Saturday, October 27, 2012

Liversedge 1 Parkgate 1

It’s January 5th 2002. Ten of us are holed-up in a back street boozer about 20 minutes away from Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground. The pub doors suddenly burst open and in march the notorious South Yorkshire Police Force. We’re told to sup up and leave. We’re frog-marched to the ground.

I’m livid, raging. We stop at another hostelry, where more Forest fans are turfed out onto the streets. I’m giving a copper on horse-back a hard time. I question their motives and reasons for this aggressive behaviour. “Have any lessons been learnt from Hillsborough?” I enquire.

The idiot is not interested with anything I have to say. The game is awful; Paul Hart’s team fail to put a shift in. We have a restricted view; it’s probably for the best. Forest are dumped out of the FA Cup. Oh well, at least we’ll get an escort back to the train station by the boys in blue.

There’s not a copper in sight. We’re left to fend for ourselves. All the Blades’ ‘spotters’ are out in force. It’s an intimidating trawl across wasteland and through a subway. We’re greeted by 30 or 40 riot police at the railway station entrance. Helmets hide their faces; their batons are raised, shields are at the ready. “Do you think I’m going to bash you on the head with my programme?”

I’m still fuming as I down a few more pints in Fellows, Morton and Clayton, on Canal Street in Nottingham, before jumping on a Barton’s bus back home. Mrs P asks if I’ve had a nice time, as I boot up the desktop computer in our hallway. “Not particularly love”, as I Google the South Yorkshire Police.

I send a ranting email in my drunken stupor. “No wonder it took you 8 years to catch the Yorkshire Ripper” was one of the lines I recall. I mention the Hillsborough Disaster and the Miners’ Strike before hitting the ‘send’ button.

I wake up at 3am in a fever-type sweat. I’m waiting for the inevitable knock at the door from Plod. I re-read the email. Oooh heck readers, I could be in trouble here. The following day Cardiff and Leeds fans clash at Ninian Park. On the Monday I receive a three page reply from the Matchday Inspector of South Yorks Police. He apologises for their heavy-handed tactics and then quotes events from the Cardiff game the day before. Phew, it’s a close shave. At least they had the courtesy to reply.

I think of that day as I drive passed the ‘Steel City’ on my way to Liversedge FC. I’ve spent the morning with Mrs P in ‘Bread and Lard Island’ – West Bridgford. We nip into the travel agents to pick up some holiday brochures. Mrs P fancies a dabble at a Greek Island, Sticky prefers mainland Spain. It’s looking like Puerto Pollensa in Majorca folks.

I flick my way through the Backpass football magazine, in Central News, whilst Mrs P picks up a couple of birthday cards. Brian Clough’s son owns the shop. He is a very polite young man. ‘Cloughie’ often used to serve behind the counter. There’s time for a quick Americano at the snug Copper cafe bar, before hitting the M1 North.

Danny Baker has just finished his radio show. He plugged his book ‘Going to Sea in a Sieve’ last night on the One Show. Britain’s first Million pound footballer, Trevor Francis, was the guest on his ‘Sausage Sandwich Game’ this morning.

Sat Nav takes me down the M62 off Junction 42, when AA route planner had indicated that Junction 40 was an alternative route. I had earmarked the Gray Ox at Hartshead, but plump instead for the New Pack Horse in Cleckheaton.

Smooth FM is being piped through the flat screen TV as I order a pint of Saltaire Blonde with a Cajun chicken sandwich for company. The barmaid is chatty; I’m pretty much the only customer in this recently refurbished pub. McFadden & Whitehead and Chaka Khan ensure an early exit for The Groundhopper.

Liversedge’s Quaker Lane ground is a ¼ mile down the road. Cleckheaton is an old mill town in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, with a population of 15,000. In 1903 Lion Confectionary made a fruit sweet called the Midget Gem. When I was a kid I used to buy a 1/4lb bag of them every Saturday from my local sweet shop, before watching Noel Edmonds on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.

Mr Men and Little Missy author, Roger Hargreaves was born in the town, as was former Everton centre forward Danny Cadamarteri. Yorkshire CC captain, Andrew Gale, used to play for Cleckheaton Cricket Club.

I squeeze the car down a tight private road and park up in the ground. I can hear Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does it Better’ on the Clayborn sound system as I part with £5 entrance fee and £1.50 for a programme.

