Street Fighting Stan

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

11 January 2005

Grimsby Town 1 Northampton Town 2

Windy, windy night in the Stadium of Somnabulance. Seats full of people. No, no-one there. Around 150 or so Cobblingpeople hid amongst the flying chip wrappers expecting some kind of football contest. The wind, a sterling effort by Mother Nature: swirling, curling into the faces of the away fans. Nice and warm in the Pontoon, hair rufflage to a minimum.

Town warmed up in their usual half-hearted way, sleeves pulled over fingers, heads shrinking into shoulders. The Northampton players... were somewhere over in the distance doing things of interest only to themselves.

Town lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation (or is that the code for the Town safe?) as follows: Williams, Forbes, Ramsden, Jones, McDermott, Pinault, Crowe, Bull, Parkinson, Gritton and Reddy. The substitutes were Young, Coldicott, Fraser, Mansaram and Sestanovich. Pinault dropped back into the middle of the midfield, whilst Parkinson played in some kind of vague 'free' role floating like a feather between midfield and attack, mostly wide on the left. Well that line up should be adequate, shouldn't it? What is the point in paying Stacy Coldicott if he isn't going to be picked to play?

The grand return of Dish of the Day: Glen Downey's Penne Carbonara. Nope, still don't believe he exists. That picture is Russell Slade's cousin on a day trip to Cleethorpes. It's very fattening apparently, with all that cream and butter. So that's what Michael Reddy has been eating during his 'flu' attack? Or does flu cause bloating?

First half
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand, interrupting many a casual conversation about roof tiles. All very low key, crowd shrivelling and silent. I'll give you a nudge when something happens.

Dum-di-dum-di-dum-di-dum dum-di-dum-di-dum-dum1. Name that tune for one point.

Pinault passing, oh-no, he's scared and too good looking, someone cried. Bull offside.

Dum-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-dum-dum, Boom, De-de-de-de-de-de-de-dum-dum, Boom2. The questions are still worth one point.

Boom indeed, Parky shoots from the left. Or right. Depends where you sit, or if you were watching. Or there. Straight at the 'keeper. No Royals involved. Hold that front page for a while longer. Nice, nearly, not. Three words that couldn't possible mean anything to you, Mr Bond. Unless you were hiding in the dead zone that was Blundell Park. Nice - passes by Town. Nearly - they almost led to a shot, a break through the defence. Not - answer to most questions at Blundell Park. Macca raiding, Crowe bursting, Gritton flicking, Reddy roving and droving. We'd have heard him moogling and a-googling too, if the wind hadn't been blowing down the pitch. Northampton penned inside their half by wind, Town and the inability of their 'keeper to kick. Shoot! A Harper fly kick straight at Crowe, ball bouncing off shin to Cobbler, moment lost.

In this excitement I forgot something. Bull, felled, hobbling, injured. He can't walk, he can talk, he's crocked. He's still on the pitch.

Ah, nice, Northampton attack. Mmm, not nice. They move, they pester, with McGleish a constant irritant, darting here, jinking there, sidling into the spaces between Ramsden and Forbes. Lucky Town, Northampton players can't lift their heads in that wind. Benjamin! Ho follows ho. He's a big man, but not seemingly in shape for football. Wince: Jones stumbles and Benjamin tumbles, inside the area. Play on.

Ten minutes of relative tedium, just midfield bargings with no attacks of any consequence, but the hint of threat from Town. Reddy tireless, always out wide; Parkinson spinning like a weather vane in the breeze. It's the ears that did it. Did you say ears Bert? A carefully placed ball down their right rolled towards the bye-line, Ramsden huckled the ball around and passed infield to Williams, just inside his area. Benjamin raced forward and the Pontoon panickers' platoon were about to berate his Welshness when the clouds parted and a light shone down. A chorus sang: "La-la-la-la-la, hey! La-lalalala-la hey!"3

Williams sidestepped and rolled the ball between his legs, sending Benjamin sliding towards embarrassment, or Ramsden's car park, take your pick. Another Cobbler approached, a shimmy, a feign to the right, a reverse pass to the left to Jones. Not quite the Time Warp but you get his drift, for feather boas and suspenders are not part of the Town kit these days. At least not at home. The Pontoon exploded with laughter and relief. Jones punted, Northampton won it back, raced to the bye-line and crossed dangerously. It didn't go in. Either Williams caught it or someone headed it away. A moment of danger crumbling away like old cheese.

