The haunting: Chesterfield (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

13 April 2010

Grimsby Town 2 Lesterfield 2

To begin at the beginning it was spring, a moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black and white. Let's pray.

The faithful poured in to their pews as the clock ticked on, leaving just blank spaces down at the Osmond end, where two or three hundred Spirepeople broke off from their week's caravan holiday in Ingoldmells to remind themselves of what they'll miss. They don't know how much they'll miss us, they really don't.

Town lined up in the 4-4-2 formation, as follows: Colgan, Bore, Lankyshire, Atkinson, Widdowson, Coulson, Sinclair, Hudson, Devitt, Ak-Ak, Wright. The substitutes were Linwood, Leary, Proudlock, Stirling, Forbes, Peacock and just what you need in times of crisis: a little bit more hatted Heggggartivity. After all the hype, we just had to type out the same names: same team as Saturday, still without a spare keeper though. Peacock hasn't dyed his hair and no-one wore pink boots; we're going all sensible soccer in the age of austerity.

Chesterfield turned up without our secret weapon, Conlon the Barbarian, but with a gaggle of ex-Grimsbyites ready to taunt us by flaunting their new-found serenity. Jack Lester... our Jack Lester. We can read the script. Oh, isn't life a terrible thing.

And the axe swung towards kick-off. Do it now, or die. There are no margins of error, there are no fractions in space. There are no factions in Blundell Park. We are as one, we need a win. We are together in our eccentric dreams.

First half: New Grimsby
A stiff wind blew into the Osmond stand, flapping combovers and flipping custard pies as Chesterfield kicked off towards the Pontoon. Heave! Ho! There were two in the box and the man in blue socks rolled over, rolled over. So Jack rolled over and then fell down. Nah, that's a blast from the past Jack, so 1990s. We remember then, when things could only get better.

Phwoar! Ak-Ak surged and swayed, sliding away as some bullet-headed Saxon mother's son zapped him right between the thighs. Town attacked left, Town crossed right to Wright. Wright moves! Wright fouled, 20 yards out. Coulson labelled with love underneath and through the bouncing wall. Lee watched, the ground sucked eggs, and the ball dunked off the foot of the right post, to Hudson on the far left, who was flicked into a green recycling dustbin by a swooping Blueman.

They fell, the ref fell for their falling. Allott smurfed the clearance wider than wide Jock McWide, the infamous Scottish wideman. It was worrying for as long as it takes to have forgotten Arnaud Mendy. What about Nicky Rizzo?

Whatever happened to Glen Downey?

And Town pressed on. Hudson was a hawk, Sinclair a little pocket calculator and Ak-Ak was up, up and away in his beautiful balloon. Corner left, corner right, Lancashire noodled goalwards and the ball hit a defender near the goal line on its way towards the net. Sinclair nicked, Bore roamed, Ak-Ak the Ivorian engine steamed on to Coulson. Nick-nack-whack. Coulson cut in and rimmelled a soaring tee-shot a foot from the top left corner as Lee wished it luck as he watched it go by. Cheerio, toodl-oo. Ak-Ak, doin' the Ak-Ak. It's a magnificent thing, all art and no science; it is beauty for its own sake.

Ak-Ak and Devitt mesmerised Whing and marvellously moonwalked to the byline. Ak-Ak took a touch to pass rather than shoot and some mean Bluey poked away from Widdowson's toes.

Lesterfield were being crushed by the controlled explosion of Town's fervour. But they were just waiting... waiting for the whiff and squint of limelight to burst through the curtain and sing. O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-klahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. They were waiting for the second half. Big Bowery, with his brute strength and fancy footwork, bothered Widdowson into some professional defending. Bore and Coulson double-dutched on their wacky winger Demontagnac and swept him into the sack.

I think they may have had a shot. Maybe.

Atkinson chased a punt down and firmly rapped a pass back to Colgan. The Auld Man of Larne stooped and chested the ball down before flap-jacking past the advancing Lester. The ball arced lowly towards the centre circle. Ak-Ak, our Mr Slinky, slunk down the stairs to wrap himself around Spireites and retrieve, playing chase the lady with these day trippers before revealing he had the ace up his sleeve all along. Sinclair bustled down the middle and was suddenly free inside their half. Blue shirts converged and a simple little pass was slipped out to the unmarked Wright on the right. Tommy knocked on and bumbled goalwards. Out came Lee, down went Lee, and through Lee went the ball. The unbelievable truth is that Wright had scored.

