Friday, March 25, 2011

Shepshed Dynamo 0 Lincoln United 2

We’re ambling along the bottom of the Main Stand at Hinckley’s Greene King Stadium. Gresley have conceded a 95th minute equalizer. One or two Moatmen supporters shower abuse on the referee. Their coaching staff are waiting for a quiet word with the man in black about the amount of added time.

Some guy has phoned his missus up to complain about the injustice of it all. I bet she’s holding the phone away from her ear whilst she watches those two clowns off Masterchef.

I’m anxious to know the score from the Withdean Stadium. Table-topping Brighton Hove Albion are entertaining Notts County. I fire up the ‘Rolls Royce’ and switch on the radio. Mark Chapman is presenting a show all about ‘Dirty Dirty Don Revie.’

Five Live wheel out a few of Revie’s foot soldiers - Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer sing his praises. They talk about the team spirit, the bingo, the crazy golf and carpet bowls. They don’t mention the bribes and the match-fixing allegations. We finish the night off with a pint of London Pride at the Plough Inn at Normanton on the Wolds. The Pies come back from Brighton empty-handed.

I spend an hour on Thursday evening sitting in the White Horse at Ruddington, whilst ‘The Skipper’ runs his butt off at training for Clifton All Whites. I’m reading the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. It’s a biography of Bodyline Test bowler Harold Larwood, superbly written by former Nottingham Evening Post journalist Duncan Hamilton.

Hamilton grew up to in our village and was the son of a coal miner, as was Larwood. My father taught him shorthand. He’s probably the best sports-writing author in the business right now.

He tells a story of how Larwood walked 14 miles to Trent Bridge one day, just so he could see his hero Jack Hobbs. He paid his money at the gate, and took his seat in the Parr Stand. Hobbs was out first ball. He walked the 14 miles back home to Kirkby in Ashfield.

It’s Friday, and I excitedly wait for my first trip to The Dovecote this season. I spend a few hours in our Warehouse at work with Ergo legend ‘Shifty Edwards.’ It’s ‘Funky Friday’ and he’s spinning a few Northern Soul classics. He comes over all emotional when I present him with some marble cake I’ve bought from a bakery in Ruddington.

I’m back in the White Horse again at lunchtime. ‘The Reaper’s dog, Betty slurps half a pint of real ale down her neck. She’s zonked out in the back of the car for the rest of the afternoon.

New Zealand are through to the Cricket World Cup semi-finals. South Africa have choked more times than White Van Man has on a beef and onion Pukka Pie.

I enjoy the cycle home from work, despite the unforgiving steep hill into Keyworth. I’m buzzing, and so is Mrs P; she’s having a night out in D***y with all her friends she used to work with at the Equitable Life Assurance. I was hoping Sticky junior and ‘The Skipper’ would join us at The Dovecote, but they’ve about as much interest in Non League football as David Cameron has in the Public Sector.

Sticky jnr has nipped into town to collect some tickets to watch Plumstead rapper Tinie Tempah in concert at the Capital FM Arena. All his mates are coming round ours tonight. Bloody hell, I best hide all my beer away or they’ll trash the joint.

I don’t bother asking Finley for a score prediction, after his pathetic attempt at the Stalybridge v Hinckley game. Anyway, he despises teams from Leicestershire, because that is where lots of foxes live.

White Van Man arrives executive style. I throw my gear in the back. We head up to Selby Lane to pick Screats’ Dad up. His lad, Iain Screaton, is Shepshed captain and a close friend of WVM. He’s a cracking lad.

WVM has got Gem/Heart FM on. He shouts out “Toon” as Leicester bad boy Mark Morrison’s ‘Return of the Mack’ blasts out the speaker. It’s a short 20 minute drive through the rolling Leicestershire countryside.

It’s £7 on the gate and £1.50 for a disappointing programme that’s half-full of adverts. I shell out £1 for a Golden Goal ticket. You’re guaranteed to hear the ball rattle the net at The Dovecote. It’s normally the opposition that score though.

