Jamesie's Jaunts 2005-2006

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Belarus 3 Cyprus 1
England 1 Belgium 3
Sheffield International Futsal Tournament
Thursday, 01/06/06

It's the first of June and England are in turmoil; they haven't won a game in absolutely ages, and their last two games saw them lose a 5-1 lead at home to Cyprus and end up drawing five-all, then shortly after they lost to Belarus - 16-2! Yep, things aren't all rosy in the England camp and they find themselves ranked 62nd in the world, one place above that world power Tajikistan. No this isn't a dream, it is fact - but don't worry my friends it isn't Sven that has lost the plot and sent the national side into meltdown - this season we wind down the Jaunts series with another little wander into the world of indoor footy, Futsal!

As I said England don't have it all their own way in this sport (not that we do in any sport really), we are after all relatively infants in this field, but the profile of the sport is getting to the forefront of the local media attention round these parts as the English Institute of Sport on Coleridge Road hosts the five-a-side game once again - this time a four team international tournament between the national squads of Belarus, Belgium, Cyprus and (of course) England. Apparently since my last little foray into this game, a UEFA cup tournament involving local side Sheffield-Hallam, the EIS has been a bit of a centre for the sport - hosting the national championships amongst other stuff. So with a bit of added razzamatazz in the form of the Sheffield Steelers Cheerleaders, some typically loud and inappropriate time-out music, and a visit from the FA Cup itself - oh, and another plug for the Sheffield FC Boots for Africa programme (good cause, donate your old boots now) - it seemed the game of Futsal looks like it could have found a home in our very own back yard. Now all that needs to happen is for England to win a bloody game....

Which of course they haven't, yet. Bank Holiday Monday saw the National side come closest to breaking the drought, as I said earlier England were 5-1 up against Cyprus and coasting, but then some pretty naïve play saw them give up the five team fouls pretty quickly (any after this become like penalty kicks) and then they just managed to hang on to the draw. Tuesday Belarus... well 16-2, wow! But still the tournament could end up with a silver lining, a second place IF Belarus could beat Cyprus (which was likely), and England could beat Belgium (which was highly unlikely given they had a pretty dire record in games against them in recent years - 0-7, 3-10, 3-11... want me to go on?) in the final match. England Coach Graham Dell must have had high hopes of getting something from the tournament, especially given that Belgium had apparently looked anything but a team ranked 26th in the world in the previous games in the tournament, losing both of their previous ties - even managing to lose to Cyprus after they'd had TWO players sent off! It was all set up to be an interesting evening; it was just a case of seeing if England had learned anything from the week so far....
The first game of the evening was between Champions Elect Belarus, a draw would be enough for them to lift the trophy, and Cyprus who would need a win. Also witnessing this game were the Sheffield management duo of Dave Macca and Lee Wally, whether they were on a scouting mission or with a mind to starting a SFC futsal team remains to be seen, either way they too (like the majority of the 250 or so present) were witnessing their first game of the indoor sport. As you can imagine given the form of the teams, Belarus went about demolishing the Cypriots, who to be fair were lucky to get away with the score so light. Andrei Skadora made it 1-0, then Vadzim Lushkouski and Aliaksandr Savintsau added goals to make it 3-0, before Giorgis Georgiou pulled one back late on - to be honest with you I felt I just had to let you know who scored, not through journalistic accuracy, but to see what happens with my spellchecker! Guess what? Not a great deal to be honest, they must be common or garden names after all. One thing that does stand out when you watch teams like Belarus is the way they can't half smack the ball from anywhere, something that England certainly could have learnt from...
For the final game of the tournament I was joined by a bit of family, the wife, the son and the Holy Spirit himself - Trev - along with another couple of hundred people who decided watching an England side in any form is a bit of an attraction to say the least. Sadly for them this England was without a Beckham, Owen or a Rooney - although there was a broken metatarsal in the shape of my big toe comically broken earlier in the day playing barefoot football. To be fair it wasn't the most interesting of contests this one, and also to be fair the result wasn't a true reflection of the game, as England looked the better of the two sides and with the English keeper Farai (Faz) Jackson putting in some sterling stops when Belgium threatened. Sadly half way through the first half Faz put in another fantastic stop, only to see Karim Chaibai (not exactly Paul Van Himst - eh Macca?) tap in a tame rebound, and after that England were chasing it. The second half Chaibai hit us with another on the break, before the crowd went nuts as England had a shot - yes we'd dominated possession, yet never shot at goal... go figure - a free kick from Michael Lyons bulging the net. The hope was short-lived as almost immediately Amar Zouggaghi (un nom très Belge) made it three-one, although as with all things futsal delays aren't acceptable, and England nearly clocked one back whilst the Belgians were still celebrating with their fans - almost comedy at its best. As it was that's how it ended, a bit of a tame end to the season for sadly, I suppose I'll get on to watching the Fußballweltmeisterschaft with the rest of the hordes... see you next season, COME ON ENGLAND!!!


Beeston St. Anthony's 0 Horsforth St. Margaret's 2
West Yorkshire Amateur Premier Division
Saturday, 25/05/06
Have you seen Deal or No Deal? You must have, c'mon admit it! Anyway there's been a little old woman on it lately, called Stevie, and she has absolutely put the mockers on nearly every show. Thing is (if you follow the show) is that once they pick her number she always has a big amount in the box, normally putting paid to any dreams the contestant has of walking away with a big dollop of cash, so much so they have started calling her "The Black Widow". Now I know what you are thinking, "the season's getting on and Jamesie's lost it big style", well yes you could be right there - but allow me to explain where I'm going with this one. You see every time I go to a game where the league title has been expected to be lifted, the unexpected has happened, and the champs elect have fallen foul at the last hurdle - especially because I'm there I reckon. Atherstone failed, although they won it in the end on goal difference, and last time in this column the students of Leeds Met Carnegie missed the proverbial tap-in, leaving the title up for Beeston St Anthony's to snatch - all they had to do was win their last three games. So first up was Pontefract Sports - in seventh spot (hardest game) - they won 4-0 away from home. Next up was a home game to next from bottom Tadcaster Magnet - at home - they won with ease 3-0. Last up, and today, the easiest of the lot - Horsforth St Margaret's, bottom of the table and having conceded goals for fun for the majority of the season, surely a home win! What was that I was saying about the Black Widow? Surely not today; and surely not when it's top versus bottom, home win and trophy to be presented - I thank you - or maybe I am a curse...
In my world there are two Beestons - the one in Nottingham where Liam has to drag us every three months for his karate grading - the other (and this one) is the one in Leeds that overlooks Elland Road on the hill behind the Peacock pub. It also had a recent bit of bad publicity in recent times with the suicide bombers last July in London coming from this locality, Colwyn Road to be exact - about half a mile up the road. But the last thing we want to talk about in a football related column is radical terrorist sleeper cells and such, save that for someone else to do, today I'm here to wrap up the outdoor season before the World Cup kicks in. Anyway, as I said earlier the Students missed their tap-in, today Beeston had a golden opportunity (how many times do I type that little phrase in a season) to lift the cup at their picturesque little ground - and with no other games on in the north - in front of a reasonably big audience. Picturesque is certainly the word with Beggars Hill, where Beeston stage their home games, as it gives a lovely view of the city in front of you - and in the foreground of this sprawling urban vista stands Elland Road (check out the picture courtesy of Richard Lane). What better view could you have from a non-league ground than one of a Premiership football ground - only they aren't a premiership team are they? NO - HOW COULD THEY LOSE TO WATFORD HEY? WATFORD IN THE PREMIERSHIP - JESUS?!?! Anyway, rant over - for the time being anyway - the ground is set into the side of a hill, and is probably one of the most inaccessible grounds I've ever been to. Forget anyone telling you that "at such-and-such ground you have to walk half a mile from the car-park", no at Beeston you park your car on a hilly road, with no signs to say you are there - walk down a little path down the side of a builders' yard, and you find yourself in a park. Walk down a long hilly (notice the word that keeps on appearing today folks?) path, and at the bottom you find the ground - Welcome to Beeston St Anthony's. All very easy getting down there, but when the game is finished and you have to walk back up the hill? God, I must be getting old if I'm complaining about this....
The visitors though, despite their lowly position, are no whipping boys - in fact Horsforth St Margaret's have been in a little bit of form of late. The trouble is for them, is the word on the street is they won't be playing at this level next season, so for them to bow out on a low of finishing at the foot of the table is pretty grim. Pride would be the key word today for them, but it made me recall a few seasons back, when I covered the title run-in of the West Riding Premier Division. The last game of the season saw Silsden need a point to win the title, their visitors were Otley who needed a point to avoid relegation, guess what happened? Yep, goal-less draw and boredom for ninety minutes, but today wasn't set up like that, Beeston needed a WIN to take the title - Horsforth needed a WIN to stay up - my prediction? Well seeing as the witnesses to my guess read this bloody column, I can't lie - 13-0 to Beeston. It had shock result written all over it, especially after I'd opened me gob! So the stage was set, the wind was howling a gale (we were on a hill, or had I not mentioned that?) and the home team were kicking in the teeth off it for the first half. So as you'd expect the champions elect pounded the little team, but to no effect - and the visitors seemed content to boot the ball up the other end to survive another onslaught, not pretty but effective. The first half went in a flash, and my thirteen goal rout prediction was already been ridiculed, with the Horsforth keeper being somewhat "inspired". That ridicule got even worse on the hour, as playing into the wind the visitors finally got out of their half (a real rarity, trust me) and the Horsforth substitute whacked the ball from thirty yards out - now normally this should have sailed over the keeper, the bar, the dressing rooms and onto Elland Road, but somehow as the ball went over the keeper the wind stopped the ball dead in the air and it dropped like a rock.... into the net - 0-1! How it went in defies all realms of footballing physics, but now Beeston needed two, otherwise the West Yorkshire League officials would have to smuggle the trophy back to the car for the second week running. It went from bad to worse though as Horsforth got a second through another substitute, and then made the whole day ruined through the home number ten seeing red for a "foul" (nay, t'was an assault sir) on his opposite number, literally booting him in the air. It had all gone pear-shaped, and the curse of Jamesie struck once more, Horsforth though had survived bottom spot and celebrated - good luck to them whatever the future brings. At the end I naturally scurried up the hill making a hasty exit, no time for post-mortems, just in case the little man from the WYAFL saw me and recognised me - he didn't look to pleased I must say.... 


Leeds Met Carnegie 1 Nostell Miners Welfare 2
West Yorkshire Amateur Premier Division
Saturday, 13/05/06
Students: You either love 'em, or you hate 'em - society's own Marmite! Personally I've gone through phases with this little opinion, obviously whilst I was amongst the ranks on the unwashed I had a fairly high opinion of the educated classes, now as time goes along - well "GET A JOB YOU LAZY SODS!" As far as football goes, in my day it was always a second class thing to be seen with the football team, and the more outlandish the sport you played the more fashionable you were - hence my twenty seven caps for the Great Britain Kabadi squad. Nowadays there seems to be a growing influx of teams of the student genre, and pretty recently the students of Bath University (Team Bath) actually got through to the opening round of the FA Cup, where t'Stags did 'em. Round these parts Loughborough is as near as you get at the moment to local success, with Loughborough Dynamo now playing at the same level as Sheffield Club, however just recently a new force has come to the fore - up in Leeds. The team in question is Leeds Met Carnegie, formerly Leeds Metropolitan University, who have been plying their trade recently in the West Yorkshire Amateur League. Their first season saw them mullah everyone in their wake, winning 25 out of 26 division one games, the other they drew. This season sees them sitting on the cusp of successive league titles, and on cup final morning the only thing they need to do is get a point from their final game at home to Nostell Miners Welfare - the very same Nostell who have been fast-tracked into the Northern Counties East Division One next season. Something told me this was one worth missing a sleep in for, get yerself up to Leeds, it was either going to be a title presentation or bust - and how many would I have to tell "get a haircut"....
As I said Nostell would be getting a "promotion" to the NCEL at the end of this season, something that hasn't gone down too well in the CMFL region, as I found out in the weeks following the announcement. The problem West Yorkshire has is there is no official promotion between either of the leading leagues and the NCEL, with the CMFL claiming they are the ONLY official feeder to Step 6 in the area, and they tend to allow only a few at a time up - or as in most seasons, just the one. Where this manifests itself is that every now and again the NCEL finds it has to provide for the extension of UniBond levels, and as we know our league has lost the likes of Ossett Albion, Goole, Brigg Town, Eastwood, Alfreton - and last season Buxton and Harrogate Rail - and how many have come down? A big round zero, that's how many - making our league rather stagnant. I'm not going to dwell on the controversies of this situation, but what's happened is the NCEL is getting more Midland-ish by the season, with more and more teams being entered from the south of Chesterfield. Obviously that trend has petered out this season with the glorious ascension of Dinno Town, but let me throw out a little question here - (before this season) when was the last time the NCEL admitted a new team from West Yorkshire? Beats me, but with the admission of Nostell and (more controversially due to where they were promoted FROM) AFC Emley, a balance is starting to be re-addressed. But it could have been more teams, as Met Carnegie (yes the students) put the feelers out with regards promotion, with the team re-locating to the South Leeds Stadium (covered earlier in the season and well up to standards) - that though was kicked into touch. So, the way today looks like panning out is this - on the one side we have the Students, champions elect winning the trophy on cup final day, on the other Nostell a fond farewell by kicking the upstarts in the teeth by pissing in their champagne. As far as I was concerned, surely this should bring in the crowds...
....or not as it turns out. What the bloody hell did the students think they would attract in the NCEL? I thought we rattled around the Don Valley when we lived there, but turning up at the Carnegie to find (other than the Nostell boys and a local referee) I was the only one there, either no-one was interested (unlikely seeing as this had been bulled up on the WYAFL forum as "the big one" - first versus second) or it was too early on a Saturday morning for bloody lazy arsed students. I'll put it down to the latter, as by the end a few long haired types came, saw, didn't like what they saw, so they went. I suppose the "ground" wasn't exactly the best in the world; nice pitch, but no cover or dug-outs or... well nowt really - if they wanna progress they've gotta move! I also suppose the weather wasn't the nicest, in fact it finally brought out the debut of my "football brolly" - bought for me about four years ago for £15 in the case of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with the rain bucketing down - it must have been bad for that to happen, I hate umbrellas! So with the fifty or so Nostell posse, the rain chucking it down, and me poncing about sous mon parapluie the game got under way - and the first thing I have to say is this "I can see how the students managed to run away with the league", my God they were fit! I don't mean that in any disturbing fashion, what I mean is all of them (barring one or two) were above six foot tall, and all could play as actors in Dream Team. That doesn't necessarily make them a great side, but they certainly made a good Nostell side (I've seen a fair bit of them over the years so I can vouch for this) look like codgers, with the visitors blowing a few minutes into the game as their hosts ran them ragged. Nostell's keeper Chris Darby was the only thing that was keeping the Leeds side at bay, tipping one piledriver onto the bar, and watching as countless others flew past the goal. Eventually the pressure told, Darby missed a corner, the ball bounced all over the shop and hit defender Matt Wilkinson on the arm. The penalty was duly dispatched by James Elliot, and that it seemed was that, all we had to wait for was for the final capitulation and the students to add to their previous 95 goals. It didn't happen, Nostell made up for the hosts superior energy levels with some classic tactical nous, and Wilkinson turned from villain to hero and knocked home a Craig Stephens' corner to equalise. Now it was Nostell that were on top, and with the students only needing a point, it was they who were hanging on for the rest of the first half with the visitors producing some excellent football. With about ten minutes to go it looked like the job was done and the Met had weathered the storm, then another Stephens' corner was headed back across goal by Martyn Hewitt, and the ball was stabbed home by Chris Robson. Cue panic, cue the WYAFL bloke smuggling the cup back to his car, and cue the urgent calls on mobile phones by fellas in Beeston St Anthony's tracksuits. The students hadn't got the point they needed, all they needed though was for Beeston NOT to win their last three games and the title could still be theirs, but that as they say is another story....


