Monday, February 29, 2016

Morecambe 1-2 Carlisle United

Hell's teeth, we're back on the M6 again. It's much kinder at 9am on a Saturday morning. Ground number 77 is Morecambe FC. We're parked up on the West End side of the seaside resort by 11am. There's no stiff breeze or bracing air, as the skies begin to lighten.

Morecambe is a town in Lancashire with a population of 35,000. It was known back in the day as 'Bradford by-the-Sea' due to its railway connections with Yorkshire. It was once a thriving seaside resort that has suffered decades of long-term decline. Both piers have bitten the dust. For a number of years the Miss Great Britain Beauty Contest was held in the town.

We walk past the Frontierland fairground that closed in 1999. All that remains is the Polo sponsored phone-mast that was once a remnant of the theme park. On February 5th 2004, 21 undocumented Chinese migrant labourers, hired to pick cockles at £5 for 25kg, by Chinese Triads, trafficked in on containers that docked in Liverpool, were found dead after being cut off by an incoming tide.

Ms Moon and I join a small queue at the Eric Morecambe statue for a photo-shoot. Morecambe took his stage name from the seaside town.  Other famous folk from the town include Dame Thora Hird  and 'Charity' from 'Emmerdale Farm. World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is from the area.

A group of 'Carlisle Casuals' are being escorted down the front. They're ushered into the King's Arms by the local plod. We call in at The Palatine, a comfortable Edwardian seafront pub. A Lancaster Blonde accompanied by a three piece deli - including Garstang blue cheese and honey roast ham ensures we have an enjoyable lunchtime. The landlord and staff are first-class.

My mate, Piers, has tipped me the wink about the glorious art deco hotel the Midland Grand Plaza. It had a £7 million re-fit in 2008. I have a craft beer from the Shipyard brewery in the USA. We sit in Chesterfield leather armchairs looking out onto Morecambe Bay, where those poor, unfortunate souls lost their lives .

Within ten minutes we're parting with £4 cash to park at a local primary school. Lancastrians are well known for their warmth, friendliness and humour. This is all in evidence on our arrival. It's £16 to stand on the Northern Terrace and £3 for an info-packed programme. On each occasion we are told to 'enjoy the game.'

I get gassing to a steward adjacent to the turnstile. He lets it slip that a Carlisle player has driven through the gates in a Maserati. He jokes that a Morecambe player can't even afford a Mini. It's like our usual fix of Non League, we're close to pitch-side, as there are only a few concrete steps on the small terrace. Carlisle's players are put through a strenuous warm-up routine which leaves us all gasping for air. Bowie, Blur and Blondie are blasting out the PA. Inevitably 'Bring Me Sunshine' by Morecambe and Wise is the signature tune.

I donate some money to the Prostate Cancer charity. The volunteer is a lovely chap called Michael Parker. He gives me a potted history of the area including Fleetwood and Heysham - everybody is so friendly. The scoreboard to our left has been donated by Heysham Power Station in memory of Chris Cowan who plunged to his death from a platform in 2010. Chris was a lifelong Morecambe fan.

I notice that Nathan Bondswell is on the subs bench for the Shrimps. He's a Nottingham lad. I remember when he was a 12 year old at Clifton All Whites, a club that produced the likes of Jermaine Jenas and Jermaine Pennant, that every club in the Midlands was tracking him. He finally chose D***y Clownty, who recently released him.

Morecambe play a beautiful game that belies their lowly league position. At the hub of it all is the engine driver, Irish forward Jamie Devitt, who I clocked playing for Hull City as a youngster seven years ago. Seasoned pro, the well-travelled 37 year old Kevin Ellison, escapes his marker and deftly chips over an advancing 'keeper to give the Shrimps a deserved lead. They play some lovely pass and move football, pretty much passing Carlisle off the park, as the visitors go route one with two huge powerhouse centre forwards.

The 1500 travelling support are unimpressed. They start to sing a few derogatory songs about their own team. We've been impressed with the Carlisle skipper, Michael Raynes. He cajoles and encourages his team-mates. He marshals the troops forward, as they often sit too deep.

