Sunday, October 15, 2017

AFC Fylde 1-0 Wrexham

It's 93 minutes on the clock at Stocksbridge Steels' drop-dead gorgeous Bracken Moor Stadium. I suggest to Ms Moon that we shoot off a couple of minutes early, as the car park could be awkward to manoeuvre out of. The game's over as a contest - Atherton Collieries are coasting to a 3-0 victory. I'm a bit miffed, when I notice later in the evening, that further goals were scored in the 94th and 95th minute. Ms Moon is particularly cross, as she missed the third goal due to a 'comfort break.' Never leave a game early folks, or 'powder your nose.'

It's Sunday lunchtime and I'm strolling through the back streets of Netherfield, three miles east of Nottingham city centre. We got held up here a few weeks back. The place was crawling with 'the Boys in Blue.' A street was sealed off with a police helicopter hovering above. Three people were attacked at a property on Curzon Street, one was left with life-altering injuries. I walk past the Railway Hotel, formally known to locals as Jackie Bells (legendary landlord of said hostelry) - it's another pub long gone. All that's left is the pub sign swinging in the wind on some plush new apartments. I guzzle a pint of Banoffee pale ale at Castle Rock's Willowbrook in Gedling before returning to HQ.

I'm back up on Mapperley Tops on Tuesday evening for an EMCL League cup tie between Gedling MW and Kimberley MW. I make my debut at the highly-rated 'Plains Fish Bar' and polish off a small portion of cod 'n chips, saturated in salt and vinegar, before viewing proceedings adjacent to the Gedling dugout with 'The Italian Stallion.' I've a lot of time for folk at Kimberley; they have an exciting young side too. Committee members like 'Hobbo' and Danny Staley are the salt of the earth and good people, with the club's best interests at heart. This warmth cannot be extended to their technical area, where potty-mouthed 'coaches' aim a tirade of verbal abuse at the officials for most of the evening. Silence is golden when the mercurial, fleet-footed, Jack Jepson puts the game to bed, leaving Kimberley MW on the receiving end of a 3-0 thumping. Perhaps the finger of blame should be squarely pointed at the players, after a below-par performance, instead of haranguing the 'men in black.'

It's deja vu on Wednesday. A  blustery evening is spent at the 'field of dreams' (Platt Lane, Keyworth). The Green Army second string give neighbouring Ruddington a 6-0 pasting - they deserve some good fortune after struggling in recent weeks.

The old 'Barnet Fair' needs a trim. I peg it up to Wisdom Hairdressing on Mansfield Road. I love the lads from Kurdistan. I'm due next in the electric chair. It's just my luck that five lads with hipster beards all ask for a trim. It's nearly dusk when I finally leave the shop. There's always time for a quick couple of pints in the Herbert Kilpin and Fox and Grapes, before jumping on the No.25 bus home.

It's been on Sky Sports News that the 'Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky jnr, my eldest lad) has been drafted in from the wilderness for 'the Green Army Ressies.' His pre-match warm-up consists of planing down three doors and re-fitting them for Dad.

We can't really avoid the M6, as I've earmarked a Good Pub Guide entry close to Preston. I'm not sure what's worse: the standing traffic between junctions 18 and 20 or Graham Norton on Radio 2. We get a duff postcode for the pub and end up having a bust-up in the middle of nowhere (that's with the Sat Nav and Ms Moon). We're guided into the car park of the Plough at Eaves in Broughton by Ms Moon on Google maps.

It's a pleasant country tavern with a two-beamed bar and patterned carpet, reminiscent of an old Berni Inn. I have a cracking pint of Wainwright. We both enjoy a baguette before the short 15-minute journey to AFC Fylde's Coronation Way ground.

The Fylde is a coastal plain in Lancashire. It is a 13-mile square-shaped peninsula, bounded by Morecambe Bay to the north, the Ribble estuary to the south, the Irish Sea to the west and the Bowland hills to the east. A few well-known people from the area include The Police guitarist Andy Summers, former Blackpool, Manchester City and Spurs forward, Paul Stewart, 6 Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs and rugby international Jason Robinson.

Jeez, we're in trouble now. Ms Moon has spotted an Aldi supermarket. We'll need to hire a forklift if Prosecco is on offer. I've already bagged a ticket, Ms Moon decides to make a weekend of it, so I've booked us into the Waddington Arms in the Forest of Bowland, up in the hills of Lancashire.

I catch the attention of a club official, smartly dressed in a blazer and trousers. "Do you work here, mate?" "Yes, I'm the Chief Executive." I blush after my faux pas, as we are pointed in the general direction of the turnstile for the West Stand.

It's £12 on the gate, £3 for a programme and £1 for a 50/50 ticket. The Mill Farm Sports Village is part of a £18 million development. After a meteoric rise up the Football Pyramid, the Coasters are toughing it out in the National Conference - the long journeys down south are taking their toll.

Today's visitors, Wrexham, make the relatively short 160 mile round trip from North Wales. I'm itching to visit their famous, old Racecourse Ground, but it'll be in the New Year before we finally take the plunge.

I'm not sure if the Fylde DJ has been on the prosecco from Aldi, as he plays the worst set since Dave Lee-Travis on Radio 1. 'Freed From Desire' is as good as it gets. Due to logistics, Ms Moon and I are four rows apart; she probably welcomes the break. I notice a few black clouds rolling in from the Irish Sea, as a stiff breeze blows across the ground. I've a couple of old dears sat behind me. Husband to wife: "Hasn't it turned out grand, love?" It warms the cockles of my heart.

