Friday, 30 March 2012

Hayes and Yeading 1-2 Lincoln City

At last; a decent away game and one that i thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Over the last few years it has been a tough job writing about Lincoln City games but for once i can report on a decent away day and result for the Imps.
 Just two of us again for today's game. You have to back to the away match at Grimsby on New Years day to find an occasion that 3 or more Retford Imps all attended a Lincoln City match together. Hayes and Yeading are playing at Woking FC at the moment as their current ground is being rebuilt. The journey is a good three hours or so on a straight run and it means negotiating the M25. We left our North Nottinghamshire base at bang on 2.00pm and headed down the A1. The M25 wasn't too bad (by M25 standards anyway) with the only real congestion of note being around the junctions for Heathrow airport. Woking FC play on the outskirts of old Woking, driving around the town you get the feeling it is quite a well to do commuter town for those in the big smoke. The ground is actually a bit of a bitch to find as you have to go through the town and then its in a quiet residential area. As we were quite early we pulled up into the club car park and asked if we could park there to which we got a negative answer but we were told we could park in the leisure centre just opposite the ground.

We parked up at the centre and as we had plenty of time before kick off (We pulled up at just gone 5.45) We decided to head off in search of a kebab. As always Baz had done his research diligently and had located a kebab shop a mere half a mile away. So off we went to locate it. We are enjoying some great weather here in the UK at the moment so it was nice to be able to walk around in our Imps shirts and not have to wear three/four layers. A couple of things stood out, one was there was some pretty pricey looking houses and secondly everybody seemed to be out jogging. The Sultan Kebab shop was about a ten minute walk from the leisure centre and is pretty easy to find. As we arrived he was just opening up and seemed a tad surprised that he had a couple of customers quite so early. The shop was quite large, well decorated but quite empty. There were no menu leaflets but all the dishes were written on a blackboard behind the counter, all in all it had a quite traditional feel to it. The kebabs came in three sizes; medium, large and extra large so not wanting to appear like a total porky pig i just went for the large donner, while Baz went for the healthy option of chicken shish. The sauces were freshly made and the pitta bread cooked to perfection. They weren't the largest portions we have had on our travels this season but they were certainly amongst the best cooked, well prepared, and tasty. The chief was certainly a master of his trade.
We still had plenty of time to kill so we went in search of beer (coke for the driver) Looking at the conference ground guides we deduced that there was a clubhouse at the ground but we could only gain entrance to it if segregation wasn't in operation. Now if this game was a Saturday match i would have been pretty sure that it would be segregated but as it was a Tuesday night i thought there was a good chance that it wouldn't be.
When we got back to the ground we asked a steward if we could get a drink in the clubhouse and we were directed to the snooker club next to the away turnstiles. From this we deducted that segregation was in place.
When we arrived there was already a decent enough number of City fans in supping. The club was quite dark but after your eyes adjusted to the lighting level it was decent enough. Hot food was also on sale and doing a roaring trade. Hayes and Yeading get the lowest attendances in the division. How they can afford to turn down folks' hard earned cash is beyond me but i am sure the snooker club committee don't mind at all. I wasnt tempted to hit the green blaze myself however I was crap when i played in the local Retford league about 15 years ago (Played 13 won 1 lost 12) so i cant imagine myself improving in the mean time. While in the club we met up with a southern based Imp who i often chat to on twitter. Its always nice to meet other imps fans and put names to faces as it were. If you are on twitter give him a follow at @Trisimp it was a pleasure to meet you good sir.