The fire alarms go off at the break. Sponsors spill out of the corporate hospitality suite as panic sets in. It is believed an e-cigarette has set the alarms off. I'm inclined to think that Carlisle manager Keith Curle has set some fireworks off in the changing room to awaken his lacklustre under-performers. Ms Moon returns from the snack cabin with a steaming hot cup of Bovril.

Carlisle up the tempo and start to play. A corner from the left is met first time by McQueen as he lurks on the corner of the penalty area, his effort whistles over the bar.

Morecambe seem happy to see the clock tick down as Curle injects some pace into the game with the introduction of ex Lincoln City winger Derek Asamoah. The Morecambe sub never looks switched on, he bundles over Wyke, who makes no mistake from the spot. One minute later the game is turned on its head with Asamoah smashing home a loose ball to send the visiting support into pandemonium. Blue flares are set off, as the police converge.

Curle, the coaching staff, players and supporters celebrate as one at the final whistle. Keith Curle is a good manager, and seems to have put in a good infrastructure and instilled discipline. I never quite understood why he lost his job at Notts County.

Nothing is going right for Jim Bentley's Morecambe, as they nervously and agonisingly glance over their shoulders at the relegation pack in League Two. Bentley made nearly 300 appearances for the club, and has been at the helm since 2011. Remarkably the Shrimps have only had three managers in the last 22 years. They are a wonderful family club with all the right values. A worried steward returns to speak with Ms Moon to apologise about saying we all might have to evacuate the ground at half-time. It's a nice touch that, and pretty much sums up the day.

Attendance: 3070

Man of the Match: Kevin Ellison

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alvechurch 4-1 Loughborough University

I'm on the M6 in standing traffic. I've spent six rotten hours on this bloody God forsaken stretch of road today. I arrive back at HQ at 6pm. I fish my phone out of my pocket and scroll through the texts. My heart misses a beat. I draw a sharp intake of breath. It's news that I've been dreading all week. Blog legend Finley Palmer the rabbit, and crap Non League tipster, has been laid to rest. He would have been the grand old age of 10 years old in August.

His crap tips have featured in this blog for over nine years now. His final one, last week, was ironically 0-0. The game ended 1-0. Finley was so close to being on the money, time and time again. A few years ago Rammers and I watched Real United take on Holbrook St Michaels down at Stoke Lane. Finley had it down on the correct score coupon for 4-4, which ironically was the score after 95 minutes. Finley had logged onto his laptop and had just pressed the button for his basket full of carrots to be delivered from Waitrose as the big Holbrook centre forward nodded home the winner in the 96th minute. Old Fin never really recovered from that day. God bless his soul.

Last Saturday evening was spent in the Trent Navigation and The Embankment near Trent Bridge consoling the Nottinghamshire football-watching public following defeats for 'You Pies' and 'You Reds.' We're both still chuckling about the Bromsgrove PA announcer last Saturday. The visitors make a substitution in injury-time at 1-0 up. The lad coming off was dragging his heels. The guy on the PA shouted out "Hurry up and get off the pitch."

On Sunday we have a lung-bursting walk around Gedling Country Park, followed by a drinky-poo in the Bread and Bitter on Mapperley Top. You can't beat a pint of Castle Rock's Elsie Mo. I drop into Clifton All-Whites on Tuesday evening. They are entertaining Wollaton FC in the NSL Senior Cup. Both squads are skinny. Clifton hang onto a 1-0 lead until the dying embers of the game, when their ten men run out of steam, with Wollaton taking full advantage to the win the tie. If they dished out Olympic gold medals for moaning and chuntering at match officials, then Wollaton would have come on top of the leaderboard. They did play a beautiful game of football though.

It's been another long week on the road. The 'Rolls Royce' has visited Stockport, Chester, Brigg and Louth. I've a road-trip booked to Ireland too. We wind down for the weekend in the Bear and Lace, before dining out at my favourite establishment, The Round House on Royal Standard Place, where I enjoy two pints of Tribute from St Austell in Cornwall.

