Fightback club: Darlington (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

29 September 2006

No animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

Darlington 2 Grimsby Town 2

No animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

Friday evenings, people get together, hiding from the weather. Were you suckered into paying £5 to park? You should have turned left. Never follow The Man, especially if he's wearing a fluorescent jacket.

We're a long way from home, but welcome to Fentydome: the future laid bare in empty plastic chairs. The disappointed Darlings and their grumbling guests disappeared into the ethylene, their chats into the ether. It was like being at a rather cheap wedding with distant relatives you don't really know: everyone sat around the edge in clusters of silence. What can brighten up this dismal, dull affair? A bit of 70s pap-pop, of course; Darlington: home of the dancing queens. The soundtrack of their lives being ABBA and Kelly Marie, their seats are quakin' baby as one boy beats on a drum. Seeing as it's Town, it feels like they may be in luck.

Town lined up in a 4:4:2 formation as follows: Barnes, McDermott, Fenton, Whittle, Croft, Bore, Bolland, Rrrrrrrrrrrricky Rrrrravenhill, Toner, Jones and Thorpe. The substitutes were Beagrie, Boshell, Taylor, Newey and Chamberlain. After Beagrie's self-immolation on Tuesday, Toner switched to the left and Bore returned. Hang on, where's that Lawson then? Jimmy Jimmy, ohhhh, shouldn't've been signed. No-one saw the ambulance that took little Jimmy home. At least Town wore the anonymous away kit: burgundy and black, which sounds like one of Gallimore's favourite tipples. Ah, always looking backwards aren't we, even for our insults. Onwards to the future, Positive John has spoken: "To invisibility and beyond!"

They need a new lawnmower, for the sweeping cuts shaved a little too much off the top. A Number One cut just isn't right at this time of year.

Town finally admitted their addiction, rented a room in a church basement and had a fashionable little huddle before the start. Our name is Grimsby and we're a failureholic.

First half
Town kicked off towards the imposing mass of upturned painted polymer and were deafened by the asdic ping of a safety announcement from the circus over the road. Please remain in your seats if any of the clowns escape.

Two Town fans wandered in late, arms wide, vocals chords open: "Ssssshhhhush" - you'll wake the baby. They soon settled down to low grade rumbles, or were they just hungry?

What's this got to do with football? As much as the opening few minutes. You've missed six throw-ins, four love-ins and two free kicks. Boom-bang-a-bang, boom-bang-a-bang, everyone knows how fourth division games start. The lions won't fight and the tigers won't roar.

Darlington began to move, began to pass, began to fizz like an old bottle of Vimto found in your Auntie Irene's pantry. Armstrong and Giallanza, the flickering flames at the end of the Darlo candle, flicked and tricked to on-rushing midfielders. A right bunch of slick flickers they were, or at least that's what I thought the pair of puce gooses in the Town end shouted.

A free kick was cleared to James, about forty yards out. He strode forward and boombled a dipping volley straight down the middle. Barnes arched back and tipped the ball over the crossbar acrobatically and excellently. The detractor fans were switched off and the corner was cleared, the return ball repulsed and danger averted...

...for four seconds. The ball was switched from their right to the totally, utterly and completely unmarked Mr Spiderman, about 35 yards out. How could we miss him - he's 12 foot 8 with the subtle touch of an arthritic aardvark. Ngoma the spider controlled the ball over five yards and lofted a pass into the centre of the goalmouth. Bolland and Ravenhill watched the ball drift over their heads and the Town defence stood away from their Darlo counterparts as Smith cushioned a lovely lay-off to the right side of the box. Armstrong scobby-dooby-dooed behind Fenton and smershed a volley into the right side of the net from a dozen yards. Six minutes gone and a little peek behind the curtains had revealed a wizened old wizard. I wish they wouldn't keep letting daylight in on tragic.

Town's response was to get a couple of corners. Nothing but the usual Mr Micawber tactics here. Around this time Jones the Blob had some kind of loopiness near goal with the ball allegedly hitting his body, then drooping into the arms of Russell. Ah, pity Jones, time is as fast as the slowest thing and he makes Livvo look like a lithe Lambourghini. We want our Lump back. No, not the Lump back of Notre Dame: our Lumpaldinho.

