Drab and drabber: Walsall (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

15 January 2007

Walsall 2 Grimsby Town 0

So Ratso's already left the sunken ship?

Behold the Mighty Bescot, a siren luring truckers to their gloom as they get stuck in a jam; unlikeTown, who've gone further down the condiment aisle towards pickles and chutneys. Perhaps one hundred of our foolhardiest souls slunk into the soulless hole and into the full glare of apathy. A cold Monday in Walsall outranks a wet Tuesday in Cleethorpes for filling the living, and living rooms, with inertia.

What are we doing here?

Town stood around in 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Croft, Whittle, Grand, Newey, Till, Bolland, Hunt, Toner, Old Lumpy, Paterson. The substitutes were Murray, Boshell, North, Hegggarty and McDermott. Two loans out, one loan in; that almost counts as stability these days. Is that it, is that all we have? Is this what we are?

Town warmed up with a few jogs and many a misplaced pass in their game of piggy in the middle. They wanted to be here less than we did. Hey, but you're being paid! Buck up or buck off!

At least we aren't wearing the girly white socks on TV: that'd be just too embarrassing

First half
Walsall kicked off away from the screaming kids. Wouldn't you?

There was movement and the ball coincided with the men in red. Then the men in red coincided with Town. A free kick was given to Walsall inside their own half. Why do you need to know this? I'll be telling you about divots next. What? I thought I had been all season. Boom, indeed, boom.

Boom, indeed, boom: the ball was launched straight down the middle and some Brummie-lite chap moved diagonally and into the centre of the area. Danns, for I shall guess it was he, rose and squirtled a glancing header towards the right corner. Barnes changed direction, sailed into the sun and the Walsall band began to play as he parried it aside. In rushed a Walsally but so did a Townie and someone scrabbled the ball away.

Pfft, great start, eh.

Walsall, flitting and twitting in midfield, Town full of nits and the unfit. Does Hunt move? Another minute, another shot. Wide, or high, or maybe blocked. The red masses menaced the muddling Mariners.

Have we passed it yet?

Have we tackled them yet?

Walsall flitting and…hang on, have we been here before? A-ha: knowing you, Paul Bolland. That's better, he threw a copper kettle at Whoopi Goldberg's cat, or did he throw Whoopi Goldberg's copper kettle at a cat? No, he tackled.
They move, they shoot, they don't score. Pead to Barnes: danger, but no devil. Town's tin can be peeled away by the little key to reveal jellied ham; you can smell the preservatives from here.

Tick on, sweet electric clock in the sky. Ooh, here's a thing: Paterson pinged forward and Jones lumbered on into the area. A tickle, a tackle missed and the ball bounced on the left, eight or so yards out. Lumpy, oh Lumpy, your hour has arrived - if only they'd give you an hour, eh? Ince did the Charleston while their minister for silly walks stepped across the Spruce Goose's flightpath.

Bored, bored, bored. We're watching a procession of imprecision with Town devoid of art or science, existing in a basic form, communicating in grunts and squawks. I'm sorry, have we met?

Settle down, and watch the Sky at night. See that there, that's Uranus rising in the east. Fancy a cuppa, did you?

Good grief, did you see that? A Town attack and Old Jonesy the cat rose above his marker to canoodle a header a few inches over the bar. Oh, you didn't see that, your tea was still brewing was it? Just imagineer it then.

Are you still in the kitchen? I told you Town were moving. Possession, passing and pianos, this minute was brought to you by the letter 'p'. Oh, go on Lumpy, have shot a will yer! Oh, don't then. Walsall fizzed upfield, leaving Town players sprawled across the beach like trippers at Skeggy. Keates stepped infield and from the centre, 20 yards out, twackled a shot across Barnes and just wide of the left post.

The game sank into the mucky pitch, knee-deep and drowning in quicksand. Tedious but inevitable, Town were barely capable of getting out of their own half, with a series of punts from Hunt and Barnesian drop kicks towards Lumpy, who managed to miss every header. We'll skip over the awful passing from Newey and Toner as quickly as the ball skipped out of play. Poor Pato, forever chasing rainbows. Wahey, he's off, liberated from his shackles, sprinting away down the right. He looked up and curved a dangerous low cross into the centre. Toner was five yards away, Jones five years, and a goal five minutes.

