Sunday in the Park with Georges

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

4 May 2003

Grimsby Town 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

A bright, sunny and warm afternoon with a stiff breeze hurtling through the open corner and into the faces of the Smiths/Stones/Findus Standers. The entire Osmond End was packed full of Brightonians, which made the stand look like a giant Tesco's bag, but a passionate, rousing, all singing 'n' dancing one. The Town fans cast off their season-long torpor and decided to have a little jig too - why not have a picnic in the Park?

Hot news of an important breakthrough in food technology, a massive leap forward for mankind. The official floozies wandered around the pitch chucking bags of fish-and-chip flavoured crisps to the goggling throng. That'll be 'fish' flavoured crisps, won't it. The excitement was such that the Pontoon barely noticed Michael Boulding walking among them, hair a-waving, suit a-shining - well it's so long since we've seen him; last year, wasn't it?

In a throwback to medieval times, Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Santos, Chettle, Gallimore, Campbell, Groves, Hughes, Keane, Mansaram and Thompson. The substitutes were Pettinger, Parker, Cooke, Bolder and Rowan. Now, where do we start? How about Hughes' hair? Shorn of the flowing wavy-gravy locks, his last game for Town was an homage to Dickie Davies. A little white blob on the centre left, which is a description of his hair, not his personality. Perhaps he has a cunning plan, Mr B, for his return to Portsmouth. A new haircut might con 'Arry. He isn't that trundler rented out to "no disrespect to the likes of Grimsby" (to quote the Town's official FIFA-registered name), but a new, exciting Latin lover/playmaker.

The crowd were given one more chance to pine for Cooke as he ran up and down under the police box. Rowan sat on the bench. No-one knows why. He's a footnote in comedy history, in that famous double act, Rowan and Jevons' laugh-in. If you don't remember, just look him up in your Funk and Wagnall's.

For some reason Brighton brought along the staff of a local nightclub to play for them. Appropriate for a Sunday afternoon, but not for the first division. They had several bullet-headed Saxon mothers' sons, who I presumed to be the bouncers, not the cloakroom girls, and all the DJs came too, which was nice. Their left midfielder, DJ Skunkboy, was listed in the programme as Nathan Jones. Yeah right, we believe that. Just as much as we believed his hair. Cropped short except for a huge blazing great pseudo-mohican down the middle, like a giant squirrel had been squashed onto his head, affixed with Bostik. Their left-back was allegedly called Kerry Mayo, which we thought was the brand of high-calorie salad cream he favoured. So on the left they had Porkie and Skunk, which sounds like a short-lived buddy-buddy cop series from the 1970s.

Beasant was given an extremely warm and long ovation when he loped towards us, which engendered several ad-hoc history lessons for the teenagers. All they need to know was he played for us once when he had a perm.

First half

Brighton, in a very bright all-red kit, kicked off towards the Osmond Stand and it was clear they'd improved greatly since last September. Their long thwacks forward generally go near their own players now. Town's long hoofs are much more accurate, reflecting our greater experience of first division football. They go straight into the middle of the forehead of the opposition centre-backs. Now that's the difference in class between the divisions.

Minutes passed. The Brighton fans sang. The Town fans responded. A jolly time was had by all. And in between us 22 men were earning money. Brighton wellied it forward, but Chettle and Santos were unperturbed. They had a corner, it went into the area, it went out again. The away fans "ooh"-ed, the home fans sniggered. Town chance! The Town fans sniggered again. Mansaram was briefly free inside the penalty area, perhaps 10 yards out. He sidestepped one defender and turned around rather than shooting. That's our Flash - he sometimes resembles the uncoiling Alien, an uncoordinated gangle of limbs which, if left alone for a few minutes, could be lethal.

Ooh, hang on - Brighton attacked. No, calm down - they crossed and Santos headed away. And again. No, sit down - Coyne caught the cross. Excitement! Action! Crosses! As the ball pinged around and, occasionally, out of the ground, the Town fans sat further and further back in their seats, a knowing smile growing ever wider. This was a lark: the first friendly of next season. For all their furious huffing and puffing, Brighton created nothing. There were moments of danger, but only from corners and free kicks, of which there were many courtesy of a referee who was having a bit of a laugh, seeing how many rotten decisions he could get away with. He must have been, surely? There's no other logical explanation for his behaviour.

