The mirror cracked

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

2 January 2024

Last night I dreamt I went to Blundell Park again…

It was a bright cold day in January and the clocks were striking three all over town. A new year, a new hope, we've got Salford on our mind. Keep those fists from a-pumping, have some perspective, it's only Walsall, in the fourth division.

Have we cracked it?

Town lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation as follows: Cart-Wright, Mullarkey, Maher, Waterfall, Glennon, Green, Conteh, Clifton, Andrews, Eisa and Rose. The substitutes were Eastwood, Rodgers, Hunt, Braithwaite, Khan, Vernam and Gardner. Whither O'Holohan? Will the Wolds Panther ravage the wandering Saddlemen? There are more questions than answers and the more we find out the less we know.

Ah Walsall that swirl of gritty dust entering our world again with some stray cats we lost many house moves ago. If you're scared of Walsall you're scared of life.

Let's crack on.

1st half – Spatial unawareness
Town kicked off towards the Osmond. Walsall were dead, to begin with.

We have the ball, we have movement, we have nothing to fear from these dog-eared joggers. Oohs became aahs. Glennon's corner slippered over eyebrows and off red chests, Eisa eased through a gap in the hedge, Rose chased down their keeper and Andrews carefully, wastefully, complacently leant back and steered well, well wide.

What a restful afternoon, what a lovely way to end the festive season. Wake me up when we've scored.

Sorry, did you nudge me?

C'mon, let's have some appreciation for some Town triangulation. Mullarkey tickled, Green bounded into the uncovered corner and stretchy-swiped into the path of the rambling Rose. We have lift-off. It's all too easy.

Then it wasn't.

Draper stopped, then dropped. Johnson jogged on. The soporific Saddlers had a cuddle in a huddle and decisions were made during the group therapy session. See space, use your pace. Yes, they chipped and chased.

A moment of nothingness under the Frozen Horsebeer Stand. Hutchinson flicked out a leg, the ball spun around striped legs and swurzled down the touchline. Waterfall and James-Taylor. Fire and ice. Big Luke melted. You can close your eyes Luke and remember how sweet it was to have youthful legs. The sun is sinking down, the moon slowly rising and James-Taylor’s legs are spinning round and around and whackadoo-whackadaying over Cartwright from narrowly near.

A galaxy imploded not far, far away. Cartwright had to make a save. So he made a save.

It's no fun when they run. Piddling, faffing, dithering and dallying, the Town back four. Andrews shirked, Glennon cleared to redsters, Waterfall headed straight to a lurker. Hutchinson waited alone and stroked past empty shirts.

Empty shirts, empty spaces, Town with their backs to the wall of indifference.

2nd half – What just happened here?
No changes were made by either team at half time. The floodlight above the covered corner blinked, winked and faded away. Sadly, I must report that the lights came back on.

It had been the best of times, it would be the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it will be the age of foolishness; it was an epoch of belief that became the epoch of incredulity. For Town, when there is light, there will be darkness, the spring of hope turns to the winter of despair.

Eisa, oh Eisa, Eisa what have you done? Looseness and loucheness, a pass directly to a startled and solitary Sadler. Earing ran past, strolled around and rolled into the nettage. Did anyone try to stop him?

We can see us sneaking out. There's still 40 minutes left.

The dead cat did bounce. Green swingled through a trio of redsters, falling between three stools. A penalty denied and off they ran using their youth, vitality, enthusiasm and above all their fast feet. Ricochets and rebounds, Conteh stepped across to sweep away and some red socks stepped across him. A plunge, a point, a penalty, and a procession of inwardly sobbing men and boys wound their way down Blundell Avenue just as Hutchinson passed low and left as Cartwright dismayed right.

We are a hundred times more terrible in the grim silence which hung in the frazzled air than ever when we howl. For myself, I felt a sort of paralysis of fear. It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import. This was an apocalypse, now.

A corner, lazily, apologetically arced through the Town six-yard box. Striped socks swayed, Waterfall ducked and the ball collided with the thoroughly amused but faintly embarrassed Farquaharson.

There's still 25 minutes left. Will there be anyone left?

There is no sound in the ground other than the occasional dull thud of boot on ball and upturned seat. That terrible silence shall stay with me forever as two by two the animals left the park. Pockets were picked, Walsallians watching and waiting for Town to repeat the errors. Town carried on attacking, leaving space behind the full-backs and Redmen just ran into that vacancy. Poor old Luke, poor old Luke.

Substitutions were made. So what.

Rose should have scored, you know. But he didn't. Does it really matter how and why and where? They could, should have scored more. But they didn't. And then they did. Six minutes had been added, 19 seconds remained. Vernam failed, off they ran into the vast void behind Glennon, Johnson slid.

For half an hour Town were cruising down the strip in their Morris Minor. Then the day trippers woke up, got in their souped-up Cortina with two, yes two, go-faster stripes and a spoiler on the back, and spun donuts around the timid locals.

Walsall scored the goals Mansfield avoided. Three hammerings in four games. The common denominator? Each team worked out how to nullify Town's pretty passing game after 20 minutes and realised we have no pace, no physical power or willpower. A pattern has emerged.

No pace in foot or brain. No resilience in heart or minds. The path currently taken seems to lead in into an immense darkness. The horror. The horror.