Blog It Like Beckham

Last Saturday afternoon, Ollie, our eldest son, was one of the matchday mascots at my (our) beloved Stockport County.

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As part of the mascot package that I treated him to, he received the full home kit (see above), went on a tour of the ground, and then got to meet the manager and players, before walking out with the team prior to kick off.

The tour included the Directors’ Box, Boardroom and Sponsors’ Lounge, not to mention a visit to our brand-new museum, and a glimpse – for that was all that was required – of County’s trophy cabinet. I would love to say it was a trophy room, but we barely have enough silverware to fill a small cupboard, so a whole room would have been entirely unnecessary, and as sparsely populated as Kim Jong-un’s imminent funeral.

In the changing room, Ollie got to meet the entire squad, add to his collection of autographs (which included telling certain existing – and rather despondent looking – players, that he didn’t want their autograph, without going on to explain that this was because he already had them from last season), before posing for photos.

Admittedly, there was an element of being somewhat star-struck, tongue-tied and shy, but once I got over that, I managed to speak to some of the players (and our manager, Jim Gannon) with a moderate amount of composure and decorum.

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Just look at his little face (Ollie seems quite chuffed too)

Following the tour, Ollie was then allowed to warm up with the players on the pitch, before being ushered (along with the other mascots) down the tunnel shortly before kick-off, so that he could walk out with the team alongside his favourite player – and County’s current top scorer – Jason Oswell.

In Ollie’s words, it was epic. It really was.

Look, I know what you are thinking, and no, this was not some pathetic attempt to re-live my childhood through my son. Ok, sure, I wouldn’t mind being a mascot myself, but at 37 I rather feel my opportunity has now passed, and it would almost certainly look like I was leading the player out onto the pitch, rather than the other way around.

I assure you, Saturday was entirely Ollie’s idea, and something he has wanted to do for a long time – much in the same way that (although he perhaps doesn’t know it yet), he really wants a Lego Millenium Falcon for Christmas.

I don’t really understand why Ollie was so desperate to walk out onto the pitch with Jason Oswell, though. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met Jason twice now, and a nicer bloke you could not wish to meet, but he only signed for County a couple of months ago, and there were players in that changing room on Saturday who have been tremendous servants to the club over the past few years.

Had I been the mascot (ah, if only), I would have almost certainly wanted to walk out onto the pitch with our goalkeeper, Ben Hinchliffe. Please don’t think for one second that this is because I am in some way attracted to him (although, like myself, he is quite the dish), but I was a goalkeeper throughout my playing days (after school, 4-6pm, Deva Fields, Poynton, jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it?, marvellous), and so I have always felt an affiliation to ‘the man between the sticks’.

I think this is because the goalkeeper is often the understated hero. The rock at the heart of defence. The last bastion of the team. In much the same way, I have always fancied being a drummer, rather than a lead guitarist or singer. This is because I enjoy being a leader from the back, commanding my troops into battle (whether in a sporting or musical arena).

Ok, that’s a lie. The truth is, I have always fancied being a drummer, because I really want to be in a band, but can’t sing, and have no musical ability whatsoever (apart from a surprising amount of rhythm). Equally, the only reason I was ever a goalkeeper, was because I was shit at football, but freakishly tall.

Sadly, when you are seven years old, being a goalkeeper is not always considered the most glamorous position on a football pitch, because you want to be the player scoring all the goals. The star. You are drawn to what excites you, and for some inexplicable reason, that means you would rather scuff the ball home, off your shin from two yards out, than pull off a fingertip save in the final minute of the match, to preserve your team’s 1-0 lead.

Being a seven year old boy (or girl for that matter) is usually about three things: scoring goals, dinosaurs, and space. Often, because of those obsessions, you make some questionable life choices (like when Ollie recently had the chance to watch any Bond film of his choosing, and he selected Moonraker, purely because it is set in space – he soon realised his mistake). In time, he will learn to appreciate the finer things in life: a good red wine, mid-afternoon naps, goalkeepers, and Holly Willoughby (for I feel certain she will still look good in around ten years’ time, when he realises all girls do not, in actual fact, ‘smell’).

Anyway, I digress.

County normally only have four or five mascots for most home matches, for but some unknown reason our fixture against North Ferriby proved extremely popular with the younger fans, to the extent there were no fewer than thirteen of them on Saturday. This was, in itself, quite impressive, but made even more amazing (or amusing), when you discover our opponents attracted just eight travelling fans.

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Ok, North Ferriby is some distance from Stockport (for those unaware, it is near Hull), and the village – yes, County play village teams these days – has a population just shy of 4,000, but their away following was outnumbered by our mascots. So, whilst County had too many children walking out onto the pitch to ensure they could each have a player to themselves, if North Ferriby’s entire away following had decided to walk out with the players prior to kick off, they would have been three fans short.

Look, I accept they are very firmly rooted to the bottom of the league, and a two-hundred-mile round trip to watch your team almost certainly get beaten (which they did, 4-1) is never appealing, but then again neither is Hull. I have been to Hull (just the once – and I think it was shut), and whilst North Ferriby happens to be a quaint little village, nothing like it’s larger neighbour, I would stop at nothing to get as far away from Hull as possible – even if that meant traversing the country to watch my football team get humiliated, and even if it meant going via Bradford to do so.

As such, I think the eight poor souls who made the journey should be applauded. In fact, there were only seven of them as the game kicked off, since the eighth fan was evidently caught in traffic, and he arrived shortly before half-time, by which point his team were already trailing two-nil.

There is nothing quite so heartbreaking (read: secretly hilarious), as watching a stressed man hurry into a football ground, upset that he has missed half of the match due to traffic, only for him to glance expectantly up at the scoreboard, notice the score, and slump into one of the many vacant seats, completely dejected. I shouldn’t have laughed, I know I shouldn’t, but I swear a little wee came out.

I instantly felt bad for finding the situation funny, but in my defence it is extremely rare for Stockport County fans to have the opportunity of looking down on another team these days, and we have suffered more than our fair share of jibes and jokes in recent years. In fact, I seem to recall some North Ferriby fans bragging when they got promoted at the end of the 2015-2016 season, only for them to come crashing straight back down after just one year. Karma, it seems, can be a bitch sometimes.

The main thing is, I had a great day (and, of lesser importance, so did Ollie). Even my mum and sister, who have not been to Edgeley Park in years, but wanted to watch Ollie on his ‘special day’, seemed to enjoy it – despite paying so little attention to the actual match, that they missed at least one of the goals. In fact, my dear mother informed me part way through the second half, that the last time she had seen County play, she was pregnant with me. That would have been during the latter stages of 1979, or very early 1980. Let’s hope it’s not another 37 years before her next visit.

Watching the game last weekend, which admittedly County won quite comfortably (without actually playing well), Mum could be forgiven for wondering what the appeal of our little team is, and why Ollie and I still get giddy with anticipation every other Saturday morning. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure.

I suspect, once you fall in love with a football team, it’s like hard drugs (not that I have ever tried drugs) – you know it’s bad for you, potentially harmful to your health, and seriously bloody expensive, but you just can’t help going back for more, week in, week out. It’s an addiction.

This is no doubt easier to understand, when you look at fans of successful Premier League teams, compared to a club currently residing in the sixth tier of the English game, but that doesn’t mean our passion is any less. If anything, our fans are even more committed (or, from a psychiatric perspective, probably should be), because the appeal of watching County is, in theory, a lot less.