We wanted to beat the rush at the turnstiles and left the comfort of the snooker club at just gone 7.20pm. Today's admission price was a very pleasing £12 (which is the cheapest we have paid all season) Another pleasant surprise was the gateman, who was sporting a Glasgow Rangers home shirt and was only to happy to chat for a minute or so about the old Firm result at the weekend. It was such a shame that the "Man of a thousand teams" couldnt make it tonight as he claims to like Celtic. His Celtic knowledge may be limited to the fact that he knows that Neil Lennon has ginger hair, but when you have as many teams as he does he tough to keep track of them all. I watched the old Firm game from the pub and texted him updates incase he wasn't watching it but received no replies or reaction to Celtic getting a good kicking on the pitch. The matchday programme was on sale inside the ground for the standard price of £2.50 and was a joint issue combining this match and the previous Saturday home game with AFC Telford. In the programme it said programmes from the original match were on sale from the programme hut for £1.50 but as we couldn't go round to the hut i was unable to get one. The clubshop was also out of the question, so i got a club badge on EBay the next day (Yet more cash lost by the club). Another waste of money seemed to be the outside security team they got in to steward the away section who would have looked more at home controlling the London riots than a 5th tier English football match with 280 or so people at and taking part at a neutral venue.
Wokings ground is a real contrast of stands. By far the best stand in the ground is the large seated stand behind the far goal. This naturally was shut tonight. I would imagine this is the best single stand in the BSP this season. The Imps fans were given an uncovered terrace that ran the length of the pitch. Opposite us was a much older covered area and a small terrace area near to the new large stand. The final stand behind the other goal was a covered terrace. All in all quite a decent little ground with bags of character. It would have been a bit shit if it was raining but seeing how the weather was quite pleasant all was well. Some of the flask and blanket brigade who travelled down on the bus kicked up a bit of a fuss about there being no seats so they were allowed to sit in the large stand behind the goal. To be fair we all knew what to expect from the ground weeks ago when details were published in the city programme and website etc. On the other side of the coin they weren't going to cause any harm to anybody by sitting in the stand. In the end it was all sorted and everybody was happy with the outcome.
I know the phrase "massive game" is over used by the clowns on Sky Sports etc but this really was a massive game. Hayes and Yeading were in the last relegation spot a couple of places and two points below Lincoln. A defeat here and the Imps would be in the drop zone. Which isn't where you want to be really. As you would expect from two sides in the lower third of the table the game wasn't the best. City made the best of the chances in the first half with efforts from Laurent, McCammon and Louis all going either wide or straight at the keeper. At the other end City managed to keep the home attack at bay with Anyon having precious little to do. As the half went on both sides seemed to be less and less keen to throw men forward.
The first half came to a rather tame end with the score goalless. With only 327 hardy souls in the ground the atmosphere was rather flat. An Imps fan we spoke to before kick off said he was from Hayes and he had a 1hr 45 minute journey to the ground. With that kind of travelling involved its not surprising so few home fans made the trip. HT 0-0
The Hayes manager had clearly kicked his side up the arse in the dressing room at halftime as they came out a totally different team. They pretty much laid siege to the City goal for the first 15 minutes of the second half as Lincoln struggled time after to time to clear the ball. Between them Anyon in goal and the centre backs Gowling and Miller saved the Imps time after time. It was beginning  to look like a case of 'when' Hayes and Yeading would take the lead and not 'if'. However as Lincoln have found out time after time this season, if you don't take your chances when you are on top you are in big trouble. The game turned on its head in the 68th minute thanks to a huge boo boo by the homeside keeper. As he looked to launch another long ball down field to set up another attack he was closed down by a City attacker. This caused him to mess up his kick and slice it out to the right where it was collected by Jefferson Louis who controlled in ran on and blasted the shot low into the far corner to give the Imps a lead that they didn't really deserve on the balance of play.
The lead didn't last too long. Two minutes later the hosts were level when Pele headed home unmarked from a corner. I had one of the best views in the ground of the goal as I was about to "empty the snake" and the toilets in on the away side are bang in line with the penalty box which Hayes were attacking. So before i went into the toilet i watched the corner and saw on of the best headed goals i have seen this season. The City defence were all rooted to the spot as Pele ghosted in at the near post. Hayes corner taker was no other that famous City flop Jamie Hand.
City didn't let their heads drop and were back in the lead three minutes later. We forced a corner of our own and centre back Tom Miller rose to head home from six yards out. This goal really did seem to take the wind out of the hosts sails and although they had more of the ball than City they never got back dominating the game like they had done for the first 15 minutes of the second half when they should have put the game out of reach. As the game went on City grew in confidence and saw the game out without too many scares. Most of the City players had a solid game but keeper Jo Anyon was by far the star performer. Contrast that with his opposite number who's huge gaff changed the game and maybe his sides outcome this season.
FT 1-2
This win opened up a 5 point gap inbetween City and the bottom four sides. Lincoln also have a much better goal difference than the sides in those relegation spots. There is still a hell of alot of work to do before we are safe but its just nice to celebrate two wins on the bounce. We arrived back home in Retford at just gone 1.00am, but very happy, tired, and another ground ticked off.
 Up the Imps!!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lincoln City 2-0 Newport County

At last something for City fans to smile about.
 City have had a terrible last few months. I couldn't bear to write about the 0-1 home defeat at the hands of Alfreton Town but to sum it up, it was a game between two crap teams which they just edged. Lincoln then followed it up by losing to the BSP bottom side Bath City. Not only did we manage to lose but we were 0-2 down in four minutes. When the dust settled the fact of the matter was simple, Lincoln were out of the relegation zone on goal difference and had only won once in the last 14 games. Squeaky bum time as they say.
 Given this gloomy back drop it isn't surprising that a section of the City fan base had become a tad pissed off. In the week building up to the game a group of fans organised a peaceful protest outside the ground before kick off. In response to this the club put out a very strongly worded statement that was one of the biggest PR blunders of all time at LCFC and really got the fans backs up (and mine too grrr) All of this brought quite a bit of media attention from the BBC and  the like to Lincoln, which is something we aren't use to. The main aim of the protest was to bring change to the football club. With this i agree. What, how, and who we change are the big questions and not ones that i have the answers to. I am all for people airing their views, and after the past few years it is hardly surprising that people took this course of action.

And lets cross live to Sincil Bank now..
 One of the men in the firing line over recent weeks has unsurprisingly been Lincoln manager David Holdsworth. When he first arrived he said all the right things and talked a good game. To his credit he was dealt a poor hand from the Tilly regime and has been forced to slash the wage bill and rebuild the squad mid season. However he has been accused by the City faithful of constantly changing the team and formation and not allowing the team to settle. As always in football, managers can get away with this kind of thing if the results are going their way. However if you get one win in 14 and get knocked out of a cup competition by a side 3 levels below you, you are going to be under pressure. His programme notes did little to inspire us as they contained very little about City, our current form, a reason for our poor displays or how he intends to get us out of our current slump we find ourselves in. Today's opponents Newport County have had a mixed season so far. They have reached the FA Trophy final at Wembley but have struggled in the League. A win for the Imps today would have raised City above the "Exiles" in the table. When the two sides met in South Wales, Newport came out on top winning the game by a goal to nil. Simply put, City had to win and for once they did, and allowed me to enjoy my Saturday night.
No Baz again today, so it was left to Felice, his lad, and Mr Barlow snr to cheer the Imps on. A faulty water pipe in the St Andrews stand on the Thursday night had resulted in that stand being closed to the public so that meant that the other stands were slightly more populated that normal. The fans seemed really up for the game, whatever differences there were before the game, whether they were pro protest or anti protest they gave the players backing for 90 minutes and the players responded. One area of the pitch that has come under criticism for both manager and fans had been the centre of defence. To that end Lincoln brought in utility player Tom Miller and he went straight into the centre of defence along side Josh Gowling, with former Newport player Paul Robson, and John Nutter in the full back positions. Newport seemed to have one tactic; that being hit it long at the centre backs and take it from there. City have been ok at defending in the air recently, (its the clever stuff on the ground that catches them out) So we looked quite settled with Miller looking alot more settled that Williams has the past few matches. City had already created a couple of half chances before they took the lead in the in the 25th minute. John Nutter delivered a great corner into the box and Mark McCammon send a bullet header into the net which gave the keeper no chance. We keep being told that City work a lot on set plays alot on the training ground so it was nice to see one come off for us.
Pre match protest
Lincoln didn't have to wait long for the second goal. The Imps were given a free kick just outside the box which John Nutter took and beat the Newport keeper for power. He did get a hand on it but failed to keep it out. Shades of Felice in his younger days really. With City 2-0 up and the fans onside, Sincil Bank felt a totally different place to that it had been over the past few matches. The second half became much more niggley and tempers threatened to boil over as a couple of scuffles broke out. In my view Lincoln should have had a penalty when one of the Newport players batted the ball away when lying on the ground but somehow the ref (who was pretty crap for both sides all game long) missed. The Imps looked steady for much of the game with Anyon in the Lincoln goal only really having to deal with long range efforts. All in all City deserved the three points and it was good to hear the Newport assistant manager say that we bullied them all game long. This is something that has been happen to Lincoln this season so it is great to hear that we are finally getting streetwise to it. There were other plus points for City aswell today. Danny Lloyd came on and again caused trouble with his pace. He may be raw but he is already becoming a fans favourite and seems to be taking his chances well. It was one of those games when everybody had a steady game. Nothing fancy just players doing their jobs. And long may that continue.

