Sunday, April 22, 2018

Anstey Nomads 1-2 Dunkirk

I arrive home from Nuneaton relatively unscathed, minus fingernails, after 50 miles of a Grand Theft Auto death ride journey by the Big Man. After a couple of scoops at the Free Man on Carlton Hill and Old Volunteer, on Burton Road, I finally head home. Jesus wept, Britain's Got Talent is on the gogglebox. I fire up the computer and scan the full-time results in the East Midlands Counties League. The Boatmen of Dunkirk have won at the death, beating title rivals Teversal, thanks to an Adam Burton 93rd minute winner. I do a hands-on-hips little jig of celebration en route to the kitchen where I pour myself a stiff measure of Pickering's Original Gin.

It's a beautiful evening for cycling on Monday. The Big Man and I pedal down a sun-kissed Trent Embankment, past Holme Road (Nottingham Forest's old training ground) and down to the rowing course at Holme Pierrepont. 20km in the bank will help me reach my fighting weight for a six-day drinking binge in Lisbon in June during the World Cup.

I miss Lincoln City's vital promotion-chasing clash with rivals Wycombe Wanderers (managed by Imps' legend Gareth Ainsworth) at Sincil Bank due to working American hours - Sticky doesn't do 0-0s. Wednesday evening is spent in the old coal-mining village of Cotgrave, where Southwell City are the visitors at a sun-soaked Welfare ground.

I travel up to Ilkeston Towns New Manor Ground on Thursday, due to a venue switch, for Kimberley MW v Radford FC. The Pheasants are in a rich vein of form and dish out a 4-0 drubbing. All is quiet on the 'Kimbo' bench with rumours circulating that their potty-mouthed manager has spat out his dummy and left the club. Big Glenn Russell has a smile as wide as the A610. They'll be a good each-way bet for a Champions League spot next season.

It's Saturday morning and poor old Sticky is working his ass off in the front garden. I've dug deeper than the British Army in The Great Escape. Percy Thrower would be appalled to hear that I nearly put my spade through an electric cable, which would have resulted in a high voltage Sid Vicious mohawk hairstyle.

I'm getting all excited for the big game now, as I shower up and shave. Ms Moon has made a mini picnic as we venture out to north-west Leicestershire. We clock the Altrincham FC coach on the A453 in Clifton. A win today at Grantham will see them clinch the Northern Premier League title.

Bradgate Park is in Charnwood Forest and covers over 850 acres of land. We park up at Hunts Hill and have a pleasant stroll. A herd of deer emerge from the undergrowth and canter up the hill. We sit on a bench admiring the sweeping views of the countryside, whilst enjoying a spot of lunch.

Anstey is a four-mile drive away. It's £5 on the gate. It's a cracking little ground which has recently had a major make-over. We chill on the raised decking, chatting to some of the players' parents, basking in the spring sunshine.

Anstey is a village north west of Leicester, with a population of 6000 people. It is known as the Gateway to Charnwood Forest. Whilst developing a site for the new Co-op store in 2002, remains were found, which according to archaeologists dated back to the 12th Century. Ned Ludd, from whom the industrial revolutionists The Luddites took their name from, was born in the village. In 1779 in a ‘fit of passion’ he smashed up two knitting frames. Snooker player Willie Thorne is from the area, and it is said that he learnt his trade at the Anstey Conservative Club.

I'm presuming 'Upo' hasn't rocked up yet; you tend to hear him before you see him. Radio Nottingham were asking for folk to call in who left the game early at The City Ground last weekend, missing two late Tricky Tree goals. I'd already seen him cough up on Twitter about a sharp exit. Upo on a radio phone-in rant would be comedy gold, with the bleep machine on overtime.

Dunkirk have a DNA and ethos that's instilled into their players at a young age. You are taught to appeal for everything, have a never-say-die attitude and play with aggression. Some folk just don't get it; Anstey being one of them.

I saw these two teams play out a humdinger down Lenton Lane a few weeks ago. The Anstey 'assistant manager' (some hipster with a beard) was bleating like a baby lamb at the referee about giving the Boatmen everything. "It's because they ask mate, so quit your moaning, I haven't paid £5 to hear you bellyaching all night." His eloquent reply had a few effs and jeffs and was delivered with venom.

I have forewarned Ms Moon that Dunkirk are world class at swearing, we've run through a few expletives so that she'll fully understand the lingo and matchday experience. It's tight at the top of the table with four clubs still in the running for the championship title.

You can feel the tension in the air as the players emerge from the tunnel. We're stood directly to the left of the away dugout, leaning on a red-painted rail. Dave Robinson and Craig Clark have done a cracking job at the helm for Dunkirk. They have a belief in youth and nurture it; unlike their predecessor. They have brought in the vastly experienced Jimmy Albans onto the coaching staff.

Jimmy has a voice like a foghorn and would piss an interview for a town crier in any parish of our county, but he does know his onions. He immediately susses out the pathetic time-wasting antics of the Nomads and is onto the referee in a flash. "You'll soon get tired of that," says someone from the Anstey bench. "I bet you I don't" he replies.

The first half is nip and tuck. Anstey take an age in everything they do. The referee, 'the timekeeper' as I like to call him, seems reluctant to hurry them along or even stop his watch. Albans complains about the speed of balls being retrieved and thrown back in. The ref's reply is "I'm not a ball boy.

I wanted a bet on young Ollie Clark getting a yellow card; he's had more bookings than Joey Barton. He clatters into an Anstey player on seven minutes and is duly booked and royally bollocked by his Dad. It seems to calm him down as his presence is felt on the game with his lung-bursting runs and precise, crisp passing. I saw him play his heart out at Holwell Sports a few weeks ago. An early booking will calm him down.

Young Timmy Berridge is up top, a lad I know well from Gotham FC and Clifton All-Whites. He will learn a lot from playing alongside Steve Chaplin. 'Chappo' is head and shoulders above anyone on the pitch (top ratter Ben Moore deserves a special mention too). He leads the Anstey defence a merry dance, with his deft touch, aerial dominance, hassling and hounding and intelligent play.

