Living in hope

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

26 December 2004

Grimsby Town 0 Macclesfield Town 0

A brisk Boxing Day afternoon in the amphitheatre of ambivalence, with around 100 Macc lads and lasses shivering in the Osmond Stand for that traditional festive feast of fierce football, the local derby that FIFA tried to ban. A hundred years of enmity and drooling derision - how could the police cope? You'd think they'd avoid such historic fixtures on such sensitive dates. Do they know it's Christmas time at all? See, there wasn't snow in Freshney Place this winter time.

Town lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation as follows: Williams, Whittle, Forbes, Jones, McDermott, Fleming, Crowe, Bull, Sestanovich, Gritton and Parkinson. The substitutes were Coldicott, Reddy, Gordon, Cramb and Pinault. Oh no! No Deano or Pinault, a collective cringe at the birthday presents being thrown into the bin already. Jones and Bull, so much more than a pretty face, I don't think so.

Hang on, it's Reddy isn't it? Ooo no, it's Gritton, the Scots version of Reddy: same build, same hair, narrower eyes. Reddy II: McReddy, the glower of Scotland. Ah, Gritton, Fenty's fur-lined sheepskin jacket, who cost us a packet of Spangles. Mock ye not, noooooo, he'd have been our record signing in 1947. We'll soon find out if he's a Torquay turkey and how much punning fun (warning: do not repeat phrase after third sherry) the GET can get out of his surname. Yes, Mr Kipling makes exceedingly stale puns, two of which you've just eaten at your Gran's. "Grit on the road" - very seasonal. Will he put true Grimsby grit back on the pitch? Let's hope they aren't reporting Gritton's catalogue of missed chances. I've run out of crackers.

No, one more. Why did the manager play Rob Jones? Erm, ooh, hang on, there's no punchline written down. That's not a joke, is it.

Macclesfield had a couple of big players and a large lump at centre forward, Parkin, who Slade seemed to be obsessed with in the run-up to Christmas. Big, but not ginormous, though he was only an inch or so taller than Whittle, kind of broader at the shoulders, narrower at the hip, you wouldn't give no lip to Big John. Why the panic? What's the point in Whittle if he can't cope with big blokes?

Dish of the Day: Father Christmas (not suitable for microwave ovens). Marinated old man isn't my idea of a dinner. I see, it's a dietary advice column for the overindulgent among us, not Delia Smith's winter wonderland.

Woah, steady on, put up the phaser shield. What is that bright light emerging from the tunnel? Have we ever seen such luminous stars at Blundell Park? Brighter than the average steward, more floatingly fluorescent than the average arm band, I think I'm getting a migraine, Mavis. That's a bright orange.

Did I tell you Sestanovich played in the Black Hole behind Gritton and Big Ears? So Glen Downey isn't there either? He must be somewhere.

First half
Macclesfield kicked off, which is a start, I grant them that. They faced the Pontoon, which, by a process of elimination, meant that Town attacked the Osmond End in the first half. Whoosh. Bang, bang, bang. Ball up in air, clatter, natter, chance. An aimless hump rebounded to McDermott, about 20 yards out on the right. Sir Maccalot carefully clipped a cross towards the far post whereupon Gritton, on the edge of the area, beat his marker and looped a gentle header towards the foot of the right post. Wilson scooped without fuss.

Another minute, another long ball, another rebound, another McDermott moment. Briefly free at the corner of the area, he chested down and slapped a shot through the penalty area. It didn't even go out of play, the Silkyboys knocking it back to Town nicely.

Shocker! Ball played along the ground! Gritton turned and flicked and the Maccmeister swooshed a left-footed drive goalwards. Wilson flung himself low to his left and parried the ball away from the bottom right-hand corner. Parkinson followed up, Wilson got up, and the shot was blocked by the crouching ex-Tiger for a corner.

With all of his strength Parkin gave a mighty shove. As he tried to bully his way through the Town defence, Williams picked the ball up. Hmm, he is quite big.

The Orinoco flowed back to the Osmond. Who was it this time? Gritton, low dribbler, saved easily. Sestanovich, swishing, swaying, slicing wide. Parkinson, thumping straight at the keeper. Seven minutes, seven Town shots. Always the bridesmaid though.