Thankfully, Ollie gets it. He understands that his football team is utterly crap right now (albeit not quite as crap as North Ferriby), but they will still always be his football team. My only hope is that, one day, Isaac will also become infatuated, because at the moment he doesn’t seem to quite grasp the (not so) beautiful game.

How do I know this? Well, during the second half on Saturday, he firstly announced to everyone around us that ‘football is boring’, then decided to ‘rest his eyes for a bit’, before finally asking Ollie which one of our players was Messi.

If only.

 

 

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Blog In Play, Now!

Ok, this week’s entry is about football, but not in the way you might expect, and certainly not in a way that should discourage those who don’t like football from reading on.

Essentially, whilst wondering what this week’s blog could be about (I had a few ideas, but the kids haven’t provided any comedic material of late), I noticed something of potential online.

Then, when I’d finished watching that, I spotted a post on the Facebook group ‘The Football Conference North’ (the league my beloved Stockport County appear to now be trapped in for all eternity), and it really made me chuckle.

Essentially, this Facebook group is a vehicle for fans of teams in the Vanarama National League North (sounds prestigious, doesn’t it?) to rip the piss out of each other as much as is humanly possible. That may not have been the original intention of the group’s creators, but that’s certainly what everyone seems to use it for – often with hilarious consequences, but for all the wrong reasons.

This form of online abuse is widely referred to as ‘banter’ (or ‘bantz’ for the fully lobotomised), and generally involves some window-licker posting an inflammatory comment, with the sole intention of getting a rise from fans of opposing teams. Such behaviour is known as ‘fishing’, or, more commonly, ‘being a twat for the sake of it’, and there are usually dozens of people queuing up to take the bait.

Unfortunately, being as anally retentive about spelling and grammar as I am, reading posts in this group can sometimes be a struggle (there are actually people out there, who wouldn’t know an apostrophe if it came up and clamped itself firmly onto their ball’s – yes, that was deliberate), but the same can be said for most of the communities on Facebook, and this particular group’s one saving grace, is that it is just so damn entertaining at times.

Anyway, the post which made me chuckle earlier this week, was from a Tamworth fan (who, in fairness, seemed a decent enough chap), and was along the lines of ‘Watch out Brackley, the Lambs are coming to get you Tuesday night…’ – this being a reference to Tamworth (The Lambs) travelling to play Brackley on Tuesday evening.

Now, it wasn’t the prospect of Tamworth beating Brackley away from home which tickled me so much (although, invariably, whenever someone shares a pre-match boast like this, it almost always comes back to bite them firmly in the arse – and, sure enough, the game ended 0-0), but more the mental image of a lamb being used as an instrument of terror.

Of all the football club nicknames, surely ‘The Lambs’ is one of the least frightening? For the same reason, you tend to find that supporters of clubs like Norwich City (‘The Canaries’), Bournemouth (‘The Cherries’), and Morecambe (‘The Shrimps’), avoid using their nicknames to intimidate opposing fans of teams like Sheffield United (‘The Blades’), Hull City (‘The Tigers’), and Millwall (‘The Fucking Lunatics’).

Which got me thinking – if tomorrow afternoon’s fixtures in County’s league, were decided purely on the respective nicknames of each club, which teams would come out on top, and would it be worth sticking a few quid on? So, without further ado….

VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH FIXTURES

SATURDAY 9th SEPTEMBER 2017

               AFC TELFORD             v           HARROGATE TOWN

Telford: Here come the Bucks!

Harrogate: Your nickname is ‘The Books’? Like in a library?

Telford: No, B-U-C-K-S. As in the male of certain species, like deer, and rabbits.

Harrogate: Hardly intimidating though, is it?

Telford: Well, deer have antlers, so they can do some damage. Why, what’s your nickname?

Harrogate: Town.

Telford: Town? Not very imaginative. Besides, there’s nothing scary about a town.

Harrogate: You never been to Blackpool then?

Telford: Fair point.

RESULT: HARROGATE WIN

         ALFRETON TOWN       v       GAINSBOROUGH TRINITY

Alfreton: Hi, we’re the ‘Reds’.

Gainsborough: Boring. We’re the ‘Holy Blues’.

Alfreton: Ah, so a battle of the colours. Well, clearly red is more menacing than blue.

Gainsborough: Why? Blue can be scary too. It’s associated with cold things.

Alfreton: And Smurfs. Besides, red is associated with heat and danger, and look how menacing the bearded fella on our badge is. That’s some scary shit, right there. Plus, ‘Holy’ Blues? Where did you get that from – Robin?! ‘Holy Blues, Batman, it’s Gainsborough!’ 

RESULT: ALFRETON WIN

          BLYTH SPARTANS          v            BOSTON UNITED

Blyth: Behold, the mighty Spartans! One of the most feared armies throughout the whole of history! 

Boston: Shit. 

RESULT: BLYTH WIN

BRADFORD PARK AVENUE     v    NUNEATON TOWN

BPA: Ok, before you say anything, we’re well-aware that our nickname isn’t very original.

Nuneaton: Why, what is it?

BPA: The Avenue. What’s yours?

Nuneaton: The Boro.

BPA: Oh. Equally unoriginal then. Hey, why does your club badge have a bear slow-dancing with a cactus?

Nuneaton: Piss off.

RESULT: DRAW

          CURZON ASHTON   v   FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER

Curzon: No doubt about it, we win the most original nickname – ‘The Nash’ – beat that!

FCUM:  Might be original, but it’s not exactly intimidating, is it?

Curzon: Kate Nash was pretty scary. Why, what’s your nickname?

FCUM: ‘The Reds’.

Curzon: Like Man United?

FCUM: Not really. They’re the ‘Red Devils’. We dropped the devil part.

Curzon: At least devils are evil.

FCUM: Go on then, what’s a Nash?

Curzon: It harks back to a third team that used to play in our town.

FCUM: Your nickname relates to a different team?

Curzon: …..

RESULT: DRAW

               DARLINGTON              v              LEAMINGTON

Darlington: Darlo, Darlo, Darlo!

Leamington: Is that your nickname?

Darlington: Well, no. It’s ‘The Quakers’ really.

Leamington: Like the oats?

Darlington: Spelled the same, but the nickname actually comes from our original links to the ‘Religious Society of Friends’.

Leamington: Boring. We’re the ‘Brakes’ – named after the Lockheed brake manufacturing company. That’s more exciting.

Darlington: Does that not imply you’re slow, though? You should have paired up with the company that makes accelerator pedals. Or horns. Or spoilers. It’s hardly intimidating.

Leamington: What, and a religious organisation dedicated to equality and peace is?

Darlington: Touché. But why is there a windmill on your badge?

Leamington: It refers to the 17th Century Chesterton Windmill, which is actually a Grade I listed building on the outskirts of Leamington, just off the M40. Depending on whether you’re travelling Northbound or Southbound, you’ll want to come off at either junction 13 or 14…. 

RESULT: DRAW

    NORTH FERRIBY UNITED          v         CHORLEY

Chorley: Ha! The Villagers?! Really?!

North Ferriby: And what’s so intimidating about a fucking Magpie?

Chorley: They steal stuff – like three points.

North Ferriby: That’s just a myth.

Chorley: Plus, they bring good luck – like three points.

North Ferriby: Also a myth.

Chorley: Magpies! Magpies! Magpies!

North Ferriby: Oh, what’s the point….

RESULT: CHORLEY WIN

              SALFORD CITY          v             BRACKLEY TOWN

Salford: Go on then, give us a laugh.

Brackley: The Saints.

Salford: Isn’t that Southampton’s nickname?