The ground is a belter. Uwdi Krugg, from my favourite ever football blog, Where’s the Tea Hut, tipped me the wink on this one. The clubhouse is perched on top of a bank to the left of the nearest goal. The Stuart Silverwood Stand runs along one side of the ground. The far end is open. On the opposite touchline are the dugouts. A brick-built terrace with a wooden roof is behind the nearest goal.

I take a seat on one of the many benches situated near the changing rooms and look out at the sweeping views of Dewsbury in the distance. My oh my, what a ground we have here. It goes straight into the top ten.

The cotton wool coloured clouds and biting wind are replaced with glorious blue skies and bright sunshine as these two mid-table sides emerge from the dressing rooms. The pitch looks a tad heavy. Liversedge and Heanor Town played out a thrilling 4-4 draw last Tuesday evening.

The visitors have a couple of plodders up top; they’re more like Grand National runners than 6 furlong sprinters. Both can hold the ball up though. On 11 minutes Outram is played in on the right hand side, he makes no mistake, to put the visitors one to the good.

I grab a cup of coffee (£1) from the ‘Half Timers’ tea hut. The mushy peas and mint sauce is very tempting. A chocolate-coloured Labrador is on his tod in the queue. He’s licking his lips and eyeing up the hot dogs. His sad eyes secure a free sausage. Two bites and its gone.

On the half hour Liversedge restore parity. Left back James Rothel drives forward and strikes a shot which bounces awkwardly in front of the ‘keeper who can only watch the ball loop up over him and into the net. It doesn’t help matters that he’s chosen not to don a cap, with the sun shining directly into his eyes.

Players from both sides are dropping like flies; I thought they were as hard as nails up here. There are a few stoppages and enforced substitutions.

I’m cheered up by a joke from The Comedian at the break. “I woke up with a big smile on my face this morning, thanks to my girlfriend. She just loves those felt tips I bought her.”

I check the latest scores and note that former Tricky Tree, Marlon Harewood, has bagged for Barnsley just down the road against his old employers. Forest are 3-1 up.

The second half is awful, with neither side looking like gaining an advantage. One thing that the Liversedge players are brilliant at, though, is swearing, and so are their management team. The referee receives dog’s abuse. He’s called “an embarrassment”, “a joke” and “a disgrace.” It transmits to the players.

There’s a flurry of yellow cards. The management are fortunate not to be sent to the stands. Their behaviour is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Attendance: 92

Man of the Match: The Labrador

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Blackpool 2 Nottingham Forest 2

1974-2012. Aged 38. Its death has been the talk of Twitter. My old faithful friend Ceefax was finally laid to rest this week. My favourite pages included 302 (Football) 312 (Football in Brief) and 390 (Regional Sport). I used to spend Saturday afternoons, when the kids were bairns, slouched on the sofa repeatedly pressing the latest score buttons on my TV remote console.

Soccer Saturday, the internet and social networking have contributed towards its demise. My father, shortly before his death, became particularly bad-tempered one day, when punching in 199 for the sports headlines, the numbers just kept looping around and around. It took a phone-call to the BBC complaints department to resolve the issue.

It was on the coach journey back from Fleetwood that I noticed that Forest were to travel to the north-west again during the October half-term. Sticky jnr didn’t need asking twice. He’s well and truly hooked on watching Nottingham Forest FC. Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground is on my to-do list, as I home-in on completing ‘the 92.’

It’s Tuesday morning, the day of the game. Mrs P has gone swanning off shopping to Meadowhall, in Sheffield. I’m left to rustle up one of my legendary fry-ups for the kids. I crack the eggs into a sizzling pan. The fat is spitting more viciously than Leeds United’s El Hadji Diouf.

Fully fed and watered, I bundle Sticky jnr and ‘Chambo’ into the car and head off to Tollerton to pick up ‘Lil Louis.’ His Dad, JK, is away on business; I’ve promised to look after the wee man. We leave the ‘Rolls Royce’ in the Brian Clough car park and hop onto the No.2 supporters’ coach.

I’m comfortably the oldest person on here. It’s like spending the night at Bulwell Youth Club. Two seats are spare to the rear. A gang of 16 year old lads from Top Valley are bossing it on the back seat. There are reports circulating of lingering fog in the Blackpool area. Bloody hell, that mist is going to be hard to shift, if it rolls in from the Irish Sea.

