Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ipswich Town 2-2 Lincoln City

It's Monday evening on December 5th and I'm holed up in a hotel bar in Warrington supping a pint of San Miguel. We crowd around my work colleague's iPad for the FA Cup 3rd Round draw. I'm a bundle of nerves. The balls are emptied from the famous purple velvet bag. Ipswich Town are first out of the hat - I wouldn't mind a day out there, it would be League ground No.80 for me. I nearly fall off my bar stool as Lincoln or Oldham are shouted out next.

Later in the evening I'm constantly checking 'Live Scores' at the dinner table, as Lincoln storm into a three-goal lead in a pea-souper of a fog at Sincil Bank. There's a late rally from the Latics as they claw back a couple of consolation goals. It's all in vain - Portman Road here we come.

Fast forward the clock to Christmas Day morning. Ms Moon hands me over a white envelope. I'm nearly in bits when I pull out a ticket for the 'Big One' in Ipswich. I give her a big hug and race down the stairs to share the news with Murphy my yellow and green budgie - he doesn't care too much for the 'Tractor Boys' - he's a Norwich fan.

I can't sleep the night before the game. Even though I'm 52 years old, I'm just too excited and anxious about the match. I down a coffee and have a couple of slices of toasted fruit loaf, in the morning, before leaving Ms Moon curled up on the sofa watching another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore -  Claude Greengrass has been nicked again for selling-on stolen goods. Blaketon's going to throw the book at him. Murphy asks who will look after Alfred the mongrel ?

I fill up with petrol on Meadow Lane, close to Notts County's ground. Tim Rice is still sitting in for Brian Matthew on Radio 2 - we hope Brian gets better soon as he doesn't half knock out some belting tunes.

I jump on the A1 at Grantham and head south towards the A14. There's a procession of cars with red and white scarves hanging out of the back windows, fluttering in the wind. Graham Norton is getting on my wick. I slip on Tom O'Dell's latest CD. Tom and I are singing so loud that 'we' manage to miss the junction 54 exit on the A14. I'm soon parked up a stone's throw away from Portman Road.

For the record, I was born in Lincoln in 1964. My father was a journalist for the Daily Mirror which is the reason why we moved to Nottingham in 1969 as he was appointed East Midlands correspondent. My Dad was a massive Imps fan, so we kept going back to Sincil Bank, witnessing at first hand the two great teams built by Graham Taylor and Colin Murphy - who I named my budgie after.

I've been to hundreds and hundreds of Imps games including some big ones like Fulham away in 1982 when we were so close to being promoted to what is now the Championship and the sell out to Wycombe in 1988 when we returned to the Football League courtesy of two Phil Brown goals.

My father passed away in 2000 - it knocked me for six, as it was sudden and unexpected. Sincil Bank without him seemed a very lonely place for me. I went to the Millennium Stadium for the 2003 play-off final versus Bournemouth and have taken in the odd fixture or two in the last few seasons, but I've put my heart and soul firmly into groundhopping.

I love Notts County and Nottingham Forest and have enjoyed some great away days with my mates, but Lincoln are my team. I still experience butterflies before hearing their score on 'Sports Report' when driving home from a game on Saturdays.

Coaches and cars are to filling up the car park as the 'Impvasion' begins to take shape. A frantic phone call to back home confirms I've left my debit card at the petrol station. I've only a £1 coin in loose change, which will only get me an hour's parking.

I wander around a fairly unremarkable town centre. I need five £1 pound coins for parking or I'm up the shoot. I clock a local newspaper billboard headline - it suggests Ipswich are under pressure and not relishing this cup tie. Ladbrokes share this feeling too, with the Imps a stingy 9/2 to win.

I dash into Poundland and grab a four pack of fruit pastilles. I hand over a £10 note to a bemused lass on the till who isn't too chuffed when I ask for nine £1 coins in return - "well you are called Poundland, love, so you should have plenty."

I'm as nervous as hell and there's still two hours to go before kick-off. Plenty of Lincoln fans are milling around the back of the Patrick Cobbold Stand. I best not go for my usual pint of real ale as I'll be up and down to the loo all game, with my nervous system in overdrive. I take a few snaps of the Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson statues, before entering the turnstile at 2pm.

Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk, with a population of over 130,000, which is located on the estuary of the River Orwell. It is well known for its Tolly Cobbold Brewery (now Ridley's) as well as farming and agriculture. Eighty people were killed during bombings in the Second World War. Notable people born in Ipswich include: Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Play School presenter Brian Cant, film director Trevor Nunn, actor Ralph Fiennes and footballer Kieron Dyer.

Ipswich Town were formed in 1878 and are managed by an under-pressure Mick McCarthy, whose direct style of play won't go down well with a club famous for the attractive way it plays the beautiful game. Sir Alf and Sir Bobby would be turning in their graves if they saw today's playing surface - it looks bloody awful.

Lincoln have sold out of their 5,000 ticket allocation. They top the Conference, marshalled superbly by sought after manager Danny Cowley, who miraculously led part-time Braintree Town to the play-offs last season on a shoestring budget.

The noise is deafening as the teams emerge from the tunnel. Ipswich have a few injuries, whilst the Imps are pretty much at full strength. I live in hope more than expectation. I just want the lads to put in a performance and not take a drubbing - a goal would be an added bonus.

