Twelve angry men

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

19 March 2005

Grimsby Town 0 Darlington 1

A ghostly afternoon in the gloomdome, with around 600 Darlings audible but barely visible down Mexico way. The floodlights shrank from view; the foghorn leghorns in the Pontoon bellowed out warnings to the passing ships; the tannoy played a fugue for the fog. Weird scenes inside the goldmine.

Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows: Williams, McDermott, Whittle, Forbes, Bull, Reddy, Fleming, Pinault, Parkinson, Gritton and Harrold. The substitutes were Hockless, Jones, Crane, Soames and the impending quiz question, Downey. Reddy played as a right winger-type-midfielder person, with Parkinson the leftist version. Life is very short and there's no time - you can work out where everyone else was.

Dish of the Day has been terminated. It's Player's Tipples now or, if you read it on a Saturday night, tipply players. First up it's Graham Rodger's cappuccino, which is, err, a cappuccino. It's getting all Delia now. What next? "How to suck eggs" by Positive John.

Darlington played in yellow shirts and white shorts. Hmmm, Armstrong: heard of him. Appleby: doesn't he sell ice cream by the seashore? Jonjo Dickman won the Cheltenham Gold Cup this week, didn't he? And wasn't Jason St Juste Jack Duckworth's pseudonym at the dating agency, or maybe Vidal Sassoon's rival in London's busy West End?

The referee was wearing suspiciously ostentatious boots. Far too much flashing white for our liking.

First half
The Darls kicked off towards the Pontoon without much fussiness or frippery. Town got the ball and Reddy ran riot - a 60-yard Riverdance, to be sure - through three, through four yellowmen. A fifth loomed, where he checked inside, exchanged passes with Gritton and sighed along with the crowd as Clarke stepped in like an old-fashioned Peeler to stop all this nonsense.

The mist thickened. Town strangled Darlington from both sides now. Harrold a perfect foil, heading on, holding up, Gritton swirling, Reddy whirling, Parky perky, all Town attacking. Lovely. Ooh, close; aah, closer. A cross dippled, a cross dappled. Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye; Russell resplendent in electric blue. Pressure, no chances. Good start, nice.

Darlington had a method, and slightly worrying it were too. Armstrong alone up front, supported by a legion of little scurriers; they broke quickly, they broke with purpose, often exposing the Town flanks. Russell, cheeky chappie, flashing punts to the unmarked winger on the right when everyone lined up on the left. Bull asleep, Convery crossed, Whittle necked the ball away. Warning.

Parkinson... won't use his left foot. Dribbling, drabbling, the ball ankled away, Bull looping back a cross. Nurgh, far too high. Yay, Harrold climbed mountains and nodded back into the six-yard box. Scrambled eggs with buttered scones for tea, a Town corner.

This is pretty fine, old-style Town attacking: mixing and matching, a bit of this, a bit of that, a clear and conscious attempt to avoid the lumpen lumping; even Williams was rolling the ball out. Even Whittle was trying to keep possession. Even!

A free kick to them? Why? Answers to FIFA please. The crowd were already grumbling about the referee for ignoring the Quaker goats. No, no, no sir, that's misleading - not all the crowd, just the 4,000 Townites. Taken once, taken twice, knocked high towards the centre of the penalty area. Williams remained in situ and some Town player headed it away to the right. The little hairdresser awaited, contorted his body and smooched a volley goalwards. The ball bibbled along the ground, avoiding legs with the grace of Bart Simpson on his skateboard. Cue the music. As the ball passed the final defender, Williams leapt like Homer. Cue the scream. The ball rolled across the withering Welshman to his left and into the bottom corner; St Juste had scored, to the pleasure of his Darlington buds and the invisible army in the Osmond Stand. Ten minutes gone, first shot, first goal. No-one was the least bit surprised.

The game remained the same, played almost exclusively inside the Darlington half. Come on, mist, do your stuff. Yes, a few more minutes of this and the game would be off. Gloom, doom and no room inside their penalty area.

What's going on? Can you see? I heard a noise. Shush... yes, there it is: the pitter-patter of tiny feet. It's a Town attack involving HRH Prince Sir Macca. Gritton dispossessed a dawdling Darlo in midfield and Pinault caressed the ball forward to Reddy, who mocked his marker with a shimmy and a shave, then tickled the marauding McDermott free. To the bye-line, a cross, Harrold... bundled to the ground before the ball arrived. A bit of horizontal scything and vertical hacking followed, and the Darleys cleared. Can we have a penalty please?

