Tuesday, September 27, 2011
It’s the 17th September 1999. I’m sat in the Jongleurs Comedy Club by the Canal Side in Nottingham. A large group of us are out celebrating Mrs P’s 30th birthday. The good lady waves away a waiter, who is offering her a food menu. She’s on a mission tonight to have a few bevies, and why not, you’re only 30 once.
A comedian is on stage. I haven’t laughed once, and neither has Mrs P or her buddies. We’re only an hour into the evening and already they have demolished three bottles of wine. They start to heckle the comedian. Bloody hell, I really wish she’d opted for chicken and chips in a basket, to line her stomach.
I glance over towards their table. It’s absolute carnage, total car crash material. Trumpy Bolton has less empties in his garage.
I order a Coke (the drink, not the white powder), it’s going to be a long night. We can’t get the good lady off the dance floor. She’s bumping into folk and dancing outrageously. You can’t drink wine like water, readers.
The inevitable dash to the toilet (stagger) occurs well before time added on. I’m stood near the bar; stone cold sober, plotting how I can convince a taxi driver to take us home. I feel a tap on my shoulder; it’s a Jongleurs security guard.
“Your name Nick?” “Yeah” I reply. “I’m sorry sir, but your wife has been ill in the corridor, we’ve had to ask her to leave the premises.”
I slip a taxi driver £25 in an attempt to get us both home. “Drive steady mate and keep an eye out for any potholes”, I advise him, as Mrs P falls into a coma on the back seat. We negotiate a couple of pit stops at Trent Bridge and Edwalton. There’s a gush of wind as all four windows are wound down.
We arrive home safely. As I said to Mrs Palmer the following morning, as she crammed her mouth full of paracetamol: “You were a good act, but on far too long.”
It’s a beautiful autumnal Sunday morning. I’m stood on the balcony at the Brian Wakefield Memorial Ground on Lenton Lane, the home of Bilborough Pelican. I’m chatting shit with BPFC big cheeses, ‘Swifty’ and ‘Big Glenn.’
BPFC have joined the newly-formed Central Midlands Division One South League. I miss Big Glenn’s pissed-up rants after a Saturday night bender, on what was once known as the World’s best message board (NSL Forum).
Swifty is full of beans. He had his photo taken with the FA Cup the other week, to complete the full set. He makes me a tea ‘on the house.’ His first effort is piss poor and is left to stew in a polystyrene cup on the bar. His re-brew is presented in a ceramic mug, but I refuse to mark it out of ten as it wasn’t made in a pot.
I head off home and find Mrs P halfway up a tree on an unsteady ladder. I act the perfect gentleman and lean against the ladder, whilst making a few phones calls, as Mrs P chops and saws.
Finley Palmer, Keyworth’s Number One rabbit, beckons me over to his cage. The little monkey has ripped up all his newspaper bedding up and back-heeled all his sawdust into his living quarters. He gets a proper bollocking off Groundhopper, the scruffy little sod. He says he prefers the Non League Paper to sleep on, rather than the Nottingham Topper.
I enter the garage. It’s time for my Sunday constitutional. I pull a can of Stella from out of the bottom rack of the fridge. I flick on the excellent John Murray, who is commentating at QPR’s Loftus Road. Boring hell, Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa are in London town. ‘Super Sunday?’ More like ‘Super Snooze Day.’
It’s Tuesday afternoon, the day of the game. ‘Shifty Edwards’ and ‘Sticky’ are listening to the latest offering from music producer ‘Lack of Afro.’ We discuss rumours of cuts to BBC Local Radio sport. I mention that I’d be gutted if veteran radio commentator Colin Slater was a victim of the cuts. Shifty quotes a line from a James Brown song: “Talking Aloud and Saying Nothing.” He’s not a big fan of ‘Uncle Colin.’
Rammers picks me up in The Fairway public house car park. We haven’t seen one another in ages. He’s coached in the USA for most of the summer and is currently manager of Shepshed Dynamo.
We drive through Barrow upon-Soar and Cropston. We came to a game at Nomads back in January of this year. It’s a neat and tidy set-up. It’s £4 each on the gate and £1 for a programme, which is a fair effort. Tonight is a Leicestershire Senior Cup tie.
Rammers blags a team sheet from an Anstey official. I have a browse around the Clubhouse. I notice a memorial plaque hung up in the corner of the room. It’s in memory of two players who lost their lives during the Second World War. A small boy shuffles on the sofa, furiously pressing buttons on his Nintendo DS.
