Ball of confusion: Chesterfield (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

5 January 2008

Chesterfieldmice 1 Grimsby Town 2

Welcome back to the regressing ground that time still forgets. The last time we came it was like 1984 never happened and now? Hello! It's 1972! Is Ernie still number one? It looks like a place that still has milk carts.

Around 600 travelling Townites reacquainted themselves with the chipped concrete terrace and chivvied at the price of chips, though not with the nice lady from Cleethorpes in their maximum security refreshment cage. Ah, that old toilet al fresco feel. Roofs are for wimps: this isn't hoity-toity Barnsley you know. This is the heritage football experience.

Town lined up in the á la mode, and some say groovy gratin, 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Atkinson, Bennett, Newey, Hegggggggarty, Clarke, Hunt, Bolland, the grand ol' Lumpy and North. The substitutes were Montgomery, Taylor, Whittle, Fenton and Till. If you need to be told who stood where you haven't been paying attention these last couple of months.

Their fat rat beat our foam-filled funster at penalties. It's the old Town penalty phobia: even the mascot misses.

Here's a test for Bennett. Lever coped in '98, can he in 2008? Ah, those Wembley '98 memories. Bournemouth's Big Steve Fletcher is now pounding the cobbled streets of old Spiretown like a Hammer horror ghoul: he's now Even Bigger World of Steve Fletcher with added padding. You need it when you get old, especially on a parky day with the wind whistling under your wigs from Baslow.

Shall we get on with it before it gets too cold and the match is abandoned because some lucky lady has been frozen to the toilet? Apparently, the gents' did not have a roof but the ladies' didn't have any walls, which sounds like one of those ridiculous Californian psycho-babble books. Now, that's the difference between men and women.

First half
Town kicked off towards the home support. The ball was retained for pass after pass after pass; that's three passes, calmly stroked around the defence, before finally being hoofed up aimlessly. Town sighed back and watched the Blue Meanies meander down their left and cross sweepingly through the centre of the penalty area. Through hill and dale the ball wobbled as the Town fans wibbled. Cruising up a one-way backstreet, the callow, shaven-headed Niven put on a fraying baseball cap and drove his old Astra in front of Hegggarty, side-footing back across the face of goal. The ball boombled a few feet wide.

It's going to be one of those games: watching and waiting for them not to miss.

Thirty seconds later Town had a free kick 25 yards out after North had been airbrushed from history by Mr Kovacs, their mauling Magyar in the middle. Newey curled the ball low into the area and hitting a blue arm in the putative wall. The referee ignored the obvious and we all carried on, happy ever after. Apart from two excellent Hegggggarty crosses, Town did not get anywhere near the Peak District for another 45 minutes. Please come back* just before half time, I may have something for you.

It was rotten; horrible, absolutely awful. The wind blew the ball back from Barnes' hoofs and Town players were genetically incapable of kicking the ball very far, very fast or very hard. They tried to be calm, but ended up looking dozy. The midfield was little more than a cheap, council traffic-calming scheme: some stripes painted on the road and a little hump every 20 yards. Chesterfield ignored the warning signs and simply drove over the top, at speed, playing that jiggy-jiggy, bouncy-bouncy music at full blast. Round and round the ring road they went, coming back into view every five minutes, but we could hear them all the time.

Here we are: the lights are amber, the wheels are spinning and the engine revving. Off we go! Vroooom. Hird saw Robertson roaming but headed for the hills, allowing a free pass. A cross was crossed, all missed everything: a goal kick. And again, repeat action, add in some flailing boots and skewed 'n' sliced clearing and we have a pot of potato peelings. Fletcher bullied Bennett and the referee ignored the pushing and shoving. Fletcher won everything in the air, and there was chaos and confusion everywhere. A corner curled in from their left, Barnes stood on his line, with Rooney tickling his ribs, and punched the ball from under the crossbar. Pressure, pressure, pressure, an aerial bombardment: the bombs were bouncing towards the dam, but skipping over the top into the valley below. A shot over, a shot wide, a shot blocked by bottom and sock. A corner punched, a cross flapped; knees and shins, heads and tails. All body parts required.

