Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
23 October 2004
Chester City 2 Grimsby Town 1
A grey, warm and eventually sodden afternoon in a field at the end of the world. In a shallow concrete tomb apologising at the back of an industrial estate, around 500 Townites slouched behind a goal. Is it Rushden? No, where are the plastic owls? Is it Cobblers? No, where are the microseats? BOOM! The tannoy thundered out banalities a couple of feet above our heads; the antichrist of beat boxes to Blundell Park's low-energy 1960s transistor radio.
Town lined up in a rickety 4-4-2 formation as follows: Williams, McDermott, Whittle, Forbes, Gordon, Sestanovich, Fleming, Pinault, Parkinson, Cramb and Daly. The substitutes were Bull, Coldicott, Reddy, Marcelle and Jones. Ashhhhhhh shhhhhhhshhhhhhh Stestanoviz, as the TANNOY pronounced him, played as a right midfielder; Parkinson on the left; the rest are even more obvious, so I won't insult you by telling you Pinault played in goal and McDermott at centre-forward, 'cos that's soooo obvious.
Town warmed up in a jolly little huddle laughing along with the Town supporters as the TANNOY announcer continued his attack on the English language. And before kick-off both teams had an ostentatious bonding session; theirs was tighter than ours. Does this mean anything?
Only five of the Chester team have kit sponsorship. Not surprising if you read the chairman's notes in which he states: "the date for the Administration hearing has been set for 2 December 2004." It's a Thursday, by the way. Wahey, turn to page 13 - that lad's got highlights in his eyebrows.
Still no sighting of Glen Downey. Are we sure he isn't a housing estate to be tacked on the end of the 'new' Town stadium?
Town played in yellow, and Daryl the Puppy was on Chester's substitutes' bench. Let's hope he doesn't get on and earn himself a Scooby snack.
Chester kicked off towards the Town support and... the ball was already out of play for a throw in before you reached the word 'off'. In fact it was out before the whistle had blown, a time- saving exercise for all concerned; why bother with the first 0.765 seconds, just let Town have a throw-in level with their own penalty area. Now that's an idea for FIFA's next general council?
That's the condensed version of the first half. Chester aspired to being basic. The ball was something to hit hard. Perhaps that's how Rush has got them going: it's a massive anger therapy experiment where they take their frustrations out on anything inflatable that moves, or in the case of Justin Whittle anything inflatable that doesn't move. Rush hass brought the fabled Boot Room to the Deva - any room at all then boot the opponents.
Within a minute Whittle had been felled by a late clatter from Cortez Belle, a Thai kick-boxer in blue and white stripes. Another minute another clobber, and then a moan, but the referee decide to play the calm down card as Whittle hobbled and Slade complained. Isn't The Cortez Belle one of Sousa's lesser known tunes?
A Town move? Surely not. One-two-three, a clip to Daly, a chested lay-off and Cramb, 25 yards out on the centre right, sliced a shot a couple or so yards wide. Nice movement, promising stuff, a nod of the head, a raised eyebrow and faint smile across the lips of the travelling Townites. Didn't last.
After about five minutes of staring into the rain clouds Chester got a throw-in on their left, about 15 yards out. Belle hurled it high towards the near post, several layers of jumpers leapt up and the ball was flicked onwards into the centre. Davies, near the penalty spot, rushed in where Fleming feared to tread and swept a half volley against the crossbar.
Another minute, another long throw, another hoopla in the box with flailing limbs and dozy defending. Excitement for the home fans, who clearly prefer rugby to association football. We purists, on the other hand, would like our team to actually play some football. Terrible, turgid, brainless rubbish. There was no movement, no urgency, just statues observing events without interest. The result was a series of hopeless hoofings upfield, simply returning possession via their centre-backs' heads.
Is it arrogant to want, to expect a team to pass, to move, to play football? How can it be? Isn't that the name of the game?
Daly was a bashful child up front, slow, rather timid and not appreciating the route one approach. Cramb, erm, I remember him. He's the one with blond hair, isn't he. In one of the few co-ordinated attacks by Town he was kneecapped by Hope, who cynically emptied both barrels of his shotgun way out on the touchline, and was booked for shooting while the beaters were in the line of fire. He even complained about it; too much raw meat in his diet, he should be playing for Ian Atkins with that attitude. They all should. Bang, crash, crunch, stamp, twist, stick, bust. Ellison had been lucky a few minutes earlier for leaving his studs in Whittle as the Big W wellied clear. Slade even had to be restrained by the fourth official, such was his righteous fury. And he was right too.
I forgot, Whittle was booked for sliding through Branch.
