Sunday, February 26, 2017

Highgate United 1-2 Long Eaton United

On January 30th I tweeted this: "I said to Ms Moon, if  'The Lincoln' beat Burnley in the FA Cup we'll be staying the night in the Penthouse Suite at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester #Dreamer #Imps.

It's Saturday February 18th, 2;30pm. We're sat in the Audi, in standing traffic - all roads heading out of Burnley towards the M65 are gridlocked. Sticky Palms is shaking like a leaf. Not because little old Lincoln City have dumped Sean Dyche's Premier League Burnley out of the FA Cup, at juicy odds of 12/1. No, it's more serious than that. I start sweating profusely. I've dug myself a massive hole on social networks. How the chuff am I going to wriggle out of this one? The Riverside Penthouse Suites at the Lowry are £710 per night. I've just spent a King's ransom in Tenerife. Shocking hell; I blame heavy rocker, Sean Dyche for this and that bloody ref. Why didn't he disallow the goal ?

I'll try the fake phone call gag, see if that works. I fish my mobile out of my pocket and 'punch a few numbers out.' "Hello, is that the Lowry ? I was just enquiring to see if you have any *cough cough* Penthouse Suites available for this evening ? Sorry, what was that, Mr Mourinho has commandeered them all. Okay love, no worries." Phew that was a close shave.

We're back in Nottingham for 6:00 pm. Ms Moon nips down to Morrisons to fetch some tea. I peg it up to the Herbert Kilpin. I'm on Cloud Nine. I've never felt like this after a football match. I'm an emotional wreck. Following Lincoln City on and off for 45 years has seen more lows than highs. I confess to having jumped on the Cowley bandwagon. But what a journey we are having. The first Non-League club to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since 1914.

On Sunday morning I drive out to what was my favourite place to scout young footballers in inner-city Nottingham. Vernon Park, now known as Queen Elizabeth II Playing Fields, is in the suburb of Basford - a place that has seen its fair share of tragedy from gun crime and drug-pushing. It's a beautiful tree-lined park and a hive of activity. I sit on a bench, basking in the sunshine, watching a Notts Youth League fixture. As I walk back to the car, a melee breaks out between two pub teams on an adjacent pitch. The referee deals with it by dishing out a flurry of yellow cards.

Lunchtime is spent in the wonderful King Billy on Eyre Street, in Sneinton. I down a couple of Oakham Ales before the long slog home. I write up the Burnley v Lincoln blog. What a weekend we've had.

It's Tuesday evening and I'm back in Lincoln again, this time to watch the Whites of Lincoln United. The Ashby Avenue ground is close to Hartsholme Park, and is dwarfed by a block of high-rise flats. The Taxman pays me in. I get gassing to a few parents that I know, who have travelled from Nottingham - Basford United are visitors.

To be honest the game is bloody awful. Lincoln have more craft and guile. I'm really disappointed with Basford and their direct style of play, particularly when you consider that they play on a 4G surface. Their owner, Chris Munroe, is frustrated by what he's seeing. He shouts from the stands, "Get the ball down, and start playing."

We have a quiet night in, on Friday evening, apart from a quick tea-time beverage at the 'World Renowned Trent Bridge Inn.' I dash out of the house at 10:00 am on Saturday morning. I've only had time for two slices of toasted Warburton fruit loaf, accompanied by some Gouda cheese and a strong cup of Nescafe Alta Rica coffee.

I flick on Radio 2, it's the dying embers of Brian Matthew's last ever Sound of the 60s Show. I'm not sure which sacking has cheesed me off the most: 'Uncle Brian' or 'The Tinkerman' ? I drive up the Trent Embankment and onto the Nottingham ring road, before turning off up University Boulevard. I take a left turn into Highfields Park. Nottingham City Boys are playing. I like to keep my hand in, and ear to the ground; you never know when you are going to be called back into action, do you ?

I drive back home. Chichester-born singer Tom O'Dell is on the CD. Murphy the budgie used to love Tom. I miss my little lad so much; he was great fun, and a companion, when you work from home. Tom's finished, so I switch onto Five Live's 'Fighting Talk.' A Blackburn Rovers fan and panellist is explaining to Colin Murray that he received a condolence card from a mate when Tony Mowbray was appointed as manager this week following Owen Coyle's sacking.

It's a short drive over to the West Midlands, after the long trek to Burnley last weekend. Gambaccini is having a 'mare on Pick of the Pops. He plays a load of soft American rock pants from 1985 like Journey and Chicago. I threaten to jump out of the window if he spins another chuffer - it's a close call as he plays 'Run For You' by the Canadian singer Bryan Adams.

Shirley, in Solihull, where Highgate United play, has a population of over 35,000. Notable people to have grown up in the area include: Mandy Rice-Davies, the British model famous for the 'Profumo Affair', former England rugby captain Martin Johnson and Top Gear talentless smug TV presenter Richard Hammond.

I was aware of a footballer being killed after being struck by lightning during a Cup game at Highgate many years ago. What I didn't realise was, that it's 50 years to the day. In 1967 the Club were playing Enfield in an FA Amateur Cup quarter-final when a bolt of lightning sent several players to the ground. Defender, Tony Allden, aged 23 years old, never regained consciousness and died the following day in hospital. As an act of goodwill, Aston Villa staged the replay, with over 30,000 people attending.

Within the hour we're on Tythe Barn Lane and pulling into the ground, where there is limited car parking space, due to a rugby game. Ms Moon gets herself wrapped up to the ninepins, whilst Sticky has a stroll about the joint. I poke my head into the Clubhouse. A lady is making a speech. I put two and two together. It is the widow of Tony Allden, who tragically died in the game 50 years ago. It's a beautiful, heart-warming, touching, moving moment. Players from both teams that day are in attendance.

