Player profiles: Gary Croft

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

28 July 2006

For Town fans of a certain age, there is a trick we play with time to keep ourselves sane. Rethink your common-sense view, and imagine that what we think of as the past is being continually replayed. Those sunlit days aren't lost: another you is enjoying them even now, in another view of the Universe.

Even now, then, there is a football field where, down the right, a youthfulMcDermott, and the moustachioed duo of Childs and Rees are tickling one-touch passes in triangles too quick for the average second flight defender. In the centre, the original Futch must be clued in to that old sense of time and watching the replay, as he reaches that apparently threatening through ball a half second before the opposing centre-forward. Most vivid of all, on the left, Gary Croft is being pursued towards his own goalline as full-back and winger chase a ball lobbed towards the corner. A hasty clearance into the open corner and a dangerous throw-in seem the best we can expect, but, with his left foot, Crofty wrong-foots his opponent to make space, then spins and with his right foot passes up the line to Dave Gilbert.

We kept that view warm for a decade, holding the faith as Blackburn fans complained they had been sold a pup, Ipswich fans complained they had been sold a con and Cardiff fans complained they had got a crock. We were more severely tested when he came home. In autumn 2005, the new model Gary Croft looked off the pace and off tune. Children who had watched their fathers dance a jig at the news that Crofty was back at Blundell Park looked up at their parents with a new, disturbing question in their eyes as Croft again played a pass into the centre circle, where we were being outfought, conceding possession. There were not too many murmurs when he lost his place.

In the spring, Crofty returned, on the right. Suddenly, that ability to make space was back, allied with a greater awareness of the requirements of playing for Russell Slade's Grimsby. Fathers remembered that he had done a lot of his best work when deputising for an injured Macca, and faith was restored all round. In the play-off semi-final, he stood head and shoulders above everyone as the most skilful player on view.

Town can go into the 2006-07 season knowing that, once again, we have one of the best attacking full-backs in the division. Find a new Dave Gilbert to go with him and it may come to seem as though two tracks of time have meshed, and we won't have to go visiting those other selves in another part of the Universe quite so often.

With thanks to that underrated Bradford playmaker, JB Priestley.