We can still do this!

Lesterfield Lestered forward and Atkinson swiped away at the last as hope turned to fear in the hearts of all things black and white. Hudson snapped, Sinclair clapped and Devitt swingled in from the left and swirled a flat shot inches past the keeper's left post. Ah, the long awaited return of the Ooosome Moment. We ooooo-ed.

Oooo again as Sinclair clipped a cross from the left and Ak-Ak snaked his neck around Breckin to glance down towards the bottom left corner. Lee leapt and lapped the ball aside one-handed.

And then we had five minutes until half time. Five long, long minutes of rising damp and sinking souffl├ęs. Lesterfield found their mojo. Lester rocked and rolled in the D, with his matey boys muddling around awaiting those faux Reesian flicks. Atkinson's left boot, Atkinson's right boot, Atkinson's head, Atkinson's head again. Lancashire's thighs, Sinclair's nose, each way and everyway a Townite blocked. A double block from Atko, even Ak-Ak went back to take the flak. Lester headed wide, Lester rolled and was free inside the D. The goal was visible, the goal was inevitable. Lester hitched his frilly nylons right up tight and delicately curled a shot a towards the top left corner. Colgan flew and flew, and grew, pressing the little red button behind his right elbow. Out come a further inch of auxiliary, emergency finger to tip aside. Absolutely magnificent. That's goalkeeping.

Lester put his head in his hands as everyone headed off for their tea and toasted buttered currant buns. It probably wouldn't compensate for Lesterfield's lack of fun, but who cares about them?

A tremendous half of football, with Chesterfield outplayed but hinting and squinting at their capabilities. This was two good teams playing good football, with Town in the ascendancy. The Derbyshire Dervishes were extremely capable if given time and space, and fortunately hadn't used their general biggerness yet. A cracking game Gromit, 'tis pity we can't enjoy art for art's sake, eh?

Lovely plumage.

Second half: Old Grimsby
No changes were made by either team at half time.

The wind did swirl and the game condensed with some torpid tug 'o' war. Someone fell, and Town lumped a free kick deep, deep into the heart of darkness. It bimbled, it bumbled and Ak-Ak chest-juggled, flung himself backwards and whipped a bicycle kick a foot over the bar. Lancashire glanced a corner, but Lee ambled across to flick his gorgeous hair, stroke his alice band and grasp the kettle before it boiled. He loves a nice bit of tiffin for tea.

Get up, Jack Lester. We know you so well.

About ten minutes in, Town surged again down the left. Devitt and Hudson flicked comedy Vs to each other and the Hud was freed inside the penalty area. He looked up and carefully, accidentally stroked the ball to Ak-Ak six yards out with his back to goal. Ak-Ak swayed left, frayed right, spun, slid, hooked and scoopled the ball over the advancing Lee high in to the net. The ground was a bouncy castle full of helium. It's on, it's really on. We really can do this. Yes we can! Just look at our faces. Have you ever seen such joy?

For moments Chesterfield crumpled. Ak-Ak back-flicked and rolled, roistering down the left. Three Townites awaited at the far post and the cross sailed, sailed and stalled on the very tip of the fingers of Lee. A couple of inches higher...

All was well, it was magnifique, it was wonderful. Nothing can go wrong now...

On the hour Chesterfield transformed themselves into Old Grimsby, with Gritton and Boshell waddling on to the pitch to a fate-baiting snarl.

Within thirty seconds Gritton had coolly, subtly laid off a cross into the path of the unmarked Bosh. Strolling down the Bois De Blundell with an independent air, he had time to reflect on his bitter memories, and walloped beyond the scoreboard.

Allez, allez! Vite! Ak-Ak shimmered down the right and crossed into the centre of the area, hitting the only moving object, the only blue forehead this side of that candyfloss kiosk by the Pier. Tommy Wright? Hadn't moved all half. He was standing near looking disappointed. The ball was cleared, the ball was nicked on to Gritton, who linked with Demontagnac, who swept past Bore and slinked a perfect flat cross which drifted and swayed towards the far post, where Lester stooped and glanced firmly into the bottom left corner. Silence. Lester didn't overly, or underly, celebrate the goal. Silence. Twenty-five minutes left.

Peacock started to warm up.

