The ploughman's lunch: Notts County (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

2 February 2008

Nottingham Kickbackers 1 Grimsby Town 1

A bright, nippy afternoon in the home of the brave and the land of the free transfer with around 900 travelling Townites having travelled the length of Lincolnshire for a car boot sale by the Trent. That's not a pitch: it's an ill-kept public park. They really should stop the local youth of today mopedding through the rose bushes.

Town lined up in blue in the fiscally prudent 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Bennett, Fenton, Atkinson, Hegggggggarty, Clarke, Hunt, Boshell, Tevez and Rooney. Well, maybe not the real Tevez and Rooney, but their fourth division celebrity run-a-likes, Till and North. The substitutes were Montgomery, Taylor, Whittle, cerise-shoed Bore and la-la-la-la-Lumpy. At least Newey wasn't there to punt aimlessly - someone else will have to take on that onerous task.

Is Straight Peter Bore the Imelda Marcos of fourth division football? Is there a thesis in this? Boot couture: fetishism, footballers and the peacock personality.

Happy birthday Jimmy Squirrel, now turn down the tannoy and let's get on with the show.

First half
County ploughed off towards the Town fans, their red diesel burning and wheels a-churning the stony ground into deep, straight grooves. Ah look, they've already plonked their black and white scarecrow in the middle of the Town defence; he stood with a bird on his hat and straw everywhere, but Jason Lee don't scare no birds these days.

Hoik and hoof, punt and shunt: County were as subtle as a cow with a broken bidet; they were mechanised meatballs in stagnant, lumpy gravy. Offal, really just offal.

The Town back three stood tall, stood firm and calmly nodded and noodled the chuntering chuckers away from the penalty area. A few dozen County fans got excited because they had a corner; the rest mumbled morosely. Fenton headed clear and Town broke, broke and broke again. Till and North daintily danced in front, between and around the stalactites and stalagmites exchanging passes and generally pestering.

Boshell won a tackle, North nurdled down the line and Till ram-raided down the left. Off he raced, pursued by the bare bones of Edwards and Tann, carrying on and on and on and on. Up to the area, along the edge and out to the right, he kept dribbling on before levering a cross back towards goal. The ball squeezed through to North, at the near post, who swept a first-time shot from 10 yards towards the top corner. Pilkington raised his arms and the ball rebounded out towards the edge of the area. Clarke sashayed forward and calmly placed a shot towards the bottom right of the goal. Pilkington sprawled, a defender crawled and the ball flicked a foot wide for a corner.

The keeper caught the corner and we sat down again.

Swirly curly-wurly: you'd be better off at Burghley House watching toffs totter and splash if you are on the wrong side of the black and white tracks. County were a rugby team playing on a rugby pitch; Town were in control.

Ah, here we go again, here comes the sun, doo-di-doo-doo. As the three Town tenors disrobed a stray Countyite, Till drifted into the nether lands between their midfield and defence. He spun and plucked his lyre, my liege, strumming a gentle song about taking his maiden to the fair to buy a chicken. The muddling Magpies were enchanted by the warbling and ignored a wafted pass down and over the middle. North skipped over the divots and was away, alone, behind the defence on the centre right and bearing down upon goal. Pilkington rushed out and North poked a shot straight at the keeper, who blocked with his shins.

Mmm, eight minutes gone, Town playing well and should be two up. This is disastrous - how do we think we'll win if we play well?

If we wish to be completist about these things, and be fair to the locals, then they did have couple of headers which moved towards the goal, causing a very mild sneeze of surprise in a child eating a Twix. No-one else bothered. These were not moments to concern the sentient; it was just County thrupping themselves into a soapy lather. Let's contemplate the most thrilling of these events: Bennett, for once and once only, failed to hold off Lee as a deep cross was bonked to the far post; jousting Jase wandered around the back and skanked the ball to Barnes. I suppose it counts as a shot, as the ball would have gone into the net had Town's team bus turned into a pumpkin, and only a pumpkin, near Newark.

Is this the National Tractor championship?

This tasteless gruel is cruel on the homesters, much like Paper Lace. Can you name all five members of Paper Lace and keep your pretty head low? Can Paper Lace name all five members of Paper Lace?

County threatened to threaten the outermost reaches of the Town penalty area now and again, but only through Town being so comfortable they'd reclined in their rocking chair and were pretending to be Val Doonican. Isn't that what we all do on a Saturday afternoon? Are we stuck in 1975? Well, the pitch is, and therefore Town were sometimes stuck in the mud, unable to pass or physically move down the right as the ball bombled and stumbled crazily across the ill-fitting rolls of turf laid last night by a cowboy firm of gardeners.

