I’ve never really been much of a gambling man. I usually have to subject myself to some serious soul-searching before giving up a quid for the half-time raffle. I did have a flutter on something called the Euromillions quite recently, when the family en masse persuaded me that the £161 million up for grabs might come in quite handy for horse-feed and such like. Of course my share of that would have bought me a brewery and several pubs. Sadly, a couple of old dears in Scotland won that opportunity.
The only three bets I ever placed at a bookies were during a holiday in the late 1970s. The first two drew a blank but the third came in at 3-1 and won me my 50p back with interest. I never darkened their doors again. I have been to a couple of race meetings, at one of which I felt so self-conscious about asking the arm-waving bookie for 25p each way that I decided just to watch the nags run round. On the second occasion, a party of us beer-writers were being wined and dined at York, with each of us given £5 for each of the 8 races to bet on who we liked. Of course I studied form and placed each fiver thoughtfully and skilfully. And of course I ended up with nothing. The girl next to me just picked out the horse names she liked the sound of, and walked away quids up.
So apart from doing the pools for a time a couple of decades ago, I’m not one for betting on the results of football matches. Judging by the adverts that pepper Sky Sports during live games, I presume you can now gamble pretty much on anything at any time. Little wonder that some suspicious activity does occur. Like Forest going seven games without scoring for instance. That sure sounds fishy to me! Early in the season, when Forest were struggling under McLaren and they bought Cotterill in, I had a gut feeling they would beat high-flying Middlesbrough 2-0. So much so I thought about putting the house on it. If I had, I’d have won that brewery. And maybe a pub or two.
Today I’m studying form for the two fixtures I’ve got lined up in the Northern Counties East League Premier division, and looking at a nailed-on Away win followed by a Home banker. As it’s a Bank Holiday, I have my lad with me, as even a small boy can only take so-much holiday time X-Box 360 activity. Maltby Main are conveniently kicking off at 1.00pm, and a 20-minute Motorway sprint will then take us to Staveley for a 3.00pm kick-off. It’s a bright but draughty day, bordering on bloody cold, but we arrive at Maltby just prior to kick-off, and grab a quick chance to acquaint ourselves with the quaintly-monikered Muglet Lane ground. We identify the doorway that serves as the snack bar, where the chips are selling out fast due to the presence of one of the club’s junior teams, destined for ball-boy duty. We’re not sure if there is a clubhouse bar. I ask a local individual who sadly doesn’t appear to know what day it is, so I end up none the wiser. I suspect it’s upstairs but access seems restricted by a steel barrier, so we give it best.
It’s pretty much a two-sided ground, with the other two sides restricted to officials and designated ball boys, much to the lad’s disdain. There’s two covered stands, one of which is seated, although the individuals standing in front does rather make this pointless. The pitch has a wicked slope from end to end but a strong wind is blowing uphill so we expect it to even things out. Home team Maltby Main are second bottom of the table, having not won a home game since beating Bridlington on the first day of the season back in August. They have scored just 16 goals all season whilst conceding 59. Visitors Armthorpe Welfare arrive from Doncaster with two impressive December league wins under their belt. Like I said, an Away banker. I resist the temptation.
Which is just as well, as Maltby’s lively forwards take the game to Armthorpe’s ponderous back line and after benefitting from the keeper’s generosity in fumbling the first into his own net, twice go close before blowing the visitors away with three more goals in a ten-minute spell prior to half time. The visiting fans around us are as shell-shocked as the home fans are, although some of the one-liners certainly help to warm up a bitingly cold day. We are also treated to the amusement of Maltby’s ‘multi-ballboy’ system, with as many as seven of the club’s youngsters tearing across the adjacent cricket pitch at any one time in an attempt to retrieve any strays.
Armthorpe shake it up after the break and it’s more of an even contest, but their goal on 62 turns out to be merely a consolation and Maltby have upset the odds. My hesitance in financially backing my Away banker has been justified. Surely then, in our second match, visiting Long Eaton United – seventh from bottom of the table – must now be favourites to inflict only a second home defeat on promotion-chasing Staveley Miners Welfare? In a weekend where Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all slipped to unexpected defeats, somebody must have made a killing at the bookies. Maybe it’s my turn today!
On arrival at Staveley’s Inkersall Road ground, we are immediately impressed by the smart frontage which smacks of a club in a higher league. The large, spacious and well-patronised clubhouse hosts a busy catering operation with pie (sadly only meat) chips and peas being the order of the day. On the drinks front, there’s no draught, but plenty of bottle-and-can choice, including bottles of Old Speckled Hen. Outside there are seated stands behind one goal and on the halfway line, some covered terracing set well back behind the other goal, and even a TV gantry from which someone is filming the game. The whole stadium gives the impression that the club could effortlessly step up to the Northern Premier League, assuming the team takes them there.
Once again, my gambling money stays firmly in my pocket as the home team duly put Long Eaton to the sword. The visitors play with just a lone, chunky striker up front and although he shows glimpses of control, it’s never going to be enough as Staveley notch two in each half to take the points quite comfortably.
As we go to leave, we check the TV scores and Hey Presto! Forest have scored three and won at Ipswich. Hey, if only I’d have put my house on that!
Programme: Maltby Main £1.50 on the gate. Quite a lot of reading matter, although a lot of it taken from the League website. Staveley £1 on the turnstile. Advert-free but design is little uninspiring.
Floodlight pylons: 4 at Maltby (plus one redundant tower) and 8 at Staveley
Parakeets: Not much birdlife at all.
Club Shop: Didn’t get to explore much at Maltby although they were selling red hats on the turnstile. In the Staveley clubhouse there’s are some club tops for sale.
Toilets: Near to the snack bar at Maltby, in the clubhouse at Staveley
Music the teams run out to: Amusingly, as the players filed out at Maltby, a passing ice-cream van was playing ‘Nellie The Elephant’. All quiet at Staveley
Kop Choirs: No
Away fans: Several mature Armthorpe fellows with biting wit. A lone Long Eaton voice at Staveley.
What’s in a name? I’d like to have seen Long Eaton’s Paul Gamble take a few more chances. And I think Staveley’s Chris Coy should impose himself more. Would it be unfair to blame Long Eaton’s Gary Breach for the holes in his team’s defence?