My stomach is churning and my spine tingling as referee Lee Probert blows his whistle to start the game. The Imps look unsettled for the first five minutes. One or two players appear to have selected the wrong studs - particularly full back Bradley Wood - who seems to spend more time on his backside, due to the slippery surface.

In City's first attack Matt Rhead flicks a header onto Theo Robinson who plays a ball out to the wing, Nathan Arnold takes a touch before delivering the perfect cross for Robinson to sweep the ball home. I'm hugging and grabbing folk I've never met in my life. There's barely time to draw breath when Tom Lawrence equalises after a long mazy run. His shot seems to go under the body of a floundering Imps' 'keeper Farman.

City aren't rocked one bit. Back they come again and again. Terry Hawkridge is outstanding. I used to watch him play for a pub side in Notts a few years ago. I'm not saying he was small then, but he used to do his paper round before the game. He snaps and snarls in the tackle as well as harrying and hustling the opposition. His passes are slide rule and purposeful.

It's 1-1 at the break but we've looked hungrier and played the better football than a lacklustre and shell-shocked Ipswich. In the second half City are magnificent. They cut the 'Tractor Boys' to ribbons and pass them off the park. Both Robinson and Arnold go close before a miscued header finds Robinson in acres of space. He calmly lifts the ball over an advancing 'keeper to send the visiting support into raptures.

I begin to hyperventilate. I seriously think I'm going to have a heart attack. Having hugged and kissed a few more people I find myself six rows further down the aisle following the celebrations. We're all doing the 'Dam Busters' simulation chant now - I'm preparing to land at RAF Scampton. The youth next to me says that he'll settle for a draw now. I agree; we're not the luckiest of teams, never have been. My phone is going off constantly with folk willing the Imps over the finishing line.

The bloke behind me is panicking whether he should cash out of an accumulator bet that includes the Imps when the inevitable happens. A desperately tired Matt Rhead is caught dwelling on the ball, a deflected daisy-cutter of a shot from Leicester loanee Tom Lawrence somehow beats the outstretched arm of Paul Farman before nestling in the bottom corner of the net.

It's a sickening blow as we have pretty much controlled the game. I'd have taken a draw at the start. Raggett and Waterfall have performed heroically at the heart of the City defence. What a game of football we have witnessed. My Dad would have loved it.

Attendance: 16,027

Man of the Match: Sean Raggett

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Coventry Sphinx 2-1 Shepshed Dynamo

We shuffle out of Celtic Park down umpteen flights of concrete stairs. The Bhoys have survived a late rally by a plucky Dundee. A stroll is taken through the Gorbals district and into Glasgow city centre. The mother of all sessions takes place amongst all the Christmas revellers.We even manage to blag our way into a private party. I rub my eyes in disbelief, shedding a tear or two, when scanning my bank statement the following morning. Glasgow is ticked off - I have no regrets at all - it's up there with London and Manchester as one of my favourite cities in the UK.

The lead up to Christmas seems to drag on and on. I meet for drinks with work colleagues in The Embankment where pizzas are two for one. I catch a game at the 'Costa Coffee Stadium' where a rejuvenated West Bridgford FC muller lacklustre league leaders Stapenhill. 3-1 flatters the visitors. A groundhopper collapsed at the game. It's a relief to find out, the following day, that the guy is sitting up in a hospital bed.

My season ticket is renewed and rubber stamped at my favourite watering hole, the Herbert Kilpin, on Bridlesmith Walk, in Nottingham city centre. Christmas Eve morning is spent with my wonderful two sons in the Trent Bridge Inn. We wolf down a full English breakfast, which will set us up for the rest of the day. We exchange gifts and say our goodbyes. I miss them so much,

Ms Moon and I finally walk into town at tea-time. Ironically, we bump into Celtic fan, Jimmy Henry, and his family on Station Street, before partaking in a few bubbles and real ale at the Bear and Lace and Crafty Crow.

Christmas Day is spent at 'Auntie Val's (Ms Moon's mum) - Murphy the budgie doesn't make the trip. Pandemonium breaks out during a competitive game of Monopoly. Ms Moon and her brother 'Alfie' play a mean game and end up with hotels on every property. I spend more time in jail than Ronnie Biggs. When I finally get out, I manage to throw 3x doubles and end up back in again.

It's Boxing Day morning and we're umming and ahhing whether to make the trip to Northamptonshire to watch a United Counties League local derby. I've overindulged on the Chateauneuf-du-pape. We agree that the best course of action is for me to go and watch Notts County and for Ms Moon to curl up on the sofa and watch a soppy film.

A stiff, cool breeze is blowing in from the west as I trudge up Daleside Road, wrapped up to the ninepins. I walk past Arthur Johnson auctioneers - a place I keep threatening to rock up to on a Saturday morning, when it's a hive of activity. I take a wander around the perimeter of the Meadow Lane ground, before paying £24 at the ticket office and £3 for a programme. I take a pew up in the Derek Pavis Stand.

Local businessman, Alan Hardy, has announced that he is to buy the club from current owner Ray Trew. It certainly seems to have changed the vibe 'down the lane.' Positivity is in the air and morale is lifted amongst the supporters. It's quite a proud moment for me as I glance at the starting line-ups. Jordan Richards and Curtis Thompson are both playing today. They are local lads from the Nottingham inner-city areas of the Meadows and St Anns, who I brought into the club when I was Head of Talent ID at the Academy.

