Mr X 2005-06

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Dundalk  0  Shamrock Rovers 2

St Patricks Athletic  1  Derry City  1


 “If South Armagh was ‘Bandit Country’ then Dundalk would always be ‘El Paso’, the frontier town that had been taken over by fugitives of the law. After internment was introduced, scores of Official and Provisional IRA men fled to Dundalk and many of them remained for years.”


Taken from Toby Harnden’s superb book ‘Bandit Country’, in which Dundalk regularly features, the author goes on to describe a scene typical of the times.


“They thought that had come to paradise or ‘Utopia’ when they arrived in Dundalk. They played cards at the Imperial Hotel with their revolvers left casually on the card table beside their stake money, were often drunk, and fought……”


So when the Belfast bound train pulled into Dundalk Railway Station at noon on Thursday, and I stepped out into the car park, I had to stop and remind myself just why I had made the journey to a place that less than twenty years ago was a definite no-go area for your average Brit.


It was overcast, and spots of rain were in the air, no one was around, while up ahead stood a pub. I cast my mind back to Harnden’s book and thought about the revolvers on the table, but then suddenly the overpowering smell of hops and yeast from the adjacent Harp Brewery filled my nostrils. Welcome to Dundalk, the town that even the tourist guide recommends you avoid!


I had time to kill though, the game between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers was over seven hours away at the adjacent Oriel Park, whose traditional floodlight pylons dominated the skyline around the station. I was hungry, I’d been on the road since 4am, I needed to find an appropriate eating and watering hole, but it wasn’t that easy. Most of the pubs in town appeared to be shut, so spying a Gardai wandering down the street, I asked for guidance and was directed to the Jockey where I refuelled accordingly. No revolvers hung alongside the coat pegs, and no eyes burned into my back as my Englishness became apparent when ordering a drink, Dundalk, it seemed, had mellowed through time.


Once checked into the guesthouse it seemed appropriate to have a look round, and I can see why the tourist guide suggests by-passing the place. It’s not rough, far from it, in fact it’s very clean and tidy, but quite frankly, it has nothing of any significant note to attract the visitor. The pubs look ok, the minimal number of shops are what you would expect in small town, but as for tourist attractions, forget it. Having said that, Dundalk was on quite a high at the time, for the Gaelic Footballers from Louth (named after the County in which Dundalk stands), had an historic game against neighbouring Meath at Croke Park in Dublin just two days later. So numerous red and white flags hung from windows, while the local sports shop seemed to be doing a roaring trade in souvenirs and regalia.


With nothing else to do, the only option available seemed to be to sit in the pub and read the local paper. Dundalk Football Club had made the front page of the Dundalk Democrat! You may ask why? Well, it appears a young, locally based, player had rather foolishly let it slip that he had bet the team would lose the previous weekends game against Finn Harps, which they duly did, comfortably! Suggestions of match fixing abounded, and questions were raised about the players, and indeed the clubs integrity, but realistically it appeared a foolish mistake had been made. It was big news in Dundalk, but you have to assume not much else of note happens in the town for such a story to become front page news. Also in the paper I noted that former Belper Town player Niall Hudson was playing at right back for Dundalk, and I had wondered what had happened to the quiet Irishman who we captured from Dublin City a few seasons ago.


Dundalk Football Club is arguably the most successful League of Ireland side outside of Dublin. They won the Championship twice in the nineties and once in the lat eighties, breaking the Shels / Shams / Bohs and Pats dominance. While European adventures have seen the might of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Celtic in opposition within the last twenty five years. Times have been hard though over recent seasons, the team has struggled, crowds have dwindled and now they sit mid-table in the second tier of Irish football.


Shamrock Rovers on the other hand, are still technically one of the big clubs of Ireland. From the staunchly Republican Dublin suburb of Tallaght, they have led a nomadic existence for many years after the sale of their old Glenmalure Park ground, and despite promises and plans, a new stadium in Tallaght has yet to be delivered to the club. I might add though, it is partly built, but the annoyance that is the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) is trying to throw a spanner in the works and the whole project is back on hold again. Why are they in the lower tier of football though you might wonder? Last season they were deducted nine points for going into what is termed ‘Examinership’, it’s a bit like ‘Administration’, but not as severe, although the penalty is still a nasty one. The deduction meant they were relegated. They are without doubt a big fish in small pond.


Shamrock would go top if they won, so around 400 Dubliners had made the trip to Oriel Park, and made up about a quarter of the crowd, which in itself was Dundalk’s biggest for a number of years. Segregation was in order, not just because Shamrock had a big following, but also because both sides carry something of a reputation as having fairly boisterous supporters. The Shamrock Ultras are indeed a renowned force off the field, not only in Ireland, just ask Cardiff City! The Shamrock fans were guided towards an area of terracing to the right of the main stand, while the rest of the open ground was sprinkled with fans, although the bulk of the Dundalk vocal element stood on the half way line on what is known as ‘The Shed’. It is purely a bank of shallow terracing, albeit fairly new, so I can only assume it once had a cover to be named as it is. The other interesting feature of Oriel Park is the synthetic pitch, and I have to say it played well, although it was the visitors who were the more adept at playing on it.


Shamrock took a first half lead, and then scored again in the second half to record a comfortable 2-0 victory. They also finished the game with ten men but it didn’t seem to affect their domination of the game. Dundalk, I don’t recall having a shot on target, they looked low on confidence and lacked any kind of cutting edge. Either that, or the odds on an away win were just too attractive to turn down!


As the game wore on it was becoming increasingly apparent that a group of Dundalk fans seemed more concerned about taunting the Hoops fans. At the final whistle this group made for the exits with some haste, and given the fact that their was only one exit route from the car park that both sets of fans had to filter into to make it onto the main road, a skirmish was inevitable.


I was about fifty yards down the round when I heard a roar go up behind me. I turned to see a group of Dundalk ‘hoods’ hurling abuse and missiles at the Shamrock fans as they attempted to get into the street. The limited number of Gardai on duty seemed a little overwhelmed as scuffles broke out, and it was only when reinforcements arrived a few minutes later that some semblance of order was restored. It appears the Gardai were on a mission though as one young Dundalk fan was taken away in an ambulance after receiving a very nasty eye injury when he nearly had it bashed clean out of its socket after a heavy blow from a truncheon. It was like something from a 1980’s football violence video, and while not to be condoned, provided an entertaining finish to the proceedings!


With tension in the air, it didn’t seem a wise idea to head back to the pub opposite the station where I had camped pre-match, the Jockey where I had begun the day looked a better bet, and while sat at the bar I got talking to an old guy in a shirt and tie. He claimed to be a Dundalk fan but hadn’t been to a game for forty years! He knew the result though and knew their had been some trouble, although he wasn’t at all surprised about it.


