Murphy's law

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

12 April 2004

Grimsby Town 0 Blackpool 2

A warm, slightly hazy Monday afternoon in Cleethorpes, so close your eyes and drift away to another land where the trees and the sea are accidentally blue. Around 250 or so Blackpuddians did some industrial spying in the Osmond Stand. Blackpool Tower or Dock Tower: now which is the prettier? There isn't any atmosphere in the ground these days, not even a low hum of chatter. In short there's no buzz. Dead, stuffed, it's an ex-crowd watching an ex-team.

The pre-match warm-up had an added routine, for before the game of shinball the whole squad indulged in what can only be described as introductory passing skills session 1 (under-eights only). One player dribbled, passed to another a dozen yards away, received the ball back and passed it forward. Yes, as simple as that. The sort of thing done in primary schools. You may well raise an eyebrow or two, but it happened, right there on Blundell Park.

Supporters took the opportunity to play 'name that poltroon'. Some, those who hadn't been for a couple of weeks, were mystified, some say perplexed. They needn't be embarrassed; so were the regulars, and probably the players too. Who? What? Where? The three questions raised every week, but never answered.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Fettis, Ford, Crane, Edwards, Crowe, Anderson, Coldicott, Bolder, Jevons, Antoine-Curier and Warhurst. The substitutes were Wheeler, Parker, Hockless, Thorrington and Soames. Ford and Crowe were in their now usual out-of-positions, with Bolder in the centre of midfield. Yes, that's knackered old warhorse up front with the French Mansaram. You know, that's just three players who played against Blackpool in September, and we thought that was only half the real Town team.

We did have time for worries.

Blackpool's shirts outshone the stewards for luminosity, while their central midfielder, Donnelly, was the subject of much discussion up in rock and pop corner. Whose head lives in hair like this? An early shot at Rod Stewart was dismissed, for the hair was too bulbous. With shades of Alan Biley and a touch of Roger Taylor, the jury settled on Paul Nicholas. Donnelly was off to his grandma's party tonight.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Blackpool supporters and tried to run through the middle, foundering after three yards and two passes as Coldicott was dispossessed inside the centre circle. The ball didn't go out of play for ages either. This was not football as we have come to know it.

Within a minute or so Warhurst received a whack on the back of his head when jumping for a header near the Police Box. He was led off the pitch by the referee and was absent for a couple of minutes as he was sponged down and vast amounts of blue Vaseline were applied to his bonce. This was one of Town's more cohesive moments.

Another minute, another tackle by the tangerine dreamers, another Town player injured. So Blackpool were up for it then? No, they just kept fouling, which was one way of ensuring that they didn't have to run around too much. The game kept being stopped for little fouls, for players falling awkwardly – and was just dire. It was played at sub-human pace. A stroll in the sun, holidays almost upon them.

After about, ooh, I don't know, say 11 hours of recreational perambulation, Warhurst spun away down the Town right, near the corner of the penalty area. He twisted past a defender and crossed into the centre of the goalmouth. Antoine-Curier, about eight yards out, flicked a free header several feet wide of the right post. In Earth time this was about seven minutes into this alleged competitive game of association football. Blackpool had been down to ten men at this stage, and immediately brought on a little lad, Burns. Mr Burns. Burnsy at full-back. Or we could call him Eunice. What's up doc? Don't you get it? You have to keep your mind active, otherwise we'd become zombified by half time. The clues are there.

Blackpool looked like they wanted to score the perfect goal, all flicks and tricks, shimmies and shammies, passing and movement. But all at about a quarter of the pace one normally associates with professional athletes. It was almost walking, non-contact football when they attacked, for Town didn't tackle, but stood a couple of yards off and waited for Sheron to run offside.

Thankfully there are some people you can rely upon to do the decent thing. Somewhere, sometime, Crowe almost gave away a goal, when he attempted to clear a cross from the Blackpool left which lazily lolloped to the far post. Under no pressure, without a fluorescent flan flinger near, he cushion-volleyed the ball across the face of goal for Fettis to fly-hack clear. Bored, Crowe decided to run in front of Fettis and charge down the kick. Minor peril averted by the Giant Gnome's rather desperate swish away for a throw-in.

