Monday, 28 March 2011

Central Midland football league ground hop

One of the high points of the football season for me. Yes there is the Champions league final, the FA Cup final, the Milan and old firm derbys, all day drinking sessions in Nottingham (whenever the Imps play against Notts County) But none of them have the kind of atmosphere that the annual Central Midlands football league bonanza provides!
The Central Midlands league is in the 7th tier of English non league football which is the starting step for any club starting out in the pyramid. There are many step 7 leagues in England but the Central midlands league is one of the better known and covers one of the largest areas. The plan is for 5 games to be played over the weekend at different times and designed in such a way that you can attend all 5. One match was planned for the Friday night and then four on the following Saturday. For the clubs chosen to host the games it is often the biggest game in their history. Normally these clubs attract anything from 0-50 fans. Today well over 200 were present at each game. Clubs have to plan for it well over a year in advance. But if done correctly the income gained gives the clubs a huge financial boost. Its akin to Lincoln getting the money spinning FA Cup tie away at Manchester United. For the players of the teams it could well be the largest crowd that they ever play infront of. The event attracts visitors from all over the UK and beyond. For me this was the third time i have attended this great event.

Action from my first central midlands league hop in 2009. Bulwell Town v Thoresby CW

The mastermind behind the event is local football legend Mr Rob Hornby. Nothing is ever to much effort for Rob when football is concerned. He pretty much sorts everything from advising the clubs on the best way to set up for the event to selling the tickets, and organising the transport, to making sure everybody has teamsheets at the games. And that is all between selling items on his charity stall, all in all it is like watching a conductor lead his orchestra. Sadly Rob is stepping down from the league committee at the end of the season. He will be sadly missed and incredibly hard to replace. All the best Rob in whatever you do and i am sure we will see you about somewhere :-)

Rob Hornby (Left) and his Jedi apprentice on the right

Anyway now that you understand a little more about the event lets get on to the white hot action! First up on the Friday night was Kinsley Boys v Harworth C.I with a 7.45 pm KO.
Kinsley Boys 1-0 Harworth C.I
Not a great game to kick off the event with. Both sides seemed to suffer a bit from stage fright. Kinsley just about deserved their win in the end and had the better chances. Beer was priced at a very reasonable £1.20 a can and very nice it was to. One of the high points of the evening was the fact that i missed Lincoln getting crushed 6-0 at home by Rotherham United. As the goals when in and texts about them came in more and more cans were purchased thus giving Kinsley an unexpected cash influx.

In the end the match was settled with a penalty half way through the first half, not a great start to the hop so surely it could only get better?

Saturdays first game was at Phoenix FC who are based on the outskirts of...Rotherham. This fact pretty much put paid to me wearing my warm padded Lincoln coat which, given that the weather was a tad on the chilly side, was a bit if a balls up on my part. We got the train up to Doncaster where the coach was picking up. The scene outside Doncaster station was similar to the bar in Star wars as "characters" from all over the UK gathered. Once on the coach Rob grabbed the mic and acted as our tour guide and gave us a run down on the two sides competing in the first match.

Phoenix 0-0 Kiverton Park
K.O 10.15 AM

Another plus point of these hops is the fact that quite a few people set up stalls selling progrmames and badges etc. Before the match i managed to pick up an Armthorpe Miners Welfare pin badge. All the host clubs and a couple of away sides on the hop were selling badges. All in all i spent a total of £21 quid on them. Money well spent though (well thats what i keep telling myself anyway) The sausage sandwiches were excellent and great value at a mere £2 and that along with the bracing Yorkshire air woke me up a treat.

Food tent

As for the match well there wasnt really much you could say about it. Kiverton Park looked the more likely to score but clear cut openings were few and far between. The hight point was the clubhouse at half time which had a great range of real ales on and was showing the England cricket team world cup match with Sri Lanka.

As soon as the final whistle had sounded we made a mad dash for the coach and we were soon on our way to central Nottinghamshire and our third match of the hop.

Thoresby Welfare 1-1 AFC Hucknall
KO 1.40 PM

This was the ground that i was looking foward to visiting the most mainly due to the fact that it was the only one on the hop that is in Nottinghamshire. It was a chilly day everywhere but Thoresby seem to be the coldest. The ground is quite open with a stand on one side providing the only shelter. The rest of the pitch is roped off and is next to the cricket pitch.

