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Cod Almighty | Diary

An inverted swan

15 June 2018

Middle-Aged Diary did have an idea for how the draw for the League Cup could be made into an event in itself, an idea which has the practical advantage that it doesn't require anyone to travel to Vietnam. Unfortunately, that is the only advantage.

My idea is: hold the draw on the morning the ties are due to take place. Imagine the scene. Everyone poised over their transistor radios to find out whether they need to hot-foot it to Plymouth or summon the groundsperson, the ticket office staff, the turnstile operators and commission a hasty programme as they make ready to host, at 10 hours notice, Man United. 

Coverage could take the form of one of those deadline-day specials beloved of TV stations with not enough content to fill their airtime. The day - everyone with a professional interest in the sport scampering about like hyperactive bunnies - really would be the highpoint of the season. Alas the evening in which the matches were actually played would be anything but. But at least you'd guarantee everyone was tuned in for the draw.

In case you don't know, Grimsby have been drawn at home to Rochdale. Let's move on.

You know what they say about swans: serenity on the surface and frantic paddling below. A penalty is the opposite of that. The moment the referee points to the spot, it is all apparent hullaballoo. Defenders surround the referee to appeal against the award. The fouled forward indulges in a celebration. Fans celebrate feverishly - after all the goal has not been scored yet. And, below the surface, that is the real crux of the moment. As everyone else's frantic paddling subsides, we are left with the sustained moment of stillness between the goalkeeper and the penalty taker, a rare minute in which all the expectation, all the pressure, is on the player taking the kick.

Touching wood that the appointment of Michael Jolley points to an upturn in Town's fortunes and not a blip in our decline, we will remember Mitch Rose's hat-trick of penalties - against Chesterfield, Barnet and Swindwon - for years to come. They formed a rickety bridge between Jolley making the Mariners hard to beat and the emergence of a genuine attacking threat in the last two games of the season. And what I will remember, above all, is the complete authority with which Rose took charge in the drama of the penalty award against Chesterfield: claiming the ball, taking the good luck pat on the back from Luke Summerfield, and then placing the ball on the spot. He never looked like a man worrying that he might miss, and so my own worries were eased.

We often think about individual penalties missed - Marc North against Aldershot in 1988; Kevin Donovan and Danny Boshell at Wembley - or scored. Braintree stands out, and Pádraig Amond offers real insight into the ice-cold clarity that must co-exist with commitment to mark the successful sportsperson. But I don't remember anyone discussing the question: who are the best penalty takers to have played for Town?

Personally, I'm less interested in the statistics that show who converted the highest percentage of penalties. I'm thinking about who imparted the kind of faith I had in Mitch Rose as he stood ready to claim a vital three points. A name who comes to my mind is Lenell John-Lewis. He is one of those forwards whose contribution could not always be measured in goals scored. His still composure at the start of his run up epitomised the quiet self-confidence he must have neeeded to block out his own and other people's doubts.

But you will have your own suggestions.