Carnival of lost souls

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

12 February 2005

Grimsby Town 0 Shrewsbury Town 1

A bright afternoon in Positive John's pit of despair, with a withering wind swirling into the faces of 100 or so Shrewsburians down in the outer reaches of the Osmond Stand. Yeah, yeah, it rained a bit later, but only the players and police got wet, no real people; just fops, flops and cops.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Williams, McDermott, Forbes, Ramsden, Bull, Parkinson, Pinault, Fleming, Hockless, Gritton and Reddy. The substitutes were the five last men standing: Young, Crane, the tax dodge (Downey), the great orange-booted hope (North) and the little boy that Santa Claus forgot (Ashton). Ah, at last, that old faithful formation, Slade's winging wonders, or something phonetically similar; take your pick. Hockless promenaded down the left, his mere presence bringing peace to the world of the green ink faction in the crowd. Of course, now he's back, nothing can go wrong. Can it? He's still got lovely hair. And Parkinson down the right, ready to unleash that blistering pace. Everyone else was where you'd think they'd be.

As Town warmed up Graham Rodger stood over Pinault issuing instructions on where to welly the ball. Into the corners seemed to be the tactic. Or perhaps he'd just watched Saturday Night Fever. He wasn't wearing a white suit though. You can tell by the way he walks that he's a football man, yes you can.

The Shrewsbury players looked a lot bigger than they did in October. Either we've shrunk or they've been training on fertile fields. Maybe not a good day to pack the team with midget gems.

Dish of the Day: Simon Ramsden's chicken kiev, chips and baked beans. An odder combination than his mullet and scrape hairstyle. It's footballers' pica.

Ladies and gentlemen, the experiment is about to begin. Please put on your safety giggles to avoid irritation to the psyche.

First half
Shrewsbury, the laddies in red, kicked off towards the Pontoon. Five big blokes stood on their left, ready to race forward. What would they do next? Over to you. Remember, the clues are there. Up in the air, big man number 28 headed back to big man 4, the crowd fell silent, bored already.

I'm staring into space. No, I'm not catatonic yet, it's the one between the defence and midfield.

Still waiting for something to happen, a shot, a pass, a vaguely coherent tannoy announcement, a plastic bag wrapping itself around the referee's ankles causing much Norman Wisdom-like hilarity, anything will do.

Hurrah! An event, dear boy. Ramsden rushed out from the back to nick the ball in midfield and missed, Shrews raced away, Shrews crossed, the ball deflected out for a corner. So far, so mundane. Over it came, out it went to the edge of the area; bodies hurled ballwards; Ashton flashed his feet and the ball zoomed through Rodgers' legs straight to Williams, who plucked it like a feather. That's Rodgers, not Rodger. So far still so mundane. Sorry, that's just the way it was.

Hockless dancing. A misplaced pass. Crowd silent, embarrassed. Fleming, a whirling dervish of vacant possession. He is where the ball isn't. Gritton and Reddy, distant shipsmoke on the horizon; their hips move but we can't see that they're playing. Town players visible, some risible. Trotting, rotting, dreaming of a yachting holiday. A collective amble and shambles. And just 10 minutes gone.

There is no sound, there is no expectation. There is nothing.

Nice pass from Hockless, nothing happened. Nice cross from Hockless, something almost happened. Floated to the far post, the bedazzling full-back leapt across and headed the ball across goal with the goalkeeper shivering behind him. No Town players near, shame.

Is that a shot? Could be? Pity Fleming decided to clear it, diving to divert a goalbound shot by some Town player or other. Let's say it was Macca. The Town machine slowly grinding forward, the rust falling slowly from the wheels. Hockless, shimmering through the haze. One run pathetic; without purpose, without strength. Another better; a shot flailed a couple of yards wide. It's a start.

A minute later, two, three, four passes and flicks. Pinault rolling forward, Reddy linking, jinking, Gritton rolling left and rapping a shot across Howie. The tousle-topped stopper flew left and clutched the ball to his bosom, like a prime chunk of ham. At last, a moment.