How long gone? Fifteen minutes if you want to know. And someone had a shot. On target. At a goal. Some neat interlinking and light shopping by the maroon Midlanders resulted in Rowson advancing up their centre left, 25 yards out. He swished his foot and the ball skidded softly to Williams, who clutched it very butterfingerly. Oh, it's one of those nights.

Bull was still limping.

This occasionally interesting game of dodgeball shuffled on, with Town clearing towards the right touchline. Reddy raced after the ball, let it bounce, flicked his locks and hared along the touchline, holding off a defender. Onwards, onwards raced the Town terrier, to the bye-line, into a sliding tackle which halted him and sent the ball out for a corner. A half roar from the crowd: the mice that mumbled. Pinault clapped an outswinger towards the edge of the area, Crowe stooped and headed goalwards. Reddy, a few yards out at the far post, leapt up, leaned on a defender and graced the ball into the net with the merest of touches. Harper dissolved on his goal line, visibly shrinking as the laser beam throbbed from the floodlights. A few seconds later Town fans jumped up and shouted "hurrah". Who scored it: was it Gritton? The assumption was that it was the Gritster who'd scored, and who can tell those two apart at 100 paces, eh?

What a rubbish goal. Still, mustn't grumble. Remember, Town win when they play poorly.

A few minutes later Reddy revved up again, superbly turning down the right, cutting infield, rumbling past one, two, three, a fourth defender, across the pitch into the area, past the final defender, on the left, a dozen yards out...and miss-hit a left foot shot straight at Harper. Wait, there's more. Harper flapped the ball away from his knees towards Parkinson, but a defender reacted first and thrashed the ball away. Remember this incident for an interesting compare and contrast exercise later on.

I bet you didn't know that people hunt around antique stalls for the back of cereal packets. They pay up to £2 for them. And there are two secret societies dedicated to this. There is a school of thought that claims that's were Slade picked up Glen Downey. What's become of England?

Gritton, hello there! A drop-kick headed on loopily by our Celtic warrior who turned and volleyed from the car park at Ramsden's. The ball wizzled up in the air, dropping nicely into Harper's midriff. It looked good from the Pontoon, anyway. Oh, nice move, Town swaying down the right, Macca shooting straight at Harper. Firmly, but fairly. Within easy goalie-grabbing range. The hints are turning to suggestions.

Northampton looked dangerous on the break, passing well, moving better, but over-elaborate, always seeming to want a flick too far, a trick too many. And they hadn't allowed Town inside their area much, blocking off and crowding out. Town's efforts from open play were all longish range. Raids down the wings got as far as the bye-line and crosses were intercepted at the near post, or flicked from the far. They needed to be, for the 'keeper looked wobbly. But who are we to cast such stones?

Another dreadful fly-kick by Harper swerved to Crowe about 40 yards out on the centre right. Crowe shinned the ball forward as Harper waddled back into the open goal. Pinault and McDermott closed the lock-gate on the Northampton narrowboat. Pinault, 30 yards out, bludgeoned the ball, it sliding a foot or so away from the left hand post. We oohed: we felt duty bound.

And that's it for the first half. More Town raids which produced nothing but wafted shots and wayward crosses. Pressure exerted, but Cobblers unperturbed by the locals banging on the castle door demanding an explanation for all those noises and strange comings and goings. "Be off with you, it's not your concern." So they all duly trouped away after one minute of time added for the sake of it.

What an odd half, played in front of the Osmond Stand. Town territorially dominant, but only one goal. Town, as a whole, as individuals, were looking a bit hesitant. Fortune favoured at crucial times when Northampton got around to attacking. Little rebounds, mis-kicks, and some rotten decision making by the Northampton midfield all conspired to give the illusion of comfortable command. But they looked likely to score with the wind at their backs.

Bull still looked injured.

For once Slade's half time teamtalk would energise them. Wouldn't it?

Stu's Half Time Toilet Talk
"It hasn't grown back yet then."
"What exactly is Parkinson's best position?"
"There was an advert in the local Jobcentre for an 'impostor', but I don't look like Sammy Davis Jnr."
"Crowe has run into people, but forgotten the ball."
"I bought one of those new computers with celeriac chips in."

Second half
Northampton made two changes at half time: now there's management for you. Off went two blokes who'd hardly been noticed and on came Charley Farley and Piggy Malone. No, that's not right; Hearns and Bojic, ITV's new crime-busting duo. But here's the twist: they don't exist.