Anstey is a village north west of Leicester, with a population of 6000 people. It is known as the Gateway to Charnwood Forest. Whilst developing a site for the new Co-op store in 2002 remains were found, which according to archaeologists dated back to the 12th Century (that one’s for you Swifty).
Ned Ludd, from whom the industrial revolutionists The Luddites took their name from, was born in the village. In 1779 in a ‘fit of passion’ he smashed up two knitting frames.
The players seem relaxed. Rammers notices there is acres of space not being closed down. Bardon Hill play the football, but have no cutting edge. Their forwards lack desire and look lethargic.
Anstey take the lead on 14 minutes with young Wes York drilling a shot home from 20 yards. The visitors restore parity with a Karl Demidh penalty, following pushing or shirt-pulling.
There are about 20 teenage boys and girls stood adjacent to us, quietly socialising. There no bother, maybe the lads form part of the under 18 side. The lads play it cool as the girls surround them like bees round a honey pot.
It’s all square at the break. My phone suddenly goes off. Trumpy Bolton’s name lights up on the console. He’s roaring down the phone like ‘The Banker’ off Deal or No Deal (Mrs P’s fave programme). The Clarets of Burnley are giving the Tricky Trees of Nottingham a good tonking. Trumpy is loving it.
We firm up a few details of our forthcoming trip to Hyde. We pencil a few dates in for Ashton Town and Louth Town.
Anstey push on in the second period and look the likely winner. Darren Taylor has been unlucky with two previous efforts but is more fortunate with his third. He seizes upon a ball over the top and finishes with aplomb. He celebrates in style sliding towards the corner flag.
It says in the programme mini profiles that he scores important goals at important times. The one tonight could be worth a few bob.
At the back of the far goal two blokes are fishing a ball out of the river with a net. It must have been another effort gone skew-wiff from Bardon Hill as their front men continue to misfire.
Both teams hit the crossbar as the entertainment value increases. On 80 minutes there’s the sickening noise of burning rubber on tarmac as two cars collide on the nearby Cropston Road. The ‘Anstey Baby Squad’ sprint to the entrance to discover two cars written off in a road traffic accident. Thankfully nobody is injured.
The final whistle goes, Anstey deserve their victory. We celebrate in style with two pints of Everards, well actually Rammers had a pint of Pride of Pendle from Burnley, (no pun intended Forest fans), in the Soar Bridge Inn in Barrow upon-Soar.
Man of the Match: Bardon Hill ‘keeper.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
It’s August 1990. Sticky Palms is in northern Spain, exact location, San Sebastian, in the Bay of Biscay. I’m with ‘Ackers’, ‘Oggy’, ‘Gambers’ & ‘Neavie.’ The latter is marrying a local Basque girl tomorrow.
It’s the mother of all stag weeks. I’ve drank heavily for four days. I’ve been to three firework Fiestas in a row. My liver and kidneys are on the verge of malfunctioning. We’re already on the sauce as the church bells chime 12 o’clock (midday)
‘Ackers’ is missing in action. He was last seen wandering into a fruit shop to buy a lemon to suck on. We’ve sent out the search party. Black clouds surround the bay. The wind whips up, as the storm clouds begin to gather.
There’s the sound of smashing glass as outside bar tables blow onto the cobbled streets. The heavens open as we sprint across a bridge to seek refuge. San Sebastian is not on the English tourist radar. There are no tacky bars or bare-chested youths wearing Union Jack shorts on the prowl. Nobody speaks English in these parts.
I clock a bloke on the bridge scurrying in the opposite direction. I recognise him instantly. He plays football for the local team, Real Sociedad, who he joined in a £1 million deal from Liverpool last summer. He’s just returned from a successful World Cup campaign in Italy with the Republic of Ireland. His name is John Aldridge and Sticky doesn’t like him.
The boys are sucking up to him “Eh up John.” “Great World Cup, John.” I only have one question for the smug Scouser: “Why did you ruffle the hair of Brian Laws and laugh in his face?” (after he scored that own goal at Old Trafford in the replayed FA Cup semi-final following the Hillsborough Disaster).
‘Aldo’ just smirks and runs off into the distance. It’s another disappointing encounter with a professional footballer.
