Sunday, February 24, 2013

Charlton Athletic 0 Nottingham Forest 2

It’s May 1st 1993. Sticky Palms has fielded for 40 overs in baking heat in the village of Aslockton, in south Notts. Ten miles down the road the greatest manager of all-time is counting down the clock, as the final few minutes of his illustrious career ticks away.

Nottingham Forest are about to be relegated from top flight football. Here is an anecdote from the best ever football book written, by Duncan Hamilton, a journalist from my village, which is titled ‘Provided You Don’t Kiss Me.’

‘During his last match in charge, Clough stood straight-backed outside the dugout like a captain determined to be on the bridge when the ship went down. After the final whistle, the crowd spilled on to the pitch. In one photograph, Clough, on the verge of tears, appears in the centre of the passionate thousands who were determined not to let him go. Afterwards, he accepted a flower from a young girl, as distraught as a mourner at a funeral. He looked at her, his head on one side, and said tenderly, 'Hey beauty, no tears today, please.’

'Can I have a word from you, Brian,’ asked a television interviewer outside the ground. 'Of course,’ said Clough, walking away. 'Goodbye.’

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m sat in the notorious and infamous ‘A’ Block. The Glaswegian, William McIntosh Davies (in real money ‘King Billy’) is back in town. There have been casualties, paths have been crossed and old scores have been settled. The media have a huddle on twitter; two of their own have been shown the door. King Billy refuses to talk to local BBC station ‘Radio Red.’

The Terriers of Huddersfield are up against the Red Dogs of Nottingham It’s one-sided in the first 15 minutes. The visitors bag one; but it really should be two. Ironically, Mark Robins is the newly appointed Huddersfield manager. It was at this very ground in 1990 that he saved Alex Ferguson’s job in an FA Cup tie.

Out of the blue Forest have an half an hour spell of mesmerising champagne football that I haven’t witnessed since the 5-1 mauling of Leicester City back in 2009. It has whetted my appetite. The Charlton tickets have been bagged. We’re off to stop at the Mayor of London’s pad in Putney Heath for the weekend.

I toss a few clothes into an overnight bag. Murphy, my budgie, sheds a few tears; he doesn’t like his Dad being away. White Van Man is revving up the car. We’ve allowed the Friday night rush-hour traffic to die down. We pick up ‘Dafty’ and the ‘Mayor of London, who is on a whistle stop tour of Nottingham. We’re soon roaring down the M1.

It’s just gone 9 pm when we rock up outside the Mayor’s swanky penthouse pad on Putney Heath. We throw our bags in and hit the town; well actually Roehampton and the swish surroundings of the recently refurbished King’s Head.

We can’t get a late beer for love or money down Wimbledon village. Much to Sticky’s disgust, we’re charged on the door at Hemmingway’s wine bar. You can’t even shout up a beer. The Mayor orders a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for £21. It tastes revolting.

I recall New Zealand being 11-3 when I finally hit the sack. I find a twitchy and nervy White Van Man frantically scouring Ticketmaster in the morning. Beyonce tickets are up for grabs at 9 am. I casually ask how much they cost. £95 is the reply. Bloody hell, I could nigh on watch 20 non league games for that price.

We’re striding out towards Putney high street. Destination is a tidy little greasy spoon called Cappuccino. White Van Man falls in love with a rowdy Russian waitress. Egg yolk dribbles down his chin as the Bond girl brings out a production line of fry-ups. Dusty Springfield’s 1966 hit ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ adds to the atmosphere. It’s the best £4.95 we’ll spend today.

The Mayor queues for train tickets at Putney Station whilst Sticky is accosted by an Irish ticket tout. We alight at London Bridge. Sticky has sorted out a cosy little boozer tucked away in a back street. I ignore the moans and groans of WVM as we pass the soulless chain pub All Bar One.

‘Brownie’ and a few of his pals hook up with us at the Royal Oak, an old-fashioned corner house in the London Bridge Quarter. I enjoy a pint of Harvey’s Kiss. WVM has a face like a smacked arse. The Mayor says he expects Nicholas Lyndhurst to pop in from the BBC series ‘Goodnight Sweetheart.’

We’re soon back on the overhead line and pulling into Charlton. Sticky jnr (my lad) has already tipped us the wink on an away supporters pub. A friendly policeman points us in the right direction. Young junior has been on the sauce; he fleeces ‘Hopper’ for a tenner and gets his mates a round in.