Notts are desperately short of confidence,  it's something to be expected from a team on such a long losing streak - Doncaster aren't much better. A cross from the left catches the defence cat-napping as Rovers take the lead. The game should be over as a contest, when minutes later, it's deja vu, with another cross coming in, only the woodwork saves Notts's blushes  I walk back home thoroughly depressed by the game. Emergency surgery is required in the January transfer market to prevent the Pies being sucked into a relegation scrap.

Disaster strikes on Tuesday afternoon. After a wonderful lunch out at the Old Bulls Head in the picturesque village of Woodhouse Eaves, near to Loughborough, the 'Rolls Royce' decides to conk out a mile from home. There's spillage all over the road. It looks for certain that there could be a parting of the ways, as a post-mortem will confirm she is off to the 'scrapyard in the sky.'

Measures need to be put in place. We drive down to Burgess Hill, in Sussex, the following day. Monopoly man 'Alfie' Moon is 'in the trade.' I borrow a Ford C-Max indefinitely.  I christen it 'Kip Keino' as it has more miles on the clock than the Kenyan long distance runner.

It's Saturday morning, a rather sad, miserable and forlorn looking Murphy the budgie is sitting on his swing. His hero, Brian Matthew, from Radio 2's Sound of the 60s show, is still on long term sick. Murphy ain't happy when I start dancing to Ray Charles 'Hit the Road Jack.' We leave him sulking on his perch.

An early midday kick-off suits us; we've been invited to a party at Taggart's estate in Widmerpool. The drive to Coventry is routine. Ms Moon takes the Audi up the A46, M1, M69 and back onto the A46. The ground is shoehorned into the back of a housing estate. The good lady parks up as I take a few snaps. It's £6 a pop on the gate. I didn't see a programme seller, so miss out on a match momento.

Whilst Ms Moon is in the burger queue I bump into some of the lads I know from Shepshed. The club is very dear to my heart. White Van Man and I followed them around the Midlands when our mate 'Screats' was captain. The PA guy is quite amusing; he shouts out the teams and plays some 70s classics.

Coventry is the ninth largest city in England with a population over nearly 350,000. The city suffered horrifically during the Blitz in 1940 when the German` Luftwaffe destroyed the 14th Century Coventry Cathedral. It was also famous for its car industry. Famous people from 'Cov' include: footballers Bobby Gould, Graham Alexander, Gary McSheffrey and Callum Wilson, the cricketer Ian Bell and singers Terry Hall, Hazel O'Connor and Paul King.

Sphinx make a great start, carving out a few chances that they fluff.  Ms Moon remarks on how quiet the travelling faithful are - we saw them at Heanor a year ago where they sang their hearts out. Ms Moon also says it has the makings of a 0-0. She gets the look of death off Sticky - we don't do 0-0s folks.

I've got four layers on but I am desperate for a warm in the Clubhouse. 'My team' Celtic are toughing it out with Rangers in the 'Old Firm' derby. Rangers nemesis, Dembele, has just bagged again. Ms Moon isn't feeling it, she's undercooked it on the clothing front. I send 'the Princess' to Audi and tell her to put the heating on for 10 minutes.

The second half is proper muck 'n nettles. Shepshed take the lead after a set piece goes tits up. They can't decide whether to stick or twist. Sphinx throw a couple of youth on from the bench with legs and energy. The equaliser comes from a brilliant cross. The inevitable winner is smashed home from close range despite a brilliant attempt by former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Ben Gathercole, who gets a strong hand on it.

The Coventry Sphinx manager is a big time Charlie and a bully to boot. He never makes a coaching point and constantly fishes his mobile phone from out of his pocket pretending to look at text messages He snaps, snarls and hurls abuse at the officials, telling them to "f**k off" or informing them they are "shit". The assistant ref is told to "get back on your turkey", which is pretty rich coming from a guy who has ate all the pies.

Man of the Match: Shepshed left back - No.3

Attendance: 182

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Celtic 2-1 Dundee

It's 5am on Friday morning and a bleary-eyed Sticky Palms is trudging down the stairs. I wolf down a bowl of porridge and slurp on a cup of green tea. My work colleague Lee and I are on the early flight to Glasgow for the Ideagen PLC Christmas party. I kiss Sleeping Beauty (Ms Moon) goodbye and head out of the door.

We cruise down the M42, arriving at Birmingham Airport with time to spare. The flight's delayed by an hour - it could have been worse as the Flymaybe 8:30am to Edinburgh is delayed by four hours. Customers are kicking off big style, venting their rage down the phone lines to Flybe customer service reps.

We jump in a taxi and head out of Glasgow, with its slate grey skies, up to our office in East Kilbride. The taxi driver is a Partick Thistle fan. He rambles on about the time he saw Scotland beat England 1-0 in 1964 - he missed the goal as he was dispatched to the bar to shout up the pints and pies.  We enjoy some banter in the commercial department before the trip back to the Hilton Glasgow. There's time for a quick cat nap and bath, before stepping out onto William Street and up to the Bon Accord on North Street. The cheerful tavern stocks an amazing 380 malt whiskies. I sink a couple of real ales from the Oakham Brewery.

