Vacant possession

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

3 April 2004

Grimsby Town 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0

A bright afternoon with a curly-swirly wind wafting erratically through the rafters of the old place. The entire Osmond End was jam-packed full of exotic glitterati, down from the big city at their weekend retreats, their second homes on the coast. My, the Fitties was full. The Town fans trooped in to Nicky's Ark two by two, expectations low, hope not so much absent as hidden inside a lockable metal box and buried in concrete underneath that new bit of the garden, set aside for barbecues. All decking and pot plants. We know where it is, we can go and get it if we want, but we don't have to have it on public show. It's our little secret, our special stuff.

Town warmed up in three groups, playing one-touch football, a Boschian triptych if ever there was one. Mansaram and Monsieur Hulot, with Ford as the straight man: shuddersomely hypnotic viewing. The horror, the horror. What has Jevons done to his hair? Ran out of time at the barber's? Or a big boy's joke perpetrated by "Craney" as he slept after Thursday's light shopping trip to BHS? The left temple shaved higher than the right, making it look like his wig had slipped. Come to think of it, what about Mr Fettis, our friend from the north bank? He is increasingly turning into a giant garden gnome, with balaclava hair. I fully expect him to sprout a gro-bag beard and take a little fishing rod out at QPR.

Oh yeah, the football match. Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Fettis, Ford, Crane, Edwards, Crowe, Anderson, Lawrence, Coldicott, Jevons, Rankin and Mansaram. The substitutes were Campbell, Rowan, Antoine-Curier, Parker and Thorrington. So, who goes where in Law's Lottery? "At right back we have... number 4 (Simon Ford). At left back... number 26 (Jason Crowe)". Wahey - Law forced to play Edwards! At centre-back!

The team was just about (given the personnel available) what every sane, and perhaps even insane, Town fan would have chosen. Jevons on the left wing, Anderson the right, Crane and Edwards back together in the centre of defence. And on seeing that line-up, the Town fans gave a little smile to themselves and began to dig up the patio, for the concrete hadn't set just yet.

Wednesday? They were at the other end and ponced about prettily in front of their increasingly surly supporters. They played in some leisurewear, a sort of light tan affair, with Terry Cooke scampering about on the periphery. Given that 465 footballers have whizzed through the automatic doors at Blundell Park since he left, you can forgive the Town fans for failing to recognise the name, so he was neither cheered nor jeered.

First half
Wednesday kicked off and kept the ball for a few seconds, not long, but enough to sate their appetite. Then a Wednesday player kicked the ball out of the ground. Oh no, my mistake, it was Crane. It's so difficult to tell them apart these days; they all look the same, don't they, these footballers.

Town had a very satisfactory opening ten minutes and, most unexpectedly of all, they passed the ball to each other. Coldicott clamped, Lawrence bustled, with only a couple of 'Des moments'; Rankin whirled around, pestering the rather lightweight-looking Wednesday defenders. Ooh, nearly, Mansaram chasing a Jevons flick. And nearly again, Jevons, up to Mansaram on the right corner of the Owl area, a first-time flick and Lawrence bounding after the ball, chasing, chasing as it bombled across the mud. He's still chasing it.

Another surge, this time down the right with a Lawrence cross shinned away at the near post. Good, good, fine, this is what we remember. Passion and passing. Very nice. In the fifth minute the ailing aristocrats spread some benevolence our way. Crowe gave the ball away and then won it back about 10 yards inside the Wednesday half, near the touchline. If your stripes are blue then you'd say Ndumbu-Nsungu was a right wimp. Whatever, the ball rolled to Jevons, who took out a cloth and vigorously rubbed the ball, making it sparkle. He caressed a right-footed dink over the top of the defence into the twilight zone between defence and keeper.

Pressman, that huge hulking barrel, waddled off his line and stopped. Barry-Murphy got his body between Mansaram and the ball. There then followed a Mexican stand-off as the Wednesdayites had a staring competition. The ball kissed the defender's thigh and trickled slowly, slowly, slowly past Pressman exiting stage left pursued by a bear - well, Mansaram actually. A lovely, lovely Barry-Murphy own goal. No need to beware geeks bearing gifts today.