Oh, another long shot from the tricky-dicky Darlings: wide, or high, one of the two, perhaps even both. Did you know that the world epicentre of street art, the centre of London's urban cool, is Grimsby Street. It's also called tagging, isn't it. How Grimsby. Twenty minutes gone and Russell hasn't had to make a save yet. How Grimsby.

I forgot Bore was playing. Ah-ha, his ephemeral presence does not make him any less vibrant or culturally significant, as they are always saying in the bohemian art galleries down the back of Freeman Street. A spin, nip and tuck, and in one leap our hero was free. The game is afoot! Bounding infield, bundling through alleged tackles, Bore terrified with pace and tickled a terrific teasing pass between two stray Quakers. Ravenhill burst forward into the penalty area, near the corner, took one touch and thumped a shot across Russell, who flung himself to his right to parry-punch away from danger. Excellent pass, excellent shot, excellent save. Grrr to the last bit.

The game droned on, with Darlo comfortable in possession and a hooped blur of constant movement up front. They played football, not as we know it Jim, but as we knew it. I wonder what their defence is like?

Will we ever know? After twenty five minutes, back Darlo came with a spell of pressure. The ball was knocked into the centre with a whirl of dervishing Darlings spinning around Whittle and Fenton. A flick to the left and Fenton smeared the ball upfield with an overhead hook. The ball went straight to a little lad, who calmly collected his thoughts in a little colouring book and passed sideways to Spiderman, whose first name appears to be Kalashnikov. No Town player approached, so he rolled the ball into Armstrong on the edge of the penalty area, right in the centre. Whittle fell as Armstrong spun the ball a yard to the left. Smith wandered along the High Street, threw away his old shoes, did a handstand, some hopscotch and calmly prodded the ball into the bottom right corner. On the touchline Watkiss was crouched on his knees frantically looking for runaway fleas as Bolland, in despair, threw his hands in the air. Much like the Town 200 behind that goal. Perhaps if Mr Bolland had been awake such calamity could have been avoided?

Are we loathsome tonight? Did you miss them tonight? I'm sure you're sorry the defence keeps drifting apart. The chairs in Rodger's parlour seem empty and bare.

We've been here so many times before, we know it can get much worse. Batten down the hatches, open the groan box, prepare yourself to thrash Lumpy's hide. Come in scapegoat number 19, your time is up?

Woah, woah, woah. The only way is up, maybe if we can harness the power of positive John's thoughts we can turn our sorrow into wonder. Close your eyes, count to three: let's dream alone, don't sigh, don't groan. Life is only what you wonder. Ah, you're wondering who the next manager will be. It depends what you mean by positive, I suppose.

Town had a couple of crosses which were of interest only to those who wear cagoules in daylight hours in built-up areas without the need for a licence from the local authority. So far nothing to rouse the patient from its coma. Mmm, Toner turned infield and his shot wibbled off a Darlington toe and a foot wide of the left post. Bore bleated the corner into the centre and Fenton rose as he did on Tuesday to plonk as free header just over the angle of post and bar, unlike Tuesday. Signs of life or the death throes of an old walrus?

Armstrong wobbled a shot just over the bar from 30 yards. It excited someone out there in the dark distance; I heard someone cough and another snigger. Darlington started to show off with volleyed back-heels and cartwheels across the floor. We had long since started to feel seasick as their crowd called out for more, and more and more. We're a figure of fun, Mariners mocked by minions.

Toner hoiked a cross to the far post and Bore hooked the ball back over Russell towards Thorpe a couple of yards out. A big defender rose to graze the ball off the line. Toner then curled a free kick way over the bar and the minutes crawled on as Darlo crawled forward. Smith looped a header on to the roof of the net in a rare attempt to score a goal rather than points for style. These strutting hoops playing to the gallery, thigh-slapping and arch comments flying over our heads and over the bar.

With five minutes left Croft swished a dipping, dripping cross beyond the far post and Russell scrambled across his goal-line as Thorpe and Bore waited. Bore nodded, Russell, at point blank range, flung his hand up in the air and brilliantly pushed the ball over the crossbar. One day it's possible he may play just averagely against us. Do we inspire him or something? It gradually dawned that Darlington didn't have a defence, more like four men standing a little behind the rest itching to get in on the fun. No wonder they need a good goalkeeper.

