Cod and chips (no mushy peas)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

29 December 2004

Lincoln City 0 Grimsby Town 0

Yessssssss. Can I help you? There's nothing for you here. This is a local game for local people.

A still, clear temperate evening by the Sincil Banks of the old lagoon, the Venice of Lincolnshire, with around 2,000 massed Mariners eventually seated down the side (to the right as seen on TV). Three little Lego stands and a great big Meccano contraption dominating the landscape of lowland Lincoln. Still, nice view of a handrail.

Town lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Ramsden, Jones, McDermott, Fleming, Crowe, Bull, Sestanovich, Gritton and Parkinson. The substitutes were Fraser, Hockless, Reddy, Pinault and someone who won a place on the bench in a Radio Humberside quiz. They claim the fifth man was that mythical beast, Glen Downey - or it could have been Anthony Blunt; he looked a little like a master of the Queen's pictures. Got it! It's Stacy in a toupé! Coldicott hasn't taken off his fancy dress from the players' party.

Oh, the team. Same formation that was so successful against Macclesfield, with Sestanovich (or, as the tannoy announcer, pronounced it, "Se-[white noise like a crisp packet being opened]-vich") in his hole.

Hang on, there's no Forbes. Or has he joined Stanley in his hole? Has he given up too? Disappointed with his form over the last couple of games and having heard the rumours that two more will go, he's jumped ship? The squad is suddenly looking rather frail. But at least Ramsden is back, pseudo-mullet intact, protecting the neck. You don't suppose he had mullet surgery, a deaf barber accidentally cut off the love of his life and it's taken four months to grow to just the right length so he can be seen in public again?

Fenty walked over and applauded the massed ranks of Marinerdom. He needs to work on his stage act; it's getting a bit predictable. Perhaps he should do a little tap dance, or juggle. He won't get a summer season in Skeg without some variety.

Get out your coalscuttles, get under the table, the air raid is about to begin.

First half
One of the teams kicked off with Town playing towards the cathedral. Does anyone remember anything from the first few minutes? A bit of hoofage, some stumblage from Bull and Whittle, and a lot of scurrying about by Lincolnites. Call out the instigator because there's something in the air. Ah yes, the ball. "Hoof," as the Townies joyously chirruped every time an Imp dwelled on the ball.

Tedium and tediosity. Why do Town have to sink to the level of their opponents? Yet another long ball out of defence... but groans turned to grins as we remembered Ramsden. A pinpoint pass to Parkinson, 30 yards of flighted beauty, gracefully gliding on thermals, landing at Lincoln Central. OK, it went to Parkinson on the left touchline about 30 yards out. Parky turned infield, twiddled past a lump of concrete and curled a shot low to Marriott's right. The purple people-eater scooped the ball safely from his toes.

More aerial nonsense than a washing powder advert in 1976.

A shot, from Lincoln. Nice. Long ball - what else could it be? - knocked on, nicked away from Bull, the Lincoln Green 25 yards out on the left corner of the Town area. One bounce, one volley, thwoosh. Dipping over Williams, crawling over the angle of post and bar. That's a surprise. Better stay awake, just in case.

"Hoof!" Yes, we get the drift, as the ball sails forward. Lincoln players didn't even look where they were kicking it. But punts weren't punted aimlessly forward. They played to a training ground plan, knowing someone would be somewhere, a forward knowing a ball would be kicked into a particular place. Down the channels, over the top, up and at 'em. Hustle, bustle, a coached team, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Bang, another shot. Long ball into box, rebound, ricochet, random action and the ball rolled out to Butcher, on the centre right just outside the box. Thwack, zoom, "oooooh", zinging a few inches wide.

Richardson, rocking and rolling down the left, around Whittle and Ramsden, towards the bye-line. The ball cracked low across the face of goal, behind the defence. Green at the back post took a step back, leaned back and hit the back of the stand from about eight yards out. Get back to the training ground.

Was it all them? No, these were isolated raids in the maelstrom of madness that was the midfield. Two midfielders leaping, no pear trees though. Bouncing up, elbows out, barging, banging, a stock car demolition derby in the barren wastelands. Ugly, brutish and, in Crowe's case, short. Fleming rolled up his sleeves and had a right go, revelling in the simplicity of mano à mano leg wrestling. He loved it. As usual all the loose balls fell to Fleming around the penalty box. You know the result.

A-ha, Town string half a pass together, on the ground. Lincoln fold. Gritton free down the right, turning, crossing through the box. Mild pandemonium. Squeaks and squalls were heard from the silent locals as the ball rolled through the area. Bull steamed up the left and let fly from 20 yards; the ball shivered across goal and straight to Parkinson, unmarked about 10 yards out.

