Hue and cry: an Ealing comedy: Brentford (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

8 December 2007

Brentford 0 Grimsby Town 1

And lo the heavens did open in muddy, miserable Middlesex. Around 400 muttering Mariners gathered in the smallest seats in footballdom, high above stagnant pools in the latest Mausoleum of Misery. The rain did rain and rain as the local Morlocks hid in the shadows: a dying breed at a dying club. We know, Brentfordians, we know...

Town lined up in the rainbow alliance 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Bennett, Fenton, Atkinson, Heggggggarty, Bolland, Hunt, Toner, Sir Lumpalot and Danny Boy North. The substitutes were Whittle, Boshell, Butler, Rankin and Montgomery. Mmm, all our experience on the subs' bench then. You don't need no education about the line-up, and no doubt there was some dark sarcasm in the chatrooms. Hey! Whinger! Leave them kids alone! Whinger; sounds like ginger. Ah yes, Heggggarty was back for his usual winter away-day break into the first team. Three days in London: coach leaves Grimsby at 06:30 with stops in Doncaster and the Watford Gap. Pre-book for cheapest rates!

The Bill Axby Stand to our left was desolate, detached and dotted with specks of humanity. Didn't he play the Incredible Hulk?

It's still raining; shall we get on with it before the smallest player drowns? Ah, that's why Andy Taylor isn't here.

First half
Town kicked off. Or maybe Brentford did. It can be exclusively revealed right here, right now, that one of the teams started the game with a tip, a tap and a whack. The ball was cleared to North, who miscontrolled on the halfway line, straight to Dickson on their left, who shimmied infield past the ghost of Hunt and the memories of Fenton to thwackle a swishing drive goalwards. The ball skipped off the turf towards the left corner and Barnes eased himself down and across to push it aside for a corner. Some little lad headed the corner wide at the near post. Thirty seconds, two chances.

Foul, cross, header, slide, goal kick. Foul, cross, slide, header, clearance. The ball followed the rhythm of the falling rain with sheet upon sheet of Brentfordian attacks drifting mordantly, inexorably towards Barnes. Smith dribbled past three on the Town left, swayed into the area and bedraggled a shot into the side netting. Town cleared, but a foul was given. The free kick was pumped long and high; the fight was on: they all jumped, they all fell and the ball squished out for a goal kick. Town cleared but a foul was given. The free kick was pumped long and high; the fight was on: they all jumped, they all fell and the ball squished out for a corner.

The corner was pumped long and high, the fight was on: Town cleared but a foul was given... but a foul was given... but a foul was given... pumped high... pumped high... fight... fight... fight... fright night... slight... slight... night... tight... tight... keep it tight... might... might... something might happen.

Town cleared, but a foul wasn't given and Smith or Ide or Dickson or Montague or Connell or Danger Fourpence sniggled into the area on the right and slapped a shot against an Town ankle, then a Town thigh, then a Town knee. Barnes staggered right; the ball slunk off left, spinning and slicing a foot past the left post. The pressure was incessant and Buckley was incensed. Keep the ball Town, keep the ball. Pass it, pass it, don't just whack it. Town's midfield was a house of straw: Hunt on automatic punt, Toner with Toblerone boots, Bolland all shirt and shake. North and Jones may as well have joined us in the upper tier, though old Lumpy may have struggled with those seats.

Another foul given, another free kick, another header smuggling over and wide. A break and slide, a tremendous saving block by Bennett. Another corner, and another this and another that. Town were simply stuck in the mud.

A cross, a cross: we're all very cross. A Town clearance, a deflection, and a cross-shot steered wide from seven yards. They can't shoot, we can't defend, someone has to give. It's the season of goodwill, please give freely to a good cause. Look! There it is! There's the ball looping over the bar, curling wide, rolling, rolling out of play. We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do in league football.

After 25 long, long, long saturated minutes Town got inside the Brentford penalty area. Hird hauled a long throw-in from the right, Old Lumpster flicked on and North swivelled and hooked a first time Livvo-esque volley across and over the bar. There you are: a shot.

Back Brentford whooshed. Town cleared but a foul was given. The free kick was pumped long and high; the fight was on: they all jumped, they all fell and the ball squished out for a corner. Make up your own panic-stricken scenes using the Town action models (only £8.99 from the club shop). Now with real hair and detachable limbs.