Atherstone Town 2 Bolehall Swifts 2
Midland Combination Premier Division
Monday, 01/05/06
You know I'm not one to hold grudges me, far from it - if owt I tend to be a bit too forgiving for my own and quite a lot of other people's liking. The way I look at it, time is too short to start holding things against people, teams (except Watford) and organisations. Although in this column I have tended to spout off about how I don't like this, that or them, deep down I don't resent anyone's (except Watford) existence. You see the last couple of seasons I've found myself at times planning to head somewhere, and not on particularly bad days either- and even with the reassurance of those people in the know - I've managed to arrive at my destination to find the game fall foul to odd and wonderful circumstances. Thing is, it ain't that bad when you trek up to Dodworth Welfare on a Saturday for a two o'clock-er only to find there's no ref, you haven't gone that far and you can always get to Ossett or Wakefield or even Nostell I suppose. But when you head down to say... I don't know, lets say Moor Green in Birmingham and the stand's on fire (or burnt down the previous day and you didn't read about it)... Birmingham's a pretty fair distance from home to say "fair do's - I'll head back home", especially when you've no idea who else is playing in the area and you've no idea how to get there from here. Or for example you head down to Castle Vale, the old Paget Rangers ground, only to find the game's been cancelled without explanation. Makes you a bit on the cautious side wouldn't you say? So as I said in the Gainsborough Jaunt earlier on in this series, I tend to have learned my lesson here, never again... always ring ahead. So what do you do when you ring a ground up at 5.30 pm, only to be told "absolutely certain to be on mate, me daughter was playing on the pitch earlier and said 'Daddy, why is the pitch so dry?' So yep, deffo son, get yourself down here!" Then 7.30 you roll up to a full car park, to be told "we've just had a freak storm and the game is in doubt" - IN DOUBT? IN DOUBT? No this was an absolute deffo, one and a half hours drive for IN DOUBT - it had better not be... a foot under water, Holy Mother of Jesus Christ Our Lord! Yep, Atherstone Town I'm talking about youse...
Yeah, last season to be exact; I thought they'd be a good Jaunt to cover. After all I love them stories about how the team goes bust, usually due to some evil maniac who wanted to make some kind of... well I don't know really, but there's always a bad guy -Malcolm Glazer, Pete Winkleman (Wimbledon), Tony Lazarou (Enfield) et al - these are usually the sort that raise opposition from the fans, enough to get them to start a new side. Atherstone had Ku Akeredolu who presided over the demise over the old Adders outfit United, leaving Sheepy Road without a team for the good people of the Warwickshire town between Nuneaton and Tamworth to follow... we all know what usually comes next, don't we? In this case the old Adders folded four games into the 2003/04 season, after struggling to pay the bills for a side that was not really ripping up trees in the Doc Martens League Western Division, and who narrowly avoided relegation the season before. So as normal the supporters of said club gets together, pulls a team from the ashes, and settles down to life at a lower level - in this case the Midland Combination Division One as covered in the last Jaunt. As expected this grabs the imagination of the fans, the team goes scuttling all before them to win a title in their first season - we've all seen it, Enfield Town, FCUM, Leamington, the late AFC Barnsley, they've all done it! So did the Adders, and this season they look like they are going to go through the league like a whirlwind too, setting all kinds of records along the way. And if it wasn't for the extraordinary title race with Coventry Sphinx, both teams amassing over 100 points so far, they'd have had this league wrapped up a long time ago. And that my dear readers is why I am here tonight, despite having been let down twelve months earlier, I have forgiven and forgotten and am here to witness the lifting of the league trophy to see the Adders elevated to the Midland Alliance - a league the old side were almost relegated to the season they went bust - all they have to do is beat Bolehall Swifts, a little team from up the road in Tamworth. The people were out in numbers, so let the party begin...
Atherstone have been helped along their way this season by a young fella called Roy Dunkley, an allegedly highly paid gentleman who's proving his worth up front, scoring about six hundred goals this season alone - well alright about 60 then, but he is prolific. I'd be expecting him to get a hatful this afternoon, especially against a team who meander along from season to season, never really doing anything to set the headlines racing. I wasn't going to be the only one either, as 440 packed into the ground to witness an absolutely wonderful night, or so they hoped anyway. The majority were packed behind the one goal, giving abuse where needed (or not as the case may be) to the goalkeeper-cum-assistant-coach - Paul Barnes - who seemed to simply take it all in his stride. And to be truthful the Adders looked owt but the team that ripped through the league, looking more nervy than you'd expect of a team that had amassed over 100 points in the league, and it came as no great surprise when the visitors took the lead through John Rhodes. Atherstone were no doubt stung by this, and came out in the second half absolutely pounding the Bolehall back-line with some darting runs by the nifty little Matty Brown, and it was Brown who "earned" a penalty for the champs elect by running straight into a Swifts defender. Probably swayed a little by the home crowd, the referee awarded the kick, and up stepped Dunkley - who'd done nothing before - to level things up. But they didn't move on to take a hold of the game, no instead Bolehall went straight up the other end and took the lead, with Ryan Allmark lofting the ball over Richard Williams to make it 2-1. On the hour Dunkley got the final goal of the game, but how he could claim it is beyond me, as his free kick took the biggest deflection I've ever seen to wrong-foot the keeper. Two-all it stayed, and in no small measures to some pretty blatant time wasting antics from Paul Barnes in the Swifts' net, antics that really (and I mean really) wound the locals up no end - and in some small way amusing me into the bargain. As I said, I don't hold grudges - but if I hadn't had wasted all that time and energy twelve months prior, I might have helped to shout them on to victory...
Footnote - The Saturday after this game Atherstone faced fourth placed Feckenham in the final league game of the season, they needed a point to lift the title - they drew two-all again to scrape through on goal-difference in front of 564 spectators. When I say scraped through, their +104 was "marginally" better than second placed Coventry Sphinx's +89 - both teams finished on 103 points!


Northfield Town 6 Loughborough 0
Midland Combination Division One
Easter Monday, 17/04/06
Easter Monday, like August Bank Holiday, is one of those days the "Hopper" absolutely loves. You see with the diversity of kick-off times in different leagues, many people choose to take in more than one game a day, in some cases (if it's planned right) as many as four in a go - although I have to say those occurrences are rare. Me, well even I get bored of football after two games in a day, and I tend to be rather knackered come five o'clock due to my advancing years (well alright, I'll be straight - I'm a lazy git and I want to get as much rest as I physically can) so I try to go to a nice little game at 11.00 in the morning, one at three o'clock and then bob off home. Normally Easter Monday would entail a simple trip to Mexborough for the Montague Final, then in the afternoon wherever Club are playing, but I can't this year. Why not? Well for the first time I can remember, by some strange fortune Sheffield are without a planned Easter fixture; and my wife is working in the morning! So coupled with the "baby-sitting" duties, no game at the Coach and Mexborough out of the running, it's time to put "Plan B" into operation. Not that I had a "Plan B" I must add, no I thought I'd make it sound as though I was one of those organised sorts, the truth is I have NO plans and I'm far too lazy to be bothered to come up with any. Instead I'm reliant on someone else to give me a bit of motivation to go somewhere, and that my dear readers is how I came to land at a game on the outskirts of Birmingham, and I didn't even drive there...
The day (as a football event anyway) started with yours truly being a guest of Belper Town football club, who kindly allowed me to drink their tea and munch through their sarnies and Swiss rolls, whilst keeping an eye on some of our old favourites like Asa the Salmon and Hobbo. Not much to write home about with this game, the Nailers came back from a goal down to snatch a two-one victory over the Badgers of Eastwood, with two late goals being scored just as we were heading towards the car. I must add, before I digress onto matters later in the day, thanks to everyone at Christchurch Meadows for making me feel welcome for that game - I find it impossible to even start to rip the piss out of them, so again thanks. Anyway twenty six gear changes (by my chauffeur) later and we are pelting down the A38 - don't you just hate in-jokes? - trying to get to the other side of Brum as quickly and as legally as possible for a 6.00 pm kick off. And surprisingly enough we did it, and with time to spare, and with enough time to get a drink and get a strange lecture from the gateman on the admission costs of Accrington Stanley - don't ask! The game we'd chosen was a trip to Northfield Town of the Midland Combination Division One, not at the top of the higher echelons of Birmingham football, but there you go. There was to be honest a fair old choice of games to get to too, but this one seemed to catch my eye, something about the possibility of a shedload of goals to watch - so Northfield Town it was to be. The ground is set in the "leafy" suburbs of south Birmingham, and despite it not being floodlit it (by that I mean using the lights as a landmark) was easy to find - well it was for me 'cos I spotted it as we came over the brow of the hill of the back road we took to get there! Inside the standard is pretty decent, in fact there was more than one covered area for you to shelter under, although to be fair the rain that had chucked down in Belper never actually followed us - so dry we stayed, and the cover wasn't needed. Outside the ground was a nice enough looking clubhouse, the Shenley Lane Community Association Club, though we never actually tempted fate by heading in there and finding out it was in fact a right shitehole. So instead we decided more tea, and more sarnies looked to be the better choice than more beer, whenever did you expect to see that as a statement by me?
Why then Northfield Town, I hear you ask, surely you must have had some reason to thinking there would be a wad of goals? Well I did, and that reason was the visitors, Loughborough Football Club - officially (or not as the case may be) the worst team I have ever seen play the beautiful game. So bad were they, I decided NOT to finish an article I was writing about them for fear of litigation, they were that bad - ON the field I hasten to add, not OFF (although, there were some quirks I'll share with anyone personally if they ask nicely). Northfield on the other hand were pushing for the league title, fighting against Knowle in a two-horse race (with a all or nothing decider between the two to come on May Day), and had been plopping goals in for fun in the recent weeks that had elevated them to second spot. This season though Loughborough hadn't been that bad, but when you couple Northfield's form with a six o'clock kick off on Easter Monday evening one hour and twenty minutes drive away - you doubt there'd be many wanting to commit to giving up a Bank Holiday to be beaten, thus would Loughborough send their best squad? To answer this I can't tell you the truth, the thing I can tell you though was my instincts score-wise were correct, and Northfield looked as though they had some decent players in their team. The first half saw the goals come thick and fast, with their number six (and Henrik Larsson look-a-like in a Sweden look-a-like kit) really orchestrating things on the park, and scoring one and setting up to before half time. To say Loughborough were outclassed is no surprise, but no disgrace either, Northfield were a class act for this level of football - as was the linesman on the far side of the pitch. Yep, so iconic was this person we had to go round to the cricket pitch side of the ground to get a closer look before the light faded, he looked t'riffic. I know it isn't supposed to be clever or nice to mock people's style or looks, but this man was a cross between Boris Karloff and Peter Stringfellow - a true icon - so much so I had to be restrained from asking if he was wearing a leopard-skin thong under his shorts. But I digress, it has been a long day, and without a teamsheet to tell you the names of the scorers - all I can say is Northfield went on to make it six, it could have been twelve and one kid must have spurned about five sitters. At the end I think Loughborough were just relieved to get this fixture out of the way, as would I to be honest, and for Northfield it was just another step on their way to title glory. And if it comes their way, well sadly promotion will be denied if they don't move grounds - another reason for coming here I suppose, but then I only just this minute realised this - so a goal-fest AND a last chance to see Northfield at their "old" ground? That remains to be seen....


