The future's bright: Mansfield (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 February 2007

It was nice of them to dig the potatoes up before the game.

Mansfield Town 1 Grimsby Town 2

The 1,300 followers of the new-found faith gathered at the temporary shrine in the corner of some foreign field. Mansfield: like a hilly Grimsby, without any boats, and some newer shops. The morose meanderings from the permanently disappointed, dwindling home support were a familiar, if distant, echo of our possible pasts. Well, all right then, a couple of weeks ago.

Is this just a crazy dream?

Town smooched out in the pick 'n' mix 4-5-1 formation as follows: Barnes, Bloomer, Whittle, Fenton, Newey, Bore, Bolland, Hunt, Boshell, Toner and Paterson. The substitutes were Murray, Grand, the grand Old Lumpy, Maccadermott and that man North. After last week's relative failure, it was back to Boston basics with music and fashion to add to the passion.

Oh look, there's Mr Puce; he's smiling: we're through the looking glass here, people. He'll be looping the loop and denying he's round next.

As the players warmed up their faces filled with smiles as the multitude of Mariners filled up the stand before them. We're only here for the cheer. The tannoy blared out Scissor Sisters songs as the players skipped their way through the field, forcing Peter Bore to dance camply with fetching pastel boots. What's going on in Town's boot room? They look like they're wearing Smarties on their feet.

We remembered to boo-hoo Michael Boulding, but Gritton was jeered for his secret Rachman status among Town's youth team. He's no better than Nike, forcing Nick Heggggarty to sew for his supper; no wonder he's too tired to play these days. Shocking, positively shocking.

Some Mansfieldians finally arrived in the home stands. That's nice. Maybe we can start now?

First half
Town wore white shorts.

Mansfield kicked off towards the massed mass of massive Mariners, straight out of play, no messing. The Staggerers kicked and rushed towards two monstrously slow supertankers: Conlon and Gritton, less battering rams than tipsy teenagers who'd lost their front door key. They were unsubtle and loud, and everyone ignored them until they got bored and fell asleep. Yes sirs, they were woozy.

You don't want to know about them, do you. Let's not talk turkeys.

Mullins knocked the ball down the line, but knocked the flag out of the linesman's hand. That's a Mansfield highlight, and maybe even a highlight of Mansfield. Ow, that black kettle is made out of very hot copper.

Town were comfortable as Mansfield allowed time and space. The ball was tickled hither and thither, though no-one got the zither out to twang the theme from The Third Man at inappropriate moments. Town had the ball, but the movement was slow and a little predictable.

Ah, but then Bore got the ball. Really, they should have kept Gareth Jelleyman right out of sight, for young Peter Bore had a riot down their right. Not once, ever, did their full-back dispossess our little beauty. Farmer Mick retreated occasionally to provide a double-barrelled shotgun protection, but Bore the cheeky hare za-zoomed between the devil and the deep blue-shorted flea, cutting infield and flicking slightly short, slightly long and sometimes just slightly wrong. He'll get those carrots one day. These were moments of almostness to be stored in a vacuum flask and frozen for inspection under a microscope when science evolves.

After eleven of our English minutes Town penetrated the dense undergrowth and emerged inside the clearing. Dancing around the pond Hunt had a shot blocked and Bolland thwacked one goalwards, which White parried away without fuss. Still, we could ooh a little ooh for free.

What about Mansfield, eh? Yes, what about them? They had a few free kicks which were lofted and wafted under Barnes' nose. He dropped one, of course. On the edge of the area Barnes fumbled, and it bumbled out to a midfielder who lobbed it back goalwards. Philately Phil backtracked, plucked his eyebrows, and then the ball from the sky. We're used to it now, we expect it, a game wouldn't be the same without Fumbling Phil and his amazing dancing bear.

Back to the Town schmoozathon. A corner from the right was floated like a butterfly by Boshell, Fenton nearly stinging like a bee, heading firmly over from the centre, ten or so yards out.

The ref started to turn, like bad cheese.

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you, it's only Conlon pursuing somethin' he's not sure of. Free, slicing, high, safely. Four words that couldn't possibly mean anything to you Mr Bond. Can I take that risk? A free kick deep inside their half was wellied forward. Gritton nudged the ball on as Conlon peeled away and was alone, eight yards out and to the left of goal. He put his right foot in, his left foot out and dislodged one of the remaining hot dogs from the hand of a small boy far, far away at the back of the stands.

