Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
11 January 2003
Franchise Football Club 3 Grimsby Town 3
A bright, chilly, windless day in dreary, weary old south-east London. Humanity? Nowhere to be seen: the occasional old lady pottering to buy some carrots for her boiling beef; two policeman walking back from the shops with their sandwiches; a young man returning a video cassette...but no football fans. Not unless you count the eight men wearing blue and yellow scarves, munching some weedy-looking chips, as football fans. They were chips, but not as we know them.
The surrealism continued as all fans were sent to the same ticket office, waiting for the Palace fans to finish their futile attempts to purchase FA cup tickets. And when we finally got to the front of the queue, after about 30 seconds, they asked for our names. Yes, the tickets were personalised, perhaps as part of a Crowd Reunited scheme, where we get invited back once a year to recreate that oh-so-special occasion, when I was the only boy at the game, and you were the only girl. Well, history in the making, perhaps - would we fall below the 849 for their Rotherham game? At 2:47 there were more Town fans than supporters of the team claiming to be called Wimbledon. Come to think of it, there were more Town players on the pitch than 'home fans'.
The signs were not good, as the Town end (behind a goal, to the right as seen on TV) started to fill up, reaching perhaps 200, though the big stand opposite looked as dead as a dodo. Some Franchise XI trainees appeared to our right and received much helpful advice - "there's a seat to your left - no, left, behind you - a bit further." An amateur statistician counted the dots at the Holmesdale Road end - 365. They have one fan for each day of the year. There were around the same number in the stand to our right and a few above us in the executive boxes, while the stand on the left was closed. So 1,000 at most were inside Dead Man's Gulch. As the Town wits sang: "We can see you sneaking in."
Town lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows:- Coyne, McDermott, Ford, Chettle, Gallimore, Cooke, Groves, Coldicott, Campbell, Livingstone and Boulding. The substitutes were Allaway, Ward, Barnard, Soames and Mansaram. Boulding, of course, received as big an ovation as is possible in a dustbowl, the cheers floating away like balloons in a hurricane. For those who demand such details, Boulding was allocated the number 9 shirt, thus continuing the campaign to expunge all traces of Phil 'Yeh-vons' from history. Who? The pre-match warm-up was again performed in orange bibs, so Town would not lose. The pitch looked quite hard, with bits of it gleaming in the later afternoon sun, suggesting some frozen spots.
Both teams played in blue, like a pauper's varsity match.
Town kicked off towards the emptier end, that is away from the Town support, immediately attempting to launch the ballistic missile that is Boulding. I think he has sugar in his fuel tank, as he had little zip and zoom. Easily brushed aside, outpaced and generally looking like he did when we first got him, he has plainly receded in the Premiership moneypot and needs re-coaching; it can't all be just lack of fitness.
The first moment to wake the bleary-eyed traveller was in the opening minute, when Town managed to infiltrate the Opposition's penalty area on the left, but a defender rolled the ball back to the goalkeeper. A bit too hard, as the ball bumbled and bombled across the face of the goal, Davis running after it with his little legs pumping furiously. It brought a "wahey" from the Town support, which kept us warm for a few more seconds. The players were moving around rather gingerly, especially on the Town fans' right, with many tippy-tappy dainty turns, and arms outstretched like a Scooby Doo monster, or as rigid as a juggernaut, depending on your age and cultural reference points. Chettle, in particular, was doing the Len Ganley stance.
The Opposition hadn't changed their style: it is still up-and-at-'em, biff it to the big man and pick up the rebounds. Shipperley started as he meant to go on, moaning at the referee in the first few minutes when he failed to get anywhere near a free kick curled into the area and out of play. No crowd means the ability to hear everything the players say, and the referee. Ah, more on him later. Somewhere in the first 10 minutes Francis, their huge number 8 playing in midfield, steered a cross softly wide. Well wide, very slowly, totally uninteresting, but outside in the cold distance there was a faint cry, a lone whale calling for its mate. Was it those people over there? Did they think it was close? Are they deluding themselves? Oh yes.