After about quarter of an hour Gordon slapped a thumper from about 25 yards which sailed a couple of feet wide. Town didn't go down to the dreg-end for another half an hour. Well, it was a bit cold and wet down there, better to huddle around the campfire, nearer the toilets and shops. Who knows when you may have an urgent need for some tiles.
The Town fans and players had long since tired of Cortez Belle, whose mission in life was to leave a boot-shaped impression on the right leg of any Grimsby player within half a year of him. Eventually he was booked, not for attempted murder but for saying a few nasty words to the referee. He could have been booked for being dim as well; for being offside every time, every single time the ball was played up. Town hadn't so much set a trap as sent out an invitation to a barn dance three months in advance. The worry was that the banjo-plucking linesman may forget his yee-haaaws and let play go on.
Don't you ring the Cortez Belle when Town sink in foreign waters?
How long gone? Not long enough. Doesn't 30 minutes really fly by when you're having fun? At last something happened: Branch was tickled away behind Macca, flicking the ball from left to right, bamboozling the defence and hitting the bye-line. The cross was blocked back to him and flicked up to the near post, where Davies chested wide from a couple of yards out. It may have looked close to Devants and journos. It wasn't.
Chester won a series of free kicks and corners, all of which were worrisome. They simply lamped the ball up into the box. Town let the ball drop and Chesterians control it deep, deep inside the area. Town were down the road at the races and there wasn't even a meet at the Roodee. How daft is that?
The ball dropped, Ellison turned, shot blocked. Branch crossed, Ellison wandered in front of Whittle and slapped a shot from six yards straight into his own face. What a perfect footballer, clearing his own shot. He chuckled, they chuckled, we all chuckled heartily.
Belle was allowed to roam in the everglades down Town's left. He pushed the reeds aside and snarled a low something across the face of goal. A shot, a cross - who could tell with this heffalump? His sheer physical presence was unsettling Town, especially as he was allowed to impose his personality on the game. That's a personality that would attract an ASBO from his local council. He was riding around the estate with his hood up. Not actually doing anything, but just by being in sight he caused the lower-middle-class bungalow owners to twitch their curtains and watch Crimewatch.
With around seven or eight minutes left before the pie queue reached its acme, Town imploded. Pinault received the ball in midfield near the halfway line. He shimmied, twisted and tippy-tapped to his left. A Chester player nudged him enough to stumble, not enough for the referee to award a free kick. Some he gave, some he didn't. (He was working in imperial measurements while everyone else was in metric. He'll never land on Jupiter.)
So off they went, breaking forward just as Town players, particularly Mr J McDermott, had raced up to start an attack. The ball was played down the centre left for Belle, who pulled Whittle across towards the edge of the penalty area. Belle was allowed to turn; he looked up and clipped a pass across the face of the area to the unmarked Branch. What a day for a daydream, perhaps Forbes and Fleming were dreaming about a bundle of joy, for they looked surprised to see no-one marking Branch, who took one touch and lamped the ball low to Williams' right. The TANNOY blared out some dull pap in celebration.
From the kick off Town pootled about, the ball eventually rumbling back to Williams, who passed to Gordon on the left. A Chesterian advanced so he laid the ball inside to Forbes who, trying to be clever, fell on his face on their new-moan lawn. Branch nicked the ball away from the dilatory defender and was off alone against Williams, dinking the ball over as the keeper slid low. The ball rolled slowly in to the bottom right hand corner. Cue more insulting unoriginal music. You can tell a real football club by the music they play when a goal is scored. Real ones don't.
A minute later Town were unravelled again, this time down the left. That subtle whack and flick-on caught them out again and the steaming train that is Cortez Belle was behind the defence, inside the area and, well, he simply hit the ball quite hard straight at Williams. He's more effective without the ball, as a sort of fake footballer, built of cardboard and covered in blue and white paint. From the air he looks like the real thing and attracts those German bombers.
At last, finally Cyril, Town got off the coach and entered the stadium as three minutes of added time were announced, to gasps of disbelief. Where had all this time come from? Had we slept through some injuries? Cramb emerged from his burrow to knock a flick back to Daly, who'd run around the back like an apple-scrumping oik. Daly volleyed onto the roof of the stand.
And back came Town, with some passing down the right, Sestanovich doing his twirling thing past three midgets routine before swishing a low cross back to the unmarked Pinault, about 15 yards out at the near post. Pingu swept a first-time shot low across MacKenzie, who held on as Cramb and Daly followed up. Why can't these opposing keepers be like Williams and drop the only shot they have to save?
At some point in this voodoo period Stan the Transit Van Man kicked a Devant in a fit of pique. He may have been booked, he may have been told he was a naughty boy. Frankly the strange holes in the concrete steps had become more fascinating than the game, so who cares. My guess is that they had intended to make the away end en suite, but cost overruns meant they converted it back into a garage.
