During 2001, I became very much a minus Z-list celebrity as a football pundit! As a fan of the once-mighty Leeds United,
back then they were riding high in the Premiership and Champions League and every self-respecting sports journalist wanted
the inside, fans view of what was going on at Elland Road. In 1997, I began my own fanzine "To Ell and Back" and in 2000 I
signed a deal with the Chrysalis group to publish this on-line. It was heady stuff, big meetings down in London, contracts
to sign and it opened further doors. I did Skysports Fanzone and on Mr Murdoch's money, I was flown business class from Manchester
to London (I was living in the north at the time) and was chaffeurred to the studios in a car who's previous passenger had
been Jimmy Hill! I appeared twice on something called Sport TV, which was one of the many extra-terrestrial TV channels that
boomed in the noughties. I was on the radio a lot, William Hill radio, Teamtalk 252 and I was muted as a potential co-commentator
with a local station in Leeds on "the whites" home matches. I set up a publishing company and explored other avenues of revenue.
I met Peter Ridsdale, the then-chairman of Leeds United and the man who so many blame for the plight the club is in today!
I ended up in Denmark playing football (badly) with a bunch of Danish Leeds supporters in a tournament against other followers
of English football teams out there. My boss at the time was understandably furious I was spending so much time on these things
and summonsed me into his office to tell me that if I had designs on becoming the next John Motson, it would be in my
own time and my sheepskin coat would not come out of my business expenses.
Six weeks later, I resigned!
However my love of the beautiful game was born and nurtured at the Dovecote, then-home of Shepshed Charterhouse FC!
I think it was Raymond Mitchell, my neighbour and good friend who took me along to matches when Shepshed were in the
Leicestershire Senior League playing the likes of Enderby Town, Wigston Fields, Anstey Nomads and Friar Lane Old Boys (who
became my second favourite team behind SCFC!).
The chairman at the time was a gentleman called Maurice Clayton, a successful businessman who was and I believe still
is involved in the textile/rag trade. At the time textile firms were a major employer in Shepshed. As well as Mr Clayton's
Charterhouse operation, I remember Halls the sock factory and Mansfield Hosiery (I think) on Factory Street.
Having a chairman with a disposable income obviously helped Shepshed surge through the local-leagues and in 1984, they
took their place in what was known as the Southern Premier League. This was just two promotions from the Football League Fourth
Division and Mr Clayton I believe genuinely wanted to bring professional football to the Dovecote and the town of Shepshed!
Imagine that! What a vision and what ambition!
We had no reason to believe that he would he would live his and our own dreams, after all his business appeared to be
strong. In the early 1980's, I believe he secured a lucrative contract to produce merchandise for the NFL. American Football
became massive due to coverage on Channel Four and back then, if you were fan of the Dolphin's, Raiders or 49ers and had the
t-shirt there was a good chance it was one produced by one of Mr Clayton's employees. They also produced Simpson's merchandise.
He would be quite distinguishable at matches and would walk round saying hello to everybody. He often wore a big hat! He disgruntled several
fans and was the butt of some sly comments when he converted part of the clubhouse into "The Chairman's Lounge" - I was allowed
in once and noted that the toilets were named "Boys" and "Girls" - oh such glamour and showbiz in an age when football was
nowhere near as fashionable as it is now! Indeed many saw it as an embarrassment to our great nation due to the hooligan problems.
There was rarely any trouble at the Dovecote, if ever. It was a small but charming ground. It boasted an excellent playing
surface. During the pre-season, Leicester City, Forest and Derby would often send teams. I saw the nomadic Mickey Thomas play
for Stoke at the Dovecote. Watford once sent a team up, as did Manchester United (John Sivebeck was the only famous name in
the team), Halifax and Huddersfield Town.
Some famous names played at the Dovecote. Neil Grewcock may not be a household name, but in Burnley he is a legend. After
transferring to the Claret's, he scored a vital goal that helped keep them in the football league 1985. I saw Steve Powell
play, coach and manage the whites. He arrived at the Dovecote after an illustrious playing career with Derby County and having
made over 400 appearances for the Rams. Phil Boyer had a brief spell with Shepshed, having earned one England cap in 1976
and playing for (amongst others) Southampton, Norwich and Manchester City. Terry Hennessey (ex Forest, Derby and Birmingham)
managed the club, as did Ian Storey-Moore (ex-Forest and famously poached from under Brian Clough's nose by Manchester United).
Jeff Blockley, a true gent, a lovely man who played for Coventry, Leicester, Arsenal and like Boyer earned one-England cap.
Alan Young, the big Scottish centre-forward once of Leicester City....I could go on and on, however a little known fact is
that a certain Martin O'Neill managed Shepshed before going on to successfully manage Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and Aston
My own favourite players were Colin King, the goalkeeper, Mark Kenderick - the towering centre-half, Mark Cox, the bustling
midfielder, Jeff Lissaman - the stalwart captain (who I once feared was going to batter me senseless after I booed the team
off following a 5-0 drubbing at home against Corby) and Dennis Jenas, "the black flash" and father to Jermaine Jenas!
