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)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wolverhampton Sporting CFC 6-0 Wellington Amateurs

White Van Man is in cruise control as the 4x4 heads back up the A1 North from Biggleswade. Sticky P is riding shotgun, a tipsy Trumpy Bolton, who has left some fuel in the reserve tank, for his night out in the Keyworth Tavern, is slumped in the back seat putting the world to rights. Brexit campaigner Bolton had earlier in the day raised his eyebrows at Sticky, in the Jolly Postie in Royston, when I'd asked the waitress for some French mustard to accompany my gammon. When asked who should be the next England manager, he said that they might as well have asked Matt Baker from BBC One's Countryfile, rather than odds on favourite Gareth Southgate.

I chauffeur Mr and Mrs T Bolton to the Tavern, politely declining their invitation of a drink, before heading north of the Trent back to HQ. In the morning Ms Moon and I head up to Copper Cafe Bar on Woodborough Road in Mapperley. At 11 o'clock a two-minute silence is observed by all the customers, which is followed by a round of applause. We walk breakfast off around Gedling Country Park, admiring the stunning, sweeping views of Nottingham from its peak.

It's a relatively quiet week, apart from aquaplaning the 'Rolls Royce' down the A14 for an overnight stay in Ipswich. Any chance of a new ground in Suffolk is scuppered by the rain. I start to channel hop whilst England look comfortable versus Spain. A crazy last few minutes sees the visitors restore parity.

The highlight of the week is watching former West Yorkshire Chief Constable 'Sir' Norman Bettison squirm under pressure on Newsnight, as presenter Evan Davis grills him about the part he played in the 'Hillsborough Disaster.'  British book retailer Waterstones refuse the self-indulgent publication on their shelves. The idiot remains the subject of an IPCC investigation.

It's Friday evening and Sticky Palms is reading a Non-League book called the 'Bottom Corner' by Nige Tassell, whilst Murphy the budgie is minding his own business swinging upside down on his perch. Ms Moon is gripped by the latest goings-on in the cobbled streets of Coronation Street. Scouse 'property developer' Pat Phelan is offered £2,000 by some lass who works in Roy's Rolls to skedaddle. Phelan claims he couldn't even buy a 10-year-old Mondeo for that. Murphy and I are seething, we love our Sea Grey Mondeo, the cheeky sod. I'm up in Liverpool on Tuesday night and I'll be hunting Phelan down. Poor old Michael bites the dust in Len Fairclough's old builder's yard. It's an oscar-winning performance from Les Dennis - a TV Times gong is a shoe-in.

It's all hands to the pump in the morning, we're watching Heartbeat on ITV Encore. There's been a car accident up on the moors, Sergeant Blaketon is up at Aidensfield accident and emergency trying to comfort relatives of the bereaved. An emergency call comes in from PC Ventress back in the station, a pot of tea for three is mashing and he has cracked open a packet of McVitie's ginger nuts. The episode ends in pandemonium after Greengrass and Alfred the dog scoff a space cake.

It looks beautiful outside again. I stretch my legs across the road towards Nottingham Racecourse and Colwick Country Park. My walking boots crunch through the frost-covered leaves that litter the pavement. I exchange pleasantries with the out-of-breath Notts Police Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping who is on the fag end of a park run. I bumped into Paddy a few years ago during the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009. He was clutching a parking ticket from West Bridgford Library car park. I quipped:  "You claiming that one Paddy, eh ?"  ..... he didn't crack a smile.

I settle down to watch the lunchtime top of the table clash in the Conference between eco-friendly Forest Green Rovers and the 'Mighty Imps' of Lincoln City - 'The Lincoln' are bloody awful in the first half. Murphy requests that the match is turned off so he can peck his DAB radio and tune into Paul Gambacinni's 'Pick of the Pops.' He's soon head-butting his mirror in time to Freda Payne's 1970 hit 'Band of Gold.'

The drive to the Black Country is easy peasy lemon squeezy. We're in the 10-year-old Ford Mondeo - Pat Phelan from Corrie is on the roof rack. We're in the village of Great Wyrley within the hour. The car park is congested, so we shoe-horn the 'Rolls' into a vacant space down an adjacent country lane.

