It's a knockout: Hereford (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

10 March 2007

Hereford United 0 Grimsby Town 1

Sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away, got to get to Edgar Street.

All the hats and headlines that's fit to print in the squidgy netherlands between Birmingham and Wales. Follow the yellow brick road to the stadium, through the car park, over the cattle market, round the bend and the twist that is the facade of football. Step back in time and mind the gap too. Oh, and don't raise your eyebrows as you'll bang your head on the roof. It's murder for those with a bouffant bob. Not so much a football ground as a lean-to shed, complete with a mini-dog track, a sloping, short pitch and a stand as narrow and tall as Jones the Stick. This is non-League chic circa 1972. Credit where credit's due: the toilet had a roof, and the wall was painted, painted, painted, painted black so you knew what was décor and what not.

The Floors-2-Go Stand? They've already gone.

Town lined up in the now usual 4-5-1 away formation as follows: Barnes, MBErmott, Whittle, Fenton, Newey, Bore, Bolland, Hunt, Boshell, Toner, North. The substitutes were Murray, Sir Lumpalot, Till, Grand and Bloomer. It's so usual there's nothing to say, but it's OK.

What is it about middle aged-men in small country towns? Welcome to Hairyford.

Get out the deck chairs, break out the Tizer; don't nit-pick, let's picnic.

First half
Here come the Sun Valley kings: Hereford kicked off towards the Town two hundred. Presto abrigado tantamucho cake and eat it: a carousel of white noise whirling and twirling prettily across the pitch. Throw-ins to the left of 'em, throw-ins to the right; there they were: stuck in the middle with Hunt.

After four minutes the egg boiled. Brown wallied a long free kick down their right; the ball grazed off Fenton's head and dropped into the damp valleys near the corner flag. Newey was caught watching the daffodils as Williams bobby-dazzled with his hoola hoop. Skipping past the scantily clad Town defence, Williams waltzed along the bye-line and nutmegged the diving Fenton. Hunt muttered and tutted as he scoopled the ball into the cattle market.

You can go back to reading War and Peace now.

Easy-peasy, lovely-jubbly. Who are these Herefordians? Do we know them? Do not worry, for a stranger is a friend you haven't met. They move laterally, they fail vertically: the Bullboys are pleasant hosts, forever running around clearing up and offering you more peanuts; they can't make your stay pleasant enough. Shame about the frilly curtains in the bathroom.

There was just one flying winger in the ointment: Williams, their number 16, a tricky cove with dancing feet. Newey's comfortable cardigan was being slowly unravelled by their only threat. Don't hang your head, Tom Newey - stand up and fight. Or at least kick him a few times.

Or perhaps go on a crazy, hazy, mazy run up the wing. What's Newey up to? A galli-shuffle past Williams, swashbuckling up and over the next white cheesecake, drifting past another, the Newster cut infield past another white sock and was up the edge of the area. Two more defenders swished and swayed away, then Newey stretched and schwacked a right-footed shot goalwards. The ball wibbled left, wobbled right, dipped and dropped over Brown as he waved to his neighbours window shopping across the road, then sniffed itself over the crossbar.

Newey had found the green button: Thunderbirds are go!

Town started to purr forward. Passing, movement and one-touch tastiness, with Hereford chasing sunbeams and butterflies. The metronome was started: all roads led to Fenton, who set the hares running. Oops, slightly overhit to Bore there. Ah, that's better. Toner teased, pleased and eased past his marker to twaddle a shot from the edge of the area. Brown plunged low and clasped the ball from the foot of the post.

This is sooooooo relaxingÂ… can I have a cheesy dip now?

Town were in complete and utter control of everything. The midfield clamp was superglued into place: all was well. And then Newey fell asleep. Williams tickled his fancies and teased a cross to the far post, where Barnes shuffled and huffled and puffled the ball down to the corner of the six-yard box. The goal momentarily open, McDermott flung his cloak of excellence upon this puddle as Hereford legs slipped and slapped. The shot blocked, the rebound hopped up and was headed onto the roof of the net.

I didn't mean that kind of cheesy dip.

For three minutes Town were coshed over the head with a woolly mitten, corners and crosses a-go-go as clearances were wellied and possession lost. Hereford made wave upon wave of polite requests to cut the lawn. Wait a couple of weeks until the ground is a bit drier, otherwise you'll just encourage mossy growth. There was always a Town head or boot to reclaim the streets. Even Barnes caught a cross, caught a cross.

Woah, what's this? Town, Town, Town, Town, Town. Bore, finally shimmering past his marker, crossed low and crossed dangerously, forcing a corner on the right. Boshell beautifully caressed the ball to the far post where Whittle and Fenton rose and a header was thumped back down across the face of goal. Brown shivered to his left and the ball was diverted off the line for another corner. Still Town pressed, with Bore flying and prying into the innermost thoughts of Hereford's left-back. He looked up and passed to Boshell, who'd stepped back to the edge of the area and hit a searing first-time shot straight at Brown's nose. Brown protected his nose and caught the ball.

