Hard times: Macclesfield (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 September 2006

Grimsby Town 1 Macclesfield Town 1

It's Friday, it's seven o'clock, it's have-a-nap time. Yet another opportunity to not see Alan Pouton play: Tetney's finest must be walking his dogs again.

There were some people standing around, talking. Others, wearing shorts, were jogging. The turnstile creaked and another man entered Bleak House. The clock was still slow; the scoreboard, like the team, has no power: it just doesn't work. A vacuum filled by a void, this crumbling land.

The old-new, older-but-newer Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Fenton, McIntosh, Newey, Toner, Bolland, Boshell, Beagrie, Reddy-for-his-operation and Rankin. The substitutes were Harkins, Whittle, Bore, Jones the Booed and Taylor. Toner replaced Bore as the designated flying winger and the club parrot, Beagrie, was restored to his perch on the left, watching the wheels go round and round in Tom Newey's head. Andy Taylor is very small and very young. Thankfully he finished his paper round early today.

What shall Fenty use to fill the empty spaces? Even the pigeons have had enough, with the blue tarpaulin now just a sliver up the side of the upper Frozen Beer Thing Stand. Even the airborne vermin can't be bothered to spew their comments upon the seating.

A mathematical genius calculated that there were 31 Macclesfield supporters, which was exactly the number of meat pies sold in the five minutes before the game kicked off. You've just entered Dr Rodger's World of the Strange, which will transfer to an old shed near Wonderland after the summer season has ended.

Watkiss, Butterkiss, it started with a kiss. What? Oh yes, I'll have a cup of hot chocolate please. You have to keep mentally alert. It's good for the brain, you know.

First half
Macclesfield kicked off towards the Pontoon. Fiddle-di-dee, fiddle-di-do, tum-tiddle-tum-ti-tum-tum-tum, stick it in your family al-bum. I'm staring out into the lightness and what do I see? I see the sea, or at least a sea of blue shirts tickling Town's tummy. Macclesfield were retaining possession, but doing nothing.

After a few minutes of this exhibition of line dancing, Croft stopped fretting about the implications of Asda's entrance into the estate agency business. Yes, Gary, commissions have been driven down locally, but you can cope with that. Croft remembered what he used to be and intercepted a crossfield pass, zooming up the right wing like a mole in a bucket. Onwards to infinity and beyond, Croft eventually reached the bye-line, whereupon he flipped a dipping cross into the near post. A defender headed high, headed away, but Toner steadied himself and crunched a left-footed volley towards the bottom left corner. The ball zipped across the turf, through a defender's legs and, at the last, drifted a few inches wide of the post. That was good.

According to the programme Dr Zaro has gone. Didn't Vincent Price play him in those Roger Corman films? You remember them, don't you? The Masque of the Black and White Death, the Tomb of League Two, the Little Club Shop of Horrors. Have you seen those new mugs?

I nearly missed that. Rankin bustling and hustling through 23 challenges as he drove like a drunk down the right, the left, the right and the left. From 20 yards out Rankin shaved a few millimetres of hardboard off the advertising boards on top of the Osmond stand. He could have had someone's eye out with that.

Feel free to take a little walk around the room. Had you noticed that spider up in the far corner? And just who made that coffee stain on the carpet? There isn't much going on, OK? Silkmen spinning, weaving and breaking their threads upon some sharp Town edges. The Town defence were unfussed, untroubled and unwilling to let the ball go near Barnes. Now that's a good idea, why didn't we think of that a month ago? A couple of Macc throw-ins were hurled towards McNeil, their hulking, skulking striker. Town quivered as the ball was flicked on. Barnes scooped one off the turf; Fenton swiped the other away. These were minor wibbles; we could see how flimsy the plastic sheeting stretched across Phil Barnes was.

That's nice: a few passes, possession retained; Boshell tapping out a little bossanova rhythm and Town starting to sway to the music. Croft was roving freely, with Toner spurting and blurting down the wing in support. Town started not to hoof it so much.

On the quarter-hour Town started to stroke the black and white cat on their lap, pulling Macclesfield slowly from side to side and winning a corner on the left. Someone took it and it was drummed towards the centre of the area. Two players jumped and both missed the ball. Play continued. Play stopped. Mad Uriah was pointing towards the penalty spot, and we hadn't even asked. Whose turn is it to miss this season? Toner strode forward, plonked the ball on the penalty spot and stroked it right as Brain dived left. Cue David Coleman: "One-nil!" The addled Brain got up and swiped his boot at the ball in frustration. He missed and fell over. A little bonus track there for us, though you don't get that on Mariners World.

Macclesfield's response was to carry on regardless, passing all along the watchtower, with Bullock the instigator and McNeil waiting for something in the air. Their left-back, Jimmy McNulty, drifted infield and wired a low, slow, bumbler straight at Barnes from the edge of the area. Not even the Barmcake's Auntie Jessie would have let that in. A couple of minutes later there was an echo-cho-cho when Regan, their right-back, cut infield and… you know the rest of that sentence. Even my great Auntie Freda would have saved that, and she died several years ago. For the sake of clarity and accuracy I shall confirm that Barnes caught that one too. He's improving!

