They ploughed the fields and scattered: Darlington (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

15 March 2008

Darlington 3 G.R.I.M.B.Y. (sick) 2

When they built this field of dreams, they didn't come, and they still don't come. It's another year, another name for the vanity stadium, but still nobody's home. Never in the field of football conflict has so much been owed for so few to see. What can they do to fill the empty spaces? Nothing, it seems.

Town lined up in the precision-drilled 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Clarke, Bennett, Fenton, Atkinson, Newey, Bolland, Hunt, Boshell, Till and the Mysterious Mr Butler. The substitutes were Montgomery, Whittle, Toner, getting Straighter Peter Bore, and Taylor. The wing-backs were Newey and Clarke, which added attacking sophistication if not defensive solidity. Hegless and Lump-light Town were simply rotating. Yeah, spin on this, Darlo!

The entire right side of the ground was empty, with the exception of the cameraman and half a dozen surly ballboys. Ah, surliness is the default position of the locals, for buying even a coffee was an imposition, with a pie purchase an interrogation. The stadium is shiny, but the service is whiny.

Ladies and gentleman, please return to your tractor cabs and prepare to plough.

First half
Town, cat-walking in blue, kicked off on the pudding pitch towards the smaller of the two clumps of Darlingistas. Darlo-people quickly intercepted, fizzed and fizzled out like a cheap catherine wheel as the ball boobled like a crazy frog. A warning to anyone still in command of their toes: please keep your feet on the grass, if you can find it.

After three or four minutes of private dancing Fenton or Newey, or someone similar, squiffed away a cross for a corner. Miller was home alone a dozen yards out and the ball slapped his forehead, drifting a foot or so wide. It was worrying for perhaps a pico-second. Did you blink? You missed that worry by days.

Till and Butler teased temptingly with moments of almostness on the halfway line, then wing-back Newey arrived to pick a pocket or two. Till nudged, Newey nurdled and Butler hurdled a challenge to swing into the penalty area. At the last moment Miller slid across to superbly swipe the ball away for a corner. The corner was as dull as the sky.

Darlington avoided too much passing to avoid the bumps, with Abbott and Wright menacing marauders of the Town ears. Hunt was clobbered hard by Kennedy, then Wright felled one, two and finally Newey with a forearm to the temple, for which a yellow card was wafted by the strange referee. This was Rollerball without the helmets: last man standing wins.

Barnes miskicked. And then again.

The minutes ticked away as Darlo huffled and Town occasionally ruffled their tail feathers. When the ball was on the ground Town were neat, tidy and just a little luscious in their movement, especially down the left, where Till and Newey tickled with a duster. Butler caroused and fell into the gutter just outside the area on the right. "Let Newey take it!" He did. "Let Newey waste it!" He did: coiled over the bar as everyone tutted at the far post.

Darlo swirled as passes were curled to the big bean Pole, who set up camp 25 yards out. His big, manly chest trapped big manly balls and he big-manly-swivelled to trash a low shot lowly wide; 25 minutes gone and finally a shot from someone, anyone, anywhere.

And suddenly the game went a little bananas.

Joachim was slippered free down their right with a sniggling pass behind Newey. A dozen yards out and well wide of goal, Julian on the sandy pitch swished lowly across Barnes, who fell to his right and held the ball to his bosom as Wright's studs approached.

Barnes punted forward; the ball drooped towards Austin and the Quaver quaked. Or perhaps the Quaker quavered. Whatever, whichever, Newey and Boshell mugged and Tiny Tom lugged forward down the touchline with ukulele in hand. Come tiptoe through the tulips with Newey. Approaching the corner of the penalty area, Newey did a soft-shoe shuffle before prodding a pass to the unmarked Till, in the middle of the D. The defence held back in shock and awe as Till turned and stroked a cheeky pass between defenders to where Butler had peeled away. As Stockdale flashed out from goal Butler calmly waited for the moment to strike and placed the ball low and slow across the keeper into the bottom left corner from the very edge of the six-yard box. One shot, one goal. Lovely.

Shall we watch the replay on the big screen?

As play resumed, gazes were gazed and texts were texted to the waiting world. To the sound of phones clicking Darlington kicked off, lost possession and cried a little bit. The ball fell to Till on the halfway line; he turned and the defenders scattered. With Butler rolling away into space on the centre-left, Till kissed a pass between, around and behind the last remnants of Fort Darlington. Butler chased the rolling dice with Miller in pursuit, intercepting the ball on the edge of the penalty area. As Miller flew to his left Butler calmly nicked the ball to the right. Alone, free and with just the White Flash before him, Butler stood up and stared into the soul of Stockdale. The keeper snored left as Butler calmly rolled the ball right. Two shots, two goals, lovely-bubbly.

Butler: he's calm. He's a bona-fide, genuine all-singing, all-dancing striker. And calm.

Shall we dance, shall we sing, shall we give him a G? Give him an R. Give him an I. Give him an M. Give him a B... This is the sort of English up with which I will not put! Send that man to the Psychic Garden for a wind chime and alphabet soup for tea.