The party is held in the hotel ballroom on the third floor. The highlight of the night is when a couple dance to 'Let it Go' from the film Frozen - the lady's partner literally does let her go. The poor woman twists on her stiletto's before unceremoniously crashing and slumping to the floor. The whole room are in stitches. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. The woman's friend (who looks like Bella Emberg off the Russ Abbot Show) on the next table, is not amused at my laughter. She asks me if I'd like to step outside - and I don't mean a hand-in-hand romantic walk down the River Clyde. Even Lee, who is from Mansfield and goes down the gym every day, is scared of her. I make my excuses and head upstairs for the night. Tomorrow we'll be doing some hard yards.

We refuel with a hearty breakfast in the hotel dining room and case the joint for 'Bella Emberg' before slinking off and checking-in at the Novotel just around the corner on Pitt Street. I suggest to Lee that I fancy stretching my legs and pegging it up to Parkhead. Kevin McSharry at work has tipped us the wink of a traditional Irish pub on the Cathcart Road called the Brazen Head. We jump into Ladbrokes and place a few bets - both of us expect Celtic to rack a few up today.

We finally come across the Brazen Head and boy oh boy it doesn't fail to disappoint. I'm taken aback at the memorabilia on show in the bar. Walls and ceilings are bedecked in flags, photos, scarves and shirts. The Guinness is poured beautifully and left to settle by a friendly bartender. Crystal Palace are playing Chelsea on the TV. We're as snug as a bug sat on bar stools, as the pub begins to fill up. A band member strums his Irish Ukulele as the group sing a few Celtic songs. The punters clap and cheer. The atmosphere is electric. We sink a few more pints before heading up to the Gorbals.

When I think of Scotland it reminds me of my Glaswegian pal Jim Henry and the brilliant comedy series Still Games. Jim had a brother called Rab (not related to C Nesbitt) who used to get me copies of the popular Celtic fanzine Not the View - so I've always had a soft spot for the Bhoys.

Celtic were founded in 1887 with the purpose being to alleviate poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow. The club has been crowned Scottish League champions on 47 occasions. 1967 was the Bhoys' Annus Mirabilis - they won every competition they entered including the European Cup, where famously the team were all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow. Celtic have only ever had 18 managers. Billy McNeill made 822 appearances for the Bhoys.

Their most expensive export was Victor Wanyama who they sold onto Southampton in 2013 at a £11 million profit. Celtic also hold the record for the highest attendance for a European club competition when 136,505 fans rocked up at Hampden Park for the 1970 European Cup semi-final versus Dirty Leeds United. In November 2008 Gil Heron, Celtic's first black player, passed away at the age of 88. He was the father of the jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron, who received critical acclaim for the well-known song 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.' *Thanks Kev McSharry for this nugget.*

Celtic Park comes into view. I take a wander around 'Paradise' and snap a few photos of the statues of Bhoys legends Jock Stein, Jimmy 'Jinky' Johnstone and Billy McNeill. Lee is gagging for a beer and I'm dying for a 'Jimmy Riddle.' We enter the turnstile in the Lisbon Lions Stand.  As I exit the toilet I find a crestfallen Lee with a face like a smacked arse - he's received some devastating news, alcohol isn't sold in Scottish football stadia - the bastards  .... how could they do this to us ? I thought they loved a bevvy up here ?

Perhaps we could nip up the Gorbals to see if some of the lads have any of that Buckfast Tonic wine that was blamed this week by a Dundee sheriff for drink-fuelled thuggery in Scotland. It nets the Buckfast Abbey Trust in Devon a cool £8.8 million per annum.

We take our seats up in the Gods of the Lisbon Lions Stand, enjoying the panoramic view of Parkhead and the landmarks of the city of Glasgow. Lee scoffs a meat pie and a cup of tea, still shaking his head at the alcohol ban.

Celtic are running away with the SPL. 20-year old French striker Moussa Dembele was awarded immediate cult status after a late winner versus Rangers a few weeks ago, following on from a hat-trick against them earlier in the season. He finds himself sitting on the bench today.

The atmosphere is electric despite Shakin' Stevens blasting out of the PA system. I'd expected a bit of Simple Minds, Orange Juice or even 'Donald Where's Your Trousers' by Andy Stewart - all are sadly absent. Dundee's greatest ever singer is no longer with us. In 1981 I paid £2.50 on the door at the Nottingham Boat Club at the back of Forest's City Ground to watch Dundee's finest - The Associates. The distinctive high-pitched tenor voice of Billy Mackenzie is something I will never, ever forget. On 22nd January 1997 Billy was found dead in his father's shed. He was only 39 years old.

Dundee sit deep, keeping ten men behind the ball. Celtic swarm all over them like a rash. Time and time again their full backs are left for dead by the overlapping wing backs, with the final killer ball being hoofed away with a desperate clearance. Brendan's Bhoys are overdoing the passing, nobody wants to take the responsibility of unleashing a shot, something that Dundee aren't afraid of on their rare forays into the Celtic half. A couple of efforts whistle past the wrong side of the post. Leigh Griffiths sees an effort kiss the woodwork after a wonderful give and go, while Tom Rogic squanders a chance when it looked easy to score.

Dundee are hanging on the ropes and desperate for the half-time whistle, so they can re-group. With seconds remaining Celtic are awarded a free-kick 22 yards out. Griffiths clips the ball beautifully with his left foot, sending it over the wall and into the net. Dundee manager Paul Hartley, an ex Bhoy, will be as sick as a parrot.