Town were a pleasing body in motion when they broke, with the midfield striking passes to the feet of the pestering pair of popsicles. Till was a perpetual motion machine, swirling around North like a satellite orbiting a small planet. Fizzing left, frothing right, on he drove with surging runs at the heart of the Magpie defence. A flick, a trick, and off he went again, za-zimmering from centre to right and hooking a cross to the edge of the penalty area. Hegggarty chested the ball down and carefully looped a volley across the face of goal, the ball dipping only five yards wide. Shall we "ooh" to keep warm? We shall.

Ah, Hunt: so tepid he could bath a baby; Clarke dithering when the ball bounced, and Town were alarming themselves with memories of the mirthless months before Christmas. Clarke wiped his nose on a County sleeve and a free kick was given 25 or so yards out on their centre-right. Slobby Strachan with the streaky hair feigned to shoot but hit a flat cross towards the far post. Lee, a dozen yards out, had backed away from the throng and was unmarked. He carefully headed the ball back into the gathering mass of mediocrity and Town cleared. For them it was a chance, for anyone else it was not even a glance at the television schedules for Saturday 5 December 1987, where the Chuckle Brothers were giving out some useful tips on decorating and DIY, while in 'Allo 'Allo, René was inundated with sausages containing paintings, batteries, dynamite... and garlic. So that's where County get their tactics from.

Ay-up, here Town go again, slinking and linking down the right with Hird bounding through the quicksand to cross deep into the centre of the penalty area. Canoville flailed a boot and North stopped to thrap a header goalwards. Pilkington stepped across his line and clutched the ball to his chest to save excellently. Town should be leading, shouldn't they. Are we going to be jinxed by the hoodoo of adequacy?

Edwards volleyed over from five yards out but don't bother fretting: it wasn't frightening, for he was offside. It was just the usual County threat from a free kick; that's all they are - a team for set-pieces. They can do nothing else but hope the ball falls for them in a confusion of colliding bodies. That's not football: that's park rugby.

Isn't it about time we tickled Jason Lee's feet? His head did no thinking, his arms didn't move except when the wind cut up rough, and mice ran around on the ground. He stood in this field and barely cooed to his pigeon pal up front. Do you want to know what you've missed? They sliced it in the air and when the ball came down Town generally passed towards each other, but fell down a hole in the ground. Big and sort of round, it was: County had dug their hole deep. Oh yes, and it was flat at the bottom and the sides were steep.

With about five minutes left to half time Town had a free kick about 30 yards out in the centre. Clarke carefully triangulated his bearings, adjusted his underpants accordingly and curled a slow shot over the wall and a couple of yards wide. It's something, I suppose. Shall we get back to this curious collision of the unstable and the unable?

Ah, too late, it's over; let's walk on by to the pie stall.

County had two moments of almostness, Town should have scored three. That's all folks. Come back later for some tea.

Second half

Neither team made any changes at half time: it was still the sub-prime against the ridiculous.

Town half did something in a half-hearted, half-witted way, for they kept attacking down the turnip and carrot side of the pitch. Hegggarty shinned a cross into the stand as the ball sprang up off a clump of mud. Boshell found himself ankle deep in the doo-doo as the pitch decided to sneak off towards Ikea. Meatballs with or without cranberry sauce?

If anyone was in the ascendancy it was Town, for they had the ball more and got closer to the goal they were supposed to be attacking. County just wallied it as high in the air as they could: they were miserable in every way. A Town corner was cleared and helped on by a swinging boot and Hunt ducked out of the way as the ball went straight down the middle, leaving Clarke to turn and calmly roll a pass back to Barnes. Jarvis approached Barnes, who calmly rolled a pass out to Clarke, now on the left touchline. Alas, poor Jamie. He forgot the ball, stumbling upon the shifting earth as a Countyite stood in front of him.

The ball was immediately passed to Jarvis, alone on the left side of the Town area with no-one within 15 yards. He took a touch; Barnes flew out sideways and the shot was blocked, but the ball rebounded off Jarvis and back towards goal. Hunt sauntered back and slabbered a clearance against a retreating Town defender and the ball ballooned across the face of goal, fortunately to another Town player. Sloppy, slappy but in the end we're happy.

A momentary lapse of reason.

North suddenly awoke, spinning past Edwards and powering towards goal on the right before shankling a shot deep into the heart of the Town support. Well, it was something, even if his shot did end up 12 yards wide and 20 yards high. It was a notice of intent, if little else, and followed some passing by Town. You see passing was good and passing was working.

A momentary lapse into reason.