“This is Dundalk you know!”


Close to midnight he left, I finished my pint and looked around, only a few people were left in the bar. Dundalk suddenly felt a very lonely place, it was time to go.


Dublin Connelly was reached by about 11am the following day, and it was time to see the sights. For most people the sights of Dublin tend to be O’Connell Street, Phoenix Park and the James Joyce Tower, but not for me, I had an altogether different agenda. First port of call was the truly magnificent Croke Park. The Gaelic Stadium that, according to the draconian rules of the GAA, must only house traditional Irish sports such as Hurling and Football (of the Gaelic variety). That rule has since been changed though and from this year Rugby and Soccer can be played at the stadium, although cynics argued that the GAA had no such issues when it came to money spinning rock concerts and Grid Iron taking place when it suited in the past. Politics aside, it has to be one of the finest stadiums in Europe, but because of past attitudes, it is a relatively unknown venue in comparison to the likes of Wembley, Nou Camp and the San Siro.


From Croke Park it’s a short walk to the colourful Tolka Park, the delightful home of Shelbourne and also temporary base of Shamrock Rovers. Tolka is located in the pleasant and somewhat leafy suburb of Drumcondra, and is a fully seated venue on the banks of the River Tolka (hence the name). In contrast, about a mile away in the area known as Phibsborough, just beyond the notorious Mountjoy Prison, is Dalymount Park, the home of Bohemians.


Once the pride and joy of the FAI, Dalyer (as the locals call it) has definitely seen better days, with crumbling terraces, and a large section of the ground used during the day as a public car park. It is not a small venue by any means, but it appears to be badly in need of investment, and a walk around the perimeter shows a high degree of vandalism and graffiti. Dalyer is definitely located in one of the poorer areas of Dublin, and if Tolka Park reminds you of say a visit to Oxford United’s old Manor Ground when it comes to the surroundings, Dalymount is very much like a trip to somewhere like pre-development St Andrews or the old Den.


Dublin as a City is great, but seemed to me to be suffering from far too much tourism and commercialism. I drew a comparison with Belfast, which, for obvious reasons, hasn’t suffered from years of pissed up stag parties descending on it on a weekly basis. Belfast is a nicer City, and some of the Irishmen I spoke to were of the same opinion. But having said that, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity of a trip to Temple Bar.


Temple Bar is probably the drinking capital of Europe, but they do know how to rob you blind. Roughly speaking a pint is £3, but when you have had your brain pickled throughout the day by copious quantities of Guinness as many of the inhabitants seemed to have done, I don’t suppose you either notice or indeed care. I stopped for a few pints before getting the bus to the West of Dublin and the suburb of Inchicore, the home of St Patrick’s Athletic.


St Pats have won the League of Ireland on five occasions since 1989, but right now they are not really regarded as one of the ‘super powers’ of Irish football like say Shelbourne, Cork City or indeed the visitors to Richmond Park, Derry City. The ground is another traditional old stadium, tucked in behind a row of houses on the main road, and somewhat hemmed in with the River Camac running just behind the terracing on the far side. Indeed, the clubs offices are inside one of the houses that backs onto the ground, while the unofficial home is the McDowells pub which sits at the end of the row of houses, just next to the ground entrance.


Once inside the ground I decided to wait and see where the Derry support was going to congregate before selecting my place in the ground. Once the Brandywell faithful had turned up it became apparent that they were going to occupy the Inchicore end of the Main Stand, complete with drums and whistles. I had a slight problem though, I had a terracing ticket, and they were in the seats, so I had to go and plead with a steward to let me in, but it was much easier than I thought, he just opened the gate and let me through. This is one of the things about Irish football, most of the standard rules about segregation, alcohol and the like, seem to go by the wayside, despite claims to the contrary. Indeed, the match ticket says that there is strictly no re-admittance to the ground, but at half time everyone seemed to pile out and into the pub!


The Derry fans (about 200 of them) were as fantastic as always, they never stopped singing, and the drum beat never seemed to stop. Around 1,500 braved what was now a wet night, and it was City who took the lead through an early Barry Molloy goal.  St Pats battled back in the second half though and equalised through Paul Keegan after an uncharacteristic error by City goalkeeper David Forde. In fact St Pats finished the stronger side and could have won the game in the last minute had it not been for a goal line clearance. After five straight wins, Derry had been pegged back, but the point was enough to take them to the top of the table, where this time around, I sincerely hope they will stay.


The crowd spilled into the rain soaked streets, and the bus seemed to take ages to arrive, but arrive it did and a last couple of pints was enjoyed back on Temple Bar. Across the River Liffey the floodlights at Dalymount Park shone brightly as Bohemians beat Bray Wanderers 3-1, just over a 1,000 had been to watch that encounter, but many thousands more were starting to drift towards alcohol induced oblivion in the heart of the City. It was a tempting thought, but with a 7am start, it didn’t seem a wise idea, I concluded that I’d seen enough of Dublin for one day.


The following day saw much of Dublin grind to a halt to watch a football match, the F.A. Cup Final between Liverpool and the Hammers. It was a classic Cup Final apparently, I missed it though, I spent the first half doing the shopping, and the second half in the bath. I’m not one for singing in the bath, but with the TV on downstairs I could just about hear the proceedings in Cardiff. I heard the Liverpool fans singing, it wasn’t the obvious tune either. 


“By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling…….”


Far more appropriate, I thought.

Christmas Eve, December 24th 2005


(1) Whitworths  1   Wellingborough Town 2004  2

(2) Irchester United  0  Blisworth  0



“In thirty yards, take the next right”


It was the ‘must have’ gift of 2005, along with a pet monkey and a baby penguin, a satellite navigation system that is. However, after only having had the thing for a couple of weeks, I was starting to spot the flaws.


For example, all was going swimmingly a week earlier as I made my way to Atherstone Town, but it wasn’t aware that due to the M6 Toll Road, the A5 had been moved slightly to the right at the bottom of the A38, well, the first few miles of it anyway! For a short while I was allegedly in a field, under orders to turn round, until it finally got back on track again.


I don’t like Christmas that much, I now see it as a an expensive marketing ploy that keeps the kids happy, but having said that, it’s also a chance to fill ones boots with excessive amounts of football. I’d looked at the fixtures and a double header stood out, an 11am start at Whitworths for the top of the table derby clash with a resurgent phoenix like Wellingborough Town, followed  by the 1.30pm start just down the road at Irchester United who were playing Blisworth.


A couple of nights earlier I’d had the bright idea of going to see Rothwell Corinthians play, and while sat in the car I spotted my mate and fellow fanatic Steve wandering down the road. I beckoned him over and it soon transpired we had the same idea but I had a slight worry.


