Saturday, 25 November 2017

...and then there was three...

Seeing Callum Wilson being interviewed on Football Focus today put me in mind of the falling away in numbers in recent years of ex-Poppies that we glimpse on the TV.  Callum, in midst of a stellar Premier League career, probably doesn't reflect much on his time with us, even though it represented his first prolonged run at senior football.  But, like all other Poppies fans, there is still that tiny frisson of joy that someone who pulled on OUR shirt is doing so well, and regularly appears on Match of the Day.

However, most former Poppies we used to see on the TV featured in the various Football League Saturday night round-up shows, rather than the august BBC Flagship show.  For the few years after our plunge down the divisions, several of the players who used to turn out for us, with varying degrees of success, flitted across our screens.

We basked in seeing our old players such as Chris Beardsley scoring, Andre Bouchard tip-tapping in the middle of the park, John Dempster nodding in at the back post and Guy Branston heading opponents into the terraces.  There were also a host of Poppy-loanees back playing for their parent clubs.  It all kind of made us feel that even though we might have been playing our games in front of 150 hardy souls at Steal Park, we were still a real team, who had real players.

Within a few seasons the ranks of former Poppies started to thin.  Beardsley flitted around a host of struggling clubs.  Bouchard slithered out of the League with Dagenham & Redbridge.  Demspter took a coaching job at Mansfield.  Branston continued heading opponents in a playing and coaching level at hundreds of further clubs as he drifted back into Non-League, even though he always had his mobile phone with him just in case the Premier League came calling.....

These days it's slim pickings for the Poppies-watcher.  Other than Wilson there seems to be only a couple of former Poppies plying their trade at League level.  Charlie Wyke, who looked a handful at Non Park has continued to look useful at both Carlisle and recently Bradford City.

The other player is Mustapha Carayol, who used half a dozen games for us back in 2009 to achieve the twin feat of pissing off Brett by nicking his place, and jogging around to slowly get his fitness back ahead of embarking on a bizarrely successful League career.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Why I hate Paul Cooke!

I've always had a hate/hate relationship with the humble football programme.  Sounds strange, I know.  Most people either enjoy them or have no strong feelings either way, but they continue to be the bane of my life.

At one of our most recent home games (roughly 30-years ago!), I had the misfortune to be sitting close to that great vacuum cleaner of spare cash, Martin Bellamy, and I was soon shelling out for tickets for this, air-fresheners for that, key fobs for the other etc. etc.  I foolishly let my mad spending-spree get the better of me and purchased 3 x Klondikes and a programme with the last £5.50 cash I had.  I invariably don't buy a programme, but was caught up with the fervour of feeling I was single-handedly funding the Poppies.

The programme was a good, thorough read.  No doubt.  And if the winning Klondike number drawn that day wasn't the next number after the ones I'd bought, I'd have left it at that.  But it was.  So I won't.

Is Paul actually to blame for my not winning the Klondike?  In reality, I accept, probably not.  But, someone has to be blamed, and rather than blame myself for not buying that fourth ticket, I'd rather blame him.  Far more therapeutic.

I can trace my antipathy to the humble football programme to one of the defining periods of my younger days - standing at the various entrances to Rockingham Road, back in the 1990's trying to sell copies of PATGOD.  Although, these days, the original run of PATGOD issues are generally considered to be in the Top Ten ever uses of the printing press, back then, trying to sell them was a thankless task. 

Some people who helped us with this job were natural salesmen.  Dave Tailby, for example used personal knowledge of everyone who attended games (always impressive with gates of over 1500!) and cuffs to the side of the head to rack up the sales.  The rest of us, unfortunately had to rely on shifting uneasily from foot to foot, mumbling, "...fanzine..." whenever someone walked past.

And then.  The great kick in the teeth came.  You are about to make a sale and the punter shrinks back in complete horror,

"You mean it's not the programme?"

