Another gooseberry fool for tea

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

25 January 2003

Grimsby Town 1 Bradford Clattenburg 2

A bright afternoon with a pesky cold, swirling wind blowing into the faces of the 5-600 Bradfordians in the Osmond Stand. The pre-match warm up revealed yet more missing persons. Have you seen Macca? Where's Galli? Who, what, where, when and how? We knew the why - they're all injured. Muddy, dead, gloopy, the pitch didn't look likely to suit any team that wished to pass along the ground. Advantage Bradford!

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Ward, Ford, Chettle, Barnard, Cooke, Bolder, Groves, Campbell, Livingstone and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Rowan, Parker, Soames and Mansaram. Set aside a few minutes while I explain where everyone played. Coyne, well, easy - he stayed in goal. Ward at right back; Barnard the new, improved Galli; Cooke on the right wing, Campbell on the left; Bolder alongside Groves in the centre. What an interesting midfield - the unconscious, the unknown, the immobile and the invisible. Very few first-choice players are left standing; perhaps it'll be Danny and the Juniors next week, although that sounds more like a 1950s doowop group with sensible cardigans and winning smiles. Winning? Not a word that crossed many lips before 3 o'clock. Many would have settled for a sudden sea fog descending upon Blundell Park.

Bradford - the usual family fun selection of porkers and corkers, highlights and lowlifes. A terrible kit - yellow shorts with yellow and maroon striped shirt - and we half expected a public health warning over the tannoy: "These shirts can cause nausea and a loss of hope for all mankind". Did your grandfather fight a war for this sort of thing? I bet he's sorry we won.

First half

It's 3 o'clock, it's Saturday, it's football. Or to qualify matters, it's Bradford who kicked off towards the Pontoon, using their feet to kick a ball. All similarity to association football ends there. It took six minutes for either team to have a shot, with Ward twisting eight yards out to volley a foot or so wide, following a cross from the Bradford right. That's their Ward, not ours. In those six minutes the ball was on the pitch, as were the players. They, ball and human, occasionally met, briefly, but with little affection for each other, like a mismatched blind date.

The game was as one would expect, a boggy bundle in the middle. Bradford sought to use Ward's ability to foul without being seen, and Town - err, Town didn't have any method to start with. Groves and Bolder were too busy scrapping in the middle. Cooke occasionally forayed and forged down the right, but what could he do? Livingstone was sinking in the mud, the tide rapidly encircling him. Somebody call the coastguard! Boulding scampered about but kept bouncing off Molenaar's backside. And also trailed in his wake. The uncomfortable fact was that Molenaar consistently outpaced Boulding. The first quarter of an hour was what lazy hacks would describe as "a typical relegation battle".

In other words it was rubbish, but not as rubbish as the linesman who ran the line for Town's defence. Hampered, no doubt, by the low sun's penetrating rays, he was blind to everything. The Town fans seethed and raged at his every non-decision from the start, diverting the anger from the players to an official. We'd already found our scapegoat. And then the referee decided to join his linesman in the stocks, as little decision after little decision went against Town. The crowd was beginning to fizz, which at least created an atmosphere.

After a quarter of an hour, Town finally had a shot. Groves made a superb tackle inside the Town half, sliding across manfully, picking himself up and passing to Cooke in the middle, near the halfway line. Cooke drifted across the pitch and tapped a short pass through the middle of the Bradford defence to Boulding, who let the ball run past him. The little one was free on the centre left and didn't so much as sprint but glide gently across the mud and into the penalty area. As Davison advanced, BOULDING, about 12 yards out, passed the ball into the bottom left corner of the net, via the old Mariner's left hand. You know, at that point we were very happy.

The flow of the game didn't alter much: the wicked wind was blowing Coyne's drop-kicks over Livvo, way past Boulding and straight into Davison's arms. So possession was invariably lost when Coyne had the ball. Bradford had trouble clearing, as the ball kept being blown backwards, but they had huge hulks in every area of the pitch, so they kept getting it back.

There were isolated moments in this sea of dross, with their Ward proving, as always, a pest, and Cooke having flickering moments down the right. Town's attacking was principally Cooke dribbling, with sometime support from I Ward, with a few one-twos to get behind their left back. It worked, to a point, but crosses didn't reach Town players. Behind, over and sometimes caught by Davison. A brief moment halfway through the half saw Boulding almost, almost free again, this time on the centre right after being played free by Cooke. Boulding swayed across the face of the penalty area and straight into Molenaar. Yes, a highlight was going near the Bradford goal.