Jack Lane is Anstey's standout player. Ms Moon says he looks like 'Tinhead' off Brookside. He covers the ground like a gazelle and has a wicked shot and dead ball in his locker. Will Rawden, Dunkirk's left back, will need to be on his toes. Dunkirk come the closest to scoring in a frantic first half with a Berridge header bouncing off the bar, following a brilliant save by the Nomads' 'keeper.

Ms Moon isn't too chuffed with me as I've been chatting to a Leicester groundhopper in the first half. I knew he was a hopper as he'd got a Machine Mart carrier bag which was probably packed out with a flask, Tupperware box full of egg and cress sandwiches, a programme cover and an old tobacco tin to put his newly-purchased club badge in.

There's a commotion at the break. Ms Moon says I've an eight-inch grey hair protruding from out of my nose. My eyes begin to water when she asks whether she can pull it out. After twenty aborted attempts, I finally feel a tear fall down my face with the offending item trapped between my thumb and first finger.

Out of nowhere we hear a DJ on the PA system, and let me tell you folks the guy is on fire. He plays a superb set including: 'Cuba' by the Gibson Brothers. 'Green Onions' by Booker T & the M.G.'s and 'One Nation Under a Groove' (best start to a song ever) by Funkadelic.

I'm hoping Jimmy Albans has had a cold shower and calmed down as he's proper bollocked the referee uphill and down dale on his way to the dressing room at half-time. 'The bearded hipster' is poking his nose in The chilled-out referee will have been told in no uncertain terms to keep his beady eye on the farcical time-wasting antics from all at Anstey.

My man 'Chappo' is scythed down in the area with 20 minutes to go. Berridge steps up, only to see his penalty brilliantly beaten away by the Nomads' 'keeper. It's a pressure cooker atmosphere now, a situation the Boatmen will thrive on.

'Robbo' repeats "it'll come lads, be patient." His words ring true, minutes later. Berridge shows balls of steel, as he skips past two defenders on a diagonal run, before unleashing a shot into the bottom corner of the onion bag. The Dunkirk bench leap into the air in celebration. I raise a clenched fist and peck Ms Moon on the cheek.

The tables are turned on Anstey as Dunkirk run the clock down. Balls appear on all four sides of the pitch. Suddenly they have a bigger stock of footballs than JJB Sports. Berridge rolls the ball into an empty net to put the game to bed. The scenes are magical and heart-warming.

A late Anstey goal doesn't put a dampener on the day. We walk past four old guys. One pipes up, "Dunkirk just about deserved that." I put my hand on his shoulder and say "fully deserved mate, fully deserved."

Attendance: 137

Man of the Match: Steve Chaplin

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Nuneaton Town 0-2 Salford City

We head back down 'Wembley Way' towards the tube station. I've watched football for over 45 years and yet today is up there with any of the thousands and thousands of games I've watched. A few years ago my club (Lincoln City) were dead, buried and staring the Conference North in the face. The turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous. The unknown players the Cowleys have recruited have performed to a man, on the world's biggest stage, in front of 30,000 of our fans. The city won't sleep tonight.

It's time to celebrate with the 'professional drinkers' at the Free Man on Carlton Hill - most are half cut and incapable of a conversation. I have a pint of Shipyard before heading home and tucking into some Pickering's -  a gin distilled in Edinburgh for over 150 years and only opened on special occasions (on a Sunday).

It's Tuesday evening; yesterday (Monday) was a blur, I need my football fix. As the incessant rain bounces off the French windows, more and more games fall by the wayside. Radford FC's Selhurst Street surface has the best drainage on the circuit. There's a thumbs up from their Twitter account to confirm the game is ON. Hardy volunteers have forked the pitch for most of the day.

It's the usual routine of sticking the car in Asda on Radford Road and hoping their scouts and trolley-pushers don't spot I've gone over the two-hour parking restriction. I'm in somewhat of a quandary this evening as Gedling Miners' Welfare are the visitors; a club I have a soft spot for. I stand in between the two dugouts. Big Glenn is remarkably calm. There are no tantrums, swear words or removal of baseball cap in a fit of pique, as the Pheasants sweep aside the Miners by 3-0.

Thursday evening is spent in the old mining village of Selston, just off Junction 27 on the M1. 'The Taxman' is riding shotgun. He moans and groans about Nottingham Forest's inability to find the back of the Onion Bag - they haven't scored in the last six games. Rumour is, that only the visiting Barnsley fans are allowed to buy golden goal tickets for Saturday's fixture.

It's a wonderful game of football at the Parish Hall. Teversal see off Selston 3-2. Dave Cockerill scores a goal of rare beauty for this level - his performance alone is worth the admission fee. He's carrying some timber these days, but his touch, decision-making and goal-scoring prowess are first-class.

Plans for a Friday tea-time drinky poo with Ms Moon are scuppered when her mum takes an unfortunate tumble (I've never known a good one), resulting in her being whisked off to an overstretched accident and emergency department at Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre. I peg it down to the Willowbrook in Gedling and have a couple of real ales with Arthur Daley, Terry McCann and Dave off Minder.

I'm up at eight bells on Saturday morning, I've a date with the Big Man (the artist previously known as White Van Man) at Colwick Country Park, next to Nottingham Racecourse. We're both proper into our cycling at the minute (no drug tests required). The other evening we had a lovely ride down to Beeston Weir from ROKO gym in Wilford, where we saw all the beautiful tributes in the memory of 12-year-old Owen Jenkins who tragically drowned at this spot whilst heroically saving another life in July 2017.

Blimey Charlie, ninety minutes of pedalling on paths caked in mud and puddles has done for me. I'm a broken man as I shower up, dress and prepare a chilli, whilst listening to the brilliant Mark Chapman broadcasting live from Aintree. I've only won the Grand National twice, ever. Fifty pence each way (old joke) on Mr Frisk in 1990 and Bobby Joe in 1999 saw me sharing Cuban cigars with Robert Maxwell on his yacht in the Canary Islands.