Wrexham look the dog's doodahs in the early exchanges, as they attack the end where their raucous flock are stood. 30-year-old striker Chris Holroyd is leading the Fylde defence a merry dance. They lack the killer instinct.

I've clocked Coasters' 11 jacket, Jack Muldoon. This boy gave his all for 'The Lincoln' last season, shining like a beacon in the Cup run. His unselfish running and interplay set up strike partner Danny Rowe for the opening goal.

There's a change at the break, the DJ's morphed into 6Music legend 'Steve Lamacq.' We're treated to 'Waterfall' by the Stone Roses and a few other indie toons. I've joined Ms Moon on Row M. She's complaining about the leg room. We've a few WAGS sat behind us who never comment about the football at any given time. Wrexham offer little in the second half; I thought they'd throw the kitchen sink at Fylde. Full back, James Jennings, their best player on show, gets frustrated when a flurry of crosses, he whips in, aren't attacked by a lacklustre forward line.

We escape a few minutes early as Fylde run the clock down. There's no chance of added time goals this week.

Attendance: 1,390

Man of the Match: George Edmundson (debut on loan from Oldham)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stocksbridge Park Steels 1-4 Atherton Collieries

I'm not sure what the world record for sneezing and belching at the same time is, between Junction 35A and Junction 26 of the M1, but right now a bevied up Mr Trumpy Bolton is giving it a good go. We have to make an emergency stop at the Three Ponds in Watnall so he can blow his streaming, snotty nose, drink a glass of water and quaff another pint. I finally pull up on the drive at home in Carlton, exhausted from today's happenings.

God, I love Sundays; it's my favourite day of the week. We head out to Leicester for a stroll around Bradgate Park, a former Medieval Deer Park, before swinging by The Crown at Old Dalby, where we have a Sunday lunch to die for.

We canned the National Lottery many moons ago. I wanted to contribute to a more worthwhile cause. The People's Postcode Lottery seems to tick the right boxes. I'm already dreaming of the £3 million jackpot, when someone famous is sent round our crib to knock on the front door, catch us aghast, waving that big fat cheque. I'll refuse to accept the winnings if the talentless Fiona Phillips is dispatched from HQ to Sticky Towers. I'll settle for Kym Marsh or one of the weather girls off ITV.

I'm in the heart of Nottingham's inner city on Tuesday evening. Radford's On Call Arena, in Selhurst Street, would be in my all-time top 10. I'm somewhat of a Jonah to the club - they never seem to win when I rock up. Tuesday evening is no exception when they get a good hiding from noisy neighbours Dunkirk FC. Steve Chaplin scores a goal of precision and beauty, but it's 19-year-old Timmy Berridge that catches the eye - another one missed by the 'scouting fraternity.' I scarper across to Asda car park at the fag end of the game to avoid a lifetime ban and cuff around the tabhole from a seething Radford manager, Big Glenn Russell.

The groundhopping gang are at it again on Wednesday evening. I'm scared stiff of Pat Phelan on Corrie and look forward to his grisly demise. We give 'The Street' the swerve and head over to Keyworth, my old parish. Talking of Phelan, I thought I'd clocked him in the shallow end of our hotel swimming pool in Nerja, in Southern Spain, back in August, on our summer holidays. I daren't take a dip for the rest of the week and slept uneasily. It was only on the plane home that Ms Moon revealed that Phelan isn't real; he's just a character in a soap opera.

Poor old Keyworth Ressies get turned over again. They're 3-0 down after half an hour at a windswept, rain-soaked Platt Lane. There's a spirited comeback in the second half from the Green Army, but they fall short in a 7 goal thriller versus Gedling Southbank.

The weekend can't come quick enough. I have a lucrative day 'in the office' on Friday. I meet a few folk for evening drinkies, before returning home to sink a few glasses of a chocolate-flavoured Chilean Merlot.

I'm wide awake at daybreak, excited for the re-visit to the wonderful Bracken Moor, home of Stocksbridge Park Steels. I'd hoped to do a spot of gardening, but right on cue the heavens open. I best pull my 'green fingers' out before Ms Moon returns from her shopping expedition. I mop all the floors in the house and clean the bathroom, as Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Symphony' blasts out of the speakers of the Roberts DAB radio.

We hit the road just before midday. Traffic is heavy, Sat Nav strangely takes us onto the M1 at Junction 27 - I can still hear someone hiccuping and burping. I need to put a call into Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter.

Radio 2 are reporting a lorry has overturned near to Glossop (hope the driver is ok). I'm hoping it doesn't impact our journey. Thankfully it doesn't as we roll into the car park of the Wortley Arms, a stone-built coaching inn, just a few miles away from Stocksbridge. The red mist descends upon Ms Moon when she spots there is a Men's Club adjacent to the pub - we thought this was exclusive to golf clubs in Scotland and the White House.

Sweet lemony Lincoln, what a choice of ales they have on the bar. I go for a pale ale from the Mitchell's Hop House, a microbrewery from Sheffield. We peruse the menu and both choose a roast lamb sandwich with mint sauce and homemade 'Yorkshire chips.' Mabel the Jack Russell is sat on the next table and has had more than her fair share of her owner's fish and chips. The greedy little sod starts salivating when our tucker rocks up - she gets Jack diddly squat off the pair of us.

We're parked up at Bracken Moor an hour before kick off. Ms Moon's got the 'face on' having seen the 1 in 3 gradient the car has climbed up to the ground, so declines an invitation for a stroll into town. I make the solo descent down Bocking Hill and Nanny Hill. I walk past a gated mansion. I hear the Alsation's scampering paws before the vicious snarling and barking. I nearly drop dead on the spot.

