Full-back to the future

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

2 August 2005

Grimsby Town 1 Blackburn Rovers 2

A humming evening in the home of anxious artisans: the ground simmering, simpering at the thought of the return of the king of two-footed left-backs. No longer sweet sixteen, but he's back, he's beautiful and he's ours. Always was, always will be. Gary Croft: gliding majestically over the grass, even in the warm-up looking the star, fawned over by giggling Grimsby players and fans alike. Is he fit? Of course he is. Look at him shimmer across the park. If the shirt fits, sign him. He has two legs, hasn't he. Attached to the rest of to his body - just like Tony Crane. What more do you need to prove fitness?

Town lined up in the bog-standard Sladian 3-4-3 formation, which wibbles and wobbles into a microphone test ("is this thing on?") formation of 3-2-2-1-2 as follows: Mildenhall, McDermott, Crane, Ramsden, Jones (R), CROFT, Bolland, Jean Paul Kamudimba Kalala, Parkinson, Gritton and Reddy. The substitutes were numerous - and in Colley's case voluminous - but here goes: Lukic, Edwards (trialist), Cohen, Taylor (trialist), Colley (two for the price of one trialist), Lamb, Hegggggggarty, G Jones, Palmer, mysterious Glen, Terrific Terry Barwick and Whittle. Caught your breath back yet after that rollercoaster ride through our reserves, juniors and wannabe sponsors' lounge lizards?

Blackburn sent along a bag of old dolly mixtures, designed to test their youth and preserve dignity: about enough to avoid defeat and humiliating the hosts. Yep, yep, seen him, heard of him… who, Dawn French in goal? Oh, Drench. Alongside those British bulldogs of Matteo, Flitcroft, Dickov and Jansen were a set of potential reserves with short legs and short hair. No Craig Bellamy, so that fascinating duel between those two gentlemen of football, Crane and Bellamy, will just have to wait for the cup final.

Oh yeah, Robbie Savage, the pantomime dame of the Premiership, fulfilled his childhood dream of playing in front of 4,505 people in a pre-season friendly in beautiful downtown Cleethorpes. Say goodnight Dickov.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon with Crane hoofing the ball up the right, directly into the wild open spaces between Pontoon and Main Stand, populated by only the hardiest of northern character actors and tea ladies. The atmosphere was punctured immediately, the fire dampened by Crane's wet tea towel.

Blackburn had the ball; we watched.

Whoops, Ramsden tried his usual trickery and hickery around the edge of the Town area. Always works at the end of the fourth division road, where the dregs of football society hide. But not with Dickov around it doesn't; nicked away, knocked over by Kamudimba, a free kick 20 yards out in their left. Savage preening, Town fans awaiting the ripple of raspberries as the ball nestles in the net. Anthony Williams was last year, Mildenhall is the future. Savage caressed the ball over the wall towards the top left corner. Mildenhall flew across and just managed to claw it away for a corner: a superb save.

Blackburn had the ball; we continued to watch.

Dickov through on their centre left, nibbling a bombler across Mildenhall, safely clutched. Ah, a keeper who keeps the ball close. Ooh, another snapshot of happiness, a Rovers rocket. Big Steve swooped and smothered the ball into his midriff, not even a hint of bobblage.

We need to settle this very soon: what are we going to call Jean-Paul Kamudimba Kalala? JP? Jean-Paul George and Ringo? Kamu? Albert? Him? Thingy? Kamudimba has the right number of syllables for most chants, but too many letters my dear Mozart. We need a referendum. Forget Europe - this is the big issue of our times. Don't tell Robert Kilroy-Silk; he may form a party on the back of it.

Don't mind me, Blackburn still have the ball, passing neatly and nicely from side to side, trying to break on through to the other side. But our history men dealt with it. Macca and Croft, home again, naturally. Safety assured, a calm descended upon the Park, we felt relaxed with our flanks powered by classical gas. Two defenders defending: wonderful. It wasn't what they did when the ball was close that caused cooing, but what was happening three seconds before the ball was played near. They didn't just react to a winger; they read the run before it happened, closing off the avenues and alleyways. It's like 1994 all over again - at full-back, anyway.

Is it safe, Russ?

A Town attack? Yes sir, Reddy ripping Rovers apart with pace, power and determination. A flick, a trick and off behind Matteo, bearing down upon the knock-kneed keeper. Only international excellence from Matteo stopped the Redster. He really lit that fire, for Reddy riverdanced his way through the rest of the half, terrorising these quilted premiershipsters. Splendiferousness made flesh, gorging on the aroma of naked fear pouring out of the millionaires in front of him. No, that's not a reference to the back row of the Pontoon. Matteo was pushed to the limits, just about coping, sometimes. Corner after corner as Reddy ranged across his domain, his earth.

What? What? What was that? Macca past it? Look closely: where was Crane? The facts are what they are, not what they seem.