The home side took the lead from a bullet header following an inswinging corner and looked comfortable throughout the game until the final minute when a cross from the right was met at the far post and poked home to give AFC Hucknall a share of the points. The goal had been coming for the final ten minutes or so but Thoresby will feel that they should have had the points wrapped up long before then.

It was a relif to get on the coach to get warm. en-route we listened to Rob giving us a helpful guided tour of the area pointing out landmarks such as Welbeck Welfare FC and Shirebrook Towns floodlights. After a 20 minute journey we arived at the world famous Parkhouse fc.

Parkhouse fc 5-0 AFC Sutton Town
At last we saw a few goals! And it could well have been more. Sutton have had a crazy season and are currently on their 5th manager of the campaign. With this in mind it is hardly suprising that they sit 4th bottom of the divison while Parkhouse are in the top third. Sutton looked to have a young side out and couldn't cope with their older and more streetwise opponents. Sutton's man of the match was infact the goalkeeper who couldn't do much with any of the goals and did his best to keep the score down.

Parkhouse really excelled off the pitch too; the jacket potatoes with cheese and chilli tasted fantastic and were great value. Beer was on sale at a resonable £1.50 a can and nothing seemed too much trouble for the staff. One nice point was the fact that they were the only club on the hop not to charge for teamsheets.

Due to the fact that the night was drawing in half time was limited to 7 minutes. Even with the shortened break the game still finished in darkness. We ambled onto the coach and headed for our next destination. Each club did a programme for the hop and i have to say that Parkhouse's effort was by far the best of the bunch.

South Normanton Athletic 6-1 FC05 Bilsthorpe

This was a good choice of ground to finish on. This was by far the best ground on the hop and without being disrespectful to the others, it was the only ground which could be used at a higher level of football. It was great to have a proper bar/clubhouse in the ground and given that it was still bloody cold outside was doing a roaring trade.

This was a real top v bottom clash but it wasnt until the second half that the gulf in class began to show. By this point i was at the point of football overload and retreated to the bar at halftime and didnt resurface till 5 minutes before the final whistle. From the bar i got a decent enough view of the action without getting too cold.

All in all it was a great day out spent in great company. £15 entrance fee for all 5 matches, 21 quid on badges, and much fun and jolly japes along the way. With all 5 grounds being new to me it has brought my total up to 125 grounds visited. I couldn't watch this level of football every week but every once in a while it is a great day out and one i can thoroughly recommend to any football fan.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Retford United 2-1 Kendal Town

Another trip to Cannon Park this weekend. I had planned to go to Lincoln United but a combination of working in the morning and this being the last weekend before payday put pay to that. It actually worked out pretty well as this was a decent performance by Retford as they chalked up only there second home win of the campaign. However if they continue to play like they have over the last couple of games i have seen them then they may well get a couple more before the season is out and salvage some pride in what has been a disappointing season so far for the Badgers.

Having paid my £9 quid and a couple for the programme i headed straight for the bar for the first of many drinks i consumed. The lager flowed as i chatted to a couple of die hard Badgers and we all agreed that the team had started to show alot more fight in the last few weeks or so. Another point of discussion was the crowds at Cannon Park. Over the years attendances have steadily gone up at Retford and were averaging around the 200-250 mark last season. If you weren't in the clubhouse by 2.15ish you used to struggle to get a seat in the large clubhouse. Today the bar was barely half full before kick off. Maybe having the wooden spoon match in the rugby six nations between Scotland and Italy on the big screen in the bar was putting people off i dont know but the crowd of 87 who did show up were treated to a decent enough match and a battling performance from the home side who thoroughly deserved to take home all three points.

At times this season the badgers have named just a bare eleven but today they did at least have one sub and it was a good job as they were forced into a change as early as the 12th minute. Kendall seemed to have come with the attitude that all they had to do was turn up and they would win. Well that went tits up didn't it?