In the 70th minute of injury time Macca flung in a throw-in towards some bloke in yellow, way, way off in the distance. A bit of trundling and turning ended up with nothing, sorry, I mean a goal. Whoever this bloke was had a shot from a narrow angle near the edge of the penalty area. The ball flew off Bolland's shins and up into the roof of the net as MacKenzie dived low to his left. Who was the mystery striker? Some thought it was stuttering Stan, St-st-st-stestanovich, some guessed at Daly. A mere detail, it was an own goal and a surprisingly upbeat ending to a shocking first half.
Town walked off to an undeserved cheer, and, hopefully, a deserved barrage of fury from the management. They were being outplayed by a pub team.
Stu's half-time toilet talk
"His socks bring his shoes and trousers together."
"This isn't football. It's closing time outside the Pier."
"Did he say he's got a porch or a Porsche?"
"Is this a ploy? We lose so that when they go out of business we don't have three points deducted?"
"In Germany they play football with motorbikes. Or am I having a Sepp Blatter moment?"
No changes were made at half time by either team. Town kicked off and completely and utterly dominated the whole of the second half, making a mockery of their travails in the first. It gradually dawned on the players that they had nothing to fear but fear itself, for Chester were dire. They were an invisible force who crumbled when faced by a pretty average Town performance. All Town did was (a) pass and (b) move. It was enough to get the ball into their goalmouth.
Oh, that scoring thing. Always a spanner in the spokes somewhere, isn't there.
From the off Town, Town, Town. Pinault, McDermott, Sestanovich on the right, just outside the penalty area. A one, and a two, and a typical Sestan thing, curled a foot or so over the bar. More raiding on the right, with passes through the defence, not over the top. Town pressure, with one-twos around the penalty area, Cramb and Daly acting as foils, Parkinson curling a shot low to Mackenzie's left. Soft and nice, held easily. Town corners, cleared, Chester breaking. Gordon on the floor on the opposite side, holding his head. Belle lurking suspiciously. What happened? No idea, but some part of Belle's body made contact with the angry Gordon's bonce.
Town again, passing, passing, smoothly changing through the gears, swirling around the Chester defence, pretty patterns. HOOF! BANG! One punt, one flick, one lofted shot from Branch from inside the penalty area, miles high, miles over. You can take a nap now, Williams; they won't be back for ages.
Town swarmed forward, smothering their non-League opponents in a blanket of kindness. We felt so sorry for them that we declined to shoot the knackered nag. Insolvent, incompetent, in a boggy cul-de-sac, Doctor Town seemed to have a problem with euthanasia. Well, we who paid to get in to the mausoleum of mushy peas would have gladly cut off the air supply.
There was a strange coded message over the tannoy asking someone to move a car with two different number plates. Maybe it wasn't a car, maybe it was a Volvo. It was asked nicely though
Ah, here it is, the equaliser. On the hour, purringly perfect passing down the centre and right, cut the cheesy Chesterian cats into equilateral triangles, just right to place on some water biscuits. Get out the pickle and chutney, prepare for a feast. Sestanovich, sending two defenders towards north Wales in a battered old pick-up truck, paint peeling away from the bumpers, tax disc out of date. Sestan buffed up his shoes and dinked an inch-perfect cross into the centre.
Daly awaited on the six-yard line while his marker strolled off to the local department store for a creamy hot chocolate with a slice of carrot cake. The goalkeeper played musical statues. No music, no movement. The Town fans were already jumping up and down; a goal was inevitable; it was impossible to miss. Daly leant back, staggered backwards, fell backwards and managed to hook a bicycle-type kick goalwards. The ball rolled itself an inch over the bar. A dreadful miss: if he'd stood still the ball would have hit him and gone in. It took a lot of skill not to score. Or perhaps he really wants to sign for us and was just proving that he's a Town player.
Chester? A town up the road, not a football team. Town still dominated.
Passing, passing, Pinault passing with Gordon roving freely and McDermott za-zooming. A cross, a scramble, Parkinson turning, two touches, chance gone, out, back, Parkinson again, two more touches. Just shoot, will yer! Panic in the streets of Chester. Cramb, Daly, flick, flick, trick, Parkinson slicing wide from 18 yards, Just pass, will yer!
Chester had isolated moments of almostness, which translates as they booted the ball a long way and sometimes caught up with it. When they did, they generally fouled. Parkinson was flattened by several elbows and knees while clearing inside the Town penalty area; Williams clattered and pushed over by Belle. I think the only person Belle didn't foul was the little girl stood three steps below me. Perhaps he has some juicy and embarrassing pictures of the referee stored in his back pocket.