Brackley: Hang on, Chorley were here a minute ago, and they’re called the Magpies.

Salford: True, but we’re not playing Chorley. Anyway, our nickname is definitely unique: ‘The Ammies’.

Brackley: Surprised it’s not ‘The Beeb’, to be honest. What does ‘The Ammies’ even mean?

Salford: It comes from our old name of ‘Salford Amateurs’.

Brackley: Amateurs aren’t intimidating.

Salford: And Saints are?

Brackley: You should have gone with ‘The Lions’. At least then your badge would have made sense.

RESULT: DRAW

                SOUTHPORT     v      KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS

Kidderminster: Harriers are deadly birds of prey, or fighter jets. Either way, we win.

Southport: Thought you called yourselves ‘Kiddy’?

Kidderminster: Not for the purposes of this, we don’t. Remind us of your nickname again?

Southport: ‘The Sandgrounders’.

Kidderminster: Ooooh, we’re quaking!

Darlington: Huh? What?

Kidderminster: Never mind.

RESULT: KIDDERMINSTER WIN

                TAMWORTH           v           SPENNYMOOR TOWN

Tamworth: Ok, let’s get this over with, shall we? Yes, we’re ‘The Lambs’, the least intimidating of all the nicknames in this league.

Spennymoor:  Hahahahahahahahaha! I mean, ours, ‘The Moors’, is pretty shit, but….. hahahahahaha!

RESULT: SPENNYMOOR WIN

                  YORK CITY           v            STOCKPORT COUNTY

York: They’ve saved the best until last – the battle of the giants!

Stockport: Only by Conference North standards. Our big crowds aren’t going to help either of us here.

York: Rubbish. We’ll piss this tinpot league.

Stockport: Yes, so your fans keep reminding us every few minutes. We used to say that, too, and we’ve been in this league a few years now.

York: Not us – we’ll be up by Easter! Anyway, this is all about nicknames, and ‘The Hatters’ is a rubbish one.

Stockport: Coming from ‘The Minstermen’?! Ok, which of the Minstermen are you – Mr Tickle? Mr Bump? Mr Might Realise How Tough This League Is By Christmas?  

RESULT: DRAW

So, there you have it – Eleven matches, eleven predictions. Normally, when I try to predict County games, I’m woefully inaccurate, so let’s see if this system is any better – might even stick a tenner on it, just in case…..

What do you think, Ray Winstone’s massive floating head?

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Now, that’s intimidating.

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Supporting The Underblog

I don’t always receive feedback for my blog, but in the first year of ‘Sandbach Chatter’ (oh, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already), it quickly became clear that I should avoid two specific topics, particularly if I wanted to retain – and attract – followers: listing my favourite films or albums, and anything to do with football.

The lists, I understand. Even though I enjoyed writing them, I can see how they became tedious, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t feature on my ‘best of’ compilation (not that I’m planning one, don’t worry).

In contrast, the general indifference towards any entries about my beloved Stockport County, was harder to accept. This was primarily because it was the enjoyment I got from writing about County for another (football) blog, which got me into this in the first place, and even though I knew it would be hard to maintain interest in a sixth-tier team, many of my initial audience stemmed from those articles.

However, as I amassed new followers (predominantly women), it became clear that I would rapidly lose them again, if I continued to discuss football. This is not because women don’t like football, you understand (bullet firmly dodged), but more that they have very short attention spans (bullet well and truly back on course – calm down ladies, it was a joke).

I soon realised that entries about my boys were considerably more popular, especially the hilarious shit they often come out with (not literally). From this, I have hopefully settled into a style of writing that appeals to people, and whilst I would not want to pigeon-hole myself (it sounds painful), if I was to focus on one particular genre of blogging, it would be parenthood. Well, it’s such a bottomless pit of comedic material, isn’t it?

So, if writing about my sons is generally well-received, yet writing about the other love of my life (County) is not, I am inclined to wonder how an entry combining the two will fare. There’s only one way to find out, I guess… (oh, and before anyone gets on their high horse about me not mentioning my wife as the other ‘love of my life’, not only has she expressly forbid me from ever writing about her, but she knows County was – and still is – my first true love, and she cannot possibly compare).

Now, before those of you who don’t like football lose interest and bugger off, I would like to explain that this entry is more about me sharing my passion for County with my sons, rather than football itself, so you might still enjoy it. Besides, if you stop reading now, how can you be sure I won’t slag you off later?

To provide some background to what follows, I will give those of you who are not familiar with the recent history of Stockport County (which I assume is the vast majority), a brief timeline of the major events leading up to our eldest son, Ollie, being born:

2008 – County win the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley, in front of more than 35,000 spectators, and are promoted to League One (the third tier of English Football).

2009 – County are placed into administration, following a failure to repay a loan of £300,000 (a sum roughly equivalent to the weekly wages of many Premier League footballers).

2010 – Relegated back to League Two. Takeover by new consortium. Ollie born (all within a couple of months).

In the first season of Ollie’s existence (2010-11), County’s off field problems worsened, and as the campaign drew to a close, it was becoming increasingly apparent that we would be facing another relegation – only this time, from the Football League. Our 106-year stay, in the top four divisions of English football, was about to end.

When it became clear that we would not survive the drop into non-league football, I made the decision to take Ollie to his first ever match before the end of the season. I was desperate for him to be a County fan, like me (it was my main reason for procreating in the first place), and I was adamant that his first visit to Edgeley Park should be a league game. At the time, I had no idea how long it would be before we returned to the league, if ever, and I definitely didn’t anticipate our situation getting even worse.

25th April 2011

Ollie was just under three weeks away from his first birthday, when I took him to County’s game against Northampton Town, knowing that anything other than a win would effectively seal our fate (even though it was not mathematically confirmed until the following weekend, when we lost to, of all fucking teams, Crewe).

It was, and still remains, one of the proudest, yet saddest days of my life. Ollie was too young to understand what was happening, and got a bit upset when I overly celebrated a goal, but even though I don’t mind admitting I left Edgeley Park in tears, I had taken my son to see our football team, and I will never forget that.

My only hope, was that he would one day watch County back in the league – assuming he chose to follow the same team as his old man. Oh boy, did he.

20th April 2013

Fast forward two years, and County’s fortunes had taken an even greater nosedive, as we suffered yet another relegation, this time to the Conference North.

To put this into perspective for non-football fans (and I include in that category those who support a Premier League side), the Conference North (and South) is where clubs go to die. It is the scrapyard of football, full of teams that, in my ignorance, I had never previously heard of. This is not because they have obscure names, but because they are from places so remote and tiny, only the people who live there have heard of them. I was going to use North Ferriby and Guiseley as examples here, but they’ve since been promoted, and it’s too painful to think we’re now a league lower than what are essentially village pub sides.

As a general rule, if you have to Google the team you have just lost to, to work out where they are in the country (I initially thought Brackley sounded like it was in Yorkshire), it’s time to question your support – but County fans didn’t. We have such a fantastically loyal fan base, that even though some supporters admittedly disappeared (and I’ll be waiting to give them a slap, when they crawl back following our return to the league), we continued to attract crowds well over 2,000, several times what the teams around us were getting.

Hand on heart though, if it hadn’t been for Ollie, and the fact that he was slowly starting to enjoy the football (rather than his half-time hotdog), I can’t promise I wouldn’t have taken a break from County myself.

8th August 2015

As it was, by the time we got to our opening fixture of the 2015/16 season, a home match against Boston United, Ollie now wanted his own shirt, beginning an expensive tradition of buying him the kit of his choice each season, with his name and age on the back:

Not only that, but I forked out for season tickets – an expense I was only too happy to incur.

