The goblet of dire

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

24 April 2004

Stockport County 2 Grimsby Town 1

A hot 'n' bright afternoon in the Planet of the Baritone Women, with perhaps 1,000 Mariners marching up to the top of the hill, but not to the open terracing behind the goal. For reasons never fully explained, Stockport didn't open the area where seating was £15, but made the Town fans walk around the round to the £17 seats. Safety? Yes, must be - that's why we walked along the length of the pitch past several blocks of Stockport supporters. Or perhaps they were mindful of government health warnings about melanoma. They wouldn't want Town fans fainting in the mid-day sun, would they; that could cause crowd pandemonium that the police can't control. They plonked us in the stand underneath, and to the right, of the TV gantry.

The Town players ambled about on the beach beforehand. Was that liniment or Ambre Solaire that they rubbed in to their collective things? Divots and clumps everywhere. Write your own punchline.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Fettis, Crowe, Edwards, Crane, Barnard, Anderson, Coldicott, Campbell, Jevons, Rankin and Mansaram. The substitutes were Ford, Warhurst, Antoine-Curier, Rowan and Hockless. In other words, the same starting XI as last week, with just the Gallic gallimaufry, the French faux pas, replacing Soames on the subs' bench.

Before the players ran out, a bunch of balloons was released and a giant flag was walked around the pitch by schoolkids. The blistering, sibilant tannoy informed us that it was part of the campaign to "kick Grimsby out of Division Two", or something. Small children were crying, with blood coming out of their ears at every rasping, squawking syllable. You could probably have someone's eye out with it too.

Stockport wore blue, were all off to the left and looked bigger than Town; Crane excepted, of course. Nothing very interesting at all about mein hosts. Daly's hair was curling nicely at the ends, but generally they looked vaguely normal. They also did one of those group hugs before the kick-off.

When Stockport ran out a small boy was seen in a tree above the empty terrace, shaking the branches in excitement. He didn't fall out, nor did any apples drop.

First half
Town kicked off towards the populated stand with a long punting curler down the left for Mansaram to trot after. He trotted, the ball drifted out of play ten yards from the corner flag. Three seconds.

Stockport wellied long and high, Edwards headed, Crane watched and shouted a lot. Barnard waddled and the Town midfield did some amateur planespotting. High above the streets and houses, footballs flying high. The pitch definitely needs some basic crop rotation policies to be adopted. Dig deep with mulch and peat. Leave fallow for thirty months, then plant some peas, it says in my medium-sized book of gardening tips.

After three or four minutes Fettis drop-kicked down the right and Anderson bounced above his marker and nodded the ball infield. Mansaram received the ball with his back to goal, about 35 yards out. He shielded the ball and, to the consternation of Town fans and Stockport defenders alike, produced a perfectly weighted and fashionable reverse pass for Campbell, who steamed through from an inside-right position. Campbell dribbled forward and his shot from the edge of the area riffled at a comfortable pace down the side netting for a corner.

Anderson kicked his heels 10 yards inside the Stockport half, then sprinted up to the area as Barnard rolled the ball out towards him. The ball bumbled and rumbled along the silicon-enhanced mud, with Anderson tipping it sideways and slapping a cross-shot against the shins of the third defender, near the penalty spot. Stockport hacked clear, with Daly peeling away from the centre to their right. The ball was lofted over the top for him to chase, with Crane in tepid pursuit. Big Bird made no attempt to get the ball, merely diving across Daly and hauling him down about 10 yards inside the Town half. It must have been all those rugby lines on the pitch, addling his brain.

Stockport tried to do exactly the same free kick as the one they scored from at Blundell Park. The centre-half, Clare, ran down the right and the ball was dinked in a straight line towards him. Town were mostly alert this time and the ball was half cleared, half cleared again and half cleared yet again. The GTFC defence ran out as Cartwright, about 25 yards out, dinked the ball back into the centre. Crane loitered without any intent on the edge of the six-yard box, a yard or so behind Wilbraham. Big Aaron nodded the ball across goal to the unmarked Daly, just beyond the post, who thwacked a low shot across Fettis and into the bottom right corner.

Crane immediately appealed for offside against Daly, but he wasn't, and all because the lady loves Milk Tray. As all the Town defence ran out, Crane remained behind, keeping the snoozing Hatters onside. What a stupid goal. Five minutes, one attack, one down.