Stocksbridge is a small town just outside Sheffield, with a population of over 13,000. It is well known for its steelworks. Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy famously plied his trade for Stocksbridge Park Steels for six seasons. Sticky Palms came here back in 2010 when FC United of Manchester were the visitors. I've still got the programme and Vardy is listed. He didn't play that day as he was either serving an eight-match suspension or wearing an electronic tag with a night-time curfew. Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was born in the town.

There's not much-doing downtown; unless you like curries, pizzas, Chinese takeaway or kebabs. I love a haircut on matchday. I've had memorable ear-lowering moments in Heanor and Stratford-upon-Avon. The barbers in Stocksbridge is full to the brim. I make the long, hard slog back up to the ground. I've climbed Lincoln's Steep Hill, Cherry Hill in Keyworth and Gedling Country Park in Notts, but nothing could prepare me for this. I swig a bottle of water at the summit and pat myself on the back. Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing wouldn't have conquered that.

I prepare myself for the moment we squeeze our way through the turnstile having parted with £17.50 for entry, programme and a good old Northern meat raffle. This ground is one of the greatest on our planet. I rarely go twice to a ground on a Saturday - this is the exception. I want Ms Moon to share my love, joy and excitement The good lady isn't disappointed with the sweeping views of the Pennines, the pristine playing surface, steep-terraced views and outstanding upstairs bar.

Atherton Collieries are today's visitors for this FA Trophy tie. I have a real soft spot for them after a mad dash up there a few Mondays ago, when they swept aside Colwyn Bay after being pinned back in their own half for the first 25 minutes. A healthy contingent have made the journey across the Pennines.

As we walk out of the bar a guy put his hand out and says hello. I don't recognise him, as it's been ages. Blimey Charlie, it's Dudsey, the oracle on north Notts and South Yorkshire Non-League Football. It's great to have a catch-up.

Ms Moon is singing away to Billy Ocean's 'Love Really Hurts' which is blaring out of the Bracken Moor PA system, pre kick-off. I'm not saying that the good lady is out of tune, but I notice a few cracks appearing in the perspex of the away dugout.

The weather is coming in, so we choose to sit in the Jamie Vardy Stand. There are three generations of a family sat in front of us. They've brought enough snap, hot drinks and brandy to feed an army. 'Colls' are out of the traps quicker than my old greyhound 'Prince Red Inca.' Jordan Cover looked the business versus Colwyn Bay, today is no different. He was in a band called the Blackout Crew who had a minor hit called 'Put a Donk on it.' - ridiculed by Radcliffe and Maconie on 6Music. He's now an international DJ, but boy oh boy can he play football and his mate, the 11 jacket Mason, who runs his socks off.

The Colls are two up by the break and in cruise control. Ms Moon is spewing that we haven't won the meat raffle. She'll be hunting down the aisles in Marks and Spencer tomorrow for the £10 'Meal Deal.' The Colls survive a second-half onslaught from the Steels and are in debt to their 'keeper for some smart saves. The game's best player, Iain Howard puts the tie to bed for the visitors. His football brain, movement and wand of a left foot are too much to cope with. 'Colls will head up to Kendal Town for the next round.

Attendance: 158

Man of the Match: Iain Howard

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Stockport Town 1-3 Silsden AFC

We traipse out of Notts County's wonderful Meadow Lane ground. The oldest Football League club in the world has tonked 'The Lincoln' 4-1. The sending off has killed us. I'm sick to the pit of my stomach. Only your team can make you feel this emotional. I bump into Pies' stalwart 'Chalky Junior' close to Iremonger Road. We briefly chew the fat off the bones of the game. He invites us over to The Embankment on London Road for an ale or two with his Dad, who's a good mate, but also a big Notts fan. I politely decline and wish him well.

Plod are escorting a seething Lincoln back to the train station. I plan to switch off social media for the rest of the evening and drink myself into a stupor. There'll be no Football League Show or Match of the Day for Sticky. I'm finished with football. I hate the game.

I'm still stewing on the patio at the Herbert Kilpin on Bridlesmith Walk. Leicester and Liverpool are on TV; I'd rather peg the washing out than watch football again. I might start watching Rugby Union and Formula One, or heavens forbid, start playing golf. I might call football, soccer.  Ms Moon silently sips her prosecco - I would at that bloody price too. In my hour of need, my mobile goes off. I fish it out of my pocket and look at the name flashing on the console, it brings a rare smile to my face.

Trumpy Bolton can't bear to watch his beloved Leicester City on the gogglebox. Mr and Mrs Bolton have been on the sauce in town since mid-morning. We hook up at the timber-framed Georgian pub, The Bell, in Nottingham's Market Square. I shed a few tears to Trumpy about 'The Lincoln.' Through his drunken haze, it falls on deaf ears - the legend couldn't give two hoots. It's a good end to a cracking day out.

In a moment of spontaneity, I ring up the Sincil Bank ticket office on Monday lunchtime. They only have 'restricted view' seats left available for the visit of Barnet in the Software Europe Stand. I have my usual chippy tea on Lincoln High Street, before taking my pew right behind Danny Cowley's dugout. Jesus Christ they weren't kidding about the view. 'The Lincoln' go 1-0 up 'early doors', not that Sticky knows much about it. I'm presuming we're 1-0 up as everyone is jumping up and down, dancing, singing and hugging one another, but I can't see a chuffing thing.

