Mr X writes exclusively here for us at BTF ! He tells us -
'I am receiving help, I tried to make my girlfriend understand by taking her to the Desborough v Stotfold game recently, she
promptly decided to move to Plymouth!!! Furthermore, no one in the office at work is aware of my anorak behaviour
either, they think I just trot off to watch my local team every week. In an attempt to avoid being labelled a groundhopper
in the stereotypical manner, I've even resorted to attending games in either a shirt and tie in order to look like an official
or a referee's assessor, or, in designer clothing in order to look like a mate of one of the players who's just gone along
for a few beers and a laugh.........................'
TALES OF A NON LEAGUE JUNKIE
Woodford United 1 Blackstones 1
On a freezing cold
Wednesday evening in early January, while enduring the finer points of a trip to Bacup Borough, I had a dream, and it went
something like this.
It was early
May, the sun was beating down on a football ground somewhere in middle England, the grass was lush and the trees surrounding
the stadium were green and swaying ever so gently in a mild breeze. I would be sat in shorts and a t-shirt, on the grassy
knoll that makes up the terracing behind the goal with a pint of cold lager in hand, served, of course in a plastic glass.
Life would not be better, this would be one of the days that the beautiful game was invented for.
Reality struck hard
once May was upon us, for the first eight days of the month, all it had seemed to do was hammer it down with rain. My illusions
had been shattered, and never did I think that I'd be phoning grounds at this stage to see if the matches were actually on!
Woodford United is
in many ways a bit like what Squires Gate was for me, in the sense that I've been planning on going since about February,
but twice on the day of the game I've had to make alternative arrangements due to the weather. However, I'd done a Cogenhoe
and built up an idyllic image of the place, and like my vision of the May afternoon, it went something like this.
are a small village club who have risen quickly through the non-league ranks, they have built a lovely little stadium with
tidy facilities, and they have all the amenities that the casual visitor would require like a spacious bar, while the team
would be made up of promising youngsters, with a bright future. The locals would turn out in good numbers to support their
team, and anyone who ever visited would leave with nothing other than good memories of the club.
I'm going to have
to stop dreaming, and tell you about the harsh realities of a May afternoon at idyllic Woodford
I should have known
better, only on a recent visit to Buckingham Towns fans forum I came across a message along the following lines.
'We've blown it,
another season in the Bogtrotters league, going to shitholes like Woodford United.'
Right, the weather,
absolute pants! It tipped it down most of the morning, but the club confirmed the game was on, but it was going to be cold,
windy and damp. The journey was ok, and the place is easy to find, but only if you know how. You come off the M1 at the Daventry
turn, and follow the ring road around the town before heading for Banbury. You eventually arrive at small village called Byfield,
and then head left for Woodford Halse. Woodford Halse is a small village, but it has been blighted by the fact that someone
had the bright idea of building an industrial estate on the edge of it, which just happens to be next door to the ground.
I was early, so I
decided to head for food, and in the village I came across the chip shop, and that was when the fun started, with the Oriental
'Can I have chips
and a fishcake please?' (making the effort to point at the fishcake in the good old Henry Nuttall Rochdale, snap warmer)
Anyway, about five
minutes later, after much scurrying about, a pile of greasy chips were dropped on a piece of paper, followed by a battered
'No love, I asked
for a fishcake!'
'No, you ask for
fish, I make it special.'
'No, I specifically
asked for a fishcake, that's a cake, with fish in it!'
She scampered off
to the back and I could hear furious chatter going on, before she eventually came back out, removed the fish and thrust a
fishcake onto the steaming heap of chips. She wasn't happy, and when I looked up, the family were all staring at me from the
kitchen, it was time to make haste.
I got to the ground,
and as it was still an hour before kick off I decided to have a bit of a wander around. First mistake, the car park and entrance
to it is made of a sand/clay substance, and when wet it makes a hell of a mess. My car looked like it had been sandblasted,
while my new Reeboks turned a funny shade of orange!
The first thing you
see at the ground is the tennis/five a side court that is bolted on to it. The fences had holes in, the net was ripped while
broken glass adorned the potted surface. Graffiti seemed to be a favourite pastime as well.
Once through the
turnstiles the main stand comes into view. It's made of scaffolding, corrugated plastic, and old school canteen plastic seats.
It's also got holes at the back which means a wayward tennis ball could easily fly through and take a spectators head off!
'Have you got a bar?'
'Yes mate, it's behind
the dressing rooms.'
I walked in, via
the only access route, which was effectively the players tunnel, and found the bar.
It was basically
a tea bar, with a serving hatch, a few tables and chairs, and room for about 15 people at most. No pumps, only cans of beer
so I ordered.
'Can I have a can
of Carling please.'
'It's not very cold
mate, I've only just put them in the fridge, that'll be one pound eighty please.'
Christ! One pound
eighty for a warm can of lager, I was that stunned I had to down it quickly and then have another. Alongside me in the bar
was the barman, and three groundhoppers, and I could tell they were groundhoppers, the conversation gave it away.
'Went on holiday
to Devon last week, got to five games. Three in the Devon League, one in the Plymouth League and one in the Dorset Combination.
Brixham United have a fantastic ground, but no programmes.'
It was then followed
'I notice Woodford
are sponsored by Woodford Social Club. I can only assume that it's in the village, and it isn't this place. Hang on, let me
get my Good Beer Guide out, yes, Woodford Halse, former railway village, now that is interesting.'
I really felt like
belching loudly, farting, scratching my balls and proclaiming that the bird in the tea bar would look good after a few more
cans of this stuff, just before confessing to being a closet groundhopper myself. Don't know why, I just kind of hoped one
of the chaps would follow suit and agree with me. I'm of the view the groundhoppers are the way they are, because they think
that's the way they are meant to be. In other words, they begin to adopt their own stereotype.
Anyway, it would
have taken more than a few cans of warm Carling, but the bird in the tea bar was quite helpful, she flipped a fine burger,
but for the last time this season in the Bogtrotters League, no pies, it was time for the footy.
Wrapped up nice and
warm, I endured a first half in which a slightly petulant Woodford took the lead, and probably on balance, just about deserved
it. It got even colder in the second half, when the crowd swelled from 50, to about a 100, when a collection of the local
youths arrived and got in for free.
The local youths
were an interesting bunch, dressed in baseball cap, tracksuit, over elaborate trainers and more fake gold than a fairground
attendant, they seemed to have two pastimes, swearing and spitting. Idyllic Woodford was fast becoming a place I wanted to
I was quite pleased
when Blackstones equalised in the last minute through an own goal, simply because the left back of Woodford spent the entire
second half hurling abuse at the linesman. Now I've never been a footballer of any note, but I like to think I understand
the game, and to be frank the player in question spent 45 minutes talking out of his arse. He was probably a local youth who
could play football a bit better than most, but only a bit I might add!
I was home by five
oclock (the game kicked off at 2pm because the bar was required for the cricket club), and in he pub for seven. Woodford Halse,
you were a let down!!
Tipton Town 1 Market Drayton Town 2
This was it, the
culmination of a journey that has taken in 101 games, 91 different venues, of which 86 of them had been visited for the first
time this season.
I felt proud, tired,
and maybe a little bit emotional, but my God I've enjoyed it! However, before we get on to the sentiment, let's get on with
I'm going to start
on the Friday night before the game. I'd got the kids into bed and embarked on a six pack of Fosters, when I started to reflect
on the season, and while I was casting my mind back to various trips out Friday Night with Jonathan Ross came on the TV.
Tonights guests are
funny man Dale Winton, World Snooker champion Wocket Wonnie O'Sullivan, and the legend that is, ladies and gentlemen, giving
his first TV interview for seventeen years, Morrissey!
I nearly wet myself,
the great man was on the box, Newport Pagnells greatest advocate, it was compulsive viewing. The interview was predictably
cagey, Ross himself appeared slightly intimidated,
'Morrissey, can I
be your friend?'
'No' said the great
Ross didn't really
know where to take it, it was fantastic. But then the finale, a new version of 'Every Day is Like Sunday', live, to end the
show, it was awe inspiring.
Why have I told you
all about this? No reason really, it's got nowt to do with football, I just like talking about it, hope you dont mind my little
Anyway, the trip
to Tipton was anything but dull, as I shall now document. Why did I pick Tipton for a start? Well, a week prior it did look
as though they would need to win this game to take the West Midlands League title, however, a cock up in an away fixture at
the delightfully named Smethwick Sikh Temple, coupled with Malverns victory at Bromyard Town, meant runners up was all they
could hope for.
Undeterred, and armed
with the trusty Birmingham A-Z, I set off on that glorious May day I'd been dreaming of all season. What I failed to appreciate
though was the fact that my A-Z was published in 1976, and they've built a few roads since then!
It was all going
swimmingly, I left the motorway, made may way through Wednesbury, got on the dual carriageway, and looked for the roundabout
that took me to Tipton. It didn't materialise, but signs for Dudley and West Bromwich did, it was time to take a pit stop,
at KFC. I studied the map and couldn't for the life of me fathom where I was, so I decided to follow the route for Dudley,
and start again. Suddenly, as if by magic, a sign for Tipton appeared, and I found myself in the town centre, which was modest
to say the least, but then the fun started
I made my way to
a crossroads, which linked onto the road to the Tipton ground, when I was stopped by the traffic lights, only for something
to catch my eye. It was about 20 or so local herberts stood on the corner of the road, staring intently at a pub, appealingly
called the Lumphammer! I then noticed about five coppers stood at the door. I couldn't quite work out what was going on, but
then when the lights changed, it all became clear!
In the pub car park
were about five police vans, forty or so coppers, plus the best part of around a hundred casually dressed blokes. It turns
out, it was the hardcore Tottenham Hotspur following on their way to Wolves, and the local plod had intelligence that suggested
trouble would be occurring. In terms of stopping off for a pint, my mind had been made up!
I travelled along,
through possibly the worst area, other than perhaps Gorton in Manchester, that I'd seen all season, and the place to avoid
ladies and gentlemen, is Princes End! 75% of the shops and flats were boarded up, and to be fair they didn't look that old,
while the locals had a definite teenage mum/shell suited youth look about them. I was starting to get a bad feeling about
The ground was a
pleasant surprise, it was a very modern athletics stadium, used by the famous Tipton Harriers Athletics Club, and when I enquired
at the gate I was told that I could use the leisure club facilities - it was looking up, not so.
Back in my home town
we have a pub, which many years ago was an utter shithole, but then a brewery chain did it up. It used to be the haunt of
many of the local undesireables, and the hope was that the refurbishment would bring a better class of punter. What they failed
to realise though, is that you can clean up the pub, but you can't clean up the clientele, nothing changed but the décor!
Getting the picture
Upon entering this
place, wearing a Glasgow Rangers shirt I might add, I walked into a wall of twentysomethings, dressed almost predominantly
in the football shirts of the local teams, or England, shorts, designer trainers, and of course sporting extremely short haircuts.
Dotted around the room were the occasional families with snotty nosed urchins, plus the obligatory old bloke dressed in a
battered suit, dribbling into his pint, when of course he wasn't nodding off. Nice venue otherwise though!
I feared speaking
at the bar. I ordered a pint, quietly, so as not to give away my foreign accent, and sat in the furthest corner I could find.
I drank up quickly, as a fight appeared to be brewing in the pool table region. I could only ever recall being as uncomfortable
as this in a pub before once, and that was one close to Grantham Town's ground when they played a big FA Trophy game against
Anyway, I decided
to sit in the car and read the paper until kick off arrived.
The facilities were
as you would expect of an athletics stadium - a good pitch, a decent stand, trouble was it was too far to the pitch and
furthermore, they didnt have a toilet on the ground! Tipton took a first half lead through a free kick and looked the better
team, and I chose the grass bank on the far side of the ground as my viewing point (I'd finally found my grassy knoll on a
red hot May afternoon, albeit in the most unexpected of settings!). What disappointed me though, and I'm no prude, was the
disgraceful language from the Market Drayton bench. The NLP the following day ran a letter from a fan who had been disgusted
at what he had heard from some of the dugouts this season, and I have to agree with it. I've got two young children, and I
wouldn't want to have to stand within proximity of some of the benches I've witnessed this season with my kids in tow.
Justice was served
though in the second period when the suited, most obnoxious member of the bench, was dismissed for his comments. He was rather
comically consigned to the top of the grass bank!
Two goalkeeping cock
ups let in Drayton twice in the second period and they went on to win the game, although Tipton's enthusiasm had obviously
waned following the recent results that made todays game pointless from their point of view. I did do something in the second
period that I haven't done all season though.
Sat in the stand,
in the glaring sun, I just started to feel myself go, and for a few moments I did the unthinkable, I fell asleep!! It was
no reflection on the football, which was quite entertaining, the elements just conspired against me!
At the final whistle
Tipton were awarded their runners up pot, but rather than stay and watch the muted celebrations, I decided to head home.
It was a strange
feeling, something I'd actually been thinking more and more about as the season progressed. I'd wondered just how I would
feel, but when it came, it was weird. I almost felt relieved, but with it slightly fearful about what I was going to do during
the Summer months.
I got home, mowed
the lawn, had a bath, got changed, and walked down the road to meet my mate who was taking me to see his band play at a pub
When he picked me
up, he asked,
'What have you been
doing today mate?'
'Nothing much, nothing
much at all' I said evasively.
For the last ten
months I'd done an awful lot, yet very few people, very few at all, had the slightest idea of what I'd actually been up to.
