks another pint before one of his infamous sneezing fits. Handsworth's twitter is reporting a cloud burst along with puddles of water on the pitch; we're going to end up watching Linby Colliery Welfare v Keyworth United at this rate.

Parking is a nightmare on Sandy Lane. We abandon the car across the road. We're hesitant to pay-in as a grumpy official won't confirm whether the game is on or not. There are pools of water in the goalmouth.

Trumpy's gone missing, he'll be lining-up the Strongbow. I get gassing to a youth coach, who's a really nice guy. I mention I saw Handsworth U19s earlier in the season and how taken aback I was at the behaviour of their bench towards the match officials. They were 2-0 down at the time, a scenario they weren't familiar with. Top of the table Handsworth Parramore were formed in 2014, due to a merger between Handsworth FC and Worksop Parramore. Handsworth is a city centre suburb in Sheffield. Notable folk from Handsworth include the actor Sean Bean and my nasty budgie Murphy Palmer.

Fat Boy Slim is on the PA. Mansfield Town have thumped Notts County 5-0 in a lunchtime kick off at Field Mill. The clouds have lifted, the wind has dropped and the sun is beaming. Armthorpe is in South Yorkshire, it's where former England and Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan was born. They are in the nether regions of the Northern Counties League, you wouldn't have thought so as they are out the traps fast. No.9, 'Charlie' is too good for these. His touch and movement bamboozle the Handsworth defence. It's no wonder they leaked 5 goals up at Tadcaster last week.

Armthorpe are punished for the chances they have spurned, a header from Will Eades just before the break put the hosts into the lead. I can't find Trumpy for love or money at half-time. What is more baffling is the no-show from him in the bar. I catch him wiping flakes of pastry away from his mouth after wolfing a chicken and balti pie. He has a Twix bar and another cider for dessert.

Poor old Armthorpe couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. 'Charlie' has a hammer of a left foot, he sees a couple of efforts whistle over the goal. How they've managed not to register a goal, God only knows. Handsworth bang in a further four goals as the vistors heads drop and the towel is thrown in. Kieran Wells scores the third goal with an outrageous finish with the outside of his boot. He's somehow a friend on Facebook, I don't recall a bromance. He does hilarious live chats and is well worth a follow.

We finish the day off with a beautiful pint of Bass at the Earl of Chesterfield in Shelford. There's a comedy moment on a garage forecourt in Cotgrave when we spend 15 minutes ringing Bolton's phone, which he has managed to mislay. We finally find it wedged under the seat of the car.

Attendance: 74

Man of the Match: Trumpy and Charlie

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hanley Town 5-1 Holker Old Boys

It's midday on Sunday and we're hanging about waiting for folk in the car park of the Chequers in Woolsthorpe on the Notts/Lincs border. White Van Man has assembled the troops for a five mile ramble in the Vale of Belvoir down the Grantham Canal. We're back at the former coaching inn for lunch a few hours later. I order up a pint of real ale from Gloucester in the heavy-beamed bar.

Lunch is served in a plush dining room on a table set for twelve. White Van Man loves his Sunday roast and is not one for hanging about when it's served up on his plate. There's a load of commotion when his beef rocks up a lighter shade of pink. It's soon sent back to the kitchen in a hurry before being swiftly charcoaled and returned to the table. WVM eats under protest before performing a sharp exit with steam coming out of his ears. Lessons learnt: never mess with the Big Man's food.

The Taxman and I revisit the wonderful Selhurst Street ground of Radford FC, set in one of Nottingham's multi-cultural areas. The place smells of football and reminds me of the setting of one of Alan Sillitoe's 1960s black and white films. Sticky Palms is a big fan of Radford gaffer Glenn Russell. He certainly knows how to assemble a squad and keep them all happy. It's our second look at the visitors South Normanton. The first half is a tremendous advert for the East Midlands Counties League. Both teams spurn chances, after Radford take an early lead through Carey Knight. The Pheasants run out 1-0 winners despite finishing the last 25 minutes of the game with just 10 men. The race for the title is hotting up with a number teams still in the hunt for silverware.