Celtic up the tempo in the second half and go for the jugular with ex-Notts County loanee Callum McGregor operating on the Celtic right wing. The game is all but over when the Israeli, Nir Bitton, guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

The Dens Park team don't know when they're beaten. The warning signs are there when they hit the post, moments later they pull a goal back from another former Notts County player Marcus Haber.
With a minute remaining substitute Faissal El-Bakhtaoui spurns a golden chance when skying the ball over the bar having been put clean through.

Attendance: Over 53,000 I'm hearing.

Man of the Match: Lee 'Lennie' Godber - for putting up with me all weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Bilston Town 1-2 Willenhall Town

We spend the evening in the Cock, in Wivelsfield Green, Sussex. I sink a few pints from the Harvey's Brewery stable and remarkably win a few games of pool. It's an early start and long journey back to Nottingham on Sunday morning, that's only broken by a Burger King breakfast at Newport Pagnell services.

On arrival back home, I notice a cork from a 'vintage' bottle of Rioja, I bagged from Morrisons in Netherfield, has somehow fallen out of the bottle, that was sat on the mantelpiece and ended up on the carpet. I seal the area off and call in the lads from Heartbeat to carry out forensics - they'll soon have this case mopped up. There are a few green and yellow feathers scattered around the room, no obvious clues folks. Murphy the budgie is pulled in for questioning, as it appears there has been no forced entry. Those bungling fools at Aidensfield Police Station release him without charge.

I'm up in Warrington on Tuesday evening, dining out with colleagues in the hotel restaurant. I check my phone to find that 'The Lincoln' are 3-0 up in a pea-souper fog against crisis club Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup second round. The visitors claw back two late goals, leaving a trembling Sticky Palms biting on his fingernails through six minutes of added time. Ms Moon and I are booked in for the third round tie at Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground.

Wednesday evening is spent at The Stag Ground as Kimberley Miners' Welfare and Awsworth Villa lock horns in the Notts Senior Cup. I love it up here. I meet up with my good pal Johnny Buttery as well as bumping into 'Hobbo' 'Swifty', Danny Staley and John Harris. In front of an impressive 153 crowd, Kimberley earn local bragging rights with a 2-0 win.

I catch the fag end of the first day of the 4th Test between India and England in the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. England have drafted in 24-year-old batsman, Keaton Jennings from Durham. He's clonked India for a ton, but I don't know much about him. It's hardly a surprise to find he is once again another South African player that 'we' have fast-tracked through the system. His parents were proudly watching from their Mauritius holiday home when the boy was on 96 not out. An untimely power cut sadly saw them miss out on seeing his debut Test century.

I knock off from work and dash into town on Friday tea-time. I zip around town shopping for presents before calling by 'the Kilpin.' I sink three pints of Kilpin whilst enjoying random tunes on the iPod shuffle such as Dead Souls by Joy Division.

Ms Moon and her close friend Jill, have already sunk a bottle of prosecco on my return. They head off out into West Bridgford as Murphy and I curl up on the sofa watching a boring Brighton and Leeds game. I eventually switch the tosh off, placing on my headphones, listening to New Order's double album 'Substance.'

The good lady comes crashing through the door at one bells. I tried to stay awake in case she was attacked with a Cappucino, as West Bridgford is the coffee capital of Notts, or half a shandy if the Plumtree CC lads were on their Christmas outing. There's been a schoolgirl error on Ms Moon's behalf, of no snap before the session. A double cheeseburger won't be enough to save the day. I always have a 'Georgie Best Undercoat' (a pint of milk) before venturing out.

A deathly white, bleary-eyed Ms Moon, struggles her way through another gripping episode of Heartbeat on ITV Encore on Saturday morning. Greengrass has got himself into a right old 'two an eight' again. Aidensfield are set to play Whitby Cricket Club in an annual charity game. Claude has offered even money on Whitby winning, everyone is piling in, including the Aidensfield team. PC Ventress bowls a pile of poo as Whitby win off the last ball, leaving a disgruntled Greengrass paying out a bundle full of tenners in the local boozer.

I manage to knock up a chilli con carne in the kitchen, whilst listening to Fighting Talk on Five Live. Justin Moorhouse is asked about today's clash between MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon. He refers to it as a neighbourly dispute about an overgrown hedge. I've had to tell Murphy the budgie that Brian Matthew is convalescing down in the seaside resort of Eastbourne, in Sussex, and won't be back on his show on Radio 2 until next week, at the earliest.

The clouds begin to darken as we head towards the Black Country. Paul Gambacinni is spinning the discs from 1981 - it was a pretty awful year chart wise. I treat Ms Moon to a high-pitched version of 'Body Talk' from Leee John and Imagination - it nearly shatters the windscreen.

It's tipping it down with rain as I exit the car outside the ground leaving Ms Moon to shoot off down the road to fill up with petrol. It's a fiver on the gate and £1 for the programme of the season. I take a wander around the ground before bumping into Chairman Graham Hodson and Vice-Chairperson Denise Frankham. I'm made so welcome, taken into the hospitality area and given a tour of the ground - what lovely, genuine people they are.

Ms Moon joins me in the main stand as the rain continues to pour from the darkening clouds. It's a local derby as the Landlords take on the Tenants in this West Midlands Regional League game.

