Who wants it?: Macclesfield (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

29 April 2006

Macclesfield Town 1 Grimsby Town 1

Picasso had a dachshund called Lump. How ironic. Gary Jones fascinates fans of rococo cubism, of which there are many in the Main Stand. The Pontoon is more fauvist these days.

A boiling blue day on the Sulk Road with around 1,800 travelling Townites wrapped around one end; the open-ended question is whither Moss Rose? More like a 1970s petrol station (converted into a used car lot in 1987, but retaining original features including signage and rusty metal chain) than a football ground, it had highly aromatic lavatories.

You had the choice of three steps to heaven on a traditional terrace of concrete steps. Fortunately, someone brought the big flag so we could get a bit of shelter from the sun, for no-one had brought their warp factor 9 suncream.

With 15 minutes to go the home support doubled when their mascots sat down.

Oh what a scene: the Mighty Mariner signing autographs, inflatable giraffes - perhaps as a metaphorical homage to Jones the Stick - and Alan Fettis's comedy hat 'n' hair combination. I think he was keeping the hat on until the glue set. He'd worked all week on his Blue Peter wig. Sights, but no sounds: no atmosphere, no tension, no surging urging roars; just people stood outside in the sun waiting for the floats to go by. We could have gone to Spalding for that.

Town lined up in the 4-4-2 formation as follows: Mildenhall, Cohen, Whittle, R Jones (Stick), Croft, Parkinson, Bolland, Woodhouse, Goodfellow, Reddy and G Jones (Lump). The substitutes were Toner, Kalala, Futcher, Mendes and Glorious Gliding Glen. Macca-less in Maccland. Cohen remained at right-back with Parkinson on the right and everyone else where you'd expect them to be. After some light skipping, Rocky Woodhouse shadow-boxed with his trainer. Face to face, out in the heat, hangin' tough, stayin' hungry. Aye, he was a Tiger.

Town lined up in that old yellow kit, for Macclesfield ran out in a very dark blue ensemble.

Where's Gary Cohen's hair gone?

First half
Macclesfield kicked off towards the Town fans, kidding only themselves with their fancy-dan notions of footballing style. Three passes? Along the ground? Cohen stepped across with a pint of beer in his left hand and walloped the ball over the stand. Sorted.

Town dominated the next three and a half minutes, playing some excellent, incisive football which included passing and some movement by more than one ferret in the surrounding shrubs. Goodfellow tickled Reddy free down the left, who side-saddled past the clump of clay that was nominally marking him. With a glide and a whistle and a head so noble and high, Reddy hit the bye-line and clipped a tantalising cross over Fettis. And also over Parkinson, who scurried after the ball, twizzled and twirled and passed infield to Bolland, whose shot was charged down.

Town immediately won the ball back and carefully peeled away the outer layer of the cocoon. Croft brilliantly turned their right-back into a mangy moth, with a purrrrrrrringly elegant slalom down the touchline. He caressed a pass infield and Reddy was off again, his cross blocked for a corner, which was cleared without need to notify the emergency services.

Still Town pressed. A free kick, 25 yards out on the right, and Woodhouse tossed the ball in carelessly. Reddy flicked and the ball apologised profusely as it bumbled out for a goal kick. This is all very lovely, but shall we have a shot?

No, let's just keep tickling their toes. Reddy and the Lump congregated in the corners as Goodfellow and Croft eased their way through the musical statues that made up the Macclesfield defence. All very fine but when the cross came in Town didn't have a fishy in a little dishy.

Fettis's hair was mesmerising in all its wispy glory. Was it free as a bird now?

Well, isn't that nice. They've had a shot. After twelvty minutes tiny one-time Town trialist Navarro flayed a low shot from about 20 yards out on the right of the area. The ball skippled and rippled and Mildenhall tippled the ball aside to his right. Maybe they aren't such a bunch of chocolate soldiers after all. A minute later Henderson was almost there, too late to see Navarro's flair. What a scene as he fell over his own performing feet when played through the middle on the edge of the area. And of course, Cohen was the source of this chance. Samson should not have had his locks shorn.

Excuse me while I sneeze; I'm a bit heliophobic. Whittle snickled a slow glancing header several feet wide from a Woodhouse free kick on the right. Perhaps the sneezing and wheezing put him off.

Town indulged in a period of pressure, with free kicks and corners a-go-go. Town were dinkily dangerous down the left, but anonymous on the right with Cohen the full-back in fear of the halfway line and Parkinson just in fear of it all, especially the ball. The only penetrating wing play on that side came from Whittle. Weird man, reaaaaaaaaaaaaaal weird. The period of pressure ended with Jones the Stick pummelling a header over from about eight yards out following a corner.

