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|Pride at Stake|
By: Andrew Doherty
SOMEONE once said to me that the French hate the English. I commented that it's worse than that. They are indifferent to the English. I feel that way about Scunthorpe United. Before today, I couldn't have told you the name of anyone who plays for their present team. In fairness, we haven't played them competitively for years.
1966 has to be remembered for one important football result: Grimsby Town 7, Scunthorpe United 1. Unfortunately this was just before my time but I do remember being taken to the Old Show Ground two years later to see Town win 2 – 1. The match that I shall always remember took place on 13th September 1969. Town were losing 0 – 1 and the ill-tempered game was coming to a close. Town's centre half and my boyhood hero Graham Rathbone had a disagreement with Duncan Welbourne and headbutted him to the floor in front of the Main Stand, leaving Welbourne, as the report put it, “requiring treatment”. Both were sent off and received record bans. Then in the 97th minute, after all the kerfuffle was sorted out, another Town footballing god Stuart Brace picked up the ball on the half way line, used his lightening pace to leave everyone standing and scored the equaliser. I can see the goal now as Brace calmly slotted the ball home at the Pontoon end. Yes, Yes, Yes! Yes, I am indifferent to Scunthorpe United.
Of course things have changed now. The Iron's home is now Glanford Park. 'I've never been inside it but it looks a boxy affair from the train. My brother, through his work, once had access to an Executive box at Glanford Park, but as far as I am aware, he never went there, thus avoiding the ignominy of bringing disgrace upon the whole family. On the football front, it was always understood that players gave up football and joined Scunthorpe United. The boot has rather been on the other foot in recent times but there are signs that the two teams are getting closer as Scunthorpe struggle in League 2, and Town for our part struggle at the top of the Skrill. But fluid, silky football is not an agenda item in today's FA Cup first round clash. Our expectation was of blood, sweat, passion, honest endeavour and victory against the team to whom I am so indifferent.
It was freezing cold. Police were everywhere in Cleethorpes. Gangs of opposing fans gathered tribally. A supporter from the other place muttered an obscenity about Codheads. Beer flowed at 11am. Chants could be heard in the distance. This was a scene from the 1970s. It wasn't going to be pretty but no-one claimed it ever would be.
The atmosphere was surprisingly subdued outside the Main Stand. Inside Blundell Park however it was a bubbling cauldron. It all now depended on the players. Today's representatives for Town were: McKeown – Hatton, McDonald, Pearson, Thomas – Colbeck, Disley, Kerr – John-Lewis, Hannah, Neilson.
There was a riot of colours on the pitch: Town in black and white, Scunthorpe in sky blue and claret, Neilson with his luminous green boots and then there was the lovely pink ball, which soon found its way over the top of the Osmond stand where Town attacked for the first half. The ball, which was replaced with one of a similar kind, looked as if it had come from Cleethorpes beach. The first 10 minutes amounted to nothing and just seemed to be for the purpose of running around like a primary school match. Colbeck intercepted the ball and raced off but it was all too frenetic, and he lost control.
After a Scunthorpe corner which came to nothing, Neilson went on a trademark run, raising an already excited crowd. Breaking through, his low shot was saved well by the goalkeeper who stood up well, and the follow-up deflected off a defender's legs for a corner. Kerr's corner was woeful. Hannah then drew another save as Town started to get on top. On 15 minutes, Pearson headed across to Hannah who couldn't there first, then Big McDonald tested the keeper with a header, forcing him to tip it over. John-Lewis was almost decapitated as he flew in to head for goal. Scunthorpe's attacks were infrequent and ineffective. After a poor cross from the right, McKeown gathered the ball and set up Colbeck who raced down the right side before being tripped and earning Esajas a booking. Tempers flared on 24 minutes after another poor challenge on Colbeck, this time by Dawson who escaped a caution. The referee handled the situation well. Pearson then rose to head downwards towards the goal. Keeper Slocombe fumbled but retrieved the ball. Town were playing with confidence, passion and composure. Scunthorpe had a couple of chances, first when the tricky Esajas struck a low shot and won a corner. Then Winnall outjumped McDonald who chose not to lift his lofty frame off the ground and just missed with his header. Thomas received a wide ball on 32 minutes but his cross was too close to the keeper.
Three minutes later, Byrne held Neilson back. Kerr's curling free-kick from 25 yards out looked like it was going in but the keeper managed to palm it away. Town continued to play well, while Scunthorpe were constantly being harried and forced into making mistakes. To prove the point, Byrne sliced a clearance out of play, then a super piece of anticipation by Neilson on 41 minutes led to a fine pass to John-Lewis who was clear on the left. John-Lewis advanced into the penalty box but was going at such a speed that he couldn't get over the ball and so he fired his shot deep into the Osmond stand. It was at this point that I realised there was more at stake than just a Grimsby victory. Simon, who was sitting next to me, rued the miss as his prediction in the prestigious Horncastle Serie A competition was that Town would be leading 1 – 0 at half time. There was still time as 4 minutes were added to the 45. Pearson did his utmost to support the Horncastle and Mariner cause by flying in with a header from 12 yards out but he merely succeeded in getting flattened by the defender and injuring himself in the process. This was the second blood-letting of the afternoon after a Scunthorpe defender had a similar incident earlier. There was plenty of passion, but no goals. At half time, it stood: Grimsby Town 0, Scunthorpe United 0.
