Pigs on the wing: Bristol Rovers

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

5 November 2005

Grimsby Town 1 Bristol Rovers 2

Streets full of people, no-one there in a breezy Blundell Park. How late was that decision to open all the stands, when just the green seats would have done? One hundred and a bit Bristolians lined up all in a row down the Osmond End of Tumbleweed Towers. And if one blue Bristolian accidentally falls there'll be one less Bristolian to go and get the ball when Town launch it.

Magic of the cup?

Town lined up in the bog-standard 4-4-Lump-1 formation as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Whittle, R Jones, Newey, Cohen, Bolland, Dr Kalala, Parkinson, G Jones, Reddy. The substitutes were Toner, Barwick, Ramsden, Gritton and the enigmatic pork scratching, Gliding Glennnnnn Downey. It filled us with inertia. If it isn't fixed, don't mend it, eh Russ? As long as the work ethic is high, you'll be our number one? We're not the kind of fans who give in just like that. Just look around: open your eyes and ears.

Dish of the Day: I wondered how long it would take to get around to that perennial restaurant staple of winter vegetables. What's wrong with peas? Beware seasonal weight gain: the run-up to Christmas can make you a moron, a potential health time bomb. No future, there's no future for pumpkin soup.

Bristol Rovers? They were to be our opponents. What more do you need to know? They turned up on time, with the right number of registered players in a colour co-ordinated kit that satisfied the referee.

Ah yes, the referee: a small man. A stray Lukic wallop landed near him when he was warming up. Mildenhall asked for the ball to be kicked back. He saw his chance to score a goal on a proper football ground against a real, proper goalkeeper; what stories to tell his nieces and nephews around the Christmas fireside, while supping pumpkin soup. Wide on the right, just inside the area, he tried to curl the ball around the Mildster, who nonchalantly picked up the weak effort and chuckled. The little man looked crushed.

Do we have to stay and watch the film? It's had terrible reviews recently: something about a weak script with no discernible plot, the occasional explosion and an unsatisfactory ending.

First half
Rovers kicked off towards the Pontoon. They kicked it straight out of play. It's up to you from now on. Do you want the short version or the unabridged, full-length Hamlet?

Newey lumped a free kick into their penalty area.

Newey kicked the ball with indeterminate power in an indeterminate direction, allowing casual observers to believe he had a shot. Hang down your head Tom Newey.

What's this? History repeating itself, surely not? Newey whumped a free kick into their penalty area, from the Town left. Whittle, at the far post, headed back across goal. Jones the Stick, about ten yards out, looped a gentle header into the arms of Shearer. No, not that Shearer, so Whittle's elbow didn't get excited. At some point during the first half Shearer flapped at a Newey free kick, or cross, or corner, and there was a degree of non-boredom for a brief moment. When it happened is an irrelevance, as was the outcome.

They're as bad as us. Two bald teams fighting over a comb.

Here comes the fudge! Jones the Lump, Big Jones, when he comes out his arms are too small, his head like a ball. Where is the ball? The ball, the ball - friend or foe? Why are we here. We few, we shrinking fools, tempted by rotten fruit. I spy with my little eye something beginning with aaarrrrrrrgggghhhhh.

That's nice. Bristol attacked, with a thump down their right catching Parkinson and Newey unawares. Some bloke got there, crossed, and there was a minor bit of minorness where it was possible someone thought something might happen worth telling you about. It wasn't me who thought that. A couple of minutes later the linesman forgot to put his flag up, allowing Private Walker to shuffle into the Novelty Rock Emporium that is Town's penalty area. McDermott stressed and strained, slid and clipped Walker who stumbled and... stayed upright. Lucky old Town, for Walker lobbed the ball across rather than fall. No penalty, no chance: nothing. This game a void, one to avoid.

Newey scrumped a free kick into their penalty area.

Half an hour gone and the crowd long since distracted by crisp packets drifting across the ground. There seemed to be more cheese and onion flavour crisps discarded than any other, by a statistically significant margin. Does this mean anything? Should the Town board commission a study? And how does this impact on new stadium plans?

Oh yes, football. Ding-dong, the Avon laddies calling. After a normal barging challenge Jones the Stick remained on the ground, motionless and clutching his leg. Twenty-five yards out in the centre, Roboman's tracks had been blown away. Town had the ball, but walloped it long, long, long and listlessly up towards Reddy. The defence pushed up, ignoring the wounded warrior.

Rovers regained possession and whacked it down their centre-left. The Rovers players had realised Jones was playing them onside, and filled the space. Town players put their arms up in hope but play continued. Disley waddled forward into the area and rolled the ball across to Agogo, in the centre about ten yards out as Macca raced back. Mildenhall came out, threw himself forwards and managed to half stop the shot, but the ball rolled beneath him and slowly, slowly, slowly towards the goal. Agogo's momentum took him to the ball and he tapped it in from a yard out.