We stand next to the home dugout, opposite the newly named 'Tony Allden Stand.' The guy next to us strikes up a conversation. He was a committee member, but just likes to write up the match reports for the website. I mention that we're from Nottingham and like to visit a different ground each week and write a blog. "Are you the bloke with the budgie ?" "I am mate, he sadly passed away a few weeks ago."

The pitch resembles something from the 70s Sunday afternoon TV show Star Soccer - think of a mud-clogged Baseball Ground, and you won't be far off the mark. We hold a minute's silence for Tony Allden. I catch a small boy out of the corner of my eye, stood next to a junior goal net. He has his foot resting on a ball, arms behind his back and is stationary - it's a beautiful moment.

Long Eaton take an early lead. Moments later the most extraordinary incident I've witnessed in 10 years of watching  Non League football happens. The Gate right back, who I've seen somewhere before, and reminds me of former NFFC full back Viv Anderson, powers down the wing before delivering an inch-perfect cross which is spooned over the bar from eight yards out by the centre forward. The full back boots an advertising hoarding in frustration and is immediately shown a Red card for 'violent conduct.'

The whole ground is gobsmacked with the ref's decision. The boy seems so placid and languid. Long Eaton take advantage to make it 2-0. It's flipping freezing and drizzling with rain. We shout up a couple of cups of Bovril and seek warmth in the Clubhouse.

The pitch has become a quagmire. Highgate never give up and deserve what would appear to be a consolation goal, with ten minutes remaining. With a few minutes left, Highgate's best player, the left back, floats a cross in which the No.11 somehow heads wide of the post.

The referee, who has had a torrid time, brandishes another Red card to the Long Eaton No.6 following a two-footed lunge. At least he got that one right, as even the referee's observer is mystified by the first Red card of the afternoon.

Man of the Match: Highgate Left Back (Quality)

Attendance: 207

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City

It's a Wednesday evening, March 31st, 1982. I'm stood on the 'Popular Side' terracing at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank with my dad, leaning against a red-painted crash barrier. Over 6,000 fans have rocked up to watch this Division 3 (old money) promotion tussle between the Imps and Burnley.

'The Lincoln' are 1-0 up with two minutes remaining. Dad announces he's off to the chippy on Shakespeare Street for a fish supper -  before they start queuing out of the door - he had a habit of leaving games before the final whistle. He's barely exited the stadium when a huge roar comes from the Claret and Blue Army. 18-year-old Trevor Steven has broken my heart by grabbing a late equaliser for Burnley. It effectively ends our promotion hopes. Burnley are soon crowned League champions. Trevor Steven goes on to win 36 England caps. In 1987 the Imps are relegated, out of the Football League. Burnley finish a point above us. "Funny old game Saint."

35 years later and I'm heading up to Burnley on the M6. Ms Moon is riding shotgun. I'm still devastated by the death of my little budgie, Murphy Palmer, last weekend. I named him after legendary City manager, Colin Murphy, who was in charge that night, 35 years ago.

It's like having a driving lesson when Ms Moon is in the passenger seat. A few words are exchanged in the lorry car park at Lymm Services just off Junction 20. We swap seats. The next few miles are driven in silence. The only voice to be heard is Sir Tim Rice on Radio 2's Sound of the 60s show.

Murphy the budgie died of a broken heart - regular readers of this blog will concur with this statement. 24 hours before his death, news was leaked of Brian Matthew's unceremonious sacking by Radio 2's programme controller. Murph worshipped Uncle Brian. He even used to send him birthday cards each year with a green and canary-yellow coloured feather placed in the middle of the card. He'd drop them off at 'Wogan House' before the 120-mile flight home.

Following peace-keeping negotiations, that Kofi Annan would be proud of, speaking terms are resumed in McDonalds at Blackburn and Darwen services. Ms Moon grabs a much-needed coffee, whilst I have my annual Big Mac meal.

Burnley town centre is gridlocked as 'The Lincoln' and a convoy of coaches roll into town. We stick the Audi in a car park at £4 per pop down Plumbe Street. We wander past Burnley Miners' Social Club. I need a pint to settle my nerves. But have to say that they don't look particularly welcoming on the door. 20 members of the Burnley hooligan firm the 'Suicide Squad' were jailed in 2014 following a melee in the Club.

Burnley is a market town with a population of 70,000. It was a prominent mill town during the Industrial Revolution. Its local brewery is Moorhouses, which was founded in 1865 and whose award-winning brews include the Pride of Pendle.

Famous folk from the town include: Sir Ian McKellan, TV writer Paul Abbot, Chumbawamba, broadcaster Tony Livesey, cricketer James Anderson, Jay Rodriguez and Sticky and Murphy's favourite TV character, Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden). Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell is a big Clarets fan and was a colleague and friend my late father - they both worked on the Daily Mirror.

Burnley were founded in 1882 and are a founder member of the Football League. They won the old Division One in 1960 and were European Cup quarter-finalists in 1961. Highest transfer fee paid out is £13 million for Norwich City's Robbie Brady (Murphy the budgie was quite cross about that one). Highest transfer fee received was £7 million from Southampton for Jay Rodriguez. The youngest player to have represented the Clarets is legendary striker Tommy Lawton.

I'm already a jibbering wreck as we join the crowds strolling towards Turf Moor. My anxiety is heightened knowing that once again, during this Cup run, we'll be sat with the opposition. We pass a group of Burnley supporters from France who look to be parading the FA Cup. It was £10 for the ticket (thank you so much, you know who you are). I'm delighted to see we are seated adjacent to the Lincoln end.