Game day finally arrives. Ms Moon has got the hump. We played 'guess who' the other night, I presume most couples do ? After grilling me for a good ten minutes she finally gave up. The answer was Bouncer the dog off Neighbours. I can't arf pick em.

We're back down the M42 for the second consecutive Saturday. Destination is the gastro pub the Queens Head in the Worcestershire village of Stoke Pound. The place was stacked out with folk last week, so we didn't get time to eat. Lily Allen's 'The Fear' is on Magic Radio as we pull into the car park. It makes me feel like swallow-diving into the nearby Birmingham Canal.

We hook up with Ms Moon's sister, Kate, for lunch. A cloudy pint of Wyre Valley IPA is changed without fuss. The scran is spot on. Ms Moon and I have stone-baked pizzas. Lye Meadow, the home of Alvechurch FC is only a few miles away. They are chasing down Midland League leaders Hereford FC, and have games in hand.

Alvechurch is a village in the Bromsgrove district of Worcestershire with a population of 6500. Its nearest city is Birmingham, which lies 11 miles north. The novelist Fay Weldon and The Archers creator Godfrey Baseley are from the area. Former Leicester City and Arsenal striker Alan Smith once played for Alvechurch. He scored 199 career goals, and is now a pundit on Sky Sports.
Tracey Andrews is also from the village. She murdered her boyfriend Lee Harvey in 1996. It was a high-profile court case, where she blamed the murder on a 'road-rage' killer.

It's £5 on the gate. The programme is top drawer at a bargain-priced £1. We're not enticed or drawn to the burger van. We head over to the far stand. I get chatting to the referee's assessor, he's a lovely bloke. He was at Bromsgrove last week, as we were too. I compliment the official from that game. The guy's all tooled up with his laptop. Clifton's manager 'Tosh' drops me a call. Have I got a pair size 10 boots in the car ? Yes I have, but I'm 60 odd miles away. I tip him the wink that NSL table-toppers West Bridgford have been turned-over by Bingham Town.

R 'n B is haunting me on the PA system. The DJ recovers the situation with Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. The teams emerge from the dressing rooms. There is a gorgeous vista of the rolling Worcestershire hills in the distance, as we hear the loud shrill of the referee's whistle as the students kick off.

 I saw a first year student from Loughborough put a shift in for UCL team Harrowby United in Step 5, the same level as the Midland League, a few months ago. He's already notched 20 goals for the season, but has not played for a while due to a serious injury. He attended trials at the Uni along with 300 others. He wasn't spotted - couldn't even get in the 4th team. Oh dear oh me!

It literally is men against boys. Alvechurch are 2-0 up in the early stages. The second goal is beautifully crafted on a pitch you could grow potatoes on. We viewed Alvechurch earlier in the season in a FA Vase 4th round tie up at Cleethorpes. They folded like a deck of cards that day, after controlling the game in the first half. There is to be no repeat of this today. The game is put to bed at 3-0. The students score a smart consolation goal, but they don't have any fire in their bellies.

We have been amused with the body language of 20 goal Alvechurch striker Jordan Nadat. He's fluffed a few chances and is getting frustrated, which results in an inevitable yellow card, before trooping off after being hooked by the manager. He rips off his sock tape and removes his shin pads. We can see he is distressed. "What's the matter?" I enquire. We engage in conversation. Turns out Ms Moon and Jordan are both in the healthcare recruitment game. They compare notes and talk shop. I'm trying to watch the bloody game here. They exchange email addresses. Christ, it's like being on 'Take Me Out,' with Sticky Palms playing the part of Paddy McGuinness. Why not discuss it over dinner at the Queens Head in Stoke Pound ?

The raffle numbers are announced, it's my third win in 10 years. Coincidentally its a Midland League hat-trick. Ms Moon is dispatched to the clubhouse for the presentation of the cheque. Disappointingly, she arrives back with three miniature bottles of wine.