However the mainstay and lifeblood of the club were its band of hard-working volunteers, who willingly gave up their
time so we could take for granted the facilities and club. I remember Cyril Mee, the gateman - I would risk a telling-off
from Cyril by trying to sneak into the seats without paying the extra 50p or whatever it was to sit in the small "Grandstand".
Another gateman and local character I remember was Jeff "Twinny" Hollis. Then there was Gladys and Ken Webster who ran
the supporters-club trips to away games.
Willie Cooke! The kitman, what a character he was. He was a regular in the Swan and used to wind me up something terrible.
On away matches, I became his "unofficial assistant" to get free-entry into the ground! I would help him carry the
kit-bags into the dressing room and if anyone said anything, Willie would snap back "He's with me!" - after
a few close shaves he got me a couple of Shepshed Charterhouse tracksuits, so I would look the part - but one of my so-called
mates nicked them!
A guy called Graham Spencer who drank in the Swan was also involved with "the whites" and he helped me with
a school project once about the history of the club. It had a real family and community feel to it.
Alas, I missed out on Shepshed Charterhouse's finest hour! The first round of the FA Cup away at Preston in November
1982! Raymond went and offered to take me, but I did not want to miss my tea at my Grandmas' - unbelievable when I think back
now! About 2000 went up to Deepdale to see our lads bravely battle and go down 5-1. I think we took the lead as well! When
the draw had initially been made, press reports from Lancashire said that the Preston lot were asking "Shepshed Who?" so the
Echo famously retorted "Preston Who?".
I think away games are amongst my favourite memories. We would set off early on our Tricentral coach to some far-flung
destination down south. Eventually Mr Clayton commissioned our own bus to save coasts and it looked like something that had
been dragged out of a museum! It was embarrassing! To make matters worse, he rebranded the team with a nickname "The Raiders"
(I think he had got a bit carried away with the NFL thing!) and had the bus resprayed with plastered all over it.
Incidentally, I do not recall him actually travelling on it!
The players would sit at the back, usually playing cards and bombarding the driver with requests to play their cassettes.
Once I remember some friendly conflict with some of the older fans, when U2 and Peter Gabrielle was replaced by the likes
of Crystal Gayle and Glenn Campbell! It was all such a laugh.
One fellow follower who had me in stitches was Zac Watret, he was 70 if he was a day and would spend all match cursing
the players. On the coach home, he would give a no-holds-barred account of their performance and his stock phrase was "bloody
rubbish!". I remember one night match at Willenhall, when unimpressed with goalkeeper Nick Goodwin's performance, he told
him "No Fish and Chips on t'way home for you tonight my lad!". Nick somehow recovered from this damning assessment of his
capabiities and went on to become a stalwart at Burton Albion.
My knowledge of this country was gleaned on those long away trips, we went to places like Dartford, Chelmsford,
Ashford and Folkestone. I remember going down to Crawley on a Tuesday night during my school Easter Holidays to watch
us lose 6-2 on a quagmire of a pitch. I think this was around about 1985 because some of the older lads who had been into
a pub before the game were moaning because they had been charged a quid each for a pint of lager! Me and my Dad did a weekender
with the club, when to solve a fixture backlog, the club agreed to play Gosport Borough on the Saturday and Fareham Town on
the Sunday, taking over a B&B in Southsea on the Saturday night. What a weekend that was! I remember going for a curry
with my Dad, Rob Cooke and "Pissed Up" Pat! To make it more memorable, Shepshed won both games!
I first went to Wembley with Shepshed to see the 1986 FA Trophy Final. Unfortunately we had been knocked-out, but the
club ran a trip to see the Altrincham v Runcorn final. It was an amazing experience to see the stadium as it was before it
went all seater and before it was demolished! I remember Willie Cooke kept sending me to the bar, even though I was fourteen
I was a big lad for my age and got served no bother!
Probably the most scary away trip was at Fisher Athletic in 1987. They were based in Bermondsey and the rumour was that when
Millwall were away, some of their fans would cheer on "The Fish" rather than wreaking havoc elsewhere in the country.
I remember playing pool in their clubhouse with a lad called John Morley, who's sister Alison I knew from school. About
six of these big hulks in designer gear with bleached hair walked in, put their money on the table and after me
and John had finished playing we walked away! "What's up lads?" said one "Ain't the winner staying on for a game?".
We declined and weren't too bothered that day that Shepshed lost to a far better team, at least we got out there alive!
My last game at the Dovecote was a 3-1 win over Nuneaton Borough at the end of the 1987/88 season. I said farewell to
the lads behind the goal and never went back and I have never been back since! I think this was because in the summer of 1988
I started courting strong for the first time and the girl in question lived down south, so my trips with Shepshed stood me
in good stead! Another consideration was that I could not drive and my parents would have to drop me off and pick me up. Without
mobile phones, this could be pretty difficult on away matches because I never knew what time we were due back in Shepshed
- so they'd either be sitting outside the Dovecote waiting for me for ages or Id have to ring them when I got back and wait.
I've often been tempted to visit the Dovecote again to see if any of the old faces are still there and to see if it has
changed at all in the last 21 years, maybe one day I will. Nowadays they are known as Shepshed Dynamo and play in the Unibond
League and I still look for their scores.