The DJ is on flames as he plays the Stone Roses and 'Reward' by the Teardrop Explodes. They know how to build up a game in the North. I chance upon the guy who got us the tickets and express our gratitude. Ms Moon is being chatted up by a steward, who asks her whether she has been skiing, when we've actually just returned from Tenerife.

The turnaround in Lincoln City's fortunes is remarkable and down to two men - former PE teachers Danny and Nicky Cowley. They've tinkered with the side - only three out of the starting eleven are Cowley signings, but boy oh boy are Sam Habergham, Sean Raggett and Alex Woodyard vital cogs in the Lincoln engine room.

We both like Burnley and particularly their manager Sean Dyche. We had the pleasure of being in his company up at the Hand in Heart, on Nottingham's Canning Circus. The guy was first class and just wanted to reminisce with Ms Moon about pubs back-in-the-day in Nottingham, as Dyche was once an apprentice at Nottingham Forest.

My stomach churns, my spine tingles and my nerves jangle as the teams emerge from the tunnel. We're sat with the 'Darby and Joan', so don't anticipate any issues. The 3,210 travelling Imps are housed in the David Fishwick Stand. They're in fine voice; easily outsinging Burnley.

Jack Muldoon spurns an early chance, ballooning his effort over the bar, following good work by the dangerous Nathan Arnold. Lincoln match Burnley all over the park, although the Clarets have the clearer chances. We take 0-0 at half-time. Someone remarks on my facebook page that Sticky doesn't do 0-0s - I'll chuffing well settle for one today.

The highlight of half-time is a little lad behind me using a plastic knife to draw a smiley face in his Hollands pie before demolishing it. He's quite sharp for a little 'un. Lincoln fans sing "We're top of the League." The boy replies, "Yeah, top of the Non-League." He particularly enjoys the 'No They Never No More' song, referring to Blackburn Rovers as "Bastard Rovers."

Joey Barton is up to his usual antics in the second half. I'm not sure who he has bet on to win the game. He has more than met his match in Lincoln Heavyweight Champion Matt Rhead, who has terrorised the Scouser all afternoon. A deserved booking comes his way, after shoving Top Valley boy Terry Hawkridge in the face and trying to con the ref into red-carding Rhead. Barton's legacy will be being remembered for stubbing out a cigar in a colleague's face and for the cowardly assault on a teenager in a Liverpool street, resulting in a six-month prison sentence.

Burnley striker Andre Gray is having one of them days - he couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo. He scuffs, shanks and balloons shots high, wide and handsome. Lincoln have gone toe to toe with Burnley, a team who have the best home record in the English leagues.

The game is in the dying embers when City are awarded two corners in quick succession. The second one from Sam Habergham is pinged towards unmarked Imps' skipper Luke Waterfall, who is stood within what appears touching distance from Sticky Palms. Waterfall heads the ball back to the far post. The next passage of play appears to be in slow motion as Sean Raggett nods the ball over Tom Heaton, with the 'keeper appearing to claw it back from behind the line. I lean forward, hand over mouth, I feel the flood of tears filling my eyes. I look at the Ref, he looks at his assistant, before awarding a goal. Ms Moon's mouth is wide open, her face frozen. It's like when you get a phone call to say a close relative has passed away - it's just total shock. I bury my head into Ms Moon's shoulder. I'm shaking and crying my eyes out. Even worse, we've been rumbled by the 'Darby and Joan Club.'

They're not robbing me of my moment of glory. We remain silent, dignified and respectful. Burnley's fans are leaving in their droves, with hushed tones. City are magnificent in the final five minutes of the game; it's pure theatre as Burnley pepper the Lincoln goal. Special mention must go to Waterfall and Raggett. They deal with everything that's thrown at them. Towering headers, shuddering challenges, with the heart and courage of lions - how on earth are these boys playing in the Conference?

The final whistle is blown. I can't take it in and I'm shaking like a leaf. Fair play to the Clarets fans, many stay behind to clap the Lincoln players off. I break down in tears in the car park. It's too much to take in. Who says the FA Cup is dead ?

Man of the Match: Team Lincoln

Attendance: 19,185

Sunday, February 12, 2017

C.D Buzanada 3-0 U.D Lanzarote

It's Saturday February 4th at 04:30 am. I jump in the shower and scrub up, before flicking on the kettle for a brew. Murphy the budgie has already been transported to his Auntie Val's for a week's holiday, although he's not too chuffed about the 'broccoli shortage,' I knock Ms Moon up for our early morning flight to Tenerife. The journey to East Midlands Airport is silent apart from the dulcet tones of Chris Hawkins on Radio 2. The good lady can be a tad grouchy without her Costa Coffee fix.

I lug the suitcase across the tarmac from a nearby business park. It's flipping freezing and all I'm sporting is a short-sleeved shirt. We breeze through the Thomas Cook check-in desk and a minuscule queue in security. We wolf down a bacon and egg cob and down a much-needed coffee in Frankie and Benny's.

I'm a nervous flier. I bury my head into a paperback book called 'Chasing Shadows - The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck' - it's a disturbing read and not for the feint-hearted. We touchdown at 12:30pm at Tenerife South, collect our luggage off the airport carousel (no Ryanair hiccups this year) before checking in at the Hotel Malibu Park, in the resort of Costa Adeje.