And you know something?
I might just go out and do it all again next year.
Tividale 0 Shawbury United
I've grown quite
fond of football in the West Midlands this season, and in particular, the Black Country. Not sure quite why it is, but what
I will say is that the clubs always seem very friendly in this neck of the woods, and not only that, they do seem to be the
best in the business when it comes to all things edible and drinkable.
Whenever you think
of the West Midlands, and alcohol, the first name that seems to spring to mind is Banks's, of the Bitter, Mild and Noddy Holder
fame! Tividale Football Club are sponsored by Banks's, and from the moment you drive through the gates, it is full, in your
face advertising, and it could easily start a train of thought going.
That train of thought
starts with the aforementioned Noddy Holder (think adverts, save your thanks's, I'll have a pint of Banks's), and then very
quickly it moves on to the legendary TV show The Grimleys, which Holder starred in as a Headmaster. Now, while the thought
of the geekish Gordon Grimley can be a bit troubling (he would have made a good Groundhopper!), it very quickly leads to the
lovely Miss Titley, played by Amanda Holden.
So, within a matter
of seconds after driving into the car park of your average West Midlands non-league ground, my mind has moved into the arena
of Ms Holden, and those photos she did for Loaded Magazine in black underwear.
The trouble is, within
seconds of those images, the photos of a tearful and distraught Les Dennis soon take over. It's time to turn the tape over,
and perhaps focus a little bit more on what we came here for in the first place. You can't help but shudder!
It's getting difficult
now to find new venues as the season draws to a close. The only league within travelling distance, or should I say, getting
back for a pint on Bank Holiday Monday distance, is the West Midlands League. They have a full programme of fixtures, but
unless I want to drag myself into deepest Herefordshire, the only option is Tividale. Ironically, I would have gone there
the previous Tuesday as Dudley Town play their home games at the same ground, but I must confess to favouring going to these
places when the landlords are playing, as opposed to the tenants.
The ground is very
typical of the region, a long covered stand down one side with mesh fencing above it to stop the ball travelling onto the
nearby main Dudley to Wolverhampton road. The other three sides are open except behind the top goal where a modern clubhouse
and dressing room complex is situated.
The game itself didnt
really mean anything to either side, Tividale were destined to finish mid-table, while the visitors were still in with a shout
of a top four finish. Indeed, the visitors, managed by Delwyn Humphries of Kidderminster Harriers F.A. Cup cartwheel fame,
looked the more impressive side in the early exchanges and could have scored but it took a while for them to finally get the
When the first goal
did arrive, it was quickly followed by a second, and the game was effectively over. Tividale did rally in the second period,
but Shawbury had done enough and the inevitable conclusion eventually arrived with bright sun beating down across the West
One thing that did
impress me about the set up at Tividale was the bar, it was certainly one of the better venues in the West Midlands League,
it was just a shame I was driving, but like last Bank Holiday Monday I made up for it later.
Belper Town 4 Holbrook Miners Welfare 2
The Belper Nursing
Cup is a charity tournament, competed for by sides within close proximity of the town, and is always an end of season affair
culminating in a final a Belpers Christchurch Meadow ground.
Its taken very seriously
by local football clubs especially the likes of Holbrook St Michaels, Holbrook Miners Welfare and Belper United, but not quite
so much by Belper Town as it has perhaps been seen as slightly beneath them given the gulf in status between the Nailers and
the rest of the opposition.
Belper Town have
historically played the reserves in the tournament, but this year was a little bit different. With a new manager in tow who
liked the idea of getting his hands on some silverware, combined with a set of supporters who were desperate for something
to cheer, it was serious stuff, and out came the first team.
'Unfair!', the locals
shouted, it was surely against the ethos of the Nursing Cup? Well maybe it was, but bollocks to them, it's about time the
Nailers showed who was the Daddy in this manor, and they were prepared to take on all comers.
2-0 in the quarter final, and they are five leagues below Belper, so based on that it was quite an admirable display by the
visitors, while the semi final, played on the neutral territory that was Thorntons Playing Fields, saw six leagues inferior
Swanwick Pentrich Road beaten 6-0.
Then came the final,
against the highest ranked club in the tournament, behind Belper, in the shape of Central Midlands Supreme outfit Holbrook
Miners Welfare. Holbrook fielded a number of former Belper players in their line up, so it promised to be a bit tasty.
The lager certainly
was tasty, the four pints of it I managed to consume between six oclock and the kick off time of 7.15pm. It should have been
7pm, but an advertising cock up meant it was put out at 7.30pm in the press and on the website. Arguments ensued, but eventually
a compromise was reached when it was suggested that if the organising committee actually wanted a crowd to turn up, they would
be better kicking off as late as possible!
The Belper Massive
turned up, some having travelled down from student slumber in Sheffield, armed with airhorns and a drum. So I thought it would
be best to take a seat in the stand rather than have to be within close proximity of the racket they were going to make. And
what a good choice that turned out to be, especially as Belper rattled in four goals without reply, sending the drummer into
Joe Carter slammed
home the first, followed by a neat finish from Pete Stubley, and a well taken brace from Paul Hurrell. The Nursing Cup was
The second half was
a bit of a non-event, with Holbrook scoring an early goal and then grabbing a second near the end to give the scoreline a
respectable look, but the game had been decided in a very one sided first period.
So, for the first
time since 1997, Belper were going to lift a trophy, and up stepped Tim Hogg to lift the Nursing Cup, and he did the unthinkable,
he dropped it!!
It inspired a witty
and impromptu chant,
'When Hogg, went
up, to drop the Nursing Cup, we were there!'
The drinks flowed
in the bar afterwards, and then in the pub. I don't know how much more I drank, but I do remember having an argument with
a Belper fan, before getting a taxi home. The rest is a bit of a mystery.
Champions of Belper,
at last, it was small consolation after a truly desperate season. I'm just glad I missed most of it!
Gedling Miners Welfare 0 Retford United 2
It didnt go to plan,
truly it didn't.
The idea was to set
off mid afternoon down to Hertfordshire, to take in the Stotfold v Daventry Town match, and as I was off work it seemed a
nice run out and leisurely all the same. Not quite.
I got out of bed
around lunchtime, woken by the phone, it was the ex-missus, the Mother of the children and she knew I was off work, and that
usually means I end up running around doing something for her.
I kept thinking to
myself as I approached the phone 'be firm, be firm, don't do it',
'I know you are off
work, but my Dad is due to come out of hospital this afternoon, and given the fact hes had an operation on his heart, would
you be so kind to fetch him?'
'What time?' I said.
'Ok, no problem'
Well, you cant say
no in those situations, I couldn't have the poor old bugger catching a bus or a train. That was that then.
It got worse, just
when I thought I could get him home for about four o'clock, delays catered for, I spotted the weather through the window - it
was hammering it down.
I rang Stotfold,
and the Secretary's wife was very helpful, or not so as the case may be,
'Well they are down
on the pitch, forking it, and the games have to be played by Saturday, and we've got to fit three in by then, but they haven't
got to decide until five o'clock anyway, so I dont know if its on'.
that was no help, I grabbed some food, picked up Sundays Non-League Paper and went for twenty minutes on the khazi (come on,
admit it, how many of you read the NLP on the bog, its an obligatory Sunday tradition!)
The hospital trip
came and went, and I got home about four o'clock, waited until 4.30 and then rang Stotfold again,
'No more news I'm
afraid, the entire Stotfold Royal British Legion Cribbage Team are busy forking it, but it's touch and go, so I can't tell
you anything, can I take your number and ring you back? Are you from the League by the way, only we're doing our best'. (I
exaggerated about the Cribbage Team)
Bugger it, it's 108
miles, and I wasn't gambling on it, I rang my old mate Frank Harwood, top man at the Central Midlands League, and he never
lets me down,
'All matches are
on, they're under instructions, no more postponements, give my regards to your Dad, and Gedling kicks off at 6.30'.
Bingo, game done
by quarter past eight, back in Belper by nine, and then off to the pub, it was looking up after all.
Gedling takes about
45 minutes, well it does during the Nottingham rush hour, and I saw a well fought out end of season clash between Champions
and moneybags club Retford United, and the hosts who are new to the division this season.
I spent most of the
game in the company of Belper Town's manager Gary Hayward, who is a great chap to have as a mate, probably not so great a
chap to have as an enemy though and it was interesting to hear his views on players within the locality.
I suggested one player
within the Retford ranks who might be a good acquisition and before you ask,
no, it wasn't Vil Powell, his views were succinct, and to the point,
So you won't be signing
him then Gaz? I enquired.
Retford never got
out of second gear, and cruised to a 2-0 victory through a Powell penalty and a second half strike from Simon Hennessey. Gedling
battled hard, and put a foot in, but never threatened the visitors goal, and it probably summed up their mid-table finish
for the season.
I raced back to Belper,
got to the pub, met my old man and watched the second half of the Portsmouth v Arsenal game. You would have thought I'd had
enough lager over the past 24 hours, but when you've sunk the best part of three gallons over four days, what's another couple
Had a steady walk
back home, and turned on the computer, Stotfold beat Daventry 2-0 according to
their website, and they wanted to thank all of those people who had helped make the game playable.
Maybe next season.
Market Drayton Town 1 Brierley Hill & Hagley Alliance 3
As I was driving
back from Cefn Druids, I remember spotting the home of Market Drayton Town as I travelled along the bypass. It looked neat
and tidy, the town was reputed to be pleasant, so I earmarked it for a visit. Strangely enough I spotted they had a League
Cup Semi-Final against the team with a long name, on a night when nowt much else was happening.
I had my doubts about
it being on, I rang the Brierley Hill Secretary, who told me that he too was concerned, but apparently Shropshire hadn't received
any rain, whereas the rest of the Country was in the midst of a monsoon!!
The journey was horrific,
and driving down the M1 from Sheffield the rain was unrelenting, in fact I was on setting three on the wipers, and I've only
ever done that once before in the four years I've owned my car. That was the time in the car wash when a scantily clad female
walked past and I wanted a better view!!
The rain continued
down the A38, and only started to reduce to a mere deluge when I got to Uttoxeter, but the Secretary was right, once I got
past Stoke and moved into the rather pleasant countryside, it was beautiful. It didn't last though, for the rain was following
Market Drayton sits
on a canal, and as I can't be arsed to go upstairs and check the map at this moment in time, I'll hazard a guess that it's
the Shropshire Union Canal. It's also the home of Muller, the makers of yoghurts, fruit corners, and some gross looking rice
concoction. In fact, you soon know when you've missed the turn for the ground, because you end up at the factory, which dominates
Hunger was biting,
but I felt that a town like Market Drayton (can I just call it Drayton from now on as I'm getting a bit bored of typing a
double barrelled name?), was unlikely to possess a KFC, McDs or indeed a Pizza Hut, so I settled for trusty old Safeway, and
it was at this point that the rains caught up with me. It wanged it down in a fierce manner, but on arriving at the well appointed
ground we had no worries about the game being on as the pitch seemed in good nick for the time of the year.
What was it all about
then? It was the second leg of the League Cup Semi Final, and from the first leg Drayton held a slender 1-0 lead. And in their
first season under their new name, as they used to be called Little Drayton Rangers, they were set for a Cup Final against
either Tividale or Malvern Town. A decent crowd assembled, probably in the region of 150, and created a reasonable atmosphere,
but it was the visitors who took the lead through an early first half penalty. This ignited the away support of around twenty
who had made the journey up from the Black Country. This in itself was a bit odd, as when I went to a home game recently,
they probably had about half that number in terms of support!!
Drayton fought back
and equalised just before half time, but the real drama came in the last ten minutes. Firstly, the Drayton goalkeeper failed
to deal with a cross, and Brierley prodded home their second goal of the night which evened up the tie. The prospect of extra
time was looming and, on a damp night, I could have perhaps done without that, but I needn't have worried.
pushed forward for the goal that would win the tie, with their vocal following urging them on, but then came drama. Brierley
broke quickly, and a striker (whose name I know not!) ran in on goal, and in Geoff Hurst, last minute of extra time fashion,
blasted the ball past the keeper and into the roof of the net just under the stantion.
It was time for pandemonium,
as the Drayton fans moved towards the exit, the Brierley bench moved at high speed into the centre circle to celebrate. Their
rather vocal manager, who appeared to have two forms of motivation, one being swearing, and the other being swearing loudly,
did what he did best, swore, at a high pitch as he danced a jig in Nobby Stiles fashion.
So that was that,
Brierley move on to the final, Drayton couldn't believe they'd let it slip, whereas I could go home and dry out.
Newport Pagnell Town 2 Blackstones 1
To many, the Smiths
are the greatest band to have ever lived, and while that argument is perhaps flawed when placing them along side the Beatles
and the Stones, one thing is certain, they are the best band to have ever come out of Manchester and that is some statement
from a Stone Roses fan like myself.
and still is, something of an iconic figure, but to be honest he was a bit bonkers! Lyrically, he was a genius, but at times,
even the most die hard fan wondered whether he'd lost the plot.
would write a lyric that lingers long in the memory, and one of those lyrics, which was just a throw away line at the end
of 'Is It Really So Strange?', was just that,
'I lost my bag in
What? We all wondered
at the time? But what it did do was inadvertently put Newport Pagnell on the map, especially amongst the vast army of Smiths
Every time I hear
the name mentioned, or indeed I pass Newport Pagnell Services on the M1, I think of that lyric, and indeed smile!
