Lolly leads Les Bleus

Three weeks ago Lolly’s life was made all the better by the arrival of a plain white envelope in the post. The letter was her immediate invitation to quodos at school, especially amongst the nine year old boys as it invited her to be a mascot at the forthcoming England versus France Under 21’s international game. It would also mean a return to CMF’s spiritual football home at the City Ground in Nottingham where she spent so long in her holidays as a trainee WAG.

It would mean a half day off school, but I used my trump card with the school and agreed to come in to talk about writing books as my penance for such a heinous crime of taking my daughters out of school. It also promised to be a good game, with the England team under Stuart Pearce coming off the back of an impressive five nil win in a very snowy Sandefjord on Friday against Norway, and in their final preparations for the European finals in the summer in Sweden.

Pearce’s squad had been reduced by injury to just 17 heads but it had some real promise and quality about it. Joe Hart, widely tipped as England’s next number one was the main goalkeeper in the squad, and other regular Premier League players included Tom Huddlestone, James Milner and Lolly’s favourite Mark Noble.

This was not going to be the first time she had been a mascot. Back in 2004 when she was just 4 years old she was the lead mascot for London Irish versus NEC Harlequins at Twickenham,, walking out onto the pitch with a 6 foot 8 inch Ryan Strudwick in front of 55,000. She took it all calmly in her step, proving her temperament for the big occasion and so we had no doubts that she would cope with this with ease. The only downside was the unwillingness for any of the other Fuller family to make the trip, digging out any excuse rather than coming to see their own flesh and blood in one of the biggest days of her life so far.

For once the school were very happy for me to take the children out of class.  However as part of the deal I had to come in and talk about writing about football, and answer some of the children’s questions.  So for an hour I answered every question possible – some predictable “What is your favourite ground?”, “What is the best thing about writing?”, some taxing – “Tell me how you get you inspiration?”, “How do you use similies?” and the downright silly “Who is your favourite Millwall player?”, “Do you like Spurs?” and “Have you met Wayne Rooney?”.  Overall it was a great experience and I think Lolly got lots of new admirers after that.

So we headed up north, arriving at the ground in good time and dropped off Lolly into the hands of the FA as a small bundle of excitement whilst we drove to meet CMF’s family to hear all about their crazy life where the action never stops….

England Under 21’s 0 France Under 21’s  2- The City Ground, Nottingham – Tuesday 31st March 2009
lolly3 So after dinner with the in-laws, and me keeping my sanity for a record 90 minutes, we headed back to the City Ground.  There seemed to be a decent crowd, helped by some good value ticket prices (£10 Adults and £5 for Children).  The England team were sporting the new “Tailored for football” kit which basically looks like a tennis outfit but retailing for nearly £90 all in (£15 for a pair of plain white socks!) and looked thin on the ground as the squad had been robbed by the senior team of a couple of players, and injuries had further reduced the squad. 

Lolly appeared in the tunnel about ten minutes before kick off for a “warm up” but when it was time to lead the teams out confusion reigned as the lead boy got shy and run away so she was promoted to 2nd place and accompanied the French goalkeeper Johan Carrasso, sharing some french small talk as they lined up for anthems.  We couldn’t get a good enough view for photos but thought the FA would arrange some (unfortunately not – we had to get them from the French FA site…and another point they weren’t given the opportunity for autographs either – nice…)

France were mighty impressive.  There is no doubt that the French FA have really got their house in order and are developing some impressive young talent.  If it wasn’t for Joe Hart in the England goal it would have been five or six before half time, managing a number of excellent saves before Gabriel Obertan fired home from the edge of the penalty area in the 26th minute.  Ten minutes later a fantastic break from end to end saw Moussa Sissoko run clean through the English defence before chipping over Hart.  Two nil with an hour to go but it was game over.

England huffed and puffed but created very little.  Stephen Derbyshire played almost a lone role up front and whilst he ran his little socks off caused passing problems to the French defence.  Noble probably grabbed the man of the match award with a mature display in midfield, adding weight to a call to the full squad (because we do not have enough combatitive forward running central midfielders!).