Just before the hour County had a free kick inside their own half. Pilkington cracked it upfield as hard and as high as he could. Leapy Lee leapt on their left, nudging a header into the right corner of the Town penalty area. Jarvis ran towards the ball, stuck out a leg and it rebounded away from him. Hird collided with the ball and it ricocheted away from him, rolling perfectly into the path of Butcher, who, from a dozen or so yards out and wide of goal, swished a low shot across Barnes into the bottom left corner.

The change it had to come; we knew it all along. Playing well and conceding a rubbish goal to a rubbish team in a rubbish way in a ground full of rubbish. That's just rubbish.

Settle back into your seats and begin to grumble, it's what we do best. Town attacked, grumble. Town crossed, grumble-wumble. Hegggarty chased the ball beyond the far post to slurp a slapping shot straight at Pilkington from about ten yards. Grumble-wumble-mumble, bleurgh, bleurgh, bleurgh, blah, blug, glug; feeling like a mug. A mug of hot, hot chocolate please, it's getting colder by the second.

Hunt was dumped and Boshell flighted a free kick in from the left, big men rose and out came a clearing header, straight to Clarke, about 30 yards out dead centre. Jamie lost his magic torch and volleyed spectacularly badly with the ball squirtling sideways and back out to the Bosh. He calmly assessed the shivering and shaking before his eyes, espied a hole directly in front of him and serenely stroked a dinky pass into that hole. Fenton strode beyond the last defender and, about eight yards out, nonchalantly wafted his right boot at the ball and poked it in to the bottom right corner.

What a nice surprise, who's sorry now?

If you're wondering what happened in the bits between the goals and the shots and passes and dots it's simple: look upwards, then look down, look up, look down, look up, look down eventually you'll grow weary and fall asleep. Congratulations, you are now a season ticket holder at Meadow Lane.

Town started to tease and please down the left, with Hegggarty prominent, though not particularly effective. Boshell began the beguine with beguiling, driving runs in support as Till infiltrated the space between the County defenders. One-touch passing and whoosh, Town were in! Till leapt on the left, twisted and turned, rolled infield, went past one, past a another. A shot blocked, the ball came back and he was in the centre ten yards out. He turned, he shot, and the ball flicked over the bar off Edwards' backside. Boshell floated the corner to the far post and Fenton rose above his marker to powerfully head down, just the six yards wide.

Look up, look down. Look up, look down. Count backwards from 23 very slowly…

Wahey, it's Town again. Doing Town things like passing and moving. All very nice. The ball fell to Hegggarty 15 yards out at the far post, who carefully rearranged his deckchairs and steered a cushioned volley over and across Pilkington, and a foot over and a foot wide of the top left corner of the goal.

And now their black and white scarecrow is sadder than a tree, Lee was resigned to his fate as he was replaced by a little lad. Bye-bye big man, you were never the future, but you are now definitely the past. You are what you are, and that's very old. Perhaps you should stick to your mobile disco from now on.

Oh dear, did you see that? They almost passed it to each other. Three times. Town were mentally shredded by this change in method, for, perhaps by accident, County sometimes passed the ball along the ground, almost. Their subs were smaller, lither and quicker of foot and thought, causing occasional moments of worry. And one very large one. Canoville cannoned down the right and boomed a flat, fast cross into the centre. Weston arrived above Hird and, from perhaps ten yards out, headed just over the bar. Weston sniggled through and almost crossed to a team mate. Almost isn't good enough though, is it. Shall we stick to our own almosts?

With a minute or so left Atkinson, out on the left, hurled a long throw into the near post. The ball skipped off a forehead to Hegggarty, centrally positioned right on the edge of the area. Hegggarty swivelled and steered a low, left-footed hooking volley goalwards, but straight to Pilkington. That is all the news that's fit to print, unless you find a three-minute cameo from Sir Lumpalot of any interest? You do? Lumpy replaced North and spent three minutes not touching the ball. Is that interesting?

The game ended as Atkinson hurled a giant long throw into the near post. A suitable ending: the ball in the air, a sense of anticlimax.

There we are: the indefatigable spirit remains, the unbeaten run continues and Notts County are still rotten. The defence generally coped with the up 'n' unders, though Clarke and Hunt were a little diffident in the general midfield hullabaloo. The move to two small strikers worked well, for Town were canny on the break and generally eschewed any hoofing. Barnes threw the ball when he could and passes were made to the lower of the limbs. Till, in particular, was adept at drifting away from his marker into spaces and his direct running caused palpitations to the Pie-people.

We should have won, but we didn't. We could have accidentally lost, but we didn't. Given the upside-down world of life in the fourth division, it'll do.