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The People’s Wembley
By: Andrew Doherty
AM I the only person in the world to think that Wembley swallows everyone up in its own hype? Today’s FA Trophy final would be the 8th time I’ve been here – three times for Town, once to see Brigg Town in the FA Vase, twice for the Rugby League Challenge Cup, once for American Football and now today.
Here’s my experience of the place. The pattern is the same. Tribal rituals have to be observed. It’s about a lot of noise and an announcer infiltrating our psyche with the idea that “WEMBLEY” is doing us a favour by granting us entry into the temple that it claims to be. Corporate Brainwashing 1, Football 0. Today we’re paying £30 for our ticket and while on that subject, why £30? An extra £10 because it’s at WEMBLEY. To the best of my knowledge it was free at the Nuremberg rally. The fact is that two teams have earned their way to this final, and what makes the occasion is the people who attend. The occasion surely is what we make it, not a load of hype. The thing itself might as well be at Bradley. For Wembley Way, read the Laceby Road. Maybe Mrs D has the right idea. She came along to the Kidderminster home game but decided she’d rather go to the nice Malaysian café in Chinatown today than go to WEMBLEY. She prefers to concentrate on the league. Very wise.
That’s one side of it, of course. In a sporting sense, nothing will come out of this game, of course, whatever happens. The ears of the prodigal Lionel Messi will not prick up when he realises he could join the winners of the FA Trophy. From Town’s point of view, the damage has already been done. We’ve fallen behind with our fixtures, can’t win against the likes of penniless Cambridge United, are behind the others in our vanishing quest for automatic promotion and we’re now doubting ourselves for the play-offs. On the basis of it being a football match involving Grimsby Town, I am here. From the team’s perspective, a risk-free bit of practice to get them back into the team “dynamic”, as Gareth Southgate would call it, may help to save our season.
I can’t imagine that our opponents Wrexham are so bothered about winning the FA Trophy either. Their season risks being undone like ours through the loss of Saturday fixtures and form. At least the weather has stopped some of our rivals stealing a march on us this weekend.
Ah, the weather. The weather was now playing its part, reducing the prospect of an unlikely spectacle still further. Snow, sleet and cold meant it would be the survival of the fittest – and that’s just the supporters. A heavy pitch would mean that the players’ stamina would be tested. Town played in midweek whereas Wrexham hadn’t. With a number of our players injured or doubtful, this was going to be a test for Messrs Scott and Hurst in managing players.
Weather and purpose apart, this ultimately was a game of football with two sets of players and fans. Supporters of both teams mingled happily in the pub outside Baker Street, before subjecting themselves to the cold and making their way to the stadium. I took my place in the 35,000 crowd alongside Andy’s son Joe and his inflatable haddock. Red-shirted Wrexham fans wore daffodils. Some people dressed up as bananas. The atmosphere was good. The bass boomed. The FA Trophy final may not be meaningful but we were ready. The drama was about to start. But first the National Anthem had to be sung in Welsh and English. It wasn’t artificially hyped up. Supporters sang their heart out. Credit to Wembley – they were getting it right today. The supporters were having their moment. Yes, we were ready.
Town’s team today was: McKeown – Hatton, Pearson, Miller, Thomas – Colbeck, Disley, Artus, Marshall – Cook, Hannah.
First Half. It was welcome returnee Frankie Artus who was first to put their stamp on the game with a good interception after three minutes. After that came to nothing, a Marshall run led to a corner. Artus received but his delivery was lateral. Wrexham had a brief attack but Town responded when Cook won a header, sending off Artus who was tripped outside the box. It was the perfect range for a Hatton piledriver but spurning the opportunity, Town’s right back floated in a cross which Pearson headed wide. On 12 minutes Disley went in with a horrific two footed lunge on Keates. Wrexham’s players were rightly angry. Oh no, a red card loomed. The crowd held its breath. The referee gave Disley a talking to. This referee clearly came from the Conference, where players writhe as the game continues. There’s none of this Premiership tomfoolery. “Maybe he’s telling Disley that he didn’t go in hard enough”, speculated my mate Andy. On 15 minutes Wrexham won a corner, which Artus headed to safety. “He seems to be everywhere” commented someone behind me. Town passed the ball around but it wasn’t fluid and we almost came unstuck after a poor ball from Miller. Harris’s shot just crept over the bar. There was stalemate. Both teams were taking their time, careful not to make a mistake. Town were the more enterprising and were closing down Wrexham’s players in midfield. Neither goalkeeper had had a save to make. Hatton crossed to Marshall, and Cook had a header but there was no threat.