Town conning us all with the veneer of adequacy, a soupçon of equality, a smidgeon of hope that one day, yes one day, we may score a goal. Did we bring the smidgeon of hope with us from its roost atop the Pontoon? Town corner, Grand headed, Ince fumbled and stumbled and no-one even considered that a Town boot would appear, as if by magic.

Away from home you'd normally hope to have some possession and quieten the crowd. Big mistake, for it just reminds our little budgerigars of Blundell Park. I tawt I taw a puddy cat a-creeping up on Newey. You did. Town attacked down the left, Toner and Newey where are you, what are you doing: mis-hit, misplaced, and mistaken for footballers. Walsall intercepted, interjected and got into the Town half with two passes and two people moving. Sam was released down their right and Grand hassled, but Grand just twirled his tassles like a go-go girl as Sam stripped him of dignity. Off down the wing ran Hector Sam, with nothing near him but an old Town tram. He crossed, Butler rose unmarked a dozen yards out and steered a header into the right side of the net. Swift and sure, there ain't no cure for Town's wintertime blues.

Still an hour to go. What's the point, we won't get one.

Paterson offside, offside, and thricely offside when he probably wasn't. Town eventually settled down to pass the ball out of play. Walsall still flittered between the gaps in Town's floorboards, but generally avoided shooting. A cross or two, a panic or three, but generally between the pitch and Gary Croft the ball was diverted away from Barnes. Close to toilet time Sam escaped down the middle and had some kind of low shot which went ooh, argh, just a little bit wide.
There is so little to remember, I may as well talk about the shopping arcade in Birmingham called Paradise Alley, which at least indicates that deep beneath the mowling and rowling diction lies an ironic heart.

So what about Town eh? Ugly and slow. You wouldn't ask them to dance.

Second half
Neither side many any changes at half time. Please bring on the broken photocopier.

Behold the cage of Katmandu, the dance of Diabalus. No, that's what they do on the team bus, isn't it. Oh wouldn't you know it, Town had a shot. Toner drifted towards the corner of the penalty area and drifted a shotty-cross through and just wide of the left post.

Three minutes in, Butler swirled and hooked while Grand slobbered all over his neck, trying to work out whether the Walsall shirt was machine washable. Oh, how strange, a Toner cross, Jones unmarked and… softly side-heading down to Ince.

You want a short cut through the misery? Here's the story of the second half which I suggest you cut out and keep: Walsall ran down their right and crossed, and {insert name from their team sheet at random} rose above {insert name of Town player at random} to glance just wide/over {delete as required}.

Example number 1: Butler to Wright. Ooh.

Newey, setting himself for glory with a free kick 20 yards out, to the left of centre. Walsall wobbled, their fevered brow mopped by a sodden hanky. You know, when we were good, we used to have players who knew how to miss properly. Free kicks that went just over the bar, not just into the bar in the supporters' club, behind the car park, through the keyhole. Who lives in a house like this, David, over to you... sorry, I'd switched over to UKStyle.

Example number 2: Wright to Sam. Ooh-la-la.

Barnes dropped a corner - nothing new there then. This is a season of repeats. Grand body-checked Sam as he drove his sheep through Town, just like Fenton used to do. Ah, remember the good old days with players like Nick Fenton, they seem so near, yet so far away from where we are now. We just don't get players of that quality anymore.

Example number 3: Dann to Westwood. Ooh, I've got a brand new combine harvester and I won't give Till the key. Peter Till, played for Town a few weeks ago, didn't he? If only we'd signed him up.

Ragged old Town, a midfield morass of morbid mundanity. Can Hunt control the ball? Oh dear, not quite. Can Hunt pass the ball? Well, the ball does pass him by. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty - can he clog? I think he wears them.

Example number 4: Wright to their substitute, Mr Cedar tree. Ooh-wakka-doo-wakka-day.

Fill in the gaps with Walsall this and Walsall that; a corner, a scramble away from the line, and the ball up, up in the air towards no-one. Another corner, swung through the area, missed by all with Barnes cowering behind a lamp-post. Do you think Town fans can get time off work for repetitive strain injury?

