All you need is luck: Wrexham (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

12 January 2008

Grimsby Town 1 Wreckedham 0

It's cold outside and the paint's peeling off of the walls, but at least our loos have a roof.

Around 104 red-red-dragons went hop-hop-hopping along the back two rows of the Osmond stand on a grey day of great greyness. Still, immovable, dead and dull; is that their back four? It had been raining all night and the mud in the goalmouth looked suspiciously shiny. Where is the erstwhile egomaniac, now Mariners megalomaniac?

Town lined up in the famous 5-funboy 3-rocky 2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Atkinson, Fenton, Newey, Hegggggggarty, Clarke, Hunt, Bolland, the greatest Jones of all and North. The substitutes were Montgomery, Whittle, Toner, Taylor and Till. Hey! Danny and Mr Jones, they got a thing going on, but we gotta be extra careful that we don't build our hopes too high. This is Town, after all; it ain't easy, you know how hard it can be. With Boshell and Butler absent from the bench, there was clearly no plan B.

The Red Wreckers turned up as a living cliché with five Williamses, two Evanses and two Joneses but without Silvio Spann. How can anyone live without their Silvio Spann? How can Danny Sonner live with his rock follicles? You better beware, you better take care, you better watch out he's got long black hair! In a pony tail reet down to his waist, he's gonna strangle himself in a re-enactment of the last moments of Isadora Duncan.

Anthony Whoopsee-Williams was only a substitute. Have they no sense of humour? That's like keeping your clown wig in your car boot.

First half
Town kicked off towards the Pontoon as the traditional hush descended upon Blundell Park. Nothing happened.

Then nothing happened again.

The ball was in the air, then it came down. Then it went back up. We're watching volleyball without the net.

After five or six minutes of such tedium, during which Hegggarty had managed a couple of sneaky crosses which teased and tantalised (but only where people should have been), Hird suddenly bustled down the wing. A pass was passed and a cross was crossed, swinging low towards the near post, where sixteen tons of manliness converged. The ball slapped against the surprised Evans' surprising thighs and rolled a yard or so past the post, to no-one's surprise. Clarke bounded across the slippy-sloppy turf to lazily lollop a dollop of dross onto a defender's head at the near post. We all sat back down again.

A-ha, they aren't bottom for nothing, for the clearance was simply a pass to a Town player. The ball was returned to Clarke, who coiled a dripping cross to the far post. Fenton zonked it back across the face of goal to the totally and utterly-butterly unmarked Lumpster, eight yards out. Our Jones stooped, twisted and steered a header down a few inches past the post. We sighed and sat down again. The aim of his role is to move real slow, but not that slow.

Ball, air, throw-ins and such like. You know the routine: up, down, flying around, making us go loop-diddly-oop-oop with the emptiness of it all.

Wrexham had contributed naught but a hairstyle for ten minutes. And then they did. A little bit of pickle on their right saw the ball bouncing off shins and things, and then they looked good. The ball rolled to Hall, 20 or so yards out and in the centre. He stroked a firm drive around a thicket of bodies towards the centre-left of goal. Barnes saw the ball late then suddenly plunged left, thrusting out his arm at the very last moment. The ball thudded against forearm and flew up, up and up into the air he knew not where. Blond Bob sauntered back and swept danger in to his dustpan. The evidence before the court is incontrovertible: it was a brilliant Barnes block. Well done that man.

Town were fitful and fanciful in their approach. The ball was largely airborne towards North, with the larger Evans having a quiet pint in the afternoon. Heggggarty danced and dribbled down the left, winning corners and screeching interesting crosses, but there was nothing resulting. Once, just once, Town started to pass, with one-touch give-and-gos through the left. Wonderful showboating showmanship with Heggs and Hunt and Newey sparking and startling the Welsh wobblers. Newey scooped, Hunt slooped and slurped ten yards out, passing back to Newey, then being slaughtered by a swiping, throttling tackle. Town won a corner. And another, and maybe another. Fenton won all and Wrexham froze after the first header, watching and hoping Town would fail. They often did. Here's another: Fenton headed back and Bolland hooked a shinning volley way over from ten yards out.

