Sunday, July 27, 2014

St Ives Town 0-2 Histon FC

It's Friday June 13th. Forty colleagues crowd around me on the Sales floor of Ergo Computing, a place I've worked at for almost 15 years. I'm showered with leaving gifts and asked to say a few words. I'm struggling to keep my emotions. I'm touched by the lengths some folk have gone to, in ensuring I have a great send-off. I quaff a few real ales at the Ruddington Arms and say my farewells. It's time to close this chapter in my working life and move on to pastures new.

I'm sat with the Mayor of London and Big Bear Baker on the terrace of The Plough in the village of Wysall. It's a place where I will begin to write my book, when I finally get round to it. Earlier in the evening we'd stood aghast as Notts battered Yorkshire into submission in the T20 Blast. James 'Titch' Taylor thumped 'Sideshow' Sidebottom for 18 runs off 4 balls. James 'Aretha' Franklin smashes a six back over Tim Bresnan's head to win the game with 5 balls spare. I celebrate with a pint of 'Right Turn Clyde' from the Blue Monkey brewery.

I roll out of bed at 9:00am. Murphy is swinging on his perch, whistling his little head off to 'You've Lost That Lovin Feeling' by The Righteous Brothers. He's rewarded with some crack cocaine (sprig of millet) and a new chew bar. There's just time to re-fuel Finley the rabbit with some fresh water before dashing out the door. Finley's crap non league tip today is 3-0 to Histon.

I shoot across to Grantham before joining the A1 towards Peterborough. Trumpy Bolton is going to be a bit miffed as he'd earmarked a trip to St Ives a while back. But I can't hang around all season waiting for him to pick and choose.  Anyway, it's a good opportunity to catch up with Histon again.

It's sweltering outside and good to have the air con on. John Bishop is standing in for Graham Norton on Radio 2. He plays the 1989 hit 'Can You Dig It?' by Manchester indie band The Mock Turtles.

I pull into a long stay car park as I fancy a mosey around this historic market town. St Ives lies 12 miles north west of Cambridge. It has a population of 16,000. Former heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner and his family lived in the town having fled Hungary in 1956 following the Uprising.

First port of call is Boots. I snap up a bargain pair of sunglasses at half price. I'll have the ladies of St Ives in all of a flutter once I wear these bad boys. I give the face-painting stall a wide berth. I don't want to get stung like Young Kenny did on the 'Phoenix Nights Open Day.'

After a bit of a wander around I finally chance upon the Oliver Cromwell public house tucked away in a side street close to the river. I order up a pint of Broadland Sunrise and a smoked salmon baguette. I sit in the courtyard. A chap in the corner sparks up more ciggies than Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.

I wile away an hour or so pottering around the place. If you want your computing fixing, fish 'n chips, a Chinese take-away or a barbers then St Ives is the place to be. I pull into Westwood Road,, home of St Ives Town, in plenty of time. The club was founded in 1887. Striker Conor Washington scored 64 goals in 60 appearances. It earnt him a move to Newport County. He now plays for Peterborough United following a reported £500,000 transfer last season.

I grab a bottle of water from the Refreshment Hut and stroll across to the far side of the ground. I plonk myself in the stand and watch the rigorous warm-ups. Histon manager Brian Page eyes his team watchfully. There's no Gilbert O'Sullivan flat cap today. A guy in my stand annoyingly shouts down his phone like Dom Joly off  Trigger Happy TV. He then proceeds to have a sneezing fit as he downs a pint.

Histon will expect a stiffer test today than they did a fortnight ago at Cogenhoe. The first half is played at a pedestrian pace. Neither team look likely to hit the onion bag. Thoughts start to enter my head that there might be another bloody 0-0 on the cards. Ten minutes before half time Histon take the lead through McLaughlin.

I decide to go and stand on the opposite side as two young lads have cheesed me off all game by getting up and down at regular intervals as well as rattling their packets of Skittles and Haribos every ten seconds.

There's an extraordinary incident just before the break. St Ives 7 jacket scurries down the byline and whips in a fantastic ball, the keeper comes out and is smashed with the stray boot of an incoming forward. The referee plays on. A woman next to me is incandescent with rage. She's giving the referee pelters and ain't shy in an eff or jeff too. St Ives No.7 tells her to "eff off." It livens up a dull game.

The second half is far more entertaining. The Histon 'keeper is forced into some fine saves. Histon wrap the game up with five minutes remaining with a strike from Relizani. Once again Histon's Peter Clark has caught my eye. His darting runs, change of pace and passing skills will surely find a bigger and better stage than this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Skegness Town 0-0 Clifton All Whites

I'm in the 'Rolls Royce' driving up Ruddington High Street. At my side is 'The Skipper.' For the last 10 years he has captained his village team on a Saturday. On Sundays he has represented one of the most famous football clubs in our Shire - Clifton All-Whites. Famous players to have donned their all-white strip include: Jermaine Jenas, Jermaine Pennant, Viv Anderson, Darren Huckerby and Garry Birtles.