Some verve, some team play. Passing, movement, energy, desire from the team. Don't get excited, it's just another Shrewsbury incursion, hobbled away for a corner on their left. Rodgers pestered, crossed through the box and Macca had to scrumble the ball away from Aiston's sphere of influence. Curled in, flicked on by Langmead at the near post, steered over by Tinson at the far post. Unmarked, a couple of yards out, a fantastic miss. Look around you, what do you see? Opponents six inches taller than their Town counterparts. We need some height.

More comedy teasers from the jokers in the Shrewsbury defence. A little nickle over the top saw Parkinson scampering away; a defender came across, the goalkeeper came out, Parkinson stopped. The Gay Meadow cavaliers collided, the ball squirmed away for a throw-in. We have to have one of these every game - Reddy raiding down the right. Predictably alliterative, predictably he fell in the area as an afterthought, no thoughts of a penalty by the referee. He smiled, benignly.

A foul! A free kick! About 25 yards out on the Town centre left. Please be upstanding for our special guest tweaker, Mr Graham Hockless, who will be performing the famous Grimsby Town free kick routine without the aid of a deckchair. With his glamorous assistant, Madame Le Pinaultpidou by his side, he espied the red wall, an eyebrow raised, a cheeky smile, two steps and a swivering shot crawled an inch or two over the bar. His fellow munchkins felt vindicated, and returned to their Jaffa cakes and Tizer.

Instant replay. A couple of minutes later a Shrews corner was cleared by desperate defending; two manly challenges saw red men tumble, play continued and Hockless felled a third. A free kick given: minor uproar in a small town, as Hockless appeared to win the ball with a sliding lunge, 25 yards out in the centre.

A small, ramshackle obstruction was placed about ten yards away, with wind and tumbleweed billowing through the gaps in the wattle and daub. Williams hid behind this man made a blot on the landscape. Can he see the ball? Up strode some bloke, later identified as Sedgemore, who arced a shot over and around this mock-Tudor style boundary fence. Williams scurried across to his left; Bull, unmarked, standing level with the post about a dozen yards out, stooped, stretched and steered the ball into the bottom left hand corner, diverting it enough to go in, and enough to go over Williams.

If Bull had stood still there wouldn't have been a goal. It was - and there is no other way of describing it, so please excuse this overly technical language - an own goal. When you've watched the game for 72 years you kinda pick up on these things, even though you're not in the game.

The crowd reaction? Unsurprised: we'd pressed the mute button ages ago.

It started to rain.

Up 'til the goal Bull had played perfectly adequately. By his standards. After it, well, let's be nice and just not finish that sentence. Shudder. Bull trapped, possession lost, Rodgers breaking, Forbes shuttling to safety. Safety? A back pass to Williams is safety? Spooned up, straight to a big Shrew 25 yards out, the goal-a-gaping. Town players scattered across the turf like crisp packets; fortunately Shrewman was dim, passing to a mate who was miles offside.

Town imploding, players shrinking, have we a team of eleven Stuart Campbells? Shrewsbury pressed on, pushing Town up to the back of the Pontoon by their lapels, demanding points with menaces. Town had a little sniffle and called their mum. A simple tactic: tall man against small man. One of these days they'll cut us to little pieces.

Aiston looming, leaning, levering past Macca inside the area. Six yards out, eight yards wide, thaddump - a shot driven high to the near post, parried well by Williams, swerved away by the alert Forbes. Town being strangled, grasping for some air. Corner after corner, Shrews toying with little Grimsby. The ball in the net again - offside days ago. Town any good? Years ago.

Town! A Hockless cross, Howie flapped and quacked like a hungry duck straight to Parkinson in the centre. The ball bounced up off the chest of the man-who-is-never-dropped; a defender hurtled out and Parky slapped a volley off the defender, the ball sailing into the sun. A corner. They broke, Town screamed.