Despite the average age of the bus being about 18, the coach driver decides to stick on Gem 106. It’s one shit song after another. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, Westlife and Phil Collins have the coach passengers keeping an eye on Sticky Palms for any suicidal tendencies. There’s a huge cheer in Stoke when we lose reception.

Sticky jnr is sat with his headphones on. He’s wolfed down a family-sized pack of Rowntree’s wine gums and is now flicking through the pictures in The Sun. There’s a brief toilet stop at Knutsford Services, so all the kids can re-fuel on testosterone.

The coach driver has been fiddling about with his radio again. Blackpool-born singer-guitarist, Robert Smith, of The Cure is belting out his 1983 hit ‘Love Cats.’ We pull into the car park at Bloomfield Road at just before 5pm.

Sticky jnr and’Chambo’ are let loose on this historical seaside resort, which in its heyday was visited by over 17 million holiday-makers each year. Blackpool has a population of 140,000. It is well known for its Tower and Illuminations.

‘Lil Louis’ and Groundhopper head towards Blackpool Tower. This iconic attraction is nearly 120 years old and stands at 518 feet high. Its building was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The list of well known celebrity born in Blackpool include: Zoe Ball, Robert Smith (The Cure), Cynthia Lennon (ex-wife of Beatle, John), Syd Little, Chris Lowe (Pet Shop Boys), Dave Ball (Soft Cell) and Ricky Tomlinson.

A few little-known facts about Blackpool include: In 1964, following a riot at a concert at the Empress Ballroom, the Rolling Stones were banned from playing in the town. This ban was not lifted until 44 years later in 2008.

Former England cricketer, ‘Bodyline’ fast bowler, Harold Larwood, ran a sweet shop in Caunce Street in the town from 1946-1949, before emigrating to Australia.

We stroll a mile or so down the seafront, passed the Central Pier, Madame Tussauds, Coral Island, Yates’s Wine Lodge, North Pier, the Bier Keller and the Albert and Lion Wetherspoons pub. The sea is 40 metres out. Seagulls wade in the pools of water left by the tide. Apart from the Tower, it’s a fairly unremarkable and characterless place. Everyone looks so miserable and downcast. Mind you, two wins in the last eight games; I can hardly blame them.

We dive into the Captain’s Table for a fish n chip tea. The cod melts in your mouth. We bump into Sticky jnr opposite the Central Pier. He says he wants to live here, loves the place. I ask him if he’s been having a sniff of the barmaid’s apron. I watch the illuminations spring into action, before heading back up to the ground for the 8pm kick off.

The away turnstile is tucked away in the corner of the ground. There’s no body search or aggressive stewardings; the welcome is warm, friendly and northern. It’s £25 for my match ticket and £3 for a glossy 80 page programme. We’re told we can take a pew wherever we want.

Blackpool were founded in 1887 and are nicknamed The Seasiders or The Tangerines. Recent well-known managers include: Stan Ternent, Simon Grayson, Sam Allardyce, Colin Hendry & Steve McMahon. Largest transfer paid is: £1,250,000 for DJ Campbell from Leicester City. Record transfer fee received is £7 million for Charlie Adam from Liverpool. Most League appearances made is by Jimmy Armfield (569).

Forest fans are pouring through the turnstile as Dave Clark Five’s 1964 hit ‘Glad it’s all Over’ rings around the ground. The teams emerge from the tunnel to Zoe Ball’s husband’s ‘Right Here, Right Now.’

The kids are holed up at the back of the stand with the ‘Singing Section.’ It means I can enjoy the game in peace. Blackpool nearly upset the apple cart in the opening moments. Former Leeds and Southampton defender, Stephen Crainey, plays a give-and-go and thumps a shot that smacks off the upright.

Forest pour forward in an exciting start to the game, Cohen is hauled the ground, with both officials waving away claims for a penalty. The Tricky Trees enjoy a golden spell of possession football, played at a furious pace. Both Cox and the industrious Sharp waste gilt-edged chances.

Sharp gets a second bite of the cherry in the 25th minute, steering a shot into the net following a corner. He peels away to celebrate with the travelling faithful, appearing to take a bite of a supporter’s hot dog.

The Seasiders have pace to burn down the wings, with Phillips and Ince keeping Harding and Halford busy. Crosses aren’t converted, often nobody will have a pop at goal, as they overdo the passing. Ince reminds me of his dad, Paul, with his constant bleating and appealing.

