League Two Table
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|50 Years of Hurt!|
By: Andrew Doherty
It's exactly fifty years to the day since my dad first brought me to Blundell Park. 2nd September 1967, home v Walsall and Town won 3 - 0. And so a journey began. The Town team that day was: Wainman - Worthington, Taylor - Ross, Rathbone, Cockerill - Collins, Rudd, Wilson, Smith, Martin.
A couple of these players went onto greater things, notably Graham Taylor who had a distinguished managerial career and Dougie Collins who used to receive a lot of stick from Town fans but played well in the league cup against high-flying Burnley who were sufficiently impressed to sign him. Ron "Cannonball" Cockerill was at the end of his career, while some of the others left within a year. I used to see Geoff Martin walking up the Grimsby Road sometimes. But of these players my real heroes were Graham Rathbone, Dave Worthington, Harry Wainman and Bobby Ross. We didn't have the money for squads or groups in those days, but Dave Boylen, another hero, was around and on the fringes. In fact Town became so impoverished that I have distinct memories of the reserve goalkeeper John Macey coming on as an outfield substitute two year later versus Lincoln and wearing different-coloured shorts from the rest of the team. I seem to remember also Dave Worthington driving an ice-cream van round during the summer to top up his income in the off season. Or perhaps that's my memory playing tricks. I don't think so. What I do remember for sure was that in spite of relegation in 1967/8 and having to apply for re-election to the league after coming second from bottom the following season, I was utterly hooked. Living away from North East Lincolnshire, I now go between ten and fifteen times a season but however good or bad it is, it's still great to go and support Town.
There have been plenty of memories during those 50 years including promotions and relegations, victories over Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa in the League Cup when teams put out full strength sides, the glory of 1971/2, 1979/80 and 1997/8, and many ignominious losses. My daughter and wife won't go now because it's invariably so hideously awful. Some memories and moments come more to mind than others:
- Mike "you're rubbish" Hickman launching an overhead bicycle kick against the crossbar at the Osmond end in the 1 - 5 defeat against Bradford City (February 1969). Hickman, who arrived on a free transfer with the hard working and more appreciated John Duncliffe from Brighton, was an enigmatic anachronism, hence the epithet from the Barratt Stand regulars. Hickman style subtle flicks were and are not The Grimsby Way, unless you're Clive Mendonca. The crowd was mystified and so were the rest of Town's players.
- Graham Rathbone flooring Duncan Welbourne in front of the Main Stand, both getting sent off and then Stuart Brace racing clear to equalise in the 97th minute against Scunthorpe (1-1, September 1969)
- Clive Wigginton's own goal against Wigan when the wind caught his back pass and sailed over Nigel Batch at the Pontoon end won 3 - 1, March 1979)
- A panel falling off on a typically windy day in the newly opened Findus stand (v Luton, 0 - 0, September 1980)
- Coming back from 0 - 2 down to win 3 - 2 in a league match at Chelsea (December 1983)
- Clive Mendonca's goal at Charlton where he took the ball out to the right corner flag, then curled a left-footed over and around the defender and goalkeeper (won 3 - 1, November 1996)
- The unexpectedly magnificent Championship performance at high-flying Wolves (won 1 - 0, March 2002)
- My then 10 year old daughter's glum summary after a 1 - 2 home defeat in the FA Cup versus Bristol Rovers: "you sit in the cold and watch rubbish" (November 2005).
