Alternative commentary: Grimsby 1-1 Lincoln

Despite a swashbuckling performance against the big-spending Imps, the Mariners were denied all three points in Saturday’s Lincolnshire derby when Carl Boyeson – yes, that absolute nutcase – adjudged Danny Collins to have fouled John Akinde (pen) in the box and awarded a penalty (which, of course, Akinde scored). Continue reading

Advertisements

Why ‘Fright Nights’ involving Grimsby Town really do haunt (or should that be ‘taunt’) me

A floodlight looks over Blundell ParkMany years back I went to watch Town play on a Friday night, against Charlton, and we lost 5-2. Clive scored against us. Despite the heavy scoreline (I don’t think I’ve ever seen us concede five goals at Blundell Park since) it was 2-2 with just half an hour to go, and that’s when we fell apart. I remember returning home and thinking, ‘shit – that’s the weekend ruined’.

I’m glad to say that I’ve grown up since then – which is just as well, because tonight, Friday night, Town lost their home game against Cheltenham 1-0. Like a lot of Town fans who don’t live in Grimsby, I can’t get to evening games, and I don’t have BT Sport, but I managed to watch most of it online, through a load of pop-up ads. We were great in the first half, but didn’t score, and then we were totally anonymous in the second half, and we conceded. It was the sort of frustrating performance over 90 minutes that doesn’t just encapsulate the way we’ve played this season, but the way we’ve played under Paul Hurst since he went solo two years ago. It’s the sort of result we throw in there, every now and again, that means we’ll always be on the periphery of the title race, and never slap bang in the middle of it.

Sadly it didn’t feature the kind of swashbuckling forward play and incomprehensibly bad defending that both Grimsby and Burnley displayed exactly 13 years ago in the club’s last so-called ‘Fright Night’ when the Mariners won 6-5. That match haunts me in a way you wouldn’t believe. Back then, as a slightly more volatile 19-year old, I considered our desperately poor form, our bottom-of-the-league position, our recent 4-1 loss at Wolves and our worrying lack of goals, and concluded that, actually, I didn’t fancy paying £12 to watch a load more dross. So I swapped my shift and decided to earn a bit of cash rather than throw it at the shower of shit that was the Town team back then.

I still remember the beaming face of my team manager as he emerged from his break to announce that Town were winning 4-3 at half time. I refused to believe him, and dismissed what I thought was his attempt at bad humour, efficiently, using only two words. Only on his oddly desperate pleas for me to go and check for myself did I begin to consider that he wasn’t winding me up. By the time I checked for myself, we had indeed won 6-5, and as I cycled home I did my absolute best to ignore what I’d just missed by considering how far I dared to cycle at midnight, along a deserted Queen Mary Avenue, with my eyes closed.

It remains the most stupid thing I’ve ever done. I managed about 50 yards before I hit the kerb square on, missing a parked car by centimetres. Amazingly there wasn’t a scratch on either my body or my bike.

Grimsby treading water: fixture backlogs and back-in the day abandonment

Match ball sat in a puddle.

Image taken from Kent Sports News.

If you can rest a yellow plastic duck on a saturated pitch, and it wobbles and bobs along, then it’s a pitch not fit for a football match. I have no evidence that this is how officials decide on whether a pitch is waterlogged, but a mate told me that’s the case. And he has no reason to lie.

Yes, that’s right – Grimsby Town’s match at Dartford tonight has been called off. This wouldn’t have happened if they’d just built the stadium in the Dartford tunnel. Sort it, Kents Councils, Conferences and FAs!

This, of course, is going to wreak havoc with Town’s fixture list, as it almost guarantees at least one week where the Mariners will have to play four times in eight days – unless they rearrange the game for this Thursday, which is a rumour I read on The Fishy. Handy, but not ideal preparation for the big game at Cambridge just two days later.

Grimsby had to play four times in eight days last season, when, over Easter, Town faced Barrow (30th March), Stockport (1st April), Macclesfield (3rd April) and Southport (6th April). Their return from that period was pretty good, securing two wins and two draws as a part of a 10-game unbeaten run to end the regular season.

So maybe the idea that fixture congestion could scupper the Mariners’ form at the crucial part of the campaign is wide of the mark, since last year suggests otherwise.

The abandoned match of 1993 against Sunderland

Anyway, all this talk about extending the season, playing more Tuesday night games pre-Christmas and moving the play-off final to a venue other than Wembley can wait for another day. Today I’d like to recall a match from 12 December 1993 when Town hosted Sunderland in a televised second division match.