Wrexham were awful for a while, constantly mugged by the freewheelin' Bolland and Hunt, with Clarke carefully conducting the school orchestra. The violins are always out of tune though, aren't they. We had to smile through gritted teeth at times.

North took down a swirling drop-kick, spun and slathered a shot right at Ward from 25 yards: nice. North took down a drop-kick, spun and drove forward, shooting straight at a defender's boot: not nice - Hird and Bolland and Jones and Hegggarty were free and pleading. Danny Boy was having one of his head-down days. Ooh, Clarke volleyed but a defender failed to get out of the way as it careered goalwards. We're just waiting...

Town ratcheted up the pressure on wretched Wrexham. Hunt and North tickled each other's armpits after Hunt and Bolland had mugged one of the tourists. North crossed, the keeper dropped the ball and Heggarty, eight yards out, swished a foot, making the slightest of contact and sending the spinning satellite into a gentle parabola. Big Evans jumped twice and grazed the ball away as it started to go backwards.

Gavin Ward: we knew Anthony Williams and, sir, you're no Anthony Williams. Which is a shame. Whenever he took a goal kick he adjusted his underwear. It's a man thing, ladies. Things get trapped so one has to be subtle and retain some dignity, especially in front of four thousand voles in Grimsby, Lincolnshire.

Still Town, still fitful and still missing. Another corner and their Bolland powdered a header a foot over his own crossbar. Life is the same and it always will be easy as picking foxes from a tree. Can we please score and get this over with?

And suddenly Wrexham perked up. One of their Joneses crossed dangerously through the Town six-yard box. Hall was suddenly sent free down their centre-left, behind the defence. Into the area, pursued by Atkinson, he took a further touch, and waited for Barnes to fall then Blond Bob, the Barnsley battler, slid in from his winter break to magnificently mop up the spillage. Corners, pressure, what's going on? We did not order this off the lunchtime specials menu - we pre-ordered stuffed tender Welsh lambs.

A corner from their left was flung to the far post. Big men rose, the ball hit a Big Man's arm and fell to a Big Man who skanked a half-volley straight at Barnes from a dozen yards out. The rebound slithered like a salesman back to Another Big Man, who bedraggled a foot wide of the right post. Big Men don't wear plaid.

With about five minutes left Town had some more indeterminate pressure. The ball squirtled sideways to Bolland, a dozen yards out on the right of their penalty area. Everyone else, including the ref, was lured by the aroma of burning vegetables to queue for a half-time half-baked potato in the open corner twixt Frozen Beer Stand and Pontoon. Ward scrambled across his goal line as Bolland carefully steered a shot back across the keeper and high towards the top right corner of the goal. The ball sailed on the imperceptible thermals and slapped against the angle of post and bar, bounced towards the penalty spot and was cleared.

That's the first half, except Hunt was booked for accidentally tripping a skipping Wrexieboy. The referee took forever to book him, seemingly having difficulty with the name; Hunt takes soooo long to write, doesn't it. Then the ref didn't book a Welshie for assaulting Hunt's legs a minute later.

Town were better, but slacker than Wrexham. Each team should have scored a couple, though Town were clearly dominant and less likely to simply pass the ball out of play for no rhyme or reason. North was playing a bit dopily, while Tom Newey had one eye in the mirror as he watched himself gavotte. He was all style and very little substance and playing with his scarf that was apricot.

How are we going to throw this one away?

Second half
Till replaced Hird at half time, with no change in formation, for Till was the right wing-back, not a pink toothbrush.