The meet and greet is with 'Pep Guardiola.' We don't even get our feet through the front door of the hotel. The news is grim: "Senor, the apartment is being refurbished, you have to relocate to a different hotel." I'd have normally kicked-off, but saw this coming a mile off, from recent reviews on Trip Advisor.

We're soon unpacked down the road at the Altamira Hotel, adjacent to the beach and a choppy Atlantic Ocean. We walk the five miles into Los Cristianos, calling by for scoops in the varying bars and cafes that litter the pavements, looking out towards the spectacular views of the coastline. We return to the hotel in the late evening, worse for wear. before retiring to bed after an exhausting day. But looking forward to ticking off our second Canary League ground at midday on Sunday.

I pull back the curtains and slide open the patio door. I'm greeted with clear blue sun-soaked skies. A wander is taken down to Harriet's Tea Room at Playa Fanabe, where we tuck into a hearty full English breakfast. The added bonus today, is that it's my 53rd birthday. We're made very welcome by front-of-house, Will, who grew up in Malvern.

The taxi ride inland is only 10km to the village of Buzanada. We're dropped off right outside Campo Municipal de Futbal Clementino de Bello. There is already a hive of activity and buzz around the place as we part with 8 Euros each on the gate - there's little point in buying a programme. A guy on the gate, who is also selling water melons, apples, pears and oranges, very kindly arranges for a taxi to pick us up after the game.

The ground is a belter. There are extraordinary views out to the nearby hills and mountains. Half a dozen supporters are already perched high above the furthest goal with a bird's eye view of proceedings below.

There's an open-air bar and changing facilities behind the nearest goal. We opt to stand on the far side at the top of some concrete steps where you can lean on a wall and shade from the scorching sun. Supporters get stuck into a few local beers as Sticky untwists the top off a bottle of water before taking a large swig in an attempt to re-hydrate his body.

The game is played on an artificial surface, which is desperately in need of relaying. It's saturated in water from sprinklers. It's more 0.01G than 4G. The players might as well wear trainers.

U.D. Lanzarote are today's visitors. I've no idea if they've flown in or hopped on a Fred Olsen ferry. They look well fed and watered, with at least seven of them well over 6' 4". They will be wary of   C.D Buzanada who ended their 43 match unbeaten home record with a 5-1 gubbing earlier in the season.

In the opening exchanges the visitors look to bully Buzanada, particularly from corners, set-pieces and long throws. Slowly Buzanada inch their way into the game. The 11 jacket is like a whippet. He shows the full back on countless occasions a clean pair of heels and has a good delivery too.

It's 0-0 at the break and Ms Moon is already fretting that it might end up goalless. I take a few snaps of the folk sat up on the hill above the far goal. There's little point in striking up a conversation with any of the supporters, as it's clear that not too many can speak English. I can do a 'Manuel' from Fawlty Towers, or an impressive Inspector Clouseau - neither are much use.

U.D. Lanzarote play like they've had a night on the tiles in nearby Playa de Las Americas in the second half. C.D. Buzanada, urged on by an excitable coach, run them ragged and are 2-0 up on the hour following some fast-flowing football, with the visitors chasing shadows in the searing heat. The game is put to bed with 8 minutes remaining with a far post finish from a substitute.

We spend the rest of the holiday relaxing by the pool or walking up and down the coastline. I get through a trilogy of football books written by the excellent Calvin Wade, who for the past three seasons, with a number of pals, has followed every round of the FA Cup, FA Trophy and FA Vase. The tales are heart-warming, with humour and right up my street.

The plane lands early Saturday evening at East Midlands Airport. We're both tinged with sadness and already missing Tenerife. I drop Ms Moon off before shooting down to Morrisons at Netherfield to buy some provisions. I call in at Auntie Val's to pick up Murphy who has been unusually stressed whilst we've been away.

Back at home I top up his food container and promise him I'll nip to Aldi in the morning to see if any broccoli has arrived from southern Spain. I turn in for bed after a couple of games on Match of the Day. I whisper goodnight to Murphy who already has his head tucked into his wing and is fast asleep. I carefully place the towel over his cage and quietly close the lounge door.

Ms Moon comes into the bedroom in the morning looking shaken and visibly upset. She doesn't need to say anything, as a picture paints a thousand words. My little lad, Murphy, has passed away during the night. I just hope he wasn't in any pain. I loved him to pieces and will miss him so very, very much.

Rest in Peace, Murphy.

Sticky xxx

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lincoln City 3-1 Brighton Hove Albion

It's Friday tea-time and I'm pegging it up the Colwick Road towards Nottingham city centre. It's been a rotten week back at the ranch. I've been struck down with the flu, which fair knocked me out for 36 hours - it was that bad I've not had a sniff of alcohol all week. The news gets worse folks; I've passed on my germs to Ms Moon. She's laid up in bed with only a hot water bottle for company.

The Brighton FA Cup tie is preying on my mind. It's dominated my thoughts for most of the day. I wander down Bridlesmith Walk before I snuck in the front door of the Herbert Kilpin. For those that don't know, Herb is a Nottingham lad who founded the famous Italian club A.C. Milan. A pint of Kilpin slips down the hatch, before I opt for a stronger citrus craft ale brewed in the 'Smoke.' Herbie would have been 127 years old yesterday.

I grab a couple of curry take-outs from Sainsbury's before returning to HQ, putting on my nurse's outfit and performing Florence Nightingale bed care with the good lady. She struggles her way through an episode of Emmerdale Farm and a double helping of Corrie before retiring to bed. Both Ms Moon and Lincoln left back, Sam Habergham will be having an 11o'clock fitness test to see if they are available for selection. Both are key players. There's just time for me and Murphy the budgie to laugh out loud at Darren Bent's shanked own goal. He must have selected the wrong pair of 'thousands and thousands' of trainers he has confessed to own.

