Monday, 30 March 2015

End of Season Carnage ( Lowestoft !) by Man in a Hat.

You’ll recall that the plan was to spend 3 nights in Lowestoft, perform my Man in a Hat duties & entertain the locals to boot.

Well. I’m back & here’s what happened………..

"I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women. Suddenly, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain it would bring." Nick Hornby

Breakfast at the Double

The first challenge was how to safely remove Seafur from under the duvet. Great care needs to be taken if you are to avoid a badly clawed scrotum. No sudden movements. My preferred method is the slow release of - well enough of that for now………

Seafur....a fearsome creature !
As I pass the pet shop, the owner is hosing down the pavement outside. Ironically, the stuff being hosed into the gutter almost certainly originated from the very same shop.

I’m off to the seaside, spring has sprung, so the winter coat has been put away & the summer coat is on.

As I arrive in Stockport it’s pouring with rain, but my sun hat keeps rain off just as well as it does sun, so all is well.

The guy at the Plaza takes pity on me & lets me in early for breakfast. Cheese & ham omelette & black coffee. I’m well ahead of schedule, so have to decide whether to go to the station for more coffee at Starbucks, or stay at the Plaza.

Now let’s see, one is part of the global corporate axis of evil, along with McDonalds & Nestle, & the other isn’t. I stay at the Plaza. Bacon butty.

I head for the only Platform Zero in the world to get my train. Platform Zero is just the sort of place that you’d embark from if you were off on some sort of magical adventure, which I suppose I am really.

Platform Zero- Stockport Station .

The train gets to Norwich early & I’m soon supping a pint of Firebrand American Pale Ale in the beer-mat-less Complete Angler near the station. £3.80!!! Yikes!

So efficient was I at finding the pub & so confident am I at finding the station again, that I’ve time for another beer. I leave them a beer-mat by way of a reminder as to what a great idea beer-mats are.

The train to Lowestoft is very busy, mostly with people who work in Norwich & are now returning home. There is a lot on canals. I think they’re called drains or ditches in this part of the world. They’re all a lot fatter & have lots more swans & boats on than I’m used to. All in all, a lot more poncey than what we have in Stockport.

I find my guesthouse easily enough & decide to explore south after checking in.

So, it’s off to Oddfellows for a meal & some real ale, as recommended by Ursula my landlady. Spicy jumbo sausage topped with chilli. Spicy? Nah. Jumbo? Not really. Very nice nevertheless.

The ale is very good indeed. Oakham’s Citra, one of my personal favourites, is on top form.

Off to the Fisherman’s Wharf to sing. Can I find it? No!

End up in the Harbour Inn & then the Plough & Sail for a pint of Humpty Dumpty’s Railway Sleeper. Looks like there’s going to be plenty of variety of ale in Lowestoft.

For some reason, I sleep very well.

County Take Over Lowestoft

I’m awoken by the sea & the local wildlife. 

At breakfast I bump into a chap wearing a CAMRA polo-shirt & then Viv & Peter, the famous County Supporters, pictured here with Ursula.

So I spend breakfast chatting about my 2 favourite subjects, County & Real Ale. Peter’s philosophical outlook is, “win or lose, on the booze”.

As I approach the Joseph Conrad to meet everyone, I spot Ed Keane. Ed’s off to find the most easterly point in England. I helpfully provide directions. Head east Ed.

I haven’t tried anything from the local brewery yet, soon rectified by a pint of Green Jack’s Lurcher Stout. The place is packed with County Supporters. 

Anyway, no rest for the wicked, I’m off to the Stanford Arms.

Instead, I find the Triangle Tavern! What went wrong there? I’m not safe to be let out, me!

The Exeter Fletch Crew (EFC) are waiting for me. Yes Fletch, I got lost on the way here.

 One of them doesn’t look too clever. Overdoing it in Norwich last night is the explanation.

A rather excellent pint of Green Jack’s Albion Mild is quaffed & I’m soon on my way again.

I find the Stanford Arms this time, run by Gareth, who kindly poses wearing my hat.

 How many ales?

Plenty of County fans present........


One local is forgoing watching Norwich play Derby in favour of Lowestoft vs. County, & why not.

Plenty of Lowestoft fans as well, including John & Lucy. 

I ask Gareth about the debate as to whether the Triangle Tavern or the Stanford Arms is the real tap for Green Jack.