We guzzle a few 1664s and watch Jonathan Walters do what he does best. He fluffs a penalty and in general is ‘Having a Walters.’ Sticky jnr and his muppet mates lead the chanting as we amble down Valley Grove.

Charlton is a district in south-east London and part of the Borough of Greenwich. Charlton Athletic were founded in 1905 and are nicknamed the Addicks. Record goal-scorer is Derek Hales, who in 1979 was sensationally sent off for a punch-up along with his own team-mate, Mike Flanagan, by referee Brian Martin, who lived in my village.

The youngest player ever to have appeared for Charlton is Jonjo Shelvey, who was only 16 years of age. Record transfer fee paid is £4,750,000 for Jason Euell. Record transfer fee received is £16,500,000 from Tottenham Hotspur for Darren Bent.

It’s £30 for my ticket and £3 for a 60 page programme. We’ve a prime spot in the South Stand. The Charlton DJ ups the stakes with ‘London’s Calling’ by The Clash and ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ by The Libertines featuring ex QPR programme seller Pete Doherty.

It’s an impressive stadium that has kept its looks despite the Club’s fall from grace. A huge block of high-rise flats is situated in the corner of the ground. I like Charlton Athletic. They once bought a couple of good uns from my old team – Lincoln City – Steve Thompson and George Shipley were bargain buys.

The teams walk out onto the ugly-looking playing surface. The travelling support has swelled to 3000. They salute King Billy, who is bursting with pride. It’s all Forest from the word go. It’s a return to the diamond formation that was so successful in the Paul Hart era. Ironically, Hart watches from the stands as Charlton’s Academy Director.

For all Forest’s possession they barely fashion a chance in the opening quarter. The game-changer happens on 35 minutes. Greg Halford outmuscles Yan Kermogant and ushers the ball out of play. The Frenchman has a Cantona-like moment of madness, kicking out at the Forest defender. After consulting with his assistant referee Madley waves a red card.

There’s controversial news coming from the Mayor’s twitter feed at the break. Former Charlton legend Paul Elliott has resigned from his post as FA anti-racism campaigner, following an ‘inappropriate text’ to former colleague Richard Rufus.

Forest have the momentum and turn on the style. Charlton can’t cope with their ex skipper Andy Reid. His give and go’s, marauding runs and defence-splitting passing are worth the £30 alone. He plays in ‘The Pole’ Raddy Majewski, who stays on his feet and toe pokes the ball home.

The Tricky Trees are rampant and the second one is not long in coming. Simon Cox’s shot from the right is spilt by ‘keeper Hamer, who has had a dreadful afternoon, former Gunner Henri Lansbury blasts home from close range.

The Mayor of London is delirious. He’s backed Raddy and NFFC 2-0 at 115/1. Forest look good for more though. Ward scorpion kicks one onto the post, whilst the impressive Darius Henderson sees an effort thump back off the woodwork.

Johnnie Jackson shows some quality for the Addicks. His set pieces are deadly. He had a spell at the Pies during the Munto era, but soon scarpered home when the money dried up.

The whistle goes, the Mayor’s bet has come up trumps. We sink a few more pints at a pub down the road. We’re late for the train and sprint down the steps. Some Charlton fans tease us from above a bridge I engage in banter but fall spectacularly like Devon Loch in the Grand National. Charlton station is filled with laughter. I bury my head in my hands and sit sheepishly on the train. I can’t arf pick em!

Man of the Match: Andy Reid

Attendance: 18,697

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Worsbrough Bridge Ath 3 Pontefract Collieries 0

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m relaxing on the sofa watch a gripping Champions League quarter final first leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United. I hear the key inserted into the lock of the front door. Mrs P is back from the Gala Bingo in Beeston.

The kids come racing down the stairs. Mrs P raises a clenched fist. I didn’t think the Ronaldo header was that good. A wad of notes are waved in my direction. The £300 jackpot has been won. Sticky jnr gets £10 for passing his plumbing exam, ‘The Skipper’ gets a crisp £10 note for a good school report, Murphy is promised a few sprigs of millet spray and Finley a bag of Wag rabbit food. The rest is put towards her weekend away with the girls in Barcelona.

Poor old Groundhopper gets Jack diddlysquat. Not a sausage readers. £10 would have gained me entry to two non league games and also bagged me a couple programmes. It’s a bloody outrage.