I spend the night on the couch as Ms Moon coughs and splutters her way through the early hours. The plan was to catch the train, have a spot of lunch, take the game in, before meeting friends in the Steep Hill area of Lincoln, close to the castle and cathedral, to celebrate a close friend's birthday (Keebo).

Brighton fans, let me explain. I've supported Lincoln City for over 45 years. My late father took me to my first game in 1970 v Crewe Alexandra. An Irish lad from Finn Harps scored our solitary goal - my Dad missed it; he was having a pee at the time.

I've seen FA Cup defeats by the likes of Rochdale, Emley and Telford. I was at WBA 40 years ago, the last time we reached the 4th round, when a Bryan Robson goal cruelly robbed us of glory. I've travelled away on a Monday night to York City for a Freight Rover cup game. I've arrived home at 3:30am on a Wednesday morning after a League Cup tie at Southampton's old Dell ground. But I've let it slip a bit, of late. I was infuriated with the Chris Sutton era and hold him 100% responsible for the Club's demise. Groundhopping the Non League has become my obsession for the last 10 years.

My mojo has returned with the appointment of the Cowleys. I confess to having firmly jumped on the bandwagon. I attended both Ipswich Town games. There was no chance of a ticket in the home end for today. Ms Moon has called in a favour. Sue's cousin's husband, is a Seagulls' season ticket holder. Graham has very kindly put himself out and bagged us a couple of tickets in the away end. Ms Moon passes a late fitness test on Saturday morning, during an episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore. If I'm honest, PC Alf Ventress, the bone idle sod at Aidensfield Police Station, looks in better health than the princess.

Plans for a day trip out on the choo choo are abandoned, as I volunteer to drive. Drinky poos for Ms Moon are a no-go. I'll be on the sauce with the gang later though, particularly if the Imps upset the applecart.

The journey down the A46 is without incident. Paul Gambacinni is pumping toons out from 1966 on Radio 2's Pick of the Pops. The inevitable clogged up roads begin to emerge in South Hykeham, before we finally park up at the back of Robey Street, near my dear old Nana's warden-aided flat.

We walk up the High Street at a snail's pace as Ms Moon has an Elizabeth Taylor diva moment of nose blowing and a sneezing fit. Much needed snap (northern term Brighton fans) is devoured at local chippy.

The city is alive with folk as we troop down Scorer Street, the birthplace of former Leeds United and Arsenal striker Lee Chapman (husband of the actress Leslie ..... with the lips), towards Sincil Bank. Ms Moon's family originate from Brighton. I can see her hanging her snotty nose over one of those bloody awful half and half scarves - not on your Nelly, darling.

Lincoln is a cathedral city with a population just shy of 100,000. Famous people born in the 'Shire' include: Sir Issac Newton, Tony Jacklin, Margaret Thatcher, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Tory MP Anna Soubry.

I take a few snaps and a few deep breaths before passing through the visitors' turnstile - how the bloody hell am I going to cope with all this stress? Fortunately we're at the far end of the Stacey West Stand (named after two supporters who died in the Bradford Fire Disaster) close to where the Lincoln 'singing section' is.

I stand in silence for close on 25 minutes, barely passing comment with a well wrapped up Ms Moon. I'm as nervous as hell and the good lady can feel my tension. The warm ups are a blur as the players walk out to the centre circle. Both sets of fans exchange banter. Brighton top the Championship, as are Lincoln in the Conference. The whole stadium sings "We are top of the League" - it's a beautiful spine-tingling moment.

Danny Cowley picks the same starting eleven that defeated Ipswich. Chris Hughton has shuffled his pack, making nine changes from the 2-1 win over Cardiff City. They should have enough in reserve to turn over Lincoln, especially with leading scorer Glenn Murray back from suspension.

I like Brighton Hove Albion and particularly their manager Chris Hughton, who blog legend Trumpy Bolton and I bumped into at Bury's Gigg Lane a few years ago, when he was watching his son, Cian, playing right back for the Imps.

The Imps begin nervously and get caught napping on six minutes with 'keeper Paul Farman parrying a Murray header. Theo Robinson has an effort chalked off for offside. I quickly spot the linesman's flag to prevent me from passing out, such is the fragile state of my body.

Brighton ooze class and start to boss the game. Steve Sidwell and Non-League bargain buy, Solly March, display their long range passing. The warning signs are there, as a shot from distance by March beats Farman, all ends up, only to cannon off the woodwork.

Lincoln fail to heed the danger signs and are caught dozing again. The menacing Murray flicks on a header, nobody picks up the runner, Richie Towell, who lifts the ball with the outside of his boot over Farman and into the net. The Brighton faithful are in good voice, they sing: "1-0 to the Nancy-boys."

The Imps are hanging on the ropes and desperate for half-time so they can regroup. Murray is leading the Imps' defence a merry dance. He has a deft touch for a big fella and is full of running. The big man is unfortunate to see another chance go the wrong side of the post.

The big news at the break is that Wycombe Wanderers are 2-0 up at White Hart Lane. They are managed by Lincoln's greatest ever player, Gareth Ainsworth. I believe he will manage at the top one day.

The second half is sensational. The game turns on its head, on the hour, with a ridiculous and unnecessary challenge on Robinson. The 'keeper has had a kamikaze moment and has fallen awkwardly. The poor sod is in extreme pain as he kicks the floor time and time again with his boot. He's carted off with either a broken arm or dislocated shoulder.