9th January 2016

If Ollie’s inaugural visit to Edgeley Park was depressing, then there are no words to describe how I felt after Isaac’s first match – a loss to Telford United, in the Conference North, in temperatures so cold you could have cut glass with my nipples.

You can tell from the number of empty seats (these photos were taken shortly before kick-off), precisely how keen people were to attend Edgeley Park that day. It was, however, another memorable moment as a father.

I have taken Isaac to a handful of games since, but it was not until last Saturday, against FC United, that he saw his first ever win. Of course, he’s two, so he is still very much in the ‘what food has Daddy brought?’ stage of football spectating (closely followed by the ‘I’ve eaten everything now, so I’m going to run around like an escaped chimp, and kick the shit out of some seats’ stage), but I’m persevering, in the hope that one day he will match Ollie’s enthusiasm.

10th September 2016

Having marked the dates I took Ollie and Isaac to their first matches, it seems only right to acknowledge the third occasion in the trilogy – the first game they attended together: Boston United (again) at home, earlier this season.

It’s safe to say that, whilst Ollie is now very well behaved at County, and focusses intently on the match, the combination of both boys together, on my own, was a fucking nightmare. Admittedly, I would apportion blame somewhere in the region of 85:15 in Isaac’s favour, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time we got home. Still, look at their faces:

These photographs somehow numb every painful memory, of what was a hellish ninety minutes of frantic parenting.

18th February 2017

Last Saturday, as I have already mentioned, I once again braved taking both boys to Edgeley Park, for our ‘derby’ (although it pains me to say it) against FC United.

Although Isaac was once more a handful (read: utter dick), at least he got to see his first win, and enjoyed the very finest in pre-match cuisine: a Gregg’s sausage roll in a bag:

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I only hope that, when he reaches Ollie’s age in  a few years, Isaac will have the same love of our team, because Ollie is nothing short of obsessed.

He goes to his weekly football club, proudly wearing his shirt, and, when it’s his turn to be a team captain, he insists on playing as County (against the likes of Unit*d, C*ty and Barcelona, because some kids just don’t know any better).

However, for the finest example of Ollie’s obsession, I shall leave you with the following:

On Wednesday, he went to a half-term sports club, and soon after arrival, the kids were introduced to their guest coach for the day – an Altrincham player. Presumably, the poor lad thought he could hide the fact his team are currently rock-bottom of the Conference North, and wasn’t expecting any fans of that league to be there, so imagine his horror when, not only does Ollie announce to the rest of the group that Altrincham are rubbish, but he then insists on singing a song…

“Staly’s bad, Alty’s worse, we always put the County first….”

That, right there, is why I had kids.

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The Blogs Are Back In Town

Last week, I told you about the first day of the charity road trip that my friend Gareth and I took part in at the end of June, and when we left the story, Gareth and I were retiring to bed (separately) at my in-laws in Norwich…

Sunday 26th June 2016 – 08:00

After breakfast, our trip continued very much as it had finished on the Saturday evening – bang on time. We aimed to depart my in-laws at 8:00am, and depart at 8:00am we most certainly did.

Realising it would not take us an hour to get to our first destination of the day, Lowestoft Town (even allowing for the fact we might have to pass through some kind of passport control to get there, being situated, as it is, somewhere near Holland), we decided to visit yet another bonus ground – Norwich City’s Carrow Road. Little did we know that, upon leaving ‘The Canaries’, we were about to encounter an entirely different kind of bird altogether….

#12 – Lowestoft Town – 09:00

Lowestoft

Our arrival at Lowestoft Town was greeted by four people, including a lady who was easily the best dressed of the entire trip (even accounting for the gate-crashed wedding reception at Boston the night before).

‘Helen’ (I’m calling her that because, well, it was her name) looked resplendent in a long purple ball gown, complete with giant beehive hair-do. Quite what possessed her to dress like that, in order to meet two strangers in a football ground car park, remains a mystery, but we soon learned that she often ‘overdresses for the football’, and had not, contrary to our first suspicions, simply crawled out of bed from whichever party she had attended the night before.

Two things struck me about Helen, and I suspect they both struck Gareth too, such were their size. It was like she had smuggled two bald men into her very low cut dress, and neither of them were especially keen on staying in there. I hope I speak for both Gareth and I when I say we are not perverts, but if we looked anywhere within a five metre radius of Helen, passers-by would naturally assume we were ogling her boobs. They were so big, I would not be surprised if they had their own gravitational field.

It then transpired that the other lady in the group was the club photographer, and they had kindly opened the ground to take official pictures on the pitch. As Gareth and I stood on the centre circle next to Helen, she began to glance downwards (in hindsight, I suspect she was simply adjusting her scarf), before suddenly asking ‘Oh, and have you met Matthew and Daniel?’

Now, it later transpired that she knew two Stockport fans who had travelled down the previous season, and she wondered whether we also knew them (we don’t), but our initial assumption was that she had named her breasts ‘Matthew’ and ‘Daniel’ (or, presumably, ‘Matty’ and ‘Danny’ once you got to know them better).

#13 – Corby Town – 11:45

Corby

Having waved goodbye to ‘the Trawlerboys’ (Lowestoft’s nickname, rather than another unfortunate sobriquet for Helen’s chest), we faced our longest journey of the weekend – just over two hours to Corby Town.

Having briefly stopped at another bonus ground en route (Histon) we arrived only slightly behind schedule, and were met by another exiled County fan – ‘Market Harborough Hatter’ – with his two young daughters. Not only did his daughters produce some bags of change to go in our collection tins, but he then presented us with a County shirt worn by one of our legends many years ago, which he was generously donating for us to auction.

The five of us then entered the ground, to be greeted by the sight of balloons, flags and colourful bunting. Initially overwhelmed by such a gesture, we then spotted a large bouncy castle on the pitch, and realised none of it was for us.

Sure enough, we had now managed to gate-crash a children’s birthday party too, although when the chap behind the bar found out why we were actually there, it turned out he had heard about our trip, and kindly invited us in for a quick drink.

#14 – Brackley Town – 13:25

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Fuck me, that’s bleak.

Chalking up yet another bonus ground on the way (Northampton Town’s ‘Sixfields’ Stadium), we arrived at Brackley just under half an hour late. ‘The Saints’ had certainly not come marching in to meet us however, so we managed to take a quick photo of a stand which closely resembled a Cold War bunker, and then got back on the road to try and make some time up.

#15 – Gloucester City – 14:45

Gloucester

Gloucester City’s ground was badly flooded a few years ago (making it easier to bring their subs on, arf!), so they currently play their home games at Cheltenham Town’s ‘Whaddon Road’, which was actually a bit nearer for us, and enabled us to restrict our tardiness to just fifteen minutes.

We were met by Gareth’s sister-in-law and her partner, but realising we still had most of the Midlands still to conquer, we were unable to spend as long with them as we would have liked.

#16 – Worcester City – 15:50

Worcester

Like Gloucester City, Worcester also spent last season residing at their neighbours’ larger property, playing their home matches at ‘Aggborough’ – the home of Kidderminster Harriers. Here we met a good friend of Gareth’s – ‘Kiddy Andy’ (being a reference to his supporting of the Harriers, rather than anything more distasteful) – but again we were sadly unable to spend very long with him.

Andy kindly presented us with a bottle of beer each to enjoy when we got home that evening, and we bid him farewell (making a quick detour to Worcester’s new ground in, erm…. Bromsgrove, before our next stop).

