The Wembley XI: the definitive team

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell & Richard Lord

17 July 2017

For the last month, Cod Amighty diaries have been gradually filling in the Wembley XI. Now we can reveal the whole team.

This is the Grimsby Town Wembley XI – the players who have put in the best personal performance, in each position, out of our seven Wembley appearances. The team has been compiled over the last month with just one rule; we were not appraising a player but a particular performance in one of our seven Wembley appearances.

The team is inevitably dominated by performances from the matches we won: four each from the teams that beat Northampton (1998) and Forest Green (2016); two from the team who beat Bournemouth (1998). Although there were nominations from our performances in the Football League Trophy (2008) and against Wrexham (2013), only one player from a defeat - at the hands of Bristol Rovers (2015) - makes the team. We all drew a veil over our performance against Halifax (2016).

The definitive Grimsby Town Wembley XI

Goalkeeper: Aidan Davison v Northampton, 1998

Initially nominated by Middle-Aged Diary and confirmed by poll ahead of James McKeown v Wrexham, and with an honourable mention for Phil Barnes v Bastard Franchise Scum.

"The most memorable moment of the winning goalkeeper's performance – the exception that proves the rule – is when it started to go wrong. With a few minutes to go in the play-off final against Northampton, Aidan Davison came for a cross, took a bang and stayed down. When he got back to his feet, he was jittery. So were we. Suddenly he and we looked troubled on the couple of late balls into the box that the Cobblers managed as they tried to level the scores. Those couple of crosses stand out in the memory because Davison had dealt with all the others so commandingly, so efficiently for the previous 85 minutes."

From the Diary, 6 June 2017

Right-back: John McDermott v Bournemouth, 1998

"The right back position is a piece of fruit so low-hanging as to be virtually a potato. How paradoxical, how right, that in a long career of unobtrusive excellence, when we finally gave him the grandest stage of all, John McDermott should turn in a performance of conspicuous brilliance... First Macca on the overlap, taking the return pass to deliver a tormenting cross from near the corner flag to the far post and so the equalising goal. Then Macca cutting inside and shooting from 25 yards. He never scored tap-ins. If Macca scored, it was a goal you weren't going to forget. This shot curved away from the Bournemouth keeper, heading for the inside side netting. It was pushed away. If it had gone in, we'd have been denied the golden goal, but had Macca capped a man-of-the-match performance with a stunning winning goal, we'd not have been complaining."

From the Diary, 6 June 2017

Aristote Nsiala

Central defender: Aristote Nsiala v Bristol Rovers, 2015

Rich Lord writes: "It was often said of Toto that he was at our level for a reason. We all knew he had the athleticism and the ability to play higher, and in the play-off final against Bristol Rovers those qualities were finally on show. Even when he appeared to pull up with cramp ('too early in the game', according to Alan Buckley on radio commentary), he played like a man who'd looked at himself in the mirror that morning and vowed not to let anyone get the better of him. He gave a masterclass in how to conserve energy and use it in bursts to snuff out any potential danger – keeping what had been an effective Rovers strike force remarkably quiet in the biggest game of their season - and ours."

Central defender: Peter Handyside v Northampton, 1998

Handyside held off his defensive partner Mark Lever for this slot.

Neville Butt writes: "Peter Handyside had a wonderful game against Northampton and any threat down the middle was nullified by Handyside and his defensive partner Mark Lever. However Handyside was brilliant in the air, his covering of colleagues when required showed his positional sense to good advantage, but it was his ability to run with the ball out of defence, especially in the second half, that repeatedly put Town on the attack, helped by his accurate distribution. Yes, he deserved to be likened to Beckenbauer that afternoon."

From the Diary, 30 June 2017

Left-back: Gregor Robertson v Forest Green, 2016

"In the play-off final, everything about Town was impressive... the entire team (and the entire crowd) pulled itself together and restored order after the shaky period that led to the Forest Green goal. That took calm heads. Even 10 days later, I feel slightly sick at the thought of how it might be now, had it not been so... Gregor Robertson again reminded us why he had an immediate and positive impact when he came to Blundell Park. A calm head among calm heads... a footballer who understood his game and the team's game."

From the Diary, 26 May 2016

Right wing: Kevin Donovan v Northampton, 1998

Kevin Donovan beat Nathan Arnold in a poll to fill the right wing position, with several also highllighting Joe Colbeck's performance against Wrexham.

"There has been much discussion of the right wing slot, focused on two strangely similar goals: a player, despite his starting position, cutting in from the left to take the ball around the goalkeeper and put it into an empty net. For both goals there is an unanswerable case. Kevin Donovan's goal against Northampton decided the match, making it perhaps the most important single goal in Grimsby's history."

From the Diary, 16 June 2017

Central midfield: Wayne Burnett v Bournemouth, 1998

Nominated by Exiled Mariner, and impossible to argue against.

"A goal scored along the ground takes a two-dimensional path. A volleyed goal, because the ball is moving vertically as well as horizontally, calls for greater technique and spatial intelligence... it seems to me a thing of extraordinary gymnastic prowess for a player to strike a falling ball at a point that is perfect not only across the x and y axes of the flat pitch, but at just the right height as well. Even by these standards, Wayne Burnett's winner against Bournemouth was extraordinary because it was perfect in time as well as 3-D space. It was a four-dimensional goal."

Pete Green, Town's greatest goals

Central midfield (captain): Craig Disley v Forest Green, 2016

It was a straight fight between Paul Groves (v Northampton) and Craig Disley (v Forest Green) for the captain's armband. In the end, remembering this team is about performance on the day, you voted by 59 per cent to 41 for Disley.

Neville Butt writes: "There must be two contenders and both were captains. Both established players. Both led by example. They brought the best out of their colleagues and both knew the value of a late run into the goalmouth to bravely head home a cross or corner. Against Northampton a Groves shot from just inside the area late in the game rattled the crossbar. Yes, either would lead a Wembley side with distinction but do we select Paul Groves or Craig Disley? Groves played regularly two divisions higher than Disley and would be the logical selection. Both wore their heart on their sleeve, but the raw emotion of Disley after our victory against Forest Green wins him his place in the side. It meant so much to him."

Striker: Omar Bogle v Forest Green, 2016

"As Exiled Mariner says, in five minutes just before half-time. Omar Bogle came of age. It is not that either goal was especially good; one was arguably an own goal, but that it went in at all was down to Omar's sheer presence. The goals marked an end. Omar was the most high-profile recruit arising from Operation Promotion: from then on no one could doubt it had been money and effort well spent. They also marked a beginning. From that moment until he left in January, we knew that, if Omar was on the pitch, we always had a chance."

From the Diary, 16 June 2017

Striker: Jack Lester v Northampton, 1998

"Against Northampton, it must be said Jack Lester was magnificent. Having missed the Bournemouth game through suspension, he was hell-bent on making the most of the occasion. First he helped shepherd Burnett's ball on its way for Donovan's goal. Then the match opened up in just the way he liked, Northampton forced to push forward, leaving them vulnerable to his mobile peskiness."

From the Diary, 30 June 2017

The last man: Nathan Arnold v Forest Green, 2016

Arnold swept to the place for players we couldn't quite slot in anywhere else, a twitter poll putting him ahead of his team mate on the day Jon Nolan and Kingsley Black's performance against Bournemouth.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to formulating this team: Neville Butt, Exiled Mariner, John and everyone who has taken part in the debates and polls on Twitter.

Send us any thoughts you have about the Wembley XI.