Sometime within the great amorphous goo that was the first 20 minutes, Town got a free kick about 25 yards out, right in the centre. Gallimore took a deep breath and prepared for action. The back row of the Pontoon took a deep breath and prepared to catch the ball. Gallimore smacked a low drive which, to the consternation of all, failed to hit the shins of the bloke two from the left in the wall. [It was deflected - cynical Ed.] Beasant was so flabbergasted that he dived very late to his left, the ball ricocheting off his shins to Campbell, eight yards out and to the left of goal, who slid forward and whacked the ball high over the bar as he was challenged from behind by Porkie the barrow boy. Worth an "oooooh" in anyone's book.

Brighton had a few more crosses. Groves was forced to clear a corner with his chest. Then Brighton had a few more crosses. Kitson headed eight yards wide from the centre of the penalty area, which was very close by the standards Brighton had set themselves. Later on, at some indeterminate time that was certainly before half time, but after the kick off, one of their players had a shot. It went Poutonianly wide, almost Mansaramianly sliced.

After about 22 minutes something happened. The ball was bundled about in midfield, with Campbell in the centre circle, stretching and looping a "pass" over the top of Porkie the barrel-chested boy. Thompson, hitherto a lightweight ponce, full of shrugs and sneers, chased after the hopeful punt (that's the pass, not the full back). Mayo, a couple of yards outside the penalty area, attempted to control the ball as it dropped over his head. He'd seen McDermott do it, so he was darn well gonna show these doubters that he could do it too. He couldn't. The ball lurched off his foot into the path of the scampering Scouser. Mayo stretched again, like he did last summer, allowing Thompson the opportunity to avoid falling over the lingering limb. Like any self-respecting Liverpudlian, he never looks a carthorse in the mouth. Down he went. The Pontoon cried penalty; the referee pointed to the spot. How we laughed at Thompson's tumble and that the fall started outside the penalty area. It was, in the language of pundits, "highly debatable". In English it was "dodgy".

Keane sprinted 40 yards and grabbed the ball as Thompson tried to pick it up. They then had what Alan Mullery once described as a "minor fricassee on the touchline", with Campbell joining the debate. All three had a barney, with Keane clearly the hardest, so he won. No, not hardest, maddest: the bloke is bonkers. Mad Dog Michael wrenched the ball away from Thompson and placed it on the penalty spot. It rolled away. He put it back. It rolled away again. Three Brighton players had a tussle with Mansaram on the edge of the area. The referee pointed to his whistle and wagged his finger. Cullip, the meanest looking centre back, walked across Keane's path. Keane strode forward and the ball started to roll towards goal, caught on the breeze. Now what would anyone expect at the seaside? Those ball always fly away across the sand. KEANE caught up with the ball and placed it into the bottom right-hand corner, as Old Dave lurched to his left. Off came the shirt, into the crowd went Grimsby's favourite leprechaun and down went the Brighton hearts. Now, that tattoo on Keane's back, it looks Gaelic to me. That, or the tattooist can't spell.

Apart from the goal, Town's only moment of interest came a couple of minutes later. Keane and Mansaram buzzed around the edge of the Brighton box, robbing the ball off a couple of dilatory defenders. Hughes was played behind the defence on the centre left, just inside the penalty area. He turned and hit a low dribbler across Beasant, which was saved quite easily.

Add to that a few McDermott surges, including one down the left, and that's your lot, as far as Town are concerned. Hughes and Groves passed it adequately through the midfield, but Campbell was again an ephemeral presence. Thompson was weak and adept at running away from the ball. Mansaram has perfected the spindly spin, which defenders have long been able to anticipate. I will stand up and be counted. I was there when Mansaram last had the ball under control. It was in November. Defensively there were no concerns at all. Is that Zamora bloke playing?

Brighton had a few more crosses and the game petered away, if something can peter away from nothing. Brighton were competitive, in the same way Livvo is competitive. A bunch of lumpers and thumpers, they were brutally basic in their tactics and skill levels. Shall we be fair to them and say they have overachieved? It just shows how far a bit of organisation and determination can get you - almost safety in Division One.

There were a few injuries to Town players, the longest stoppage being for Chettle who, in the 43rd minute (it's always the 43rd minute) stayed down after a well-timed tackle stopped their number 9, Hart. The 45th minute came and went. And still the game continued. On, and on, and on. After three or four minutes of added time, a Brighton attack was repulsed with the ball falling to Hughes, in the centre just outside the Town penalty area. He looked up, saw a Town player scampering unmarked down the left and tried to hit a Pouton-like pass with the outside of his left boot. It was Pouton-like in that it went straight to a Brighton player.

