The return of the Hollow Men

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

17 September 2018

Is it only 14 years since the horror of Boundary Park, where we saw the subjugation of a dead manager's hand, the last twinkle of a fading star?

A blowy day of warmth, if not affection, in this crumbling land of some of our fathers, with near 900 Oldhamites contributing to the reduction of Silent John's benign debt. We see them. We hear them. They look happy, they sound happy. What is it like to be happy inside a football ground?

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: McKeown, Hendrie, Davis, Collins, Famewo, Embleton, Woolford, M Rose, Hessenthaler, Thomas and Cook. The substitutes were Russell, Whitmore, Clifton, Pringle, Hooper, Vernam and Robles. Embleton lined up on the left, Hassling Hess on the right, Woolford in the centre and we finally had players on the pitch standing in forward positions near each other during a game of football.

4-4-2. Happy now? Imagine how the world could be with two strikers striking. Will they be happy together? We can but dream the impossible dream.

Oldham. Neat, simple dark blue shirts and white shorts. Simple as that.

Why complicate life, let's get on with the show.

First half: The illusionists

Town kicked off towards the Pontoon with gusto, verve and zest, St Michael of Jolley's last three loan signings finally brought together.

Pinging, ponging, Town clattering and clanging into the equally frantic Latics. Rose confounded the crowd's expectations by chucking long chucks longily and not onto the head of the tallest stranger. Collins grazed on. Iverson, the lanky Lancastrian keeper, scooped in front of the flailing toes of no-one at all.

The Thomas Cook partnership was travelling light as blue shirts wobbled. Long chucks, corners, Collins shoved around in plain sight but the referee saw no ships, unlike the idle spectators in the Frozen Beer Stand, who saw five ships go sailing by. And a train. Thomas was manhandled, pan-handled and mishandled by the peeping raspberry fool. The ref took agin Thomas to grizzles and grumbles from all fair-minded Townites. As it is not past the watershed we cannot repeat the noises from the unfairly minded Townites among us.

Now, in all this locomotion and emotion I've lost my train of thought. Ah, yes, they had an attack. And a shot. Fizzing and whizzing from afar. Near enough to justify trippers ooh-ing, far enough away to have residents cooing.

Town! Don't hook it, Thomas Cook it.

Whistling Wes waffled behind a flailing full-back, with his cross knock-kneed away at the near post. Jaunty Jake pulled the corner lowly to the back of the penalty area and Cook arced around to swish onto the Pontoon roof. These days that justified an "ooh" or two.

There were moments, here and there. An almost, a possible, a hint of blue menace, a suggestion of striped danger. Woolford scraped into the nether regions, where the streets have no name. Edmundson hoped that the grass hadn't grown, but Cook mugged this nut on the bye-line on the right. He looked up, saw eggs being scrambled and carefully passed to Hessenthaler, dead centre, on the edge of the area. Blue shirts approached by the Hess delicately dinked into the path of the onrushing Embleton. Iverson spread his wings and, from eight yards out, the little loanee passed against the thighs of the plunging keeper and the ball trinkled around the post and out for a corner. Ah, yes, the corner. Forget it Jack, this is Grimsby Town.

Oldham twinkled in spaces, but overhit and underhit when squeezed like lemons. Cook stretched for a dink and collapsed, got up, collapsed again and on came Vernam after less than half an hour. Cook's niggling aggression was replaced by the ephemeral Vernam, the fluttering butterfly. Is this Charlie's point to prove today? Remember: Charlie don't surf.

Oh the humanity. Vernam danced through three static Latics, releasing Woolford, who underhit a cross from the left which Iverson plucked from obscurity as the ball trickled towards theoretical danger. A counter-attack and Vernam danced through three to whiffle into the blue thighs of a distant diving defender.

It all changed when Cook went off, for Town stopped standing on their toes and started to become holy watchers

And all the while Town were receding as Oldham pressed buttons willy-nilly in search of a chocolate egg. A dink down the Town right into the covered corner. Collins backed off and off and off as O'Grady swayed along the bye-line and side-footed carefully across McKeown and just beyond the far post. Hendrie was turned like an old bed and the unremarkably unmarked Lang skipped into the area to glance a loopy head over from near enough to be concerned for the safety of small sea birds all along the east coast.

Is that it? Nope, there's more. Slippery but sloppy Surridge was allowed to control and turn goalwards. Collins retreated towards Dunkirk and Surridge slapped lowly. Jamie Mack dropped to the turf and snuffled aside at the foot of his near post.

