Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
7 May 2005
Grimsby Town 1 Southend United 1
A queer old day by the sea. Hail, sun, rain and wind battered 2,000 shrimps in the Osmond stand. Surely a day too early, for the largest prawn cocktail in the world was due to be made on Blundell Park the next day, with Tony 'Chubby' Crane providing the celebrity comic relief and to stir the first prawn. Or am I mixing up the social calendar here?
Town lined up in a 5-3-2 formation as follows: Williams, McDermott, Whittle, Forbes, Crane, Bull, Fleming, Crowe, Pinault, Reddy, Gritton. The substitutes were Downey, Soames, Ramsden, Coldicott and Parkinson. Nothing much to say about that, is there? Just about the strongest team available, the grand blooding of the youngsters having consisted of 18 minutes of Worcester sauce. Or perhaps this is the final piece in the masterplan to ensure Scunthorpian humiliation. We've lent them points, we've stopped their opponents, we're going to force them to be promoted: short-term pain, long-term gain. They have two months of happiness followed by nine long, long months of water torture. Yeah, that's it - we're going to make them get promoted by trying a bit today.
Williams was wearing exactly the same kit as the referee and linesman. He should have slipped a couple of red cards into his back pocket, just in case. Or maybe he thinks that by being disguised as a referee he'll get less barracking from the barrack-room lawyers.
Southend turned up in a Lazio-like sky blue ensemble, looking large; hoping, no doubt, to large it over us erstwhile league leapers. Ah, those were the days my friend; we were lepers, though, when we were both in the old second division. Let's draw a veil over Cambridge, the Third Man.
Nicky Nicolau - how tattifilarious. Shame he ain't playing. And Freddy Eastwood doesn't sound like a footballer, more like a tennis-playing bounder from Decline and Fall. We shall see, won't we.
Dish of the Day morphed into "Future Players' Portions" and ended the season on a light note: today's youngsters are going to die before their parents. No point in wasting time and money on a youth team then, Mr F.
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon. And they passed it. To each other. Regularly. On the ground. We were confused into silence. Watch the jingle jangle start to chime: Pinault the fulcrum, tapping his green tambourine; Macca can dance, Reddy can jive. Though it wasn't quite the time of our lives it was better than most of this year.
Ooh, de-lovely. Ahh, delightful.
McDermott riding his chariot of fire down the wing, burning and turning his marker. A pass back up the line to Pinault and a glorious reverse sweep to the boundary. Well, Crowe is on the edge of something. The Man Who Was a Gunner played an excellent pass through the centre of the defence, the ball tantalising the keeper and teasing Barrett and Prior, who build affordable new homes. Flahavan left his safe haven, creeping up towards the penalty spot as Reddy raced around the back. Keeper and defenders collided, the ball rolled free, more legs appeared, more bodies fell. Gritton slid through and ended up past the post with the ball rolling gently towards him. He got up and thwacked the ball in from about a yard out, just to the right of goal.
Offside, by miles. If Gritton had, like all good serial killers, kept himself to himself, then one of the three un-offside Town players pounding up to pounce would have scored. And just three minutes gone. What excitement.
What is going on out there? Pinault continued to dictate with Crowe chest-bursting from midfield and McDermott trembling up the wing while Gritton and Reddy manoeuvred their tanks. Rockin' and rolling along, tickled free down the centre by Fleming, Reddy you're a teaser, you turn 'em on, leave them burning and then you're gone. Rolling around Prior, the ball bouncing handsomely and ready to thwack, Reddy saw a falling star and fell over it. Going for a penalty, not gold. Yeah, like we've been lethal from the penalty spot. Silly boy.
A bit of Town pressure, mild interest, nothing remotely resembling a half chance of nearly getting in a position to think about passing to someone who might shoot.
Southend headed the ball a lot. No matter what height, they headed it. They'd get down on their knees and pray to the gods of Wimbledon past if they had to. If you asked a Southend player to spell 'subtle' they'd say: "Aitch oh oh eff." They did pass it once along the ground. When I say "they" I mean their supporters, who played an exquisite pass down the touchline with a beachball. Have they got in the Town area yet?
It's as easy as a Sunday morning stroll in a prawn cocktail. Fifteen minutes of wallowing in nostalgia for last August. How the heck have they managed to get to fourth?
Oh, this is how. Eastwood, the only good in a bad and ugly style. Style: what a misnomer. It isn't style; it's method. Vigorous football: all bang it up and barge about. They relied on pace, power and Freddy, a man two divisions below his true level. Fifteen minutes, a shot, finally. Whacked forward, chased and harried down their left, Eastwood barundled Crane aside and drickled a shot high and wide across the face of goal. Not close, but it was a little whisper in our collective ear.