Hart turned around and dribbled forward at speed directly towards a phalanx of fading monochromers. As he approached Gallimore he dropped his shoulder and shimmied. That was enough for Gallimore, who was turned like an old sock. Hart approached the edge of the area and saw a block of black and white, perhaps five Town players all stood in front of him. On entering the forbidden zone he encountered Chettle, who simply stood still. What to do, what to do? Inquisitive by nature, Hart put on an invisible aqualung and decided to investigate those old wrecks. He fell, and the ref fell for the fall. The most unnatural tumble since, er, Thompson 20 minutes earlier.

ZAMORA waddled forward and rolled the ball into the bottom left corner, as Coyne flopped to his right. The half then ended to a rolling, rippling tide of blue and white flying across the Osmond Stand from left to right. Our guests were happy, as usual.

It wasn't a bad second division game, and in some ways enjoyable, though that may have been the result of the complete lack of tension for the Town fans. At least the Town players were trying, and the defence looked very solid for once. You know, whatever, here comes summer.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"All things must pass." "Not Macca they won't."
"Town look like Town again in those shirts."
"Has Coyne touched the ball yet?"
"I'm not into skateboard rock."
"I hope every week is like this next season."
"Shall we take a sweep on how many of this lot are here in July?"

Second half

Town kicked off with the usual pass back to Gallimore, who dillied, dallied, and caressed a pass down the left towards Thompson, who controlled it and passed inside, and the ball meandered across the pitch. Hang on, what's happening? It didn't go straight out of play. Are we practicing for next year already? Are there different rules for second division kick offs?

Brighton started the second half at a much higher tempo, like they had something to play for. With the home fans slouched lazily across several seats, and some still queuing for the last pie of the season (why worry? It'll still be there in August), Brighton attacked down their right and managed to almost create a chance. The ball was whizzed back to Rodger, about 25 yards out in the centre, who lashed a shot towards goal. Santos stuck his bonce in the way and the ball skidded away for a corner.

The corner, from their left, was curled away from goal and sailed gently through the area to one of their shaven headed players about 12 yards out, to the left of goal. It bounced off his chest and straight to Zamora, who blasted a half volley towards goal. The ball thumped Chettle full in the face and careered off sideways into a big, unguarded space. CULLIP, on the edge of the six-yard box and level with the right post, swivelled and steered a low shot through the legs of Santos, who had stayed on the goal line.

The Brighton players and fans went wild, and who could blame them for that. Been there, done that, sold the players. There was a long delay as Chettle received treatment. He didn't move for a minute or two. Some of the Town players tried to claim that he'd been fouled in the run-up to the goal. Yes, that's right, the ball had elbowed Chettle and should have got a red card. Now that's a refereeing decision I would like to see.

The sight and sound of southerners partying roused the Town fans into a response. There were no moans or groans when the goal was scored - I think we've gone way past that - but the Brighton braying was enough to get the Pontoon going. The fans got behind the team, roaring them on, ribbing the away fans that they were going down with the Wednesday ("with us" sotto voce and arpeggio); and, as it turned out, the Brightonians had 10 minutes of false hope. Town attacked. The most cynical Town fan in the Pontoon sarcastically shouted "Hello, Mr Campbell" as the last of the Lennie Loans clipped a superb dipping cross beyond the far post, right onto Keane's left boot. Keane, near the corner of the six-yard box, volleyed across Beasant, who parried the ball onto HUGHES' thigh. Hughes finished brilliantly from two yards, showing his Premiership class by making it look as though the ball just hit him. What a natural finisher. Keane seemed to gesture towards the Brighton fans. I know what we'd say if the roles were reversed. Perhaps he needs a good old-fashioned clip round the ear from his manager.

At this the Osmond Stand sank two feet. A couple of minutes later Chettle was replaced by Bolder, with Groves going back to centre-half. Bolder snapped and snarled, looking most comfortable at this level. He doesn't need to pass the ball, nor control it much, so he's quids in for next season. Groves, too, was exceptionally adequate at centre-back. Now this Bobby Zamora bloke - was he the one that looked like a thin Dion Dublin, but without the close control or threat? Such a big reputation and he didn't produce anything against Town that was extraordinary. Or even ordinary. A neutral would say he was "disappointing". We aren't neutral - he was great!