I arrive at the Rancliffe Arms in the village of Bunny at 1:20pm. It's a gastropub that was run back in the day by Brian Clough's chief scout, Alan Hill - and what a lovely chap he is too. I hear the sound of burning rubber and a late press on the brake pedal, as the Big Man does a 90-degree turn on entering the car park.

We're joined by Tim Wilkes, a former Notts County striker and Non-League legend - the Big Man always teases him that it was Big Sam Allardyce who released him from Meadow Lane. Tim did the business and banged the goals in for a number of high profile clubs on the circuit including: Kettering, Hinckley and Grantham.

Christ on a bike, I've forgotten how frightening the Big Man is behind the wheel, as he weaves in and out of traffic, ironically close to Prestwold Hall Racing Circuit. We're on two wheels as we come off the M1 and join the M69. I've run out of fingernails as we exit the motorway.

Six years ago he took 'The Taxman' on a death ride to Hednesford Town down the A38 in rush hour traffic - the poor bloke hasn't stepped in his car since, and is still receiving counselling to this day. If you're a bank robber, cashpoint demolisher or armed raider and need a getaway driver, book now to avoid further disappointment.

I notice a piece of paper tucked in behind his sun visor. I ask for a look. It's confirmation of a tour of 'Emmerdale Farm' - I actually shed a tear in sympathy. He starts chortling and admits he's not missed an episode in 15 years.

It's an astonishing £14 to stand on the terraces at Liberty Way - a club charging that at this level must have delusions of grandeur - it's a further £2 to transfer into the 'stand' ... lol.  A raffle ticket seller is immediately in my face and not particularly polite. I wave her away - I always buy a raffle ticket.

For £14 you'd expect to chance upon a team-sheet so we can at least see who's playing. I ask a steward where I can find one, "you'll be lucky son" is his reply. Most clubs at this level have the courtesy to type one out and give them out for free and not charge £14 on the gate - I would happily pay 50 pence for one. I came here a few years back (2013) on a bitterly cold day and was very impressed with the DJ. He or she are proper on it today. I'm nearly tripping out as 'Chime' by Orbital blasts out the PA system.

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, rugby player Dean Richards, Paul Bradley (that dimwit Nigel off EastEnders), referee Stuart Attwell, film director Ken Loach and Victorian novelist George Eliot.

It's nip and tuck at the top of the National League North as Salford and Harrogate scrap it out in the title chase, with the former three points in front. Nuneaton are on a good run with former Nottingham Forest manager Gary Charles at the helm.

Salford are on top in the early stages. Their talisman, the fleet-footed Nick Haughton, signed from Fleetwood Town, puts them one to the good with a beautifully executed free-kick. Carl Piergianni inflicts further damage with a close-range header from another set piece.

George Green is in centre mid for Nuneaton and has previously played for Salford. As a youth player he was signed by Everton for £300,000 from Bradford City. He left Goodison Park four years later, struggling to cope with too much too young. He has openly admitted to suffering from depression. Green clatters into 'crowd favourite' Scott Burton (a player I rate and admire) and is correctly yellow-carded. The chants from some of the away support are sick, vile and aimed at Green. It's pathetic.

I can hear the Big Man's tummy rumbling at the break. I ask him if he wants a pie. The queue at the 'Pie Stall' is enormous. Rumours are circulating that there's been a 'cock-up on the catering front' and they've run out of pies (it would never happen in Wigan). I shoot over to another catering outlet on the far side of the ground and relay the devastating news to the 'Big Man.' He takes it in his stride, "Hot Dog with Tommy Ketch, please son.'

Nuneaton try to break down a resilient Salford but can't blow the house down and lack the killer instinct, with the visitor's Liam Hogan outstanding in the heart of their defence. The Nuneaton centre half's have been smoking Robert Maxwell's Havana's whilst marking Salford's 9 jacket. I've put more effort in hunting down a steak pie.

Attendance: 936

Man of the Match: 'The Big Man and Liam Hogan (a proper defender).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lincoln City 1-0 Shrewsbury Town

It's Saturday 20th January 1973. An eight-year-old Sticky Palms is sat on a wooden bench, behind the goal in the South Park Stand at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank stadium, scoffing his way through a bag of Woolworths pick 'n mix that his Nana has bought him.  My Dad, Frank Palmer, a journalist on the Daily Mirror, has sloped off to the Press Box to catch up with his old friend and former colleague Maurice Burton, a sports correspondent for the Lincolnshire Echo.

There's quite a commotion in the crowd. I lift my head from out of my bag of sweeties to see what's going off. 23-year-old Irishman, Brendan Bradley, a £6,000 signing from Finn Harps, is wheeling away in celebration after firing a goal into Crewe Alexandra's net. I'm transfixed and captivated for the rest of the game and fall in love with the club at first sight. Little did I know that I would watch them play at over 40 different grounds.

I shared with Dad and my brother the glory years of Graham Taylor and his record-breaking Division Four team. The renaissance during the Colin Murphy era, in his two successful spells and the exciting times with John Beck and Keith Alexander at the helm in the nineties and noughties. There was the heartbreak of the 'Bradford Fire Disaster' in 1985, in which 56 supporters perished when the Valley Parade main stand caught ablaze - two were Imps fans, who the Club named a stand after. The disappointment of a 1-1 draw at Fulham's Craven Cottage, denying us promotion to what is now the Championship in 1982 and the devastation (twice) of relegation to the fifth tier (Conference).

My father passed away in 2000. He missed the two trips in the play-offs to the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, where we came up short (it was a miracle Keith got us there on his budget). My own family became a priority in the nineties and noughties. Sticky junior attended his first game in 1999, a 3-2 defeat to Leyton Orient - he joined in with the crowd shouting 'Foster out' (George Foster was a decent man and Phil Stant's assistant). The next time he returned to Sincil was for an FA Cup tie in 2007, sporting Nottingham Forest colours in the away end - 'rules' are that you support the team from the town where you were born (we live in Nottingham).

Non-League football became my scene and obsession. Lincoln, true to form, duly obliged with a second stint in the Conference, following the disastrous appointment of the inexperienced, arrogant and aloof Chris Sutton. I would go just twice a season, but it wasn't the same without Dad.