Hall Road Rangers 5 Teversal 1
Northern Counties East Division One
Wednesday, 12/04/06
What's the best goal you've ever scored? Being a keeper by trade I never really got many, but when I did they were good; well one of them was anyway. Let me tell you about it - the venue is Dene Park on the northern outskirts of Hull, and the occasion is a Tesco fun-day one summer in the deepest darkest eighties. It was a sort of an "It's a Knockout" type of things, with loads of running, climbing, getting wet and (for some reason I can't remember) some football games. Well at the time I quite fancied myself as a left-midfielder, but I won't kid you I was any good, I just got bored playing between the sticks and wanted a run out - anyway, the first game of the day was our lot (little Woodseats) against a team from the massive Hull store that had opened up just down the street on Hall Road. About thirty seconds into the game (it must have been early I remember running) we were giving a pretty dodgy throw-in on half way, one of my staff took it quickly, the ball went over my left shoulder and I caught it sweet on the volley - the ball lobbing the keeper as cool as you'd like from about fifty yards - superb! Even the opposition were glowing in their praise, or as glowing as you get from Hullensians, someone said "good goal mate"! Talk about an adrenalin rush, it wasn't in it, I ran around like a five year old chasing everything else after that as if I was David Beckham (who probably WOULD have been five years old at the time) - and then disaster, my missus was stood on the line shouting I had to take her mate to Hull Royal Infirmary 'cos she'd fallen from the top of a cargo net and had probably bust her ankle. Why me? Well I knew Hull didn't I? Went out with a girl from there for a while, and after threats from her family I knew EXACTLY where the hospital was, just in case of emergency! That was the morning gone, and when I got back I'd found we'd been eliminated (lost 8-2 in that very same game), and no-one wanted to talk about my goal - only interested in this daft girl's ankle - selfish, or what? I'd more or less wiped this out of my memory, as I tend to with most things Hull (as I was saying to Trev the other day), but it came flooding back as I drove up to the same spot where I had my "glory moment" to visit the last ground in my Northern Counties East Jaunts - Dene Park, also home to Hall Road Rangers...
Now where I'd scored this goal wasn't INSIDE Hall Road's ground - no, this took place on the pitches OUTSIDE that constitute the park itself. I seem to remember asking someone back then why couldn't we play inside on the proper pitches, instead of having to slide tackle through dog-shite like a normal Sunday, the response I recall was short and abrupt. Can't think why, what's wrong with ten hours of continuous football on your pitch? Since then I don't think the place has changed much at all - a bit more run down and aged - but pretty much the same set up as before. For those of you who haven't had the pleasures of Dene Park, and don't get me wrong I KNOW there are plenty of people who've been - and recently, the "feature" pitch is enclosed with two or three other pitches on the outside. Inside the ground it is pretty much the same as... well there are a couple really I can compare it with, but if you haven't been to Hatfield Main and the likes I'm wasting my time. The set up is like this - basic railed off pitch, one stand (not too much like Sheffield's) behind the goal, with wooden bench seating. There, that's it really - apart from the portacabin tea bar in the corner of the ground with the annexe of a similar hospitality room alongside. So not much in the way of entertainment (outside of football, tea and some pretty reasonably priced bacon butties), but outside is the super sleek and sexy Dene Park club - nice! Apart from the "scares-the-crap-out-of-you" alarm as you go through the doors (BEEEEEEEP - what the...?), not much has changed since two decades ago, but it's still one of those places (like the club next to Borrowash Vics ground... that's nearly identical) where you always feel you HAVE to have a drink in - even if you aren't having alcohol. But apart from the nostalgia trip, like I said this is the last ground in the NCEL I hadn't been to, so a visit was well overdue. The thing with these Division One clubs though is unlike us poor sods in the Premier Division, they seldom have fixture back-logs - not enough teams you see - and consequently there aren't that many midweek games. But when one appeared on the horizon, and Hall Road being stuck to the foot of the league and facing re-election, it had to be in the diary didn't it? And when the chance of seeing the foot-of-the-table team winning is increased, well it has to be a winner - how could I be so certain? The visitors were Teversal....
I have a jinx over Teversal, like poor old Yorkshire Main, I've never ever seen Tevie win a game - which is why I tend to keep a low profile when I go and see them, in case someone twigs and lynches me. To be fair they aren't doing that well themselves really, after being promoted from the CMFL, and are finding life in the Northern Counties a bit tricky. Perhaps Tevie could surprise me and win tonight, then again I could get a grip on reality and say that won't happen, look at the top of the page and you'll see they didn't. Sorry to say things looked bleak from the Notts lads inside the first ten minutes, Sean Black swept a cross in for Hall Road, the ball even having time to bounce in off both posts before settling in the net. The wind picked up a bit after what had been a pretty nice day, and I thought that it had a big part to play on Hall Road's total domination of the game, although the finishing said a bit about their league position - if they'd been any good they'd have been five up by the time the second went in. That happened about five minutes before half time, when Teversal failed to fully clear a corner and Jamie Barnwell thumped the ball past the keeper, and as far as a contest was concerned - it was over. Barnwell got a second midway through the second half, a true poacher's goal, volleying in a Richard (Dick - you lot do the puns) Tracey cross, and five minutes later Tracey set up Adam Walker who lobbed the keeper to make it 4-0. Then THE goal of the game, probably one of those when you ask the question right at the start of this article Teversal's Lee Rhodes will say "this one" - a true cracker from about forty-five yards out that left Hall Road's keeper looking lost. Dick Tracey wrapped things up ten minutes from time, although I can't tell you much about it as I was busy reading a text message about what the plans are for Easter Monday (yes, feel guilty if you are reading this), but apparently he took the ball around the keeper and walked it into the net. Overall it was a pretty good game, to be truthful I was surprised just how good (for the neutral anyway), and it took Hall Road to "almost" safety. To all the guys at Teversal, I'm so sorry! I'm sure you could have won if I wasn't there, but having said that I know how you feel Lee Rhodes - at least you didn't have to rush some soft lass to hospital midway through the game!


Ashby Ivanhoe 3 Narborough & Littlethorpe 1
Leicestershire Senior League Division One
Saturday, 01/04/06
After the initial shock of seeing some decent football in the Leicestershire Senior League, it occurred to me that other football in that league might also be watchable too! Being the OCD variety of person, it seemed only natural that after Asfordby Amateurs the next team alphabetically would be Ashby Ivanhoe, and luckily enough they were at home the following week. No hang on, scratch that, I'm talking crap again - it isn't anything like that at all. Just coincidental that's all! Truthfully I'd had my eye on this one towards the end of last season, their name caught my eye in the North Leicestershire League table, along with Hathern (of course), I just wondered if I'd ever get to see them as they don't play many knight matches (boom, boom - Copyright © Sir Walter Scott). As it happens another Sheffield free Saturday was on the horizon, and Ashby DID have a home game, but one thing I'd not bargained for is the fact that the week I'd spent a Saturday at leafy Hoby Road - the famed Football Grounds in Focus roadshow had hit Ashby. You know what that means people? The week after the gravitational pull of a programme producing Leicestershire League team is irresistible for a certain breed - yep, not the brightest of moves choosing this Saturday I can tell you. I won't harp on about groundhoppers once again, I don't think it's very fair, and given the circumstances I think Ashby actually welcomed the attention lavished upon them by said individuals - they even got a mention in the programme for crying out loud. I think Ashby Ivanhoe might have discovered what many round these parts have learnt along time ago, groundhoppers can actually help off-set some of the financial burden running a football club produces, all you have to do is print a programme (no matter how basic) and they will come - it's a lesson many of their Leicestershire Senior League compatriots might think about adopting, after all this is the first time in God knows how many visits to this league I've actually seen one printed - maybe the other teams don't like groundhoppers, now there's a thought....
There's a little thing about Ashby-de-la-Zouch that gets me, must be the name (a bit like Chapel-en-le-Frith), that makes me turn my head towards it every time I head on down Birmingham way. And again it's a place I've never step foot in, passed it - flown over it, but never step foot in. As you'd imagine I've never really had much call to in the past, I've never been that much of a literature geek to want to go visit the castle where Ivanhoe and Lady Rowena get it on, but I've always imagined it being one of those places where not much happens on a night with lots of curtain twitchers. I suppose that's why there's never been a very high profile team in the town too, Ivanhoe Football Club were formed in 1948 but it's a good 58 years before they've made a proper appearance (if you can call it one) on the "big stage", and this is more or less as far as I can truly expect them to go. Why? I don't know, but I probably get the feeling that all the people in their mock-Tudor houses would object to a "proper" ground development taking place in their town, so Ashby Ivanhoe will be a team limited progressively by their quaint (but minimal) facilities. At present the team play in the shadow of Ivanhoe School and the Hood Park (Ivanhoe and Hood - goes together like "bow" and "arrow" doesn't it?) Leisure Centre, playing on a pretty basic playing field at the side of a playground and skatepark, albeit railed with dozens upon dozens of local sponsor boards. The latter makes you think though, the businesses want to sponsor the football team and the committee seem a go-ahead bunch of people, they might be equipped to prove me wrong. If enough people get behind the team, and their profile is rising in the local media, perhaps - just perhaps remember - they might get the local backing they need to progress even further - starting with floodlights. Now that's also a first for me, a Leicestershire Senior League side without lights, I thought they all had them - but evidently not! Even if Ashby win the league (and there's a good possibility they could), they won't be allowed up as it is a basic criteria that all teams have lights in the top division, and that's a shame. So far they are undefeated at home, they have the league's top scorer (Kevin Lock), and it could all end in tears - what a pity that all the work on the pitch could fail to come to fruition....
I know I've not said anything about the visitors, but as I said in the last Jaunt my geography gets ropey around these parts, and I was under the impression that Narborough and Littlethorpe were two separate teams - 180 minutes of footy straight through! Obviously not, but I still know very little about them, apart from they looked a right load of ragamuffins when they ambled out on to the park - especially when you looked at the immaculately turned out Ashby side (but as we know that means nowt in football). A cursory look at the map while I was hiding in my car before the game showed both villages, Littlethorpe and Narborough, were in the same motorway triangle (M1, M6, M69) as Lutterworth - although a little higher North. So there you have it, you know as much as me now, apart from they looked after the first five minutes of action like they were going to take a right thumping on the pitch. Then something strange happened - you know when a team dominates possession, territory and then decides to play the ball back to involve the keeper? You do, right then - that happened here, Ashby pushed wave after wave forward, then played the ball back to their keeper Andy Beeston who placed the ball onto the arse of Danny Bailey who'd gambled and rushed the keeper - the ball spun off his arse, over Beeston's head and into the net, Ashby were losing! And despite all the pressure to the contrary, that's how it remained at the break, and everyone trudged over to the tea-trolley for the well publicised free biscuits. After the restart it was more of the same, Ashby pressing whilst the visitors wasted as much time as possible, a bit like the Tottenham versus West Bromwich game if you saw it. Then as expected the dam burst and on the hour the scores were level, with Rob Debney finding Kevin Lock in space to fire home his twenty-eighth goal of the season, all of a sudden it looked as if the home team had smelled blood and were in for the kill. Some more attacking and Narborough scrambling ensued, but with fifteen minutes to go Ashby took the lead, after Dan Dowling’s searching ball found Lock unmarked to side foot the ball home on the volley for his second of the game. The game was wrapped up seconds from the end of the game, in fact as I was wandering round to the car park actually, Dan Gough hit a vicious shot which the keeper Dave Graham could only parry and Rob Bartholomew was on hand to stab home from a yard out. Well deserved it has to be said (putting Ashby just one point behind the leaders), and once again my faith in this league's football has been restored, with some pretty good football on display. I suppose after this week and last, my next trip will have to be a trip to Birstall United and St Andrews - no hang on, only kidding....


Asfordby Amateurs 1 Lutterworth Athletic 1
Leicestershire Senior League Division One
Saturday, 25/03/06

I won't go and watch another Leicestershire Senior League game again until hell freezes over! Not after that Ratby episode anyway, bloody thugs the lot of them! Ninety minutes of hacking and kicking and swearing from shaven headed bludgers who wouldn't know a decent game of football if it came up and bit 'em on their arse! And they've all got daft nicknames like Diesel and Spannerhead and the refereeing is so crap, they just let these thugs go on and kick seven shades out of each other and they are so unprofessional and the set ups look like they don't care about civilisation. Yes you heard me, not until hell freezes over and that will be a bloody long time mate, I can tell you. Asfordby Amateurs? Where's that then? Melton Mowbray? Who are they playing? Lutterworth who? Go on then I'm not doing owt on that Saturday, I'll meet you down there.... Well it wasn't exactly like that, but sometimes you give something one last chance, bit of that church thing must have worked on the cynical Jamesie over the years and created a softer more forgiving chap. That Ratby experience was the final straw though - and when I say FINAL it was... at that stage anyway. You see for those of you who don't know about it, towards the end of last season I headed to Ratby for a Leicestershire Senior game against Birstall United, about ten turned up to watch and only two paid (me being one) the £2.00 to see twenty one thugs and one decent player attempt a game of football. It was a real eye opener - for a start all of the above in the introduction was applied to this game, and to my recollection I don't think a card was brandished by the yellow bellied official who looked as though he'd be out of his depth at under nines level. I won't go on about it, I can feel the tears welling up as I type, that truly was the worst game of football I have ever (and I mean ever) seen. But I was always told; you can't tar and feather everyone just because of the exploits of the minority, and to be fair I didn't take much persuading to ring the home team's secretary to check if the game was on. After all the alternatives to this was a Midland Regional Alliance Division Two game, a quick trip to East Midlands Airport to go to Ireland, or a long haul flight to one of the Baltic states to catch an early evening kick off. Asfordby Amateurs it is then....

You know there are times when I write these articles where I simply cannot remember where I've been in the past, I was just sitting here thinking about all the Leicestershire Senior League places I've been to, and naturally thought that all were the same as Ratby. I'll state this now, they aren't! Thinking about it I reckon the majority of them are probably alright places, run by alright people, I mean I quite enjoyed going to Holwell Sports, and probably Barrow Town too amongst others I may have forgotten. So with that in mind why shouldn't I enjoy going to Asfordby Amateurs? No reason I can think of to back up the theory today would be another Ratby, it might even be a good experience, and the lady I spoke to on the phone was very nice when I rang her earlier to check we weren't under a foot of water. We weren't and the game was on, so after liasing with my erstwhile BTF colleague Mr X for a meet (and to determine the directions - he was using his Tom-Tom, I on the other hand was resorting to not using drums of any kind), the trip to Melton Mowbray was on. Things weren't looking too sparkling for a smooth journey down, a bit of a hold up in Chesterfield (down by the Crown Paints depot near the Ibis Hotel) after a poor biker had an accident, followed pretty swiftly by a hold up on the Mansfield Road near the motorway for roadworks - but after that we'd be fine.... wrong, diversion alert just moments away from Asfordby village and a bloody detour. After finally negotiating my way around the back-whacks and country lanes that is East Leicestershire, I finally arrived at the ground along Hoby Lane to find a pretty surprisingly good bar - well comfy and well friendly - and looking fairly new too, obviously a focal point of the village's social life. Other than that though the ground didn't have a great deal going for it - maybe that's being too critical, who knows - being more or less a railed pitch with dugouts and floodlights. Pretty basic but I have to say I wasn't expecting much to be fair, after all given this is probably the same level on the pyramid as the Central Midlands Premier Division, there aren't many in THAT league that are much above "basic" are there? Being realistic though, today's experience should (and would) be judged on the quality of football that goes on the other side of that railing....