The game was held up by some synchronised silliness at both ends. There was a punch-up in the distance and two dozen sillyboys tried to act hard by rushing a steward. They were so hard they ran back onto the terrace when a fluorescent jacket got within five yards of them. Come and have a go if you think you're bright enough. Pillocks.

Town's defence was being blasted asunder, especially down the flanks. Hird was particularly absent, allowing Spireites to wander at will, and earning himself some stern finger-wagging from Hunt and Jones. And the crowd. Buckley was so frustrated he was tearing Watkiss's hair out. So that's what an assistant manager is for.

The multiball system tightened the blue tourniquet further, as there was never a second's respite from the flow of blueness. Ward wobbled wide, Winter wafted wider, Barnes punched again, like he did last summer. Frenetic, frantic and frankly not football, this was pinball.

Another shot, another block, the ball in the air, on the ground; here, there and never anywhere. Where are we all? How are we level? Chesterfield shredded Hird again, with Leven lolloping through the left, Bennett blocked at the near post, being slavered and shoved as he stretched. The ball swingled along the bye-line, away from goal. He pursued, brought down the infiltrator and was booked. A typical decision, ignoring any foul on a Town man, but intolerant of any Town touching.

If you have an image in your head of 21 men doing the can-can inside the Town penalty area then you are not in need of psychiatric assistance. That was the first half.

Niven burst down the right, drifted into the area and poked an early shot from a dozen yards. Barnes reacted superbly, plunging low and clutching the ball one-handed. Robertson wrangled well over, then Ward again snappy-shotted a couple of yards wide after Fletcher was permitted to mug Atkinson and divert a hoof to the little scamp. Think hoof, think mug, think waft. That's the knitting pattern of this jumper of a game.

Closer and closer still, the game slowly marched towards Barnes, with the back three standing on the six-yard line awaiting the next punt. Atkinson's thigh slapped away some kind of thing, Barnes punched, Hird and Newey grazed away crosses; it was mayhem and madness in the middle, we were dizzy and dreadful in Derbyshire. A throw-in hurtled across from their right towards the near post. Fletcher rose, Barnes flung himself sideways and the ball disappeared behind, between and under a confusion of kilts. Where is it? Ah, there it is, rolling, rolling, rolling towards the near post and along the goal line. Bennett walked back a pace and swiped the ball away. Was it in? Of course not, for the tiny linesman with his shorts tucked up to his armpits avoided a decision wonderfully. It quite clearly was not given. Need more be said?
No, let's get on with the show.

Hoofing, hoping, slicing and dicing, all within a dozen yards of the goal. Mayhem? Used that. Erm, confusion? Used that one too. It was chaos, yes, chaotic camel-toed blundering and plundering within the confines of the penalty area. Fletcher was the fulcrum, the nub and hub around which Chesterfield spun. A dozen yards out he turned and swished a shot through eight spidery legs. The ball bonked against the inside of the post and rolled back across the face of goal. We laughed a little at the luck that was going our way.

A minute later another high ball was flung into the near post from their right. Barnes and Fletcher collided; the ball flipped off some fatty farmyard animal and bounced behind all towards the empty net. Old Lumpy turned and casually levered the ball off the line. We laughed a little more, this was a hoot for us wise owls. Another shot blocked somewhere by someone, the ball slapping away for a corner. Or a throw-in, or a rebound they whacked over. Something like that, in any order; just imagineer it yourself. Balls bouncing, bodies bounding and hounding, but the net did not ripple with disappointment. Fletcher headed over from eight yards. Good.