There was a turning point for the club in June 2016. I pray it was a vision and not the cheaper option. What we do know is that two brothers from Essex rode into town with a strong Non-League CV on the back of success at Concord Rangers and Braintree Town, with university degrees and a firm belief in sports science - City were about to buck the trend of appointing run-of-the-mill managers.

Ms Moon kindly bought me a last-minute ticket for the third round FA Cup tie at Ipswich Town - I needed to tick off Portman Road in my quest to complete the 92 League grounds. I went with no expectation. What I saw that day defied belief and blew me away. The Imps played them off the park, but couldn't kill them off. There was a heart, soul and spirit not witnessed since Big Keith's land of the giants. It was a lonely, sad, but proud drive back home, despite the 2-2 draw. The Tractor Boys lost the replay in dramatic fashion; a game shared with a live TV audience.

Last year's FA Cup journey has been well-documented; I shan't force feed you again. We were privileged and honoured to witness victories against Brighton and Burnley - despite sitting in the 'wrong end' on both occasions, due to our desperation to 'be there.'

An early first-round exit at AFC Wimbledon meant there was to be no repeat performance. There was a chink of light appearing in the controversial EFL Trophy, a competition some supporters chose to boycott. Despite a tough regional draw and tricky ties to follow at Rochdale's Spotland and Peterborough at Sincil Bank, 'The Lincoln' found themselves 90 minutes away from their first appearance at Wembley since their formation in 1884.

Where was I when 'one of our own' (Lee Frecklington) dispatched the winning penalty to send us to 'the home of football?' Pacing up and down my balcony in the Hotel Bahia Princess in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, waiting for confirmation from the Imps' official Twitter account.

It's Saturday morning and I'm piloting down the M1 south. We're dipping our toes into the Vanarama South for the first time this season. Mud's 1973 hit 'Crazy' is on Paul Gambacinni's 'Pick of the Pops' as we roll into a car parking space on Vauxhall Road, outside Hemel Hempstead's ground.

It's £12 a pop on the turnstile. I like the ground, it has a homely feel about it. We stand across the far side, facing a cool breeze. Hemel blow away the visitors, Chippenham Town, from Wiltshire. Their front two, David Moyo and Karl Oliyide are too hot to handle as they race into a 3-0 lead. It's a lovely club, where we meet genuine, friendly supporters who wish us well for our day out tomorrow in north London. We spend a wonderful evening in the historic market town of St Albans. I tick off a few old Victorian back-street boozers, before enjoying a few scoops with Ms Moon in the city centre close to the cathedral.

It's Sunday morning and we're sat in a hipster street cafe just around the corner from the hotel. The nerves are kicking in; it's just five hours before kick-off. I eat as much breakfast as I can, but it's a struggle to force it down. I notice a tweet from Nicky Cowley's wife, which says ten years ago she bought, as a present for her then boyfriend, Nicky, a stadium tour of Wembley.

'Cooperman' has tipped us the wink that Kingsbury, in north London, is a top place to park for Wembley. We tip up there just after midday and find a parking space just off the busy high street. We would've nipped into JJ Moons 'Spoons, but a sign says 'Shrewsbury supporters only' - I'm a stickler for the rules.

It's a five-minute train ride to Wembley Park. The place is buzzing with football supporters already. 'The Lincoln' outnumber the Salopians by two and a half to one. I'm taken aback at the redevelopment on 'Wembley Way.' My last visit was in September 1997. It was two days' after the tragic death of Princess Diana. The atmosphere was sombre and surreal. Earlier in the day we had dropped into Lord's to watch Notts CCC in a County Championship match versus Middlesex. It was one of the few times I've been sozzled at a football game.

I won't have a drop of beer before this one; that's for sure. It's teeming down with rain as we loiter inside the Novotel Hotel foyer waiting for my brother, niece and her grandad. They've travelled down from York at the crack of dawn and have been to the Science Museum, before getting caught up in 'The Arsenal' traffic on the tube.

I'm getting tetchy and irritable and want to be sat in the ground 'enjoying' the pre-match entertainment. I distribute the tickets out and peg it up 'Wembley Way' with Ms Moon. An escalator transports us up into the gods. We're sat bang on the halfway line with a bird's eye view of the stadium.

Ms Moon, gawd bless her, tries to exchange some small talk. It falls on deaf ears, like it did at Turf Moor last season and on Colne High Street, in Lancashire last May, when waiting for the final score to come in from the Macclesfield game that clinched us promotion back to the Football League. I'm a bag of nerves.

There are some lovely touches by both clubs. The Shrews and Imps stadium announcers read out the teams over the PA system. Lincoln's special guest is 16-year-old Jack Nottingham, who has inoperable bone cancer. Young Jack walks out with the match ball as I struggle to fight back the tears. Danny Cowley has stepped aside and allowed legendary manager Colin Murphy (I named my budgie after him) to lead the team out - what a wonderful gesture this is. I well up again as triple amputee, 13-year-old Harvey Phillips is today's mascot.

The game kicks off and I feel an inner calm. Shrewsbury look comfortable on the ball, but have the Imps snapping at their heels. The Cowleys, in their working gear, are prowling the technical area and are their usual animated selves. Shrews' manager Paul Hurst, a man who Danny Cowley openly admits to ringing for advice during his Non-League days, is suited, booted and stood still.

The Imps survive an early scare when Bryn Morris sees a speculative shot thump off the crossbar. Shrews' 'keeper Dean Henderson looks to be 'cleaning windows' as he comes out to collect a ball, before falling dramatically to the floor, where he remains motionless. A stretcher is called for. TV replays show it to be a poor challenge by Matt Rhead, who is fortuitously shown a yellow card.

Minutes later, with Henderson clearly ruffled and still dazed, a Waterfall shot is fumbled into the path of Elliott Whitehouse, who blasts a shot into the roof of the net. I'm out of my seat in a flash, clenching my first, the relief pouring out. Lincoln enjoy a good spell of pressure, although they are thankful to on-loan 'keeper Ryan Allsop who makes a stunning save from a point-blank header by Omar Beccles. The first half is over in a flash. I head downstairs for the toilet, but quickly do an about turn when seeing the beer-fuelled queues.