The debate is over - the Triangle Tavern is now the brewery’s tap.

The Stanford have fallen out with Green Jack & are now a free-house. Both boozers are great, so try them for yourselves. One word of advice though, not both on the same night eh.

More County fans arrive, including local Hatters Jim & Dawn .....

Sandra from the Armoury,Mr. Wilks & the rest......

Sandra’s on her first ever away trip. What a place to start! Hyde would have been a little easier.

Off to the ground now to try the real ale in the club-house. Sunrise out of a box - perfectly acceptable. Full of County of course. 

The queue for food was horrendous, so I head off in search of an alternative source. Bingo! Home made meat & potato pies, £1.20 large, £1 small, all served up by the lady what cooks ‘em! Shangri-La!

During the second half behind the goal, occurs one of the most bizarre episodes I’ve ever encountered whilst following County. It’s right up there with the tale of Robert Peat’s trousers, Phil Robbie’s crutches & the police escort to West Ham.

A young lady (Clare as I recall) was bemoaning the fact that County were unlikely to score in a month of Sundays. Clare went on to state that should County score, she would donate £50 to the Supporters’ Co-operative Guardian Account.

As a keen advocate of the Co-op, I hastily noted this pledge in my notebook.

Then I spotted Pete Towey, called him over, introduced him to Clare & explained the situation. Clare repeated her promise.

Within minutes, County were awarded a penalty, routinely slotted home by Scott Spencer.

You could have knocked us all down with a feather regarding what happened next. Clare only handed over £50 cash to Pete Towey on the spot, so to speak. 

I don’t usually comment on the game, but I’ve rarely enjoyed a goal as much as Spencer’s second. Went a bit AS in fact. As good as eating 2 giant chocolate buttons at once.

If you can find the highlights on u-tube, you’ll see me behind the goal, to the left, wearing my top hat, stood next to Clare.

North or South?

After the game, I headed for the Oak Tavern for a pint of Adnams Oyster. The local fans tell me how much they’ve enjoyed Conference North, including their trip to EP & hope they’ll be back next season.

The problem is that the Club would prefer to be in Conference South for obvious financial reasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out during the closed season.

Mariners Rest next. All ales served on gravity (i.e. no pump, just straight from the barrel), unusual these days. Scarborough Stout - very good.

On my way to sing at the Fisherman’s Wharf, I realise that I’m nearly touching cloth, so I pop into the Joseph Conrad to make use of their facilities. I’ve put enough mullah over the bar at Wetherspoons over the years, to feel perfectly entitled to drop in whenever I like, irrespective of whether I want a drink or not.

Disaster! The place is full of County Supporters, so I’m obliged to stay, drink more beer & partake in the match postmortem.

Finally, I’m off to the Fisherman’s Wharf at last, where surely everyone will follow to see me perform? It’s shut! DOH!

I do find a karaoke though, in the Royal Oak, & perform Stop Crying Your Heart out by Oasis for my new fans. 

You old dog, you’ve done it again. You’ve pulled! After some knicker-throwing, I beat a hasty retreat, realising that I’m a little too far gone to be able to perform any duets.

Mothers’ Day

I’m up in time to sample the kippers, & very good they are to.

Exploring Oulton Broad today, which is a decent walk from Lowestoft, but the weather is fine, albeit a bit windy. The sea is really crashing in - fantastic!

After working up a bit of a thirst & picking up my NLP, the first stop is the Waveney. The snug is an interesting place for a drink, a relative shrine to football. The ceiling is covered with football shirts.

No sign of a County one though. Wish I’d known, would have gladly have donated one.

The Lady of the Lake is next, where I find Robinson’s Trooper, known in Stockport as a recipe for disaster, together with County diehards Christine & Tony.

After a few beers with Christine & Tony, I head for the Wherry Hotel (where they’ve being staying) & they head for the Waveney to see if my NLP is still where I’ve left it.

The beer in the Wherry was very good, Woodforde’s Flagondry, but I’ve no wish to drink in a crèche, so I head off to find my final stop, the Broadview.

Nowhere to be seen, so I decide upon an early curry at the Labone, which is in an old railway station & recommended by Christine & Tony.

Duck Tandoori, followed by Tikka Tava - all excellent. No surprise that the place is busy, particularly with take-away orders, & it’s only just gone 5pm.