Now Bradford caused no end of problems. No, let me rephrase that: the linesman with the yellow flag nearly caused a riot. His continual failure to flag for offside eventually seeped into the consciousness of the Bradford players and they didn't even try to keep onside, waltzing merrily into any old gap. A series of panic-inducing moments followed, with players free inside the area and crossing to no-one. The Bradford right winger, Francis, at one time walked four yards beyond the last Town defender and the ball was duly passed to him. So offside it was hardly worth appealing. Play on, and he did, crossing through the six-yard box and out for a goal kick.

After about 25 minutes the linesman eventually put his flag in the air. The Pontoon rose as one, cheering and clapping as if a conquering hero had returned. And they kept on going, the cheers crashing in waves upon his little head, for at least 30 seconds. Around the same time the linesman sank to the ground in front of the police Box, clutching his head. Wracked by inner doubt? Tortured by guilt? Psychological turmoil caused by a necessary recognition of his own contradictions? Perhaps he had hit himself, acting upon the suggestions from the Pontoon, for he needed some sense knocked into him. He received treatment from the Town physio and there was much shoulder shrugging from the substitutes who were warming up behind him. A mystery, wrapped up in an enigma, much like Neil Woods.

Any more pie? Well, Groves tried a long shot, which sliced very wide indeed. There were no more Town shots even worth forgetting. Bradford huffled and puffled, but looked clueless. Despite having been given the right to roam they looked totally incapable of scoring, like Sheffield Wednesday but without the 'style'. Woah, hang on. Another non-offside decision. Lawrence belting down the middle, behind the defence with just Coyne to beat. Coyne stood tall and Lawrence drifted to the right and, from about 10 yards out, drove a low shot against Coyne's shins. They looked like they wouldn't score unless Town went home. They desperately needed help from a higher being.

And they got it, courtesy of Livingstone. In injury time, Town attacked down the right; Cooke was fouled and the referee allowed play to continue. Livingstone bounced off two Bradford players and then challenged Molenaar. As he passed Livvo's elbows were, like the tide, high. Molenaar plunged to the turf clutching his face and a gravedigger ran out to deal with the corpse. The referee, stood just a few yards away, immediately pulled out a red card. Livvo and several Town players lost their temper, jumping up and down, remonstrating wildly. Groves ran up to Molenaar and made his views known while standing above the lumpy lowlander. A certain air of distrust had built up between crowd, players and officials, as the referee had been keen to penalise Town for minor matters, even booking Groves for a very humdrum, mistimed tackle, but ignoring things done unto us. As any Town fan will testify, Livingstone has the meanest and sharpest elbows in professional football, so if he had elbowed Molenaar, the head would have displayed signs of damage. There were none, and he was soon up on his feet after Livingstone had finally departed. Molenaar fell to earth like an elm raddled by disease. La-La-Livingstone, 'hardest' in the Grimsby team, now there's a cat that really was gone. What price a new contract now?

Here we go again. Is the Town supporter's life going to be a never-ending cycle? What happened this time last year? Bradford at home, big centre forward sent off at the end of the first half, game lost. But at least this time Town were winning. An awful match, in terms of quality, but the Town players were committed (yes, Livvo should be committed for giving the referee a reason to send him off), with no criticism emanating from the stands for the 10 men standing. Groves had been a commanding presence in the middle, Bolder an adequate Coldicottian destroyer, Cooke a persistent danger and, above all - and send out the tribunes, hark to the world - Barnard had been excellent, really excellent. Alert to danger, always covering around the back of the centre -halves, a few perfect tackles; his distribution was pinpoint; he looked rock solid. But, but, but, the referee, the linesman, Town only had 10 players, the wind, the pitch. The world was ganging up on Town. Bradford needed help and they were getting it in spades.

Fasten your seatbelts. The second half is going to be a bumpy ride.

Stu's half-time toilet talk

"That's what friends are for - running away."
"Have we bought a new Barnard?"
"At least Wednesday aren't winning."
"That linesman doesn't know his offsides from Livvo's elbow."
"That ref's giving me migraine."