We’re on our way back from Bedworth. Two floodlight pylons blew up on 43 minutes. A groundhopper I was stood with from Milton Keynes said that this does not constitute a tick-off. Had it got to half-time he’d have counted it as a ground completed. Sod that for a game of soldiers. I’ve seen a match played and won’t be coming back – well not for a night game at least.
We snuck into the Plough at Normanton-on-the-Wolds. Bass is the guest ale. The Taxman admires the décor and architecture. He is the Michelangelo of Nottinghamshire.
It’s Friday evening and I’m hot-footing it around West Bridgford. I need my barnet shearing, but more importantly have some flowers to collect from Slades on Melton Road. I dash into Boots to buy some perfume. You’ve guessed it – Mrs P is forty something tomorrow.
I race across to Clifton to collect some ID cards for my football team. I’m in and out the house and driving down to Plumtree Cricket Club for the Junior Presentation Night. I relax with a couple of pints of Black Sheep as Gangsta and my Godson, Will, mop up the awards.
Saturday is a crazy day. I’m out scouting for most of the morning, covering three games in a two mile radius. The afternoon is spent in my favourite part of Nottingham. ‘The Skipper’s’ team are playing Hyson Green Cavaliers, at the Forest Recreation Ground, in Carrington (Goose Fair site). It’s an interesting, multi-cultural epicentre of our city.
I fear the worst when I spot four lads playing for them who have recently been released by Notts County’s Centre of Excellence. Their pace and power prove too much for the farmer’s boys. We are walloped 7-2. Two games, two losses. I don’t know who will get sacked first: Steve McClaren, who has just lost a lunchtime kick-off against bitter local rivals D***y County or Sticky Palms.
Gangsta and the gang are around ours at night to celebrate Mrs P’s birthday. Fifteen of us play bingo, with yours truly shouting out the numbers. I ask if Finley can join in the celebrations. I receive the same icy glare that I’ve come to recognise over the last 23 years. That’ll be a NO then.
‘Will’ gets two consecutive full houses. Gangsta jumps into his arms to celebrate the £4 win, only because he wants half the winnings.
It’s Monday evening and I’m down the Notts County Centre of Excellence at Dayncourt School in Radcliffe-on-Trent. Pies manager Martin Allen has dropped in to watch the boys training. He organises a photo-shoot with all the kids. It’s a magic moment, and a true measure of the man.
It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m all excited about tonight’s game. I’ve hooked up for half a shift with warehousing legend ‘Shifty Edwards.’ He casually remarks that he’s watching the new series of ‘Made in Chelsea’ on ITV. I’m shocked and repulsed. Not a word passes our lips for the remainder of the working day.
I arrive home and tend to the two biggest loves of my life: Sally Gunnell is treated to a litre of engine oil, whilst Finley gets a stroke on his forehead. I ask him for one of his infamous crap score predictions. He shakes his head firmly. He explains that he doesn’t like teams from Leicestershire as that’s where his arch enemy the fox is from.
I have a scroll through Twitter. BBC football correspondent Nigel Adderley has tweeted that Shrewsbury Town skipper Ruben Hazell, and his two boys, are on the Emirates Stadium season ticket waiting list. Shrewsbury take on ‘The Arsenal’ tonight.
Mrs P is doing her fortnightly online shop at Tesco’s. “Can you believe that people eat lemon and coriander cashew nuts”, the good lady pipes up. After that stunning piece of trivia, it’s time to depart, readers.
The Taxman rolls up at 7.10pm. He’s had a change of heart and ditched the Forest v Newcastle League Cup tie.
We’re driving through Bunny when a Rozzer accelerates past us and blocks off the A60 at the East Leake turning. Another Plod comes flying around the corner and heads off towards British Gypsum. There’s no explanation from ‘Harry Hopper’, let’s face it they’re whack at PR.
We take a detour through Wysall, Thorpe-in-the-Glebe and Wymeswold and re-join the A60 in Rempstone. The teams are tossing up as The Taxman negotiates the tight left hand turn into Riverside Park.
It’s my third blog at this ground. After last week’s debacle in Bedworth, neither of us fancied travelling far tonight. A juicy FA Cup replay was always high on the agenda.
The coldest I have ever felt at a football game was at Barrow Town in January 2009 when Heanor Town were the visitors.
It’s £4 each on the gate. The programmes have sold out due to a small print run. Over 100 have squeezed through the turnstile. The pitch looks greasy but immaculate.