Parky panicked, mis-controlling the ball to his left towards Crowe, who was mugged by three giant barbershop poles in human form. Temporarily imbalanced by close harmony singing inside the penalty area, Crowe passed to Sestanovich and Town retained possession inside the area, being forced wider and wider. Red and white matter was sucked into this black hole, sheer weight of numbers and body fat saving their bacon. Eventually Bull had another shot, which sidled through the six-yard box and wide.

What's this? More Town? Yep, two team points for perception. Sestanovich and Fleming surged down the middle, Lincoln retreated and gave the ball back to Transit Stan when he missed his gear. Sestan rolled the ball out towards Parkinson. Futcher stretched and missed, allowing Big Ears to swing his pants down the right and flash a low cross in towards the near post. Fleming raced in and yet again just missed the train. He should set his alarm clock a minute earlier, shouldn't he, or have one less Shredded Wheat. Anyway, a big defender hung a leg out to divert for a corner. Jones headed the said corner very, very wide.

Futcher, the son of the codfather of cool. We bow to thee, our Futcher. Such a Futcher has never been seen by the Impies though. Lean, lanky and Lincoln to the core, Ben had the subtlety of a pantomime horse: there was menace only in his mass. Perhaps talent skips a generation. Shame, really; with that gene pool you'd have thought something would have seeped through the evolutionary colander.

Where are we now? How about a Sestanovich free kick? No, thought not. The ball stayed inside the stadium though.

Lincoln lumped it. We didn't like it. "Hoof!" Yes, we still get the drift.

All this scratching around made Town itch, as the ball sometimes fell to Lincoln players. Butcher had another long shot, whistling wide; Toner another, straight at Williams; Green another shot, welching, wheezing wide and high. Have ball will shoot, lamping the ball goalwards from anywhere, our county cousins weren't afraid to have a go, and their long shooting was generally accurate and firm. None of this scuffly, shanked, sliced and woeful wafting that we have to put up with. It was like they'd actually practised shooting, as though it was important or something. Cuh, these lower-league types, they just don't understand, do they. They probably think football is about scoring goals. How sweet and innocent, eh?

Ooh, Macca raiding, sending Crowe free inside the area. Shoot, shoot, for... urgh, rubbish fall as a defender swished away danger. If you're going to 'simulate' then don't fall like you're praying towards Macca. We don't have to simulate to accumulate, especially with our fantastical statistical record of penalty missing. A Town penalty is only the same as a Lincoln goal kick: more danger to us than them.

Did Lincoln have any more shots? Nope, the ball was banged in relentlessly, but Town held firm, and were relatively comfortable. It looked like Town had done some thinking and planning, for whenever Big Futch ambled up Jones held his hand and either of the wing-backs stood in front, to intercept the dinkled dopples. Lincoln just couldn't get their pub football going.

Just think - if some Town fans had their way this would have been Town. It's cheaper to watch it down Bradley pitches. Big Keith knows we demand something more.

Oh Whittle, Whittle, why? Air shot, miskick, danger created through Whittle woe. Inside the Town six-yard box he completely missed the ball, then sliced it against Ramsden. Rammy the Ramster tutted, rolled his eyes and calmly walked away with the ball at his feet. The thought hadn't occurred to Lincolnites that a professional would do such a thing on his own goal line.

A minute later and another Whittle mis-shaped fish finger emerged from the night shift production line. On the right touchline he turned infield and stroked a defence-splitting pass behind Ramsden and way in front of Jones. Green was so surprised that he forgot to move his feet. Luckily, Jones arrived and saved the day with a full-on man-sized three-ply tackle which swept all before it.

There were two minutes of added time, added, presumably, because someone sneezed in the Stacy West Stand, which actually points north, but there you are. Sestanovich got himself booked for having a bit of flying furry fun with Francis Green. Stuff of nothing, two garden strimmers fighting over the same weed.

And that was the first half. Much stargazing, if not hairgazing. We must applaud the linesman running the Town defence, right underneath the Town supporters. He managed to get through the whole half without giving an offside. Tremendous willpower, immense dedication to the cause of incompetence, flying in the face of facts. Well done that man.

A typical fourth division scrap, then, with much clattering and back-chattering with a lenient referee allowing the studs to flow. The Boxing Day duds had a ball, if not the ball, with a lot of Greco-Roman wrestling going on. One for the impurists among us. But City hadn't overpowered us; Lincoln's limitations were exposed by our defensive adequacy.