Every Christmas time I always have a night out with the Brother in Law to be, Martin, and it usually involves a lot of ale and a curry. And having only just managed to surface in time last year for a game at Chadderton after a very painful Fish Karahi, I was conscious of the fact that I had to take it steady. Bearing in mind to get to Whitworths for 11am, or 10am as the website recommended due to a large crowd anticipated, I had to be up early. The alarm went off at 7am, and for a few seconds I waited for the pain to kick in, but it didn’t, so after a bath, I was in the car for 8am, and the sat nav was programmed accordingly.


The roads were clear, and by about 9.30 I was within a drop kick of a dwarf away from Wellingborough as I cruised happily along the A14. The sat nav took me into the complicated one way system in the town centre, and then uttered to me that I needed to be taking the next right, but it was a no entry! I carried on round the one way system as the thing re-calculated the route, and after being told to turn round, fill up with petrol, get some chips and feed the cat, it finally got me onto London Road and the entrance to Whitworths.


I’d better explain the setting, Whitworths play on what is basically a field behind the enclosed Dog & Duck ground that Wellingborough Town play on. Facilities wise there isn’t much at Whitworths, a couple of covered shelters, a bit of hard standing and some dressing rooms behind the goal. A small clubhouse sits just outside the ground, while car parking wise it was first come first served on the entrance road, and it was a good job I arrived early as I shall explain later.


I was hungry and I needed a poo! So it was over the road to Tesco’s for a full English, but not before I’d made the fatal mistake though of sitting down and reaching for the Andrex, only to find it had gone. It was one of those awful moments where I had to wait until I was sure the room was empty before I waddled out of the cubicle and into the next one that had a plentiful supply! It was time for a hearty breakfast.


Sat in the café I noticed something that I had been anticipating since I planned this little Northamptonshire jaunt. With the United Counties League being one of few leagues with fixtures on the day, and also with staggered kick off times, it was going to attract a good proportion of the subscribers to Football Traveller Magazine. Sat just behind me was a typical suspect, reading his programme, they were sure to be out in force.


Back at the ground, and it was now 10.15am, I fancied a pint, well, a pint was available so it seemed daft not to have one, so I did. Just as I was about to leave the bar Steve turned up with his wife so I had another one for good measure, and that was when we had a cunning plan. Steve’s car was facing the wrong way on the entrance road, I was facing the right way for a quick getaway to Irchester, so we would go in my car, and be navigated all the way thanks to Tom Tom technology.


By kick off time a crowd of 1150 had crammed into the ground, it turned out to be a modern day record for the league, and within minutes Town had gone 1-0 up. They looked the more confident side as you would expect with them being unbeaten, while the hosts, who were the league leaders, looked a little nervous in front of such a big crowd. It was soon 2-0 and it appeared to be all over but Whitworths got one back just before half time to at least make it interesting.


The second half was a bit tame by comparison, no more goals followed, and while Whitworths put in plenty of effort in an attempt to get an equaliser, they hadn’t quite got enough quality in front of goal to make the breakthrough.


With ten minutes remaining, the travelling fraternity made their way to the exits, no doubt wanting to make a quick getaway to the next port of call, and as we wandered back down the track to the car some seemed to be talking about Irchester, others I heard were heading for Buckingham Town.


With the car loaded up, the sat nav primed, and the crowd finally dispersed sufficiently to allow us to exit, it was down the road to the small village of Irchester. The sat nav didn’t let us down, but it did appear that the gateman wasn’t prepared for such an influx of spectators.


“Can I have three adults, two programmes and two of those UCL Mags please.”


After much deliberation, and confusion, the flustered gateman said,


“Just call it a fiver!”


Once parked up, it was apparent that quite a few neutrals had picked this out as a game of choice, and once in the bar it was like a convention! I saw a couple of chaps from the Sheffield area and also a somewhat freaky Southerner and his mate who I described in some details following his attempts to fold a map earlier in the season at Grimsby Borough! Steve and I retired to a quiet corner and sampled another pint, it was a decent bar, a fairly basic ground though with a bit of cover behind the goal and some floodlights hat looked pretty new.


The match between Irchester United and Blisworth ended 0-0, and to be fair it was a pretty dire game. Both sides put in plenty of effort, but from a skill point of view I felt both of the sides we saw that morning would have easily beat the two sides on display at Irchester.


So it was all over at around twenty past three, I could drop Steve and his wife off back at Whitworths, head North, pick up the kids about five o’clock, and then give the ex missus plenty of time to prepare for the party at her folks house that I was desperately not looking forward to.


After dropping Steve off I programmed the sat nav for ‘Home’ but then just as an afterthought, I took a quick glance at the map, I suspected it might have been quicker to head along the Southern Northampton ring road and join the M1 a bit further down, as opposed to going back through Wellingborough town centre and suffering the exceedingly dull A14.


And that was what I did, the sat nav re-programmed itself after first telling me on numerous occasions I was going the wrong way, but then I hit a problem.


Somewhere in the Daventry area a couple of lanes of the M1 had been shut for roadworks, I was held up for nearly an hour, and what made it worse was that the sat nav kept recalculating my time of arrival in Belper. The ex-missus was going spare, and her mood was to be a pre-cursor to what was to turn into one of the most unpleasant Christmas Eve’s of my life, in the company of a pissed up ‘Tashed Prick’ who very nearly became my Father in Law. I failed to pick the kids up and was treated to some silent treatment for a good hour before she finally accepted that it was a situation I could do nothing about.


“Why the fuck did you go so far on Christmas Eve?” was her stock reply to my excuses, but I snapped.


“Why the fuck don’t you shut up you whinging bag!” was my reply


If only I’d listened to the sat nav, maybe the evening would have been much more cordial. Steve, by the way, was back in Chesterfield while I was still in the Daventry region, so I discovered a week or so later, I bet he had a far better Christmas Eve than I did.

Hands Across The Divide


On Monday 27th March a football match takes place in Northern Ireland. Only around 3,000 spectators will be in attendance, but the significance of this game cannot be underestimated as far as football in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are concerned


Derry City take on Linfield in a group game of the lucrative Setanta Cup, and while the result is important, the main focus will be on the attempts to ensure the game, and both the build up and the aftermath are trouble free.


Derry City are based in Northern Ireland, but because of political and religious grounds, they play in the League of Ireland (Eire). Linfield are a Belfast club, and they play in the Irish Premier League (Northern Ireland), and the two clubs haven’t met for a competitive game in Derry for over 30 years. If the game passes by peacefully, and that is a big ask, then the possibility of a united All-Ireland League moves that little tiny bit nearer.