I was hoping for a game of bingo at the break. The PA man could shout out to the crowd the numbers. We are treated to 10 minutes of keepy-uppies by the Blackpool Centre of Excellence lads. Paul Hart is wheeled out the Hospitality Suite to perform the half-time draw He receives a standing ovation from both sets of supporters.

Forest replace the out-of-sorts Ayala, who has struggled in possession, with the Irishman, Brendan Moloney. Halford slots in to partner the excellent former Vauxhall Motors and Chester City defender, Danny Collins.

The visitors sit back and allow The Tangerines to come onto them. The Tricky Trees appear to be coping. Simon Gillet is ratting, but the front two can’t get on the ball. Holloway throws on Grandin, Dicko and Nathan Delfouneso. They have the pace of the Jamaican relay team and rattle the Reds immediately.

Phillips whips a ball in from the right, Camp’s decision-making is appalling, no-one picks up the runner, and Grandin heads the ball into the roof of the net. Minutes later, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, a player lifted from Leyton Orient Reserves by Keith Alexander many moons ago, scuffs a shot into Camp’s bottom right corner, with the unsighted ‘keeper going down in instalments.

The visiting support is stunned into silence. They’re not asking ‘Campy’ “what’s the score?”, anymore. The Blackpool fans are though. O’Driscoll plays his trump card. Prodigal son Jermaine Jenas enters the field of play. His fifteen minutes of footwork, dazzlery and passing are worth the £25 admission.

He bamboozles, wrong-foots and leaves the Blackpool midfield for dead. The man is a genius. Camp thumps a clearance downfield, Blackstock flicks it on, only for Billy Sharp to slice horribly wide.

I feel sick to the stomach that Forest won’t take anything from this. Suddenly former Blackpool loanee, Andy Reid, produces some wizardry out on the left, leaving Dexter Blackstock the chance to equalise seconds from time.

There’s utter pandemonium in the away end. I look up towards the back. Sticky jnr is uncontrollable with his wild celebrations. I just hope he hasn’t lost his ‘I am a T**t’ lighter that he bought earlier in the day.

Attendance: 13,228

Man of the Match: Danny Collins

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rainworth MW 2 Kings Lynn Town 2

It’s late on Friday night in December 1975. Young Sticky Palms is fast-off in bed. I can hear the landline ringing out and my father fumbling around in the adjacent bedroom for the light switch. He stumbles towards his office; he is the East Midlands correspondent for the Daily Mirror.

It’s the biggest breaking-news story of the year and right on my Dad’s patch. The Daily Mirror news desk are reporting that fugitive, multiple murderer and armed robber, Donald Neilson, aka the ‘Black Panther’ has been arrested in the village of Rainworth in north Notts.

Neilson had kidnapped two policemen in their patrol car but had lost control of the vehicle outside The Junction Chip Shop in Rainworth. Unfortunately for Neilson, the afternoon shift of the local colliery had just swilled down a few pints at last orders in the Welfare, and were queuing up for a fish supper at the chippy. They had a mass pile-on the ‘Black Panther’, making it the most famous citizen’s arrest of all-time.

I walk passed the boardroom and head down the stairs towards the staff canteen. I’ve a pen and pencil on my person. I’m shitting bricks readers. For the last three weeks my life has been on hold. Sticky has been back to school.

In five minutes time I’ll be taking my PRINCE 2 project work examination. I’ve revised solidly day and night. I open up the paper and I’m horrified to see that the questions are written slightly differently to the exam simulator that I’ve been smashing over the last few days.

I’m invited into the boardroom, later in the day, to be informed by a senior manager that I’ve achieved a comfortable pass. I’m euphoric. It’s the first exam I’ve taken since I passed my referee’s paper 25 years ago.

I’ve missed out on groundhopping the last few weekends to concentrate on coaching ‘The Skipper’s’ team. We’re performing above expectation in the Notts Youth League under 15 Division One. Every game is a cup final. Rival managers tap up players behind your back; some even inbox lads on Facebook, an action in my eyes that should receive a lifetime ban.

Today (Saturday) we are playing a local derby four miles away in an old coal mining village. The team in question have thumped us over the last two seasons. My lads rise to the occasion and play a beautiful game. We’re 4-3 down with time running out. We go 3-4-3 as a last throw of the dice.

The ball is played out to the left, our winger cuts inside and delivers a cross which evades all and sundry, with the ball finally nestling into the corner of the net. It’s a sweet moment for us all, as we grab a deserved point, in an epic game of football.