A bearded Nick Powell in the studio and John Helm behind the microphone on the gantry – this was Your Match, a regional sports programme from ITV that, to my sketchy recollection, happened every now and again on Sunday afternoons. At the time I was too young to go to matches, but this match was an exception – this was a match in which my friend Stuart was a Grimsby mascot. And because the internet is ace, I found an account from the solitary Sunderland ball boy from that day, whose memories were published in When Saturday Comes (well worth a read, if only for the lovely Clive Mendonca anecdote).

It was a freezing cold day. It had been raining, sleeting and snowing constantly since I woke up that morning. From our seats in the main stand we watched the ball stick in the puddles as Stuart tried to enjoy a kick-around with a few other mascots, Mr Blobby and Mighty Mariner (then dressed in his yellow fisherman’s oilskins – and before he started gyrating around goalposts).

Saturated pitches aren’t always obvious to the eye. Sometimes the surface water is invisible, until the ball suddenly stops in its tracks or fails to bounce at all. But the problems were obvious in 1993, right from the very start. Groundsmen were using instruments I’d never seen before (or since) to sweep the water off the pitch. I remember watching as these sweepy things gathered more and more water, gushing and frothing until it reached the sidelines, before cascading down towards the little plastic stools that awaited the ball boys.

The game was called off after six minutes, and it came as little surprise. To watch the video footage back today, I’m amazed it ever got underway. You could see the reflections of the floodlights in the pitch puddles. Less than a minute had gone before Steve Livingstone took a tumble and slid from the corner of the penalty area and out for a throw-in. Jim Dobbin prodded the best chance of a treacherous game wide, but it barely had the pace to go out for a goal kick.

By the time Stuart had emerged from the dressing room to join us in the stand, the match had been abandoned. For a long time it remained the only abandoned match I had attended – that was until I went to Rochdale on New Year’s Day 2005 when the referee called time on a goalless affair after the heavens opened at Spotland.

Appreciating aerial prowess – a very English thing?

Andy Carroll playing for West HamSometimes I think we get so caught up by the obsession of playing like Barcelona that we overlook the skill of being able to head a ball. Andy Carroll’s performance on Saturday against Swansea – in which he set up both goals for Kevin Nolan in West Ham’s 2-0 win – was one that got me thinking about aerial prowess – and how few teams at the top level can deal with it effectively.

Jose Mourinho may have called it 19th century tactics but I don’t mind watching a side that plays route one football. It’s effective. After all, it’s a tactic that even the best sides in the world resort to when they get desperate. They understand that launching the ball to a bunch of brutish bastards in the opposition’s penalty box is a much quicker way to grab a goal (if not aesthetically pleasing).

However, it’s also worth noting that there’s nothing worse than watching a team play direct football when they’re really not good at it.

I dunno… maybe it’s because I’m English, and there’s something inside me that ignites when I see a really effective target man doing his duties up top. Alan Shearer was never blessed with pace but was devastating in the air. Even at Grimsby Town we had Steve Livingstone, who was prepared to sacrifice his looks on order to throw his face into the ball at every opportunity. Mind you, when you have no looks to write home about in the first place, maybe it’s easier to make that decision to throw your head into an area where other players’ football boots are flying around.

There was lots to admire about Carroll’s performance at the weekend. In my eyes he represents a style that has been slowly squeezed out of the English leagues because it’s just not sexy, but his assists for Nolan’s goals demonstrated the skill that’s needed to be a powerful player in the air. And for all the extra inches Peter Crouch has on his opponents, I’d rather have Carroll underneath a ball that’s coming down into the six yard box with snow on it.

When I was younger my grandad used to tell me about an old Grimsby forward by the name of Billy Cairns. He used to claim that Cairns was the best player he’d ever seen when it came to heading a ball – and, as I understand it, Cairns wasn’t particularly tall either. I wouldn’t mind being able to travel back in time to see just one Cairns performance – mainly to see how good he really was, but partly to watch the Mariners play as a Football League side at a time when Blundell Park could pack in more than 20,000 fans.

There’s something quintessentially English about the workhorse up front. It represents someone that may not be regarded as the most talented, but has the strength and commitment to do the job that very few others are prepared to do. Carroll may not get all the goals, but he, like any other battering ram up front, should take an equal share of the glory that comes from when his smaller, nippier strike partner scores the goals.

In December 2002 Grimsby beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 in a second division clash. In the 49th minute our central defender at the time, Georges Santos, towered above everyone to power a header into the top corner. There’s a picture of that moment somewhere online, but after a quick search I wasn’t able to find it. In that moment you get to appreciate both the force and skill of a headed goal. Santos climbed so high that at the moment his head connected with the ball, he was at a height greater than the crossbar. The image just oozes power.

Just because it’s not pretty, it doesn’t make a good headed goal any less admirable. Carroll, like many other target men before him, must be a nightmare to defend against – especially for those modern ball-playing centre backs.