My thoughts turned to Marshall who seems to have acquired the nickname “Marvin” after a member of some boy band. As a devotee of heavy metal, this meant nothing to me, but wouldn’t it be interesting if we named our players things like Shagrath and Hellhammer (Disley?). Back to the game. Mr Scott paced up and down on the sideline, a bundle of nervous energy. Disley-Hellhammer had an excellent interception on 24 minutes and almost set up “Marvin” – a fusion of styles. Wrexham meanwhile were passing the ball well but Town were allowing them the freedom to do so. It was as if Wrexham were seeking the perfect build-up to the perfect goal, except that they now messed it up and the resultant shot went wide. “Ping it” was a suggestion from a fellow spectator, as Town started a move from the left. Is this a subtle version of “lump it”, I wondered. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to happen as Town lost the ball. A fracas erupted among the Town supporters. Entertainment begins at home. There wasn’t much on the pitch. The stewards intervened. Meanwhile, Wrexham’s supporters sang chorally, as Welsh people are prone to do. After another failed Marshall attempt at breaking through, Wrexham won a corner which curled over the top. On 36 minutes an incisive Disley pass forced Wrexham’s keeper to clear the ball hurriedly as Cook and Hannah advanced. Wrexham won a corner on 41 minutes after an unconvincing punch by McKeown. Town then put together their best passing move so far, which ended when Hatton supplied a probing pass to Hannah in the corner. Hannah’s control was woeful, however and the half ended. Grimsby Town 0, Wrexham 0.
The first half had been fairly even. Wrexham had 5 shots on goal to Town’s 3, but neither goalkeeper had a save to make as the defences stood firm. Wrexham showed more skill with their complex passing moves and created some half chances, but Town’s harassment of the opposition and determination were superior. Artus, Marshall and Disley all threatened to make breakthroughs, but so far it wasn’t happening.
Second half. Three minutes in, Marshall managed to escape the attentions of Wrexham’s defenders in the corner and got a dangerous cross in which escaped everyone. On Wrexham’s next attack, player-manager Andy Morrell was put through and as he advanced on goal, McKeown came out and slipped. Morrell went round McKeown whose agility enabled him to recover, get back and save on the line. This was the closest either side had come to scoring. Hatton lost possession, resulting in a break and a corner but Wright’s attempt went over. On 52 minutes, Miller skied a clearance and Wright had a better chance as the ball passed through the packed penalty box but his shot was scuffed. Wrexham were now on top. Marshall and Artus linked up well but again Town couldn’t get a move going. On 55 minutes, Thanoj came on for Hannah who had seemed out of sorts today. Marshall now joined Cook up front with Artus going wide on the left and Thanoj joining Disley in the centre of midfield. On 57 minutes Artus won possession in midfield and started a move, passing to Marshall wide on the left. Marshall supplied Cook who, with the goalkeeper to beat, pushed the ball wide. As it happened, Cook was adjudged offside. The game was now open. Town were starting to pass ore quickly and efficiently. Pearson advanced and was tripped. Marshall took the ball forward and his cross resulted in a corner. Colbeck’s corner was too far back for Pearson whose header went over the bar. More Marshall trickery won another corner. Colbeck’s corner was poor but the full-back’s header was equally poor, resulting in another corner. The opportunity was wasted as a defender was fouled and a free-kick conceded. Wrexham attacked quickly and a perfect cross from Hunt landed with Ormerod whose header was powerful but inaccurate. On 70 minutes Hatton won a 50/50 ball on the half way line. Hatton supplied Colbeck on the right. Colbeck used his pace to escape the defender and pulled the ball back to Cook on the inside of the box. Wrexham’s goalkeeper saved well. The ball came back out to Cook who with the defence advancing scored with a low shot from 15 yards. Grimsby Town 1, Wrexham 0.
This prompted a streaker to do his stuff on the far side. Wrexham came back strongly and applied pressure. Another good cross was headed over the bar, this time by Westwood. Town’s defence could claim credit for putting him off. Wrexham had put a number of chances over the bar but unfortunately for them this wasn’t a game of rugby. But they probed and passed. McKeown saved a low shot. The danger was always coming from Wrexham’s left, where they were getting round Hatton with ease and getting crosses in. 80 minutes in, Wrexham made another move up the left side. Instead of rounding the defence in readiness for a cross, Keates burst across the box. His pace caught out Pearson who tripped him and conceded a penalty for Wrexham. Thornton stepped up and sent McKeown the wrong way with a low shot into the left corner. Grimsby Town 1, Wrexham 1. Town were struggling. Marshall lost possession, then an Artus trip on 85 minutes led to a free-kick 20 yards out for Wrexham. Harris’s shot led to a superb save by the unsighted McKeown. Brodie came on for Marshall after 86 minutes in a surprising substitution. Although not 100% effective today, Marshall always looked a threat both individually and as part of team moves. Artus and Thomas then worked well together but Brodie failed to take advantage by losing possession. Wrexham attacked again but Wright was cut out by Pearson. Town showed signs of breaking through when Artus, Thanoj and Brodie linked up. With three minutes added on, Disley sent Colbeck away but the move stopped when Brodie clumsily fouled a Wrexham defender. After 90 minutes, extra time loomed with the score at: Grimsby Town 1, Wrexham 1.