There are no more Macclesfield attacks that got within 20 yards of goal. It is alleged by counsel for the prosecution that Navarro had a shot towards goal at some ill-defined point. No evidence has been produced and I urge you, the judge, to strike out that charge. We're only wasting valuable seconds of our lives even thinking about it.

Wasting time? Why should that suddenly bother us now? We've been doing it for years.

Hey-hey-hey, this is more like it! Town having minutes of pressure, with possession football pushing Macc lads left, pulling Macc men right, probing every Cheshire orifice with an old torch found at the bottom of a drawer in the assistant manager's desk. I bet that'll be the next thing auctioned off, along with the shoes Rrricky Ravenhill wore when he signed for Town. Beagrie beagried and Newey flashed up in support, driving to the touchline. Pressure. Toner and Croft unveiled themselves to a happy crowd in the lower Frozen Thing stand and Town won another corner. Beagrie curdled it to beyond the far post and Mac2 rose high, nodding the ball down firmly towards the near post. Several men gathered in front of the post and the ball was smuggled away underneath a blanket. No pictures, no pictures!

Meditate for ten minutes, or boil two eggs. There ain't nothing going on, except some prettier patterns from Town, some nice moments of niceness. Town had a shape, a pattern, the flickerings of a team, the noodle of a notion. There was no hoofing; even Barnes was rolling the ball out to the full-backs. Oh, alright - Newey still moronically wellied the ball up the touchline, but everyone else tried to play football. Honest. Croft and Toner linked well; Rankin was being fed with the ball to his feet, rather than two foot above his head; and generally there was a slow flow towards the Osmond stand. Macclesfield were under a very slow, polite siege. In about eight years they'd surrender.

Ah, welcome back from your emotional and spiritual cleansing; was it a nice egg? Beagrie and Newey jiggled on the left, and Newey burst in to the area, crossing low. Town got a corner and... and… and… ten minutes later it was half time.

It wasn't bad; in places it was even alright. In the context of the season so far it was an improvement. At no time did it feel as though Macclesfield would get inside the Town penalty area, let alone score. Town were relatively efficient in defence and going forward there were several moments of cohesion. Possession was retained, the ball was moved around the pitch well, and the full-backs raided freely. The centre of midfield was not being overrun, or run through, and it was all very, very comfortable. What an excellent training game. Context is all, though, isn't it.

We'll have to work hard to blow this one.

Town in a word

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time.

As usual Town started like they'd been upset by a pungent aroma emanating from the showers. Macclesfield upped their pace and raced into Town. In context, of course. They were moving just a little bit faster than they had done, and they clearly targeted the Town left. Durr! Taken 'em long enough to realise.

After three or four minutes of doodling in a sketchbook the Macc lads shivered and shook around the Town area, following a free kick. They eventually pumped the ball into the box and Town only half cleared. Their right winger started to sprint behind Newey and the ball was sneakled through. Newey - oh, Tom, Tom, Tom, why do you do what you do to us? Newey hung out a leg and miskicked on the edge of the area. Mac2 stepped in and swiped clear, but only out to another Cheshire cat, who swept the ball out their right. Can you hear that sound? It's the four second warning. Regan swizzed past Beagrie as if he were a 40-year-old and hit the bye-line. He looked up and zoomed a perfect curly cross into the centre of goal, about six yards out. Teague, unmarked in between the Town centre-backs, hopped and glided the ball firmly into the centre-right of the goal.

Utter silence. We couldn't even be bothered to get angry.

There then followed ten minutes of Townness: football with pace, persistence and passion, with the Pontoon briefly roused. Rankin, on the left of their penalty area, brilliantly shielded, turned and swirled around two defenders. Toner raced up in support and curled a fast first-time cross from the edge of the area, perhaps ten yards out. Boshell sprinted to the far post and, about a dozen yards out, hurled himself forward and headed the ball back across the keeper. Brain, in the centre of his goal, stretched, wretched and just managed to claw the ball over the crossbar with the tippermost point of his fingertips.

Town roared forward, with tackles digging up dirt, little Macc lads bullied off the ball by the Town wolf packs. It was all Town, raiding on the right, lampooning on the left, with Rankin an almost unstoppable surge of electricity overloading the circuit board. Two defenders were permanently attached to his shorts like molluscs. A great turn and cross by Rankin, followed by a brilliant sliding, hooking, swiping juggernaut of a tackle by Boshell being merely the aperitif to the main course, a perfect pass to Reddy with the outside of his boot. Beagrie teasing the toddlers, tipping Newey free, receiving the return pass and drifting into the area past one, past two defenders and curling a shot across Brain towards the left corner. Big Brain threw himself to his left and parried the ball aside. This is Town. This is football. This is fantastic.

This ended.

Town's torpor returned. Reddy and Beagrie hardly moved. They tried, but their legs did not respond. They remained on the pitch as Macclesfield returned from their toilet break. McNeil turned past Mac2 and wafted a low, rubbish shot across the face of goal from the edge of the area. As Town took a nap, Macc took a short corner on their left, which they boomed high, boomed long and way past the far post. Mac2's hand missed the ball; Swailes chested it down six yards out and flagellated it across goal. No-one moved and the ball zoomed across Barnes' nose and drifted a few inches over the angle of post and bar.