A lot has been said about the technical ability of English players – it’s not part of our culture. It’s never been part of our DNA. So nothing would give me greater pride than to see England go to the World Cup in Brazil later this year and out-do their opponents with old fashioned centre forward play.

English football has always been about power, strength, honesty and bravery. There’s obviously more than one way to play football and I’m not for one minute trying to suggest that route one is the best way (or that England are going to win the World Cup). Against Swansea, Carroll reminded me that old fashioned, direct centre forward play can still be appreciated on a technical level – and there will always be a place for it (even in modern football).

Oh, and if anyone knows where I can see that image of Santos scoring against Sheffield Wednesday then I’d really appreciate a link!

Will Connell make a sensational return to Grimsby Town?

Alan Connell celebrates a goal for Grimsby Town.

Alan Connell in the black and white stripes. Image courtesy of the Grimsby Telegraph.

There’s not a lot that gets Grimsby Town fans reminiscing about good times in the Conference – hell, we’ve only been here three and a half years. But the name Alan Connell is one that brings a smile to our faces. When a stuttering side struggled to make any impression on the league table in what was an eye-opening induction in non league football, Connell enjoyed the most profitable season of his career to date.

In 48 appearances he registered 29 times, but unfortunately the Mariners could only finish 11th in the league. A managerial change in February didn’t stop the flow of goals, but it became clear from March onwards that Rob Scott and Paul Hurst were looking to cash in on a player that had attracted a lot of attention from Football League clubs. Connell himself had publicly expressed his desire to play in the Football League, so when Swindon Town came calling in the summer with a six-figure fee the striker headed to Wiltshire.

In truth, Connell was too good for the Conference. He had a level of intelligence to his play that reminded the Mariners fans of Clive Mendonca. Both were never blessed with any pace or great aerial ability; instead they relied on their movement, poise and strength with their back to goal. They were team players but never afraid to shoot on sight, with finishes oozing class and confidence.

But let’s leave those comparisons there. After all, in football everything is relative. I’m not too sure Connell is so potent in the higher leagues – especially if his career history is anything to go by. But we know from first hand experience that he’s potent in the Conference, and that’s where we are right now.

Will he move to Blundell Park? We know Connell wants to play in the Football League – it was his desire in 2011 and it’ll probably remain his first choice in 2014. If the rumoured interest from Plymouth Argyle is true, then that could be a difficult hurdle to overcome. But then maybe Connell would rather play in a side that is near the top of their league, creating chances for him to tuck away. And that could put him in the shop window this summer.

Dropping down into the Conference is something he’s done before in order to go back up. Maybe he sees the same opportunity again – and who knows… maybe he can enjoy playing for Grimsby in the Football League next season? There’s no doubt that if Hurst is able to bring him to Cleethorpes this month it’ll represent an excellent piece of business.

Former Grimsby Town manager answers fans’ questions after joining Twitter

Rob Scott as manager of Grimsby TownRob Scott’s existence on Twitter is no longer a parody – it’s become the real thing. The out-of-work boss joined the microblogging revolution last week and revealed in his first few tweets that he //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” target=”_blank”>applied for the Chester job – but he’s so far refused to be drawn on the circumstances surrounding his departure from Blundell Park in September. As you’d expect.

On the whole, the majority of Town fans have behaved themselves, thanking Shouty for his efforts during his time at the club and wishing him well for the future. Others, sadly, couldn’t refuse this fabulous opportunity to have a little dig. But he’s handled them (so far) in the right manner; admitting that the game is about opinions, and that not all decisions – whether in the transfer market or during matches – work out as you’d hope.

He has, though, been refreshingly candid. He appears to have taken the time to respond to most fans’ questions and comments, revealing that he hasn’t been in contact with current manager Paul Hurst since his departure, and that the departure itself has still not been fully or amicably resolved. So there may be interesting times ahead on that front.

Over the past couple of nights he’s told Town fans that his //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” target=”_blank”>top three signings were James McKeown, Shaun Pearson and Liam Hearn – adding that McKeown could play at Championship level, while Pearson has the potential to play in League 1. A similar level awaited Hearn, if only he wasn’t so unlucky with injuries.

He confirmed that he was never answerable to an FA charge following the home defeat to Nuneaton, while he also joked that the disastrous loan signing of Richard Brodie this time last year was Hurst’s decision (before quickly clarifying that all decisions were made jointly).

He considered the summer release of Bradley Wood to be a mistake, and felt that not securing Nathan Pond for the rest of last season cost us promotion.

Generally speaking, his online persona perhaps doesn’t quite match the vocal thug that a lot of Mariners fans had him down as. There appears to be an appreciation that he had a temper, but in the majority of cases he excuses this as simply a passion to succeed.

