Goodbye Yellowbrick Road

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

22 March 2008

Mansfield Town 1 Grimsby Town 2

Mansfield in March: a snagglingly persistent breeze, a sky of blue and pitch of green in a mournful yellow submarine of a ground. So this is how they will end - in a simper.

Town lined up in the fine-tuned 3-4-1-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Fenton, Atkinson, Newey, Clarke, Bolland, Boshell, Heggggarty, Till, North and the Mysterious Mr Butler. The substitutes were Montgomery, Bennett, Sir Lumpsford, Mr Shunt and Taylor. With Clarke and Hegggarty wing-ish backing in the wind, Till was consigned to the Kingsley Black Memorial Hole for incurable wasters of life and limb. A bit too cold for SPB today, perhaps?

With Boulding shrinking with age and Hamshaw the Hamster drying out, it was left to John the Baptist and the small town of Buxton in the centre of their defence to provide any resistance to the tide of time, wind and the inexorable moral decline of Saturday evening television scheduling. A tall order for their tallest players, but their shoulders and thighs are big enough.

Look around, what do you see? I see the sea of empty spaces where poor old Mansfield used to have support. Their friends aren't all aboard, for many more of them shop next door instead. It's the modern way.

And the band begins to play…their funeral in March.

First Half
Town kicked off into the gale and towards around 4-500 munching Mariners with the usual Neweyan lost punt. What's the punt of that? We don't need to punt it out, he does. Is that enough punning on punting?

Newey and Heggggarty lost themselves in the reverie of camaraderie as Arnold and Boulding fidgeted down their right. Arnold swished and swayed and slayed a shot goalwards from the edge of the area. The ball dipped and sipped at the cup of happiness, kissing the psychic aura of the angle of post and bar. Wakey, wakey! It's polycotton show time.

Butler leapt, grazed the ball on and North was free, free as a bird, and gliding goalwards down the centre left. White emerged from his igloo with a little fishing rod and a hopeful countenance as North espied this wandering minstrel and lofted a lob high, high, high into the stands.

Use your left foot Danny!

Hello there boys. Town swaggered back, cultivating crops and considering the benefits of enclosures. Till trilled, Butler winked a wall pass and Bolland lurched forward to latch on to a flick, or a clearance of a bobbly-bobblefest of bobblyness. Around 20 yards out in the centre Bolland slaughtered a dipping volley towards the top left corner. White plunged and lunged to fingertip the ball away magnificently for a corner.

The corner cleared, Mansfield hared away in droves, their custard drowning the remnants of our treacle sponge. Underground, overground, Boulding was free and flattered a shot at Barnes rather than passing to unmarked team-mates. Hey Arnold! Walloping into the side netting from their left, danger disappeared, as had three minutes. Excuse me whilst I mop my brow, this has been exhausting.

Back and forth, back and forth; Town nearly, Mansfield almost. A cross, a clearance, a block, a lunge: in and out, back to front, inside out and up and down. Town passing, Mansfield passing, we're all passing the time! Where's Tom and little Nick? Town bereft on the left, suckered and seizing up. Till? Was that you? Was it near, was it far, what's that? Town tipping and tapping, Butler backing, North nudging and spinning a dozen yards out to shoot way, way, way over and away.

Don't use your left foot Danny!

It's their turn now. There they go: up, up and away with their beautiful balloons down the Town left. What Town left? Town were left standing and staring as a cross loomed and gloomed. Barnes watched Boulding while Boulding watched Barnes who watched the ball go by; eye to eye they solemnly convened to make a scene. Thirty seconds later Boulding chased through and Barnes rushed out to swipe the ball off the little scamp's toes. Thirty seconds later Arnold swished wonderfully wide from the edge of the area. Thirty seconds later nothing happened. Ah, peace and calm at last, let's rest within this oasis and sup water from the well.

Arnold poked over from close in and the game swayed like an old flag pole in the breeze. Town pleased with push and pull football through the centre up to the strikers' feet, with Till revolving pleasantly. Butler dummied, North spun and was blocked; Bolland was blocked, Town retrieved and retained possession. The metronome started to tick: crossing left, crossing right, Town camped out in the Mansfield half. Hegggarty etch-a-sketched past his marker on the touchline with a wonderful weave and waft, but the cross drooped over everyone. Clarke swung his pants, hoping that his little arrows would hit somebody every now and then. They didn't. The penalty area was full of people, but no-one's there. Butler flicked and Atkinson almost sneaked through, but the ball rolled off his shins to White.

How is this still 0-0?

A surfeit of Boshness on the left caused the referee to lose all sense of reason. Wrestling with a bull Stag, Boshell marvellously hook-tackled, spinning on his backside to swoon away upfield, but the referee was momentarily indisposed towards his royal Boshness and a free kick followed. He reached for his back pocket and appeared to raise his arm. A yellow card? One cannot say, for the vast oceans of yellow plastic that formed the backdrop obscured much, including the Mansfield players at times. The FA really should fine fanless clubs for this camouflaging.

