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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/10/01
Grimsby Town
Fight Club
By Matt Rowson

"Fight Club". Bloody hell. What a film. Going for all the Movie channels on Sky was my better half's part of the deal… occasionally a pleasant enough film has been taken in as a consequence but not until now have I watched something just because it was on, not expecting much, just something to do. And then…. Bang! Bloody hell. Like when Barnesy made his debut against Oldham in 1981, or when Craig Ramage swaggered relatively unheralded onto the Vicarage Road pitch for the first time. Just astonishing.

So how do you tie this in without giving the film's plot away to those who haven't seen it ? Tough one. I guess you just need to appreciate the importance of distinguishing between fiction and reality; the grey area in between is just a little too scary.

For example. ITV Sport is the new home of football. Fiction. ITV Sport are responsible for pissing off a good many people by further screwing around with kick-off times, removing Nationwide action from any sane person's TV screens and bombarding us with obnoxious adverts from the giant screen at Vicarage Road that is rapidly losing its early appeal. Reality. Confuse the two and you too will be paying however much per month for constantly distorted pictures and an inaccessible phone operator advising you to buy a better aerial or move house.

Another example. Crowd atmosphere is a phenomenon that is most effective when centrally managed; inspiring toons, pumpin' sounds and helpful co-ordination from the same big screen. Fiction. Crowd atmosphere is something at least a little spontaneous and exothermic, and all the more beautiful for it. Reality. Confuse the two and you get baseball. Or, increasingly, Vicarage Road on a Saturday afternoon.

Final example. Here comes the link. Grimsby are having a fabulous season. From being one of the surprise front runners in the Division One table to the splendidly gutsy win at Anfield to the generosity of the Fourth Round draw (Manchester United or Arsenal away), the Mariners are looking good and enjoying one of their best seasons for a while. Fiction.

Bolton were top of the Premiership for a while for goodness sake, as if any evidence were needed that early tables need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. And whilst the Liverpool win was tremendous, and both that tie and the next will undoubtedly provide some very welcome revenue for the empty Blundell Park coffers, of far more pressing import is the Mariners' league form. Two points from seven games, including some absolutely pathetic non-performances, sends a very clear message. When you loose your best defender to Stoke because you can't afford his wages, you know you have a problem. Reality. Confuse the two and you find yourselves back in the unholy mess that is Division Two.

Fortunately for the Mariners, Lennie Lawrence appears to appreciate the magnitude of the situation, on record as saying that the relegation fight is on should the Mariners fail to beat the Hornets on Saturday. A small squad has been hit by injuries in key positions, there is little money available for strengthening and the performance on Saturday was described by The Electronic Fishcake's correspondent as reminiscent of "a bored bunch of organised custard".

The goalkeeping position is one area where Town don't seem to have a problem; Danny Coyne has become one of the best stoppers in the division, even if he does need to sort his kicking out. Steve Croudson is a long-term understudy.

Regular right-back is record appearance maker John McDermott, however his injury has created a problem, any challengers in the Town squad having long since given up and gone home. Loan signing David Beherall was an uncomfortable out-of-position understudy at Bramall Lane, but he has since returned to Newcastle with Town unable to afford his £100,000 fee. Best bet for Saturday seems to be Danny Butterfield, employed to no small puzzlement in a limp central-midfield recently by Lawrence.

On the left is Tony Gallimore, another who has been around a while. Better going forward than defending, he had a 'mare at Vicarage Road last season. In the centre Marlon Broomes, a scorer at Anfield, is another loan signing from Blackburn; he will partner Paul Groves who, at 35, exerts less of an influence than he once did in the middle of the park.

With Paul Raven injured the options at the back are limited; highly-rated 17-year-old Simon Ford has been nearing the first team. This week has seen a number of Scandinavian defenders linked with loan or permanent moves, the most recent being Danish right back Nikolaj Hust who has arrived on a week's trial. I wonder what Lars Melvang is doing now?

The other half of Saturday's reticent central midfield was Stuart Campbell, signed in the summer from Leicester having been on loan last term. Stacy Coldicott will provide some much needed bite on his recovery from injury, whilst Alan Pouton provides spasmodic creativity on the right-hand side. The left flank has been patrolled by Ben Chapman, more frequently a left-back, with some success; former Mansfield man Michael Boulding is an alternative here, as is perennial bit-part man David Smith, also injured. Menno Willems, a Dutch midfielder with a fierce shot, scored a consolation direct from a corner (with a bit of help from Simon Tracey) on Saturday and could also feature. The popular Wayne Burnett is, as ever, injured.

Up front Town look least secure; youngster Jonathan Rowan is being introduced to first team action more regularly than might be ideal. Summer signing Phil Jevons stole the headlines with his dramatic winner at Anfield, but was less potent at Bramall Lane. He was always well thought of at Goodison though. Bradley Allen is another option; with his contract up at the end of the season, he's already being touted as a source of quick income in the short-term. The unconvincing Mike Jeffery is currently out of action, as are Steve Livingstone's dependable elbows.

With the postponement of Tuesday's game at Millwall (and since when was a fire anything but small potatoes in Bermondsey?) Grimsby presents the first chance for our turn of form to dabble its toes in our away record. It could be argued that there will be many harder tests. So is our new found form a genuine turning point or not? Fiction or Reality? More clues on Saturday.