There’s only one place to finish off the trip - taxi to the Stanford Arms to see if there is any beer left (Gareth told me that they usually have about 2 weeks supply in the cellar, but by the time we left to go the game, there was only 2 days left - disgraceful!).

When I arrive, I’m welcomed by Gareth, who is on the drinkers’ side of the bar holding court with his regulars. The beer is good & plentiful. All is well.

All that remains is the walk back to my Guest House. No singing tonight.

Season Over

I start the day with more kippers - too good to turn down.

A swift pint at the Cutter Inn near Ely station is the only event of note. All a bit rushed really. Brain’s The Awakening. £3.95 & a short measure to boot! Fairly ordinary as well. The Stanford Arms this isn’t.

Well, that’s me done for another season, but let me leave you with one of my favourite, & possibly pertinent, philosophical football quotes.

"The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life." Bill Shankley

Until next season then………..

Man in a Hat.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hyde FC 0 County 1 ( Conference North ) 28 March 2015

I am not a great lover of Pantomime, although I do see that others have a greater regard for the genre. Surely ...these camp classics are only relevant around Xmas time, being thoroughly out of place any other time of year!
Well Ewen Fields today, was the scene of a ridiculous out of season panto, with referee Jonathon Hunt in the lead role that seemed to be a jarringly irksome mix of Baron Hardup and Widow Twanky! There was nothing at all exceptional about the game. County had pretty much wrapped things up though. Hyde had played the ball about a bit at times, but without ever really putting Hurst under real scrutiny game long, thus a single goal from Kristian Dennis, on his return from injury, was enough to see the blues home. Or so we thought, with only 3 minutes left to play, and County dealing confidently with everything that Hyde attempted to throw at them. But we had not factored Mr Hunt into our considerations, and he promptly stopped play......spent 4 minutes talking to everyone barring myself( during which time the players stood around getting wetter ,instead of finishing the game whilst we still could) before taking the teams off the park to a fulsome chorus of booing from the terraces! To be sure the weather was bad, but this is Britain after all, and it does tend to rain here a bit don’t you know? And... in the era of Climate Change it will get no better I think, and if referee`s behave in this way here on out, we will be lucky to complete a whole season of Conference North fixtures. We could of course move the whole competition to Qatar, where I believe that the weather is wonderful, but I wouldn`t fancy forking out for the Flyer fares for that season.I jest of course, whilst inwardly still seathing at the utter awfulness of the refereeing on show today!
`Match Abandoned` then......and at this point, neither County or Hyde know where we go from here or what the ultimate result will be- ludicrous.
Back at 3 o`clock, none of this nonsense was on the radar at all, in fact the sun actually shone down on us for a while, as the majority of a decent County following gathered behind the goal to urge their team on. There was good news, for County fans, in the shape of Dennis and Spencer who were both starting after missing games through injury. Jacobs and Churchman were back too in a side that had an altogether sturdier appearance about it! A further injury to Connor Hancock, meant a switch to centre back for Matthew Todd, but he has played really well wherever he`s been slotted in, so I foresaw no real problems with these latest personnel changes at the back.
It was however disconcerting to hear `Arthur Brownlow’ getting an airing well before kick- off, but the start of the game soon scattered these thoughts to the four corners of what at this point was a sun drenched Ewen Fields.
Duxbury in action.

The opening minutes saw both teams trying a bit....Hyde via Erike Sousa, who twice had a go at getting something from nothing for his team. His luck was out however.....firstly because Duxbury, aided by O`Halloran, undid him with some neat work near the corner flag, and then...when he did get past Duxbury, his intended cross proved no problem to County`s defence.

Erike Sousa.
Jacobs rather wasted a tasty ball fed him by Dennis, before Sousa again got a site of goal, this time through the middle, but Duxbury was up to the challenge and saw him off before he could trouble Hurst.
Once...twice....three times....Wilkinson tried and failed to pick out blue shirts with passes at the sharp end, but with referee Hunt free with the free kicks for County`s opponents, the blues seemed to be constantly on the back foot fending these kicks off. They did this pretty well, Duxbury doing another job on Sousa, then combining nicely with Churchman to deny the same forward. The best work though came from O`Halloran whose last ditcher to stop Ryan Masterson almost brought the house down,   but it was irritating none the less to see the referee give a stream of cheep free kicks to the home side!