Valentine’s Day is put back 24 hours. Mrs P snaps up an M&S ‘Meal Deal’ (out of the winnings). A medium rare sirloin steak is washed down with a bottle of Rioja. I rise early on Saturday morning. A bowl of muesli is accompanied by Madonna’s 1986 hit ‘Vogue’ on the 6Music ‘Breakfast Show.’

An offer of a stroll down Central Avenue, in West Bridgford, is flatly refused by Mrs P; she’s off to town with her mum. I give the ‘Rolls Royce’ a good old clean and valet. By midday I’m on the Nottingham ring road heading towards the M1.

Mark Pougatch is presenting Five Live Sport from Luton’s Kenilworth Road. The Hatters livewire winger, Andre Gray, will be asking questions of the Millwall defence with his raw pace and energy. The boy was a steal for £25k from Hinckley United. I tipped off a few clubs about him, but they’d rather buy 32 year old journeymen on two year contracts.

I’ve scoured the 2013 edition of the Good Beer Guide for a decent real ale house just off the motorway. I exit at Junction 35 and I’m soon parked up in the village of Thorpe Hesley just outside Rotherham.

I’m just about to open the front door of the Masons, when I notice a missed call from blog legend ‘Trumpy Bolton.’ The great man is propping up the bar in the ‘Stage’ on Upper Parliament Street in Nottingham. It used to be called ‘Fat Larry’s’ by the locals, as it was once owned by former Nottingham Forest defender Larry Lloyd. We firm up details for our visit to Colchester United on Good Friday.

The landlord at the Masons is right old grumpy bugger. I order a pint of Caledonian’s ‘Over the Bar’ and choose sausage, bacon, egg and chips off the menu, in an attempt to soak up that Rioja. The landlady is no Carol Vorderman, though folks, as it takes her quite a few minutes to add up £4.50 and £2.70 on a notepad.

They’re serious about their food in this neck of the woods though. I’m asked do I want my bacon plain, smokey and crispy.

The pub is low-beamed, dimly lit and has one of those patterned carpets associated with all Berni Inns in the 70s. A classic Walker Brothers track ‘Take it Easy’ is piped out of the speakers. ‘Shifty Edwards’ at work loves that track. There’s about a dozen people congregated in the bar. I’m comfortably the youngest by about 20 years. It is indeed God’s Waiting Room.

I can’t fault the snap though folks. The helpings are generous and are accompanied by a red rose left over from the previous evening (14th). A bloke comes out the toilets. He’s sporting huge sideburns and looks like the lead singer out of the Flying Pickets.

I’m soon sweeping down the A61 into the village of Worsbrough Bridge. Worsbrough is an area two miles south of Barnsley with a population just shy of 10,000. It’s built on a valley. It has the Trans-Pennine Trail, a mill, a country park and canal.

The football club were founded in 1923. Famous players to worn the red colours of the Briggers include: former Republic of Ireland manager and a personal friend of ‘Gangsta’, Mick McCarthy and ex Birmingham and WBA striker Geoff Horsfield.

Worsbrough’s most famous son is former National Union of Mineworkers President, Arthur Scargill. He led the union during the Miners’ strike 1984-85.

The car park is chock-a-block I park on a side street just spitting distance (well El Hadji Diouf would manage it) from their Park Road ground. It’s £4 on the gate and £1 for a very good value programme. It’s a cracking effort by programme editor Charlie Wyatt.

I get chatting to a jolly, bubbly old boy, who’s manning the gate. He tells me that the ground was covered in snow on Wednesday.

The ground is outstanding. I’m taken aback with the views and character of the place. It has a ground-share with the local cricket club. There’s a new brick built changing room in the top right hand corner of the ground and a lovely old rickety stand running along the near touchline. On the far side is the covered River Terrace.

Today’s visitors are Pontefract from West Yorkshire. It’s a historic market town with a population of 28,000. It is famous for its liquorice factories. Locals comically refer to the town as ‘Ponte Carlo.’

The sun is shining brightly in blue-painted skies as referee Mr D Guest whistles for the off. I’ve positioned myself in the beautiful old stand behind the dugouts. It takes a full two minutes before the Pontefract bench begin to irritate me.