Second half

The players lined up and waited for the man nominally in charge of this farrago of feeble foolishness. Speculation was rife. Had he been arrested by the police for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace? Had Groves locked him in the toilet? Two minutes later, the referee and his little garden gnomes came out, escorted by stewards and a wary police eye. Still less joy for Town support as the linesmen switched, so that they continued to work the same defences, meaning the Town defence still had that non-flagging fool, while the Town attack had the one who couldn't stop raising the red and yellow lantern: the worst of both worlds.

Town kicked off and, despite the numerical disadvantage, had the better of the first 10 minutes or so. The first effort on goal was by Boulding, after a couple of minutes. Receiving the ball about 35 yards out on the right he twisted, turned and dragged a low shot a couple of feet wide from just inside the area. Campbell bellowed his annoyance from the far post, as Boulding had not seen him. There again, how can you blame Boulding for not seeing the invisible man?

A couple of minutes later, after a bit of flickery and trickery down the Town left, Campbell spun past his marker and from the by-line crossed to the far post, just over Boulding. And a little after that Chettle won a tackle just inside the Bradford half, took the ball forward 10 yards and thwacked a drive from 30 yards just past Davison's left post. All very good, considering, and still Bradford had done nothing. Surely they'd attack sometime? The game was still the footballing equivalent of a nine-month-old compost heap, but that was fine, as long as things stayed as they were. Chettle had played very well - in contrast to Ford, who sleepwalked through the first half, ambling and dambling about as if he was saving himself for a dinner date. However, Chettle always makes one mistake a game, doesn't he. Just the one, but...

Nothing was happening of any consequence, with the ball rolled back to Davison in his own penalty area. Adequate Aidan wellied the ball downfield, towards their Ward a few yards inside the Town half on the centre right. Chettle decided to run across from the centre to head the ball, leaving Gray alone. He was a couple of yards away as their Ward and Ford challenged, the ball flicking off into the space just vacated by big old Steve. Gray was completely alone, down the centre and trundling towards Coyne. From about the edge of the penalty area, just left of centre, GRAY curled the ball around Coyne and into the bottom left corner. Unlike last week, there was no popular groundswell of groaning. The supporters supported, attempting to encourage the players.

The goal galvanised Bradford and Town were just hanging on, trying to repel these vandals at the gates of home. Bradford visibly upped the tempo, hitting balls higher, barging into tackles harder. Crosses whipped in; corner after corner was won, with last-gasp defending, blocks and hacks as the pressure was tight as a tourniquet, dry as a funeral drum. A cross from the right was dinked into the centre of the penalty area to the unmarked Gray, about eight yards out, who headed softly to Coyne's right. An easy save done with a flourish.

A cross-shot from the left spun through the area and wide, a corner from the left headed against the bar from about 10 yards out at the back post. The pressure was bearable, just. Barnard, for once, was caught out down the left. The winger managed to outpace him and cross into the middle of the penalty area to the unmarked Lawrence, somewhere close to the six-yard box. Lawrence placed his shot as Coyne stood motionless on the line and I Ward slid across the turf on his backside to block for a corner.

Maybe Town would get away with it. A point earned in trying circumstances? Yes, maybe, for even though Bradford poured forward they couldn't get any shots on target. There was always a foot, a knee, a thigh, a head in the way. A short corner pulled back to the edge of the area? Don't worry. Groves headed the resulting shot clear as Coyne sailed towards his top right corner. A scramble in the box and a Bradford player about to shoot? Relax, Bolder appeared as if by magic, then Groves, then Barnard. They all took turns to be a mini hero for a minute.

The crowd did have something to complain about after about 65 minutes. Cooke, who was a human dynamo and the only attacking spark, was replaced by Mansaram. There was a reshuffle with Boulding retreating to a left-sided midfield position, Campbell on the right and Mansaram alone at the front. It didn't work. Campbell was still an ephemeral presence and hardly helped Ward out in defence. Boulding played more as a left winger than a midfielder, exposing Barnard to double and triple attack. Manasaram? Well, he had a couple of mis-hit long shots, but otherwise was not particularly effective.

With about 15 minutes left, a defining moment, we thought, the one to prove it would be Town's day. Uhlenbeek surged forward down their right, exchanging passes near the penalty area and flying on. About 12 yards out he fell, just like Reid did last week. The referee booked Uhlenbeek for diving, which, shall we say, displeased him greatly. In celebration, one of the householders behind the Pontoon threw back the ball that Barnard had managed to send over the roof towards Ramsden's car park. Either that or it was raining balls, hallelujah.