 The only real downside of the day for me came before the match. I had already eaten at home so i didn't want any chips pre game. As Felice got his double cheeseburger, large chips, and a diet coke I went to the shop a couple of doors down and got a can of pop and a Freddo Frog chocolate bar. As i unwrapped the chocolate bar somehow the sodding thing slipped and I ended up dropping it before I could even take a bite. Still you can't have everything in this world can you?

Monday, 26 March 2012

CML Bonanza part four

Glapwell 0-2 Parkhouse
And so onto the final leg of this festival of football. On the way to Glapwell we had Radio 5 on as the sad story about Francis Muamba broke. When you hear about a story like this it really does put Lincoln's defeat at Bath into context. Again the directions between the grounds were first class and easy to understand and follow. Del's phone had pretty much ran out of power after an afternoon spent checking the Lincoln and Italian Rugby scores. On the way to Glapwell we pulled in for some petrol and as luck would have it he was able to pick up one of those phone chargers that plugs into the Cigarette lighter thingy in the car. Although this appeared to be simple enough to set up and use, Felice seemed to struggle with it. Firstly it was a battle to get it out of its packaging and then secondly it didn't seem to want to charge up. Either the connection was dodgy or the charger was a just a cheap piece of shit that didn't work. It did eventually work but only after we wedged something against it to make sure it charged up.

Glapwell Football club have stumbled across hard times in the past few years. A few years ago they were playing in the Evo Stick leagues but have had a couple of relegations due to off the field problems. You could see by looking at the ground that it was fit for hosting football of a much higher level that the CML. On the field things aren't much better, with the team sitting 2nd bottom of the CML North division on 14 points, with only the hapless DFS Welbeck Welfare (who are yet to register a point this season) below them. Visitors Parkhouse, (who we visited on last years hop) sat in 7th place having collected 41 points from 23 matches this season.

The ground was the best on the hop. The clubhouse, club shop, and snap hut were all at the end of the ground that you entered. The club shop had a number of "Bargain" offers on; such as old Unibond league scarfs on sale for £1, and lucky dip bags of programmes, also £1. I picked Lee up one of the afore mentioned bundles as i knew he would appreciate it. I have no idea what was in it. It could have contained a range of rare pre war FA Cup finals, or maybe some old European cup finals. However it my just have been an assortment of Glapwell programmes from the previous 5 seasons or so. Which do you think it was readers ;-)
Having not eaten on the hop i grabbed a Jacket potato with cheese on, that was very nice and came in at the bargain price of £2.

This was the worst game of the home sides. Parkhouse looked a well organised side and as soon as they took the lead you couldn't really see Glapwell getting back into it. Glapwell huffed and puffed but struggled to get a real shot on target.

Looking back on the four games we saw, i must say that i was impressed with the overall quality of the football. All the teams looked to attack and embraced the larger than normal crowds instead of freezing on the big stage. I also felt that all the officials had good games and looked to let the play flow whenever they could. All the clubs coped well with the day and i dont think anybody can really have any complaints.

Take a bow chaps. A big thanks also goes to Rob Hornby who puts in a hell of a lot of work getting these events on.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

CML Bonanza Part three

Dronfield Town 4-1 Thoresby Colliery Welfare.
Thankfully for us, a set of directions setting out the quickest route between the grounds was provided in the pack we got with the programmes. The Basford game finished at about ten to three with the next match at Dronfield Town on East Derbyshire kicking off at 4.30pm. The directions provided were spot on and we arrived in good time. It was anything but a pleasant journey though as we listened in to the Imps away game at bottom of the table Bath City. In the build up the commentator Micheal Hortin stressed how important it was for the Imps to get off to a good start in this game. He also made the point of how big a game this was for City. After four minutes City were 2-0 down and our game plan in tatters. The sad thing about it was that neither of us were really surprised that we were playing shite. Bath is a lovely city but you have to feel for the 180 odd City fans who drove down to watch this shower of shite.