The second half lasts an eternity as Lincoln look to run down the clock at every opportunity (we're brilliant at that). Rhead is hooked just after the hour after spooning a great chance over the bar. Another juggernaut, the ever-willing Palmer, replaces him. He runs his socks off and holds the ball up in corners, buying the Imps some valuable time and rest.

Legs are tiring, the energy-sapping, rain-soaked Wembley turf is taking its toll on both sets of players. Lincoln are magnificent in the final quarter. Whitehouse is having the game of his life. The referee blows the final whistle. I turn to my brother and hug him tightly, not wanting to let go, ever. I look to the skies and thank my Dad for letting me mither him into taking me to Sincil Bank for the first time in 1973.

Attendance: 41,261

Men of the Match:  Jack Nottingham and Harvey Phillips our special guest and mascot and the Shrewsbury mascot (I'm sorry, I couldn't find his name)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Newport County A.F.C. 1-1 Coventry City

I'm still sulking as we traipse back down into Lancaster city centre, after the long, hard slog up to the Ashton Memorial. Yesterday, 'The Lincoln' dropped two points (Danny will be cross and frustrated) up at the Globe Arena in Morecambe. We created very little and were fortunate, in the end, to see two shots kiss and smack off our own crossbar.

I start to stress about the weather forecast in Newport, in Wales, for the coming week. The plan was to tick off ground 85/92 - blog legend Trumpy Bolton will be on the team bus, it's 86/92 for him. To make matters worse, the Club declare it an all-ticket match, so I have to commit to two tickets in the Bisley Stand, irrespective of whether the game goes ahead or not.

Tuesday evening is spent down Lenton Lane, in Nottingham, at Dunkirk's ground. Their young guns may be familiar to Coventry City fans, as they knocked the Sky Blues out of the FA Youth Cup in a highly-charged affair back in 2016.

Tonight, I see them claw back three points from League leaders Anstey Nomads, whose management team are the biggest set of whingers that I've set eyes on this season. I remark to their manager that I haven't paid £5 to listen to him moan and groan all night (20 minutes in). I'm told to 'f**k off to the other side of the ground if you don't like it.' What a charming individual. Local hero Ned Ludd (from the Luddites) would be proud of you.

Wednesday night is spent on a sun-soaked (breezy) Albert Dock in Liverpool, as I have a business meeting in the morning. I'm proper fagged out when I return home just before tea-time. Ms Moon and I enjoy a few scoops in the Head of Steam on High Pavement, in Nottingham.

It's Friday morning and I'm driving over Lady Bay Bridge. The banks of the River Trent are bulging, swollen and about to burst. Brazil and McCoist are in fine fettle on the TalkSport breakfast show. Trumpy Bolton is swinging his shopping bag filled with booty (cider), as he opens the car door. Newport and Coventry fans let me explain a few things. This man has supped more alcoholic beverages than Richard Burton and Oliver Reed put together.

Another astonishing fact to consider is that he is trying (over the last 40 years) to tick off a pub in every village, town and city in England, Wales and Scotland. He has a dog-eared old Collins road atlas that has all the places neatly highlighted out. Credit card bills from the pubs are neatly indexed in box files. He's going to leave all this to me in his will, if he pops it first.

He navigates me through the Cotswolds and into Wales, before we roll into the quaint village of Usk, in Gwent, 10 miles shy of Newport. It's a former Britain in Bloom winner, that today is spoilt with countless roadworks.

Bolton has soon snuck into the Three Salmons Hotel, shouting up a pint of Butty Bach and gassing to the Spanish barman who tells us he's also a 'gigolo.' We wander across the far side of the village, where a Good Friday church parade is taking place. Bolton is unmoved and dives into the King's Head a 16th Century inn with a large, open log fire. We sit adjacent to the Lionel Sweet Room - a legendary fly fisherman (no, me neither).

The heavens begin to open and rain hammers onto my windscreen as we pull into one of those dreadful Flaming Grill pubs just a few miles away from the ground. As it's Good Friday, Trumpy insists on having fish (scampi). I feel the water oozing out from every bite I take.

I've grave concerns about the weather, it's absolutely tipping it down as we park in the Kingsway Shopping Centre. We stroll through town before Trump eyes another pub up called the Pen and Wig. We both sink a wonderful pint of Bass, which is second only to the Plough at Wysall, before asking a policeman for directions to the ground.

Newport is a cathedral and university city in south-east Wales, that lies on the River Usk. It has a population of 145,000. Up until 1850 it was Wales' largest coal-exporting port. In 2010 the Ryder Cup was hosted at nearby Celtic Manor. Funnily enough, it rained a lot that weekend too. It was so washed out, that they finished the game on a Monday.

Notable folk from the city include: the cast from Dirty Sanchez (prank TV series), Rap group Goldie Lookin' Chain, Animal Magic presenter Johnny Morris, the brilliant actor Michael Sheen, (played Brian Clough in 'The Damned United'),  author Leslie Thomas, former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, footballers James Collins, Chris Gunter and Tony Pulis and shed loads of rugby players who I've never heard of (I don't do rugby).

The football club were founded in 1912, and were reformed again in 1989, following well-documented financial woes. They are nicknamed The Exiles. Well-known managers include: Bobby Ferguson (Bobby Robson's No.2 at UEFA Cup winning Ipswich Town), Justin Edinburgh, Terry Butcher and John Sheridan (serial swearer). Notable former players include: John Aldridge, Tommy Tynan, Dean Holdsworth, Tony Pulis and Ismail Yakubu.

On March 23rd, 1983, for what would be the first and last time, I left a game at half-time. Two goals apiece for Tommy Tynan (couldn't hit a cow's arse with a ukulele for 'The Lincoln') and John Aldridge put Newport County 4-0 up at Sincil Bank. I was traumatised and teased for weeks after by my Nottingham Forest supporting work colleagues.

