The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Any (Stock) port in a storm

12 January 2021

"Hammering down! West Ham weather Stockport storm" reads the back-page headline in today's Guardian, and Middle-Aged Diary is transported back to another Stockport storm, and another cup tie, 13 years ago last week.

It was the northern semi-final of the Football League Trophy, and Grimsby won 2-1. Both Town goals were a touch comic. Stockport's captain and central defender was having a nightmare of a game, and sliced Nick Hegarty's cross into his own goal for the winner. Our first was attributed to Jamie Clarke, but really it was another own goal: their goalie pushed Clarke's shot up, up, up; then it came down, down, down, almost under the crossbar. He'd have had no problem regathering if a defender had not come to assist and got in his way, so that the ball fell to ground untouched, bounced up again and found its way between them into the net.

Alan Buckley's third spell at Blundell Park has undergone something of an upward revision in the years since it ended, in the light of the deluge that followed. Someone on social media was asking which three players from the past would we most want back with us in their prime to get us out of our currrent fix. You don't even have to go back to the 1990s: no one would argue that from that team, once Buckley had taught them that nothing comes without hard-work, we would snatch back Ryan Bennett, Nick Hegarty, Paul Bolland, Gary Jones and Danny North. Several of the others seem better now than we thought them at the time.

But I digress. The really memorable thing about that January night in 2008 was the storm. In the first half, the Town fans were scattered on a wide open terrace, all atmosphere disappearing like vapour, the game flat, the sight of approaching lightning as absorbing as the action, especially as we knew we were in for a soaking. At half time, the Stockport stewards took pity on us and let us move to a covered stand: fanciful no doubt, but it felt like that that act of generosity cost them the game. We were transformed - steam rising from the rain on our coats, the sounds of our chants and stamping feet bouncing back down, magnified by the roof - and the team was transformed. Perhaps that was a stern half-time lecture, but I like to think that it was us who did it.

It was one of those nights that affirms the glory of football, the kind of night we are all of us missing. But it depended on an essential sympathy - all too often absent - between the stewards, the police, and the fans.

Which brings us to the statement on both the Scunthorpe and Grimsby official sites that the kick-off time for our game on 23 January has been changed to one o'clock "at the request of Humberside Police." The phrase is so familiar that perhaps it was copied and pasted from the last time a derby got moved. The problem is that apparently it isn't true. The police, no doubt narked at people asking why the hell they wanted to change the time of a game when there'll be no one at the ground, have put out their own statement saying the move was made by the clubs, and they merely approved it.

Does it matter? Well, I'd not be devoting much space to it if I could tell you about any new signings, but actually it does. It is about developing a spirit of trust (I'm not going to quote Russell Slade) between all the groups who need to work with each other to make an enjoyable day at the match. No doubt Grimsby and Scunthorpe have good reasons why they want the game to kick off at one: it would be far better if they stated what that reason was, rather than citing the police. The relationship between police and fans is difficult enough without adding a drop of oil to the fire.

Before I go, can I draw your attention to Chris Smith's article on 2010-11. It is, in its way, another tribute not to the football itself - that was forgettable - but to everything that goes with the game, and especially the way it fosters friendships strong enough not just to help us cope with Town but with the most poignant life events.

Take care