Meet the Feebles

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

15 February 2003

Gillingham 3 Grimsby Town 0

A grey, overcast afternoon with a biting wind tickling the ears of around 100 Town fans stood in their usual hunched positions on the terrace. The pitch was very sandy, with clumps of mud all over the place, even before the warm-up started, and the opposition were, as usual, very big. But hey, Town know all about inhospitable afternoons in towns with no National Trust properties within the council boundaries. We patented that particular mould. There's no way they'd play like big city johnnies, wishing they'd rather be at home in front of the open fire, with chestnuts roasting and two cats in the yard. I'm sure it's a very, very, very nice house.

Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Santos, Gallimore, Cooke, Groves, Coldicott, Campbell, Thompson and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Chettle, Barnard, Soames and Bolder. In other words, the same starting XI as last week, except Coldicott for Pouton. Perhaps it was Stacy's kinda game: let's get ready to rumble, or in Galli's case, crumble. Some cynics had already decided Gallimore was for the tumbrel, as his demeanour on running out was less that of a hyped-up athlete than that of a confused tourist who'd left his '25 useful English phrases' book on the coach. And the coach had broken down in Belgium. Santos looked very relaxed, giving a thumbs-up and knowing wink to the Town support as he ambled by. Suspicions were aroused by his sporting dainty black gloves, identical to those worn by Ford. Real men don't wear gloves, said the man with two jumpers, three pairs of socks, thick scarf and woolly mittens.

You have to hand it to Gillingham - year on year they have some of the finest names in football on their teamsheets. The wonderful Nyron Nosworthy (where did the 'a' go?) and now Jones Awuah, a Hawaiian greeting, surely. Isn't their chairman small.

First half

One of the teams kicked off and nothing happened. It was probably Town, who were kicking away from the extreme diehards who had set aside a full human day and billions of Euros to support those individuals who receive money to represent us. Nothing more happened for a couple of minutes. Tackles, schmackles, punts, schpunts. Shapeless, artless, Gillingham huffed and the rest writes itself. This was the flip side of the game at Blundell Park, where Town overpowered and outplayed them. Town just looked small, puny, feeble, physically so inferior that it was like those games at school where the juniors take on the seniors. It didn't help that the long ball upfield was the weapon of choice for Town's defenders, and yes, I do refer to our beleaguered (officially sanctioned silent adjective to precede any mention of Mr A Gallimore from now on) left-back, who was beguiled by the dumpy pitch into thinking our twiggy twosome in attack could outjump and outmuscle a pair of sturdy oaks.

Yes, you could tell this from the first few minutes. It took four minutes for Gillingham to get near goal. A simple process really. Their players ran forward; ours ran around in circles. The ball was played down their left for Shaw, who had made a diagonal run from the centre to somewhere behind McDermott. He turned, and dribbled into the penalty area, attracting three or four defenders, including the centre-backs. The ball stuck to his boot, despite some tackles that varied between effete and dandyish, and with a leap he was free. He passed sideways to an unmarked fellow traveller, in the centre about 15 yards out, who anticipated the arrival of the 9:23 stopper from Grimsby Town station, the Flying Gallimore. Oh dear - another unmarked player was waiting, about a dozen yards out just to the right of the penalty spot. WALLACE received the pass, took one touch, and drilled a low shot to Coyne's right, the ball rippling in the back of the net before even the most morose Town supporter had time to groan. And we are very practiced in anticipatory groaning.

The Gillingham players and fans celebrated like it was an achievement. The Town fans started to get out their train timetables; they could be at Kings Cross by the time the game was finished. Oh, silly us - it had already.

The next five minutes featured nothing of any interest. The pattern of the game had been set. Small Town give ball away, big Gillingham knock it forward quickly. Ford panics, Santos heads the ball. Let's take it as read that all the bits that aren't described were just Santos heading the ball away; it's easier that way for you to picture the game.

After about 10 minutes, something nearly happened. Town strung three passes together in what only the most skilled of football reporters would describe as 'a move'. Boulding was released down the left touchline, probably by Campbell. He bounded down the line, cut in and crossed from the by-line to the near post. A defender scuffed a clearance straight to Groves 25 yards out in the centre. Groves suddenly had visions of his younger self. It often happens when men reach a certain age; for what are the memories of an old man, but the deeds of a man in his prime. It was Peterborough 1992, Luton 1994; it was a scorching, pile-driving, thwacking great shot which zoomed towards the top centre-left of the goal. Brown shuffled to his right and spectacularly tipped the ball over - a little too theatrically, mind, as he didn't have to move that far to get to it. A corner to Town, which provided a perfect platform for a Gillingham attack. No effort on goal, just loads of blue giants pounding towards Coyne.

