Theme Team: The 'Come back, all is forgiven' XI

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

22 October 2009

Our first team of the month request we invited you to nominate players once derided whom you would now welcome back was met with an enthusiastic response: 30 players were nominated in total.

Few of the players suggested were the out-and-out scapegoats of their day. Instead, Jostein Jensen suggested a team of players who, whatever we thought of them, went on to prove themselves elsewhere, while the dominant theme of the XI suggested by Al Wilkinson is regret that we only learnt to appreciate good times when it was too late. Our final XI looks for a balance between these themes.

GoalkeeperPaul Crichton nominated by Jostein Jensen
Jason Pearcey Al Wilkinson

Paul Crichton is covered by Jostein's general criterion of players who enjoyed successful careers after leaving Blundell Park. However, our memory is that, far from being abused, Crichton got more credit than he deserved simply for not being Rhys Wilmot. We are more convinced by Al's case for Jason Pearcey:

"The poor lad should have been a good keeper but he never really had the chance after being asked to do so much with so little at such a tender age."

With a resounding cry of "he was no worse than Anthony Williams", Pearcey makes our XI.

Right-backDanny Butterfield Al Wilkinson, Jostein Jensen and one anonymous nomination

Jogging Danny B was "steady, knew the job and had a great cross when he went forward - just ask Crystal Palace: cough-5-1-cough" (Al).

Left-backPaul Agnew Sam Metcalf
Tony Gallimore Al Wilkinson, Jostein Jensen

Al says of Tony Gallimore: "Once he'd sweated out whatever Friday night had put in, he was solid, skilful and a threat going forward. Yet we did little but moan and occasionally laugh."

Of Paul Agnew, Sam comments:

"To most he was a pedestrian clogger with the haircut of a Pier 39 DJ who, whenever we had the ball, twatted it down the line for Keith Alexander to chase. But I tell you this much: nothing much got past him. He could also play the ball down the line a million times better than anyone in the current Town team could. Indeed, has anyone tried playing the ball down the line recently? It works sometimes...

"I used to sit in the Main Stand when Agnew was at his peak, and although he was a relic from the dark days of Bobby Roberts, to me he was the unsung hero of many of a victorious Buckley side. Solid, committed and workmanlike. And very thin.

"Buckley went and ruined his career and took him to West Brom, of course. But I'll always remember his balls. Down the line."

Competition for the left-back slot was always going to be tough for this XI (and has Kevin Jobling been so far rehabilitated that people have forgotten the stick he used to take?) but time is on Agnew's side. The memory of every second-flight side, circa 1996, working out they could reduce us to panic by running at our left is too fresh in the mind.

Central defenceMark Lever Al Wilkinson
Peter Handyside Al Wilkinson
Ashley Fickling Jostein Jensen
Paul Groves Jostein Jensen
Justin Whittle Anonymous

Al suggests Mark Lever: "He was fantastic at just getting in the way and giving his all, yet I and many others would moan about his lack of mobility and skill on the ball".

Memories differ: we recall him being remarkably popular despite all his limitations. Al's case for Peter Handyside ("rarely derided by the fans" but "criminally ignored" by Lennie Lawrence) is, he admits, more a case of "forgive us our misguided leader".

Fickling was certainly a scapegoat but there was nothing in his subsequent career (in the fourth division and non-League) to suggest we missed out.

We'll settle for the last two. The case for Paul Groves is not so much for his performances in central defence but to atone for the barracking this fantastic servant received during the dying days of his managerial reign.

Whittle is a happy instance of us realising what we had got before it was gone: "Everyone booed him and slated him. He got injured, was out a few weeks and we missed him like crazy (that was the season we did quite well) and then when he was back... Shearer. Need I say more?"

Central midfieldRonald Stockin Alan Dickens
Phil Bonnyman Richard Whitehouse
Bobby Mitchell Andy Ware, John
Chris Hargreaves Jostein Jensen
Jim Dobbin Paul Thundercliffe
Craig Shakespeare Gareth Bonner, Richard Whitehouse
Stacy Coldicott Al Wilkinson
Stuart Campbell Anonymous
Anthony Pulis Anonymous

This is where the competition is fiercest, and we'll have to be a bit arbitrary, so out go those for whom no argument has been advanced (Bonnyman, Campbell and Pulis) and out goes Hargreaves, who played as a forward at Blundell Park.

These are the cases made, for Ronald Stockin:

"I remember many many seasons ago when I went with my dad to watch Town legends such as Jimmys Maddison and Fell, Johnny Scott, Dickie Connor and Clarrie Williams. There were three Rons or Ronnies - Rafferty, Cockerill and the other one - Stockin, playing at the time. Our fave shout was 'you're shockin', Stockin' and I remember vividly him smiling at the Barrett when he heard it. He played 49 league games for Town, scoring 14 goals, which wasn't bad for a no. 10 in those days. What we wouldn't give for a midfielder with a tally like that now."

For Bobby Mitchell:

"Always derided, but calmness personified and never gave the ball away unnecessarily. Obviously 'he would walk into the current side'/'we could do with him now', etc..." (Andy)

"One of the best passers of the ball I can remember at BP, but was maligned for his lack of pace and the occasional piece of really intelligent play - a defence-splitting pass, perhaps - that no-one in the team would read quickly enough, so it would look like he had just kicked the ball to nowhere." (John)

Jim Dobbin:

"Horribly derided in the early nineties because he wasn't Cunnington or Cockerill, but how we could do with a midfielder who can pass a ball forwards to a team-mate and occasionally thwack one in from 30 yards.