The Club were founded in 2001, having previously been called Heath Town Rangers - an area of Wolverhampton where the DJ, Goldie and former England coach Don Howe were associated with. They were formerly known as Chubb Sports FC, before the Chubb lock and safe factory closed down.

It's £5 on the gate and £1 for a programme - just the two left. I ask the young lads on the turnstile if Wolves Sporting will win this week - "not if we play like last week." They are referring to the shock 4-2 reverse at Stone Old Alleyians, WSC's first defeat of the season.

There's a red-bricked two storey building behind the nearest goal. A pre-school nursery is on the ground floor with the bar and function room up the staircase. I fiddle with 'Live Scores' on my phone. Ms Moon appears from the clubhouse with a tray of chips saturated in Ketchup. I'm doing the Michael Flatley Riverdance - 'The Lincoln' have pulled off a 3-2 win at league leaders Forest Green Rovers.

The game starts at 3:03pm - the 'Hopper' PC brigade would be incandescent with rage if they were here. Me personally, couldn't give a toss. From the kick-off a ball is sprayed out to the WSC winger, who falls arse over tit with the ball bizzarely rebounding off a random, stationary cherry-picker. Within five minutes the home side are 2-0 up. The first is created from a 'Rory Delap' long throw, which is headed into the bottom corner with the 'keeper' - who only arrived just before the game - going down in installments.

The visitors, from Telford, despite the scoreline, are impressing me. The 10 jacket is too hot to handle, as he twists, turns and wriggles past his opponents. The ginger-haired No.9 is tenacious in the tackle and intelligent with the ball - despite his younger years; he is his team's voice, encouraging and cajoling at every opportunity.

Bloody hell, we've bumped into a 'Proper Hopper' from Bristol - he's got more rattle than Danny Baker. I ask him if  he's got a sandwich box, plastic sleeve for his programme and whether he's caught the train and bus. I like the guy, despite him talking me through the 400 grounds he's hopped to. Ms Moon makes her excuses and dashes off to 'Wolfies Bar' - leaving me stranded with 'Hopper' telling me about ground 199 ... doh.

Don't ask me but Wellington have shunted the poor young ginger lad out on the right wing in the second half. I catch his attention and ask why he's on the wing and not in the middle where he can dictate the game. He's just back from university and recovering from a five-month lay-off with a broken collar bone.

Wellington raise the white flag in the second half, conceding a further four goals - it could have been more. Nobody's cause is helped by a referee who fails to spot obvious fouls, letting perpetrators off the hook. I have a lovely conversation with club 'General Dogsbody' Paul Harrison before bidding farewell to 'Bristol Hopper' - it's been another cracking day out, all for £5.

Man of the Match: Bristol Hopper

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Biggleswade Town 1-1 Hitchin Town

We're back in the Herbert Kilpin, in Nottingham, early doors on Saturday evening. I sink a couple of Kilpin's - a session beer from the Black Iris Brewery. We're up Market Street, the home of the famous Selectadisc record shop that appeared on the front cover of the Oasis album 'What's The Story Morning Glory.' The venue is Revolucion De Cuba, to celebrate Piers' 40th - he's a top lad who has organised some legendary weekends away over the years in Whitby and Abersoch.

If I'm honest, I'm not confident of a real ale or draught lager at this Cuban joint. I shout up a Babycham (prosecco) for Ms Moon, as a pint of lager flows from the beer tap - it suddenly grinds to a halt a quarter of the way up the glass - "sorry sir, that's the lager done for the night" - it's not even 9pm. What Bolt picked this 'watering hole, Fidel Castro ? We mop up kebab and chips at another dodgy outlet, before watching our good friend Sean Dyche enjoy another home victory for the Clarets.

It's bitterly cold on Sunday morning and hammering it down with rain. We repeat my walk of yesterday around the picturesque setting of Colwick Country Park - it's not a patch on the previous day, the place is deserted. The only folk taking advantage of the inclement conditions are the sailing boats racing down the Trent from Colwick Yacht Club.

Ms Moon has some food shopping to do - I make my excuses and head up back into town to the Kilpin for a couple more pints of their signature brew. A barmaid, whose arms are plastered in tattoos, provides waitress service, having recognised me from the night before. I smash out the blog on my return home, as Ms Moon watches a film called Joy which sends Murphy the budgie to sleep.