It was oh so quiet over there then - zing, boom - the sky up above was caving in. Fenton, far too sexy for his shorts, started to saunter and sway in an old-fashioned way, forgetting that this wasn't a catwalk or a cakewalk. As the last man he tried to pose his way forward, just inside the Town half on the left. Dispossessed by a little hamster called Matthew, he did what he always does: hauled down an opponent in ungainly rugby style. A booking, a free kick, and cue ten minutes of pressure.

A cross, a header, an ooh and aah. Conlon's elbows elbowed, his hips pipped and his shoulders bulged as he ate raw spinach directly from the tin, not even pausing to pass Go. Another cross from Hamshaw drifting through and over and round and about and out for a goal kick. Fenton flicked, Whittle nicked and Bloomer stood tall, stood strong and stood for Parliament as the yellows caused minor peril in this animated short.

On the half hour Paterson was caught offside down the Town left, just inside their half and some kids ran off to get a Kit-Kat. The ball was simply kicked straight and high, between and over Newey and Fenton. Ground control to Major Tom, check ignition and stop claiming offside. Conlon waddled up to the ball, slowly turned on the edge of the area and curdled a low cross into the centre. Like a bad sci-fi series on Sky, Town past and Town present collided on the penalty spot. From this great implosion of matter and anti-matter Boulding emerged with the ball bombling into his path four or five yards out to the left of goal. Barnes advanced with some oven gloves and Boulding tapped the ball into the bottom right corner. A couple of Mansfieldians ran over with smiles on their faces, but Boulding and Gritts looked a bit miserable, though not as miserable as the Town fans. You're making us sick, Mick.

Town's response was a corner, which Fenton, 15 yards out at the far post, marvellously slabbered a foot or so wide. Worth a big OOOOOH in anyone's language. If it was French you'd have to raise a sly eyebrow and smirk.

Ah, well, shuffle your feet and whistle Dixie. Conlon scored from a header, but was flagged offside. We do like the linesman with the chequered flag, if not the chequered history of decisions not in our favour from the Chuckle Brother with the whistle.

Bore still fried his full-back with some onions and garlic, but hadn't found the tin of tomatoes. Maybe later, eh? We'll let the full-back sweat a while longer.

Whoops and whoops again. Hamshaw finagled his way through their right, with Newey just an absent friend sighing down the internet. The Hamsterboy reached the bye-line and cranked a cross low to the near post. Barnes plunged to scoop the ball off the turf, but missed; it bombled off his chest and out in the centre. Do not forsake thee, there's Tom Newey. Waiting. And still waiting. Has he lost his bus pass? He waited so long that a plumber arrived, but the burst pipe was fixed when Boshell put his finger in the hole.

At this the tide turned. Town reasserted their tentative passing game, abandoning the long lumps towards a spot two foot above Paterson's head. Hey, it worked! Who'd have thought such freakish avant-garde notions of anti-bourgeois abstractions would ever set foot in Mansfield again. Confused by this jumble of letters? So was the Staggers' defence. Newey left his wigwam, started to roam forward and, with three or so minutes left to half time, went a-huntin' buffalo. On the horizon, he spotted his prey, drew back his bow and - bam - dropped a looping, drooping cross beyond the far post. Bolland, on the corner of the six-yard box, flew through the air like Inspector Clouseau, slapping the ball down in the ground, back and across the keeper, who tipped the ball onto the far post. And in.

As news reached the outer reaches of the Town stand men and women abandoned the planned trek to the toilets, joined arms and jigged to the sounds of an imaginary fiddle. Always the best type.

The clock ticked down and Mansfield had a bit of a blurt, having the cheek to try and score again. A cross from their right spun around and over Barnes to the far post. Bloomer waited and twisted to clatter clear as Gritton high-stepped forward. The ball ricocheted off the
sushi-chomping ambler and floated a few inches wide of the left post.

An afternoon stroll had become bogged down in a boggy ploughed field. But here we were, scrambling over the stile and scraping off the mud ready to warm our bones beside the fire. Too many long balls: how very un-Buckley. He needed to get his spanners out and tighten a few bolts.

Did you get your ticket for the toilet queue before the game?

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

Ah, but there was a change. Town stood on the Staggies' toes, allowing no space, no time and no peace. Hunt, Bolland and Boshell were the snap, crackle and pop in midfield. They shall not pass, they did not pass, and that old metronome started to tick. Where in the first half Town had been stilted and static, now the ball never stopped and feet were always moving.