I’d like to think none of our fans will wind him up, but since our performances and league position have improved since his departure then it’s likely that a minority will. However, had we dropped down the league under Hurst then our attitude towards Scott today would probably be a whole lot different.

I can’t help but feel a little cautious about all of this. Town are doing well in the league and have progressed to the quarter finals of the FA Trophy, with another trip to Wembley becoming more of a serious consideration. It’s always difficult to judge from the outside, but the squad harmony appears to be good. What we don’t need now is a distraction, or any rumours of feuds between Scott and current players, coaches or staff on the basis of online comments whose sentiment can often be difficult to interpret correctly. If there’s a former manager out there who knows stuff that fans don’t, then the fans will probe; it’s their nature.

I just hope we don’t prod and probe too much, because we should really be pulling in the same direction by supporting a team that is doing rather well. In my view, nothing positive or beneficial to our club will come from conversing with a man who left in acrimonious circumstances.

I, like the majority of level headed Mariners fans, would like to wish Rob Scott all the best for the future, and hope he knows that we appreciate the work and effort he put into improving our fortunes.

Football attendances down by 120,000 over FA Cup 3rd round weekend

Mostly empty stand at the DW Stadium, WiganThe magic of the FA Cup, eh? The way Grimsby Town were dumped out of it by Huddersfield Town on Saturday, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was less magic and more like a kick in the balls. But then the ‘kick in the balls of the FA Cup’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Despite promising myself to fast forward through all the adverts and terrible punditry on ITV’s interminably crap FA Cup highlights programme on Saturday night, I did actually give the two idiots in their multi-coloured cardigans my time of day. I deserve no sympathy, I agree.

Like a man desperate to make his broken record work to impress his guests, host Matt Smith plied both Gordon Strachan and Martin Allen with the same unrelenting line: “But this is what the FA Cup’s all about, gents. Yeah?”

This was clearly a reaction to the comments made by Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert last week, who, when asked by the media for an honest answer, admitted that the FA Cup was not a priority to the majority of Premier League teams.

The media – who stoked the fire – didn’t particularly like that answer, despite its honesty, and so ITV moved, very honourably, to play devil’s advocate and insist (through Matt Smith and whichever cronies they could find to sit on the flea ridden sofa opposite him on their awful highlights show) that, really, the romance of the FA Cup was not in a medically induced coma and was, in fact, alive and breathing. Just.

So I thought I’d look at a few figures and draw my own conclusions on this topic.

What I found was this: of the 29 FA Cup third round matches that took place on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th January, only seven of the home teams’ attendances were higher than their average attendance figures for the 2013/14 league season.

Those teams were Grimsby, Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Blackburn, Derby, Rochdale and Southend. I can’t be bothered to list all of the 22 teams that saw a drop in their gates, but some of the biggest drops were to be found in the north east at Newcastle (19,288) and Sunderland (19,267). And while a drop of 8,539 at Wigan and 4,722 at Doncaster might not be that remarkable in comparison, they actually represented more than a 50% drop in their regular league attendances.

Not that I’m blaming the supporters in particular. I mean, for Donny fans, a home draw against League 1’s worst club hardly gets you tidying the flat and sticking on some Barry White for some sexy Stevenage time. And for Wigan, well – a home tie against the franchise scum from down south hardly compares to that magical day at Wembley in May 2013 when they won the FA Cup. I imagine a date with the fake Dons is about as romantic as grinding your genitals against sandpaper.

However, if the fans really cared, they’d say: “We don’t care who we’re playing. This is the FA CUP!” But they don’t say that.

What these figures prove is that the magic and romance only appears to remain in the lower leagues. Take a look at those seven teams again – there’s one common denominator: most of them were lower league (or non-league) clubs playing teams from higher divisions, dreaming of upsets.

Apart from Forest, that is. Clearly they think West Ham are already beneath them (and their 5-0 win probably suggests it’s only a matter of six months before that’s true). Forest normally attract just over 23,000 home fans for league games, whereas their FA Cup third round tie against a Premier League team attracted just 14,397. Even the lure of a Premier League team isn’t enough for some.

I’m no statistician, and maybe the way I’ve measured this is crude, but when I did my maths I discovered that there were 120,198 fewer fans at these FA Cup third round matches compared to the numbers you’d normally expect for league games.

Across 29 fixtures, that’s an average drop of 4,145 at each match.

Pretty damning evidence, then, that the FA Cup malaise that Lambert spoke of last week amongst managers in the Premier League has unfortunately transferred to the fans. How? Why? That’s probably a subject for another post.

Sadly, what with the ridiculous wealth that’s growing at the top of our football system, I can only see FA Cup attendance figures dwindling further in future seasons.