The next time the Opposition threatened was a much less amusing thing. It had power, it had pace and most alarmingly, it had skill. Agyemang (yet another large, strong, quick player) received a pass 30 yards out on the right, with his back to goal. He turned, flicked the ball over Ford's head with his heel, like a modern-day Eric Morecambe leaving the stage, and raced off towards Coyne. He allowed the ball to bounce once and, from the edge of the area, brought us sunshine by whacking a volley straight at Coyne's ankles, allowing our barking custodian to catch it cleanly and easily. And for many moons, grasshopper, that was it as far as danger to Coyne goes.
Town started to pass it a bit, though it often foundered upon the titanic Livingstone and the little Jack Sprat Boulding. But Cooke, and especially Campbell, were a different kettle of fish. A flowing move down the Town left, involving Groves and Livingstone, saw Campbell dribble down the touchline, play a one-two with the Livvosaurus and, from 20 yards out, hit a shot straight at Davis. A little later he tried again, receiving a throw-in around the same spot, hooking weakly over his shoulder, a yard or so wide. Only the coldest and most desperate Town fan "ooh"-ed with any conviction. Perhaps they should have been convicted for wasting an "ooh" on that.
For entertainment we had to console ourselves with the brief momentary glimpses of goal: a Cooke free kick that drifted through the six-yard box as defenders and strikers alike danced the night away near the ball. And was it here, the triennial McDermott goal? Coldicott disposed of Francis on the edge of the Town area and played the ball up to Livingstone. Eventually Groves trundled forward, looked right and released the Macca with a perfectly weighted crossfield pass. McDermott surged up and then in, exchanged passes with Boulding (I think) and, from 20 yards, curled a left-footed drive into Davis' midriff.
Now, more potential excitement. Davis completely fluffed a backpass, skewing a high slice out towards the edge of the box. Cooke bumped the left-back out of the way and was free on goal. Hawkins hauled Cooke down with a push, pull, trip and shake. A yellow card for Hawkins, a free kick for Town. Gallimore waddled forward and bets were placed on which letter A he would hit in the stands: in EAGLES (lower tier) or PALACE (upper tier). Oh, you cynics - so little faith in the Dallymeister - for he curled a rather excellent low free kick into the six-yard box, towards goal. Boots swished, knees knocked, several players sneezed and fell over, but the ball was cleared. Very quickly, and very worryingly. Off the Opposition hared, swarming in a great big pack of ravenous hounds. Suddenly Francis was free, beyond the defence, as the ball ricocheted and squirmed through a gap. Coyne raced off his line and threw himself at Francis, who was just eight yards out, towards the near post. The first shot was heroically saved, but rebounded sideways. Francis pursued the ball but was pursued by a tsunami of Town defenders, eventually being drowned by Chettle, Coldicott and Coyne, making a second smothering save, as befits a comfort blanket.
With about 10 minutes left to half time Town broke down the left, with the move foundering at the last when a defender rolled the ball back to Davis. Slowly. Livingstone ran on, gathering momentum like a rolling rock, almost getting near enough to Davis to see the whites of his underpants. Davis was clearly fazed by seeing a wild beast roaming the hills of Norwood, panicked and passed directly to Cooke near the left corner of their penalty area. Cooke carefully controlled the ball, looked up and placed a perfect cross onto BOULDING's head, which like the rest of his body was right in the middle about eight yards out, with the ball bouncing into the left of the goal, via a glove. How quaint, a Grimsby goal. We laughed, we danced and sung, but at whom? Was there anybody out there to taunt? The Opposition defence had, at times, and especially in the creation of the Town goal, been staffed by Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorkey. Hours of fun for everyone.
The Franchisers upped their pace a bit, becoming a bit more direct, and it wasn't exactly plain sailing to half time. In fact nothing like plain sailing, as the Town defence was continually troubled by crosses from their left arcing towards Shipperley at the back post. Simple tactics really, as deep crosses were headed back, or often rebounded back, into space on the edge of the area. A couple of minutes after the Town goal they 'scored', but only after a huge assist from the officials. The referee decided to allow Williams, the only player in football who has a larger derriere than Livvo, to barge Boulding over. A clear free kick. Nope - play on. The ball was immediately knocked into the area, with the ball glancing off Chettle's head. Ford ran around the back and played the ball away, but the linesman flagged for the ball going out of play. Sirs, it didn't.