We can hear them now, a coachload of latecomers, burberry-capping their way to their seats, "Who are you?", more like "Where are you?". Hello, is there anybody out there?

More Mariners moogling and a-googling. Reddy zipping down the wing, crossing to the centre of goal. Harrold rising magnificently above the mediocrity to soar skywards, Russell tipping the ball over for a corner. Another and another; corners piling up quicker than a student's washing. Pinault cuddling a cross to the near post, Reddy swooping and stooping to lash the ball with his quiff; another corner as a yellow chest got in the way. Rampant Town.

Again, down the right, Reddy and McDermott, the Torvill and Dean, the Renee and Renata of football, slashing the Darley nearside tyres. To the bye-line, where Methuselah crossed to the near post, Harrold took the executive lift, nodding a foot wide as Russell stroked his own hair. It's one of those days.

"Get out of the way, you preening ponce!" The referee once, twice, thrice intercepted Town passes, acting as their midfield holding player. Gritton furious, for every time he breathed a free kick was given against him. The little things were adding up.

After half an hour Parkinson was replaced by Hockless, presumed injured, not guilty. To the delight of the Hocklistas, Town became more potent. Within a minute of waddling on, Hockless was released in the centre, drifted out to the right and smithered a low shot towards the bottom left corner. Russell uncomfortably shovelled the ball away, scooping up the produce afterwards, and placing in the bin provided, thus satisfying local by-laws.

Hockless cross, Hockless pass, Hockless, Hockless, Hockless, a cameo of Hocklicity, his claque happy, the doubters driven to some positive nodding. Lots of oohs, lots of aaahs, the fans roused to an audible volume. General contentment with style and substance. This is almost support! Ooh, nearly Harrold.

With less than 10 minutes left of the half, Darlington players entered the Grimsby Town penalty area. I understand that this news was conveyed to the nation by interrupting the netball on Grandstand, or maybe the rugby - you know, some minority sport - with a special newsflash. The Government issued a statement denying that there was any danger to health. Bull was tricked; Convery was free out wide at a narrow angle. He saw Williams and saw glory, for he tried an audacious Hoddle-like chip, which the present Town keeper plucked relatively easily from under the bar.

We're off again, and it's suddenly clear; the mist has evaporated. We can see the Town cavalry charging into the valley of mirth in all its glory. Pounding on the doors, battering against a thick barrier of upturned carthorses and old oak trees. Crosses aplenty, chances a-few. Constant pressure, but the nagging feeling that Town just wouldn't score. Macca shot! Charged down, rebounding to Gritton; charged down again. Harrold! Blocked, Reddy nurdled, Fleming in a girdle, clasped by a pair of yellow pliers. Gritton climbed over Harrold to flick the ball on, free kick given, Gritton apoplectic, Gritton booked. Gritton danced backwards with his backside thrust out, like a latter-day Max Wall. Disco Des he ain't, thank goodness.

With a couple of minutes left to half time Hockless, again, cooed. Interplay and rat-a-tat-tat passing saw La Hockless released in the dead zone between their defence and midfield. He sidled to the centre right and, about 25 yards out, curled the ball around the final defender. Starting a couple of yards wide of the post the ball suddenly arced back, forcing Russell to make an excellent parried save low down to his left. Ah, so goalkeepers can make saves in that area. Fascinating.

One minute added. They broke, got a corner, nothing happened, the half ended. One man booed, the rest applauded Town off for a hearteningly adventurous half. Passing, movement, intent, ideas, method. Everything but the goal.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Luckily there were no strawberry tarts in the boot."
"Harrold plays football as well as being tall."
"I auditioned to be the man who delivered the flat-pack coffin."
"I told you their keeper was good."
"I misheard the vicar when he said he was an expert in Swedish geography."

Second half
No changes were made by either team at half time as the extended version of Up The Mariners penny-whistled its way on and on and on. Is that twiddly whistle the sound of football?

The game just carried on as normal. Town, Town, Town, Town, Town, Town, Town, Town, Town, Town. Ooh, just for a change, Town.