It’s Tuesday lunchtime, the day of the game. I check-in with ‘The Taxman’ to firm-up travelling arrangements for this evening. The big girls’ blouse has a runny nose and cries off. He’ll be sneaking a view of Poland v England in the World Cup qualifier.

Mrs P has prepared a lamb hotpot – it knocks spots off Betty Turpin’s in the Rovers Return. There’s ample time to feed Murphy the budgie a sprig of millet, before wrapping myself up in four layers of clothing and heading north on my own, with just a bag of mixed fruit pastilles for company.

I switch Five Live on. They are interviewing some bleating ex US Defence General about the decision by the government not to extradite Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon. Suddenly it’s straight over to Alastair Bruce-Ball in Serbia who is covering the England Under 21 game.

The match has ended in turmoil, with violent scenes. Stuart Pearce’s assistant, Steve Wigley, has been hauled to the ground and assaulted, while Danny Rose has been subjected to racial abuse. Bruce-Ball reports that Rose has mimicked the actions of a monkey to the crowd.

I’ve got raging toothache – actually my gums ache. I had two teeth extracted last week, and that area of my mouth is still heavily infected. The penicillin is kicking in. I could have tossed it off and stopped in to watch the match, but I really enjoy watching Kings Lynn Town.

Their owner, Buster Chapman, issued a rallying call to the town recently to get behind the Club, or face the consequences of budget cuts. Over a thousand folk turned up for the following game against bitter rivals Coalville Town.

Tensions were still simmering between the two clubs following a heated FA Vase semi-final a few years ago. Twenty Coalville fans were refused entry at the turnstile during the league game, with reports of punches thrown and a police presence in the tunnel. An enquiry is currently taking place.

I park the car on one of the old pit estates across the road from the Kirklington Road ground. There’s little time for a pint in the Welfare. It’s £7 to gain entry and £1 for an absolute corker of a programme, with a free team-sheet inserted.

There’s a Sportsman’s Evening being advertised, with John Aldridge appearing at Rainworth Miners’ Welfare in November. There is nothing sporting about this individual, as supporters of Nottingham Forest will testify, when Aldridge mocked Brian Laws after the Forest defender scored an own goal in an FA Cup semi-final in 1989.

Two big lads from Norfolk are holding court with some other visiting fans. It’s like watching an episode of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford. I can’t understand a bloody word they are saying.

I position myself to the left of the Rainworth dugout. ‘Black Heart’ by London RnB band Stooshe is booming out the ground PA system. A text alert goes off. It’s a joke from The Comedian ‘The new Bond theme is being performed by Adele, a rare occasion when something starts when the fat lady sings.’

Apparently it’s teeming down with rain in Warsaw, with the game in serious doubt of being played. I have a little Muttley like snigger at the folk who have mocked me for venturing out this evening.

It’s a cracking game of football in the first period, with a good tempo and players efforts worthy of a goal or two. Rainworth play a neat and tidy game which belittles their lowly League position. The Linnets are more direct, knocking balls into the channels or targeting their big striker Russell Dunkley. Regular front man, Jason Turner is on his honeymoon.

The visitors are thwarted by impressive Wrens’ ‘keeper Joe McCormack, who also has a kick like a mule. Flicking through the programme and looking at the player profiles, Kings Lynn seem to have had an overall of their squad, since I last viewed them at Newport Pagnell. They have successfully raided Long Buckby’s UCL team from Northants.

I expect The Linnets to push on in the second half, but Rainworth have also been wasteful in front of goal. The Rainworth PA man is having a bit of a ‘Weston.’ He’s only gone and stuck on Tina Turner’s Greatest Hits – bloody hell Gordon. I think Alvin Stardust is No.1 in the charts in Mansfield.

Sticky Palms loves Linnets’ winger Steve Spriggs The wee man is off colour tonight; he’s not getting a sniff. There’s no marauding runs or whipped-in balls.

The second half is a classic, with four goals flying in during a 16 minute spell. Jared Holmes curls one in from the edge of the area. Kings Lynn reply through a deft header by Dan Quigley. Minutes later they take the lead with a thunderbolt from full back Jordan Yong. Karl Slack ensures honours are even with a smart finish on 69 minutes.

I’ve had a nice little natter with a group of Linnets’ fans I can understand. One travels to all the games from his home in Stafford. They admit their team aren’t on song this evening and that Rainworth are well worth the point.

Man of the Match: Joe McCormack

Attendance: 141