Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lincoln United 5 Glapwell 0

We had a trot down the local football club on Sunday to watch Sticky junior in action. They were playing the league leaders. We kept the score down to a respectable 3-0 thanks to the efforts of our goalkeeper, who is proving to be the find of the season. Sticky’s got alleged growing pains at the minute, he doesn’t look particular interested according to his Dad though.

Sunday afternoon was spent with The Nuclear Scientist down at Greenwood Meadows Lenton Lane ground. It was an FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup game between Scots Grey and an Irish Centre from Huddersfield way. It was a cracking game that had the lot. Greys were 2-1 up with 15 minutes to go when the visitors were awarded their second penalty of the afternoon. The youth who took it skied the ball into orbit and it ended up on the second tee of the adjacent pitch and putt golf course. It was nearly three off the tee. Greys won 3-1 and are in the semi-final. The final is due to be played at Liverpool’s Anfield.

I had to take Monday off as the kids were on an inset day and ‘The Skipper’ is a wee bit too young to leave on his own. The pair of them have been plaguing me to go golfing again. We went down to the municipal course at Edwalton. It’s a scruffy old par 3 course; perfect for them (and me).

The 4th hole is about 170 yards. Sticky junior had been shanking and slicing the ball all day, just like Forest goalkeeper Paul Smith. He scuffed his drive about 60 yards down the fairway. He hit his second shot with perfect trajectory straight into the hole from fully 100 yards; it made his day.

I’ve been trying to get one half of the Fabulous Baker Boys to come groundhopping with me for a couple of years now. I finally pin him down for the Lincoln versus Glapwell game.

Bobby is a successful sales manager in the playground surfacing business and drives a Mercedes; he volunteers to pilot.

It’s 6.30pm when we finally leave. The Groundhopper is going home. It’s ironic that I’ve seen Lincoln United play more times this season than the team I support, Lincoln City.

We drive down the notorious and dangerous Fosse Way. This road was completely blocked the night before with two bad accidents. We snake our way through East Stoke, Farndon and hit the Newark by-pass. We are in Lincoln, my hometown, within 15 minutes as Bobby puts his foot on the gas.

He has got Scott Mills’ Radio One show on the car stereo. We’re too busy catching up with one another to listen to all his gags.

I’ve so many fond memories of this city that I moved away from 40 years ago. Visiting my Grandma and Grandad’s in school holidays. The endless trips to Sincil Bank to watch the brilliant teams that Graham Taylor and Colin Murphy assembled in the 70s and 80s.

Ashby Avenue is situated in a lovely setting but is dwarfed by an ugly, huge block of high rise flats. The ground is a mass of conifers and leylandlii, which provide shelter on what is a fairly mild and still night.

Lincoln is a cathedral city with a population of just over 100,000 inhabitants. It is often referred to as a northern outpost. It’s the birthplace of The Groundhopper and his best mate, the late, great Frank Palmer. My father Frank was born at No.67 Dixon Street on Aug 1st 1933. He later became a reporter on the Daily Express and Daily Mirror. He took early retirement to fulfil his dreams of being an author. He wrote eighteen detective thrillers. They would knock the spots off some of the crap on TV these days. (Apart from Heartbeat) He had a razor-sharp wit and I miss him so much.

It’s time for a cup of char, so we nip into the canteen. We have a change of heart and both choose Bovril. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

Lincoln United were formed in 1938. I saw them smash Shepshed Dymano 3-0 at The Dovecote a few weeks back, when ‘Bruiser’ spent nearly half the game in the clubhouse. White Van Man’s friend, the assistant manager of Eastwood Town, John Ramshaw had a short spell as manager at The Whites last season.

There’s a dreadful, dreary CD on the tannoy system, I haven’t a clue who it is. We are treated to the whole album. The girl singing just drones on and on, a bit like EastEnders’ Dot Cotton.

The teams are finally out on the pitch, it’s a welcome relief. Lincoln are putting together a nice little run and are almost untouchable on their travels. They are 10th in the table.

Glapwell is in north east Derbyshire and lies between the towns of Mansfield and Chesterfield. It has a population of just 1500 people. They are owned by local dentist and former Aldershot Town player Colin Hancock.

The visitors knock the ball around nicely in the opening stages. They look well drilled and so they should be as coaches Kev Gee and my old boss at Notts County, John Gaunt both have their Uefa badges.

The Whites get into their stride though and open the scoring on ten minutes. from a clever corner which is returned from the back stick for the in-form Sean Cann to net.

Midfield duo Brendan McDaid and Dave Frecklington (brother of Sticky’s favourite Lee) get hold of the midfield by the scruff of its neck. It’s Frecklington who gives them a deserved lead on 35 minutes, sending a free-kick sailing over the wall and past a hopelessly positioned Laurence Matthewson.