Alvechurch drive home the final nail in the coffin. Jordan waves us goodbye, 'we' promise to be in touch. He was a really nice lad.

Man of the Match: Finley Palmer

Attendance: 123

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bromsgrove Sporting 0-1 Nuneaton Griff

A week of sun on my back on the Canary Island of Tenerife has done me the world of good. Ms Moon's missing luggage turned up at the hotel 48 hours into the holiday. I played twitter table tennis with the Ryanair customer service feed; they haven't heard the last of this.

It's 2am in the early hours of Wednesday morning. I've woken up with a start. My stomach is making more rumbling noises than the island's volcano, Mount Teide. I'd scoffed a seafood pizza earlier in the evening. It's come back to haunt me. An hour later the inevitable happens, again and again and again. I spend the rest of Thursday in searing heat on bottled water reading Stuart Maconie's 'The Pie at Night.'

We're back in Old Blighty on Thursday evening, it's blooming freezing. Murphy the budgie is pleased as punch to see me. He's perched on my hand listening to my tales in Tenerife. He reminds me that our favourite programme, Death in Paradise, is on BBC1 tonight.

It's Friday evening and I'm on the Trent Barton Keyworth connection bus. I'm meeting Sticky jnr and 'The Skipper' in the Pear Tree sports bar. I dish out some duty free gifts to the boys. Dafty joins us for a few beverages. DJ Stag is knocking out some retro toons. 'Michael Buble' is on here tomorrow night for a Valentine's Tribute Night - I think I'll give it the swerve.

I finish the night in the 'World renowned' Trent Bridge Inn - the most expensive Wetherspoons in the UK. I bump into a couple of old mates, Chopper and KUFC legend Willy Gee. I have a trot down Radcliffe Road, before venturing into the Spice kebab shop for my first one of the season. The miserable sods behind the counter aren't up for banter, though.

Bromsgrove Sporting has been on the Hopper radar for some time now. I met the old assistant manager of Bromsgrove Rovers in Cleethorpes, from back in the day, when they were pushing hard for promotion to the Football League. The guy is a director at Alvechurch now - his name escapes me.

We stick to the M42 like shit to a blanket. Graham Norton has somehow managed to remain on the car radio. He plays 'Instinction' by Spandau Ballet and 'The Hustle' by Van McCoy. First port of call today is Bromsgrove Cemetery.

We park the car opposite St John's Church. A couple of well known people are buried in the churchyard. It's a good twenty minutes before I chance upon the first one. Anthony Pratt was the inventor of the board game Cluedo. He sold the patent onto Waddington board games for a tidy sum. Former wrestler and actor Pat Roach is also laid to rest here. He is better known as 'Bomber' from the hit 80s TV series Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Pat also played parts in Indiana Jones, a Bond film, Rising Damp, Clockwork Orange and more memorably Heartbeat (Sticky and Murph's favourite).

A couple of people are tending their loved ones graves. In hindsight, I perhaps shouldn't have asked them where Pat's grave was. One was particularly upset. Nobody seems to know though. After a thorough search of Extension B we give up the ghost. It's bloody embarrassing to be honest. Pat was 6 ft 5 inches and nearly 20 stone. It must be one helluva grave. I didn't have this problem finding that fat lad Daniel Lambert in Stamford.

We're running late for lunch now. We pull into the car park of gastro pub the Queens Head in Stoke Pound. It's recently been refurbished by the Lovely Pubs group. The jet set of Bromsgrove have turned out in force this lunchtime. The place is stacked out with folk. I grab a pint of HPA from the Wyre Valley brewery. There's Bob, Maurice and no hope of getting any food here.

Ms Moon squeezes the Insignia into a car parking space at Bromsgrove Sporting's Victoria Ground. The steward is a lovely chap, my club official of the season by a country mile. He tells us a few gags, including the time he declined the Chairman a parking spot because he turned up late. He merrily limps away using a stick as a walking aid.