I walk into town to meet Ms Moon from work on Friday tea-time. I fancy an ale or two at the revamped Cock and Hoop on High Pavement. Ms Moon has a penchant for bubbles. I enquire how much a bottle of Prosecco is, £25 is the reply. I jokingly tell the barmaid that I don't want champagne before about-turning and heading off up to the Bell where the fizz is £15 a bottle. I can't arf pick em, readers.

I'm up with the larks and in Marks and Spencer's food hall in the leafy Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford by 8:30am on Saturday. I get my ears lowered at the Barbers Lounge on Gordon Road. I grab Ms Moon a skinny latte from Costa in Colwick. Murphy Palmer the budgie is whistling his wee head off to Stevie Wonder's Place in the Sun on the Brian Matthew show as I walk through the front door.

We're speeding down the A453 and onto the A50 as the skies begin to brighten. Hanley's excellent twitter account confirms today's game is on. Graham Norton is already getting on my wick. The buffoon plays Reach by S Club 7 twice in a row. Why couldn't he play S Club Party?  - me and Murphy love that one.

First port of call is the Queens at Freehay near Cheadle. I have a pint of Lancaster Bomber as I chat to a charming landlord. A pub bore tells us a few long-winded stories of haunted hotels he has stayed in. He mentions that he's had a £50 each way wager on Holywell in the Grand National. I joke with him that I've had 50p each way on the same horse. We tuck into a homemade beef and merlot pie. Even Phil Collins 'In the Air Tonight' doesn't dampen my lunchtime. I admire the photos on the wall of Ian Botham and Lords cricket ground. The landlord is a gentleman and the service is first class.

Mark Goodier is struggling to fill Bosman transfer Tony Blackburn's boots on Radio 2s Pick of the Pops show. He plays the worst Elvis Presley song I've ever heard in my life. It's from 1972 and called 'Don't Ask Me Why. I'll tell you what Elvis, don't ask me why you released it.

The Sir Stanley Matthews statue is situated in the centre of Hanley. His ashes are scattered under the centre circle at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. I pose for a couple of snaps, before we dive into the Reginald Mitchell Wetherspoons, named after a local man who designed the Spitfire fighter plane. Hanley is one of six major towns that joined together to form the city of Stoke on-Trent in 1910. It is well known for pottery-making and coal mining.

Ms Moon is no fan of the Wetherspoons watering holes, Sticky, on the other hand, is all over them like a rash as he has £20 of CAMRA discount vouchers to plough his way through. I sink a pint of Squires Gold a springtime ale, Ms Moon sulks over a diet Coke. As we stroll back to the car we catch the town crier in action and a nervous bride posing for photos before taking the plunge in Hanley Town Hall.

It's a two mile drive to Abbey Lane the home of North West Counties League Division One leaders Hanley Town. It's £4 each on the gate and £1 for a programme, a friendly official points us in the direction of the clubhouse.

We wander in an anti-clockwise direction around the ground. We bump into local football enthusiast Kevin. He's dressed in Hanley Town clobber but also confesses to being a bit of a groundhopper. He's up in Scotland in a few weeks time to tick a few grounds off in the Edinburgh area. Olly the long-haired labrador is begging for a treat behind the nearest goal. One or two fans aren't talking to him as he failed to show up for Hanley's midweek fixture on Tuesday, preferring instead to watch Paul O'Grady's 'For The Love of Dogs' TV show.

We stand opposite the Colin Stair Stand, named after a former manager who died tragically and suddenly only a couple of seasons ago. We are served up utter tripe in the first 30 minutes of the game. Holker OB put ten players behind the ball and look content with nicking a point. Their sole striker is silver-haired and looks well into his forties. He's hardly going to work the channels or ghost past a defender with a change of pace. A couple of Hanley supporters will definitely win 'Spliff of the Season', it doesn't half pen 'n ink as the smoke drifts in the wind.

A goal of extreme quality which doesn't befit the game is scored on 37 minutes by Crewe Alexandra on loan striker Jonathan Higham who drills home the ball into the bottom corner of the net following good work by Lassana Sidibe, the younger brother of former Stoke City striker Mamady Sidibe. It certainly gets Olly wagging his tail.