Glapwell coach John Gaunt comes strolling past us, he’s pleased to see me and we shake hands. He gives his view on the game and the inadequacies of Glapwell. I expect he will be blow-torching the dressing room walls at the break. I’ve had the hairdryer treatment off him a time or two, I can tell you.

We snuck into the Social Club for a swift pint. Bobby has a pint of maids’ water (Carling) and Sticky an extra cold Guinness. Milan are drawing 0-0 with Man Utd. White Van Man will be stretched out on the sofa with a packet of Hob Nobs drooling at these over-rated superstars.

Glapwell deteriorate in the second period and hold up the white flag. The superb away following prefer to vent their frustration on the excellent referee. Lincoln go three up with a replica of the first goal, Cann obliging again.

Their fourth, is the goal of the game. The unselfish Ben Good shrugs off the attentions of the Glapwell defence and plays in Cann down the right hand side. He still has plenty to do but finishes with aplomb, lifting the ball over the advancing Matthewson.

We are treated to a five star performance from the influential Frecklington when he blasts home a penalty following a foul on the substitute.

Lincoln have been different gravy and are on a roll right now. Glapwell miss their leading goalscorer, the influential Ian Brown, who is at college tonight.

The Glapwell following hurl abuse at the first-rate official at the end of the game, congregating as a mob close to the tunnel. They’d have been better to save their vitriol for their team, who have been an embarrassment tonight.

Man of the Match: David Frecklington

Attendance: 104

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Magdala Amateurs 1 Basford United 0

She’s beautiful, slim, warm and sat on my lap – yes after 10 years of working for a laptop computer company, I’ve finally got my hands on one. I can surf the net, whilst sitting next to Mrs P, as she watches Skating on Thin Ice and Wild at Heart.

The Taxman phoned me last Sunday evening, just as pop nobody, X-Factor winner, Ray Quinn was taking to the ice. While we both moaned and groaned about Forest’s inept display the previous day at St Andrews, Quinny was giving the performance of his life. By the time I’d put the phone down he’d received five perfect sixes: the first time this has happened since Torvill and Dean at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo 25 years to the day.

It’s been another midweek without a fixture for The Groundhopper: I’ve been ferrying the kids around to football practise. On Thursday we all crowded around the TV set to watch Notts legend, Graeme Swann, nearly spin his country to victory in the Caribbean, with a beautiful spell of spin bowling. Even Mrs P watched it.

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve a full day of football ahead of me. ‘The Skipper’ is playing in town and Mrs P will be supporting him. Sticky junior has blagged a ticket for the Forest v Sheep game at The City Ground.

I’m out the house at 9.30am on scouting duties for the Tricky Trees. I head towards a neighbouring village to watch a game. The coach is a lady, who is most welcoming. The ladies in the kitchen provide me with a warm drink. I’d mark it with 7 out of 10. Her young pups are five goals down at the break but her pep talk is kind and encouraging. Her team respond.

I drive back home and carry out a few chores to keep me in good books before jumping back into the car and driving down The Academy. I drive through the characterless Compton Acres and turn right onto Wilford Lane and finally into Gresham Close.

Scottish singer Midge Ure from the band Ultravox is on the Jonathan Ross Radio 2 show. Ross plays the 1982 hit Reap the Wild Wind. Apparently they are reforming.

I grab another cup of tea and have a stroll up to the under 18 game. ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds’ are already two up and Forest’s Tim Hopkinson has missed a penalty. The Leeds number seven. Joshua Falkingham, is running the show. He snaps in the tackle but has poise and beauty. He always wants the ball and never wastes a pass. I bet he is the first name on the team sheet. Forest hit the woodwork twice but lack quality.

It’s been a busy week down The Academy, teams from France, Poland and Ireland have played games against our sides, as well as the local community club UNITY, a project spearheaded by my good friend Morris Samuels, to unite the youth of the Meadows, St Anns and Radford.

I’m back in the car again. Radio Nottingham’s Robin Chipperfield is pitch side at The City Ground as the teams head out the tunnel. ‘A’ Block are singing ‘worst team in history.’ I’m not sure who it’s aimed at. Recent absentees Paul Anderson and Robert Earnshaw are in the starting line-up.

I turn into the car park at The Beeches Hotel, I’ve time to kill and time for a pint. Opposite the hotel is the Rivermead Flats which is a local eyesore.

Villa are playing Chelsea in the lunchtime kick-off; it’s no goals. The barmaid is ignoring me. Apart from one table the place is deserted. I finally order a pint of the award-winning Harvest Pale Ale from the nearby Castle Rock Brewery; it costs £2.65. I sit the corner on a leather sofa and watch the world go by.

