The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

We all dream of a team of James McKeowns

13 March 2018

So many words have been spent on football violence over the decades that it is hard to imagine you can write anything without sounding either like a Daily Mail editorial or a plaintive wannabe hardboy. For anyone who was close to being caught up in the scenes following James Berrett's equaliser on Saturday, you have my deepest sympathy. If Middle-Aged Diary had been on my way out of the ground when people started fighting around me, I'd have been scared shitless, and if I'd had children with me, it would make me think about going again.

Just one observation that I don't remember reading before: for those of us watching from the safety of the Main Stand, the Pontoon and most of the Findus, the violence was just really, really boring. Perhaps getting that across would be a more effective deterrent than all the words like 'disgrace' that, in some minds, only give glamour to the whole tawdry business.

Also watching from the Main Stand was quietly-excellent left back turned notably-excellent football journalist Gregor Robertson. It's true his report on Michael Jolley's appointment does not add to what Town fans already know. But it is refreshing to see a fourth division club covered in depth and without being patronised. His analysis of Siriki Dembele's performance manages to be sympathetic without pulling any punches.

You may not want to read Robertson's words because of your objections to the business and industrial practices of News International; as one who joined the protests outside Wapping in the 1980s, I sympathise. It is even possible Robertson himself does. His report starts with a take-down of the club statement announcing Jolley's appointment. Nice try Gregor, but if you are angling for a job on Cod Almighty, just don't do it. The hours are short, it is true, but the pay is even shorter.

Saturday's game should be remembered for two reasons. It was Jolley's first game in the dug out, of course. The Mariners Trust have organised a meet the manager event for 22 March. You'd be a fool, or an exile (any chance of broadcasting it?) not to be there.

Equally obvious is that the performance of James McKeown should never be forgotten. It may not have been flawless. From the Main Stand, it looked as though he made a meal of punching away a long shot that seemed to have been fired straight at him. Someone from the Pontoon will no doubt tell me the shot was swerving dangerously. And he tried and failed to reach one cross that his defenders in any case had covered.

Those are quibbles. The mark of a truly great save is when the spectator is mentally prepared for a goal; my heart had already sunk when he extended his fingers to touch the ball around the post in the first half. There are sceptics who have forgotten his late penalty save on his recall last season - here is the video evidence. After now after saving penalties in consecutive matches, McKeown can add 'penalty king' to his accomplishments.

Then there is the way he did something we have no right to expect from any goalkeeper: to galvanise the whole team, leading from the front by leading from the back. He led by his actions: not just his saves but his haste to get play moving and to protect his goal. I've no clear idea what went on from that point-blank indirect free kick with five minutes to play. All I could clearly make out was Jimmy Mac leaping around like a giant red starfish who has been promised all the earthly pleasures a giant red starfish can enjoy if only he keeps the ball out of the net.

More than any other player, McKeown 'gets' Grimsby Town. He it was trying to talk down the fans caught up in the trouble at the end. Any idea that he is 'only' a shot-stopper we can put to bed now. As a pure goalkeeping performance, Danny Coyne's heroics at QPR in 2001 take some matching. On Saturday, Jimmy Mac matched it, and added leadership to the mix.

For the next nine games, we need a team of James McKeowns.