Being and Nothingness: Port Vale (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

6 December 2008

Port Vale of Tears 2 Grimsby Town 1

It's never a good start to see the Team coach drive by with no-one aboard.

Ah, the last time we met they were on a five year mission to boldly build where everyone had gone before. No wonder they're in such dire straits. In five years they've added twelve yellow seats to the new stand, and knocked a big hole in a wall. Spendthrifts! Wastrels! Improvident squanderers of hard working families' hard earned cash. And fans' money too.

Town lined up in the 4-4-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Stockdale, Bennett, Atkinson, Hope, Clarke, Kalalalalala, Trotter, Boshell, Proudlock and Jarman. The substitutes were Monty, Llewellyn, Bore, Heywood and Hegggarty. Hello Mike's Wingless Wonders! Hope at leftish back? Surely not? Surely is. We've Atko but no Akpro, or is that Akpa. Or Acpo, no, that's the top cop thing. Nacro, nacho? Who? What do we sing to him?

The teams ran out behind Poochie, a dog with attitude, with Port Vale playing in vivid red. Oh, they're playing in our kit, it's us in red. What knavish tricks these Burslemites stoop to.

Oh get on with it! It's getting cold.

First half

Vale kicked off towards the 250 or so Town fans housed in the stand where they are always housed. Kalala was kicked in the stomach, Dodds flibbed a shotty-crossy-thing from way out which drifted yawningly wide and they got a corner. Barnes rabbit-punched the corner off his line and rabbit-punched Stockdale into the bottom right corner of the inside of the post. On came Dave Moore, off went Stocky Ribdale staggering as he counted the wagging fingers.

Corners, crosses and general fizzling and barging: Port Vale were peskily direct, but not particularly bright. Lumbering Hope was a slow glow-worm dangling on the end of a very long and thin line, but their little spratlings were too busy plucking flies from the lilies. An ungallant Valiant shot bibbled untidily nowhere and Barnes may even have bothered to pick it up. A cross shot, making them all cross as it crossed slowly through the graveyard. A header, a feather, a leather, a lather, and a right palaver over nothing.

Town's engine wheezed and coughed, almost sparking. Use the choke! Spray some WD40 in the air filter! Give it a push! Kalala: a beguiling magician at a country fete, twirling his cape, twinkling his eye. Behold... a pass! He mugged and shrugged aside inconsequential little Burslemites to feed and weed Town's old garden. Jarman and Proudlock played teaseball with their markers, a rolling juggling act happy to please the eye with flicks and tricks a-go-go.

Ah, whoop at the swishing! One-touch beautiousness from Clarke and Kalala, topped by a Proudlock spin and skim shot across the keeper and beyond the post. Repeat but return to your seat as Sticky Robdale overlapped and underhit a cross. Ah, swoon at the moon. One touch, one touch, c'mon, c'mon now touch me babe, can't you see that Town are not afraid to play football. Kalala, of course, Kalala stepped in front of an errant Port Vale pedestrian to clip and sip cocktails in the sponsors' bar. Clarke was winked free with a sumptuous flick and way, way, way overhit the cross. Boshell retrieved, Kalala swept a dink onto Jarman's thigh, who hook-spun a volley on to the crossbar via Anyon's fingertips. Bosh clipped the corner, Hope crinkled a header straight at Anyon.

Mmm, tasty Town.

Ooh, what's this? Gristle at t'mill? Town piddled as Vale bumped, with Richards pokering way over from outside the penalty box. Yabba-dabba-babba-boo. The silent Vale menfolk mumbled into their cardigans as the carols were sung only by the Townfolk: buoyant, boisterous and boldly asserting the pre-eminence of their heroes. We always do tempt fate, don't we.

