Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stourbridge 0 Salisbury City 0

I’m in my den, sifting through all my handwritten letters and e-mails from kids who want to be the next David Beckham. Ages range from between eight and twenty years old. One e-mail catches my eye.

He says he trained at the Notts County Centre of Excellence, as an under 8, about five years ago, but didn’t make the final draft. His preferred position is full back. He’s tough in the tackle, has good positioning sense and is a crisp passer of the ball. I’m warming to this boy.

I check out the details of his local club, it’s Keyworth United. Mmmm, that’s interesting, it’s right on my patch. Hang on a minute, I’ve lived in the village for over forty years. I look further down his CV; his team is Keyworth United Under 13’s Green – eh? I help coach them.

I glance to the bottom of the page ….. it’s signed by a Joe Palmer (‘The Skipper’). The cheeky little monkey has tried to blag a trial with the oldest Football League club in the world (Notts County). Oh well, I might let him come and train for the last few weeks of the season.

Boy, have I been ill readers. It was touch and go one day that I might miss ‘Cash in the Celebrity Attic,’ featuring comedy genius Syd Little. Thankfully, I struggled down the stairs, accompanied by my duvet, box of tissues and Lemsips.

I was off work for two days. My first sick leave since 2007, when I dislocated my ring finger whilst almost taking a breathtaking catch on the deepest boundary in Nottinghamshire.

I’ve not proper ground hopped in weeks. I did Anstey Town v Hinckley FC on the 3rd Jan but didn’t blog it. I’ll have to re-visit. Apart from a Notts Senior Cup tie between the excellent Greenwood Meadows and Radcliffe Olympic, the ground hopping schedule has been as dead as a door nail.

It’s Friday evening. I’m shivering in sub zero temperatures at the bus stop outside The Fairway pub in the village of Keyworth. The bus turns up 25 minutes late. I have an enjoyable evening with work colleagues at the superb Mexican restaurant, Las Iguanas, on Chapel Bar in Nottingham.

I’m back home for 10pm. I can’t do late-ones anymore. Besides, I’ve a busy schedule tomorrow. Sticky Jnr needs dropping off at Center Parks, near Sherwood Forest, and then it’s back home, pick up the legend (Trumpy Bolton) and head off to Stalybridge, close to Manchester.

I’m up at 7.30am. We do the paper round a bit earlier. The Daily Mail informs us that young women in Britain have a binge drinking problem – fair play, Mrs P did had a couple of Lambrini’s last night. This is the same paper that warned us in December that the ‘Big Freeze’ was set to continue until the end of January.

We jump in the car and head up towards Mansfield. Sticky jnr asks for a detour to the nearest McDonalds. We both grab a McMuffin Breakfast. We’re back in the car. Junior has tuned into Capital FM (aka Radio Trent). They play three on the spin which darken my mood: ‘G6’, Usher and Rihanna – it’s like the old Chinese water torture. I ask junior if it’s OK if I go and hang myself on a tree in Sherwood Forest.

I boot him out the car at Center Parks, where he’s hooking up with a mate from school. I immediately change over the radio station. I’m panicking about the trip to Manchester. It’s reportedly -4 overnight, with a freezing fog set in for the morning.

As soon as I’m home, I log onto the Interweb: Hyde are already off. A friendly official from Stalybridge confirms down the phone to me that their Conference North game against high-flying Boston United has bit the dust.

I phone up Trumpy. He’s on his second can, and requires a steady hand to prepare his litre of cider that he’s siphoning into his trusty plastic bottle. He’s quite keen on a trip to Osset, but games in the West Yorkshire area are nearly all frozen off. We play it safe and head towards the West Midlands.

I’m keen to tick off Stourbridge, the weather seems more settled in that part of the country. Trumpy studies his crumpled, dog-eared old atlas. He has a couple of pubs to chalk off in the vicinity.