 Anyway on to happier things

We pulled up in the car park at Dronfield at about 3.40pm so we just about managed to sit through the first half of the Lincoln game before making our way into the ground. To get to Dronfield's ground you need to make your way across the cricket ground. About halfway across the pitch Felice realised he had left his phone in the car so he sprinted back to the car to get it. As he collected his phone (he needed it in case his better half wanted some bread bringing back) One of the car park attendants asked him if he was "One of these grasshopper chaps" He swiftly put him in his place, puffed his chest out and proclaimed the term was Groundhopper. Grasshopper indeed!
The cricket pavilion was open and serving warm drinks and the "famous" Dronfield bread and dripping sandwiches. I didn't have one myself but they seemed to go down rather well. The entrance to the football ground is past the Pavilion and down some steps. Once inside the ground the first thing that hit you was the smell of the BBQ. I managed to resist but my travelling companion could not. Obviously the pie and peas a couple of hours ago didn't fill him up. Although the Imps were shit again he was delighted to learn that Italy had avoided the wooden spoon in the Rugby Six Nations by beating Scotland in Rome. The burger cost a very reasonable £2 and received great praise indeed.
Dronfield had a stall selling some smart club merchandise. I snapped up a badge for the standard £3 but there were also woolly hats, fleeces and other bits for sale all of which looked excellent quality. Infact the whole club had a good feel about it. The small painted red and black stand was rather smart and the whole ground looked very well kept. The club are in their third season in the CML but are another club who look like they are going in the correct direction and have a bright future ahead of them. They have a thriving junior section and many of the members were on hand helping out and acting as mascots (each home player was accompanied by a mascot when they walked onto the pitch for the pre match handshakes). The club looks like it is quite active in the community and it looks like they have a decent commercial team as the club has sold quite a few advertising boardings around the ground. All this is even more impressive when you remember that Sheffield FC (oldest club in the world and all that crap) also play in Dronfield and must attract quite a few of the floating fans in the area. Dronfield Town are currently fundraisng for a set of floodlights so lets hope the cash they made from hosting this game on the bonanza helps them achieve that goal. Mayby Sheffield FC could play a pre season game here next year? The Dronfield Derby what a mouth watering clash that would be.
Going into the game Thoresby had a decent defensive record having only conceded 9 goals all season. Dronfield were in third position in the table, 10 points behind the leaders Clipstone but with 4 games in hand. Thoresby were 16 points behind the leaders but had 7 matches in hand so both teams could yet make a run for the Championship. Thoresby had the best of the opening spell but once Dronfield took the lead in the 15th minute they never really looked like giving it up. Just before halftime the heavens opened and it pissed it down, even hailing at one point. We took shelter under the trees behind the goal. I must admit that this was the only point on the hop that i questioned my sanity and whether i needed to rethink my life. Lincoln had lost 2-1 to the worse site in the BSP and here i was watching a step 7 game whilst getting piss wet through. What sane person would be watching this?

Town extended their lead less than 5 minutes into the second half. The visitors did get back into it briefly when they scored with a neat shot from the edge of the box. Follow this Dronfield stepped it up added a further couple of goals. Although it ended 4-1 the scoreline was a tad harsh on the visitors as they created as many chances as Dronfield; the difference being Dronfield put them away.
All in all i really enjoyed it at Dronfield and even though they play in red and black stripes, i have nothing but praise for the club.
Onwards to Glapwell, our final stop on the hop.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

CML Bonanza Part 2

Basford United 4-1 Notts Police
We joined the hop on the second game of the day. A Nottingham derby match between high flying Basford United and Notts police. Again it meant a trip round the Nottingham ring road and again we got lost en-route but we still only managed to miss the first five minutes. The advantage of arriving early is that you are in prime position for an early get away at the end of the game. As we entered we were told that the Police had taken an early lead. All the normal stalls were there and had added more stock from the previous night. One was doing bundles of programmes for a quid. It would have brought a tear to Lee's eye such was the amount of stock on offer. Felice was a tad hungry so he dashed off to check out the food hut and seemed quite happy with his meat and potato pie and peas for the bargin price of £2.

The excitement was too much for some
The rather boring fellow was carrying on from where he let off the other night and was boring another group of fans out of their minds. The only real shock in the game was that it took the hosts until the 40th minute to get the equaliser. A large factor in the Police being level in the break was down to their number 4. A stout fellow in the Baz kind of build but possessing skill in abundance. Not only was he cool on the ball and had top notch passing but he organised the defence and got them going. He was the team's captain and you can see why. Justin Clarke take a bow son.

Notts skipper Justin Clarke
At half time we had a walk round the ground and checked out the clubhouse in the hope that the bar was open. Alas it wasn't but we did get the pleasure of overhearing the team talks. Although his side had had the lion's share of the play and chances the Basford manager wasn't best pleased with his sides efforts and was reading his side the riot act. The main problem he had was that certain players weren't staying in position and failing to keep their shape. He told the players. "We are f**king playing four-four f**king two! f**king got it boys yeah?"
They certainly did get it as they totally bossed the second half and ran out comfortable 4-1 winners. Basford's ground is pretty good with covered stands on both sides of the pitch and hard standing all the way round. Reading the programme it is clear that the club is looking to progress up the football pyramid. On this showing they look the deal on the pitch. At the end  of the game the Basford keeper was "giving it large" to a couple of the Police players. Now given that quite a few players are serving police officers it was probably not the wisest of moves, but then again football players aren't normally known for their intelligence levels. Lets just hope the keeper is never a tad drunk on his next night out in the city of Nottingham and that the Police players aren't on duty that night.

Sometimes on these hops the players freeze infront of the large crowd and you get a poor game, however the first two we saw on the this year's hop had been good open games. We got in the car at about 2.50pm and were soon on our way to game number three with BBC Radio Lincolnshire's commentary of the Imps away game at Bath on the radio...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The CML Football Bonanza 2012 Part One.

The Central Midlands League Football Bonanza; one of the high points on the footballing calendar, right up there with FA Cup third round day, Manchester United v Liverpool and the Milan derby. This years hop saw 5 matches take place in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in 24 hours. The CML is our local step 7 league and the starting point for clubs entering the pyramid. The curtain raiser on the Friday night saw Bilborough Pelican lock horns with Belper United in a CML Southern division clash.
I had spend much of Friday afternoon in the Old Sun and Sherwood Ranger public houses in Retford drinking and watching folk lose various amounts of cash from betting on the Cheltenham Festival. A couple of chaps i was drinking with in the Sherwood seemed very interested in Bilborough Pelican FC so i gave them the low down on the club and its history and promised to bring them back a shirt if they sold them. (Alas when we got there we found that there weren't any Pelican shirts on sale) Belper United were selling some at £1 each but i didn't see anybody purchase one. Late on Thursday night plans changed as our driver and navigator have had some bad news at home. So i stepped in and planned the directions and Lee took up the challenge of driving. Felice was going to bring his Sat nav as back up but ironically was unable to locate it. So we set off to Nottingham with a driver who hasn't had much experience at either night driving or city centre driving, Felice; who has spent very little time in Nottingham in the last 10 years or so, and a navigator who had been drinking since about 1.30 pm. So its not a massive surprise that things didn't go totally according to plan. Things started out ok, they always do, but as soon as we got about halfway Lee's bladder decided it could take no more. As soon as we hit Nottingham the problem intensified. Naturally we made a wrong turn in Stapleford when we turned off too early when looking for the Nottingham ring road which didn't help our brave driver's bladder. Eventually we came to a McDonalds in which Lee performed a Dukes of Hazzard style parking routine in the carpark and sprinted inside to relieve himself. While Lee was inside it became obvious to us that something wasn't right as we received a couple of dead eyes from passing drivers. It then became evident that we were nicely parked over two spaces and this isn't great form where you are in a City on a Friday evening. Felice then stepped in got in the drivers seat and straightened the car up.