Bromsgrove is a town in Worcestershire with a population just shy of 30,000. Notable folk from the town include: the singer Michael Ball, actress Trudie Styler (married to the singer Sting), Fast Show actor Mark Williams and Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett. J.R.R.Tolkien's mother is also buried in Bromsgrove Cemetery - and no, couldn't find her either!

It's £6 on the gate and £1.50 for an excellent programme. The ground is an absolute belter. The old school Stand on the far side is a must-see. Ms Moon dashes towards the snack bar. She picks the local delicacy, a chicken Balti pie, I opt for chips and curry sauce. We wander over to the glorious old stand, taking a pew on the front row to the right of the halfway line. The Club DJ plays an interesting set that the Pear Tree's DJ Stag would learn a lesson or two from. Songs from the Manic Street Preachers, Cheap Trick, Travis and The Verve brighten up the day.

Bromsgrove Sporting kick down the slope in the first half, and create the better chances. Good fortune and great goalkeeping keeps the visitors in the game. Ironically, just before the break, Griff's best player, Josh Ruff, wriggles his way through the defence before smashing a shot against the post, which gratefully falls into the 'keeper's hands.

I venture out into the cold, heading over towards the snack bar. I order up a piping hot cup of Bovril and give the old pepper pot a good shake. I muck up Ms Moon's coffee order by clicking a couple of Sweetex in. She's proper got the face on.

The guy next to me has a Bromsgrove rattle, which fascinates me. He's accompanied by an American guy who is comedy gold. He shouts out encouragement to the home team. Near misses are met with "sugar" or "nuts." A Griff player is poleaxed by a shuddering challenge. "Get up you big Jessie", shouts out our American friend.

'Mr Bean' has refereed today's game. He's a tall and gangly guy. He communicates with the players well, and you couldn't argue with many of the seven yellow cards he has brandished in 90 minutes.

The only goal of the game is superbly executed by substitute Luke Shorthouse. They manage to hang on for a win despite a long range effort from Bromsgrove hitting the inside of the post and rolling along the face of the goal.

Man of the match: The Car Park Attendant.

Attendance: 364.

Friday, February 12, 2016

CD Marino 1-1 UD Cruz Santa

It's 2:55am on Thursday 4th February. A bleary-eyed Sticky Palms rises from his pit, trudges down the stairs and flicks the kettle on. Ms Moon and I are due to fly out to Tenerife from Birmingham Airport at 7:00am, a strong cup of Nescafe Alta Rica is needed.

I click the seat belt in as soon as I board the aircraft. I'm petrified of flying, which is mainly down to problems with my ears. I can't console myself with the Non League Paper to bury my head in, nor a stiff Bombay gin to calm my nerves. I immerse myself in the excellent book 'The Pie at Night' by the broadcaster Stuart Maconie as the plane taxis the runway. Just over four hours later we touchdown on Spanish soil.

Those Spanish baggage handlers don't muck about. I soon spot our suitcase doing a lap of honour on the baggage carousel. We've just got to wait for Ms Moon's bag, which contains all her clothes, and then the holiday can begin. Five minutes later, I suddenly turnaround and notice that all the passengers have dispersed towards the exit signs, where coaches and taxis await their arrival. Ms Moon and I stand alone, staring at an empty conveyor belt in disbelief.

We chance upon a Ryanair customer service representative, her English is about as good as my Spanish. We've already missed the connecting coach to the resort of Los Cristianos. A distraught and inconsolable Ms Moon is hanging around the lost luggage desk. By chance she bumps into the comedian Paul Whitehouse who is collecting a vehicle from Hertz Car Rental. If I had a sense of humour I'd approach him to see if he could wing a bit of Aviva Insurance for us for the lost baggage. But those bungling fools at Ryanair have already put a damper on the day.

I blow a gasket with the Ryanair rep, departing with flailing arms before jumping in a taxi and checking into our hotel. There's no point in returning to the hotel to change for the evening session, so we trawl the bars and restaurants of Playa de las Americas on an old-fashioned pub crawl. I awake the next day with a delicate and fuzzy head. I'm 52 years old today. I unwrap a few presents which include CAMRA membership, which will come in handy now that I live in Nottingham.

