Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bingham Town 3-2 Wollaton FC

Postman Pat drops a letter on the door mat. It's from the Liverpool Victoria life insurance people. 'Hattie Jacques', the nurse, popped round the other week to take my bloods and check my well-being. I casually open the letter. I'm shocked to read that four of my blood counts are out of range - bloody hell, I was a Ginvalid in Nerja, Southern Spain for the previous 10 days. Panic sets in, as I make an appointment to see my doctor at Keyworth Medical Practice.

Two weeks later and I'm driving in the car, stressed out with work, the imminent house move and Lincoln City not having won again. My phone goes off. It's Dr Hamilton - no relation to the DJ and Fulham PA announcer 'Diddy David' or Formula One racing car driver Lewis - on the blower. My stomach begins to wrench. What if it's bad news? "Mr Palmer, your bloods are good, in fact they are excellent." Those buffoons at LV have put me through the mill. I thought I was in 'God's waiting room.' They can shove their life insurance right where the sun doesn't shine.

We get the green light for the house move; thank chuff for that. I manage to squeeze in a couple of games in between packing boxes. Radford's 'On-call Arena', on Selhurst Street, in inner city Nottingham, is my first port of call on Tuesday evening for an FA Cup replay. Boston Town, from Lincolnshire, are the visitors.

I stick the car in Asda, on Radford Road. It should be good for two hours before being clamped. I manage a brief chat with Radford's 'Director of Football', 'Big Glenn.' I'm a proper Jonah when it comes to watching the Pheasants. I think I've seen them win once in ten outings over the last few seasons.

I hook up with Mr and Mrs John Harris who have served Priory Celtic FC, in Eastwood, so well over the years. The game ebbs and flows, but has an undercurrent throughout. It ends like a Greek tragedy for the big man as Radford lose out 4-3 on penalties. I love Radford and I'm gutted for all involved.  I daren't look Glenn in the eye as I exit the ground at 10:30 pm - the £1,500 prize-winning money is a lifeline for clubs like Radford. I peg it across the road to make sure those Bolts at Asda haven't put down the barriers and locked me in.

There's less to talk about on Wednesday evening as 'The Taxman' and I speed down the A46 to Lincoln United's wonderful, tree-lined Ashby Avenue. The game is a damp squib and ends up 0-0. I like both managers - Sam Wilkinson and Jimmy Dean. I'm particularly chuffed for Peterborough Sports gaffer, Jimmy Dean, as I know he'll be made up to come away with a point, thanks to his 'walking wounded.'

It's Saturday morning, 4am. I'm bolt upright in bed, playing on my phone. The good news on twitter is that Mastermind champion, Justin Moorhouse (from Phoenix Nights - couldn't scrub Tiger face paint off him) is playing Nottingham's Glee Club in October. I tweet my mate 'Dafty' at Dawn to let him know.

I cannot describe the feeling of excitement and joy at buying our first house together. There's only one part of the jigsaw missing. He comes hurtling around the corner in his 7.5 tonne van on two wheels, before performing a three-point turn on burning rubber in the cul-de-sac. White Van Man and his sidekick 'Rim' are done and dusted in just a few hours - they are different class. Contact me for a reference.

Some may say it's a little inconsiderate and selfish to still 'get a game in' on house move day. Ms Moon encourages this, as I've put a shift in over the last few months to hasten the move. My solicitor has been a joke. As Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet once said: "Communication let me down."

I unpack a few boxes and hack down the garden. The TV guys from Currys are fitting a new TV to a stand, as I slip out the door and head out towards the town of Bingham. I'm familiar with the place as I had swimming lessons here as a kid at Toothill School, as well as a few scoops in the local inns and bars - not when I was 8 years old.  I remember once finishing a cricket game for the Millers at 9:45 pm following a rain delay.

I park just off the main square, opposite the Butter Cross, a Wetherspoons 'professional drinking establishment we visited a few weeks ago on our journey back from Bedford Town. I wander across the cobbled streets towards The Wheatsheaf on Long Acre. I'm just enjoying a pint of American Pale Ale from the North Riding Brewery, up in Scarborough, when my mobile goes off. I fish it out of my pocket. A distressed Ms.Moon is reporting that the new TV has dropped down the bracket.

Those pair of muppet TV engineers are re-directed back to 'Ours' following a brief Sticky Palms head loss on the phone in the pub back garden. Rain is bouncing off the windscreen as I pull up the track leading to Butt Playing Field - is it me; or does it just doesn't sound right.

I bump into JK jnr who is a big cheese at Bingham Cricket Club - they've been rolled out for just 29 runs. The football match will be played on a temporary roped-off pitch on the far side of the complex.

The ground is on the Bingham to Nottingham railway line - it's the main characteristic of the place. I coached a couple of Keyworth teams at a good level, but never came across Bingham Town. I always found it strange that better players in the area pitched up at the small village of Aslockton just down the A52.

Wollaton FC are today's visitors - they filmed the Batman movie The Dark Knight at Wollaton Hall, only a short distance from their ground. The Notts Senior League is still 'the best League in the World' - you are guaranteed goals and quality banter.

The visitor's manager is a gruff Scotsman. He resembles Bill Shankly, apart from the black-rimmed spectacles he's sporting. Those same glasses are offered to a linesman when a decision doesn't go 'Bill's' way.

A wind-assisted Wollaton are the more creative side in the first 45 minutes, but fail to take their chances. Just before half-time Bingham striker, Tom Spencer, lifts a beautifully-executed free-kick over the wall and into the top corner of the net to give Bingham the lead. Non-League dog, 'Ruby', the Golden Retriever, wags her tail in delight

I scroll down the live scores at the break. The feel-good factor continues in our fantastic city - the Tricky Trees and Pies are 'one and two to the good' as retired local radio commentator Colin Slater used to say. The Pies' owner, 'Big Alan Hardy' will be beaming from ear to ear. What a shrewd appointment Kevin Nolan is turning out to be.

The second half is to die for - this League just never lets you down. Bingham's talisman, Tom Spencer, scores a pearler with his left foot. I remember the kid as a youngster, when he was in Leicester City's Academy - he's your thinking man's footballer. Bingham go 3-0 up and look home and dry.