A last gasp long range shot from Thurnby Nirvana on Saturday has forced a replay. I make no secret that Nirvana are amongst my favourite teams. Their Grand Fromage, Jordan Smith has moved onto the Steelmen of Corby. There’s also no sign of crowd favourite Nijah Frank.
Both teams lie in mid-table in the East Midlands Counties League, with plenty of games in hand. The weather is fairly unpleasant. We’re stood in the ‘away end’ with about 15 Nirvana fans.
Nirvana keep the ball and play some nice football in the early stages without really threatening goal.
Barrow open the scoring on fifteen minutes, with former Loughborough Dynamo midfielder Karl Noble forcing the ball home after a couple of earlier attempts were blocked.
Against the run of play, following a Nirvana corner, Barrow further increase their lead. Nirvana are caught short at the back in a two on two situation. Carl Adams rolls a ball into the path of Phil Miller who converts from close range.
The referee has received three minutes treatment for an unspecified injury. I was hoping for a change as all he has done is blow his bloody whistle all night. The game re-starts. I shout out to the ref that he has to leave the field of play and we’ll all wave him back on. After another petty decision a Nirvana fan cruelly asks whether the physio applied some Deep Heat to the ref’s eyes.
The second half is pretty dire. Nirvana will never score in a month of Sunday’s. Barrow play with heart, drive and purpose. They want the game more; it’s as simple as that. Substitute Connor Hardy puts the game to bed with the ball ricocheting off him from the ‘keeper’s clearance. Barrow even manage to strike the woodwork twice.
We’ve hooked up with a Leicestershire groundhopper that I bump into now and again. He’s a closet Red Dog. The Taxman and ‘Red Dog’ moan and groan about NFFC’s current plight for the entire second half. It’s worse than anything you’ll hear on ‘Matchtalk’ on Monday night on ‘Radio Red.’
The highlight of the second half is a sublime first touch and pass from The Taxman following an ale house clearance from the Thurnby centre half.
Man of the Match: Phil Miller
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I’m sat at a sun-soaked Plumtree Cricket Ground on a balmy Sunday afternoon. Sticky Junior and ‘The Skipper’ are pitting their wits against a bunch of oiks from out Newark way.
Their behaviour in the field is sub-standard. They set no example to our junior section. They swear, belch and disrespect our young guns. It’s Division 4 of the Newark League. Plumtree CC choose to blood their youngsters. Winning is not the be-all and end-all.
They’ve rocked-up at Bradmore Lane with their overseas professional. He is their safety valve. He bowls a hostile opening spell. His run-up is longer than Darren Pattinson’s. Thankfully his services are no longer required.
Sticky Jnr and ‘The Skipper’ bat at 10 and 11. Our middle to lower order capitulate, there’s a flurry of wickets. My boys are now at the batting crease. The South African peels off his sweater to bowl at the death. Is it really necessary? He begins to mark out his run-up. Thankfully it’s only three paces. I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Let’s face it ‘The Skipper’ is only 13.
The Redneck Newark captain orders the Pro to bowl off a full run-up. Makhaia Ntini steams in to bowl at my youngest lad. Butterflies float around the pit of my stomach. ‘The Skipper’ gets in line and strokes it to cover. No run. Next thing, the Pro follows through his run-up, and eyeballs ‘The Skipper.’
Two deliveries later he sends Sticky Junior’s off stump cart-wheeling to slip. I’m stood on the pavilion steps ready to have a word. I’m not clapping in these morons. One of our lads beats me to it. He lets fly at the Pro with a verbal volley. Their Captain offers him outside. I step in with a few well chosen words. The captain disappears into the changing room.
The South African boy re-emerges and hunts me down to apologise for his behaviour. Village cricket, it’s not how I remember it when I played regularly 15 years ago.
I’ve kept my head down for most of the week, after our four day soiree in Abersoch. Everyone is bored now with my Michael Owen anecdote (I bumped into him last Sunday in the High Street).
My under fourteen team have played a couple of friendly games during the week. We’re spot on for our first League game on Saturday. I receive the bad news by text that two of my stronger squad members are unavailable to play. It’s going to be a long and gruelling season.
Saturday is a mad-cap day. I spend the morning with Notts County Head of Youth, Mick Leonard, down at the University Playing Fields in Nottingham. We view some trial games and jot a few names down in the notebook to follow up.