I went early today,
it was a beautiful day, but I went early for a reason. I wanted to see if I could find any kind of link to Morrissey and the
Smiths in the town. I had no idea what to expect at all.
As you drive into
Newport Pagnell one of the first things that strikes you is the attractiveness of the town and, on a hot day, the women!!
Obviously cash is not in short supply in these parts given the number of open top cars on the road, being driven by tanned
lovelies. I parked up, and walked through the Church Yard into the High Street. It had it's usual array of shops, pubs and
businesses, but on top of that it was just that little bit more classy. This isn't meant to be disrespectful towards the North
of England, but Bacup it wasn't! In hindsight it is not surprising as it is the furthest South I've ventured all season, and
they hardly shop at Netto in the South of England do they?
I wandered around,
attempting to find the shrine to Morrissey, with little success. In fact I could find no trace of the great one. I could have
done one of those little vox pop surveys and asked a random sample of locals if they knew what the connection between the
town and the band was, but I had visions of being sectioned!
I had a better idea,
stuff the original plan, go and get a meal deal from the nearest supermarket and sit on the bridge over the river to watch
the totty go by. After half an hour of that, in the sun, all thoughts of losing my bag in Newport Pagnell had gone, and it
was time to head to the ground.
The ground is located
on the edge of the town in a public park, but it's not a public park in the Dinnington Town sense perhaps, it's a fully enclosed
football ground. A kids footy tournament was taking place on some nearby pitches, so the burger and hot dog stall was doing
a roaring trade (but no pies, I've given up now!), while the bar was doing a brisk trade.
The facilities themselves
are pretty basic, and although the club are doing their best to portray a professional image and promote themselves as the
top team in the Milton Keynes Borough, a stumbling block arose about January this year. Yep, Wimbledon, or the MK Dons as
they are known in these parts. Any youngster wanting to watch football locally can hop on a bus and watch Professional football
just down the road, and that, for Newport Pagnell Town must be very disheartening. This is the other problem with franchise
football, it impinges on the clubs fighting for prominence in the locality.
The game meant nothing
to either side, and it kind of showed in the first half as neither side seemed over bothered about winning the game. Blackstones
took the lead late in the half, but two goals in quick succession in the second period handed the three points to the hosts.
The highlight of the second half came in the closing stages when a gaggle of young women arrived, presumable players girlfriends,
and they were definitely in keeping with what I'd seen in the town earlier.
I could quite easily
lose something in the town of Newport Pagnell, and it definitely wouldn't be my bag. In fact, maybe Morrissey got so sidetracked
with the scenery, he accidentally left it somewhere? Or we might have got it all wrong and it was a cunning plot to dispose
of his Mother in Law?
But having said that,
he was always a bit ambiguous, wasn't he?
27th April 2004
Rocester v Oldbury United (postponed)
It was interesting
reading one of Jamiesies Jaunts recently, he talked about this time of year which should be a time for filling the boots when
it comes to going to football matches. Virtually every night of the week can a match be found within a reasonable distance,
but along with that, you can't help counting down the days until the season ends.
All season I've made
my plans and stuck with them, weather permitting, but tonight I was having second thoughts about my original plan. I'd got
the Dudley Town v Ettingshall Holy Trinity in mind, but I had a concern about the rain. It had tipped it down in the previous
24 hours and at 5pm, when I would have to be leaving, it was still raining, so without even checking with the club I decided
not to bother. I really couldn't be arsed, and after a really bad day at the office I'd lost all motivation. But having said
that I didn't really fancy a night in front of the TV, so I needed a closer alternative.
I rang my old man,
and with a choice of Sheffield Club (yes, I was desperate!!), Hucknall Town and Rocester, we made our selection, and typically
it was the one furthest from me, and guess what, within about fifteen minutes of where he was currently located.
Rocester it was.
I rang the ground, no problems with the pitch, and upon arrival it all seemed normal. I paid to get in, bought a pint, and
started to read the programme.
I then overheard
what looked to be a Rocester official saying to the referee that Oldbury had broken down at Tamworth Services, and it was
now 7pm. I had visions of a delayed kick off, but then something struck me.
I'm pretty good when
it comes to roads, and I couldn't understand why a journey from Oldbury to Rocester should need to go via Tamworth Services
on the M42??
Anyway, I carried
on reading and at 7.30pm my old man turned up. At this stage, Oldbury were allegedly still stranded but Rocester were getting
more and more anxious. This game was a crucial one as far as they were concerned, as a victory would put them top of the Midland
Alliance and leave them in pole position for the league title with just one game to go after tonight.
Then the truth came
out. The five or so Oldbury players who travelled by car took a phone call and the truth was almost too bizarre to believe!
The coach party left
Birmingham, and started to become concerned when they found themselves heading towards the M1 along the M42, which as already
stated, was the wrong way. Someone questioned the driver, only to discover a strong smell of alcohol - the driver was drunk!
They got him to pull up at the next services, which was Tamworth, and had to wait for the Police to arrive.
On hearing the story
we were in stitches, indeed it had been almost worth making the trip just to say we'd been there. The Rocester mob didn't
see the funny side and a woman didn't take to kindly to seeing us laughing out loud at the situation.
So of all the options
available, we picked the wrong one, and after a refund only one place was worth visiting, and that was the pub.
As a footnote, Rocester
won the following game at home to Grosvenor Park, and now meet Oldbury again on the 6th May and they must win.
Incidentally, Rocester did actually arrive at Rocester back in February, only for the game to be abandoned due to serious
injury. Let's hope it's third time lucky, and then perhaps Rocester can lighten up a bit.
I should really have stuck to my guns and gone to Dudley, they won 3-0 and everyone was sober
by all accounts!
From The April 14th Edition Of The Metro Newspaper
BTF Member Stuart James was distraught at the above revelation.
"I'm appalled", said Mr James of Gleadless, "he never even thought to invite me or Geoff on one of these events. It's
NEWI Cefn Druids 1 Aberystwyth Town 3
NEWI Cefn Druids,
or, North East Wales Institute Cefn Druids as it should be known.
It's a worrying trend
sweeping through Welsh non-league football, indeed before the local college became involved it was Flexsys Cefn Druids, after
the local rubber smelting plant . We've also got Total Network Solutions, which is the professional village club who were
once known as Llansantfraid. Before that we had UWIC Inter Cardiff, which was another student based sponsorship, and we have
the comically named Airbus UK set to be read out by James Alexander Gordon next season should the crooks from Barry Town not
throw a spanner in the works.
I don't like it.
Can you imagine it over here, we could have the Sheffield Hallam Institute of Technology sponsoring Sheffield Club, or even
the Manchester University French Faculty sponsoring Flixton. I dread to think what would happen if Coventry University had
a Neorological Testing division sponsoring a local club..
Anyway, why Wales?
I've never been to
a League of Wales game, or Welsh Premier League game as it's now known, and as Cefn Druids are the nearest to the land of
my father (England well, Northern Ireland if we want to be pedantic about my old man), it was the obvious choice. Location
wise, the best way to describe it is to travel to Stoke-on-Trent, keep going West until you find Whitchurch, cross the border,
take a deep breath and the place is just South of Wrexham. Incidentally, a few more miles West and you arrive at a place called
I went to Wrexham
once, just over ten years ago, they beat Swansea City 3-2, and I have to say that if you ever get the chance to watch them
play, go and stand on the Crispin End at the Racecourse Ground and listen to some of the finest songs you will ever hear.
Wrexham Lager, feed
me till I want no moooore!!
On top of that, it's
the only football crowd I've heard sing a staccato version of 'The Lords My Shepherd', it's spine tingling stuff.
Cefn Druids play
in a large village called Cefn Mawr, and when I drove into the village my illusions of an idyllic Welsh village were shattered,
in fact, my first thoughts were that it was a Welsh version of Shirebrook. It was dead, most of the shops were boarded up,
and eventually I found a deserted café that was prepared to serve me with a burger
and some chips, I felt slightly let down, but believe me, it got much better.
I got to the ground,
and made my way to the bar, and this was something of an experience. About twenty or so Aber fans were insitu already, and
they were speaking in this funny language, bloody ignorant if you ask me, if they want to come to our country, they should
make an effort to at least use the Queens English!!
A pint of Wrexham
Lager was consumed (it tasted like shite!), before I was quickly summoned outside, apparently all Welsh Premier League games
kick off at 2.30pm. I couldn't work out why, but then perhaps it's to allow time for the carrier pigeons to get the final
scores down to London for Sports Report.
It then got funny,
I mentioned earlier the passionate support and vocal abilities of Wrexham fans, well the Cefn Druids Fan was in equally good
form. It was an innovative song, and for those under the age of 25, and over the age of 45, you probably won't recognise it,
although I'll tell you what it originated from at the end of my piece.
"You don't have to
sell my soul, it's already in me, you don't have to sell my soul, it's already in me, I wanna be a Druid"
Then came the tannoy
announcements, which is quite obviously a league requirement. In other words, the safety announcement. We found out where
the exits were, we were told who the Chief Steward is, and what colour flourescent bib he was wearing, we were told what assembly
points to head for in the event of an emergency and not forgetting, what to do in the event of an English invasion.
Now I'm sure this
wasn't deliberate, and I don't think it struck a chord with anyone, but what was the next record they played?
Tragedy by the Bee
Gees, it was just pure class!
Matters on the field
were interesting, and I have to report that the Scousers have invaded the Welsh Premier League. As Cefn Mawr is on the English
border, you can forgive them, but Aberystwyth, it's miles away from Liverpool!
It was like watching
Droylsden of the late nineties, the Manager was Gary Finlay, a Scouser, while leading scorer Tony Bagger Wright was still
terrorising defences and screeching loudly in his stereotypical style. Ged Hennigan, who snapped and snarled his way around
the UniBond League was his usual pleasant self in midfield. But credit where it's due, they probably had the two best Welsh
non-league footballers currently playing the game in their side. Marc Lloyd-Williams, the ginger centre forward, formerly
of Bangor City and Southport, and man of the match Ricky Evans in midfield.
Druids took the lead
in a poor first half but Aber came back and played as well as any side I've seen this season in the second period. Wright
prodded the ball home after Aber realised that the Druids goalkeeper was incapable of catching the ball from deep crosses.
While Evans headed home when it became clear that the keeper didn't like leaving his line either.
Wright got the third
goal when the keeper ran from his goal to clear, mis-cued, inadvertently handled outside the box, and then let the ball run
to Bagger to finish well from a good forty yards out.
With Caersws only
drawing, Aber looked to be on course for the UEFA Cup, if not least the InterToto Cup. Latvia looks like the destination,
I just hope the Liverpudlians have got valid passports!
Interesting all round,
and very entertaining, and I must confess, I actually enjoyed my trip to Wales. Try it some time readers, it's not as daunting
and unwelcoming as you might think.
It was nice to cross
that border back into England though..
Footnote: The greatest
debut album of a band ever was by The Stone Roses, who released the originally titled 'The Stone Roses', and on that was a
track entitled 'I Wanna be Adored', or, as my ex bird used to say, quite appropriately, 'I Wanna be a Dog'. And that is the
original source of the Cefn Druids anthem.
Shifnal Town 3 Nuneaton Griff 0
Bank Holiday Monday
afternoon, nice weather, kids safely despatched back to their Mothers, and the serious stuff could begin.
Last Bank Holiday
I managed three games, but today I decided to stick to two, but the problem I initially had was finding a venue with a 3pm
kick off, but after a bit of web surfin', I found a relatively sort journey, and a interesting match, in Shifnal.
Shifnal doesn't take
long at all from where I live. Nip down the A38, head along the A5, cross the M6, jump on the M54 and it's a couple of junctions
along, just before Telford.
It was a nice journey,
Radio 1, and the lovely Edith Bowman, was doing a day of requests, and it was great to hear such classics as 'Love Will Tear
Us Apart', by Joy Division and 'With Or Without You' by U2, but I have to confess to turning off around Brownhills when 'The
Frog Chorus' got an airing. I'm starting to sound like Trev from Trevs Travels, so I'll change tack if I may!
I got to Shifnal
in time for some lunch, so after driving around for a while I found a nice pub on the Newport Road and had a meal with a couple
of pints. The place was filling up, folks no doubt setting themselves up for an all dayer, but I wasn't jealous, my big session
was coming later.
Shifnal play at a
ground called Phoenix Park, but for those Peter Kay fans out there, they do not have a Phoenix Club on the ground, playing
Chorley FM, and with Max and Paddy on the doors. Neither do they have a Jerry St Clair on the tannoy, but they did have a
chap in a wheelchair!
The ground was very
nice. In fact, if I had a lot of cash, and wanted to start a club from scratch, I'd model the ground on Phoenix Park. It's
built into a natural slope so three sides of the ground have been cut into to make some neat gravelled banking to get an elevated
view of the game from, while the main seated stand is smart, tidy and spacious.
The downside is the
lack of a clubhouse, and the slightly out of town location, hence the fact that crowds hover around the 50-75 mark, although
I would estimate today that around 100 were present.
It was goalless at
half time, but I don't do goalless draws and thankfully Shifnal took charge in the second period to score three times as the
weather turned very unpleasant. Shifnal have been struggling in the Midland Combination after relegation from the Midland
Alliance last season, whereas Griff are one of the better sides so I suppose it was a bit of a shock result.
I was edgy
towards the end, I wanted to get away, I had to get back, for the main event, the one game that we all look forward to, it
was now only a few hours away..