The weather has turned with driving rain replacing sun-kissed skies. We dive for cover in the clubhouse. Tea and coffee are £1 per cup. I bump into a Halifax Town supporter, who's also a groundhopper from York. He has spent the morning in Buxton and driving around the High Peak area of Derbyshire. He's not particularly impressed with the stadia or standard of football. He has more camera equipment than Lord Lichfield.

We shelter in the Colin Stair Stand as Hanley turn it on in the second half and run riot. They race into 4-0 goal lead. Poor old Kevin is running around the place like a blue-arsed fly retrieving scuffed efforts from hedge bottoms and adjoining fields. They even manage to fluff a penalty before running out 5-1 winners.

Man of the Match: Olly the Dog and Kevin

Attendance: 88

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Northampton Sileby Rangers 1-1 Holbeach United

I'm surfing the 'net looking for a game to go to next Saturday. We haven't been to Northants in ages. I'm quite fond of the United Counties League. I'm hearing good reports about Northampton Sileby Rangers ground. Despite being fourth from bottom they are the entertainers in this league, having scored 64 goals and conceded 82.

I pick up the Good Pub Guide and start flicking through the pages. The Althorp Coaching Inn in the picture postcard village of Great Brington is in the main section and on further investigation looks a pearler. I'm astonished to read that the great-great-great grandfather of former USA President George Washington, Lawrence Washington, is buried in a vault in the church. It's going to be another Saturday lunchtime snooping around a churchyard.

The week flies by, as I take annual leave on Tuesday. I'm stood on the touchline at Nottingham Forest's Nigel Doughty Academy chattering away to Leicestershire groundhopper Rob Campion. I notice a chubby lad up top with a ridiculous barnet. It's Tricky Tree striker Britt Assombalonga. He'll need to wear a few bin liners in pre-season to shed the excess weight after a 12 month lay-off. He scores a peach of a goal with a rocket of a shot from just outside the penalty area.

I meet my boys at tea-time in the 'World Renowned Trent Bridge Inn.' It's the most expensive Wetherspoons in Europe. Sticky Palms is looking forward to tucking into his £20 CAMRA discount vouchers. A pleasant evening is finished off  by sinking a pint of Castle Rock's Elsie Mo in Jessie Boot's old dispensary in the recently refurbished Embankment on the north side of the river.

There's just time to nip down Daleside Rd on Saturday morning to fetch Murphy Palmer the budgie a honey bar from Pets Are Us. I have a tearful moment in the shop as I walk past some bunnies that resemble recently deceased blog legend Finley Palmer. The honey bar is an extortionate £1.69. Old fat lad can take his time pecking on this one.

The trip to Northamptonshire is without incident until Ms Moon says that JLS were 'quite good.' We sail down the M1 in Ms Moon's brand new, just off the shelf, white Vauxhall Mokka. The rain has cleared, skies are blue and the sun is beaming as we tip up at the church in Great Brington.

As luck would have it the church front door is open, a Chubb alarm engineer is in deep conversation with a church warden. I seek permission to enter the church and take a photo of the vault in which Washington's great-great-great grandfather is buried. Permission is granted unlike last week when some grumpy WBA fan declined my request to take a snap of his scruffy mongrel for the Non League Dogs website.

The pub is just around the corner. It was re-named the Althorp Coaching Inn following the death of Princess Diana in 1997 at the age of just 36. Her death had a profound effect on the local community, whose village lies just a short distance away from the Althorp Estate where Diana Spencer once lived and is now 'buried' at. Twenty generations of the Spencer family are buried in the Spencer Chapel.

We are made very welcome at this dog-friendly 16th Century coaching inn. I have a pint of Phipps NBC Indian pale ale from a local brewery as we enjoy a baguette and some home-cooked chips. We stretch our legs around this charming village. Ms Moon points out there are no Spencers named in the 30 soldiers who died in the First World War on the War Memorial. We stroll past the local post office which was once owned by the mother of radio disc jockey Jo Whiley, who grew up in the village. I nearly get wiped out as I cross the road by a cyclist who is wearing a Northampton Saints training top.

Fernie Fields is a 20 minute drive away. We seemed to have driven up the wrong entrance, so abandon our vehicle on some posh housing estate. We slip into the ground through the players' entrance without paying. I wander over to the turnstile on the far side and cough up £13 for two entries and an excellent programme.  I nip to the loo, which is adjacent to the changing rooms, which are pumping out some serious tunes.