I make my coaching debut for the season down at Keyworth United’s Platt Lane HQ at 1pm. The boys put in a spirited performance against a team that banged six goals past us twice last season. A 20mph wind doesn’t help matters, as we always like to try and play it out from the back. We suffer a two nil reverse.
Sticky jnr is warming up for his 3pm kick-off. We exchange some banter. I advise him to keep his cool. They’re playing Hyson Green under 18s. Junior’s team are under 16s. They play two years up.
The game is open and enthralling. Junior has a couple of great efforts on target. They go two down against of run of play but pull it back to two a piece. I shoot off down Meadow Lane at 5pm to pick up a trialist I’m looking after.
Saturday night is a TV disaster. ‘Strictly’, X-Factor and Red or Black put me in a dark place. I announce on Twitter that I may have to turn to God.
I watch an under 16 player in Nottingham on Sunday morning. He’s a left-footed defender, who scores a 25 yard rasping drive with his right peg. I’ll keep an eye on him, but it just might be a little bit late in the day to bring him in now. Scholarships are awarded in six months time.
Mrs P and Groundhopper spend their wedding anniversary in the afternoon watching our lads play their final cricket game of the season. I had been selected, but managed to wheedle my way out of it.
It’s Tuesday evening, 5pm. I am lying on the dentist’s chair. He’s prodding around my mouth with a scalpel. I get a clean bill of health and dash home. I bolt some tea down, very kindly prepared by Mrs P. I gather my belongings and head towards The Taxman’s crib.
He flies out the gate quicker than Irish legendary greyhound Ballyregan Bob. As per usual he has brought about four coats. I ask him if he is auditioning for the crap ITV programme 71 Degrees North.
The next half an hour is spent talking about his kitchen refurbishment. He mentions screening, painting, tiling, plastering and touching-up. I might as well have stopped at home with Mrs P and watched Nick Knowles on DIY SOS.
Lee Dixon is on Five Live at the Borussia Dortmund versus ‘The Arsenal’ game. I once bumped into him in a Hertfordshire beer garden with a sozzled Trumpy Bolton in toe. The guy was first-class (Dixon, not Bolton).
We hit the A46, M1, M69 & M6. We’re on the Coventry Road in Bedworth town centre within 45 minutes. The Taxman is driving shotgun and has been told to keep an eye out for the ground. He’s that busy looking out for B&Q’s and Do It All’s that he’s missed the turning for The Oval.
Bedworth is a market town in Warwickshire, close to Coventry and Nuneaton. It has a population of over 30,000. Primarily it was well known for its coal-mining. The last pit closed in 1994. The Bedworth water Tower is the most notable feature in the town centre.
The show-jumper Nick Skelton was born in the town, as was Hinckley United manager Dean Thomas, who once plied his trade on the left hand side of midfield for Notts County.
It’s £7 each on the gate. The programme is £1.50 and an excellent read. The ground is a gem. On the far side is a large, steep green-painted brick stand. As you turn left and walk in a clock-wise direction there’s covered standing and a two-tiered Social Club, where you can view the game from the second floor.
The Oval is tree-lined, surrounded with housing and has open ends behind both goals. I remark to a bald-headed chap, as we saunter around to the main stand, what a fantastic place The Oval is. He turns out to be a groundhopper from Milton Keynes, by the name of ‘Jimmy Jazz.’
We take a pew on the very back row, to hide from the gusty conditions. The DJ plays The Damned and Big Country. The players are greeted onto the field of play by schoolgirl cheerleaders.
The pitch looks immaculate. You could play crown green bowling on it. It’s right up there with the New Manor Ground and the Pirelli Stadium.
I saw Bedworth last season, they were bloody awful. A new manager (Steve Farmer) has been drafted in from nearby Nuneaton Griff. He has brought some talented players with him.
The game is open. Bedworth look dangerous on either flank. There’s a black guy on the right wing with pace to burn.
The Greenbacks captain is Ian Roper, who made over 300 appearances for Walsall. He just manages to fit into his shirt. The infamous faggot and peas on offer at the Tea Bar look to be a favourite delicacy of the defender.
He balloons a pass into touch when a team-mate has requested a ball to feet and is often beaten in the air by the Woodford centre forward.
The game has a flow to it and the visitors belie their lowly league position. Their Number 11 stings the hands of the home ‘keeper with a blistering shot from the edge of the area.
Bedworth have a goal ruled out for offside and go close with two further efforts. All the game needs is a goal.