The legend is relaxed now. He unscrews the top off his cider bottle and guzzles two or three mouthfuls. I’ve some serviettes from McDonalds on standby in case he starts slavering. He’s had nearly three weeks off the pop and has an enormous thirst to quench.

Trumpy boasts of a refund he has been gifted by a hotel firm in Essex, after suffering a two hour Karaoke session whilst he was trying to get some kip. He and Mrs Trumpy ended up moving rooms.

He’s fiddling about with my Tom Tom sat nav. He normally bleats about how good his Garmin system is. The Tom Tom wire is frayed and won’t boot up. It’s no big deal, Trumpy knows the West Midlands like he does his cider manufacturers.

Five Live’s Mark Pougatch is smelling a cup upset at Torquay United’s Plainmoor. A heavy frost has seen games fall by the wayside at Crewe, Morecambe, Rochdale and Barrow.

We’ve soon rolled up in the car park of the Apple Tree in Coseley. Trumpy has the barmaid eating out of his hand. She falls for his charm and brings our two pints of Banks bitter over to the table. She flirts with the legend: “anything for you love.”

T Bolton notices that Valentines meals are advertised at £6.99 each. He enquires with the bar staff about a table for two for him and Mrs Trumpy.

I phone up Stourbridge FC, they confirm that the game has survived the elements.

Trumpy craftily lines up another boozer.. This time it’s the Fox Inn in Stourton. I field a call from my boss at Notts County. The under 18s have won again and retain top spot in the Northern Youth League.

Trumpy talks to some friendly locals, who tip us a few grounds we ought to visit. Halesowen is the pick of the bunch.

We park up down a cul-de-sac, 500 yards away from the ground. Trumpy has one of his infamous five minute sneezing fits, which is normally caused by him gating a cider too quickly.. It’s £8 entry and £1.50 for another excellent programme.

Stourbridge is in the metropolitan borough of Dudley. It has a population of over 50,000. It was once the centre for the glass-making industry. The War Memorial Ground is set in the Amblecote area of the town.

I remember Colin Murphy signing Stourbridge forward Tony Cunningham, when he was manager at Lincoln City, for a bargain £25,000. He later played for a string of clubs including Man City and Newcastle Utd. He’s now a top lawyer in Lincoln.

Well known bands to come from the Stourbridge area include: Diamond Head, The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Led Zeppelin singer, Robert Plant, attended the King Edward VI School in the town.

T Bolton immediately dives into the Glassboys Social Club. The ground is three sided. The open side acts as a boundary for Stourbridge Cricket Club, who share the ground. Causeway United also play here in the Midland Alliance.

The ground is covered on the far left touchline, which also has wooden seating. The far goal is a covered terrace. The playing surface is worn and tired looking. Stourbridge U19s also play on here.

Today’s visitors are second placed Salisbury, which is a cathedral city in the county of Wiltshire, with a population of 50,000. Notable people born in the city include the actors Michael Crawford and David Mitchell.

Salisbury City are managed by former Mansfield Town and Hartlepool United free scoring midfielder, Darrell Clarke.

I’ve positioned myself nearer the end that Stourbridge are to attack. There’s a biting chilly breeze coming across from the cricket ground.

Trumpy appears on 15 minutes, and to be perfectly frank he’s missed nothing. Salisbury have that bit more quality, which is only to be expected, bearing in mind that last season they graced the Conference Premier. Stourbridge string three passes together, Trumpy starts singing: “it’s just like watching Brazil.”

Trumpy has made acquaintances with a little fella who’s sporting a tea cosy on his head. He’s immediately christened ‘Compo.’ Trumpy can’t work out his thick Black Country dialect. He asks Compo if he’s from Wales. Compo replies that he’s not from Wales but has been to Rhyl on his holidays.

The game has 0-0 written all over it. Chances are at a minimum. There’s a small flurry of activity before the break, with both sides spurning opportunities.

We’re on our way back to the clubhouse again. A lad gets chatting to us. He’s a season ticket holder at Barcelona, who goes to all their home games at the Nou Camp.