Masterson stopped by excellent O`Halloran tackle.
I told myself that County would have to get on with it and ignore the referee, and Wilkinson seemed to be OK with that notional philosophy, it was just that the accuracy of his passing was somewhat lacking ,as twice he tried to thread balls into the box for Dennis- finding a red shirt on both occasions. the other end of the park, County were doing OK....the defence was in good order, and when it wasn`t they could seemingly rely on erratic finishing from the home forwards, epitomised by a hurriedly snatched effort from Ben Holmes on 15 minutes, that sent the ball over the bar after Duxbury had gifted possession to the Hyde man.

O`Halloran & Moses boss affairs.
The 18th minute ushered in some hope as good work by Moses and Churchman fashioned a break for Duxbury. He looked well set as he started to head for goal, but then he hesitated......didn`t shoot....drifted inside instead...and lost possession! Why didn`t he shoot?
Well.....for Hyde.....Andy Pearson was not going to leave any such questions dangling, and he would have been disappointed to see his snap shot, on 20 minutes, skim the bar on its way out of play. This seemed to buoy the Tameside outfit a tad, and within a minute a shot from Pearson thudded into Hurst`s chest before going out for a corner, which James Burke made contact with but headed wide.
It was slightly worrying ,no more than that, to see now relegated Hyde showing some of the worry free form that frequently characterises relegated team`s performances in `dead games` when relegation is already decided. County were defending well against all this, so there was no real issue, but the odd fluke.....the odd quirky refereeing decision.......
I was briefly distracted by a flare hurled by someone within the County following. My views are well known on the throwing of flares- it does no one any good....does positive harm to some amongst us, and can bring down sanctions on the Club....but still they are tossed in our midst!

I forced myself to forget this nonsense and concentrate on the game, just in time to see Moses pull out a terrific tackle to stop Connor Hughes, only for Mr Hunt to award Hyde a free kick. Despite the use of elbows by Luke Giverin ( unchecked by the referee), the free kick was cleared without undue problems, but I was in rant mode none the less, only slightly assuaged by the sight of Spencer executing a delicious nutmeg on Burke on the break for County, as.... when the ball reached Jacobs his final ball flew straight out of play.
The slight nagging worry lingered as Duxbury did well to block a run by Hughes, only for the ball to run clear to Sousa, who looked to have his second decent chance of the game. He lifted it over the bar, and the chance was gone, only for another to surface almost immediately when Duxbury handled the ball just outside the box. The free kick hit the target, but did not elude Hurst who grabbed it with alacrity.

That free kick......

....but Hurst has it !
Thus far things had not entirely gone County`s way, but after playing within themselves ,gradually with half an hour gone, the blues started seeing chances appear where previously they had not....

On 29 minutes Dennis slipped a neat ball on to Spencer who was in on goal. The County forward only had keeper Wilczynski to beat, but sent his shot against the outside of the post.......
The 30th minute saw a Wilkinson shot drift wide, after more good work from Dennis.
This period of County pressure was punctuated by a break by Masterson , and Hurst`s save with his leg to nullify this, was arguably his best save of the game, but Spencer again went close , on 37 minutes, his shot being pushed around the post at the last gasp by the keeper.
Initially, after that last save, the pressure on Hyde looked to be easing due to a really poor County corner, but good work from Todd kept County`s forward momentum going , allowing Wilkinson to latch onto the ball and thread a nicely weighted pass into the box where Dennis met it and despatched it past Wilczynski into the net.
County were on fire briefly after the goal and Wilczynski did really well to keep a further effort from Dennis out!
Hughes continued to be Hyde`s `go to’ man as far as getting forward was concerned , but so far County were handling him well , restricting him to efforts from beyond the box, and there was a happy buzz about the away end as the teams left the field at the break.       

Some of the County following.
The re-start saw Hughes continue to work at getting an opening, but his best efforts were constantly met with implacable resistance, this time in the shape of Lees who nullified the threat in the box. 

Mark Lees

With the referee lining up free kick after free kick for Hyde the pressure started to build on the blues, but thankfully the home side`s finish continued not to match their approach play and it stayed 1-0.

Fletcher blocked.
A foul on Wilkinson ushered in a rare blue free kick, only for Duxbury to lift his shot over the bar when well set, and it took a mighty tackle from Perry Ng to stop Spencer who had scuttled clear onto a neat through ball.

Foul on Wilkinson....

