Instant karma: Lincoln (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

28 April 2007

It's the end of the affair.

Grimsby Town 0 Lincoln City 0

Around 1,200 Impites congregated in the catacombs of the Evangelical Church of St John the Right-Back as we knelt, for a final time, at the altar of sensible haircuts and defending without tackling. The world is just a great big onion, and pain and fear (and terrible metaphors) are the spices that make you cry.

Both teams walked out together and formed a guard of honour as we stood and roared to acclaim a life: John McDermott. Unspectacular competence brings eulogy only in its absence or passing; like many things these last twenty Town years, we won't really know what we had 'til it's gone.

Town lined up in the copyrighted 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, his Supreme Excellency Knight Commander of the Main Stand Baronet John the Marquis de Maccadermot, Bennett, Fenton, Newey, Till, Harkins, Boshell, Toner, hatless Danny North and Jones the lovable Lump. The substitutes were a mix of the unwanted, the unwary and the unaware. Hello receding Murray, ebbing Bloomer, Whittle, Hegggggarty and Taylor. For some the time had come to say goodbye - it's Macca's last day and the little Impies were fretting and frothing as failure number five looms. It's the hope, isn't it, Impies - that's the killer-diller.

Hang on! Harkins? A name from another era, from a time before management. We're all Buckley Buddhists now, for we have an inner calm. Except Mr Purple, of course, for whom it's always "only [insert name of current opponents]". Where do you go to dream? Ah, the land of make believe.

The Mighty Mariner reappeared to rub salt on the goalposts, and what Michael Caine would be forced to call a dolly bird promenaded around to alert everyone to a beauty pageant. And remember Freeman Street is the heart of swinging Grimsby. Fab! Gear!

Isn't it one of life's little mysteries that, come February, aspirant fourth division promotees think that the one thing to give them an edge is to sign Junior Mendes.

First half
Lincoln wore green, but weren't serene, for they kicked off towards their trilling fans with an oop 'n' oonder towards Macca. What's all this guff about them being a passing team? Biffing and banging, hanging high, hangin' tough: Lincoln were just Lincoln. After about 30 seconds a long punt down their left channel plopped into the area and Forrester instantly turned and lobbed across and over Barnes, the ball drooping just over, just wide.

Town were unable to get the ball, for bizarre interpretations of the rules of Greco-Roman wrestling resulted in a constant supply of free kicks to our county cousins. We're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion with this referee, for Town can look but they better not touch. But he's lenient on their leaning.

Lincoln were whizzing and whirling around with a simple plan: whack the ball as hard as they could into the penalty area and you never know, a flick, a trick, or a lucky rebound might fall their way.

Time enough, I think, for a piece of wood: The Larch.

Ah, here we go, their plan nearly worked. Beevers bonked a free kick straight down the middle and Stallard, with his back to goal, flicked his head and deflected the ball off the straight and narrow. Barnes slowly leapt to his right and theatrically plucked the ripening pear from the overhanging branch, diced it, boiled in water for 20 minutes and made a little coulis for his post-match cheesecake. From the drop kick North motored down the Lincoln left chasing a punt and hooked a soft shot straight at Marriott from about a dozen yards out. See, we cannot score from route one football too. From their drop kick Forrest motored down the Town left chasing a punt and hooked a shot straight into the impatient Impites from about a dozen yards out.

Marriott is wearing third division hair already. Ah, he's the hair presumptive.

Slowly Town started to wrench momentum away from Lincoln, with Boshell tapping away on his typewriter, dashing off page after page of prose and poetry. He's here, here's there, he's everywhere: standing in the middle of the Lincoln half patiently passing, keeping Town moving and a-grooving. Here he goes again, with Town prodding the carcass on the left and the right, with crosses cleared, passes blocked but always, always the ball coming back to the calm heart. Boshell to Till to Macca to Boshell toTill with sweet, sweet one-touch tickles: Lincoln's summer frock ripped at the hem. Till was released behind the full-back inside the area and dinked a cross into the centre. Toner raced in and glanced softly a yard wide. What a lovely dance, but no kiss, just a miss.

Town started to dominate, with North pestering and Till zooming away dangerously down the centre. North hared and scared Mayo into falling over into Marriott as they chased a teasing pass into the area. The annoying referee annoyed all right-minded folk by seeing an imaginary foul by Danny boy. Ah, purr again, for Town silkily swept forward down the right, with Toner, 20 yards out in the centre, sweeping a first time shot into row N of the Pontoon.