Reddy roaming, a Town corner on the right floated far beyond the stars towards the paragliding Crane. The ball skipped off his forehead and looped to Parkinson, lurking on the left of the penalty area. A twiddle, a turn, a lay-off to Croft, who got out Warne's flipper, swirling and curling the ball through the middle of the penalty area. Bodies hurled, bodies missing, Jones, seven yards out at the far post, steered the ball into top left corner. The Italian pasta dish in goal was helpless, the Pontoon ecstatic. Nice.

Reddy rollicking, Flitcroft clattering, booked. Minor panic as Croft floated into the centre. Crowd interested. Looking good.

An up and under, Eddie, to the right of Town's box, Ramsden rising, free kick given. For what? The Pantomime Dame chipped the ball into the centre, above the wandering Crane and in front of Jones, the minister for funny walks. Matteo rose, nodded, equalised. Six yards out, unmarked, ball into the bottom right hand corner. Pontoon unfussed: it's only a game show.

On the half-hour Kamudimba walked off, pointing to his calf, and on came Terry Barwick to a rousing silence. Kamu had been rather poor, dispossessed and passing to Blackburn. He hadn't quite worked out that they could run and think quicker than the local ferrets we've been playing recently. Bolland was titanic, here, there and everywhere. Nobody can deny that there's something there.

Blackburn, yeah, still passing and gassing along happy as can be. A thrust here, a parry there, teasing, toying but not hurting Town. En garde! A shot wide, a flash high, the occasional foray into and behind the centre-backs, but Mildenhall was not troubled unduly, positioned perfectly, clutching calmly. Savage headed high and wide from a cross from their right. Why did I bother mentioning it?

The Michael Reddy roadshow lumbered across the horizon, a turbo-charged Chevrolet booming across the grass, radio on full blast playin' some forgotten song; Brenda Lee coming on strong, horn a-honking, roof down, shades on, hair streaming behind in the slipstream. Reddy had got them hypnotized, spinning into the sunrise. Fabtastic.

Oh, another Blackburn shot; stayed inside the ground too. That's why they are in the Premiership and we are in the duffers' league.

Somewhere in the dead zone that was the never-ending 36th minute Blackburn made a substitution, Gary Flitcroft allegedly coming on, despite already being on the pitch. Perhaps we should do that with Michael Reddy; cloning is the modern way of football - it's all the rage in Italy, I hear.

Where are we now? Saigon, still only in Saigon? Ah, the end of laughter, the end of the first half, a Reddy raid, cross and Macca mis-hit volley into the ground and into Spaghetti Fredici's parmesan topping. The referee was thirsty, the half ending with the scoreboard guessing at 44 minutes gone.

Against Premiership players at 80 per cent capacity Town were OK, the individual shortcomings occasionally exposed, but you should expect that. Crane's lack of nous meant he was accidentally in the right place to intercept. Jones headed the ball well and wrestled adequately. Ramsden tried to be clever with clever opponents; not clever, Trevor. The rest were fine. Gritton did a lot of defensive work, tracking back on the left and clearly being bothered this time, winning many flick headers. But you can tell the stars in our eyes: Reddy, and Croft in a less obvious way.

You know, not bad at all.

Stu's half-time toilet talk
"Colley's not wearing his shirt, it's been shrink wrapped."
"I thought I'd died and gone to full-back heaven."
"Gary Cohen's hair bought some chips in Ernie Beckett's."

Second half
It started, some Blackburn player got injured, conversations resumed, pies dissolved in the roof of the mouth, ships glided by on their way to Immingham and other places of special scientific interest.

How did that happen? Had we started again? After a minute or so a throw-in somewhere near the halfway line, under the Stones/Findus/Smiths stand. An eye blinked, Jansen was through on their centre left. Eh? One step, one touch, boom, through and under Mildenhall and into the bottom left corner, Jansen had scored. He had received the ball 30 yards out in Parkinson's hole but, instead of pirouetting around like a dancing leprechaun, he tribbled the ball to Dickov on the edge of the area, who allowed the ball to slide off the outside of his right boot. Crane had been stood in the position into which the ball rolled, but walked forward as Jansen passed by without eye contact. Unrequited love is so sad.

Nah, it's only a friendly, why bother getting steamed up by the inefficiency of the modern Town machine, it's just a trial run. The bombing raids start on Saturday, plenty of time for the balls to bounce. Is Savage on the pitch for our amusement? Kippered by Jones, turned into a rolled-up mackerel filled with cheese by Barwick, our two least likely lads turning the leaping Dame into a figure of fun. It's behind you Robbie! The Jones dummy was a particular delight, as Lilyboy leapt towards the Police Box, with Jones the steam walking towards the wild side singing "doo-doo-doo-doo-di-doo-doo".

Ooh, a Town move, down the left; Croft Nijinskying past the ninja Savage, laying the ball infield. Movement, passing, a shot: Bolland making an early claim to be the new Pouton. Was it higher or wider? Another Reddy rocket down the centre, a turn and spin, va-va-vooming through the middle. A gap, a prod, a fall. A free kick 25 yards out. Who to take it? Crane pawed the turf like a ravenous lion, waddled forward and sluiced it against the top of the advertising boards, wide of the scoreboard. How apt that it hit the optician's sign.