It's a filthy evening on Tuesday. I'm sat in my car outside the Co-op in Ruddington wolfing down a gorgeous piece of cod from the Fish Bar. I hook up with The Taxman at the Nottingham Knight, before making the short journey to Ilkeston FC's New Manor Ground. The visitors are Spennymoor Town, who exited the FA Cup at MK Dons on Saturday in a narrow 3-2 defeat. They play fast-flowing football, comfortably winning 3-2, despite a stubborn resistance from a young, plucky Ilson.

The old 'Barnet' needs a trim - I head up to Wisdom's Barbers on Mansfield Road on Friday tea-time to see the lads from Kurdistan. I tick off the newly-opened Six Barrel Draughthouse on Carlton Street. I neck a pale ale from the Roosters Brewery in Knaresborough, before hooking up with Ms Moon at the Missoula Montana Bar on High Pavement. Fizz is half price and the craft ales are decent. I have a pint of the aptly-named Blue Moon as Motown music booms out the pub sound system. We manage to stomach an hour of England v Scotland before as if by magic Emmerdale Farm appears on catch-up.

In the morning Murphy the budgie and I have a heart to heart. It's no secret that he and Ms Moon don't see eye to eye - particularly when he whistles throughout Strictly and Pointless. I'm leaving the little lad in Ms Moon's capable hands today - Murph is terrified of an all-day lock-in. I leave him the phone number of the RSPB and tell him to keep me posted of any nasty goings-on that we can use in a grievance leading to a HR investigation.

Today is a 'Jolly Boys' outing and Keyworth reunion. I race across to my old neck of the woods to pick up Trumpy Bolton and White Van Man - the old gang. Bolton saunters down to WVM's crib - he's only eight doors down. It's the same old scenario - he's swinging his carrier bag with a litre bottle of cider nestled in the bottom.

We're travelling executive style in the 4x4 - first port of call is Saffron Walden in Essex, with its rich heritage and historic buildings. I'm flapping a wee bit that it's hosing it down and might not end up seeing a game, as my twitter timeline is filled with postponements.

Blog legend Bolton has had a toasted slice of fruit loaf with a smidgen of Clover butter, accompanied by a bottle of Hopping Hare from the Badger Brewery for his breakfast. White Van Man is a friend to the stars. He often sits in the sauna of the local health club, chewing the cud with former Leeds United and Manchester United striker Alan Smith, who is now a player-coach at Ray Trew's Notts Clownty. The other day, whilst sweating in the sauna, WVM was asked his opinion on Nottingham Forest - "they're shit" he replied. A guy in the corner upped sticks and left for the showers, it was the NFFC assistant manager, Serge Romano. A faux pas at its finest  ... lol.

WVM is on full power, we're soon in the congested High Street of Saffron Walden by midday. 'When The Sun Goes Down' by Sheffield indie band Arctic Monkeys is blaring out the car stereo speaker as WVM leaves his hazard lights on in a loading bay. Sticky P is instructed to dash across the road into Humpherys Butchers. I pick up three carrier bags of bacon (don't ask me, haven't got a Scooby Doo). The butcher clocks the Notts County training top I'm wearing. He complains about Cambridge United manager Shaun Derry and their disastrous start to the season. I explain that Derry is known in our parts of Notts as 'Junior Warnock.' WVM is gesticulating and waving his arms around in fear of being booked by a traffic warden - I bid farewell to the Butcher.

We head towards Royston so Trumpy can tick a pub off. For those reading this blog for the first time (God bless you) Mr Trumpy Bolton is trying to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Scotland and Wales - it's a hobby he's pursued for over 40 years. He has a crumpled old atlas that has recently been reinforced with Sellotape - every place visited is highlighted off. Receipts and statements are meticulously filed in alphabetical order in ring binders.

WVM flicks the scan button on the car stereo, stumbling upon BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The DJ plays 'Get the Message' by Electronic and 'Beautiful Ones' by Suede - Bolton and Sticky sing in unison.

We tip up at the Hertfordshire town of Royston, and more importantly the 'Jolly Postie.' We're met by a welcoming landlord and McMullen IPA - Trumpy poses in the back of a Royal Mail van that sits in the front window. A postman delivers mail to the pub as we exit to the car park - ooh, the irony.