They punted and Abbott shunted Fenton aside to swivel and swing a shot a couple of feet over. A-ha, that's where the S is. Let's all sing-a-long-a-Max. "When it's spring again I'll sing again..."

Sing what?

From nowhere came nothing, then something. Their left-back walked up and beyond the halfway line before chipping the ball up to the corner of the Town penalty area. Bennett and Fenton converged on Wright, who silkily, sneakily flicked the ball on where no man dared roam. Abbott, unmarked and perhaps 15 yards out, spotted Barnes creeping and carefully, calmly, and ever so daintily opened up his body to side foot a lob-volley goalwards. The ball disappeared into the clouds as the Town fans jeered, then dropped into the top right corner as the locals cheered Abbott's exceptional finishing. Who's quaking now?

Darlo ramped up the testosterone and pumped the ball forward faster and higher; there was more fruit in each tarty challenge. Hunt felled again, then Newey, then Fenton. Town were the Mars bar and Darlo the deep fat fryers. Abbott turned and burned another whipping drive goalwards, but straight at Barnes' chin. Free kicks were arbitrarily awarded and Clarke was booked for not fouling a diving Darlo. The free kick, 30 yards out on their centre-right, drifted into the middle of the box, with a dozen heads clashing. The ball grazed some hair and swung towards the bottom left corner. Barnes flew across as the ball hit the post, bounced on to the flabby flapster's back and ponged an inch or so past the very same post for a corner.

Still they pressed on, with Town retreating into their shellsuits. The old calliope wheezed out some familiar tunes as Darlington continued to avoid the ground as a route to Heaven. Bennett wafted a feeble leg when stood next to the right post, simply passing the ball to the Abbott of Darlington, who'd stepped back and awaited his little puppy. Mr Bean the Pole again opened up his body and steered a firm volley across the face of goal. Fenton sucked, Barnes blew and the ball swung a few inches or so past the left angle of post and bar.

With a minute or so left they were at it again, lumping the ball high down the Town right, way, way away from goal. Bennett allowed the ball to bounce and a hoopster bundled him away to head to a team-mate, right on the touchline. Town were in full retreat and eventually a cross was flung into the centre. Atkinson headed away, but only to Joachim on the left corner of the area. Do not fear - Newey and Boshell are here, safely guiding the Boston bomber out of the area and away from goal. Boshell slid into a block tackle with Kennedy and the ball bounced off shins and back towards goal. Barnes shuffled across his line as the rest of the defence stood and stared, and the unmolested Abbott of Darlington trotted forward and steered the ball into the bottom right corner from the edge of the six-yard box.

Who's quaking now, who's sad and blue, who's cryin' too, now where's the loo. Is it half time yet?

Not quite, for back they roared, with Town floored and just waiting for some teacups to fly. Up and under, this and that, the unmarked Abbott shot across the face of goal as someone else slid in, again unmarked, six yards out. Who was more static - the crowd or the defence?

It is half time now.

Nothing happened, then a lot happened, with each team taking it in turns to faint like a Victorian lady when faced with a knobbly-kneed chair. Town had two shots and were extremely comfortable for half an hour, then the accumulation of arges and barges took its toll and the defence wilted. Wright and Abbot bullied the back three and that's the story of Bert's blanket. When Town passed, and avoided the divots in the middle, there was something to chew upon.

Bring out the cheap crockery - Buckley's finished the moussaka and it's time for some old-school meditation.

Second half
In a muddy field you need mass, not necessarily the ability to pass. Whittle replaced Bennett at half time. Would this improve things? I cannot forecast to you the actions of Justin Whittle: it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

The game resumed in a scruffy amble, with neither side doing anything of note until they did. And it was Town, of course, with some sumptuous oozing movement from right to centre to left and back. Bosh and Boll: push and pull; Till tricking and trembling, Butler crossing and Till lunging, Stockdale diving, the post saving some local bacon. The ball popped plumply up to Clarke, five yards out with an acre of space and an hour of time. He steadied himself, leant back and volleyed high and high and high again into the distance and beyond.

That was a moment.

Darlington resumed their rugged mountain climbing, having re-equipped with stout socks and shiny shoes, but they were still at base camp washing their underwear and counting their crampons. Wright headed widely over from nearby after a free kick, or a corner, or perhaps it was simply a cross. Will you be cross at the inexactitude? Anyway, anyhow, anywhere you choose to describe it, it was nothing.

Ooh sir, I see-eth the foulest, most pungent and obnoxious of throws. Pass me the nose-gay.

Town soaked up the ambience of Darlington with minimal bother, and if the sponge gets saturated then just wring it out. Breaking quickly down the centre, Town purred forward with Butler a fulcrum and Till the pesky pest swinging and dodging about. They dillied and dallied 25 yards out, but retaining possession, switching play this way and that. Newey arrived and danced a little hornpipe between three defenders, marvellously flicking and bewitching with his twitching toes. Boshell sneaked free on the left and the ball arrived via an indeterminate boot. Perhaps a dozen yards out with Stockdale wavering in front of him, Boshell side-footed the ball into the turf. The keeper fell left as the ball bumped up to his right. He thrust up his right arm and parried away. That was more a save than a miss and that was another moment.