It's like watching a ballet.

Wahey, Toner again, skewering way over. Marvel at his Poutonian stepovers, feast on Newey's nibbles and nudges, gorge on North's energeticism, wallow in the Mighty Bosh's masterclass of midfield magnificence. It'd be nice to have a shot on target.

On the half-hour Town had a corner repelled and, from the sturm und drang of midfield jousting, the ball sprung forward. North flew behind Mayo, gave him a little cuddle and rolled a perfect pass back across goal. Fenton, about 15 yards out, set himself and carefully placed his shot towards the bottom right corner. Green hurled himself across the flight path and the ball ricocheted off his shins and drumbled away. An excellent chance and, unfortunately, an excellent piece of defending. That's just not fair.

What have they been up to? Making paper hats from yesterday's Lincolnshire Echo? Ah, waiting for a lucky break. The ball spingled and spangled in midfield challenges, rebounding free, and suddenly Town were under pressure. Macca was turned and a corner gained, with Lincoln surreptitiously sidling a loose-fitting wheel clamp over the Town area. Mendes chased the ball into the right corner, twiddled and barged Newey aside with a shrug of his shoulders. Do you remember the Junior Mendes Soul Circus? Here it is again, jiving down the wing, beating three and flabbing a dipping, curling shot towards the top right corner. Barnes hurtled skywards and parried aside. Like the Spanish Inquisition, no-one expects a Junior Mendes goal. It must have been a mishit cross, had to be: it's the only rational explanation in this irrational world.

Don't worry - this Town plays like a Town team. Tick, tick, tick, Boshell the genie in the bottle. Look at that, look at that! Was it eight or nine passes rolling up and across the pitch? Did they all touch it once? Toner swayed free and Mayo, with a last-gasp desperate throw of some dice he found in his back pocket, came up with double six to get Lincoln out of jail. The ball balooped off his backside to spin over the right angle of post and bar. The corner caused minor peril, but Fenton's header grazed off his eyebrows and popped down to Marriott at the foot of the left post.

We could swoon over Bennett's blocks and bites, but we've got plenty of time for that. Lincoln had the appearance of danger, but didn't create anything. Long shots and corners don't count: they are just events, dependent upon random individual factors for success. Unlike when Town do anything, of course, then it's a union of wisdom and movement.

And such movement: mesmerising beauty that encapsulates the esprit de Grimsby. Boshell swept the dust from the floor, sprinkled a little polish and rubbed North free down the left; Newey supported and haughtily stood on the touchline level with the penalty area, foot on ball, surveying the scene before him. He swished infield with four green bricks in the wall and tapped a pass to Toner, who instantly finagled a slidey pass back. Newey raced on to the love letter and, level with the penalty spot a dozen yards wide of goal, carefully caressed a right-footed pass all along the ground. Marriott flung himself to his left; Jones hared in, sliding at full stretch, missing the ball by inches. On the ball rolled, bumbling on the century of loam and a few inches wide of the left post.

Old-style Town triangles: passing and movement, give and go. Mmm, jumpers for goalposts, marvellous.

In the dying moments of the half Lincoln broke dangerously down the centre. Bennett was exposed as the last defender but he waited, waited, waited before diving at Forrester, slashing him to the ground and conceding a free kick 25 yards out, the left of centre. Two Impies stood over the free kick; Barnes hid behind the wall, but Hughes slid a curling left-footer a foot over. Nice. Now let's have a healthy alternative: burgers made from real cows.

After the first five or six minutes Town had been extremely comfortable, with Boshell growing into the role of midfield maestro. Even Harkins was tolerable, in that he stood in the right places and hadn't given the ball away. The centre-backs allowed no clear chances, with Bennett in particular placing his boots in exactly the right spot to block crosses and shots. Lincoln had moments, but they were very coached. A footballer with a brain could read where they were going to kick it. There was always a Town player there before the ball arrived.

It was interesting and without any anxiety. That's not a bad thing: we'd have settled for that halfway through the season.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

Town carried on as they left off, and Lincoln didn't. Town attacked and attacked, mainly through Till, who displayed his full repertoire of avoiding scoring or crossing accurately. A cross into the crowd, a cross to the near post, a cross to the far post, a cross into the keeper's arms, and finally Cyril, a shot slinging and winging its way towards the wind farms in Mablethorpe. Great move, bad shot, Who started it? The Bosh, of course.

North had some kind of shot straight at Marriott. ErmÂ… nope, can't remember much else about it, what with the impending ending, those Maccamemories floating by in the space between the Pontoon and the corner of some foreign field. What's done is done.