Hang on, just a few more minutes to hang on. Yikes! A Bradford attack down the centre saw the ball rebound off legs and heads, but always back to them. Finally Ford cleared, but it hit a Bradford player and went straight to the unmarked Jorgenson on the right of the penalty area, perhaps a dozen yards out. Coyne sprang into action, haring out and blocking the shot with his feet for a corner. Phew, just five minutes left. And here's the Town winner! It wasn't. Barnard won a free kick out on the left, about 30 yards out. He swung in the free kick and the ball drifted over two sets of heads to Groves, at the far post. Groves stabbed a half volley goalwards from the edge of the six-yard box. The ball zoomed a couple of feet over the bar and we all sat down again.

With just about five minutes left Soames replaced Boulding. Boulding had been able to do little in the second half, though he was briefly free on goal down the centre. Only the linesman's flag halted a certain goal. And, by the way, he wasn't offside, unless FIFA changed the rules yesterday afternoon, for a yellow shirt was between him and the Pontoon. The shirt physically obscuring our view of Boulding. Oh dear, this sounds like one long moan about the officials. Well, facts are facts, they were dreadful. Where are we now? In injury time, all three minutes of it, and where did they come from?

Town were given a free kick just inside the Bradford half. Campbell carefully placed it on a Bradford head, attempting to chip it towards the right corner flag. There followed a bit of head tennis with sliced clearances, and Ford knocked the ball forward off his knee. Except it didn't go forward, but sideways into a big space where no Town player existed. Bradford broke away and played the ball out to Jorgenson on the right, about 25 yards out. JORGENSON cut inside and, from somewhere near the edge of the penalty area, curled a shot over Coyne and just under the bar into the top left corner.

In the remaining minute or so Barnard was fouled near the touchline under the Smiths/Stones/Findus Stand by the youngest and thinnest Bradford player, Francis, who had already been booked. The referee pulled out another yellow and off the boy went, very slowly. It was a completely arbitrary yellow card, as the foul was no worse than several dozen earlier in the game. Perhaps this was the referee's way of showing his fairness? Of 'evening things out'? Well it didn't. Ten men for 45 minutes doesn't equate to 10 men for 45 seconds. Barnard's free kick resulted in a scramble, a clearance and the final whistle. The crowd applauded the Town team off, and made plain their lack of satisfaction with the standard of officiating.

What more to say? it felt just like last year's game against them, with many a frustrated Pontoonite wondering how a club in administration can afford ref purchasing. Only joking Mr FA, of course. All of which rather glosses over Livvo's stupidity and the individual errors that allowed Bradford, that rotten carcass, to live again. There was no reason to heckle the players today, for they tried, in trying circumstances. So no-one did. One day Town may be able to send out a first team. Let's hope it comes very soon, for time is running out again.

It's only Portsmouth next. Easy.

Nicko's man of the match

Honourable mention in despatches to Groves and Cooke, but the number one man today was the least expected Welshman on the pitch, Mr Darren Barnard. In the words of a young man sat two seats away: "He was ace!" If only he did this every week we wouldn't have to put up with the wandering minstrel at left back.

Official warning

Mr Clattenburg

You know he's going to get a low score, especially when I remind you he was the referee against Stockport last season - the one where Pringle had his leg snapped in two. This man should not be allowed near a Grimsby Town game; his decision-making does not suggest a clear mind, uncluttered by negative thoughts towards east coast fisherfolk. As leader of a 'team' of officials he also takes the rap for the worst linesmanship seen since most televisions were black and white. He has 'previous' and will forever be playing a negative joker when it comes to marks. He doesn't get points deducted for the Livvo sending-off, but he does for sending off Francis, which was a pathetic attempt to even things up. As was his consistent awarding of free kicks to Town 10 yards either side of the halfway line, in a non-threatening position. Oooh, did I mention the handballs? Well, he never saw any. There was at least one appeal for handball inside the Bradford area in the second half as the ball plopped to the ground at a suspicious angle. I would be happy if we never saw this individual ever again. Perhaps we should send someone to terminate his command. He's out there under no decent, civilised control. His methods are unsound. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Pass the prawns will you?

Oh, a score - minus 1.5607.