Shepshed have had an annus horribilis. Money has been tight and there has been a management merry- go- round. Dave Frecklington (brother of Lee) has just been relieved of his duties. At the minute, I think the Secretary is in temporary charge.

Was not Was is on the PA system. I notice that top woman referee Sian Massey is taking charge tonight. I double- check the programme to see if Keys and Gray are her assistants. “Do me a favour love.”

I saw Sian, notice how we’re on first name terms, have a cracking game at Rugby v Bedworth back in the autumn. She and Screats have previous. I’ve had a soft £5 at Corals that Screats will get booked. He doesn’t normally let me down.

The first half is an open and entertaining affair. I’m stood with Big Darrell. We’re laughing about our trip to Market Drayton last season, when the referee sent three players off.

Shepshed give a good account of themselves. Brewer screws a shot horribly wide when it looks easier to score. Hodgson forces a good save from Turner, whilst Sam Carter fires an effort inches over the bar.

Lincoln take the lead on 20 minutes (I’m ten minutes out on the Golden Goal ticket). Scott Coupland beautifully threads a ball through to an unmarked Jack McGovern, who dispatches a shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net.

I’m taking a stroll round this wonderful old ground. The air is still and the church bells are chiming. Leylandii tower above both goals. Huge nets are erected behind each goal to stop stray balls from leaving the ground. White Van Man has missed out on a viewing of the Shepshed WAGS.

I have a chat with a few disillusioned supporters, who are hurt by the perilous position the Club is in. I used to enjoy the message board that Andy Mac ran, but a few idiots from other clubs ruined that too.

Screats has clattered into the back of someone and has given away a needless free kick. McGovern bags his second of the evening, lifting the ball over the wall and into the top right hand corner of the net.

I find White Van Man sitting in the corner of the Social Club drinking a can of Diet Coke. Coronation Street is on the box. Top trainspotter Roy Cropper makes a welcome return to action. I notice a chap dressed in a green crocodile suit queuing at the bar. He’ll probably just want a snack.

Sticky jnr texts in asking if he can open a bottle of beer he’s discovered in the kitchen. For any policeman or social services people who read this blog, I reply with a firm NO. He’s a good lad. I know he won’t try it on.

I leave WVM to watch part two of Coro. The Shepshed DJ is playing the dreadful ‘Every Loser Wins’ by Nick Berry. He should be lined-up for the firing squad, not the Shepshed strikers though, as tonight they couldn’t hit a cows backside with a banjo.

The second half is as bad as the first half was good. Neither team makes any impression. Lincoln don’t need to as they are condemning Dynamo to their seventh consecutive defeat.

The moment I have waited for arrives on 80 minutes. Screats has clattered another opposing player and Sian has had enough. After being grassed up by the Referee’s Assistant, Sian invites Screats into the office. She correctly waves a yellow card. I’m laughing my head off.

We finish the night having a couple of jars in the Club. Screats joins us. He’s always got a smile on his face, even in defeat.

The Lincoln players drink in a large group. Former Lincoln City legend Terry Fleming is amongst them. He was a crowd favourite at Sincil Bank because of his never-say-die attitude. He’s manager now, but still turns out at full back at the age of 38.

Attendance: 146
Man of the Match : Sian Massey

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hinckley FC 1 Gresley FC 1

It’s a Monday evening in autumn 2002. Sky Sports cameras are at Nottingham Greyhound Stadium in Colwick Park. Smooth operator Jeff Stelling is presenting the show. I have a vested interest in tonight’s proceedings; I’ve bought the back leg of a greyhound for £200, plus monthly training fees.

The dog is called Prince Red Inca. It’s a play on words for a ‘red inker’, in cricketing terms (not out*). ‘The Prince’, if he gets a good start, is like shit off a shovel. It’s Finals Night; the prize money is £1500.

All the lads are trackside. Sticky is laid up on the sofa, streaming with cold. The trainer has told us we’ve got ‘Bob Hope’ of winning the race. Our dog is priced at 16/1, the rank outsider.