From the off Till's attacking intent was clear. He pounded forward, turning his marker three ways, four ways and finally five ways to win a crooner. Ba-boo ba boo-boo. No, I mean corner. Yes, their funny Valentine made us smile, which is more than can be said for the corners. Clarke and Hegggarty took turns to hit Welsh heads; this isn't hoop-la.

Town spent a few minutes fiddling with their gears, adjusting their suspension. Shall we bounce along now? Oh yes, let's. North and Heggarty exchanged glances and passes in the street. With the red-haired roamer wheezing into the penalty area, Ward raced out. Hegggarty swayed left, but knocked the ball out of play and declined the opportunity to allow his legs to collide with the keeper's forearms. No falling, no nothing. A minute or so later Town returned with some higgledy-piggledy push-me, pull-me something or other down the right, possibly involving Bolland and Till. The ball reached North, a dozen yards out, and he refused to shoot, for the ball was to his left. He stopped, stepped back and gruffed a groobler just wide of the near post.

And that's shallot for your cooked vegetables. The game returned to its former inglorious past, with the ball ducking and diving from one side of the pitch to the other. Pigeons beware - trash football approaching. The most fluent football came from Alan Buckley, who stepped onto the pitch to retrieve the ball and drop-kicked a perfect pass to the awaiting Welshieman. Urgency and accuracy by example.

Think throw-ins. Think throw-ins that don't even get thrown in. Think of a number. Think for yourself. We got a word or two to say about the things that Town didn't do. Mr Purple's abstinence is admirable.

On the hour the referee wandered across to the touchline, then started to disrobe. Off came his earpiece, heart monitor and the buzzy thing on his arm. His epaulettes were ripped off his shoulders and whistle snapped across his knee; he walked away, never to be seen again. The ropey ref was replaced by the rubbish linesman, who was replaced by the as yet not-known-whether-useless fourth official in the court of King Caractacus. All together now: now the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Caractacus were just passing by. Have you got that, John?

During this curious sideshow Clarke was replaced by Toner, much to the surprise of all inside Blundell Park. Clarke had been perfectly fine, tackling and passing and doing all those things he was supposed to do. Apart from take good corners, that is.

The game noodled on, in its own time, in its own way. How long does a volleyball game last? Bibbling, bobbling, here and there: Till passed low and accurately to the unmarked Bolland. The unmarked Bolland decided to chip the 25-foot keeper very slowly. He failed as the ball sailed gently into Ward's teeth. Being a solid old pro, he didn't catch it in his teeth like a dog and run around the field frothing at the mouth. Solid old professionals can be very boring. We're part of the entertainment industry, people: make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em dance in the aisles. Make 'em pay, make 'em pray, make 'em feel OK. Not now John, we've gotta get on with this flimsy show.

They had a shot! Hello you Wrexies! A break down their right saw Hall bobbling on and on, with Town in retreat. From the edge of the area he slung a slow, soft, sneaky shot vaguely goalwards, vaguely across Barnes. The ball slurped once off the mud and Barnes half fell to his right. The ball peeked through his hands to smile at the Pontoonites, but Barnes managed to slobber himself over this snake in the grass.

Wrexham had a bit of what you might call luck, but they didn't get up and go much. They had just a few corners, from one of which Big Evans looped a header high across and beyond the left post. There would have been even less cause for hiccoughs in the Main Stand tea rooms if Newey had listened to Barnes and stood next to the post and not wandered away. Again, and again, and again. You, yes you, laddie. Stand still!

Drifting aimlessly towards the clouds, this was mesmerisingly dull, an unchewable lump of old mutton dressed up as a chocolate button. How rock 'n' roll is a cardigan, by the way?