Barnes chased a weak Vale shot that begrudgingly strolled its way wide, plunged as Dodds neared and carried the ball over the line. Unnecessary pressure and Town wibbled. Kalala calmed nerves, effortlessly brushing a local aside to thoughtfully roll the ball back to Barnes, who completely mishit the clearance up, up and away to nowhere. Atkinson was forced to rock and roll a tackle on the left, conceding a corner cleared to Mackenzie who shot awfully wide, awfully slowly. But the ball slivered straight to Richards, to the right of goal, who mis-slashed into the top right corner.

Oh, now we can hear the Port Vale sing. Just the once.

Carry on follow that camel. Hope headed straight at Anyon; Hope headed straight at Anyon again. Anyon dropped a cross; Anyon scoopled a cross from his near post and missed a corner and Hope fell over a plunging Valiant. Oh, and don't forget your toothbrush, Anyon. Kalala picked a pocket or two-oo to rub towards Proudlock, who balleted a tipple for Clarke. Trotter trotted into the penalty area to meet the low cross perfectly, stroking a first time shot towards the bottom left corner from about ten yards out. Anyon plunged low and superbly parried the ball away for a corner. Anyon missed the corner, Hope headed softly back to him.

They had a couple of breaks forward that piddled to nothingness. Thank Sticky and Bennett for their extendable legwarmers.

Town were distinctly ropey in construction, with Boshell and Clarke particularly uncomfortable as the dashing blades. They had neither the pace nor the trickery to defeat the full backs, as you'd expect. And as you'd expect, Richard Hope was not cementing his position in the team, though he may have been cemented to the Burslem pitch. He tried, they all tried, but one slip is all it takes for Town to be down, despite a slight superiority.

Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again. Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again. Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again...

What was I saying?

Second half

Neither team made any changes at half time.

You'd be better off sitting on your hands for five minutes, you'll only get cold fingers. You know what you're like when your extremities get cold. Make use of your precious time by composing another version of the old music hall classic Fraser Digby's Washbag, or perhaps complete the limerick that starts "An implacable fellow called Newell..." C'mon, it's good practice for Christmas.

Ah, you back again? One of them ran the full length of the pitch and collided with Trotter, so the referee gave them a free kick just to the left of centre, right on the edge of the area. After some rather poor birdie dancing by the massed ranks of the Port Vale forward line, Richards coiled the ball over the wall. Barnes moved left, then turned back to his right to spectacularly parry the ball up in the air from the position he'd already been standing in. Hope headed behind for a corner. Nothing happened.

They broke and Clarke lunged, sending the ball high to the right of goal. Barnes pondered, caught it and the referee decided this was a back pass. There was disagreement voiced by the knot of natty Mariners which encircled the pastel poltroon as he placed the ball on the corner of the six-yard box. There then followed a game of musical statues as Valiants feigned a pass and Townites rushed out as feet wobbled near the ball. As the whole Town team huddled together on the line, and the whole Port Vale team waited in a line near the penalty spot, the ball was thwackled straight at Bennett and Hope and died in Barnes' arms. It must have been something he said.

Well, that just wasted a minute of everyone's life.

And then Town started: Kalala tickled ribs and Jarman spindled a shot way over; Clarke was freed and crossed nearly-ly. Town triangled to Proudlock, who twizzled on a turkey to cross from the right bye-line and the ball zippled across goal, two yards out. Their right-back shinned the ball back across goal but straight to a fellow stripey in the six-yard box. Grrrr.

Back Town roared with Kalala always and Trotter sometimes leaning on lampposts to watch a certain little inflatable go by. Oh me, oh my. Stickdale stalked and stonked, before turning and tonking five yards over, via a local boot. Anyon flipped the Bosh corner from under the bar for another corner. Then another, then caught it, booted it away and watched Town waltz back with a metronome in their pocket. Crossed left. Crossed right, headed away and Kalala standing in the D waiting... waiting... and missing the ball completely.