Southend took over, allying some semi-psychotic challenges to their energetic approach to beachcombing. Town sank further and further back; the phoney war was over. It was like they had something to play for and we didn't. Once the feet started flying some Town players became Stuart Campbellesque in their conspicuous invisibility. Oddly, Pinault was trying to be Mr Muscle, while some of his colleagues rather stood off some two-footed lunges.
Ah, but what of the Three Tenors at the back? Placido DeForbo was starting to be a bit ruffled by all this harrying and hassling, sending several sturdy back-passes to Williams, who was not appreciative of his efforts. Cranevotti provided the big bottomed hip-hopping barrier, while... darn it, it doesn't work with Whittle, does it. Whittle was big, brave and the glue that just about held this wobbly wall together. Oh there they are - Eastwood twinkling free, crossing from left to right towards the gigantic gray whale unmarked but a yard below the torpedo. The Southend fans "oooh"-ed, just to keep their spirits up.
The force was with them. The force was strong.
Southend tried, and they tried, and they tried and they tried but they couldn't get any satisfaction as they ground Town down. Wave upon wave of attacks, Town unable to gain any control, for clearance were hurried and huge. It was a big game of pinball with the Town back three as the flippers. Whacked in, tribbled out, whacked in faster and higher, flicked aside, smacked in again. Ding-ding-ding, bonus points on offer if they get it in the hole.
The flanks, meanwhile, were being eroded quicker than Spurn Point. Abandoned by the council for cost reasons, Macca and Bull were left to fend for themselves as the lifeboatmen huddled in their little shack inside the penalty area. Being an old pro, McDermott had brought along his own inflatable armbands, flares and provisions to last 70 minutes in the open sea.
Eastwood again, selling Crane some timeshares in Magaluf before scaring the roosting pigeons in the floodlight. A corner, another, then another. The Osmond stand throbbing with hope, pulsating with desire, the rest of the ground expecting opposition dream fulfilment. Big bird Barrett, rising in the centre, skidded a header a couple of feet over the bar. A scramble from another; concession was close. Bodies thrown in front of the rockets, collateral damage only.
Seen Jason Crowe recently?
More, more, more Southend attacking, free kicks a-go-go. Huge lumps, Titans clashing, the ball permanently inside Williams' area. We're waiting, let 'em have it. We're cool, we don't need the points. Town squeezed like a lemon on the right, squelched like a rotten tomato on the left, to the bye-line, a cross pulled back to Pettefer, unmarked near the penalty spot. He leant back and guided the ball a foot or so over the crossbar. It was probably easier to score.
Seen Terry Fleming recently?
Back they rolled, the wind rising, forcing Town clearances to turn back on themselves. Bull sliced across the face of his own area; Crane headed vertically; Southend were happy, as head tennis is their game. Town holding on, which is why they got a load more free kicks, I suppose. Gray, on their right on the corner of the penalty area, flickered himself free, rolling and sprinting away from Forbes. He hit the byeline, dribbled inside the area and rolled a cross through the six-yard box. Crane was the only Town defender back and he shovelled the ball out for a corner from in front of goal with Southenders to his left and right. Perhaps the Town programme should have the words 'don't panic' written across it.
Town got out their towels and managed to avoid incineration from the resulting corner. Like a post-war housing development: one, two, three towering blocks in a row, hackery and dackery, the ball falling to Prior, his shot thundering against some monochrome bottom. Danger averted.
Seen Town recently?
Ah, the traditional pre-half time shot. Finally Town controlled the ball, passing to each other, with Pinault stroking a first-time shot a foot or so over the angle of post and bar after Gritton had trundled around and poked the ball infield. Town pressure, no chances, just chasing back-passes and general "oooh"-ing as Reddy threatened to nearly get the ball.
There were four minutes of added time, which astounded everyone. Was the ref enjoying it so much he just didn't want it to end? It was OK for us, but not great. I'd rather have a ham sandwich.
Finally the referee decided he wanted to go to the toilet and so could we. As the players walked off there were three boos. Why? Were these ironic boos? Were they positively booing the boo boys for not booing? Two negatives make a positive, John.
Town had been superior footballers for 15 minutes, with Southend being just a bunch of athletes to our aesthetes. But then they took over, bullying their way forward, strangling the ball and beating it into submission. Town managed, through luck, bad shooting and brave defending to hold on. Just.
A half that was just like the season: it started with Town dominating, producing little, and ultimately cowering under the stairs when the big boys shout.
Does it matter?
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Crowe's reduced me to phonetic moaning."
"If we'd signed Eastwood he'd be rubbish."
"Sorry, my typing was bad because I went to London."
"Town's season has been like a broken pencil: pointless."