The owner of the track has a dog running in our race, he’s a firm favourite. He patronises the boys during his interview with Sky. “Yeah, they’re a bunch of locals who are just having a bit of fun”, he remarks about our syndicate.

It’s time for the feature race and the hare is running, ‘The Prince’ flies out the traps and hits the first bend in front. I take a sip from my hot toddy and begin to focus on the TV set.

Prince Red Inca is on full power. He’s still in the lead on the second circuit as he approaches the final straight. I’m now jumping up and down, Mrs P is doing a Highland fling and the kids are bouncing off the walls.

He’s under pressure from the favourite just metres from the finishing line. ‘The Prince’ and his opponent cross the line neck and neck. It’s too close to call. It’s a photo finish. Mrs P is all over me like a rash, the kids are telling me they love me.

The stadium announcer declares the result as a dead heat. They’ll still be paying out on odds of 8/1. “How much Dad? How much have we won?” shouts Sticky junior. “Erm, erm, nothing, the trainer said not to bother putting a bet on.” It’s three days before anybody bothers speaking to me again.

The weekend is a football fiesta. I spend Saturday morning in the company of former Notts County forward Iain McCulloch; he is proper funny. He tells me a few anecdotes from the Jimmy Sirrell era, as we view a schoolboy tournament at Highfields Sports Fields, in Nottingham.

The Notts County Youth Team, coached by former Pie legend Michael Johnson, are playing at the training ground, just a five minute stroll away. We take in the second half. Our youngsters are fortunate to come away with a 1-0 victory.

I help coach ‘The Skipper’s’ team in the afternoon as they pick up a valuable point in their fight against relegation.

The highlight of the day is a curry and a good film on Saturday evening. Taggart has recommended I watch ‘In Bruges’ on Film Four. It’s a black comedy directed and written by the Irishman. Martin McDonagh. You have to cusp your ear to catch the softly spoken Irish accent of Colin Farrell.

I manage to see Sticky jnr and his box of tricks on Sunday. He performs a couple of nutmegs and deals with a wind-up merchant in a street-wise kind of way. The talented head-strong teenager is booked in for his first Tricky Tree solo mission. It’s a rather low-key affair at ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds’ on April 2nd. His mum will be having kittens.

It’s Tuesday, the day of the game. I’m having a running battle with a supplier at work and have just about reached the end of my tether. I’m on Day 6 of cycling to work. The ride home is relaxing. I shower, shave and feel fully refreshed.

Mrs P has cooked us up some meat balls and spaghetti in tomatoes and chilli. We mop it up with garlic bread. The good lady is not best pleased, Sticky jnr’s team are down on the rota to clean out the KUCFC Clubhouse and changing rooms. It’ll be the same old people turning up, with the shirkers shirking.

‘The Skipper’ and I jump in the ‘Rolls Royce’ and head up to the ‘astro’ at Keyworth Leisure Centre for his team’s training session. Snooksey and ‘The Skipper’ are made to run two circuits of the pitch for fooling around.

I slip away at 6.45pm to pick up ‘The Taxman.’ Within minutes we are heading down the A46, onto the M1 and along the M69 towards Hinckley.

‘The Taxman’ has been toiling away all day at his art class. His latest effort is a painting of the picturesque North Devon fishing village of Clovelly.

Barking born John George Terry (a player Chelsea nicked from the West Ham Academy) is on Five Live, trying to justify his reappointment as England skipper.

The Tom Tom has a bit of a wobble as we approach Hinckley, but we finally find the Leicester Road ground after mistakenly pulling into the Rugby Ground.

Hinckley is a town in the south west Leicestershire, with a population of 43,000. It’s well known for its history of making hosiery and stockings. Castle Street is the first known location of ‘Luddism’, where disgruntled workers took sledgehammers to their machines. The Ashby Canal passes through the town.