Lolly raved on about her experience all the way home.  She had managed to chat for a minute with Mark Noble.  She told him she was a West Ham fan and he asked who her favourite player was…”Carlton Cole, Robert Green, James Collins, Jack Collison, Freddie Sears and Scott Parker”…Well done Lolly – nothing like really bringing someone down to earth!


About The City Ground
he 30,000 capacity City Ground hasn’t really changed for a number of years. The ground from a distance looks quite picturesque sitting on the banks of the River Trent. Both ends have been re-developed during the 1990’s, much improving the overall appearance. At one end, the Bridgford Stand houses away fans in the lower tier; it is odd because one third of this stand was built lower then the rest, due to a local Council planning requirement to allow sunlight through to the houses in nearby Colwick Road. Opposite, the Trent End, is the most recent addition to the ground. It is a large two tiered stand that looks quite smart. One unusual feature of the stand, is that running across the middle are a number of rows of seating enclosed within a covered shaded glass area. On one side there is a similarly impressive two tiered stand, with executive boxes in between, which was built in 1980. Once called the Executive Stand, it was recently renamed the Brian Clough Stand in honour of their greatest manager. Facing this is a smaller and much older Main Stand that now looks quite tired in the company of its shiny new neighbours. Whilst plans are floated regularly about relocation, the simple truth is that the club does not have the finance or league position to justify this.

Thanks to Duncan Adams excellent site for the bulk of the information above.

How to get to the City Ground
The ground is walkable from Nottingham railway station in about 20 minutes. As you come out of the main entrance, turn left and then left again. Follow the road down ajacent to the railway line to the dual carriageway and then turn right to walk along the canal. The ground is about 3/4’s of a mile down the dual carriageway on the left, just over Trent Bridge and past Meadow Lane, home of Notts County FC.

If you are driving then take junction 24 off the M1 and then follow the A453 towards Nottingham before taking the A52 to Grantham. When you reach the A6011 junction follow this to the ground. Alternatively take junction 21a and follow the A46 towards Newark, taking the A606 into the West Bridgeford area. There are a number of car parks in the area on a matchday.

How to get a ticket for the City Ground
Tickets for most games do not sell out in advance, especially in recent seasons when Forest’s highest profile games have been against Derby County.  Tickets range in price from £20 in the Lower Trent to £30 in the Upper Brian Clough Stand.  The club often runs special promotions based on the opposition.  To book tickets you can call  0871 226 1980  or by visiting the ticket office here.

Down in the Valley

Almost two years ago to the day I sat high in the East Stand at the Valley and watched West Ham being demolished by a free flowing Charlton team who in a strange reversal of fortune were managed by Alan Pardew (and of course Hammers by the clueless ex-Charlton manager Curbishley). On that cold February day there seemed little hope of West Ham beating the drop, and a certainty that the Addicks would be prelonging their Premier League status for another season.

Two years down the line and on one of the coldest Saturdays in recent years West Ham travelled to Newcastle United on the back of three consecutive wins and a chance to climb to 8th in the table, whilst Charlton were due to entertain another fallen giant, Nottingham Forest in a game that pitched two of the favourites for relegation to the third tier of English football together. Much has been written about the reasons how and why West Ham kept their Premier League and that debate is not for today but it is only in the past few weeks that the dire consequences of that last Premier League season are coming to light from Charlton’s point of view.

Since the start of the 2006/07 season the club have welcomed four managers, and after Alan Pardew’s departure in November 2008, they gave the role to his assistant, Phil Parkinson on a temporary basis. Parkinson was to be judged on results, and it shows how bad the club’s predicament is that they could not find anyone who was willing to do the job and so in the weeks leading up to this game after 2 draws and 8 defeats in his 10 games in charge he was given the job on a full time basis. With a team full of lower league signings and loanees he faced a mammoth task of trying to end a run of 18 games withouth a win.