Magdala Amateurs were formed in 1904 and play just down the road at the back of the ROKO Health Club, who are their main sponsors. The place seems familiar from my pub-playing days. I reckon it’s the old Civil Service Ground, but can’t be certain.

I’m the only supporter in the ground. The teams are doing some fitness drills. I can’t help but notice the contrasts in style of coaching already. Magdala’s is regimented, structured and focused, whilst Basford’s is relaxed and fun-filled. I recognise the Magdala coach from an FA course I did a few years ago, when he was the tutor. Football is a matter of life and death to him; he takes the game very, very seriously and does not suffer fools.

Basford United were formed in 1900 and are one or two tipsters dark horses for the NSL title. I’ve been meaning to watch them for a while and will visit Greenwich Avenue later in the season.

My mobile suddenly goes off; it’s Sticky junior live and exclusive from The City Ground. He’s in bits, Forest are three down; he’s nearly in tears. I’m so proud of him that he supports his local team, like I did mine (Lincoln City).

Magdala are fourth in the table but their squad today is somewhat depleted due to a stag weekend. Their ‘keeper certainly hasn’t took advantage of the discounts their sponsor offers on cheap gym membership. He looks like Billy Casper’s sports teacher in the film Kes. Having watched the warm-up, a mental note for Basford should be shoot on sight.

The teams are ready to start; Basford’s shirts are similar to Inter Milan, whilst Magdala are more Cambridge United.

The first thing that strikes me is how some of the players look out of condition. Magdala play more like a unit and do get something resembling a passing game together. The woodwork is their nemesis though; the ball smacking against it on no less than three occasions. What they lack in fluency they more than make up with an end product.

By now United are squabbling with all and sundry. They contest every marginal decision, be it a throw-in, free-kick or foul. This lot could start an argument in an empty room. If there was an Oscar Awards Ceremony for whinging, moaning and snarling, they’d be collecting gongs all night.

Star striker Kev Walker wastes a golden opportunity, clipping the ball the wrong side of the post when through on goal.

John Bentley, the Magdala manager is fairly restrained, although I did notice a posting by him on the NSL message forum a few months ago complaining that ‘Dala’ had had eight very poor and crucial decisions go against them this season. He’s dressed in a tracksuit top, shorts, trainers without socks and is sporting a pair of black gloves. How bizarre.

Even Basford manager Chris Munroe has had enough of his team’s tantrums. He tells them all to shut up and start playing some football.

White Van Man has arrived on the scene from the Forest game and is not in the best of moods. He’s a member at the ROKO Health Club and takes me in for a cup of tea. It’s served in a Costa coffee cup and is an extortionate £1.20. It gets a 6.5 from The Groundhopper. I nearly choke on it when I catch WVM tapping his feet to New Edition’s Candy Girl

The Basford chairman is in the bar, we have a quick chat, I don’t think he’s best impressed with the attitude of his team.

White Van Man heads off to the gym; people that know him will find that hard to believe. I ask him if I can have a photo of him on the running machine, with me dangling a Pukka pie on a piece of string, just in front of him. But he’s not playing ball today and is having none of it.

Basford pick up the pace in the second period. Walker begins to show glimpses of his skill and pace. He curls one just wide of the post and is beginning to get behind the defence. Jack Caulton sees an effort come back off the crossbar. Two footed midfielder Richard Oakes rises above the mediocrity of the game, keeping things simple, breaking up play and retaining possession.

Magdala are still fashioning chances at the other end. Ashley Robinson hits an outrageous shot from distance which is tipped over the bar by the Basford goalie.’Dala score a deserved winner with fifteen minutes to go. Mark Curry stabs home a loose ball at the far post following a corner.

It’s a missed opportunity for Basford as news filters through that leaders Wollaton are losing 3-0 at home to basement side Gedling Southbank.

Referee Chris Stevens has come under attack for most of the game and has done his upmost to keep his cards in his pocket. He has a good second half and his decision-making is spot-on.

I get a text from Bilborough Pelican legend Neil Swift. He’s tapping away on his phone behind Barthez’s goal to inform The Groundhopper that Pelican are beating Keyworth 2-0. Barthez has the last laugh as The Greens pull back two late goals. A rather sheepish Swifty calls me later.

Man of the Match: Harvest Pale Ale

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Birmingham City 2 Nottingham Forest 0

The Groundhopper is once again not flavour of the month. The long-suffering Mrs P is not too chuffed that I’m whisking away Sticky junior to Birmingham City on St Valentine’s Day. I hide my card in the bedroom and find my Valentine’s on the kitchen table. She has wrote in hers “looking forward to the meal you are going to cook tonight!” I have written in mine: “looking forward to the Marks and Spencer’s ‘Meal Deal’ that you’ve bought for tonight”: great minds think alike. I’d bought some flowers the previous evening.

