Half a sixpence: Darlington (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

1 November 2008

Grimsby 1 from a few, Darlingtown 2 out of three, which was bad

We've tried potions and waxen dolls, but none of us could find any cures. Welcome to our moribund world of make-believe.

With a billowing breeze bashing into their faces around 300 Darlians gathered in their cave in the Osmond stand, waiting for their friend - a chip buttie with three points on top. With a withering wind whistling into their noses the raggle-taggle army of Lower Beer Standers were marched from their battlefield as bits of the roof fell off. I know what you're thinking…

Flippin' like a pancake, popping like a cork, the Mighty Mariner walked around with a new friend: Banana Split Snork. Or is that our new striker? There is going to be a new striker, one day; we can't keep relying on the timorous teenagers and Till.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Stockdale, Bennett, Heywood, Newey, Clarke, Kalalalala-bamba, Trotter, Hegggarty, Till, North. The substitutes were Monty, Jarman, Hunt, Straight Peter Bore and the Blond Bob, Atkinson. Ah, lovely, lovely, Jean-Paul Kamudimba Kalala is back at his true footballing home - somewhere he'll get picked. Let us reflect upon the mirror of Mariner memories: we've never been the same since he departed the team and was placed in Slade's prison on the bench to nowhere. Ooh, and Blond Bob too. They knows us, we knows them, we know that there may be trouble ahead so we borrowed some music and romance from the library.

Peter Bore wore tracksuit bottoms while warming up: just one of the reasons he'll never play for Sunderland.

No-one bothered booing 'Richard' Ravenhill, probably because we all forget he ever played for us. He did play for us, didn't he? Or was it just Bolland's id? Elsewhere the Darlings sported biffer White, bouffant Austin, whose locked flowed like a mountain stream, and Burgmeier, who sought to make Stockdale moribund.

Two drums and a trumpet emerged, which would appeal to that all important Adam Ant/Herb Alpert cross-dressing crossover demographic. Shall we hop in the Tijuana Taxi and get on with the freak show?

First half
Let's start as we mean to go on, eh? Town kicked off away from the Pontoon, with Kalalalalala stroking softly to Newey, who feigned a punt and rolled it back to Barnes. Barnes horribly sliced up, up and away, but fortunately straight to Bennett.

The wind blew the nets out like the cheeks of an overweight marathon runner. And Town's collective cheeks turned red as punts and lumps unerringly avoided North and Till. Darlington swarmed and Town were warned as Heywood's timbers shivered in the breeze. The man could not move; he'd been planted on National Tree Day in 1987 and no-one had pruned his branches since. This isn't a job for secateurs: this needs a chainsaw.

Newey boomed a cross beyond the far post, where Clarke leaned and weaned a header into the back of the Osmond stand. It was something, I suppose. It was big, it was ugly, it was Town's captain crying in the chapel of loathing.

A few minutes in and the ball rolled to their left-back, just outside their penalty area. Clarke stood, then ambled towards the man in red. As their funny Valentine shaped to kick, Clarke decided the best way to block the ball was to walk in an arc and leap out of the way. The pass was duly caressed upfield to a fellow man of friendly persuasion. He turned and Bennett slipped. Yoikes Scooby! Ravenhill was tapped free where Stockdale wasn't and the klaxon klaxed. In full retreat, Town were stripped of dignity and the ball was pulled back behind Town's shredded wheat. Blundell, unmarked on the edge of the area, bedraggled a shot towards goal, towards a phalanx of knees and shins; towards its destiny. Their Clarke, with his little back to goal six or seven yards out, did a little jette and flicked the ball through his little legs, through Barnes' legs and through the keyhole. Let's see whose house this is? It's Darlingtown's! The clues were there.

Their bodies twistin' and turnin' in a thousand ways, eyes all rollin' round and round into a distant gaze. Ah, look at the crowd! Remember March 2008? We were sure, we felt secure, until form took a detour. Yeah, riding high on top of the world. It happened, suddenly it just happened...

Heywood-you-please-go-home touched Their Clarke near the Police Box, who fell with the élan of a dying elf. The free kick was swing in by the Burgermeister. White ducked and snucked a rolling header just over as Barnes did his best Al Jolson impression. Mammie! Hegggggartyy woefully dunked a cross into the Blundell Park Hotel's cellar when free as free can be, then had a shot blocked. Heywood headed the corner over and out. That's Town: a couple of awful nothings in between drop kicks and slashed clearances. Town were jitterbugging in defence every time Darlington advanced.

A quarter of an hour in, the Darleymen had a little fricassée of excitement with some one-touch passing and movement down the Town left. They'd already sussed Town's weaknesses, forever dinking and winking at Newey and isolating Heywood. A corner was cleared as White and Heywood chased each other through the meadow lacing daffodils and daisy chains, but White had the last laugh. The second corner coiled inwards, but was grazed away to the right corner of the penalty area. Newey walked and watched as Ravenhill waited and waltzed, dripping a spectacular drooping volley up and over Barnes into the top left corner. The Pontoon didn't know whether to boo or clap, so some blapped, and others clooed. Yes, things are so bad that we need new words. The English language just isn't big enough to cope with Town's imploding wevaboodle of hesdingfulness, Stanley.

Two shots on target, two goals.