It’s five minutes to half-time. The Taxman and I trudge down the stairs to discover the ‘Under the Stand Tea Bar.’ A little old lady is pottering around tidying up. I immediately notice her filling up a teapot with a woollen tea cosy covering it. She tells me a 90 year old lady knitted it.
The brew is tremendous and is marked by the judges with a 9.6. Only Clipstone Welfare can better it this season. It’s the highlight of the evening.
Talking of lights, and with two minutes to go before half-time, the far corner of the ground is plunged into darkness. Two floodlight pylons have decided to have an early night.
They manage to get one to boot up, but the other is having none of it. I’ve having a scroll through my Tweets when my night suddenly brightens up (unlike The Oval). Sheffield Wednesday are losing 4-0 at Stevenage. International Chewing Gum Champion of the Year, Gary Megson, will be kicking-off big style.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Tomorrow I am going away for a long weekend with White Van Man’s pals to north Wales. I’m nervous, really nervous. Last year we all went to Whitby. We played the Arnold Palmer Crazy Golf on the seafront. I carded a course record 20. I was high-fiving the crowd on the West Cliff top. The Cava was on ice. Victory was all but mine.
There was only Sandra left on the course. Bless her; I bet she had a few double bogeys and fresh air shots in her round. It was a drop your bacon sandwich moment when the Whitby R&A official announced her as the winner. I smelt a rat. I still do. I won’t be speaking to her tomorrow. I’m still haunted and scarred by events on that horrible day.
White Van Man phones up first thing Friday morning. He wants a cup of Rosy Lee, before the long trip north west. He’s frothing at the mouth when he finds out Mrs P is in the shower. “Rowdy” he roars down the phone. I warn the good lady to be on her guard.
Chris Moyles is playing Jamiroquai and The Bluetones on Radio 1’s Golden Hour. I have a stab at 1997. I’m ten pence short. There’s mayhem at the Silverdale roundabout. A lorry stacked with hay has shed its load. WVM taps the dashboard in frustration.
We meet up with the gang in Clifton and head up the A50 and M6 towards Colwyn Bay, where Team Leader, Piers (Harry Enfield dead ringer) has booked lunch at the Pen-Y-Bryn.
I’m straight on the Snowdonia Ale. It’s 3.6ABV and a good session beer. Sticky Palms necks a couple, washing down his Cajun chicken ciabatta. I’ve clocked Sandra sitting at our table. I sensibly decide to blank her. We’ll have our showdown later this weekend.
There’s almost an international incident en-route to Abersoch. Those two pints of real ale have done for me. I’m bursting readers. I’m crossing my legs, trying not to look at rivers, streams or the Irish Sea. I hope Radio 1 don’t play The Water Boys or ‘Waterfall’ by The Stone Roses.
WVM reluctantly pulls in for a pit stop. I dash across the road and balance perilously halfway down a steep grass bank. Two police cars hare down the road with sirens blaring out. Oh no, please, God, no. It’s a near miss. WVM is roaring with laughter.
We pull up the drive of the delightful 100 year old Halfruyn House. It’s perched on top of a cliff overlooking Abersoch Beach. The gardens are breathtaking, the views stunning.
A few hours later we’re all bevied up in the Hong Kong Harbour restaurant. WVM has his knuckles rapped by a feisty, flame-haired Leeds Utd supporter for tucking into the crispy duck before the pancakes arrive. He’s proper got the monk on and face on.
He’s back on form on Saturday morning. He has his chef’s hat on as rustles up fried bacon cobs for the gang. Piers has organised a trip to a slate mine up at Blaenau Ffestiniog, the birthplace of former Lincoln City goalkeeping legend David Felgate.
We wave the troops off. WVM and Groundhopper miss the team bus, we have an agenda of our own. Our destination is CPD Pwllheli.
I suddenly hear the theme tune of Emmerdale coming from the living room. WVM is catching up with Friday’s episode on Sky mobile. He boasts he hasn’t missed an episode in nine years. He’s unmoved and dead pan faced, when I ask if Amos Brearley and Mr Wilkes still run the Woolpack.
I take a stroll down to Abersoch harbour. I get chin-wagging to a guy fishing. He says he caught a couple of sea bass last night which he ate for tea. I ask him where’s he from. “D***y” he replies. It kills the conversation stone dead.
