Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

20 March 2004

Grimsby Town 0 Hartlepool United 2

A stinking shocker of an afternoon in the boogie wonderland. A howling, raging gale swirled across the pitch through the open corner between the Pontoon and the Findus/Stones/Smiths stand, and that was just the fans. Sheets of sleeting rain, with the occasional sunny break, and pigeons flying backwards as they struggled towards their perches atop the TV gantry. What an apt description of Stuart Campbell.

Town warmed up with a bit of circular one-touch passing, otherwise known as a confused lump of nonsense. Perhaps they wished the game to be called off? Not a fanciful notion given the swinging speakers above the managers' dugouts and the advertising boards on top of the Main Stand creaking, groaning, flapping and wobbling like Rolf Harris. Can you tell what it is yet? It won't be football.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Fettis, Edwards, Young, Warhurst, Armstrong, Campbell, Coldicott, Bolder, Barnard, Jevons and Rowan. The substitutes were Hamilton, Thorrington, Mansaram, Crowe and Antoine-Curier. The French Tony Currie? No, more like the French Mansaram. Tall, gangly, he looks like he's playing the wrong sport: a thought fortified by his pre-match kickabout with his brother in arms, the Dazzler. Mansaram looked the more skilled and accurate passer. There's a first. Any point in analysing the first XI? Of course not. Centre-backs in defence, scuffly battlers in midfield (and Campbell), with two white feathers up front.

Hartlepool, dressed in red, were walking the dog along the beach. They had a couple of hairstyles of the rich and famous, most notably that of their reserve keeper, who sported the fashionable bleached scruffy mop. Apart from that, and having two tubby pub players in midfield - Humphreys and the enormous pie eater of old Hutton Henry, Mr Tinkler - there was nothing exceptional to report.

Firemen inspected the Main Stand and the dentists were told not to sit in the first five rows. Perhaps they'd also instructed Law to secure small, lightweight items. Thorrington couldn't be allowed to play as he'd be in danger of being blown out of the ground and later found washed up in Humberston Fitties. At least the Duck of Dearth wasn't starting: Hamilton unforgiven and unused.

Do I have to tell you about the game?

First half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon, chipped up the centre, headed out for a throw-in underneath the rocking, swaying police box. Edwards rolled the ball infield, a pass, a flick, Campbell free, past his marker and near the bye-line. Captain Cardboard crossed to the near post where Scott Walker didn't make it easy for himself by controlling the ball with his knee and looking amazed when wee Jonny Rowan whisked the ball away and... the referee gave a free kick for handball.

It rained, and the wind blew in strange and unusual ways, almost upending Barnard when he attempted to surge down the left on a breakaway. Even the thickest trees can be toppled if their roots are not deep. Hartlepool had an attack in the first 10 minutes. Through the sheets of white rain it appeared that Warhurst headed a cross out for a corner. Fettis's drop kick went north, then west, then south-west, ending up as a throw-in about 25 yards out.

The rain came again, the ball and players disappeared into the whiteness, emerging on the halfway line with Coldicott crunching and setting Jevons free down the left. Onwards, onwards, players rushing forward, Barnard free, Campbell freer, but Jevons closed his eyes and thought of the television glory. About 25 yards out, he hit a rubbish shot, which wobbled seven yards wide of the keeper's right post. His team-mates were not pleased.

What next? A Hartlepool free kick on their left belted into the middle, missed by all. Let's gloss over the two red-eyed meat eaters free at the far post. They missed it too, so it doesn't matter, right? It is alleged, m'lud, that Christopher Bolder, aged 21, attempted to shoot towards the Hartlepool goal. The police didn't press charges as there was no victim; the advertising board was unaware of the incident.

Another coachload of Hartlepuddle fans arrived and finally remembered to remind us of previous encounters. They just don't realise that was another Town, in another era, galaxies and light years ago. There is no connection between then and now. We're rubbish now in entirely different ways.