The ground is charming. I admire the neatly trimmed privet hedge that runs behind the far goal and along the farthest touchline. The pitch is like a billiard table, with a well manicured playing surface.
We chance upon a silver-haired gentleman in salmon pink trousers. Pete, denies being a groundhopper, despite going to three games a week. The guy is well animated and reminds of a thespian actor.

We position ourselves inbetween the two dugouts. The Holbeach 4 jacket, Ollie Gale, is the stepson of one of my best mates, Ackers, who occasionally joins us on the groundhop.

There's no real tempo to the first half. I'd have expected Holbeach to bust a gut as they chase down the leading pack with games in hand, they play with little urgency. Sileby's left back can launch a throw-in longer and flatter than Rory Delap. They fail to exploit this, when the best tactic would be to play down the channels and squeeze the full backs.

The visitors take the lead on 12 minutes with a superb finish from Sean Coughlan, who deftly lobs the ball over an onrushing 'keeper after an outrageous first touch. Ms Moon shouts up the hot drinks at the break as I get gassing to three elderly gentlemen. Princess Diana soon crops up in the conversation. It's fair to say her younger brother is not popular in these parts. Most folk are certain she is buried in the Spencer Vault in the church and not on the island on the Althorp Estate.

Holbeach are bloody awful in the second half, barely fashioning a chance. Sileby equalise with a superb header from a left footed inswinging corner. The referee waves away claims for a penalty as the Sileby forward falls to the ground after a heavy challenge. He leaves the field with what looks like a dislocated or broken finger. There's no qualified physio on either bench, so it looks like a trip to accident and emergency for the inconsolable striker.

Man of the Match: Dominic Okanu

Attendance: 36

Monday, March 28, 2016

Malvern Town 4-2 AFC Bridgnorth

I live across the road from Nottingham Racecourse and more importantly Colwick Country Park. We take in a lung-bursting walk on Sunday lunchtime around the perimeter of the racetrack and through the park, which is bathed in glorious sunshine. Our thirst is quenched in the Old Volunteer on Burton Road - the 'Best Newcomer' in the Great British Pub Awards in Notts 2015. Flipside Brewery have turned this Carlton pub on its head. I quaff a pint of chocolate orange stout called 'Half Time.' Ms Moon describes it as 'disgusting' as she knocks back a Diet Coke.

Ironically, I'm back in Carlton on Wednesday evening, as Carlton Town and Spalding United play out a dour 0-0 draw on a bone dry bumpy surface at Stoke Lane. I had hoped to catch in action the visitor's 16 year old forward Jonny Lockie, who recently spent time on trial at Everton, Leicester City and AFC Bournemouth. It's a no-show from the youngster, as he can't bunk-off from college in time for the trip over to Nottingham.

I've broken up for Easter early. I'm always at my most dangerous when I'm bored. I leg it into Nottingham on a solo mini pub crawl. The highlight of the tour is the re-opening of the Lord Roberts in Hockley - another shrewd acquisition by the Flipside Brewery.

We're met with sun-kissed skies on Good Friday. It's spent walking 14 km down the canal to The Victoria Inn in Beeston. We're too fagged out to peg it back, so hop on a tram into town. We drop into the Bell on Angel Row, just off Nottingham's Market Square. It must be over 20 years since I sunk a pint in this fine establishment. I shan't leave it so long next time.

We're up with the larks, with cases packed early, on Saturday morning, as we escape for the weekend to the sleepy market town of Ludlow in Shropshire. First port of call, though, is the spa town of Malvern in Worcestershire, where we'll be watching football later in the day.

Graham Norton plays possibly the worst record I have ever heard in my life - it's Yoko Ono singing 'Walking on Thin Ice.' I'm still recovering from the moment as we park up on the outskirts of Malvern town centre.

I have a moral dilemna. I've just spotted an old coaching inn that has been tastefully restored by the pub chain Wetherspoons, whose watering holes we're not a big fan of. We take the plunge to tick-off this Good Pub Guide entry. A cloudy pint of real ale is changed without fuss, their customer service response on Facebook is first-class.