The corner was half cleared to a little player, possibly McAnuff, who hit a thwacking great drive, which managed to pass through the wall of players racing out of the area. Coyne saw the ball late, but flew to his right and punched the ball away. A superb save. But straight to Francis, who slid the ball underneath Coyne. Despondency, then delight, for the linesman had seen what we all, intrinsically, subconsciously, knew. Offside! It's the decision we would all have made, so it must be right.
As half time approached with the carefree abandon of Burlington Bertie from Bow, they should have scored again. For the umpteenth time a long diagonal ball from their left bumped towards Agyemang, rebounding into space, this time for Shipperley, just 20 yards out, unmarked and in the centre. He placed a shot, with great precision, into Coyne's stomach.
And that was the half that was, with just a few things left out - the usual shots from outside the box by the Opposition, which caused naught but boredom in the heart of our man of Harlech. A distinctly average encounter from two mid-table teams, with a soft referee, who was caving in to the baying home supporter: oh, that deafening sound, terrifying in its intensity. We must congratulate Mr Livingstone on taking only 30 minutes 23 seconds to leave Earth today when attempting to head the ball. Like a Saturn 5 rocket, he has a pre-ignition sequence to go through; any small deviation or variation in outside conditions will cause him to abort take-off. We don't want him to explode, do we.
Gallimore had played well in the first half, making at least two excellent covering tackles as the ball dropped near a striker, and his distribution was neat, tidy, efficient and proficient. Cooke was tackling back like a terrier and even Campbell had been spotted. Coldicott seemed more aggressive than of late and, with Groves, had just about managed to keep the looming danger that was Damien Francis away from goal. Boulding was clearly unfit, and had no tricks up his sleeve to overcome this basic problem. So, apart form his goal, he was a bit of a waste of time. Now that's a big 'apart from', isn't it. Half time was a happy time: Town winning, Wednesday losing, and even the lack of hot food was taken as an acceptable quid pro quo. No food equals three points was nearly fine by us. Odd that they only had five burgers and no pies. Perhaps their landlords had hidden the keys to the freezer.
Still, all was well, though Boulding had to be substituted soon; he could hardly move by the end.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"The ref is watching this game through a prism!"
"No pies and a midget's toilet make Jack a dull boy."
"They're not fans - they're lost shoppers."
"Boulding's moving even slower than Livvo now."
"Is that smell the toilets or the directors' box?"
Good grief - what's going on here, then! Town made two changes at half time. Coldicott was replaced by Barnard, and Boulding by Mansaram, with Barnard going to left midfield and Campbell into the centre. Town started the second half sloppily, allowing the Mercenaries to apply some ineffectual pressure. The old Town habit of standing off players in wide positions reared its ignoble head; thus a series of long diagonal crosses were pumped into the box, meaning corners, corners, corners. Town were practically giving them away like a DFS sale. They'd be mad not to take up an offer like that.
After a couple of very minor moments of potential concern (a block, a miss, a weak header, a chip and chase, all neutralised way before Coyne was called to give evidence), Francis missed a howlingly free header, and so we howled our pleasure. A corner from their left was swung high to the middle of the goal; some head tennis saw a bit of the old in-out, in-out, as the ball looped up, down, around and about. Ah, safety: the ball was arcing beyond the far post, Gallimore leant back and headed sideways, back across goal, straight to the unmarked Francis, perhaps six yards out. The Town fans stood up, ready to berate the raggle-taggle left back, but seamlessly altered their vocal chords to applaud a fantastic miss. Francis headed a foot over.