What next? Well, nothing for about 10 minutes. Warhurst made some interesting movements and little passes, but he was wasting his time, for the French Mansaram had become the French Rowan. Ah, Rowan. Rankin doesn't like Rowan, according to the matchday programme. Ahhhhh, sorry – that's rowing. Ranking doesn't like rowing.

On the 20-minute mark Jevons did a lovely little waltzing stepover drag-back, to glide towards goal from the edge of the penalty area. Past one, past two, he drivelled a shot low and comfortably wide of the left post.

A couple of minutes later Blackpool bored Town into a stupor. They passed, passed and passed again, sideways, upfield, downfield, back to the middle. Donnelly tugging and taunting with feints and floppings. Suddenly he surged forward down their centre left, knocking the ball up to Murphy, who flicked it back and peeled away into a space between Ford and Crane. Insert the word 'static' in front of their names. Bolder failed to mark Donnelly, to tackle Donnelly or to track him as he ran into the centre, about 25 yards out, before tippling the ball to his left. The unmarked Murphy took a couple of strides and placed the ball low across Fettis into the bottom left corner of the net.

They barely celebrated. It didn't mean a thing to them: just a nice goal in a kickabout. It was an exhibition goal scored by the Blackpool Globetrotters.

The reaction of the Town players? Shoulders slumped a bit, but they reacted like it was normal. Well, it is, isn't it. Of the outfield players only Edwards, Coldicott. Anderson, Jevons and, to a certain extent, Crane and Warhurst were somewhere on the sliding scale between acceptable and adequate. The rest not. Jevons tried and tried and tried, but sooner or later we all knew the ball would end up with either Bolder, who seemed to be doing a very slow barn dance across the pitch, or the curiosity that is Antoine-Curier. He brings great joy to many watchers of the sky, but none who support Town.

About half an hour in, Town had an effort on goal that was worth describing. The only one all afternoon, so savour it, wrap it in tissue paper, place it in cotton wool inside a very large box. You can show it to your grandchildren as the wind blows back your hair in the cold November air that is Grimsby in July. Jevons – who else these days, eh – received a short corner, twiddled, fiddled and flashed a dinking, dipping cross-shot which skimmed Warhurst's forehead. Barnes instinctively protected his face by flapping the ball down, but straight to one of the centre-backs, as Antoine-Curier observed from a hide using some cheap binoculars.

A few minutes later Blackpool set up another one of their rinky-dinky little computer game moves down the Town left. Flip, clip, slip, a player free behind the defence, way out at a narrow angle. Whoever it was, I shall call him Murphy, smackerooned a whizzing shot across Fettis, who parried spectacularly across the face of goal to another advancing orangista. Hey Mr Tangerine Man, score a goal for Steve? No, Ford headed the shot away from the edge of the six-yard box as Edwards fell over Fettis. The Hull hobbler punched the resulting corner away and some big beefy Blackpuddian levered the ball way over the bar. I don't remember Blackpool getting inside the Town penalty area again. They didn't need to.

We now entered limboland, where it would be possible to convince yourself that Town attacked, Town nearly scored. Don't limbo, it'll only do your back in again. Anderson lumped a free kick over from the right and Crane tried to replicate his fortunate goal against the raggedy old Owls. But it dropped over and wide. Anderson headed well over the bar from a corner. Coldicott slapped a shot between crossbar and scoreboard. Town wasted a few free kicks and finally, Cyril, Jevons curled a free kick a foot past the right post after the old rugged Wartree was felled on the edge of the area in the centre.

After four minutes of added time the referee remembered his appointment with Mr T and Mrs Cake. He'd clearly taken the hint from the Town supporters who'd all gone off to the toilet, leaving just a few slumberers and sad-eyed optimists. Shapeless, witless, the usual litany of lesses with knobs on, my friend. It was like Town were playing with nine men, half of whom had taken their cue from the inert manager – lifeless, expressionless, a void.

