The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Well they couldn't get anywhere near him, Dave

14 February 2020

Love is in the air, everywhere I look around — but especially on Twitter, where the GTFC hashtag continues to float upon waves of positivity. It's also where I keep seeing Charles Vernam’s hat-trick goal.

Each time I watch it, I see something new: James Hanson's brilliant decoy run; Harry Pell's casual trot through midfield, which you'd imagine his manager would've given him a bollocking for in the dressing room afterwards; or the selection of fans sat behind the goal, who each throw up an arm in disgust at the moment the ball finds the bottom corner — and then the post-mortem begins, as they try to decide which of their players could've "got to him" and "put a bloody tackle in".

The chorus of "Sort it, Colchesters!" must've been music to the ears of every Town fan who was there. Not that they'd have heard it, mind — they'd have been too busy cheering.

If someone had said to me that you'd find joy in a corner of Essex on a cold Tuesday night in the middle of February watching fourth division football in front of a sparse crowd in an ugly tin stadium, I'd have questioned your ambition. But football isn't all about the destination; it's about the journey. Right now, the journey is about as enjoyable as it’s been since those noisy and inventively-themed away days in non-League. Going up is nice, if you can get it, but sometimes simply being 'on the up' will do — especially if it follows years of treading water and growing fears that, actually, we might be going backwards.

Vernam is quite rightly talk of the town. I don't think there’s a fan among us who didn't believe he had this sort of ability in him; the question we've all been asking is why it hasn't emerged sooner. Ollie takes a lot of the credit, and quite rightly too. But Anthony Limbrick and Ben Davies were in charge when they called him back from his loan at Chorley and he began showing signs of his potential in the games against Scunthorpe, Macclesfield and Crawley over the Christmas period.

Your West Yorkshire Diary tweeted it on Tuesday night when all of us were too pumped with adrenaline to go to bed at a sensible time, but his emergence reminds me of the form Phil Jevons found in the 2003-4 season.

It was a different time, in a higher league, and the story behind Jevons' emergence lacks parallels. However, after banging in the goals for the reserves, Jevons was brought into the side in November (at an FA Cup defeat at Peterborough, I think) and almost immediately he looked too good for the division. He had that extra bit of quality, and some of the goals he scored for us — ironically as we slid towards the relegation zone — were outrageously good.

Vernam's story hardly compares, but after signing for us permanently in the summer of 2018 it’s fair to say his Town career didn't — or couldn't — get off the ground until the manager (caretaker or otherwise) put faith in him and promised him a run in the side.

I appreciate that he hasn't been free of injuries either, so while it'd be easy to blame Michael Jolley, we have to acknowledge that he was the manager who brought Vernam to the club permanently — and Russell Slade was the manager who first brought him to us on loan, just a week or two before he was sacked.

I was at the Bradford match last weekend and I witnessed a player who was looking to dominate the game. For once, we had the player that the opposing fans were fearful of, and jealous of, in equal measure. He had that something extra; an energy and eagerness that had him buzzing all over the place, demanding the ball, shielding it, running with it and generally disrupting the Bantams' defence with movement, inventiveness and trickery.

That performance couldn't have contrasted more sharply with the last one I saw from him in person, when we lost 4-0 at home to Leyton Orient. That day, back in October, just before Jolley lost his shit, Vernam started in exactly the same position in exactly the same formation. Once again, it makes you question how much of the game is down to confidence, and how much is down to tactical acumen.

And so we turn our attention to tomorrow's home game against Morecambe. They’ve become like the Carlisle of the late 1990s: perennial fourth division strugglers whose only ambition is to stave off relegation. I don't say that dismissively or arrogantly as I'm aware that this is exactly how we'll be labelled by a new generation of football fans who can’t remember anything from before 2008. Two seasons of struggle, six seasons in non-league and then three and a half seasons in the bottom half of the fourth division — to anyone under the age of 20, we are a nothing club.

I have a number of happy memories of us playing Morecambe — the time we won 4-0 at their place, sandwiched in the middle of beating them over two legs to reach the Football League Trophy final. And we beat them on the opening day of our first season back in the Football League. But these happy moments are not a fair reflection of our head-to-head record, which is actually poor.

Just four wins from 17 meetings is quite rubbish. They are by no means pushovers since Derek Adams took charge, so they will give us a test tomorrow. But you'd like to think we have enough quality and confidence in our squad right now to justify our tag as favourites.

Not all the action is happening tomorrow, remember — there’s another game taking place at Blundell Park on Sunday, when Grimsby Town Women take on Cleethorpes Town Ladies in the Lincolnshire County Cup semi-final. Kick-off is at 2pm but there will be activities including a keepie-uppie tournament, an inflatable football dartboard, mascots, a half-time under-12s game, and all the fanfare you'd expect to mark this unique local derby.

Let's just hope the weather is kind to us — because it's looking rather menacing at the moment. Whether you’re going to Saturday’s game, Sunday’s game, or both — give the team(s) your unwavering support, shout yourself hoarse and let's hope, by Monday morning, we're three points better off and into the County Cup final. UTMM!