It was so dull; the weather was awful, the time ticked so slowly. Already two balls had disappeared over the top of the stands. Ah, at last something. After about quarter of an hour Coldicott, yet again, won the ball with a terrific figure-hugging tackle, sending Armstrong free down the left. About 20 yards out Armstrong ran out of gas and clipped a skimming low cross through the penalty area. The ball perfectly dissected Jevons and the goalkeeper, about 10 yards out.

That was Town's chance. The high point for the striped crusaders. Those of a delicate nature should stop reading now.

Their goalkeeper did actually touch the ball with his hands in the game. He dropped a cross from Barnard near to where Jevons would have been if he had been. But he wasn't. From about the 20th minute Hartlepool took over, with Town unable to clear the ball against the increasingly erratic and strong wind. Mostly the Puddlepeople overhit through balls and clearances. Their centre backs, Walker and Nelson, both bullet-headed bouncers, looked very wobbly, with a series of miskicks and ditherings. Ripe for peeling, they were never tested. Shame really, as there were goals to be had.

They may have had the ball a lot, but they didn't do much with it. This is so boring, worse than last week. Oh, they nearly scored. After about 25 minutes a deep cross from the 'Pool left sailed wistfully into the middle of the Town penalty area. About 10 yards out Danns, or possibly Westwood, or maybe someone else entirely, stooped and headed a few inches past Fettis's right post. Ooh, that was close. They are still here then.

And five minutes later the game ended. As usual, it came from nothing followed by a small mistake. Warhurst stepped forward about 10 yards inside the Town half and slapped a clearance up field. No, not upfield; up in the air. The ball arced up, went over Coldicott and back towards Warhurst, who half stepped forward to deal with it. Coldicott tackled as the ball fell, and it went sideways in to a great big toffee pudding of second division footballers.

You know what follows next in these situations. Hartlepool tickled the ball over the top down their inside left channel. The ball bundled on, Boyd bounded after it. Warhurst had his hand up appealing for offside, tutted in disappointment, then ran back in a straight line, parallel with Boyd, who eventually caught up with the ball somewhere near corner of the six-yard box. Warhurst moved towards the striker, but Boyd clipped a low shot across Fettis, who parried the ball up and in off the underside of the crossbar as Young performed a triple lutz with piked twist in attempting to head the ball away.

Town did respond, kind of. Edwards took a lot of throw-ins that increased the ire of Law: some actually stayed in play. Ah, that's more like it. Coldicott - always Stacy, isn't it - mugged and hugged, flicked and tricked, receiving a return pass from Rowan on the left-hand side. Into the area, a dozen or so yards out wide of goal Coldicott did something. It may have been a shot, it may have been a cross; the jury will probably never return a verdict on that. Provett caught it. You see, I fibbed earlier, he did touch the ball again. Bet you feel better now for ploughing on into the wind.

Sometime in the hours between the goal and halftime, Hartlepool occasionally visited their own supporters, just to keep them warm and happy, to wave and smile, to meet and greet. Crosses, overhit, corners flibbled into the centre. Chances? No. Boyd was free again, behind the defence and racing towards Fettis, who stuttered off his line. Actually it may have been Porter, but little men hiding inside big red polyester all look the same. Fettis attempted a slide tackle inside the area and whoever the striker was fell. The ball zoomed out of play and the referee gave a goal kick. Town seemed a bit lucky there. It was either a dive or a foul, wasn't it?

Lucky again, Fettis punched away a corner and was given a free kick for being fouled by Armstrong. Please end this rubbish. I have a sandwich to eat.

Ah, Bolder, Bolder, we remember you. Racing into the areas on the left, a pass flicked through by Jevons. The crowd on their feet, Bolder off his, slipping as he tried to sidestep a defender. The attack petered out pathetically. Rowan, Rowan, poor little Jonny, fading from view, the crowd increasingly irritated by his weakness, his sleepiness, his sheer lackness. Irritation turned to jeers when he crossed into the Pontoon when sent free down the left. What a catalyst he hasn't turned out to be, left standing like a naughty schoolboy.

