November 2nd 1998 and the slightly harder southerner braves the elements to give us the highlight of the week, the Marra at the match report. Tonights victims are Notts County!
What a strange evening. The heavens had opened yesterday afternoon and haven't stopped yet. News of flooding in the outlying regions didn't deter our trusty driver, Jon, from risking a foray into Waterworld. The teamsheet told us that we were about to see some seriously expensive talent on display; the question was, could they operate effectively as a unit?
Now I have mentioned the entertaining variance between the teamsheets and the actual side on the park, and last night was no different. In fact, I feel that a competition to guess how many mismatches in names, numbers and actual playing personnel would provide far greater sport than predicting the first team line up.
The teamsheet informed us:
1. Lionel Perez; he's grown a beard to beat the cold!
2. Warren Barton; good old Bartinho!
3. Alessandro Pistone; no, it's not a lot like the San Siro, is it?
5. David Beharall
6. Dietmar Hamman; My God! What has that butcher done to him? He was 6'3" when he went
away, now he's only 5'8" and answers to the name "Jamie". Oh, I see, it's actually Jamie McClen who doesn't even appear on the subs list, how obvious!
7. George Georgiades; Hurrah for Julio Geordio!
8. John Barnes; "Continuous downpour gets to your thirst fast!"
9. Stephane Guivarc'h; Gosh, doesn't he look just like Paul Robinson with wet hair?
10. Temuri Ketsbaia
11. Carl Serrant; get the camera ready Steph, he's about to bend over!
As one would expect, Toon wore the unmistakable black & white stripes, whilst Notts County had to make do with some greeny-blue affair which quickly changed colour in the pouring rain. Since the Quietest Tannoy in the World has been replaced by the more robust version, we were even treated to a spirited rendition of "Local Hero" and the usual eerie silence broken only by the patter of the rain on coats, brollies, wooly hats (well I thought it might help, idiot!) and puddles.
From the outset it was obvious that staying on one's feet was the order of the day. With solid wooden hoardings 2 yards from the pitch all the way around, nobody seemed particularly keen on sliding in, since the only way you could guarantee to stop before a terminal impact would be by beginning your tackle from the centre circle. This also meant that not many people were interested in chasing through-balls since pulling up your run was proving hazardous. The uneven surface with its hidden pools of standing water also presented the very real danger of drowning, or disappearing with a vast bubble of mud never to be seen again. I may have imagined it, but at one point when Kets was floundering in a puddle (well obviously HE spent plenty of time falling over despite the wet) I could have sworn that the Notts County keeper could be heard to cry out "Behold the white whale!" when that baldy napper broke the surface. It was hard to judge, but I think that Barnes must have been acting as Captain since Stuart Elliott is on loan to Gillingham since he was doing a lot of the shouting, and it was amusing to hear that the youngsters all call him "Digger", though I doubt whether they even remember "Dallas". The passing was obviously hampered by the ball stopping dead in standing water, and the tackling was mostly gentle for the reasons outlined earlier, but the overriding impression was that we had a technical advantage. What play we could make was mostly good despite the already small playing area being further reduced by the invisible braking areas that the players were having to reserve before the hoardings.
Pistone (or "Sandro" to his teammates) and Serrant linked up well, with Carl taking over well from Brady on left wing. Hughes and Beharrall coped with most of what came their way while Bartinho was everywhere enjoying a floating role (although bobbing might have been more accurate in the conditions). Perez still inspires fear whenever he has to come into play, although he showed a great bit of common sense when he rushed out and collected a through-ball beyond his area when he had correctly realised that he would get the benefit of the doubt since any attempt at white lines had long since been washed away; did I mention that it was p*ssing down? Later in the half, however he dribbled the ball out of the goal and decided to try his hand at being an outfield player and had a nasty habit of wandering up to the edge of the circle when he was bored until shouted back by the coach.
Ketsbaia was his usual infuriating self by always taking an extra 3 touches on the ball or inexplicably passing when he was clear on goal. Robinson had a bit of a mare; I think that it was being called Guivarc'h on the teamsheet that did it, because he sliced 3 goal attempts in classic World Cup Medal Winner fashion. My theory is that it is the apostrophe itself which is the Jonah since Robinson has been pretty good up to now, so when we play David 'kin Beckham at Man' United on Sunday we should do fine ;-))
Julio Geordio had a whale of a time (another nautical expression - why do I keep thinking of water I wonder) and showed his ability to cut inside as well as go round his marker with ease. It was in time added on at the end of the first half that some clinical Toon passing was finished with a fine strike from the Greek to give us a deserved lead before the whistle blew.
Steph immediately ran along to the stand to get a picture of Ruud who had come to observe his young lions. Jonno and Gibbo went for a beero at half time, but I was worried that the vast clouds of steam that would be generated by a couple of hundred steaming Geordies would permeate whatever dry clothing I had left under my Mac. Instead, I decided to move behind the Notts County goal in the second half to get a better idea of how off-target the shooting was.
I can only assume that we were playing with the current in the second half, because we seemed to have an even tighter control on play. Digger Barnes severely blotted his copy-book by reappearing in a pair of fetching black gloves to general hoots of derision and catcalls. He was soon replaced by Hamman and Julio Geordio by Burt, which must be a boost for their chances of featuring on Sunday or Wednesday (interestingly there is a reserves cup game against the monkey-hangers on Monday, so we'll probably see some of the usual faces back for that).
Julio did manage to pull off a wonderful trick before his departure where he took on two defenders and feinted a pass when Robinso'n called for it, before nutmegging one of the markers, hurdling the outstretched leg and dinking the ball past the keeper only to watch it trickle agonizingly 2 inches past the far post. Hamman started where left off with a very strong presence in midfield. His tackling was mostly superb, showing an ability to turn on a sixpence when he had dispossessed his man. His passing was first class and he demonstrates an interesting style reminiscent of goal kickers in Rugby Union where you control the direction of the kick by swinging the leg in a straight line through the ball instead of side-footing it or attempting to curl it. The result looks a little unusual but is certainly effective. One hates to bring up these things when talking about our German International, but you could almost say that he "goosesteps" the ball to his teammates, ahem. He definitely gave us some solidity in the centre of the park and Burt proved to be his usual hard-working self. Ketsy was put through on goal three times in the second half and every time he'd drag the defenders out wide before cutting in, finding the angle was too tight and so try to run round the back of them again across the goal before falling over. His direct approach was refreshing under KD simply because he used to go in the right direction, but he is surplus to requirements now and more of a liability I'm afraid.
Didi also failed by to t a header away that had rebounded off the underside of the crossbar, and showed incredible athleticism in risking chasing a through-ball, which he only kept in play by risking going head-first into the hoardings, but was somehow able to get back up and cross the ball before anyone else could react. Robinso'n sliced a final effort so badly that words fail me. It was only matched by the ball-boy attempting to return the ball with a miskick which resulted in his water-logged trainer sailing up amongst the floodlights; it was too close to call as to which one was more embarrassed.
The tannoy announced that the official attendance was 1,751, shortly before they started melting away as the final whistle approached. Those that stayed on at least got to see Ruud and Freddy Shepherd leaving in their respective cars, but ruining a new pair of shoes was a high price for an evening's synchronized swimming. Still, next time someone questions my right to consider myself a "real" fan, I shall remember last night and ask the pertinent question, "Where were you when we were wet?"