There's an age before the Irishman, Alan Power, can take the spot kick. Brighton are in his ear, with the cocksure Murray having plenty of gas. Third choice 'keeper, 37-year-old Caspar Ankergren is the sub 'keeper. Power coolly rolls the penalty to the left-hand corner of the net, sending the Dane the wrong way. A flu-filled Ms Moon looks more alive than an ageing Caspar.

Caspar gets his second touch of the ball minutes later, retrieving it from the back of the onion bag after a 'Darren Bent' moment from Brighton defender, Fikayo Tomori, following a wicked cross from Nathan Arnold. Lincoln can smell blood and go for the jugular. Caspar has had a 'Weston Super Nightmare' since his unexpected arrival. He plays his defence into trouble with a short pass rather than going long - Uwe Huenemeier panics quicker than Dad's Army from Sussex's Walmington-on-Sea. Robinson doesn't waste the opportunity.

Ms Moon grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly. I can't and won't look at her as tears stream down my face. My head is pounding and my stomach is churning when it's announced that there's 8 minutes injury-time on the clock. Farman keeps out a couple of stinging shots before referee Andy Madley calls time on the best day out I've ever had in 45 years of watching football.

Attendance: 9,469

Man of the Match: Graham the Brighton fan for putting himself out for us ... Cheers

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FC Halifax Town 4-2 Salford City

It's 4:50pm on Saturday 7th January. I'm stood up, arms aloft, at Ipswich Town's Portman Road, clapping furiously along with 5,000 Lincoln City fans. We've seen a pulsating FA Cup tie that has finished all square at 2-2. The Imps were minutes away from causing the shock of the round, but couldn't quite get over the finishing line. We've footballed 'the Tractor Boys' off the park. I do a little jig to Sports Report on Five Live. Lincoln are in the 4th round draw for the first time in 40 years.

My mood is still buoyant on Sunday morning. I'm buzzing. I wine and dine Ms Moon at the Staunton Arms out in the Vale of Belvoir. We bump into White Van Man, who is on full power as he ploughs his way through a sea of Yorkshire puddings piled up high on his plate. He's been sunning himself in Tenerife, where we're due to go in a few weeks' time.

Me 'n Murphy the budgie huddle around the laptop waiting patiently for the FA Cup draw on Monday evening, whilst Ms Moon watches Amos Brearly change a barrel of Watney's in the cellar at the Woolpack Inn. Murphy asks me if I can get him a ticket for Sincil Bank if Lincoln pull Norwich out of the hat - "sorry son, you'll have to use the floodlight pylons as a perch, and we won't be talking all week before the game either." Murphy needn't fret, Brighton at home it is, providing we win the replay.

12th January is a sad day as Paul Hawksbee announces on his show the passing of Graham Taylor, Lincoln's greatest ever manager. It's the reason why I love football, because of the team he built with buttons in 1975. What a send-off we'll give him at Sincil Bank next Tuesday.

We're due up at Thackley FC in Bradford on Jan 14th to watch NCEL leaders Cleethorpes Town. The game is frozen off. I'm very kindly invited for a second viewing of Notts County. There's a new sheriff in town; his name is Alan Hardy. He became the owner earlier in the week following some last minute takeover hitches. There's a feel-good factor about the place and a buzz in the air as I take my seat to watch a local derby versus Mansfield Town. Over 11,000 rock up at 'the Lane' and see a battling display from the Pies. It stops the rot of a club record ten consecutive defeats. It will feel like a win.

Ms Moon meets me outside the black wrought iron gates at the Meadow Lane main entrance, before whisking me up to York for the evening. I down a real ale in the Blue Bell on Fossgate. We enjoy evening dinner with my brother and sister-in-law at the delightful Italian restaurant Il Paridiso Del Cibo da Paolo, which comes highly recommended.

It's Tuesday afternoon and I've taken the afternoon off work. I drive up to Rainworth, a village in north Notts, where the murderer Donald Nielsen aka the Black Panther was overpowered by a group of coal miners outside the local chippy after taking two policemen hostage, having just robbed a post office in 1975.

It's flipping freezing up here as I watch Mansfield Town and Notts County Under 23s play in a Central League cup fixture. The Stags beat the Pies 2-1. I blast out the car heating as I hurtle down the A46 towards Lincoln. It's the club's biggest game in 40 years.

I park up near to my dear, late Nana's house, before heading up the High Street into town. I guzzle down a pint of Samuel Smiths at £1.90 a pint in the Widow Cullens Well, at the top of Steep Hill. I thaw out in front of a roaring log fire before making the reverse journey. It's an Al Fresco chippy tea before collecting my ticket and taking my seat behind the goal opposite the Stacey West Stand - named after two supporters who tragically lost their lives in the 'Bradford Fire Disaster' in 1985.

Lincoln are superb again, despite Ipswich bringing in their big guns such as: Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Jonathan Douglas and Leon Best. The ending is incredible. On the counterattack, substitute Adam Marriott plays the ball through the eye of a needle to Nathan Arnold who rounds the keeper before slotting the ball home into an empty net. I apologise to a steward for hugging and kissing him - how was I suppose to know he supported Manchester United.

It's Saturday morning. Ms Moon and I are due a decent day out oop North. Halifax v Salford is the game of the day in the National League North. Sat Nav predictably takes us off the M1 and onto the A616, bypassing the Pennine town of Stocksbridge, where not only Jamie Vardy once plied his trade, but also Brentford's Scott Hogan, who is rumoured to be the subject of a £10 million bid from West Ham United.