The visitors have other ideas. They claw two goals back and take a grip on the game. Bingham survive a late onslaught to bag a deserved victory. As Bill Shankly once said: "Football's not a matter of life and death - and it's more important than a house move."

Attendance: 41

Men of the Match: White Van Man and Rim.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Clitheroe 2-0 Droylsden

I've kicked my solicitor's arse. I've kicked the vendor's solicitor's arse. I've kicked Benson's Beds up the arse. Any arse getting in the way of our house move has seen a size 11 black and white Adidas Samba right boot heading in the direction of their ass.

It was set to be an easy peasy, up sticks house move - they never are though. Three months down the line Jack diddly squat has happened - it has dimmed my view of conveyance solicitors. Mine has been particularly, curt, rude and incompetent.

It's Friday afternoon. I hear another email winging its way into my inbox. I nearly choke on my green tea - yes I'm on that stupid diet still. The email reads: "Contracts exchanged. Completion 18th August."  Hell's Bells. Heavens to Betsy. Holy Moly. I can't even celebrate with a tipple or two, as I only allow myself a scoop on Saturdays and Sundays.

I've had a football bonanza this week. I was all set for Radford FC v Boston Town in an FA Cup replay.  A good hosing down in inner city Nottingham on Tuesday puts paid to that. I follow Notts County's exit out of the Carabao Cup at a soaking wet Scunthorpe United. The penalty shoot-out on twitter is agonising to scroll through - it's worse than Ceefax used to be.

Wednesday evening is spent in the idyllic surroundings of Quorn in Leicestershire. Retford Town from north Notts are the visitors. I'm accompanied by The Taxman and 'The Italian Stallion' - fresh from two weeks in the Canary Islands. Quorn have installed a 3G playing surface; which is a real shame, as their grass pitch was a belter. 'Rammers' strolls by. He's suited and booted in Kettering Town merchandise. The genial Geordie talks at 100 mph. A startled Taxman looks as if he needs an interpreter. Quorn run out 3-0 winners and pick up £1,500 prize money.

It's Friday evening and 'Floodlit Friday.' I'm at my old stomping ground on Keyworth United's Platt Lane, where I coached youth football for 10 years. Hilton Harriers have crossed the cattle grid into Notts. 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' (Sticky junior) is wandering around with a pint of maid's water (lager) in his hand. 'The Skipper' (my youngest) is also on the sidelines. Not a single drop of alcohol has passed his lips since returning from a 7-day bender last Monday in Kavos, in Corfu. I'm surprised he's not been on a drip in the Queens Medical Centre.

 A 21-year-old lad catches my eye, wandering out of the bar. He is the best player I have ever coached. At eight years old he could have walked into any Academy in England. His left foot is as good as his right. He's out the traps like a greyhound. The end product is devastating and sublime. The boy hasn't kicked a ball since he was 18. There's more talent off the pitch than on it. Although a spirited Keyworth claw back a two goal deficit with a breathtaking final 20 minutes.

A load of Central Midlands League big wigs have rocked up - they walk about the joint like The Sopranos. The head of the 'Groundhopping Gestapo' is also in attendance.

I remark to a couple of supporters, as we exit the ground, what an enjoyable game we have witnessed. A bitter Hilton Harriers supporter complains vociferously about playing against '12 men' - the referee was excellent by the way. I wish him a safe journey home back over the cattle grid.

Sticky is going solo today - Ms Moon is at the opticians and hairdressers. On the upside it means I don't have to listen to the cringe-worthy Absolute 80s and their box of six records including Go West, Alexander O'Neal and Whitney Houston - I've sang better in the bath ... whoops!

The Danny Baker phone-in on Five Live is hilarious. Former Everton attacking midfielder Leon Osman is on the 'Sausage Sandwich Game.' Being a proper northern lad Leon prefers brown sauce on his sarnie. 'Colin Murray Meets' is next up. He interviews the grounded Geordie Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick, who tells an amusing anecdote about his Dad, a diehard Toon supporter and season ticket holder, having to support West Ham when they visited St James' Park, with his lad in the Iron starting XI.

I've lined up a pub just a few miles north of Clitheroe, in a picture postcard village called Waddington, up in the Pennines. The Waddington Arms is a little belter. It has stripped pine tables and cushioned bamboo chairs. The friendly staff rustle me up a Cajun chicken sandwich as I neck a pint of Lancaster Blonde. It's on the edge of the Forest of Bowland and has a two-level back terrace, with a neat and tidy tree-sheltered lawn. Ms Moon would love it here; I feel quite sad that she's not here to share it with me. I'll book us in for an overnight stay later in Autumn.

Clitheroe is in the Borough of Ribble Valley, 34 miles north of Manchester in the county of Lancashire, with a population of 15,000. It's most notable landmark is Clitheroe Castle, which is said to be the smallest Norman keep in England. Manufacturing companies in the town include: Hanson Cement, Johnson Matthey (formerly ICI) and Tarmac. The name Clitheroe is said to have come from Anglo Saxon for Rocky Hill.

Clitheroe FC were originally established in 1877 and play their games at the Shawbridge Stadium. They are managed by former Cardiff City, Wigan Athletic and Tranmere Rovers striker Simon Haworth. In 1996 Crystal Palace manager Dave Bassett paid Clitheroe £35,000 for goalkeeper Carlo Nash, who later played for Man City. Sunderland midfielder Duncan Whatmore had a loan spell at the club in 2012. BBC radio comedian Jimmy Clitheroe aka 'The Clitheroe Kid' was born in the town.

Bloody hell, the streets are gridlocked - it's the annual Food Festival, with folk visiting from far and wide. I stick the car on some posh housing estate, before strolling into town and up to the castle. It's a steep old climb. I gasp for air upon reaching the summit. The views across the Lancashire countryside, as the darkening clouds make way for blue skies, are stunning.