Biggleswade Town confirm the game is ON, despite the pouring rain. We sit in a soulless Greene King pub, eating gammon, double fried egg and chips - Trumpy goes nouveau cuisine - preferring Whitby scampi. Tunnel of Love by the Fun Boy Three is the pick of the tunes on Radio Greene King.

Biggleswade is a market town situated on the River Ivel in Bedfordshire. It's the HQ of Jordan Cereals. Felix cat food was once made here. Biggleswade Town were founded in 1874 and play at the Carlsberg Stadium. The comedian and singer Charles Penrose, famous for the Laughing Policeman song, and Stevie V - a dance act famous for the song Dirty Cash (Money Talks) - are from this neck of the woods.

It's a short drive to a rain-puddled track that leads up to the car park. It's £10 on the gate and £2 for a programme light on content, but nonetheless the guy who sells it is cheery and friendly. The ground is a new-build. The playing surface is short, lush and flat. I bump into a Wrexham fan who has recently moved to Hertfordshire and now follows Hitchin - he rates them highly.

Bolton is already in the bar lining up the John Smiths as the teams observe a silence for Remembrance Day. Hitchin are in the top two, their class shines through with the give 'n go and movement off the ball. The final delivery and end product is sadly lacking.

A good mate of mine, Chris Keeling, played for Hitchin in the 80s - his brother, Paul is a great friend of mine. Chris tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1994 - he was only 31 and one of the kindest people I've ever met. We saw him play for Hitchin against Tooting and Mitcham in 1985.

Trumpy earwigs a conversation between the subs of both teams who appear to know one another. They moan and groan about not being in the starting XI and compare the dollar they earn. Bolton gets chinwagging with a Biggleswade sub who is coming back from injury and appears to have a geniune love for the game. Trumpy advises the lad to have a couple of looseners in the bar at the break to calm his nerves - it's old-skool Brian Clough.

Hitchin take the lead when 4 jacket lashes home a dipping, swerving shot that leaves the goalkeeper catching flies. Trumpy has caught on that they sell bottles of  Cornish real ale Tribute in the bar - I can't see him shifting now. He gets chatting to a visiting supporter who is sat with his little lad aged five years old. "What a goal", shouts up Bolton to his Dad. "We missed it mate, my son wanted the toilet and a bottle of pop" replies a disgruntled Dad.

White Van Man is steaming more than the piping hot tea he's bought, having been relieved of £3 for two cups of tea. The visitors sit on a one goal lead and pay the price five minutes from time when a shot from outside the area hits the inside of post before finding its way into the net. The replay is set for Monday night.

Man of the Match: The Laughing Policeman

Attendance: 325

Sunday, November 6, 2016

AFC Bentley 4-2 Retford FC

On Sunday morning we have coffee and share a Danish pastry at the Wired coffee shop at the top of Hockley, a trendy area of Notts, that's better known as the 'Creative Quarter.'  Ken Loach's Cannes Film Festival awarding-winning production, I, Daniel Blake, has an early showing at the Broadway Cinema. It's a deeply moving and emotional 90 minutes, as the lead actor traipses the streets of Newcastle looking for work, leading to frustrations with the bureaucracy of the DHSS. There's hardly a dry eye in the house as the credits begin to roll.

Lunch is spent at the Hand and Heart on Derby Road. It's a snug Victorian boozer with dining tables in caves to the rear. I sample a Stilton-infused real ale from the Belvoir Brewery. It has a cracking after-taste. I knock up the blog from yesterday's game in the United Counties League, out in deepest Cambridgeshire. I send a link of the blog, on twitter, to Peterborough Sports manager Jimmy Dean - I hope it cheers him up, as the poor bloke looked crestfallen at the final whistle.

I'm up in South Normanton, at Junction 28 of the M1, on Wednesday evening - The Taxman and Butters are also in attendance. It's a Cup replay, with West Bridgford FC the visitors from south Notts. We were at the first game at a bitterly cold Regatta Way, close to Holme Pierrepont. It finished 2-2, so we just had to see the tie reach its conclusion.

You could put your house on the game going into extra-time, what makes it even worse is that it's nil flipping nil. Both teams bag a goal in extra-time, with South Normanton running out winners 5-3 on a penalty shoot-out. I arrive home at 11:30pm and don't thaw out until the following morning.