The game, the season, some people's careers, ticked away without much incident. Gallimore reminded us why we heckle by ducking under a near-post corner. Yes, he was supposed to be defending at the time. A brief moment of panic, averted by Gorgeous Georges, who shrugged the ball Gallicly upfield. Ah, Galli again, booked for threatening their substitute, Brooker, not once, not twice, but three times as they ran back upfield following a foul by Tony the tormented toreador. All he ever wanted was a little white bull, and he got it with Keane in front of him.

Have you got it yet? The game was over, Brighton deflated, Town happy to pass the night away with a stroll in the Park. Oh, just one more thing. Brighton had a few crosses, some of which remained in play. Somewhere in the last 10 minutes Town did something. The ball was dinked down the right touchline with Campbell and Blackwell chasing back. Somehow Campbell managed to muscle the big beefy Blackwell off the ball and scampered away into the penalty area. When near the by-line he pulled a low cross back to the near post. Thompson, about eight yards out, wrapped his right foot around the ball and swept a first-time shot against the face of the crossbar. The ball bounced down and back up, and Bolder headed back into Beasant's arms from a dozen yards out.

With about five minutes left Cooke replaced Keane, who was booed off by the Brightonians. Cooke was cheered on, for one last time, by his devotees. He played on the left and was OK, putting in two good crosses which dipped low inside the six-yard box. The first one Beasant plucked off the turf and the second Mansaram only just failed to divert inside the far post from a couple of yards out.

At around the same time Brighton forced Coyne to make a save, which was nice of them, for it allowed the Pontoon to sing Danny's praise for one last time. One of their slightly chunky players who had hair tried a side-footer from the centre left. The ball rolled through a thicket of legs towards Coyne's bottom right corner. Across he swooshed and at the foot of the post he flipped the ball away for a corner. One for the cameras there.

With a couple of minutes left, Brighton totally bamboozled Gallimore, and who could blame him, for they actually passed the ball with some skill and invention. Nothing too fancy, but in the context of their previous efforts, this was dandified football worthy of the floweriest of eulogies. Brooker and someone else played a one-two behind Gallimore. That's all, but it was enough to have Galli scratching his head in Laurelesque fashion. The ball was pulled back to a substitute, Barrett, who tried a quick, surprising poke shot through Santos' legs from the edge of the area. The ball rolled nicely to Coyne.

And then the moment we knew would come some day, but it's still a shock when it happens. With one minute left Groves pointed to McDermott and off went the iconic, totemic colossus. Groves very publicly led the applause as the ground rose to salute a career, a man, a life. In disbelief. He really is going!

Parker bounced onto the pitch and, well, the King is dead, long live the King. Parker did two good interceptions and had two excellent forays upfield. Once playing a one-two with Mansaram, the other ending with a swirling, slicing shot from 25 yards out. It stayed in the ground, which is a start. Only Mansaram's rubbishness had stopped Parker flying towards goal unimpeded by man or beast. Or in Cullip's case, man-made beast.

Three minutes of added time and nothing to report. The game ended and both sets of fans ran on the pitch, in an entirely good-natured way. The Town fans swarmed around Georges Santos, ignoring everybody else - perhaps working on the theory that kidnapping is just as likely to secure his services as an offer from the Town board. As the Town fans ran back into the stands, some took the opportunity to swing on the crossbars. No, no, no - not you, fat man! We need the cash to pay Georges, not new crossbars, now that you've let him go. And that sums the season up: something almost happened, but it didn't. And then we went home. Welcome to the first day of the rest of our footballing lives.

Goodbye cruel first division, we're leaving you today. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Nicko's man of the match

He will brook no argument: for entirely sentimental reasons it is John McDermott. Nobody ran off the pitch better. Groves gets a special nod too. But a smaller one.

Official warning
C R Wilkes

He's a small man, and he's not in shape. Absolutely useless, almost incapable of making the right decision. One pleasingly bad penalty decision was followed by a stratospherically ludicrous one. I particularly liked the booking of Kitson for time wasting - when Brighton had been awarded a free kick and were 1-0 down. It takes a genius to work that one out. And finally, Cyril, a valuation of his very being, and it is 3.429, as I am feeling in benevolent mood.