All's well.

Not now. The game restarted whilst many were still picking at their pies, including Town.

Dum, de-de-dum, de-de-dum, de-de-dum, de-de-dum de-de-dum, de-de-dum4. Oh, diddums, a three points question.

Whilst Macca was working it out he attempted to pass to Pinault but fell over. All the right thoughts, but not necessarily in the right order. Off they went, za-zooming down the flank, whirling away, McGleish behind Jones, slamming a cross-shot into the near post. Williams caught it and didn't drop it. Phew, a let off. Warning lights flashing. Tighten the bolts on the defensive wall will yer.

And again, Northampton strikers rushing into the spaces behind the Town wing backs. Hey! You don't think they had...a plan! Sure looked like it to us unwashed masses without a lifetime "in the game". No, no, we mustn't be "negative" - that will not do.

And yet again. Cobblers raiding on the right, transferring the ball up to Benjamin on the left edge of the Town area. One touch, a turn and a sliding hooking shot low towards the bottom left-hand corner. Williams dived across and showed us his fundamental flaw again; he parried the ball back into the centre of the penalty area. No Town defender moved, McGleish raced in and swept the ball into the far corner from half a dozen or so yards out. So, so predictable and seen before several times this season too. The first rule of comedy goalkeeping is to make the same mistake over and over again.

Huh, Town. Deflated, desisting from attacking. Stand up: Gritton almost through. Sit down: an offside that wasn't. Well, wasn't much. Reddy, Reddy, Reddy, running right, lunging left. A corner. Pinault tapped it short to Bull, on the right edge of their area. He looked up, saw footsteps slowly walking, and chipped a dinking little cross into the near post, Gritton shook his hair, the ball travelled past and into Harper's hands, bouncing about before resting on his chest.

Cobblers returned, in more ways than one. Bull crumpled when making a last-ditch tackle on the right winger, just outside the Town area. Our hearts stood still. He stayed down, motionless. Can you run, Ron? Young started to warm up but Bull managed to raise himself from horizontal and gingerly gingered off the pitch. The physio signalled he had to be replaced. Young warmed up a bit more. Northampton retained possession and crossed and crossed and crossed.

Ten man Town held on: no shots, just pressure. A minute later Bull dragged himself back onto the pitch, barely able to move. He stopped, held his leg and hobbled towards the penalty area. Now Northampton players may have noticed this. Just a thought. They dragged Town defenders to their left, then fizzed it to their right, exposing the crocked Bull to a balding winger type. That weakness hasn't been carefully hidden by the kids, has it? Once, twice, three times crosses cleared. Oh look, Young is beginning to take off his tracksuit. A stop in play? No, carry on. Another cross cleared, back out to baldyman. Bull stood off, occupying space, Jones hustled across to cover, dragging Ramsden and Forbes across as a consequence. Baldyman crossed, Benjamin, unmarked in the centre, steered a header down into the bottom right hand corner. Williams watched, Town fans sank, Bull was replaced by Young.

Northampton fans asked if they could sing a song for us. We accepted their offer, but they ignored our request - The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck. Perhaps they didn't know his oeuvre. Young people, do they have no grasp of Britain's great musical history. Were the Dooleys wasting their time? Is Sinitta just a distant memory at a school disco? If so, why are you clinging to that memory?

Crowe, into the box on the left, slam-shot into the side netting. That's it. That's Town over for the night. Some thought he'd scored, for the ball rolled along the side netting. He hadn't.

Oh, it was terrible. Town a mess, ripped apart easily, a goal expected with every Northampton attack. The very worst of Town. Hoofings, aimless hoofings; the midfield bypassed by our defenders and their midfielders. Crowe not stopping them; Pinault flittering in and out, wanting the ball at his feet. Thomas, you and your fancy foreign ways. Quite simply, Northampton are cheating: they aren't playing fourth division football. They're passing the ball to each other, along the ground; the ball is advancing upfield using the Pony Express, not Aer Lingus. Not stupid, in other words.

Young made some excellent tackles, but rarely advanced beyond the half way line.

Baldyman crossing from their right to the near post, Softly, softly does it. Williams, clinging on to the dribbler, no danger. Er, yes, there is. Benjamin raking and stamping at the foot of the post as the ball squirmed free. Some long range Cobblers, some more attacks; growing anger, frustration and fury in the home stands. And finally the damn burst, with thunder in Parky's ears: a lost soul swimming in our fish bowl, game after game. The crowd began to boo, to heckle the previously untouchable workhorse. There comes a point where unstinting effort no longer shields form slings and arrows, and the hour mark in this game was it.