Town were terrible, unable to retain possession, unable to cope with McNeil's chesting and Bullock's roaming. Still Beagrie and Reddy remained on the pitch. Oh dear, poor Peter, after an hour he's like the spoon-tapping dancing tramp in Skegness. Entertaining for a few seconds in a freakshow sort of way, but ultimately inconsequential and a hindrance to passing pedestrians. A Macc lad fell in the area and there was heap big crying when Uriah Rennie shook his big head.

How many corners does a circle have? Less than Macclesfield had, that's for sure.

With 20 minutes left Bore and Jones replaced Beagrie and Reddy. Toner moved from right to left, which at least meant Newey had some protection. As Reddy walked off, he was booed. As Jones ambled on, he was booed. As the booers booed, some anti-booers booed the booers. It's all so confusing. Who is booing who? If you are booing the booers, does that make you a boo-boo? Or is that just the transfer policy in the last six years?

Enough existentialism, enemas and enemies; what of this game you call football? Newey disappeared without trace as Tipton laced the ball aside to the unmarked Regan, 20 yards out, who exploded a shot across Barnes and just over the angle of post and bar. Town's response? Bore did a nice pass after some soft-shoe shuffling. Jones was booed whenever he went near the ball. From icon to Yukon in three months, he's the now half-baked Alaska in Town's ever-changing menu. Chicken in a basket? We don't do that any more: you'll have to go to Peterborough for that, though we can do banana fritters. Toner swerved a shot wide.

Here we go: McNeil suddenly free beyond the Town defence, right down the middle. He widdled and waddled with Mac2 in warm pursuit. Some wrestling, some tree-hugging and a vigorous rub-down with a towel failed to halt the lumbering lumberjack. Barnes apologised towards the thundering McNeil and Mac2 made one last attempt to haul down the striker. He lunged and missed; McNeil fell over the pull that wasn't there, and the ball rolled to Barnes.

A Macc defender cleared the ball into the Thing Stand. The ball never returned, lost in the fiery hell that is the executive suite, and minutes were lost as we waited. More minutes were lost as Rennie persisted in blowing his whistle every time someone moved. Jones was cheered facetiously when he won a header. The worms have turned.

With five minutes left Rankin was replaced by Taylor, in a straight swap. Taylor was nothing if not enthusiastic and persistent, like a little scottie dog. Who knows, eh? He's young. Bore, at the far post, glanced a header wide from a corner, or a free kick, or cross from the Town left. It wasn't enough to stop the longshore drift towards the exits and the building murmur of disapproval. The stewards had to intervene between the booing factions as scowls turned to shoves.

There were three minutes of added time during which Taylor chased a long punt into the corner twixt Pontoon and Main Stand. He retrieved, held off his big, bad, bald marker and tickled the ball to the marauding Bore. For once he could not save us, and his shot, from the edge of the area, dribbled across the face of goal, safely between post and Toner.

The game ended, the shoving restarted, and the booing continued.

Town had a very good ten minutes after Macclesfield scored, and then they stopped, like the battery had run out. Thereafter Town were the lesser of two weevils. From the hour Macclesfield were allowed to pump in crosses at will and, as Barnes never came for any crosses, the centre of defence sank further and further back. The pressure just increased as Town's defence could only get the ball away from goal, rather than studiously clear towards a team-mate. Town have half a team and played perfectly all right for half of this game. There were signs, early on, of acceptable structure, method and passion, but they just imploded after an hour. Nothing in the game became Town like the leaving; we died. We're throwing away points as 'twere a careless trifle.

In the end it could have been worse.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
Croft oozed and eased, Toner was a non-stop choo-choo train of occasional delights on the wings, but, like a latter-day Jim Dobbin, Danny Boshell unobtrusively made the Town clock tick. He did strange and unusual things, like pass to his team-mates and tackle. He supported the attack and helped the defence, just doing what he was supposed to do without any fuss. There were bouts of passing play and he was always involved. And what a great tackle he did under the Frozen Beer Thing Stand. A small cog that fitted perfectly into the right slot in the fantabulous confabulations of Dr Rodger.

Official Warning
Uriah Rennie, like a bad penny, is bound to turn up sooner or later And here he was. He veered from excellent to excrement, with plenty of plain bonkers decisions, especially the 'penalty'. He wore out his welcome with random precision. He's a raver, a seer of visions: please lock him away in a world of his own. For his kindness when we found ourselves in times of trouble, let it be 4.813.

The Others
Macclesfield were small and tall, good and bad, slow and fast and hip to be square. Relatively well organised, occasionally pleasing to the eye in their neat approach work, they were over-reliant upon Bullock to fetch and carry the bricks from quarry to building site. McNeil was a pest, and Brain had blond hair; other than that they were anonymous blue shirts blowing in the wind. They were just like Town: if a big bad wolf comes along and huffs and puffs, the house of straw will be flying off to Kansas. They'll be holding hands with Town as we gaily skip along the yellow brick road, just in front of the lantern rouges of this division.