Belper Town 0 Matlock Town 2
I'm going to have
to come clean, deep down, my team is Belper Town, in fact, anyone from the locality will know exactly who I am, I used to
do the match reports on Radio Derby, but this season has been slightly different from my point of view.
For reasons far too
complex to talk about in this column, I've distanced myself from the club this season, and I couldn't have picked a better
time to do it, because quite frankly, they've been shite!
I reckon I've been
to about six games, in fact one of the last ones was a deeply disappointing defeat on Boxing Day away at tonights opponents,
but I want to tell you a bit more about what this game means.
Matlock Town have
historically been the top club in the area, but over recent years they've struggled a bit, while Belper Town have been on
the up, and since 1997 the two clubs have locked horns in the UniBond League, and for the first four seasons, the mighty Nailers
had the upper hand, but over the last few years it's started to turn. I don't think that there is any doubt about it though,
the game means more to Belper than it does Matlock, purely because Belper haven't got a traditional local rival, while Matlock
have in the shape of Buxton and perhaps less so, Alfreton Town. So to Matlock it's another local fixture, while for Belper,
they are the adopted enemy, because no one else is really!
Despite the antipathy
towards the club, from the moment I walked out of my front door, and walked over the park to the hill that overlooks the valley,
my heart started to beat faster. In fact as I looked over the valley and saw the ground at the bottom, my stomach knotted,
this was big, the Ding Dong Derwent Valley Derby as it is known in these parts, really matters.
First port of call
was the Riflemans Arms in town, home fans chatted anxiously, away fans came in dribs and drabs, noticeably more confident.
A few lagers were consumed, and I was strangely anxious, not about the game, but about the fact that it could be the last
time this game happens for a few seasons at least. The worst case scenario would be Matlock winning the league, then the play
offs, and qualifying for Conference North. The best case is they either don't win the league, or fail in the play offs and
compete in the new but not so improved UniBond Premier. Anyway, at least one, if not two leagues will divide the clubs next
Six pints later,
and the game started, and for the cynical amongst us, myself included, it would only be a matter of time before Matlock scored,
which they did. The cynics behind the goal in fact were taking bets on when Belper would have their first shot on target.
The one and only shot on target came in the 75th minute, just after Matlock made it 2-0, at a canter I might add.
The atmosphere was
good though, nearly 700 fans were present, with a rough 50/50 split, and it was the visiting fans from Matlock who made the
majority of the noise. The few from Belper who were participating were doing their best,
you're having a laugh!'
At the final whistle,
we had to accept the inevitable, and I'm reasonably gracious in defeat. I'll happily shake the hands of the visiting fans
and congratulate them on their victory, but what I can't take is them standing in the bar chanting victorious songs and applauding
each player into the room. Especially, when the Belper players, many of them who were experiencing their first match of this
magnitude, probably didn't give a rats ass. But can you blame them, when you pay peanuts, we all know what you get.
We moved on to a
pub, took a club Director with us, and it was difficult not to aim criticism at the club via him, but I think generally the
posse of us that had gone to the pub, understood the cash situation at the club, and tried to be as fair as possible. That
said, it doesn't mean to say that a large number of Belper fans have been far from impressed at the shenanigans that have
taken place over the last eighteen months. Two wage cuts, a good manager quits, and the way it's going relegation avoided
by default. The season couldn't end quick enough.
At about 11 o'clock
it was just me and my oldest mate. I was drunk, he was probably slightly worse. I could see the state of the club, more than
the defeat, was hurting him. He was getting bitter, and somewhat aggressive. But then it struck me, where the difference lies.
Next week I have
a choice who to go and watch, I've made a conscious decision to walk away from a club, which in hindsight was probably hard
to do. For him, he hasn't yet allowed himself to have that choice, he has to go through the pain every week.
I thought about that
long and hard as I weaved back towards my house with donner kebab in hand. But despite my feelings towards the club that I've
been so intrinsically linked with over many years, my feelings towards the opposition hadn't changed. Walking across the park,
I suddenly found myself singing, it was nearly midnight, the locals would have opened their windows and heard the following,
in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus looked up and he said, We Hate Matlock, and We Hate Matlock"
Stewarts & Lloyds
Corby 0 Bourne Town 2
Anyone who has ever
had the misfortune of a visit to Corby Town's Rockingham Triangle ground will no doubt tell you that it is the most uninspiring
and soulless arena in non-league football.
I'm not a big fan
of multi-purpose sports stadiums, as Corby's ground is, indeed, a well respected photographer of football grounds once described
the place as "The worst venue I've ever watched football in."
You have to drive
past Corby's ground to get to Stewarts & Lloyds, and I hoped that my destination today, while not as good facilities wise,
would at least feel more like a football ground. It was slightly better, but only slightly
Ive seen Lloyds in
action three times already this season, and my views on them have been well documented in previous
articles, so I had been looking forward to visiting their Occupation Road ground, and on this occasion for the visit of Bourne
The ground is situated
in the middle of the Stewarts & Lloyds Sports Complex, which comprises of what appears to be a huge Social Club, which
is now a nightclub, a rugby ground, various other pitches, and the football ground, smack bang in the middle. Due to league
regulations, they've built a railing around the ground, which gives it a slightly unwelcoming appearance, while the small
stand has a few wooden benches in it. The home dugout has been virtually demolished, and I wasnt sure if it was the weather,
or the locals that had caused that.
The most impressive
aspect of the ground was the dressing rooms and clubhouse complex which is fairly modern, and this poses a problem for the
football club. Like a lot of clubs, they obviously rely heavily on the revenue generated by the social club to support the
team. The trouble is, many of the drinkers don't want to watch the football, but to get to the club they have to drive into
the ground to get to it. So when a match is on, it's very difficult to charge admission, so they simply don't!
For the first time
this season, sorry, the second, I forgot about Matlock United, I went to a senior non-league game where the home club do not
charge admission! The programmes are given away for free, so it's extremely hard to complain about the football and facilities
Despite the fact
that it was free, only about 25 people actually bothered to turn up, to watch a game that was spoiled by the high winds. Bourne
won the game 2-0, but I felt that Lloyds would have had a far better chance if my hero, 'Disco' Dave Torrance had been playing!
No sign of the man, he wasn't at the ground, he was certainly not in the bar, I just hope for the sake of UCL football, he's
not been given the boot!
I didn't particularly
enjoy this little venture, indeed at kick off time I was still in the bar, on the phone,
trying to convince an ex-girlfriend to meet me later on that night. At half time I sat and watched the Grand National,
missing the first five minutes of the second half, and when I did venture outside I watched the rest of the game from the
warmth of my car, with Five Live for company.
The one highlight
came just before half time, I''ll set the scene for you!
Bourne Towns Chairman
is a chap called Terry. When I went to Bourne (the home of the finest kebab meat!), I was looking at some press cuttings in
the bar and saw one from the eighties when they won the league. The league Chairman
presenting the trophy was indeed 'Our Tel', who has since decided Club Chairmanship is the way to go.
Tel is a typical
club Chairman, he drives a plush Rover 75, he wears a long trench coat and arrived at five to three with three of his fellow
Bourne had a handful
of fans at the game, and one of them, decided to launch a verbal assault at one of his players. Tel didnt like it.
"Why dont you shut
up and leave the lad alone ?"
"I'll say what I
like, I pay my money" (except today of course!)
"Have you ever played
football at this level, cos you haven't got a clue pal."
"I've played football
at a very good level, and I'm telling you, he's got no idea!"
On and on it went,
for a good five minutes, the entire crowd were now focussing on the row, while both dugouts had turned round to watch the
proceedings. It was classic stuff, lots of finger pointing and gesticulating, but then Bourne scored.
It got better, Tel
turned into a stereotypical football fan, taunting the Bourne fan, suggesting he had been right all along, the Bourne fan,
while pleased they'd scored, was not impressed that he had been proven wrong. The battle continued, this time at close quarters
behind the dugout, before eventually, I guess, they got bored with each other.
As I said earlier,
I dont want to be too critical, as S&L don't charge for you to watch them, and for the few people who are interested,
it's a labour of love. I imagine that they were once a thriving outfit when the Steel Works was still open, that's now gone
but the football club has survived, but you have to wonder how much longer they can compete at a senior level.
In case you were
interested, I failed with the ex-girlfriend, and still no bloody pies!!
Norton United 2 Daisy Hill 0
It's almost ten years
to the month since I waved a fond farewell to the Potteries. As a student at Keele University, I lived for three years in
Arnold Bennett country (I was an English student), and it does hold some fond memories.
Great moments, such
as being chased down Peebles Road in Silverdale by a local ex-miner who held the opinion that "you f*****g students are leeching
from this community, we've got nothing now cos of you and Thatcher!"
I also recall fondly
being penned in outside a nightclub in Hanley by the police to stop the locals, or the Potters as they were named, from getting
at us. In annoyance they turned over a taxi instead!
But the highlight
was perhaps when we were quietly eating in an Indian Restaurant in Newcastle Under Lyme when our rugby team turned up, donning
toilet seats round their necks! A few locals took exception, and a mighty rumble ensued before a fair crowd spent the night
in the local pokey!
Aside from serious
student matters, I did manage to work my way around a few of the local football clubs. Newcastle Town were a decent outfit, Eastwood Hanley sadly folded while Kidsgrove Athletic were on the way up. Knypersley
Victoria was a nice setting while I did enjoy the odd trip to Meir KA.
Norton United though,
were a mere local league side so I never had the pleasure, but now they are in the North West Counties League, I thought it
worth a visit.
I've driven down
the A50 and along the A500 countless times in recent years, but for some strange reason, as soon as I venture into the homelands
of Stoke-on-Trent, I get that strange sensation in my stomach, almost as if I'm meeting up with a long lost relative, or an
ex-girlfriend after many years apart. It was no different tonight as I drove up through Longport and into Burlsem, the home
of the mighty Port Vale. It was like the years had rolled back, and things, as usual, hadn't really changed much, apart from
the fact that my precise knowledge of the local road network wasn't quite as it should have been!!
Norton United play
in a small suburb called Smallthorne. I never got this far all those years ago, but it was one of those places that you always
used to see on the local map, and wondered what it was like, but never ventured to. I admit it, I got lost. With familiarity
comes arrogance sometimes, and usually I always take a map with me on my travels, but tonight I felt it wasn't required, as
I know this area like the back of my hand. Unfortunately I wasn't banking on a strange sequence of mini roundabouts on the
edge of Burslem.
two or three abortive attempts, I found the road I needed and got to the ground. Not before a dodgy burger and chips from
a local establishment, which I felt distinctly uncomfortable in as tonight Matthew, I was a referees assessor!!
The ground itself
was tidy, but basic. A small covered stand with a few seats stretched from the top byline to the halfway line, with hard standing
around the rest of the enclosed ground. The pitch was in good condition, while the view over towards the Leek Road was quite
impressive, if you like urban landscapes that is.
Norton were below
halfway, while Daisy Hill were sat in the bottom quarter, so I wasnt expecting Real Madrid v Meeelan, but I suspected it could
be a bit lively as just before kick off a Norton player turned round to his team mates and shouted,
"We f*****g owe these
b******s, now come on!"
As suspected, it
was no holds barred stuff, and the quality was surprisingly good. Both sides moved the ball around well and at a ferocious
pace, but Norton always had the edge and came out 2-0 winners in the end.
The comical highlight
came at half time though. In search of a cuppa, I followed the crowd into the plush clubhouse, only to find I was in the boardroom.
Now in my UniBond Coat, and work suit, I looked the part, I just had to blag my way through the next fifteen minutes! The
cup of tea arrived, then came the complimentary cheeseburger, no questions asked. I felt as though I wasn't mingling, so I
started a conversation with a chap stood next to me,
"It's going to be
interesting to see what the restructuring throws up at the end of the season?" I said, as I wasnt sure of which club he was
"Dunno mate, I've
wandered in here by accident, I was looking for the tea bar."
Northampton Spencer 5 Raunds Town 0
As a student, back
in 1992, I went to Northampton for a weekend, not by choice though, as my then girlfriend was also a student, at Nene College
(pronounced Nenn, not Neen as some people think!)
I dont remember an
awful lot about it, except for the fact that Northampton seemed to be a bit of a dump, and I was in a hurry to get back home,
which at the time was Stoke-On-Trent. Pot, Kettle and Black spring to mind I know, when comparing Stoke to Northampton, but
I was unimpressed by what I thought to be an ugly London overspill at the side of the M1.
I went to Northampton
this time with an open mind, and memories came flooding back as I drove along the old route I used to take to the house of
student squalor in the Abington district. I recalled the Hospital, had no idea theyd built a huge retail park, while I was
delighted to see the Carlsberg Brewery was still in place!
ground is in a hollow just off the Northern Ring Road (its not actually called that as such, but it acts as a ring road),
and I remember seeing it from the good old days, but as I was running early, and a little hungry, I decided to pop into town
before heading to the ground.
Nothing had changed,
it was still a dump, totally unappealing, very grey and old looking. I drove from the North side of the town, down to the
South, and saw nothing to tempt me to leave the confines of my car! I decided the sheer effort of tramping round the town
centre to find something as tempting as a KFC was just too uninspiring, so I headed for the student district in the hope of
finding something more appealing.
I found Safeway,
and decided to go for a good old fashioned Meal Deal! Sat in the car, and chomped away, it was all very different from the
trip to the delightful taverns in the lovely lakeside regions of Cogenhoe!