The Social Club is buzzing. Trumpy downs another pint. I peer up at the TV screen, former Salisbury City striker Matt Tubbs has put Crawley Town one up at Torquay.

I leave ‘our hero’ to shout another one up and go and stand with the Salisbury fans at the far end. I expect them to push on and show their quality. Incredibly it’s the Glassboys who create the clearer cut chances. One is cleared off the line, whilst substitute Drew Canavan horribly screws a shot wide with his first touch of the game.

Salisbury play the prettier football, but sadly have no end product. Trumpy is in my ear now, giving me grief about another 0-0 (I’ve done three with him now). He scuttles off for his final alcoholic beverage of the afternoon.

I decide to fetch him from the bar, just as Stourbridge’s best player, the diminutive Sam Rock sends a long range shot whistling past the upright.

The game’s petering out and is in the dying embers. Trumpy is in the ‘small boys room.’ Sticky Palms lets out a huge shriek “GOAL”. People dash from the bar to the window to see which team has snatched a late winner.. “Sorry folks, says Sticky, “I’ve just noticed that Lincoln City have scored in the 88th minute on the BBC Vidiprinter.”

I’ll get my coat.

Attendance: 381

Man of the Match: Sam Rock.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Alfreton Town 2 Eastwood Town 2

It’s Friday December 31st : famous people born on this day include the Chairman of the Keyworth Branch of the Wolverhampton Wanderers Supporters’ Club – ‘Gangsta.’ (7 years old). The little fella’s favourite colours are orange and gold.

He’s splashed out on a replica Holland shirt for his birthday. I’ve watched him tackle his big brother in our back garden. The antics of the Dutch squad in the World Cup final of 2010 have had a lasting effect on the youngster.

It’s New Year’s Eve night. We’re having a party at our house. Thirty people are in the room. Sticky Palms is in full flow as the bingo caller. I’ve got all the lyrics. We’re playing for an £8 jackpot. Everyone is on tenterhooks. Most of the players only require one number.

I shout out number 14. There’s a huge squeal. A young man celebrates with a shirt over his head. Birthday boy,’ Gangsta’ has scooped the jackpot.

Mrs P has organised a ‘Secret Santa.’ People have bought some joke presents. I’m called into the room to collect my gift. Some cheeky sod has gifted me a plastic, talking budgie. When will I get a real one?

The party is a success. Taggart is man of the match. He’s slipping my lads a couple of cans of beer. The watching constabulary are not amused.

I’m still washing pots up at 2.30am. I’m fagged out readers. I don’t rise until 11am. There’s a mass tidy up. I’m soon up at the bottle bank for the second time in two days.

Big D texts in. He’s happy to drive to Alfreton, providing I pilot up to his house in Bramcote. Mrs P is off to the QMC to sit with her mum for an hour or two. I’m desperate to blow the cob webs away.

I take a quick gleg at the unofficial Badgers forum, an eleven page thread of insults and vitriol is being played out between fellow Eastwood supporters: they are divided and not united.

I sit with ‘The Angler’ and watch the first half of West Brom v Man Utd. The Baggies are outstanding, particularly midfield duo, Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans.

I’m in the Rolls Royce on the Melton Road. My head is still banging. I switch Radio Trent on. The annoying ‘Like a G6’ song, by Los Angeles electro hop band, Far East Movement, is bouncing around the car. I switch it off and open the car window to allow some fresh air in.

Within 15 minutes I’m knocking on Big D’s front door. The big man has also been ‘on it.’ We hop into his 4x4. He flicks on West Brom v Man Utd on Five Live. The reception is poor. He retunes to Radio Nottingham. Billy Davies is droning on and on.

Big D is livid. He raced back from Radford the other evening to watch a double episode of Coronation Street. It was a no show from the ‘Street’ Jack the Ripper - John Stape. I’m sure he’ll cook up another murder for the New Year.