Within 30 seconds Harrold had bulldozed his way through a challenge, slinked off to the right and crackled a low shot goalwards. Gritton ran behind the defence and diverted the ball yards wide with his shins. Russell would have saved it anyway, but it was an attack, a shot, something else to get us going.

A few seconds later Town had turned them back again, forcing a throw-in near the Police Box. Hockless hurled and Gritton was nudged by Clarke, so the Gritster nudged him back. The ball floated in, Harrold on the six-yard line flicked out, and a defender diverted the ball into the net. Calm down: the referee gave them a free kick for the merest of hints of a suggestion of a foul. You get pushed harder in the pie queue and do refs ever give free kicks for that? Exactly.

Oh no. Sounds like griping about the referee. That will not do.

Darlington sneaked on a substitute while no-one was looking; not that it made any discernible difference, for Town just kept on rolling. Hang on, they did have an attack. Was it now? Ooooh, I dunno, sometime. Let's say after 50 minutes Darlington broke, shot and... that's it, the ball zooming through the area from Town left to right, just missing Macca's shins at the far post.

Back to normal: the Harrying of the North continued. Forbes dimpled a longish pass straight down the centre for the unmarked loanster. Young Man Harrold took the ball in his stride, set off straight for goal, persuading his marker to allow safe passage, got inside the area, pulled back his leg and... thwoosh, over came a big boot to block his shot for a corner on the Town left. Sigh again Dick Whittington, for Harrold lolloped around his marker, thrust himself high into the limelight at the near post and lampooned a firm header a foot or two wide.

Harrold, the boy who's the thorn in their side, a plundering desire for goals, rolling down the left, chasing a tipple over the top, levering the lumbering last defender away. Wrestled, wrenched, hauled down over a 10-yard stretch of turf. Advantage played outside the area, Harrold felled way inside when free. The whistle blew, the ref pointed: a penalty? No, it's a free kick five yards outside. Hockless wellied it in true Gallimore style, smashing the shins of the man third form left.

The ball flew out towards the halfway line with Forbes turbo-charging across to nick the ball away from Webster, who swiped the Gloved One very late. A booking for the Darlyman, the crowd at tipping point, a constant barrage of verbal bile thrown at the referee.

And still the ball sailed into the Darlington penalty area. Another corner, on the Town left. Hockless curled it into the near post, to almost exactly the same spot that Harrold had headed wide from. Gritton, unmarked, floated up to the sky, and memories came rushing up to meet him. Memories of glory, of thumping headers, of adulation from the huddled masses eagerly awaiting, already on their feet. Gritton shook his head, then held it, as he missed the ball completely. Our thoughts too Marty, our thoughts too.

Could the crowd seethe any more, could the decibel level shiver the timbers in the Main Stand? "Get the book out!" For a fourth time the ref stopped a Town counterattack, setting up Darlington. Is he actively playing for them? Darlington had used up all their substitutes with half an hour left; they had to find another way to waste time. There was a lot of activity down in the away end, with an attempted pitch invasion and a lot of running around. It was all so 1982.

Reddy, past three, into the area and a shot blocked by a late sliding tackle. Darlo broke away from the corner, Armstrong behind Forbes, Williams off his line. Armstrong about to shoot... a magnificent sliding, swooping, hooking tackle from Forbes, sweeping man and ball away, retaining possession and coolly setting Town up for a counterattack.

And still Town squashed down upon the Darlo grapes, squeezing until the pips popped. Roaring, raging, the Pontoon almost dead on its feet demanding justice. With 20 minutes left we have the final evidence for the prosecution of the referee.

Gritton released Pinault, who surged and stroked a pass behind the defence for Reddy to run on to down the centre left. Reddy outmachoed the final defender, shrugging this torpid harpsichordist aside, glided into the area and tempted Russell with some fruity lollipops and animal-shaped balloons. Russell raced off his line and threw himself towards Reddy, who poked the ball on and collided with the blue forearms placed before him. The goal empty, Reddy rolling, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and walked towards the keeper.

Out came his book. He placed the red card on top, clearly visible to the Pontoon. A little chat with Russell, then... the referee stared at the linesman, who resolutely did not move a muscle, standing rigid as a juggernaut. Yellow card only. Some Town fans combusted, the Town players looked disgusted, Russell surprised.