"His name didn't help."

Craig Shakespeare:

"Slightly tubby, ex WBA and not really Paul Groves or Jim Dobbin. How rude! Considering the tripe we have seen in midfield recently, perhaps a tubby left-footed midfielder with a decent shot would be welcomed? Tubby midfielders... left foot...decent shot... Peter Sweeney?" (Gareth)

And finally, Stacy Coldicott:

"Lawrence's right-back, Buckley's right winger and Rodger's yard dog, Stacy Coldicott gave it his all wherever he was asked to play. He took the abuse from his own fans on the chin and turned in solid performance after solid performance. It was in the middle that he really hid his light under that bushel, and yet he was only noticed when he wasn't there."

We could get a serviceable midfield out of any of them, but by weight of their two nominations each, we'll settle on Mitchell and Shakespeare.

Right wingTommy Watson Richard Whitehouse
Darren Wrack Jostein Jensen
Kevin Donovan Al Wilkinson, Ben Gresswell

To justify having the hero of the 1997-98 season in a team of players who deserve forgiveness? Al argues that we never "fully appreciated how lucky we were to have him and just how good he was".

Wrack we recall getting a fairly easy ride for his nondescript performances - playing for his hometown team seemed to overwhelm him.

There might be a case for Watson but Ben's reminder that not just Peter Handyside, but every Town player, must get stoned is salutory. Step forward the man who scored the goals to give Town promotion, Kevin Donovan:

"I remember a time when Kevin Donovan was getting a bit of stick from the lower Frozen Beer stand. Now, in a way, I can appreciate this, as looking back, maybe he wasn't the most consistent of players and he certainly wasn't the quickest but he had a lot of skill and he was a nice guy. Anyway, outraged at the time that anyone could shout abuse at my hero, I stood up and literally tore the coat off my back to reveal to all around me the letters DONOVAN proudly printed on my shirt. I'm sure I probably got laughed at but I'm proud that I stuck up for my player."

Left wingNicky Southall Al Wilkinson, Jostein Jensen
Andy Parkinson Gareth Bonner

Al says of Nicky Southall: "Laws' 'rough diamond' left us and went on to bigger and better things, a shining jewel on the left of midfields bigger, better and higher than ours. I liked to pretend that I wasn't bitter."

While Andy Parkinson is remembered thus:

"'Boo Parky boo!! Can't beat a man, can't finish, can't cross, just how did he get in the team?' Some of the positive comments from the Town faithful on Sladeball's little winger. Well, because he worked hard and could use both feet and occasionally scored a fantastic goal (Wigan in the league cup, Lincoln at home 28 December, Yeovil at home). Come back Parky, all is forgiven."

As Southall was singled out for abuse (whereas Parkinson just got his share of the flack aimed at the entire team), and is a rare instance of a player from that period who we discarded and went on to prove us wrong, we'll go with him.

ForwardsJamie Forrester Jostein Jensen
Daryl Clare Jostein Jensen
Lee Nogan Gareth Bonner
Lee Ashcroft Al Wilkinson
Darren Mansaram Al Wilkinson, Jostein Jensen
Martin Gritton Anonymous

This is another position area where we can be picky, so out go the players whose complaints about their treatment at Grimsby must be directed at their manager rather than the supporters - Forrester, Clare and Gritton.

The case for Mansaram - a player with the misfortune to start his career at the very point it became apparently acceptable to boo your own players - is overwhelming:

"He was thrown in Pearcey-like at the deep end and his obvious talent never really rose above the surface. Forced to desperately tread water during our recent relegation years he became the scapegoat for fans looking to blame. Under-appreciated doesn't cover the treatment dished out to the lad and, looking at what's followed him, that's definitely been to Town's detriment." (Al)

Al also makes a good case for Ashcroft:

"The big money: he didn't score many and he cost half a mil'. That was and is all most people seem to say about him, but I remember a fantastic footballer who worked hard. Those memories of Ashcroft's skill and determination are making me appreciate every minute that Jarman is on the pitch as I hear and read the same complaints: he doesn't score enough. Well, football's not just about scoring goals and 'Peggy' was a delight to watch - a bit Town like."

But for our final slot, we are just won over by Gareth's argument for the Buckley striker to end all Buckley strikers:

"'How did he miss that?' Turning attack into midfield possession and missing chance after chance shouldn't really be a striker's trademark. Step forward Lee Nogan. However, strikers with the ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play have been at a premium for Town in the recent past. I suppose he is 'Iron' Mike Jeffrey with a goalscoring ability."

The Cod Almighty 'Come back all is forgiven' XI

  1. Jason Pearcey  
  4. Justin Whittle 5. Paul Groves  
2. Danny Butterfield     3. Paul Agnew
  6. Bobby Mitchell 8. Craig Shakespeare  
7. Kevin Donovan     11. Nicky Southall
  9. Darren Mansaram 10. Lee Nogan  


Richard Whitehouse rounds off his email by asking: "Do I win a prize?" To which the answer is: "I'll tell you what, we'll add up all the successful nominations people make over the months, and at the end of the season, the reader at the top of the board... still won't get a prize."

The leaderboard
4 Al Wilkinson, Jostein Jensen
2 Gareth Bonner
1 Six others