A friendly guy shouts me up the steps and ushers me into a spare seat with a bird's eye view of the pitch. 'The Lincoln' are rampant. Only great 'keeping and good fortune see the Bees of Barnet go into the dressing room at only 2-0 down. Barnet are different class in the second half, as they pass and burn the Imps off the pitch. It's a relief to us all when the ref blows for full-time after 8 minutes 'mystery time' as John Motson used to call it. We're fagged out after playing over an hour with ten men at the weekend.

Ms Moon arrives home on Wednesday tea-time to find me flat out on the floor, barely conscious and gasping for air. After a glass of water and a stiff brandy, she asks me what the heck is going off. "That's exactly what I want to know, how the hell has ex-bowler Harry Gurney scored 42 not out when he is a pub landlord and the worst batsman in the world?" Notts limp over the promotion-winning line thanks to the efforts of 'skipper Chris Read in his final game for the club. He will be remembered by those at Trent Bridge as the best gloveman in the business, who was treated like dirt by Duncan Fletcher and England.

It's another filthy evening as 'The Taxman', 'The Italian Stallion' and Sticky head up the A610 towards the old mining town of Eastwood, where the author D H Lawrence was born. It's tipping it down with rain as we part with £4 each at the turnstile. Keyworth United (my second favourite team) are 2-0 down inside four minutes. Green Army forward, 17-year-old Matty Antcliffe, plays a beautiful game, scoring a couple of opportunist goals to reduce arrears. One or two scouts need to get off their arse and take a look at this kid.

Thank the Lord it's Friday evening; the pressure has been on at work. We jump on the number 25 bus and get off up at Mapperley Tops. We enjoy a few drinky poos at the Woodthorpe Top and Old Flowershop before retiring early as Sticky Palms has a long day ahead tomorrow driving Royalty around the roads of Derbyshire and Cheshire.

The plan was to travel up to Gorton, in east Manchester, to take in Abbey Hey v Winsford United. It's a tough, gritty area where actor John Thaw and ex-Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt were born. Trumpy needs to tick off a pub in Peak Forest and has requested an early start. He's still in the shower when I ring to say the chauffeur will be arriving at 9.45am.

There's no sponsored carrier bag for his booty (litre of cider). I might need to rummage through my glove compartment for some shades to cope with the glare of his olive green Dunlop polo shirt. It's Bolton's turn to shed some tears this week as Sticky drives past a couple of boozers that have opened 'early doors' in Baslow. There are further tantrums in Tideswell as all three hostelries aren't due to open their doors until midday. We roll into the car park of the Devonshire Arms in Peak Forest at bang on twelve bells - the litre of cider has a few dregs left in it. He's already had a bottle of Marston's Old Empire for 'breakfast.'

Bolton orders up the drinks accompanied by sausage, egg and chips from a frosty landlady who is eyeing up three baseball-capped youths slouched in the corner, who are looking rather shifty. The skies start to darken. I suggest we take in Poynton v Rylands in the Cheshire Premier League as I have grave concerns about the traffic in Manchester.

Poynton is crawling with coppers. Tragic news has emerged of a woman detective constable's body (mother of three young children) being recovered from a lake in the early hours of Friday morning. A man is helping police with their enquiries.

Poynton is a town in Cheshire 7 miles south-east of Manchester with a population of 14,260.The town sits on the Macclesfield Canal which forms part of the Cheshire Ring. In 2011 the village road network was reconstructed and re-named 'Shared Space.' It basically gives the pedestrian the right of way - in Nottingham, we call it jaywalking. Trumpy will take full advantage of this once he's drank a shed full at lunchtime.

We stick the car in the back of Waitrose. It's raining cats 'n dogs as we pick up pace down Park Lane. Man alive this place is posh. It reminds me of West Bridgford without all the charity shops and to let signs. It has something else that WB is crying out for - some decent pubs. We dive into the Cask Tavern a good pub guide entry. The friendly and knowledgeable barman is passionate about the Bollington ales on display. We shout up a Gyle 1000, a New England IPA at 5% - that's me over and out for the day. The legend Bolton is soon sniffing out a beer tapas (three glasses). It's still tipping it down with rain as Razorlight's 'In the Morning' on the pub i-Pod shuffle is piped out of the speakers.

Trumpy has a thirst on. He makes full use of the 'shared space' opportunity. He clocks the Farmers Arms a few hundred yards down the street. Another ale is shouted up and hurled down the hatch in minutes. The Poynton Sports Club is a short drive away. The players are warming up. My eyes are diverted and transfixed on the young referee who is staring down at the pitch. I catch his attention, "mate you're not going to call this off are you? For Christ's sake they're playing hockey over there."

Trumpy is as snug as a bug in the rug in the social club. There's Wainwright and Robinson's bitter on hand pull and BT Sport live scores coming through. Who's going to break the bad news to him that the game has been scrubbed at 2.55pm by a young ref who will be on his evening paper round by now?

Stockport Town is the backup game being played at the Stockport Sports Village on the ghastly 3G surface. Trumpy negotiates £4 entry with the turnstile operator as the game is 20 minutes in. League leaders Silsden AFC are the visitors. Trumpy has got wind that Danny Rose has scored twice for the Stags v the Pies in the lunchtime kick-off. He says that he'd heard the Spurs full-back was unhappy in London but didn't think he'd drop down to League Two and move to Mansfield.

We sit in the away end (attendance is only 45). The suspended Silsden reserve 'keeper is sat in front of us. He has a voice like a foghorn and is the Silsden Spitting Champion with an array of wind and rain-assisted gobs. He swears like a trooper. His mates on the pitch get fed up of his shouting and yawping; one tells him to eff off. It's 1-1 at the break and we still haven't seen a bloody goal.