We're both soaked to the skin as we join fans crossing the footbridge before Trumpy navigates into the Family Zone at Rodney Parade. A beer-fuelled Bolton necks another pint and sings along to a Neil Young song that a guitarist is blasting out on stage.

We take our seats in Block E, Row E of the Bisley Stand at 2:50pm as Sheffield's Pulp play on the ground PA system. A minute's silence is held following the passing of Bobby Ferguson, a former Newport player, where he scored the only two Football League goals in his career. As previously mentioned he was Ipswich Town's coach during the Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen era.

The Sky Blues have brought a huge following (1500). The majority of supporters stand on the open, uncovered terrace in the wind and rain - I salute you all. Coventry play a beautiful game that revolves around 36-year-old Dubliner Michael Doyle. He has balance, poise and finds pockets of space. He rarely wastes a ball for the whole afternoon.

Newport are more direct but play with heart, no more so than cult hero right back David Pipe, whose former clubs include Coventry City and Notts County. The Exiles take the lead following a beautiful, flowing passage of football, with Mickey Demetriou turning in a left-wing cross.

It's announced at the break over the tannoy that Coventry pensioner Andy Martin has today completed visiting 92 Football League grounds, probably all with Coventry because of their yo-yo existence. There's a generous round of applause to acknowledge this feat.

Bolton is dispatched down to the concourse to snaffle up a couple of meat pies and sink another pint. I check the half-times. 'The Lincoln' are 1-0 down to Exeter City. I'm not unduly concerned, as we always turn up the heat in the second half. So do Newport, as they go for the jugular. An incredible save by Burge and a last-ditch clearance off the line by a defender keeps Coventry in the game, as the Sky Blues appear to run out of steam.

Trumpy starts chatting to the bloke next him, it sounds like he's talking in Welsh, bearing in mind he's had a skinful. He tells the chap that Newport will regret missing those chances just as Max Biamou pops up at the far post to blast home an equaliser and earn Coventry a vital point. I check my phone, the Red Imps have grabbed a late win with another goal from super-sub Ollie Palmer.

You've got to admire Trumpy. a 300 mile round trip with me today, followed by a dawn start tomorrow for Brighton versus his beloved Leicester City.

Attendance: 4,667

Man of the Match: Trumpy Bolton.

Bolton Beer Watch: Litre of cider, pint in Three Salmons, pint in Kings Head, pint in Flaming Grill, pint in Pen and Wig,  pint in Family Zone, pint at half-time

Sticky's Drinks: half a real ale, blackcurrant and soda x3  and pint of Bass.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Morecambe 0-0 Lincoln City

I've enjoyed my away days with 'The Lincoln' over the last few weeks. Danny Cowley has had to change his tactics since being rolled over and outrun at Crawley Town. 4-3-3 has seen us pick up seven points from our last three games.

Ms Moon and I love it Oop North; she doesn't take much arm-twisting when I dangle the carrot of an overnight stay in The Sun Inn and Hotel in the nearby city of Lancaster, following the Imps' visit to the Globe Arena in Morecambe.

We've the week to get through first. On Tuesday evening I have a trot over south of the water (Trent) to Clifton All-Whites, a club where I have coached and is held dear to my heart. Former Lincoln City striker Darren Huckerby began his career at the club. He had the pace of the cartoon character Roadrunner. The first time I saw him play was on the wing for the Imps at Notts County's Meadow Lane. He tore a strip off former Manchester United Scottish under 21 international defender Graeme Hogg that night. Ironically the Pies had released him a year earlier for being too small. Doh!

Radford FC are the visitors at Clifton. I was at their snowed-off League match last Saturday and found myself wandering around Radford, a tasty inner city area of Nottingham, having a few scoops on my tod. I like their manager Big Glenn Russell. He's a writer's dream who always makes me feel welcome at Selhurst Street, despite me being a Jonah. He'll often phone me after a game to seek my opinion of proceedings.

I stand with 'The Taxman' to the left of James 'Tosh' Turner's (legend) dugout. He's wearing an old Notts County manager's coat, with the Munto badge sewn on it from Sven Goran Eriksson's ill-fated reign as Director of Football. I honestly think that I gave him that coat, as they are limited edition and I gave mine away to somebody.

I was hoping to buy a half and half scarf as I follow both clubs home and away during midweek jaunts. Radford run out deserved 1-0 winners in a highly-charged and competitive game. Big Glenn celebrates his birthday with a few scoops after in the clubhouse. Tosh will be gutted that luck wasn't on his side with a strong penalty claim waved away and a point-blank header crashing off the crossbar. But Radford have heart and soul, with a will to win.

Ironically, we spend the afternoon in Lincoln city centre on Wednesday. It's a trip down memory lane for Sticky as we visit Chatterton's the butcher, Stokes High Bridge Cafe and a gin-shop on Steep Hill, where I buy three samples of Pickering's gin that will make my head explode. More importantly we snap up two tickets for the trip away to Morecambe from the Sincil Bank office.

It's Friday evening and to be honest I'm fagged out after a debut 10-mile bike ride around Colwick Park, adjacent to Nottingham Racecourse. Ms Moon has gone into Nottingham city centre for scoops with some old work colleagues. I decide I need a warm-down, so take a stroll up to the Free Man at the top of Carlton Hill. I down a pint of Shipyard before returning home and settling in for the Holland v England friendly.

Scoring 14 Premier League goals doesn't count Jack s**t for Jamie Vardy, a player who gives every ounce of energy for his country. He's pulled England out of the mire on a few occasions. It's clear that his high-tempo game doesn't suit Gareth Southgate's possession-based tactics. England look the business and win 1-0. Vardy comes on for the last 22 minutes and actually doesn't get a touch of the ball. How very strange.

We're on the road at 9am. Ms Moon needs to tick off another shop that sells Costa Coffee. Wilford Lane's Co-op welcome her with open arms. The M6 behaves itself. We're parked up on the seafront by twelve bells. The wind has dropped with the old seaside town drenched in sunshine.