Why the interest you might wonder? Well it stems from the fact that my Grandfather was raised in Derry before moving to England during the Second World War, and last May I became the first of the present day Laughlin’s to return to the City to discover the family roots. While I was in Derry I watched City take on St Patricks Athletic in a game at the Brandywell Stadium, and from that point I was hooked. City went on to lose the Championship to rivals Cork City when the two sides met in Cork on the last day of the season, and the disappointment was massive.


With the new league season starting on March 10th in the Republic, it was time to head back, with Dad as company, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The plan was to take in the Derry City v University College Dublin game on the Friday night, but beforehand it was all about discovering the history of this wonderful City. Derry has suffered, perhaps like no other City in Europe. Throughout history attempts have been made by invaders to breach the City Walls, but in more recent times the impact of the ‘Troubles’ has been far reaching. The Battle of the Bogside lead to British Forces piling into the streets of the City, while a protest march in January 1972 saw 14 members of the Catholic community shot dead by the Paras on what became known as Bloody Sunday.


The ‘Troubles’ had a profound impact on Derry City. A Catholic club based just on the edges of the Bogside, they became the pariahs of the Irish Premier League, which in itself was made up of a vast majority of Protestant clubs. Clubs like Linfield refused to travel to the Brandywell on safety grounds, and in the end City were forced to resign from the league. Football in Derry had died.


But, with special dispensation from UEFA, just over ten years later the club reformed and joined the Republic League, having mixed success, but last season, under the leadership of Stephen Kenny, they came second in the league, won the League Cup and qualified for the UEFA Cup.


I would estimate that around 2,500 were in the Brandywell to see a competent City side win 2-0 thanks to goals from Ciaran Martyn and Stephen O’Flynn, although to be fair to the students, they were fit, well organised and unfazed by a passionate Derry crowd. The Derry support is predominantly Catholic as you would expect, but from reading the supporters forum it is plain to see that the club is trying to rid itself of any kind of sectarian connection. Indeed, songs that might normally be heard at Celtic Park, were once commonplace at the Brandywell, but not so any more. When you go to the Brandywell you go to watch Derry City, not to sing about Glasgow Celtic. Derry are moving forward, they are full time, they get the crowds and they are winning things. Everything in the Brandywell appears to be rosy.


The following day it was a pleasant drive via Limavady, Coleraine and Ballymena into Belfast, with the plan being to go to the wonderfully titled Solitude to see Cliftonville take on Glenavon in the Irish Premier League. The IPL is nearing the end of its season, and the incomparably wealthy Linfield have effectively won it, but Cliftonville are the club with the history.


Situated in North Belfast, ‘Climville’ as they are known locally, are the oldest club in Ireland, and started out life as a Protestant outfit. But as the Troubles wore on, the communities around the ground, such as the Ardoyne to the West, were taken over by Catholics as they were pushed out of other areas of the City. As a result the clubs support base did eventually became staunchly Republican in its make up.


Problems inevitably arose as effectively Cliftonville became a Catholic club in a league dominated by Protestant outfits. The last thirty years have been problematic, and on at least two occasions games were abandoned due to crowd disorder, not only with visiting fans but also with battles against the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It was commonplace at the height of the troubles for a British Army helicopter to spend ninety minutes hovering over Solitude while a game took place, keeping watch. Indeed, one Cliftonville fan joked to us,


“Half time entertainment in those days was the obligatory riot with the RUC, and from time to time they were happy to use plastic bullets and tear gas against us.”


We had made contact with Cliftonville in the week prior to the game, principally to check on the weather conditions at the ground, but we were delighted to be invited to the game as guests of Club Secretary Eugene Rogers. Eugene, and the Chairman, Hugh McCartan made us incredibly welcome at Solitude, talking passionately about their love for the club and the personal sacrifices they have made to keep the club afloat.


Solitude may be a run down old ground, but it has an incredible charm that you only get nowadays with traditional football grounds. The main stand sits on the half way line, while the dressing rooms and offices are in the corner to the right. Opposite the main stand is a grassy bank that used to be terracing, while to the left is the fenced in visitors seating enclosure. Linfield were only allowed to have their fans invited back to Solitude a couple of years ago once the stand was built, and some degree of segregation and security was guaranteed.


Finally, to the right of the main stand is the infamous ‘Cage’. A section of terracing that is completely caged from top to bottom on all four sides. In the heady days before the locally based Glasgow Celtic support discovered cheap packages across the Irish Sea on match days, ‘The Cage’ was effectively to Solitude what  ‘The Jungle’ was to Celtic Park. It was a heaving mass of passion, and indeed, Nationalism. I asked a Cliftonville fan what it used to be like stood in the Cage when it was full,  “Why do you think it’s caged in?” was the short reply.


Around 500 fans turned up for the game, with perhaps about 150 or so from Glenavon on the away end. The hosts took the lead through George McMullan early in the first half, but close to half time after a defensive mistake Marty Verner equalised. Nathan McConnell got what was the winning goal for Cliftonville in the 65th minute, but not before Glenavon were denied a stonewall penalty in the closing stages by a referee that had a poor afternoon in fairness.


After the game we chatted at length to Eugene about the club, and he talked about the number of duties he carries out at the club, and not only that, the times he’s had to stand in court and plead to keep the club alive with creditors baying for blood. We were also introduced to Vice President Billy Hosie, who was a real character. Billy joined in the Social Club for a wee drink after the game, and regaled us with boyhood tales of watching Cliftonville, and also a slightly bizarre story of the time he ended up dancing at Wembley Stadium with the great Ferenc Puskas! Billy refused to let us make our own way back to the centre of Belfast, his daughter was summoned and we were driven back to our hotel. Billy, just like Eugene, Hugh and the rest of the people involved with the club, was an absolute diamond and completely passionate about Cliftonville FC.


Going back round full circle, the All-Ireland League debate is starting to resurface, but when you look at the likes of Cliftonville, who each year pin their hopes on a top four place to get into the Setanta Cup, the Intertoto Cup, or possibly even the UEFA Cup, such a move could be the death knell. Travelling for them at the moment is quite simple, Northern Ireland isn’t a huge place, but the cost of trips to Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Sligo will certainly test the finances. But with a strengthening of the competition, with clubs from a league that is far more affluent, could see Cliftonville and many others pushed further down the pecking order. European places would be effectively halved in Ireland.


So it is understandable for social, political and footballing reasons that the Chairman of Derry City should appear on the front page of the local paper two weeks before the Linfield game appealing for peace. For Derry City the All-Ireland scenario can only be a winner. As for Cliftonville, they too would dearly love to see the non-footballing barriers in Ireland finally broken down, but their biggest issue, ironically, is now a footballing one, they can no longer compete. For them, you suspect the All-Ireland League is better to remain the pipe dream it always has been for the bigger clubs on the Emerald Isle.