Around the half hour Town resumed their light engineering masterclass, with Atkinson's long throws causing minor mayhem inside their six-yard box. Butler poked out a boot and missed, North slurred his lines in tiredness and there was human pinball inside their penalty area. Till shot, a blue short collapsed, Clarke headed back, North miscontrolled and the ball boombled like a stray dog on heat. TILL, a dozen yards out and wide, slabbered a low drive through a bowed leg, under a knee, over an arm and beneath the keeper's nightshirt into the bottom right corner. Ooh, we've scored. That's nice.

After a five minute sulk Mansfield hitched up their skirts and roller skated towards Town with gay abandon down Town's invisible left. With Hegggarty joggling and Newey's mind just boggling there was no road block to their peace of mind. Suckered by a swinging hip, Newey absented himself from his position and a Hamster's cross screeched into the centre. Atkinson dived towards the frozen fish finger that was Barnes to superbly head over for a corner. The corner cried into the centre, legs pumped and arms thumped, with Fenton blocking and ambling the ball away, but straight back to the Hamster. He crossed, Town stopped, Jean the Baptiste ducked to his ankles and managed to head several feet over from about eight yards out, right in the centre. Well done young man, it was harder to miss.

Oh dear. As Town slurped towards an imaginary attack Bolly bullied his way through two tackles to reach his own miscontrol and was scraped down his shins by a yellow sock. Bolland remained motionless for a minute and was rolled off the pitch by the physio, before rolling back on with a wince and a slight mince to his walk. Fortunately Dave Moore left his antiseptic cravat at home, which is the best place for it.

In the last minute Town returned to passing ways, with Butler and Till cartwheeling through the luscious fields of daffodils. The ball fell to Bolland, 15 yards out in the centre with a whole wide world of goalness before him aching for a slapping. Bolly fell away, slashing across the ball and it skewered off his right boot, almost for a throw in.

You can eat your sausage roll now.

It could have been anything between 0-0 and 5-3, but was 1-0 to the right Town. Nice. Town were effectively playing with eight men, as Hegggarty and Newey were having a very long lunch around the fitting for their Wembley suits, whilst North was demonstrably not fit enough. Once the ball was on the ground Town were in the ascendancy, playing fitfully pleasingly with Bolland manfully omnivorous and Boshell gnawing the frail legs of Stags and bare-knuckle bison hunting on the Fields of the old Mill.

Our bottoms were comfortably numb.

Second half
Hunt replaced North at half time and Town moved to the now usual 5-3-2 formation with Till partnering Butler upfront. And Town were terrible for ten minutes. Absolutely awful.

They strolled and watched the world go by, reacting after an event like a convention of Double-Take Brothers. Fenton grew an extra inch on his waist line, Hunt sailed around the Isle of Wight, and Bolland did some paint-balling in Sherwood Forest, forgetting whether he was red or blue team leader. Mansfield swarmed forward with Arnold pestering peskily behind the wing-backs. It would have been nice for someone to follow him up his blind alleys.

Newey! What are you looking at? Strike a pose. Vogue, vogue, vogue, vogue, vogue, vogue! After about five minutes of vamping and ramping up the pressure Mr Dairylea lumped a curling chip into the left extremities of the Town area. Newey watched, waltzed and weasled left as Arnold twisted back in field with an excellent turn. A dozen yards out and wide of goal ARNOLD, in one flowing movement, placed a low curling shot around Barnes into the bottom right corner. A brilliantly executed goal but also appallingly lax defending from Mr Dreamboat, an exact copy of his listing to the left last week for Darlington's third goal. You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it.

And Town managed to get worse. There's panic on the dance floor, what are their feet for? Arnold surged between two loafers on their left, with Atkinson and Fenton tripping over each other's slippers. Past one, two and a third, Arnold drolly rolled into the area and curled a low shot towards the bottom left corner. Barnes spread himself like melting golden syrup to tip away with the furtherest tips of his fingers. The corner flew into the centre and, unmarked half a dozen yards out, some big bloke bonked a header goalwards. Barnes was dumbstruck and dishevelled, but Boshell stood on the line, dipped his head and diverted the ball onto the underside of the crossbar.

Up and out, down and back, over to the left, now the right, no Town players anywhere, another cross, another free header, and another Boshell clearance off the line. Move! Do something! They didn't. Bing-bong, the Avon lady is calling. Hide under the duvet! Where is it? Over there! No, over there! Barnes flung himself to his left and parried as the ball squirtled through the shadows and deadwood. The six-yard box was empty, Barnes prostrate, the custard was poised and a Town boot finally moved. Who? Where? How? Never to be known. Hold a séance if you want to know.