Oh dear, they should have scored. They ran, Town napped. They crossed, Town flapped. A little orange man burst through on the left. Bull? Hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. A cross, Fleming jumped up and missed the ball and everyone turned to look, but it was gone, Williams couldn't put his finger on it as the unmarked Sheron about eight yards out at the far post, steered the ball slowly, slowly, very, very slowly, an inch or two wide of the top left hand corner. The remnants of the Cheshire Light Infantry Regiment down at the Osmond probably didn't realise how close that was. Best not to get their hopes up too high, eh.

Don't worry about them for a while. The game stodged, glumped up in a drossy festering boiled cabbage and brussels sprout slop bucket of gunk. What is this thing we see before us, round, light and jaunty? Ted Bovis? No. A ball. What is passing?

More Town attacking, the randomness of nature played out in football form. Occasional glimpses of Town past, one, two, sometimes three passes to friendly faces, or Sestanovich. Ah, S-Stanley, the most ephemeral of presences, stuck in the middle, waiting for the ball that never came, watching the ball zoom overhead. Shards of frozen ice descended from the heavens and he took the opportunity to recreate his Yeovil goal. The bit where he runs forward, not the bit where he scores, of course.

After 18 minutes, then, a typical Transit Stan moment: weaving, roaming, dreaming, droving the Silkmen sheep to market and back. On the edge of the area, on the right, wham! A shot slammed straight at the wobbling Wilson, the ball pinging away off his chest and being swept away by a wave of defenders. Crowe, running, jumping, standing still, crossing. Gritton almost in, Wilson scuttling off his line to punch away.

Crowe again, slapping a shot goalwards from the right corner of the area. Wilson blocked with an indeterminate part of his anatomy. Crowe again again, on the same spot, smacking a shot towards the top right corner; Wilson parried as Gritton was lurking by the gherkins. And Pinault was in Travis Perkins buying some shelving. Has Billy Bragg just walked into Blundell Park?

At some point Tipton broke free, pursued by our bear. Sestanovich tracked back and collided with the little tearaway. Down went Tipton, inside the area, Stanley tumbled too. No penalty. Seen them given against us, but not for us since the days of Jack Lester's tumbling dice.

Back to gruel. A pin dropped in Daubney Street. You could almost hear Dean Gordon's ego seethe. If we wanted to sleep it's warmer indoors, you know. The longueur went on longer and longer. Errors a-go-go, Jones slicing a clearance straight to Williams. Backpass? You jest, guest. Bull sloppy, Bull slipping, Bull assaulting Harsley with an awful stamping lunge. Just a booking, you can thank your lucky stars.

The referee intercepted a Town clearance, setting up a Macc-attack, streetwalkin' through the Town defence. Whittle woeful, weak, wobbly, wrong. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Tipton and Rodger had a rumble as the ball rolled slowly out of play into the Town dug-out. Rodger stood up, Tipton followed through, some cheap plastic purses were wafted.

In the last minute of the half Town awoke from their slumbers. Gritton turned 25 yards out, drew two defenders to his celtic toenails and awaited the arrival of the cavalry. Marty G rolled a perfect pass between two defenders for the rampaging Sestanovich, who slightly miscontrolled the ball as he burst into the area, drifting wide as the keeper rushed out. Wilson did an Al Jolson impression and Transit Stan lofted the ball way over the bar.

Goalkeepers shouldn't be allowed to look like Papa Lazarou, should they. No wonder fear was in Stan eyes. Is Dave in?

Back came Town, Crowe slamming another cross shot at the keeper's head, Parkinson thighing the ball too far as he was played through on the left, deep inside the area and rolling his shot into the side netting.

The half ended, some people booed, most had already started queuing for the toilets. Well, you might as well do something useful.

Urgh. Yuk. Town had been very poor, playing like, well, a team in 17th place in the fourth division. Devoid of creativity, resorting to hoofing clearances. It was a game of chance, rather than of chances.

Despite all, Town should probably have been two up against a team that wasn't bad, but wasn't frightening, They were bog standard, a team that on a good year would be somewhere near the play-offs for a while, on a bad year within crying distance of relegation for a bit. Not good enough to go up, not bad enough to go down, seemingly a one-trick pony team. That trick involves a big bloke causing mayhem and the little pixies picking up the pieces. Tipton was a tricksy cove, Sheron a wily wriggler who has a penchant for just missing, but we know that from his eleven thousand previous incarnations.