We had bodies in the box, they got in the way; that's all there is to say.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to half time. A Town player made a pass to another Town player, then another, and another. Triangles were constructed on the left. Forward, backwards, the ball was pinged between blue shorts. Hey, this rhythm is sexy! Ayyyyyyy-yah marimba, carimba. Let's samba to the right! Hird za-zoomed up the wing, spurning the advances of their left-back, to place a superb cross through the centre of the penalty area to North, on the penalty spot. With no-one around Danny boy decided to smash it first time with his right foot. He shankled his shot 15 yards wide as Jones stood next to him with a disappointed and disapproving countenance.

Within a minute Toner had showed Danny boy how to volley. Brentford wellied in their wellies, yomping to the Town left, with one of their scurriers curling a thigh-high cross towards the penalty spot. Three Town players surrounded a single Cockernee-lite type and Toner hung out his left leg and shinned a volley high, high, high up in the sky. The ball arced slowly across and over Barnes, dipping and dropping as the wicked west wind blew. At the every last moment Barnes reacted, plunging low to slap the ball off and around the right post for a corner. Now that's goalkeeping.

Brentford huffed and puffed, but this house was no longer made of straw. Shots bounced off the stoics and the storm abated. With Town patiently passing and probing, dragging the one-dimensional characters of old London towards the river, Hird started to roam the unmanned wing to great effect. He crossed, but no-one was there. They cleared, but Town had finally organised themselves to pick off the whacks and wellies. Some calmness descended and North suddenly spun to flugelhorn his way through three defenders, before spurtling a low shot to the keeper's left. Brown didn't drown, nor frown, and unfortunately for Town wasn't a clown as he clutched the ball without fanfare.

One last heave, eh, Beesters? We'll finish as we started. Town cleared, but a foul was given. A little man curled the ball over the wall, but Barnes plunged to pluck the skidder off his toes.

Well, we've gotten away with that so far.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

Off we go again. Brentford launched it long and chased it, hassled it, bustled it, smacked it, cracked it, hacked it but they just lacked... it. They played the way they were facing: totally one-dimensional and relying upon athleticism, determination and luck. Ah, but Town, they were different. As usual, the first 15 minutes after half time were, in the context of this day, this game, sublime, whereas Brentford were sub-prime. A corner fell to Bolland a dozen yards out to the right. He volleyed across goal, the ball slowly drifting away from the keeper and away from the top corner. Shall we "oooh", for old times' sake?

Heggggarty whistled down the wind, thrashing a shot against a local leg for a corner. The wind is ours, the force is with us! Hegggarty scrimped forward again, sliding and scooping a loopy something goalwards. It's better, it's nice, it's football; at last as Town were pinging passes on the floor to each other, eschewing the hurried humps to no-one and nowhere.

Brentford? No, don't bother.

Toner and Bolland clamped down on any nonsense in midfield, confiscating the booty. North was scuttled free down the left; he cut back and delicately coiled a cross into the near post. Hunt rose and the ball scraped off his imaginary hair, bombling up and across the face of goal. Brown scampered and slapped as it slathered across the puddling grass. The ball missed the far post by inches and a corner was given. Toner curled it high and mighty towards the centre of the area. Brown came out and missed; Blond Bob stopped and steered a header goalwards, but one of the three giants of the Westway nodded the ball off the line.

It's getting fruitier by the minute. Is it time for the cream?

Just before the hour Town lightly brushed against Brentford's arm down the right, just so they got used to the feel of our hand. Bolland stormed into a challenge, out-passioning some Beester and steering the ball to the Lump, perhaps 30 yards out and way wide. The ball slurped off the greasy grass, but there is no 'off' switch on the genius button, as the Maestro delicately feathered the ball to his toe, spun and dinked the most delicately and exquisitely weighted scoop-flip over the ramshackle remnants of their home guard. North burst forward and hit the bye-line, twisting a first-time cross low towards the near post. The Mesmeric Maestro had sauntered forward into that very spot and smoothly lifted the ball past a stray and desperate foot. One more step, one more moment of magic, as Jones the Lumpaldinho, the Mariners' Mesmeric Maestro, coolly caressed a clipped shot low across the keeper into the bottom right corner.

Mmm, whipped double cream delight.

Town never had another shot.

Here come they come, coming over the hill; wait till you see the whites of their eyes. Foul, cross, header, slide, goal kick. Foul, cross, slide, header, Town cleared, but a foul was given. The free kick was pumped long and high; the fight was on: they all jumped, they all fell and the ball squished out.

It's back to square one, repeat first half... but not quite. Brentford tried going straight down the middle, but Town were organised, defiant and staunch. No go, mojo hobos. Fenton won everything in the air; Bennett picked up his little brush and swept all the loose chippings into a small dustpan; and Atkinson shuffled his shorts to put them off. Brentford adjusted the crosshairs on their blunderbuss and decided to run down the wings. Hegggarty was skinned once, twice and thricely by Starosta as crosses were pulled, mulled and culled at various points along the six-yard line. A scramble here, a scramble there, momentary moments of danger, the ball dropping free, but always, always a northern leg, a northern buttock and a northern head appeared as disaster approached.