There's the chance of a Good Pub Guide tick-off up at the Old Bridge in Ripponden. We walk over the medieval packhorse bridge, which the River Ryburn flows under. The pub has thick stone walls and antique oak tables. I have a pint of Riwaka from Roosters Brewery up in Knaresborough. We both choose homemade vegetable soup and a beef sandwich. It takes an age to arrive - Sticky P ain't a happy bunny. I settle up the bill, without a tip.

The Shay is only 15 minutes away. We park in a leisure centre and wander down Hunger Hill towards the ground. It's £16 each on the gate and £3 for an excellent programme, which is full of content. Halifax is a minster town in the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire. It has a population of over 80,000 and is well known for its Mackintosh's chocolate and toffee products including Rolo and Quality Street. Eureka! The National Children's Museum, was opened by Prince Charles in 1992. The Halifax Building Society was also founded in the town.

Notable Haligonians include: Thompson Twins singer Tom Bailey, John Christie the murderer from 10 Rillington Place, Paralympics Gold medalist Hannah Cockcroft, the wrestler Big Daddy, Arthur Ellis who was famous for his dipstick in the gameshow It's a Knockout, footballers Paddy Kenny and Frank Worthington, Yorkshire CCC player Alex Lees, the controversial Judge Pickles and singer Ed Sheeran.

FC Halifax Town was founded in 2008. They replaced Halifax Town AFC who went into administration. The oldest player to represent the club is former Tricky Tree striker Nigel Jemson who was aged 39. Striker Lee Gregory - who I often eulogise about on here from his Staveley Miners' Welfare days - holds the record for League goals for The Shaymen. He left the club for Millwall in 2014 for £250,000.

Calderdale Borough Council have proper spruced the place up, since my last visit with blog legend Trumpy Bolton back in the 80s, when a Terry McPhillips goal was enough to see off the Minstermen of York.

Compo, Cleggy and Foggy from Last of the Summer Wine are sat in the row behind us. They are Calderdale and West Yorkshire's moaning champions. The referee is told to 'get your hair from out of your eyes', after a blatant free kick is missed (the ref is as bald as a coot)

It's a lively start by both teams, but it's the visitors who begin to get a stranglehold on the game. They're 2-0 up at the break and coasting. Ms Moon has fetched some coffee that can only be described as dirty dishwater. Come on FC Halifax, you're a great club, but sort the coffee out - nobody drinks Mellow Birds these days .... lol.

I clock Salford midfielder Scott Burton in the concourse. We often enjoy some banter on twitter.  I wander across to introduce myself. The UK's best blogger, Uwdi Krugg from Where's the Tea Hut, used to wax lyrical about Scott when he was playing for Runcorn Town. I've watched him many times since and I'm totally miffed why nobody in the professional game hasn't taken a punt on him. He can put a tackle in - 10 yellows this season proves that - it's the reason why he is suspended for today's game.

I get gassing to Compo and the lads. I remark it's next goal the winner. They're still roaring with laughter when the Shaymen restore parity with two goals in two minutes, the second goal is worth the gate money alone.

On-loan Halifax striker Daniel Nti is running the show. I saw him at Loughborough University a few years ago. York City's Gary Mills has farmed him out to the Shaymen for a month.The diminutive Matty Kosylo makes it 3-2 from the spot, before former Liverpool Academy striker Adam Morgan puts the game to bed with a smart finish.

Salford joint-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley will be seething with a crazy 20-minute spell. I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in the Salford dressing room as the referee blows the final whistle.

We really can't arf pick em.

Attendance: 2,157

Man of the Match: Matty Kosylo

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ipswich Town 2-2 Lincoln City

It's Monday evening on December 5th and I'm holed up in a hotel bar in Warrington supping a pint of San Miguel. We crowd around my work colleague's iPad for the FA Cup 3rd Round draw. I'm a bundle of nerves. The balls are emptied from the famous purple velvet bag. Ipswich Town are first out of the hat - I wouldn't mind a day out there, it would be League ground No.80 for me. I nearly fall off my bar stool as Lincoln or Oldham are shouted out next.

Later in the evening I'm constantly checking 'Live Scores' at the dinner table, as Lincoln storm into a three-goal lead in a pea-souper of a fog at Sincil Bank. There's a late rally from the Latics as they claw back a couple of consolation goals. It's all in vain - Portman Road here we come.

Fast forward the clock to Christmas Day morning. Ms Moon hands me over a white envelope. I'm nearly in bits when I pull out a ticket for the 'Big One' in Ipswich. I give her a big hug and race down the stairs to share the news with Murphy my yellow and green budgie - he doesn't care too much for the 'Tractor Boys' - he's a Norwich fan.

I can't sleep the night before the game. Even though I'm 52 years old, I'm just too excited and anxious about the match. I down a coffee and have a couple of slices of toasted fruit loaf, in the morning, before leaving Ms Moon curled up on the sofa watching another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore -  Claude Greengrass has been nicked again for selling-on stolen goods. Blaketon's going to throw the book at him. Murphy asks who will look after Alfred the mongrel ?

I fill up with petrol on Meadow Lane, close to Notts County's ground. Tim Rice is still sitting in for Brian Matthew on Radio 2 - we hope Brian gets better soon as he doesn't half knock out some belting tunes.

I jump on the A1 at Grantham and head south towards the A14. There's a procession of cars with red and white scarves hanging out of the back windows, fluttering in the wind. Graham Norton is getting on my wick. I slip on Tom O'Dell's latest CD. Tom and I are singing so loud that 'we' manage to miss the junction 54 exit on the A14. I'm soon parked up a stone's throw away from Portman Road.