A sulking Bolton returns from the bar, moaning and groaning about paying £2.85 for a can of Strongbow - the one drink I know he detests and only sups as a last resort. It's quite a bad-tempered game. The 'Silsden Headhunters' have already excused their performance by saying four of their 'big players' are unavailable today. Two late goals for the visitors maintain their 100% start to the season.

Attendance: 45

Man of the Match: Sir Chris Read

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Notts County 4-1 Lincoln City

I make the hare-brained decision on late Monday afternoon to travel up to Atherton Collieries, a ground that's been on my to-do list for some time. Greater Manchester is my favourite spot to watch Non-League football. I battle hard in the clogged up motorways and dual carriageways of the North, arriving just in time for kick-off.

My rash decision is not ill-judged; Atherton's Alder House ground is to die for. They've played up here for over 100 years. 281 folk give a double helping of Coronation Street the swerve and are treated to a wonderful game of fast-flowing football, with Michael Clegg's youngsters sweeping aside the visitors, Colwyn Bay, from North Wales, 3-1, after being pinned back in their own half for the first 20 minutes.

I'm full of cough and cold after last night's soaking in Manchester - God, I wish I'd stopped in to see an Oscar-winning performance from Rita Fairclough, Sullivan - whatever her chuffing name is, in Corrie. She'll be nailed on now to scoop up the TV Times best actress award.

I hook up on Wednesday evening with The Taxman and 'The Italian Stallion' in the village of Keyworth, where Sticky Palms was once of this said parish. Bookies' favourites,  Keyworth Ressies, contrive to throw away a two-goal lead, losing 3-2 to Real Community. Manager, Ian Marley, chooses to give his players a public dressing down on the field of dreams, moments after the game - Phil Brown style. He's still bollocking them uphill and down dale as we exit the car park. There's no sign of crowd favourite 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky jnr). The Ressies are crying out for an entertaining, old-fashioned winger, with his socks rolled down and shirt hanging out. Put your arm around him and he'll give you everything - he has quicker feet than Strictly's Brendan Cole.

It's Friday evening and my attention has turned to tomorrow's game between Notts County and Lincoln City. I moved from Lincoln in 1969 to Nottingham. Dad took us to Notts County and Nottingham Forest on countless occasions, but we were always drawn back, like a magnet, to Sincil Bank and the brilliant Graham Taylor era of the mid to late 70s. Last season Lincoln City went leftfield appointing a former schoolteacher with only Non-League experience. Danny Cowley and his brother Nicky gave us a season that will live in the memory forever.

My stomach is churning over and the nerves kicking in as I mull over an early evening real ale in Castle Rock's recently renovated Fox and Grapes in the Sneinton Market area of Nottingham. I smell like a wet old dog having taken another dousing on the 40-minute stroll up Carlton Road. I foolishly forgot my brolly. I catch the No.25 bus back home. I flick on the Forest Green Rovers v Swindon Town game, as 'The Princess' is on the sauce up on Mapperley Tops. Man alive, this match is bloody awful - the Pies and Imps will trounce the pair of them. I switch over channels to see Bayern Munich concede a two-goal lead - it can happen to the best of them.

I don't sleep well; I never do before a big game. It was too late to snap up tickets for the Lincoln end. The Notts County online ticketing system would test the patience of a saint. After 15 minutes of the blue circle of death, I throw the towel in and drive the two miles down to the ground and purchase a couple of tickets in the Derek Pavis Stand.

Jesus, it's only 10 o'clock and I've already been to the tip and cleaned all the windows inside and out. I'll do anything to keep my mind off the game. I rustle up a chilli con carne whilst listening to the brilliant Colin Murray on Fighting Talk. We jump on the bus, alighting at the Nottingham Arena. My mood darkens when I see a poster that English 'comedian' Michael McIntyre is pitching up here soon. Me and my old budgie, Murphy Palmer, have never laughed at one single gag of his.

We cross over onto London Road, before walking over a bridge, down some steps and onto the canal towpath. A dad and lad are fishing. The last time we came down here we saw a Rastafarian chap reel in a 20lb Carp. As we close in on Meadow Lane my stomach begins to knot. We pass the statue of Notts County's greatest manager, Jimmy Sirrel, and his faithful sidekick Jack Wheeler. I think of the sad tale of Jimmy's wife of over 40 years passing away on the day of an important game. He arrived at the ground suited and booted and never told a soul. After the match he asked the chairman if it was okay to take the Monday off to arrange her funeral.

I've stumped up £20 each for tickets. Today is the clash of two of the brightest young coaches in League Two. The ink is barely dry on Kevin Nolan's new three-year contract. Another defeat for his beloved Bolton Wanderers will only heighten speculation. The only saving grace is that the Trotters haven't got a pot to pee in. Nolan was a shrewd appointment, with the new owner taking the advice of Nottingham based TV and radio presenter Darren Fletcher, who has since been made a director.

Notts County were on their knees and Conference-bound 8 months ago. The Trews did a moonlight flit, leaving the oldest association football club in the world saddled with debt. The potty-mouthed, sunken-cheeked, John Sheridan, punch drunk from a Club record 10 consecutive defeats was sacked following the leaking of an FA extraordinary incident report. Nolan steadied the ship, safety was achieved with promotion-winning form.

