Cod Almighty | Article
by Pete Green
30 April 2003
With almost a whole team's worth of professionals out of contract this season and Town facing a million-pound shortfall following relegation to Division Two, who should be getting new deals and who should be thanked for all their efforts and wished every success for the future? The following is a case-by-case analysis of some of the players whose futures hang in the balance - not always dispassionate, but hopefully not too clouded by subjectivity (the first one notwithstanding).
I thought we'd begin with the easy one.
Verdict: GTFC must give Macca a job for life. Immediately. I would sooner the Mariners go to the wall than see him play for another club, the mere suggestion of which makes me physically ill
There are those who believe Livvo might finally be over the hill. On the other side of the argument are those who insist that he was never anywhere near the hill in the first place.
This is kind of unfair, really; and every time somebody writes Livingstone off (Tony Butcher, usually), he spends an hour of the next game playing like Matt Tees. But an hour a season is all we seem to get now. Sure, you need experience in the squad, but Livvo is fast approaching the point where experience is all he has to offer. It pains me to say it, because I've always admired his commitment to the cause, his indomitable spirit, his ability to knacker Tranmere goalkeepers in crucial relegation six-pointers. But since his karmic clash with Danny Higginbotham last August, big Steve won't even go up for a header any more.
Which you can understand and everything - I've always been terrified of headers and that's without fracturing my skull - but we're deciding whether Town ought to give him a new contract; and when it's taken ten years for a striker to score 50 goals, he needs to be contributing in other ways. For Livvo this has meant physical strength and the ability to win balls in the air. But without that aerial presence, he now lacks the redeeming quality that has justified his place in the squad down the years. So... good luck and thanks for everything, Steve.
Verdict: Town can't carry passengers - and Livvo has lost his mojo
Is it just me, or do Town have a discipline problem under Groves? I might just be nurturing the idea because a discipline problem sounds like a cool, glamorous, Premmy kind of thing to have. But in Alan Buckley's day we used to win fair play awards. You get a UEFA Cup place for that now. We didn't used to get all these red cards and six-match suspensions. For some reason, you see, this was the first thing to jump to mind when I thought about Georges Santos. Buckley would never have signed a player like him. But that is not to the former manager's credit. Santos hasn't just been voted fans' player of the season for nothing. (Unlike Stuart Campbell, who has just been voted official website player of the season for nothing.)
At 1621 hours on 5 October 2002 the British Geological Survey recorded a substantial earth tremor epicentred on Cleethorpes - the precise moment Georges Santos entered the field of play as substitute for his Grimsby debut against Reading. Outraged mothers covered the eyes of their terrified, mewling bairns. Ripples broke across the surface of my cup of tea, like that bit in Jurassic Park. Then Georges almost slaughtered a couple of Royals and escaped with a yellow card, and we all laughed incredulously. When Paul Groves says Santos has "given the team something that we didn't have before", he is not wrong. That something is mostly good and useful, but I wish he wouldn't shrug like that when he misses a tackle. It makes me think we're about to let a goal in.
At the time of writing Georges is yet to recommit himself to the club, but if you ask me he's just being cute again. He enjoys his cult hero status, and other clubs didn't seem to be queueing up for his services when he spent November playing hard to get.
Verdict: Sign him up. Division Two is no place for the faint-hearted
Stace has had to put up with far more shit from the fans than might be considered reasonable. Far from the liability some supporters have pegged him as, the shiny-pated midfielder is one of those who, perhaps like Paul Groves himself, contributes less conspicuously - you won't find him playing Big Ron's 'Hollywood ball' - and like Groves he probably suffers from his association with Alan Buckley. Even at his worst - and this season, admittedly, hasn't been his best - he remains more visible than the likes of Mr Campbell; and there are many likelier candidates for the title of 'worst player Town have ever had', as I overheard one Pontoon pundit describe him a few months back.
That said, if we had to release a midfielder of Wayne Burnett's quality a year ago despite staying in Division One, it's hard to see where the funds will come from now to retain a committed but ultimately more limited counterpart in Stacy. Paul will want to hang onto him, but it could be out of his hands.
Verdict: Worth another year if we can get him on the cheap. The callow young things coming through the ranks need to spend formative time with such men of the world as Stace
The languid, look-at-me style of Phil Jevons has not made a good case for keeping Scouse strikers at Blundell Park; but Groves apparently rates Thompson quite highly. I've only seen him play once or twice, during the run he had in the side midway through the 2001-02 season, and thought he looked typical of just about every forward Town have had in the past dozen or so years: one or two nice touches but couldn't score on the Nunny. In his favour, though, is the tremendous game he had against Stoke on his brief return to the side this year. Chris not only scored the first senior goal of his career but instantly formed an partnership with Michael Boulding that prompted a reporter from a national paper to suggest that they might be "capable of blending into one of the best striking pairs in the Nationwide League".