I'd forgotten to mention about Lutterworth Athletic! I know absolutely nowt about this league, but after some extensive reading I discovered there are TWO Lutterworth teams (Town and Athletic) in this division, and I'm not even sure where Lutterworth is! Well the last point is it is the bottom end of Leicester, sort of in the middle of the triangle formed by the M1, M6 and M69 motorways - learn something new every day! And guess what? They play in green and white hoops - today Matthew I'm going to be a Lutterworth Athletic supporter - fickle or what? There was a bit of a stiff breeze (well okay, a mini-gale) coming from the left hand side as you looked at the pitch from the bar, so it was obvious that the action would be at that end of the ground, and for once you'd be right. Lutterworth made all the pressing early doors, and got a free-kick in a dangerous looking position after about five minutes, the wise people in attendance said "he ought to shoot from there" - Lutterworth's Steve Head obviously agreed and sent his shot flying from about thirty yards out over the top of Asfordby's keeper Paul Boseley's head into the net. It was one of those where everyone looked around at each other and whistled, pretty good for this level it has to be said, and after that Lutterworth set their aim on assaulting the home team's goal with Boseley the only thing keeping the hosts in the game. By no means was it a dirty game, quite the opposite to be honest with some decent passing football putting some of the recent games I'd been at to shame, but sometimes you still need a bit of controversy to add a bit of spice to the game - and we got that when the referee sent Asfordby's Scott Mooney off for a tussle with Lutterworth's Craig Johnson. Well it wasn't really for that, but it sounds good - actually this is what happened according to young Mr Mooney - "He (Craig Johnson) grabbed me bollocks, I called him a gay bastard, and the ref thought I was talking to him so he sent me off!" Yep folks, interviews with the stars of the show too! It should have made it harder for Asfordby, but didn't, in fact in the second half the game changed and continued with the wind. Lutterworth should have been miles in front at the break, but on the hour all that was forgotten as the home team drew level after a determined opening, resulting in Danny Baker heading in a Matt Panter free-kick. And that was it as far as the scoring went, but the football was pretty good for the last half hour, how there weren't more goals is a mystery - well worth the admission fee - oh hang on, there wasn't one, an absolute bargain. The result has more or less put paid to any thoughts either team has of winning the Division One title, either way in my opinion they're probably better off in this division than having the crap kicked out of them at Ratby or Birstall, and I might even give this league another chance.... maybe!


FC United of Manchester 1 Flixton 2
North West Counties Division Two
Wednesday, 15/03/06

God I've taken some shite for this one! Last week I accidentally used "WE" when talking about Manchester City - and no, I haven't flipped and joined Liam on his sky-blue crusade - then a week later I'm doing this. All I'd said was City had bought the wrong Musampa, instead of signing Kiki "WE" should have opted for his more talented brother Kris (potentially got a lot inside, but is usually void of substance come the New Year.... go on I'll give you a couple of moments to think about it.... and Kris Musampa... and all together groan!), whilst chatting to one of our sky-blue supporting bread delivery drivers. It's amazing how quickly the slightest of verbal slips can give you the biggest headache of the week, and makes you the subject of comments like "who are you supporting this week?" or "Got more clubs than Arnold Palmer!" Yeah, alright - very funny! So then a week after this faux pas I roll into work after my elongated weekend (six days off - recommend it to anyone) to announce, "Went to that FC United of Manchester last night" - oh, you could have heard a pin drop. Talk about calm before the storm, it's at moments like those you think "Oops, what have I said?" or "You big gobbed git Jamesie!" and then sat back and waited for the inevitable tirade. So as you can imagine, Mr "I support anyone who plays against Man United" has suddenly turned into a card carrying Red, sold his soul to the (red) devil and is next expected to take his place on the Stretford End amidst the ranks of camera-wielding Japanese. Truth is as you lot should already know, that's as far from reality as me dating Claudia Schiffer, it was one of those things I just had to do for the sake of science. That and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about....
Alright, enough has been written about FC United of Manchester, how they started, what they stand for (the political side anyway and Mr Glazer) and how fantastic the fans are. But FC United of Manchester? Why couldn't they be ironic and call themselves "Soccer Club United of Manchester", in objection to Mr Glazer's "American-ness", then at the very least the initials would make me (and a wad of Scousers and Geordies) smile. Having said that FCUM works well in a song, you know that one to the tune of "Bless 'em all" (the long and the short and the tall), going something like "F-CUM all, F-CUM all" etc. But it isn't about songs (or is it?), its about ownership and direction of the club you love, and being that disillusioned you could walk away from someone you've watched since being a five year old (in Essex). And that brings me on to those people who did just that; a programme was on one of the regional BBC TV stations the night before the Shirebrook game covering the MUFC - FCUM divide, interviewing and following the movers, shakers and fans on both (or mainly FCUM's) sides. Whilst it may have aimed to gain sympathy for the new outfit, it ended up grating not just myself but others who also watched it, with some statements that showed (sadly) the fans had still not lost that arrogance. "Its great value because you can watch the game, and its only £7.00 to get in." £7.00? One level BENEATH Sheffield remember, and they are charging 75% MORE than us to get in to watch the likes of Blackpool Mechanics, alright it might be at a professional ground (Bury's Gigg Lane) but no way is £7.00 good value. The way they harped on about their upcoming lovely away trips out to some of the "salt of the earth" places in the league made you think these places never existed before they came along, or in the words of one of my BTF colleagues who also watched it, "like they invented non-league football". Some of the bystanders who were interviewed at the games as part of the programme, those who weren't the people being followed through the show, seemed barely able to string a coherent sentence together - obviously wanted to see the football through Blurryvision™ to get that authentic non-league feeling. But let's face it, not all of them could be like that could they, so I decided the only real way I could find out would be to go myself. It was going to cost me £7.00, but sometimes research comes at a cost....

I'd originally planned to go and see Chadderton play here with our very own Mr Travels (Trev), but that fixture kept on going by the wayside, not once - not twice - but THREE bleeding times! So when a midweek fixture came along which didn't coincide with work, illness or a Sheffield fixture, my potential travel companion sadly had more interesting plans involving American women. And seeing as I didn't have any American Women to occupy me, it was one I was not going to resist, and this time the weather held off and the pitch inspection gave the game the go-ahead early enough to make plans. I managed to get to Bury about thirty minutes before kick-off, and naturally I'd totally forgotten how bad the side roads were around Gigg Lane, or should I say Coronation Street? But with ten minutes before the kick off I finally got myself outside the ground, wrapped up once more like Scott of the Antarctic in a Luton Town hat and scarf ensemble, and asked a programme seller which end all the noisy fans sit in. Turns out it's behind the goal in the Manchester Road end, and you can count the number of times I've sat behind a goal at a neutral non-league game on one hand, and the locals were already in fine voice. The sub-zero temperatures and the uncertainty of whether the game was on or not kept the crowd to beneath 2,000 for the first time this season, but it didn't stop this being the most head-aching experience at this level, but what was the football going to be like and the visitors - Flixton - how many would they lose by?
They sing a song round these parts - "Won't pay Glazer, or work for Sky - still sing City's gonna die. Two Uniteds but the soul is one, 'cos the Busby Babes carry on" - I guess that sums up where they come from opinion wise anyway. The football though seemed like a side-show for the first half, the fans sang and the players had a kickabout on the muddy patch in the middle, but neither seemed interested in the other - in the first half as I said. Then ten minutes before the end of a pretty lifeless first half, the unthinkable happened - Flixton scored! For the best part of the half I'd sat there wondering why these people (and there were enough of them) were here, one fourteen year old chav-like-individual had got too excited on White Lightning and decided to try and take on twenty pretty big stewards in unarmed combat (the chief steward eventually saying enough is enough and picking him up single-handed and lobbing him out), and that was it... apart from shivering enough to mix myself a good cocktail. Then as I said FCUM were losing; a corner came across a Flixton player at the edge of the area swung a foot wildly at the ball, everyone jeered but before anyone could shout "Taxi" the ball spun out to Graham Vaughan who curled it in from twenty-five yards - certainly put a halt to the cat-calls! Then the second half came, quite amusingly too, as the Flixton keeper Andy Robertson trotted to the Manchester Road end to the calls of "You fat bastard" - and in true keeper style, acted a prize plonker and gave some back. You just knew there would be tears before bedtime, even though when the FCUM fans chanted "can you hear the keeper sing", he thought it wise to sing in reply "the Flixton" (clap, clap, clap!). Five minutes in and the visitors were two up, much to the delight of their twenty or so followers, when centre half Jamie Bates put in a defence splitting pass to Lee Wilkinson who had no trouble lifting the ball over the home keeper Barrie George. The home team started to pile on the pressure but Flixton's keeper was in fine form, not just in humour but with his hands too, and even when facing six up front Flixton repelled everything and anything. The shock result looked on the cards, but with six minutes to go the hosts were given a bit of a lifeline when the referee awarded a penalty for handball against number four Mark Ayres, Robertson though wasn't going to let this stop him and promptly saved the spot-kick from Rory Patterson. A minute later FCUM finally scrambled the ball in from a yard out, I think David Chadwick getting the last touch, before everyone decided to get involved in some of that cage fighting that Mike Tyson's promoting - with about twenty players, the referee and half a dozen stewards (no not kidding) all deciding to have a scrap in the back of the net - entertaining but not pretty. Overall I guess that's how you could sum up the night in general; it's a long time since I openly laughed so much at a football game, but the quality on the field... well, bloody awful! As for the enigma that is FCUM, well I'm still not sure I get it, after all what if the Glazers went and Manchester United ceased to be a much maligned PLC - would FC United of Manchester also cease to exist? To be truthful I don't know either, but one week after this game another of the AFC phenomena up the road at Barnsley did just that, what's to say the same won't happen here?

Gainsborough Trinity 1 Northwich Victoria 2
Nationwide Conference North
Tuesday 14/03/06

Something about cold weather that makes my brain cease to work, and boy has it been cold these last few days, and boy haven't I been dim! Someone once said this of me, "He doesn't talk very often, but when he engages in conversation he talks rubbish - silence suits him!" A lot of you would question whether the first part of that assessment is true, but most who know me would agree that the second part of this statement is true beyond words; however when it is cold I find even the most basic things hard to say. Let's say for example I want to ring up to see if a game is on, not hard normally you'd think, but tonight with games falling by the wayside at regular intervals and options running out fast my brain just went offline completely, and boy when you go offline someone is always there to take the Mick. "Hello, Gennsburry Trinny Football Clurb" "Hiya, erm yeah, erm is tonight's game on tonight?" "Erm, no it's on tommorrer!" "What? You serious?" "Course not son, when else would tonight's game be on, Course it's on tonight!" I hate smart arses, especially when they make you feel a complete and utter twonk, and a twonk I certainly felt. "So, it isn't off then?" "No, that's what I mean when I said it's on!" I bet this guy's thinking I'm on to a right winner here.... "Here, Bert. Oi've just had this bloke on the phone..." So at least I had a game to go to, the first time in a month, and of all things it's a game at a place where I've been before, being played between two teams I've seen before and in the coldest temperatures I've experienced for some time. Not so much of a Jaunt as a "get some football in before you go mad" experience, and I'll tell you this I certainly need some football; I'm going stir crazy here!

It must be some time since I saw a game at Gainsborough, I'm not sure but I think it might have been an under 19s game with Sheffield, but I may be wrong - if it was it's a helluva long time since I saw Trinny's first team play then. It always gets me how few people they get here watching, after all two good seasons and they could be a league team once more, though somehow I can't see that happening. To tell the truth tonight isn't one of those nights that is going to bring in the punters, after all as I've said the weather isn't the most pleasant, and the Trinny aren't doing that hot either. The crowd (if you can call it a crowd) was officially reported as 255 for this one, but most of them seemed to be following the "Trickies" with the majority present sporting some kind of green, even yours truly - although that's just because the Celtic scarf was the first I pulled out of the boot in an attempt to recreate my famous “Baron von Nanouk of Gleadless” look. I sometimes wish the Coach and Horses was a bit more like Northolme when I come here, which I have to say is one of my more favoured grounds in the North of England, but every time I start wandering down that little avenue of imagination I get back on the reality check - it's taken a helluva lot of years to get this ground like this, and the Coach will develop in its own unique little way eventually. I think one of the reasons I like it here is the tidiness of the place, although it has to be said the toilets there could do with a lightbulb at least, and the fact you seem to be able to have an unobstructed elevated view from any of the four sides is an absolute bonus. The only thing really missing is a bit of atmosphere, although the Blues bar was fairly lively before the game, but that was probably due to the number of people who'd travelled across from Northwich. And they seem to have a pretty decent following if truth be known, but I guess that must be down to the fact the team is doing pretty well once more, after being forcibly relegated at the end of last season. The 150 or so who made the journey seemed intent on enjoying themselves, and made most of the noise on the night, God only knows what it would have been like if they HADN'T been there!

Despite my earlier concerns the pitch wasn't in too bad nick, might have been a bit heavy in places, but there was none of the frost that had put paid to the majority of the games that night. The game itself was a pretty lively affair to say the least, both teams were on the scoreboard inside the opening quarter of an hour, and as expected it was the Trickies who took the lead. Mike Byrne exchanged a series of passes with Chris Williams for the visitors, before Byrne let rip to beat Trinny's keeper Jamie Holshaw from just inside the area. It was a clinical move but within a minute the scores were level, barely giving the visiting supporters time to celebrate, when Eric Graves made a probing run down the right channel and found Jamie Smith, who left two defenders in his wake before prodding the ball past the advancing Kris Rogers. Any thoughts or hopes this gave me of experiencing an all action goal-fest soon went out the window, as the rest of the half turned into a scrappy midfield battle, with the thought of the return journey home to warmth looking all the more appealing. On the hour Northwich got the all decisive second, Paul Brayson created the opportunity with a slick passing move which ended with Chris Williams beating Holmshaw with a rasping drive from the edge of the penalty area. After that it was all Northwich, with the home team showing as much interest as the apathetic home support, and to be fair the visitors could have made it more emphatic if Byrne and Brayson had been able to convert two (bloody easy to be honest) chances in the last fifteen minutes. Overall though it felt a bit of a let down, despite the supposed higher level of football, the quality of the game has been matched and bettered (for me at least) in games of much lesser standard this season. Northwich's supporters will get their just desserts and get the return to their rightful spot in the Conference, as for Gainsborough - well let's say they'll survive another season at this level, I just wish they could get the support behind them to do a bit more than that.

Ball Haye Green 3 Norton FC 0
Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division
Wednesday, 08/02/06

♫ "Sheep, sheep, everywhere! Those little woolly f***ers are all over the place!" ♫ Don't get me wrong here, I'm not a big Macc Lads fan, but as far as "No Sheep 'til Buxton" goes they couldn't be further from the truth. You see here I am driving through the said Peak District capital, and I haven't seen a single one on the way, nor would you expect to on a night as bleak as this. To be honest it's nice to be back on the road again, I haven't done a "proper" Jaunt since November and prior to tonight I haven't really felt the urge to head anywhere else other than the Coach or wherever Sheffield are playing since that time, but with a bit of a nudge in the right direction I've found myself heading to a place I'd never heard of three weeks ago. I'm off to Leek - in Staffordshire - to Ball Haye Green (wherever that is) to be exact - for a Staffordshire County Senior League game, a league I hadn't particularly heard of, let alone fancied visiting, before. So as the geography students amongst you will know to get to Leek... you have to drive through Buxton (and we only ever drive to Buxton when we visit Silverlands, don't we? Unless you live there of course, in which case I'm sure it's a very nice place) and then out the other side along the charmingly named A53 road - "Axe Edge".