Another minute, another Mansfield attack with Boulding meandering menacingly down the centre right. Town players trotted near, keeping a respectful distance so as not invade his personal space and Boulding lampooned a shot straight into Barnes' midriff. Now can we have some sensible soccer? Nope. Arnold was flicked free down their left, the ball bounced and bounced and bounced on into the area. Barnes shuffled out quietly, like old man Steptoe, and, just as Arnold squished, the ball hit a divot and the shot shankled away-away-away into the delighted crowd of irate Mariners.

Town? As you may well ask.

Go one, ask me again, Go on, eh, eh, ask me…

Yes, a pass, and another. Up the left, finally the ball was passed towards the strikers. Till teased, Butler wheezed and welded some scaffolding together to keep the old building upright for a while longer. A weighted pass inside the full back released Till into their penalty area; behind the defence, he raced on, side-stepped a final challenge and, about ten yards out as the keeper fell to earth to beg for mercy, Till lofted a left foot shot past the angle of post and bar and into the grateful seats behind. Mmm, should have scored.

And when this the little whirlwind had passed by we could settle down in our deckchairs and read the paper. Fancy a little paddle in the shallows? Do take off your socks first.

I could go on about when Till chased down a clearance and was pulled back by our old favourite Mrs Jelleyman. I could, but I won't, except to inform you that for this crime Jelleyman was booked. You do not need to know more, if you even needed to know that.

Around half way through the half Atkinson and Bolland were replaced by Bennett and the gallant knight, Sir Jones of Lumpsford. This changed everything. Town moved to a 4-4-2 formation and there was a sense of serenity for the next 23 minutes and 37 seconds.

Oh come on, you don't need me to tell you where everyone stood do you?

Let us bask in the sunny sentimental uplands of 4-4-2 with the wisest heads in footballdom striking for Town gold. Such calmness, such suaveness, such daintiness, such a way of winning free kicks too.

With Mansfield hemmed in by the old heads, Town clawed back the mantle of adequacy from their hosts. The game was played further and further away from the Town fans, with Jones the solid central hub around which the world revolved. With just less than 20 minutes left, a clearance squiffed up high to the Town half, just right of centre. Boshell stood under the ball and brilliantly controlled it on his big toe, before surging forward and stroking a perfectly weighted pass into Till's path. Till jinked and dinked and ducked and dived: a pied piper leading the rats off the sinking ship. He headed for the right corner, then spun back towards the penalty area. Boshell stood still, in the D and waited. Till slurped a short pass Boshwards. The Bosh remained still. The ball arrived, BOSHELL arched back, tilted to his left and swept a first time shot over and away from the scrabbling fingers of White into the very top right corner of the goal. A phantasmagorically clean strike. Wondrous and splendiferous. Oh yes. As Boshell walked back he stood on the centre spot with arms aloft acknowledging the love and affection.

Mansfield's apples crumbled as Town toyed with the dying pigeon. Till chased a pass into the right corner, dragged the ball back with his right, spun to his left, Poutoned a single step over, pouted, clicked his fingers, and etched the mark of Tillo into Jelleyman's shirt. Boshell stood still. Till scootered along the bye-line, oin and into the area. Boshell waited. Till drew the final defender and tapped a short pass Boshwards. The Bosh remained still. The ball arrived, Boshell arched back, tilted to his left and swept a first time shot an inch over the angle of near post and bar.

Mansfield's response? The change it had come, they knew it all along. At first it was a load of old Horlocks and a stroll with Wainwright's walks. But finally they had to press the nuclear button. Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now! Louis, Louis, oh Jefferson Louis came on. Man, he's big. He put the sore in the Stagosaurus.

As Mansfield rumbled, their fans grumbled and tumbled out of the ground. And now the end is near, they've almost reached the final curtain. Heggarty poked over after some tip-tap-toe on the left. It was all so easy, easy like a Sunday morning.

There were three minutes added time added, as only added time can be. And these were three minutes of madness. Mansfield hurtled forward and Town fell apart. Barnes put on his cowboy boots and big hat and spent the time line-dancing as the ball zig-zagged across his goal. Boulding glanced wide from six yards out. Another free header missed and the ball rolled through the six-yard box. Barnes crawled across his line, Fenton panicked and Newey stood waiting for Barnes to pick it up. He didn't, and Newey shinned the ball a foot past the post as a Stag murmured in his ear. Repeat action, add some bounce and swerve, and Newey, again, was forced to batter clear from a yard out. Another corner, and even their keeper sneaked into the area. Everyone was squeezed in to the penalty area but no Town player challenged as Jean the Baptiste, perhaps seven yards out in the centre, ducked with Buxton and headed a foot over.

One more attack, one more cross, one more missed header and the ball splish-splashed out to the right side of the penalty area. As a Stag pursued the whistle blew... bye-bye.

Town veered wildly between incompetence and omnipotence, which is a microcosm of this season. From kings to tramps and back again in the time it takes to punt or pass. To punt or pass, that is the question they rarely answer. Town can be anything, and that's both the hope and fear.

At least we're living a life of ease. Everyone of us has all we need. You've got your Wembley tickets, haven't you?