I make the descent back into town, fighting my way through the crowds at the 'Food Festival' before parting with £8 on the gate and £1.50 for an absolute cracker of a programme. I snap up a golden goal ticket from a friendly lady. The ground is a pearler and on a side slope. The pitch looks in mint condition to the naked eye. I love the white-washed and grey-stoned cottages that back onto the Shawbridge Lane ground.

The DJ is on flames. We're treated to Bowie, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers. Massive Attack and The Editors. In the North they always raise the bar. I get gassing to a Droylsden fan whose brother plays for the Bloods. He's a quiet, gentle, softly spoken guy with his finger on the pulse of the Manchester Non-League scene. He's proper excited and full-on when the ref blows his whistle to start the game.

I saw Droyslden play a beautiful game last season on two occasions. They won neither and were poor in the final third of the pitch.. A similar pattern emerges today; there's no end product and they don't shift the ball quick enough. Clitheroe take the lead on 23 minutes through big unit Sefton Gonzales, who has played for every club in Lancashire. I rip open my golden goal ticket in anticipation. I grimace at 89 minutes printed on the ticket.

I wander around the ground at half-time and bump into Gip the Collie whose front paws are resting on the wall, eyeing up the ball, as the substitutes toss it off instead of warming up. Gip's not chuffed when the Red Arrows fly across the ground. The Blues increase their lead in the second half, and despite coming under pressure in the final 20 minutes manage to hold firm for an opening season win.

Attendance: 256

Man of the Match: Clitheroe DJ

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thackley AFC 3-4 Harrogate Railway

We've parked up the car on a side street in Crosby, just a few hundred yards away from the turnstile at Marine's wonderful 100-year-old ground. I loved the quirky stand and nooks and crannies behind the goal. The pitch was immaculate;  you could have played bar billiards on it, but the game was as dull as dishwater. This was no fault of Marine, who put a full shift in. I just thought that Blackburn's U23 team were so bloody boring to watch - a bit like England.

It's a short 20-minute drive to Liverpool's Albert Dock. We book a late table in the hotel restaurant, before pegging it up through Liverpool One and heading towards the real ale quarter. We drink Al Fresco at the Fly in the Loaf, on Hardman Street - a former bakery. I down a pint of Okell's pale ale from Douglas, in the Isle of Man. The bar is packed to the rafters, as folk watch another pointless friendly between Hertha Berlin and Liverpool.

The Philharmonic Rooms, with its mosaic-faced counter and stain-glassed main hall, is just up the road. There's a disappointing choice of ales on the bar. We meet up with Ken and Joan from our holiday in Nerja, whiling away time, enjoying a few more scoops in Ye Old Cracke, before retiring for dinner.

After the breakfast, the following morning, we take a stroll up to the Pier Head, before jumping on the Liverpool Wheel. We don't hang about much after lunch as the M6 is bound to be a pig (it was).
I'm sat in the Brewhouse and Kitchen on Trent Bridge, by 3 pm, listening to the standing ovation, the raucous crowd and beer-fuelled chanting coming from Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, as Alex Hales tees off again in the T20.  Notts chase down 223 runs despite Harry Gurney's filthy bowling. Hales tonks four sixes and 14 fours in a 47 ball century. What a stubborn, old fool I am, to sit on a nearby pub patio a stone's throw away, missing out on the occasion.

I attend my first League game of the season on Tuesday evening. Blog favourite, James 'Tosh' Turner, still convalescing after suffering cracked ribs and a broken collarbone, following a Kevin Keegan Superstars fall off his bike, post- Scoopathon, at the Red Hart in Ruddington, is managing the World famous Clifton All Whites away at Belper United in the EMCL. The game is played at Borrowash Victoria's ground - no doubt there are reasons why Belper don't play in their own town anymore. Clifton are relieved to travel home with a point after a  lacklustre performance.  Belper scrap and fight for every ball as if their lives depend on it. On the upside, at least Tosh won't be cycling home down the A52 tonight.

My last visit to The Asterdale, in Borrowash, was on 4th March 2008. That day a 19-year-old forward blew me away. He was playing for Staveley MW, on loan from Sheffield FC. I rang an assistant manager in the Northern Premier League, to tip him the wink, he replied: "if he can't get in Sheffield FC's side, there's no chance of a pick in our team. The boy's name was Lee Gregory - he's been the leading scorer for Championship side Millwall for the last two seasons. He was released by Sheffield Wednesday at 16 years old - as was Jamie Vardy. It's the great thing about Non-League Football; you never know who is going to rock up.

It's Friday tea-time and I've worked my socks off today. I weighed-in this morning following a three-week healthy eating plan. I'm delighted to announce I've lost 10lbs - you can soon start calling me Sticky, again. I wander down Racecourse Road towards the Colwick Hall Hotel. Hello, hello, hello. A police 'Tactical Support Unit' white van passes by full of rozzers. Perhaps I can help them out, after all I've a degree in criminology having watched all 372 episodes of Heartbeat. Ventress and Bellamy have taught me every trick in the book.

I glance through the window and notice a few plod unwrapping tin foil and tucking into their luncheon meat sandwiches. They're all tooled up and ready for 'The Millwall' and the arsenal that is Lee Gregory up top. Heavens to Betsy, I can't get out of the racecourse; all the gates are padlocked. I end up vaulting a metal obstacle before tumbling onto concrete .... ouch.

I get a tweet shout out by Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special at the fag end of the first day's play. They've been babbling on about famous confectionery shops in Blackpool. I pipe up that ex Notts and England 'Bodyline' fast bowler, Harold Larwood, ran a sweet shop in the town when he retired from cricket. Nobody knew that on TMS.

I manage to negotiate the rush hour traffic with ease and I'm parked up outside Heanor Town's ground by 6:50pm. I tuck into pie, chips and mushy peas and enjoy watching the game with legendary 'Bearded Wonder' groundhopper Malc' Storer. Heanor exit the FA Cup with a shock defeat to a plucky Aylestone Park from Leicester - Gary Lineker's old club. On the drive back home 'Radio Red' are saying that the Lions let the Tricky Trees off the hook. 'Dafty says that Lee Gregory wasn't firing on all cylinders.