Wednesday's response was nothing more than Proudlock falling over.

Back Town came, picking the Wednesday pockets in midfield and scurrying away towards Wonderland. In the 10th minute Rankin muscled and bullied his way through three so-called tackles down the Town right. Into the area, dismissing a challenge and ignoring the waving Jevons unmarked at the far post, Rankin smirked a low shot straight at Pressman from a narrow angle.

And that's just about your lot from Town. Come back in quarter of an hour, I might have some good news for you. The flow of the game seemed to change after about 15 minutes, when the referee suddenly decided to give Sheffield's second team a series of free kicks. Coldicott superbly dispossessed Mustoe about 25 yards out on the centre right, with a rolling, hooking, sliding conjuring trick. Er, why a free kick? Oh dear, Cooke and Brunt standing confidently above the ball. Brunt took three steps then cuddled the ball over and around the wall. Fettis clambered across. The ball crawled over the crossbar, surfing the roof of the net, exciting the distant tourists.

Another minute, another rotten decision with play allowed to continue despite a foul out on Town's left. The ball hibbled and bibbled through the area, falling to Proudlock eight yards out. He swivelled and spooned the ball way over the bar. The referee gave a corner, despite no Town flesh being near. When you see the words "for a Wednesday corner" the next line is "and Edwards headed clear". That's what happened over and over again. Proudlock swivelled and spooned: a description of what he does, or what Wednesday fans want to do to him? At least he's got rid of that ridiculous blue stripe.

La-di-da, mumble, mumble, think of a number, sing a song of sixpence. I'm just trying to divert your attention from the game, for it was a cultural desert. Wednesday had the ball, Town sat on the edge of the penalty area and cleared. Fettis kept pinching himself to stay awake. The only South Yorkist to cause a frisson of fear was the unpronounceable fire, N-N, who twisted and turned rather beautifully. Town simply smothered him with two and three defenders, forcing him to pass.

Out of all this, just one little moment of concern flickered across the face of the Pontoon. Geary bundled down their right into space after a Town breakette had been stopped. He looked up and from about 20 yards out wobbled a cross in towards the near post. The ball seemed to get stuck on a thermal floating, wibbling, then flopping about four yards out. Fettis stuttered and stayed on his line but, don't worry, Edwards glided across the turf and smooched the ball away from danger.

On the half-hour Town got a free kick about 30 yards out on the centre right. Can't remember why, I think Rankin asked nicely. You see - good manners cost nothing. I bet he opens the door for old ladies too. Anderson tickled a long cross beyond the far post. No Wednesday defender bothered moving as Crane stumbled backwards near the corner of the six-yard box, stretched his neck out and nodded the ball back across the face of goal. Pressman was still moored in the marina as his fellow defenders of the blue and white faith watched the ball loop, droop and drop slowly in to the bottom left corner of the goal. Crane had scored and he turned to the Osmond Stand asking many questions, receiving many replies. And the referee booked him.

Let's see: what happened next? The ball dropped into the area and Proudlock thought a paper bag was the ball? The horse fell over the quick brown fox? Nothing so interesting, I am afraid. Wednesday continued to give the appearance of a team attacking, but all they really did was make pretty-pretty patterns in the middle of the pitch, passing the ball out of play time and time again. They won some corners (see above for next line); they had a few long throws (see above, substitute Crane for Edwards); they won a few free kicks (don't see above).

And Mansaram was substituted after about 35 minutes; he crumbled after challenging for a through ball and never got up. He was replaced by the Gallic Mansaram, whose first contribution was to try and flip the ball from the line out to the scrum half. Press fast forward on this video until you get to the 44th minute. You won't have missed anything.