Settle down into default mode: silent running.

The game became tepid, with isolated moments where someone did something, but not often. Rarely did more than two men move at any one time, even on the terraces where the stewards spent their afternoon fretting over people leaning on the railings. Where's that giraffe? We need some entertainment. Bolland pursued one, two then three defenders across the pitch, forcing them to pass the ball back to Mr Fetid, who swiped his clearance in an achingly beautiful arc straight to Reddy, 25 yards out. Reddy waited and wilted, the Grimsby Groan already humming through the terraces.

Near the half hour Jones the Stick started to limp and Futcher started to warm up. A minute later the wrong Futcher lumbered on and the Town fans almost spontaneously combusted with despair. Bang goes that clean sheet; it won't be a grand day out now.

Fettis took off his hat: the glue had set. Look, Morrie's wigs don't come off!

Town returned, with some Goodfellowian shimmies and Croftian magic. There was pressure, but nothing tangible. A microcosm of Town in those moments: beautiful build-up play and no-one wanting to shoot. Croft breaking free, releasing Woodhouse, who passed to Reddy, who passed to Jones, who passed to Parkinson on the edge of the area and the ball skewed way wide, way high. The referee simply refused to believe that a professional footballer could mis-kick so badly and Town got a corner. Nothing happened.

The game ebbed away, gradually lapping against Mildenhall's sleepy shores. Macclesfield had a simple tactic: two big blokes up front stood on the corners of the penalty area and little men ran past them. McNeil stood on their left, tapped the ball infield and Miles sauntered past the watching Parkinson to slap a shot straight at Mildenhall's face. The Big M parry-punched the ball aside for a corner. I can't remember what happened at the corner; perhaps nothing. Perhaps they simply decided that it wasn't worth it after all and went on a short break to Prestatyn.

With five minutes until half time Mildenhall boomed the ball downfield, as he had all afternoon. Reddy stood beside the centre-back as the ball was headed back upfield, but straight to Goodfellow on the halfway line. He headed it forward, but way out to the left, and Reddy raced and retrieved. Croft demanded, commanded and swept the ball to Woodhouse somewhere inside the Town half on the left. A first-time, looping, drooping ball drifted down the line with Goodfellow and a defender hanging around underneath the flight path.

Goodfellow rolled around his marker and controlled the ball in one movement, shrugging aside the little pixie. He looked up and, from just outside the area near the bye-line dropped the ball exactly where he wanted it, on the edge of the six-yard box at the far post. Fettis hopped across his goal and squinted into the sun. There, a silhouette of a man rising from the depths, soaring skywards, the ball colliding with his forehead, the sun eclipsed by this man-moon. The ball arced up, up and orbited Fettis's world, a slow parabola of pure Lumpiness. The crowd gasped, breathed in the air; the ground fell silent; a pin dropped, as did the ball into the right-hand corner of the net. All hail Jones the Lump, who had done it again. No more sulking on the Silk Road: joy unbound as the black and white battalions bounced.

The Lump exists in the fifth dimension, let's join him in his magic garden.

And we bounced and bounced and bounced, then flounced. A couple of minutes after the holy grail was spotted, the cracks opened up to devour the future. Reddy stood near a centre-back as he wellied a clearance back towards the Town area. The ball bounced out towards the left touchline with McNeil and Futcher not so much running as playing blind man's buff. Futcher stood back, McNeil turned and Harsley burst infield. Goodfellow watched the ball and Harsley accepted the short pass, dribbling into the penalty area. Near the corner he clipped a low, flat cross towards the penalty spot. Whittle fell back and Henderson fell forward and smacked a header straight at, and through, Mildenhall. The ball slowly bounced in, as Town bounced out of promotion. The Macc-lads were bouncing now.

Town were visibly deflating and Macclesfield pounced, pressurising constantly. Shall we just skip to half time?

Urgh, typical Town, eh. A big away support, a big occasion, and they fall over their own knicker elastic. For such an important game it was a curious affair, for neither team was playing with much cohesive will. Town started well, but just strolled towards half time. We lost the Stick and we lost our heart.

Still, it's only half time. A ranting Russ rabble-rouse would do the trick. It always does, doesn't it. Doesn't it?

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Umpty-thrumpty has gone down in value."
"I don't like it when we play in hockey kit."
"Gnarls isn't a name: it's something your dog does."
"Where is Town's narrative arc?"
"You can't play hide and seek wearing a pink coat."

Second half
Neither side made any changes at half time, which was half surprising given that Bolland had limped off and Kalalalalala was kept inside to listen to the team talk. Or maybe he was the designated chart flipper.