‘Liner’ on the far side gets dog’s abuse. You’d need a pair of binoculars to see whether the decisions were correct or not. The pair of them bore the pants off me. They barely make a coaching point and their team can’t string two passes together. They are bloody awful.

Worsbrough take the lead on 11 minutes. Former Ossett Town forward Lee Garside clouts a 25 yard free-kick which almost breaks the back of the net. Another goal is chalked off for the Bridge for pushing, as the visitors continue to complain to all and sundry.

I bump into a ‘Dirty Dirty Leeds’ fan from ‘Ponte Carlo’ in the Gents at the break. He’s curious to know why someone from Nottingham would travel so far to watch a non-league game.

Now that sun has dropped, it’s gone decidedly chilly. I go for a warm in the tea bar. I thought I’d walked into a church hall. A piping hot coffee is served at the hatch by a chatty lady. Trade is brisk. Tray after tray of chips and curry sauce are served up. There’s a flag sat in a wooden picture frame on the wall from the Barrow Branch of the NUM.

I couldn’t stand another 45 minutes of bellyaching from the Ponte bench. I stand on the opposite side of the ground. Ponte improve slightly. On the hour Bridge double their lead with a header from the impressive Adam Podmore. The game is over on 67 minutes with Garside getting a second with a fine header. The Briggers are playing a beautiful game and cleverly use the width of the pitch.

‘Motormouth’ from the Ponte bench has come on as a sub. He clearly talks a better game than he plays. He fluffs a one-on-one with the Bridge ‘keeper as ‘Colls’ create a late flurry of chances.

As I head out the ground I notice a distinct lack of flat-cappers and four-legged friends There’s just the one, a Heinz variety.

Attendance: 65

Man of the Match: Lee Garside

Monday, February 11, 2013

Loughborough University 1 Dunkirk 1

The weekend has been kind to the team that I coach. After a fortuitous victory in the County Cup, the previous Saturday, we pinch a point at Arnold Town, to continue our rise up the table. The Eagles show a touch of class by putting food on afterwards in the Clubhouse.

Sunday morning is spent in the bitter cold and pouring rain, in a tough, uncompromising suburb of Nottingham called Bulwell. I stare out of my car window at a headstone in memory of PC Jed Walker, a police dog handler, who was killed in the line of duty in 2003, by a drug addict fleeing in a stolen car.

Murphy is proper winding Mrs P up in the afternoon. He’s parading up and down the ironing board, pecking at all the clothes she’s pressing. Despite several warnings from the good lady, my feathered friend refuses to shift. He’s treated to a steam clean as Mrs P sprays hot water in his direction. Don’t forget folks he’s from Handsworth in Sheffield and is as hard as nails.

It’s a long and lonely evening on Sunday. Dancing on Ice is followed by Call the Midwife, where remarkably a woman gives birth to a child. The ITV announcer talks up an episode of Mr Selfridge at 9pm by saying there is a ‘dramatic car crash.’ Bloody hell mate, in 1909, who between, Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble and the Anthill Mob?

I have a long, hot, steaming bath on Monday evening. I’m listening to the Monday Night Club on the radio. Bootle-born defender Jamie Carragher has announced his retirement from the professional game at the end of the season. Ian Dennis and Mark Lawrenson tell a tale about the Reds recent FA Cup exit at Oldham Athletic.

Carragher and 19 year old Suso were unused subs. Whilst the press were filing reports and packing up their gear, the pair of them re-emerged from the Boundary Park tunnel to an eyrie, empty ground, for a 25 minute drill. The young Spaniard pulled up 10 metres short of the end cone. He turned round and ran back. Carragher dished out the mother-of-all rollockings to the youngster, for taking a short cut, to an amused and shocked press pack: Professional to the end.

It’s chuffing freezing out their folks. I wrapped up to the nines. I plonk Sticky jnr’s G-Star Raw beanie hat on my bonce and rifle through my drawers for my new Next mittens. I hear the blast of a Vauxhall horn as The Taxman chugs past our drive to spin his car round.

What’s going off here? There’s a chap in the front seat who resembles Freddie Boswell off the Scouse ‘comedy’ Bread – bloody hell it’s legendary Keyworth United Jack of-all-trades Alan ‘Jacko’ Jackson.