Yeah, yeah, Jones scored with a brilliant dipping volley from 30 yards. No-one even bothered to feign happiness: the linesman's flag had been up ages. This is where we are: zombified and mortified; it's just the hardcore addicts left. We know it isn't good for us, but we can't stop feeding the habit.

Paterson was replaced by North. Like, whatever. What time is the train?

Wake up, wake up, Town attack alert. North's mere presence was enough for the Saddlers to shin up the nearest drainpipe in search of an apple. Why they wanted to do this, we shall never know. If only Arthur C Clarke was around we'd find out. Toner crossed and Lumpy was alone, eight or so yards out. The ball fizzed and dipped like a googly and the Lumpster did a passable impression of an English batsman. The ball hit his head and flew way over the bar before he had time to consider the West Lothian question. Or indeed why brown cows give white milk when they only eat green grass. It's been asked before of a Town striker, but they never answer, do they.

Town advanced with the certainty of an artichoke; slowly, slowly and precisely passing to Till then Croft then Hunt then I forget as the inevitable failure arrived. Walsall broke back and Town's deflating balloon was squished into the shape of a three-legged poodle. Ta-da! Ha-ha said the clown, as Walsall flung the ball into the middle of the area and Cedar tree flicked the header across Barnes, who plunged low to his left. The ball softly bounced upon the sandy goo and Barnes put both hands together, pushing it away like he was repelling a custard pie. Butler slid in and swept the ball into the right corner from a couple of yards out. Your basic, all-out, bit of rubbish goalkeeping following rubbish defending and rubbish passing. One team alive, the other dead.

Twelve minutes left and you'd catch your train if you went now. But then you'd miss the moment! Heggggggggggggarty replaced Old Lump with five minutes left and, in the very last of the three minutes added, he bounded free inside the area and lobbed the 95-foot goalkeeper, forcing him to tickle the ball over the bar. There we are, that's what we came for - a shot on target; what a springboard for the next game. We ended in the ascendancy, on a high, fantastic, let's take that home and treasure it. If we put it under our pillow perhaps the football fairies will grant us a wish.

Some kids ran on the pitch, they thought it was all over. It was before it started.

Close your eyes and hope for the best. It's the only way forward, for we cannot look back. This is the moment, this really is it, for there's nothing to cheer, nothing to hope for but hope itself. We are close to the end, the end of everything. Our apocalypse is now and we, that's you, your family, your next-door neighbour, everyone at work, have to look inside themselves and ask one question. Do you want it?

We stand together or we fail. And that means standing with the eleven men wearing Town colours. Can we store our bile up until May?

What is Grimsby? Does it stand and fight or does it turn its back and let history end with a jeer and leer? We're about to find out what kind of people we are.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
Who looked most embarrassed and at least kept some dignity? Probably Trevor Eve. Sorry, thought you'd turned over to watch Waking the Dead. Preferred Shoestring myself, despite the moustache, though they both have a certain Town-related piquancy. Nothing got past him: it's all about Eve.

Official Warning
I can't remember anything much about Mr K Stroud, apart from he wore bright green and got away with a blatant body-check on Toner on the edge of the area, setting the Saddlers up for a counterattack. He failed to book himself. DISGRACEFUL. If I divide the number of free headers for Walsall by the number of shots on target by Town I get 987. No, hang on, I'll have to introduce the internationally recognised Steffen Freund constant. My phone tells me the referee gets 5.321 - if Town can dial in a performance, I can dial up the ref's score.

The Others
Well, what a strange world we live in. They were far superior, but not particularly impressive. They were just better, collectively and individually, doing the things you're supposed to do as a professional athlete in a team sport. What is it about this division where the top teams inspire the phrase "is that it?" and send routed foes into Winston Churchill's black dog mood at their own team. Ince couldn't kick, but was a wandering minstrel at set pieces, skipping around his playground with his lute to pluck forget-me-not crosses from the air as they floated by. Their midfield had people who ran and passed and stood in the way when Town tried to do whatever they were trying to do. Football, is that what it was? And their strikers were mobile and enthusiastic.

They wanted the ball, we wanted to go home.