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 Red Balloon
Red Balloon

The Flight of the Red Balloon

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 15/10/2011

I ONCE watched a French-Taiwanese film called "The Flight of the Red Balloon". It was a good film. Nothing happened. There was a lot of turmoil. A red balloon drifted through the air and continued aimlessly on its journey. The film ended and the balloon drifted on. It reminded me of a Grimsby Town game.

But back on earth, here and now, outside of this cinematic world, my response has been different. Grimsby Town FC have recently given signs of becoming mighty again. Times have been exciting.

"We won 5-2". I thought to share this important information with my wife who’s in Malaysia with her mum. "But you’ve told me that already". I explained that I wasn’t milking it but this had in fact happened twice. Mrs D clearly thinks that in her absence I’ve been indulging in hallucinatory drugs. She’s got so used to the familiar voice from the front room announcing "We lost again". Now earlier in the season Sky managed to mask our most recent instance of abject shame by abbreviating the score in the way that Sky does: BRA 5, GRI 0. A work colleague asked me who this BRA was, surmising Bradford. No, it wasn’t Brazil either. There aren’t too many ways you can dress up a 5 - 0 defeat at Braintree. But as each week has passed by since, I do as many football supporters might do and check the goal difference. It’s getting better. We’re almost at parity.

Now it was time to stop televiewing and start getting out there in amongst it. The opportunity presented itself for the York game. I arranged to meet up with my brother Michael, nephew Matthew and my son Merlin. So it’s a Family Affair - appropriately enough the Sly and the Family Affair version of the song has a lyric which might sum up the Town matchday experience: "you’re crying anyway cos you’re all broke down". Getting a result at York was going to be tough. York’s record isn’t unblemished but they’re going well and in a play-off position as it currently stands. But let’s believe ... 5-2, 5-2, 5-2 ... ok, that’s three times. Ridiculous.

York is unique. It’s the only place we visit where instructions to get to the ground include "turn left at the Minster". It really is a very nice place. It’s not prawn sandwich territory though, more tea shoppes with china cups. The walk to the ground, which pleasingly is where it’s always been, so it’s not part of some out of town retail park or in a remote field, shows another side of York. After a pleasant walk across the river, the city’s industrial heritage, dominated by the railway industry, is there to see. Imposing Victorian houses and railwaymen’s terraced cottages surround the ground on Bootham Crescent. The ground itself is semi-modernised and neat. The away end is "standing room only" and the toilets are "heritage". I thought of Dennis at work, who told me yesterday that he’d be quaffing champagne today in an executive box at Watford. It’s not like this here. I like this ground.

But culture and heritage must give way to matters of a sporting nature. Analysts on TV will tell you that "Bogdyke United haven’t won at Mumbo Jumbo Park Rangers since 1900" as if this historical fact has relevance. I can tell you that I last saw York City play in a division 4 game (League 2 as it is now known) at Blundell Park in the 1969/70 season. It was 0 - 0. I can’t remember anything about it and it has no bearing on today’s result. I somehow doubt there’s a DVD of it, nor if there was would it be in great demand. I can’t comment much on individual players of the current season either but it does look on paper as if our management duo have got the balance more or less right. Clearly there’s no problem currently in the striking department but I wonder if we’re a bit thin in midfield. I do however remember Craig Disley from his Mansfield days and recall he was a useful and industrious player. Apart from the few players left over from last year, the rest were just names to me. Those names in whom we invested our faith today were:

McKeown - Silk, Kempson, Garner, Ridley - Coulson, Disley, Church, Artus - Hearn, Duffy.

Town wore an unfamiliar all white with red socks. My brother Michael recalled that he saw Town wearing white shirts with red shorts when he went to Peterborough in 1961 - Division 3, lost 1-2, Johnny Scott was playing. As we pondered the significance of this, the game kicked off.

First half. A Garner mistake in the first minute led to a York free-kick but it was despatched incompetently. 3 minutes in, as the teams still sought to get in their stride, Garner took the initiative and coming out of defence, played the ball out to Duffy on the right. Duffy crossed to Disley in the middle. The ball seemed to come off the top of Disley’s head but at least it went goalwards. It looked as if it was going over the bar but looped over the goalkeeper and came down off the crossbar and into the net. York 0, Town 1.

York came back and Chambers made a another hash of a free-kick. Artus looked as if he might have been fouled at the other end, but York were now looking increasingly dangerous. It was good to see Coulson and Hearn helping out in defence. The overall work rate was good and the message from the management was being followed: tackle hard and clear the ball out wide away from immediate danger. Yet York pressed and on 15 McKeown was forced to make a low save. On 17 minutes a fluent York passing move saw the ball with Blair on the right. Blair put in an inch-perfect cross to Walker whose powerful header was magnificently tipped away by McKeown who stood up to the last second to make sure he had it covered. This was great goalkeeping. York’s pace and passing was exposing Town’s defence. In return Kempson and the back line were blocking well. On 23 minutes, Blair had a clear shot from within the penalty area. McKeown made him delay by spreading himself and the shot was blocked. York were using the width of the pitch and in particular Ridley was struggling to cope with Blair’s pace. McKeown distinguished himself again on 29 minutes when Challinor went clear but rather than challenge him for the ball and risk a penalty, Town’s goalkeeper just stood in the way to give the defence time to mobilise. The chance came to nothing.

