And the band played on: Cheltenham (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 January 2010

Grimsby somehow but inevitably 0 The Cheltenham Arms first XI 0

A mizzly, dank day in the chapel of cheese with a coach and car load of spa-people mumbling in the Osmond Stand. Oh to be at Grimsby now that winter's here.

Town lined up as they should always do, in a 4-4-2 formation, as follows: Captain Colgan, Bore, Atkinson, Linwood, McCrory, Nicky Feathers, Leary, Sweeney, Coulson, Ak-Ak, Proudlock. The substitutes were Overton, Widdowson, Heywooden, Hudson, North, The Jarmster and Fletcher. Fletcher? Yes, Fletcher: tall, spindly and young.

Breaking news... breaking news... breaking news... but not breaking hearts. Barry, the local conman, has finally been transferred from the holding cells deep inside the Findus Stand to Saltergate open prison, the home for retiring Mariners. I'm sure he'll make a good first impression - he always does. That's what conmen do. The only bald bruiser around now is the linesman with the shiny head and tiny, shiny shorts.

Polish your medals and sharpen your smiles. Let's amuse ourselves playing games for a while.

First half: The blue bus is callin' us
Town kicked off towards the bric-a-brac dots with ten minutes of noughts and crosses. Ah, now, you see, they always blocked us in the centre.

Ak-Ak roamed and Leary shinbumbled a shot so shinbumbly we thought he was opening a flower shop. Ak-Ak phoned and McCrory crimped a cross to Scott P Brown. A corner, a corner, a kingdom for a corner that doesn't hit a red head.

What are they? Big blokes with little blokes. Little and Large without the perms or glasses. It's what passes for humour in 1977, which may have been the last time they passed the ball. Why play football when you have big Julian with his friend Sandy up front?

Ah now, Julian Alsop - a nightclub bouncer, a farmhand who is really useful in the blizzards and floods when brawn is needed. A man with elbows and attitude, but the zip and spin of a milk float.

Whoops. Town cleared, Coulson peered into the distance and forgot his games kit. One pass and Richards was swingled free inside the area, wide to the left. He crinkled his crisps and the ball slipped down the back of the sofa, rolling safely wide as Colgan got out a vacuum cleaner.

They had the ball, nothing happened but headers and throw-ins. They are a pretty good pub team, I'll give them that. And we're a pretty good school team.

You see, passing the ball along the ground works. Bore surged, splurged and merged fantasy and reality with his own special brand of magic realism to shape-shift past three red dusters. The shot was blocked and rolled to Leary, who swiped his credit card to purchase a little less opprobrium from the homesters as his broiler crept a foot over the crossbar. Ak-Ak chesty flicked up and over to the on-rushing Coulson who sidestepped and side-saddled on the old piano, flashing low towards the bottom left corner. Mr Brown made us frown with a superb plunging flip aside for a corner.

Oi! Ak-Ak slinked on to a tipple over the top and kissed the turf after a meeting of minds with his marker, right on the edge of the penalty area. Out came a yellow card and Sweeney tried that trick that didn't work against Bury, feigning a shot but rolling to Coulson, whose shot was blocked, bouncing high and out towards the halfway line. Half a dozen redheads swept forward as McCrory was out-jumped and the rumble of doom began to ripple around Blundell Park. On they ran, with barely a Townite to see. And nothing happened. The volcano of venom hadn't blown.

Have I mentioned the ref yet? How remiss of me. After 25 or so minutes this weasel chiselled his name on the roll call of rotten reffing when he booked Linwood for winning an exceptionally clean tackle, right in the middle of the D. Oh, diddums, their ickle boy was hurty a bitty. That's not a free kick, that's football. Mini-man Hutton curled the free kick a foot or so wide.

Cheltenham lumped and humped and bumped: they were hopeless but hearty in their hassling. The only way they'd score would be if the referee made a late run in to the box and headed in at the far post. Or continued to be maddeningly incompetent. There we go again, Richards plunging under a Leary tickle. What a mess.

Oh me, oh my. Alsop walked back from an offside position, dummying the ball as it passed his bootlaces, and off they went to do nothing again.

The game was a messy scrap of headers and shredders; what little flow there was came from Town, about three times in 45 minutes. All of which skims beautifully over 15 minutes of tug 'o' war tussling to Feathercut slashing a low volley straight at Scott P Brown from outside the area.

And then it happened. A free kick was dinked and dunked into the middle of the penalty area and fell near Richards, eight or so yards out. Leary swept across and the ball moved away from goal in the direction of travel of Leary's boot. And Richards fell over. And the ref pointed to the spot. And the crowd went wild. And the Town team went wilder. And the petrified Richards lobbed the penalty against the crossbar as Colgan dived the wrong way. And we were all slightly happier, all things considered.

Do you know something? Cheltenham eventually had a shot on target in added time. I only mention it as there is a duty to be balanced and fair.

They are tall, we are small and the internet warriors, with the bravery of being out of range, were no doubt appalled.

What a grind, what a palaver, what are we supposed to do now? Keep calm. Cheltenham have their fingers in the own dyke. Town just need to decide when to twist and when to stick.

Second half: No safety or surprise
No changes were made by either team at half time.

Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack!

All Town, all Grimsby Town, with everything but the girl thrown at Scott P Brown. Could we do any more but not shoot so straight? Right, here we go...

