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Question of the Week

Are there too many police at football matches?

Too many
Too few
About right


Anyone Out There?

By: Tony Butcher
Date: 14/12/2000

A chilly, breezy but clear night in shallowest suburbia. The unwanted fixture from hell had finally arrived. Walking to the ground one was struck by the unnatural quietness, doubts crept into the mind; is it really on?

Wimbledon 2 Grimsby Town 2

To paraphrase the old Max Boyce joke we followed the crowd and ended up in a supermarket, literally, as the massed ranks of Grimbarians were not sent to the Arthur Waite (rose) Stand, but behind the goal (on the right as seen on TV). And that has a supermarket underneath it.

There was no one around, save a dozen policemen. We entered the ground and noticed that the floodlights weren't on, though both sets of players were warming up on the pitch. With 15 minutes to go before kick off the floodlights were turned on, thus enabling us to count the player/fan ratio; roughly 5 fans for every player. With 5 minutes to go the crowd had reached 500, and just before kick off another 1,000 or so appeared. The Arthur Waitrose Stand was completely empty and there were 91 Town supporters; we know this because a chap sat in front of me phoned up his mate in the Wimbledon end; and he counted us all in, and probably counted us all out too.

So it is not possible to give a run down on how Town warmed up; it was too dark to see. I don't think there was any pre-match entertainment, as I didn't hear anything over the tannoy. We only know there were other people in the ground because we could hear voices, like a foggy day in old London Town.

Town lined up in the red kit in the old familiar 4-4-2 formation as follows: - Coyne, Butterfield, R Smith, Groves, Gallimore, Campbell, Willems, Burnett, Coldicott, Donovan and Nielsen. The substitutes were Croudson, Bloomer, D Smith, Jeffrey and Chapman. Butterfield played at right back, with Smith and Groves at centre half. Campbell played wide left and Coldicott wide right and, of course Donovan and the silver booted Nielsen were upfront.

Wimbledon were a bunch of big blokes in dark blue. Hartson was the only really recognisable player, mainly because he looks like he's just got up after a 24-hour binge.

1st half

Wimbledon kicked off towards the Town support. It will not surprise you to hear that they immediately whacked the ball long towards Hartson's head. I can't remember anything happening in the first 10 minutes, except that we kept looking at our watches. The game was exactly how you'd expect it to be; Wimbledon hit high and challenged aggressively, with Town attempting to pass through the middle. You can be proud of "Our Brave Boys"; Nobody squares it better.

The first goalmouth incident happened right in front of us. A Wimbledon player got behind the Town defence on our left and crossed low along the 6-yard box. Butterfield ran in and shinned the ball over the bar with his left foot. Town were slightly fortunate as he miss-hit his clearance. Burnett cleared the corner at the near post. It was noticeable that Wimbledon stationed a player on Coyne and didn't even look at the ball. He attempted to block like an American Footballer.

I have a vague recollection of Town having a couple of attacks, with crosses that were cleared rather desperately at the near post and Willems, from about 30 yards on the centre left, dragged a direct free kick a yard wide of the keepers left hand post. Butterfield tried a shot from 30-35 yards, which the keeper saved easily at his shins. At about this point concentration started to break and I noticed two sparsely decorated Christmas trees in one of the unused corners. Perhaps I should be more specific when I use the word unused; as that applied to 95% of the ground.

The unused corner between the big stand, behind the goal and where we usually sit. An old newspaper blew erratically across the ground towards the empty stand. A Grimsby supporter sneezed. The bloke in front rang his mate in the other end again and indulged in one of those "I'm waving can you see me" conversations. So we all joined in, asked the name of his mate and! sang; There's only one Andy Jackson; Yes, the crowd so small, the game so low key we indulged in personalised fan taunting. Then there was; Can you hear the players talk?

Hartson had a couple of opportunities, firstly when he barged his way through a couple of challenges on the Town right of the area. Coyne came out and stood tall, the shot bouncing off our custardian (yep, back in yellow) to be cleared by one of the 5 defenders hanging around. The second Hartson shot was a twist and turn, again on the Town right, about 15 yards out. His low shot went through a couple of defenders legs and would have crept inside Coyne's right hand post, but saved more uncomfortably than he should have done (he let the ball squirm back across goal and had to spring up and jump on the ball as a forward ran in).