Retford took the lead in the 29th minutes from a breakaway goal following Kendal pressure. The home side had created the best of the chances and thoroughly deserved their lead despite what the BBC Radio Cumbria reporter was saying in his match reports. (We were sat just behind him and it was fun to listen in to the bullshit that he was sending back to his listeners up North). So it was Retford that went in 1-0 at half time and deservedly so in my humble opinion.

Retford continued to dominate after the break and doubled their lead, much to the delight of the home crowd in the 60th minute. It was only now that the penny dropped for Kendal that they were 2-0 down to the whipping boys of the division and their playoff dreams were going up in smoke. Kendal then upped their game and pinned Retford back in their own half for much of the remainder of the match. I have seen a fair bit of Retford this season and they strike me as a 70 minutes team. Up till 70 minutes they compete very well but after that fade, drop off and make daft mistakes. So i wasn't overly confident of them holding out when the visitors scored from close range in the 76th minute. Kendal pretty much laid siege to the Retford goal for the final 15 minutes but for once the badgers stood firm. Retford could have sealed the win on a couple of occasions when they broke in 3 on 2 situations in their favour but either the wrong option was chosen or the final ball just wasn't good enough. With the last play of the game Kendall did have the ball in the net only for the goal to be ruled offside. The flag was up before the ball went in so i must assume that the decision was correct. It would have been very very harsh on Retford had Kendal got anything from the game. So thankfully they didn't and so it was smiles all round!
I then headed back into town for a few pints with a member of the badgers hardcore and it is at this point that my memory becomes a tad hazy.
One final point. It was quite amusing to see a few Kendal players just storm off down the tunnel at the final whistle without shaking hands or anything. Tossers.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Middweek round up.

On the whole it was a pretty good week in my sporting world. It rarely goes as well as these past few days have done so it is with great pleasure i share these jolly japes with you chaps.

Tuesday 15th March

Lincoln's quest for survival continued with a decent enough away point at Macclesfield Town. Lincoln took the lead through Steve Hunt midway through the first half but were denied the full three points by an injury time equaliser. The main talking point from the game seemed to be Ben Hutchinson who was dismissed with 34 minutes left to play for two bookings. The second of which being for the pointless act of kicking the ball away. Hutch seems to be getting a fair bit of stick for this and rightly so, but i don't think we can totally blame him. If you are sitting on a one goal lead you are always on edge and in the lap of the gods and an own goal, wonder strike, dodgy ref decision can always throw a spanner in the works (Not that this was a dodgy decision) By all accounts Lincoln had plenty of the ball in the first half and thus should have done a hell of a lot more with it. Had we got the 2 goal lead Hutchinson's sending off wouldn't have had as much impact.
Never the less i would have settled for a point before kick off and a point we got. We now sit 12 points clear of the drop zone with 10 games to go.

Meanwhile Inter Milan became only the 2nd team in Champions league history to go through in the knockout stages after losing the first leg at home. A 3-2 win away against Bayern Munich was enough to send the champions of Italy, Europe and the world through to the quarter finals. Another trip to Germany now awaits as Inter were drawn to play Schalke 04. Not only is it a decent draw but it also gives Inter a great chance to avenge our 1997 UFEA Cup final defeat to them on penalties. Looking at the draw i will stick my neck out and say it will be an Inter Milan v Real Madrid final.

Wednesday 16th March
Another great result for me as the Nottingham Panthers retained the Challenge Cup. They lost the 2nd leg 2-1 in Belfast but won the cup 4-3!

Thursday 17th March
Only live sport midweek sport for me this week but what a game. The derby de la Bassetlaw. Worksop Town v Retford United (played at Retford) This was the third attempt to get this match played due to the weather we have had this winter and while saying it was well worth it may be pushing it slightly, it wasnt too bad a game all in all.

Worksop started very quickly and created several good chances and had a goal disallowed. New signing Luke Beckett was looking quite sharp. After weathering the storm Retford did get back into the match but failed to create many clear cut chances. When they did get into the final third the final pass wasn't good enough. Worksop continued to look the most dangerous side although they started to run out of ideas towards half time.