Anything else, m'lady? Yes sir, a Hockless cross bimbled through the Shrewsbury chorus line. Kick step miss, kick step miss, off the final defender's shins and away for a corner. All it needed was a monkey, a man with an enormous moustache and a large lollipop and we'd have a classic silent comedy. And Reddy had a shot that there's no point in describing as he was offside.

Then the boos came. Sounds like an overwrought Tennessee Williams play, doesn't it. You can always depend on the kindness of strangers, or strangers can always depend on the kindness of Town. There is nothing positive to say, it's as simple as that. There were gaps everywhere, there was little movement, so how ironic that Mr Perpetual Motion Fleming managed to be everywhere the ball wasn't. The laws of physics and the application of statistics demanded that he touch it at least once. Hey diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle, Fleming in the middle. Ramsden didn't know how to play as a marking centre-back: his several mad dashes out to intercept were ill timed, ill conceived and made us ill. Luckily Shrewsbury were more pests than pastry chefs.

Now earn your cornflakes, Mr Slade.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"An arts centre in Rotherham? That's an oxymoron."
"I never thought I'd ever demand Tony Crane be brought on."
"I'll give it 15 minutes, then I'm off to the pub."
"I'm always stuck in the 70s before lunch."
"Their defenders are our best attackers."

Second half
Where are we? Cleethorpes, still only in Cleethorpes. Some day this season's gonna end.

Neither team made any changes at half time, and Town immediately surrendered possession with a hopeful punt and some abstract dibblings around Parkinson's shins. Perhaps he's a conceptual artist, not a footballer. He's actually living his art. It's a satire on the vacuous nature of modern celebrity.

The sun came out, as did a semblance of Town-ness. This is better. Well, sort of. A chip down the right saw Reddy sprint away, hassling the centre-back into missing an attempted knock into touch. Reddy bundled forward, barged into the box, bore down on goal and, from a narrow angle inside the six-yard box, nutmegged the sprawling keeper. The ball travelled through the keyhole, deflecting wide off the back of his studs.

The corner was curled out towards the penalty spot and a glancing looper arced towards the top right corner. Goalkeeper, defenders and Ramsden leapt up; the ball swerved an inch past the post. Worth an "ooh".

And off the Shrews went, squirreling upfield at pace, in numbers. They had to be stopped, and they were, the result a free kick 30 or so yards out. Punted in, some tubby bloke headed over, probably Langmead as he was the bulkiest of the big blokes.

Back came Town, Hockless nobbled free, advancing at pace down the centre. Two defenders converged, the jaws of a great white shark clamping down upon the little sprat. Hockless jumped up and the defenders cracked into each other. Town got the free kick for one defender fouling the other. Hockless brushed aside tentative Gallic attempts to conduct the symphony and fair whacked a drive through the wall and straight at Howie's head. He pat-a-caked it down, munched a pain au chocolat and supped his latte before Town strikers arrived.

Reddy again, raring, revving, revolving down the right, bullying past two defenders, crossing for... no-one. He gave a look that could have lasted years. So did we.

Now wasn't that better? More in five minutes than in the previous 45. Do you think he shouted at them at half time?

Has Parkinson done anything at all today? Get him off, get him off now. Ah, uh-hum, great play by Parkinson. A Shrewsbury corner half cleared to the edge of the Town penalty area. Parkinson collected the ball and dribbled upfield down the centre, to the left, drawing defenders on his sketchpad as he went. Onwards, ever onwards up to the edge of their box, drifting back to the centre, Fleming and Hockless in support. Alas, poor Andy, we know him so well. He delayed his pass, allowing Fleming to wander offside. So much promise, so little delivery.

Some more Town pressure; a corner, flighted badly, Shrews breaking. Danger, danger, three against two, Rodgers sucking in, tucking away a shot which riffled low straight at Williams.