York attacked again on 24 minutes when Challinor got round the back of the defence and crossed. Silk headed the ball clear but Walker produced a piece of magic for York with an overhead kick from the edge of the box. McKeown got his finger tips to it but the ball came off the inside edge of the post and into the net. York 1, Town 1. Although it was a fine individual goal, Town were guilty of constantly giving too much time and space to the York players in possession. Disley had a good solo run on 40 minutes, beating four players. Only good work from York’s goalie stopped him from scoring. Coulson had a left foot shot which flew past the goal on 43 minutes. Town momentarily had the upper hand, but York were a constant danger, passing well and always willing to shoot. Artus made a poor pass in midfield just before half-time, but capturing the spirit of this Town side made amends by running back and retrieving the situation. Disley was booked on 44 minutes for a rugby tackle, and the half ended shortly after that.

Half-time verdict. This was a good team effort by Town against a skilful side. It was pleasing to see Town’s players backing each other up and competing. Midfielders were coming back to help, and when going forward there was an orderliness and discipline, so we were not exposing ourselves at the back. Our problem was that York had more ability. They passed and crossed well, and we did not help by giving them too much space in an apparent bid to maintain our shape. There was a particularly vulnerable area on our left. Artus had earlier come back to assist on the left but stopped doing so, and Ridley was outdone for pace. York played a lot like Kidderminster did at Town last year. We on the other hand seem to have become the archetypal Conference side - organised, but short on flair.

Second half. The second half continued with each side aiming to go forward. This was no midfield game of chess, and was all the more entertaining for it. Duffy got his foot in and snatched a shot on 47 minutes but couldn’t get the power. Hearn held the ball well, laid it off and sent Coulson away but the ball was soon back at the Town end. A cross came over for Blair who couldn’t despatch it. A pleasing aspect was Town’s continued determination. Ridley pulled off a magnificently timed tackle in midfield, and set up a move down the left. Coulson won a corner. It wasn’t obvious how the game was going to go as each side set up moves. York were once again allowed space but Kempson, taking no prisoners, put in a crunching tackle to concede a corner but most importantly avert danger once more. If it were a tackling competition, Town would be gold medal contenders. A second corner was well defended, then on 60 minutes it was Town’s turn as Hearn once again laid off well to Coulson, who got inside the box as he does so well, turned and curled a left footed shot wide of the goal. York’s goalie was then guilty of a poor clearance. The ball landed at Coulson’s feet on the half way line. Rather than try an outrageous Beckhamesque chip, he played the percentages and slotted the ball through to Hearn. Hearn’s low shot just went wide. York fought back after this good spell by Town, and had two good chances at the other end, being undone by a good block for the first and a bad miss by Chambers for the second.

On 65 minutes Elding came on for Duffy, who had played intelligently but had faded in the second half. On 68 minutes, a York defender handled the ball. The referee signalled the advantage as Hearn had the ball but Hearn seemed to be caught unaware. Momentum was lost but Town kept going and Disley slotted in a neat pass to Elding who was just outside the 6 yard line. Elding, as if in panic, snatched his shot and ballooned the ball over. This was a shocking miss. Elding knew it. After another good save by McKeown on 70 minutes, Town got back and Elding flicked on to Hearn who had too many defenders around him - York were prepared for Town’s top scorer. Town pressed but so did York. More blocking went on at the Town end. Town’s defence seemed more solid on the left side and York were getting no change out of the impressive Silk on the right. Kempson in particular was showing great determination in the middle. York made a change on 75 minutes, when Moke came on for Boucard. Shortly afterwards, Elding worked to lay the ball off for Hearn but under pressure once again, Hearn shot over the bar. Good work from the unsupported Disley then won a corner for Town. While Elding was laying the ball off well à la "Lumpy" Gary Jones, his finishing and control were poor and on 86 minutes he could have dealt bettwe with a useful pass from Artus. In spite of a poor first touch from Elding, Town won a corner. Church then won a corner on his own but whilst Church, who played very well throughout, deserves credit, it was noticeable that Town seemed to have lost shape and were not giving each other support, particularly since Duffy had been replaced.

On 88 minutes, York broke away and Moke ran the ball up to the by line, passing back to Chambers at the back centre of the penalty box. Chambers turned and with time and space, drilled the ball low into the bottom right hand corner. York 2, Grimsby 1. Town pressed, and mysteriously 3 minutes added time was announced. Instead of panicking and just wasting the available time in the spirit of the tradition of recent years, Town didn’t lose their heads. A couple of chances were created, and Hearn in particular had one but just couldn’t get on the end of a tantalising cross. The game ended. York City 2, Grimsby Town 1. We lost again.

Verdict. This was an open game in which Town’s determination and organisation was up against a technically superior side. Town did however show themselves capable of building up moves but not as rapidly or as fluently as York. York’s second goal came as a surprise as Town looked comfortable, but the age-old lack of concentration came into play. Throughout Town were guilty of allowing York too much time on the ball. This was always going to be especially punitive in the proverbial final third. It was disappointing that we caved in under pressure. Town did not get a proper shot at goal in the second half so we can hardly complain. There were some good lay-offs but York closed in our danger man Hearn, correctly judging that there was not much threat from elsewhere. Duffy provided much more threat than Elding, but individuals apart, the support and shape which Town showed in the first half seemed to ebb away in the second. Yet there were was no shortage of determination or effort. More work needs to be done on team cohesion, but I actually like the way we play. This isn’t a side who will give up. Individually, I saw some good performances. Church, Disley and Silk played well, Duffy showed good control, Artus put in some good touches and Kempson’s tackling and determination were fearsome. Collectively I’d say we’re hard working but laboured, and whilst I don’t fear relegation, I cannot see us making the play-offs either on this performance.

As we watched the last three minutes of the game, Michael noticed something overhead. A red balloon appeared over the ground and slowly drifted away, along with Town’s hopes of salvaging a draw. The opportunity had gone. Like the balloon, Town’s 897 supporters drifted away quietly. Our thoughts and maybe the balloon now turn to Tuesday’s game at Ebbsfleet.

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