Then Town got a couple of corners, which Willems curled to the far post at speed and a shallow parabola. The first one the keeper flapped away to Donovan, lurking at the edge of the 6-yard box. A diffident prod returned it to the ball boy, at least that's what I thought someone called him. Around the 20 minute mark Willems took another corner on the Town right. Again it curled viciously to the far post. Again the keeper flapped and touched the ball to Donovan on the edge of the 6-yard box. Donovan returned the ball with a little more pace (i.e. it moved) toward the goal and there was a very slow motion scramble with players taking it in turns to move.

The crowd stopped watching and started to talk to each other. What seemed like a minute later the ball rolled to R SMITH who whacked the ball in from 5 or 6 yards out, just to the left of centre. I think the ball from Donovan went to Groves, whose shot either hit the post or was cleared off the line! and the ball then rolled to R Smith. I think. It was up the other end and no one was really paying much attention, none of the Wimbledon players were, that's for sure. During the celebrations someone shouted "Do you mind, we're having a conversation"

Nothing happened for another 20 minutes. Nothing, Nothing at all. Apart from the referee deciding, around the 30 minute mark, to give Wimbledon free kicks 25 yards out. The worm suddenly turned against Town. They were very poor decisions, the poorest being when a Wimbledon forward pushed over Butterfield, then fell over the Tumbling Tot. Willems blocked the attempted drive superbly by throwing his body across the flight of the ball.

Euell And then, like Julian Dicks hair, it all went pear shaped. With 5 minutes to go to half time a typical punt and run from Wimbledon saw the ball knocked up to Euell, centrally placed 25 yards out. Hartson ran across him and Euell did a little overhead flick into a space behind and between Gallimore and Richard Smith. The ball bounced and Hartson appeared to knock the ball past Smith with his hand, thus gaining a yard of space, about 10 yards out, 10 or so yards to the left of the goal. He dragged a pass across the face of the gaol and EUELL tapped the ball into the net from 6 or 7 yards out. A huge proportion of the Town support (i.e. a number above 4) rose as one and shouted "handball" when Hartson went past Smith. Strangely none of the Town players claimed a foul, so either they were incredibly sporting and well behaved or we fans suffered an optical Illusion. In our defence I would add that we were about 15 yards from Hartson and had a perfect unblocked view!

Wimbledon visibly upped the tempo of their power game, flinging in even more direct crosses. They didn't bother with any noncey passing. It was hoof, hoof, hoof (and some of their clearances went on the roof, roof, roof). Passing isn't their forte. Whenever they tried it they kicked it out for a Town throw in, and that ain't no exaggeration. Right on half time they won a couple of corners. From the first (taken from Town's right) the ball was hit to a central defender, unmarked near the penalty spot. He headed the ball down and the ball bounced towards the top right hand corner. Coyne ran over and bundled the ball away for another corner under pressure from a forward whose feet seemed very high. Coyne was jumping up to catch the ball and the Wimbledon players feet were challenging Coyne's hands. Mmm sounds like dangerous play, doesn't it?

Anderson goal From that corner they scored a very disputable goal. The corner was taken from Town's left and hit to the far post, about 12 yards out. ANDERSON headed back across goal just to the left of centre. Coyne was standing about a foot from the where the ball would cross the line. He tried to move that foot but found a Wimbledon forward leaping across him. Coyne then attempted to punch the ball from over the forward's right ear, but the forward continued to jump into him. The ball went in one way as Coyne fell the other. It was, at the very least, obstruction. It defies logic and the laws of physics for Coyne to leap to his left and end up rolling backwards to his right. An elementary knowledge of Newton's laws would have enabled the referee to deduce the some other force must have been responsible for altering the course of our goalkeeper's journey towards the ball. Coyne ran after the referee and was booked. Nielsen flung some mud in to the goal in disgust and frustration and the Town supporters were noisily unhappy.

Then it was half time. The referee received a police escort off the pitch, which was bizarre given the geography of Selhurst Park (and the lack of people within it). Or perhaps they were going to arrest him for ineptitude. Overall the scoreline was a travesty. Wimbledon were the poorest opposition we've faced this season and Town had defended comfortably. Apart from Hartson's two shots (And a back pass half charged down when Coyne attempted a fly kick) they'd got nowhere near Coyne. Town had not attacked much, but looked relatively untroubled, organised and were hinting at being a threat. Despite not having any natural wide players Campbell (especially) and even Coldicott had caused Wimbledon trouble down the flanks. Town even looked dangerous at corners. Smith and Groves looked very solid and the whole middle 4 were playing well as a unit. Town looked like a team. Pity about Donovan's diffidence.

Half time: Wimbledon 2 Grimsby Town 1

The report continues in the 2nd half

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