So did the Town employees want to avoid Division Three?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I thought Richie Wellens died in a plane crash with the Big Bopper."
"...and he doesn't even speak Swedish."
"We're on the brink of a new era. If only."
"We aren't us anymore."
"Don't worry – we're a yo-yo team, just on a really long string."

Second half
Blackpool kicked off and please wake me when something happens.

Brrrrrr... you what? Oh, Bolder, sent free down the right, near the corner flag. Why are people standing up? Like we're going to score? Bolder twisted and managed to pass the ball to the Blackpool keeper at the foot of his near post. Beep. Beep. The radar detected a low flying Warhurst on the very limits of the range.

Oh yes, the Blackpool goalkeeper. If Prince George had a pair of enormous trousers to please the ladies then Barnes is a wow down St Annes way with his enormous shirt. Who ate all the pies? The man who wore the jersey before him. I doubt whether he'd ever grow into it, but a family of four could use it as a windbreak.

The Town fans became increasingly agitated, one last harrumph before relegation. "We want Mogadon, say we want Mogodon" was a fittingly ironic and perceptive chant, though sources close to the seat of the pow-wow in the singing ringing tree corner claim they were chanting "We want Hockless on." I really must get my ears de-waxed.

Fettis dropped the ball when attempting to throw it out, in a Sprakeian moment of high farce. The Blackpuddle players are too young, so hadn't even contemplated such an event. The ball was cleared frantically. Town were getting worse, with absolutely nothing for the desperate fan to hang onto. No passing, no movement, no thought. They were like black and white rabbits, and you know they're going to fall.

After about seven minutes of dismal drooling Sheron ran off down the left after Crane had failed to mug the balding battler. On and on he went, pursued by Crowe, who eventually bundled the ball out for a corner. The corner was swung out and it grazed a tangerine head and drifted slowly away from goal towards the bye-line.

Antoine-Curier jogged after the ball, shielding it as it rumbled away slowly for a goal kick. Except the ball didn't go out. Near the edge of the penalty area the Blackpool player hooked his leg around the feeble Frenchman, dragged the ball infield and tipped a cross into the centre of the penalty area. A load of heads went up and Coid nodded the ball goalwards and, apparently, in. Antoine-Curier buried his head in his hands and several Town players gesticulated at him, as did a couple of thousand local residents. A couple of minutes later Soames replaced the pusillanimous Parisian, to a huge, sarcastic ovation. Au revoir Monsieur Curier. You will be remembered, if we need to scare the children.

The crowd began to vent individual fury, with Law being compared unfavourably, not to a summer's day, but with a list of previous failing managers. There were even calls of support for Rodger, and one lone voice for He That Shall Not Be Mentioned. Hire that caravan in the Fitties, Mr Furneaux – it's 1988 and all that.

The rest of the game was just an exercise in clockwatching. Not one person within Blundell Park believed that Town would score, let alone fight back. Fight? A word that has been erased from the dictionary.

With half an hour left Hockless was finally unleashed, replacing Anderson. What can one small boy do? His first intervention was to jink past a defender, flip a pass to Warhurst and... the rest dribbles away in to the sea. Warhurst backed off, shielding the ball for Soames to run past or shoot. Was he an assassin or soldier? Soames was neither, not even a grocery clerk sent to collect the bill.

Blackpool had another attack. They nearly scored. They didn't though. Blinkhorn, some kind of substitute brought on sometime during this so-called match, drizzled a shot across the face of goal. Apart from a mis-hit clearance by Fettis which hit Sheron smack in the middle of his forehead and looped straight back into his arms, Blackpool didn't have another go at goal. At least, I don't remember them doing so; they may have, but, like the Town players, we Town fans may have been abducted by aliens during the second half.