#17 – Solihull Moors – 17:00

Solihull

Solihull were the other team to be promoted from County’s league last season and, like North Ferriby the day before, their ground was also a disappointing cesspit. Continuing my tradition of christening certain grounds, I again took a piss behind their stand (although, unlike at Stalybridge, this was a urinary protest), and away we went.

#18 – Nuneaton Town – 17:30

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I think this picture says it all really. Shut. Shit. Move on.

#19 – Tamworth FC – 17:55

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Prior to our trip, I had joined as many online supporter groups as I could – in an attempt to spread the word of what we were doing – and while the response from Nuneaton’s fans had initially been very positive (even though no one bothered to actually donate or turn up to meet us), their bitter rivals Tamworth were the complete opposite.

In fact, I only received one reply to my post on their forum, and it was more of a pro-Brexit rant than anything else, so my view of Tamworth was not particularly favourable before we arrived. However, that was all about to change.

One Nuneaton fan had jokingly referred to Tamworth’s Lamb Ground as ‘the tip’ (even promising to donate, if we would take some of his garden waste with us to deposit there), but having subsequently seen Nuneaton’s ‘Liberty Way’ ground from their rusted and locked gates, his comment strikes me as very much ‘people in fuck-ugly glass houses….’

In fairness, The Lamb Ground was hardly the Taj Mahal either (a delightful looking curry house we had passed on the way), but that was mostly due to the fact they were laying a brand new pitch at the time. What matters, is the welcome we received.

Unlike at Harrogate and Lowestoft – where we had anticipated some form of greeting – we hadn’t had any contact from Tamworth whatsoever, so when we arrived and saw a few cars in the car park, we initially feared a repeat of the ‘Glanford Doggers’ from the day before.

However, it turned out that, far from being unsavoury sex-pests, the five Tamworth fans who had braved the rain to honour our (late) arrival, were the loveliest of people. Not only did they invite us in to the ground to have more official photographs taken, but they then presented us with a huge bag of goodies, including snacks, drinks, and even a signed football for auctioning.

As a result, Tamworth – rather unexpectedly – joined Harrogate and Lowestoft in our top 3 clubs of the weekend.

#20 – Hednesford Town – 18:35

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The only downside to such a nice reception at Tamworth (when we had been expecting a quick photo and hasty departure), was that we were now badly behind schedule again. Fortunately, not only had I over-estimated how long it would take to get to our penultimate ground, Hednesford’s ‘Keys Park’, but it was again locked and deserted, so the quick photo we had planned at Tamworth, merely got delayed by one stop.

Determined to try and get as near to the ground as possible (which looked more like a factory than a football stadium), we parked up at the gates, leapt over them, and ran down the track that lead to their main stand like we were on ‘Challenge Anneka’ (or another more current – and less camp – reference).

We posed, comically, outside their main entrance, before noticing the signs which warned that there was constant CCTV in operation. Oh well, that should give the security team something to talk about (although not, I would imagine, as much to feast their eyes on as their counterparts at Scunthorpe).

#21 – AFC Telford – 19:15

Telford

Our last ground of the adventure before heading back to Edgeley Park. No official welcome again, but we were met by our good friend and fellow County fan ‘Shropshire Hatter’, who posed for some quick photographs, before making his way home in the rain.

And that was it. The race was then on to get back to Edgeley Park for our scheduled arrival time of 9:00pm.

Edgeley Park – 21:05

Ok, we didn’t quite make it back on time, but turning up only five minutes late, having driven over one thousand miles, was not to be sniffed at, and we had two good reasons for being ever-so-slightly late.

Firstly, we were very nearly involved in a nasty crash, when I came around the bend on a country lane to be greeted – very abruptly – by the mangled wreckage of a car blocking the road. Thankfully, not only did everyone appear to be ok, but my reflexes were not as subdued as they might have been after such a long drive, and we were able to safely navigate around the crash without further incident.

Any confidence in my driving ability was, however, rather short-lived, as a far more serious incident occurred only moments later. Remember how I mentioned, at the start of last week’s entry, that there had been a murder on the trip? Well, I was the murderer, and my car was the weapon.

Actually, ‘murder’ is a little extreme a description, but I may not have held your interest for so long, had I more accurately referred to the crime as ‘vehicular avian slaughter’. In fact, technically, it was vehicular avian suicide, and that is certainly what I would argue in a court of law, but I doubt the surviving family members (the ones who didn’t bounce off the front of my car and end up in a hedge) would see it that way. Oh, the guilt.

Still, we had a deadline to keep, and we arrived back at Edgeley Park tired, but ultimately very proud of what we had achieved.

The total amount raised has now exceeded £2,000. Not bad, considering we essentially spent the weekend dicking around, whilst eating sweets and listening to music. To everyone who donated, no matter the amount, thank you so very much. We’ll be in touch about our next big adventure soon!

Oh, and for anyone outraged at me for senselessly murdering a door-to-door make up sales lady, that’s Avon you twat. ‘Avian’ means ‘bird’.

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Notorious Blogging Spot

As some of you will know, last weekend I embarked on a rather elaborate road trip with a good friend of mine, who we shall call Gareth because, well, that’s his name.

I won’t go into detail explaining what it was about, who it was for, and why we were doing it, as I covered all of that in entry #71 (‘The Blog Trip’) but, briefly, we were attempting to visit all twenty-two football grounds in Stockport County’s league (as at last season), in just one weekend, to try and raise funds for local children’s cancer charity, Kidscan.

Now, I could sum up our trip in just three words – ‘we nailed it’ – but that would not be doing the adventure justice, and would not be telling the full tale. And, oh boy, do we have some tales to tell….

Saturday 25th June 2016 – 08:00

Start

We aimed to depart around 8:00am and, as became something of a trend over the weekend, we were bang on time. Waved off by the two ladies who run County’s club shop, Gareth’s wife and son, and another County fan, ‘Northyorksexile’ (who is, thankfully, an exiled County fan living in North Yorks, rather than a North York ‘Sexile’ – whatever that may be), we set off.

In the two days which followed, we visited all twenty-two ‘official’ grounds (plus eight ‘bonus’ ones); took a thoroughly underwhelming trip across the Humber Bridge; gate-crashed a wedding reception and a children’s birthday party; and witnessed an enormous pair of breasts, a murder, and some dogging. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to read on, nothing will…

#1 – Stalybridge Celtic – 08:25

Stalybridge

We arrived at Stalybridge’s ‘Bower Fold’ ground, on time, to find it locked and deserted. I took a piss behind one of their stands (I was strangely desperate for the toilet already, rather than this being any kind of urinary protest at the absence of anyone to greet us), and we were back on our way.

#2 – Curzon Ashton – 08:45

Curzon

It was, sadly, the same story at Curzon – only without the piss. We had initially received a very enthusiastic response from the club a couple of months ago, promising an official welcome and photographs on the pitch but, alas, this never materialised. Bizarrely, however, the ground was actually open – presumably because they felt there was nothing worth stealing – so we managed to go in and take some photos anyway.

#3 – FC United of Manchester – 09:10

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To complete the hat-trick of disappointing Greater Manchester clubs, the ‘Old Trafford Deserters’ also hadn’t bothered to welcome our arrival – whether that be fans of the club or anyone more official – and the gate to the car park was locked, so we again just took a quick photo and left.

#4 – Chorley – 10:00

Chorley

Before arriving at Chorley, we decided to stop off at our first ‘bonus’ ground of the day – Bolton’s ‘Reebok Stadium’ (I refuse to call it the ‘Macron Stadium’, in the same way I still insist on referring to the ‘M.E.N. Arena’ and ‘Opal Fruits’), before heading on to Chorley.