Dear, dear Town teenagers: it's bovine, not ovine. We didn't ask you to get your insults out for the lads but, if you insist, then at least get them right.

Williams diddled Newey again, dinking a cross from the bye-line to the near post, where some large Hereford Bull noddled a header a few inches wide and high. Ah, some more Barnes fluffiness at a corner, or cross, or was it a free kick? Who cares. He punched the ball to the edge of the area and there was a right scrambled egg and baked beans on toast muddle. Nothing doing baby.

The game settled back in to a pleasing pattern of Town possession, swaying to the rhythm on the right, with Macca tapping his autobiography out on an old typewriter. Nothing to worry about, nothing to cause a hair to bend on your chinny-chin-chin. A semi-demi-attack by the Bullies petered out with a tap back on the right, way wide of goal. Barnes shuffled across, stooped and conquered his fear of tadpoles. Ah, but flimsy Phil, what about the ball? It simply died in a depression and rolled out for a corner allowing much scope for vintage whining; apposite given that Town were wearing their burgundy shirts. Are we in some kind of picketywitch triangle of mysticism? As Thomas took his corners the ball kept rolling out of the quadrant. Is Uri Geller here? That may account for Brown's spoonbending fly-hacks.

In the last minute of the half Bore dispossessed a dilatory defender deep inside the Hereford half. With just one defender betwixt him and goal, Bore passed to the offside North, who missed anyway. So that was all a waste of time wasn't it.

Yeah, that's it. Gone in 45 minutes. All very, very easy on the eye and heart. Town were mostly in the ascendancy, and had most of the chances. We should have been winning, we could have been losing. It was mostly fine fare indeed with only Williams to bother us.

Town looked like a team.

Second half
Neither side made any changes at half time.

Hereford decided that tackling Town players was a good thing, and tried out this revolutionary, some say crazyperson's, notion in the second half. They stopped Fenton acting as the fulcrum and forced Town to hump and hoof the ball away.

Early on Thomas went on a jinking, jiving run down their left but, with Macca guiding him infield, the shot was unable to breach the great wall of Grimsby. Justin Whittle stood tall and stood still, steely-eyed and unflinching, hardly noticing as the ball pinged off his torso. Was that a gnat?

Town were pinned back, with crosses hurtling into the area. Are you worried? Why? We've got Fenton and Whittle to guard the delicate daisy in goal. A corner was curled deep, deep into the area and Barnes rose, then disappeared beneath a sea of white. The ball bounded into the net and the referee disallowed the goal for being a bit rude to Phil. Great decision, of course, as we could tell from our perfect position in the rat pen six miles away.

Up the pressure ratcheted as the Bullyboys finally realised that Barnes doesn't like it up 'im. A minute later another corner, again hung high with Barnes hung out to dry. Again the referee looked kindly upon the Grimsby Lads: another free kick for roistering in public.

Town were hardly able to get out of their half, with passes bumbling over shins, behind ears and out of play. The doors were being unhinged. About ten minutes in Town got a free kick way out on the left. Toner dreamed the ball to the far post and Fenton, six or seven yards out, fell back and steered a header goalwards. Brown superbly flew across goal and clawed the ball away from the post; it fell behind Whittle two yards out, and was shuffled out for a corner.

After 65 minutes or so Fenton walked off and was replaced by Grand. Oh dear. Then they had a rubbish shot. Oh dear, oh dear, never mind.

The game meandered around for ten minutes and it dawned on the more sentient that Hereford weren't bothering to abuse Newey, preferring to attack our Old Man of the Sea. But Old McDermott has a farm, and on that farm he has 327 left wingers. Ah, 328 now: hello Danny Thomas, welcome to your pen, you'll find the feeding trough over there. A moment of pure Macca-ness, defending without tackling, saving without raving: he's reeling in the years, stowin' away the time; his everlasting summer isn't fading away so fast, is it.

North was replaced by Old Lumpy and a couple of minutes later deep-blue booted Till replaced sky-blue booted Bore. Serious colours for a serious moment. Till added vim and verve, tearing around and hassling and hustling like he wanted his place back in the team.

Suddenly Town were a threat again, the ball was staying upfield and was being passed with purpose. Macca started to raid and Boshell to burst through the centre, causing Hereford to sink back. Darn pitch: Macca skewed a cross into the crowd, and Toner troubled the street cleaners.