For the record, I was born in Lincoln in 1964. My father was a journalist for the Daily Mirror which is the reason why we moved to Nottingham in 1969 as he was appointed East Midlands correspondent. My Dad was a massive Imps fan, so we kept going back to Sincil Bank, witnessing at first hand the two great teams built by Graham Taylor and Colin Murphy - who I named my budgie after.

I've been to hundreds and hundreds of Imps games including some big ones like Fulham away in 1982 when we were so close to being promoted to what is now the Championship and the sell out to Wycombe in 1988 when we returned to the Football League courtesy of two Phil Brown goals.

My father passed away in 2000 - it knocked me for six, as it was sudden and unexpected. Sincil Bank without him seemed a very lonely place for me. I went to the Millennium Stadium for the 2003 play-off final versus Bournemouth and have taken in the odd fixture or two in the last few seasons, but I've put my heart and soul firmly into groundhopping.

I love Notts County and Nottingham Forest and have enjoyed some great away days with my mates, but Lincoln are my team. I still experience butterflies before hearing their score on 'Sports Report' when driving home from a game on Saturdays.

Coaches and cars are to filling up the car park as the 'Impvasion' begins to take shape. A frantic phone call to back home confirms I've left my debit card at the petrol station. I've only a £1 coin in loose change, which will only get me an hour's parking.

I wander around a fairly unremarkable town centre. I need five £1 pound coins for parking or I'm up the shoot. I clock a local newspaper billboard headline - it suggests Ipswich are under pressure and not relishing this cup tie. Ladbrokes share this feeling too, with the Imps a stingy 9/2 to win.

I dash into Poundland and grab a four pack of fruit pastilles. I hand over a £10 note to a bemused lass on the till who isn't too chuffed when I ask for nine £1 coins in return - "well you are called Poundland, love, so you should have plenty."

I'm as nervous as hell and there's still two hours to go before kick-off. Plenty of Lincoln fans are milling around the back of the Patrick Cobbold Stand. I best not go for my usual pint of real ale as I'll be up and down to the loo all game, with my nervous system in overdrive. I take a few snaps of the Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson statues, before entering the turnstile at 2pm.

Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk, with a population of over 130,000, which is located on the estuary of the River Orwell. It is well known for its Tolly Cobbold Brewery (now Ridley's) as well as farming and agriculture. Eighty people were killed during bombings in the Second World War. Notable people born in Ipswich include: Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Play School presenter Brian Cant, film director Trevor Nunn, actor Ralph Fiennes and footballer Kieron Dyer.

Ipswich Town were formed in 1878 and are managed by an under-pressure Mick McCarthy, whose direct style of play won't go down well with a club famous for the attractive way it plays the beautiful game. Sir Alf and Sir Bobby would be turning in their graves if they saw today's playing surface - it looks bloody awful.

Lincoln have sold out of their 5,000 ticket allocation. They top the Conference, marshalled superbly by sought after manager Danny Cowley, who miraculously led part-time Braintree Town to the play-offs last season on a shoestring budget.

The noise is deafening as the teams emerge from the tunnel. Ipswich have a few injuries, whilst the Imps are pretty much at full strength. I live in hope more than expectation. I just want the lads to put in a performance and not take a drubbing - a goal would be an added bonus.

My stomach is churning and my spine tingling as referee Lee Probert blows his whistle to start the game. The Imps look unsettled for the first five minutes. One or two players appear to have selected the wrong studs - particularly full back Bradley Wood - who seems to spend more time on his backside, due to the slippery surface.

In City's first attack Matt Rhead flicks a header onto Theo Robinson who plays a ball out to the wing, Nathan Arnold takes a touch before delivering the perfect cross for Robinson to sweep the ball home. I'm hugging and grabbing folk I've never met in my life. There's barely time to draw breath when Tom Lawrence equalises after a long mazy run. His shot seems to go under the body of a floundering Imps' 'keeper Farman.

City aren't rocked one bit. Back they come again and again. Terry Hawkridge is outstanding. I used to watch him play for a pub side in Notts a few years ago. I'm not saying he was small then, but he used to do his paper round before the game. He snaps and snarls in the tackle as well as harrying and hustling the opposition. His passes are slide rule and purposeful.

It's 1-1 at the break but we've looked hungrier and played the better football than a lacklustre and shell-shocked Ipswich. In the second half City are magnificent. They cut the 'Tractor Boys' to ribbons and pass them off the park. Both Robinson and Arnold go close before a miscued header finds Robinson in acres of space. He calmly lifts the ball over an advancing 'keeper to send the visiting support into raptures.

I begin to hyperventilate. I seriously think I'm going to have a heart attack. Having hugged and kissed a few more people I find myself six rows further down the aisle following the celebrations. We're all doing the 'Dam Busters' simulation chant now - I'm preparing to land at RAF Scampton. The youth next to me says that he'll settle for a draw now. I agree; we're not the luckiest of teams, never have been. My phone is going off constantly with folk willing the Imps over the finishing line.

The bloke behind me is panicking whether he should cash out of an accumulator bet that includes the Imps when the inevitable happens. A desperately tired Matt Rhead is caught dwelling on the ball, a deflected daisy-cutter of a shot from Leicester loanee Tom Lawrence somehow beats the outstretched arm of Paul Farman before nestling in the bottom corner of the net.

It's a sickening blow as we have pretty much controlled the game. I'd have taken a draw at the start. Raggett and Waterfall have performed heroically at the heart of the City defence. What a game of football we have witnessed. My Dad would have loved it.

Attendance: 16,027

Man of the Match: Sean Raggett