"All stewards go to their posts." Uh? Just about the only thing that got us all on our feet in hopeful anticipation of some action.

The game is drifting, drifting, drifting, things happen, but they are just moments, no-one looked like scoring. The ball was starting to bob along the crest of a wave, briefly glimpsed at the peak, disappearing into the trough more often. About 30 yards out, the ball rolling, Bull and Moss yards away, poles apart, both lunging and stretching. Moss sliding with one leg, Bull leaping with two. Crack. Horrible, awful tackle. Moss in a heap, motionless. A yellow card for Bull: lucky, lucky boy. Moss stretchered off: unlucky boy.

Back came Town, with passing! Hello Monsieur Pinault. The ball dibbling around the edge of the area. In, out, Reddy flick, Hockless tap, a Fleming shin through to Gritton on the left, fifteen yards out. Out came the keeper, over came Walton, and Gritton carefully rolled the ball across the face of goal. The Pontoon rose. The ball trumbled along the obbly-bobbly pitch towards the bottom left corner. In, in, it's surely in. It wasn't, millimetres wide, possibly even grazing the post on its way out for a goal kick. Much running of hands through hair, even by the tonsorially challenged. Yes, it was that close.

More flicking and tricking around the area, but no way through the red wall of Shropshire. By the way, it's a myth: you can't see it from space.

At last, at last, some passing at pace, with Pinault pushing and pulling the levers of power. Down the right, wonderful one-touch triangles. Pinault to Macca to Pinault to Macca to Hockless to Pinault to Hockless to Fleming. And the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true. A footballing poem, laddie. Nah, Fleming passed to Parkinson. He could yawn and be withdrawn and watch the world go by. What a waste, what a waste, but we do mind.

Roll up, roll up to Uncle Russ's Great Grimsby Circus! It's the greatest circus on the whole of planet Earth! We have tumblers (Reddy), fumblers (Williams), lion tamers (Coldicott)... oh, sorry - he's not on today, so instead we have a troupe of clowns, led by Coco Bull. Gasp as he waddles forward onto a Parkinson pass, free inside their penalty area. Titter as he tackles himself, blocking his own cross with a sliding, jumping lunge. And misses too! It takes years of practice to get that comic timing. What's the secret of great comedy? Errr... being funny? He's pulling all the tricks from his bag now. Marvel at the acrobatic physical humour. A spectacular tricycle-kick clearance from near the halfway line, with no Shrew within a decade of his red nose. Fall to your knees in awe at those jumping sliding tackles. He shouldn't have stayed on the pitch for oh so many reasons.

Shrews return from mid-game hibernation. A Tinson free kick from 25 yards on their centre left curled over the wall on to the chin of the crossbar. A goal kick given, to the consternation of many a Shropshire lad behind the goal. Yoikes, Shrews break from a Town corner, Rodgers plundering ground, on and on and on and on. Forbes, Macca and Fleming straining every sinew to get back, and finally, as the Obi-Wan of the Severn pulled back his boot, Forbes made a magnificent tackle. Main Stand, Smiths/Stones/Findus, and Pontoon are the quietest places under the sun.

Ticking away, Town waiting for someone else to show them the way. Gritton looking injured, Reddy playing in bursts, Pinault fitful, Hockless occasional, Fleming horrible, Parkinson unbelievable. Change, Mr Slade; it isn't something you find in your pocket. Meandering to misery, nothing. The wind it plied the corner flags double, it blew so hard Town soon will be gone.

Reddy ducked when charging down a Howie fly kick. Now, if only he'd stood up he might have got a fluky goal. And lost his teeth, but, hey, he's a professional. You don't use your teeth in football, unless you are celebrating a Reyes goal. No Spanish practices here.

And still no substitutions, no changes. Slade stood up, arms crossed, glowering and glaring.