Felice took over the driving for the final leg of the journey but our luck didn't really change. As the ancient Chinese proverb famously says
"Never give navigational duties to drunken man"

I have been to both grounds next to Pelicans this season but never by road. As we got nearer i recognised where we were but the flyovers and roundabouts and stuff threw me. After another boo boo when we missed the turn off and went round the roundabout a couple of times we ended up on the famous Lenton Lane, Nottingham's answer to Hackney marshes, home not only of Bilborough Pelican but also Greenwood Meadows and Dunkirk FC.
Even now though the fun and games wernt finished. As you drive up the lane the first sign you come to is Pelicans then Greenwood then a little further up round the bend and pass the restaurant, Dunkirk. What i/we didn't know was is that the entrance to Pelican's ground is past Dunkirk's ground. We could see the game going on but could we buggery find the entrance. Then we spotted a couple of fluorescent jackets and headed over there where they told us where to park. WE HAD MADE IT!!! (and only missed about 5 minutes of the game was well!) When we had been driving round we had seen a goal go in and assumed that the visitors had taken the lead. First port of call was to find the master of ceremonies behind the hop Mr Rob Hornby and pay for our tickets and programme packs. The cost of this feast of football was £15 for the five matches and all programmes were included. If we paid on the gate each game it was going to cost £3 plus £1 for the programme so even though we were only doing 4 games it made sense to buy in advance and get it out of the way.

Pelicans award winning Brian Wakefield memorial ground is a basic but tidy enough ground for this level of football. As you enter the first thing that catches your eye is the two storied clubhouse. Tonight the upper bar was open and both ale and curry and chips were doing a roaring trade. I nipped upstairs to shake the snake and purchase a club badge for the standard £3. As always on the bonanza days a couple of stalls were set up selling old programmes, and yearbooks etc. Going on previous experience i didn't take too much cash as i would only spend it on stuff that i didn't really need or want. Lee however was in football heaven and spent much of the first half rummaging away only to reappear just before halftime with a bag of programmes and 24 quid lighter.

BUY, BUY, BUY!!!!!!!
We watched the match from behind the goal at the clubhouse end of the ground. The pitch is railed off with a small stand on the right hand touchline. Most of the "Hoppers" were huddled under the aforementioned stand or browsing the stalls.
On the pitch were discovered that the "goal" that we saw from the car had been disallowed. Belper are in the bottom third of the division but they did take the game to the hosts in the opening 15 minutes or so and took the lead in the 12th minute. Pelican are having a fine first season back in the CML South and sat in third place before kick off. They didn't let the early goal or playing in front of a large crowd faze them and set about getting back into the match. The equaliser in the 20th minute was a great effort which gave the Belper keeper no chance. After a bright start the visitors faded and were lucky to go in at 1-1 at the break.

It was getting a tad chilly so we headed up to the clubhouse for a very reasonable cup of tea before returning to position behind the goal which the mighty Pelicans would be attacking in the second half. In the end they ran out comfortable winners adding a further couple of goals to wrap up a 3-1 win.
The only downside of the night was that some tool decided to try and bore us to death about Zac Knight and how he was transferred for a set of team kits at some point in his career. Now everybody who knows me knows that i will pretty much talk to anybody about anything. However folk who i have never met just randomly butting into a conversation (the three of us were discussing how any club would pay £35 million for Andy Carroll) as if they are some kind of superstar will get short shrift. In a way it was a good thing we encountered this fellow as we now knew who was the most boring bloke on the hop and the one to avoid at all costs. So all in all a decent start to the hop. On the way back we stopped off at McDonalds in Ollerton so Felice could get his standard large Big Mac Meal plus a Happy meal with chicken nuggets and an apple pie. The McDonalds carpark seemed the place to be with chavs and boy racers a plenty. Quite how anybody could miss out on the festival of football that is the CML Football Bonanza is staggering.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Newark Town 1-0 Retford United