In contrast to the first three clubs on our travels, we didn’t really want to meet anyone at Chorley, since – as a result of some recent transfer dealings between them and County – they don’t seem to like us very much. Consequently, even though a couple of their fans had already been supportive and donated, we rather feared that any ‘Magpies’ (their nickname) turning up to greet us, may very well do so fully-armed. One for sorrow, two to kick the living crap out of you…

Imagine our terror, therefore, when we arrived in the car park, only to have someone tap on my driver’s side window shortly afterwards. Having damn-near shit ourselves, we were relieved – and surprised – to discover that my brother had driven down from Preston to say hello and bring supplies.

Again, Chorley’s ground was left fully open, so the three of us had a quick look around, I took another piss behind the stand (I don’t know what was the matter with me, but I appeared to have developed the bladder of an incontinent pensioner) and we gave our heartfelt thanks to my brother, before heading off.

#5 – AFC Fylde – 10:45

Fylde

At AFC Fylde’s ‘Kellamergh Park’ (which appears to be situated in the grounds of a pub), we were greeted by another County fan, ‘Bringbacklenwhite’, and his lovely wife, who had also brought more supplies – two bottles of beer and some cakes. As we arrived bang on time, and since our next ground was a bit further away, we were able to spend a little longer with them in the glorious Lancashire sunshine.

#6 – Bradford Park Avenue – 12:15

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Bradford Park Avenue was another ground where we expected something of a more formal welcome, as I had been in touch with the club only the week before to ask for permission to lay a white rose at their ground. One of our donors had requested that we do this for her, in memory of her fellow Yorkshirewoman, Jo Cox MP, who was murdered recently.

Sadly, the only person at the ground when we arrived was there by chance, and was in the process of cleaning their club bar. It’s fair to say he was more than a little perturbed by two blokes in Stockport shirts turning up to ‘decorate’ the ground with foliage, but the club had said it was ok, so tough.

#7- Harrogate Town – 13:15

Harrogate

Remaining in sunny Yorkshire, we then travelled northwards to Harrogate, which was our planned lunch stop for the day. The only reason for selecting this ground over any other, was because our ETA was 1:15pm, and ‘lunch’ was expected to be snacks in the car, but the welcome we received was a fantastic surprise.

Not only were we met by some guys from the club (as well as aptly-named fellow County fan ‘Harrogate Hatter’), they then brought out a platter of sandwiches and cakes (which were delicious, and I’m not just saying that because they may read this) as well as some drinks from the bar.

Even better, as we were leaving, they informed us that a group of their fans had clubbed together, and would shortly be making a generous donation to our Just Giving page.

Harrogate Town, from that day onwards, will always have a special place in my heart (unless they beat us in next season’s play-off final, then they can fuck off).

#8 – North Ferriby United – 15:15

North Ferriby

If Harrogate was delightfully surprising, North Ferriby (who, Gareth and I often quip, are our ‘favourite of all the Ferribies’) was very much the opposite.

Not only was it a tiny, run down ground – which, having won promotion via the play-offs, will depressingly see North Ferriby play one league higher than County next season – there was no one around apart from a cricket match on the adjacent field, and they didn’t seem the types to take kindly to two blokes asking for donations.

The one good thing about North Ferriby? It was so shit, we could take a quick photo and get back on the road.

#9 – Gainsborough Trinity – 16:30

Prior to our arrival at Gainsborough Trinity (of which I have very little to say), two ‘highlights’ of the weekend took place. The first was planned, as I took my inaugural trip across the Humber Bridge (the best £1.50 of someone else’s money I have ever spent), and the second was very much not.

Gareth had consulted the map, and suggested we could detour, ever-so-slightly, to take in Scunthorpe’s ‘Glanford Park’ ground. I was keen to do this for two reasons: firstly, I have never seen it – and with Scunny being a League One side, I had hoped it would be more impressive than some of the grounds we had encountered thus far – but secondly, it gave me a rather childish (and entirely unoriginal, I imagine) idea for a ‘selfie’.

As we parked up next to two other cars in the secluded car park, Gareth went one way to take some photos of his own, while I positioned myself under the ‘Scunthorpe United’ sign, to try and line up the shot for my comedy photo.

As I stood there, with my phone at arm’s length, I can appreciate in hindsight that it may very well have looked like I was pointing the camera at the cars opposite. This didn’t occur to me at the time, as I had assumed they were unoccupied, but all of a sudden, a rather embarrassed looking man got out of one car, half-jogged to the other car, got in and drove hurriedly away, while the woman who was left in the first vehicle followed seconds later.

I don’t think my grinning and shouting “Oi Oi!” as they raced away will have helped, either. I bet they’re nervously waiting for my photographs to appear on some ‘doggers caught in the act’ site. And in a car park in Scunthorpe too – hardly showing a girl a good time, is it?

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(Side note: doesn’t ‘The Glanford Doggers’ sound like a terrible folk band?)

#10 – Alfreton Town – 17:30

Alfreton

I have never been to the centre of Alfreton, but if it is anything like the area where the football ground is based, I can only hope it is twinned with an industrial wasteland in Siberia, otherwise the partnership is distinctly unbalanced.

In truth, Gareth and I – perhaps unfairly – hated Alfreton long before we arrived, purely because it was so far out of our way when we were making good progress down the eastern side of England. And, when you have already agreed between you that ‘Alfreton can go fuck itself’, it needed to be especially pretty to change our minds. Unfortunately, on the prettiness scale, Alfreton Town’s ludicrously-named ‘Impact Stadium’ is some distance below Susan Boyle, and its only ‘impact’ is to make you want to gauge your own eyes out with a rusty spoon.

To make matters worse, as we pulled into the car park we were watched by a rather unsavoury looking chap who was sat, by himself, on a nearby wall. He was, as Gareth quite rightly pointed out, very similar to the character ‘Tom’ from Father Ted. If you have never watched the show, or have forgotten Tom, here is a (rather poor quality) clip:

‘Alfreton Tom’ continued to stare at us, as we parked up and began to hurriedly take photographs. Alarmingly, he then started walking over towards us, before standing with his hands in his pockets and grinning. I am sure, in hindsight, this was a grin of friendship, but at the time we both feared it was the last smile we would ever see.

We quickly tried to explain what we were doing, before he interrupted us to say that he knew why were there, as he had been following our progress on Twitter, and had some change to put in our collection tin. You should never judge a book by its cover, folks, and I feel rather guilty that we jumped to the conclusion we were about to be made into a nice new coat for him to lounge around his cave in.

Alfreton Tom (not his real name), we salute you, Sir.

#11 – Boston United – 19:15

Boston

Our final ground of the day and, unlike the two which preceded it, Boston’s ‘York Street’ was all rather uneventful – save that we accidentally gate-crashed a wedding reception in order to try and use their toilet. Deciding against spoiling the happy couple’s big day, we instead made a hasty departure, keen to get to our overnight stop with my in-laws in Norwich.

We arrived almost exactly on schedule, filled the car up with fuel ready for the morning, ate a delicious meal cooked by my father-in-law, drank the beers given to us by my brother and Bringbacklenwhite, and crawled off to bed (separately, mind, we’re not Bert and Ernie).

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And I shall tell you about the remainder of our adventure next week….

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Blog. Blog. Need. Blog.

In just under two months’ time, the European Football Championships will commence in France.