In the last minute of the half Darlington nearly scored again, with a carbon copy chip, flip, flick and trick on the edge of the area. Smith, against all odds, managed to mis-hit a shot straight at Barnes from about 10 yards out. Time for the half-time grumble sandwich. Will we be fortified by food? Tea and toasted buttered currant buns can't compensate for a lack of fun. Darlington were soft, but Town were squishy, neither could support a jelly rabbit, but at least Darlo looked pretty.

Town, loathe them or leave them, you can ignore them.

Second half
Neither team made any changes at half time.

Darlo had a shot, which Barnes saved, then a header which stumbled through the penalty area. So far, so normal: Town yawning their way through the second half. Town fans silent, sullen, and rousing themselves into a lather of indignation. A petition was started demanding severed heads on pikes on top of the Pontoon by dawn's early light. It was like an old episode of The Rag Trade: we wanted everybody out.

Then Darlington heard a twig snap and started to panic. Town started to push and pull, Jones to win headers, Thorpe to rumble around and be a right pest. Thorpe persisted in harrying Holloway, who stumbled and grumbled, before turning into Jones about 25 yards out on the Town right. From Blob to a Lump he transformed himself before our very eyes with a gentle touch through to Thorpe, just inside the area. Tiny Tony turned and cracked a shot underneath Russell and into the bottom right corner of the goal. The irritating linesman flagged for offside. No-one in our end of the ground saw an offside, honest John.

It was all Town: Jones won more headers and Bore started to schmooze; Toner crossing and Croft raiding; more crosses and corners and crosses and throw-ins. The pressure was rising by the minute. A cross curled into the far post and James hustled the ball out for another corner. He was booked and almost cried - we cried laughing as he'd done nothing.

Town broke, with Thorpe tickling and the famous Jones glacier crept towards the Darlington area. Lumpy waited and waited and rolled the ball across the area to Croft, who bedraggled a shot wide from 20 yards. Bore crossed deeply and the ball swirled through the area; feet dangled, heads dropped and the ball was scoopled away. Darlington 's whip don't crack anymore.

C'mon Town give us some false hope.

With 25 minutes left Barnes walloped a huge kick downfield, on the Town centre left. Thorpe stood under the ball, swung his pants and turned his marker, racing off towards goal. Holloway swooned majestically back and poked the ball off Thorpe's toes, rolling the ball towards a snoozing team mate. Bolland stood in the way and the ball rebounded back into the area. Thorpe snapped into life and managed to convincingly fall over Holloway's outstretched leg. A penalty was awarded and a red card: is this our lucky day? Toner stepped forward and rolled the ball into the bottom left corner as Russell dived right. Toner collected the ball and joined Bolland and Bore in some light hand gestures representing grit and determination.

Darlington fell apart, sulking at their ill-fortune and generally resembling Town these last couple of months. It must be something to do with wearing girlie socks, or having shirts which look like big girls' blouses. What heart, what resilience? None from them, loads from us. The game was played out below the Town 200, with Mariners dominant. Magnificent, wonderful, but still losing. Who is this bursting down the left? Can't remember. Someone, in burgundy, booming a big cross beyond the far post. Thorpe rose on the bye-line and headed down firmly. The ball bounced off the post and back on to a quacking Quakerboy. Bore banged the corner in and bodies battled, heads nodded and eventually the ball dropped thirty yards out. Toner stood back and gavoobled a supreme dipping volley. Russell leant back and managed to get the tippiest finger onto the ball, sending it against the underside of the crossbar. Thorpe followed up, rose and, from three yards out, nodded back. Russell got up, threw himself at man and ball and slurped it aside. Scramble, hamble, bamble, bumble, bimble.. letters.. words.. sounds...excitement...jump up and down and say "woooooo" a lot.

C'mon lads we can still do this!