Three minutes were added. Or had been added, whatever, whenever, there were three extra minutes at the end of the first half. Don't worry, the sky did not fall. That always comes in the second half, doesn't it.

A frenetic, frantic half of unstructured swings and roundabouts ended with Oldham in the ascendancy. They had more savvy and slinkiness. It all changed when Cook went off, for Town stopped standing on their toes and started to become holy watchers. Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act falls the shadow.

Second half: The leadership issue

Neither team made any changes at half time.

Town looked the same, Town played the same. A pass, another pass, a shot, and Iverson settled down nicely to his left to sleep upon Embleton's curler.

Oldham looked the same. Oldham didn't play the same. Where there was chaos, now there was order. Where they had hope, now they had expectation. Oldham players ran quicker, passed quicker and sought out the empty spaces on Town's flank. And between their ears.

Town slowly fell apart as Oldham pulled at those ill-stitched seams. Collins mistimed a jump: the ball fell to blue and Surridge, a dozen yards out on their right. Swished with the outside of his right boot. McKeown marvellously flew low and left to fingertip aside.

A simple dink and panic ahoy. Surridge sashayed into the penalty area and across goal. Unattended, unaffected, unmolested by notional defenders, he gaily swayed into an unpopulated space ten yards from goal. Jamie Mack flew out for a point blank smother-swoop. Phew, it was the mother of all smother-swoops to cover up the bloops from the troupes in front of him.

More blue dancing and Davis daftly handled O'Grady in the D without any care. The free kick was handily crafted into the Pontoon Town defence: a rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves in a field, behaving as the wind behaves. We're blowing in the Oldham wind.

Blue movement, space, invisible men on the right, panic. Whither Hendrie? He'd long withered. Collins backed off and off and off and off and twisted infield as Surridge swung out and crackled lowly across Jamie Mack into the bottom left corner. Collins, shrivelling before our eyes, a career dissolving in real time.

Oldham? What took you so long?

A minute later, another delicate long punt down Town's centre-right. O'Grady outjumped Davis to flick on. Hendrie was far too busy filling his hot water bottle as Surridge nipped in and shot against Collins. The ball bumbled back into a monochrome void and Surridge poked low and early inside McKeown's near post from a dozen or so yards.

Collins. Hendrie. Feeling weary, feeling small and with tears in some eyes.

Town: shape without form, shade without colour. Paralysed force, gesture without motion.

Embleton was replaced by Hooper.

Thomas crackled a cross-shot which was hooked away from the line. Whatever. Between the conception and the creation, between the emotion and the response falls the shadow.

Pringle replaced Famewo and Woolford moved to left-back. Pringle. Small, stocky, neat feet and probably clean fingernails. He may have trouble adjusting to the incapabilities around him.

Remember that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. Town manage to do both at the same time

Hooper wibbled a low scraper and Iverson's fingers flicked away for a corner. Whatever. Between the potency and the existence, between the essence and the descent falls the shadow.

Woolford jinked and wellied, Iverson semi-spectacularly parried over the bar for a corner. Whatever. Whatever gets you through this night is alright.

Between the isolated moments of false hope Town were lacerated on the counter-attack. Moments lost in the indifference of incontinence of this nonsense. Shall I tell you more, tell you more, was it shoot at first sight? No, think of the children! Let's keep it above the waste. Nepomuceno wiffled through the statues and McKeown beat the ball aside straight to lumbering Miller. Fortunately Miller was less mobile or alert than any of the Town defenders, which is an impressive feat. Vernam picked his pocket while he was looking for his shoelaces.

Another infiltration and Jamie Mack half saved. Collins walked the ball away. Perhaps the Latics had taken pity on the poor and weak of the world.

Five minutes were added. Remember that history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. Town manage to do both at the same time.

A dink, a blue chase, a striped saunter. Blue enthusiasm by the bye-line and a cross from their right. Rose watched Baxter stroll into the dead centre of the penalty area, stoop and head low below the appalled McKeown.

Appalled. Appalling. There's no use appealing to the better angels of our nature. We know our history, we've seen this all before. Football is not just about the head: it's about the heart. Where is the heart in this Town?

Michael, beware the ides of Oldham. They are your hollow men, they are the stuffed men. This is the way all Town managers end. Not with a bang but a whimper.