Notable people born or have lived in the area include: Human League front man Philip Oakey, actress and dancer Una Stubbs and Coronation Street fruit-cake John Stape (Graham Hawley).

Hinckley FC (previously Hinckley Downes), ground share with Blue Square Conference North team Hinckley United (who I recently saw share the spoils at Stalybridge), at the Greene King Stadium.

It’s a top class venue where Aston Villa and Leicester City's second string play their reserve games. We enter from behind the goal, where there is covered terracing. It’s £5 on the turnstile. To our left is a large main stand, whilst another covered terrace runs along the opposite touchline. The far end is open; making it to all attempts and purposes a three-sided stadia.

Both teams appear to be shelling out some dough and are in a rich vein of form. It’s a game for the football purist. Hinckley have already had Julian Joachim and Tony Thorpe turn out for them this season.

I’m stressed out readers; my new camera is playing up. Or should I say the buffoon who attempts to take the photos has pressed the wrong button and can’t get the viewfinder to boot up.

Gresley FC, attack our end and are already pleasing on the eye. Their Number 10, Brian Woodall has impressed ‘The Taxman.’ I make some discreet enquiries with some neighbouring Gresley supporters. It appears the young man has bagged a deal with top talent spotter John Still at League One’s Dagenham and Redbridge.

Hinckley keeper’ and skipper, Elliot Shillam, is a busy bee in the first period. He might have a voice like a foghorn and appeared to have enjoyed ‘National Pie Week’, but he’s no mug in the nets. He saves bravely at the feet of Spencer. Shilliam also has a kick like a mule; it’s something I remember about him from his previous clubs Kirby Muxloe and Anstey Nomads, as well as his constant droning.

The home team have a golden chance to take the lead, totally against the run of play. Jermain Gordon pounces onto a through ball but is wiped out by Gresley stand-in keeper’ Darren Keeling, with two Gresley defenders protecting the goal.

Keeling is correctly shown a yellow card by referee Kevin Allen and saves a poorly struck penalty.

Shortly before half-time, with ‘The Taxman’ poised for a trip to the tea bar, Gresley take the lead with a beautifully executed free kick, curled over the wall by Dagenham bound Woodall.

We can’t mark the tea as it’s a DIY effort. If any non league club, within reasonable distance of Nottingham, would like my services, free of charge, so I can show you how to make endless pots of piping hot tea, then please leave me a message on my blog and I’ll draw one out a hat.

We’re perched up high in the stand. The winning programme (I use that word loosely) number has been shouted out. My five year barren run continues; I’m seven off the winning prize.

Gresley have to clear off the line as Hinckley press for an equaliser. Gaps in the midfield encourage Gresley to return to their fluent passing game. Brian Woodall nonchantly flicks a cross in with the outside of his boot, Spencer’s downward header bounces up onto the underside of the bar.

The visitors waste endless time. They disrupt play with substitutions. The player coming off takes an age to trudge to the bench.

Rob Spencer shows all his studs in challenging the Hinckley 5 jacket, who retaliates by shoving the forward in the chest with both hands raised. Both are cautioned, the latter’s a lucky lad.

Gresley are desperately running the clock down when the 5 jacket heads home an injury (added on) time equaliser right at the death.

A small, unsavoury element of away fans, abuse the referee. The blame lies squarely at the feet of their team, who have missed enough chances to win a hat-trick of games.

Attendance: 100

Man of the Match: Rob Spencer (despite poor finishing).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stalybridge Celtic 1 Hinckley United 1

Mr and Mrs Trumpy Bolton are travelling back from Reading after a romantic weekend in Berkshire. The legend is in fine fettle after chalking off a few new pubs. New readers may not know that his sole mission in life is to make a financial transaction in every village or town in England.

They pull into the Lamb Inn, in Oxfordshire, for some Sunday lunch. The pub is nothing out of the ordinary; the food is plain, unimaginative and overpriced.