The only two moments of note in the second half were Worksops goal which came from the penalty spot following a handball. And the game being held up for 13 minutes when the referee was injured and a replacement found from the crowd. In the end the game finished 18 minutes later than it should have done. Retford had a couple of half chances and all in all put up a decent showing. Worksop didnt hit top gear but with the amount of games they have coming up in the next few weeks it was a case of just getting the points which on the balance of play they deserved.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lincoln City 2-1 Southend United

From a Lincoln fans angle it was a strange build up to today's match. Normally the build up is dominated by the league positioning of the two teams, who's injured or not injured etc etc. For this match the build up was more about Steve Tilson v Southend United instead of Lincoln City v Southend United.
Steve Tilson was pretty much a god in Southend United fan's eyes. He supported them as a boy, he played for them and he managed them. And he did a very good job taking them from league two to the Championship (and back again it has to be said) On the way up beating the Imps in the 2005 playoff final in Cardiff.

However there seems to have been a huge falling out between Tilson and the Southend United chairman when he was sacked. I don't know all the details nor do i want to if truth be told. There seems to be a dispute about Steve's wages being paid/not being paid, but that's one for Southend. Normally Southend would bring 200-300 fans max. Due to the Tilson factor Southend were bringing over 1000 fans as so many wanted to say goodbye to Steve Tilson.

We did the normal pre match stuff. Going to the Neptune fish bar on the high street for pre match nourishment etc. In the newsagents next to the chip shop the collection of joke ten pound notes was quite impressive. The Spongebob one sparked a conversation between Baz and Felice about the show which they both watch (They claim its because of the kids but dont let that fool you!) None of the notes were a patch on the one below that i bought a few years ago!

There were a fair few Southend fans knocking about but not too many Lincoln fans. In the end only 2800 Lincoln fans showed up which isn't great although i do think many more will return next season when we start afresh as you will.
After the poor showing at Burton it was inevitable that changes were going to be made. Ben Hutchinson had been playing well in his reserve matches and cameo performances in the first team so he deserved his place today in the starting line up. Gavin MaCallum was the one to make way which i felt was a bit harsh as he has hardly been the worse player we have had in the past couple weeks. Hutchinson was up top with Ashley Grimes up top with Delroy Facey playing deeper back.

The first half was a poor show, pretty much like the Accrington match. Southend probably just shaded it although neither keeper really had a great deal to do. Lincoln took the lead a few moments before half time when the Southend Keeper parried out a tame Mustapha Carayol effort which was slammed into the top of the net by Ashley Grimes a true poachers goal. Moments later Southend could and should have levelled as Southend's Barry Corr latched onto a through ball which caught Adam Watts out of position. Thankfully Watts got back and just did enough to force Corr out wide and his shot hit the side netting.

The second half was much much better than the first. After feeling each other out in the first half both sides went for each other like two boxers looking to knock seven bells of shit out of each other. Delroy Facey was getting through a hell of alot of work down the Lincoln left forcing their right back, who likes to get forward, back. We have all seen Delroy excel in the target man role, bringing others into play not to mention his goal scoring. His leadership qualities have also been there for all to see. Today we saw another dimension to his game, he suffered from a few bad bounces today but was otherwise he was excellent.
Lincoln had a great chance to go 2-0 up when yet another Delroy cross was met by Ben Hutchinson and he headed back across goal with the keeper well beaten but his effort was kicked off the line. The ref today was quite picky and the game was littered with free kicks and it was from one of these Southend got there equaliser. A free kick about 40 yards out was humped into the box and bang 1-1. Yet again we were caught out by a set piece.
We were soon back on the front foot. Delroy was like a tank on the left with defenders just bouncing of him and it looked like that was our best chance to win the game was through big Del.
Lincoln did get a winner but as with Bradford the magic bladder came into play and i missed Ashely Grimes' winner while i was shaking the snake. The noise was quite loud but due to the large amount of away fans i wasn't sure which way the goal had gone till i came out of the toilet. Lincoln saw the rest of the match out quite comfortabley and should have added to score in injury time when a substitute and former Southend United player Scott Spencer shot over after a great passing move that started deep in the Lincoln half. At the final whistle Tilly applauded the Imps fans as normal then went over to the Southend fans to say goodbye.
These were a big three points as Barnet won 2-1 at Hereford United. Stockport and Burton drew 0-0 so the Imps still have an eleven point lead over the drop zone. We now need 5 more points to get to the magic 50 point mark. Tuesday night we have a big match away at Maccelsfield Town. This is Lincolns game in hand on Barnet(Who dont play on Tuesday) So it would be a huge boost to get something from it.

