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Fresh Air and Pleasure
By: Andrew Doherty
"HOW did they get on?" I asked of an Arsenal supporter a couple of weeks ago as he joined my train at Finsbury Park. He looked at me as if I was some lunatic. "We won 3 - 0". He failed to add "obviously".
"Was it a good game?", I asked, undeterred. "Not really". I decided not to pursue the matter. This man had apparently not enjoyed seeing his team win 3 - 0. Strange. This is not living. Itâ€™s called supporting Arsenal.
Last Saturday I went to the Victoria Pleasure Gardens. For those who think I might have been enjoying myself , this exotically named house of human delight is the home of Goole Town FC. The sun shone but inevitably in that cold Northern kind of way. The game was absolutely dire. The atmosphere in the crowd buzzed with friendliness. Who wants holidays in Mauritius and the Seychelles? Arsenal supporters, maybe. We didnâ€™t. No-one here got jet lag, and the pleasure came from the environment and being there. No-one expected their team to win. Goole did. Brigg Town didnâ€™t. Chips and gravy cost £1-00. This was a real football experience. We like this. This is what we are accustomed to.
And so to the Blundell Pleasure Park for the Stockport game where un-arsenal like uncertainty prevails. We are not complacent. And yet there is a certainty. Based on recent games, it is that of defeat. Losing 4 - 1 at Accrington Stanley last week, second bottom in the league, no wins and being described as "pathetic" by our own manager provides compelling evidence. In spite of this maelstrom of misery, I once again took my children Merlin and Revis for their routine dose of pain. We had hoped to meet up for this sombre occasion with Andy Humberstone and Dour Dave from Stockport but they had better offers. Better off was what they undoubtedly were. "Lucky them", I pondered as we set off. The automated announcer at my home station informed us in tones of great gravity "Biggleswade, this is Biggleswade". "Why are they telling us that, dad?" enquired Revis, "the trainâ€™s not here and we know where we are already". Yes, but do we know what weâ€™re doing? Never mind offers. Chances are there will be nothing on offer. Weâ€™re heading towards the abyss as usual. In this case, Cleethorpes via Doncaster. Paying for punishment. Plurima mortis imago. Having an O level in Latin comes in handy on occasions. Revis read her book to escape the impending gloom. The book was called "Darkside".
I used the journey between Doncaster and Cleethorpes as an opportunity for a bit of networking and rang Andy to see if we could meet for a drink. "Iâ€™m not going to the match" he told me definitively. Five minutes later, he called back. Blundell Park had become a health spa: "Ruthâ€™s not been well for the last few days and she needs the fresh air". Great, Andy and Ruth were coming to the match. For health reasons. Itâ€™s true. The breeze will be therapeutic. The lack of excitement will ensure no-oneâ€™s blood pressure would be raised. There will be no reason for Ruth or anyone else to shout about anything. Voices will be intact. As we ran alongside the river between Grimsby Docks and Cleethorpes, Revis commented "whatâ€™s the betting that during the game Iâ€™ll be counting ships", adding "last time when it got boring, I counted trains. I became a train spotter". I had bad news for her. The tide was out. And we were going in the Carlsberg Lower today. "Thereâ€™s more atmosphere" Andy explained. Compared to what? A public library? It also costs two quid less than the Upper.
By the time we got to the ground, it had clouded over. A minuteâ€™s generous applause followed for our former commercial manager Tony Richardson. A great servant at that time of a little club fighting above its weight, and on a personal note thanks for the freebie ticket at the Charlton game a few years back. Back to now, and the game was about to begin. Town lined up 4 (Bennett, Fenton, Whittle, Newey) - 4 (Till, Bolland, Boshell, Toner) - 2 (Rankin, Taylor) with Barnes in goal.
Stockport opened up proceedings brightly with efforts from Pilkington and Proudlock, who got his head to a good cross, but the uncompromising Whittle succeeded in heading over for a corner and flattening the player. Town had a good chance on 4 when Till created space and passed to Boshell who could have shot but laid off the ball to Newey. Newey weighed up his option, burst forward and beat a defender before blasting a goal-bound shot which was well saved. Proudlock had a shot at the other end, then Town won a corner following a Till cross. The signs so far were of an open game.
Town won a free-kick on 9 following a foul on Bolland, but Tonerâ€™s cross was too deep. Rankin was then fouled while turning. Boshell made a mess of the free kick, leading to a Stockport breakaway. After some slick and rapid passing, Dicker curled in a cross for McNeil to head past Barnes into the net, but luckily the flag was up for offside. Phew. Taylor had a low shot and Rankin was getting in where it hurt but the overriding impression was that they were both struggling to get through a robust County defence and there was something missing in the centre of Townâ€™s attack.
Stockport were looking crisp and dangerous, and after a good shot from Tierney, Whittle became engaged in battle with McNeil in one of the gameâ€™s emerging sub-plots. On 20, a better move from Town resulted in Toner putting in a neat chip to Boshell whose shot was weak. Stockport almost went one better again when Pilkington crossed from the left for Proudlock but the ball bounced in Townâ€™s favour and the resulting effort was blocked. Stockport seemed to be having no trouble getting round the Town defence and generally looked dangerous. On 24, Tierney nutmegged Till, only to see the ball elude everyone as it crossed the goal face.
Andy commented rightly that Town could have been 0 - 3 down at this point. On 26, Till controlled well and Taylor won a throw-in deep in Stockport territory but Toner miscued the final shot. On 30, another neat Stockport passing move ended in a shot from the impressive Pilkington which was blocked by Fenton. Townâ€™s turn on 32, when Rankin shrugged off the defence to pas to Till who turned, created space and passed to Bolland who couldnâ€™t keep his shot down. Another near miss followed on 35 when Pilkingtonâ€™s cross was just too high for Proudlock. The first moment of excitement for Town came on 37, when the talismanic Whittle bundled a Stockport player off the ball and delivered a curling pass to Till who broke away. The crowd cooed, but only a throw-in resulted from it.
On 40 Town won a corner but Fenton headed wide. On 41, Pilkington won a corner for Stockport, then a second, then a third. The third one was hotly disputed and while the Town defence were arguing, Stockport took a quick one. Nothing came of it but Townâ€™s occasional lack of discipline was in evidence. Town had a brighter moment on 43 when Newey took charge after seeing a ball in the centre circle, surged through the middle and hit a great shot which was met by a superb save. Newey got the ball back and crossed but Rankin just couldnâ€™t make contact. Half-time approached. Stockport had possession. Instead of going wide and crossing as they had before, the ball came through the middle. McNeil picked the ball up from 25 yards out. Townâ€™s defence were caught unawares. McNeil burst through the middle between Fenton and Whittle, ran into the box and slotted the ball under Barnes. Grimsby Town 0, Stockport County 1. The half time whistle blew immediately after.
Half time verdict. Stockport deserved their lead. They were playing with more authority than Town and their football was fluid. They were unlucky not to score before they did. A change of tactic confused the less than intelligent Town defence and resulted in a straightforward goal with no marking. Town could not cope with Stockportâ€™s pace and skill and the defence was being overrun. From the point of view of their own performance, Townâ€™s overall level of effort was good and there were some neat passes here and there but it was aimless and there was no overall continuity. Taylor was anonymous in attack. Newey battled well, and Rankin was using his physical strength to win balls, but to no avail. Till provided the skill, but generally moves were breaking down, there was no-one to finish and the only way we were going to score was through individual effort. A big team talk was going to be needed to reverse this one and instil some discipline.
The report continues in the Second Half
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