Bilston is a town near to Wolverhampton with a population of 25,000, which was extensively developed for factories and coal mining. The local steelworks were closed in 1979 with 2,000 job losses, having been in production for 199 years. Bilston Town FC were founded in 1894 and play at Queen Street in the town. It was reported by the BBC in 2006 that the ground had been vandalised 120 times in six years.

Notable people born in Bilston include: the actor James Fleet, the bumbling 'Tom' in Four Weddings and a Funeral and also in the Vicar of Dibley, Slade drummer, Don Powell and Bert 'The Cat' Williams, MBE, Wolves and England 'keeper, who has a local sports centre named after him.

The teams emerge from the tunnel to 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC - it's totally random.There is a minute's silence in memory of Lisa Skidmore, a local District Nurse, who was murdered last week, just a few streets away from the ground. A former player, Mel Ball, has also recently passed away.

The visitors come out the traps quick, looking up for it. Their star man Chad Birch puts them 1-0 up on six minutes. Player-manager Mark Habbershaw doubles their lead with a 40-yard Exocet missile of a shot. They even manage to fluff a penalty before the Steelmen reduce arrears with a header from a free-kick. I have to check in the programme that the linesman on our side is not Mr S Wonder as he raises his flag more times in the first half than the French army in the Second World War. Even the referee's assessor sat behind me is having a good old moan.

The game ebbs and flows in the second period. The visitors are reduced to ten men after a sub is shown a straight Red after a two-footed lunge. The sides are even in numbers, moments later, after a 20 man melee results in three more players being sent for an early bath.

I'm willing on the home team for a deserved equaliser that just won't come their way. What a tremendous day out, all for £5.

Man of the Match: Chad Birch

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lewes 2-2 Sittingbourne

It's 4pm on Saturday, Ms Moon and I are exiting the Bilsthorpe Sports Ground in north Notts following a five-goal thriller. We call on an old work colleague of Ms Moon's who lives in the village. She makes us a much-needed brew as we toast our frozen feet by the fire in a cosy lounge. There's a huge stench of cat excrement in the car, that Ms Moon has managed to tread into the driver's side car mat. I'm wretching, folks, all the way home, with the window fully wound down in freezing temperatures.

I spend Saturday evening with a few pals out in the Vale of Belvoir, at the Nags Head in Harby - the TMS cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew lives just down the road. 'The Mayor of London' is holding court after a recent business trip to India. I have a sleepless night on his sofa, drifting off fitfully napping, finally awakening early doors with a thick head. I'm back at HQ for 9:30am. The bloody heating is on the blink. If that isn't enough I have to endure three of hours of the good lady 'singing' to the Sound of Music, which she has somehow chanced upon with the remote control. Murphy the Budgie asks for the towel to be placed over the cage and puts in a request to borrow my headphones.

A sharp frost on Monday evening sees the Radcliffe Olympic v Borrowash Victoria League Cup tie get wiped out on Tuesday - a shame that, as I was hooking up with Jitz and Dringy. I meet an old Impero Software colleague in the Herbert Kilpin on Thursday evening - well it's been a couple of weeks since I ventured in. 'Staring at the Rude Boys' by The Ruts is booming out on the iPod shuffle - their lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead in his parents' bathroom following a heroin overdose on the 14th July 1980.

I get the brush-off from Ms Moon on Friday evening. Remember the old line a girl would sometimes throw at you, back in the day, when you asked her out on a date ? - "sorry I'm washing my hair." Well I fell victim to this cliche on Friday teatime, when an invitation for a drink in town is declined. Oh well, at least I get the chance to listen to the brilliant 6Music DJ and Colchester United fan Steve Lamacq spinning Half Man Half Biscuit's 'I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan.'

I'm up and in the shower at just gone seven bells on Saturday morning. We both don't want to break the news to Murphy Palmer the budgie that his favourite DJ, Brian Matthew, has been signed-off on the sick for a month. We're out the door before the show starts on Radio 2 - Murphy will be proper kicking off as he doesn't like his stand-in Sir Tim Rice - or Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We leave him pecking out a few words on a 'get well' card for Brian, that he says he'll drop off at 'Wogan House', before flying back up to Carrow Road to watch his beloved Norwich City.

We're off to the Dripping Pan today - a groundhopper's dream. Ms Moon's brother lives in nearby Burgess Hill. His partner, Suzie, is recovering and making progress from a major operation at Harefield Hospital. It'll be nice to see him and offer our support.

The main roads are as clear as a bell, even Tim Rice is on form as Sticky Palms bellows out hits from The Hollies (The Air That I Breathe), Herman's Hermits (No Milk Today) and The Walker Brothers (Make it Easy on Yourself). There's a quick pit-stop at Toddington Services before we finally tip-up at Burgess Hill, despite Ms Moon punching in the wrong postcode.

We're soon parked up in the historic East Sussex town of Lewes. We wander down the High Street before entering the John Harvey public house on Bear Yard, a bustling tap, named after the brewery's founder. It has a flagstone floor, a beamed bar and a flame-flickering woodburner. I enjoy a pint of Harvey's Indian pale and a brie and bacon sandwich. The waitress mucks up the order, but is very apologetic.

I settle the bill and leave brother and sister chatting to one another. I head back up the High Street following signs to the train station, whilst passing cafes, art galleries and chic and trendy bistros.
I can see the Dripping Pan in the distance and feel the excitement rise within me.