And still Town nailed their tea-cosy to the mast of impotence. A cross was half cleared and a striped arm controlled the ball. Ignored by the offal-sniffing officials, they zoomed away, only halted by a garden hoover down by the riverside. A free kick to Port Vale, but the fourth official beckoned the perfumed pastel pecksniffer who sent Mr Re-Newell away with a haughty flourish. Nothing happened.

Kalala dug a trench and covered it with a tarpaulin, using oak leaves, mud and the detritus of a dead badger as camouflage. A Valiant fell into the man trap and the celebrated Mr K swept majestically forward from one penalty area to the other, slipping a sexy negligee of a pass to Proudlock. Alas poor Adam miscontrolled and Anyon flew out to his right to brush the ball off the moonboots.

Around this time they brought on a very small substitute, who shingled Atkinson aside with a suspicious wiggle, rounded Barnes once, rounded him again, then crossed into the centre, where Bennett waited and walloped away. A minute later Barnes plucked a knock down off the turf and was deliberately clobbered by Richards. The ref had a quiet chat with the persistently clattering Richards and ordered Barnes to put on a high visibility vest. Where's the justice? What about the victim of crime?

With about ten minutes left the irrepressible fizzer, Jarman, was replaced by Bore, who immediately missed a free header from six yards out after another sweeping Town move down the right. Roll on a minute: Boshell drooped a beautiful curling cross over the full-back to the far post, where Clarke, five yards out, stretched and missed by a foot. Roll on a minute: Trotter stretched and missed from almost the same spot. Roll on a minute: Town scored.

Woah, back up there baby! Town scored?

Oh yes.

They passed here, there and everywhere, stretching Vale on their snare drum and rat-a-tat tatting to, ooh, someone. The cross looped and drooped and the unmarked Proudlock, six yards out, stooped and steered into the right side of the net. He then joined us in holy communion as the entire Town team jumped on his back, except the ones who didn't, but they were there in spirit. The very, very least Town deserved.

How long left? About five minutes.

And still Town plied their trade inside the crumpling Burslemites' half. Ah, again, Trotter freed by a wondrous Kalala chip beyond the far post and eight or so yards out. Or was it Boshell, they look so alike through a misty eye. The ball dropped, Anyon froze, Trotter stretched out his right foot and carefully steered the ball across the keeper and... and... and wide.

Never mind, we're on our way, we are Mike's 22. This time more than any other time, this time, we're going to get it right. Wrong.

How did that happen? A throw in, a cross, a stooping flick over Stockdale and Richman, completely alone and in the exact spot from which Trotter had a shot saved in the first half, steered the ball into the bottom left corner as Barnes shook and fell.

For a full 30 seconds the Town fans were silent. Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again. Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again. Déjà vu, déjà vu. I'll say it again...

Then the drum followed the fans' heartbeat, the inner tube of defiance inflated and we roared again. C'mon Town you can still do this. And they could, they were playing nothing. Town did rock, did roll, did pepper and salt the Vale area with parabolas of passion, with the hyperbole of hope. Trotter leapt two yards out, Hope leapt three yards out, Bennett nudged and noodled. Anyon flapped a Bosh crossed again. A corner, a throw in, another one and, finally, Clarke was dinkled behind the absent left back and bore down upon Anyon. He carefully opened up his body and, from a dozen yards, caressed the ball beyond the keeper. Anyon leapt, Trotter took off and was airborne, awaiting the ball a couple of yards out. The Town fans were airborne, awaiting imminent salvation. Out came Anyon's right arm and the ball deflected off his forearm up and out, straight to a Vale defender.

There were three minutes of added time, taken up with Vale defenders clutching their heads and helpful decisions by the referee. And that was that.

There is nothing more eloquent than the silence of a losing lavatory. Another game tossed away despite the general performance. This is not a crisis of competence - it is an existential crisis. It is entirely in the players' heads, both for Town and the opposition. Nobody expects to lose to Town, so they don't. No-one expects to not score against Town, so they don't. They arrive with the confidence that whatever they do we'll mess it up. So we do.

Does anyone know how to hypnotise chickens?