On the face of it this was a good chance for Retford United to claim a place in the semi finals of the Nottinghamshire senior cup however as often in cup football, form goes out the window. Newark Town play their football two leagues below Retford but are going well in the Central Midlands Southern division this season. They were certainly up for this quarter final clash and were in the mood to ensure that their lofty visitors left with egg on their faces and that Nottinghamshire's most easterly club would be into the semi finals of the cup. Newark Town fc are based in the village of Collingham and ground share with Collingham FC. Its only a short journey from Retford and took us about 25 minutes. We parked up and paid our entrance fee of £3 each at the entrance table. Programmes were on sale for £1 and was one of the most impressive step 7 ones that i have seen. Its in full colour and has a few nice articles to read. I particularly liked the A-Z of Central Midland league clubs past and present. Tonight's issue featured footballing giants like Hinckley FC (Who only lasted two seasons) and Holbrook Miners Welfare. All interesting stuff and compelling bedtime reading for one and all. The programme editor certainly deserves a huge pat on the back for this gem of a programme.
 Retford were well followed and i would guess that Retford fans made up at least of half of the crowd with the good, the bad, and the ugly of Retford in attendance. Many of which were in the clubhouse pre game. Also in attendance was legendary former Imps manager Colin Murphy and former Lincoln chairman Steff Wright. I am trying to cut down on drinking at midweek matches so it was just a coke for this humble scribe. Station road is a decent enough step 7 ground with a railed off pitch and a small covered stand next to the clubhouse. I didn't take me camera as it isn't great at night games. The pictures i have used on this blog are from my last visit here a season or two back but the ground hasn't changed.
The game was only 4 minutes old when the ref went down injured. There was then a hold up of about 12 minutes as the Central Midlands League answer to Pierluigi Collina; Rob Townsend, who lives locally stepped in to run one of the lines. Retford had the better of the opening four minutes but the short break seemed to help Newark as they were far more composted for the rest of the half. There is a slight slope on the pitch and Newark took the lead when kicking up the slope which must have given them a huge psychological advantage. It was a good passing move and the finish left the Retford keeper flat footed. Retford tried to hit back but the Newark back four held firm going into halftime. I must admit i expected arse to be kicked in the Retford dressing room and the badgers go on to win the match. However as the game went on Retford abandoned the passing football which has paid them great dividends this season and started to panic and just lump the ball into the box which was meat and drink for the Newark defenders. Retford did create a couple of decent chances but they were blazed high into the very chilly night sky. The longer the game went on you got the feeling that Newark were going to hold out which is just what they did. As for the second time in this season's Notts cup, they beat a side in a division above them. Newark will now face fellow CLM side Clifton at home in the semi fianls. With the other being between Carlton and the winners of Hucknall and Eastwood. Had you said to the Retford management team that to get to the Notts final you would have to beat a side from the NSL then two CML sides i am sure they would have snapped your hand off. But as i often say, football has a wonderful way of kicking you up the arse when you least expect it.

As is often the case we were a tad hungry after the match. So we headed in to Newark to see if we could hunt out a Kebab shop. Sure enough we found one and it was a gem. Baz is on a diet so he went for the healthy option of chicken shish, with lots of salad and no mayo. I went for the lamb donner. The meat was nicely cooked and slightly spicy. The chilli sauce was one of the warmest we have tasted on out tours this season. All in all a solid 8.5/10; a decent end to a disappointing night.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Lincoln Ladies 0-1 Arsenal Ladies

Women's FA Cup 5th Round
 Over the last six months or so i have really started to take an interest in women's football. For the past couple of seasons we have threatened to watch Lincoln Ladies but never got round to it. After watching the Women's International at Doncaster, and then one of Lincoln Ladies friendlies, i decided to do as many LLFC games as i can this season. Lincoln Ladies are playing all their home matches at Lincoln United's Ashby Avenue this season with admission being £6

Lincoln Ladies are one of the top sides in England but today they faced a stern test. Arsenal have been the dominant force in women's football for the last 10-15 years or so and are the current Women's Super League champions (and also the current FA cup and Continental cup holders). Lincoln's task became even tougher (as if it wasn't already tough enough) On Friday when due to the WPS league in America going belly up Arsenal snapped up seasoned England Internationals Kelly Smith and Alex Scott.

Lincoln however have plenty of International class and experience in their ranks in the form of Striker Jess Clarke, Sophie Bradley (who is sadly injured at the moment), and current England Captain Casey Stoney; who recently earned her 100th cap during the Cyprus Cup.

Today felt like the first real day of spring so after stuffing ourselves stupid in Yo-Yos all you can eat Chinese, we headed to Ashby Avenue for a few beers in the sun before kick off. I have always found Lincoln United's clubhouse to be very welcoming and so it proved today. What i really liked was the relaxed atmosphere both inside and outside the ground, with both sets of fans mingling in the sunshine. As you enter the ground there is a table selling merchandise and smart looking matchday programmes were on sale for £1.50. It looks like the club is really trying to encourage families to watch women's football and had erected a bouncy castle in one corner of the ground for the kids to play on. Nearby a BBQ was doing a roaring trade and made me regret stuffing my face earlier on. The only downside was that the PA system was dreadful and made hearing the line ups pretty difficult but luckily both sides players had there names on the back of the shirts with Arsenals being in fancy premiership style writing. The Gunners were in their traditional red shirts with white socks while Lincoln wore the new two tone blue away kit which looked quite smart. I am not sure if Lincoln wore the blue to show off the new kit or if Ladies Football follows the same lines as Rugby when kits clash (i.e the home side wears the change kit of if the kits clash) Or if the new home strips aren't ready yet. Anyhow it didn't matter i think the blue kit looks smart.

In the build up to the match the Lincoln management had made the point of not giving Arsenal too much respect and standing up to them. To this end Eminem's "I am not afraid" rang out over the PA system as the two sides took to the pitch for the handshakes. I don't know if they picked this song especially to fire the Lady Imps up or if it was just a coincidence. Either way it was a great tune to pick for the occasion. I fancy a lot of teams have been overawed by Arsenal in the past and lost the game in their heads before they even took to the field. But not Lincoln. Today they went toe to toe with their illustrious visitors and matched them for much of the 90 minutes.

Lincoln took the kick off and proceeded to boot it straight into touch (why do teams do this?) Lincoln had Jess Clarke and new signing Precious Hamilton up front and the pair of them worked extremely hard doing all the dirty work of harrowing the Arsenal defenders; giving them no time to settle on the ball and forcing them to hit it long. Although Arsenal slightly shaded the possession of the ball, they only created one decent chance inside the first 10 minutes or so when a low fierce shot brought a great save from Nicola Hobbs in the Lincoln goal diving full stretch to her bottom right hand corner with Rachel Daly on hand to clear the danger. Arsenal were being kept quiet due to the form of another new signing  Australian international Laura Alleway, and Casey Stoney at the heart of the Lincoln defence, who both pretty much snuffed out any Arsenal attack.
Then on 15 minutes the Gunners took the lead when England international Ellen White fired home following a misplaced pass from the home side. It was tough on Lincoln but when you are up against a quality side you just know any mistake will be punished. After the goal Lincoln didn't let their heads drop and battled even harder. Arsenal looked like they weren't used to teams having a go at them and were starting to moan to the ref whenever possible. Remi Allen and Lucy Staniforth in the midfield weren't taking any prisoners and won pretty much every 50/50 ball they contested.
Hamilton was being a real thorn in Arsenal's side with Clarke looking to feed of her. For all Lincoln's hard work however, they failed to really test Byrne in the Gunners goal from open play. Where they did look dangerous was from set plays as Lincoln were getting quite a few kicks around the box due to fouls mainly on Clarke. With Alleway up from the back Lincoln had a real aerial threat and the Arsenal keeper started to flap at all the corners and free kicks that went into the box.
HT 0-1