Why was Jones playing? To counter Parkin, was it? Well, Jones only marked Parkin when great big Jon bothered to wander over to Town's left. He just drifted into the Town area and stayed all alone. But playing Jones has immediate consequences and severe aftershocks, doesn't it.

We'd like some of the good players on the pitch in the second half.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"I'm sure I saw Cramb wearing a white puffa jacket in the pie queue."
"I'm wearing my Tony Rees 'tache with pride."
"I hope his nose is the only thing that is battery operated. Or flashes."
"Town, like Christmas, have to be endured rather than enjoyed."
"You can have my ticket for the next game. I'd rather watch frost thaw."

Second half
Neither side made any changes at half time - which dismayed many, especially as only nine Town players had run back out and Gordon had been conspicuous by his absence from the half-time subs' kickabout. Jones and Bull finally trotted back on. There was a groan.

Town kicked off and had a bit of vim about them. Within a minute Sestanovich had burned some rubber down the centre-right and pummelled a fizzer a foot wide of the bottom left corner. That's post, not corner flag.

Next minute, Town played defensive dingbats: Rob Jones missed the ball on the left, Joey Jones trundled on into the area and sliced a shot high into the Osmond Stand, upsetting a snoozzzing steward. It's like a tombola of old Liverpool full-backs out there.

On came Tommy Widdrington around the 55-minute mark. Is the game so dull that they have to bring on the pantomime villain early? And what was the first thing he did? The Len Ganley stance: arms out straight, rigid as a juggernaut. The point of Widdrington is to point, of course. And be booed when he enters the Mariners' world. He was, and we felt better for it. Behind you, Fleming! And the second thing Widdo diddo was to pass directly to McDermott. He never did that when he played for us.

Parky, remember him? Wriggled and waggled, dinkled and dankled a pass forward towards goal from the centre-right edge of the penalty area. Bodies fell, Bull flew, the ball grazed an orange thigh and slipped a few inches wide of the left post. Jones had a free header from the corner. On the penalty spot, rising, nodding, rubbing his face as it sailed a few inches wide of the left angle of post and crossbar.

Oh look - they have a Tommy Rooney. Do you think fourth division managers have sussed our collective quiver at the sight of Tommy Mooney in the opposition team? We're not that phonetically challenged. Are they still playing? Am I still awake? Are you? Why?

Woo, Gritton, stripping his marker, striking a super cross from the left bye-line. Fleming surged forward, stretched and volleyed way over from just the six yards out. At that very point Gritton realised what he'd got himself into. You could see it in his face, colour draining away, eyes inevitably rolling skywards. One agent about to be sacked.

Them? Yes, they were still alive. Sheron cracked a low drive toward Williams' right post. As usual Williams dropped it, but someone cleared up the doodoo. Tipton, I think, slammed a terrific drive from just inside the left corner of the penalty area. Williams plunged left and tipped aside. Good save. Sheron side-footed straight at Williams when a corner dropped nicely to him ten yards out.

All of the above happened in a three- or four-minute spell where Town disintegrated at the back, Macclads piling in for corner after corner, cross after cross, cow after cow. Crowe panicked a clearance out of Williams' hands after a bit of bobblage and hobblage. Crowd growling, calling for Deano and Pinault. How long gone? Seventy minutes! Doesn't time creak. Reddy waited for ages before being released into the wild, replacing Parkinson. No-one seemed to moan about Parky going off.

Immediately Town were more of a threat; mobility, a bit of the old je ne sais quoi. Pace, power, aggression, some strength, some skill. Reddy and Gritton played like a pair of strikers, menacing Macc, releasing Macca, who crossed. Bull flannelled about, minor mayhem, no chances. Twisting, turning, pulling the centre-backs hither and thither.

Bull free, Bull crossed, Reddy flicked at the near post. The ball looped loopily, lazily, longingly over Wilson, onto the top of the crossbar and down beyond the far post. Macca raced forward, imploring Gritton to get outta the way, but the Gritster tried a spectacular overhead kick which ended up as a clearance for a goal kick.