Blyth Spartans  2  Belper Town  0


It’s been tough of late, very tough, and I’ll tell you why.


I shouldn’t complain about it, but in the five years I’ve worked as a Mortgage Adviser, I’ve never been as busy as I am right now. Ok, it will bring in the dough, but being busy means you cop for an unimaginable quantity of shit. I’ve been tired, fractious, and prone to making mistakes, it’s getting me down.


When I agreed to join Belper Town as a Director in the Summer, I wasn’t given a specific job to do, but then suddenly, as various people became unavailable, I became secretary for two weeks, and on top of that I also became programme editor and press officer. To combine those three roles is quite possibly a full time job, but when you are working twelve hours a day in the ‘real world’, it becomes a totally ridiculous situation.


I have been at my lowest ebb, I’ve been tired, I’ve been emotional, and I’ve been a nightmare to be around. But I’ve not told anyone! My role as secretary ended last weekend when my Dad returned from Spain, as did my stint as programme editor, but my press officer hat still needed to be worn for one last game.


Friday had been the usual collection of unpleasant phone calls, problems and feelings of getting nowhere, I was ready for the weekend. You see, I’d arranged with the ex-missus that I was to have the kids on Friday night, take them back early doors on Saturday, and then enjoy a relaxing day at Blyth Spartans in the F.A. Trophy. But, in the not-so wonderful world of Mr X, the best laid plans and all that………….


I got the kids sorted, and made my way to the ground to catch the coach, collecting a newspaper and a sandwich on the way. I parked up, had a chat with Mickey Allsop, and we both ogled the topless beauties in Zoo Magazine. Melly turned up after only leaving the pub three hours earlier (he wasn’t playing by the way!), and by 9.30am it was time to set off.


Not quite, it appears one of the younger players had forgotten to bring his boots with him (for fucks sake!), so we had to fanny about until someone found a spare pair of size tens. Then, only a couple of miles outside Belper, it transpired that kit man Paul Bennett had packed the wrong colour shorts! A few frantic phone calls later and we arranged for a fellow Director to follow on behind with them in his car. It was a shambles, and I suppose, along with a few others, I was in charge of it!


We picked players up at various motorway junctions, and then just as the coach was passing Leeds, I got a call on my mobile,


“Hi, it’s me, we met last night at the Works.” said the female voice


“You what, I think you’ve got the wrong number love?” I replied.


“I told you I was eighteen, I was lying, I’m fifteen, well, strictly fourteen, but I’m fifteen tomorrow.” she said


“I really don’t know what you are talking about love, I think you’ve got the wrong number!”  I was getting annoyed now.


“Listen, we could meet, I’m really dirty, you could do anything you want, I’ll let you f……”


I put the phone down, she never called back!


We got to Scotch Corner, had a stop, unblocked the bog which one of the players had decided to damage with his ‘Eleven o’clock special’, and at this point the car carrying the shorts had caught us up. I was commandeered to go in the car with my fellow director, to keep him company, it was only about sixty miles to Blyth, and we had and hour and a half to do it in.


It took an hour and a half, we arrived at two o’clock after suffering a ball ache of a jam around the Angel of the North. I decided to head for the bar, which was full of dyed in the wool Geordies who were watching Newcastle lose to Wigan. They weren’t impressed when our ‘crew’ rolled into the bar and blocked the view to the big screens, and it could have turned unpleasant when one of our elderly members said in a loud voice to one of the bar staff,


“Speak English love!”


You could have heard a pin drop, I just looked at the floor with my pint in hand, having a go at a Geordie accent, in the hostile environs of the Blyth Spartans Social Club, when Newcastle United are losing 1-0 at Wigan Athletic, is not the smartest move in the World is it?


I liked the ground, a proper football ground, and with nearly four hundred inside, it’s not a bad, if not a little hostile, atmosphere. I feared a heavy defeat for the lads, we had a scratch squad after a number were absent with that old injury that is commonly known as ‘Blyth Spartans Hamstring’, it is closely linked to he infamous ‘Workington Groin’ that we used to suffer from a few years back. We’ve never suffered from it, but I also understand that a ‘Barrow Calf’ is also popular in the Winter months!


We lost 2-0, but in all honesty, we should have got a draw and a replay. After conceding an early penalty, we’ve battered them, but conceded a last minute goal as we were pushing forward. The officials were abject shite and I will demonstrate why from one very brief conversation I had with the linesman. We had a shot from the edge of the area which the keeper touched over the bar, but the referee gave a goal kick. The linesman followed suit and pointed for a goal kick, so I piped up,


“Linesman, he’s touched that, it’s a corner!”


“You are probably right mate!” was his reply.


“So why didn’t you give a corner if you think I’m right?” was my question.


“Well, he’s given a goal kick now, sorry!” was the best he could come up with.


I mean, for fucks sake, this was an F.A. competition, and he’s openly admitted that he isn’t prepared to make a decision that he knows was given wrong in the first place. He only needed to raise his flag, but it was obviously too much trouble.


It got worse, Micky Allsop who had been substituted, was sent off in injury time for abusing the linesman after another incompetent decision. I asked Micky in the bar what he had said, and believe me, his red card was very much deserved! To Micky’s credit, he apologised to the linesman in the bar, but he was never going to get himself off. I suspect a three game ban is coming!


The journey back was as dull as it was uneventful, and once back in Belper I decided to leave the car at the ground and go out for a few pints. I had an enjoyable evening in the Riflemans before picking up a takeaway and heading home. The press duties had gone ok, I was virtually free of that job now, but my mind was muddled and racing and the thought of dealing with the Monday morning shite was heavy on my conscience.


Of late, in addition to the above workload, I’ve done something that’s perhaps a little naughty. A couple of years ago I started ‘seeing’ a bird from Chesterfield who I met via doing a Mortgage for her. That went pear shaped pretty promptly, and we have had at best, ‘sporadic’ contact since. However, I’ve had to attend to her financial affairs once again, and the previous Friday night she’d invited me out in Chesterfield, which meant I’d have to miss the Sheffield game at Buxton. It was a tough call, but the thought of ‘feeding the pony’ won in the end, Jamesie fully understood!


I’ll not elaborate, but at least I got a result that night……….


Anyway, for some reason I decided to send her a text on my way home, and I don’t remember what I said, but when I woke the following morning this was my reply,


“That message was the most random eva. It made no sense. Leave the graveyard and go home now.”


I felt acutely silly, I could only assume I’d said something she didn’t approve of, or at least been in a place she felt was inappropriate. But more on her later.