I had offered Mrs P a romantic day out: she could have gone to the Bulling Shopping Centre, whilst we attended the match; sadly, she declined the invitation. I tried readers, but it looks like romance is dead, for the time being.

The Ribbon Maker picks us up at just gone midday. There’s no sign of The Accountant, apparently his central heating has gone kaput.

The Flying Pickets track, Only You, is on Radio Nottingham. The headline news is that six lives have been lost in a late-night car accident on the A614, close to the old coal mining village of Bilsthorpe, in north Notts.

We drive down the M42 and onto the A45. Sticky junior is in the back with Josh; he’s excited. It’s his first big away game since Joe Kinnear’s Forest beat Sheff Utd 2-1 a few years back. The Ribbon Maker has never seen Forest secure a League win away from home in twenty attempts. He did break his duck though in the FA Cup win at The City of Manchester Stadium a few weeks ago.

The Ribbon Maker twiddles with the radio tuner; we listen briefly to Beacon Radio and BRMB. Burslem pub singer Robbie Williams is singing She’s the One. I suddenly feel ill and open the window and feel a rush of cold air circulating in the car.

We drive through Solihull and pick up signs for Sparkhill and Bordesley Green. I used to come here years ago with an old girlfriend’s dad. He was a Blues’ supporter and always took me to a pub in Bordesley Green for a pre-match pint. I think it was called The Cock. It’s probably closed down by now. It was the sort of pub where you wiped your feet on the way out.

Twenty years ago I stood on the terraces of St Andrews and witnessed a Gary ‘Bing’ Crosby winner in the FA Cup 5th round. Some say Crosby only got in the side because he used to do Cloughie’s plumbing and gardening, but he showed Julian Dicks a clean pair of heels that day.

We’re soon parked up in a secure car park only five minutes walk from the ground: it’s a fiver well spent.

Birmingham is England’s second city. It has a population of over one million. It was a leading force in the Industrial Revolution. It was often known as the ‘city of a thousand trades.’ It suffered heavy bomb damage during the war and had to be redeveloped. The skyline is filled with a sprawling mass of high rise flats.

Heavy rock has played a major part in the city. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin are among many bands to have sprung up in Birmingham. Other well known bands include: The Beat, UB40, Electric Light Orchestra, Duran Duran, Dexys Midnight Runners and Musical Youth.

Birmingham is twinned with the cities of: Chicago, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Leipzig, Lyon and Milan. Famous Brummies include: Enoch Powell, Tony Hancock, Jasper Carrott, Martin Shaw, Gabriel Abonglahor and Spit the Dog. Famous TV shows from the 70s: Tiswas and Crossroads were filmed at Central Studios (ATV) in the city.

The kids convince me to go to McDonalds. There’s a massive queue and it’s mobbed with football supporters. The vibe is good though.

We head up to the ground, passing an old factory that is up for grabs and a deserted Woolworths store. There’ll be no pick n’ mix for the boys today. I decide to stretch my legs and peg my around the back streets looking for a few photo opportunities. One or two people spill out onto the streets from pub doorways but apart from that it’s a remarkably eyrie atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like a matchday. We do walk past a mosque though.

We finally enter the ground, making our way past a posse of police; it’s an unnecessary and exaggerated presence.

Birmingham City were formed by a group of cricketers back in 1875 and were known as Small Heath Alliance. The German Luftwaffe scored 20 direct hits on St Andrews in The Second World War: that’s more efforts on target than Marcus Bent has managed all season, any season coming to think of it.

In 1956 they became the first English league club to play in Europe, drawing 0-0 at Inter Milan. They have in recent seasons, like Forest, become a yo-yo club. Players to have turned out for both clubs include: Kenny Burns, Archie Gemmill, Trevor Francis, Steve Wigley and Stern John.

It’s £30 admission (cough), I’ve sneaked Sticky in as an under 12. The programme is £3 and first class, as is the view from our seats high up in the stand.

The DJ plays a series of songs connected with blue. One of these is contender for the most annoying song heard this season; it’s the nauseating Italian Eurodance outfit, Eiffel 65 and their 1998 hit, Blue. This is followed up by Status Quo and ELO’s Mr Blue Sky; it’s overcast by the way. He finally gets the crowd going with Feel It by The Tamperer featuring Maya. Sticky says he’s going to download it when he gets home. “What’s she gonna look like with a chimney on her?” is a line from that song. What on earth is that all about?