Stockport nibbled on the crumbly candy bar: lumping, lofting, running, harem-scarem tactics against the body of a weak and feeble woman, with only one heart of oak at the rear. Five minutes of nonsense were ended with a second shot of the game from Stockport. Crowe and Crane flapped like convalescing Victorian ladies as the ball hibbled and bibbled about their knees.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrickeeeeeee Lambert strode forward on their left and passed the ball forward to Wilbraham, about eight yards out and well wide of goal. Crane allowed the long, lanky not-quite-Lancastrian to turn and slap a low shot across Fettis from a narrow angle. The hapless Hullite blocked the shot, with the ball rolling across goal. Two unmarked Stockportians were almost sharing his shorts, but he got up and half blocked again. Jackman shinned the ball in from about a yard out. Ten minutes, two shots, two down.

Now, what was the reaction of the multitude of massed Mariners? Displeasure was voiced, harsh words chosen and flung towards some deserving backsides. Were they fit to wear the shirt? Were some too fat to wear the shirt? What was going on? Passion? Isn't that something smelly you can buy in Boots?

Tactics? What tactics? Stockport were a confident and organised side. Nothing else: nothing scary, nothing clever. Town were a hotchpotch of sulkers, shirkers and saddened triers. The midfield was too far away from the defence to help, and too distant from the attackers to assist, caught in a netherland, a void, a carnival of lost souls somewhere between the living and the dead. Style? Wit? What? The ball was hoofed forward towards two unhappy strikers, who spent the first half running after the ball as it wobbled away down the beach, caught on a non-existent sea breeze. Whenever Stockport cleared the ball it went straight to their strikers, who simply laid it into space between defence and midfield, confident that a teammate would run into it. They did, of course.

Naff all happened for another five minutes. Then Crane crumpled when clearing inside the Town penalty area. The rest of the defence ran out as the ball was sent up to Mansaram, five yards inside the Town half. The Dazzling Dashing Doncastrian looked up and laid a perfect pass back to a Stockport player 30 yards out. Daly, on their left, noticed the prostrate Crane and slipped into the 10 yards between defence and the big-bottomed boy from Bootle. Onside, free - a goal, surely. He stepped inside a challenge and, about a dozen yards out, attempted to curl the ball across Fettis, who saved superbly. The ball rolled across the face of goal to Wilbraham, about half a dozen yards out, who took careful aim and smacked it against the bar. Fifteen minutes, three shots, should have been three down.

Cue more mawing from the Mariners. The defence, that terrible defence: two playing offside, two not. Edwards timing his movements perfectly, only for Crane to retreat when the ball was pumped forward. Barnard carelessly chipping the ball up the pitch in the vague direction of Rankin and Mansaram. Jevons, the angel of the north, the feet of cod? Oh dear, back to his bad old first division days of strutting and strolling Barbara-Ann. A rather pathetic series of self- indulgent flicks and barely noticeable 'tackles' brought some serious jeering his way.

At last: Town players get near Stockport goal. Send a telegram, the nation shall rejoice. A pass, then another, Anderson to Rankin, turn, turn, turn, bundle, rumble, tumble. A corner. From the right, flipped high to the centre, a block, Edwards stretching, the ball rebounding to Crane. Crane moved one leg, then was cynically felled from behind by a stray tuft of grass. How unlucky can you get, eh? A couple of minutes later Rankin, on the right, twisted, muscled and curled a shot across the face of goal. It was a little bit high, a little bit wide, a little bit interesting.

There then followed ten minutes of such drudge and dread that the Town fans started to contemplate peripheral matters, and notice peripheral things. Like the young, bookish steward standing right in front of us. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, latent wit comes out of us: "There's only one Harry Potter" and "Harry, Harry cast us a spell" being the more genial renditions. He did well to hold back a cheeky smile.

Somewhere in this lost time Crowe was told off for taking a throw-in from the wrong place and Crane may have had a header towards goal. Or he may not have done. Mansaram definitely went on a windy-winding jaunt down the left and thrashed a something way over the angle of crossbar and post. Rankin looked displeased, standing unmarked beyond the far post. Tedious, but infuriating. Town strolling towards relegation. Is it time for Law to take a long holiday and let the children play?