Their fans are very quiet.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I parked opposite the Nail Fairy."
"I don't know which hole Sestanovich is in - it may be the centre circle."
"There are cobwebs in the ladies loo seats."
"Tell me I'm hallucinating: our worse players are our best ones today."
"The police never stop anyone holding a Marks and Spencer carrier bag."

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time and the game seeped off, rather than kicked off. Many were still queuing for the toilets, including Ronnie Bull, as he wandered around, oblivious to a foe hiding in the shadows. Ball up, back out, thundered goalwards by Butcher. Or was it Toner. They looked alike, they played alike: muscular runners and chasers with thumping shots. It drimbled through the area, along the ground. Whittle shuffled like a pacman, Yeo slivered along the turf at the back post. Ball missed all, a moment of danger, passing in the wind. Yeo, Ye-e-e-o. Hadn't noticed him before, didn't see him again. Bye-ye-ye-o.

Lincoln abandoned their reliance on pretty-pretty direct football and went for the full monty. Get down to your Anderson shelter now Mr Williams! Futcher, a permanent presence inside the Town area, the ball an occasional visitor to this small, insignificant planet you call Earth. Long throws, huge punts, enormous trousers. No, that was one of the stewards.

Here we are again, back in the limboland between Earth and the Moon. The cathedral looks nice, glaring down at the peasants. Ah. Something stirs and something tries and starts to climb towards the light. No, it's a Justin Whittle clearance, wobbling into the directors' box.

Another Butcher/Toner long shot, curling around William's right post. Probably had it covered, maybe. Doesn't matter anyway, didn't go in.

Noticed anything yet? All their efforts are long shots, nothing close in. No headers, no scrambles. Perhaps Town were defending well. At last our Bible-punchin' heavyweight evangelistic boxing kangaroo gets a-motoring.

Transitory Stansitory not stationery for once, bulldozing, bullfrogging along the centre right. Into the area, many a Mariner on their feet. Clear your throat, a Grimsby groan is comin'... gu-uuuuuuuuugh-er. Over the bar and into a galaxy far, far away, Luke.

Macca, almost through, mis-controlling when ready to pounce. Gritton twirling down the right channel, twisting past his marker, volleying straight at Marriott from a tight angle. The game oozing towards the Lincoln goal, a glacier, imperceptible movement, unstoppable.

They had another shot, straight at Williams, again from the edge of the area, again Green. They're awake then. And another, blocked by Jones' shoulder, bouncing off to Bull. What a pass! Bull soaring upfield, pressure, no chance. Excitement, temperature rising, fever is high. Noise, I hear noise... from the Town fans. The leviathan of Lincolnshire awakes from a three-season slumber of self-pitying as Reddy replaced Parkinson with just over 20 minutes left.

And it was all Town from now on. The Impites hoist by their own petard, pummelled with direct, passionate football. Town's rear end sewn up to avoid life's little accidents. Jones a comforting nappy, Ramsden the safety pin that holds it all together. That'd make Whittle the soggy bit. Whittle: still wibbling after all these years.

Town passing among themselves, triangles making a comeback. Hey diddle-diddle, Imps caught in the middle. One man's civilisation is another man's jungle, yeah. This is the beginnings of football, Mr Alexander. Your team can't have the ball.

A corner, flapped by Marriott, caught at the second attempt. Another, Jones climbing, Crowe clambering, the ball bombling out to Fleming, twelve yards out to the left of goal. One, two strides, badda-bing. The ball rocketed towards the top right corner. A goal certain, the Town crowd up to acclaim the Flemster. Magnificent, what a fantastico one-handed save. Marriott sprang to his right like a peckish leopard, pawing at the hamster hors-d'oeuvres. A corner again. No action. Darn it, another fine goalkeeper thwarting our plan to take over the fourth division world, Mr Bond.

Still Town flowed, Reddy roaming on the left. Free, faced with a chunk of Chyne, he fell under a challenge. Can we have a penalty please sir? No, soufflé has more fortitude. Hassled, harried, the City defence imploded, passing directly to Sestanovich in the centre. Three against two, Gritton released. Shoot! Shoot! No, he twisted, twinkled and fell theatrically a few yards out. Shot by the invisible sniper in the invisible army.

It crossed our mind that Futcher and McCombe would have to slay at least three Town players with AK-47s before the referee would even consider giving a penalty. Just a feeling, you know.

Hold your breath, Town attack, surging, urged on by the Pontoon Sound, displaced 40 miles south-west. Crowe running from the halfway line, pursued by four defenders, into the area, twisting right. Let's ignore his handball. A dozen yards out, Marriott awaiting. Crowe bazookered the ball goalwards. Marriott again, superbly, brilliantly, flung his arms up, his body sideways and the ball was levered over the crossbar. Will these goalies continue to taunt us? This is the fourth division. They are supposed to let the ball go between their legs.