Perhaps it's nice in summer, really I could imagine it being a pleasant run, but in February? Do me a favour! I've spent the whole of this road following a tractor on the back of a flat-bed lorry at 40 miles-per-hour, too scared to overtake for a combination of reasons - like will the road disappear and I end hurtling down the bank (with invisible sheep bouncing off me bonnet) or the most likely, missing the turn off down "Novi Lane", the mystical road I'm supposed to be looking out for to turn right down. Believe me, this journey can be pretty crap when you do it in on a cold dark night in February, but doing it I am - but why? Let's start with the age old question - "excuse me, where are you going again?" Right, Ball Haye Green (as I alluded to earlier) is an area of Leek - well to be honest it isn't actually an area as such, it's a road! Yep, the team is named after a road, or more like the team is named after a working men's club which is named after a road. Got that? Good. "But why take a jaunt to this neck of the woods, you wouldn't normally?" Yeah that's true as well, but I guess that's because my arse is getting too fat to move it without someone saying "I'm heading to somewhere" and me replying "go on then, I'll see you there" - which is what happened in my usual conversations with our own Mr X. "I'm off to Ball Haye Green tomorrow night Jamesie" "go on then, I'll see you there!" (see how it works? - lazy or what?). So that's how I find myself trundling along the A53 behind a flat-bed lorry with a tractor on it, heading to a place where I never knew existed, wondering "where are all these sheep then?"

First things first, this league (the Staffordshire County Senior League) is a pretty new league by all accounts, and like most new leagues it is a merger between two older ones - the Staffordshire League and Springbank Vending Midland League (the one sponsored by the bloke at Stone Dominoes before he pulled his funding out suddenly). The home team - Ball Haye Green FC - have been going for the best part of 125 years, so they have a firm foothold in the Leek area, being formed just a few years later than the senior team in the area - Leek Town. The trouble is how long they can survive, that is a different matter completely, especially seeing as the aforementioned working men's club is in deep doo-doo. The problem lies with the fact that the WMC is £167,000 in debt, not that surprising when you saw how busy it was at half time, and guess what the major asset of the WMC is? Yep, the pitch at the back of the club where Ball Haye Green play - and they have a prospective bidder too, in the shape of Leek CSOB Football Club who currently groundshare with Leek Town at Harrison Park and want to build their own stadium. Where does that leave Ball Haye Green? Well not too sure to be honest, they intend to play out this season, and then wait and see. Bit sad really, but having said that who's to say CSOB won't offer them a groundshare with them?
As for the ground itself, well if you think of any one of fifteen Central Midlands League or Leicestershire Senior grounds, you'll get the picture. A pretty basic setting with cover down one side - fairly low if you are as tall as my mate, not so bad for us under six feet - railings all the way round, and a tea bar in the corner. Yes, the tea bar - 30p for a cup of tea and "help yourself to sugar" - which must be some kind of local standing joke, 'cos never in a month of Sundays will you find the sugar, because there ain't any! The locals - well let's put it this way - are local! By that I mean they don't seem to get away from the area that much, they go on holiday to Stoke-on-Trent - well the ones we encountered anyway. Par example - "where are you from?" "Belper" "Is that near Rocester?" - see what I mean? It isn't to say they aren't nice people; the geezer in the WMC at half-time was decent enough, playing along and asking if I wanted sugar in my pint of XXXX while I was on the phone to the missus (not supposed to be drinking at the time you see - told her I was getting a coffee). So apart from the financial side of things, I'd normally pipe up at this stage to say they could go a long way, it is just a shame they might not - but we'll wait and see.

The visitors for this encounter were Norton FC - effectively the reserve outfit of NWCFL team Norton United - and it was hard to see how this would be anything close to a crowd-puller given that Norton were rooted to the foot of the table. Actually it was surprising to see how many people turned up to the game, it certainly outnumbered the pitiful showing at Selby the other week, and it isn't as though there were a dozen groundhoppers there - though that was probably because there wasn't a programme to entice them there. The game was fairly entertaining too, although Ball Haye were always in control of this one, Norton looked - well let's put it this way, they lived up to their position in the table. Midway through the first half the home side went in front from an Adam Sayer penalty, after one of the visitors tripped a Ball Haye player, though whether it was in the box or out was some matter for discussion - you just couldn't make the lines out. In the second half the game was put beyond doubt with further goals from Andrew Bloor and an own goal to send the home punters away happy, and me and Mr X back to our respective gaffs. Being honest this is a ground I wouldn't mind coming back to, give it a season or so (if they are still in business) - and maybe I'll make the trip in August, and do a bit of sheep spotting - just to see if the Macc Lads WERE right.

Leeds United 2 Newcastle United 2
FA Premier Reserve League North
Wednesday, 21/12/05
I guess you could call it nostalgia, or maybe it's my clouded memory playing tricks on me, but I used to really enjoy the trips to Bramall Lane on a Saturday afternoon when United were playing away. Yes that's right, when they were playing AWAY - the first team that is - and us kids (I was one once, honest) had the run of the late lamented John Street Stand. It wasn't the same as the first team games, when Currie, Woodward, Colquhoun and Hockey were treading the turf - no the reserve games was when us chabbies would be able to hurl abuse at the players... and be heard! For reserve team games Bramall Lane (which then held just short of 50,000) would echo to the noise of twenty or so competitors on the field, a few old men in the stand, and kids - lots of kids. Even though I was never a United fan, I still went with my mates, basically because of the laughs (albeit immature laughs) we had at the expense of the stiffs from the opposing sides. I remember times when one of our merry little band would get egged on to ask one of the Central League's finest for an autograph, get the team sheet signed - and then ask the player "who are you anyway?" The only exception to this enjoyment was when Wednesday played, but as far as I can remember THOSE games were usually played midweek, and then we tended to be drowned out by bigger and noisier kids. But as time has gone on, and adulthood started to take its evil grip, I found myself starting to dislike reserve team games for the very same reason I loved them in the seventies. The lack of any real passion from the teams was one thing - after all it isn't as though there's a major trophy at stake, or a minor one for that matter - and the very same kids that I was once one of were now starting to grate on me. The Central League is now the Pontins League (I think it is anyway, but forgive me if it isn't anymore - I'm really not that bothered) and many of the teams that once were the victims of our childhood pranks don't even have reserve teams at all nowadays - even United's reserves weren't playing at Bramall Lane anymore, instead playing at Saltergate at 2.00 pm on a Wednesday. In fact when you look around at some of the bigger clubs, you'll find that many of them play at smaller venues - which is how I came to be at this fixture.
You see Leeds United are one of those teams that are under the illusion that playing reserve teams' games on the main pitch hinders the fortunes of the first team - no, a reality check here - Leeds are a crap team living on the glories of the past. But nevertheless they stick their "stiffs" on the grass of the South Leeds Stadium (notice I say "grass" and not "turf" - more on that later), a ground you can see from the M621, which if you didn't know is also the home of Hunslet RLFC. I suppose that should lead me onto another little topic, Rugby League - Hunslet and Leeds United. The two have lived a sort of symbiotic life together in the city; up to 1973 Hunslet played their home games at Parkside (a mere drop goal away from their current home), that was until they were disbanded, and their home ground was sold for warehousing. They were reformed the following season as "New Hunslet" and played at the Elland Road Greyhound Stadium - bang opposite the famous football stadium - that was until they demolished that ground for a football car-park! After a few years of nomad-wandering syndrome they found themselves playing at - you guessed it (I hope) - Elland Road itself. One of the oddest groundshares in history - Leeds getting 30,000 and Hunslet getting 300 per game - ended after a couple of seasons, with the rugby team heading back home to the Hunslet district. And now Leeds United were the tenants at their home, and tonight their visitors would be my surrogate team from up north, Newcastle United (reserves of course). It didn't take much of a persuasion to get me up there, as sad as it sounds it IS a new venue, and would be a first for the Magpies too - so when my workmate (and die-hard Geordie) Stephen came up with the proposition I was hardly gonna turn it down. To top that off we'd made arrangements to meet an old colleague (and Leeds fan) Mick, who it has to be said when I last went to a game with him Sheffield played at Liversedge - he introduced me to Alan Smith, who in turn informed him later that his mate's mob were "scrapping in the stand" - yes, those of you who remember, it was THAT game at Liversedge. Not for a second did I ever imagine there'd be any trouble at this game, no I think it was more of a case of "would I remain interested for the whole ninety minutes?"
To say this was a low-key fixture, we were surprised when we got there to find the car-park full, and the side road - and the other car-park as well - so we parked on a curb the other side of the ground. The game was advertised as being £4.00 to get in, not bad I suppose - but then advertised at £3.00 on the gate, which probably explained why the bloke on the gate gave me £18.00 change from a twenty quid note! Even more surprising was the fact there were away fans, in replica kit too, and true to form there were tons of kids. And as expected as we were walking to our seats there was a band of youths hurling abuse at someone, probably in Newcastle colours, although times must have changed 'cos the stewards' head honcho (a guy dressed like Monsieur Alfonse the undertaker from 'Allo 'Allo) dragged one of them out midway through the second half. There was also an Indian family there, but who the bloody hell they were supporting was beyond us as one minute they were shouting "come on Newcastle", the next "come on Leeds" - confusing or what? The massive 2,500 seater stand was pretty sparsely populated to be fair, but being honest it wasn't the time of year to expect a big crowd, a week later yes - but today, no. Which leads onto the ground I reckon, and I think I've covered the highlights already, a big two-tier stand visible for miles - and that's it. The athletics track takes the action a fair distance away from you, the nearest I can actually compare this with is the Pingles Stadium in Nuneaton, and the rest of the ground is grass banking. Along with the hammer-throwing nets, the long-jump pits and the water-jumps, it is a typical all-sports venue suitable for just about any event... apart from football. God I'd forgotten how bad Rugby League pitches are, and having played on (and lost on) dozens of these surfaces, you appreciate how bad they are for playing a nice standard of passing football. Imagine Borrowash with a hotch-potch attempt at rolling it, muddy and rutted - ideal for prop-forwards! But these guys were professional footballers (question - where in the scale of football does the standard of reserve team football sit?), and being professional they should be able to play on anything - well I guess they don't have a choice really do they?
Newcastle had Michael Chopra playing for them, the last time I saw him he was being stretchered off after trying a kung-fu attack on a Slovakian goalie and coming off second best, and the legend that is Lee Clark (anti-Sunderland t-shirt not included). Leeds had, well erm... I've not heard of any of them except for their Coach Martin Hodge, alright? Should only have been one winner then really, but no, wrong again Jamesie. After a spurious bit of attacking where Chopra should have added to his impressive tally of eleven goals in fifteen game, Leeds took the lead after Newcastle keeper Tommy Caig could only punch a Stephen Crainey cross as far as Jermaine Wright, who shot first time to score. The visitors replied within a few minutes when Chopra was put through one-on-one with the Leeds keeper Ben Smith, only one winner there really, but within seconds Leeds were back in front when Ben Parker tapped the ball beyond the useless looking Caig (honestly, he just stood there - what's that all about?). Just before half time Simon Madden turned the ball into his own goal, after a cross from the left, and all in all it summed up an entertaining half. After a search for the tea-bar which ended up with our party finding ourselves in the darkest toilets in Britain, we eventually stumbled upon a bar serving cheap Carlsberg, and arriving just as Donny made it 1-0 against the Arsenal. The second half was an anti-climax really, with no goals and not much action either, up until the last minutes when Newcastle's Kris Gate volleyed against the bar. So it was off home, admiring Hunslet's illuminations (which to be honest were no match for that bloke's on City Road - or the guy at the side of Tinsley viaduct for that matter) along the way. Not much has changed in respect of reserve football in thirty years, the lack of passion is still there, as is the apparent apathy on the sidelines, but what was missing was the kid asking someone to sign a teamsheet - or was it? You'll never guess what turned up on eBay the following day... no, honestly it did and it wasn't me!