Through my drunken haze I remember pointing out a poster in a bar overlooking the marina in Los Cristianos that was advertising a Division 12 game in the Canary League that kicks off this evening at 9pm. Ms Moon buys me a new Olly Murs straw hat as a treat for my birthday, after I have strutted the catwalk in every hat shop in town.

We watch a jaw-dropping sunset, whilst drinking cocktails, in a funky beach-side bar. The taxi drops us outside the Columbus Hotel opposite two football grounds. It's the HQ for White Van Man and Bruiser on their frequent sojourns to 'the Reef.' A youth game is taking place on a 4G surface. I race up the stairs to see a free kick floating into the top corner of the net. Sticky P doesn't do 3G or 4G. He never will.

We wander through a ropey area of town before climbing the steps up to Linekers Bar. It's not my bag to be honest. I couldn't give a toss about the feuding brothers. I mention to the lass behind the bar that it's a bit quiet in here. "We've just opened up, Love."

I fancy a gleg at the pre-match build up. We pay 8 Euros each at the ticket office. I'm drawn to a lady who is selling club merchandise set up on a trestle table. We buy a mug, T-Shirt and baseball cap for less than 20 Euros. The lady is charming and extremely helpful. We purchase a couple of raffle tickets for two Euros. I ring Finley the rabbit back in the UK for a score prediction. It's past his bedtime, he's none too chuffed. "0-0" he says, before the line goes dead.

The ground isn't anything special. I had others lined-up in the south of the island, but they were all away from home this weekend. The eight lane running track in the municipal sport stadium reminds me of Grantham Town. Some obsessive groundhopper with a loud mouth from Manchester tries to explain the League structure to me. I switch off to be honest.

I get chatting to a man and wife who are Northern Ireland fans. They are both sporting the blue away strip, and are looking forward to Euro 2016 in the summer. We grab a beer and plonk ourselves on top of a concrete step that gives you a panoramic view of the ground and resort.

Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canary Islands. It has a population of 900,000. Five million tourists visit each year. The volcano Mount Teide is the third largest on the planet. The worst commercial aviation accident in history happened on the March 27th 1977 when two Boeing 747 planes collided in fog as thick as pea soup on the runway at the airport in the north of the island. 583 people lost their lives that day. According to wikipedia it was due to a catalogue of errors and misfortune.

On a brighter note, Chelsea winger Pedro was born in Tenerife's largest city, Santa Cruz. His youth career was spent at local club San Isidro. He was spotted and snapped up by La Liga giants Barcelona. A sell on clause in his contract provided his local team a £320,000 windfall last summer when Chelsea shelled out £23 million for the winger.

The game is as I expected it to be. The tempo is snail's pace. Any slight contact between players and suddenly you hear the loud shrill of the referee's whistle, followed by the wave of a yellow card. Steve Bruce and Larry Lloyd would spend the entire season in front of the Spanish FA. The play-acting of the visiting team beggars belief, particularly after they have taken the lead against the run of play.

We've had bugger all to eat since breakfast and have sunk a boatload of ale. A beaming Mooney returns from the bar clutching a hot chicken baguette wrapped in tinfoil. The second half is no better. CD Marino grab a deserved equaliser, and could easily have gone on to win the game as their left back time and time again pushes the ball past his opponent before producing wicked crosses that flash across the six yard box, with no one having the inclination or energy to meet the ball.

We've a Cockney sat behind us with a voice like a foghorn. He commentates on the game and keeps shouting 'Come on Mourinho.' He has a raucous laugh and thinks his gag is hilarious. The small gathering of Brits are embarrassed for the bloke.

The referee finally calls time on this dull affair. He'll spend most of the evening writing his match report after brandishing 10 yellow cards - there's not been one bad tackle all evening.

Man of the Match: Manuel, the left back (Hope Billy Davies had a scout there)