We're sat at the back of the Pavis Stand in C Block. There's little conversation between the pair of us, as I'm a bundle of nerves. 'Seven Nation Army' from White Stripes is blasting out the PA system as the teams emerge from the tunnel. Lincoln are still hurting from their 1-0 reverse against the Stags last week and their classless Glaswegian manager Steve Evans.

The Imps are well on top in the opening exchanges. Lincoln lad, Ryan Yates (Dad an Imps' season ticket holder), in centre midfield and on loan from Nottingham Forest, is being knocked about by Lincoln's man mountain, Michael Bostwick. The visitors cause havoc down the right-hand side. Knott, Green and Anderson are particularly impressive. Green, Ginnelly and Luckie miss gilt-edged chances.

The game-changer is on the half hour. Billy Knott goes foot up to win the ball, Yates bravely puts his head in where not many modern day footballers would. We have a bird's eye view of the challenge. I say to Ms Moon that Knott's a goner before referee Seb Stockbridge brandishes a red card.

The normally unruffled Danny Cowley is incandescent with rage. He shuffles his pack as the Imps try to run the clock down for half-time. Sticky's favourite, and former Imp, Terry Hawkridge, cleverly hoodwinks and sees off a couple of Imps defenders, before unselfishly laying the ball back to Jones who whips a cross in for Stead to spectacularly see his shot ricochet off a defender and hit the back of the net.

There's a schoolgirl error from Ms Moon at the break; she decides to grab a coffee and join the huge queues in the concourse. The inevitable happens on 47 minutes, Ginnelly, on loan from Burnley, floats in a cross from the left, Anderson nods it back, with Dickie getting the final touch to restore parity. A pumped-up Cowley clenches his fist in the direction of the celebrating Lincoln City board of directors.

The game is magnificent, with a superb ebb and flow. The crowd of 11,672 play their part (4,100 from Lincoln). Brilliant hold up play from the much-maligned Stead ( loads moaning about him where I sat) sets up Tootle for a delicious finish. Jorge Grant puts the game to bed with a ridiculous long-range free kick.

I've watched Terry Hawkridge since his Scots Grey days (a pub in Bulwell) and have been amazed they nobody has taken a punt on him - I recommended him to Matt Alexander, Notts County chief scout, during the ill-fated Chris Kiwomya reign, when Tel was at Gainsborough Trinity. He was the standout player in Lincoln's two epic FA Cup ties versus Ipswich Town last season. His first touch is ridiculous, his crossing first class. He jinks and glides across the surface, like an old-fashioned winger. It's only fitting that he seals Lincoln's fate after cutting inside and firing the ball home into the bottom corner of the net.

Attendance: 11,672

Man of the Match: Jonathan Forte (Ran himself into the ground)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bradwell 4-3 Bakewell Town

I'm still holed up in the luxurious 7 bedroomed Grade II listed farmhouse in sleepy Oxfordshire. The lads have packed up their sticks and gone off golfing, leaving me the run of the ranch. I couldn't sleep with excitement that Burnley v Crystal Palace are on Sky. I'm slouched on the sofa drifting off to sleep when the doorbell rings. Hells teeth Carruthers, it's the owner, he must be on a random spot check of the joint. Phew, he finally admits that there's a leak in one of the 5 toilets that he wants to inspect - it takes us 5 minutes to locate the said lavatory.

It's 4pm and the lads are playing out the final holes on the back nine in the Baker Cup 2017, as I open a can of Dead Pony craft ale. I call Ms Moon back in Nottingham to see how things are. 'The Princess' coughs up that she's watching the film Fatal Attraction. Loyal readers will remember I once had a rabbit called Finley. He had a mate called Thumper who was well known for acting roles in Winnie the Pooh and Watership Down. He was spotted by a Hollywood scout in the latter movie and was snapped up for a cameo role in Fatal Attraction. Finley said he'd not seen Thumper since his Hollywood debut and had presumed he'd gone all big time in Los Angeles. I hadn't the heart to let the wee man know of Thumper's grisly demise in a pot full of boiling water.

I've managed to come down with a chill after the high jinks of the weekend. I give West Bridgford v Kimberley MW the swerve and suffer Emmerdale Farm in silence. I scour the net looking for a weekend fixture with a difference. I'm intrigued to see what the Hope Valley League in Derbyshire's Peak District has to offer. Gerry the groundhopper from the Onion Bag blog has tipped me the wink of a few good ground visits over the cattle grid. Top of the table Bradwell v Bakewell Town looks a tasty fixture. We could have a stroll around Bakewell, before heading up High Peak and ticking a pub off in the new 2018 Good Pub Guide that Ms Moon very kindly put herself out to buy me last weekend, after an anonymous tip-off from a mystery shopper in Waterstones bookshop in Witney, Oxfordshire.

It's Friday evening and I'm emotionally drained after a tough and demanding week. I had to travel down 'the Smoke again', which is worrying in itself, with the threat of terrorism - a point reinforced with the tragic events taking place at Parsons Green tube station in Fulham, west London. It later unfolds that casualties could have been on a larger scale had the bomb been detonated correctly. We unwind on Friday evening at the splendid Old Volunteer real ale pub. I enjoy a couple of house beers from the Flipside brewery before returning to base.

We've settled in nicely at the new house in residential Carlton. There was a murder six days in, a seven iron away, which unnerved us. The neighbours are pleasant and sociable enough. Our crib is adjacent to a primary school. It's got up my nose that the flipping school alarm keeps going off in the evening and during the night, with no apparent rush from the janitor/caretaker off the Hong Kong Phooey cartoon show, to attend the scene. I snap on Friday evening following half a bottle of Douro Portuguese wine on special offer at Morrisons at £6 a bottle.