A plastic bag, caught in a whirlwind by the empty corner twixt Osmond and Smiths/Findus/Stones stands. Rising, rising, falling, spiralling in a gentle droop to the ground, back up towards the lights, then down again. The Caxton Players present Town's season as played by a plastic bag.

Der der der der der der der, de-de-der, de-de-de de de-der5. For one point, which is more than Town'll get, or deserve.

Williams kept dropping the ball. A looping deflection, dropped on the line, saved by the referee. A corner, flapped to Crowe's ankles. Shoddy, shocking. The sins of the autumn coming back.

You know, fifteen minutes have disappeared from our existence. Every club has its fifteen minutes of infamy, I suppose. The crowd flipped from support to criticism and back again with every mis-control, every challenge. Confused thrashings around for a saviour and a scapegoat. Bring on Sestanovich, Ah, but not before the referee sent their bossman, Calderwood, off for - presumably - uttering unpleasantries. Twelve minutes left.

On he came, big and brash, bustling with intent. One typical example of inter-stannary motion: dribbling in a circle near, but not past, six Sixfieldians was all we were going to get. Town attacked, Reddy weaving his way around the left. On the edge of the area he was pushed and fell into the box. The ball fell to Young, but the ref gave a free kick for diving. No booking, not even a talking to. Taken quickly, the Cobblers broke and Jones tackled superbly, whisking the ball off Bojic like a salamander licking its feet. Free kick to the Cobblers: the crowd explode; Town players explode. The ground shaking in rage. Sestanovich stood over the puny poltroon and noises came out of his mouth. The referee pulled out his red card, brandishing it with pompous glee. Tears, tantrums and a tiara for Michael Reddy who wrestled the Big Man away. Red card, red mist: at the very least Reddy saved the ref's teeth and nose from a formidable duffing. Sestanovich was only relaying quotes from the fine upstanding residents of the Lower Smiths/Findus/Stones.

What did Transit Stan say? What words were so heinous a crime against the aural sensitivities of the referee that would cause instant dismissal? "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries" perhaps. We'd just witnessed the most accurate, but ill-timed, volley seen at Blundell Park for many years. He'd lasted four minutes.

The game was dead, the points were theirs. Is the season dead now? Town huffed a bit, but the belief was gone, all resigned to fate. A couple of late corners, not even a squeak of an attempt at goal. They broke, they piddled about. There were two minutes of added time (for three substitutions, a sending off and two longish injury breaks?) which were long enough for Crowe to get injured, the linesman to be grazed by a tin can, and Coldicott to stand on the edge of the pitch and not be brought on. Will he ever get to play his harmonica in public?

The referee was escorted off the pitch by a chunky phalanx of security men and the crowd trudged off, content to take it out on the Napoleon in yellow.

Should I sum it up? No, work it out for yourself. Patience amongst the crowd (you know, the ones that still turn up) is exceedingly thin, if not completely exhausted. I am sure the chairman was delighted by the response to his cri de coeur. In the hour of need a further 1,000 fans attended their own living rooms in support of Town.

Nicko's Man of the Match
It should be Reddy who was tireless (and not just in the Lee Nogan sense), scoring and causing what problems there existed in Cobblers World. I'm sorely tempted to give it to Sestanovich, but he didn't make the ref's nose sore. So it has to be Michael Reddy, despite running out of steam with about 20 minutes left. At least he tried. Weren't we saying the same thing about Parky a month or two ago?

Official Warning
Mr J P Robinson. One should always be suspicious of referees with wrap-around hair. They have something to hide. He spent the first hour being a bit of a fussy pain, then went barmy. He definitely took agin Town, about the same time the fans started to insult his East Yorkshire homeland. A delicate flower who clearly doesn't like rude words, he should give all his life earnings to Michael Reddy for saving his life. His behaviour didn't cause defeat, but will allow some to overlook the paucity of passion, the lack of leadership in Town. He gets a big fat 0.000.

Naming Those Tunes
1 Theme from The Archers
2 1812 Overture
3 Oh, Shaddap Your Face
4 Grieg's Piano Concerto (in A minor), by Grieg
5 Theme from Vision On