I felt like shite the following morning, but I had to go and get the car back from the football ground. I arrived at the ground to see a number of people milling about, and then the horror hit me. My car, along with four others had been subject to an attack by some of the local smackheads. I got to my car to find a bloody great boulder sat on the passenger seat, and the car full of shattered glass, and to cap it all, they’d nicked some CD’s. Snow Patrol, Manic Street Peachers, Keane, and Erasure (I didn’t admit to that one when I reported it to the Police!)


Sunday was a write off, I was meant to spend it at my folks with the kids, but by the time I’d been to Autoglass and got it sorted, it was tea time. To say I was pissed off was an understatement, I wanted to exact revenge, a week later and I still do! Nothing will happen though, the plod want to do some forensics on my car but I’ve never returned the call, it seems pointless.


Sunday night and my ebb was low once again, nothing seems to be going right, I wanted to move to Northern Ireland and forget about all this shite. Then the phone rang, it was the girl, and after exchanging pleasantries, and her showing sympathy for my predicament, she said the following,


“Can you get my mortgage sorted tomorrow, it’s been dragging on far too long now…”


I put the phone down, put my head in my hands and sighed. We haven’t spoken since, I should have gone to Buxton that Friday night, and I definitely shouldn’t have gone to Blyth Spartans on Saturday. You see, had I been the Mr X of old, who let nothing distract him and who was out of love with Belper Town, none of this would have happened would it?


Stuff Belper Town and women, it’s Kiveton Park for me next week! 

Mr X goes Dutch in the Eridivisie


It could only happen in Holland.


Sunday night, sat in a bar in the quiet Gelderland town of Duiven, while being bought drinks by locals who felt honoured that ‘us’ English had chosen to visit their home, the Goombay Dance Band burst into life on the jukebox, and the locals all joined in!


I haven’t heard ‘Seven Tears’ by the aforementioned cheesy Dutch pop combo for years, and I suspect it’ll be a good number of years before I hear it again. But what I do hope is that it won’t be too long before I go back to this fabulous place, which is indeed a true mecca for the football fanatic. I’ll explain how it all started.


My folks have known Theo for over ten years now, they met in America and have got together on countless occasions ever since. Theo is a mad football fan, following Ajax, but he has also taken both Derby County and Belper Town under his wing, so when I got the call to say Theo wanted me to join my Dad on a trip to Holland to take in three football games, I naturally jumped at the chance. Not only that, Theo and my Dad had been discussing the possibility of inviting the local amateur club DVV Duiven over to Belper to play a pre-season game, so as a consequence a meeting had also been arranged with the board of DVV.


Oh, I forgot to mention, Theo likes a drink, a big drink at that, he is also now single, and I suspect his passion for both football and Heineken played a very small part in his recently found bachelordom! I think you can guess what’s coming next, it is Holland after all!!


So after being dragged out of bed at a ridiculously early 4am, it was off to East Midlands (I will not use the Nottingham prefix), and the first flight into Amsterdam. Arriving in Schipol at around 9am local time gave us chance to spend the day in ‘the Dam’ before heading down to Arnhem late in the afternoon to meet Theo. We started drinking about 10.30am, courtesy of he free ale given away on the tour of the Heineken brewery, and the drinking never really stopped throughout what was a beautiful afternoon. We almost missed the train, courtesy of the drink, but eventually we arrived in Arnhem after about an hours train journey. Theo then met us and we caught the local train to his home town of Duiven.


Theo’s house is great, he has a huge plasma TV with football on constantly, while his bookshelf is populated with old Rothmans Football Yearbooks. He has a football commemorating the ‘Germany 1 England 5’ game, sat next to his TV, while on the wall is a huge photo of himself with his hero, Jari Litmanen, taken at Pride Park before a pre-season game two years ago. It is a football shrine, while his fridge is a shrine to the Heineken brewery!


A meal in the local Chinese restaurant was followed up by a trip to the home ground of DVV to meet with some of their representatives. It was all a bit formal to start with, we were ushered to the Boardroom, and offered more drinks before the discussions began. Theo did a superb introduction, helped no doubt by his standing as a sponsor of the club and being the Chairman of the local Duiven Business Club. DVV’s team of three seemed worried about the costs of travelling, but we tried to put their minds at rest, suggesting we might be able to get some sponsorship. They had a discussion amongst themselves, and it didn’t appear to be going too great, but then the Chairman, Anton, turned to us and said,


“We want to bring a DVV team to England to play against Belper Town!”


It was a result, we handed them some photographs, a pennant and some programmes, while they gave us more Heineken in return! For the next two hours we drank and talked football, and with the team having trained that night we were introduced to some players. They were delighted at the prospect of coming to England to play football, and I have to be honest, no matter how hard we tried to pay for a drink, they wouldn’t let us! Comically, we spotted a couple of lads wearing England shirts, and it soon transpired that they had adopted Birmingham City as their favourite English club. It would at that point have been totally wrong not to have taught them the words to ‘Shit on the Villa’, we did just that, and as we staggered out of the bar close to 1am, we left to the sounds of half a dozen Dutchmen singing the song at full voice, it was a classic moment!


Wearily we rose the following morning, and after a bit of sightseeing we got down to some serious drinking again before catching the train to Amsterdam once more for the game between Ajax and Heerenveen. The Amsterdam ArenA is a spectacular stadium, seating just over 50,000, it has a retractable roof, and has state of the art facilities for the spectator. For example, to get in the ground you put your match ticket through a swipe system to activate the turnstile, while the well policed away fans have a railway station with a secure gangway that takes them straight from the platform to their seats. Once inside, beer was available, but you don’t use cash, you have to buy what are effectively ‘top up’ cards. You can take your beer to the seats, and what seats they were, right at the very top of the ‘Noord Stand’ looking down on the action. 47,000 turned up to see a 0-0 draw, and by the standards of Ajax it’s a poor result in a poor season. They sit fifth in the league under former hero Danny Blind, and while they play some nice football, they have no one who can find the target on a regular basis. The atmosphere was very good, with the hardcore ‘fanatics’ sitting in the corner between the South and West stands. They love their flags and banners in Holland, and this noisy set of supporters had the slogan ‘Amsterdam Street Fighters’  underneath them on a red and white flag that must have stretched at least 100 yards in length.


Theo wasn’t happy with the result, he has a season ticket but to a certain extent he has ‘boycotted’ them this season because of the poor form. He made it to the game against deadly rivals Feyenoord earlier this season, but has barely been since. His season ticket only cost around £250 which is excellent value on comparison with England, while our match tickets cost around £25, which again wasn’t too bad I thought given the fantastic facilities on offer.


Somewhat wearily we stumbled into Theo’s place just after midnight, had a couple of bottles of Heineken, and then our host had a suggestion,


“The Remigius Bar is open until two, shall we go down for the last hour?”