How strange - Junior Mendes dribbled dangerously towards goal. How quaint - the Impites were getting mildly aroused. They looked around and saw this shadow on the run, they were surprised it was just a paper sun. We weren't. How long before they take him off?

Town continued to tap out the beat, with even Harkins beginning to spread his broken wings and try to fly. What a fine pre-season game this is, it's all good practice. Woah, Toner slicing into the scoreboard with a c-c-c-c-crazy slap from 25 yards, after much merry Mariner meanderings. Short passes, long passes, one-twos and head tennis - all the party tricks came out as Town started to show off a little. What was it about Lincoln now playing football? Where is it?

Hey-hey-hey kids, they've tired of Junior Mendes: he lasted less than ten minutes of the second half and on came Frecklington, that small village near Sleaford. It's not a very friendly village, from what I recall; they choi-oik you as you hike through their mud-strewn lanes and stare at you in the pub.

Ah yes, remember what I said about Harkins? One can be too hasty in one's praise, don't you know. In a flashback to pre-history (last September) Harkins completely missed a bouncing ball, then was stranded in the centre circle with Kerr scuttling down the middle. Bennett and Fenton retreated to the penalty area, then stood their ground, eventually swamping Kerr in monochrome, and the moment of danger passed, unlike Kerr. Phew.

Have I mentioned Danny North recently? Ah, perhaps now then. Beautiful pishing and pushing down the right saw North tippled behind the defence and cantering away to thrash a cross into the centre of the penalty area. Lump rose and nodded sagely, but straight to Marriott. Have I mentioned Tom Newey recently? Oh, why not. He spent the second half roaming the peaty marshes like a Viking warrior, grabbing land and lusty maidens at will, a superb display of overlapping fullbackery, with Lumpy and North setting up a permanent camp on the banks of the Witham, pulling him across on their ferry. He was irrepressible, and almost unstoppable. Then he was stopped when two, yes two, Lincolnites smacked him in a steam hammer clamp. The referee let play flow and North ran around in circles winning a corner, but not passing to the forever unmarked Till.

The corner cleared, off Lincoln flew. Hey, they can pass the ball! Hughes sniggered down the left, drew a tackle and flicked a pass into an empty space 15 yards out just inside the area. Forrester was briefly free, swung his left leg and shinned his shot softly into the comedic heartland of the Pontoon.

Ooh, they've got a corner. Ooh, ooh, Mr Peevely, Barnes caught the corner! He looked up and saw Boshell sprinting down the left, demanding the ball early. Barnes delivered perfectly and the Boshmeister swung up the wing towards the halfway line. A Lincoln green, if not Lincoln's Green, arrived to halt his progress. Danny 1 looked up, saw Danny 2 moving towards the left and, with the outside of his right boot, shaped a brilliant pass which curled around the last defender right into North's path. North barundled about, twisting, turning, attracting defenders and ignoring the pleas of the unmarked Till in the centre. North shot straight at Marriott at the near post.

Halfway through the half the moment finally arrived: the end of history. He who has forever been was no longer to be. He's been our chartered right-back for 20 years, and now it's a new job, a new life, a new meaning to his existence. What could he be? A bicycle repair man? John McDermott walked off Blundell Park for the last time. The omnipresent link to our ancestors shuffled off, love came pouring down from the stands, so loud and long he felt it in his fingers and his toes. There was only one John McDermott and he was ours. And now it's over, let's hope the rest of his life isn't just egg noodles and ketchup.

The crowd indulged in five minutes of Maccamourning and praising, while the players got on with running around a bit. They still hadn't done anything, you know. Lincoln's strikers? Little furry things with short stumpy legs and great long noses. I don't know what all the fuss is about.

With about 20 minutes left Taylor replaced the flagging Harkins, that long-forgotten dead horse, with North moving to the left and Toner into the centre. Toner was a little Alf Ippititimus in the middle but there was a moment, towards the end of the match, when he almost managed to control the ball. Credit where credit's due - he did manage to get in the way of them, more than us, so that's OK.

Nope, Lincoln still have not done anything, unless you count Green's match-long tribute to Monty Python. I particularly liked his version of the Ministry of Funny Walks: four times he managed to control the ball out for a Town throw, right under the noses of the Frozen Beer Standers. I ask you, forty-six pence a pound, and him with a wooden leg.