Ak-Ak flew and was felled, Ak-Ak swooped and sliced wide. A corner, a corner, a cross and a corner. Cheltenham spreadeagled across the park, Sweeney ticking his tock, drawing them in and bellowing them out, Coulson smooched himself free down the left. He cut into the area past one-two-three tackles, all of which he could have fallen over. But didn't. Coulson crossed and there was music and passion, excitement but not refinement. Linwood noodled the corner over via a redhead for a... goal kick.

Swoon, for here he comes, here comes the knight. Sir Ak of Ak spun and spizzoozzled down the right; Eastham simply scythed the beaded gallivanter underneath the Police Box. Out came a chief superintendent to cart him off to the cells - second yellow card for the man who wasn't there.

Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack!

Ak Ak exchanged winks with Nicky Feathers and slapped straight at Brown's head from a narrow angle, headed the rebound up, up and away from goal. Ah, 'tis pity he didn't flash a cross to the unmarked monochromers queuing patiently behind the rope. Bore brilliantly spun inside two and was dragged to the floor by these desperate housewives, right on the left edge of their penalty area. Sweeney sliced the free kick beyond the far post, whereupon Ak-Ak loopily headed back across goal. Two defenders played crazy chopsticks and Proudlock smershed the ball in to the empty net. Fury and frenzy abounded as the linesman flagged for whatever they deemed necessary to disallow our deserved pleasure.

Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack!

Bore swept majestically through the Cheltenham wetlands on his hovercraft, with a shot deflecting kookily up and over all and straight to the unmarked Proudlock at the far post, perhaps eight yards out. Proudlock adjusted his position, leapt and prepared to volley in to the open goal. Brown shapeshifted across and threw his life at our man, blocking unfeasibly and unwelcomingly to make an impossible save. He did this to us in August. We take it personally, Scott P Brown of the ridiculous ski jump goal kicks. Hitch your shorts, bend your knees and clench your Cotwolds tightly. You may think you know who we are, but we definitely know who you are.

And still Town poured burning oil upon the rubbish tip. Someone was fouled again and Sweeney curled over the wall and a few inches past the left post. And then Ak-Ak was off, replaced by Fletcher. The crowd were not pleased with our terrorhawk's withdrawal. You could see Cheltenham quiver when Ak-Ak withered their rotten bones.

Ooh, Feathercut lampooned straight at Brown, who flipped the ball over for a corner. Another corner, another redhead clearance. Maybe this is one game Conman would have been useful in.

Cheltenham camped upon the lower slopes of their own penalty area and Town teased them like a cat, rolling left and right until a space appeared. McCrory waved furiously and continually as Cheltenham abandoned their right side of defence. McCrory crossed, McCrory crossed. Repeat dose. McCrory crossed and many boots waved goodbye and Proudlock slip-slided beyond the far post to steer over and across the face of the open goal.

At this The Jarman replaced Nicky Featherlite.

McCrory roared and Low tripped him as Coulson ran off with the spoon. Free kick, corner, free kick, corner, Sweeney left, Sweeney right, cross high, cross low and pressure, pressure everywhere but not a drop of champagne to drink.

And then the inevitable happened. They ran off and had a shot as Town took a post-lunch siesta. Low flicked over when he should have flicked under. We just wish they'd flick off back to the Conference.

And with ten minutes left Proudlock was replaced by oh dear look at them boots! It's a manly kind of fashion borrowed from the brutes. Danny North is going for those pinky boots, pinky boots these days. North won a corner and a booking, if not points for style.

As the minutes ticked away Scott P Brown took longer and longer to pull his frilly nylons right up tight and was eventually booked for ineffable prevarication. And all while Colgan was creeping further and further up the pitch, acting as libero on the halfway line, even receiving throw-ins. It was like defence against attack, the whole game sucked towards the Pontoon, their defence a whirligig of desperation and determination, nicking and knocking, slipping and chipping just enough to divert away from lurking Mariners.

And don't you just know it: someone would do something silly. Linwood, the last man, rolled a long, slow pass across towards McCrory. Good idea, let's get the ball rolling again. Bad idea, Low was stood in the way. He obligingly failed, dragging weakly wide as three thousand hearts sank in to the sands of time. And they headed a free kick wide as well, and those were the moments they got over the halfway line, if you ignore the hoiks and hoofs of outrageous fortune.

There were several minutes of added time and Town carried on attacking. Jarman fizzled a cracking cross which dipped and swerved past a couple of tinnies at the near post, a few tommies in the centre and a surfeit of lampers at the far post. A final defender missed his kick and the ball hit Bore's surprised shins and rolled out for a goal kick.

And still Town roared on. Coulson was posted to his maiden aunt, just outside the penalty area. One final moment for Sweeney to waft serenely and save the season for one more week. Nay, nay, 'tis young Coulson to spray the roses. His kick snickled up off a red boot to confound and concern the visitors' entrails and spin away for a corner. One more, one more go...

Sweeney swung, heads hung, the ball spun free ten yards out. No Robin was near enough to chirrup, the keeper was stranded by his near post behind a clump of deadwood and the goal was open and clear. Bore stretched and poked the ball towards salvation and glory. It flew, it soared, it hit some form of humanity and rose enough to sail above the crossbar.

The end. Almost literally.

What separates Town from Cheltenham? The two games against them this season, that's all. They are really awful, and we've managed to avoid beating them both times. Is there hope? Yes, they are ridiculously limited and if every other team in this division can be bothered Cheltenham shouldn't get many more points this year. Ah, but then we have to do something too. Goals. Goals, that's the thing.

And when we look upon this minor car crash in 100 days time, shall we look upon this as the day we sent ourselves down?