There was a long injury break and Law was seen making gestures, giving instructions. That's finally seen giving instructions. But he was wearing a gleaming white shirt, the sort you'd see on a Saturday night down Gullivers in 1987, like some kind of rogue Rick Astley fan. Out of time, out of place. He don't know what's going on, he's been 'round for far too long already.

With less than ten minutes to half time Campbell had a shot from outside the penalty area. It dipped safely over the bar, causing the man with binoculars to avert his gaze from the Aer Lingus 737 wobbling its way to Manchester Airport. Around this time the linesman in front of the Town fans finally gave an offside, for which he received the biggest ovation of the day. On and on it went, raucous, joyous and tinged with multilayered irony.

Somewhere near the end Wilbraham tried a fancy-dan back-heel flick at the near post. The ball arched slowly over the bar, no worries, no troubles, no fear. I think one of their midfielders had a long shot as well, which dented one of the plastic seats about 10 yards wide of Fettis' left post. The Town fans were still obsessed with Harry Potter at this stage.

And then the half was over.

There wasn't anything to be proud of, to get behind, to support. Eleven men in striped shirts moving at random. Stockport were admirable in spirit, but hardly frightening. They were comfortable in their play to the point of embarrassment. Town looked completely clueless and without any collective desire The fans were aching just like a woman, but the team were crying like a little girl.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I'm lucky, I've got wax in my ear."
"There's more passion in a bin bag."
"Is Law wearing a straitjacket? And if not, why not?"
"We'll have 46 of these next season."
"Tonight we'll have some hot Scrabble action."

Second half
Ah, the second half, a different kettle of fish. Well, it stunk in a different way.

Town, all Town the second half. Balls whacked, whacked and whacked again towards the Stockport goal. The veneer of passion, of fight, but stripped of the desperation, it was still just aimless hoofing. Well, at least Stockport were incessantly pinned back against their own metaphorical wall. But with a Town attack much lighter than an eiderdown, whoever thought they would overpower the solidly built defenders?

Rankin, back to goal, no support, no room, bundled away. Mansaram, almost through. Rankin briefly in space outside the penalty area on the right. Into the area, a cross, deflected to Mansaram. He dribbled along the bye-line, looked up and passed the ball to the goalkeeper at the near post. Right ball, wrong time. No-one near. Arms flapped, heads rolled, heads dropped. Was there any belief in the team or the crowd? Well, do you believe that Colonel Saunders can fry, or that pigs and even DC10s can fly?

After about 50 minutes Town got a free kick about 20 yards out, on the centre left. After an age Jevons stepped forward and carefully lofted the ball a couple of yards over the bar. Sit down youngsters, he ain't going to do anything today.

Drifting again, the game slow, dull, bereft of talent, an awful pub game on a pub pitch. Bang, up goes the ball. Whoosh, down comes the ball. Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley. Timid, frightened, careless, insipid; the Town players seemed frightened of the ball as it bounced near them. No-one wanted to shoot, to pass, to do something. Content to watch others, so nothing happened.

And of course, they had no idea how to play route one football. Crowe ran quickly upfield and kept shinning the ball out of play. Crowd fury. The referee booked one of their players for being substituted, or at least it looked that way. That makes as much sense of any other of his decisions. Mansaram was getting worse, but trying, trying, trying. The more he tried, the worse he got. Finally the crowd snapped and began to boo him after 60 minutes. We need somebody to love, and this year that dreamy boy is Hockless.

Just at his lowest, Mansaram did something right, winning a corner through persistence and the iron laws of probability, who, to the amusement of Grimbarians the world over, keeps being appointed as manager of Scunthorpe. Barnard flapped the ball over from the right. It curled long, curled high, with Crane quivering underneath it beyond the far post. Suddenly he ducked and Jevons, about eight yards out, produced a tremendously extravagant, flamboyant, head-high hooking scissor kick. The ball looped across goal, shuddered against the crossbar and back out to Barnard. The Welsh wobbler clipped a cross into the centre of goal, with Edwards, about eight yards out, glancing a header past the far post. That got the Town fans up demanding more, a deafening roar, imploring the feckless floozies to score.