It would have been rude not to go, and after downing seven more beers in a period of time that was just over an hour, we stumbled home, and back to bed. But again, the hospitality was superb, the bar owner Hendrik was constantly asking which English music we wanted playing on the jukebox, and I’m sure we didn’t pay for all of our drinks. I opted for Oasis by the way, and ‘Wonderwall’ seemed to go down well with the locals.


We had a trip over the border into Krautland early on Saturday, before getting back to watch the Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers game live on Canal Plus. That’s the thing about Holland, they have constant live Premiership football on view, all the normal Sky games plus a few more, so as a result the Dutch often know as much about English football as we do. A quick meal in a very good Greek restaurant followed before we made the trip to match number two, Vitesse Arnhem v Heracles Almelo.


Somewhat bizarrely, Theo took us to a bus stop outside the restaurant and told us that free buses run regularly from Duiven to the stadium on match nights. I was slightly sceptical as he seemed to know little about the times or the precise frequency, but fair play to him, within five minutes we were sat on the bus to the Geldredome. As we got nearer Arnhem, the bus started to fill up, and when we finally disembarked at the stadium, it was standing room only.


Once again, absolutely superb facilities were on offer, and another stadium with a retractable roof! But not only that, they have a retractable pitch also, which is removed when events such as concerts take place at the stadium, and if I recall, the Rolling Stones once graced the Geldredome. Access was easy, the away fans were bussed straight to the turnstiles, and never let within light years of home fans or indeed out of the sight of stewards or police. It transpires that to get a ticket for an away game in Holland you must also buy a bus ticket and travel on the official transport, otherwise you ain’t getting in, ticket or not! It all stems back to the horrendous crowd disorder issues Holland has suffered over the years, and consequently the authorities have gone to real extremes to discourage visiting supporters to attend games. Newly promoted Heracles is an hour away, and they bought a couple of hundred, as did Heerenveen to Ajax the previous evening, and that is little more than an hour from Amsterdam.


The atmosphere in the ground was superb, with the teams emerging to the spine tingling sound of Carmina Burana (that’s the Old Spice add to the less educated of you!!). It was pure theatre as flags were unfurled and the crowd were whipped up into a frenzy, but then in typical Dutch fashion, they had to throw in the element of cheese by playing Status Quo!


Vitesse won the game 5-1, and I have to confess being a little disappointed at the goal celebrations. You may, or may not for that matter, recall Vitesse Arnhem playing Dundee United in the UEFA Cup back in the early nineties. It was at a time when football on TV was not as prominent as it is now, so as a teenager I used to enjoy staying up on a Wednesday night to watch Sportsnight. Vitesse Arnhem had a cracking goal celebration in the aforementioned game, a player would run up to a team mate and reach forward with his left hand, lifting his right leg up at the same time. His team mate would do the same, but alongside each other, and they would literally grab each others raised boot! It was daft, but great, and two days later in the weekly Upper Sixth v Lower Sixth challenge match, myself and Lee Olney re-created it when I scored a vital equaliser just before half time!


After a fairly one sided game, we got on the free bus once again and went into the centre of Arnhem for a few drinks. It was all going quite tamely until my Dad had the bright idea of going to ‘Alberts’, a place he remembered from many years ago on one of his first visits to Holland. Bloody hell, this place was outrageous, the owner Albert is as camp as row of pink tents, in fact he put the ‘woof’ into ‘woofter’. Having said that, he knows how to run a bar, and the place was packed to the rafters with perhaps some of the less conventional members of the Arnhem community.


We spent all night in the bar, and after perhaps half an hour of apprehension in what was a gypsy / deviant filed environment, I relaxed and began to enjoy it. We drunk a ridiculous quantity of lager, and enjoyed some traditional Dutch music. I have to mention the music, because in Holland it comes in two formats, up to date Euro music that we hear everyday on Radio One, and the local pop music that is cheesier than an Edam factory. It sounded like Holland’s version of ‘A Song For Europe’ but the locals, of all ages I might add, were absolutely loving it and you couldn’t help but tap your feet, even if you didn’t know the words!


I kebab followed, which was a much more civilised experience than in England is it came on a plate, and then a packed last train back to Duiven, it had been a long day and a long night, it was time for bed.


Sunday was our final day in Holland, and for the final game Theo had excelled himself. Via his position in the local business community he had managed to procure some ‘business’ passes for the NEC Nijmegen v Sparta Rotterdam game. None of us really knew what they entitled us to, but we were soon to find out. We took the car to Nijmegen which is about a thirty minute drive away, and found some street parking within a fifteen minute walk of the Goffert Stadium. The newly refurbished stadium sits in the middle of a wood, and was once again a very modern and well equipped set up. It seats about 13,000, and is basically a miniature version of the stadiums at Derby County, Middlesbrough and Leicester City, in the sense that it only effectively has one tier of seats. After a few enquiries we found that we were entitled to enter the bar area in the main stand, but what we didn’t realise was that to get a drink we needed to buy some vouchers. When we ordered our first lager we hadn’t got any vouchers, but the Bar Manager, upon finding out we were English, gave us the drinks on the house!


I’ll not beat about the bush, the game was pretty poor and goalscoring opportunities were at a premium. It finished 0-0, but on balance Sparta were probably the better side, and of all the three visiting teams over the weekend, they had the largest and most voluble support. Both sides are at the wrong end of the table, and to be fair, the game reflected that. Atmosphere wise it was again good, and the pre-match entertainment was spiced up with a bit more ‘local’ music. Theo did tell me that one of the songs, which has been adopted by the Dutch as something of a football anthem, has got a bit of a story. I haven’t got a clue what the chap who sings it is called, or indeed what the song is called, but it appears the singer is a national hero, and when he died after many years of alcohol abuse, his funeral was so big it had to be held at the Amsterdam ArenA! Just quickly on alcohol in Holland, you can’t get a pint, you can get a half a litre at best, it’s not quite enough, you will never make as many trips to the bar in your life, you have been warned if you ever go………


Afterwards it was back into a packed bar to use up our newly purchased vouchers, before heading back through the woods and back on the road to Duiven. Once back in Duiven we had a quite superb meal in the best restaurant in town, and while this is primarily a football article, I have to mention the food. I have never had a shot glass with oxtail soup, topped with cream before, nor have I eaten raw eel, and I have to confess to having had doubts about eating figs, but I did, and it was outstanding. I never saw the bill, but I suspect it was a large one.


And then finally back to Remigius, the Goombay Dance Band, and some very generous locals. It was to be an early start the following day, but just before we retired to bed, Theo had a brilliant idea,


“I am already planning your next trip, Twente Enschede, De Graafschap and maybe Schalke in Germany?”


Sounded reasonable I thought, as long as he makes sure his fridge is well stocked……..