On a non footballing point i must mention Italy's great win in the rugby. After giving Felice plenty of stick after they got a kicking from England i must applaud them for beating France at home 22-21.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Burton Albion 3-1 Lincoln City

Oh dear.
I didn't blog about Saturday's 0-0 bore draw at home with Accrington Stanley. Nothing happened so there was little point in either me writing about it or you reading about it. Tonight there was a full round of fixtures and the Imps went into it having a nice 11 point gap to the two clubs in the drop zone.
Originally 5 men of steel were going to Burton to watch this mouthwatering (?) clash, in the end only three hardy souls/idiots went. Judge for yourself who got the better end of the deal.

My directions to the ground were as normal spot on and we arrived in good time. The £13 quid entrance fee is one of the cheapest in the division and the ground is far from the worse. Even through it is a newish stadium it isn't quite as soulless as most of them. They have proved that you can build a new ground and not charge fans through the nose for the privilege. Well done Burton. All sides of the ground are covered and three sides are terracing. It feels like a football ground and not a mickey mouse Lego brick shithole ala Doncaster and Scunthorpe etc etc

Another area where Burton excel is the catering. As regular readers of this blog will know i don't rate Football league food very highly. All until a couple of years ago Burton were non league and its great to see that the food is still of a non league (and very high) quality. All three of us had different things and we were all very impressed. Felice went for the Cheeseburger and quickly gave it the burger of the year award. With me watching my figure i just had a portion of chips and mushy peas. Baz went for the flagship item on the menu. Faggots, and very nice they were too. Not only that but the prices were very reasonable (well by football standards anyway)

As normal The football managed to ruin the night. Another poor away performance from Lincoln which was on a par with the one we saw a couple of weeks ago at Barnet. If anything this one was worse because we offered very little very going forward all match. The first goal was another defensive balls up between Danny Hone and Trevor Carson. Lincoln were lucky to get to half time 1-0 down.
Burton went further ahead just after half time when we tried to be clever and pass the ball out of defence when just putting "Boot on ball" and sending it high and long would have done. Burton robbed us of the ball crossed it in and a great volley right in front of the Lincoln fans made it 2-0.
Burton continued to made the better chances and got a penalty to make it 3-0. City did get one back with a couple of minutes left through Ashley Grimes but it was too little too late.

The bright lights of Burton at 10.00pm
Thankfully defeats for Stockport and Barnet kept Lincoln a healthy 11 points clear of the drop zone but we don't want to be relying on other sides. Serious arse needs to be kicked in the Lincoln dressing room before the weekends home match with Southend United. A game which sees a repeat of the 2005 playoff final and Imps manager Steve Tilson up against the club where he is still viewed as a hero after leading them from League two to the Championship.

For me however the night was saved by two things.
As always the company was first class, and as always something daft happened. Tonight one of our number received a phone call telling him to bring some bread back with him. Now even in this day and age it can still be pretty tough to find fresh bread at 10.00pm on a Tuesday night on a journey from Burton to Retford (Or Fucking bread as it was referred to a couple of times). After getting a couple of gone out looks in a some service stations when cheerily asking if they had any bread at this hour we gave up. Ladies reading this remember, never ask men to go and get bread after there team has got humped in a far away land. You will always be disappointed.

Just to really rub salt in the wounds of the driver (the chap who's quest it was to rescue a loaf for a damsel in distress) We passed a sign for the village of BREADSALL in Derbyshire. Yes the very Breadsall that gave the world Henry Harpur-Crewe.

Again on the plus side The Nottingham Panthers will take a 3-1 lead into the second leg of the Challenge Cup semi final against the Belfast Giants after a great win in Nottingham. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Nottingham Panthers 16-0 Edinburgh Captials

Not a great deal i can say about this really. Edinburgh are a poor side as the standings show and really shouldn't be playing at this level. Lets hope the Panthers can smash title favourites the Sheffield Steelers on Sunday afternoon. It was the first time we have stayed to watch the end of mach awards and i liked the fact that when the panthers man of the match collects his award the "Top cat theme tune gets banged out at full volume! Nice.