"No", you patiently explain for the thousandth time, "No, it's a fanzine.  Funny articles.  Hilarious match reports about nil-nil draws.  Childish cartoons.  Poorly photocopied photographs."

"What?  No Teamsheet?  Or League Table?  Or Results?", asks the rapidly retreating former would-be customer.

"No. No teamsheets, league table, or results"  You admit.  And your souls shrivels a fraction more.

Fast forward almost thirty years and I'm buying a programme from a pretty young thing away at Biggleswade.  I didn't mean to.  I originally wanted to buy a pint, but they only had one person serving, and I didn't fancy a hour's wait for a drink.  I then wanted to buy raffle tickets, but they hadn't been brought out into the ground at that point. 

So, looking for any way to spend the fiver in my hand, I purchased a matchday programme.  And then read it from cover to cover in 10 seconds flat.  And the bloody thing didn't have a Teamsheet (just a long list of players).  Or a League Table.  Or Results.  Mmmm.

It made we wonder, if this was an acceptable publication at this level, why on earth Paul Cooke wastes his time assembling his hefty Poppies programme.  If he didn't, I wouldn't very occasionally buy it.  Then I wouldn't have missed out on two hundred quid.  Unlike Gary Bloody Graham who won it.

How much did you pay for this programme?
I bet I paid more!

Sunday, 12 November 2017


Earlier this season we noted the incredible fact that Paul Bastock, who guarded our net on many occasions in the early 1990s, was still playing at the age of 47.  It’s still kind of difficult to get your head around that. A career so long, it began before the break up of the Soviet Union, the invention of the internet and pub food being edible.  Yes those really were different times.

Yesterday Paul reached the summit by playing his 1,250th match in competitive club football, passing Peter Shilton and setting a new world record.  What an honour, and nice to think that among his many, many clubs (probably also a world record) is Kettering Town, where he featured strongly in our 1991/92 Cup run to Ewood Park whilst always looking lovably gormless.  

Shilts was naturally gracious, tweeting not sure who Paul Bastock is or what bloody record he thinks he’s broken but mine was LEAGUE GAMES.  Ah the goalkeepers brotherhood!

Those among you who have reached (or passed) the age of 47 might be reflecting now on how Paul Bastock still manages to fling himself to the ground and pull off reflex saves at an age when the rest of us, on dropping a fork to the floor, go down in instalments.  What is his secret?   Warm baths?  Ice baths?  Cod liver oil?  WD40?

As he seems determined to play on for ever, there is plenty of time for medical science to investigate whilst Bastock keeps on racking up the apps and Shilton grumbles away to himself. 

Meanwhile we raise a glass to an old Poppy who has done something quite remarkable.      


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Can't Ignore It, I Suppose

As unpalatable as this photograph is, and the fact we all lament the destruction
Rockingham Road, there is an undeniable, painful beauty in this image.

Stark.  Strewn.  Defeated.  But still noble,
with the defiant floodlight reaching for the wintry sky.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Classy Poppies, classy

The officialdom of the Poppies hasn't always been as careful and considerate as they might have been.  Sometimes, when a more thoughtful approach was required they'd be blinkered and brusque.  If not awkward, or outright criminal.

If we've lost our footballing way over the past decade or more at least we've started to regain our soul since escaping Non Park and the clutches of various Shysters who saw nothing in the Poppies other than a few quick pay-days.

Today the Club and Trust joined together to bid farewell to Rockingham Road, and the past and look ahead, whilst still honouring our shared past at our former home.  Even I, who kind of knew from the day we deserted our spiritual home that we'd never return, and kind of accepted this, was touched by the report on the official site of today's proceedings.

We will have tough days in the future, when results don't go our way, or the Council shaft us again, or the Tea Bar has no chips.  But we've still got our club.  And our memories.  And, God help me, we've got each other.  As with a family, you can't choose your kin.  Bumbling, whinging inbreds we might be, but a Poppies family we are and I wouldn't swap any of you for someone better...!

Click here - Farewell Rocky Road