This had been a high tempo half, in which Town had succeeded in putting Scunthorpe off their stride. Everyone was fighting for the cause. At the same time Town had put together some fine moves. Neilson in particular was frightening the defenders to death but a combination of good goalkeeping and imperfect finishing left the game goalless. Scunthorpe had mostly been reduced to reliance upon physical endeavour. Meanwhile in the Horncastle Serie A competition, there was much stressing as Simon, his dad and friend Alan Wilkinson, not here today but communicating by text, were on a knife-edge over the latest position in the quest for the coveted thumb-sized trophy.
As the second half began, Town built up a patient attack but Disley was caught offside. A scramble in the Scunthorpe box followed soon after, following a cross by Kerr. Town's players were once again excelling themselves. Big Mac epitomised the caused, deftly flicking the ball Ronaldo-fashion over a Scunthorpe player one minute, then diving for a header near the half way line, making an imprint in the ground and getting kicked in the side for his trouble. Colbeck then showed great determination when tracking back and winning a goal kick as Scunthorpe threatened to round Town's defence on the left. On 53 minutes Colbeck went on a mazy run and put Hannah through, but the goalkeeper got there first. Big Mac received the corner but his downwards header bounced over the bar. Town were passing well and playing with a sense of urgency as they had done all match.
Scunthorpe didn't do much but every so often they would remind everyone of their potential. On 59 minutes Dawson rounded Hatton and crossed to Winnall whose glanced header flashed past the right hand post. Neilson then ghosted through the Scunthorpe defence, passing through to John-Lewis whose flick was cleared off the line by a despairing defender. The game seemed to be opening up as Scunthorpe's share of play increased. The Iron won a free-kick on the left edge of the box after a foul by Big Mac on 61 minutes. Town were caught napping as Scunthorpe put into action a set play. The ball was passed to the unmarked Burton who fortunately scuffed his shot and sent it wide. Town responded by surging forward and after a Neilson attempt, John-Lewis found himself clear on the right. His shot wasn't hit properly and was cleared.
Scunthorpe still looked hurried, while Town were incisive with their attacks, but there were nagging signs that Scunthorpe were going to create good chances as the game progressed. The luminous pink ball now seemed to be orange in the fading sunlight. I concluded that this fact had no significance whatsoever. Hannah saw an opportunity on 68 minutes when a pass back to Slocombe was short and the goalkeeper's clearance struck Hannah on the back. Disley headed wide from a Thomas cross after 73 minutes, then two minutes later a Hatton mistake led to a Scunthorpe attack. Hawkridge's cross found Burton who headed wide. Hatton's touch let him down but he retrieved the situation by winning the ball and sending Hannah clear but off-side was given. On 79 minutes Town made a double substitution with Hearn and Rodman coming on for Hannah and Neilson. Town's fans showed great appreciation of the efforts of the outgoing players and the entry of Hearn, which was clearly a ploy to keep Town fresh.
Scunthorpe had a good run down the left but Thomas came across and reacted well, putting in a magnificent tackle to concede a corner. This was a timely reminder that Town, who had enjoyed a number of chances to score without doing so, needed to keep their concentration. Colbeck then conceded a free-kick on the left where Scunthorpe had earlier had one, but Hawkridge's curling effort evaded everyone. It was then Town's turn to attack, and after good work from Kerr John-Lewis was presented with space outside the box on the right. His effort was a daisy cutter which Slocombe gathered with ease. 4 minutes were added for stoppages. McAllister had a shot which Thomas did well to block, then Thomas then ran up the left to add momentum to another Town attack as time ran out. Town bizarrely started playing careful passing football, having not done so all game, but the ball eventually found its way to Thomas, who tracked back. The ball found Colbeck whose misplaced pass ended the move. Rodman had a low right foot shot on goal but it was weak and safely gathered. Time had run out. The final score remained: Grimsby Town 0, Scunthorpe United 0. Honours are even. It's going to have to be decided by a replay.
It may have been a lot of effort for nothing but it was an entertaining game. This was a feisty cup tie in which Town's players performed with great heart. Tactically Town had it right. For most of the game we didn't allow Scunthorpe to play. Our own skill and work rate was good, and the only negative is that we didn't manage to score in spite of creating a number of good chances. I thought we looked good at the back but it was worrying how Scunthorpe both saw and exploited a weakness on our right side. Big Mac made a couple of mistakes but I still thought he had a very good game as did his central defensive partner. I was particularly impressed with Thomas, while Disley performed efficiently in midfield. My man of the match was Scott Neilson, who terrorised the Scunthorpe defence with his pace, variation and passing. I could see that Scunthorpe had a couple of dangerous wing backs and strikers, and a resolute defence, but so long as we stick to our pattern and game plan, we have nothing to fear in the replay. There was another issue to be worked out, of course: Horncastle Serie A. I asked Simon how this result affects their standings. He looked worried. “It's all got to be worked out”.
With 8306 spectators present today, around 1700 of them from Scunthorpe, there was a real buzz at Blundell Park. The weather was cold but there was a glow to be had from watching such a full-blooded game. The atmosphere was good and there was an enjoyable tension throughout the 90 minutes. The police were out in force after the game. Some supporters fought on the beaches. The Horncastle Serie A group has serious matters to sort out, while in order to determine our place in the history of the FA Cup this version of Lincolnshire Serie A is going to have to be played again.
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