A Question of Sport (isn't that the new James Bond film?), let's stop the inaction: what happened next? North and Till did not exist on any dimension known to man; Hegggarty was the incredibly shrinking balloon; Our Clarke was redefining the concept of inadequacy; Newey and Heywood were arguing over who should buy the next round in the players' lounge, The Last Chance Saloon. But not all was doomage and gloomage: there was still a fire. Are they flickers of hope, or the dying embers of history? Trotter was trying, Kalalala was angrily omnipresent, Stockdale was neither good nor bad (and these days that counts as good), and Bennett lashed himself to the wheel as the storm crashed around, the ship rocking, creaking, taking in water as the weak and feeble leapt for the lifeboats.

Trotter had a shot. It went wide.

Heywood jogged over to the Town bench and had a deep and earnest discussion. What could it be? Was he negotiating severance terms? Five minutes later he walked off and we had the return of the Blond Bob. Now Heywood sees life for what it is. It's not all dreams, it's not all bliss and the Town crowd took the chance to prick the boil with a verbal lance. Heywood went to the loudest cheer he's received from the Town faithful. We really appreciated this, his greatest contribution to Town safety; his best clearance ever.

A very public point was made with Bennett being called to the touchline and a small ceremony performed: the passing of the captain's armband, like a footballing bar mitzvah. The boy is now a man.

Sometime towards the end of the half Darlington had a free kick, which Barnes caught. That was all that they did after Elvis had left the building. Atkinson was mobile and determined, forming a useful barrier with Bennett. The defence looked like a unit again and Darlington never looked like scoring. Mind you, they didn't need to bother too much, did they.

Till dragged a weak shot straight at Brown and Kalalalabumdiyay was booked for persistent trying, which the referee clearly did not think was what Grimsby Town players do. And that was it. Two shots each, no action or excitement. Town were structurally defective, with Till (who withdrew from a couple of challenges) wasted as an ineffective jumper, Clarke utterly hopeless and devoid of confidence and the left side bereft of deftness. After Heywood disappeared in a puff of smoke Town had no defensive problems, with the central defence and midfield absolutely fine. Kalala oozed and schmoozed through the half, simply the best, better than all the rest by a long way.

If Spurs can do it, so can we!

Second half
Neither team made a change at half time. Surprising.

Town came out and did what they now always do: attack, attack, attack, attack attack! So Town attacked. Mr Brown flapped a Hegggarty cross away for a corner. Noting happened.

Town crossed. Nothing happened.

Town passed. Nothing happened.

Till dispossessed White and bore down on goal. Nothing happened.

Kalala was clattered and clobbered the free kick goalwards, but Ravehill blocked with his hands and fell clutching his face. He wasn't booked for rubbish acting, but did get a small part in Hollyoaks. Newey wasted the free kick, wallowing in his own vainglorious vanity and wafting way over.

Town attacked, nothing happened. But Town were getting close: the nothing was happening closer to Mr Brown. Town had a corner, then more corners and started to pass two, three, four times to each other, then started to pass forwards. Kalala bestrode the pitch, demanding obedience from all before him. The congregation bowed and all hailed JPK. This… this was a man.

Kalala sprayed passes left and right, shuffled in front of Darlings, swept big and little Darlings off their feet. Till was released and careered infield from the left, shuffling once, twice and wallying wastefully over from about a dozen yards.

And still Town pressed on and Hegggarty hooped an awful high cross into the centre. This is going nowhere! The wind blew the dangler down and back, confusing a little Darlo, who sidled the ball away off his left ear. It rolled unerringly out to The Man. We knew, we all knew, for we could see that the moment had arrived. Those precious few moments in life when you know Town will score. He Will Not Miss. He Did Not Miss. Kalala calmly adjusted his underpants and stroked a perfect shot low though a thicket of legs and into the bottom right corner. He always scores from that Spurs spot; he even did it in the pre-season game for Oldham. Let him stand there forever.

Suddenly, we were alive again.

Town poured forward, the crowd on its feet begging, imploring salvation, for seeing is believing. Bore replaced Clarke and Till reverted to the right wing. Town started to prod and probe behind Darlington's full-backs. Heggarty and Bore exchanged passed, with Newey tickled behind the defence with a sublimely weighted pass. As Newey crossed three Darlingtownians swooped to the near post to dingle away fro a corner. Brown flapped, Town pressed and zoomed down the right, with Foster slipping a desperate diving header a foot or so over his own crossbar. Brown flapped, Town pressed and Bore crossed but the ball avoided Town heads. Stockdale surged and at the heart of everything Kalala waited and effortlessly tapped out a tempo.

Brown flapped again. Town pressed with flicks and tricks, North was free and slain by a red boot. Kalala curled the ball over the wall but into Brown's hands. For once he didn't flap.

And finally Cyril, with four minutes left Darlington had an attack; they actually, perhaps even literally, moved the ball out of their own half and near to Phil Barnes. A corner was cleared but Hegggarty miscontrolled on the edge of the area. After some piddling on their right the ball was dinked beyond the far post where Blundell ducked and looped a header over Barnes and a foot or so wide. There we are: that was their single moment of anythingness in the second half. They may not have had to, but they weren't allowed to by the clam-like embraces of Atkinson and Bennett. It's called defending.

There were four minutes of added time and Town were all out of orange juice. That was the end of the game, but possibly the beginning of the end of the dark ages. The Age of Enlightenment is upon us: our earth is no longer flat.

The other man's grass is always greener, some are lucky, some are not. Just be thankful for what we've got - a nine-point cushion and the framework of Newell Town beginning to appear on the hillock.