The ground is not
the easiest to find for the uninitiated. You have to drive through an industrial estate and take a cart track through some
allotments, before passing over a bumpy piece of wasteland and finally the car park. Theyve just had a new stand built, while
the clubhouse was friendly and spacious, but on the field it hasnt been the best of seasons.
A win was required
to pull the mighty Spencer away from the relegation zone, while Raunds, who I saw capitulate at Long Buckby recently, were
in dire need of an improvement.
Raunds were shocking,
but Spencer scored three times in a ten minute spell after half time to guarantee a victory, this after being 1-0 to the good
at half time. They got a fifth goal late in the game and were worthy winners.
Now then, I very
rarely comment on referees, but this one was crap! He watched a Raunds player head butt a Spencer defender, sat back and viewed
a sizeable punch up, and then after consulting with his able assistant, he decided to do precisely nothing!!
No pies by the way,
but that was to be expected, but I have to comment on the programme, or should I say pamphlet! Imagine a piece of A4 paper,
folded as though it were a letter, well thats the shape of the programme, it was almost like a brochure for a museum found
in a seaside bedsit foyer! Neat and novel anyway, the editorial was infact an A4 sheet, folded like a letter, dont know what
the average ground hopper would have thought, hed have to get a newly shaped plastic folder for this little number!
I was intrigued to
know where the Spencer suffix came from, and one thing I did notice was that an area locally was actually called Spencer,
but the name apparently comes from the former Spencer Works, I got bored with the discussion at this stage and didnt ask what
the Spencer Works actually made. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
I was more impressed
with the view from the stand, which was the storage yard for the Carlsberg Brewery, which in itself was separated from the
ground by the railway line.
and Alcoholics would love this place, but some would argue that most people who fall into the first category, probably are,
or indeed have been, in the other categories at some point in time.
All complaints to
Behind The Flag please
Brierley Hill &
Hagley Alliance 5 Bustleholme 4
Going to do something
a bit different this time, Version 1, is the Groundhopper from the Non-League Paper view, while Version 2 is more in line
with the Mr X way of looking at things.
Remind me to write
to the editor of the Non-League Directory, it quite plainly states that Brierley & Hagley Alliance (they missed the Hill,
but Im not petty), play at Halesowen Harriers. Well after climbing the hill to the Harriers ground, I discovered that it had
been turned into a series of 5-a-side courts (and they didnt do a programme which was infuriating)
A call to the Secretary,
whos landline number in the NLD was disconnected I might add, and he told me that they now play at Lye Town down the road.
Now its a good job Ive never been to Lye before, otherwise Id have been heading off home I can tell you!
On arriving at Lye
Town I was disappointed to discover they had no match poster to advertise the game, its no wonder Groundhopper numbers have
declined, some clubs have no idea how to help themselves.
I went into the bar
and had a half a bitter, and spent the next twenty minutes acting very strangely by staring at pictures and notices on the
wall, before jotting some notes down in my notepad. Never once taking my holdall off my back, except of course to retrieve
my plastic wallet to place my treasured programme in.
Disaster! No programme, which would mean many of my ilk would turn round and go home (perhaps why they dont bother!
Mr X), but despite expressing my anger and disappointment, they refused to go home and quickly knock one up for me on a PC.
I tell you, some clubs dont deserve support.
No team details were
announced, which meant that I spent the first twenty minutes pestering the dugouts to give me team information (plus subs).
I cant understand why clubs are so reluctant to help, I told them I would be reporting on the match for a major publication,
but they just asked me if I liked sex and travel? I didnt quite understand that.
The field was poor,
but Im not bothered about things like that, I was more interested in counting the number of entrances and exits, and of course
taking photos of the toilet blocks. When I produced my camera a number of curtains in the nearby flats suddenly closed, not
The game was ok,
5-4 I think, but I dont really understand football, in fact I dont like it that much, but since Ive seen every train in Motive
Power Pocket Book three times over, I need something else to do with my time since I got made redundant from British Rail.
I enjoyed my visit
to Lye, despite its many misgivings, and on leaving the ground I was greeted by the Club Secretary, he wished me well and
thanked me for my attendance, while at the same time giving me a fixture list for near rivals Stourbridge, he said they would
welcome my visit anytime. Apparently they have a Care in the Community Programme which sounds interesting, I havent got a
Care in the Community Programme, I didnt know they issued one..
cocking up and going to the wrong ground, I eventually found the home of Lye Town, and set about consuming a couple of pints
of the finest Fosters, before embarking on what was one of the best games Id seen all season, but with the added bonus of
a female linesman!!!
I was at a game in
October between Atherton Collieries and Glossop North End, when a very attractive female linesman/bird was on duty, and in
the subsequent rematch recently, she allegedly was subjected to abuse and taunts of a sexual nature. You might remember it
on the back page of the NLP, well anyway, if I was stood starkers waiting to go into the shower and spotted her outside the
dressing room, Id have made a comment or two Im sure!! But then most women from where I come from would have given as good
as they got and scared the living daylights out of an entire football team!!
out of the window before we start! Brierley were 4-1 up at half time, but in the end had to hang on for a 5-4 victory after
a tremendous fightback by Bustleholme.
Nice ground but its
seen better days, the old barrelled roof which covers the terrace behind the goal is rusted up, while the stand opposite the
cricket field was in definite need of a lick of paint and a screwdriver to fasten the seats back in! The pitch was a mess,
but with two West Midlands League sides playing on it plus a Sunday side, it was to be expected.
No programme though,
but I couldnt really care, no food was more of a concern, as the McDonalds next door to Halesowen Harriers old ground just
didnt touch the sides.
Must confess to liking
this part of the Country though. Ive been to Cradley Town, Oldbury United and now Lye Town this season, and theyve been a
very friendly bunch. Trouble is, no one seems to want to watch them, if anyone breaks 50 theyve done well, and to be fair,
given the number of pro-clubs in the area its understandable. Credit where its due then for keeping clubs afloat, especially
clubs like Brierley who have lead a nomadic existence for the last two years. You can forgive them for not meeting everyones
Ford Sports Daventry 3 Stewart & Lloyds Corby 0
The town of Daventry
has a fair bit going for it. Its well situated, almost on the junction of the M1 and the M6, it has plenty of industry, its
well populated and indeed, it certainly appears to be a town not short of prosper.
So can anyone explain
why no one seems to give a monkeys about the towns two football teams?
I went to see Daventry
Town back in January, along with about 20 others, and for the game at nearby Ford Sports, I doubt even that many bothered
to turn up, to see I might add, one of the better teams in the United Counties League.
Ford Sports is, as
you can imagine, intrinsically linked to the Ford Motor Company. Its effectively the Sports and Social Club of one of the
biggest, if not the biggest employer in the town, and they have developed some very good facilities.
The pitch was in
good shape, the ground well appointed with 3 stands, and the clubhouse more than adequate for this level of football. Playing
wise, they have some useful individuals, not least the strike pairing of Ian Pearce and Matt Murphy, who was with both Kettering
Town and Kings Lynn recently.
But it was my old
mates from Corby again, and I was looking forward to seeing the archetypal Anglo Scot, Disco
Dave Torrance in action again!
He didnt disappoint,
as the Corby team took to the field, Dave ran straight towards the corner flag, hopped over the barrier and disappeared behind
a fence. What was he up to? The steam rising from behind the fence gave the game away, maybe the excitement at playing at
one of Daventrys big arenas was too much for him!!
Ford Sports were
much the better team, and fully deserved the 3-0 victory, and they had to be commended on the food stakes. The United Counties
League, as Ive been charting of late, is dire when it comes to snap. This mob bucked the trend a little though. They didnt
do pies before you get excited, but they did do chips, cheeseburgers and hot dogs! Which was a bit annoying as Id spent a
good half hour before the game in the nearby Tescos being served a sausage roll and chips by one of the more obese locals.
The reason why neither
side seems to attract support may have something to do with location in fairness. Both grounds are located within a stones
throw of each other, but they are well out of town on the ring road. No housing of any note is within close proximity, so
to expect the casual onlooker is perhaps expecting a bit much.
Maybe they should
try selling pies, it could be the catalyst to greatness!
Long Buckby 3 Raunds Town 2
Today didnt quite
go to plan, I was intending to go to the Woodford United v Boston Town game, but just before setting off I rang the ground
only to find heavy overnight rain had seen it postponed. A quick look at the fixtures and this game stood out.
Why? You might ask.
Well, Long Buckby
had conceded over a hundred goals already this season, and Raunds were prone to shipping them as well, so I thought it might
be a high scoring, or should I say high conceding, encounter.
Raunds Town bring
back memories for me. And without giving away to much about Mr Xs identity, I recall my local team beating them in the F.A.
Vase in the mid-nineties, and then just a year later, both Raunds and my team went out in the semi-finals of the same competition.
Indeed, I remember seeing them take a 2-0 first leg lead to Arlesey Town, only to lose 5-0 after extra time!
I went to the Vase
Final that year, and was fortunate enough to be given the full hospitality treatment before the game, and on our table were
representatives of Raunds. We struck a chord and in the following pre-season we attended a game in Northamptonshire, while
officials of Raunds came to our place a week later.
Its all changed at
Raunds since, the momentum saw them claim a place in the Dr Martens League, but they were relegated back to the United Counties
League and have never looked like coming back.
Now a little known
piece of trivia for you. Long Buckby is a place that very few people will know much about, but, billions of people around
the World will have inadvertently see TV pictures from the village.
When Princess Dianas
funeral was televised around the World on that sombre day, you might recall that her coffin was driven to Althorp House for
a private ceremony, while the Royal Family travelled by train, and at which station did they alight? Long Buckby is the nearest
railway station to Althorp, and on that day the Worlds media congregated in the village.
Change of subject,
Im on a health kick! I took a look in the mirror the other day and thought that the old gut was reaching out a bit too far
over the belt, so it was only healthy(ish) grub for me now on! I found a nice looking pub in the middle of the village and
along with my pint of low fat lager, I decided to go with the Ploughmans Lunch option, which, bearing in mind it was in my
eyes mainly salad, caused me a bit of consternation when it arrived with the best part of half a pound of mature cheddar!
I had to eat it, besides, with pies in such short supply in this league, it might be a while before I get a decent feed again!
Long Buckbys ground
surprised me a little, the clubhouse is on the main road, but the ground itself is about 200 yards away over what is effectively
the rugby ground. Now, Ive mentioned before that for people of our ilk, we tend to have libraries of books and photos of football
grounds, and he images I had of Long Buckby were somewhat confusing. I didnt realise that the club originally played on a
ground that is now part of the rugby club, and the old wooden stand, is still in place. This was what I thought was the football
club, its not! The club play behind this and have a fairly basic ground with a modern seated stand. The old dressing rooms
have been altered so the players now come out behind what was the old ground, and now onto the new ground. Confusing? Yep,
I know, I suppose youll just have to go and see for yourself.
At a quarter to three
the Long Buckby manager, Aidey Mann, looked concerned, apparently hed only got nine men. I had visions of a farce in my mind,
I also had visions of a record scoreline, but by three oclock hed got a bare eleven, and that included himself.
Twenty minutes into
he game and I actually began to think I was watching two of the worst teams Id ever seen. I realise the conditions werent
great, but no one seemed capable of passing a ball, never mind doing anything creative! Raunds gradually took control and
by half time were looking comfortable at 2-0.
The second half was
dramatic stuff though, a defiant Long Buckby side fought back and grabbed a goal, before Mann himself won a penalty and equalised
from the spot. With moments to go, a dreadful mistake at the back let in a Buckby striker, he composed himself, and slotted
the ball calmly into the net. It was cracking stuff, Long Buckby were over the moon, Raunds were sick as a penguin!
Was the fightback
on? Could Long Buckby defy the odds and stave off relegation? It would be a long shot I thought, but then not every team in
the United Counties League is as bad as Raunds Town, they promptly lost 8-1 a home to Boston Town a week later, the chances
are indeed slim!
Squires Gate 0 Skelmersdale United 2
On a weekend when
sever gales battered the British Isles, and most sensible minded people decided to take refuge behind closed doors, I decided
to venture out to a secluded spot, sheltered from the elements, where every day is a glorious day in the sun!
I went to Blackpool.
It had been long
on the cards, Squires Gate was the last ground in the North West Counties League First Division that Id yet to visit, and
after two aborted attempts already this season, I was not going to be deterred. A call to the ground confirmed what Id expected,
the pitch was fine, but according to the bloke on the phone,
Its blowing a bloody
The drive was steady,
although I must confess to shitting the proverbial brick as I drove over Thelwall Viaduct. I dont like driving over bridges
and at heights at the best of times, but when you can feel the car being pulled towards the barrier over the Manchester Ship
Canal, and the lorry in front looks like it could fall over at any minute, it does make the heart beat that little bit faster.
I got a bit worried
when I arrived at the ground. Floodlights, Im sure, by design, are built to sustain severe weather, but these pylons were
swaying bit style. I had no doubts about them actually staying up, but I was a little worried that the lights themselves might
decide to break away from the poles, and that would be no fun for anyone underneath. Bearing in mind Im still traumatised
by the memory of Derby County v Gillingham, F.A. Cup Third Round Replay, 1985, when one of the loudspeakers hanging under
the Ley Stand broke in the wind and came crashing down on supporters below.