There's an emergency stop for Ms Moon at the Poundshop for a hairbrush, whilst Sticky Palms sinks a pint of Sunbeam at the stunning art deco Midland Plaza Hotel, complete with panoramic views across the bay.

We can't find a chip shop open on the front for love or money. We're pointed in the direction of Blackburn's Bay Cafe on The Crescent. I order up a couple of haddock and get chatting to some Lincoln lads in the queue. I clock a Codhead (Grimsby fan) in the shop with a 'Harry the Haddock' inflatable fish tucked under his arm. What the chuffing hell is he doing here? The Mariners are meant to be at Coventry City? Turns out it's his Stag weekend and he's with a minibus full of Imps. Ah, bless him.

As we stroll back to the car a glum-faced child, with tears streaming down his cheek, has a tantrum with his mum, as they exit the amusement arcade. I witnessed these same scenes at Scarborough when Ms Moon spent all her tuppences on the slot machines.

We park up in a junior school, just a short walk away from the ground. A few seasons ago we watched Morecambe cruelly concede two late goals to a promotion-chasing Carlisle United. We were struck then by how friendly the club was and have followed their progress ever since. Legendary manager Jim Bentley should win awards for keeping them up on a shoestring budget.

Morecambe is a town in Lancashire with a population of 35,000. It was known back in the day as 'Bradford by-the-Sea' due to its railway connections with Yorkshire. It was once a thriving seaside resort that has suffered decades of long-term decline. Both piers have bit the dust. For a number of years the Miss Great Britain Beauty Contest was held in the town. 

Eric Morecambe took his stage name from the seaside town. Other famous folk from here include: Dame Thora Hird and 'Charity' from 'Emmerdale Farm. World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is from the area. On February 5th 2004, 21 undocumented Chinese migrant labourers, hired to pick cockles at £5 for 25kg, by Chinese Triads, trafficked in on containers that docked in Liverpool, were found dead after being cut off by an incoming tide.

It's £21 on the gate to sit in the stand. I don't bother with a programme, donating to charity instead. We've half an hour to kill as my chest tightens and stomach churns. It's a massive game for the Imps who are desperate for a win to stay with the chasing pack. The DJ plays a decent set that includes: Manic Street Preachers, Elbow and Style Council.

Lincoln have a great first fifteen minutes and are proper on the money. Alex Woodyard and Lee Frecklington take a vice-like grip of the midfield as we stroke the ball about on a gluepot surface. Blackburn on loan defender Scott Wharton goes close with a header. The guy next to me is 'Mutt and Jeff.' We strike up a conversation but I have to keep repeating myself. It gets worse when he puts on his beanie hat which covers his ears. He reminds me of Cheryl's Dad (Joe) off the Royle Family.

The first half is nowt to write home about as neither side threaten goal. Morecambe seem content with a point as they inch away to safety. The DJ cheers me up as he plays 'Friday I'm in Love' by The Cure and 'Geno' by the brilliant Dexy's Midnight Runners.

I rave about the pies (the meat ones, not Notts County). Morecambe's are meant to be Michelin star. I'm still sulking about our inability to break down the home defence, so Ms Moon disappears down the concourse to very kindly buy one. I've a face like thunder when she returns ten minutes later. The pie is soaked in gravy. Sticky doesn't do gravy ( yes I know, a weirdo). We don't speak for ten minutes, a bit like Matt Rhead and Matt Green in the first half. I apologise after we scuff another chance over the bar.

The Shrimps defend magnificently in the second half as Lincoln and particularly bargain-of-the-season Neal Eardley bombard them with a series of crosses. They are proving a tough nut to crack and start to gain confidence. A deflected shot clips the crossbar before McGurk sees a 25-yard free kick crash off the bar with Lincoln 'keeper Allsop beaten. Lee Frecklington's last-ditch effort curls agonisingly wide of the post. Seconds later the ref blows for full time.

Sticky doesn't do 0-0s, but on this occasion I'll have to suck it up as Morecambe, despite bizarre time-wasting tactics, have deserved a point from the game. 'The Lincoln' have huffed and puffed but failed to blow the house down.

Quiz question: Who is the only Non-Adult (17 years old) to have scored a penalty in the Premier League? Answer next week.

Attendance: 1,883 (676 from Lincoln)

Man of the Match: That Grimsby fan in the Lincoln away end.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Radford FC A -A Graham St Prims

The journey back from Chesterfield's Proact Stadium is seamless. It's been an eventful day that has a happy ending. A supporter's life has been saved; they are recovering at a hospital in Derby. 'The Lincoln' have played well in patches and have turned up the heat in the second half; as they have a habit of doing. After a gruelling midweek battle at Field Mill, we'll take the four points out of the six on offer.

Ms Moon drops me off outside the Willowbrook pub (or as I call it the 'Winchester Club' off Minder) on Gedling Road. 'Dave' pours me a pint, there's no sign of Arthur Daley or Terry McCann. Christ on a bike, the place is stacked out with folk. What the chuff is going off? Bloody hell it's the Six Nations rugby. I'm stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. If I go home Ant 'n Dec will be on, and they do my duck in.

I quaff a couple of scoops before retiring to my armchair, where I bury my head into The Boy on the Shed by Paul Ferris. It's a fascinating story of a Catholic boy brought up in the mainly Protestant town of Lisburn, in Northern Ireland. A gifted player, he later became a professional footballer at Newcastle United, where he gives a captivating insight into the club under the Keegan, Gullit and Robson tenure.

On Sunday lunchtime I steer clear of any hostelries in North and West Bridgford as the Tricky Trees take on the Rams in an early afternoon kick off at The City Ground. I sink a few pints at the Fox and Grapes in Sneinton before returning home to knock up the Chesterfield blog, which to my amazement has clocked-up nearly 3,000 hits.

I'm glued to the TV on Monday evening as serial killer, supervillain and cult hero Pat Phelan continues his reign of terror on the cobbled streets of Weatherfield. When we had Murphy the budgie, he always asked for the towel to placed over the cage when either Phelan or Fiona Phillips were on the television. Murph and I had a secret pact that if we ever won the Postcode Lottery we'd refuse to answer the door or accept the £30,000 winning cheque if Phillips trespassed on our manor.

