Saturday afternoon at ‘the Cottage’
December 15, 2010

It has been a busy week or so since returning from Rwanda. Over the last ten days I’ve caught up with family and friends in Bristol, Nottingham, London and Birmingham.

I spent the last weekend in London. This enabled me to visit Gem in Balham and catch up with her journalistic exploits. She has penned the lead article for the bumper Christmas issue of Love It!

It was also an opportunity to attend the annual Book Bus reunion, held at Adulis – an Eritrean restaurant in the Oval area, and meet up with the colleagues I worked with in Zambia during May.

In between morning coffee on the Balham High Road and an evening out on the Brixton Road I spent a chilly winter afternoon in the Johnny Haynes Stand, at Craven Cottage, watching the Premiership game between Fulham and Sunderland.

In truth it was a disappointing game (a nil –nil draw), so much so that the reporter in the Independent on Sunday awarded the man of the match award to referee Neil Swarbrick!

I have to say it did cross my mind that if  the level of play I saw on saw on Saturday was typical of that in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League then perhaps the current Forest team wouldn’t be out-of-place should they gain promotion.   

I first visited Craven Cottage for the opening game of the 1976-7 season. It was a warm and sunny August day and Fulham were entertaining a Forest side in the old second division. It finished 2-2 and Forest’s scorers were the lively winger Terry Curran and old stager John O’Hare.

Little did I suspect at the time that this would be the first game of an incredible four-year period that would see Cloughie’s Forest team win promotion to the 1st division  followed by the league championship and back to back European Cups!

Craven Cottage is always a  joy to visit, even in the fading light of a grey December day. From Putney Bridge tube station there is a lovely walk through Bishops Park to the riverside stadium which has managed to successfully merge early 20th century architecture with 21st century amenities.

The Johnny Haynes stand, named after ‘the maestro’ – an elegant midfield player for England during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, still sports a classic gable, labelled Fulham Football Club, and my seat was an original of the wooden tip up variety.

The players still enter the pitch from the unique pavilion building, referred to as ‘the cottage,’ which stands in the corner of the ground between the Johnny Haynes Stand and the Putney End.

I have always had a soft spot for Fulham, a homely club in a fashionable part of London. When I first started to follow football they were permanently in the lower reaches of the 1st division. 

Their chairman was music hall comedian Tommy Trinder and the star player was the afore-mentioned Haynes.

There was also a promising attacking full back, George Cohen, who would go on to pick up a World Cup Winners medal.

Bobby Moore and George Best briefly illuminated the Craven Cottage pitch in the twilight of their careers, and Malcolm MacDonald began his goal scoring exploits on the bank of the Thames, but as the years passed by Fulham began a slow descent towards the basement of English football.

Fortunately for them, under the ownership of the Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed, they once more returned to the top-level, in 2001, where they have gradually re-established themselves over the last nine years.

Last year, under manager Roy Hodgson (now at Liverpool), Fulham enjoyed a fairy tale run in the Europa Cup reaching the final, in Hamburg, where they eventually lost to Atletico Madrid.  

Al Fayed was at the game on Saturday. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and too many more performances like the one I witnessed could lead to current manager Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes being shown the door.

Fulham are perilously close to the relegation places, only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, but I hope they will survive.

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News & Views from the UK
October 3, 2010

Thanks to all of you who have been keeping in touch either by email or posting messages on the blog. It is very much appreciated.

I did temporarily have an email virus so apologies to any of you who received unsolicited messages from my address advertising Viagra and the like! I seem to have resolved the problem now.

Although I have got regular internet access via the MTN dongle it can be terribly slow and it takes up most of my spare time accessing and responding to emails, keeping the blog up to date and keeping tabs on Forest and Gloucester.  

It’s a waste of time trying to get on the BBC website as it takes forever to download, so I’m feeling rather out of touch with regard to current affairs, which is rather frustrating.

I did receive a chatty email from Gem the other day informing me that Geeky (Ed Miliband ) had won the Labour leadership contest, surprised but pleased about that, and that the Pope’s visit had been annoyingly controversial, not surprised about that!

Gem also tells me she got the double page lead in last week’s Love It, plus a couple of smaller features inside – good girl, well done!

The tom toms were beating in deepest Rwanda with news of Gloucester’s 18-3 victory over Baarf at  ‘the Wreck’. Thanks for that Keith. I think that’s only their second league win there since the Rugby Premiership began and even better it was in front of the Sky cameras. I bet Stuart Barnes was full of praise for the Cherry and Whites! Interestingly no news from Solihull on this one, Steve!  

Forest continued their unbeaten run with an apparently hard-fought draw at Donny Rovers yesterday following their mid-week point at home to the Blades. I’m not quite sure where we currently stand in the Championship but if we could turn a few more draws into wins I’m sure we wouldn’t be too far off a top six place.       

Msafiri  tells me he’s showing Chelsea v Arsenal  this afternoon so I might settle myself down with a bottle of Primus in front of his giant screen.