The second half had been more open. Town‘s performance was an improvement compared to the first half but Wrexham were the better side. Their movement and passing led to more clear-cut chances. Now it was going to be a test of resolve and endurance.
Extra time, first half. Wrexham attacked but Disley, helping out in defence, threw himself at the cross from the left and cleared the ball. The game was slow like the first half of normal time as the teams were cautious and conserving energy. On 97 minutes, Clarke’s cross led to a misunderstanding between Pearson and McKeown, causing Town’s goalkeeper to fumble, but the danger passed. On 98 minutes Thanoj had the chance to send Cook through on goal but his pass was awful. Wrexham continued to probe and work up the left side but Hunt wasted the opportunity with a poor cross. Artus did well to cut out a pass but he too wasted possession. Artus looked to be struggling physically. Looking round, all Town’s players looked weary while Wrexham still were mobile. Following another fluid Wrexham passing move, Harris tried a chip from 20 yards but the shot cleared the bar. On 102 minutes, Colbeck stopped Hunt from crossing and conceded a corner. Cieslewicz took it but Clarke fired over yet again. Wrexham started to attack soon after and then, out of the blue, Cieslewicz took the ball on the volley from 35 yards out and shot at goal. The fierce shot was going in but McKeown launched himself to his right and pulled off a magnificent save, even managing to gather the ball. Wrexham continued to press and with the help of Hatton, McKeown kept out Cieslewicz again, saving with his foot. Wrexham were well on top now. This was a good game of football but worryingly, Wrexham’s shots were purposeful and dangerous. Half-time came. The customary disco music was played. It was very useful and welcome as the spectators all had a workout to keep out the cold.
Extra time, second half. In a lesser version of what Cieslewicz had done before the break, Colbeck had a low shot from 30 yards out, causing Wrexham’s goalkeeper to rush across to avert the danger. The shot went wide. Disley then intercepted but was let down by the follow up pass which was too heavy for his tired legs to run on to. It was no use expecting the players to run like hares at this stage. For the umpteenth time, Wrexham rounded Hatton and a cross came in from the left but Wright’s header went wide. Disley then did well to cut out a pass but his distribution was abject. 113 minutes had passed when the irrepressible Cieslewicz had a curling shot which went just over the bar. Wrexham were having shots. Town were not. Hatton then failed to clear properly but made amends by pinning the Wrexham player down in the corner. A corner kick was conceded in the 115th minute but nothing came of it. In a rare moment of Town offensive work, the visibly tiring but heroically battling Colbeck almost managed to send Brodie clear. It was all Wrexham though. Harris set up another good move and brought out another good save from McKeown. Town were struggling to clear their lines as they underwent wave upon wave of attack. Wrexham attacked again and with a packed penalty box, McKeown pulled off another outstanding save, this time from point blank range. It was a relief when the final whistle went. Town had nothing left to give. Grimsby Town 1, Wrexham 1. The game would be decided on penalties.
Penalties. The penalties were at the Wrexham supporters’ end. Town’s players received a hostile reception. Wrexham’s Cieslewicz took the first penalty. McKeown moved early and Cieslewicz slotted the ball calmly into the left corner. 1 – 0 to Wrexham. Hatton stepped up and incredulously, given his capacity for net-bulging free-kicks, slotted a mishit, wimpish effort towards the post. The goalkeeper had plenty of time to save it. Still 1 -0. Danny Wright scored for Wrexham in a carbon copy of the first penalty. 2 – 0 to Wrexham. Brodie, who had done nothing constructive in normal play, confirmed Andy’s theory that substitutes never score penalties by scooping his shot over the bar. Still 2 -0 to Wrexham. Westwood scored with ease to make it 3 – 0. Colbeck blasted his attempt into the roof of the net to make it 3 – 1 and keep the game alive, but Hunt scored to make it 4 – 1 to Wrexham and secure their victory. What an anti-climax. Brodie was devastated while the rest of Town’s players stood around looking shellshocked. It was all over. Wrexham’s players raced into the corner and with their fans started to celebrate winning the FA Trophy.
We were beaten by the better team. No-one that I spoke to afterwards thought otherwise. Wrexham had more shots, better tactics and got into a groove from the second half onwards. We tired badly but had a chance to put everything right in the penalty shoot-out and then messed that up. In Town’s favour, we played well in parts, especially in the second half, and belied the recent lack of confidence in the team. Disley, Artus and Cook played well and worked hard. Marshall tried hard and showed he could be capable of producing a game-defining moment but didn’t do so today. Colbeck showed great character and gave his all, even when he was struggling physically at the end. Town’s defence was solid for the most part but without doubt McKeown’s stellar performance in goal earned my vote as Town’s Man of the Match.
Wembley was nice. The people took over today and mercifully it wasn’t the usual bombastic affair. We lost, it was disappointing, and it was freezing cold but I wasn’t despondent afterwards. It had been a nice occasion with two good sets of supporters. I’d spent an enjoyable day out in the company of friends and watching football. Today it was the People’s Wembley.
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