Alfreton is a town and civil parish in the county of Derbyshire. It has a population of just over 20,000. Its main industry was coal mining. The Thorntons chocolate factory is situated in the south of the town. The civil engineer, Benjamin Outram, was born in the town in 1764.

Alfreton Town were formed in 1959. Their record attendance is 5023, for the visit of Matlock Town in 1960. They recently sold talismanic defender Kyle McFadzean to Crawley Town for a substantial fee. Previous managers of the Reds include: European Cup winner, Gary Mills (now York City) and Oxford United manager Chris Wilder.

I bag a programme for a couple of quid on the way in. It’s another outstanding effort for this level.

Big D and Sticky Palms need some hot food to soak up the alcohol fumes from last night. The snack bar ranks amongst one of the best on the circuit. We have Cornish pasty and a chip cob. It’s washed down with two cups of tea.

I notice Rammers wandering through the turnstile. He’s accompanied by Shirebrook Town manager Rudy Funk. He’s immediately pounced upon by eager Eastwood fans, who are no doubt keen to express their gratitude to John for the sterling work he put in when he was an employee of the club.

There is a moving moment before the game when a minute’s silence is held in the memory of goalkeeper Dale Roberts, who turned out for both teams during his short career. I notice how visibly upset Reds’ ‘keeper Paddy Gamble appears – he used to be a colleague and friend of Dale Roberts at Nottingham Forest.

We stand behind the goal, at the top of a steep terrace, with a terrific, panoramic view of the Derbyshire landscape. Alfretown are attacking our end.

England C international, Liam Hearn, looks razor sharp for the Reds and more than capable of playing at Conference level. He has a shot turned away in the opening minutes and blazes another effort into the crowd.

The Badgers begin to find some rhythm. Pocket-sized forward Lindon Meikle is on top of his game. He buzzes like a bee, but his final shot has no sting in the tail. His touch is good today, as is his movement.

Eastwood take the lead on 42 minutes through a deflected free kick from former Belper Town attacking midfielder, Lee Stevenson. Gamble makes a fine save from Lindon on the stroke of half time.

We take a stroll in an anti-clockwise direction around the Impact Arena. We stand to the rear of an all-seated area, behind the goal we expect Alfreton to launch an all-out attack on in the second period.

Big D has made acquaintance with the Alfreton mascot, Jasper the Dog. The big man is never shy at missing a photo opportunity. Jasper is not as sociable as Scrappy Doo or Scooby Doo, but does whisper his name into my ear.

Nicky Law will have been stripping the paint off the changing room walls. Eastwood have dominated the last 25 minutes of the first half and look good value for their lead. Stevenson’s drive and Meikle’s all round play are easy on the eye.

A last ditch tackle on Anton Foster prevents Eastwood from going further ahead. Alfreton restore parity on 51 minutes. Substitute Ian Ross floats in a corner, Paul Clayton’s effort is cleared off the line, but Hearn pounces onto the clearance to equalise.

Andy Todd puts Eastwood 2-1 up, cutting in from the right hand side and blasting a shot into the roof of the net.

The final half an hour is a pleasure to witness. The game ebbs and flows and twos and throws. You just don’t want to it end. The Badgers spurn two great opportunities. Stevenson and Meikle, for once, fluff their lines.

Former Stags’ winger, Nathan Arnold, has been introduced to the game. His low sense of gravity and speed are causing mayhem down the Alfreton right hand side.

Ian Ross clips a ball in from the left which is headed home by Anthony Howell. The Reds go for the jugular in a grandstand finish. At the death Danby tips over an Arnold header which would have given Alfreton an undeserved victory. Eastwood are well worth the point.

It later transpires that Preston North End’s mascot, Deepdale Duck, had to be led away by a club steward for distracting Rams’ ‘keeper Stephen Bywater. Jasper the Dog would never behave like that.

Attendance : 914

Man of the Match: Jasper the Dog.