Here we are then, a minute left in the half, all plain sailing, happy and carefree, aimless as a leaf in a gale. N-N chased a pass down their right under the police box. Jevons tracked back and got his body betwixt Congolese and bladder. N-N rolled past Jevons with the merest of pushes and the linesman immediately flagged for a foul to Town. So far, so dull. Perhaps he was bored, perhaps he's a secret lemonade drinker? Who knows why N-N decided to vent his fury on Jevons' ankles, swiping away our angel's feet with a tremendous hack? Just think of a slightly tipsy uncle trying to take away the tablecloth with your mother's finest china tea set sitting proudly atop. And the whole family watching from the sofa.

Clunk, clang, thud, and cousin Crowe came running over to remonstrate. Not content with sticking at a certain yellow card, N-N twisted and went for pontoon. Into Crowe's face went a hand, out of the referee's back pocket came a red card. Marvellous. Do you think it was all a businessman's conspiracy? Wednesday fearing financial meltdown if their big local derby disappears into the third division? Not content with giving us a goal, they get their only decent player sent off. Please, please, please have the three points, Mr Grimsby.

Only one more thing happened: Brunt curled a free kick from their centre right around the wall and a foot past Fettis' left post. Fettis had it covered, the ball wasn't hit very hard, it wasn't interesting.

So there you are. Aren't our South Yorkshire friends kind to us. First Barnsley, now Wednesday: makes you want regional football, doesn't it? Apart from the first 10 minutes Town did nothing. Apart from the first 45 minutes Wednesday did nothing. The first half was one-sided in the sense that one side wanted to avoid defeat and would have quite liked to win. Jobs were done well, that is all.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Why is yours yellow and everyone else has a white one?"
"I promise you we'll win 4-0."
"I said I was you and she believed me until she looked on the internet."
"This is too easy, there has to be a catch."
"What use is a horse without a cart?" "Are you talking about Warhurst again?"

Second half
Town came out and stood around waiting for Wednesday. And waited. And waited. Perhaps they were watching the Grand National? Perhaps they were securing the guy ropes for the big orange barrage balloon they wheeled out into the goalmouth. How does Pressman, the Mr Creosote of football, do it? He gets bigger every year. Didn't Sheffield United once have Fatty Foulkes in goal? Is portly Pressman aiming to be the 2First-century equivalent? He'll be swinging on crossbars next.

What else happened? Wait, wait, I'm computing the data. Sensors indicate that planet football is a barren landscape. All life forms were terminated by a catastrophic event, known by the inhabitants as half time.

Doodle, whittle, do anything you wish to pass the time. We did. It wasn't boring; there was atmosphere, the Town fans slowly stirring, regaining the confidence to taunt the blood brothers from the west. But nothing of any consequence happened. Town sat back, relying on their strength: rock-solid defending. Whoops, I've had one of those acid flashbacks again, to the heady fin de si├Ęcle days of the Lawsless 90s.

A couple of minutes into the half Rankin bullied his way through the centre right, knocking the ball past the last man, Smith, who leant down and rolled Isaiah up and over his shoulder, doing a double piked somersault. Not even booked. The free kick, er, faded from memory banks even before it was taken.

The game was all Wednesday, embarrassed into the illusion of trying before their silently seething supporters - if one ignores the Burberry-capped ones bouncing on the temporary seating, who were more interested in singing to their chums in the Lower Smiths/Stones/Findus. But the Owls fluttered to deceive. Hang on, here comes the judge, bizarrely awarding a free kick against Edwards for handball, when it clearly hit his shoulder. Well, they'd learned from Town and they did ask very politely. Brunt, right in the centre on the edge of the area, smacked the ball against the wall. Wasn't worth waking you up for, was it?

Proudlock dived inside the penalty area, no penalty, not even a finger wag from the referee. Ah well, who cares, the game has long been won, we are just waiting to go home. Antoine-Curier had a couple of 'almost' moments, trabunding down the left, in space, hopes high, hopes dashed. He just will not use his left foot. Checking back, passing back, the moments frittered away as Town players slowed to walking pace, movement non-existent. It was as if the Town players were transfixed with fear that attacking was the wrong thing to do.