Repeat the first sentence of the last paragraph ad infinitum, or at least until the end of this game. More circular sawing of the dense copse saw Pinault zig-zag his way through the boredom and pain, occasionally glancing up through the rain he was free on the left. He looked up and cushioned a volleyed cross through the area, just in front of Daly and Cramb, the ball running a couple of yards wide. Another minute another Town cross, deep from about 30 yards out on the right, Daly drifting in front of his marker and, from about a dozen yards out, glancing the ball a foot or two wide.
Repeat the... you know the drill, this time down the right, Parkinson free, crossing low into the centre, only blue socks there. Ah that's beautiful, Macca to Daly, to Sestanovich, one touch, one vision, one theoretically possible pass later and Parkinson was behind the defence, inside the area. The six-yard box covered in lemon, Parky managed to dissect the phalanx of Townites and hit yet another blue sock. The ball came back to him. He repeated the trick.
It's like literary indigestion, isn't it.
With just over ten minutes left Reddy replaced Cramb, but not before the fourth official had held up the wrong number. "Grimsby Town substitute Michael Reddy replacing... Dean Gordon." Uproar on the Town bench and the pitch. Gordon did a passable impression of Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes - "Whatyoutalkingbout Mr Russell?" - even adding a little hop and double take. A minute later Coldicott replaced the clattered and clobbered Fleming, who hobbled off without the aid of existential crutches. Town retained the 4-4-2 formation.
Onwards Town rolled, Sestanovich flashing a cross from the bye-line into the near post, where MacKenzie caught it as boots arrived near his neck. Gordon, infiltrating their right, had two crosses blocked for corners; a third hovered above Daly, who leant back and glanced the ball in a looping arc across the face of goal. Someone had a shot, another, another, blocked, battered away, humped upfield, desperate clumping from the minnows. Reddy rolling and flicking the ball over the last defender, MacKenzie sprinted out of his cunningly disguised, but flooded, subterranean lair to scoop the ball off Reddy's toes.
As time went by Whittle stayed upfield to act as a third centre back for Chester, thus leaving oodles of space into which the newly arrived Daryl Clare could run. He didn't. McDermott clipped him around the ear and reminded him who's the boss. And told him to clean his boots next time. Chester did have what their fans call 'a shot': some little chap lobbed the ball towards Williams from the halfway line. The ball dropped several yard high and wide. Yeah, that close. Oooooooooooooooh.
Two minutes of added time? You've missed the nought off the end.
More Town, more nearlyness. A cross from the left, McDermott with a side-footed volley from about 15 yards, which MacKenzie caught by his near post. Crosses, crosses, more crosses, more crosses, more pressure, no shots, a clearance into the stratosphere; Williams raced out and headed into touch. Irritating time wasting by the corner flag saw time dribble down, but lo, the ball was retrieved, wellied upfield and one final attack. A free kick lobbed in, the ball dropped, Parkinson near the penalty spot in space, two touches, a block, the ball back to him, another terrible touch instead of a shot. Then the whistle blew.
What had we seen? Is Ian Rush so stuck in the 80s that he thinks fourth division football is all about mud wrestling? You could say he's playing to their strengths.
It finally dawned on the seething Town throng what we'd just witnessed. There was only one rational explanation. Town had been the suckers in an episode of Faking It, one where the usual rules were subverted. It wasn't a case of spot the ringer, but spot the real pro. We hadn't seen 11 professional footballers, but 10 regulars at the Firkin and Fleapit accidentally dressed in football kit. And Michael Branch. The joke is on us; Town managed to avoid victory against a bunch of plumbers' mates.
There is no excuse for such laxity. The bad habits of August are returning. You'd don't get points for style. The tactics and attitude in the first half were appalling; the second half was what we are used to: scoreless dominance. And that's it, isn't it; they've finally gelled into Town players. Russ always said it'd take a dozen or so games for the team to gel. It's a pity he got the old mould out from the bottom of his manager's drawer.
Nicko's man of the match
No-one was outstanding, the best were adequate. Ronnie Bull gave a superb performance in the half-time knockabout, but the vote goes, purely for being old and therefore a deserving cause, to Sir John McDermott, who was unofficially knighted by a bored Mariner during one of his many thrusting forays.
The return of the gooseberry fool, Mr Michael Ryan. A particularly below-average performance for this division: free-kicks awarded on the basis of a lucky dip in his pocket, bookings for firmness and foul language, but not cynical hacks. When the music stops the finger points to... 3.023. He gets bonus marks for being incredibly lenient towards Belle. Ryan must have been scared of him to let him get away with a one-man crime wave.