The Town players complained, as did half the Town crowd, with Mildenhall smashing his water bottle down in disgust. Perhaps there should be training sessions in how to be injured: even if your right arm falls off, hold your head; with the left arm only, of course. The scoreboard said "MARINERS 1 BRISTOL R 0".

Ramsden replaced Rob Jones on the restart.

Town's response was fantastic. Well, it is a fantasy that there was a response. Newey plumped a free kick into their area. The Town fans zoomed straight into post-modern mode, ironically cheering even the smallest of things that didn't go wrong immediately. Parkinson ran over the ball at a free kick, a decoy for Newey to chump the ball into their penalty area. Big cheers for that: you see, this was a subtle change. Parkinson dummied on the right-hand side of the pitch, rather than the left. Cunning, eh?

Mildenhall caught a cross. This was the last time Bristol bothered to go near the Town area, and it doesn't count as their sequel to Through the Looking Glass and What Agogo Found There. They did nothing in ponderous, formless, and witless manner. So a bit better than Town then.

Barren, desolate: a seaside town in winter is such a depressing place. A seasick Town is such a depressing mess. Oh look, another free kick after Cohen was defenestrated. What will we do pop-pickers? Newey dumped it into their penalty area and Whittle headed over at the far post. What cheek for Atkin to claim we're just a set piece team! Whatever gave him that idea?

With five minutes left three Town players touched the ball without it going out of play or to an opponent. I shall define this as a Town passing move for the purpose of this paper. The ball eventually fell to Kalalalalala-I-don't-want-to-get-hurt-when-I'm-playing-for-my-country-next-week, who swung his maracas and sliced a volley well high, well wide. Well! Town had a shot, and from open play too. Aren't we the blessed ones to see that. Sladey's comet, observed every 86 years with a powerful telescope. A Kalala shot, or is that a bit of LVU there? Haven't you heard about loose vowel usage? You don't read your men's health magazines, do you: it's one step away from irritable vowel usage. There's an epidemic of that in Hull.

You have to make your own entertainment these days. Perhaps someone should bring in an old piano for the Macclesfield game.

It's half time. Who cares anymore?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Have I ever told you the story of Britain's leading expert on wasp noises?"
"We never think it could possibly get worse, and it always does."
"Perhaps his dad could get him to phone in his moan."
"Even Banana Bob hates Shearer."
"If we can hear them, can they hear us?"

Second half
It started to rain.

Neither side made any changes at half time. As the game restarted the Pontoon even made an effort: a few seconds of roaring and singing. No harm, I suppose.

The first few minutes of the second half were appalling, but appalling right in front of us, suggesting that by a freak of Mother Nature we might strike it lucky. Lumpman, twice, was motionless as the ball dropped within centimetres of his body. He just couldn't get the old steam engine going in time. He needs an hour of stoking. Add in, for taste, a sprinkling of Parkinson feebleness and you have a tasty dog's breakfast for those salivating hounds gathering at the gates. Buttered scapegoats on toast for tea; now where's the jam?

A-ha! Here it is. A Town hoof was de-hoofed back down the right. Town simply finessed a hoofette back over the top for Parkinson to scamper after. He sprinted with purpose, challenged with power, and lobbed a cross into the area. The ball hung in the air with Shearer quivering underneath, in the centre of goal, three or four yards out. The Lumpster truck arrived and Shearer flapped pathetically. The ball dropped out towards the edge of the area and Bolland skimmed the ball back goalwards. Shearer fell to his right as Jones rose, swivelled and swished his left foot at the passing pebble as it skimmed across the pond. And in! Who had scored? It's the blimp, Frank. Jones the Lump managed to accidentally shin the ball in from about three yards out, a defender missing the ball as it passed.

The game was now constantly inside the Rovers half, with Town even passing sometimes. The predominance of the welly for Reddy to chase should not detract from the improvement. By normal standards of Town-ness it would have been poor, but in the context of the first half this was better. The Brizzle defence creaked and croaked, their keeper meek and soaked; Town still had some bubbles in their lemonade. Parkinson dribbled past two and cracked a low cross to Jones, ten yards out at the far post, who turned with the speed only he can and cracked a shot against Hinton's thighs. We "ooh"-ed. We're desperate.

Newey curled a corner into the far post from the right-hand side, Whittle rose and gently boombled a header over the bar. We "ooh"-ed. We're desperate. We have a craving for something, anything to latch on to. We want to support, give us something to support. Ah, but "we" is a diminishing number of wannabe supporters.

Ah, that's much better. Rocket Cohen runs on beans - laser beans. Passing, movement, Cohen dribbling down the left, tipping one side, running the other, barging away one defender and being levered off the ball by another. Cohen didn't stop himself from being unbalanced and fell under the challenge as the ball was swiped away. The referee booked him for diving. The crowd was displeased with the little man in black, who they believed was unbalanced himself. Who's the what in the black? Russ is wearing black too, you know.