I have a chunter at the pair of them as I squeeze into the back seat. Jacko has the seat positioned right back. I didn’t know I’d booked a seat on a Ryanair flight. We pass the Rancliffe Arms at Bunny, a place publicly slated by Nottingham Forest defender Greg Halford on Twitter for poor service – having seen his passing range, that’s rich coming from him.

Holywell Park has only recently opened and the postcode doesn’t register on the Tom Tom. We take a punt and swing into the main gates of the University grounds and through a barrier. We ask a few dimwit students if they know where the ground is; they haven’t bloody clue readers.

We finally stumble upon the brightly lit stadium that hosted the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United last season. We go on one of Sticky Palms’ notorious short-cuts. What should have been a two minute walk turns out to a 15 minute hike from hell. The Taxman and Jacko are puffing, panting and visibly shaken as we reach the turnstile. Jacko pulls his usual stunt of blagging his way in as a concessionary.

Loughborough has had a university since 1966, but the institution dates back to 1909. It has a track record for producing top class athletes. Notable alumni include: Steve Backley, Sebastian Coe, David Moorcroft and Paula Radcliffe. England cricketers Monty Panesar and Chris Read have also studied there. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson is their patron.

Notable students who have gone on to play in the professional game include: Bradley Pritchard (Charlton), Lawrie Sanchez (Wimbledon) and Leon McSweeney (Hartlepool).

It’s £4 on the gate and £1.50 for a thin, glossy programme. I’d expected a thick 50 pager with the amount of time students have on their hands. There are a few words from Aussie coach Stuart McLaren, the usual pen pics and club histories lifted from the websites.

We’re greeted with a huge stand running along the nearest touchline. The remaining sides are fenced off with wooden panels and a few concrete steps. The PA system is crystal clear as the announcer reads out the teams in a BBC trained voice.

I’m on the lookout for him. Where is the little urchin? Oh, wait a minute, here he comes, trudging down the touchline, head bowed, resplendent in his red and black tracksuit. Ian Upton is the joint manager of Dunkirk FC. If he wasn’t a non league manager, he’d be on the stage, with his cheeky grin and cutting one-liners.

I lean on the wall and let battle commence. The students are wearing an awful all-purple strip, with a hint of white. The Boatmen abandon their usual red outfit, preferring their navy blue away colours.

I used to adore watching Dunkirk when ‘The Three Degrees’ were up top, but Lavelle, Theo and ‘Jazzy’ sold out for a few extra bob and a drop in standard. A faster front three I have yet to see; their pace used to make me go goosepimply and misty-eyed.

The quality is just not here tonight. There’s no Darren Garmston with his exquisite first touch, raking passes and ridiculous long range efforts. They’ve been replaced with young legs, energy and endeavour. I admire Dunkirk for that. It’s a brave decision to take in the rough and tumble of Step 5 in the Midland Alliance.

Loughborough have one or two on show, as you would expect, that could play at a higher level. The No.4 bosses the midfield. 20 year old Daniel Nti, their leading scorer, glides along the crunching surface. The former Newport Pagnell striker has already bagged 21 goals for the season.

Josh Dixon’s early opener is cancelled out by Kieran Wells, following a wicked, dipping corner from the left. The Students look more dangerous, with the visitors relying on set-pieces.

My hands are so cold that I don’t bother fishing out my mobile from my jeans pocket, to check the scores. I normally keep my Twitter feed updated with the half-time state of affairs. Jacko has clocked that there is a lift that takes you up to the stand. I walk up the stairs and wait a few minutes for ‘Compo’ and ‘Cleggy’ to exit the lift.

There’s a fine view of Loughborough from far and beyond. The teams are back out again, but the high tempo and pace of the game has been replaced with misplaced passes and untimely tackles. There’s a clash of cultures and a bit of bother in the dugout.

Uppo has been strangely quiet all evening. There’s the occasional one-liner: “are we watching the Harlem Globetrotters, ref?”, after a blatant handball. The wind looks like it’s been knocked out of his sails. He’s lost that fire in his belly. I haven’t even seen him spark up a ciggie. Trouble though, is often lurking around the corner for the legend.

With minutes remaining and with thoughts turning to downing a real ale or two in the Rancliffe Arms (if there’s not a queue ... eh Greg) it appears that the lino and Uppo are having a nose to nose. Turns out that the Lino has been rude to Dunkirk’s young uns. Uppo’s having none of it. It’s good to see that the great man still cares.

Attendance: 65

Man of the Match: Jamie Carragher