Jones breaking, Thorpe again teasing, the entire Town team sat inside the Darlington half. Cross after cross sliced clear, diced near goal and Whittle down the wing. We have everything, we are the lizard kings. Town were intelligent with Fenton the fulcrum, Toner the ticking bomb, waiting to explode, dictating from the centre as Town played with three up front. Bore tricking, slipping passes and sliding crosses, causing minor moments of peril; Toner's fantastic threaded clip into the centre, hacked away to freedom. Thorpe at the near post, Jones at the far post, Russell hopping left and right and left again. Dizzy, his head is spinning like a whirlpool, Town's incessant attacking never ended. Thorpe crossed from the left, Ravenhill drifted beyond the defence, unmarked 8 yards out. Falling, falling, heading wide as Russell squawked at his static defenders. Ravenhill again steering over from the edge of the area as Darlington stuffed their duvet and crouched underneath with a torch, hoping the boogie men would go away. Is it morning yet, mum?

Spiderman nearly headed an own goal, McDermott was encamped on the corner of their penalty area, but he was wilting, wilting, unable to get past the final man. Wiseguy Macca kept the clock ticking, possession retained, the ball flicking from left to right, to left to right, all through Toner; the bigger clearances ended up with Fenton. With less than ten minutes left Fenton advanced down the centre, got out his sand-wedge, lofted a perfect chip over the defence and into the penalty area. Thorpe sneaked through his marker's legs, stretched out his boot and brought the ball down. Fifteen yards out, behind the defence with Russell haring out towards him, the pocket pest rolled his shoulders and pirouetted to his left, sending all hoops towards the Town centre for a gin and tonic. He prepared to roll the ball into the net but Spiderman and his rusty sidekick thwarted his evil plans, stabbing the ball away from goal. Ravenhill raced in and tackled the ball into the empty net from near the penalty spot.

C'mon lads we can still win this!

Onwards Town roared, the force was strong in this one. Bore, Bore through on goal, rolling raiding, ricketting his shot five yards wide. What do you mean handball linesman? Town caressed the ball down the right touchline and Thorpe chased, harried and turned into the area. Bolland sprinted into the box, unmarked, yelling and a-yapping for a pass. The pass was duly delivered into his path. Bolland set himself and was shoulder barged away as he prepared for glory. Stop moaning, we all know that was legal in 1953.

With three minutes left Newey replaced McDermott and Town were a little fortunate on a couple of occasions when Bolland slipped, but Conlon decided to go on a whistle-stop tour of the delights of Darlington Town centre. How did he manage to use eight seconds of his life doing this? Fenton did his obligatory under hit back pass, with Barnes just managing to fly-hack clear. And one of them had a shot which deflected off Croft and looped over. This may have been much earlier, but you and I don't care about that do we. Or when Croft slipped and one of their substitutes had a shot form about a dozen yards which hit Whittle. Little moments where fortune favoured Town.

Oh that's it, it's over. Walk on by. Plucky or lucky? Take your pick, if you want to be grim, then you can join the cap'n'rant brigade - in a chorus of "Boo Rodgerses unsort it". He'll never get sacked if they play like they did in the second half, for indeed it was sorted at half time. There was something there that's been missing this season - sensible socks. That's what did it. And determination from the players. The seeds of recovery were evident before the sending off, for the midfield were moving more, and the front two weren't chasing punts. The Lump became effective and Thorpe was a lingering menace.

It wasn't perfect but it's something. Perhaps there is life in the dead dog yet.

Nicko's unsponsored man of the match
It was a mixed up, muddle up, shook up Town, 'cept for our Toner, C-ai-ran Toner. For second half dominance and first half adequacy Toner gets the nod over Fenton, who still made his obligatory mistake-and-a-half per game. Toner simply ran the second half. It's you, it has to be you, Ciaran Toner.

Official Warning
Mr M Jones. A fantastic referee for giving us a penalty and sending off a player too. Would have been nice if he'd given us another one when there really was contact, but you can't have everything I suppose. Despite having one linesman who wouldn't give Darlington offside but just couldn't stop flagging Town he performed perfectly well for us. I won't be calling this Mr Jones, so 7.543 for not being swayed by the braying dozens from Darlo.

The Others
Lovely to watch going forward, they seemingly have no defenders, just four men standing a bit further back from the rest. They really do need that goalkeeper, or does he only play a blinder against us? If you'd dropped in from Planet Hollywood you'd have swooned over some of their passing and movement in the first half but they preferred showboating to good housekeeping. They'll avoid promotion again if they continue to show off. They were good-time johnnies who disappeared when the boots flew. C+ can do better: a waste of talent, must concentrate more if they want to pass their GCSEs.