With about five minutes left to half time, a Town clearance was headed back over the top. Newey chased back, pursued by a pack of chuntering hyenas. About five yards outside the area, on the centre-left, he leapt to head back to Barnes. Fletcher barged into Newey, causing him to jerk forward, moving horizontally where previously he'd been vertical. His arm raised and punched the ball away. The referee raced over, his card already out in his hand. The red card was in his hand, we could see that, as could the Town players, who surrounded him complaining about the push. You thought it was red but - ta-da - it's yellow! Now that's magic. Chesterfield really liked it: not a lot. Especially when Leven coiled the free kick over the wall and Barnes flipped it over for a corner.

Oh, hang on - was this when Jones kicked the ball off the line? Or was this another hubble-bubble scrubble on the Town goal-line? There were so many, they all just seemed to roll into one mouldy old dough of a memory.

Is that it? Is it safe? There were a couple of minutes of added time, because of the silliness and sandbagging of Town players. Phew, we could chew on our cheeseburgers and reflect on the ironies of fourth division football: the worse you play, the less likely you are to lose.

*Ah, you're back. A funny thing happened on the way to half time. Town strung three passes together, in the Chesterfield half, to each other. Clarke and Hegggarty fiddled about on the left, flipping and flicking first-time passes up the wing, befuddling the behemoths. Hegggarty tapped inside to North, who spun past the dawdling Downes, and was suddenly behind the defence, inside the penalty area. During open play. Today. Not so cocky now, Roche, eh? The startled keeper careered off his line and Danny boy North waited, waited and lifted a flicky-flopper under the skidding Roche and into the net, much like his Barnet robbery. As the ball hit the net the Town fans honked like an excited seal colony, collapsing in joyous mirth. We laughed, for there was much hilarity in the hills.

Ah-ha-ha ha-ha-ha-ha ha ha-ha-ha ha ha. Oh ha ha-ha-ha-ha ha ha-ha-ha ha ha. Our eyes beamed and sparkled, we gurgled with delight, we are the laughing Town fans and now it is half time.

One Town shot, one Town goal. The efficiency of the fortunate. The referee could have sent Newey off, the lineman could have signalled for a goal, and Chesterfield should have been three up at least. They were utterly dominant, without displaying much skill, while Town were doing no more than occasionally getting in the way. This was like the upper school against the lower school end-of-year match. The big boys were just bigger, and everything flowed from that.

There's nothing to report about Town except the score. It was 1-0, to us.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

From the off things were different. Town found out that they don't like it up 'em either. Barnes drop-kicked high and mighty down the middle, the ball sailing on and on in the wind. Kovacs missed it; Roche came out and dropped the ball as North snuck around to challenge. Jones tiptoed through the tulips to collect the loose ball and, faced with a wall of discomobulated Derbyshire Drifters, he tapped the ball to the on-rushing Bolland to his right. Captain Shins sneezed the ball away from goal, eventually catching up his attempted control near the corner flag. After dancing with the captain, the defender blocked an attempted cross.

A throw-in followed, which was hurled to the near post. Lumpy rose above the flapping Roche and squinting Kovacs, with the ball skimping off the glowing follicles to limp towards the empty net. Some big brutish local appeared from behind a rusting teapot to clear off the line for a corner, which was scrappily, panicky punched away by Roche the rabbit. Breathless and invigorating, this was more like it. We're not laughing now.

Their defence just dissolved when a little water was sprinkled upon their feet. "Has anybody seen Jamie Lowry?"

Ah, I counted three chickens, but only one had hatched. Back roared the Chesterfielders. Fletcher, it was always to Fletcher, off whom Bennett bounced like a rubber ball, bouncing, bouncing; bestriding the Town penalty area like a giant thick-legged armchair. He twisted and turned to fleagle a shot through a thicket of legs. Barnes saw it late, but it was without penetrating power or precision and straight at him. Little Ward began to sneak into spaces behind Fletcher, in that once-fashionable hole that Town players used to disappear down. He moved in an arc along the edge of the area picking up flicks and rebounds at will and shuffling into space beyond the wing-backs.

Is this it?

Boomed high, flicked on, Ward was free on their right, on the edge of the penalty area. Atkinson swarmed across. Ward pulled back his right boot and bonked a dipping volley across Barnes. The ball swerved over and around the outstretched hand of cod and slam-dunked against the inside of the post, rebounding back across the face of goal. And cleared.