Chapel Town 5 Milton 2
Manchester League Division One
Saturday, 05/11/05
I hate missing Sheffield matches, and it is starting to become a bit of a habit, whether it's through work or holidays, but when it's through ultimatum - well that's a different matter. A short explanation might clear this one for you - under orders to host Bonfire Night party, need to be in house early to help with preparations (or else), Club are at Eccleshill and I can't stand going to Eccleshill (nothing personal, but I think I've been there enough times to warrant missing a game there for once) - so I'm told "why don't you go to a game that's local for a change?" Fair and dandy, I suppose especially seeing as I could go to a 2.00pm kick off and be home for say 4.30 without any hassle, which is a good hour and a half earlier than I would if I was returning home from North Bradford. The problem I have is if I'm going to be doing this, I might as well make it worth my while and try and get to a game of decent enough standard (Central Midlands or above), which I hadn't visited before and (most importantly) was within an hours drive of Gleadless. So seeing as I've been to just about everywhere in the CMFL, there's nowt within an hour in the Notts Senior League - and I haven't got a clue who are playing in the County Senior League - it set me struggling a bit to find anything even of minimal quality. But I guess I've started to be a little lazy when it comes to looking for a game, I always find myself looking to somewhere just off the M1 - Southbound normally - that is in the CMFL, NSL or the like. It was time to look a bit further off the beaten track, somewhere where I'd not done before, which is how I came up with the Manchester League - the equivalent of the CMFL in the pyramid stakes but a bit further way. A visit to their league website threw up a whole host of games around the Manchester, Rochdale, Stockport and Bolton areas - but none of them fell within the hour's drive I wanted to take to be able to start burning stuff and setting off fireworks. That was up until I got down to their Division One fixtures, which by rights falls on a par with the Central Midlands Premier, the top of that list showed a game between Chapel Town and Milton. But where was Chapel, or was it Chapeltown? A quick click to the MFL Club Guide showed that the Chapel in question was in fact Chapel-en-le-Frith, not forty minutes' drive from my house so well within range, and it just happened to be another ground in Derbyshire at this level I hadn't been to - and there was me thinking I'd finished them all off.
Chapel-en-le-Frith is one of those mythical places that exist, you have an idea where it is, but you aren't likely to visit unless you have business there - a bit like Timbuktu I suppose. I always knew (even from childhood) that if you went far enough along Ecclesall Road you'd get to Chapel-en-le-Frith (that was until the Mam Tor landslide in 1979), but even to this day I'd never set foot in the place, despite zipping along the A6 that bypasses the town a gazillion times on my way to New Mills, Stockport and the Manchester Apollo. I had an idea the town had a football team, but never real paid that much attention to it, especially seeing as the Hope Valley League is not one I'd pay more than a cursory glance at. But I never realised they'd had teams in the town since the early part of the last century, and the clubhouse is a testimony to the many folks who've played in honour of the town, whether it be for United, Celtic or Town - the current Chapel-en-le-Frith side. Town play at Rowton Park, which is a nice little enclosure on the outskirts of town over looking the valley in which Chapel nestles, however the locals modestly nickname the place "God's Green Acre" - and I suppose it would be a fairly apt description in August, but in November? Forget it. As I said the ground offers views that are picturesque at worst, and when the sun shines absolutely stunning, and they also give you the nod as to when to leg it in to the little covered standing area along one touch line - the hills in the distance disappear, it's gonna rain in two minutes! It's also set in the nicest area I've seen a ground at this level located, with detached houses surrounding three of the four sides (the fourth is the cricket ground) and nearly all of them having conservatories, although how the ones behind the goal don't get smashed windows is beyond me. As I hinted at earlier, Chapel were in the Hope Valley League up until last season (their reserve side now resides in that league), which is one of those leagues I have a vague passing interest in but never ever watch the games - although I have seen United play at Baslow and Tideswell in friendlies. It seems though that Chapel have decided they've outgrown the Hope Valley, and this season sees them making their debut in the Manchester League, meaning from hereon they will progress up the North Western side of the pyramid - a shame really seeing as Buxton is only six miles down the road. And they've made a good start to their debut season, pushing established hands Hollinwood (who 5-0 last month) they beat and Whitworth Valley all the way at the top, even though they've suffered some absolute shocking defeats (1-8 and 0-7) along the way. Today they were up against lowly Milton of Rochdale, a team who would have to travel further than me to get here, safe in the knowledge they'd already been beaten 2-0 by Chapel at home earlier in the season - the result must be a foregone conclusion.
To say the pitch was a bit on t' heavy side is a bit of an understatement - "God's Green Acre" looked more like "God's Spud Patch" after about ten minutes of play - but at least with all the rain they had got the game on. It was obvious Chapel looked the higher placed of the two sides, they even looked the more professionally dressed side (not that this normally matters), and it was they who were absolutely hammering the visitors' goal. About thirty minutes in the home team were awarded a penalty after Milton's Mark Kay tripped Alex Vincent in the area - up stepped Mark Hawtin to slide the ball through the mud past the visitors' keeper Tom Ryan. At this stage I expected the floodgates to open, but some slack defending from Chapel five minutes before the interval allowed Steve Omrod to be unmarked in the area, he in turn back-heeled the ball through for young Chris Freer to slot the ball under the home keeper Andrew Annison. One each at half time was hardly a just scoreline, and although I was torn between wanting see a good goal-fest and a feisty battle from the away team, it was obvious the home manager was a bit pissed off with his side's lack of finishing ability (you could hear him quite well from the tea-room). Milton were buoyed by the stalemate and could have taken the lead early on, when only the post denied Dave Hunt from scoring an unlikely goal - on the hour though they fell behind and never regained parity again. A clever through ball from Chapel's centre-forward Ray Dwolitka found Chris Carrington on the left, who had little trouble slotting the ball under the keeper's body, and a couple of minutes later it was 3-1 when Paul Egerton crossed the ball to Hawtin who headed the ball through Ryan's legs for his second. Milton made the game interesting with fifteen minutes left when Simon Mills fed the ball through to Steve Ormrod for an easy looking goal, but any signs of this being a nervy contest were thrown asunder a few minutes later after Paul Egerton volleyed a throw-in from near his own goal line up field, the ball got caught on the wind and totally screwed up the Milton defence leaving Carrington the simplest of tasks of strolling the ball round the keeper to make it 4-2. The fact that the visitors had no substitutes to call on in the last few minutes started to tell, the fifth goal was always going to be inevitable - it was just going to be a question of when - and it came in the last seconds of the game from Alex Vincent who slammed home after a neat ball from substitute Rob O'Gara. So the game went to form, and the score was probably an accurate reflection of the game itself, leaving Chapel still breathing down the necks of the top two. My overall impressions of Chapel is they will probably progress a lot further than the Manchester League, and I wouldn't be surprised if we end up meeting them some way down the line, although seeing as they've chosen to go the west route - it'll be a bit longer than I'd have liked.


Newark Town 2 Blidworth Welfare 1
Central Midlands Premier Division
Wednesday, 02/11/05
"Newark - now there's an interesting anagram!" What is it about me, Newark Town and the bloody rain? Seriously it makes me wonder if there is some kind of weird and wonderful link, given the fact that everytime I've seen them play the heavens have opened, and I've had to scurry off to some shelter which more often than not obscures the view of the game. To be fair though, checking back the first time I went to see Newark at home it was more of a "fine drizzle" than downpour, but the other times I'd seen them (at Ollerton and Flowserve) I'd got wet through - the latter being an absolute feat because I got sunburn the same day! Anyway, enough of the rant (I'll come back to that later), how come I'm at a Central Midlands League game when I'd said not a couple of weeks ago that I'd done with this league? Well as I probably hinted at in the Lucarlys Jaunt, this was going to be a bit of an anorak exercise - I'd been to Newark, I'd been to Collingham, but I'd never seen Newark play at home at Collingham - cross the T's and dot the I's! Not that this was ever that high on my list of priorities - far from it - tonight me and Trev were supposed to be heading over to see FC United play Chadderton at Gigg Lane, but that got called off due to a waterlogged pitch. So with the alternative of going stir crazy again by staying in the house (as I'd suffered the night before watching Chelsea on the box), I "persuaded" myself to go out to a game at the very last moment, and I needed to get somewhere not too far away. So Newark it was then, less than an hour down the road and easy enough to find as I'd been there before, the only thing on my mind was "if they'd call a game off at Gigg Lane - would the game at Collingham survive?"
Collingham is a nice little village set on the Newark to Gainsborough road, I say it's nice but to be truthful I've only ever seen it in the dark, but I imagine it would be nice in the summer! The ground at Collingham isn't a bad place to be fair, it has a decent little bar and the pitch isn't too bad either, and there's a little shed halfway down the side that acts as a stand - all in all a good little place in a nice neck of the woods. So why are Newark Town playing there? Well to be honest it was a vacant lot - the Collingham side were a fixture in the Central Midlands set up for several years, and whilst they never really uprooted trees in the league, they never really struggled. Then in 2002 Collingham FC disappeared from the face of the earth - just a few months after I'd seen them play North Notts (now Sutton Town) on a cold February night - and Station Road was going to be unused. So two years later up step Newark Town, a team that had finished runners up in the old Notts Alliance Division One the season before, and they needed a home that was to the standard required after being elected to the CMFL - Station Road fitted that bill down to the ground. In their first season in the CMFL they didn't make too bad a fist of it, finishing a respectable seventh place, and became the first team to beat AFC Barnsley in the league - although they took a bit of walloping in the return game. This season they are sitting around the same place, but they've had some pretty impressive exploits in the FA Vase this season, unluckily getting knocked out in their previous game by Cradley Town of the Midland Alliance (same level as Sheffield) after extra-time. Their opponents in tonight's encounter were Blidworth Welfare - a team I always seem to watch around bonfire night - and one who have struggled somewhat over the last few years. This season has seen the results go against them again, and once more they are in the bottom four, but no-one has really given them a thumping. It always looked as though it was going to be a home win, but how much had Saturday's encounter with Cradley taken out of Newark, and what part would the elements play in the game?
So let me set the scene for you - I turn up at Station Road at a reasonable time, go to the pay-gate and pay my £2.00, nip to the loo and head back to the car to have a two minute read of the programme. I head back into the ground about five minutes before kick off, the skies are clear and it is relatively warm, but something just wasn't right - I had a hunch (me and Newark, remember), so went back to the car for my raincoat. The gateman made a quip, something like "if we charged you everytime you came through here..." to which I just had to tell them my hunch about the "imminent rain" of which there was no sign before heading off to spend the game with our local Central Midlands expert Richard Lane and his lad Rick. Five minutes into the game the heavens opened - slowly at first - then it was everyone pile into the stand to take shelter, which was fine except the rain was blowing INTO the stand. About ten minutes into the game we got the first goal; Newark player manager (actually joint manager, really) Brett McNamara put a corner into the area, and some pretty generous defending from Blidworth allowed Jonno Wright to nod effortlessly into the goal. A bit of a gift really, but not as big a gift as what was handed to the home side ten minutes later, as Blidworth defender Dale Crowder planted an exquisitely placed lob from over 35 yards out over the keeper's head and into the net - his own net that is, and under no pressure - an absolute classic! Blidworth managed to stick another in their own net just before the break, however that was ruled out for pushing, but you started to get the feeling this could be a big score. After the half time respite of a hot mug of tea in the bar courtesy of my good friend, it was back out to the elements and more Newark goals no doubt - well, not exactly because Blidworth turned the tables somewhat. A few minutes in the visitors pulled one back, the substitute Ricky Law took a free-kick from 25 yards that beat the wall and the keeper Mark Everington, who took the option of standing stock still and watching the ball slither home. The visitors had an opportunity to draw level midway through the half, John Greaves raced onto a through ball and poked it beyond Everington into the empty net, unfortunately for him Newark's other joint manager Tony Joynes raced back to hook the ball of the line - just in time. With the slippy conditions some of challenges were a little (shall we say) rash, with one particular effort from Ricky Law on McNamara causing the home guy some pain, with tempers fraying all around McNamara offered to fight a Blidworth official in the car park after the game - I'm sure they didn't mean it - but it was entertaining! Anyway Newark managed to hold on, but I suppose based on the balance of play they deserved it in the end, and the time to get my car out of the mud was at hand. I'd have loved to have stopped for the boxing match in the car park afterwards, but you know...


Havre Athletic Club 1 Dijon 2
Championnat France Ligue Deux
Saturday, 29/10/05

I was fully aware at the start of the season that the Jaunts articles would be in short supply, and with this producing enough to appear in EVERY copy of the Sheffield FC programme would be a bit of a tall order, so when Craig (our programme editor) asked if there was anything I had to help fill the pre-season programmes I got a bit concerned that the supply would run dry long before the end of the year. My reasoning was that given the number that were to be carried over from the last season, and the ones I had planned in for early season, the programme would be "Jaunt-less" by November time - so something else had to go in its place. So, one Monday evening before the first friendly whilst I was watching Liam going through his ritual of decapitating kids with mis-timed sliding tackles (football training to you and me), I had a metaphorical light-bulb flash above my head - why not do a little series of articles about the oldest club in another country and tell a little about them. I would call it "We're by the Oldest team that (insert country) has ever seen" (like the song), genius I know, but it wasn't as easy as I first thought out. You see doing the research I found half of the teams that were the "Oldest" had gone under, or merged, or simply disappeared - and that left me chasing down a million blind alleys. Spain was simple, I'd read about that in a book called "Morbo" by Phil Ball, but after that it became harder to find teams from the more "familiar" countries. France was about half-way down my list of countries I'd want to feature, a long way behind Germany, Italy, Holland et al, but eventually I found they DID have a clear winner - Havre Athletic. So after a bit of research the article eventually ended up in the York City programme, and along with Recreativo Huelva and Pro Vercelli they became teams I started to follow (via the web of course) the progress of, although that's as far as I really intended it to go. Then came the inevitable half-term holiday to Northern France, with all the usual cultural suspects (St Malo, le Mont-St-Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry et al), but what were the chances of us getting to a game whilst we were over there? Not much I'd have said, but as it happened (after checking on the French FA's website) we had an absolute shed load to choose from - and all within striking distance of the hotel we were stopping in at the weekend before heading home. There was only going to be one choice - if they were at home that is - and guess what? Havre Athletic did have a home fixture whilst we were over there, in fact they had two - one whilst we were on the way down on the Wednesday, the other at the weekend on the way back - as you might guess, we chose the second.

So what is there left to be said about Havre AC that I haven't already harped on about in that piece in the York programme? Not much really, but for those of you who didn't read it, or as is more likely forgotten, here is a quick recap - oldest club in France, 1872 - founders spent first five years arguing about what colours they should wear, in the end they settled for light blue and dark blue halves - won first French Championship without playing a game and have spent the last hundred years or so being an also-ran in the greater scheme of things. I don't think I've missed anything, oh yes - their name is an anagram of "Rich Tea Belch Vault" - although that never appeared in the article, and I'm sure everyone's lives aren't much richer after learning that little nugget. At the mo' they make their living in the French Second Division - so by rights this little sojourn into Normandy would have us watching a game that would be on a par with the likes of Wednesday, United, Luton or even Hull City for that matter - and play their games at the Stade Jules Deschaseaux, which is a tidy all-seated ground that holds about 16,500 located in a pretty rough looking neighbourhood. The thing about the stadium is it is built into the side of a hill, not that you'd be able to tell from the inside - outside the ground on the other hand it is a different matter. To get into the South Stand - along one touchline - you had to CLIMB a couple of flights of steps to get to your seat, whilst on the other touchline (the Paul Langlois Stand) you had to DESCEND steps to get into the seats. The tickets weren't that badly priced too - considering it is £20.00 minimum for a ticket in the English Championship - costing €20.00 for adults (£13.00-ish) and €10.00 for Liam, and they were for VIP tickets sitting away from the hoi polloi in the comfy seats on the halfway line! Unfortunately for me and Mr Wallet, with us getting there fairly early to ensure we found the ground, we had to buy the tickets from the Club Shop - and with Liam being there you know what that means don't you? So having made HAC financially sound for the next 133 years, what about the opposition? Well they were to be Dijon (or to give them their full name Dijon Côte-d'Or), and I can't tell you too much about them to be honest apart from looking at the table they were below HAC in the league - and as far I could find, they'd done nothing in the past. The away support area was stuck in the corner of the South Stand, although seeing as Dijon is 315 miles away, not many supporters made the trip - actually we saw three (and they were running rather nervously) before the game, and (rather worryingly) none during the game itself!