After a quarter of an hour Gillingham had another attack. That's their second attack, I should stress. Town were ball-watching as play was meandering on the right. Ipoua drifted away from Gallimore and then ran behind him. Galli had hung back and was the last man. The ball was simply knocked over the top, very high. Wallace sprinted, Ipoua zoomed, Ford loped back. Ipoua and Wallace, together, bothered Ford so much he crumpled in indecision. Coyne had half come off his line - he hesitated, then advanced again. WALLACE reached the ball first and lobbed the ball over Wales' number 1 (at Korfball?) and it slowly floated towards the left hand corner of the net. Ford and Ipoua ran after the ball and Ford fell into the goal after the ball had entered. Coyne bellowed, Gallimore raged; the rest looked around silently, eyebrows raised, shoulders hunched.

Dammit, we'd just missed a fast train back to London Victoria.

The rest of the half was equally dire. Gillingham managed another shot, which should have been a third goal. Again a punt over the top down the centre right, again Ford being overpowered, again Coyne came out with no particular conviction. Wallace (I think) lifted the ball past Coyne, the ball hit his left hip and bumbled towards the bottom left corner. Santos ambled around and, inside the six-yard box, scuffed a left-footed clearance straight to McDermott, who stood next to Coyne, a dozen yards out way past the left hand post. There was panic in the streets of Dundee, as well as Humberside.

After about 24 minutes Campbell was seen. A shot from some Town player or other hit him on the back. This is possibly being a little harsh on the man who can often be contacted only via a medium, as a few minutes earlier he had averted danger with an interception deep inside the Town penalty area. As had Gallimore. Credit where credit is due: Lord knows there are enough debit points on their chargecard.

Where are we now? Still in Kent, unfortunately. Ah yes, 32 minutes and another Town shot. Normally I wouldn't bother describing such a dull, humdrum effort, but times are desperate. Thompson shimmied and swashbuckled through the centre, dummied left, swayed right and, from the very centre, 20 yards out, hit a soft shot which hit a defender's shins and rolled gently through to Brown.

There was no atmosphere, no tension, nothing. The Gillingham supporters had long realised the afternoon was theirs; they couldn't be bothered taunting us, so they indulged themselves in personalised chanting for particular players. One or two Town fans tried to sing defiantly, but the acoustics on an open terrace were agin 'em. "We're northern and we're proud if it" sounded more like "We're gay and we're proud of it". Big Tom Robinson fans, perhaps?

At last, it's half time. There was one additional minute, caused by an injury to Santos where he went over the top of Ipoua, landing on his back. Clutching his thigh and squealing like a pig, it looked terminal. But he's French, so we must allow him some slack. He got up and carried on. This added time dragged on a bit, almost like the referee was waiting for the next goal. Eventually Gillingham won the ball back and lobbed it down the Town left. Ipoua and Ford were just outside the penalty area, a few yards from the by-line. Ipoua turned, stopped, turned again towards the by-line and fell. The referee was standing just three yards away and immediately gave a free kick and booked Ford. A rubbish decision. The Town fans couldn't have been closer to this incident, it being almost on the terrace. Southall chipped the free kick into the centre of the goal, about 6 yards out. HOPE rose alone and smacked a firm header into the top centre left of the goal. Town kicked off and the half ended within a second.

The players' tunnel is in the corner where the away fans gather, so on their way back to the dressing room the team received much detailed advice from eight or nine of the less sanguine members of the ragtag army. The referee was also flooded with suggestions, from both sets of supporters, for he had baffled all with his arbitrary decisions. He seemed to be anti-Gillingham mostly, bizarre as it may seem. Although my favourite rubbish decision of the first half was when Gallimore lobbed a free kick goalwards and Ipoua, about six yards away, jumped up and parried the ball, launching a counterattack. It was so obvious that even Gillingham fans shouted handball. Anyway, it was a fine effort at silly mid-on by Ipoua, certainly stopping a boundary.

Analysis? It's all there in black and white. Four shots, three goals, one messy defence with two flapping dandelions. An uncomplicated and committed opposition had simply overrun the reluctant daytrippers. Resilience is a word you won't find in the A-Z of Town (2003 edition). I can think of another word beginning with R - can you? It'll be through the round window.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"You stood on my lucky crumbs!"
"Is Coyne going to make a save today? Or Ford a tackle?"
"I met a gnome from Milton Keynes on the train. He'd left his fishing rod behind."
"Why are they chanting 'Lhamma, Lhamma'?"
"The programme claims that Rodger was involved in a discrepancy on the touchline last week."

No changes were made by either team at half time. So more of the same. Well, sort of. Gillingham didn't completely blast Town into orbit, nor even smack their behinds much. The flatness on the terraces was reflected on the pitch - both sets of players knew the match had been won, so Town didn't want a total humiliation and Gillingham didn't want to risk injury or a sending off.

Second half

So nothing much happened. Again. In the first couple of minutes of the half there was a brief glimpse of a hint. Coldicott controlled a high, skied clearance beautifully and perfectly near the centre circle. He dribbled forward and laid a superbly weighted through ball with the outside of his right boot, splitting the defence. Thompson surged into the gap between the left back and centre back, but was weak, giving up near the ball as Nosworthy eased across. You just know that if that had been at the other end it would have been a goal. For Town, it was hardly approaching a moment of danger.