Let battle commence. The Forest faithful are in great voice and are rewarded with a good opening spell of attacking football by the Tricky Trees down the left hand flank. Tyson leaves Sebastian Larsson trailing in his wake, he bores down on Maik Taylor’s goal and lets fly, but unfortunately it takes a bobble just before contact and he skies his shot high into the stands.

Moments later Larsson is AWOL again as Tyson rampages his way down the wing, he hits a ball across the face of goal with Cohen and Garner only inches away. Larsson is having a nightmare, I bet Sandy Richardson from Crossroads is quicker in his wheelchair than the Swede is this afternoon

The Forest fans are in full flow and refer to the recent re-arrest of chief executive Karren Brady: “she’s going down, Brady’s going down.”

Kevin Phillips pulls up with a knee injury and is replaced by £3 million ex-Bluebird, Cameron Jerome. Both him and centre back Martin Taylor are built like Gladiators.

The Blues look short on confidence and are playing the ball long. They’ve only won twice in their last ten attempts. Bad boy Bowyer scuffs a shot wide. The game is awful and the pitch doesn’t help. Millions of pounds have been wasted and frittered away on journeymen at the expense of undersoil heating. It’s only fit for growing potatoes.

Birmingham have a good spell of pressure before the break. Liam Ridgewell forces a save from Smith with young Joe Heath clearing up the spillage. Bent hits the crossbar from a corner. And minutes before the break Larsson forces another good save from Paul Smith. The writing appears to be on the wall.

It’s déjà vu in the second half. Luke Chambers heads wide from a corner and also sees Maik Taylor make a meal of a 22 yard drive, with the ever-alert Tyson lurking close by.

But the warning signs are there for all to see. Ridgwell has already headed over from close range, when Bent opens the scoring on the hour. Murphy arrows in a cross from the left, which is turned in by Bent, a player more famed for going out with page three girls than scoring goals. He’s struck three times in thirty appearances this season; that’s goals not girls. Amazingly he’s fetched £10 million in transfer fees during his career. No wonder it’s thirty quid to get in today.

Forest are hanging on the ropes. Poor old Moloney has been marking two all day and makes way for McLeary, whilst another baffling display from Joe Garner sees him replaced by Adam Newbold.

Jerome and Bent’s strength are beginning to pose problems for the Forest defence as they begin to buckle. Wilson and Morgan are hacking, slicing and panicking. Luke Chambers’s distribution is below par.

Irishman Keith Fahey put the game to bed for the Blues on 74 minutes with a cross cum shot from the left, taking everyone by surprise, including Paul Smith.

McGugan and Perch are still battling away against their more experienced counterparts, Lee Bowyer and Lee Carsley and can come away from the game with a little credit.

City are on song now, which is more than can be said for the home support. Only 17,000 have dared show their faces, choosing instead to watch re-runs of Crossroads on UK Gold. I’ve heard more noise made in Birmingham Central Library. “Shall we sing a song for you?”

The police have now graced us with their presence and are treated to a couple of ditties by the fans. “It’s just like watching The Bill” and the Laurel and Hardy theme tune raise a rare smile from The Groundhopper, although Sticky junior is loving all the singing and swearing (don’t tell Mrs P).

Tyson completes a miserable day, missing a golden opportunity when put through on goal.

The final whistle goes and 2-0 is not a true reflection of the game. Birmingham are better than that, and so they should be with the depth of their squad. It really should have been a St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Man of the Match: The Away Support.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nottingham Forest 2 Queen's Park Rangers 2

I was 45 years old last Thursday. Mrs P and I had planned to have lunch in town and then pop down PC World and buy a cheap laptop, but unfortunately the heavy snow put paid to all that.

Despite creeping closer to the ripe old age of 50, some D***y County supporters have told me to grow up on their fans’ forum after I posted the BLOG on their board from the FA Cup tie the other night. They also called me a tit and advised me to continue writing the newsletter for the local Caravan Club. God knows what would have happened had they lost the game.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m looking forward to watching QPR grace The City Ground this afternoon. I saw them play on New Year’s Day a few seasons back at Notts County’s Meadow Lane. The game was a thrilling 3-3 draw. I remember Pies’ winger Simon Baldry running rings round Argentinean full back Gino Padula.

One of the first fanzines I used to read was called A Kick Up The R’s; it used to be one of the best. I even subscribed to it for a while. I remember some guy called Dave Thomas used to write a lot of thought-provoking articles. I wonder if it’s still going?

I went to Loftus Road about 20 years ago. Forest won 2-1. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the oil cap back on properly on my Vauxhall Cavalier SRI. She overheated at Rickmansworth Railway Station. It was an expensive day out. Happy days though.

‘The Skipper’s’ football team are all meeting up outside the ‘world renowned’ (dog hole) the Trent Bridge Inn. I drive down to ‘The Ribbon Maker’s.’ We jump in his 4x4and park close to Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club on Bridgford Rd.