A pleasant lunchtime is spent with Ms Moon's brother in-law at the glorious surroundings of the Nags Head. The pub frontage doesn't do it justice. There is a fine range of ales, a chatty atmosphere and two roaring open fires. Malvern Town's Hdanywhere Community Stadium is only a short drive away.

Malvern has a population of just over 30,000. The British composer Sir Edward Elgar spent much of his life in the area and is buried in Little Malvern cemetery. Other famous folk from this neck of the woods include: Charles Perrins (Lea and Perrins sauce), TV presenter Anne Diamond and the first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

We are greeted by two cheerful guys on the turnstile. It's £4 each and £1 for an excellent and well written programme. A jolly lady in the tea bar serves up a couple of hot drinks. Black clouds are rolling in from the Malvern Hills. The only real cover is the main stand on the near side of the ground. A football card is doing the rounds in the stands. We pay £1 each and scribble our names underneath 'Notts Forest' and Notts County - ironically D***y County is announced as the winner.

It's a second look at the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division and at AFC Bridgnorth too. I wasn't impressed with what was served up in their top of the table 0-0 bore draw with Shawbury United a few weeks ago -  nor with some of the comments coming out of the Shawbury dugout.

Malvern win a vital toss and choose to attack with the wind behind their backs. The visitors spurn a early chance which proves to be vital as Malvern put Bridgnorth's defence under constant pressure, using the swirling wind to their advantage. It's 3-0 before you know it.

At the break I take a peek at the newly refurbished clubhouse. I spot an old guy sporting a West Bromwich Albion beanie hat.  He has a dog for company that is the size of a drowned rat. I approach the gentleman to ask if it would be okay to take a photo of his mutt for the Non League Dogs twitter account and website. "No you can't, I don't want you to", the bloke replies. I'm taken aback. I about turn and come across Ms Moon outside as she stubs out a tab end. I'm not sure who looked more miserable, the dog owner or his forlorn looking mongrel. I've never liked WBA since they knocked 'The Lincoln' out of the FA Cup in 1976. I was spat on that day and had my scarf grabbed by a Baggie hooligan. Murphy the budgie and I will be following 'the Wolves' from now on. They remind me of Hugh Johns on Star Soccer with Derek Dougan and John Richards leading the line, back in the day.

A freak hailstorm batters the playing surface, making the centre circle a no-go zone. Bridgnorth pull a goal back, but the damage has already been done. 'Milky' plays a give and go with Luke Corbett before rifling home the winner. Bridgnorth's best player Kevin Buxton scores the goal of the game with a 30 yard delicate chip which catches the home 'keeper off his line.

Attendance: Not a Scooby

Man of the Match: Luke Corbett

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Redditch United 1-0 Histon FC

On Sunday we take a ride out to Shipley Country Park in Heanor. It's the artist formerly known as the American Adventure Theme Park, which closed in 2007. Rumours are circulating that the place might re-open. I can't see it myself, it certainly won't be Merlin Entertainment ploughing their money into it following a monumental 'human error' cock-up with the 'Smiler' ride at Alton Towers.

We walk in beautiful surroundings, looking out towards 700 acres of landscape where D H Lawrence set many of his novels. There's time to drop into The Crown at Beeston, with it's 14 real ales and a plethora of nooks and crannies.

I'm reunited with The Taxman on Wednesday evening. We're driving up to the old mining town of Blidworth in north Notts, to watch a Central Midlands South fixture versus Bulwell. The tea hut is perched on top of a hill. I've forgotten how good the view is from up here. It's a lovely game of football, and a tremendous advert for this League. Blidworth run out winners 3-2. I bump into Mickey Gould, one of the best youth scouts that has ever worked for me. Mickey is always good for a tuffie. I fleece him of a few Cough Candies for most of the evening.

I've spent most of the week holed up in eastern England. Diss, Bury St Edmunds, Boston and Louth are all ticked off for business meetings. I've taken little interest in the Cheltenham Festival after spotting that Ryanair were sponsoring a few races; we have previous. It's a relief, on Friday evening, to sit in the comfy surroundings of the Crafty Crow on Friar Lane, opposite Nottingham Castle. I sup a couple of real ales, one of which is called 'Big Dipper' which has a salty caramel taste. Ms Moon and her daughter are sinking a bottle of Prosecco.