I cough up £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme. Nothing can prepare me for the sweeping views of the South Downs and Cliffe Hill. I wander past the Club Shop, Rookery Bar and 'The Hatch' refreshment bar. There's a stand that runs along the touchline behind the dugouts with red tip-up seats. Behind the far goal is an open terrace with sixteen concrete steps. On the opposite side of the ground, people view the game at the top of a steep grass bank with a stone wall to their backs, that is taller than me.

I'm gobsmacked and awestruck with the beauty of the ground. I've visited over 400 now, but this would have to be in my Top 5. It is said that the ground is called the Dripping Pan (est 1885) as monks from the local priory used to dry the water from the nearby river to make salt. The Club has had a chequered history, but there's a real community feel about the place, with everyone mucking in for one another.

They've been managed twice by Steve King - a legend on the Non-League scene. I came across King myself when I worked at Notts County. Folk thought 'we' had some lolly when Sven Goran Eriksson was Director of Footballer. King, with his cashmere coat and pork pie hat, had the look of second-hand car salesman. He was hawking a boy around the circuit called Joe Ralls, who played for Farnborough Town youth team. My boss and I went to watch him and invited him in for a trial for the Pies. But he ended up signing for the Bluebirds of Cardiff where he has gone on to make over 100 appearances and is still only 23 years old.

Brighton Hove Albion's Solly March began his career at Lewes, with King once again instrumental in the transfer negotiations. We saw March give Nottingham Forest the runaround at the AMEX in August 2015 - he's already made 49 appearances for the Seagulls and is currently recovering from a serious injury.

Lewes FC made headline news last season when it was announced that the new wave band Squeeze would be sponsoring their shirts. The band's singer, Chris Difford, lives close by. Talking of music, the DJ is banging out a few pre-match tunes from Kasabian and Muse.

I stand at the top of the grass bank with my back to the wall, shielded from the cool air. I engage in conversation with a Barnet fan who looks like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses - he has more anecdotes than Albert. He used to play for the Bees back in the day and was also on the Lord's groundstaff. He's a keen Crown Green bowls player, who has been watching the Rooks since 1985 and is a fountain of all knowledge.

One or two Lewes players have picked up injuries from their trip to Guernsey - a few young uns have been drafted in. Sittingbourne take the lead in the third minute with a well-worked goal from a long throw-in, when a ball is played back to Joe Loft who strikes a daisy-cutter into the bottom corner of the net.

Lewes are battering Sittingbourne down the right-hand side but fail to find that cutting edge. Ms Moon and her bro tip-up at half-time. Andrew is like a Trumpy Junior (blog legend) with his beer-swilling skills and a king-sized Lambert and Butler cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Against the run of play Lewes concede a sucker-punch goal to the street-wise visitors. Most teams would be dead and buried, but back they come for more. The young ref has had a 'Weston-Super- 'Night' Mare, constantly bringing play back and not allowing the advantage. He caves in to an appeal for a penalty, which allows Lewes back into the game.

'Uncle Albert' has now joined the raucous crowd cheering the young braves on from behind the goal in the 'Rookery.' The equaliser is a beauty and well deserved for their never-say-die attitude. A free-kick is clipped into the area, the visitors perform the 'Mannequin Challenge' allowing Smith to ghost in on the blindside and head home. The crowd go ballistic. I raise my arms above my head and clap furiously. The moment is beautiful and a befitting end to a brilliant day.

Attendance: 485

Man of the Match: 'Uncle Albert.' and 'Trumpy Junior.'

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bilsthorpe FC 2-3 Harworth Colliery

We've had a wonderful day out in Staffordshire and have discovered another gem of a ground out near Cannock Chase, close to where Stanley Victor Collymore used to 'walk his dog.' There's no time for a drinky poo on Trent Bridge - Ms Moon is off to watch some comedy at Notts County's Meadow Lane, and I don't mean the pantomime on the pitch during the 3-0 reverse to lowly Newport County.

Just the Tonic have comedians Reginald D Hunter, Paul from The Chase and Grimsby Town fan Lloyd Griffith on the bill tonight. It's at the Meadow Lane Sports Bar - the takings should help the owners stave off another HMRC winding-up order in the High Court on December 19th - they've had more court appearances than Nick Cotton.

I give the 'Comedy Night' the swerve, Murphy and I settle down for the evening's Spanish La Liga clash between the two Madrid teams. Ronaldo has a cigar on, it's a virtuoso performance from the 31-year-old Madeiran-born superstar. Murphy Palmer has proper got the hump. Norwich City have lost four games on the spin. The young Canary is threatening not to fly down the A52 next Saturday when they visit a rejuvenated D***y County.

I've nodded off to sleep in bed, that £5.99 Malbec from Aldi has done for me. Ms Moon and her mate, Kay, come crashing through the door at some God unearthly hour. I help them see off a KFC midnight feast.

There's not much popping during the week. Poor old Michael has bitten the dust in Phelan's yard. Murphy the budgie whistles and sings as Michael takes his final few breaths. Pat's not laughing now though as 'Dave Glover' off Emmerdale has double-sixed him by swanning off to Hawaii with all the lolly - don't ask me, I haven't got a Scooby-Do.