With 15 minutes left Barnes drop-kicked downfield. Lumpy waited, held off the centre-back and winked a flick to the centre-right. Till had anticipated Lumpy's loveliness perfectly and raced on to the ball, spinning and clipping a pass towards the area on the centre-right. Into the clearing burst our injun: Bolland bustled past a defender, nudged the ball on and lashed a drive into the top left corner of the goal. That's the way to do it.

A minute later Lumpy noodled another nod on behind the defence and Till burst through, ducking his head as a Hereford boot cleared. A whack in the face and a crack on the back of the head followed, as the Herefordian fell on top of Till, who remained motionless for ages before being taken away by Dave Moore to start counting some fingers. He looked very ill as he was led back to the dugout, and Town played with 10 men for five minutes. Hereford seized the moment to cut and thrust, pinging and ponging longer, higher balls in towards Barnes. He caught one! He punched one! He dropped one. But no shots were flibbling through. There was always a body, often shaped like Justin Whittle, in the way.

With ten minutes left Till wandered lonely as a cloud back onto the pitch as the Bullyboys were given a free kick 25 yards out on the left after a brilliantly timed tackle by Whittle. Tish and pish, Mr Referee. Some bloke wellied it into what local people will call "the popular end".

"C'mon Town, you can still draw this!"

Do you remember Tim Sills? Apparently he came onto the pitch. Ah well, his loss, not ours. As Hereford pushed on and on, reducing their defence to one man and his clog, Town began to break quickly and threaten a second. Hunt sniggled, Toner tickled, Jones flicked and Boshell roamed around the edge of the penalty area, wiggling his thighs and shaving a shot straight at Brown.

Ooh, another Town attack, with Bolland tackling Boshell. Ah, Toner, falling over. Till returned and brilliantly surged down the line once, then twice, tap-dancing into the penalty area and underhitting crosses from the bye-line. On the second occasion he stopped, bent down, and started to retch, then crawled to the touchline and hung himself against the fence, right in front of the only three people in that stand. Three St John's Ambulance women stood and watched him suffer as he convulsed, gasping for air. They did nothing as the Town two hundred demanded they attend this victim of a head injury.

With Till off the pitch Hereford poured forward again. You have a mixing bowl and into it you throw some hydrated centre-forwards, two bony centre-backs, and some cinnamon stick midfielders. Whisk until stodgy, then put in the oven. Erm, yeah, someone kicked it off the line after Barnes stumbled into some quicksand.

Bang, bang, up and under: Hereford hurtling around like irritated sloths. Ah look, more humped high balls. A cross low through the area, herded away by Mr Macca MBE. A snap shot, snapped wonderfully wide. Woh, count those chickens. Are there three in your pocket? Not yet. Thomas wriggled free, got to the bye-line and pulled a cross back into the centre, perhaps a dozen yards out. Connell leant back and thought of all us Grimsbyites, slicing the ball into Worcestershire via the stratosphere. Phew, it's what we deserve.

In added time Boshell and Bolland broke up an attack and did a little soft shoe shuffle through the centre. Toner tip-toed, and Newey nudged up in support, swishing a shot from 25 yards, which went eight yards wide. Ooh, let's not give the ball back.

That's it, must be, eh?

No, it flippin' well isn't. They're determined to bake a cake, aren't they. Bodies, people, things, arms, legs, noise and an invisible goalkeeper, all 120 yards away. Out of this blobbery the ball rolled from left to right, towards an open goal. Someone, somewhere, somehow, saved the day. Who? Let's say it was all of them: they are all our sons.

And that really was it.

Despite the ending, when Hereford almost believed they might have scored several, there was a tranquillity to Town, like they knew they were going to win and that Hereford would never score. The Fentonful defence was firm and calm, and when Till and Jones came on there was devil in Town's attack. If we could sort this goalkeeper thing out, we'd be struggling to moan.

Don't you know the smile's returning to our faces, it seems like years since it's been here.

Next year's looking good already.

Nicko's unofficial man of the match
Macca whittled away at his winger, but Justin Whittle was maccanificent throughout, from his head down to his toes, stopping everything and everyone. He shepherded our sheepish keeper to safety. Sgt Rock has stayed to help Grimsby.

Official Warning
Mr M Oliver let it flow and didn't book anyone. He didn't seem to do anything to annoy any mariner anywhere in the world. He seemed fairly fair by being fair: 7.999.

The Others
They passed, they passed, they passed, they rarely massed inside the Town penalty area. They were unthreateningly alright, like a mutant clone of a Buckley team with a few X chromosomes missing. They only had one player who caused any concern - Williams, but he disappeared in the second half after a couple of firm Newey sliders. They never looked like scoring and were generally less savvy than Town. Like a slightly rickety Bristol Rovers, or a bored Mansfield, they just looked like they couldn't decide whether to be 12th or 16th this year. Averagely adequate, not quite as good as Town's part-refurbished motor boat, but more pedalo than dinghy.