One good thing of note. For every goal the Panthers scored tonight £100 went to charity. So at least some good did come out of this game after all.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Lincoln 3-1 Oxford United

After losing to the bottom side in the division Lincoln need to pick themselves up and get some points on the board fast so we don't get sucked back into the relegation dogfight. At the start of the season every side's first goal is to get to the magic 50 point total which should be enough to stamp your card for another season in League two. More often than not 46-48 points is enough but on the other hand i seem to remember York City going down on 52 one year. Before tonight's game City had amassed 38 points and were 9 points clear of Burton Albion in the last relegation place. Due to Burton having up to six games in hand on some clubs(four on Lincoln) i have been looking past them and focusing 3rd bottom Barnet who Lincoln had crumbled so badly against at the weekend. They were 8 points behind Lincoln but had played two games more. Bottom of the table Stockport County were 10 points (and 8 league places) adrift of Lincoln. Stockport were at Cheltenham Town whilst Barnet weren't playing so Lincoln had a real chance to extent our gap over the bottom two. Oxford are no mugs however. After winning promotion via the playoffs from the blue square premier division last year they sit just outside the playoffs this time around. The were backed by over 200 fans which considering how far it is to travel for a night game was a fantastic effort and they made plenty of noise.

City got off to a great start on 5 minutes when Josh 0'Keefe hit a volley against the post then followed up the rebound. After that early setback Oxford got on the front foot and played the better football without forcing Carson in the Imps goal into any save of note. Lincoln's front pair also failed to get many shots away as both sides cancelled each other out. Oxford were using a good range of long and short passes but Danny Hone and co snuffed them out. Then 5 minutes before the break it all went tits up.
Oxford played a great move that maybe contained 6-7 passes that ended in a ball being looped into the box. As it was played well in front of the Oxford strikers and pretty much down Carsons throat it seemed as if the Imps have survived. Wrong again.
Carson dived forward to gather it but as he fell to the ground the ball popped out and rolled right in front of the on rushing Oxford striker who tapped on one of the easiest goals he will ever get. It was a blunder of the highest order but Carson has been one of the reasons why we have climbed the table since the new year so one goof wont alter his standing amongst the Imps faithful. He is a young keeper and you are going to get blunders like this from time to time. You could tell he was well and truly gutted by it and having made fuck ups like that myself and its horrible. Thankfully there were only a few minutes to go till half time since it was now important for Imps goalkeeping coach Paul Musselwhite to sit Carson down and clear his head.
We all saw at the world cup how Rob Greens balls up changed the momentum of the game between England the the USA as nerves spread throughout the side after his howler and for 20 minutes it seemed as if Lincoln were going to follow their example. Oxford were now seeing far more of the ball than City and were starting to turn the screw.
In the first half City had been forced to make a change when Luke Howell pulled up with a hamstring injury and was replaced by wing wizard Mustapha Carayol and it was he that unlocked the Oxford defence. As it was his cross which was met by Delroy Facey whose effort was helped in by an Oxford Defender. 2-1 Lincoln. A lead we didnt deserve. It got even better a few minutes later with another own goal. This time Anthony Tonkin slicked another Carayol cross high into his own net without a City player anywhere near him. Fantastic.
After that City saw the game out and gained a priceless three points. Elsewhere Stockport lost 2-1 at Cheltenham and Burton won 3-2 at Northampton Town. All this mean that Lincoln now have 41 points from 32 games and an 11 point gap to Barnet in the final relegation place.
Although you can never take anything for granted the next few weeks could go along way to seeing city over the finishing line. Next up is Accrington Stanley at home on Saturday followed by a trip to Burton Albion. Then Southend United visit Lincoln and then we go to Macclesfield Town. Barnet face Rotherham United away and Wycombe at home both of which are gunning for automatic promotion so i wouldn't have thought they will get many points from those games. There will however be many more twists and turns along the way so lets get those 9 more points we need ASAP!!