"I don't do flowers - the curtains are shrubbery."
Neither side made any changes at half time.
Southend kicked off and carried on regardless, biffing their way forward with Town immediately in retreat. A couple of minutes in, Eastwood started to charm in the centre of the pitch, doing a little Bruce Forsyth routine: singing, dancing, and having a round of golf for charity. While the Town defence sat back and were entertained by Britain's favourite toupé, he cunningly finagled the ball along the conveyor belt and through a gap between Forbes and Crane. Gray was blistering through on goal, inside the area, in the centre. Williams raced out and, from about a dozen yards, Gray tried to lift the ball over the slithering Celtic fringe. Up went the right arm, away went the ball: a superb save. The Pontoon was forced to applaud.
Didn't he do well?
And off Town went down the other end, breaking quickly, Crowe bounding free down the centre right. Two against one, Reddy to his right, to pass, to shoot, to dream on. Jason at the Argos store would be more likely to see a better selection. Crowe passed the ball against the back of a defender. We should have got used to it by now, but it still annoys, doesn't it.
Suck that glacier mint Grandma. Gray sprinted away from the halfway line, Forbes left flailing in his slipstream. Whittle thundered back and caught up with the two of them wearing raincoats. They sneezed and all fell down, with Southend sort of, halfish, claiming a penalty.
Southend mistakenly tried to play some football, just handing the initiative back. Don't they do their homework? They'll have to come back after the season has finished and do some detention.
After about ten minutes of the half Town were given a free kick way out on the right. For what, no-one knows, the detail lost in time. Whoofed out beyond the far post, Whittle headed it across goal. Gritton, in the centre, flicked the ball on and the ever-Reddy battery boy lurked about ten yards out. With his back to goal Reddy took one touch, spun and hooked a swivelling overhead kick in off the left post. Ooh, cheeky. By this time we were so unimpressed by Southend's basic instincts that all thoughts of Scunthorpian dismay were banished, and we really wouldn't mind spoiling some else's party on our back lawn.
A brief flurry of fluffiness in front of the Pontoon ended when Forbes magnificently blocked, taking his electric buggy to warp factor three. The plastic shopping basket on the front didn't fall off - that only happens at hyperspeed. Southend looked a little sorry for themselves, their fans passive, the team lacking in energy, Town had a ball, or rather had the ball. And Prior kicked Reddy in the Area 51. Sorry, that's classified information. Have you got security clearance?
A Town shot, Prior's broad beam boomeranged the ball away. Reddy oozed free, zooming away down the centre right. McDermott zimmered up in support, but Reddy failed his etiquette test, not waiting for royalty before starting the show. He'll never be invited to the right parties now, will he. A corner, cleared. Pressure, no chances. Pinault played Chopin's chopsticks on his little ukulele, distracting defenders while Reddy roamed the beach digging for worms, with a permit, of course. He'd have been better off using a bucket and spade. He crossed, no-one around, moment passed, no donkeys died in the making of the movie.
And then Southend awoke from their torpor. Town were diddled on the right, Jupp crooping a cross to the near post where the unmarked Gray shook his head and sent the ball back, just the eight yards wide. Eastwood began to work the streets with his chipper, cheeky, cheery cockernee banter, selling watches from his suitcase. The Town defence couldn't resist, buying a job lot of Rolexes with Mickey Mouse fascias. Indeed they, and Eastwood, are unique. Stepovers, swaying hips, rolling bundles, power and pace - what is he doing playing in the fourth?
Southend upped the pace, starting to crack into challenges again, and Town wilted and wobbled. A cross from their right floated, drifted and raised its eyebrows at Williams as it passed. Eastwood awaited as Williams just managed to fingertip the ball away from the top corner and Freddy's quiff. A minute later, Eastwood trampled upon the little Townites down the right, crashing a low cross through the centre of the area. Bentley spliced his mainbrace, unfurled a banner and cruised forward, followed by Fleming. They both lunged and Bentley swept the ball against the crossbar and over. A goal kick was given, despite the audible click of a Town shinpad diverting the ball away from Williams.
Pressure was mounting, that vice being tightened around the neck; Town suffocating. Southend were desperate for information: they want information. They weren't getting it. By hook or by crook, they would.
With 20 minutes left the umpteenth cross of the game was headed out for a corner on their right. All their big bruisers bumbled forward and the corner was hit flat, and quickly, over Williams and to the far post. Eastwood rose gracefully above the lemon meringue, through the whipped cream and from three or four yards out smuggled the ball in via Macca's head and the woodwork. It wasn't a surprise, and was the least they deserved for the verve and vim. Still annoying, though, 'cos football isn't about giving; it's about taking.
