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Sleeping with the Devil

From “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful – a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild
She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore;
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four
And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed – Ah! Woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill’s side.

by John Keats (1795-1821)



Tuesday 28th January 2014 Baker-Joiner Midland Alliance
k.o.:- 8.00pm

Loughborough University                              1
Oliver Stevenson 26,
Dunkirk                                                          2
Rory Simms 12,
Ash Way 84,
referee:- Trevor Sharratt attendance:- 85


Chris, it was, who let me know that this match was definitely ON, and as the rain continued to fall and other games were falling like Autumn leaves to the inclement weather, I drove the forty-odd miles via Uppingham, and Tilton-on-the-Hill and Queniborough and Loughborough, where sat-nav took me through the major town centre road works, but I got there around 7.00pm and was waved through the security gates by a bored sentinel.


I needn’t have worried. The rain was coming down in torrents and shortly after Chris arrived, a further pitch inspection was announced with the kick-off put back to 8.00pm. The Loughborough University ground is state of the art. The superb stand, which can be seen in the first photograph above, also has a vast conference area with bar and kitchen behind the outside seats. I enjoyed a chicken and mushroom pie whilst awaiting the outcome of the latest pitch inspection. The pitch was declared fit, the only concern being a patch right underneath the main stand on the half-way line which looked as if a Sherman tank had been parked on it! The game got under way at 8.05pm.


The students were out of sorts tonight. They are fairly comfortably placed in mid table, whilst their opponents are languishing somewhat at the foot. It was the Boatmen, however, who grasped the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring early on and conceding an equaliser midway through the first half. At that point, a University revival looked on the cards, but in the second half, Dunkirk (from Nottingham), gradually wrested control and it was no surprise when they grabbed the winner with six minutes left for play.


It was still raining at the end of the match, but at least the roads were quieter as I retraced my steps through deepest darkest Leicestershire, into Rutland (Multum in Parvo) and finally home to Northamptonshire!

Wednesday 29th January 2014 Barclays Premier League k.o.:- 7.45pm

Aston Villa                                                          4

Andreas Weimar 12,

Leandro Bacuna 25,

Fabian Delph 37,

Christian Benteke 64 (pen)

West Bromwich Albion                                    3

Chris Brunt 4,

Fabian Delph (og) 9,

Youssouf Mulumbu 43,

referee:- Mark Clattenberg                attendance:- 36,083


Needs must when the devil drives, and the recent weather – and it really has been appalling, I can’t remember the last day without rain – has meant that very few local league football matches can be played. There were even several league matches called off due to the weather this evening! The weather intervened in my journey to Birmingham. A journey that normally took just over the hour, lasted nearly three hours in very heavy traffic an I was fortunate (or unfortunate, as you will see later), to find a tiny parking space into which I squeezed, not far from the ground.


I quite like Villa Park, it is handy from the M6 and, after eighteen previous visits stretching back to January 1978, I could probably have driven there blindfold …….. apart from the abysmal weather, the wind and the rain. I collected my ticket and climbed to the top tier of the Trinity Stand (a climb that carries a health warning for golden mouldies like me). The game exploded into life with the first of seven goals after just four minutes. The away side had taken the lead! There was plenty of space up there, despite the fact that this was a top class West Midlands Derby, and I selected a row all to myself.


The home support were in despair when Albion doubled their lead in the ninth minute – and that with an own goal from Fabian Delph! The away faithful, however, could probably have been heard back at The Hawthorns, some five miles away!

By half time, another four goals had been scored, Fabian Delph, atoning for his earlier strike into his own goal, scored at the other end to put Villa in front for the first time in the match. Albion had the last say of the half with a goal from Youssouf Mulumbu on 43 minutes to wrap up the half-time score at 3-3.


The game continued to ebb and flow throughout the second half, but only one more goal was forthcoming, Christian Benteke continuing his recuperation in form with a deserved penalty just after the hour mark! Villa just about deserved their victory in a game of many twists and turns!

I dashed back to the car after the game, only to find a parking ticket attached to the windscreen. What with that and my onboard computer telling me there were only seventeen miles left in the tank, it was a long wait, queuing to get away in the heavy traffic, before I could scoot up the A38 to find a garage, before hurtling home in the Stygian gloom!


Thursday 30th January 2014 Sky-Bet Championship k.o.:- 7.45pm

Nottingham Forest                                          4

Simon Cox 58, 90,

Darius Henderson 72,

James Mackie 82,

Watford                                                          2

Gabriele Angella 31, 47,

referee:- S. Hooper                               attendance:- 18,510


The rain continued unabated throughout Thursday but I had spotted a Sky TV match and decided to visit The City Ground for the first time in seven years (Saturday 10th February 2007 – Coca Cola Football League Division 1 Nottingham Forest 1 Northampton Town 0 attendance 24,567). With parking fines very much in mind, I sought out a parking space where I would normally park for the cricket at Trent Bridge and with the rain teeming down, I had a twenty minute walk to get to the ground.