That wasn't it. 'It' is never going to happen.

North ran off and fell over. Just practising. A minute later North ran off down the centre-right, switched the ball between feet, spun and crankled a low shot towards the bottom left post. Roche replicated Barnes' save from the first half, with the added oomph of doing it one-handed; the ball gently sidled an inch or two past the post for a corner.

Right, take a big gulp of air and let's dive, dive, dive. There may be a way out of here. Chesterfield ratcheted up the tempo and sought salvation in some Australian rules football. Fletcher, whose arms were thicker than Bennett's thighs, manhandled Town defenders away like Desperate Dan. Where's the cow pie? He won everything: Bennett and Atkinson couldn't get near him or the ball, his arms were too wicked and legs too long. The ball was pinging and ponging. Tilt! Tilt! Tilt! Double bonus ball. Kick it, head it, scrumple it, steal it. Just do it Town. Get it out, get it out. Sliced upwards, wrestled downwards, Barnes under siege, punching, never catching. Barnes came off his line to collect a garryowen on the penalty spot, Fletcher throttled him and the ball dropped to Leven. The goal gaped, but a surge of stripes enveloped his world and he crazily, mazily wangled a half-volley over the bar, over the roof of the stand and over the hills far, far away.

Town never kept the ball, with Buckley furiously gesticulating to Barnes, annoyed at the persistent drop-kicking down the middle, just because it worked once.

A corner headed wide, another headed over. A Town leg here, a Town leg there, here a leg, there a leg, everywhere a Town leg. Ward wafted wide, Ward drilled wide, Ward drilled for oil, but found some sludgy water. Ward and Fletcher, that's them that is.

Near the hour Chesterfield brought on their new secret weapon, their Barnes, the Moan United loanee. He was like a catherine wheel, his legs moved very quickly and there were sparks and fizzes and plumes of smoke from his ears, but he kept veering off and started to chase the cameraman. He was pathologically unable to co-ordinate ball and legs. He was wonderfully wasteful; it was like they decided to play the rest of the match with a chihuahua on the wing. No need to concern ourselves with him.

With Fletcher menacing our children, Buckley finally threw on an adult: Fenton replaced Bennett with 20 minutes or so left. That quietened things down nicely, and Town enjoyed a brief sojourn towards the Town support. Hegggarty and Bolland crossed dangerously, but uneventfully during a Town breakaway that promised interest but ultimately delivered a parcel for next door. How disappointing; I was waiting for a new set of curtains. Ah, Danny boy, gambolling down the centre with Jones and Bolland in support. Oh dear, he closed his eyes and thwanked a shot against Kovacs' bottom from 30 yards, and all of Chesterfield thwanked him for that.

Still the locals leapt. Onwards and upwards, ever higher, ever more frenzied, the game toiled on. Oh, well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow. They upped an up, and thundered an under; Clarke squeezed a rebound, Hird sliced a rococo ricochet to Ward who drangled a low flat whack into the vague and general direction of the goal. The ball hit Atkinson's instep and loopily-looped upwards, but straight to Barnes. Oh lucky man. Create your own fear here by thinking of a blind man firing a shotgun at a lead-lined barrel. One of these days the pellet will penetrate: it's the law of averages. And they are very average.

With about 15 minutes left Town relieved the pressure with some ambling and passing, before just rambling on like a Grimsby Telegraph letter writer. The ball was suddenly dinked over the top for North to pursue down the centre-right. Downes followed and they held hands as they skipped gaily through the buttercups. As they reached the penalty area they rubbed shoulders in a strange mating ritual, and both fell over at the same time. The referee pointed somewhere immediately. Oh, to the penalty spot. Well, that's a turn up for the books and we hardly asked for it either, probably because it was so blatant. Yes that's it. It was sooo obvious.