We pop into The Groundhopper’s favourite shop, the Co-op, to buy some drinks and sweets for the kids, as I hate being ripped off at the ground.

We leave ‘The Skipper’ with his pals, as I’ve a ticket for a different area of the ground. I collect my ticket and take a steady stroll. I walk past a guy selling t-shirts, badges and scarves. The waft of fried onions hangs in the cold air. The banks of the River Trent are covered in snow. I walk past the Boat Club and Britannia Club. I saw some great bands play there in the early eighties.

It’s Kids For A Quid and the place is rammed. I’m in the Upper Brian Clough again, close to the away fans.

The teams are warming up and I’m looking for someone in particular. He’s got long straggly hair. When he played for my team, Lincoln City, he always wore his shirt out of his shorts and his socks rolled down to his ankles. He cost us £25,000 from Preston North End. He is the best winger ever to have played at Sincil Bank. From the wing he scored 37 goals in 83 appearances. Lincoln fans used to call him ‘Wild Thing.’ I wrote to Forest over 10 years ago tipping them off about him. He signed for Port Vale for £500,000 and later signed for Wimbledon for £2,000,000. The Forest fans would have loved him. His name is Gareth Ainsworth. Father time has caught up with him. He’s now a player coach for QPR. He does a few drills with the players.

Queen’s Park Rangers hail from the Shepherd’s Bush area of west London. It’s steeped in musical history. Members of The Who, Sex Pistols and The Clash were born in the vicinity. Former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio was born and raised in Shepherds Bush. Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty was once a programme seller for the club.

Footballers to have played for both Forest and QPR include: Nigel Quashie, Stanley Bowles, Trevor Francis and Steve Hodge. ‘If only he could pass a betting shop like he can a football’ is what they used to say about Bowles.

QPR were up at Roker Park shortly after Sunderland won the FA Cup in 1973. They did a lap of honour with the cup and left it on display on a table near the stand. Bowles bet his mate Don Givens that he could knock the cup off the table with the ball during the course of the game. He was true to his word and dented the cup to boot.

Rangers arrive at The City Ground on the back of an eight match unbeaten run. They are managed by former Benfica, Juventus and Inter Milan forward, Paulo Sousa. He was previously ‘Big Phil Scolari’s’ assistant for the Portuguese national team. He has spent wisely and has assembled a fresh, fast, young and skilful squad. A mouthwatering amount of money must go on wages.

Lee Cook, Patrick Aygemang, and Martin Rowlands are all missing today. On loan Sunderland midfielder Liam Miller is in the starting eleven. According to Roy Keane he struggles with his timekeeping.

I’m getting a bit fed up with the HMV Superstore top dog for music tunes that the DJ insists on playing. The Kooks ‘Ooh La’ is about as good as it gets. It’s my third Forest game in ten days. I’m off to St Andrews next week, and then that’s me over and out. I’ll be back to trawling the non-league scene. I do like Forest but easily get bored watching the same team week in and week out.

A friend, who I used to coach with, comes and sits next to me. We catch up on the gossip. His son plays for The Academy and is sitting in the shallow lower tier. A large group of boys pass us on the concourse. They are from Crumlin United in Northern Ireland.

Both sets of fans are in good voice; 2000 have travelled up north. QPR ‘keeper Lee Camp receives a rousing reception from the Forest faithful. What must poor old Paul Smith be thinking?

It’s not long before Rangers are asking questions of the home defence. Young Irishman Brendan Moloney blocks a stinging volley from 20 year old on loan striker Samuel Di Carmine. The balls falls to Alberti whose attempt is cleared off the line by Joe Heath.

At the other end the Rangers’ defence are not shy of a bit of rough and tumble. They leave their calling card on the Forest attack as Tyson departs with a head injury that requires 12 stitches. He shows displeasure to the referee. Forest firebrand Joe Garner complains incessantly about flying elbows and late challenges. I can’t comment, I’m at the other end.

QPR look the more likely team to score. They hit the upright, with Paul Smith waving at the ball as if it’s going wide.

The game is desperate for a goal, but is ambling towards 0-0 at the break. But it’s Forest who take the lead against the run of play. McGugan picks out a rampaging Luke Chambers on the right wing, with a diagonal ball; he’s pulled back by Brescia- born midfielder Matteo Alberti. He escapes with a yellow card. McGugan smashes the resulting penalty into the roof of the net.

Alberti makes amends moments later with the final kick of the half, stabbing home a Connolly cross after a good spell of possession.

I move seats at the break. ‘The Ribbon Maker’ has found one near him. Sticky junior sits just down the row. I hear his pitter patter of chatter throughout the second half.