Town kicked off as usual: wake me when the ball attempts re-entry.

Hmm, let me see... what happened next? Town had an attack and Parkinson did something or other and a corner ensued. The only remaining Jones in the village levered a shot wide, which didn't disturb the pigeons resting upon Fettis' cap. The Town support was managing to become even less vocal. It felt like Macclesfield had the ball all the time; after 35 days eating the leaves of the mulberry tree they were spinning furiously around Town. They clearly wanted to remain in the Football League, which wasn't helpful at all. We've come for some fun in the sun: maybe a picnic and a game of rounders; running around is such a tiring thing to do.

Oh, we do want it, do we? Finally some Town pressure, with big balls up to the big men, and general hullaballooing inside their area. Just imagine yellow spinning tops versus dark blue spinning tops, bumping into each other and rebounding away in crazy angles; momentum lost with every turn and they all fall down. It don't amount to a hill of beans.

Somewhere among this playground posing Macclesfield had a few breakaways. From one a free kick was awarded in the centre about 25 yards out. The wall stood 25 centimetres away but the referee saw through that and paced out the distance, helped by the Town fans: "One, two, three, six, eight , ten..." Bah, he can't count like us. The wattle was daubed, the sticks were stoned and Harsley curled the ball low around the wall towards the bottom left corner. Mildenhall dived and the ball disappeared behind the throng of Town supporters who were still illegally perched upon the railing. There was an "ooh" from somewhere, but no Macc-lads looked happy, so it didn't go in. There was a "phew" from somewhere, but no Town fans looked happy. Do we ever?

On the hour Town were apple crumble to Macc's custard again. They broke away after some Town persistence, with Navarro released inside his own half on their right. You can see why Slade didn't sign him: he failed to do the right thing. Instead of lumping it forward in the vague direction of where a striker might be he dribbled forward, going on and on towards the edge of the area. He flicked Henderson free, who crossed back to the unmarked Navarro, about 12 yards out, who swept the ball low across goal and a bunch of daffodils flew towards him. The ball bumbled off Whittle's backside and across the face of goal. Whitaker slid in and missed it by nanometres.

At least, or at last, this awoke Town from their end-of-pier-show slumbers. Reddy slipped his handcuffs on the right and stroked Parkinson free down the touchline. For once Parky outmuscled and outpaced his marker to clip a superb cross towards the far post. The Lump awaited near the penalty spot and his followers prepared to bow the feast to celebration. They got as far as a couple of egg sandwiches and a cocktail sausage. The Lump was imbalanced by a solar flare and stooped to head way over.

A minute or so later Whittle, up for a corner, was unmarked at the far post and managed to stumble a header high and wide after a rather riveting Reddy roll and cross down the right. What might have been, but wasn't. Another minute, another Reddy roam, this time down the left. Sent free by the peerless Croft, Reddy dribbled to the bye-line, where he tribbled and troubled the homesters with a zipping low cross in the centre of the area. Lumpy wafted and missed under pressure and Parkinson, at the far post, set himself to steer the ball into the bottom left corner. But a defender raced across and hoofed clear as Parky stood and sighed.

And then Goodfellow teed himself up 20 yards out and looped a dipping volley safely over the crossbar and into the bunker at the back of the green.

Around the 70th minute Reddy was replaced by the Junior Mendes Soul Circus. On he came, cape draped across his shoulders, the James Brown of Grimsby Town: this is a man's world and he's lost in the wilderness. Reddy did not look pleased. On Reddy's removal Town went to a 3-4-3 formation, with Cohen up front, Parkinson and Goodfellow remaining the wide players and Croft the third centre-back. There was lots and lots of space for Macclesfield to run into, and they did.

The substitution caused another bout of panic, both in the team and the fans. Macclesfield attacked down the Town right, crossing meekly to the near post. With no-one near Futcher shinned the ball straight into the Town supporters, receiving a bellyfull of bellows for his troubles. From supporters, from his team-mates, from his cat too, no doubt. The corner was swung in to the near post and Mildenhall raced out and tried to punch. He collided with several bodies as the ball sailed over and through the middle of the six-yard box. Bolland just managed to noodle the ball away for a corner as a Macc-lad threw himself goalwards.

The action was thick and fast, but oddly dulling. The more shots, the less likely anyone was to score. Sorry - the less likely Grimsby Town seemed likely to score. Goodfellow tried a shot from the edge of the area which Fettis parried aside; Cohen volleyed straight at Fettis from 20 yards; Cohen shimmied infield from the right and lampooned the ball over the bar. Notice something? Long shots, no chances inside the area.