You want blood and guts from Town – you got 'em. Warhurst's wound opened up again and he had blood flowing down behind his left ear. Oh, the guts bit. None of that, I am afraid. As the game wore on Jevons went more and more into the centre, leaving Town without any width on the left; the game was congealed in the middle. No space, no chances created. Crane headed a free kick wide, Ford glanced a Hockless corner 25 yards wide, Jevons clanked a free kick from about 30 yards straight at the keeper. Jevons smoothed a gentle cross through the six-yard box towards Hockless but Eunice Burns kneed the ball away for a corner. Or handballed it, as the Pontoon claimed – even before the ball had reached the little luminous lollipop.

The moment that finally nailed down the coffin came with 20 minutes left. Jevons sweetly kissed the ball down the left and Soames set off after it, barging the big centre-back towards the ladies' toilet near the bye-line, just outside the area. He advanced along the line, saw Warhurst at the near post and slowly rolled the ball towards the wandering minstrel on the edge of the six-yard box. A Blackpool defender stretched and nicked the ball away without too much fuss.

That's it. I'm not kidding, that's it. No more. Twenty minutes of pish-posh tosh. Our visitors gaily skipping around, having a whale of a time in midfield, while Town increasingly imploded, the players coalescing into an amorphous black and white blob in the middle of the pitch. Jevons occasionally drifted through for momentary 'almost' moments, but his flicked pass was often just a bit too hard for Warhurst, who visibly slowed, his legs no longer able to move. He's just too old. There's no more to say. You get old, you cannae hack it anymore and then your career dies.

Town's utter wretchedness was laid out for all to see by a free kick towards the end. In the centre about 30 yards out. And no-one went up to take it. Finally Crowe wandered up, looked up, opened his arms wide, shrugged his shoulder and just chipped it forward, the ball sailing out for a goal kick.

Other moments to sum up the abject horrendisity? At the end, Warhurst curled in a dangerous cross to the far post. No Town player was within 10 yards of the ball. The crowd just jeered and laughed as Warhurst looked in disgust at the rest of the team. In normal times you'd be chortling at Warhurst's bee-swatting incident when he won a free kick by swiping the ball forward while ridding himself of that imaginary bumblebee near his ear. But you aren't laughing. And neither were we.

There was some added time, during which Blackpool players tried to waste time in the corner. Why bother? The whole game had been one big waste of time. The game was strangely bereft of tension or pace. Blackpool had turned up to fulfil their obligation to complete the fixture list, and a more vigorous and passionate team than Town would have walked all over them. But Town allowed them to have the ball, and Blackpool were good enough to show us a few party tricks.

Analysis not required, reconstruction is. Again. If you want a weak punning excuse then Murphy's law applied here. But it goes deeper than mere 'luck'. The players shoved in as an emergency measure hadn't a clue what they were supposed to be doing, and neither did the more established ones. They had to look to see where people were, and more often than not players were caught betwixt and between, neither up nor down, left nor right: piggies in the middle. No empathy, no telepathy, all lost in a fog of confusion.

Of the management team only Rodger showed any passion, any emotion, any animation. He's one of the few to stand on his feet, one of the few Town people left; and that was the buzz as we trudged wearily out of the Theatre of Woes. Nail the Thundercliffe Manifesto to the gates of Blundell Park – where is our team, where is our Grimsby? We sit there waiting for the real Grimsby Town to run out, not the surrogate band. The board are now finding out where we fans really stand.

Nicko's man of the match
Jevons gets a big mention for his effort, which rather faded in the last quarter of an hour. But in lieu of any outstanding performances, the default position this season is Mike Edwards. Oh Edwards you tried for us, but there is a Swansea.

Markie's un-man of the match
That unmentionable Frenchman gets half a gong, but Chris Bolder gets the full whack. The worst thing is, he really, really tried. Its not his fault he's a victim of the Peter Principle.

Official warning
Another match where the referee was incidental, only required to start and stop the game. G Law got a bit of gip from the Blackpool supporters for giving so many free kicks to Town. He had to – they kept fouling! He was very lenient and seemed to operate a 'three fouls and you're booked' system. But, apart from that, I can't find much to complain about. So he gets 7.428.