Rangers are energised by the equaliser and begin the second period well. Wayne Routledge is their big cheese. He’s tormenting Joe Heath. His first touch is deft and his pace quite frightening. His game always has an end product. He creates Alberti’s second goal of the afternoon. Routledge fails to put the game to bed though, spurning a golden opportunity, by firing wide after ghosting in from the flank. He looks a steal at £600,000.

On 67 minutes Wes Morgan picks up a loose ball in midfield and threads it through to Chambers, who hits a high looping cross to the far post where Cohen out jumps the QPR defence to nod home.

Rangers are less penetrating following the loss of the excellent Di Carmine. His replacement Dexter Blackstock is less effective, and struggles to get to grips with the pace of the game. Paul Smith saves well from a Leigertwood pile driver.

A special mention goes to referee Darren Deadman, who does his best to spoil the game. Some of his decisions baffle both sets of fans. Morgan and Moloney are booked for innocuous challenges.

Forest dig in for the final quarter. Wilson and Morgan are commanding in the air. The draw is a fair result although it is QPR who have crafted and created the better chances.

Star Players: Cohen and Routledge.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nottingham Forest 2 D***y County 3

It’s my second trip to Nottingham Forest in a week; before that, I’d not been since last August, when they entertained the Royals of Reading. My non-league readers will be ditching me in their droves, as I’m at the Queens Park Rangers game on Saturday, followed by a trip with Sticky junior, the week after, to Birmingham City’s St Andrews ground.

I don’t really want to go tonight, given a choice of Ilkeston v Eastwood or Forest v D***y, I’d take the former every time. I take one for the team; the boys are desperate to see this game, they’ve have never seen the Reds v the Rams before.

I’ve paid £44 for the tickets. White Van Man rings up and tells me to be ready for 6.30pm in The Fairway car park. Shepshed Dynamo captain Ian Screaton (Screats) is picking us up.

We troop down the pub and Screats polls up right on cue. The kids are excited and White Van Man is on top form. He runs through his normal repertoire, desperately trying not to swear as the kids are in the back. Sticky junior pipes up that he bombarded White Van Man’s van with snowballs when he saw him crawling down the road the other day. The big man roars with laughter and threatens revenge.

We talk about Shepshed’s slump in form. Screats is hurt and upset by it. Two months ago they were assured of a play-off spot; mid-table mediocrity is the best they can expect now.

We pull into The City Ground, Brian Clough Stand, car park, at just before 7pm. WVM is insulting all the gatemen and demanding a free car parking space. The banter is plentiful. He’s allocated bay 40. We literally walk a few steps to the turnstile. I’ve not parked this close to a ground since Goole AFC in December.

One or two ‘sheep’ flock to the away end. We are sitting up in the heavens. We normally take a pew in the Main Stand; not a chance tonight, we’ve done well to get a ticket.

It’s early doors and there are less than one thousand in the ground; the players aren’t even warming up yet. The boys have brought a flask of hot chocolate and some sweets with them.

Sticky’s favourite DJ is delving into his HMV selection box. He plays Living for the Weekend by Staines Indie band Hard Fi. He follows it up with Starz in Their Eyes by Just Jack. His best one of the night is Stop Me by Mark Ronson featuring the brilliant Melbourne born singer Daniel Merryweather. It’s put me in the mood for football.

The tiles on the nearby houses are covered with a sprinkling of snow. Opposite where we sit the Rushcliffe Civic Centre towers above the ageing Main Stand.

The Rams’ fans taunt the notorious ‘A’ Block. Forest’s top boys are gracing the local watering holes, oiling their larynx, so they can out sing the enemy.

One transfer caught my eye last week and disappointed me so much. The Jamaican Claude ‘Comedy’ Davis has reacquainted himself with Neil Warnock at Crystal Palace for the rest of the season. I watched him play for ‘The Sheep’ against Preston North End in the FA Cup last season. The comedy value was second to none. In moments of depression, anxiety or anger I think of that performance to bring a smile back to my face. It was side-splitting. If only he was playing tonight. Billy Davies paid the Blades £3 million pounds for his services.

D***y lies on the River Derwent and has a population of 236,000. It’s famous for Rolls Royce, Railways and Toyota. Actor Alan Bates and the engineer Richard Arkwright were born in the area.

I have my own reasons for disliking ‘The Rams.’ I saw my team Lincoln City play them twice in the old Division 2 back in 1985. We were chased to the station at the Baseball Ground and spat on and threatened at the return game at Sincil Bank, when they invaded the home end.

The overrated Paul Jewell has been removed. Nigel will steady the ship before history repeats itself and he follows in his father’s footsteps.