It’s teeming down with rain as we make the short 7 mile journey to the seaside resort of Pwllheli. We track down the Mooch fancy dress shop. I purchase a 70s moustache and some glitter for the ‘Abba Gala Night’ Piers has organised. We all have to wear white socks (Abersoch ... get it?)
I treat WVM to fish and chips in a sit down eatery. It’s full of noisy bikers sheltering from the pouring rain.
We’re parked up at ‘The Rec’ at just before 2pm. I’ve been whittling all morning whether the game will survive the inclement weather. I leave WVM fiddling with his iPhone and have a potter around the ground.
No-one is around. It’s half an hour before kick-off. We have no plan b. The pitch looks fine though. There’s a guy standing alone under covering, sheltering from the pouring rain. He’s wearing a black Berghaus bomber jacket, denim jeans and black hush puppy shoes. He has a thick Liverpudlian accent. His features remind me of the late, great Mancunian singer Ian Curtis from Joy Division.
His face lights up when he sees me ambling towards him. We strike up a conversation. He confirms the game is on. It turns out that he travels a solo 200 mile round trip from his Bootle home each weekend to watch the Lilywhites. He even went to an away midweek fixture at Conway last Wednesday.
I’m captivated by this guy already. In seven years of groundhopping I’ve never met someone with so much passion and commitment at this level.
I jog back to the car and give WVM the thumbs up. We pay £2.50 each on the gate and a further £1 for a programme. I tell WVM excitedly about my new mate. We’re immediately reunited. Perhaps he and WVM can catch up on old Brookside episodes on UK Gold at half time on Sky Mobile.
It’s still siling it down with rain as the players emerge from the nearby leisure centre. The pitch has held up superbly. There are tennis courts behind one goal, with housing backing onto the far touchline. ‘Scouse’ says it never gets waterlogged due to the sandstone base.
I would put the standard as being around Step 5. Llanrwst have a couple of old heads surrounded by youngsters. The front pairing look no older than 18 years of age.
CPD Pwllheli top the table with a 100% record. I’d love to position myself behind the dugout to hear the managers but would risk a drenching and a possible language barrier.
The visitors are out the blocks quickly. Elliot Llewellyn has guile and pace in abundance. A supporter tells me he is only 17 years old. He causes mayhem but can’t pop a shot off.
Pwllheli are more direct and not shy of shooting. They have a headed goal chalked off for offside. In an entertaining first half the home team take the lead on the stroke of half time. Ben Chippendale bundles the ball into the back of the onion bag following a cross from the right. Chippendale surprisingly doesn’t remove his shirt to celebrate.
WVM has fetched the teas. We can’t mark it out of ten because no proper mashing technique was used (no teapot). ‘Scouse’ turns a beverage down. He has a heavy night scheduled in Liverpool city centre.
The second half is less entertaining but by now I only have eyes for ‘Scouse.’ We chat about the eccentricities of David Felgate and share anecdotes about Cammell Laird and Marine. Oh man, I love this guy.
Pwllheli score another scruffy goal after a ‘Beadle Hands’ moment from the visiting ‘keeper. It’s the fag end of the game. Pwllheli look comfortable. Suddenly a clumsy home defender gives away a penalty, which is converted by 9 Jacket.
‘Scouse’ turns a whiter shade of pale as five minutes ‘mystery time’ is played. The final whistle goes and ‘Scouse’ clenches his fist in victory (a bit like Sandra did at Whitby). We shake hands and bid a fond farewell. The guy should win Supporter of the Year.
Footnote: It’s the morning after the night before. WVM and I hit the sack at 2.30am. The rest of the posse partied long and hard into the night. It was a scene of utter devastation in the conservatory, as they hosted their own karaoke.
That bloody ‘Barbara Streisand’ song by Duck Sauce was my final recollection of the night. That toon has scrambled my brain through the early hours.
WVM is sat up in bed scrolling through his timeline on Twitter. Michael Owen has tweeted that he is in Abersoch for the weekend. I have a quick shave and leave WVM watching Ant and Dec’s latest piss poor effort of a game show on his Sky mobile.
I walk onto the high street and head towards to the harbour. A young couple are heading in my direction with two small children. No-one else is in sight. The man lifts his daughter above his head and plants her on his shoulder.
We pass one another and exchange a “good morning.” For once in his life Sticky Palms is lost for words. The man was Michael Owen. I can’t half pick em readers.
Man of the Match: “Scouse” (sorry Sandra).