As the last ten minutes wearily trudged on, the Town fans' seething boredom turned into vocal disenchantment. You can't argue with facts and Grease isn't the word; rubbish is, though. A stream of hoofed clearances saw balls disappear over the horizon as quickly as belief in Town. An old silver-haired steward rose from his post to caress a perfectly weighted pass to Hockless. "Sign him up," of course; only half in jest. Williams raced out of his box to shepherd the ball over the line. Except it didn't reach the bye-line and Rodgers harried him into lying on top of the ball and rolling over the line for a corner.

With three or four minutes left Reddy was resurgent, chasing a dibble over the top on the left. He barundled the defender away, surged on, cut inside one, drifted past another defender inside the area, glided across the turf and, about a dozen yards out, carefully passed the ball to Howie. Last chance? No. A minute later Pinault steered a shot low to the keeper's left from the edge of the penalty area.

Last chance? No, more Town pressure, rather desperate, lumping into the box, bodies everywhere, the ball pinging and ponging around, always falling to Fleming, darn it. One, two, three half chances to shoot lost with terrible control and indecisiveness. The final one lost when he chose to chip the keeper rather than blasting through a huge mass of humanity between him and goal. "Chip" is a benevolent description: "spooned back-pass" is more accurate.

Last chance? No! How many times do I need to tell you? There were four minutes of added time and in the last of 'em Town had a series of corners and crosses, the last of which was hit by Hockless into the middle of the area. Two defenders missed it and the ball floated out of the area. Gritton chased after the ball, turned and hoiked it back into the box. Forbes challenged, defenders swamped him, the ball bibbled about in a bout of head tennis, eventually Howie punching the ball away, right down the middle.

The ball looped over Fleming, who back-pedalled and stumbled as Pinault, 20 yards out, volleyed low through the emerging humanity. Silence. No-one moved. Everyone in the arena of angst stood and watched, the wind dropped, the ball shimmered and bounced off the foot of the right post. And that was the end.

Did anyone deserve to win? Probably not; a draw would have been fair. Shrewsbury looked better organised, more committed, more of a team. Hang on - didn't I write that last time? So we finally got 4-4-2 and it was awful. Hockless was by no means the worst player; he was OK, a couple of good things, a few bad things. He was only interested when he had the ball; defensively, especially in the first half, he was a liability, allowing crosses with not even the veneer of a challenge. He did enough not to be lambasted.

Parkinson was the opposite. He was barely noticeable. He would have felt comfortable in last year's team. The front two huffed and puffed but blew their own houses down. There was little cohesion, and no dynamism. They played like it was April and they had nothing to play for but their holidays. I could go on, but it's the same sentiments, different words.

Ultimately there's no collective fight; there are too many shrugging shoulders. The excuses had been flagged up all week, and not many failed to be seduced on to the rocks. It's February and we're waiting for next season already?

Nicko's man of the match
The best anyone performed was 'not bad'. Reddy did things in the second half; Macca tried, but was, by his standards, struggling against their big winger. Fleming tried, but was hopeless in every respect. He wasn't playing football; he was doing a 10km cross-country run. Who was the least inadequate throughout? Erm, well, Terrell Forbes didn't seem to make any mistakes. His clearances went far enough away; he covered for Ramsden a lot; he was awake. So, for not being asleep and not doing anything wrong, it's him.

Markie's un-man of the match
Ramsden doesn't do marking. He looked flustered today. Fleming gets away with it because he tried so hard. Bull and Parkinson don't: they didn't earn their wages. Bull was just bonkers. Parkinson must have gone shopping; he just wasn't seen. And when he was, you wished he'd gone shopping. Time is up for the favoured son of Slade.

Official warning
Mr A Atkinson was excellent: one or two small decisions you could quibble with, but overall he kept the game moving and his judgement on when there was an advantage was superb. If I were a Shrewsbury supporter, though, I wouldn't forgive him for only booking Bull. So from a Town perspective he gets 8.761. A neutral would probably knock a couple of points off for his leniency, but this is no neutral zone.