After swilling a few real ales and a pint of cider Trumpy peruses the bill and spots a service charge of £3.95. He’s having none of that. The landlady is called over to his table. “Scrub that off the bill love, I could have fetched my own food from the kitchen if you’d asked” says Trumpy.

There’s a standoff at the bar as his credit card goes through the machine, minus the service charge. Trumpy has a final pop at mein host as he heads out of the pub door. He turns to all the remaining diners and shouts at the top of his voice: “make sure you’re not screwed for £3.95 as a service charge.”

He is escorted off the premises. It’s the first time in 35 years of professional drinking that he has been asked to leave a hostelry. Good on yer Trumpy lad.

It’s 4.20pm on Friday evening. I’m racing out the Ergo Computing car park. I’ve a hot date with Mrs P at the Apple Tree. The England v Bangladesh game, in the most exciting Cricket World Cup in ages, is reaching a crescendo.

Despite the array of real ales on show Sticky plumps for a pint of Stella, Mrs P has a medium glass of dry white wine. She pulls a face at every sip. Sticky’s face is also screwed up: one, there is no cricket on the TV and two that clown Ollie Murs is on the jukebox. ‘The Skipper’ saves my bacon by texting in: England have lost by two wickets.

I’m on the paper round again. I enjoy it in a perverse sort of way. The biggest earthquake in Japan, since records began, dominates the front pages. I’m just delivering my final paper, when the front door viciously swings open. The paper is snatched out of my hand: “better late than never”, smirks the customer. It’s typical behaviour of a Daily Mail reader.

It’s a rare day off from scouting for youth. Before my pass out is rubber stamped by Mrs P I’ve a few chores to do. Finley’s cage requires a spring clean. He has a little ball that he plays with (humps). He rolls onto his back and does a few keepy-uppies. He has more tricks in his locker than Nani. It bad news for Hinckley Utd fans though, Finley predicts a 4-0 drubbing.

Mrs P has very kindly knocked me up a bacon and sausage sandwich. I wash it down with an award-winning pot of Yorkshire tea.

Trumpy is just screwing the top on his faithful plastic bottle, which is filled to the brim with Bulmers Pear Cider. He has a couple of pubs lined-up for us in High Peak, Derbyshire.

I switch on the Graham Norton Show on Radio 2. I find the Irishman amusing. Trumpy is not a fan. Although as quick as a flash he identifies the song Norton is playing as “Bridge to Your Heart” by Wax from 1987.

We drive through Chesterfield and up through the Peak District. We discuss the Council cuts and the new levy on recycling green bins. Trumpy’s blue bin (cans and plastic bottles) tends to gets more hammer than his green one.

The first pub we rock up at is The Vine near to New Mills. Trumpy is flapping that they don’t do credit card transactions: he’s right on the money, they don’t. It’s a relief as it felt like we’d walked into God’s waiting room.

The second pub, called the Pack Horse Inn, is situated on top of a hill. It has spectacular views over the rolling countryside. There are four different ales on draught, we plump for a pint of Pirate’s Gold from the Wooden Hand Brewery in Truro.

The legend has a cider to accompany his chicken baguette. The Stowford Press cider is from Much Marcle in Herefordshire, the birthplace of serial killer Fred West.

The pub has a plethora of antiques and nick-nacks hanging from the varnished wooden beams. I ask Trumpy if he knows what they are: “I’m not David Dickinson” is his reply.

By now we are in the third pub of the day – the Moorfield Arms - Trumpy is giving the attractive, curly-haired blonde barmaid some of his best lyrics (sorry Mrs Trumpy).

The highlight of the day is when we finally hit the town of Stalybridge. We park at the train station and head up to the world renowned Stalybridge Buffet Bar, which is situated on the station platform.

We sample a pint of First Light from the York Brewery. The place is mobbed out with Man Utd fans waiting for the train. A group of Scousers are in a huddle, doing what they do best, chatting. Trumpy says they are the Liverpool Branch of the Manchester United Supporters’ Club.