- Witnessing the 6 - 0 victory at Boston after losing the previous seven games and failing to score in any of them until the 87th minute of the previous match v Torquay when we were already 4 - 0 down (February 2007)
- The young guy in the Upper Findus who spent the whole of my wife's first game moaning about every aspect of the performance (14th February 2009 v Bury, lost 1 - 2 after being 1 - 0 up)
But my favourite moment of all happened in the 59th minute of the 0 - 1 home defeat to Shrewsbury on 15th February 2005. Two of my children joined me in getting up at 5.15am to go to this game. The rain was freezing and torrential. The game had become completely becalmed. Thomas Pinault had just passed the ball into the Findus stand for no apparent reason. Meaningful tactics and skill quotas were off the agenda today. To alleviate the torpor, my and everyone else's mind had wandered off to thinking about hanging out the washing, what to have for tea or other mundane domestic matters. Marcel Proust once devoted a page and a half to describing his first sip of a cup of tea. Here there was nothing to describe. The Shrewsbury fans at the Osmond end looked on silently with the rest of us. The silence would have done credit to a public library. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about Being and Nothingness. This was all Nothingness and no Being. But now nothingness had taken over from rank ineptitude. The stadium announcer then apocalyptically broke the silence and boomed out: "All stewards to post". A small army of highly visible stewards appeared from nowhere and, facing the bewildered Shrewsbury supporters, lined up along the goal line. The spectator next to me asked if something had happened. We couldn't work it out. Players continued to fill the pitch with no obvious purpose, and silence resumed. Right on cue and with perfect timing, a lone loud voice called out behind me: "All players to play". We laughed. Town's manager that day was Russell Slade.
So too the manager today is the recently returned Russell Slade. It's not going well. Three losses after an opening day victory have sapped confidence. Having a player sent off in each match hasn't helped, and in the two games I've watched I've sensed unrest between the players. Five zero has a relevance to today's game as that was the score when we lost to Crewe on the last occasion we played today's opponents. I didn't go to that but I did go to the earlier 0 - 2 home defeat and thought Crewe looked a good side. There were off-field problems but whatever it was, their season fizzled out like ours. They have started more brightly this season, so we were always going to have a battle to pull ourselves away from the abyss. Ominously we have lost our last six games against Crewe.
Town's line-up on 2nd September 2017 as we attacked the Osmond/Pontoon end for the first half was: McKeown - Mills, K Osborne, Clarke, Dixon - Dembele, Rose, Berrett, Woolford - Hooper, Vernon. 4,066 spectators looked on. As always at Blundell Park, at least I was in good company as the spectacle began on this bright and windy day, and Town started attacking the Osmond end.
Both sides had a chance in the first five minutes. Crewe's Cooper curled a free-kick over after a foul, then a Hooper lay-off released Dembele who won a corner, from which Vernon headed over. But this was a game of hit and hope. The most entertainment was derived from Cooper being booked for diving theatrically in the penalty box. A minute later, a clash in midfield between Rose and Grant led to the Crewe player going down. Grant was motionless, but the referee and medical team responded quickly, and after seven minutes Grant was carried off to sympathetic applause. Play restarted and the game continued to be disjointed. Woolford went on a jinking run and supplied Hooper on 22 minutes on the left but both sides struggled to get going. At this point my mate Andy Humbo did what Andy does and came up with a quiz "if you're bored". Well, now was the time, as nothing was happening on the pitch, to name a two worded team name from mainland Europe starting with each letter of the alphabet. So I started with Vitesse Arnhem and Dukla Prague. Albirex Niigata? No, Singaporean teams weren't allowed so it had to be Athletico Madrid. There was more action on the Crew bench than on the pitch as Crewe's dapperly dressed manager histrionically jumped up and down and kicked every ball in his agitated mind. The game became niggly, with every challenge seemingly resulting in a foul. Berrett went down like a sack of potatoes on 32 minutes but to his discredit had half an eye on what the referee was going to do about the defender, who in the event was booked. Acting skills were evidently at a premium. Footballing skills weren't. Finally on 33 minutes Dembele found some space and set up Rose who had two good shots blocked. Shortly afterwards Hooper wriggled past the Crewe defence on the right and sent in a low cross towards Vernon but the Crewe defender got there first for a last gasp clearance. This was better from Town, and following the corner Dembele picked up the ball on the left and sent in a curling cross. Rose ran on to the cross and fired a header into the net. Town 1, Crewe 0. Hooper continued to look sharp but the game continued to be messy. The ball went from end to end with no end product. Odd bits of skill were outnumbered by laboured ball control and a lack of urgency on both sides. I went back to the quiz. Kickers Offenbach. Woolford showed skill in shaking off a defender but fired his 25 yard shot high over the bar into the Osmond stand. The half ended. There had been too many fouls, no fluidity and it had been a niggly, unpleasant affair.