Just to rub more salt in their goalposts, even young old Matty Bloomer had a dig, swaying upfield to support another one of those lovely ballgown moves that Town do. The once young pretender cut infield and crackled a drive straight at Marriott from about 20 yards. Then a minute or so later he blocked Stallard with a well placed 'ello-'ello across the driveway. Marvellous, especially his Lincoln pass upfield into the upper part of the Frozen Beer Stand. Passing was never his forte, especially over 40 yards.

It really is all about us, with Newey shielding the ball as it rolled towards the bye-line, rolling Stallard away and casually walking back towards Barnes. And then walking past the perturbed keeper and along the goal line with Stallard waddling behind like an overweight junior clerk at a provincial bank. After consulting his lawyers Newey flapped the ball upfield and joined Barnes in an a cappella version of the hokey-cokey.

At one point Bennett intercepted a breakaway, swung his pants and strolled forward imperiously. The crowd spontaneously applauded and cooed in appreciation. That boy's got a Futchersidian quality to his game, and all before he shaves too. Let's keep him our little secret.

With just ten of your English minutes left, with the teenagers lining the pitch like greaseproof paper in a flan tin, Heggggggarty replaced Lumpy, who was in a particularly lumpy mood today, which resulted in North going up front to partner Taylor. Bingo! Young persons alert! Bennett cleared down the right; Taylor half challenged, reacted quickest to the bouncing ball and hooked a perfect pass between and around the remaining defenders for North to run on to. North did what it would say on the tin, if this was a tin, and ran on to the pass, taking one touch and, from just inside the area, smackering a loopy half-volley across Marriott, who managed to powder-pufferly scuffle a punch just over the angle of post and bar. Heggggarty coiled the corner into the centre of the penalty area, where Fenton looped a header straight down the middle. North lurked, swung his boot and missed completely, and Marriott calmly collected the dropping ball as if nothing untoward had occurred. Fancy a cucumber sandwich?

The Town youthsters pestered and probed until the end, with Hegggarty swinging in a scramble and North managing to completely miss his shot. Now, when was that fine one-touch wall passing movement down the left, instigated by Grandmaster Flash Newey, which ended with North block-tackling a shot straight at Marriott?

The game ended with the police and stewards holding hands and singing an inspirational power ballad which emphasised the caring nature of their public service, as the pitch was invaded for no other reason than it always is for the last game of the season. At least they didn't strip the players like they do in Italy. Perhaps that's why Straight Peter Bore was absent - but he'll definitely play at Gay Meadow, won't he?

The players ran off, the teenagers ran on, the crowd went home and Macca was denied one last public appearance within these walls. The game was what it was. The occasion was, in our terms, historic, and like everything Grimsby it ended in a muddle and without thought. It would have been fitting for the man to have one final walk of honour. Perhaps the council will give him an open-top bus parade (before he's pickled and placed on a plinth)?

Is it too soon to pen his footballing obituary? What can we take from this man's footballing life? He stayed with us through thick and thin; he was always in the team on merit; he gave his all, quietly, professionally, no matter the circumstances. If football can be a metaphor for society, let it be this: that happiness lies not in the mere possession of money - it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. That's the deal.

Nicko's unofficial man of the match
No-one was poor, though Harkins and old Lumpy were the least effective of our players. Newey had a stormer until he tired of Lincoln and of life, while those two sleek Silver Seraphs at the back purred along nicely. But for all-round excellence in a field of adequacy, it's Danny Boshell, who ran the game from start to finish. An exhibition of passing, poise, power and passion: nothing got past him; every pass had purpose and he wasted nothing. Today he was the master of all he surveyed. You know, he knows what he's going to do before the ball has arrived, then does it. Time.

Official Warning
Mr A Taylor was a fool in the first half, but improved thereafter, when he allowed both sides to tackle. He really was poor until two o'clock, so perhaps it's his hormones - he looked of a certain age. Yes, that's it. He's going through the male menopause, so in this caring, sharing age of enlightenment and reason, why not give him a score of 5.987.

The Others
They look an organised team with little individuality on display. They relied for their gold stars on percentages and pace, and as that pace is in the hands of Junior Mendes it is fool's gold. Any competent football team will work out how to stop them scoring. No matter who is in charge and who plays for them, it is always the same: they have been constructed sufficiently well to get into the play-offs, but do not possess players, or a method of playing, that is beyond the ordinary. Like Russell Slade's Grimsby they are not poor, just a good fourth division team - which is why they are in the fourth division and should remain so. They'll need some outrageous fortune to fluke themselves up.