A couple of minutes later Town slipped third gear to accelerate away from the horse and cart XI. Nothing much to warm the frozen toes of Townites. I'm sure some tiny hands were frozen too. As Town piddled about in midfield, someone knocked a high lump up to our big lump, Livvo, about 25 yards from goal. Livvo headed on into the penalty area. Andersen turned and miskicked his clearance, the ball rolling gently up the middle of the pitch. Campbell sprinted forward and cracked a first-time shot from 25 yards. ANDERSEN stood in the way, turned and deflected the ball into the ground with his hand, only for the ball to run on like a stealth spinning top, up and over the flailing, wailing Davis, and into the bottom right hand corner. Oh, 'twas brillig, leading the slimy toads. But, we should remember, beware the Jabberwock, their jaws bite and claws catch. The Opposition fans used to sing "We've got Trond Andersen" as a boast. They weren't now.
There then followed 15 minutes of fantastically dull, poor football. Town simply concentrated on defence. Ah - I said concentrated and defence in the same sentence; surely that can't be right. But it was, for the quarter of an hour was pleasant in the sense that the Opposition seemed incapable of staying onside. Nothing of note happened, though the referee had begun to step beyond irritating to annoying with his failure to see fouls on Town players.
When Town did attack there was more than a hint of arrogance in the build-up, with loads of one-touch flowing moves across the pitch. Gallimore was seen doing a volleyed, cushioned lay-off with his instep; Barnard succeeded in replicating the Eric Morecambe moment, though an elbow in the face soon stopped him in his tracks. Of course, the referee gave a free kick to them. Clearly Barnard had headbutted the defenders elbow, with cynical intent to injure himself. Shocking, and surely a red card!
The Opposition manager stood on the side of the pitch issuing secret instructions to McAnuff. He needn't have bothered; we heard every word. And how come McAnuff has changed his name from Jobi to Joel? Will all their players do the same when they slink up to Buckinghamshire, the natural home of the Red? Noel Shipperley? Tron Andersen? Rio Leo-Croker?
All was going well with just 23 minutes left. The after-match entertainments were being arranged, the Division One table being contemplated, while some thought they should count the crowd. Then a dreadful Feydeau farce began, starring Mr Coyne, with support from Cooke and Gallimore, who spent the last half-hour running around in ever decreasing circles. The Opposition left back decided to set off on a barnstorming run down the middle. Town allowed him to advance from the halfway line before anyone bothered to get near him. Hawkins let fly from 25 yards. The ball cannoned off Groves' backside, rebounded off Hawkins and dribbled towards the edge of the penalty area. Cooke ran back and passed to Coyne, not noticing the tiny figure of Darlington, who sprinted at our occasional international ballboy. Coyne hurried his kick from about the edge of the six-yard box, 'topping' his drive horribly. The ball flew at an angle of approximately 68 degrees, smacking the sleeping AGYEMANG slap bang between the eyes and looping towards goal. Coyne and Gallimore seemed to look at each other in amazement as the ball went between them and drooped over the line. Agyemang seemed to be way off to the left of goal and about 15 yards out and appeared to be trying to get out of the way, preserving his new hairstyle. It was some mis-hit by Coyne and a total fluke. Then again, Town's goals had been a bit lucky too, really. But, of course, we deserve our luck.
You could see the Town players deflating, and the Opposition perked up no end. And within another minute or so they'd got another surprising goal. A deep cross from their right, somewhere near the touchline about 30 yards out, was pumped into the centre of the box aiming, as usual, for Shipperley. Ford challenged but Shipperley glanced the ball on into a space between Coyne and McDermott. Macca hadn't bothered to track back with Darlington, allowing the pesky little blighter to sneak around the back. DARLINGTON smashed a shot from seven yards out, straight at Coyne, the ball rebounding off Coyne's forearms, onto the near post and in.
Can you hear the home 'fans' sing? No, no. Was it the 15:58 to Purley rattling home? Was it the air conditioning? No, the few humans behind the other goal were flapping their seats furiously, attempting to make a noise of some kind. Now that's a sound that shouldn't have intimidated the Town players: they are used to the tipping of seats when a goal is conceded. Only without the accompanying growls.