We love Yorkshire. In groundhopping terms we have absolutely smashed it between Step One and Step Five level. Bradford gets a bad Press, but I'm fascinated about the place. Some of the hills, above, have breathtaking views, and equally importantly, great pubs, serving quality ales and top notch tucker.

Christ on a bike, we're listening to Alan Carr and Mel Sykes on Radio 2. To be honest folks it's not getting any better. They play Stars on 45, a Beatles medley, by some Dutch novelty act. Jesus wept, it's bloody awful - and that's just Ms Moon's high pitched shrill - I double check my mobile that Auto Windscreens are on standby in case the windscreen shatters.

Within a few hours we're parked up at The Hop in the village of Saltaire. It's an old, converted tram shed with a two-tiered bar. I have a 'Swedish Blonde' - she's absolutely gorgeous, as is the fish butty.
Having made good time we pop down to the Salt Mills. Bradford born artist David Hockney has a permanent collection of his work on display. Sir Titus Salt opened the woollen mills in 1853 and built the village of Saltaire to house his workers. He died in 1876. It is said that 100,000 lined the streets for his funeral.

Thackley FC was founded in 1930 by members of the Methodist Church, and is known as "the club in the woods" because of its idyllic setting in the heart of the Bradford countryside. The village is loosely bordered by the village of Idle to the south, where the comic actor Adrian Edmondson grew up.

We park up adjacent to Buck Wood. I can hear Kylie Minogue singing 'I Should Be So Lucky' on the PA as we approach the turnstile and part with £11.50 including a programme. We wander past the red and green painted stand with its white wooden benches. I met a groundhopper last night at Heanor who called the ground unremarkable. What planet are some of these groundhoppers on ? The welcome is warm, the ground tree-lined and the pitch is a labour of love. We fall in love immediately.

Ms Moon scoots off to the Tea Bar for a coffee. I'm stood on the opposite side to the main stand, close to the dugouts. I hear a knock on the gate behind me, that's locked from the inside. I open the door and let in a lady and gentleman, accompanied with a chair. "That'll be £10 please", I joke. Stewart and June Willingham have been involved with the Club since 1970. They make me feel so welcome. June asks me if I enjoyed lunch at The Hop. She has been following me on Twitter  .. lol.

Ms Moon arrives back with coffee in hand and isn't surprised to see I'm already a 'Thackley Groupie.' We're joined by a guy from Worcester who supports Everton and a couple of other regulars. The team news from June is that Thackley have four players missing who are schoolteachers and on holiday - hell's teeth, they're always on holiday.

We're all having a good old chat and getting to know one another. The only thing spoiling the day is the Harrogate Railway manager and his grumpy assistant. They both have voices  like a foghorn. Railway look tense and are told to settle down. The Management play every ball, question every decision and swear like troopers. I should have offered some of my blood pressure capsules to them.

It's 0-0 at the break. I saw two 0-0s in Yorkshire last season; I'm on for a hat-trick as neither side look like breaking the deadlock. The raffle numbers are shouted out. We miss out by three numbers. Last night at Heanor I was one off the 50/50 which was £35 - I'm still cross about that.

The second half is up there in Non-League entertainment that I've ever witnessed in the last 10 years. Thackley take a 2-0 lead. June and I celebrate with a Hello magazine photo shoot as the visitors peg one back. They quickly restore parity, whilst I take a photo of Thackley diehards Jazz and Muphy the Spaniels. They then take the lead with a sublime left foot finish from the edge of the box. 'The Foghorn' pats himself on the back for his double substitution. Thackley greyhound George Eustance equalises. Before we have time to draw breath Luke Stewart, playing on the shoulder, gets away, rounds the keeper and rolls the ball home to put Harrogate RA in the next round with a £1,500 prize-winning goal.

Couple of the match: June and Stewart Willingham. Thank you so much for making our day.

Attendance: 112

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Marine 1-1 Blackburn Rovers XI

It's Saturday 8th July, 6pm, and I'm holed up on the sun-kissed patio of the Ship Inn, in Nerja, Southern Spain. Pauline, the Scottish barmaid, is fussing over me, as she pours another stiff gin 'n tonic. I'm reading the fag end of Red or Dead; it's a fictional masterpiece about the life and times of legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.

A bespectacled gentleman, on the table next to me, is sinking a few pints of San Miguel. His wife joins him and we strike up a conversation. Ken is a Liverpool fan and Joan a Toffee (Everton). Ms Moon, looking a million dollars, crosses the road from the hotel and joins in with the banter. We bid farewell, a few hours later, tears of laughter still streaming down our cheeks, before going our separate ways for dinner. It's our final night; we have a nightcap before turning in, just shy of midnight.

Fast forward the clock, three weeks later, and I'm slouching about on the sofa watching Coronation Street - 'Steve McDonald' is still pulling faces and 'mugging it' for a living. We were meant to be moving house tomorrow. I usually lose my temper twice a year. It's like waiting for bus as two tootle up the High Street together. My solicitor gets the mother of all bollockings, as well some tosspot of a salesman at PC World/ Currys on Castle Marina retail park in Nottingham after offering me a 4% discount on a £1,200 deal. The house move is OFF indefinitely.

I suck up the house delay and contact Ms Moon by text - "weave your magic on, babe, - we're off to Liverpool for the weekend." We've spent more time in Liverpool than the Liver Birds - it's our favourite spot, bar none. It's our Premier Inn debut as 'the Princess' bags a deal including breakfast and evening meal in the glorious surroundings of the Albert Dock. I text Ken and Joan, they're up for a drink in town tomorrow night.

We arrive home, rain-soaked, on Friday evening , after a tea-time tipple in the 'World renowned' Trent Bridge Inn, adjacent to Nottinghamshire Cricket Club. I parked my backside, a few nights ago, in the Larwood and Voce stand, with work colleagues, to watch Notts pit their wits against Worcestershire. Harry Gurney bowled his usual garbage, being dispatched to all parts of the ground (including the A60) by the visiting tail end. It cost the Outlaws dear, despite a valiant effort by young Tom Moores - who will fill the boots of retiring legend Chris Read next season.