Grey Days & Away Days…..
August 8, 2010

It’s been another hectic week……..

Having returned to a miserably overcast Birmingham Airport, late Monday afternoon, from blue skies and 40 degrees  in Spain, thoughts immediately turned to our next jaunt, motoring in France, next week.

We booked tonight’s ferry crossing from Portsmouth just over a week ago so rather a last-minute decision. We don’t have a fixed destination in mind but thought we would head, in leisurely style, towards the châteaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley, an area we last visited way back in 1982!

Hopefully, along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities  for me to gain much-needed practice in my spoken French – pre Rwanda.

Having checked out a few hotels on-line, all of which looked rather over priced, we have decided where possible to camp. Having recently spent four weeks under canvas in Zambia I think I can just about manage another week on the Thermarest mattress shoe-horned into my mummy style sleeping bag.  

Thinking our camping days were well and truly behind us we got rid of our old frame tent and cooking equipment during a loft clearance exercise a few years ago. We have therefore invested in a lightweight, erected in seconds, affair – we’ll see! We are taking just the single gas burner, a small kettle for an early morning cuppa and a box of cornflakes but apart from that we intend to eat out.      

Having given Tuesday over to selecting and buying a tent, Wednesday was ear marked for  getting to grips with the  beginners’ Kinyarwanda course, which to be honest is proving easier said than done.

Half an hour in and I received an emergency phone call from VSO. Apparently the Rwandan authorities require my CRB clearance to be updated before they can issue a work permit. With time of the essence and my passport, which I will be using next week, required as evidence I had no alternative but to present myself in person at Putney HQ.

Thursday, at 6.30, I joined the early morning commuters from Pershore station, bound for Paddington. By 9.30 I had negotiated the District Line down to East Putney and presented myself at the VSO office. Within thirty minutes I had completed the paperwork, the accompanying documentary evidence  had been scrutinised and I was on my way again.

Having made my way,via the Central Line, to Chancery Lane I collapsed inside Café Nero, with a much-needed black Americano and  a (low-calorie) sticky toffee muffin, for breakfast.

This was my pre-appointed place of rendezvous with Gem who has recently taken up an appointment, as features writer, in the Old Holborn office of Love It magazine. We managed to grab 40 minutes or so together and she seems very happy with her new job which seems to be going fine. You can check out what she’s up to every Tuesday, copies available from all reputable newsagents and stationers!

Friday was another day of Test cricket, this time at Edgbaston. I hadn’t realised when I booked the ticket, months ago, that Pakistan would prove such light weight opponents this year and that I would be spending the day under gloomy Birmingham skies watching the play against the grey backdrop of a building site.

A 30 million pound redevelopment of the pavilion end is mid completion. It will be great when it’s finished (right) but it remains a mystery to me how the ECB could justify scheduling a Test Match at this venue, under these circumstances, given that there are a number of other grounds perfectly willing and able to stage the game.

The ball seamed and swung and, with Pakistan all out for a paltry 72, by mid afternoon the game was, to all intents and purposes, over. Given the advantageous bowling condition and the fragile state of the Pakistani batting it’s quite difficult to judge just how good the England bowlers are but it was good to see Stuart Broad amongst the wickets again.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day of the 2010-11 football season for all of those teams outside the Premier League! Forest were away at Burnley, who were relegated from the top-tier last year and are favourites to bounce straight back up again.

I decided to make the journey north to Turf Moor as there won’t be too many opportunities for me to watch the Tricky Trees before Christmas. With the aid of the trusty sat nav I was there in two and a half hours, motorway all the way.

It was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me. Back in 1966-7 Forest finished runners-up in the old 1st Division and as young 13-year-old fan I tried to get to as many games as possible. Visits to away grounds were quite a rarity in those days and Burnley was one of the first that I managed to get to.

I remember  it vividly. A friend’s uncle arrived mid afternoon in his old Morris Minor and offered to take us to the Easter Tuesday evening match. Of course we jumped at the chance. The old car wasn’t much of a speedster, especially with five of us in it, but we made the kick off.

I can remember the glistening cobbled streets around the ground which was tucked in amongst rows of terraced houses. It was real flat cap and whippet territory and the accents on the terraces were as thick as Lancashire Hot Pot!

Forest won that night with two goals from the legendary Zigger Zagger , Zigger Zagger, Joe Baker!  We could have done with him up front yesterday. He would have buried at least one of the three chances Nathan Tyson managed to lash into the crowd. The 1-0 defeat, was hard to take but the performance suggested we will be there or there about again at the business end of the season.     

That’s  just about it for this week. I’ve mowed the lawns, packed the car and the sun is even shining for the first time this week. La belle France beckons!

PS.

Bonne Anniversaire Gem!  I hope you are enjoying Lille and Reims with Nicci and Rache and enjoying a celebratory bottle of fizzy (or two)!