Jewell signed 23 year old Liam Dickinson during the summer from Stockport County. He was immediately farmed out to the Terriers of Huddersfield. He scored goals for fun. He then went to Blackpool and scored four goals in his first two starts. Only a dodgy FAX machine prevented a last minute deadline move to ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds.’ Why can’t this boy get in their first team?

Forest are a bit skinny tonight. The bench looks like the local Monty Hind Boys’ Club. Incredibly their right back, the stylish, up and coming, Brendan Moloney, is cup-tied, having turned out for Rushden and Diamonds in an earlier round, when on loan. Bennett, Moussi, Anderson and Earnshaw are injured. Joe Garner is suspended.

The pitch is perfect. D***y won’t have played on a surface as sound as this; you could run your Dyson over it.

The game is exhilarating from start to finish. Forest win a corner in the first minute and D***y are caught napping. Cohen takes it short and receives the ball back, before cutting inside. He’s unopposed and pulls the trigger, smashing an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.

Latecomers fly up the stairs from the bars and toilets; they’ve missed the goal. Derby respond with Commons curling a shot wide of Smith’s post.

Forest are rampant, the Rams can’t cope with Tyson who is playing on a different planet. He wants the ball all the time, he chases lost causes and has a heart as big as a bucket. Rams’ skipper Connolly cannot live with him. Tyson leaves him for dead and crosses for McGugan to hit a vicious volley which is well saved by Bywater.

Tyson once again exploits D***y’s right hand flank, he knocks the ball around Bywater and falls theatrically, Chris Foy points to the spot, but controversially produces only a yellow card. Tyson hits the penno like a rocket into the roof of the net. The fans including The Groundhopper are delirious. You bastards, you chased me and spat at me in 1985, 24 years of hurt, it’s been worth the wait.

The D***y flock are silenced; they no longer twirl their scarves around their heads. Forest play a ten minute spell of champagne football. They showboat, we ole, it’s pure theatre. There’s one touch, shuffles, shimmies, nutmegs and dummies: we’re loving it.

But it’s a different D***y now, the ‘young man’ is at the helm. They are not bad-mouthed, bullied or belittled like they were under the jumped-up Jewell. Commons is playing like a man possessed, he hits a thunderbolt from close range which Smith does well to react to.

D***y pull a deserved goal back on the half hour. Glaswegian winger Gary Teale is marauding down the left, he floats a ball in, Rob Hulse peels off the defender and heads home. He wheels away in celebration; they are back in the game.

We all pause for breath at the break; I’ve seen nothing like this for years, and I include the non-league. £44 looks a bargain.

D***y are different gravy in the second half. Robbie Savage plays in a more advanced position and shows his experience.

Cohen has a great chance to extend Forest’s lead but won’t use his weaker right foot. A professional footballer with one foot; I’ve seen a few of those tonight. Don’t academies encourage their pupils to use two feet?

D***y are all over Forest like a rash; Nigel wants his pound of flesh. They equalise on the hour. It’s a replica of their first goal. Teale, who was frozen out by Jewell, and has been farmed out to the northern and southern outposts of Barnsley and Plymouth, dances and jinks his way down the wing,, it’s another delicious, in swinging ball, there’s no sign of Paul Smith (Finley our pet rabbit comes out his cage more than Smith does off his line) Green, a player I saw perform in the Conference for Doncaster, heads home.

Their flock raise the roof, it’s game on. Commons is running riot. He gives a performance alien to anything I ever saw him do in a red shirt. He’s spinning, fighting, tackling, moving, shooting on- site and, battling, For a neutral like me, I am glad I have witnessed his game.. Forest have nothing to compare with his creativity.. The Forest fans are hurt because they know what they are missing.

He’s playing on adrenalin. He waltzes through four players but is denied by a block from the impressive Perch. Moments later a 20 yard shot from him canons off the upright, with Smith nowhere near it. The goal his game deserves arrives on 74 minutes. He pounces on a poor clearance from Luke Chambers and smashes the ball home, via a huge deflection. I applaud. I’m the only one. You have to admire pure genius.

Forest fight back, they don’t know when they are beaten. McCleary misses a sitter. By now Morgan has been pushed up front for nuisance value. Perch has clashed with Hulse and has been stretchered off.

The youth club has arrived. The bath has been run for Tyson, his performance has been world class, what a shame it’s not Commons threading balls through to him, rather than the ale house clearances from the back.

Morgan rampages down the Forest left and manages to cross a ball to the far post, young Northern Ireland midfielder Mark Byrne gets it all wrong, he leans back and screws his shot high and wide of the post. I feel so sorry for the boy.

The game is over. I can’t describe it. I won’t sleep tonight. I’ll play every ball.

Attendance: 29,001

Man of the Match: Kris Commons