Nationwide Division One, 19/8/00
By Martin Blanc
'Le Grind' - a Prince song, if memory serves, off of the illicit (at least to a fifth-former) Black Album. Remarkably percipient, old Symbol, about our national sport at non-Premiership level, and not just with that number: other tracks of his, I see now, include 'Head', 'Suck', 'and 'God, I Can Only Take One Season Of This'.
Because this was pure Nationwide, start to finish, soup to nuts. The thud and blunder of ten players delusional that the ball's a pinless grenade, to be got rid of as soon as they have it. Ten, because again Tommy Smith was the only one comfortable on it, and because I'm not counting Nordin Wooter, who ran around with it like that hero-dog that won a posthumous VC for snaffling one and bolting away from his squadron before exploding into a thousand doggie pieces (in the Barnsley penalty area - hurrah). In fact there was a twat in the Lower Rous who held onto the ball for longer while refusing to return it for a throw-in than half of our team did. Both physios are going to be working overtime this coming week to fix the cricks in the outfield players' necks from peering skyward, waiting for the ball to land like something out of 'Close Encounters'. And sadly it all came as natural to the Hornets as smack to a supermodel. At least until the last quarter of an hour, when Clint Easton et al shed their agrophobia and started running into the empty spaces in the Tykes' half. About the same time that Tommy decided he was actually a Subbuteo flicker and started knocking the ball no more than a few yards and hoping it was nearer one of his teammates than the opponents.
But hey, there were quite a few plusses too. Baardsen can hurl the ball further than Alec was kicking it last season. Nielsen is sheer class, when he can get in the game. Cox is a chirpy combination of Gibbsy, Bazeley and Spurs' Stephen Carr, and could have had his second goal in a week within the first five minutes. Robbo did all right without having anyone to run him ragged. Ward was strong at key moments. And Foley - well, we'll get to him...
Overall, though, it was at best a warm-up. Page nearly scored a stunning headed own goal. Palmer and Mooney were anonymous, though at least Tommy M. tried hard. Tommy S. in truth didn't have a great game - getting Harlem-Globetrotterish on our goal-line at the wrong moment was more representative of his day. Ngonge, which appropriately is an anagram of 'ego' (and some to spare...), did his most constructive running during the half-time interval, though he at least planted the idea with his teammates of keeping the ball and going forward with it. We held out thanks to poor Barnsley finishing as well as efficient defending. Dyer was off-target, Jones was unlucky. Barnsley held out thanks to Kevin Miller, who stopped Smith's best effort with his legs, and in the last ten minutes shots from Nielsen and Foley with his diving bulk. It dragged on and some of the crowd were clearly getting plenty of thinking done until the Big Bass Drum would bring them back from their reveries with a jolt.
So, salvation. Where did it spring from? Well, GT's back pocket, where it normally starts. Okay, TUFFians (who'll now perhaps have to become TOFFians, as it goes official) - something's happened to young Dom. Maybe it's an esteem thing that comes of having Kitchener (or probably in his case, I don't know, Brian Boru) poke a finger in your face and yell 'Your country needs you!!!'. In which case Clint Easton needs to discover some Latvian grandparents or something and get himself some caps. Dominic's and our luck have clearly changed for the better: we ground this one out, truly, raised our workrate, if not our game, in the last ten minutes and it paid off with a moment of skill in a crisis that we've been waiting years for him to demonstrate (and he and GT must have been waiting even longer). A sublime shot that not many have been scoring for us, and plenty have scored against us. Did we earn it? Just about. Does it signify a less lightweight forward to add to the ranks? Possibly. And though, if we'd left it any later, we'd have lost the two points we nicked last week and celestial order in the League would have been restored, as it stands, we're the playthings of Gods that clearly come from Hertfordshire. So, in the long run, although it may at times be a painful odyssey, we should prosper.