Town were back to Toblerone football - playing piggy-in-the-middle with the locals.

Ah, sumptuous flowing football. Oh, Bolland shot wobblingly high. That's the end; the beginning was somewhere deep inside the Town half. Just have a little daydream about how the ball got from a to b. Go on, keep daydreaming, this time with the pitter-patter of tiny Paterson's feet wiggling and waggling with Toner, Bore and Boshell racing around to come up behind him again. Bah, he didn't look up: he ran around in circles and shot straight against Baptiste's shins.

The Town fans' dander was up: we were buzzing again, beating out a rhythm for the team, and vice versa.

Ten or so minutes into the half Mansfield had a serious spell of serious pressure. A tackle ricocheting behind the Town defence set Conlon free: a corner. Punched away, returned; another corner, taken short, and the water was simmering, the lid rattling. Hamshaw sneaked into the right corner of the Town area and coiled a low shotty-cross through the penalty area. Some local legs slid, Barnes hid behind a pile of Tupperware and the ball rolled a foot or so wide of the left post.

Town revved up the other end. Bore squirtled in from the touchline, dissecting and pickling Jelleyman in a small glass jar. Boshell flicked and Bolland rolled along the edge of the penalty area, slathering a low, weak shot straight at White.

And back came the Mansfieldians. Conlon flicked on a punt, Bloomer and Whittle stretched and the ball was juggled between several blue socks. Boulding, alone inside the area perhaps a dozen yards out, took a step forward and smackerooned a low shot towards the near post. This was it, this was the expected end of the affair. The ball skipped along the mud; Barnes dropped to the floor and scooped the ball away with his head, his chest, his right wrist and his contract of employment. Anything, something, whatever, somehow he'd scraped it away for a corner. Mansfield feigned to take a short corner, which pulled Hunt away from the near post, then Hamshaw wickedly whipped a swerving cross into the vacated spot. The Town end gulped and Barnes did a doggy paddle in mid-air to punch the ball off the line.

On the hour Town took control, give or take the odd this and that here and there, now and again, once in a while. Bore began to flick, Paterson to trick, Boshell to glide and Hunt remained implacable: dead centre of the pitch, commanding the centre circle. He bestrode Field Mill like a small colossus; he was a footballing Pacman relentlessly pursuing his quarry.

Bore, beautifully whisked free behind the defence, curving his run and curling around the bulky Buxton to drag a cross against Jake the Peg's extra leg. A corner! Boshell delicately floated it towards the fabulous flying Fentonoscope at the far post, but the ball was glanced clear. Toner, 20 yards out, waited for it to drop and volleyed a foot or so past the right post.

From the goal kick Mansfielders seized on a clearance and surged down the middle. Whittle made a magnificent sliding, hooking tackle to whisk the ball off a blue sock. The referee gave a free kick 30 yards out for sheer brilliance in the face of mediocrity. Idiot. Don't bother worrying about what happened next. A kangaroo didn't run onto the pitch and eat a strawberry, nor a charity parachutist fall in George Kerr's hot toddie: they simply kicked it slowly and straight at Barnes. How boring, eh. That'll never get Sue Barker giggling.

Back came Town, roaring in from the east. Buxton sliced Paterson into Derbyshire, avoiding low bridges, and was given three points on his licence. He didn't see the speed camera, silly boy. Bore teased and almost pleased with deep crosses, low crosses, short crosses, long crosses, but no crosses that hit a black and white head. Oh, let's boogie boys! Slick flicks and some old tricks saw Bore and Paterson bringing us sunshine in their smiles as they danced through the Easter Island statues. A corner cleared, a cross cleared, but always to Hunt, who swept everything into his dustcart, allowing Boshell to rifle through the rubbish to pick out a treasure or two. Mansfield ground to a halt, seized by fear as the monochromers whirled around them.

Mr Puce was laughing and singing. Whatever next?

Remember Wembley '98, when Burnett scored, but didn't, with a brilliant volley? Town turned the tourniquet, squeezing out the air from the Mansfield lungs. A cross cleared high, high high to a spot, 25 yards out, centre-left. Boshell waited, adjusted his feet, then his hair, then lathered a stirring volley towards the top left corner. Half the Town end leapt in jubilation, half sat down with heads in their hands, The ball slaughtered the pole holding the net up. He'd missed by inches. Allow yourself a delayed, but dignified "ooooooooh".