There is also the matter of Thompson's sartorial insouciance. The player was one of eight youngsters to sign for Town in the summer of 2001 - including Simon Ford, Graham Hockless, Chris Bolder, and that Dutch keeper and midfielder whose names we've forgotten already - and when the new intake arrived en masse for a photoshoot Thompson uniquely eschewed the regulation suit and tie in favour of T-shirt and jeans. Whether the jeans were torn is not known, but in my book that sort of rock and roll attitude warrants maximum respect.
Verdict: Give him another year and some steroids and lend him to Scunny
Good defender. Slow but clever. Uses the ball well. Always injured. Sorry.
Verdict: Get Handyside back instead
I was lucky enough to see young Steven in the second game of the five he has played for Town so far: Vicarage Road, May 1999, last day of the season, 20,000 Watford fans loudly celebrating their play-off place and praising their manager (oh how I wanted to start a chant of "Taylor for England"). Such were his remarkable confidence and poise that had a space alien arrived in west Hertfordshire that afternoon and been told that the away team's keeper was just 18 of our Earth years old, he would have concluded that his hyperspace drive had malfunctioned and taken him to the planet Liar-Liar in the galactic sector Pants-on-Fire.
But it was Croudson's debut that had got everyone talking, at home to Wolves four nights previous. The kid was miraculous. It was like every astounding save Danny Coyne has ever made edited down into one match. When the whistle blew to confirm the Kitten's inaugural clean sheet, a variety of colleagues and coaches from the Town bench hurtled on to the pitch, mostly to proclaim and worship the heroic prodigy between the sticks but also out of sheer joy that Andy Love had clearly played his last game for the club.
Coyne is supposed to be the highest earner at GTFC and Town are going to need a replacement. Get over it.
Verdict: If we let him go and he turns out to be the new Paul Robinson then I will simply die of embarrassment
Lennie Lawrence would have played Cooke every week. He would probably have played him in goal on Tuesday and at left-back in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation on Saturday, but he would certainly have played him. Lawrence was a man who responded to the supporters. Couldn't manage his way out of a moist tissue, but he had the banter, didn't he. Groves is increasingly recognised within the game as a highly promising young coach, but a vocal minority of Town fans are never going to cut him the slack he needs - partly because of the Buckley thing, but also because PG lacks Lawrence's gift of the big gob.
And over the course of the past season Cooke has become a talisman of disenchantment. Just as there are those for whom a half-arsed chant of "sack the board" is a Pavlovian reaction to going a goal behind at home, bemoaning the absence of Terry Cooke is a similar reflex response to all in the world that is unpleasant and beyond comprehension. If you've had a bad day at work, you come home and kick the cat; if you're at the bottom of the league you sing "we want Terry Cooke". You know the cat won't go and scratch your boss's eyes out; and deep down you knew Terry Cooke wouldn't have kept Town in Division One. If it hadn't been Cooke, it would have been someone else. Most telling of all is the player's own bemusement at the fans' adulation: "There has been a lot of expectation on my shoulders when I've been coming on," he told the Grimsby Telegraph the other day. "I don't know what they've been expecting me to do."
And yet...and yet...I am haunted by the effortless defence-splitting pass with which he released Michael Boulding for Town's goal against Bradford at Blundell Park in January. First time, inch-perfect, without even looking up. With no Oster, I don't think there's another player in the squad who can do that stuff. And Groves isn't daft; that's the reason he signed Cooke in the first place. So why hasn't he been in the team? Fans' theories have ranged from the pragmatic (he doesn't tackle and track back enough when we lose possession) to the scurrilous (he's a crack addict). But whatever the explanation, it's probably the same reason he didn't make the grade at Manchester City, Sunderland, Birmingham, Wigan, Wrexham and Sheffield Wednesday. Even if you don't like Groves, you have to ask yourself whether all the other managers who passed on Cooke could have been wrong.
Verdict: If only
Much has been made of Tony's alleged partiality for a pint or two, but in the dark days when I was forced into the sordid tedium of full-time employment it was not unknown for me to turn up at work a bit hungover, or sometimes, quite possibly, still pissed; and so moral consistency precludes me from counting this alleged tendency - and I stress the word alleged - against our friend Mr Gallimore. Our sole criterion here will be his ability, or otherwise, to play football, as a left-sided defender.
Having deferred to the authority of practising football managers in the case of Terry Cooke, I've dropped myself in it when it comes to Galli. Probably because of my ill-informed preference for defenders, when faced with an opponent advancing with the ball, to close down or tackle rather than run away very quickly, I am no great admirer of Tony Gallimore. And yet he has commanded the confidence of no fewer than five successive Town managers, retaining his first-team place in the face of competition from Ben Chapman, Darren Barnard and Knut Anders Fostervold. (OK, so we're pushed to describe Fostervold as competition, but you take the point.)
So in all likelihood, Groves will follow where Laws, Swain, Buckley and Lawrence led by handing Galli a new three-year contract that doubles his pay, cuts his training, and throws in free pizza and hookers. Football. I just don't get it.
Verdict: For what my opinion is worth, I would prefer a left-back who can occasionally defend; but it took me 12 years on Chammy Manager to get Town into the Premiership