Obviously, it's not an emergency, but surely it will give the Nottingham police a break from murders, muggings and stabbings. I punch out 150 to give a friendly police call handler the heads up. She's not too chuffed to hear Sticky's dulcet tones. I'm rudely asked if I've bothered to inform the Headmaster of the reoccurring faulty alarm. After a short, sharp, curt reply I'm accused of being aggressive. They ought to take some public relation lessons off PC Ventriss when he answers the Aidensfield Police Station switchboard, the miserable sods.

I make a strong cup of coffee on Saturday morning, it's not my normal tipple, but once again I'm sleep-deprived. There's time for a couple of toasted slices of Warburtons fruit loaf, before we head out of the door and up to Derbyshire. Les, at Bradwell FC, has very kindly confirmed that the game is on and the pitch is cut

Ms Moon has got Graham Norton on the DAB radio. I feel the red mist rising again. One TV show a week and a three-hour slot on Radio 2 on Saturday morning earns him £0.85m per annum. I could phone the Met Police to complain, but they've got it all on at the minute.

We exit the M1 at junction 28 and head into the Peak District via the A38. The bustling market town of Bakewell is the first pit stop of the day. I've been banging on all week about wolfing down a slice of Bakewell Tart at a local cafe - it doesn't flatter to deceive and is dispatched down the cakehole with consummate ease. Ms Moon has a spending spree at the pastry counter - we'll be living on puff pastry homemade steak and ale pie indefinitely.

The Bulls Head is near to the village green in Foolow. It has a flagstoned bar and Edwardian pictures dotted around the place. We're the youngest folk in here by a country mile. I'm still stuffed from the Bakewell experience so opt for some smoked salmon sandwiches smothered in cream cheese, whilst Ms Moon tucks into jacket potato and chili.

There's a whistle-stop tour of Eyam, the village where the bubonic plague began in 1665, when a flea-infested bundle of cloth arrived at the local tailor from London. It is said that the plague accounted for 260 villagers out of 380 inhabitants.

We park up opposite the AA five-star Samuel Fox Country Inn. I'd kept this one under the radar as I'm not feeling that flush at the minute. Ms Moon can't help clocking it, as it's right next to the ground. Samuel Fox was born in the village and is the inventor of the umbrella frame and the founder of the Stocksbridge steelworks. The views up into the Peaks are a joy to behold. This is the lowest level of football that I've ever blogged. I look forward to the tales of the unexpected - or so I thought.

League leaders Bradwell are warming up - I use the term loosely. The visitors from Bakewell keep the hosts waiting, ambling out of the dressing room at 2pm on the dot. A local wag pipes up "Here they come, bloody Barcelona." I detect some acrimony and cynicism in the air. It's not long before the bitter and spiteful atmosphere clouds the game. Bakewell are sporting an Inter Milan replica strip. They must brew the Bass shandy strong around here as this is lost on our beer-hazed wag. Bradwell take an early lead with a goal out of context with this level of football. A left-footed free-kick clipped into the box is guided expertly home by the forward.

We've been disappointed by a few remarks heard from the substitutes and 'home supporters.' Nothing could have prepared us for the vile, personal unprovoked insult aimed at a guy running the line for Bakewell, who is a member of the management team. "Put your tampon back in mate" shouts a sewer-mouthed sub at the linesman. I would have stepped in, but we're determined to enjoy our afternoon and choose to wander across the other side of the park, away from this moron who has done well to squeeze on the sub's shirt, although I'll guess he'll be sleeping in it.

Bradwell are 2-0 up at the break and appear to be coasting. Their Achilles heel is their ability to fall out with anyone, including their brethren. It's wonderful karma to see Bakewell peg them back to 2-2 and then 3-3. Sadly, for the neutral, they run out of steam with Bradwell snatching victory after sloppy defending from a set piece.

Attendance: 35 Headcount

Man of the Match: Bakewell Tart and Cream.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

North Leigh 5-0 Barnstaple Town

It's 8pm on Saturday 2nd September. I'm leaning with both elbows on the bar, head in hands, trying to get served at the 'World Famous' Trent Bridge Inn, next to Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. It's a Wetherspoons 'professional drinking' establishment. Tonight I'll give it my best shot as Ms Moon and a group of friends celebrate Roberto's (the Italian Stallion) birthday - he's a bigger legend in Nottingham than Robin Hood, because of his tireless, devoted charity work.

The back room is packed to the rafters. What's poppin' fresh? Christ on a bike, I'd totally forgot it's T20 Finals Day at Warwickshire's Edgbaston ground. I hope the Notts lads can get one over irritating Sky presenter Nick Knight, as he has made unnecessary and disparaging remarks about the Outlaws over the years.

Bloody hell, my youngest lad and his cronies have pitched up. They're sinking scoop after scoop and getting a bit raucous as Sticky's favourite, Samit Patel, digs Notts out of a hole. Skipper, Dan Christian, tees off, blasting 24 runs off 8 balls. The Outlaws post a respectable 190.

Harry Gurney (who I have no faith in) finally steps up to the plate after a below average tournament. He silences the Hollis Stand with outstanding figures of 4-17 to bring home the bacon and leave the Birmingham Bears and Sky buffoon Nick Knight with sore heads.

I have a little trot out on Sunday lunchtime around the Castle area of Nottingham, partaking in a few sociable ones in an attempt to blow away the cobwebs.  I knock up the Witton Albion v South Shields blog and post it on a few north-eastern football message boards. I get flamed by the Mariners' fans because I said they were from Newcastle (11 miles away) - one even has the brass neck to call me a 'southern t**t.'