Lincoln kicked the ball a long way and Ramsden headed the ball back to Williams. That was their last chance. Ouch, we're breaking their heart, ouch, they're fallin' apart. Being beaten, almost literally, at their own game.

Roared on, Town crushed the butterflies against their own wheel. More City errors, Marriott kicking a backpass against Gritton, the ball flying off to safety, rather than into the net. Lucky boy, lucky Lincoln.

With five minutes left Whittle fell while trying to dig the ball out for a throw-in. He stayed down and got carted off, and Town played for a couple of minutes with 10 men. Crowe retreated into the back three and Lincoln scented a wounded animal, piling all their big men forward and hitting the ball even higher. Nothing happened. Yes it did!

Eighty-sixth minute: "Sladey, sort it!" You're not getting away with changing the order of the words. It had to come, it had to be, it's an FA regulation, one of the ten commandments of Town: "Thou shalt spake the words and the words shall spake themselves: sort it Sladey." I understand that referees are instructed to abandon games if no-one shouts.

Sladey, indeed, did sort it: Pinault arrived. With the wee Frenchman on Town fell apart, succumbing to Lincoln's manliness, proving Slade right in dropping our artiste. No, course not - Town stepped up a gear, and a further notch on the competent-o-meter. Ooh-la-la, such beauty in a pass, a first-time cushioned half volley swept down the touchline, sending Ramsden free. Corner followed. Ramsden on the touchline? Town set up base camp inside the City area. Jones and Ramsden permanent fixtures. Imps shaking.

And another corner, and another, Marriott quivering on his line, Futcher outjumped by Jones. Panic. Stanleyvich curled one to the far post and Marriott just managed to slap the ball away from Ramsden's head on the goal line.

Ramsden crossing from the right, stretch, stretch my beauties. Ah, a City defender glanced the ball away from the far post. Jones turned to the Town fans, imploring even more noise. He got it. A Pinault free kick from the left hung high, slipped off a forehead beyond the far post. Ramsden turned and slammed a shot goalwards from eight or so yards out. Two defenders raced out, arms aloft. What a magnificent parry by the full-back. Still no penalty given. Do they have to catch it?

Three minutes of added time, spent entirely inside the Lincoln penalty area. Corner after corner, free kick after free kick. It must come soon. Pinault flung one high from the left, Jones looped it goalwards, Reddy rose and glanced it further on. The ball reached Gritton, with his back to goal, who let the ball drop off his thigh and turned the ball aside to Reddy six yards out, who slashed it through a thicket of Lincoln legs for a deserved winner. The Town fans leapt up and landed near Newark. When we got back into the ground we noticed the referee was shaking his head with Town players crying at his feet. Why? He'd disallowed it, probably for lbw. The ball had, after all, pitched in line and would have clipped the top of the leg stump.

And the game ended immediately.

What a coward.

Town had outfought, outjumped, outmuscled, outthought and, ultimately, outplayed Lincoln and thoroughly deserved the victory. We know we won, they know we won, only one man didn't. This was the flip side of Boxing Day; those who had been poor were superb, fighting fiery studs with flamethrowers. There wasn't much of the beautiful game going on, but the glimpses that were seen came from the yellowbellies with white shorts. The last 20 minutes were uplifting, giving the crowd something to believe in, for the first time since the sunlit uplands of spring 2002. The last five minutes were even better. Now why was that...?

Lincoln were vigorous, committed, organised, determined. All worthy attributes, but you need more than that, don't you? Once Town had worked them out there were very, very few City attacks and no real threat to Williams apart form the odd pot shot. That says a lot for Town's defence. Town avoided victory not through their own misdoings but through a superb shot-stopping display from Marriott and the referee's pusillanimity.

So there you are, you can wear that chip on your shoulder with pride.

Nicko's man of the match
Ramsden was Handysidian in his serenity, but send out that bunch of flowers to Mr Rob Jones. As good as he had previously been bad, this was always going to be his sort of game and he grabbed it (and Futcher's shirt) with both hands. Headed everything away, blocked most things that got through and even passed to his team mates. He looked comfortable in a Town shirt. Jones, eh? Who'd have though that last Sunday night? What a mixed-up, shook-up, muddled-up world.

Official warning
Mr P Crossley made us cross with his weakness. He never, ever looked like he wanted to make a big decision. He was heading for an above-average score for allowing the derby to flow, but his lack of heart in the last few minutes sunk the knife into his cheese. No pickle for you laddie. You get 1.876.