Get out the stirrup pumps, all hands on deck!

Again, again, they're roistering again. Brentford abandoned any pretence at sophistication and dumped Garryowens into the box. Ruck and maul, not pass and move, was the order of the hour. A cross was shanked away and the ball broke loose, a shot thwangled towards the top right corner, but Barnes hopped across to pluck it to his chest. Starosta again roamed, crossing low through the area. Two homesters slid as the Town fans hid under the seats. No noise, let's regain our poise, everyone missed everything. A goal kick. Another cross, too high, past a sailing ship at the far post. This is an amber warning: incoming missiles, please hold your positions and hold on to your nearest and dearest possessions.

Oooh, what's this? Town calmed down and passed to each other on the left, a dozen or more passes and Hird shuttled down the right. North turned and fed the goat. The cross thundered through the area; Hunt arrived, unmarked at the far post just six yards out. He rose, he headed down... onto his own toes. The ball bumbled towards goal and Jones tried an overhead kick, but a Brentford stomach eased danger away for a corner.
That was our post-goal comic relief. There was no more.

With around 20 minutes left Lee Thorpe came on for them, replacing a much smaller non-entity. If it was possible for Brentford to become more direct then that is what they did. This isn't football: it's an Australian rules free-for-all.

Barnes raced way out of his area to swipe a clearance but mis-hit it straight to one of the big bruisers on the halfway line. Barnes was 20 yards to the right of goal as a shot was steered 35 yards wide. Whoops. A little man sliced wide and Connell headed over; Bennett's buttocks came in useful and Fenton's knee knocked danger's hat off its head. Hegggarty brilliantly controlled a long ball which dropped over his shoulder, spinning around and calmly laying the ball off to Bolland.

Eh up, Starosta's being stroppy again, powering down the Town left, with Hegggarty left with three to mark. The cross zingled into the middle, striking flesh and resting invitingly eight yards out. Town's defence was sliding towards Heathrow as two Bees salivated just a yard away. The goal a-gaped, the Bees' boots thraped, and suddenly a Town body arrived to block. Bennett, you beauty! Hold your wigs and mitres, my fellow congregationalists in the Evangelical Church of Monochromistic Mirth; they're pounding on the door demanding entry.

In all this excitement hardly anyone noticed that Rankin replaced North. Oh hang on, they had. Hardly anyone noticed Rankin after he replaced North.

Still they swarmed forward, battering an assault upon the Town senses. Still the referee insisted on giving them free kicks whenever Town cleared. How long is this piece of string by which we are hanging? Oooh, there we go again: a cross drifting through the area unmolested. And again. Ah, this is it. A cross from their right hung high and was headed on somewhere by somebody, barged and battered; bodies fell to ground as the ball plopped up at the near post. Barnes punched the ball backwards across goal as two Brentfordians lurked on the goal line. Pheromone Phil calmly took a step back and swept the ball into his arms with an insouciant air and inscrutable smile.

The stadium announcer boomed out that there were three minutes of added time. Bang, bang, bang, the cannons boomed the ball forward. Hanging on, Town were simply hanging on. A terrible free kick was awarded in about the third extra minute. The punt was cleared, then returned as Thorpe pushed Bennett in the back. Play on! The ball rolled into the Town area, a dozen yards out on the left with Thorpe ready to rumble. Bennett blocked; the ball hit a Brentford hand. Play on. More hackery and dackery followed inside the Town area. Where is the ball? What's going on? Hold on tight to your dreams. The ball emerged and was swiped across the face of goal, falling a yard out, with a battalion of Brentfordians violently thrashing away. A goal was certain; it was impossible to miss, impossible to stop. But from the depths a saviour emerged: St Nick of Pontefract threw his body and soul across the whirling boots to block. The ball squirted out again and Toner lashed the ball off the line via a homester's boot. The referee gave a corner. Toner was booked and Justin Whittle bounded on to replace the frequently timid Hunt.

Fenton scraped the corner away; Bolland booted it further upfield and eventually the referee halted this fandango, after nearly five minutes of added time.

A breathless end to a dreadful game. What little football had been played had been played by Town. There were infrequent moments of calm in the storm where Brentford were made to look like a glorified pub team. It was by no means pretty, but the performance had a certain dignity considering what it had followed. Town should have lost this, but didn't; now that's a pretty change.

It's a start.