Gritton stepped up, stuttered forward and placed the ball at mid-height to the right as the keeper dived to his left. Crowd happy, Town players happy, everyone happy. Except the referee, who took a second and then shook his head.

The crowd was in tumult, Gritton jumping around pointing to his shirt. The residents and representatives of Grimsby were not pleased. Gritton took it again, rolling it low to the keeper's right. Russell flew across and patted the ball aside from the very foot of the post. Several Town players surrounded the referee, with Saint John of McDermott giving him a full minute of invective. The crowd was in uproar, some so maddened that they lost their grip of grammar; new words were coined to describe the referee's qualities.

Fleming had clearly lost control of his mental faculties, racing around with feet and arms out, ready for a fight. A minute after the penalties Fleming scythed down a little Darling right next to the away dug-out. Their manager went potty, and Fleming had a bout of verbal fisticuffs with him. The ref booked the Flemster, who continued the previous discussions. Out came the red card and off went Fleming, who almost demolished the tunnel as he ran off to the changing rooms. Slade looked ready to assassinate the referee using just the power of his stare.

Blundell Park was not a quiet place.

The final quarter of an hour was just the same as the previous five, except that Town had one less man. The crowd was driven to near silence, barely having enough energy left to rain down any more venom upon the green-shirted strutting peacock. Whenever he came near we roused ourselves, and the fury increased as we saw him stand on the edge of the Darlington area and smile a couple of times, even laughing. Not wise. We would have happily had Mr Frisky as the referee.

It was still all Town, Darlington content to run the ball into the corners, wasting time. They didn't use the extra man to pick Town apart. They had no shots, just the points. Had George Reynolds returned? Town became more direct, unsurprising given the numerical disadvantage, but try the players did, running themselves to a standstill. Pinault shooting high, Pinault volleying against the Pontoon roof, Whittle an additional centre-forward for the last 10 minutes. Town played a 3-4-2 formation that ended up as 2-2-5, the defence being Forbes and anyone else who happened to be taking a breather. It was bit like five-a-side. Oops, shouldn't give the ref ideas.

Town just wouldn't give up, corner after corner, attack after attack. From the right curled to the far post, headed down by Reddy, off a yellow thigh, against the post and hooked a few inches wide by Gritton. Reddy drifting past two, into the area, a yellow sock dangling, Reddy stretching. To fall or pass? To pass: we wouldn't get another penalty. Shot blocked away. Hockless dribbling, crossing, headed clear.

There were five minutes of added time, with every Town attack foundering upon Whittle's head, which provided a last line of defence for our fortunate friends from the north, cushion-heading back to Russell four times.

The End.

The Town players received a standing ovation for their heart and their desire, and that they had played football as we know it, Jim. The referee decided that the safest place to be would be 25 yards from the Pontoon, near the Police Box. It's just like old times, like the start of the season: fine performance, bizarre result, with an outrageous referee thrown in to boot. To boot: possibly the nicest thing anyone from Grimsby would do with him.

For all the Town domination we didn't really look like scoring in open play; the game had this strange aura, and I don't just mean the swirly fog. Darlington were better than they were in August, much more of a team with a purpose, more pace and better in defence. But they were still pulverised by Town. They owe us six points some season.

Nicko's man of the match
No-one played badly (Williams had so little to do that it is impossible to judge him), but one man stood out. Oddly, given the paucity of Darlington attacks, it is Mr Terrell Forbes, for a perfect display. Even his passing was good today. He was faultless and, when required, magnificent in the tackle.

Official warning
I am wondering when the trial has been set for crimes against Townanity by Mr P Taylor from planet Anti-Grimsby. He started out being very poor and then failed to reach those Olympian heights of competence. It went beyond general inadequacy, where decisions are randomly bad and favour neither side to a significant degree. He actively made decisions against Town, treating identical challenges differently, dependent upon the colour of the shirt. Yet another referee who sees no ships when it comes to handball. He seemed to revel in his public flogging, enjoying the invective and disgust heaped upon him. I am sure you get the drift by now. His score? Scientists have confirmed that the latest supercomputer has been able to pinpoint his exact score, working on the same principle as the Search for Extra-Terrestial Life. REFI, using the combined power of 253 home computers in Immingham, has calculated his mark out of ten as-1,273.9867.