And that was that. On the hour, here's the news. Town took everyone off, everyone, every single one... except Barwick. The top ten walked to the centre circle and trouped off together, leaving just Terry No Mates as the gooseberry, shuffling from side to side wondering which of the belles to ask for the last dance. Then they walked off too, half a dozen Blackburnites following Townies into the tunnel. Now, shall we start again.

Town lined up for the last half-hour as follows: Lukic, Downey, Colley, Whittle, Edwards, Barwick, Taylor, Heggggggarty, Cohen, Palmer and G Jones. Edwards and Heggggggggarty were the wing-backs, Taylor and Barwick the granite worktop holding the kitchen together, in design terms. Cohen played in Parkinson's never-never land. Yes, Glen Downey live and exclusive on Blundell Park in a nearly first-team match. Who'd have thought it? The inflatable Colley was the libero of the back three. I think the valve's faulty. He looks bigger every time you look away.

What do you want to know about the last half-hour? Things happened sometimes. Town played a bit better in some respects, being more attacking and creating a few chances. Hegggarty and Cohen combined on the left with the soon-to-be celebrated Mr H whipping in a magnificent cross into the near post between keeper and defence. Taylor raced in, stretched forward and toe-poked the ball several feet over. Now that's what I call "oooh"-ing.

If I said we had a beautiful Barwick, would you hold it against me? He played well, passing to team-mates, including one marvellous dollop over the top, inch-perfect to Palmer, and tackled well. He looked like a footballer. But he did panic a bit when Cohen brilliantly retrieved possession and sent him free down the centre, just inside the Town half. He spun, he did the tango, he went past three Blackburnites, the residue parted, leaving a through route to goal. Barwick reached the edge of the area and hesitated, leaving enough time for an expensive boot to whistle the ball away. It could have been an emotional moment, when Terry connected. Ah well.

Blackburn… nope, nothing, a couple of breaks, balls cleared by Lukic outside his area and that was just about it. The nearest they got was when Town's back three decided to play some total football and got in a right sloppy tizz with some slapstick custard pie throwing and an amusing flower that squirts water in your eye thrown in for good measure. Perhaps that can be incorporated into the away kit?

With around 10 minutes left Barwick was replaced by Lamb, who looked adept at getting in the way, intercepting passes and picking up rebounds to start the Town clock ticking again. But the star of the end of the pier show was Cohen, who was quite astoundingly committed. He tackled in the left-back spot; he raced down the right to collect his own pass, then tried to finish off his cross with a diving header. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, slightly. He was the human dynamo (Mach 2), incredible, a real crowd pleaser. He tries and he gets the ball.

Ooh we could have had a penalty when G Jones bundled his way into the box and was halted by a Blackburn body. But we didn't, and what's the point, we'd only find someone else to miss it. Share the pain, lads.

Palmer got everybody back down in their seats when he was sent free by Cohen. We saw the possibilities, we stood up, we saw Palmer had the ball, we sat down with a pre-disappointment grumble rolling around the tin shacks. We learn quickly. Palmer, again, from a brilliant 50-yard crossfield pass from Hegggggarty; briefly he could, over an extended period he didn't.

And finally, Cyril, Edwards burst forward down the right, exchanged passes with Cohen, tiddled, flicked a reverse pass through two defenders and Cohen was free inside the area, at a narrow angle. He took a step and lampooned the ball a few inches over the near post.

Eighty-nine minutes on the scoreboard, game ended. Time for tea.

We lost, so what; not a bad performance. Little things were great, large things were adequate, if you factor in the rubbishness we'll be up against for the next nine months. Bolland, Croft, Reddy - tremendous. Cohen - entertaining. Barwick - surprisingly all right. I remember Parkinson was on the pitch, but not that he did much, but then, that's Parky. Crane was spatially unaware, but got in the way enough.

The back-up team had interest. Edwards again looked a decent player who would be unlucky to be discarded; Colley is the immovable object that it would take forwards three days to circumnavigate using modern satellite technology. And by then most games would have finished.

Things aren't looking as awful as they did a couple of weeks ago - especially if Croft comes back to manage his property portfolio. C'mon laddie, you need to be on top of troublesome tenants - you can't leave it to Macca's letting agency to do your dirty work. C'mon home… c'mon home… c'mon...

NickO's man of the match
In a friendly? Michael Reddy. Hands on hips, feet flapping like a tap dancing king. He scared 'em. Looking for next season's contract already, O'Reddy?

Rob's chant of the day
Has to go to the failed attempt to work out a song for Jean Paul Kamudimba Kalala: "Kamu-kamu-kamu-kamu-kamu-dadim-baba, he comes and goes". That's rubbish, that is. [I quite like it actually - Ed.]

A silver medal for "gyppo, gyppo" at Robbie Savage when Michael Reddy was stood next to him. Neither was too sure which was the target of this hirsutism, the latest scourge of society.