More air left the Town bag, but a little foot pump called Mansaram kept the hope afloat. Just after the goal, Town indulged in a little bit of passing and moving down the right, with McDermott raiding like it was 1993. McD chipped the ball up to Mansaram, who spun and, from about a dozen yards out, hooked a shot a foot or so high and wide of the top right corner.
The Opposition continued to pour forward, with a couple of long shots safely tumbling across the universe and into Coyne's waiting arms. No worries there. And now, the value of Mansaram became obvious. The ball was chipped down the left touchline towards the corner. Mansaram sprinted past Williams and controlled the ball. He was the only player within 40 yards of goal, so waited, waited and then carefully rolled a pass back from the by-line to the edge of the area, right in the middle. CAMPBELL steamed in, open his body and steered a shot across the face of goal and halfway up the inside left of the goal. The Town fans erupted, running up and down the gangways, leaping with unadulterated joy. Less than 20 minutes left: surely they'd concentrate now, or were they intent on being Banana Splits too?
To the chagrin of all right-minded people, it took just one minute for the Sour Grapes to give Town a doffing-up. Agyemang received the ball just inside the Town half, on their right. Barnard jogged back and Gallimore backtracked, so Agyemang continued. When about 20 yards out he slipped a pass through a gap between Groves and Gallimore, into which Francis, all 9 foot 6 of him, ghosted unseen. FRANCIS, 10 yards out and to the right of goal, waited for Coyne then tapped the ball through the keeper's legs, the ball hitting the ankles, rolling slowly, slowly towards the foot of the near post and just dribbling over the line. More seat slapping, more fury and frustration in the travelling Townites.
The rest of the game was mainly Opposition attacks, with very infrequent Town breaks. There were quite a few moments of panic as crosses dropped near them, but despite headers and shots, nothing appeared to be going in. The nearest was a dainty feint from Shipperley on the edge of the area, followed by a careful shot that went a few inches over Coyne's left post. As time ticked down, Coldicott was seen urging Soames to be introduced, presumably for the immobile (some say inert) Livvo. But no substitution was made and Town ended as they'd started the half.
Town won a couple of corners in stoppage time. The first brought a scramble, ending when the referee made up an infringement. The second brought a torrent of deserved abuse upon the referee. Just 2 minutes 52 seconds after the board was put up showing three minutes of added time, Cooke swung it in high - and the referee blew for full time as the ball approached the penalty area! An astounding thing to do, for we all know that referees have been instructed to end games in neutral areas. Even the most cynical of Town supporters wouldn't call the middle of the six-yard box neutral.
There we are, a couple more points thrown away by individual errors. Coyne's kicking was rotten all game - sliced, hooked and rarely straight. His fluff for the first goal has been on the cards for weeks now. But above all, the problems Town had were down the left; the last thing we need is two Gallimores on Ice, for that is what we got in the second half. Heading for man of the match in the first half, Gallimore's afternoon descended from good to horrendous, via pantomime and farce. He spent the entire second half backing off, allowing the Opposition to cross at will. Only the dimmest footballer would think that a wise thing to do against them. But he wasn't helped by Jogging Darren B, who was barely a presence in defence. Campbell was a constant threat when breaking forward and he did his best in hassling the much bigger Opposition midfielders. It was one of his better games today. Groves was more than adequate for 70 minutes, then his legs went west as his head went east. It's called old age.
It's Selhurst Park, isn't it. There's something about Norwood that brings out the worst in Town. We didn't lose; there's something.
Nicko's man of the match
Being a contrarian, Nicko will shock many with his choice. Yes, Campbell was effective, and deserves his honourable mention, but throughout the game there was one boot that kept clearing, one head that kept appearing. I can't see anything to fault him with: it's the surprising Mr Chettle.
Managed to get intimidated by an empty ground. No big decisions to make, no penalties, no sendings-off, not many fouls, yet he was appalling in his decision making. The nadir was the end, that ridiculous ending at a Town corner, but a few minutes earlier he had shown willingness to assist the home team. Mansaram was penalised for foot up when Williams stooped to head the ball at knee height. I don't think he was worthy of a score, so 0.