I'm awoken at 4am on Saturday by a Messenger ping on my mobile by Little Clem (Brian) who is swinging on a hammock in the Carribean, God bless him, listening to Bob Marley whilst reading my blog. It's great to hear of his loyalty and support of the blog - just not at that time of the morning.

I fill up with petrol in Sneinton and dive into Costa on Colwick Retail Park to refuel with Latte before heading off up to Liverpool. I daren't chance my arm with Test Match Special on 5 Live Sports Extra and I'm not having Absolute 80s - even though Ms Moon loves it (time warp). The compromise is Alan Carr and Mel Sykes on Radio 2 - Christ, I hope there are no roadworks.

Ms Moon has only had one coffee, so there could be fireworks if there are any hold-ups. The journey 'Oop North' is seamless. Blimey Charlie, Formby ain't 'arf posh. The Sparrowhawk is a belter and full of the jet set. The bar staff and management are different class - what a lovely, warm greeting. I quaff a pint of 'Yorkshire Blonde' from the Ossett Brewery.

Roy Keane would be cross as we gnaw our way through a 'prawn sandwich' (on granary bread) There's no sign of Jimmy Tarbuck, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen - they're probably teeing off at Royal Birkdale as we speak.

Ms Moon is piloting. Paul Young is belting out 'Come Back and Stay' on the radio. I had a teenage crush on one of his backing singers - it was like Abba - everyone fancied the blonde, but I always took a liking to Anni-Frid - and she could sing. My Uncle Tony interviewed her once for the Daily Express and said she was great fun.

The beach is amazing at Crosby - a hidden gem, with the sculptures by Antony Gormley, fully clothed and out at sea. Crosby is a coastal town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton in Merseyside. It has a population of over 50,000 and is twinned with the island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples, where the Lancashire singer Gracie Fields died in 1979. Notable folk to have been born in Crosby or grown up there include: Cherie Blair, Anne Robinson (a friend of my late father,) Robert Runcie and Kenny Everett.

Marine FC were founded in 1894. Marine are well known for having the longest serving post war manager in English football, Roly Howard, who held the post from 1972 - 2005, a total of 1,975 games. Former Republic of Ireland international and ex Liverpool player Jason McAteer began his career at the club. Neil Ruddock told an amusing anecdote about McAteer when he was once applying for a credit card. The form asked what position he held at the company, McAteer wrote down 'Right Back.'

We park up on a side street close to the ground. I'm so excited (sad I know) but I have wanted to visit this ground for years and years, and to share this with someone with my passion.  We pay £5 on the gate. I'm gobsmacked as the ground opens up on our arrival down a tight Snicket. It reminds me of Scarborough Cricket Club - shoehorned in between terraced housing backing onto the ground.

We plonk ourselves on the far terracing with the sun on our backs. I've worked in Academy football long enough to know how Blackburn will approach the game. They play with fear, safety and without risk - I'm not sure what blueprint English football is copying right now - we've tried the lot - maybe it's Italian football, but Ms Moon is complaining (and quite rightly so) about its lack of competitive edge.

Thank the Lord that Marine are up for it. They attack, attack and attack. Rovers are all over the show. The goal has been coming after a sea of forward footy - you can only defend so many crosses. The move is beautiful and the finish sublime. Blackburn are your stereotypical under 23 team - they are unimaginative, boring and lack creation - it's no excuse for being young. They look at coach David Dunn for approval and a thumbs-up - neither are forthcoming.

I queue at The Galley for coffee and Lucozade at the break. It's a wonderful room full of old photos and memorabilia. Blackburn pull a goal back with a scruffy equaliser and even manage to fluff a penalty, before the game fades out.

Man of the Match: Little Clem

Attendance: 334

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Rothwell Corinthians 0-3 Soham Town Rangers

It's Tuesday 11th July and way past my bedtime. I'm slouching on the sofa, channel hopping. I chance upon a real-life drama on BBC One called 'Murdered For Being Different.' It's a true account of the brutal and senseless murder of 20-year-old Goth, Sophie Lancaster, who was walking through Stubbylee Park, in Bacup, Lancashire, with her boyfriend Robert, when they were attacked by a gang of youths. It's a brilliant, heartbreaking screenplay which leaves a lump in my throat and tear in my eye.

A few scenes are filmed at the local football club, Bacup Borough, which I had hoped to visit this season. It looks a beautiful ground with sweeping views of the Pennines. I notice they are at home versus Hoddesdon Town from Hertfordshire on July 22nd. It seems an odd fixture, as it's a 450 mile round trip for the visitors - unless they're up for a night in Blackpool after the game. I fancy the trip so I can pay my respects to Sophie Lancaster. I'm gutted to read, the following week, that the Bacup v Hoddesdon is OFF, 'due to circumstances out of their (Hoddesdon's) control.' I reach out for the Non-League paper to peruse for another fixture. We'll be up at Bacup before rain sets in for winter.

I'm back into the swing of things after the sojourn to Nerja. I have a scoop on Sunday lunchtime with Clifton All-Whites legendary manager James 'Tosh' Turner at the Brewhouse and Kitchen, situated on the banks of the River Trent in 'North Bridgford.' Tosh is convalescing after being unseated from his bicycle recently - it was reminiscent of Kevin Keegan's crash in Superstars. I view his NSL champions on Tuesday evening at Green Lane as they give a youthful Heanor Town a good hiding. I also bump into Roberto and 'Swiss Tony.'

Notts County entertain Nottingham Forest at Meadow Lane on Wednesday evening. There's a feel-good-factor on both sides of the river, with sensible business plans in place after tumultuous times under Ray Trew and Fawaz Al Hasawi. Tricky Tree manager, Mark Warburton, is recruiting heavily from North of the border, having spent two seasons at Rangers. Recent signing, Jason Cummings, from Hibernian, is skew-whiff with his shooting. Most of his efforts are fished out of the nearby Nottingham Canal. Forest's class finally tells as they run out 2-0 winners.

Thursday is spent in West Bromwich, followed by an overnight stay in a Premier Inn on a soulless industrial estate on the outskirts of Malvern, where the composer Edward Elgar was born. Did you know he was a Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter, and wrote 'Land of Hope and Glory?'