Annoyingly, England have once again started to churn out some half-decent performances immediately prior to a major tournament (the recent 3-2 victory against our old foes and neighbours Germany in particular), which invariably means that the English media will now go into a frenzy about our chances of doing really well at the tournament. This, of course, is a waste of time, since every sane football fan knows that England will either fail to qualify from the group, or we will lose on penalties in the quarter-finals, following a dodgy refereeing decision in normal time. We are England, after all, and those are our only two options.

This might sound like me being cynical and pessimistic (that’s because it is), but even though I am certain England will again disappoint the nation, I now have a renewed interest in international football – thanks in no small part to my eldest son, Ollie.

Ollie will turn six in a few weeks, which, for the mathematicians amongst you, means he was four when England played at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. As expected, England were shit and didn’t qualify from the group stage, but that didn’t deter young Ollie, who continued to enthuse about the whole tournament right up until the final. True, this was partly because he was obsessed with learning about the national flags of each country, and partly because it was an excuse not to go to bed, but there was another reason he was so taken with Brazil 2014 – his Panini sticker book.

In a clever marketing ploy, the sticker books were given away free in shops and supermarkets throughout the land, with their glossy, colourful covers often displayed on stands at checkouts. Panini, despite being named after a flat toasted sandwich, are obviously no fools, and they realised that checkouts are the one place where children become hell-bent on grabbing anything they possibly can, as a last ditch attempt to be treated before leaving a store.

If Panini could give away as many sticker books as possible (and which reasonable parent would refuse their pleading child a free book?), then they could continue to sell packets of stickers – at 50p a go – in their millions. You know when drug dealers give potential junkies their first hit for free, in order to get them addicted? Yeah, it was like that.

The nation, in short, went sticker mental. And it wasn’t just the children, either. Grown men and women were obsessed with completing their books, even though it cost hundreds of pounds to do so. ‘Swap-meets’ were organised up and down the country, so that people could get together to do ‘swapsies’ with each other, in a bid to grasp the last few players they needed to triumphantly fill their books.

It was all rather sad when you think about it. And I bloody loved it.

You see, I never really got into sticker books as a kid, so although I loved collecting things, the world of Panini largely passed me by. I remember (very fondly) collecting little wooden American Football shirt key-rings with my friends at Primary School, then swapping any duplicates in the playground. They cost 10p from the ‘ice cream man’ (as far as I know, the same guy still visits the street where I grew up, even though he must now be well into his seventies), and for that you would also get a delicious bubble-gum. That’s value right there, kids.

I recall that everyone, and I do mean everyone, desperately wanted the Miami Dolphins key-ring, as they were the team of the late 1990s. In a moment of child-like impetuousness (well, I was a child), I ended up trading my pristine – and from memory, quite rare – San Diego Chargers key-ring, for a (rather tatty in comparison) Miami Dolphins one, and quickly realised what a fool I had been. I would have been eight or nine then, and I don’t think I have ever got over the bitter regret of that decision.

Shit, I’m welling up here just thinking about it.

Anyway, I digress. Ollie got his World Cup sticker book, and we began to purchase packets of stickers for him every time he was particularly well-behaved. None of his friends seemed to be collecting them, so he ended up trading swaps with my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law’s husband (which is not, before you ask, an extremely convoluted way of saying ‘my brother’).

Still, despite being able to trade little bits of sticky paper with two grown men who, at that stage at least, had no children of their own (not that they now have children together, you understand), Ollie was still some distance from completing his book. In desperation, I began to relax what I considered to be ‘good behaviour’, in order to justify buying more packs for him. It began gradually, with rewards for little things like ‘not wetting the bed’ (even though he had only done this perhaps once in the previous year), but as my desire and greed became more fervent, I started to get desperate:

“Ollie, you’ve been screaming for an hour now, and really shouldn’t have launched your dinner across the kitchen in temper, but at least you managed to miss mummy. That’s good enough, get your shoes on and we’ll go to the shop.”

I’m not proud of myself, but I needed a fix. You wouldn’t understand, unless they got to you too.

Then, on one glorious sunny afternoon in early June 2014, I took Ollie into town in order to give my wife some time alone with Isaac – who was only a few weeks old, and recently home from his extended stint in hospital.

We bought a few packets of stickers, and went to sit outside one of my favourite Sandbachian pubs to work our way through them. As I nipped inside to get a beer, we met one of the girls who looked after Ollie at nursery, and she spotted the sticker book he was proudly clutching under his arm. It turned out that her boyfriend, who was working behind the bar at the time, was also collecting the stickers, but had ‘a few swaps’ if Ollie fancied sifting through them. I think I responded with a little too much enthusiasm, and certainly before Ollie had any chance to speak.

She went upstairs in the pub, and returned a short while later with a large Tupperware container filled to the brim with stickers. There were hundreds of them. I was so excited, I believe I went a little light-headed, and may very well have wet myself slightly. Anyway, I bought my beer (and a blackcurrant squash for Ollie) and we sat outside in the sunshine to go through the box. Needless to say, there were so many stickers, I had to purchase more beer in order to justify remaining at the pub for what, ultimately, turned out to be a few blissful hours of peeling and sticking.

I remember – like it was yesterday – punching the air with unbridled joy, because we had finally collected Ivory Coast’s goalkeeper, Boubacar Barry.

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Surely the greatest name in world football, ever.

Having informed my wife that Ollie and I would go into town for ‘an hour or so’, she was understandably a little narked when we arrived back several hours later. To make matters worse, I was not only sunburnt, but also well on my way to inebriation and, consequently, grinning like a fucking imbecile. In my drunken state, I could not for the life of me understand why she didn’t share my excitement about Boubacar Barry. “But… but… his name sounds a bit like boobs! Or a car full of boobs! And just look at his FACE!”

She wasn’t at all impressed. It was totally worth it though.

Eventually, thanks to that monumental sticker haul at the pub, and some further swapsies with the brothers-in-law (why didn’t I just call them that in the first place?), Ollie got within a handful of players of completing his book, so we filled out the little form and sent it off to Panini. A few weeks later, the last few arrived and ‘his’ book was full. I’m not saying it is the greatest achievement of my life, but it’s certainly top five.

Of course, as any sticker collector will know, in order to fill one of these books, you invariably end up with hundreds of swaps, which become entirely useless as soon as the tournament is over. For some inexplicable reason, we still have them, and we apparently collected twelve of whoever-the-fuck this ugly Croat is:

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So, when the latest Panini book for the forthcoming Euros was released a few weeks ago, I didn’t take a great deal of persuading from Ollie to once again embark on the costly exercise of trying to fill the damn thing. My reasoning, if you can call it such, was that the European Championships are a smaller affair than the World Cup (for any non-geographers out there, Europe is smaller than the World) so, assuming squad sizes remain more-or-less constant, there should be less stickers to collect, right?

Wrong.

Panini, devious bastards that they are, have somehow managed to make the book bigger, by including not only the usual team photos and squads, but also various additions. We’ve only just started the book, so I don’t know who some of these people are, but I would not be at all surprised to find we are also now collecting stickers of singers, prominent politicians and landmarks from each country too.

Still, we have only bought ten packets of stickers so far, so we are still at the glorious stage of having just the one swapsie (screw you, Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and I guess it’s all downhill from now on. Over the coming months, I will most likely destroy a large chunk of Ollie’s University fund, by purchasing endless packets of stickers to feed my recurring addiction. Oh well, father-son bonding is ultimately more important than education anyway.

Besides, it’ll help to take Ollie’s mind off things, when England inevitably screw up.

