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