I'm fagged out by the time I pitch up back in Colwick at Friday tea-time after a testing journey from Leominster, Herefordshire. I was set fair for a trip to Trent Bridge where Notts and Derbyshire are teeing off at 6:30pm in the T20. We decide on a quiet couple of drinky poos at Lilly Langtry's and the Orange Tree, close to Nottingham Trent University, before retiring to bed.

Ms Moon has been banging on and on and on about a car boot sale this Sunday across the road at Nottingham Racecourse. You'll never see me or involve 'Fat Lad' Sticky Palms at one of those gigs. The good lady misses the team bus to Rothwell as she prepares her heap of junk. We manage to shoehorn time in for breakfast before my departure. I park up in West Bridgford Library. We walk hand in hand down 'The Avenue' before diving into Gusto (the artist previously known as the Monkey Tree).

I'm a 'North Bridgford' lad, so don't enjoy being on enemy territory. I'm not a big fan of West Bridgford and its pomp and ceremony. There's not a decent pub on the strip (the glorious Stratford Haven is on a side road, cast aside like the black sheep of the family. We eat Al Fresco, basking in the late morning sunshine at a prime people-watching spot. Ms Moon has a full English, whilst Sticky throws himself into West Bridgford pretentious mode with eggs Benedict Florentine .... (in North Bridgford we call it poached eggs on toast with a tin of spinach). We skidaddle before Bridgford folk rock up with kids called Tarquin, Darcy and Rupert.

I knock up a Chilli in the kitchen whilst listening to Colin Murray interview former Newcastle United flying winger hellraiser Keith Gillespie. By the time I jump into the car the brilliant John Inverdale (Lincoln City fan) is broadcasting from the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale in Southport. I'm rooting for Jordan Spieth after having a life-changing 50p double bet on him winning The Open and Chris 'n 'Liv being crowned King and Queen on Love Island. Rory McIlroy is out on the course after an early tee-off time - it's good to see he hasn't overlaid.

Five Live suddenly switch attention to the Tour De France. I'm not listening to that rubbish - British cycling is under scrutiny for doping, cheating and bullying. It gets worse, Radio 2 are playing Sunny by TLC; it's not a patch on Boney M's version.

I open up the Ford Mondeo Titanium on the M1 before exiting down the A14. I've picked out a thatched-roofed pub in the sleepy village of Harrington. The Tollemarche Arms doesn't flatter to deceive. The place is packed to the rafters as there is a beer festival on. I grab a pint of Hot Dog IPA, but swerve the goat burgers that are sizzling on the BBQ.

Jesus wept, it's almost impossible to park at Rothwell Corinthians ground. After circumnavigating the joint for 15 minutes, I roll into the local cricket club. A left arm bowler is steaming into bowl as I get out of the car. He clocks the non-striking batsman is too far up the wicket and whips off the bails before he has bowled. The umpire issues a warning; blimey it's feisty.

I get chatting to a lovely old fella who used to help former Leicester City and Notts County defender Nicky Platenauer when he was manager at the now defunct Rothwell Town. I mention I'm going to football and can't find a parking space. The guy very kindly points me in the direction of his house and tells me to park behind his car.

I walk up a slabbed pathway and pay £3 on the gate to a cheery chap. The ground is later described by a supporter as 'work in progress.' The clubhouse is behind the nearest goal with red-painted stands and white tip up seats on both sides of the ground.

Black clouds are looming as I position myself next to the Soham dugout. The pitch has bare patches down both flanks, where the surface looks bumpy. Soham are in control from the first whistle. Their players look leaner, trimmer and more athletic - they play a league above.

After a few close shaves they take the lead with a wonderful move that is finished with a daisy cutter into the bottom right-hand corner from 'Browny.'  The 'Magic Moment' of the first half is on the half hour. An alehouse clearance from a Rothwell defender is heading in Sticky's direction, I dangle out my size 10  black £39.99 Dolcis right shoe and coolly cushion the ball back into play. It will be etched, forever, in the memory of the 39 folk who have bothered to turn up.

I hook up with Bertie the Shihtzu Poodle at the break; he's soaking wet and not happy with Rothwell's performance. I'm allowed a photo for @nonleaguedogs, but not without the odd growl or two.
Soham turn up the gas in the second half, bagging a further two goals before the final whistle.

Attendance: 39

Man of the Match: Bertie

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bedford Town 2-2 Dagenham and Redbridge

I shake my head in disbelief. "Chuffing hell love, are you sure you've read that right?" I'm stood on the scales in the lounge, being weighed in by a nurse (Hattie Jacques) representing Liverpool Victoria insurance company. "How can I be called Sticky when I weigh that much ? I'll be giving Leicester-born world-breaking fat lad, Daniel Lambert, a run for his money at this rate."

I shoo the nurse out of the front door along with her 'dodgy' pair of weighing scales. I've hit over 14 stone for the first time in my real ale drinking career. An action plan is drawn up. First port of call is the salad section at Morrisons supermarket in Netherfield (I'm going to work here one day). I clock up the points on the More card with a trolley full of veg and fruit - there's not a whiff of a bottle of Goose Island or Rioja.

We've just spent 10 nights in Nerja, in Southern Spain, close to Malaga (of course I visited the footy ground). Half board at the hotel, an ice cream van stationed outside the back gate, a selection of gins and copious amounts of red wine have seen me stack on some timber. Tales of real ale pubs and brie and bacon ciabattas are going to be few and far between in the coming weeks, until the obesity issue is addressed.

It's Friday lunchtime and I've just nipped out to Wilford Industrial Estate. White Van Man rolls up the shutter door. Christ, even he looks trimmer than me, after camping out at the gym in the last few weeks. He throws some empty boxes into the boot of my car. I've booked him in for our house move in a few weeks' time to Carlton, just a few miles outside Nottingham city centre.