What are they up to, those big Darlings? They shake their bottoms towards the Barnes but nothing has penetrated the wall of indifference before him. Why is someone texting me that they've bought a new sofa? Why do they need balsamic vinegar?

Around the hour mark the worm started to turn as the two clumps of Darlingfans awoke, pleading for free kicks at the drop of a cocked hat. Whittle was barged out of the way as he shielded a long punt that rolled out for a goal kick, but the referee gave a free kick to them. Bolland was booked for his impassioned plea that the artist captures and transforms the seemingly mundane: he takes unspeakable joy and pain and gives them words; a sound; a face. Ah, that fatal futility of fact. Nothing came of it but it was clear that nothing gets in their way, not even locked doors.

A couple of minutes later, after a minor siegette was repelled by the yeomen of the guard, the Darlymen lumped another long humpy cross towards the penalty area, this time from the left. The ball missed the first set of jumpers and struck Atkinson on the thigh, being diverted out of the area. Newey turned away from goal as Wright spun back the other way. About 20 yards out, just to the left of centre, Wright dinked a curling, dripping shot around and through two Townites, around and under Barnes and into the bottom right corner. There was less contentment and merriment in the Town clump now. There was a brief noise from elsewhere, but only a brief one.

At this, about halfway through the second half, Straight Peter Bore replaced Boshell, who appeared to be sinking ankle-deep into the quagmire. Till retreated to a Donovanian hole and Town appeared to be in either a 5-4-1 or 5-2-1-2 or 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation, depending upon where the ball fell, or which divot it shankled off.

Darlo still hobbled the ball high and long, creating nothing but anxiety through their industrial meat processing approach. Town broke with heterosexual abandon, with SPB a red-booted thorn in their side, ducking, diving and actually trying quite hard. Till was winked free on the right after fantabulously hypnotic passing up and down and from side to side to side to side. In a similar position to Joachim in the first half, he slashed a low shot across Stockdale, who clung on as Butler and Bolland lurked.

Did I say the little Darlings did nothing? Well, not quite nothing, for they had a couple of minutes of incessant pressure, with Town half grazing and lazing crosses away. Austin picked up a clearance way out on their right touchline and dribbled towards the bye-line. He beat one, two and nutmegged a third before revving up to full speed as he thrust himself parallel with the goal. Out came a Town leg, over went the Hooperman, and up went the yellow card for diving. Mmm, exactly the decision you or I would have made.

Town ticked over from right to left, patiently retaining possession and Butler swayed down the left before levering a cross to the far post, where Bore glanced loopily wide. Newey tickled teasingly to the near post; Till weaved a wicker basket on the right, before a hooped leg appeared from behind a small hillock to end the jester's dance. A dink nearly wended its way to the parabolic Peter Bore, which is better than paralytic, or parasitic Peter Bore, as Town carried on carrying on passing.

With about ten minutes left Atkinson was replaced by Toner and Town moved to the old bamboo 4-4-2 formation. Toner was on the left, Till on the right and the rest of the motion speaks for itself. Till and Bore and Bolland and Hunt... Hunt the Shunt was a simmering presence throughout, quietly effective, and often bandaged... they all participated in a mass love-in down the right, with Till tapping Bore behind the defence. As Miller arrived Bore looked up and rolled a pass into the path of the onrushing Bolland, 15 yards out. Only a brilliant last-ditch tackle ended this joyous procession as it marched towards the most beautiful goal in the world.

Toner curled a shot a yard over and the clock ticked on as Darlington took longer and longer to adjust their pantyhose, brush their hair and apply lipstick. Come on, come on, the taxi is waiting.

In added time we witnessed the assassination of Town chances by the cowardly linesman, Mr Greenwood. Bore chased the ball into the corner, kept it in and rolled it against the defender's ankles for... a goal kick. Bore was released behind the defence and, let's admit it, bore down on goal... the linesman put his flag up when he saw danger to Darlo. In the third minute of added time Butler flick-headed a chip into the area and Hunt burst through unchallenged. The ball skipped on; Stockdale raced out and Hunt arrived just before the keeper. Hunt flicked, the ball struck Stockdale on the hip and ballooned away for... a goal kick.

And still Town persisted. The ball was flung forward, careered across the area and was sneaked away for a Town throw-in. And that was it.

A draw would have been a fair result, especially as, in the second half, Darlington only had a couple of efforts, just periods of indefinable, unquantifiable general pressure. Town kept going, kept passing, kept causing problems to the meanest Mr Mustards in the league. The midfield functioned as a unit, with Hunt and Bolland a thick wedge of manliness barring the way. It was the re-jigged defence that wobbled under intense physical attack, though the introduction of Whittle alleviated that, mostly. Old brother Justin is an adequate horse for a certain course and the glue factory doesn't beckon just yet.

What was the difference between the two teams? One ricochet and moment of hesitancy; we can blame it on the lack of sunshine. But sometimes it ain't nobody's fault.