Still Town harried and hassled the Bristol back line in to a series of... free kicks and corners. I think you know what happens next. I refer the honorary gentleman and gentleladies to my earlier answers on the same question. Kalala had a shot. It wasn't very good. He did nothing all day. Town's midfield was the human dynamo, Bolland, sweeping here, swishing there, prompting, probing, clearing. I wish we could clone him: he was the glue today.

With about quarter of an hour left Gritton finally replaced the old tree trunk and Town had two forwards again. The change, it had to come, we knew it all along; Town were liberated from the mouldy gloop. Town were much brighter with Gritton adding subtlety, nuance and, err, movement. Reddy was no longer the lone ranger, but enriched by the added nutrient. So many nearly moments, with Rovers stretched across the canvas; Town suddenly playing one-twos, Gritton tickling Reddy free down the right with a scrumptuous curling pass down the line. Again, a minute later with a turn and wink, Reddy bursting down the centre, clobbered in the D (oooh, Matron!) and Cohen free in the penalty area. Cohen was dispossessed and the referee awarded Town a free kick, right in the centre, 20 yards out. Newey and Kalala stood over the ball and piddled about and one of them curled it way over the bar.

Town pressure was constant, but created no actual chances. How many saves must the goalkeeper make, before you call him a man? Gritton back-headed at the far post; Parkinson free, crossing low, the ball ricocheting, ping-ponging straight to a defender. Danger averted, no free ball.

Whoops. Town asleep, they attack. The ball kept going to Agogo: c'mon, everybody, wake up. Bounding free on their centre-left, Macca pursuing vainly, Agogo a-burst in to the area, waited for Mildenhall and tried to slap the ball high across the huge magnificence. The big M simply stood tall and allowed the ball to bounce off his chest, Macca retrieved and swept this mess under the carpet.

Perhaps emboldened by having an actual factual attack, Rovers decided to play the last 10 minutes with ten men, bringing on Stuart Campbell. He promptly fell over when the ball came near. We chuckled knowingly. Or did we knowingly chuckle?

Here is the last thing Town did. Michael Reddy chased the ball into the left corner, fell over before being tackled, and then got kicked anyway. Newey stumped the free kick into the keeper's arms. Granny's holy water isn't doing it for Michael O'Reddy, is it.

With five minutes left Town played some lovely one-touch football across the pitch and finally up to Gritton, 30 yards out on the right. The ball arrived; Gritton shielded it from a defender and was swept aside by a scythe. With Town set up for an attack they were suddenly undermanned on the right. Bristol za-zoomed forward with some bloke twisting and crashing a cross-shot towards goal. Mildenhall parry-punched the ball out to the edge of the area, in the centre. Disley got the ball first and hit a low shot across Mildenhall towards the left post. Agogo and Ramsden had tangled by that post and they rose with the ball booming towards them. Agogo wellied the ball in from a couple of yards out.

Pffft, with bedknobs and broomsticks on. There were four minutes left. Then there were four minutes of added time. Then it was over. We went home without bothering to look back at the pitch. We could have boiled two eggs and would have seen more goalmouth action.

No fans, no noise, no wins, no hope, no wonder it's dark. Everyone around Town is a total stranger to everyone. To retain sanity perhaps we should view Town-watching as like being trapped inside a perpetual Chekhov play. The private silence in which we live enables us to endure our own solitude.

There isn't anything new to say, read any report on any home game this season and it's the same pattern. How many nails does this coffin have?

Dear John: if you tolerate this our season tickets will be next.

Nicko's man of the match
Quite simply it's Paul Bolland: he ran all day and all of the night, once again being Kalala's legs, lungs and brain.

Markie's un-man of the match
As every game is the same, so every un-man of the match is the same. He'll keep getting it until he stops being so stubborn. Russell Slade. The law of averages suggests that one day Town won't be absolutely dreadful at home, but that won't prove he's right. How long is left on that contract?

Rob's rants of the day
Is this irony? "Alan Buckley's black and white army" and "Sladey to Bristol". You, the jury, decide.

Official warning
Mr A Penn was a typical fourth division referee: sometimes well balanced, sometimes wilfully loopy. I don't feel like giving a score over 4.876, so I won't. Seemed petty, and prone to moods. Or is that me?

A brief history of crime
Newey took a free kick, Newey took a corner. Jones the Stick fell over, Town didn't kick the ball out; they were kept onside, they scored. Newey took a corner, Newey took a free kick. Kalala had a shot, it was rubbish. Half time. Boo!

Their keeper flapped, Bolland slapped it back , Jones the Lump accidentally shinned the ball in from a yard out. Cohen was booked for diving. Newey took a free kick, Newey took a corner. Gritton came on. Agogo was through on goal, Mildenhall saved. Stuart Campbell came on and fell over. Newey took a corner, Newey took a free kick. Gritton was probably fouled; they ran off down their left. Mildenhall punched the cross-shot out, Disley kicked it back; Agogo, standing on the line, wellied it in.

The end.