In the other dugout was Billy Davies who was taking charge for the first time in the league after replacing Colin Calderwood and coming off the back of a stunning 3-0 at Manchester City in the FA Cup last week and confidence was high. On first glance Forest had one thing going for them that Charlton didn’t – two goalscorers in Robert Earnshaw and Nathan Tyson. And how they would prove this point in the first half.

I had originally planned to venture down to Ebbsfleet for their defence of their FA Trophy crown, but the cold harsh frost put pay to this game early on Friday as well as my plans B to G (Lewes, Cambridge, Southend, Dagenham, Gillingham and Luton). (In)Active Matt had had his season tickets for years and as he had no friends for this one I took the opportunity to be Mrs S Lewis and accompany him. It was nice a change to be able to leave at 2pm for a game and park within a 5 minute walk of the stadium – another sign of the troubles the club were in.

I like Charlton. After Upton Park I have been to The Valley more than any other ground (Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium runs it close after I followed them in their legendary play off season in the mid Eighties after serving a parent enduced season ban from Upton Park after Big Nige was arrested for football related misbehaving) and actually watched my first ever live game here in April 1974 when Charlton Athletic v Burnley. I have seen games there laid out on the old East terrace, once the biggest single stand in English football with my Grandad who was a staunch Charlton fan. I walked out with him onto the pitch to present the matchball to Uriah Rennie in 1993 and couldn’t help laugh when Grandad asked him if he was paid to referee so bad last week on the game on Match of the Day. I was there on the night when Derek Hayles and Mike Flannigan started a fight over whos hair was the most ridiculous in a cup game versus Maidstone United and donned the Floyd outfit with Matt as Harvey to stand either side of Lennox Lewis in a game versus West Ham as the normal “actors” were too small.

So we took our seats ten minutes before kick off amongst rows of empty seats.  The club had slashed the price of tickets  for this game and  offered  kids for a £1 incentives  but it was refreshing to see that they , like most other clubs higher in the leagues, neglected to offer this to Forest fans who had sold out their section paying full price of course.  Although it could be justified in a way when you saw the depth of the financial issues at the club in the programme.  Despite the parachute payment, despite the massive cash they received from the sale of Darren Bent and others since, the club had lost over £11m in the previous twelve months.  With no more Premier League money now forthcoming the financial position looks bleak for the club.

Charlton Athletic 0 Nottingham Forest 2 – The Valley – Saturday 10th January 2009

Anyone else fancy a game today?

Anyone else fancy a game today?

Charlton lined up with 9 players who had not been in the starting eleven for the last game of the previous season and had two players making their home debuts.  They also included the young midfielder Shelvey who showed why the club are desperate to hold onto him and within the first few minutes he had created two glorious chances for Deon Burton who failed to convert one on ones. Charlton were to pay for these early mistakes and Forest played on the back foot, breaking swiftly when they had a chance.

After dominating the game for the first 30 minutes, Charlton found themselves 2-0 down within two minutes as first Nathan Tyson and then Earnshaw took advantages of cock ups in the Charlton defence (OK let’s be specific Mark Hudson).  The away fans could not believe their luck and made it known how good their team was…..Only problem here was that Forest’s adopted song these days is a rendition of Mull of Kintyre, which is the same as Charlton’s “Valley, Floyd Road” which was a tad consuing for all.

At half time the Charlton players appeared 10 minutes early and were put through some warm up paces by Assistant Mark Kinsella but surely they needed shooting practice, or at least they should have all gone and shouted at the empty net to take out some strange subconscious fear they appear to have of the net.  The second half failed to live up to expectation and 25,000 fans, players, staff and management alike willed the game to end just to get some warmth in their frost bitten toes.

We were back in the car within a few minutes of the final whistle and home by 5.30pm…..I don’t think I will be back this season although with potential local derbies against Dagenham & Redbridge and Brentford next season I may come back then…shame real shame…

Full details of the Valley, how to get there and ticket prices can be found at Duncan Adam’s website –