Friday November 4th is Sticky Junior's big day, it's his 21st birthday. He celebrates in the morning with a hearty breakfast at the village bistro. He'll be on an almighty bender in the evening - his little bro is back from uni at Leeds to keep an eye on him. 'The Keyworth Georgie Best' won't be playing football tomorrow - he'll be hanging.

I meet Ms Moon in the Trent Bridge Inn for a tea-time drinky poo. It ain't my favourite pub, as it's a Wetherspoons establishment that attracts professional drinkers. I enjoy a couple of pints of pale ale from the Pheasantry Brewery, in Newark, before tucking into a curry, followed by an early night.

Ms Moon is up and at 'em early doors on Saturday morning. The good lady shoots up town to splash the cash out on some clobber for Piers' 40th birthday bash at Revolucion De Cuba on Market Street in Nottingham city centre this evening.

A bleary-eyed Sticky Palms is awoken by some bolt cranking up a chainsaw. It goes on and on and on. I reckon Murphy the budgie could do a quieter job pecking that tree down. Talking of Murphy, he's in a foul, vile mood this morning, the reasons are three fold: Ms Moon has failed to open his cage, turn the lights on and most importantly not switch on the wireless (radio to you kids) for the Brian Matthew Sound of the 60s Show. He is livid folks, raging in fact. The little lad is still knackered and radgy after his 400 mile round flight to Brighton Hove Albion's Amex Stadium to watch his beloved Canaries take a 5-0 gubbing.

He's perched on my shoulder, kissing my neck, as I wash and dry the pots. Brian is knocking out some belters as I head out of the door and stroll across to Racecourse Road. It's a beautiful, crisp, autumnal morning, with sun-drenched skies.

I turn off down a public bridleway close to the plush apartments on Nottingham Waterside, where former Notts County Director of Football Sven-Goran Eriksson once resided - it sounds like a crazy dream, doesn't it?

Rowing boats are roared down the Trent by coaches on bikes shouting through loudhailers. Joggers pound the gritted pathways, out of breath and without rhythm. I pass a wooden bench covered in fresh flowers. A plaque says that the deceased man loved to fish at this peg on Colwick Country Park.

I enjoy my peaceful one hour stroll. I return back to base just in time to hear the brilliant Colin Murray hosting Fighting Talk on Five Live. Fast Show actor Simon Day takes the rise out of former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips who left a coaching role at Leicester City at the beginning of the 2015-16 season to take up the No.2 role at D***y County. It's a footballing faux pas.

Ms Moon arrives back with bags of shopping. There's no time to chillax, we're soon travelling up the A614 towards Donny. The Audi is back on the road - it's had more lay-offs than Andy Carroll. Graham Norton is on the radio, he has played a pile of poo, as well as having Robbie Williams and his wife on as guests - both are bloody awful, as is some fool from the Sky Arts TV channel. The chink of light arrives at 12:55pm courtesy of the sublime Divine Comedy and 'Something For The Weekend.'

By gum it's tasty in Doncaster. Shoe-horned inbetween two bookmakers is a 'loan shark' shop. First port of call is the cemetery in the village of Arksey. On Friday November 20th 1931 at 5:45pm an underground explosion at Bentley Colliery killed 45 men and boys. I'm stood here now paying my respects at the memorial and the plots of those who were found. In 1978 a Paddy train crashed in the mine killing 7 miners. In 1993 British Coal announced the closure of the colliery - another community was crushed and broken.

We rock up, eventually outside the ground, fifteen minutes before kick off, having driven past the cricket ground, with Sat Nav sending us down a tight road at the back of some allotments. We've both got four layers on and woollen hats, as the weather is expected to turn.

It's £3 a pop on the gate and I also manage to bag the last available programme.  There's a white-painted brick-built stand on the nearest side and the ground is fully railed off. The pitch looks in fine fettle for this time of year. There's no floodlights - hence the 2pm kick off. The changing rooms are Portakabins. We grab a tea and coffee and position ourselves to the left of the visitors' dugout.

I fiddle about in my coat and jeans pockets looking for my programme - chuff me I've managed to lose it. Most proper Hoppers would be having a nervous breakdown, crying their eyes out and preparing themselves for a sleepless night by now - as former Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies used to say (when he was really cross) "it is what it is."