Saturday 3rd September 2005


(1) Grimsby Borough  2  Hatfield Main  1


(2) LSS Lucarlys  2  Santos  2



I have to be honest, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I tend to regard the Central Midlands League like I would a loyal and devoted ex-girlfriend.


By that I mean I tend to re-visit it in times of need, or when I have nothing else to turn to.


So with just two grounds left in the league to visit, both of which are in ‘Great Grimsby’, I had decided to reserve it for a rainy day later in the season when more exotic locations were looking less hopeful.


With England playing Wales in Cardiff, I had kept an eye on the fixtures and picked out a game at Darwen, but then I spotted on one of the ‘anorak’ forums that both of my last remaining targets in the CMFL were playing at home. Grimsby Borough at noon, and LSS Lucarlys at 3pm. It was like having a double date with your two favourite ex’s, and they were up for a threesome!!


Not only that, on the Friday night before Sheffield Club were playing Thackley, which would be a great little starter for the weekend. I decided to email Jamesie, advising him of my planned appearance at the ‘Bright Finance Stadium’, slipping in the suggestion that he might want to indulge in a little ‘extra curricular’ the following day at the seaside.


“F***!” was his reply.


For it appears Jamesie had barrelled all the way over to Grimsby a couple of weeks earlier for a 6.30pm kick off at Borough, as he too had just these last two venues to get to. He was annoyed, he could have ‘nailed’ two birds with one stone, but I managed to convince him to have one final fling down the M180 and meet me at Lucarlys in the afternoon.


I haven’t been to Grimsby for years, I had been to Blundell Park a couple of times back in the early eighties while watching Derby, and I recalled then it was a most unappealing place so I was almost intrigued to see if the place had changed much. I decided to go early, too early in fact, I was in Grimsby at ten so I did a bit of a ‘reccy’ on both grounds and headed off to a nearby Asda for a big brekkie.


I got back to Borough’s ground for just after eleven, I can’t be arsed to describe it so just read Jamesies article for the details. Now then, something worried me, if I had spotted this cute little double header on the seedier of the football forums, then others would have also done the same. I was braced for an invasion by the travelling freak show, but at first all was quiet. However, as I was listening to the radio I spotted something flapping in the distance out of the corner of my eye. It was in the form of a human being, but it was being masked by what appeared to be huge fold out street map blowing in the wind, it was a guy I had seen before, Newark Flowserve if I recall. As it got closer I quickly ascertained the species, it was strangely dressed, hair disturbingly trimmed, and carrying an array of equipment that meant one thing only, and I don’t need to explain do I……..


As I got into the ground they had bred, at least a dozen were in attendance, and you could bet your last pound that they were going to be hot footing it down the road later that afternoon. I kept well out of the way, except for a few brief moments late in the game when I overheard a discussion about the South Wales League and the rules about permanent pitch surrounds?


Anyway, the game finished 2-1 to Borough who were pushed all the way by a useful and enthusiastic Hatfield Main side. I saw Borough at the end of last season and with goal machine Lee Stephenson in the side I thought they were excellent, but on today’s showing they didn’t seem to have the same spark. No doubt they are still reeling somewhat from being denied promotion.


I’d set myself a little challenge as I’d pretty much fathomed out who amongst the attendance at Borough were going to be going to Lucarlys, and that challenge was to beat them all to the ground! I don’t know why, it certainly wasn’t to buy up all the programmes to sell back to them at an inflated price, although it had crossed my mind, but it was more of a pride thing, I wanted to be the best!


At the final whistle I leapt into my car, wheel span out the car park and was quickly on the road to Humberston. Given that many had arrived on foot, it crossed my mind that it was a fair old journey to walk, so I was feeling confident of being first at the scene, but then I glanced in my rear view mirror.


I saw a red car, being driven at speed, within a couple of yards of my rear bumper. In the driving seat was a guy who had been at the game, who looked fairly normal, but in the passenger seat was ‘map man’ who I mentioned earlier. It was like that scene from ‘Only Fools and Horses’ when Denzil is in a transport café at Hull Docks, only to see the Trotter’s Reliant Robin Van in the mirror! I had to rub my eyes and look again in the mirror, because three more of the travelling fraternity were wedged into the back. I sprung into life, dropping down a gear and cutting a corner before hearing the screech of my tyres as I cut across the line of traffic onto the road that leads to the Lucarlys Club.


Once in the car park there were no spaces, so I opted to literally dump the car alongside the club, only to look on in horror as the driver of the other car decided  to drop his passengers at the entrance! The challenge for me was to get into the bar and have a pint in hand before any of them arrived in the bar themselves, and at this stage it was looking grim. However, I hadn’t banked on the fact that the first port of call for them was sniffing out the programmes, which gave me a chance to dump the car, jog to the bar entrance in the style of Aneka Rice on Treasure Hunt, asking the local kids in a breathless fashion where the entrance was! I got a pint, wandered outside, sat down on a bench, and spotted my competition finally coming from the dressing room area armed with programmes. I had won, now it was just a case of waiting for Jamesie to turn up.


The Lucarlys Manager, Tommy Watson, wandered over to me and offered to sell me a programme before asking me if I’d been to the Borough game earlier. I started to tell him about the game when I suddenly had an awful thought,


“Of all the people who have arrived at the ground in the last few minutes why has he picked me out as an obvious candidate for having been at Borough? I mean, surely the little gaggle who were already pestering the referee for the team line ups would be visibly obvious candidates for having been to Borough? I was dressed casually, having a pint, did I look like someone who had been to Borough? But then again, maybe he thinks I would be a much better bet when it came to actually describing the game, because at the end of the day I’m a footy fan primarily, not a stat freak or a ticker of lists as such?”


I was troubled, but then Jamesie turned up, and the piss taking began. I’ll not bother describing the game or the ground, because my esteemed colleague will do that for me, but what I will say is that Lucarlys 2-2 draw with Santos must have stung them because a week later they hammered Thorne Colliery 13-3!


You might recall from my report of a game at Yorkshire Main last season, that I’d developed a bit of a curious fascination with LSS Lucarlys, and I’d issued a challenge to Jamesie with regard to who the first one to get to it might be? Well, strangely enough it was a honourable draw. Also in the piece about Yorkshire Main I described a conversation I’d had with a Grimsby Borough players Dad who I probed for information about Lucarlys. He wasn’t at the Borough game that afternoon, his son had moved on, however, three days later at the Belper Town v Spalding United game I got a tap on the shoulder,


“Didn’t I meet you at Yorkshire Main last season…..”


His other son was playing for Spalding, and played very well indeed, such a small World we live in eh?


Finally, Jamesie, just be careful next time you eat those sour sweets, they’ll make your face go purple-er…………