Diddly-dum, diddly-dee: a bakewell tart for tea. Beware the doldrums dear Celtic fringers, for this is the eye of the storm, not the norm. The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true. With just over 20 minutes left, tickling sticks were shaking down the Town left, with Newey, for the umpty-hundredth time, lazily hoiking a curling ba-zonk down the touchline. The Dragoons didn't chase the lady, and North bustled away from his red-shirted foes. As the ball bounced into the right corner of their penalty area Ward raced, as only an old man can race, off his line and flapped at North like his pants were on fire. You just know he should have hitched them up at that last goal kick. North reached the ball first and lofted a pokey punt goalwards. Bouncing, bouncing, slowly descending towards goal, a defender stretched and humped the ball away. Up went a flag and up went to the Town support in disbelieving relief. The man of the hour has an air of great power: North had scored, or had he? You, the jury, decide.

Well, that's nice of the rearranged officiating deckchairs to think of us.

A couple of minutes later, after a Wrexham corner was cleared, Till finagled his way past one of the Joneses right on the touchline underneath the Frozen Beer Stand. Tireless Till hopscotched around his opponent, causing this Jones to try to manhandle, upend and finally sprint after the Tesco tearaway. Near the halfway line the Wrexhamian fell to earth clutching his hamstring and Till flew away on a weekend break. Onwards and onwards, the defenders panicking backwards, deep inside their half, he looked up and saw defenders sucked into his magic swirling vortex, but espied Hegggarty unmarked over towards Denmark. A simple pass was passed and Hegggarty, about 20 yards out, allowed the ball to roll into his path before belting a swizzling drive goalwards. Ward push-parried the swirler back infield, but straight to North near the penalty spot, who poked a first-time shot straight back at the keeper. Then an offside flag went up and that was the end of that.

The stricken Jones-type took an age to be dragged onto a stretcher and carried off the pitch. It looked like it bloomin' well hurt.

Wrexham threw, but not literally, their Big Evans upfield and flung balls higher and higher towards him. The siege had begun. Town wobbled at the edges, but fortunately Wrexham were incapable of passing accurately, and the new linesman was tremendously kind. An overlap, three of them against one of us! Where's Tom Newey? It doesn't matter, they kicked it out of play. Corners, crosses, fighting and biting, Wrexhamites were thrusting anything at everything. Shots rained into... the Pontoon. Nice.

Spann, Spann, Span, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn. They need their Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Spann, Span, Spann. Spann, Spann, Spann, Evans and Spann. They haven't got any Spann.

With about ten minutes left the rubbish linesman confirmed he was a rubbish ref too, by falling for their falling. A free kick, 30 or so yards out on their right, was hurled beyond the far post. Fenton waited underneath the ball, just five yards out. Big Evans threw himself at Fenton, who had positioned himself between Evans and ball, with the result that Fenton was pole-axed. A free kick to Town. And worse, Fenton was helped to his feet, but he could barely stand, with blood pouring out of a gash on his forehead. He staggered and swayed and was held aloft by three burly men as they waited for medical assistance. After a long, long delay Fenton was taken away and was replaced by Brother Justin Whittle.

The rugby match continued, but everyone kept kicking the ball into touch. The line-outs were pretty messy and there was just a big pancake roll of a maul as Wrexham became more and more unsubtle. More unsubtle? How could that be?

Ah, Mr Toner, you're alive! Bursting infield from the left, he tried a spectacular drive from 30 yards, but the ball just snicked off a red boot for a corner. The corner was cleared back to Toner, who curled a lovely cross beyond the far post to the unmarked Whittle, perhaps six yards out. Jumpin' Justin stretched and steered a beautiful volley which smackerooned off the post, and was blancmanged away from the middle of the penalty area.

There were six minutes of added time, and seven were played.

There's nothing to worry about: Barnes caught two crosses, that's all. It was merely a matter of whether the ref would end the game before Match of the Day started. And finally he did. Town made very hard work of beating a limited opposition, with fragments of football interspersed with a bit of a low-level rumble. The midfield was much stronger today, when they had the chance to get near the ball, for yet again far too many of Town indulged themselves in hoiking humps down the flanks, nearly always through Newey. And yet that's how we scored. Is that our version of the percentage game?

Still, things look very different from a month ago. What a queer year.