Antoine-Curier made a third hash of a chance to breakaway, then bang, a clash of heads, Monsieur Hulot and Geary lying face down in the dirt. They resumed, but a couple of minutes later A-C collapsed in a heap inside the Wednesday half. Play continued, on and on and on. The referee ignored the prostrate Frenchman and Wednesday players refused to kick the ball out of play, which infuriated Coldicott. Crowe eventually kicked the ball out of play and then Wednesday didn't throw the ball back to Town, further angering the artisans.

Antoine-Curier was stretchered off and replaced by Rowan. Wednesday took off Mustoe and Cooke at the same time. Cooke? Cooke? Didn't Town once have a really popular player by that name? Couldn't have been the same one; this one was Campbellian in his invisibility and ineffectiveness.

Still no shots to tell you about.

Another Wednesday player dived inside the penalty area and was booked. What a rubbish dive.

There really isn't any point in carrying on with this game. They aren't going to score, and we aren't trying to.

Hang on a tick. Another Wednesday free kick 30 yards out, flung to the far post, flicked away for a corner by Rowan. Shall we say "oooh" just for the sake of it? Are Town going to attack again? I moaned too soon, for with a quarter of an hour left Town played some football. Anderson, on the wing, flicked the ball infield to Coldicott, who hit a dinking curler down the right touchline. Rowan hared after the ball and, near the corner flag, twisted and slapped a cross into the near post. Rankin, on the corner of the six-yard box, nipped in front of the centre back, turned, shimmied to the bye-line and hit a brilliant cross to the unmarked Jevons at the far post, seven yards out. The barrage balloon hoved into view and Jevons headed firmly, but an inch or two over the crossbar. That woke us from our slumbers.

Have Wednesday had a shot yet? From open play I mean, not one of Brunt's free kicks? Well, had they? Ah, you sneer too soon, for a bit of bumblage inside the Town area following either a long throw or a free kick resulted in the ball falling to Proudlock about 10 yards out. Not one Sheffield supporter made any movement that indicated excitement, hope, or expectation. They know their players. Proudlock slipped and slapped a shot into the ground and yards wide of the left post. Silence from 2,400 Sheffielders, sniggers from 4,200 Grimbarians. But behind our sarcasm desperate memories lie.

Did Wednesday do anything else? Not really. A cross was scootered away from Chambers by Crowe at the far post as it drifted through the six-yard box. Town had one more effort, with about six or seven minutes left. Anderson received the ball 25 yards out, swished infield, and flicked a pass forward to Rankin, about 12 yards out. Rankin fell as he laid the ball back to Jevons, who fell as he mis-hit a shot which lolloped high and mighty, dropping 8 yards wide and a foot over the bye-line.

That's it, go home, be happy. You can still worry though. There was nothing here to cause any concern, nor to fill more than 30 seconds of any John and Roly highlights video. Town at least looked like a team, but it is difficult to gauge how much of the victory, or comfort, was down to the paucity of professionalism from the Sheffield Hillyboroughies. Still, it was nice to see some of the old timers come back: you know, players we had in August.

In this league of very ordinary gentlemen the mundane is sometimes to be aspired to. Wearisome wins are better than dire defeats or demented draws. Just another twelvety points needed.

Nice to smile again though, isn't it.

Nicko's man of the match
Coldicott ran around a lot, battling, buzzing and sawing off several Sheffield legs. Ford had another one of his excellent returning-from-injury games, and Crane headed the ball a lot. But Town fans know one thing, and one thing above all this season: the best defender is Mike Edwards, a rock standing out in an ocean of doubt. He returns and Town defend properly.

Official warning
Mr P Dowd was highly erratic: the big decisions he got right, but all the little ones were way off. For not giving Wednesday penalties for obvious diving - 2 points each. For sending off N-N - 2 points. For not booking for crude upendings by Mustoe and Smith - minus 1 point each. For turning up on the right day - 0.427 points. Now factor in the imaginary inverse coefficient of competence, otherwise known as Plonker's constant, brought forward from last season, and we have 5.999992.