Anyway on to the game and it was time to find out whether Havre could HAC it, or whether Dijon could cut the mustard (alright pretty poor, but I doubt I'm ever going to get the opportunity to use that material again). Given the pleasant evening temperatures, I was surprised that less than 8,000 had turned up to the game - but maybe that had something to do with the game being on a Saturday as opposed to the regular Friday night slot - either way the "Kop" was in full voice, and they didn't stop for the full ninety minutes (even when the home side was getting jeered from the other three stands). Having never seen a home team lose in Europe, it looked as though I'd prove to be a lucky charm for HAC, as they were awarded a pretty dodgy looking penalty (and it looked even dodgier on TV later on in the hotel) for a "foul" against Antoine Devaux in the 10th minute. Amazingly this was the first penalty HAC had been awarded in over two years - luckily Antony Gauvin remember how to take them, as he made it look well easy by sending the keeper the wrong way. The home side then spent the next half hour pounding the visitors' area, surprisingly given the amount of attacking they were doing, HAC never looked like scoring. Even more amazingly - especially given the fact he'd been so quick to GIVE a dodgy looking penalty thirty minutes earlier - the referee (a Monsieur Garibian) waved play for the most blatant handball you'll ever see, when Maxim Baca (who'd been turned inside out and landed on his arse by Dijon's Bosnian star forward Vidad Ibisevic) reached out his arm and hooked it towards the home keeper Steve Mandanda. It was that amazing, even the most ardent biased HAC-eyed supporter agreed it was a penalty, and the referee's decision looked all the more incredible when you were shown on TV from every conceivable angle. Whatever was (or wasn't) given it gave Dijon some heart, and they came out a different team in the second half, yet HAC seemed to deal with everything that was thrown at them with a great deal of comfort - in fact they were too comfortable sometimes. That was something they were to pay for on the hour, as the referee awarded a pretty soft looking free-kick on the edge of the box after Pierre Ducrocq decided to dribble the ball out of the area, only to lose the ball to Stephane Mangione who stumbled a bit. Mandanda sort of threw a few players to pretend to be "the worst wall ever", up stepped Ibisevic who curled the ball into the corner and the Dijon keeper Mouko rubbed salt in by doing an excellent somersault - it was what the home team deserved. They then stumbled clumsily through the remainder of the game, conceding possession at will and never threatening to get anywhere near the other end, whilst their defending was woeful at best. Ten minutes before the end and the home team had completely committed suicide, Mangione waltzed through the home defence (with the home supporters around me willing him on for crying out loud!) and chipped the ball into the middle, there again was Ibisevic who headed with power beyond Mandanda - Mouko did another somersault and HAC had taught us how to lose a game in one easy lesson! So having never seen a home team lose in Europe, HAC broke that record for me, but being honest they were really rubbish! I'm sure it was just a one-off and they were tired after the midweek League Cup exploits, but some of the football was woeful and naive, and based on what I saw I'd expect either Sheffield team to be able to turn them over without any trouble - erm, that's Sheffield FC and Hallam I mean! Battle of the Oldest Clubs tournament anyone?


LSS Lucarlys 2 Santos 2
Vipond Fire Protection Central Midlands Premier Division
Saturday, 03/09/04

"I'm meeting Mr X at the Lucarlys club" I told Lynn, she'd have been forgiven for thinking I was still hallucinating from the week long virus that had kept me in bed jabbering such nonsense, but having said that she's been married to me for the best part of twenty years now so is very used to me spouting all sorts of shite. I wasn't delirious and was pretty lucid in my tones, and to top it off I had been going on about Mr X this and that for about a year now to Lynn, but to this day I'd never gone on about "meeting" Mr X. Its at this point I have to stop and realise there are two types of people reading this article, the first will read it on and know exactly who Mr X is, the second will be reading this in the Sheffield FC match programme sometime around Christmas and won't - so for the latter, Mr X is a guy from (let's say Derby) who does a similar type of piece to Jamesies' Jaunts, but goes a little further far of the field and is a bit funnier. Anyway, as I said I was going to be meeting him this afternoon at the Lucarlys club in Cleethorpes (well Humberstone to be exact) so we could mutually complete the list on our Central Midlands League odyssey, because as it turns out the last team we needed to visit was the new team of the season - LSS Lucarlys. For me technically you could say this wasn't going to be the game to complete the list, there are a couple of other little nuances that need to be sorted out first, like a visit to see the NEW Hatfield Main (we've all been to the old one though) and to see Newark Town play at Collingham (even though I've been to both Newark Town AND Collingham) but those are nothing short of dots over the i's that only the saddest of anoraks would complain about - really this would be the day me and Mr X finished our grand CMFL hop. At the start of the day it has to be said my colleague had TWO grounds to visit, the other being Grimsby Borough (one that was covered two issues ago by yours truly), but with a quirk of the International fixture list between Wales and England adjusting and fluctuating the kick-off times all and sundry, it gave a potential mini-hop in Grimsby/Cleethorpes - with Borough kicking off at 12.00 and Lucarlys at 3.00 - thus giving Mr X the opportunity of crossing off the last two off his list with only one trip from Derby. It also gave the same opportunity to that breed... the groundhopper (cue sinister music - ♫ dum-der-dum ♫)!!!
I'd been spared the drive up to the seaside due to my convalescence, Lynn did the duties taking her and Liam for a day round sunny Cleethorpes where bizarrely she bumped into her Mum and Dad, so she spent the day with them whilst I had the job on driving the five minutes or so down to Humberstone where I was to meet my old mate. We'd made the arrangements the night prior at the Thackley game, and true to our word both of us had got a drink sat outside at 2.30 in the patio area of the clubhouse - which has to be said is pretty tidy little number - the inside being pretty rammed due to the upcoming England game. Outside the gathering was taking place, "Yes" Mr X told me "they were at Borough too", it was as we'd predicted the night before - groundhoppers would outnumber the normal people. This though would be heaven for the hopper boys, football at its most basic in its crudest surroundings, the facilities (bar excluded) it has to be said are the most spartan you'll get - no permanent rails, dugouts, hardstanding - just a field and some temporary fences, but they'll have it in hand no doubt pretty soon - after all this is only their third home game at this level. I should also point out that it is at this stage we should really drop the Lucarlys bit too, this is actually LSS FC who play at Lucarlys which is the clubhouse. LSS is the Lincolnshire Soccer School, established in 1998 (as displayed on the club crest - which also incorporates the crests of Grimsby, Lincoln and Scunthorpe football clubs) by ex-Liverpool and Grimsby professional Tommy Watson, and this is their debut season in the CMFL after a very brief session in the Lincolnshire League. They were also a bit of an unknown quantity too, especially when the candidates for "new teams" were being bandied around the end of last season (LSS who?), which also makes the fact me and Mr X meeting here rather ironic as this had been the topic for a while of who'd be the first to get to see them - well it was a draw. So after sitting in the patio area watching (and bitching about) the hoppers, laughing and chatting about absolutely owt or nowt (which we did for the following ninety minutes as well), there was after all a game to be watched - it was only to be hoped it had been worth waiting for and that it would in the end be the perfect (temporary - after all this is the CMFL here) full stop to the list.
At the start of the day LSS had the perfect record, played six won six, but the opposition hadn't been that hot prior to today. Santos (who plays football in its purest form) had started with a mixed bag, but they were to be the hardest test to LSS to date, so we should have been in for a good game. Despite the day being pretty sunny, there was a fairly strong breeze blowing towards the clubhouse, which normally I'd swear would dictate the shape of the game and also where you get to stand - I guess you could say we were wrong there. Santos kicked off into the breeze and dominated, and they took the lead on twenty five minutes when leading scorers Liam Hearn stuck the ball in the back of the net with a sweeping move, and on cue out came the notebooks of the hoppers - as you gather I tend to frown on these sort of things, keep it in the head I do. They could have gone further in front if Hearn hadn't hit the square cross-bar (what would have happened if it was round?), and they also had a fair few other chances, but they were good value for the lead - even if it was only by the one goal. At half time the LSS guys were stinging, they'd not played that hot and looked to be a bunch of prima donnas and pretty boys, but two minutes after the restart they got back into the game with a bit of fortune as the Santos number two turned the ball into his own net under rather minimal pressure. Now it was game on for real and LSS obviously wanted the record to continue, and midway through the half they got their noses in front with another goal, this time Dean Bailie was the scorer and it appeared Santos had shot their bolt. Well there's an old saying about chickens, eggs and hatching and not doing any accounting work on the said products and LSS learned that the hard way today. Seconds to go in the game the ball is hurled forward in a last ditch attempt, everyone stood still and let Hearn (I'd mentioned to Mr X he was good) run through un-checked, and with all the poise and guile of a little English Shevchenko he lofted the ball twenty feet directly into the air over the head of Leigh Graves in the LSS goal and it plummeted directly into the net - two each and no time to restart. Well that was the icing on the cake of a good game, the LSS players (especially the number six who had a seizure) went nuts with each other, and the 100% record had gone. For Mr X it was a trip back down the motorway, for me it was back to the seaside to chav it up on the 2p slots with me wife and kid, living it up or what. ♫ Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.... ♫


Radcliffe Olympic 2 Clipstone Welfare 0
Buckingham Insurance Central Midlands Supreme Division
Tuesday, 23/08/05

We were on our way back from Jarrow in Mr Bray's machine when news came through the Thackley game was being brought forward a day to the Friday night, because the England versus Wales World Cup game was taking place on the Saturday, and Mr Eriksson had requested we did this so not to hamper the attendance at Old Trafford. Now I'm not going to harp on about the unfairness of having to miss the first half in our opening League game of the season, although it IS unfair, but with me having the whole of that Saturday off it meant I'd more than likely have the chance to get to an early kick off somewhere in the CMFL and be back in time for beer and football on TV. Looking at it from my new point of view though I decided it would have to be at a place I'd not been before, so I decided to have a visit to the CMFL website to check out which clubs I hadn't been to, and which of them could get me home inside an hour. Naturally you'd think there would be a handful to pick from, but evidently it turns out there wasn't, in fact there were a helluva lot less than I had imagined. AFC Barnsley (been), Appleby Frodingham (been), Barton Town (been), Blackwell (been), Bolsover (been), and so it went on. "Christ" I said, "I've must have turned into a Central Midlands anorak while I wasn't looking!" There were three, YES THREE, that had not been visited by yours truly - and one of them I'd been to when a different team was playing there. So there were TWO I hadn't been to, Radcliffe Olympic and new boys LSS Lucarlys (more on them at a later date), and only the new boys were playing at home on that date - which probably meant that by September I would have been to every single current Central Midlands ground, now that's a wake up call and why this will more than likely be the last season of Jamesie's Jaunts! While I was on the website I decided to see if Radcliffe had got a game on in the midweek, seeing as we'd not got a replay to play or a league match for that matter, and found they were playing at home to Clipstone - it seemed as good a game to see as any, so in the diary it went. Later on a visit to the league's forum, Olympic's Publicity Officer Brendan Richardson, posted a notice under the title of "History in the making" - intriguing.
It turns out the game I'd chosen was going to see the official inauguration of the club's floodlight system, something they had to install to remain in the Supreme Division, and they'd managed to get it done in time for the league deadlines - however not in time to see them enter the FA Vase, which had sadly seen them have to withdraw from the competition. I think I'd more than likely had gone to this fixture anyway, I'd been teetering on getting down to Wharf Lane over the past three seasons, but as you do - I never got round to doing it. The probable reason for me not going to see them, at home that is - as I'd actually seen them play away on more than one occasion, was the fact Radcliffe-on-Trent is a bit of a sod to get to when you look at it - being the complete opposite side to Nottingham that you'd like it to be. That and the lack of floodlights (no floodlights = not many midweek games) kept me away, but as I said that's been put to one side and will probably be easier to get to in the future too, even though everything I'd been told about Radcliffe's set up had been positive up to now. Their main problem (as with Southwell City I suppose) is their home ground is the only flat patch of grass in the village, in other words a public recreation park, and how do you develop a public park to Central Midlands standards? Not easy I can tell you, as that story has been told so often in these pages, but they are a progressive looking club and they were never going to let something like this stand in their way. The pitch was partitioned (à la Grimsby in the last Jaunt) with some massive sight-screens that ran the length of the pitch, giving an enclosed feel to the ground, and with your back facing that the view across the pitch giving one of the most rural settings in the league - what with the cows grazing, the setting summer sun and peel of the church bells in the distance you'd be forgiven if you'd forgot that you were just a few miles down the road from Nottingham! The only thing that shakes you awake to the realisation you aren't lost in the pages of an Edith Nesbit novel is when the train actually does come steaming along the lines elevated behind the goal, it isn't of the steam variety, more like the horrid lime and blue Central Trains type that chugs noisily along between Nottingham and Lincolnshire. Behind the screens is a skate-park and a slope where the "tighter" locals chose to watch the occasion from, as I said it couldn't have been easy for them to get as far as they have with all this around them - so all power to their efforts, they have done well.
As for the game, well the visitors on this momentous event were the mighty Clipstone Welfare, who aren't having too good a time of things and are going through what could be called a "transitional" period. They still had some recognisable faces in the squad though, and they were never going to be pushovers for Radcliffe, but it was going to be a struggle to get something out of this difficult figure - and so it proved. Radcliffe had got off to a fairly decent start to the season and were looking to maintain a 100% home record, after two pretty impressive home wins, only a defeat at Dinnington had spoiled their record. Well Olympic got off to the dream start about five minutes in, Glyn Woodhouse threaded the ball through to Chris Atkins whose pace left the defence for dead, it was then a simple enough task to lift the ball over Neil West in the Clippo goal. One thing that got me about the game was the good nature it was played in, but that atmosphere was propagated by the referee - a man who had boundless lung capacity (I'm sure you understand what I mean!) For ninety minutes he chirped on, giving his version of events to players who were long past caring about whether it was handball or not, "it couldn't have been handball, he had his hands by his side. You can't give a penalty for that can you? No, and that's why I didn't give it. Although if he'd have done this with his hand...." and so on - ninety non-stop bloody minutes. Don't get me wrong he was probably the best referee I'd seen at this level, but God did he have an "off" button? No he didn't, and on he went "you'll have to go to the sideline if you call the trainer on, yes it is a stupid rule and I don't like it either, but then I didn't write it did I? No, I'm sure there's a more sensible thing we can do, but while ever it's a rule..." Anyway the game went along in this vein throughout, and with the ref keeping the game flowing it made for a good spectacle, a spectacle made all the more interesting at 8.00 pm as the lights crackled into life - and pretty good they looked too, and the darker it got the better the lights' quality was apparent. About the hour mark Radcliffe got a second, Richards dribbled through the Clipstone defence before being upended, and whilst the penalty appeals were being waved away (and explained why) by our lovable referee, Richard Bramley cracked the ball into the net from inside the box. That was it as far as scoring was concerned, with both sides having a couple of chances to add to the tally, but with the home team having it under control there was only going to be one winner. With a few minutes to go, I slipped out and up the bank to the car, viewing the last moments of floodlit action below. It occurred to me, as it had done n the past at other places, if this team wants to get any further up the pyramid some radical work will need to be done. But based on what they've done so far in such a short period of time, it has to be said if any team can get further it is Radcliffe, they certainly do have a bright future ahead.