With 25 minutes left Hockless replaced Mansaram. Jevons moved up front with Rankin, Anderson went to the left and Hockless the right. Ah, a rather tasty-looking forward four, what delights, what football to behold. Yes, that's right, Jevons to be the target man. Bizarrely, he actually started to win headers too. And with about 20 minutes left, from one such flick of the fans' favourite fringe, Stockport were under pressure. Rankin retrieved and passed to Hockless, wide on the right. Hockless shuffled out, then in, drifting across his marker towards the centre. About 21.236 yards out, he suddenly pinged a shot goalwards. The ball dipped and disappeared behind a defender, then shivered down the keeper's right side netting. All rise, the tiny tot Hockless had scored.

Stockport really wobbled when Hockless arrived on the pitch. Some invention, some verve, some desire, at last. Dribbling? Passing? What are these alien concepts? That's the sort of thing you see on television.

Around the time Town scored Rankin chased a long through ball, the goalkeeper wandered outside his area and miskicked out to the left. The ball went straight to Anderson, about 45 yards out on the wing, who poked a first-time volley goalwards. Well, goalwards in the sense that it went east. The ball drifted out for a goal kick, near the corner flag. Barnard smelled a low shot through the penalty area from about 20 yards. Through legs, past ankles, Rankin on the six-yard line flicked, missed, and the ball thumped into the goalkeeper's arms

Town were pouring players forward, leaving just a couple back. Oh for Edwards, the rock, the giant, twice averting danger inside the Town penalty area with magnificent tackles. He swept on the right, he hooked on the left when the last man. But County did get a chance or two. A long drop kick was headed away by Edwards but straight to Williams, who slipped a pass down their inside right. Wilbraham (I think) bounded free inside the penalty area, but Fettis raced off his line and blocked marvellously.

What else did Stockport do? Rrrrrrickeeeeeeeee Lambert side-footed well, well, well wide at one point, and Wilbraham passed the ball to Fettis from outside the area. Apart from that I can't recall much going near Fettis. They did bring on Beckett with a quarter of an hour left. A right little pest he was, dispossessing Edwards from behind with a flying burrito brothers kung fu assault and generally being 'competitive'. Edwards, then Warhurst, clobbered him, which sorted him out. Warhurst? Yes, he replaced Crowe with about a dozen minutes left. He played as right defender in a back line that started as a four, then as the minutes ticked by sometimes ended up as just him and Campbell.

There aren't many chances to describe, just pressure, as Town walloped the ball straight down the pitch. Rankin and Jevons were just trying to flick the ball on in the hope that someone was near, to apply pressure: the "something might happen if you're lucky" theory of football. Rankin, turning, a shot blocked near the line. Barnard bouncing a shot through the penalty area, headed away from the line, bodies bundling, boots flailing, ball cleared. Town players queuing up on the edge of the area; Hockless dribbling, passing; Campbell swishing a few yards wide of the left post.

With about five minutes left, Jevons drifted a cross from about 25 yards out towards the far post. Anderson leapt, the defender fell over and Jethro chested the ball towards goal, perhaps 10 yards out. He was free, a chance, a goal... Anderson fell over the defender. Half-hearted claims of a penalty emanated from the Town fans rather than the players. The ball was cleared upfield and Crane mutilated a Stockport player with a scything hack from behind.

The last five minutes of normal time was taken up with Stockport players being injured and receiving very long, slow treatment. But still more Town pressure; a Barnard shot blocked, several dozen men in the penalty area, boots jacking and jagging at a bouncing ball.

Just three minutes of added time were given, but still Town rolled forward. A cross, a knock-down, Anderson on the corner of the penalty area, zooming towards goal... and volleying just over the angle of post and bar. The game ended with a free kick rolled by Campbell to Warhurst who, rather than pumping forward into the crowded penalty area, simply passed it back to Campbell. The whistle blew and Campbell passionately shouted at Warhurst, who shrugged his shoulders.

Then we all went home.

Analysis? What's the point? It's only saying the same things as usual but in a different order. Only two words needed to sum it all up: supine and tawdry.

Do you hear that sound? Strain your ears and you can make it out. It's the third division calling out: "You're my wife now."

Nicko's man of the match
Hockless had a nice 20-minute cameo , but there is no other contender worthy of even whispering. Mike Edwards was a one-man band at the back. I really should have a rubber stamp made up for this bit.

Official warning
K Wright could have made any decision at any time for any reason. He gave free kicks for players standing still, ignored the odd clout here and there, and was distinctly average for this division. So an average score of 5.0249.