Sport Relief has a painful ending, the fishmonger's wife from Welwyn Garden City (Alesha Dixon) is comparing the fag end of the event - at least it reminds me to wash up.

Ms Moon makes me an Alta Rica coffee, as a bleary-eyed Sticky Palms makes his way down the stairs. She says that Murphy is enjoying the Brian Matthews radio show. How many more times do I need to explain it ? The legend's surname is Matthew, with no S in it. Golly gosh, Brian would be cross.

Brian is out of sorts today. I bang out a few tunes from my computer, one of which is Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. Ms Moon says she prefers the Paul Young version. It's a 'drop your bacon sandwich moment.' I feel a tear down roll down my cheek as she says it. Paul Young v Ian Curtis ?

I flick through the Nottingham Post and notice that Rushcliffe Borough Council have released their latest hygiene ratings for eating establishments in the area. They choose to slaughter a recently refurbished pub with a one star rating, when the real story is a one out of five score for the Good Pub Guide 'Nottinghamshire Dining Pub of the Year' - the Martins Arms in the picturesque village of Colston Bassett in the Vale of Belvoir, where Stilton cheese is made.

We leave Radio 2 on for Murphy the budgie. He's asking whether Tony Blackburn will back on the Pick of the Pops show this lunchtime after his 'holidays?'

First port of call is the picture postcard town of Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire. The Bluebell pub is situated on the High Street; it has a lovely ambience around the place. I admire the timber-framed dining room as I shout up a pale ale. We enjoy a 'Dirty Burger' as Bow Wow Wow, Japan, Blancmange and a string of 80s hits are piped through the pub speaker system.

We have a mosey about the joint. Not too many chains are around here, apart from the standard Costa Coffee shop. The Valley ground at Redditch is smack in the middle of the town centre. Ms Moon shoe-horns the Insignia into the corner of a pot-holed car park.

Redditch is a town in north-east Worcestershire with a population of 84,000. In the 19th Century, it was the centre for the needle and fishing tackle industry. In the 1960s, it became the model for modern New Town planning. Automotive retailer Halfords and engineering giant GKN both have their HQ in the town.

Notable people from Redditch include: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who was found dead at the age of 32 after drinking the equivilant of 40 shots of vodka at 40% ABV. Also from the town are: actor Charles Dance, Huddersfield Town striker Joe Lolley, Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin and One Direction 'singer' Harry Styles. Redditch is twinned with the French town Auxerre. Redditch United were founded in 1891. Notable former players include: Scott Dann, Kevin Francis, Lee Hendrie and Matt Smith.

It's £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. I love the ground to bits. We pass the snack bar and walk towards the double decker main stand, with its corporate hospitality on the second tier. The far end is open with the dugouts opposite the main stand. Behind this are six concrete steps with a covered terrace. Finally, behind the nearest goal is a terrace with red crash barriers and plastic tip-up seats to the rear.

There's a real community feel about the place. The junior teams are involved. Some of the signs erected tingle the back of my spine. One says, 'never be afraid to get on the ball.' We grab a tea and coffee and position ourselves between the two dugouts. The pre-match music is bloody awful (sorry DJ). The teams walk out to 'Into the Valley' by The Skids (best toon by a mile).

The first half is tense. Redditch hit the upright of the post as the visitors defend the slope resolutely. I get gassing to a couple stood next to me. Their son is playing for Redditch after being recently released by WBA. He looks out of sorts and dwells on the ball too long. Academy football is played on snooker table surfaces, players are rarely pressed and are encouraged to express themselves.

Histon had a player called Isiah Brown who they sold on to WBA, he ended up at Chelsea, and is currently on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. He's part of the What's App group that the 34 on loan Chelsea players participate in.

Settle-born John Newman's latest single is blasting out the PA as I head towards the loo. I chance upon 'Holte' (Villa fan) a black labrador draped in a Redditch shirt. The second half is far more entertaining as the strong smell of cannabis drifts up the terrace. Histon are lightning quick on the break, but piss poor in the final third. They are deprived of a deserved point in the closing stages when a pinpoint cross is headed home by Redditch defender George Carline.

Man of the Match: Sam Ling (Histon)

Attendance: 452