As I drive home, past a jam-packed Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, where England and South Africa are playing the morning session of the 2nd Test, 'Ask the Umpire' is on Test Match Special on the radio. Ex umpire, John Holder, is telling the tale of when 6' 7" West Indian Test bowler Curtly Ambrose came steaming into bowl at Nottinghamshire's Derek Randall in a County game. Ambrose loses control of the ball and it loops high up into the air, dropping dead at short leg. Randall seeing the chance of an easy four runs, tees up the ball and smacks it over the boundary rope. Ambrose continues his follow-through and is by now towering over Randall sucking through his teeth. Randall shouts down the pitch to the umpire "Merv, I don't want those runs, can you cancel them please" .. lol.

I have some tea with the 'Nuclear Scientist' at the Gamston Lock, a Marston's pub on the outskirts of West Bridgford. I shoot over to the New Field of Dreams (Keyworth Cricket Club) where the kids and women's teams are practising their skills. There's time for a catch up with 'Big Bear Bobby' and the 'Mayor of London' before turning in for an early night.

After a restless night's sleep, which I can't blame on alcohol, as I only had a small bottle of Dead Pony IPA, I rise at 8:30am and drive up to the Kosovan car wash on London Road. A steady stream of cricket fans, looking forward to a hearty breakfast, are already heading towards Trent Bridge for the second day's play.

The Kosovan 'Director of Car Washing' is in a vile mood. He's bollocking the lads up hill and down dale for leaving dirty marks and smears on some of the cars. I tip him a couple of quid and make a sharp exit. I manage a brisk walk around Colwick Country Park. Runners are warming down and walking back to their vehicles, having just completed the 5km Park Run.

We set off for Bedford at 11:15am. A slightly delicate Ms Moon is riding shotgun, still feeling the after effects of a session on Prosecco with her pal Jill. I chance my arm and tune into Test Match Special. 'Aggers' is waxing lyrical about how he walked his dogs in the Vale of Belvoir this morning in wall to wall sunshine. Ms Moon has got the face on because TMS is on the radio. I have to compromise and switch to Alan Carr and Mel Sykes on Radio 2. Carr is always good for an anecdote or two about his Dad, Graham, who was once manager at Northampton Town and chief scout at Man City and Newcastle Utd.

Sat Nav takes us around some back roads, as the A1 has tailbacks after the A14. We're soon tootling up to The Green in Cardington, finally parking up at the Kings Arms. It's a lime and soda for 'Fat Lad' (the artist formally known as Sticky Palms). The real ales on show were rank, anyway - and so was the waiter, with one calamity after another. Cutlery is thrown at us and there's a five-minute delay for condiments.

Bedford's ground, is out of town, but just around the corner from the pub. It was once where the Charles Wells Brewery was situated; the wrought iron gates are still there, a sad-faced steward tells me.

 Bedford is a town with a population of 80,000 and lies on the River Ouse. It's well known for its large Italian descent. Notable people from Bedford include: Olympic 100 metre champion Harold Abrahams, ex England rugby player Martin Bayfield, Peterborough United head honcho Barry Fry, comedian Ronnie Barker, actor John Le Mesurier and TV personality Carol Vorderman. Former England cricket captain Alastair Cook, a gifted musician, was awarded a scholarship at Bedford School, where he honed his cricket skills. Bedford Town, founded in 1889, and nicknamed the Eagles, play at the Eyrie.

It's £7 a pop on the turnstile. I'm told they don't issue programmes for friendlies. Was that the case last Saturday when neighbours Luton Town were the visitors? I have a moan in the club shop, nobody seems particularly interested.

We chance upon a gem on our customary stroll around the ground. It's without doubt the best Tea Hut I've visited in 10 years of groundhopping. An elderly lady is front of house at the supporters' run tea bar. There's a large selection of homemade cakes ranging from scones to cookies. It's just my luck I'm on healthy eating. Ms Moon is hanging her nose over the cheese scones at 30p per pop. "Can we have two please, love"  ... doh!

The ground is pleasant enough, with a tree-lined backdrop. We sit in the nearest side stand. I notice Dagenham and Redbridge legendary manager John Still emerge from the dressing room and park himself in the stand further up the touchline.

There's an emotional announcement on the PA of the passing of club stalwart Paul Searing. The guy on the microphone appears upset and choked at the sad loss of their friend and colleague.

The Eagles start the game well, looking sharp and direct. They take the lead following a fast flowing move through their pacey, impressive forward Ben Sawyer. The Daggers fight back. Hawkins sees an effort bounce off the foot of the post. Another effort crashes off the crossbar. The balding Jake Howells in the Daggers midfield is bossing the game.

John Still conducts his half-time team talk on the pitch with Bedford returning to the inner sanctum of the dressing room. The Daggers make nine changes. Sawyer puts Bedford 2-0 up with another smart finish. 

We poke our head back into the tea bar at the break and shell out another 30p on a cheese scone, which I break in half and share with Ms Moon - don't tell 'Hattie Jacques.'

The visitors begin to make inroads down the flanks. They pull a goal back, with the inevitable equaliser coming ten minutes later with Bedford tiring and on the ropes.

Man of the Match: Jake Howells

Attendance: 111

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nottingham Vets 10- 4 Cambridge Vets

It's Tuesday May 23rd and just after dawn. I'm woken from a deep sleep by Ms Moon who has just come out of the bathroom: "Babe, something awful has happened in Manchester, I thought you'd want to know." I sit bolt upright in bed and press the BBC News app. I'm updated on the sickening atrocity that has taken place in the foyer of the Manchester Arena. A terrorist has detonated a shrapnel-laden bomb as parents and children exit the arena. 22 are dead, 119 injured - 23 critically.

Like most people, I'm barely able to function at work, as I think about the poor folk involved and the loss and maiming of their family and friends. Fundraising is immediately set up, but I'm at a loss at how I can help. Manchester is a city that both Ms Moon and I are very fond of.

I know a guy called Roberto Pietraforte. He is a big cheese, with legendary status to match Robin Hood on the local football scene. He has managed more clubs than Gary Megson. If you scroll down his Wikipedia page with your mouse looking at the clubs he's been involved with, your index finger will get repetitive strain injury (only joking Roberto). What I love about the guy is that he's never been in it for the success, kudos and win at all costs mentality of some I could mention. He just loves the beautiful game and mentoring folk who haven't had the easiest start in life.