For anyone whos ever
been to this area of Blackpool, which for the uninitiated, is South of the Tower, near the Airport, it possesses a plethora
of fine football stadia. Driving along School Road the first port of call is the home of Squires Gate, and a well appointed
arena it is too. They have three small seated stands, and a row of cover down one side of the ground, while the clubhouse
is relatively new, and was in itself a nice place for a pint, and thankfully, a pie!
Right next door to
Squires Gate, is the home of Blackpool Rovers, who used to be in the North West Counties League, but now compete in the West
Lancashire League. The ground is very good, if not a little worse for wear. They have cover on all four sides, in fact you
would be hard pushed to find a vantage point out in the open, and on a day like this, that would not be a priority for anyone!
Im hard pushed to think of two grounds so close to each other in any level of football, the stands actually back onto each
other, and the floodlight pylons sit side by side.
About 200 yards away
on the end of School Road is another very well appointed ground, the home of Blackpool Mechanics, who compete in the Second
Division of the North West Counties League, and again, they have plenty of seats and cover, and what looks like a very spacious
clubhouse. All in all, its a football fans mecca in this part of Blackpool, but today was all about Squires Gate.
Seventy or so fans
were in attendance to see the game against Skem, but next door, a Lancashire League Cup semi-final had attracted a bigger
and more voluble crowd, with two teams travelling to the neutral venue of Blackpool Rovers. Originally I thought it was a
Rovers home game, and began to wonder why a better supported club were playing two leagues below Squires Gate, but a local
quickly corrected me, Rover have less fans in reality than Gate, but slightly more than the nearby Mechanics!
Skem had struggled
early on in the season, but once league leading scorer Stuart Rudd found form, they quickly moved up into mid-table. Rudd
was on the bench today, but having seem him twice before, I cannot understand why hes not plying his trade at a higher level,
perhaps only he and Skem can answer that one.
The game could have
been farcical given the conditions, but to be fair, both sides tried their best to play some football. Skem should have been
in front having seen Squires Gate survive a couple of goalmouth scrambles, but Gate, who looked to offer very little in terms
of a goalscoring threat, managed to survive.
The wind never abated,
and in the second period, with time running out, Skem introduced Rudd, and he changed the game. Within minutes hed played
a part in setting up Drew Hyland for the first goal, and then it was Rudds turn when he outpaced the home defence to calmly
slot the ball past the goalkeeper to make it 2-0, and probably deserved on balance of play.
The game was punctuated
by stoppages, principally because balls kept travelling over the stand from the game on Rovers ground, and at one stage we
had the comical situation when a ball kept travelling backwards and forwards over the stands as neither game wanted to lay
claim to it!
The crowd viewed
the game in safety, although a Gate official rather wisely suggested that the spectators stood behind a part of the Rovers
ground where the stand roof was visibly lifting in the wind, moved elsewhere.
In the words of the
Id shift if I were
you, the last time we had gales like this, Rovers had to come round to retrieve their stand roof from our pitch!
Wise words indeed,
but not as wise as the words from the controller of Blackpool Pleasure Beach who
decided it was in the interests of public safety to suspend the terrifying ride that is The Big One.
A trip up the Tower anyone? Maybe another day..
St Helens Town 2 Bacup Borough 1
"Monkey" - Johnny
Vegas, I'll let you ponder on that one for a short while. Actually, rather than ponder on it, just ring the main switchboard
at St Helens Rugby League Club and you get a very comical list of options, from the slightly rotund star of 'Sex Lives of
the Potato Men', which has won deserved critical acclaim ;)
Anyway, after the
abortive attempt a fortnight earlier that resulted in a last minute visit to Ashton Town, I was determined to make a visit
to the glass making capital of Great Britain, St Helens. And
what more fitting than a game against my old pals from Bacup Borough, or, the Tooting Cows as they are affectionately known!
No such adverse weather
problems on this occasion, and I was able to soak up the atmosphere, or should I say nostalgia, that surrounds Knowsley Road.
Please forgive me
(Bryan Adams 1994), but I'm going to stray away from Association Football for a while, and talk about Egg Chasing of the northern
variety, in the Rugby League sense. As soon as you
enter St Helens, the road signs proclaim the clubs triumph as World Club Champions in 2001 (I think they beat Penrith Peacocks
in the final, or was it Alice Springs Academicals, Im not a big follower of the
sport?), but anyway, in their particular field, they are renowned as one of the best.
Now I'm going to
get political! St Helens ground resembles a Football League stadium of the mid eighties, a big seated stand, but terracing
surrounding the rest of the arena. On its day, when packed, it's the venue of legends, but when empty, it looks barren, dated
and in need of some serious refurbishment. World Club Champions? The local authorities ought to be ashamed, Widnes have a new ground, so do Wigan, and as I understand so do
local rivals Warrington, but why do the best have to suffer? Someone must know the answer.
Anyway, the bus owned
by the Tooting Cows arrived, and Frank, the club secretary, was on fine form. He climbed off the charabanc and started to
direct the parking,
"Back, back, back,
whoah, whoah, WHOAH!!! Bloody hell!!"
You see, Frank is
quite a character, I remember him at a home game having a blazing row with his wife over the phone, it went something like
"I'm at the football
club, you knew I was going to be at the football club, why do you have to start moaning when we kick off in an hour, and no,
I cant take you shopping, take your bloody self!"
It's not the same,
I've got to be honest, and I'm sure Deano (Who ? Me ? - Deano) will disagree, but this ain't non-league football. A crowd of about a hundred or so spread along the one side of the ground
that was opened, and it gave it an air of a practice match. The only noise came from the players, and St Helens's to be fair,
made plenty of noise. Joe Paladino, a former player, and local hero had taken over the Managers job and was reputedly putting
a fair chunk of cash into the club, and his approach from the bench suggested he wanted value for money.
St Helens are made
up of enthusiastic youngsters, no doubt surplus to requirements at the likes of Runcorn and Marine, and they gave Bacup a
good game before taking the lead. Bacup equalised
but a never say die approach from the relegation threatened hosts saw them grab a well deserved winner in the dying seconds
of the game. Paladino, it appears, has installed a fantastic spirit in the club, and it should, I suspect, keep them up the
top division of the North West Counties League.
I must mention Rhodri
Giggs, I did wonder just what kind of stick he had to take on the football field, and today answered my question. St Helens's
are Scousers, they hate Mancunians, Giggs and his famous brother are Mancs, and it started at half time. As the players left at the interval, a St Helens sub shouted to Giggs,
"Look everyone, its
Ryan Giggs, wow!!"
"Is that the best
you can do?" replied Giggs junior.
Not content with
a witty one liner, the St Helens sub had to lower the tone to, well, Scouse level,
"F*** off you Manc
b*****d, I'll see you in the bar, I'll make sure you never play again!"
Lovely, I thought,
and I kind of hoped Bacup would turn them over, with Giggs getting the winner, but alas it was not to be.
In the final stages
I looked nostalgically at the expansive terrace, and listened to the stewards talking about the action from the previous night
when the Saints started their Super League season in style. Closing my eyes I thought about local heroes like Paul Sculthorpe
crossing the line for a try, I imagined Eddie Waring talking about Up and Unders, and then I finally came back to reality.
It might be located
in the football mad expanse that is Merseyside, but football, will never, ever, take off in St Helens, and arguably, it never
As the Saints most
famous fan, Johnny Vegas would undoubtedly agree, "Monkey!"
Wesfields 1 Oldbury United
I set out at the
start of the season with a target of getting to every ground in the Midland Football Alliance, and on my birthday, 25th
November 2003, I completed the task when I got to Oldbury United, but then Westfields decided to relocate!! After winning promotion from the West Midlands Regional League, they had
to depart their Rotherwas ground and take up residency at not-so-nearby Stourport Swifts, but then, while looking at a couple
of Dogging (topical joke!), websites at my leisure, I accidentally stumbled across a Herefordshire News site and read that
he club were due to move to their new ground just before the New Year. So I had to plan a visit. Where is Westfields you might ask? Well it's an area of Hereford, close to the racecourse,
or in other words, the middle of bloody nowhere! I'd
read that the ground was located in the Whitenash Common area of town, and after finding a map, it looked straightforward,
head for the town centre via the racecourse, and within spitting distance of Hereford United is the aforementioned Common,
couldn't be easier! Yeah, right!
Found Hereford (eventually,
it doesnt look that far from the M5 on the map!) and then found the racecourse, found Edgar Street, and found the Common.
Whitenash Common is an expanse of grass next to a mini roundabout, with two parks pitches in the middle. However, I did spot
some floodlights about 200 yards away at the back of the nearby Hereford Leisure Centre, so I made my way.
footballers were turning up, officials in collar and ties were appearing, the pitch was in the middle of an athletics track
(boo!), and a small stand was on the far side. I had a wander across and asked one of the chaps with a tie on which club he
belonged too, Westfields or Oldbury?
"Neither mate, I'm
with Pegasus Juniors?"
found the home of Hellenic League side Pegasus Juniors, Westfields was becoming a mystery. The chap behind the desk in the
Leisure Centre thought they still played at Rotherwas, and as for Whitenash Common, only Hereford Boys Club had booked that
out for a game today.
I got back in the
car and phoned what turned out to be the wife of the club secretary, she was very helpful,
"It's on Whitenash
"But I've been there,
it's just a parks pitch?"
"Oh no love, you
need to drive past the parks pitches and past the pavilion, behind the trees is the football ground, you should just see the
lights through the trees."
Bingo ! Within
five minutes I'd found a very well hidden Whitenash Common (the annexe bit), and what a pleasant venue it was.
assistance has seen the club develop some very eye catching, if not slightly basic facilities at their new home. A small seated
stand is located on the halfway line, and while the ground possesses no further cover, it has hard standing all around. But
in the corner, is the clubhouse, dressing rooms and hospitality suite, and very impressive it is too. I started to chat to a local, and he asked me if I'd wondered why the
building and the stand were all very attractively clad in wood? To be honest I'd not really noticed being nothing more than
an ignorant northerner, but then it was explained to me that the only way the club could get planning permission to build
on the site was if the facilities were in keeping with the natural environment, or in other words, they had to be clad in
wood. Naturally this was very expensive, and as
a result, the ground, while nice, had a basic feel to it, simply because everything cost way above the budget originally set.
The game finished
1-1, but what impressed me most was the friendly manner shown by all connected with Westfields, not least the Chairman-cum-Secretary
who was only too happy to meet, greet and welcome all comers to his stadium. I read in the programme that the guy in question
had been one of the founders of the club when he was just a teenager wanting to play football with a few of his mates. From
For some time I'd
been thinking abut doing some kind of special feature at the end of the season, summarising my travels this season, but having
been to Westfields I thought it would be perhaps more interesting and suitable to do a Mr X Awards 2003/04, and one of the
leading contenders for friendliest clubs would be the chaps from Hereford.
I recommend a visit,
and a map!
Cogenhoe United 2 Woodford United 1
I've also had a bit
of a fascination about Cogenhoe, not sure why, I've also got one about Tiverton, and I don't know why that is either. I think
it must be something to do with the name, my cousin once told me that she really wanted to go to Belgium, I asked her why,
she said it was because she just liked the word! I
think that might be why I like Cogenhoe, it's a strange sounding name, and I defy anyone to find a football grounds book with
any pictures of their ground. I suppose the fact that you can't picture what the stadium is going to be like, adds to the
mystery. Most grounds, you have a mental image of courtesy of a photograph, not so Cogenhoe. Anyone else think the same sometimes? Please say yes!!
Cogenhoe, where is
it you might ask? Go down the M1 and exit at Northampton and follow the ring round to the South and take the turn off for
Billing Aquadrome, and that's where you come across the first pleasant surprise of the day. Imagine Lake Windermere in the
East Midlands and you've got Billing Aquadrome! Big lakes, lots of boats, Range Rovers, BMWs, shops selling big ropes and
life jackets, plus some top pubs!!
I was suited up (Referees
Assessor tonight!), feeling flush, so I decided to venture into one of the smarter establishments for a bite to eat. You can
tell its a posh pub when it says on the door Smart Casual Only Please. Potato Skins, Garlic Mushrooms and Chicken Nuggets later, I was ready for Cogenhoe.
Cogenhoe (I love
typing it!), is a small village, not unlike North Ferriby (minus the bridge!), and the ground is on the road out of the village
heading towards Brafield on the Green. I went to
Brafield as a very, very small child when my Dad was heavily into Stock Car Racing, it has a circuit, in fact Northamptonshire
is quite big on motorsport with Santa Pod, the impressive Rockingham and of course Silverstone nearby. Anyway, enough digressions, the ground is relatively basic, it has a small
seated stand with 60 or so seats in it, although the roof is so low only a dwarf could sit on the back row and not be wedged
up against the roof! While fenced in, it has no other covered accommodation. The clubhouse/dressing rooms are in the corner
and the bar was quite spacious, but once again, it was a United Counties League pie free zone. As was, I might add, Bourne
Town a week earlier. So we still haven't found a pie.
Cogenhoe looked a
good side, and they were sat second in the league. They were perhaps a bit lightweight, but they passed and moved with pace
and looked very dangerous on the break, so it was quite surprising that the score was 0-0 at half time. Half time was welcome
by the way, despite it being March, it was the coldest I'd been at a game all season.
who I've not mentioned yet, then took a surprise lead in the second half, but two late, and somewhat fortunate goals saw the
hosts come back to gain three points that keeps them in touch with Buckingham Town at the top.