North got up and walked around the ring, pumping aluminium. Who to take it? Danny boy, of course. He placed the ball on the spot and the cheeky Hungaryman shook his hand, then came back and patted him on the back. Then uttered good words of support. North growled, stuttered slightly in his run-up and placed the ball to the centre-left as Roche slumped right. We laughed again. But none of the locals did.

Yeah, that's it, that's the bag with three points in it. Over there, in Danny's pocket.

Of course it isn't. This is Town. We have to have a scary movie before we go to bed. Chesterfield took this as a sign to pump up the volume even further. Fletcher floored the flapping Barnes and play continued, only stopping when the ball was in the Chesterfield half. After some wet sponging Barnes limped on, and Chesterfield espied a weakness. Boom, boom, boom, the Town goalmouth was pummelled, taking side shots to the ribs, and a couple of rabbit punches to the chin. But the old warhorse stayed on its feet. Just. Atkinson swiped a clearance when some bloke sneaked along their right after Hegggarty allowed himself to be piggy in the idle by the corner flag. Another cross, another ricochet. Was it Hird, was it Fenton, was it a bird, was it an aardvark? Was it Ward?

With eight minutes left Town got a throw-in on the left after Niven had controlled the ball out of play. Someone blinked and the Spireites were swarming down the left with Town outnumbered. How did that happen? A pass infield, a lay-off by Fletcher and Ward was menacing the sheep just outside the penalty area. Town defenders converged and Ward swayed left before dragging a low shot through all those hedges towards the bottom left corner. Barnes couldn't see, then he could. Ward had scored and the heat was on.

Everything was down there, over at the other end. The word is pressure and Town surfed on the rolling wave of fortune as attack after attack after attack rained down upon Barnes. Somehow, who knows how, the ball kept missing flailing blue boots, dipping blue heads and above all the net. Someone headed a corner wide, someone else prodded a cross wider. A shot went over, a shot went wide. Ward sniggled and niggled, Fletcher wrestled with alligators, and Barnes kept punching, punching, punching crosses and corners away.

Hold on tight, steady... steady... steady. All we have to do is make them control the ball. Or think. They could do neither, as they started to pass the ball out of play, to control out for a Town throw. And time slowly walked on by. The Town fans perfected the multiball system, throwing it back on when a replacement had been chucked to Roche. Every second counts, you know.

There were four minutes of added time, at the start of which Chesterfield brought on their old secret weapon: Wayne Allison. He never touched the ball. As Allison came on they had a corner and their keeper ran up into the area. Then he had to run all the way back as Town almost nearly got around to breaking away. After a couple of howitzer crosses were trampolined away, Town had a breakaway; Clarke and Hegggarty supported Bolland and North. Chesterfield were outnumbered but Clarke's cross sailed gently through the six-yard box, over North, beyond Bolland and they broke back. Panic, panic, panic, for it's two against one with their Barnes freed, but he crossed into the sea. Ha, indeed ha. That's a Premiership player? Ah no, that's why he's here.

Another Town break wasted, Town again undermanned and under pressure. Fenton glanced away, the corner curled in and Barnes stood in the middle of his six-yard area to clutch the ball to his midriff. No Chesterfielder was within five yards of him or the ball. Nice.

You think it's all over. It is now.

How did we do that? Or more accurately how did Chesterfield fail to do that? Town were better in the second half, being coated thinly rather than being battered, but overall Town had three shots if you count the penalty as a shot. They missed a hatful, and jolly pleased we are too.

Town's midfield spent most of the afternoon chasing in circles, with Pacman Hunt conspicuous but largely ineffective in staunching the blue tide. Clarke was adequate, if a little one-paced, while Bolland worked very hard, but had one of those days when his feet and ball spoke different languages. The consequence was that the strikers had little supply or support, and the defence was constantly creaking and happy just to rid themselves of the ball, anyway, anyhow they pleased. Respite was always temporary.

But what the heck, it's another win. Who needs to play well when muddling through does the trick. Do you smell that? Mid-table. It smells like... victory.