Jelleyman decided the only way to stop Bore was to chase him with a petrol-driven chainsaw and a pack of ravenous dogs. After consideration, and after Bore had been peeled off the back window of the house behind the derelict stands, the referee booked the defender.

Hey, where are you going? We haven't finished yet. See, you missed that didn't you. No, I'm not telling you, you'll never learn if you're spoon-fed and coddled by molly. No gain without pain.

See, it works, doesn't it. You saw that, didn't you. Newey rolling forward down the left, swishing a swerving, dipping shot high towards the near post. At the last micro-nano-mini-googol-second the ball spun and didn't go in to the net. That may have disappointed us, but Boulding and Gritton walking off didn't.

Mansfield had their last effort with 15 or so minutes left: a corner lobbed and Conlon flicked a free header a foot or so over. It's safe to ignore them now.

Phwoar, Bore again whooshing and whooping past the helpless and hopeless left-back. He hit the bye-line and levered a cross towards the waiting Toner. White spectacularly sailed out from his post and clutched the ball to his bosom. The game was all Town, flowing towards the born-again Buckleyites singing the praises of the Lord. Even Mr Puce and all the little pucettes. They were blind and now they see. At least for one game.

You could tell what a jaunty mood we were in as the five coach drivers were given a standing ovation when called to their posts. They milked the adoration like any self respecting D-list celebrities.

With ten minutes left Paterson - who'd just wasted a couple of attacks with some greedy, head-down noodlings - was replaced by North. They hugged each other in a show of community strength. North was wearing orange boots.

A Mansfield corner was cleared out into the centre of the Town half. Some little Mansfieldian dwelt upon the nature of life a little too long and Hunt pounced, sneaking the ball away and lurching forward. North peeled away to the left and the pass was duly caressed out. Sprinting from the halfway line, he demonstrated a new kind of Great North Run. Dan the Man raced down the line, taking one touch, drawing Gareth Jellyfish across and stepping inside. As he reached the penalty area, one more jink, one more touch and biffo! North sprinkled gold dust upon his career, smithering the ball low and hard into the bottom right corner. Oh what a catalyst he turned out to be: Jelleyman left standing like a guilty schoolboy.

Seven minutes left, let the party begin.

Nothing much happened. Three minutes of added time passed quite serenely and were just three minutes more to sing hosannas to the king of kings. Town kept the ball and Mansfield were fitfully frantic, but had little heart or belief. At the end the ground was just Grimsby; the home fans drained away like dishwater in a sink. The players hailed us as we hailed them. Who was smiling most? Paterson could hardly contain his glee, picking North up and almost proposing to him there and then. Ah, Danny boy, behold the transformation. The substitute from the North side of our town. Suddenly, he's a man of our time.

It was like watching an old John 'n' Roly video at times: "Shot on! Chance on!" And you know, I'm not taking this coat off now. It isn't just the results, but the style: that Grimsby style has returned. Pride, in every sense, has returned in just two weeks. Is this the beginning or the end, or the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end. Where was the beginning? Was there a beginning? How? What? Why?

Leave such philosophical considerations aside and let's enjoy life again. The simple things, you see, are all complicated: our team's pretty young but they're just backdated. Yeah!

Nicko's unofficial man of the match
You know, it has to be one of the Clampits in midfield. In fact it is all three of them: Danny Boshell, Paul Bolland and James Hunt - the big chief clamper. Town's security blanket worked perfectly: trespassers were shot and despatched into a deep pit.

Official Warning
No knight in black satin, Mr M Haywood spent the first half ignoring the muscular Mansfield approach, but saw evil in virtually every Town challenge. Pathologically incapable of seeing handballs which were not so much deflections as dropped catches, Town were lucky that no Staggyman staggered inside the penalty area. The man's a yoghurt the size of Latvia: 2.234.

The Others
Mansfield are always less than the sum of their bit parts. They really should do better when they have players like Baptiste, Dairylea, Hamshaw and Brown hanging around in quiet desperation. Playing Boulding as a winger is plain daft, and having Cannon and Ball up front is only going to get them anywhere slowly. Like their ground, they are three quarters there but, like lazy builders, never look like they want to finish the job in hand. Bouts of pleasing, passing football were mixed up with some utter dross. They have neither the height nor bulk to batter teams, but still persisted in depth-charging Town. What a waste of talent.

Mansfield permanently have a screw loose and no-one can be bothered to nip down B&Q to buy a packet of good management for 69p.