There's a minute's silence for Remembrance Day. Many of the players have poppies stuck on their shirts - a nice touch that. Retford start well, but the two up top look like they are carrying a tad too much -  10 jacket looks like former WBA forward Cyrille Regis - minus the pace. Bentley race into a three goal lead - the game is all but over at the break. Mooney remarks that the linesman (ref's assistant) looks like former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke - "well he is on the right wing, love."

Ms Moon returns to the car for a warm-up. I wander up to the back of the stand to retreat from the biting wind and general blustery conditions. I bump into Hugo the Pug who is gnawing on an empty water bottle. He reluctantly poses for a photo for the Non League Dogs twitter account.

9 jacket for Retford has been blowing a gasket for most of the game. He's shown a yellow card for petulance, having kicked the ball away. Moments later the referee brandishes a Red for an off-the-ball incident.

There's a late rally from the visitors who deserve a couple of goals for their endeavours. We scurry off to the car at the final whistle as the weather conditions begin to deteriorate.

Attendance: Headcount: 21

Man of the Match: Bentley 7 jacket.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Eynesbury Rovers 2-1 Peterborough Sports

It's Friday evening and I'm pacing up and down the lounge carpet waiting for Ms Moon to return from work. We're all set to begin the weekend with a drinky-poo or two at the Bell in Nottingham's Market Square. A distressed Ms Moon phones in from Wilford Lane which is clogged up with congested, standing traffic. - she ain't going to make it folks - Nottingham is gridlocked.

I peg it up Sneinton Hermitage and pop into town. There's a pub I want to check-out and tick-off on Bridlesmith Walk, that Tony Mac has tipped me the wink on. A plaque was unveiled last week in Nottingham in honour of Herbert Kilpin, who was credited with founding Italian football giants AC Milan. Kilpin was born at the back of a butcher's shop on Mansfield Road in Nottingham. It was the 100 year anniversary of his death last Saturday. A bus and a bus stop carrying his name was unveiled by the Sheriff of Nottingham. He made 23 appearances for the Italian club in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

The Herbert Kilpin pub is adjacent to the pretentious Junkyard bar - where they sell you two-thirds of a pint. I admire the photo of Kilpin adjoined to the wall in the downstairs bar. I sink a couple of pints of 'Kilpin' (Black Iris Brewery) - the pub's signature ale. The Rolling Stones 1966 hit 'Paint it Black', with the haunting sound of the sitar, is bouncing off the walls. Ms Moon is chillin' on the new SCS sofa with a can of Strongbow, watching the latest happenings in Emmerdale Farm, when I finally return to base.

It was the 50th anniversary of the 'Aberfan Disaster' last Friday. As Ms Moon turns in for the evening, I tune into a heartbreaking documentary called 'The Aberfan Wives' Club' -  this was set up over 50 years ago, they meet up each week, to this day. The documentary is heartwarming and uplifting.

On 21st October 1966, at 9:15am, a build up of water on a colliery spoil tip caused 1.4 million cubic feet of slurry to slide down the tip covering the village of Aberfan in minutes. The local school was wiped out. 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives that day. Had the landslide happened half an hour earlier, the school would have been empty. The following day would have been the half term holidays - nobody would have been there.

The National Coal Board and the sloping shoulders of their chairman, Lord Robens, tried to absolve all blame. They even gained access to the disaster fund, using £150,000 of monies raised to clear up all the debris. They were found guilty of negligence and were wholly culpable - the money was paid back. Roebens never stood in the dock. I hear a radio reporter talking to a man (a boy at the time of the disaster). He says that he became an adult that day, as there were no other children to play with in the village, as they were tragically taken away. That thought sits with me for the rest of the evening and the ensuing sleepless night  - for him probably every day of his life.

I end up kipping on the sofa, I just can't shift this flipping throat infection. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away - what a load of old tosh. Murphy the budgie likes to share an apple with Sticky. But he always ends up spitting it out everywhere and getting himself in trouble. We've both kept our heads down this week, after 'Shoegate' last Saturday - when we accidentally threw out Hunters and Uggs to the value £400 - the lads at the tip were quaffing champagne all weekend.