I must confess to
being thankful for the final whistle, it was so incredibly cold, and I was almost at Leicester by the time my feet began to
fully function again. Now that is quite a worrying confession for someone who had been flying up the M1 at a shade under ninety
miles an hour, the speed camera tickets never arrived by the way, so I've got brave and stupid again sadly!
So did the reality
of Cogenhoe match the expectations? In some ways it had been a pleasant surprise, more so because of the surrounding features
such as the Aquadrome. Ground wise, as I've been finding in the UCL, it wasn't the most sparkling of venues, but it was neat
and tidy. I suppose the fact that I had no preconceptions about the place meant I wasn't disappointed, but I wasnt exactly
overwhelmed either. Would I go again? Not this season!
Still sounds great
though doesnt it?
Just keep saying
it, Cogenhoe, Cogenhoe, Cogenhoe
Postscript: Cogenhoe are called the Cooks, and its taken me a fortnight to come up with a theory why. The fans
shout "Come on Cooks", and I think it probably started way back when the fans shortened the name to Cogs from Cogenhoe, and
I suppose that could be construed as being Cocks when shouted, which might be taken out of context when shouted in a small
village with housing nearby! Gradually over the time its evolved to Cooks. Anyone got any better theories?
7th February 2004
Ashton Town 5 Winsford United 1
Complacency is one of the biggest crimes in football, and that doesnt
just apply to matters on the park.
All season, Ive made a point of carefully checking that any match I
planned to attend was on before I travelled. Even when the weather was fine, Id still double check websites and local newspapers
to confirm, and while the weather is bad, a phone call to the clubs involved, plus calls en route have given me a 100% success
rate this campaign.
St Helens Town seemed a safe bet, the previous week, they had been virtually
the only game on in the North West Counties League, despite a torrential downpour, so with a fine looking morning when I rose
from the slumber of a heavy night in the company of my nearby landlord, I didnt give the conditions a second thought.
Arriving at Knowsley Road it was quite difficult to tell what was happening,
not at 2pm anyway. Plenty of cars were at the ground and a number of players were in full kit on the training pitch having
a kick around. As the stadium is a professional Rugby League ground, I presumed that it would relatively busy anyway with
the new Super League season upon us, so I sat and listened to the radio, and then I realised, Fleetwood Town travel by bus,
and have a fairly large following, but no sign of them. A few St Helens fans were turning up at the ground, so I had a walk
to the turnstiles, but no one was around, except for the handful of locals who were as bemused as I was. The weather was fine,
but then a taxi pulled up, it was the clubhouse steward,
"Match wer called off at nine this morning, sorry fellas."
Bugger, it was nearly twenty to three, I had a few choices, I could
go home, which would be very dull, I could watch St Helens train, or I could find another game Luckily Id bought he NLP with
me, and then I spotted an option, Ashton Town against Winsford United in the Second Division of the North West Counties League.
Ashton in Makerfield was about an inch on the map, which equated to
between five to ten miles in my estimation, I had to move quick. I managed to get myself through St Helens and out on the
Wigan road before hitting the East Lancs Road, knowing that I had to see a sign soon.
I would never condone using a mobile phone while driving, as its illegal,
but no-one has yet created a law that says you cant steer with your knees and have the Non-League Directory in the left hand
and a Road Atlas in the right. So thats ok I suppose. Besides, the East Lancs Road is straight, you dont need to steer!
Eventually I found Ashton, but the pub that was the signal to turn right
had vanished, but the road name looked correct, under the graffiti, but I couldnt see any floodlights. It was five to three,
I ended up in Golborne, that was too far, my distant Uncle Eric used to live in Golborne, bless him.
Eventually I found the cart track that lead to the ground, I parked,
paid, and caught the start of the game, just, or so I thought.
Remember I said they had no floodlights?
"What time did this kick off mate?"
"Half past two pal, and Ashton are leading 2-0"
Oh well, but I wasnt without entertainment, Ashton went on to score
twice more in a first half that was memorable for the fact that I saw something Ive never seen on a football pitch before,
a player throwing up in the penalty area! Not just once, four projectile efforts scattered around the goal area, the goalkeeper
was none too impressed, the centre half was none too well and his game was over.
Now I dont consider myself to be prejudiced, I despise racism, Im not
too fond of sexism, I would never partake in ageism, but I dont like Scouse football teams very much. I think it all started
when Knowsley United and South Liverpool folded and all of the players ended up playing in the UniBond for Manchester based
clubs, well, Droylsden and Ashton United.
Droylsden were horrible, Ill say nothing more than that, and to be fair
when I hear a five foot six skinhead screaming "Fkin hey, hey, hey, fkin hell, you fkin cheat, Im gonna fkin stab you.", and
thats just when hes lost the toss, my prejudices are confirmed. Sadly, Winsford, a blighted Liverpool overspill, has that
aura around the team, you kick one of them and you kick them all, you insult one, you insult his family, you turn you back
on them and they nick your wallet!!
In fact, I once recall Traffords goalkeeper coming into a clubhouse
after the game, threatening to stab anyone and everything for insulting his family! The crime? Someone had the nerve to make
fun of the shorts he was wearing in the first half, he never got over it. He was sacked the following day, he was of course,
from west of the Thelwall Viaduct.
Anyway, rant over, digression out of the way, Winsford were well beaten,
they didnt like it, it was everyones fault but their own, the weather was dreadful, and I was quite glad to get back in the
car and head home, earlier than planned of course.
As I was making my way out, someone spotted my jacket which pledged
allegiance to a non-league club in the Midlands, he asked me what I was doing at Ashton. I briefly explained the St Helens
debacle, he smiled,
"Id have put my mortgage on that being on, but then they have just lost
the manager, the secretary and the chairman, so I suppose you cant blame them for calling it off!"
Now isnt St Helens technically Liverpool? Thought so
18th February 2004
Blackstones 1 Stewart & Lloyds Corby 1
Ill get the obvious question out of the way first.
Did Blackstones buck the United Counties League trend and have any pies
No! But to be fair, I got one of the more original responses from the
pleasant young lady behind the tea bar.
"We dont do hot food, except for Cup a Soups, but if you just cross
the road outside the ground the chip shop is usually popular amongst our visitors."
Oh well, I wasnt too surprised to find pies were off the agenda, indeed
Id taken the usual precautionary measure that is now essential with football in this league, Id found a McDonalds within a
couple of hundred yards of the ground.
For the uninitiated, Blackstones started life as Mirrlees Blackstone,
a works team on the north side of the town of Stamford, They dropped the Mirrlees tag and now operate under their current
guise. The ground is neat, tidy, and the clubhouse is excellent, although I got the impression that quite a few of the inhabitants
had no intention of going to the game. Thats enough about Blackstones, I want to talk about the visitors.
I had the pleasure of seeing Stewart & Lloyds Corby in action at
Daventry Town, and they are easily distinguishable by large number of Scots in the side.
Why? You might ask, well its simple really. Corby had a thriving steel
industry in he sixties and seventies, and a large number of Scotsmen and their families moved to the town from the Steel mills
North of the border. Obviously this lead to an explosion in the Scottish population in the town that remains today.
The football team, when I first saw them, were uncompromising, honest
, and not without ability, but on the night against a poor Daventry Town side, they didnt have too play at more than a canter.
It was a bit different on this occasion.
Blackstones are one of the better sides in the league, and as a result
it brought out the competitive aspect of S&L, and thats the kind way of putting it.
Disciplinary wise, they are quite happy to kick people, they do enjoy
a sly off the ball gouge, and when it comes to the verbals, they can dish it out as well as anyone, but given the Scottish
accent, its not always comprehensible.
They were best summed up by the slightly overweight centre forward,
Dave Disco Torrance, who was stereotypical of the kind of individual you might see propping up the bar in a smoky Clydeside
Off the pitch he is probably a lovely chap, who will buy anyone a drink,
look out for his mates and give you his last fiver, but on the pitch hes a poor mans Duncan Ferguson! He was quite frightening
as he thundered around, leaving studs in places that make your eyes water and generally trying his best to unnerve the young
centre halves who dared cross his path.
The game ebbed and flowed, until the second period when Blackstones
took the lead, and this upset the visitors. And it was just after the goal when I saw one of the most frightening, yet clean
tackles Ive ever seen.
A Blackstones striker picked up the ball in the opposition penalty area
and shaped to turn towards goal. Just as his eyes would have focussed on the net in front of him he was hit at a thunderous
pace by an S&L defender who hit the ball in full flight, horizontally, yet cleanly. The ball spun into the air, and I
can visualise it now as the strikers legs flipped upwards under the force to such an extent that he landed on his head.
Somewhat dazed, he got to his feet to be greeted by his combatant,
"Get up yee fkin pussy, its a fkin mans game pal."
If that tackle had have been mistimed, we wouldnt have been calling
for an ambulance, it would have been the team that clear body parts off the railway line after a suicide that would have been
summoned. Bits of him would have been scattered all the way to Peterborough!
For the sake of the Blackstones players safety, the visitors equalised
in the closing stages, and on balance probably deserved it. It was difficult not to admire the lads from Corby though, they
care passionately about football, and play it on the edge.
Im quite looking forward to seeing them again, along with my old mates
from Bacup Borough, they kind of make you realise why we love this game so much.
31st January 2004
F.A. Trophy 4th Round
Shrewsbury Town 2 Hucknall Town 1
There is nothing more disheartening for the closet groundhopper
than the sight of torrential rain on a Saturday morning.
The plan was for another trip to the seaside to see Squires Gate
take on Abbey Hey, but with reports from the Fylde Coast indicating that the game was likely to fall by the wayside, alternatives
had to be sourced.
Numerous clubs were contacted, and games were either off, or
subject to a late pitch inspection, but then I made a phone call I deeply regretted.
I wont name the club, or the league, but suffice to say I got
the secretarys number from the Non-League Directory and the call went something like this,
"Can you tell me if the games on today please?"
"I dont believe this, I really dont believe this" came the reply
"Im sorry, have I said something?"
"I take it you want ***** (secretarys name), well he died suddenly
in August, and despite telling the league, I get calls every week asking about games, players, kits, everything Ive had enough."
Said a somewhat distraught widow.
"Oh, Im really sorry, I didnt mean to offend."
"Well if it is on, I hope they lose." was the final line in a
very uncomfortable conversation.
Ouch! One final call to Shrewsbury Town, and it was absolutely,
definitely on, and of we went.
I know Shrewsbury quite well from my student days in Stoke on
Trent, it was a short drive away and held memories of some pretty impressive drinking sessions in the fine town centre pubs.
So I was hoping to make an early arrival to give me chance to re-acquaint myself with a few venues.
A confession though, now Im not gay or owt like that, but when
it comes to drinking, Im a lager man. So for those of you expecting a guided tour of the real ale pubs of Shrewsbury and a
description of the full flavour that comes from a pint of Dogs Turd by the famous Old Salopian Brewery, forget it! I just
headed for the nearest trendy bar and sat on a bar stool with my tall glass of Carling Extra Cold and some Dry Roasted in
The ground, well its a good old fashioned stadium, but very dated
now, but in terms of its surroundings, its a lovely setting on the banks of the River Severn. Hucknall had managed to drag
a good 300-400 supporters to the game, which isnt bad as a few years ago they were getting 150 through the gates for home
games! A crowd of 2,500 assembled to see the action unfold.
The Shrews (is a shrew a small mole, I just wondered?), took
the lead after a period of good football through Kevin Street, but once acquainted with the conditions, Hucknall more than
matched their full time opponents and equalised in the first half through the impressive Gary Ricketts.
Shrewsbury scored a second just before half time through Darren
Moss when his cross sliced off of his foot and found the gap between post and bar to leave Brentford bound Stuart Nelson floundering.
It was tough justice.
The second half was goalless, but had Hucknall showed more composure
in the final third, they would have taken the hosts back to Watnall Road, and that would have been a culture shock. On the
display Hucknall put up, it was difficult to tell who was the full time team, that said, one suspects the part timers are
perhaps on slightly better wages than Shrewsbury, for Hucknall are one of the highest payers in the semi-professional arena.
On exiting the ground I heard a familiar voice, I turned and
bumped into an old school mate and a fellow groundho., a fellow groundhopp, a fellow, no, I cant say it, but anyway, the conversation
went something like this.
"Im going for a quick pint before my train do you fancy it?"
said my old mate
"Where are you going?" I replied
"I was just looking through the Good Beer Guide, hang on, its
in my bag." He said
"Actually, I need to get back, kids and all that" was my quick
Phew, lucky escape, besides, Id forgotten my tankard!
3rd February 2004
Yaxley 3 Desborough Town 1
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a meat
pie, at a ground in the United Counties League!
Easy, you would have thought, well let me tell you about my travels
It started on a cold night in November when I made the journey
to Deeping Rangers (its on the Norway, but you turn off just after Stamford), and having spent what seemed like hours to complete
what was just a 70 mile journey, I fancied a good old meat pie with peas and gravy.
The ground was smart, new, and the tea bar looked modern, and
"What food do you do love?"
"Weve got Mars Bars, Twix, Crunchie, Crisps, and Penny Chews."
Said the helpful local serving wench.
"Anything hot?" I said
"Cup a Soup, Tea or Coffee!"
Yum, yum, so it was a cup a soup (oxtail), a Mars Bar and some
beef and onion crisps, I was as satisfied as Peter Andre after a hot day in the jungle watching Jordan sunbathe.