With about quarter of an hour left Macclesfield started to strangle the Town cat. They seemed to have the ball all the time, with Town lazily, needlessly, relinquishing possession with half-hearted flicks and long punts. Goodfellow had all but disappeared from general play and WoodhouseÂ… well, Rocky was ropey: he'd squandered his resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.

They broke, they passed, they moved, Town shredded: Whittle and Futcher were two tower blocks ready for demolition. Here comes the dynamite. Bullock, one of their substitutes, played a give-and-go with McNeil on the centre-right of the Town area. Bullock easily walked past Whittle and Mildenhall came out to smother, but the ball was passed underneath. As the ball rolled Futcher slid, knocking it out for a corner. Half cleared; Town watched as the Macc-lads queued up at the far post, three of them unmarked and raring to go. Desperately throwing themselves at the nearest dark blue boy, the Town defenders managed to eke out a few more seconds before Whitaker dragged a shot across goal from about a dozen yards out on their left. The ball dimble-dumbled through the six-yard box; only Croft moved his leg, doing a Poutonian step-over, and out it went for a goal kick.

Cue another Town change. To loud boos Toner replaced Goodfellow. Impolite questions were raised as to the continued participation of Mr Andy Parkinson. The Town fans were a mixture of passive resignation and aggressive frustration. What magnificent support. They'll do it for the lads, eh?

Macclesfield altered their tactics and simply chipped the ball slowly down the centre, especially at free kicks. This caused Town to panic as never before. Futcher and Whittle were unable to deal with this, simply retreating closer and closer to Mildenhall. A free kick dipped into the middle; Henderson walked backwards, the ball rolling up his chest and onto his head - he's going to walk it in with his head! The ball dropped near the goal-line and Mildenhall had to plunge to his left. A minute or so later it was Futcher's turn to fail. A repeat performance.

Poor, poor Andy Pandy Parkinson. He's the footballing equivalent of the single glove you see at the side of the road. It must have been useful once, no-one knows how it got there, and no-one can be bothered to pick it up and throw it away. It lies there for years, sad, forlorn and gradually dissolving in the acid rain. Pehaps a crow will pick him up in the close season and use him as part of a nest.

The game was flying from end to end. Or rather the ball was. Town even had more efforts. Woodhouse canoodled a screamer from 25 yards out which Fettis could only parry aside, straight to Cohen a dozen yards out , who volleyed the ball into the ground and straight down Fettis' throat. Mendes swiped a dropping ball low to Fettis' right, but the save was made. See: still nothing inside the area. Sure, sure kid, there were moments when Town could have shot, but didn't. Macclesfield defended stoically and Town players just didn't seem alive to possibilities, waiting for the ball to drop, to bounce, to roll before deciding whether to move their feet or not.

Town had more shots, but much less of the pressure; the game seemed to be played permanently within the Town area, with high-pitched whining emanating from the concrete steps. Another central free kick was dinked into the centre and Croft showed the rest what to do, gently touching McNeil and conning him into rolling to the right. Croft took a step back and glided away with the ball inside the Town six-yard box. That's how to defend - with the brain. There were three minutes of added time, during which Navarro headed a corner a few inches over the bar.

Oh dear, oh dear, they fluttered behind you, your possible pasts. The team walked off to a smattering of boos and a mass walkout - we had traffic jams to join. There was no belief in the crowd, or on the pitch; the game meandered away with a dispiriting inevitability. Macclesfield's survival seemingly meant more to them than promotion meant to the majority of our players. Did Town wilt in the heat or wilt with the pressure? Either way Town wilted, failing to take advantage of early dominance. They saw the way and ignored it, and that's a warning to anyone still in command.

This was back to normal, except that Jones the Stick and Reddy the Rocket are, and were, unfit. Without them we concede and do not score many. That doesn't equal promotion.

Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.

So c'mon Oxford. Chris Hargreaves, you are the man of our dreams.

Nicko's man of the match
It's like it's 1993 all over again. Gary Croft was stupendously magnificent, bestriding this match. No shrugging and shirking; he rose to the moment and played like we know he can, because he used to. He read their flicks and tricks; he was the coolest Town head, the only one who knew how to play in a back three. He was our best defender and best attacker. He was our best, simply the best; no-one on the pitch was fit to lace his boots.

Official warning
I am supremely indifferent to Mr M Russell. He let things go, perhaps a little too much, such as McNeil's jump at Mildenhall late on, when he never, ever looked at the ball. We can't blame him for Town's torpor and tepidity, and he didn't make any horror decisions, so a distinctly average score of 5.453.