I'm back down the tip again on Saturday morning, playing it safe, just disposing of old cushions from the settee. I call by Majestic Wines on Castle Boulevard. An overzealous shop assistant, behind the counter, has me sampling various glasses of Red. I exit the shop £40 lighter and with a slightly giddy head. We shoot over to Cambridgeshire just before twelve bells.

'The Skipper' (my youngest) is back from Uni in Leeds this weekend. He and his pals are at the Detonate Halloween Festival on Nottingham Racecourse in Colwick, across the road from ours. Last year, at the fag end of Detonate, I went to get some cash out from a petrol station just up the road. I found a youth dressed up as a banana, flat out on his back, inebriated - I asked him if he had slipped on his own skin.

The A1 is as clear as a bell. The leaves on the tree-lined carriageway are full of beautiful changing shades of colour. We bump up in the picturesque village of Buckden. We enter the stylish and lavish lobby of the George Hotel, with its leather and chrome chairs and log fire. I have a pint of Mosaic pale ale from the Adnams Brewery.

We relax reading the morning papers, occasionally people-watching. A haughty-taughty mother and daughter ask a nervous-looking young waiter if the hotel bar sells pear juice: "well if you don't dear, we'll have apple juice, is it cloudy ?" I feel like saying "bloody hell love, it's not real ale." Despite poring over the menu for a whole ten minutes, she announces to one and all, "we'll have the Crayfish ...... we always have the Crayfish."

The Alfred Hall Memorial Ground is 12 miles away. I wander up the stony path, past some ugly-looking flats, admiring the huge leylandi that tower over the ground. It's £5 on the gate and £1 for an excellent programme. The pitch is as flat as a pancake. I enquire with the gateman whether it's 4G or not - you could play Pot Black on it.

Ms Moon catches me chatting to an enthusiastic committee member in the corner of the bar. The World's laziest footballer, Olivier Giroud, is giving a post-match interview on TV - I doubt the bone idle sod has broken sweat, despite scoring a brace.

Over 2000 people will attend the Club's Annual Fireworks Night, a week on Sunday - a massive fundraiser for Eynesbury Rovers FC. Today's visitors are Peterborough Sports, who are said to have waved some lolly around. They have won 14 games and lost on the one occasion. I spot a 'Proper Hopper' clad in an old school Parka - his programme is safely secured in a plastic folder. Ms Moon has a good old moan when a stray shot in the warm-up catches her on the ankle - I phone up Murphy the budgie to retell the tale, we both have a good chuckle.

We stand to the left of the away dugout. They seem quite cocky and self-assured. The same cannot be said of manager Jimmy Dean, who is seriously pumped-up and focused on the task in-hand. I don't blame the guy, there's a lot at stake today.

Rovers take the lead from a hotly-disputed free kick. The delivery is perfect and met with a looping header at the back post. Dean is rocked and livid with his team, who are shaken by the goal, after having a lion's share of the possession. He keeps his cool, demanding more from his team, preferring to cajole and encourage, rather than kick them up the arse. Parity is restored, with Mark Jones on hand to blast home a rebound after a stinging shot is parried by the 'keeper.

There's a commotion just before the break, as a tackle flies in at the corner of the pitch where our view is obstructed. Our man 'Jimmy' queries whether the tackle is two-footed. He is bad-mouthed by a spectator, who is asked if he would like to continue the conversation in the car park afterwards.

Sticky shouts up a steaming hot cup of tea at the break, Ms Moon has some bottled water. Jimmy cools off in the changing room. On his return he nods at me and apologises to us for all the swearing - we start to warm towards the guy. He makes valid coaching points throughout the game, swapping his wingers over. But the final ball either evades an outstretched leg or skims off someone's head.

There's a cruel twist of fate with five minutes of normal time remaining. For once Rovers' striker Allan Jones finds some space before unleashing a curling shot from 25 yards that hits the top corner of the net. The celebrations are memorable, with the home 'keeper Greygoose joining the pile-on close to home dugout.

Jimmy Dean sportingly applauds the winning 'wonder goal.' I also note he shakes every home players' hand at the final whistle. The man shows class, despite being bitterly disappointed with an under-par performance from the League leaders.

Man of the Match: Joshua Sanders (No.4 for Sports)

Attendance: 170