Nothing more to say apart from their left-back thadumped a free kick from a full 40 yards which went about a foot over the bar. Cheeky. Somehow we got to half time without someone being decapitated by a swinging speaker or viciously tackled by a corner flag. You really could have someone's eye out with them, you know. I don't know how many extra minutes were added for the retaken throw-ins and delays when free kicks, goal kicks and corners had rolling-ball-itis. And I don't care. It probably wasn't enough, but it was far too long. Help, end this now.

The conditions were terrible, but that does mask some rather unpalatable matters. Town were only fleetingly adequate. The notional full-backs struggled manfully with their task but you just can't get away from the fact that they are centre-backs. They didn't support the attacks very much, and when they did, the crosses and passes were rather haphazard. Town were a blob of lumpy custard, too much of one thing, and not enough of the other. Definitely not enough cream in the jug.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"The vet was surprised I didn't feel my cat's bottom."
"My neighbour's depressed, but nothing justifies Meatloaf."
"With any luck the wind'll blow the ground to Kansas."
"It's only 1-0 - that's a three-goal improvement since the autumn."
"So Law wants Lawrence? He'll be after a Lyons next."

Second half
Edwards and Rowan were replaced by Crowe and Antoine-Curier in straight positional swaps.

And then they scored again, goodbye.

There you are, the condensed milk version in just six easily understood words.

Antoine-Curier not only looks Mansaramesque; he plays like him too. A slightly more stylish, shoulder-shrugging version, but exactly the same result. His arms are wicked and his legs are long, the whole body a whirl in several different directions at once, and the gangly Gaul was, at best, ineffective. He won a header which in the context of this game turned out to be a golden opportunity. About 35 yards out, he flicked the ball on straight to their goalkeeper. Nowhere near a Town player, of course. If Provett had decided to go digging for worms down near the Pier (he'd have been arrested, of course, this being illegal) then the wind may have blown the ball in. Sigh if you wish; those Town fans still awake just shrugged their shoulders. We're almost immune to this pain now.

In the first minute of the half Hartlepool had a chance, of sorts. Getting behind Armstrong, they crossed the ball. It didn't go in; it either hit Warhurst or went wide. Or maybe high. Something or other, you know, so what. The deceiving flattery that we get in every game lasted just about five minutes, with Crowe prominent in surging forward, by far the best Town attacker. What resulted from these electric storms down the right? Nothing. The wind started to blow again, prompting hopeful thoughts of some structural damage causing the game to be abandoned. Darn it, the screws were too tight.

We have to make our own entertainment and the Puddle manager provided it in a brief comedy cameo. He kept waving a white handkerchief around to attract the referee's attention. It worked, just once, when the ref gave a free kick because he asked. But only once. "Tish and pish, sir, gadzooks! Methinks the bounders foul me champions!" The ref sent him off for the fashion crime. Perhaps he should wear a ruff or a splendiferous powdered wig next time. He's as bald as Law too, making the tunnel look like the entrance to the latest trendy 'nitescene'.

Yeah, I know, this is just waffling around.

Jevons had a shot. It went wide.

I really wish that speaker would drop on someone's head. I suppose we've never played Kidderminster, Cheltenham or Yeovil before, so there's always something to look forward to. Was that another shot by Jevons? I'm sure I saw the ballboys walk in front of the Pontoon. We've lost balls and we've also lost the ballboys; have we lost everything? I wonder what my mum will make for tea tonight. There's never anything on TV either. The ball keeps catching the wind. Arrgh, don't remind me of Donovan. That pint pot of nostalgia is half empty.

Hello Hartlepool. Nice to see you. It's about 10 minutes since you last visited us. Ooh, they nearly scored. A cross from their left, right into the middle of the penalty area, and big bruiser Nelson stooped about eight yards out. A free header and he managed to head it very high and very wide.

Warhurst dillied after a long tip over the top. The ball eventually rolled out of play, long after the current employees in stripes had walked upfield. Fettis dallied in coming off his line and Young slid across to knock the ball out for a corner, sticking his studs into Fettis' chest. Oooof.

Coldicott had simply run himself into the ground, getting slower and slower, but still trying. As he wilted Town wilted. Jevons, bless him, was the other conspicuous trier, blocking, covering, running back, running up, running sideways, tackling. An example to many, ignored by most.