I'm desperate for a midweek football fix, as this inclement weather is killing me and my world of Non-League football. I peruse the fixtures on Malcolm Storer's excellent On the Road blog. I check the Midland League and spot that Loughborough University v Shepshed Dynamo play on Tuesday night. I have lunch with my bestie work buddy, Lee, at the delightful Rancliffe Arms in Bunny, ironically on the Loughborough Road. I stay late at the office before heading back down the A60 away from Nottingham.

I saw a kid at Harrowby Utd in Lincolnshire, a couple of seasons back, called Danny Durkin from North Hykeham, just outside Lincoln. He'd already bagged 20 goals before the New Year. His Dad said he was a first-year student at Loughborough Uni and that he couldn't even force his way into the fourth team. The Uni played at the same level as Harrowby. Baffled by this I dropped the 'Head of Coaching' an email to query it. His reply was, 'you try and pick out players when over 400 trial?' "Thought that was your, job pal." Footnote: Durkin has already banged in 25 goals for Leicester Nirvana this season, at the same level.

It's entertaining fayre at Holywell Park as the Scholars and Dynamo play out a 2-2 draw. I like the look of Shepshed forward Shay Brennan. He makes intelligent runs, can hold a ball up bringing others into play and has finesse and class in front of goal. How he isn't playing further up the Pyramid is a mystery to me.

I can't be arsed to watch Barca v Chelsea on Wednesday evening. The Blues of Stamford Bridge only put a shift in when they feel like it. I'm glad they fall short in the Nou Camp and hope Trumpy Bolton's Leicester City can see them off on Sunday in the FA Cup.

I meet Ms Moon in the Free Man, a Wetherspoons establishment on the top of Carlton Hill. As a rule of thumb, it's not my cup of tea. From the upper tier of the Carlton No.27 bus the scene outside the front door is usually of chain-smoking, shaven-headed, drunken states hugging one another at any time of day. Inside we're pleasantly surprised. I get chatting to 76-year-old Sneinton-born Ernie Raven, who ran Carlton FC for 30 years - it warms the cockles of my heart; what a lovely chap.

Lincoln v Grimsby has sold out and I'm not feeling the Pies v the Stags; it'll be nip and tuck as there's too much at stake. It's attempt No.3 at chalking off Wellingborough Whitworth, my final tick-off in the United Counties Premier League.

I've put some timber on in the last twelve months which needs addressing for the summer season. I wander past Tesco before turning right down Station Road towards Netherfield. In 1970 my parents bought me my first bike from Graham Read's cycle shop. Nearly 50 years later the shop is still trading, but under a different name. I'll be pounding the canal towpaths, cycle paths and the picturesque Colwick Park on my new bike on balmy summer evenings (lol) in an attempt to shift a stone or two - you can't be called Sticky and weigh-in at 14 stone.

I walk past the Fox and Hounds on the Carlton/Netherfield Gaza Strip. It doubles up as Tommy Thompson's Boxing Club. I'm not sure if it was a bout gone wrong, but there was a serious fracas and affray in there on New Year's Day. I need to tick it off, but it doesn't look very welcoming.

The forecast doesn't look too good for the Midlands this afternoon. Ms Moon isn't feeling it, but wants to drive in case of snow, so I'm not alone. All's well until the M1. You can barely see your face in front of your hand, never mind the traffic. Wellingborough Whitworth and opponents St Andrews have both confirmed that the fixture is ON. 'The Princess' is getting stressed with the blizzard-like conditions. We abort the motorway at Junction 23 and head back oop North.

Blog legend, 'Big Glenn Russell', the manager of Radford FC, says that their Selhurst Street venue (On Call Arena) has been given the green light. Jesus wept, I've proper got the monk on (for any southerners reading this it means I've got it on me). To make matters worse there's been a crash on the M1. Even Paul Gambacinni can't cheer me up with the brilliant 1986 hit 'Digging Your Scene' by Dr Robert and The Blow Monkeys.

We roll into Asda on Radford Road twenty minutes before kick-off. I seriously think we're going to perish outside. I know how Captain Oates felt when he said in 1912 on the Terra Nova Expedition "I'm just going outside and may be some time." (it's minus 1 in Radford btw).

It's £5 on the gate and we throw in a couple of quid for some raffle tickets. Big Glenn tells me I'm barred (I've a reputation of being a Jonah). It must be cold as the big wuss isn't wearing shorts. We wander over to the far side and take cover; even the club shop and tea bar are closed as a stiff breeze blows across the ground as a snowstorm looms.

Ms Moon is sucking lemons. I seriously can't see the good lady going the distance as a blizzard and snow flurries blow in. Both teams give it their all in diabolical conditions. Radford take the lead with a smart finish from their lanky winger. The visitors, Graham St Prims, from across the cattle grid, restore parity with a scruffy equaliser. It must be cold as Big Glenn (a) doesn't shout out a loud cuss as the ball crosses the line and (b) doesn't hurl his baseball cap to the ground in a fit of pique.

The ref', who has been excellent by the way, under the beady eye of the assessor in the stand, has had enough and blows for half-time a few minutes early. Volunteer officials frantically try to mark the lines out covered by snow. The Ref's not interested and the game is abandoned - my first for weather since the Pies v the Wombles (Dons) in 2001 'down the lane' due to a pea-souper of a fog.

I've proper got the hump. I'm stewing and steaming (cross). They shout out the raffle numbers and I'm two off the winning prize - the red mist descends. The referee's assessor doesn't seem unduly concerned as he mops up the sandwiches, pork pies and cakes in 'hospitality.'

I bid farewell to Big Glenn, who thanks me for coming, despite the Jonah curse striking again. I wander up Radford Road before diving into a classic old street boozer called the Horse and Plough, an old Shipstone's house. I can't arf pick 'em.

Attendance: Not a Scooby, but we were one light at half-time. (Ms Moon watching Four in a Bed)

Man of the Match: Pat Phelan