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The Day We Went To Rushden
By: Andrew Doherty
AN important annual event is the publication of the fixture list. Scandalously, I was in Italy for the first couple of games, which meant having to track down an English paper to find out the results so far.
Asking your average Italian â€˜how did Town get on?â€™ wouldn't get you far, I suspect, unless you happen to bump into Ivano Bonetti. I couldn't get to the Bury game either, but had firmly fixed my sights on going to Rushden for my first outing of the season.
Was there reason for optimism, I wondered? The results so far hadn't been great, but a 5 - 1 home win against Bury was cause to feel confident. But how could this team play together? Compared to the last time I saw them, only Jason Crowe was still there (Macca was out injured, I believe). How do you bond eleven players who haven't played with each other apart from a couple of pre-season friendlies? And then thereâ€™s a new manager and chairman. On the other hand, they can't possibly be any worse than last year. Can they?
I'll put this team thing in perspective by talking about Thomas the Tank Engine. When asked to describe my work, to get it over and done with I usually say â€˜I'm the Fat Controller and play trainsâ€™. Thatâ€™s about it really. Actually, itâ€™s more intense than that. For reasons best known to my bosses, I was given the task of showing a new starry-eyed lad called Danny the ropes. I could only describe the importance of working together in footballing terms: â€˜If I kick the ball into the top of the stand, or you fall over and miss the goal by a mile, remember that we're on the same team, whatever happensâ€™. With this mixture of realism and searing insight I am clearly qualified (a) for the lunatic asylum or (b) the position of manager of Grimsby Town FC. Danny knew straightaway that I was a devotee of fourth division football a.k.a. the Coca-Cola League Two.
I go back a long way where the Fourth Division is concerned. I remember of the heady days of the late 1960's, when we had to apply for re-election to the league, and the signing of a left winger called Keith Cockburn from Bradford Park Avenue on a free transfer. He was The Answer. Actually, he was terrible. Ron Ashman came as manager and promised us â€˜cultured footballâ€™. What planet was he on? No wonder Mr. Ashman went off to become a Travel Agent and â€˜got away from it allâ€™. My brother Michael has never recovered. As I peered in those days through the smoke-filled Barrattâ€™s Stand, the verbal stroking and counselling that are prevalent in todayâ€™s false society (otherwise known as London and the South East) was in short supply. Mike Hickman, on a free from Brighton, was on the end of some in-depth analysis from the standâ€™s self-appointed spokesman: â€˜You're rubbish, Hickmanâ€™. Well, here we are again. Division 4. Sorry, glitzy division 2. Thanks for telling me that, Mr. Mawhinney.
Rushden it was, then. My son, Merlin was, as ever, up for a dose of punishment (â€˜paying for punishmentâ€™, my father always called it). My fellow resident of Anonimityville (you probably know it as Basingstoke) and 100% Grimbarian Andy Humberstone got in touch beforehand and came with us. I hadn't seen Andy for a while, so the car journey gave us a chance to catch up on events. We pretended to be up with the times by complaining about text messaging - â€˜the screenâ€™s too small so I can't read the bloody thingsâ€™ - and coffee - â€˜Two quid for a tiny cup of rocket fuel. And it was only half full. Two quid!â€™. What is a mochachina, anyway? Would a â€˜Grimsby mochachinaâ€™ have haddock-flavouring, or would it be something dreadful that might happen to you if you had a fight in a pub? â€˜I'll give you a Grimsby mochachina.....â€™.
A couple of hours later, we arrived in the Metropolis of Irthlingborough, East Northants (or was it North Easthants?). We'd just driven past Nene Park, which seemed to have the word â€˜Retailâ€™ missed out of it. Any had the good idea of finding a chippie first. We had a healthy portion of pie and chips. To Merlinâ€™s amusement, I reached the Olympic qualifying standard for messy eating. China 2008 beckons. In the meantime, there was suffering to be done, so we walked down the hill, and entered Nene Retail Park to join the already healthy throng of Town supporters. Andy had earlier in the year committed a supreme sacrifice and been to the pre-season game vs Scunthorpe, and reported back that we had some reasonable players. More cause for optimism. The people round us had been to all the games, and were impressed with what they had seen. Justin Whittle is a mudrat, apparently. Andy made the valid point that Town looked imposing in new strip - black and white as ever, and red socks (memories of 1979-80). The manager and players all looked ready for the occasion. And so it continued when the game started. 15 - 20 minutes of sublime passing, support play and eagerness made Town look impressive. Rushden weren't so slow and lumbering as last time, but they couldn't create anything and were being overrun. The referee was of a mind to spoil the party by stopping the game at every opportunity, but Town pressed on relentlessly. For some reason, Town started to play too compactly, the final pass was going astray, and Rushdenâ€™s defence was holding up well, so it was 0 - 0 at half time. A bit disappointing but looking good.
And so it continued after the break. With unheard of insight in recent times, Townâ€™s manager had identified that we were playing too close, and had clearly told them to go back to playing wide and using the space. Unfortunately, this translated into â€˜we'll all play out wideâ€™ so Michael Reddy would beat the Rushden defenders hands down and ... have no-one to cross to. It always bothers me when you see the teamâ€™s striker at the corner flag. But the adopted Grimsby men were fighting for the cause, and it was looking good. Dean Gordonâ€™s cross-field passes were the stuff of poetry. Loads of skill on offer, but as yet no end result. As for Rushden, they hadn't created anything, so of course in the 72nd minute ... they scored. *!?* ! *"!* *%!!%Â£$* . The last 20 minutes drifted away remorselessly. A couple of attacks and good saves by Billy â€˜Rentboyâ€™ Turley in the Rushden goal, a few worrying moments at the Town end, the final whistle and we all trooped away gloomily. Life is full of darkness.
So there was no cause for optimism. Still, itâ€™s all character-building, I suppose, as if there was any character left to be built after all these years of suffering with GTFC. We mustn't forget that itâ€™s educational too. I now what a â€˜mudratâ€™ is. As for the future, no decision is necessary. My sad mouth waters at prospect of going to the Rochdale home game in a couple of weeks, and paying for more punishment. C U there.
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