They nearly scored again. Corner from their left; Nelson fell near Fettis and a more hirsute colleague headed wide at the far post as the Saxon mother's son impolitely asked for a penalty.

Jevons again! I hesitate to describe the build-up as "interplay"; let's just assume that Town employees conspired, with intent, to manoeuvre the latest in a long line of footballs to the feet of Phillip Jevons. He shimmied several ways and carefully curled a shot from the Town left to somewhere over the rainbow. I believe, yes I believe, that on this occasion the ball remained inside Blundell Park.

The referee, bored as he was, decided to wake up the locals with some daft decisions. Warhust stood still underneath the ball and was barged sideways. Clearly a free kick to Hartlepool. Ten seconds later, over on their right, a clear, clean tackle was deemed a cynical hack, and I don't mean Geoff Ford. The free kick was dinked into the centre of the penalty area and Williams dimpled a little back header, which managed to wobble a couple of inches wide of the right post as Fettis sat in the Pontoon and sucked on a thoughtful tooth. Around the same time there was a cross which went just past the right-hand post. Wow.

Coldicott was replaced by Mansaram, with Town changing to a 4-3-3 formation. Armstrong went into the centre of midfield with Barnard reverting to where he should have been all along. I haven't mentioned Barnard much. He seemed to have wandered off to the nearest post box at half time, and sent his performance in by second class post. Actually, I'm not sure whether he remembered to put the stamp on. He fell over the ball near the corner of the Puddle penalty area, letting Boyd race off upfield. Barnard turned round and hacked Boyd down. Booked, and lucky to be only that.

With three minutes left Hartlepool got a corner, taken quickly and short on their right. Istead, on the corner of the penalty area, waited for the waddling Welshmen and surged past to the bye-line. He crossed to the near post, where Fettis blocked but could not hold the ball. Up it popped and the Town defenders looked on as Boyd, a couple of yards out, toe-poked the ball in. Flip, flap, bang, half the Town support got up and walked off.

In the last minute Monsieur Le Mansuramme twisted and turned, skipped past two defenders and was upended 30 yards out. The ball rolled to the English Mansaram, who squirmed through two defenders and, deep inside the area on the right, poked a shot towards goal. The goalkeeper seemed to knock the ball against the post and out for a corner. Who cares.

The tannoy announced that "The fourth official has indicated there is no hope." I jest. "Two minutes of added time". What's the point? There were still some Town fans left in Blundell Park when the game officially ended, perhaps the ones without hoods or hats, sheltering from the storm.

Rotten, guileless, hopeless, clueless, think of a positive word and put "less" at the end. You get the drift. The weather was appalling, but that is only mitigation; so was the Town method. Method? What method? It isn't unsound; there's isn't one at all. Humping the ball downfield is not a method, someone should tell them that all that rugby will put hairs on their chest. Hartlepool were by no means scary; they were just OK, doing what they had to in the circumstances. They turned up, which is all that is required these days. Town were much better last September, in 'that' game, as an attacking force.

Oh for those glorious, heady, golden days of the Rodger era, eh? So, so long ago, was it all a dream? Last month it was "Town might score". Under Law, we hope we might not concede. The crowd have given up. Silence tells more than a million catcalls and boos. How many will return after two weeks of the dullest and most gormless football seen for a very long time?

Nicko's man of the match
If really, really pushed to name a name it would be half Jevons half Coldicott - Stil Jevicott - simply because this amalgamation of brawn and beauty was the only entity to try, try and try again all afternoon. So it's come to this, so quickly: lauding the ones who ran about the most.

Markie's un-man of the match
For not being there, it has to be Stuart Campbell. The captain is supposed to remain on the sinking ship 'til the last. He's never done good things, he's never done bad things, he's never done anything out of the blue. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Official warning
Almost an irrelevance, Mr L Mason could have called it off for health and safety reasons. That's the mental health of the suffering Mariner masses. He had no idea really how to differentiate between fouls and falls, to understand the crazy meanderings caused by the wind. His bookings were, like the weather, a lottery. Into a big black velvet bag my hand goes and out comes the number 4.976.