Incongruously, a group of Bollywood dancers appeared on the pitch as half time entertainment. Well, we'd had no entertainment. All the arm waving reminded me of watching Crewe's manager. The PA, sound quality circa 1971, and the wind didn't help the brave dancers who did very well and brought a bit of life to proceedings.
Crewe had the first chance of the second half but Nolan ballooned his shot wide. Dembele was then booked for a foul on dying swan Cooper. Gornik Zabrze. A terrible ball from Mills gave Crewe a great chance but luckily the advancing Dagnall was offside. On 50 minutes Hooper seized an opportunity and set up Vernon who reacted too slowly to be able to take advantage. Town were slowly starting to play better. Rose set up Hooper with a sublime pass but with a defender at his side, Hooper's shot struck the side netting. Hesitation at the Town end gave Crewe another chance on 54 minutes. McKeown was out of his goal but Clarke was on the line to clear the chip. Rose was booked for a late tackle and followed this up with great a skill and a superb ball to Dembele, who was thwarted. On 60 minutes Town almost had a freak goal when a Mills cross seemed to catch the wind and flew over the goalkeeper and off the top of the crossbar. For a team which was 0 - 1 down, Crewe continued to be negative and physical, and seemed to be more intent on falling over and winning free-kicks. This was playing into Town's hands. In spite of all the fouls and disruption, confidence seemed to be growing. Even Berrett got in on the act, supplying Vernon on 65 minutes but Town's striker was too slow again. A double substitution took place on 68 minutes, with Matt and Jaiyesmi replacing Vernon and Woolford. Lovely skill from Dembele four minutes later resulted in a cross for Hooper but it was too high to control. Another great ball from Rose set up another attack, and debutant Matt showed his physicality on 73 minutes by shrugging off the defender and winning a corner. Berrett's cross from the corner found the towering Clarke but Town's defender was unable to keep his header down. Town's players were now finding each other, and pressed. Dembele, Berrett and Rose were picking up loose balls while Hooper worked hard. Both sides made mistakes but Crewe were more guilty. On 78 minutes Davies replaced Dembele, who had been kicked to bits and was warmly applauded for his efforts. Crewe's manager looked angry. On 82 minutes following a Town mistake a through ball found Crewe's Porter who had only McKeown to beat. McKeown stayed calm and blocked the shot. The ball returned to Porter whose second shot went goalwards. By now Osborne had tracked back and blocked the shot - a lucky escape, but good defending. Mills supplied Hooper a minute later. Hooper showed great determination when surrounded by three defenders, losing the ball and winning it back. Berrett than wasted an opportunity before Matt, Hooper and Jaiyesimi linked up. Although Jaiyesimi's shot was covered, it was good to see the link-up play. Shortly afterwards Rose provided a chip for Matt, whose control was clumsy. But Crewe weren't done, and on 87 minutes Bowery went clear. McKeown once again was up to it and made a great stop. Crewe went on the attack to equalise but Town's defence stayed firm, and relieved the pressure on 91 minutes by winning a corner. Crewe struggled and never got going, and this physical encounter ended with Dixon and a Crewe player on the floor after a midfield tussle. It ended: Grimsby Town 1, Crewe Alexandra 0.
This had been a case of effort over excitement for most of the game. Both sides were prone to mistakes, but Town's defending was outstanding. Unlike recent performances there were signs of the team working together. Hooper, Rose and Osborne were outstanding but of the three, Hooper was my player of the match for his work rate and determination. So there is a ray of hope. It wasn't five-zero and it wasn't pretty, but it was three points, the performance was encouraging and we're back in the ascendancy. We're back on our way to the top and there will be much struggle and no doubt more quizzes from Andy during the lulls in activity. Here's to the next fifty years in the great and glorious progress of the Mighty Mariners!
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