Grimsby Borough 3 Thorne Colliery 2
Vipond Fire Protection Central Midlands Premier Division
Wednesday, 17/08/05

Isn't it funny how you can remember certain games, yet forget the most memorable thing about the whole match? You see I was chatting to Asa Ingall at Bolsover towards the end of last season, talking about Boza's chances of promotion, and about the quality of the other teams in the Central Midlands Premier Division who were also pushing for the top. Naturally we got talking about how AFC Barnsley were head and shoulders above anyone else in the league, after all they had so many ex-Clubbies, and how they were being pushed closest by Grimsby Borough. "Grimsby? They used to be Louth United before they went belly up you know", I informed Asa, "were you playing in that game when we played them in the League Cup a few years ago? We beat them 9-0!" He looked at me a minute, smiled and said "Stu, of course I played in that game - I scored four of them nine!" Oh? And here's me thinking I remembered it like it was yesterday, Burkie got a hat-trick and Mickey Godber got two.... oh yeah, he did score four didn't he? He couldn't have done that many times in his career, and it was certainly the only time he did it for us, so how the hell did I manage to forget it - yet remember it was Louth we'd scored nine against and who got the other five? I'll be buggered if I could figure that out if I tried, but I doubt I'll ever forget that little nugget, and it'll pop into my head every time Grimsby Borough are mentioned. So instead of Grimsby Borough = Louth = Nine goal win, it'll be Grimsby Borough = Asa getting four goals at the Coach! So as you'll gather, that little conversation went through my head once more, why - because I'm off to see the very same Grimsby Borough.
As I said, and is widely known now, Borough were formed out of the old ashes of a club that was Louth United. The Lions went under at the end of the season a few years back, withdrawing from the Northern Counties East League, leaving an area in Northern Lincolnshire without a decent non-league team and a wad of players who had no-one to play for. Its at this bit where you'd expect the disillusioned and disenfranchised followers of the folded club to form a new one, something like AFC Louth United or similar, but instead it just went quiet for a while. Then came the news there would be a new team borne out of the ashes of the old outfit, only they wouldn't be playing in Louth - they'd be basing themselves fifteen miles up the road in Grimsby. The club had some work on their hands to get ready in time for the new season, effectively with no ground to play on and no league to play in; they managed to get all their goals achieved in just six weeks. They were admitted to the Lincolnshire League, found a ground in the form of the King George V athletics stadium, and promptly went about the task of pushing the competition to the brink in their debut season - finishing second behind Wyberton and gaining promotion to the Central Midlands Football League. The only problem therein was the fact their athletics stadium home was going to be having a new track laid, so a temporary move was made to the Institute College a mile and a half down the road - only it didn't turn out to be so temporary after all, and it was to give them a bit more of a headache than they would have liked. The problem appeared to be down to pitch size at the athletics track (too small), so they had no alternative but to play at the college, the only problem there was the facilities were basic to say the least. After finishing last season (as I said earlier) second behind AFC Barnsley, they were denied a deserved promotion on this basis, allowing Pinxton, Bolsover and Kimberley all to leap-frog over Borough into the Supreme Division. Naturally annoyed at this they took the argument to the FA, their appeal was thrown out causing them to have to pay out for costs, and to have to apply certain improvements to the ground in order for them to REMAIN IN the CMFL, never mind promotion. However just the decision was they must have been gutted (been there, done that), either way they have to pick themselves up and do it all again, not only on the pitch but off it as well.
I don't know what I was expecting when I got to Grimsby, a roped-ff park at best I guess, but when the directions took me through the grounds of the college I feared the worst - after all how can you develop a school field? Well developed it they had, and a large blue screen had been put up to enclose the pitch into a conventional ground, with permanent perimeter barriers around the pitch and brand new hard-standing down one side towards the pavilion. How do I know it was new? The guy was still concreting it, that's how - and bits were still wet (which I'll come to in a bit). The visitors to this midweek fixture were Thorne Colliery, the team that looked odds on for bottom spot last season, and avoided re-election with a late spurt. It was going to be an interesting contest, and one that would give me an idea of how well Thorne's improvement had continued, along with answering the question about Grimsby's promotion credentials. On a warm evening the game set off at lightning pace, with both teams attacking and counter-attacking in turn, with both keepers getting an injury in the first fifteen minutes. Midway through the first half Grimsby took the lead, seconds after I'd tried returning the ball to the pitch with a beautifully curled left-footer, which had managed to knock three stools and some rope into a patch of wet concrete on it's way! Whilst I'm stood feeling embarrassed at this, Grimsby's top scorer Lee Stephenson scrambled the concrete covered ball over the line - but only just. Stephenson was causing Thorne the most problems, a fact picked up on by the visiting coach who gave the best advice I'd heard in years - "Grab his dick if you have to, just don't let him run!" Thorne piled on the pressure forcing a few corners and going close on more than one occasion, then sickeningly they got hit on the break with a long clearance setting Chris Grocock free, with the goal at his mercy he squared the ball unselfishly to Stephenson who tapped it in. Words of wisdom from Thorne's coach - "How the fuck are we two down?" - don't know mate, seriously, I have no idea! Borough looked to have all three points sewn up at this point; they'd started with a clean sheet the weekend prior, and looked solid until a mad five minute spell saw Thorne draw level. Gavin Redfern got both of them, the first after he'd hit the post and tapped in the rebound, the second from the spot after a pretty dodgy looking call by the ref. That woke the home team up, and if it wasn't for the heroics of Thorne's keeper Simon Cook it could have been a cricket score, but with fifteen minutes to go Grimsby got the winner - a corner from substitute Lee Romaniw hammered home at the back post by hat-trick boy Lee Stephenson. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, a tired looking Thorne had no way back, and despite their best efforts the weren't to trouble the scoreboard again. Which leaves me to answer a few questions: How good are Thorne? Much better, and they won't finish in the bottom three - trust me. How good are Grimsby? The game after this one they won 7-0 away, they will be there or thereabouts at the season's end. And the ground? Well put it this way, they'll need to get floodlights soon and there's a patch of concrete near the pavilion that needs touching up a bit....


Valletta 1 Floriana 1
BOV Maltese FA Premier Division
Thursday, 11/08/05

Well I certainly didn't plan on starting the new season like this! You see I thought it would be a bit different to end last season with a "continental" fixture, but to be honest I wasn't expecting to start this season with another, especially as I was half expecting to kick off this series with a tame little number at St Helens against the new FC United of Manchester outfit, but that went by the wayside due to crowd safety concerns. So with my only other non-Sheffield game being ANOTHER trip to St James Park in Newcastle, which incidentally I am pretty certain I've done before more than once already, chance has set us up with starting the new series with a game in yet another country (the SEVENTH since the Jaunts started) - this time a game in the Maltese Premier League between the Celtic and Rangers of Malta! Okay so they may not be the Celtic and Rangers, perhaps more like the Liverpool and Manchester United when you get down to it, but the match I'm kicking off with is a game between two of the most famous teams on the island - Valletta and Floriana. It doesn't take a genius to work out WHY I'm heading to this one, you've guessed it - the Jameses' annual trip to the sun is a little soirée to the Mediterranean hot-spot of Malta. And it wouldn't surprise you if I told you that part way through the holiday the Maltese season kicks off, albeit a few weeks earlier (much to my amazement) than normal, and as luck would have it one of the biggest fixtures you could get over here is taking place two days into my stay - come on, what do you think I'm going to do?

I'd said (and promised) myself and others that there would be no continuation of the hundred game season, so this season's Jaunts will be shorter and a little more selective, and as a result the only fixtures I would have contemplated going to whilst over here would have been of the stature of this one. The date of the fixtures was released about two weeks prior to me hitting the sunshine, so I was on tenterhooks as to whether there would be a decent enough game for us to attend, I wasn't to be disappointed - firstly the dates were drawn (games were being played whilst we were on the island), then the fixtures, and finally the two were matched to maximise revenue. You see the way things are set up on an island where the sun is hot and the green grass of a football pitch is a rare thing, the number of stadiums is pretty limited - well actually I mean VERY LIMITED. I guess groundhopping wouldn't be much fun in Malta, there are only four stadiums in total (yep, four) in the whole country - the National Stadium (where 90% of all games are played), the Centenary Stadium (which is a crappy little Astroturf annex at the side of the National Stadium), the Hibernians Ground and the Victor Tedesco Stadium ("home" of Ħamrun Spartans) - so you could visit all of them in one weekend if you planned your trip well enough. Not that any of them are REALLY worth visiting (the National Stadium excepted), the last three have a combined capacity EQUAL to that of Silverlands at Buxton, and are pretty much in a state of not-so-hot repair. The one we are visiting is the National Stadium at Ta' Qali, a weather-beaten 17,000 all-seated arena that was built in 1980 to replace the old Empire Stadium in Gzira (I'll get onto that subject later on I think), which just about every week hosts two double-headers - in other words a lesser fixture (kicking off at 6.30 pm) followed by a main event (kicking off at 8.30 pm), both of which are "graded" (as on a boxing card) by the relative pulling power of the two games. Obviously given the history of the fixture we have chosen, there was never any doubt which one was going to be taking us into the night.

I wasn't kidding when I said these two were like the Liverpool and Man United of Malta, honestly, these two local rivals have won the Maltese title a massive 43 times (Floriana 25 times, Valletta 18 times), with only Sliema Wanderers (the equivalent of Arsenal perhaps) able to match this domination with a pretty recent run that has seen them catch Floriana to overtake them as the most successful team on the island - and to cap it all the teams' followers absolutely hate each other! Superb!  This is why it is billed as "the National Derby of Malta". And guess what? It might surprise you but this wasn't the first time I'd seen Floriana play a game in Malta, the first time was THIRTY bloody years ago on a school trip! And as you'll gather that was at the Gzira Stadium (I did give a clue earlier), against Hibernians (the Maltese team, not the one from Edinburgh as will become clear) after our coach driver persuaded the teacher to let him take the bus-load to the game as he'd told us he was a "Hibs fan" and they were playing against the champions of Malta that afternoon. Naturally we thought that he meant the Scottish team that had come close to taking the title from the Celtic that year, only to find out to our horror it was a team from the other side of the island who'd won their fair share of domestic silverware, and not the one from Easter Road. The game was crap - the ground was crap (and rusty) - and despite Floriana winning the game (and the league as it turned out) very easily, I still thought Maltese football was crap and felt justified in that premise by seeing (in Shoot Magazine later that year) they'd lost 8-0 to Hajduk Split in the European Cup. To be honest I've never given Maltese footy much thought since then, but as you tend to do, I decided everything deserves a second chance - especially when it involves an international local derby - no matter how small the country.
As I said it was a double header, and Ħamrun Spartans versus Marsaxlokk was the "curtain raiser" - sure it didn't haven't have the pulling power of the "main event", but it had someone in the starting line up I'd heard of - Chris Bart-Williams. Remember him Wednesday-ites? Well old Bartman (now a not-so-sprightly 31 years of age) has found his way via Forest, Charlton, Ipswich, over to APOEL Nicosia and finally turning out for Marsaxlokk this season - I'll resist the "mighty have fallen" anecdotes here. I didn't get to see the whole of that game, I can assure you the ex-Wednesday player made his debut and from what I saw of him he didn't do that bad gaining a 6 out of 10 rating in the paper the following day - the final result (if anyone cares) was Ħamrun Spartans 1 Marsaxlokk 2. The joy of this being a double header is it makes for really good value, especially with a ticket only costing LM 3.00 (£5.00) for me, LM 1.50 (£2.50) for the missus and for Liam? Another European freebie, that's all - although the guy selling the tickets did start speaking to us in German for some reason (conversation as follows: Me "how much?" Ticket seller "drei lira für sie, ein lira und fünfzig cent für die dame und wie alt sind sie junge?" Liam "yer wot?" Me "I think he wants to know how old you are" Liam "tell him I'm nine!" Me "I'll try, but my German is hopeless - erm he ist neun jahre alt" Lynn "why are we speaking German, the tour rep said 80% of the population spoke English." Ticket seller "oh, you are nine are you? Okay, you can come in for free then.") which rather puzzled us - never been mistaken for a German before and why he didn't try to persevere in English mystified me. Anyway, seeing as it was the Mediterranean we had the usual full body search where Lynn (get this) has a bottle-cap from a 20 cent bottle of water removed, but bizarrely they allow her to take a full can of pop in - wonders just never cease, must be the sun. Unwittingly we had found ourselves mixed in with the Ħamrun mob, not too bad a thing I suppose but what with the segregation in place (and our late arrival) I felt a bit like a gate-crasher, and even worse what would happen when the first game was over and the Ħamrun fans went? Would we be sat all on our own with one half of the main stand to ourselves? The worst fears were allayed midway through the second half when from over the other side of the ridiculously high fence that divided the stand came the sound of an air-raid siren, "Fucking Valletta" muttered a man in front of me who then stood up and started shouting "Forza Greens" (hey, a bit of Italian AND English), to be joined by a small band of green scarf waving individuals who started singing some long winded song in Maltese where the only two words I understood were Floriana and Valletta - it was then I finally understood how the whole segregation thing worked.
It turns out we were in with both Ħamrun AND Floriana, whilst the rest of the ground was occupied with Marsaxlokk (albeit sparsely) and Valletta fans, obviously with a view to having each teams' fans either only bothering to watch their own team or staying on as a passive neutral. And that's how it worked out, the 500 or so AC Milan clad Ħamrun fans made their way to the exits, their places being taken by 1,000 Juve-alike (but in green) Floriana massive - "tonight" I told Liam "we are Floriana fans!" Now I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere in this column in the past about how I'd never seen the home team lose in a European game (Milan, APOEL, Barcelona, Europa and Calais all won at home), well how do you gauge this one? After all this game was being held in a neutral stadium, though the programme did list Valletta first, would that make them the home team? Was I sitting in the visiting enclosure? Well Valletta DID get given a larger share of the ground, either way I wasn't going to ask what must appear to most a pretty mundane question. When the game got under way it was in the most exciting fashion, hardly ninety seconds had passed and Floriana were 1-0 in front with Christian Cassar's great free-kick from thirty yards out giving Miguel Montfort no chance in the Valletta net. I took an instant shine to Floriana's little number eight, he was all over the place (and that was admirable given the bloody heat) and he nearly doubled the lead midway through the half when he took another free-kick, this time from near the halfway line - everyone lined up for the cross, but he shot instead and hit the bar! The mood was good with the Greens and it looked like they were going to get their first three points of the season, that was until just before half time when Valletta's Gilbert Agius served Ian Zammit on the right who in turn took advantage of the sloppy defence to nip the ball in. That woke up the sleeping Valletta Ultras who started barraging their counterparts with abuse and vitriol, who in turn gave it all back with interest, typical stirring Derby stuff! The second half though drifted through uneventfully, with no-one doing owt to trouble the flickering scoreboard, even both sets of fans seemed to chill a bit - as did the temperature. A bit sad really seeming neither side wanted to lose, and were both satisfied getting their points tally ticking away, either way they'll have to pull their socks up if they are going to be challenging for honours come the season's end. Anyway the following day the national paper l-orizzont's headline screamed "Punt li ma jikkuntentahomx" - I don't know what that means, but I couldn't agree more !