....but Duxbury shoots o/t from the kick.
From Ng ,the pendulum swung as he sent the ball up field ,and Hurst had work to do keeping a strike by Josh Brizell out, and a header from Ng not long after. Hyde were certainly trying, and Wilkinson did just enough to ensure that Giverin did not overly test Hurst as he barged into the box.
We were past the hour mark now, and it was marked with some urgently good work by Hurst, who was in position to tip an effort from Masterson over the bar. Corners came and went after this for Hyde with the same end product- nothing!
By the same token, County were quietly working at adding a second, and O`Halloran saw his header drift narrowly wide at one point, after Moses and Wilkinson had set the chance up.

O`Halloran goes for corner.....
With 20 minutes left, County rang the changes ,bringing Lofthouse and Russell on for Duxbury and Wilkinson, and County quickly won a corner via Russell`s efforts, and then another which again saw O’Halloran unlucky, this time denied by the alertness of Wilcyzynski.

Ooo its a corner !
If that last action was a possible game changer, another followed, almost straight away, as Hughes surged towards the box, where he was upended by Todd. Todd had been booked earlier for something or other, but the referee did not hesitate to produce a second yellow thus Toddy walked, and his team were down to 10, and seemingly up against it!
Well....Hyde did have a free kick , but it took them eons to actually take it ,and when they did they found Hurst in terrific form , his diving save keeping it at 1-0 to the accompaniment of an almighty roar from 600 or so County supporters.

The free kick following Toddy`s dismissal.
County defended deep after this ,but still took time out to sneak forward and again O`Halloran was in the van and only narrowly kept out , as a corner headed his way after Russell had laid the foundations with an energetic run.

Russell wins the corner

....and O`Halloran goes close again !
County kept the forward pushes going, but with the weather now deteriorating fast, and Ryan now on for Spencer, it was disappointing to see the keeper take two goes at it, but eventually grab the ball after Jacobs had terrorised the Hyde back line with a tricky run.


More rain.

Then it happened.......the weather had deteriorated some way and the rain had lashed down almost ceaselessly for minutes on end, and the odd flash of lightning had added a Wagnerian touch to proceedings, but with just 3 minutes left, no one thought that the game would be curtailed at that point( we would have played on on Cringle Fields in the Rusholme and District Sunday League 4th Division), but it was. Mr Hunt stopped play and then wasted 4 or 5 minutes gabbing endlessly to players of both sides...stopping this to wave the odd card here ...another there...

Referee bottles it.......
All this time, the game could have continued ...the 3 minutes been played out, and maybe some added time and bobs your uncle, instead however after more argument, the referee had his way taking the teams off the field to a thunderous cacophony of booing!

He`s out again......
Twenty minutes delay saw the referee return briefly to the field of play for a pitch inspection straight out of Marty Feldman or Monty Python, as Mr Hunt ( restricting his inspection to a small area nearest the tunnel ) seemed at first to be somewhat dismayed when his attempt at rolling the ball actually succeeded. His follow up was brilliantly executed- his expression had Feldman/Cleese off to a tee as he located the most obvious puddle and dropped the ball into it with unsurprising results. 

....and back in after locating himself a puddle.

He was immediately off for the warmth of the dressing rooms and hang the game or the public who had paid to watch it. As I said earlier.....Match Abandoned, and we await the ministrations of the suits on whether or not a matinee performance of this panto needs to be arranged one evening later in what remains of this season.
Let`s hope the result stands, but do not be tempted to hold your breath at any stage!
Hmm ....being a County fan is never dull is it! 
It would be remiss of me not to remark on our magnificent captain Mark Lees, who took time out to come back out into the rain, in his kit still, to talk to the County contingent after the referees little part piece. man!
Its Barrow next, and there`s still some seats left on the Flyer so why not give Lou a ring 07896 536757 to book.

County line up:

Hurst, Jacobs, Duxbury(Lofthouse 69) , Todd, Lees, O`Halloran, Moses, Churchman, Dennis, Spencer( Ryan 84), Wilkinson( Russell 69).

Subs not used:

Ormson, Hampson.

Hyde FC line up;

Wilczynski, Riley( Pritchard 61), Burke, Brizell, Ng, Giverin, Sousa( Hibbs 45), Pearson, Masterson, Holmes, Hughes. 

Subs not used:

Boyle, Thurston, Gregory

Attendance 1581

Ian Brown