I'm up in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon on business. I was hoping to take in the Liverpool Senior Cup tie between Bootle FC and Marine. The chuffing weather puts paid to that. I spend the evening in my Premier Inn hotel room on the Albert Dock. I can't even be bothered to have a scout round for Pat Phelan and punch him in the face.

Ironically Steven Gerrard announces his retirement from football whilst I'm up in Merseyside. Folk wax lyrical about the famous Champions League final in Istanbul. For me, he'll be best remembered for the bar room brawl at the Lounge Inn in Southport, which resulted in Gerrard and his cronies from Huyton appearing before the beak after a DJ was beaten up after declining Stevie's request for a Phil Collins song - an arrestable offence in itself.  Gerrard was found not guilty with his QC, John Kelsey-Fry, reportedly a cool £250,000 better off after five days graft in the courtroom.

I sink a few Punk IPA's on Friday evening as Sean has a hissy fit with Norris Cole who is trying to swizzle him out of some dollar. On Sky Sports the Tricky Trees are giving Barnsley a good doing-over, without, for once, relying on the goals of star striker Britt Assombalonga.

It's Saturday morning and freezing brass monkeys. I've had to break the news to Murphy that Brian Matthew has phoned in sick and won't be hosting the Sound of the 60s show on Radio 2. The 88-year-old is 'feeling under the weather' according to his stand-in. Murphy pipes up that he's going to send him a 'get well' card.

Heartbeat is on ITV encore again. I'm gripped by the latest happenings as I slurp down a mug of Yorkshire Tea. PC Rowan is an undercover pirate radio DJ. Murphy cheers up when Rowan plays 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks. Meanwhile the laziest copper in North Yorkshire, PC Alf Ventress, is caught red-handed by Sergeant Blaketon tossing it off reading the Sporting Life whilst dunking a digestive into his 'cuppa' tea. Greengrass is in a spot of bother when his house goes up in a puff of smoke after an unsuccessful venture at a Moonshine homebrew. It's quality TV folks.

I head down Daleside Road, Meadow Lane and onto Lady Bay Bridge, before walking down some steps that lead to the banks of the Trent. I wander past The City Ground and onto the Loughborough Road, taking a right hand turn down Wilford Lane.

Nottingham Forest under 18s and under 16s are taking on Huddersfield Town this morning. Academy football can be a bit boring and stale at times. The Forest 11 jacket is leading the Terriers a merry dance. You can tell he's not been in the system long as he has a little trick or two up his sleeve and actually takes a player on, rather than playing safe. Former Ipswich Town and NFFC striker David Johnson is stood next to me watching his son Brennan play. He says the 11 jacket is on trial. I google him and find out he is a Republic of Ireland under 16 called Yassine EnNeyah - I hope The Tricky Trees sign him.

A gaggle of groundhoppers are gathered at the top of a grass bank, viewing the game whilst discussing the latest offers on Tupperware sandwich boxes and plastic programme covers. I chat with a few parents and bump into a few scouts before being picked up by Ms Moon's taxi service and whisked off up to Bilsthorpe. It's the muck 'n nettles of the Central Midlands League today.  Paul Gambacinni is playing 'Beautiful Noise' by Neil Diamond from 1976. I remember buying that single for my mum on her birthday on Boxing Day - bless her soul.

Ms Moon parks up opposite the post office as I dash across the road to the Bilsthorpe Colliery Memorial Garden. A spaced-out guy walks past me inhaling on a joint. I take a few photos and pay my respects to the 77 miners that lost their lives at the pit, which is commemorated by a Davy Lamp in the garden.

Bilsthorpe is a village in the Newark and Sherwood District with a population of just over 3,000. The local colliery closed in 1997 after opening in 1927. On 18th August 1994 a roof collapse at the mine killed three miners including 31 year old Undermanager David Shelton, who was posthumously awarded the George Medal for bravery, as was survivor Ray Thompson.

It's £3 on the gate and £1 for the programme, everyone seems really friendly. We know Lee and Lance from Harworth after a previous visit. I have a groundhopper out of body experience after 20 seconds when I get my grubby mitts on the match ball - I have a smile as wide as the Mersey Tunnel.

I recognise the Bilsthorpe assistant manager, it's none other than the best talent spotter in North Notts, Mickey Gould. We wander over to the dugout and exchange some banter with the old bugger. He's trying his best not to swear as Harworth take the lead, mindful that ladies and bairns are present. He's a proper old school gentleman is Mickey.

It's 2-1 to the visitors at the break as we do another lap of the ground to keep the blood circulating. There's a bowls club, junior football pitches and a roped-off cricket pitch. The main pitch has a white-painted rail which runs half way around the ground. On the nearest touchline towards the furthest goal stands a frame from what was previously a covered stand, now dismantled. A 12-year-old boy has chased stray shots behind the furthest goal. He's sporting a D***y County training top, as he represents their Academy. I admire his dedication as he has brought with him a set of training ladders  which he jumps in and out of during the break.

Bilsthorpe give it their all in the second half, pegging back Harworth with a blistering shot that hits the roof of the net. Both teams go gung-ho in search of the winner. An own goal 5 minutes from time gives the visitors a victory, when on reflection a draw would have been a fair result. We say goodbye to the referee's mentor who we've chatting to on the far side of the ground. The young ref has done well today and has let the game flow.

Man of the Match: The African-born Irish winger for NFFC Under 18s

Attendance: 21 (Head count)