I'm holed up in a Marriott Hotel in Glasgow for two days during the week at a sales conference. It gives me the chance to catch up with some work colleagues. There's over 100 folk in the conferencing suite. During the day we have a 'lucky dip' spot where someone is randomly chosen to go up on stage for 15 minutes to present a strategic account plan to their peers. Need I say more, I'm first out of the hat. It's bloody terrifying. I'd have sunk a Cognac if the chuffing bar had been open. The big boss takes the time out to congratulate me, so I can't have been too bad.

Blimey Charlie, I've put some miles in this week. Friday is spent in Leominster, in deepest Herefordshire. I spend a horrific three hours snarled up in traffic travelling to Oxfordshire for the lads' weekend away ... aka 'golfing holiday.' The M5 is a pig. I rock up at the ranch at 6:30pm. Rich Collier from Oslo and Dave Pilgrim from Manchester are waiting for the Asda van. The rest of the boys are en route from Stanton on-the-Wolds Golf Club after the Keyworth CC Golf Day, which raises vital funds for the Club.

We take a walk up the road to The Woodman Inn in North Leigh, where coincidentally I'm groundhopping tomorrow. The three of us are 'Hank Marvin.' We're met with a sign swinging on the pub door in the gentle breeze which says 'kitchen closed until further notice.' I shout up some ale to soften the blow and engage with a couple of blokes crowded around the bar who've had a few sherbets. A guy asks if I'm from Barnstaple. When I reply I'm from Nottingham he calls me a 'northern monkey.' "That's great" I laugh, "better than a southern t**t.'

The rest of the boys have arrived. We hit the town of Witney where Tory toff David Cameron was MP for 20 years and former Middlesbrough and Oxford United midfielder Robbie Mustoe was born. We tuck into some snap at Good Pub Guide entry the Hollybush on Corn Street. Wetherspoons is given the swerve as the night gets messy.

Poor old Beef's credit card is dropped into a pint pot full of lager as the schoolboy pranks crank up. There's a 'Gincident' in the local kebab shop at the fag end of the night. I would like to say that we're all saved by the long arm of the law as one of 'our lot' keeps the streets of Nottingham safe and sound for a living, sadly it's an epic fail. Pc's Rowan and Ventress off Heartbeat would have mopped up in no time.

I gingerly descend the spiral staircase as the smell of fried bacon and sausages waft in the air.  Five hours kip is not the one. In the light of day, the Grade II listed farmhouse with 8 acres of land and 7 bedrooms looks a beauty. Deer roam the land while bunny rabbits hop in the garden. 'Big Bear Baker' has negotiated a cracking deal as it's £5,000 per week in peak season.

The lads head off golfing despite the adverse weather warning. I head back into Witney as black clouds loom over the market town. First port of call is Waterstones. I love browsing through all the books and then downloading them onto my Kindle. I tip Ms Moon the wink that the 2018 Good Pub Guide has been published.

I take shelter in a shopping centre as the heavens open - the lads will be getting a dousing but will have all the clobber to cope with it. I queue up at a local delicatessen for a spot of lunch, before returning to the aftermath of 'Kebabgate.' I was fully expected the crime scene to be sealed off, with coppers on all fours rummaging around for any incriminating evidence. I nip into The Horseshoes for a swift pint. A local has had a sniff of the barmaid's apron and has his car keys confiscated by a member of the bar staff.

North Leigh FC is only five minutes up the road. I drive up a track that turns into woodland. I come out into a clearing. An old, in disrepair green-painted clubhouse, is perched on top of a slope. Music blares out of a large marquee where a wedding reception is taking place.

It's £10 on the gate for entry, programme and raffle ticket. Today's visitors Barnstaple have made a 320-mile round trip. Heavens to Betsy, what a beautiful ground we have here. It's lined with trees and has quirky features. I take a pew in the George Hazell Stand as rain hammers down onto the green corrugated roof. Neither team has taken a point from four games. It has a whiff of a 0-0 about it.

I'd already been pre-warned in the boozer last night about the idiosyncrasies of North Leigh manager John Brough. The Ilkeston-born defender was at the Pies as a kid before making over 250 appearances for Cheltenham, Shrewsbury and Newport. His voice bellows around the ground. "You two, that's shite" he roars at his hapless defence.

Somehow, despite his negativity and vitriol, North Leigh build their confidence. By the break they are 2-0 up following some haphazard defending and Kamikaze refereeing. As I come out of the toilet I overhear Barnstaple's manager's team-talk. He reckons they can still win the game despite being unable to hit a cow's arse with a banjo - not on your Nelly son.

There's a pleasant surprise in store for Sticky P on a facebook notification. Ms Moon has only gone down town and bagged the new pub guide - if Carlsberg did girlfriends.

There's a commotion at the break as Baxter the cockapoo has escaped his leash. I chance upon the little monkey destroying a plastic cup that has blown its way from the stand. I hear a committee member complain incessantly about the referee charging £111 match fee including expenses. He has a point though as the blithering idiots at the FA have deployed him from out of Tamworth.

North Leigh run riot in the second half. If it wasn't for the visitor's 'keeper it would have been double figures. John Brough still isn't satisfied. He appears angst and agitated - having a set to with the Barnstaple 6 jacket who looks to double up as a Devon nightclub doorman.

It's all handshakes at the final whistle as the insults are forgotten and an enjoyable afternoon comes to an end.

Attendance: 59

Man of the Match: Big Bear Baker