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Blog Standard

Ok, so I’ve now told you what I do for a living, and (whether I like it or not) that takes up a great deal of my time.

In my spare time, however, I have three great passions – my adoring wife, my two sons, and my football team (ok, technically four great passions, but I’m counting the kids as one). I will no doubt write about the boys in the not-too-distant future, as the shit they produce – one verbal (he’s four going on fourteen), and one literal (he’s not yet one) – often provide for amusing anecdotes. In contrast, however, my other half has warned that, if I ever write about her – particularly anything derogatory – I run the risk of losing the other thing I hold most dear. And I’ve grown quite fond of that over the years, so you won’t hear my wife mentioned again…. much.

So, for now, that leaves my beloved football club – Stockport County.  Make no mistake, she’s a cruel and harsh mistress at times, who often leaves me feeling empty, disappointed and bitter…. but she lets me go to the football occasionally so we’re still married (I suspect my impending castration will not be worth it for that joke, but I couldn’t resist).

My being a County fan is one of the first things people learn about me – often before I’ve even told them my name. If you’re kind enough to engage me on the topic, I will happily chat to you for hours. Equally, if you support one of County’s (many) rivals or, worse, raise an eyebrow and joke that you ‘didn’t know they were still going’, I will spend the same amount of time explaining why you, Sir, are an idiot.

And, whilst we do seem to have a disproportionate number of teams we’ve fallen out with over the years (Tranmere still owe us a new crossbar – dickheads), there are two main rivals that we detest above all others. This is despite the fact we haven’t played either of them for ages (one considerably more recently than the other, mind), and they seem far more interested in hating each other than worrying about us. In fairness, this might be because we’re 5 leagues apart.

You see, growing up in Stockport (and still living relatively close even now), I am constantly surrounded by supporters of both Manchester clubs and, with no exaggeration whatsoever, I dislike almost all of them. That’s always been the case, and it will remain that way until the day I go to the great Edgeley Park in the sky. I can tolerate a few – one of my oldest friends (and the godfather to my first-born), for example, is a season ticket holder at Old Trafford – but they remain few and far between. The majority, and particularly those who are not my friends, are pillocks of the highest order.

For those of you who perhaps don’t know where Stockport is, (I like to refer to your kind as ‘Southerners’), it’s around 6 miles or so from Manchester. So, while I suppose Macclesfield Town would be considered our nearest rivals by many, and we’ve certainly played them more often, we County fans have always (almost literally) lived in the shadow of our Manchester neighbours.

Historically, I’d imagine that most County fans would profess a hatred for the red half of Manchester rather than the blue half, and I’m no exception. Hand on heart, I can’t give just one reason why. It might have been my Dad’s influence. Or it might have been down to Old Purple Nose and his ‘we’ll keep playing until we win’ attitude, coupled with the fact he seemed to have a number of referees under his control. I swear he must have had compromising pictures of Howard Webb stashed away somewhere.

I suspect, though, above all else it’s the ‘fans’. I don’t mean those who turn up every week (my aforementioned friend being one), or even those who avidly follow the team, but can’t regularly visit Old Trafford due to geographical or financial restraints. I mean those die-hard ‘fans’ who, when asked, would struggle to name more than a couple of the squad they supposedly idolise.

I asked one such ‘fan’, by way of a test of their loyalty a few years ago, who United were playing in the derby that weekend. She wasn’t sure. It’s the derby love, the clue is in the bloody name.

When I was at school, supporting United was tragically the default. If cornered by a bigger lad in the playground and ordered to divulge your team, those who didn’t really follow football (or just wanted to avoid a beating) would invariably say that they supported United. Of course, my response would proudly be “Stockport County”, which would momentarily confuse said bully and provide me sufficient time within which to make my escape.

So, in the past, it was always the red side of Manchester I despised more. I think, aside from the above reasons, it was partly because City were always United’s poor cousin. And not a cousin you’re quite fond of, either, but rather that odd-looking one with not many teeth who you suspect will end up on Jeremy Kyle in the not-too-distant future. Whilst City were still significantly larger than County, and their fan base several times ours, we almost pitied them. They seemed to have genuine fans, who were constantly being trodden on by United, and we could almost relate to that.

Above all else, though, they had a delightful habit of giving us points.

It seems hard to believe when you look at the respective fortunes of County and City over the last decade, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were competing in the same league. Admittedly, we faced City five times between 1902 and 1960 and we lost every game. But then, in the 1990s, they began their hilarious slump down the leagues, just as County were rising to meet them. In 1997, while I was doing my A-levels, County met City at Edgeley Park for the first time in decades and frankly annihilated them, 3-1.

Ok, so we lost the return fixture at Maine Road the following April, but we still finished eighth that season, in what is now the Championship, just 9 points off a play-off place for the Premier League. City? Oh, they got relegated in twenty-second and dropped into what is now League 1.

Since then, we’ve played City competitively on four occasions and not lost (won two, drawn two). The last time we played City in the league was in March 2002 when we scored twice in the last 5 minutes to win 2-1. We bloody loved playing City.

Fast forward a few years, and some ludicrously-rich Sheikh comes along and ruins everything.

Fair enough, City were well above us in the leagues by the time Sheikh Mansour started spewing the sort of money into the club that would make Abramovich’s buttocks clench, but there was always that glimmer of hope that we would one day face City in the same division again, so they could give us all of those lovely points once more. This now seems very unlikely, at least in my life time.

Suddenly, City fans were appearing from everywhere. They became more like United with their arrogance, big-headedness and disdain for County. Up until then, I’d occasionally encounter one of them making a joke at County’s expense, but a quick reminder of recent results between the teams would usually shut them up. Now, however, City fans either conveniently forget their recent past, by sticking their fingers in their ears and wailing Blue Moon until you get bored and leave, or they haven’t been City fans long enough to have the slightest clue what you’re on about. “Do you honestly expect me to believe we were in the same league as Stockport County less than 15 years ago?” they would no doubt say, if only they could eloquently string that many words together, or count to 15 without taking their shoes and socks off.

Admittedly, they do still have their genuine fans and fair play to those who stuck with City through the tough times, I don’t begrudge them some success – within reason. My gripe is with the ‘new money’ City fans. Those who invariably miss half the game while facing in the wrong direction and bouncing up and down like some deranged kangaroo. Try asking a City fan to explain what the point of that is.

These are the ‘fans’ who tore up their tickets and stormed out of Eastlands with a few minutes remaining in the match against QPR at the end of the 2011-12 season, and we all know how that finished, don’t we? (Mostly because Jonathan Pearce won’t shut up about it on MOTD, every time Sergio Aguero so much as farts near a football).

I remember watching the hoards of knuckle-dragging cretins, pouring out of the stadium and slamming various items of merchandise on the ground in disgust, only to hear the cheer of those who had stayed behind to witness Aguero’s last minute winner clinch the title – and then try desperately to force their way back into the ground to celebrate. I swear, when I watched that, I laughed so hard a little bit of wee came out.

So, if I’m asked nowadays which half of Manchester I despise more, it’s a harder question to answer than it used to be. This is best explained by reference to my Fantasy Football team, where I have always historically had a self-imposed ban on signing any United players, but in recent seasons this embargo has been expanded to include anyone from City too. Oh, and Luis Suarez. And John Terry.

I detest both Manchester clubs, and most of their fans, but for largely different reasons.

I’ll save “why I hate Burnley” for another time, and instead I’ll leave you with a popular County chant:

“United’s shit, City’s worse, we always put the County first…

Na-na na-na-na, na-na na-na-na” (repeat)

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