Sestanovich, another seven-year run past the twelve legions of Sparta, shooting wide. Town pegging them back, at last looking like shooting, even getting some on target. A Bull shot, slowly curling into Wilson's midriff. Crowe bursting, Fleming barging. Almost through, but never with that control! Why does the ball always end up at Fleming on the edge of the box? A scuffler wide, a dribbler into orange ankles, Fleming here there and everywhere. Time ticking away, more points squeezed through the sieve of despair.

Oh, go on, here it is. Like ice in a drink, invisible ink, or dreams in the cold light of day. Here comes the judge. Last-minute tipping, tapping, Town exposed on the right. Potter free, Potter crossed, Harsley strolled in unmarked and headed straight at Williams from about eight yards out, right in the centre. Hah, been trained well. All those days training with Town weren't wasted, then.

There were three minutes of added time, which was a bit mean considering all the stoppages and time-wasting. And in this period Town went mad again. Actually attacking. Gritton sumptuously swung away from his marker in the centre, swayed left and clipped a shot through the defenders' legs, and across the face of goal from just outside the area. Crowe surged into the area on the left after Jones dribbled forward, cut inside the defender and, from about a dozen yards out, curled the ball around Wilson. All stopped, all watched, one could almost hear the ball cut through the cooling air. Smack, against the underside of the crossbar, and bouncing a foot or so back onfield, by the left post.

Macca attacked, retrieved and possession was retained. A cross, much bombling, ball squirmed out, Fleming sweeping forward and felled on the edge of the area. Reddy pursuing the loose ball in the area, unmarked... but the referee gave Town a free kick. A solid wall of glaring orange faced Sestanovich, who belted the ball against a hand in the wall and belted the rebound back against another chunk of Cheshire cheese, and then the game ended.

Cue unhappy Grimbarians sulking out of the ground to the ominous sound of silence. It isn't the so-called boo boys who sound a death knell. It's the lack of passion in the Pontoon. That's what Fenty should fear. The bums won't sit on seats if this continues. It's not just about the position in the league; it's the layers of competence being stripped away, game by game, the paucity of ambition in each game. The boos at the end were for the sponsors' man of the match decision. Irony can be taken too far: it travels round the globe and comes round again to kick you up the backside.

Tony's twopenn'orth on the players
Of the players, well, Gritton was working up a fever in this one-horse Town. He didn't have a lot of what you might call luck, but he had a lot of 'get up and go'. [Like Gordon, who got up and went? - Ed.] Interesting player: he's what Reddy isn't quite, but when the two were together there was the glimmer of hope. Gritton worked as hard as Parkinson, had the fleetness of foot and touch of Reddy and the footballing intelligence of Cramb.

Whittle had a stonkingly poor game, slow-footed, slow-witted; a series of errors, especially in the first half, had the sheathed knives dangling. Clearing against Parkin's backside when inside Town's six-yard box was a highlight, as was the time McDermott, pursued by a striker, chased a ball down the wing, back towards the Town corner flag. He kept it in and passed back to Whittle, who promptly leathered it out of play two yards further upfield. Lord Macc-the-Knife was displeased, raising an eyebrow in the direction of the Hull hacker.

The rest of 'em played to their annoyances rather than strengths. Forbes sleepwalked through half the game; Bull had no idea how to defend; Crowe occupied space and was infrequently conspicuous inside their area. Fleming was his usual self and Sestanovich liked the posing aspect of being the designated playmaker, forgetting the bit about passing to teammates.

Town were designed to stop Macclesfield. On that level it was a success. That's aiming lower than a Whittle punt and not what the dwindling denizens demand.

Here's to Town's future now, it's only just begun. Is that a curse or a blessing?

Nicko's man of the match
It was not Rob Jones. In no way, whatsoever. Really just two candidates, Mr Macca and Mr Gritton, McDermott was reliably Macca-esque, finding some marvellous positions upfield, thwarted by his teammates' dank dimness. Feeling unusually jolly and with Grimsby goodwill, though, Martin Gritton is launched on the shoulders of pygmies for offering us something to look forward to.

Official warning
Unbearably fussy, Mr P Joslin kept getting in the way, determined to stop play. The drop ball on the edge of the Macc area, when their player was injured several yards away to the right, was funny. His refusal to play advantage was infuriating. He looked like he didn't want to make a 'big' decision, and was therefore not to be trusted. The cosine of the inverted angle of competence suggests a score of 4.341. And who am I to disagree with science like that?