Many moons later Cooke crossed into the near post, only for the ball to be gathered by Brown with Thompson several yards away. Gallimore punted a couple of free kicks straight into Brown's hands. Boulding was seen once. And then there was the penalty that wasn't, after about an hour. A Town corner from the left was curled low into the near post and a Town player stooped and flicked the ball on. As the ball was travelling towards the bottom left corner it hit a hand, which was attached to an arm, which was connected to a body, which wore a blue shirt. No penalty given. Well, why waste those precious few goals in a lost game anyway?

That's just about it, apart from two McDermott-inspired moments. He exchanged passes with Thompson, surged into the penalty area and hit a cross-shot into the six-yard area. The ball went past Brown and was miskicked by Smith; and the Town support claimed a penalty, for it is always a penalty when the ball hits the backside of an opponent, isn't it? In injury time (yes sir, injury time!) Town had a shot. McDermott surged down the right and laid a pass down the line to Thompson, who twisted inside and flipped a short pass into the edge of the penalty area. McDermott chested the ball down and hit a first-time left-footed half volley which slapped against the advertising boards a yard or so wide of Brown's near post. Pick the bones out of that and try telling me Town weren't dominant. Brown had performed heroics in the second half; only a man of such steel and fortitude could keep back the tide of tedium and remain awake.

I haven't, in this half, taken any cheap shots at the sitting duck that is Gallimore. Don't worry, you know he'll oblige his public. If the secret of great comedy is timing then it's a good job tackling is no part of the laughsmith's art. Galli in back-track mode is a pitiable sight. Sometime in the early part of this waste of space that was the second half, Gallimore was startled by the ball landing behind him. Ipoua rolled around the drinking man's full back; Gallimore held his shirt but Ipoua sportingly ignored this hand of cod and continued spinning, like a wheel within a wheel, on the centre left of the Town area. His final twirl, Anthea, produced a low shot dragged across the face of goal. Coyne flew out towards the Thames, managing to get the tippiest of fingertips to the ball and knock it just wide of the far post.

Ignoring the many crosses that dipped in and out of the Town area I shall proceed to go without collecting £200. As the game dribbled to its inevitable conclusion the substitutions started. Gillingham brought on the mammoth Sidibe, while Town brought on Chettle (Livvo-lite, which is a compliment, by the way) for Boulding, after about 70 minutes. Five minutes later Soames replaced Cooke, and five minutes after that Gallimore was replaced by Barnard. Gallimore's slow trudge to the touchline was accompanied by some appreciative applause from the Gillingham support. Two Town fans started to clap, but soon gave up, which was a perfect metaphor for the afternoon. Oh, if you are interested, the changes resulted in Town going to a 4-3-3 formation, with Thompson on the left and Soames on the right of attack. No, you weren't interested, were you.

Gillingham almost scored again just after the first substitution. Ipoua (I think) cut in from their right, taking advantage of a Gallimore retreat more ignoble than an overly fawning courtier. The ball was played back from the by-line into the centre. From a rucking bundle of players the ball was played against the post and out for a corner. Hessenthaler emerged from this bundle, leaping around in frustration. Don't know why, don't care, far too far away to see. It looked as though one of the Town players had crashed a first-time shot against the post, so I think we'll claim that as a bit of Town ill-fortune, just for the heck of it.

Any more? Well, a cross from their left went through the middle of the area and just missed the far post. A couple of headers were sent into the back of their new stand and Coyne completely miskicked a back pass out to the left of goal, sending the ball spinning back towards the by-line and forcing him to jump at and block the resulting shot. The two blond-haired Gillingham substitutes had shots that were irrelevant, but if Town had done them they would have counted as moments of high excitement.

We had to look elsewhere for our entertainment. Perhaps the moment the referee cuffed Hessenthaler round the ear when signalling a throw-in? Or when the Gillingham supporters, so incensed by the display of incomprehensible flapping and whistling by the referee, called him a forklift truck. Or am I misinterpreting the Kentish twang for subtlety and irony? "The referee's an Anker" was surely reference to Anker Forklift Trucks, local employers of note and renown. Look, when the afternoon is this awful, your mind does wander in strange and unusual places. Soames looked like he was sinking, for a couple of times after he turned past his huge markers he ran on his knees. Or perhaps it is a new tactic, to actually run between the legs of opponents, accompanied by appropriate music.

This feels like a low point in a low season, but then again, there's always next week. Town, literally, don't look strong enough to survive. Football is sporting Darwinism, so eventually the weak perish. Is this it?

At least it didn't rain.

Nicko's man of the match

The few Town fans who turned up were the real star performers, simply for their fortitude and stoicism. If a player really, really has to have it then Georges Santos, on the basis that he did irreparable harm to his brain by heading the ball so many times. Without him, the defeat would have been much worse. So another negative award.

Official warning
P Taylor

He went out of his way, mostly, to annoy the home support with extremely odd decisions. Even the most one-eyed Town supporter couldn't work out why he gave some of the free kicks he did. Equally, he was far too willing to book players. Although he did book Gallimore for being rubbish. You can't be wrong all the time. But he doesn't deserve anything higher than 5.9. So he gets 3.2871 (recurring).