The main worry when a team puts in as much effort as Lincoln did in the first half is that they will run out of steam in the second period and then get picked off later in the game. Arsenal have more than enough quality to do just this and had the likes of Rachel Yankee on the bench just to make sure. Although much of the second period was spent in the midfield Lincoln never gave up. Chances were few and far between although Lincoln were getting some joy down there right hand side with full back Sophie Walton making some good runs forward and forcing the Arsenal winger to start trekking back. Again neither side really forced the others goal keeper to make a meaningful save of any note.  Lincoln did get in to the final third on quite a few occasions but lacked a real cutting edge (as did Arsenal it has to be said) In the end Arsenal were able to see the game out although i am sure that they knew they were in a game. Not many sides will match Arsenal this season like Lincoln did today and if the Gunners do go on to retain the cup i doubt they will have a tougher match that this.
FT 1-0

I haven't seen any attendance figures but i would have said there was a good 250-300 fans in attendance. Arsenal did bring a few but they were very quiet (just like the old 'Highbury the Library' days) If you haven't been down to watch the Lady Imps then you really are missing out.  As the league runs through the summer the weather is normally great, you can take your beer into the ground and you can pretty much sit where you want. The food looks great and the club really values your support. Its been a terrible few years in Lincoln footballing wise with City, United, and Moorlands all struggling in recent seasons so get yourself down and watch a Lincoln side that can play and its only £6!

Lincoln's Lady of the Match went to Laura Alleway who was the standout player for Lincoln today (with Jess Clarke a close second IMO) Reading the programme she says she is a big surfing fan and looking foward to doing some surfing because she misses it. I wonder if when she signed for the club she was told about the wonderful Skegness beach and its surfing possibilities. If that's what clinched the signing then hats of to the Lincoln managment team, it would be interesting to hear how she rates Skeg compared to the golden beaches of Australlia.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Video of the week