Next stop was Harrowby United, now the Grantham based club is
progressive, and the most northerly of UCL clubs, so surely meat pies have reached Mrs Thatchers home town, not so.
The best they could offer was Cup a Soup, but as they had a shortage
of cups, I had to drink it from a Tupperware beaker, food wise, crisps from the bar, it just wasnt cricket.
Desborough Town came next, and we all know about the extremely
dodgy burgers, flipped by our local exiled Scotsman, see Mr Xs earlier travels.
Daventry Town, nice club, good facilities, but bugger all on
the hot food front, although t be fair you could get a ham or cheese roll wrapped in clingfilm, and that was better than the
standard Cup a Soup or Mars Bar. I wanted a half time warm though, so it was obligatory to have a Cup a Soup (Minestrone).
And then Yaxley, it was cold, windy, and the best they could
do? Mars Bars, Cheese & Onion crisps, and Bovril, I finally snapped.
"It says that you sell pies on the pricelist, have you not got
"No mate, we didnt think the game would be on so we didnt bother
preparing any." Was the reply.
That was it, I finally flipped, in a fit of anger I ordered everything
on the menu, three bars of chocolate, two bags of crisps, a Bovril and a cup of tea. I sat in the back of the stand and stuffed
the lot down me. I felt like Alan Partridge in the infamous Toblerone addiction scene, but obviously without the bare feet
and the weight problem.
So why no pies at United Counties League grounds, well I might
have just been unlucky, although Ive got Ford Sports Daventry on the agenda soon so Ill find out, but I think its an identity
What? You might say? Well, pies are synonymous with Northern
football, and not so in the sarf where its all burgers, hot dogs and curry sauce. Most of the United Counties League action
takes place in the Midlands region, but in areas that are seemingly Home Counties overspills, in other words, they dont know
who or what they are!!
And the worry is, Londons overspill is getting further North,
at one time it was Grantham, now its reached Newark, and what next, Doncaster?
I really cant imagine being refused a steak and kidney pie at
Brodsworth Welfare because,
"Sorry me old china, no call for em round ere mate, alwight?"
God forbid. Anyway, Yaxley won 3-1, the McDonalds at Rothwell
was never more welcoming.
17th January 2004
Fleetwood Town 1 Bacup Borough
North West Counties League Division One
The natives are restless at Fleetwood Town.
In what is a crucial
season for non-league football, given the restructuring issue, the door has opened to allow a number of teams to improve their
status. The exact details are not clear, but instead of the champion club gaining
promotion only, to the UniBond League
in this case, possibly up to three clubs could see themselves getting an invitation to make the move upwards.
this fundamental change in the structure of the National Game, an unprecedented number of teams from the North West Counties
League, 17 in all, put in an application for the UniBond League. However, just last week
Fleetwood Town withdrew their
bid. All the gory details can be found on the fans forum of the clubs official website, but in a nutshell, the club had a
verbal agreement with the local council for a grant of £15,000 towards essential ground improvements, with the money arriving
this month. It now appears that wasn?t the case, the club have to wait for official council approval, and the earliest they
might see the money if their bid is successful will be March. That doesn?t give the club the time to meet the 1st April ground
So they aren?t very happy, especially Mick Hoyle, the owner of the club who has been handing over
a grand a week of his own cash to meet the wage bill, in a valiant attempt to secure one of the golden tickets that is a top
three placing. To quote an overused phrase, it's gone pear shaped.
Anyway, enough about politics, I've not been to
Blackpool since an infamous weekend in July 1998 when I had to make a quick visit to the underwear department of a menswear
shop after experiencing the terror that is the Big One. In fact the last time I was in Fleetwood was back in the eighties
courtesy of a day trip to the ever popular Fleetwood Market, I've never forgiven my Grandparents for that one.
Town have a chequered history. They reached the dizzy heights of the Northern Premier League Premier Division back in the
early nineties, but they saw a decline in fortunes before eventually folding. The club were
reformed in the Second Division
of the North West Counties League as Fleetwood Freeport, which the won and now they are one of the leading lights in the First
This season I saw them at Woodley Sports in November, they won 1-0 and what impressed me was the vocal support
given to the team by their sizeable following. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of atmosphere they created at
Stadium. I wasn't disappointed, and what helped was that the visitors, my old friends the Tooting Cows from Bacup (as opposed
to the Tooting Popular Front from the sitcom Citizen Smith, ?Alfie!?, the older readers will know what I mean!), had in goal
David Felgate. Former Bolton Wanderers, and latterly Leigh RMI, he?s quite a character, and quite large with it, and he was
up for a bit of banter!
Fleetwood took a first half lead, deservedly, but in the second period the visitors fought
back, and Rhodri Giggs was in fine form. He looks just like his famous brother, he has the same demeanour, and while not in
the same league in terms of ability, he can play a bit, certainly at this level. His fine pass set up Bacup's equaliser, this
after the hosts had missed a great chance to make it 2-0 through leading scorer Lee Catlow, who missed from the penalty spot.
was an entertaining game, certainly hard fought, and any suggestion that Fleetwood's players would throw the towel in following
the disheartening news in the week was certainly dispelled.
So another season of North West Counties League football
for Fleetwood, but it might be a good thing, would the famous Flea Market be able to cope with the travelling hordes from
North Ferriby? Perhaps, but with Blackpool
just down the road, the dreams of many UniBond fans of a weekend away have been
shattered, Wyre Borough Council have a lot to answer for, the economy would have been boosted significantly by a busload of
Matlock Town fans hitting town, although the drum they carry would have been about as welcome as Alan Bradley at a tram stop!
and Corrie in the same report, next week Hollyoaks.
Town 2 Stotfold 4
Counties League Premier Division
Town have something that every true football fan appreciates, proper floodlight pylons.
in the days when me mam was a lad, floodlights at football grounds were landmarks that could be seen from miles around, indeed
the final stages of a journey to the football match more often than not ended up in a competition to see who could be the
first to spot the pylons. Not
so any more, the upper echelons of the professional game has seen the lights integrated into the stand roof, while at the
lower end of the Nationwide, they have the more economical poles to support the bulbs. Proper floodlights, the ones that look like a cross between electricity
pylons and the kind of structures seen in the old Tinsley shunting yard, were not at all commonplace in non-league football,
bar a few exceptions such as Boston United, Weymouth and Kettering Town for example, but Desborough, given the level of football
they compete at, truly break the mould. But in all honesty, they look strangely out of place, Desborough is merely a large village, and entering the
Northamptonshire mecca of fine football from the Leicester Road, the pylons dominate an otherwise small settlement surrounded
by green belt land. It does look a bit odd, but its uniqueness far outweighs that.
made a bit of a mistake today, the better half wanted to go to the game. Shes only ever been to two football matches before,
one saw the local riot police trying to separate two warring mobs, while the second was spent predominantly in the bar, before
continued drinking in a town centre on a warm pre-season evening. Her judgement, I sensed had been clouded, a cold afternoon
at sparsely populated Desborough was destined to be an anti-climax given what had gone before. But insist she did, and give in I did. I tried to play
it down, I even took her for lunch beforehand, I promised her a good night out on the town later on that evening, but my fear
was that she would, after about fifteen minutes, realise that non-league football, at this level, was really for the die hard
fan, or the obsessive compulsive.
bar at Ar Tarn, as they are affectionately known, was well populated, it later transpired that only about a fifth of the inhabitants
went to the game, the rest spent the afternoon watching the scores on Ceefax. Like any small town or village, an outsider
is spotted a country mile away, usually by the way they approach the bar, eyes forward, trying not too catch the glances of
those to either side, and certainly not trying to make conversation with anyone. But the inevitable always occurs, I recall
being in the pub outside Mossleys ground once, dressed in a suit, when a worse for wear local tripped out a sentence that
was totally incomprehensible. The barmaid confirmed to me that he was asking if I was a debt collector. I turned to the chap
and said If a f*****g debt collector walked in here pal, Id be the first out of the bar!. It was met with a laugh all around,
but I sensed in Desboroughs bar, smart arse comments would not be appreciated, I smiled passed comment and returned to my
social clubs are notoriously cold places, this was no different, but it is usually tempered by the fact that beer is so cheap.
Women, dont see it that way though, especially when its you that is paying.
first half hour was crap, to be frank, it had to be with the company I was keeping, but Desborough, bottom of the league yet
in the Fourth Round of the Vase, were the brighter team. In fact much of the conversation around the ground was about the
trip to AFC Sudbury the following week, they were excited, Now Ive been to Sudbury, indeed Ive spent a night in Sudbury once,
if it was me, I would reserve judgement. But then visitors Stotfold took the lead, and then just before half time, the best goal Ive seen all season
came when young Liam Errington, as the NLP likes to call him, picked up a weak clearance 40 yards from goal and flicked the
ball up before half volleying over the retreating goalkeeper. It was Beckhamesque.
time, and in order to try to cheer up her who must be obeyed, I offered to buy her a burger. This was a huge mistake. The
burger bar at Desborough, is less of a bar, and more of a barbeque. Tucked behind the stand was a cheeky Scottish chappy flipping
burgers in a most hygienic fashion, his style and manner was par for the course at such venues, but it wasnt Burger King,
and certainly was it not KFC.
ye want onions on ye burger me little matey?"
I cringed as his yellowing fingers, wiped on his fat splattered apron, picked up the burger and slipped it between a slightly
sauce me old pal?"
trail of vinegar fell out first, followed by a watery looking red substance. Even the hardened Groundhopper would have cringed,
but strangely enough, it tasted fantastic. She looked at me as though I were chewing on a live rodent.
game ended 4-2, Stotfold were comfortable, Desborough on that form will do well to keep it down to single figures at AFC Sudbury.
But then again, perhaps they had one eye on the trip to Suffolk next week.
away from Desborough, the floodlights looked fantastic in the twilight, I commented upon it, but I was greeted with,
very good. Do we have to listen to football on the radio?"
They'll never understand, will they?
Cowtoot Lane, Bacup. Someone
explain to me how you make a Cow toot? No, maybe not, but what I can explain to you is that Bacup Borough is not a place to
go for those with a fear of heights, speed cameras, or arctic conditions.
I didn't know much about
Bacup, but a trip to Mossley's website painted a lovely description, it went something like this, "The most appealing feature of Bacup is the sign on the way out saying 'You are now leaving Bacup', or at least it
would have been if someone hadn't have stolen it!" No matter how hard I try, I make every effort to have an open mind about
new places, but I was having trouble with Bacup, especially when
the article went on to describe how it was rejected for the location for 'The League of Gentlemen' on the basis that it was,
I quote, "Too horrible"
Trepidation, me? Never, I've
braved Abbey Hay, and even dared to park my car outside the ground, so Bacup should be a doddle. One thing I am paranoid about
is speed cameras, I was foolish enough to be flashed three times over Christmas, and the road into Bacup from Rawtenstall
is littered with the annoying things (I'll stop now before I get started, but suffice to say, beware)
The ground is at the top of
a hill, so the directions state. Believe me, there are hills, and then there is the road to Bacup's ground, This isn't a hill,
it's an incline, infact you wouldn't have batted an eyelid if the railings at the side of the road were equipped with a Stanna
Stairlift for those of an elderly nature. Now, if you've ever been to Stocksbridge Park Steels, which is also up in the clouds,
you will appreciate how cold these places get, well Bacup is similar, but worse, much worse.
The ground was tidy, very stereotypically
Northern, a seated stand, covered standing on two sides, a nice clubhouse and just to top it, barbed wire to stop the locals
from getting out! It also possesses one of the more annoying aspects of non league football, irritating kids, and these were
incredibly irritating, but more on that later.
The game was played in
driving wind and rain, oh, sorry, they were playing Bamber Bridge in the Lancashire Marsden Trophy. Bamber took a first half
lead, and then scored again late on to win 2-0, Bacup battled hard, and included Rhodri Giggs in the side, who was being a
brave little soldier following his traumatic ordeal at the hands of some Mancunian thugs who decided to pinch his Porsche
in one of the less attractive areas of Manc. Not to worry though Rhodri, big bruv supplied him with a new car fairly quickly.
Northern grounds are reknowned
for the quality of the food, so a pie was the order of the day during the break, and up North you have to have gravy, well,
I thought it was gravy until I slanted the tray of food sideways, and nothing moved, I thought about asking for a knife to
cut through it, but hey, the three 15 year old Kappa clad teenagers were doing their best....
The kids, well the fun started
in the second half, four of them, aged nine or ten, decided to sit at the back of the terraces that were populated by around
twenty or so visiting fans. They were quiet for about five minutes and then they started singing, quietly at first, a chart
song called 'Pretty Green Eyes', but gradually the volume and intensity reached a level that became unbearable. I thought
back to the time at Droylsden in 1997 when I recated to such provocaton and ended up in the local Police Station for the night
pleading for leniancy. So no way was I getting involved, but someone did, he grabbed the ring leader and dragged him to the
bottom of the terraces, just at the time a home official arrived on the scene to quell the disturbance that was inevitable.
As the youth was dragged away he unleashed a volley of obscenities that would have put Bernard Manning to shame, I can only
assume the schools in Bacup are doing a good job. It quietened down, the game petered out, and then it was the long journey
Driving carefully through Bacup,
I changed radio stations, "Pretty Green Eyes" blared out of the loud speakers, the speed camera flashed.
"You are now leaving Bacup"
read the road sign.