En-route to the ground we pass the Stalybridge Labour Club. I ask the legend if he fancies popping in for a swift one. He declines the offer, he’s a true Blue. We park the ‘Rolls Royce’ on a cul-de-sac, a mere five minute stroll from the Bower Field ground.

Stalybridge is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside. It has a population of just over 20,000 and lies 9 miles to the east of Manchester.

During the Industrial Revolution the town was at the centre of textile manufacturing. According to Wikipedia (not always the most reliable of sources) the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” was created in the town’s Newmarket Tavern by Jack Judge.

Stalybridge has a public house with the longest name in Britain: The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn – I wouldn’t fancy waiting for Trumpy to write out a cheque in there after his liquid lunch.

The film Yanks, starring Hollywood actor Richard Gere, was shot in the town in 1978.

It’s £10 on the turnstile. Trumpy snaps me up a programme for £2. I’m disappointed there are no pen pictures or career statistics for either team.

The DJ is playing Now 23. Rick Astley, Chesney Hawkes and a cheesy Iron Maiden toon blares out from the speakers, whilst Trumpy downs a pint of Thwaites bitter in the Social Club.

The ground would pass Football League standard, it’s an absolute beauty. Two big stands run along the touchline, with covered terracing behind both goals. The pitch looks in fine fettle after a harsh winter.

The teams walk out to the New Order anthem, ‘Blue Monday’, a song I’ve not heard in ages. I lean on a blue-painted crash barrier. Next to me a young woman rolls up a cigarette and tries to spark up, a slight breeze keeps blowing out her lighter.

Celtic look to play it out from the back. In contrast the Knitters ping the ball forward towards their giant orange-booted journeyman Gary Ricketts. (Trumpy calls him Pierre Van Hooijdonk).

There’s absolutely nothing doing. Trumpy has been booted out another bar; they’re not open again until half-time. We’re both chuckling about the young lady who’s now trying to light up a nub end.

The game livens up on 24 minutes with the opening goal. Ricketts finds Sam Belcher in space on the edge of the area. Despite not connecting properly with it Stalybridge ‘keeper Jan Budtz (who looks like Van der Saar) can only help the ball into the net.

The game really is dire. Trumpy is happy enough that his adopted county are one to the good. He waltzes off to the Social Club to join the orderly queue that is waiting for the shutters to come up.

Celtic spurn a couple of decent chances before the break. I’ve noticed that former Nottingham Forest player James Reid is playing for the Knitters. He was often talked up whilst I worked at the Academy, but I often questioned his fitness and engine. The game passes him by today.

Leicester, Lincoln and the Pies are all one to the good at the break. It will be a particularly sweet moment for Lincoln’s manager, Steve Tilson, whose side are playing Southend United, a club he was sacked at, and not fully compensated.

Trumpy strikes up a conversation with an elderly lady who is tapping away on her laptop. She explains that Jim Harvey’s young charges have only lost once in their last ten outings. She expects a marked improvement when they kick down the slope.

The legend enquires how old Celtic’s bald headed 11 jacket is. He remarks that the poor fellow looked fagged out after 15 minutes.

The DJ is thankfully fading out the dreadful ’Uptown Girl’ by Billy Joel, as I return to my spot to view proceedings.

Stalybridge dump their passing game. They shove a big fellow (Hobson) upfront and go route one. It’s ugly and unproductive until the 56th minute, when another long ball is headed home, following hesitation by the Hinckley goalkeeper, by 34 year old silver haired striker Lee Elam.

Celtic increase the tempo, with 21 goal leading scorer Phil Marsh looking dangerous. He darts in from the left and fires shot inches over the bar.

Remarkably one or two Celtic fans begin to leave the ground as the home side begin to turn the screw. “We can see you sneaking out” sings T Bolton, who is now making enquiries about a Hinckley Utd season ticket.

There’s still time for Trumpy to dish out a bollocking to the young Hinckley stopper who stupidly fires the ball twice at Hobson’s back whilst twice trying to clear the ball.

Attendance: 448

Man of the Match: Cyrus Christie