The wind, the pain, the fear, the year summed up in a game. Gritton roamed and Lester put on an aqualung, diving for pearls inside the area. At the last Atkinson stood in his way, and still they returned. The midfield was avoided with Lester and Gritton rolling towards the corner flags. Space. The final frontier.

Peacock carried on warming up.

In went feet, out came yellow cards as Lester clattered Bore and Page walloped Wright, the fish inside Page's barrel.

Peacock took his training top off and stood by the touchline.

Chesterfield had a free kick by their manager's dug-out, or possibly a throw-in. These minor details mean so little, yet so much. Town dithered and dathered, with Wright on the halfway line suddenly running back into the Town penalty area. Every Town player was back so the ball was simply dripped to Page near the halfway line. Confronted by a vast desert, Page advanced. He took a touch, took some time to polish his theodolyte, and coiled a deep punt to the far side. It dropped, it rolled, Lester swung and swept low across Colgan from a dozen yards or so out. Utter and complete silence. Lester overly and unduly celebrated the goal. Utter silence. Fifteen minutes left to reconcile ourselves with impending reality.

Peacock replaced Wright before the game restarted.

Shocked by this bombshell, Town retreated into their shell; Boshell dipped a loopy volley satisfyingly over from way out; Gritton was foiled by some alcopops and Lester tried for the twelvtyeth time to get a penalty. It's all gone horribly wrong.

Yes! Ak-Ak was freed down the left by the touchline. Alone. He was alone, no-one near, everyone far with just tiny Tommy Lee betwixt him and glory. Onwards, onwards, and into the area and Lee advanced. A-Ak dropped his shoulder right, drifted left and swayed past and stepped over the keeper. The ball rolled towards the bye-line and Ak-Ak slid and swiped and scraped the shot into the side netting from a narrow angle, perhaps eight yards wide of goal. Coulson stood with a saddened look on the penalty spot. That was the chance that was.

And the game drunkenly staggered from end to end as both teams furiously searched for the winner. Atkinson stretched; Gritton's bottom sent Bowery free. Coulson hula-hooped through three and spangled a cross to the near post, where Peacock waved a leg but a blue sock booted out for a corner. They cleared, they ran off, they nearly scored. Bowery be-jingling with his muscles and smirking straight at Colgan, who parry-punched away from his face.

There's more. This way and that, to us, to them, to me, to you. We ain't chuckling, but Town weren't buckling. Devitt chinkled a free kick forward, Lee slapped and tickled and the ball bounded out into an unmanned space 25 yards out. Sinclair and Devitt raced forward and Sinclair sliced his carrots into the compost heap.

And still Town roared on. Coulson chased a tip, hip-bumping the full-back aside. On the edge of the penalty area the defender slid in from behind and Coulson was felled, falling a few yards inside the box. Ten thousand eyes fixed on one man. The ground implored, the referee ignored. His arms moved out, then in and across his body. No penalty.

Peacock mis-hit a volley goalwards from the right. Hudson ran in unmarked and stumbled as the ball bounced up and over his outstretched boot and a foot wide of the far post. They attacked, we attacked. Attack, attack, attack. The Bosh attacked The Hud with one his two-footed scything man-sweeps, then stuck his head against Hudson's forehead. The referee booked both. Town launched the ball forward, Lee half cleared, Town launched the ball forward, Chesterfield broke. Town launched the ball forward, Chesterfield broke back.

There were four minutes of added time.

And still they tried. Frenzied, frantic football with glimpses and glances this way and that, Lee punched a cross and Town laid siege. The ball dropped to Coulson on the centre-right of the box. He stepped in and dragged a low shot towards the bottom left corner. Lee couldn't see, his view obscured by a hundred lights and a thousand hopes. The ball flashed past defenders and zoomed towards the corner of the net. Lee guessed and hurled himself as far as he could to his left. Out came a hand and a brilliant-one handed save knocked the ball back into play, straight to a defender.

Town carried on carrying on, but nothing would fall their way. Chesterfield could have won it, Town could have won it, and no-one won it. One last hump and that was that, the game ended with players flat on their backs and an epically stunned crowd. A fantastic game, a terrible outcome, with a bitterly ironic hangman.

If only. The story of a thousand relegated teams through the years. If only. This is a team, this was a performance, this is not what they deserve. Anyone but Lester and Town would have won comfortably.

We must carry on. We all must carry on. Be proud that we are going with dignity and style: not with a whimper, but a bang.