Roberto's AC Wollaton Facebook charity page has caught my attention. For some time now his teams have raised money for kids with cancer. People pay for the right to wear the shirt of his team. The Italian Stallion announces he's going to raise money for the victims of the Manchester Bombing. Count me in pal.

It's Friday evening and to be honest folks I'm flagging. I stayed up the previous night until after 3am watching the General Election results. Mrs O'May is going cap in hand to the DUP in Northern Ireland to form a coalition - with rumours she'll be attending the World Cup qualifier away to Azerbaijan. I'm still stewing that Mansfield have voted Conservatives in - the mining families have very short memories in that neck of the woods.

I meet Ms Moon in a Wetherspoons professional drinking environment next to Notts cricket ground, called the Trent Bridge Inn. We have a swift pint, before I cross the river into The Embankment beer garden for a quick scoop or two. It's lights out at 10pm as I'm fagged out from the night before.

Ms Moon is off to the Cotswolds for the weekend for a family get together and to watch her sister play cello in a quartet. Sticky Palms is champing at the bit for a full-on day. It's bloody mayhem where we live, close to Nottingham Racecourse - the Detonate Festival is on. A couple of years ago at the fag end of the festival, I was at a cashpoint on Daleside Road where I found a youth dressed up as a banana splayed out on the garage forecourt. He was that sozzled that he couldn't stand up, and kept slipping on his banana skin.

I'm driving up to Copper on Mapperley Tops for breakfast. I get stuck behind a Honda Civic with a Chesterfield scarf draped across the rear window. The private number plate is MO55 E. It's in honour of prolific ex Spireites striker Ernie Moss, who sadly now is suffering from Pick's Disease, a rare form of dementia, possibly caused by heading a football repeatedly.

I wolf down a full English accompanied with a pot of lemon tea. I clock Liverpool youth footballer, 16-year-old Jack Bearne, having some breakfast with his mum. He recently signed for Liverpool from Notts County for £150,000, plus add-ons.

Roberto is Italian bred so he's bound to have lined-up some ice cream vans and some wood-fired pizzas for the lads. He'll be sporting a sharp, slim-fit Armani suit that he can prowl the touchline in.

I make the short trip across town to the Forest Recreation Ground on Gregory Boulevard. I stumble across joint managers Roberto and Ian Lowe poring over team selection scribbled out on some fish and chip paper on a car bonnet - blimey Charlie, they're taking it seriously.

I'd expected Cambridge to have arrived by boat and jumped on a tram. Disappointingly they've rocked up in a minibus. Rumours are quashed that Dion Dublin is in the visitors' line-up. They do cough up that a former Cameroon international is in their ranks. It's no problem if it's Roger Milla, as he's definitely over 35 years old.

There's an unexpected invitation for Sticky Palms into the inner sanctum of the home dressing room. Roberto has an initiation ceremony for the new boys. They belt out the Madness classic 'It Must Be Love.' I have to pick the two worst singers. The lads are egging me on to pick 'Lenchy' - his mate 'Mushy' isn't much better either. They end up with a game of 'Play Your Cards Right' which concludes with most folk getting pied with shaving foam, with poor old Roberto bearing the brunt of it. It reminds me of Tiswas.

Roberto delivers a powerful, passionate emotional and misty-eyed speech, despite being lathered in shaving foam. I tell you something, had it been Roberto in the dressing room at half-time in Japan 2002 and not Sven, when England played 10 man Brazil, I reckon we'd have gone on to win the game

'Wingy' stands up and says on behalf on the lads that Roberto should take pride and recognition for his continuous efforts in raising monies for the less fortunate. I can see one or two of the lads welling up. It's a moving moment for all of us in the room. Well done 'Wingy.' The boys worship Roberto, who's too selfless to realise this. They hang on to his every word.

'Micky Flanagan' (Rocky) is in the AC team. I'm gutted that he doesn't do a short stand-up routine to settle the boys' nerves down. Some of the donations by the lads warm the cockles of your heart. Carl Regan chucks in £50 and two free MOT's for the man of the match. A guy who runs a pub on Mapperley Tops hands over £350 raised by his customers. The boys pass over £20 notes, Roberto asks them if they want £10 back, every single one of them, to a man, declines.

I've totally forgotten that I've a football match to write about, as the pre-match amble has taken over events. Referee Jevon Swinscoe has kindly given his services for free. The lads on both sides don't give him an ounce of bother.

I'm not going to describe each goal in detail, because if I'm honest I'm chinwagging too much. Radford 'Director of Football' Big Glenn Russell has chucked money in the pot. He wants to discuss all the new players he's signed on. I tell him I haven't got two hours free - he's filled out more registration forms than Barry Fry.

John Manders looks lively up top for AC. I used to rate him when he played for Radford. A sun-tanned Carter and bearded Vipond boss the midfield, whilst the 'Clifton Colossus' David Hawkes has a cigar on in the centre of a back three. AC have a stranglehold on the game as the goals begin to flow. Manders, McDermott (not Terry) have bagged a few already.

Cambridge are still on the 'team boat' as AC charity swarm all over them. They sneak on a paperboy in the second game, who helps himself to a hat-trick. It would have been more had it not been for some smart low-down saves from 'Big Sam Ralph.'

The goal of the game is in the second match, with Cambridge blowing out their asses. 'Wingy' is a bag of tricks down the left-hand side, he delivers a pearler of a cross with the sweetest of left foots, which is headed home by Manders (I think ?). Roberto strips off and comes on in a cameo role for the final five minutes, showing a few flicks and tricks down the left wing

I've been tasked with looking after the charity money. I've got close-on a 'Grand' in my pocket. I decide to walk down Gregory Boulevard to the Grosvenor for post-match drinks and a chip butty. Hell's teeth, it's a bit tasty around here, I'm ripe for picking.

It's a relief to reach the pub. Roberto's pleased to see me as he thought I'd done an Arthur Fowler and waltzed off with all the lolly.. If this guy doesn't win BBC Unsung Hero for Nottingham later in the year, then I'll eat my Spanish hat.

Man of the Match: Roberto