The newest and cutest crime fighting due in town. Enjoy guys and girls

Monday, 5 March 2012

Mansfield Town 2-1 Lincoln City

Today was one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the season and also the nearest away match for us. Given that it is very close to us you would have thought that we would have a full group of Retford Imps making the short journey to Mansfield. Wrong. Felice had a Junior football game to watch in which his son was taking part, and Baz had booked a trip to the new Legoland in Manchester (I shit you not readers) Now seeing how we fined him with getting the teas in the last time he skipped an Imps match and went to legoland, it will be interesting to see what the committee make of a second offence on the same charge. The fact that it's a local derby could make it even worse for the lad. We knew he was going to Manchester but the fact that he was going to Legoland only came to light after he was rumbled by a workmate. Of course if he wants to bribe me to let him off he could have picked me up one of these from Legoland.
Today i joined life long Stags fans David and his brother Adam and the president of the Tony O'Shea fan club Parko. We met up in the Clumber Inn in Ordsall and viewed the first half of the Liverpool v Arsenal match. I haven't been in the Clumber since it was done up a few years ago and i must say i was quite impressed with it. If you haven't been in its well worth checking out. Liverpool could have, and should have had the game sewn up in the first half an hour but failed to put away their chances. They missed a penalty (after a blatant dive it has to be said) But took the lead through an own goal. The Arsenal then scored with there first attack of the game to level up the scores at 1-1 which was how it stayed till half time which was our cue to leave and head off to Stagland. We had BBC Radio Nottingham on the wireless as we made our way to Mansfield passing through the scenic villages of Ollerton, Clipstone, and Forest Town along the way. After all the Forest and Notts County build up we finally got to the real game of the day Mansfield v Lincoln. The match preview described David Holdsworth (Ex Stags boss) as the pantomime villain ready to try and spoil the Stags party. By the end of the day alot of Lincoln fans would think of far stronger terms to describe the Lincoln Gaffer.
Today was a huge day for the Stags as they were celebrating winning the long battle to gain ownership of their Field Mill stadium. This was a day that many Stags fans thought they would never see, as such there was the expectation of a big crowd in for today's match. Not only was it party time but if you purchased a ticket for today's match before 12.00pm you got a free ticket for the visit of league leaders Fleetwood Town in a couple of weeks time which is a great offer. The supporters bar at the stadium was rammed so we didn't even try to get a pint. We were in time to catch the last 15 minutes or so of the Liverpool v Arsenal match which saw the Gunners grab the three points in a real smash and grab raid. They only seem to lose when Felice watches them. Just inside the clubhouse entrance there was a table selling various Stags badges and various other stuff. For three quid i purchased a rather smart matchday badge that featured both teams' crests. More and more clubs seem to be producing these kind of pins and if City ever started making them i would defintely buy them. Knowing Lincoln however it will take us a good 4/5years to cotton onto the idea of producing them.
Shortly after the game finished i made my merry way round to the away turnstiles. Today it was a reasonable £16 quid to sit in the away end behind the goal. The away stand gives you a pretty decent view of the action. I started to read the matchday programme and i must say it was one of the best efforts that i have seen for a good while, certainly this season. It won the Blue Square premier division programme of the year award last season and its easy to see why. Lots of articles on general football and a good section on the away side. There is also a good puzzle page which comes in handy when the game is dire (as was much of the first half today) Normally i post a picture of the cover on this blog but this time i thought i would post a picture of page three of the programme. We Imps fans need something to cheer us up at the moment
Just before the game, the Stags chairman came onto the pitch to address the crowd and he received a standing ovation from the home faithful. I get the feeling that it will be a long time before a Lincoln chairman comes on the pitch and gets a similar reception. The crowd was a respectable 4,830 with Lincoln bringing 627 supporters. This was the largest following at Field Mill this season (more than the likes of Grimsby and Luton) After bring a following of this size it is just a shame that the City faithful had very little to cheer about for much of the afternoon. As a side note, today marked the second anniversary of former Lincoln and Mansfield legend Keith Alexanders death. This being the case i was slightly surprised the two clubs didn't organise a minutes silence or applause to mark the event. Its easy to blame the home club but i am sure that if somebody from Lincoln suggested it to Mansfeld they would have been happy for it to go ahead. With a large crowd behind them the Stags started the game on the front foot and never let the Imps settle. Matt Green who had been a thorn in the Imps side in the first game at Sincil Bank missed a great chance to give the home side the lead when he placed his free header well wide on six minutes. The Stags pumped quite a few balls into the box but the Lincoln centre halves Rob Williams and Josh Gowling were up to the challenge. Lincoln were struggling to get out of our own half. We weren't seeing much of the ball and what ball we did get we gave it straight back to Mansfield. On the first occasion that we did get out of our own half and had a shot, it appeared to hit a Mansfield players hand. I wasn't to sure about it but i did receive a text from a Stags fan at the other end of the ground saying it was a blatant handball so that's good enough for me. Had we have been given it it would probably have ended up in the Quarry Lane end stand anyway.
Mansfield were forced into an early chance due to an injury to Adam Smith on 23 minutes. The Stags physio bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Mansfield fan (and blogging legend) based in the Retford area. Maybe he has a part time job or something. The game was rapidly going down hill with the ball spending most of the time in the air and neither side being able to string three passes together. The fact that i spent most of the first half texting, tweeting and attempting the maze on the Sammy the stag quiz page in the programme, tells you everything you need to know about the quality on the pitch. Mansfield did have the ball in the net but the linesman's flag was up well before the ball hit the back of the net. It was a relief to everybody when the halftime whistle went. As i am pretty sure everybody in the stadium was bored stiff of the fare in front of them. I had a stroll around the away end at halftime and noticed that behind the away end there was a Pets at home over the road. A day walking around there would have been far more interesting that watched the game. As the teams came out for the second half former Imps keeper (and current Stags keeper) Alan Marriott got a great reception from the City faithful.
It didn't take long for the playoff chasing Stags to break the City resistance in the second half. O'Neil crossed and Dyer finished from close range without an Imps defender anywhere near him. The home fans celebrated and you just got the feeling that the game was up for City. It was real 'backs to the wall' stuff for Lincoln and it was of no great surprise when the Stags doubled the lead when Gary Roberts struck a 25 yard daisy cutter which went straight into the bottom left hand corner as we looked at it. You could see it was heading for the bottom corner as soon as it left his boot so i can only assume Anyon in the Lincoln goal saw the ball late. 58 minutes gone and game as good as over. One interesting fact was that Marriott failed to celebrate either of the two goals. Marriott is held in very high regard by the City faithful (and rightly so) At the other end of the spectrum is former Lincoln striker Ben Hutchinson who was on the bench for Mansfield. After Kyle Perry notched one for Telford last weekend surely lighting wouldn't strike twice. On this note i need to thank Stags Gaffer Paul Cox for not bringing him on. If he had entered the field of play i would have bet 50p and a bag of crisps he would have scored and "given it large" to the Imps fans behind the goal. On the pitch City were a mess. I decided of this dross i could take no more. Now its very rare that i leave a match early but this was simply unbearable. With about 68 minutes gone and as another feeble City attack broke down i headed for the exits. I asked the steward to be let out and he said i could go (how kind) but i wouldn't be able to come back in. No chance of that. Down town Baghdad, a pig farm, or even Stoke on Trent seemed far more appealing than being in the away section of Field Mill stadium. I headed straight over to the Pets at home store and found the experience rather therapeutic.
In is here that some good came out of the day. My Guinea pigs eat a certain type of dry pellet which you can't get in Retford. I was going to pick some up next weekend but City's dire display gave me the chance to pick some up today. Better still the pellets i wanted were £6 reduced from £9, so that's a £3 quid saving thus paying for 3/4 of a large mixed Kebab later on that evening. Bit of a result if i do say so myself.
After my shopping trip i made my way past all the police vans i went and sat near a small lake near to the home end. Again this seemed quite relaxing compared to the dross inside the stadium. From the crowd noise i gathered that Mansfield were still on top. City did score but from what i can gather it was with the last kick of the game and was more luck than judgement. On paper a 2-1 defeat away to a side chasing the playoffs doesn't look too bad but the performance (well what i saw of it) was dire. City did fight and scrap in the first half and didn't buckle under pressure but as soon as Mansfield scored we never really looked like getting anything from the game. In a way we got away with it as none of the bottom four won so the Imps stay 5 points clear of the relegation zone. Next weekends game at home to Alfreton is a "must win" but how many weeks have we been saying that for now? As i said earlier i very rarely leave games early so i just hope i don't have to do that again this season. Elsewhere in the football world Retford United scored 3 goals in the last ten minutes to win 4-3 at Maltby. Felice's son Josh hit the back of the net as his side gained a fine win. It is good to see the young man take after his uncle in the footballing mould instead of his dad. Of the three regular Retford Imps i definitely drew the shortest of short straws today. After the game we headed back to the Clumber for drinks and to see Leeds United latest defeat. In short i enjoyed the pre match drinks, the journey to Mansfield, the trip round the pet shop, and the after match drinks. Its just the bit in the middle that was a bit, well, shit. I would like to thank Dave for the lift to Mansfield and my Guinea pigs would like to thank the Lincoln City team for producing such a poor showing that it forced me to leave early and purchase them some pellets.