We swing in through gates of their Green Lane ground. It's the first pre-season training session of the season. The first team manager is James 'Tosh' Turner. This effervescent, bubbly, enthusiastic character and brilliant coach is setting up tonight's drills with his mobile phone glued to his ear. He beckons me across: "Sticky, what yer doing on July 19th ? Fancy Skegness Town away."

It's Friday night. I've had a few quiet beers on the patio. Marouane Fellani pops round to introduce himself to my rabbit, Finley. It's 11:00pm. I laid flat out on the sofa coughing my guts up. I've had the dreaded lurgy all week. I lost my voice for a few days - not great news when you're in the customer services game. Murphy is perched on top of my pillow, plucking all the feathers out.

It's teeming down with rain on Saturday morning. I grab a few bits and bobs together before heading out to the east coast. The A46 is a breeze these days. I turn the radio on. Murphy the budgie will be whistling his little head off at Herman Hermit's on the Sound of the 60s Show on Radio 2.

I'm in 'The Lincoln', birthplace of Sticky Palms. The rain has cleared. Lincoln Cathedral dominates the skyline. The journey through Wragby and Horncastle is painstaking. Reports are coming through that Tosh and the gang have tipped up at Wolfies Wine Bar on the seafront. Tosh allows the boys a few looseners as part of this team-building exercise. It's an old Brian Clough trick.

I decine his kind offer of a 'few sociable scoops' and head towards Gibralter Point Nature Reserve. I walk through the bracken and heather, over the sand dunes and onto the beach. It's a beautiful, peaceful spot to wile an hour away or so.

I drop into the Bateman's Brewery at nearby Wainfleet. I neck a pint of 'Yella Belly' and enjoy a spot of lunch. I roll up at Skegness Town's  Burgh Road ground in plenty of time for kick off. The first person I bump into is Sean. He's managed my boy for the last five years and is passionate about the Club. I scour the room and note that their are lots of families from Clifton who have made the trip.

Skegness is a seaside town in the civil parish of East Lindsey. It lies 43 miles east of Lincoln, with a population just shy of 20,000. Butlins in Ingoldmells was the site of the UK's first holiday camp. Notable people born in Skegness include former Liverpool and England 'keeper Ray Clemence and Rainbow lead singer Graham Bonnet.

Skegness Town were formed in 1946. The black comedian Charlie Williams once played for the Club. His catchphrase was "Me old flower." He used to respond to rascist heckling from punters by saying: "If you don't shut up, I'll come and move in next door to you."

I take a customary stroll around the ground. It's a health hazard to the right of the clubhouse as I attempt to reach the only seated area. The grass is knee-high full of nettles and thistles. Planks of wood and broken fencing are strewn about the place. I'm going to have to put a call in to Tommy Walsh off Ground Force.

I take my seat in the stand. Five pensioners on the back row are enjoying some banter. I ask if it's okay if I take a photo. "We're Lincolnshire's most wanted" quips one OAP. I look across to the far side. Dressed in all red, including his face, is Tosh's sidekick, Steve Hardie.  There has been a reversal in fortune since his arrival. Tosh and Steve led Clifton to the Central Midlands South Division title last season. Steve looks to have spent the close season at the Clifton Kwik Tan Salon.

Clifton are wearing a rather fetching red strip. It was donated to the Club by QPR'S Jermaine Jenas. There's nowt doing in the first period as both teams struggle with the stifling heat. The linesman on the far side is having a 'Weston Super-Mare.' A spectator remarks that the 'lino' once cost him a year's ban. I enquire why. "I threatened to knock him out at my lad's game." Oh dear.

Sean shouts me up a cider at the break as I start to think the unthinkable. This could be a 0-0. Tosh makes a few changes. Ben Clark, with his brilliant first touch and gifted footballing brain is replaced by former Nuneaton striker Nicky Kennerdale.

The entertaining Jaylee Hodgson has a cigar on at the back. He's had more clubs than Peter Stringfellow. He never wastes a ball, working in tandem with the impressive Jake Richardson.

Tosh throws on a couple of 16 year old kids with 30 minutes remaining. It's a managerial masterstroke. Clifton get the ball wide to their young guns. The Skegness defence is peppered with crosses. Only an outstretched leg prevents young Ross from opening the scoring.

The final whistle goes. It's my first 0-0 since Jan 2012. Bloody hell, all those so-called mates of mine will be terrorizing me on the social networks this evening. It'll be the usual suspects - White Van Man , Bruiser and The Zuffler.