The last 20 minutes were frenetic, frantic and fun. Southend really flew forward, leaving massive holes into which Reddy, especially, could meander. Eastwood, always Eastwood, poltergeisted his way through the Town defence on the right. Undermanned in the centre, defenders akimbo, Town were tottering on the tightrope, about to plunge face down in the dirt. Where's the safety net?
Gray was unmarked in the centre, six yards out with the ball rolling gently towards him. Little Ronnie Bull entered the arena riding his tricycle to the rescue, honking his horn and squirting water from his carnation, to scoop the ball out to the edge of the area, where a midfielder shot straight at Williams.
A minute or so later a soft header ploppled into Williams arms, then Gower dribbled through three challenges and snorkled the ball at Williams, who fumbled it aside for a corner. Excuse me while I take a breather. All this action is too much to take. We're not used to this sort of thing at Blundell Park, so Rantin' Russ took off Fleming and replaced him with Coldicott. Ten minutes left.
Ooh, close. Bull was sent down the left and hit a flat volleyed cross through the six-yard box, just in front of the unmarked Gritton at the far post. Back down to the Pontoon with Gray doing a little rumba outside the box, hitting a surprising shot through a thicket of legs, the ball drifting a couple of yards wide of the left post. Back down to the Osmond, with Crowe hitting a very uninteresting shot well wide from 20 yards. I suppose it was better than the time he just wellied it against the overturned life raft that was Spencer Prior's derriere.
At some point Southend cleared the ball near their goal line after a cross from the right by Reddy. Shoulders shrugged, summertime, and our living will be much easier without this weekly waft of woe.
Parkinson replaced Reddy with five minutes left. Parkinson, it is alleged, touched the ball, though forensic examination of the DNA of the ball suggest that the likelihood of that happening was 14,000,000,0000,000,2:1
Still Southend pummelled forward, Eastwood twisting, turning and learning very quickly that his snapshot was drifting wide of Williams' left post. On and on they came, and not just the Southend players, for the traditional irrelevant pitch invasion was being readied by the hormonally challenged. The Southend players were clearly distracted by the ever-encroaching cheap nylon leisurewear that hugged the touchline. Closer and closer they came until they were on the pitch, taking it in turns to wander across Williams' goal line.
With three minutes left Ramsden replaced HRH Sir John of McDermott. He ran off, applauded by the players. If this really is the Last of the McDermott it was a terribly cheap way to go, almost sneaked off unnoticed. Where is that open-top bus ride around the town?
The fourth official put up his board - four more minutes of this dank season to go.
Have some sympathy, and have some taste, use all your well-learned politesse for the Grimsby of the south. Someone, somewhere gulled the Shrimpers in the Osmond stand into thinking the draw was enough, for in this added time they suddenly erupted, celebrating promotion. They were wrong. Hey, you need a second source before you go to print.
The referee heard the Southend roars, saw the pitch about to be subsumed by teenagers and ended it right there and then. The kids ran into the centre circle then stopped, realising they had nothing else to do; there was no point to what they'd done, so they hung around looking a bit embarrassed as the players walked off, very slowly.
Perhaps this was the perfect way to end this season, encapsulating it all in one wonderfully misjudged moment: what's the point of it all? I particularly enjoyed the stewards' lightning reactions, taking all of ten minutes to get more than four orange beacons of authority to wander over to the Pontoon. It all happened so quickly, after all.
Oh, didn't you notice, the game, the season ended. And then one day you find, a season gone behind you, no-one told Russ when to run, Town missed the starting gun.
Some of the lads said they'd be back next week, but who? Will Forbes be staying after Sunday? Will Crowe fly from his nest egg? Will our official national treasure remain? The season ends as it started: things haven't got worse, but have they got better?
The end of laughter and soft cries, this is the e-e-e-e-ennnnnnd
Nicko's man of the match
Nicko took off his hat, mopped his brow, phoned a friend and still couldn't decide. He flicked his commemorative coin and it came up heads, which means Justin Whittle gets the nod above Terrell Forbes. Well, he is taller, and more likely to stay next season.
Markie's un-man of the season, Universe and everything
The Jasons Crowe, as we like to call him. This emperor has few clothes. His legs moved, but we couldn't see what he's playing at. Don't ever let him be in your quiz team; he'll always choose the wrong option on multiple-choice questions.
He used to play for Arsenal, you know.
A man of occasional fussiness and frequent ambiguity, Mr G Salisbury was determined not to make a 'big' decision. He allowed some fruitiness from the southerners, but was stern when northerners demanded the ball without menaces. The tombola of turgidity came up with the following ball: 5.2312453286501. By ending the game early when faced with 500 fashion victims chanting incoherently, all that could be said is that he was no match for our untamed wit.