As last time, I went high up in The Brian Clough Stand, which has the best view, in my opinion, and the cost of my ticket at £20 was actually £2 cheaper than on my last visit, though, admittedly, then I hadn’t qualified for concessionary status!


It was interesting to note the size of the crowd seven years ago. It was around six thousand better than this evening’s crowd, and that for a fixture in a division below this evening’s fixture and, additionally, not in a season where Forest gained promotion! No doubt the weather and the Sky cameras had something to do with the depleted turnout! I was very grateful to the Reception doorman who, despite having his other duties, very helpfully went in to get me a team sheet.


Watford, the visitors, played Forest off the park in the first half but only had one goal to show for it. Then, early in the second half, they doubled their lead and Forest’s impressive run of eleven league and cup matches without defeat looked in serious trouble! Billy Davies, the Forest manager, then brought on three substitutes and each of them scored a goal, with Simon Cox claiming two as Watford reeled from the home onslaught and lost a match which at one stage they looked comfortably in control of!

Saturday 1st February 2014  Barclays Premier League       k.o.:- 3.00pm

Stoke City                                                         2

Charlie Adam 38, 52,

Manchester United                                          1

Robin van Persie  47,

referee:- Neil Swarbrick                    attendance:- 26,547

This was a match eagerly anticipated. My youngest son, Liam, had treated me to the game as a Christmas present. He had been fortunate to receive two tickets from a supplier to the electrical components company for which he worked. Also included was a stay at a hotel on the night before. Need I say that once again, the rain teemed down? However, we spent the evening wisely at an Indian hostelry with a fine meal washed down with a very acceptable bottle of French Red Wine.


The following morning, we had planned to go and see a Football League Youth Alliance match at Port Vale, but when we got there, the match (against Macclesfield Town) had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

There was a pub called ‘The Post Office” quite near the ground serving plenty of real ale and we repaired there before Liam took me over the road for a pool challenge. The beer wasn’t nearly so good and, to be honest, I was feeling just a little tender from the previous evening’s excesses, so it was no surprise when Liam took the first game and led 2-1 after three in a best of five challenge. To be fair, I did offer him the draw when I pulled the rubber back to 2-2, but he was having none of it, so in the final game the young Turk was given sound roasting by the old man!


Then to the Britannia Stadium. We had brilliant seats on the half way line almost and pretty high up, but the “Delilah Club” where we had passes was little more than a barn with several TV screens showing live football and pies, peas and chips as the only food fare on offer. Even then, there was nowhere to sit and we had to eat standing up!


I went out to find a team sheet and my first port of call was main reception, where I was told that team sheets were for hospitality and were not available to the general public (“Why not?”, I wanted to ask!). At the media entrance, a girl with a sheaf of team sheets refused to let me have one. The jobs worth who was with her told me that he had worked at the club for forty five years and proudly boasted that he had never let anyone outside the press have a single team sheet! There is a hierarchy at Premier League football clubs and the ordinary fan is bottom of the pile and treated like a mug. The attitude seems to be “Give us your money!” but in return, we’ll give you nothing. Programmes at £3.50 is a case in point. You buy one because you like to have a memento of the match, but you resent the money the club is taking off you to pay the bloated wages of the plutocratic first team squad.


In many ways, I was so brassed off with the way we were treated that I really hoped that The Potters would lose. However, I had to admit that they deserved their victory. Manchester United slumped to their eighth defeat of the season despite having Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata in the team. Rooney played very deep and was less than effective. Throughout the match, United were laboured, their build up was too slow and they were constantly and effectively harried by the home side. The impressive Charlie Adam collected two goals and the man of the match award.


This week, I have been more or less forced to attend matches in the league or premier league because of the desperate weather situation. It feels like ‘sleeping with the devil’! However, it has confirmed for me what a gigantic swindle it all is. Everywhere you turn, the prices are hiked, programmes, tickets, food, drink are all ludicrously inflated and the quality of the football, whilst obviously better than the majority of matches I go to, doesn’t always carry the passion and commitment of the non-league games. Then there is the posturing, with its frequently theatrical rolling around in agony at the slightest sign of contact, I find myself urged into a long and anguished demand to “call the midwife!”.

Matches this season – 134   New grounds – 92

Matches this year – 16   New grounds – 6

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