Tosh has a pub crawl lined-up for the lads. I'll catch up with him again on Tuesday when they travel to Gedling Miners' Welfare.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cogenhoe United 1-8 Histon FC

It's Thursday July 10th. I'm piloting the 'Rolls Royce'  through the picturesque village of Widmerpool in south Nottinghamshire.  Buried in the churchyard of St Peter's is the former assistant manager of Nottingham Forest, Peter Taylor. He died in the Majorcan resort of Cala Millor, where I'm off on my hols in a few weeks. I haven't got time to pay my respects right now, as I'm picking up Big Bear Baker, the Mayor of London and Mad Dog from Willoughby.

We jump on a bus to Trent Bridge; it's the second day of the First Test v India. It's the usual roll call in the Southbank Bar.  We bolt down a big breakfast; with a pot of coffee and not real ale. Prime seats are taken in the middle section of the Radcliffe Road End .

If only the cricket was as good as the banter. England won't bowl at the stumps and India won't put out the rod. We sink a few in the NFFC Supporters' Club at lunch. The most exciting part of the day is when India lose a flurry of wickets. The last wicket stand is painstaking and productive. We get to see England bat for an hour before piling into the Larwood and Voce and the Stratford Haven for some post match real ales. I stumble into a taxi with Barthez at nine bells. I've work in the morning. I can't be hanging.

It's been an eventful few months since my last groundhop. I've lots to share with you all: a new job, retirement from youth football and a real ale trail in Nottingham. I'd been looking at a game the previous weekend. Potential fixtures fell by the wayside as teams either double-booked fixtures or failed to raise a team. Thorne Colliery and Winsford United will have to wait until later in the season.

It's the usual drill on Friday evening. I sit on the patio, sinking a bottle of Beaujolais, kindly bought by a parent from the team I used to run. I watch the sunset, chuckling away at the endless anecdotes in Danny Baker's 'Going to Sea in a Sieve.'

I'm dispatched down the garden early doors on Saturday morning. There's lots of chopping, huffing and puffing. I have a quick wash. What the hell is the theme tune of Eastenders blaring out the bedroom door of 'The Skipper' for ? The lazy sod is watching it on catch-up. 'The Skipper' is making his debut for Clifton All-Whites Ressies. I drop him off at the ground and wish him good luck. I hook up with Phil as we take the familiar route down the M1 South.

I love the Stag's Head at Great Doddington. The village has some beautiful stone buildings, decorated with glorious hanging baskets.  I enjoy a refreshing pint of Kronenbourg 1664 and a brie and bacon ciabatta, whilst basking in the lunchtime sunshine.

The village of Cogenhoe (pronounced Cook-nuh) lies 5 miles east of Northampton. It has a population of 1500. Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves once lived in the Old Rectory in the village. I never knew he had it off with Valerie Singleton - a Blue Peter badge for that one kid.

It's all kicking off near their Compton Park complex. The village fete is taking place today, with a car boot on Sunday. It's busy in the car park as there is also a cricket match in play.

It's a rather pricey £6 on the gate. The programme is £1 and is sadly without squad names or player profiles. We are treated to seven pages of United Counties League news, which is copied and pasted from Press releases. I should be okay for a signal as a Talk Talk phone mast is fitted to one of the floodlight pylons.

It's a tidy enough ground. I prefer them to be in the heart of the community, like they are in the old mining towns. The cricket match next door provides some noise and cheers. A batsman is dismissed; a fielder pipes up with the Billy Smart's Circus theme tune.

I've no idea if this is the Histon first team, as they look a little fresh-faced and young. The under 21s had played a little earlier. I've always admired Histon who are also a village team. I'm a big fan of their former striker Dan Holman, who signed for Colchester United  on Friday from Braintree Town.

Looking at the size of the Cogenhoe team I can't see them lasting much longer than an hour in this baking heat. The pitch is well manicured and in perfect nick. Histon are managed by Brian Page, who I know has done very well at youth level for the Club. It's great to see him given a chance with the first team. Not sure about his choice of headgear today - he wears a flat cap. I thought it was the 70s Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan for a moment.

There's no pattern to the game in its early stages until Histon striker Franklin Mensah lampoons a shot over the 'keeper into the roof of the net. The youngsters gain confidence and are 4-0 up by the break, with one or two smart finishes.

Cogenhoe boss Andy Marks tells his players to get tighter to the two runners in midfield who are bossing the game. I give 'The Skipper' a call; he's as happy as Larry with a 4-0 victory over Newark Town stiffs. The second half is a non event. Cogenhoe manage to bag one, a further four from the Stutes gives Sticky Palms a good start on the goal front this season.