Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Rotherham vs the Mighty: Should have known better...

Rotherham is the fastest growing economy in Yorkshire according to a sign on the way in. Being from Lancashire, I'm legally bound to say something like 'that's like being the least irradiated fireman at Chernobyl'

We're standing at the end of Millmoor Lane. The boy says 'it's really creepy, it's kind of sinister' and it is. The ghost of football past. 

Bill Shankly once had a bit of a tantrum here. Emlyn Hughes was player manager for two years. The Chuckle Brothers, no less, spent many an hour here, watching their beloved Rotherham United. Shaun Goater was a deluxe Armand Ganduillet for them. I hated Shaun Goater. I guess that's how opposition fans feel about Super Armand Football Genius. 

The thought of the surviving Chuckle Brother alone genuinely makes me sad. Honestly.

Unloved and abandoned, Millmoor's corrugated iron roofs and stern brick walls make me a bit weak at the knees. It's football as it was. 

Football as it is, in Rotherham, is the New York stadium. Why it's called the 'New York Stadium' I don't know. Perhaps it's because Rotherham's economy is set to outstrip that of the actual New York.

We arrive in hope, rather than expectation. I'm using reverse psychology today. We've been poor in the last few weeks and we never beat Rotherham. They're always big and bullying and they always beat us.

Therefore, this is the day we win. I'm mildly certain of it. Almost 100% vaguely hopeful.

The team news is odd. We seem to be going with a policy of no width and Gnanduillet up front on his own, which is an odd way to go about it. A big lad and no wingers. Still, in Larry We Trust. We must.

The New York stadium is slightly strange. It's steeply banked and gives off an impression of being made of Lego. There is actual human waste smeared on the wall of the toilet cubical. The steward who greets me on the way in tells me off for 'stinking of beer' even though I've only sipped a single pint whilst reading the programme and am with a kid. Even more confusing is his instruction that we can 'sit wherever, but you must move if someone else wants to sit there.' I decide not to question this bizarre instruction.

Everything that could be sponsored is sponsored. They have a stand sponsored by pies. The PA is crystal clear and the PA man is more mid Atlantic voiced radio presenter vibes than South Yorkshire. Honestly, give me Tony Parr talking for a week over this guy. 

"No 1 - sponsored by Kelly's Sandwich emporium, the Rotherham keeper!, No 3 sponsored by Gary's Auto's for all your MOT needs, it's the left back! no5, sponsored by KSV Vasectomy Clinic - she need never know!... etc... "

I watch the warm up. We play a compelling but mystifying game with bibs against no bibs but I get confused because Jay Spearing has a different coloured bib on and he keeps passing to Big Armand who hasn't got a bib on. So it seems to be bibs vs no bibs plus Jay Spearing in a different coloured bib. Every now and again the coaches lob another ball in. I wonder if this is better than actual football.

I watch the keepers warm up with Steve Banks. He doesn't age. He looks like he could go and play if we needed him too.

My attention goes back to the outfield players. This passing game, confusing as it may be, makes some of our players look brilliant. Spearing is superb at it, KaiKai looks like a premier league player, he's divine in his close control. Rob Edwards is not.

I watch the keepers again. Jack Simms lets one between his hands, Howard dives over one. Steve Banks is drilling drop kicks at them and to be fair, they both stop far more than they let in.

Then suddenly, inexplicably, I notice that Armand Gnanduillet has his shorts round his ankles and is recieving some sort of attention from Phil Horner. It seems only in keeping with his sense of style that he is wearing zebra print undergarments. The passing game has stopped. Armand is now returned to a fully clothed state and performing a set of leaps, catching the ball on his chest for one of the coaches, like a performing seal catching fish. Then, the passing game resumes and I wonder if I dreamt the last 60 seconds.

Then we're off.

They're running at us with a worrying degree of intent. They're pretty good it seems. The number 10 can turn on a six pence and has control and pace. The number 17 looks like a player who would be playing at a higher level if it it wasn't fashionable to buy players from abroad. They all look pretty competent at football.

The ball is flashing across our goal. Spearing is sliding in, Turton is blocking and trying to run out from the back, Heneghan heading. They seem to win about 45 corners in a row.

When we do get a chance to break, it breaks down or we snatch at it. They don't give us much space.

They score. It seems a bit too easy. A floated corner and an easy finish. We've defended stoutly but this moment we just melt.

Goal music. Loud, awful goal music. Rotherham. FFS.

We have a go anyway, even though there's no point as it's Rotherham. What was I thinking?

The ball is floated to Gandulliet, he nods in. The celebration is vaguely hesitant. Offside? Something else we didn't see, then we go mad. I was right after all. Today. We. Will. Do. Them.

For 3 or 4 minutes we boss the game. Then, normal service is resumed and they take control again.

We get to half time intact and it feels like we've done well to do so, but a matter of time if things carry on.

Larry clearly concurs.

'Nuttall is on' I say to the fella next to me as we run out doing that weird running over the little discs routine that no one else seems to do. 'No, it's Tilt' he replies. Then we realise it's both Tilt and Nuttall.

Without wanting to be a tactics dickhead, it looks like we've gone from 4-5-1 to 3-5-2 or 5-3-2. Kaikai has come off. Again. Thompson is hooked as well, though he did beautifully float the ball across for the goal, he has also been responsible for losing the ball several times. Despite the song.

Anyway, second half. It should be taken as a given that in between what follows, Rotherham played  aggressive football with not inconsiderable skill and intent. Their manager in a bobble hat screamed at them. Ollie Turton and Jay Spearing repelled them. They brought on Kyle Vassell, he got applauded. Someone charmingly shouted 'If you score against us though, we'll knife you' - the linefolk (non gendered term, to avoid triggering anyone) had got grief in the first half, the female from us, the male from them and this continued. The ref, I thought let play run pretty well. We've had some right jobsworth's in the last few weeks and I thought this lad was ok, whatever the merits of his decisions, he didn't want to be a star.

Nuttall has five or six attempts to win the ball. In various ways, he doesn't. Gnanduillet flicks on, he runs towards it. Not quite quick enough. He runs round the ball. He jumps but not convincingly. He wins it, he loses it again. He runs at it, but somehow, he doesn't seem convinced he's going to get there.

Then finally, he does something good. He's involved in a little triangle on the right with the excellent Matty Virtue and then we work the ball around to the other side, sweep a lovely low cross to the far post and Nuttall is racing, stretching and not quite making it.

Gnanduillet is putting a shift in suddenly. I don't know if he's desperate to make a point to Nuttall, but he's charging and harrying, crossing low for the charging Virtue to meet at the near post.

He's winning balls in the air and closing the defence down. We're singing his name.

Another nice move ends with Nuttall charging through and this is it, surely, he'll put his laces through it and we'll sing his name forevermore... but he inexplicably tries a deft little cushioned pass to Gnanduillet who looks baffled as to why on earth big Joe didn't just twat it.

And then... he's free again, clean through on goal, no choice but to shoot and he hits the most terrible shot you can imagine, no conviction, no belief and it slices away, struggling to make it out of play and I'm literally turning away, head in my hands. It's a painful moment. It hurts writing about it.

The difference between Super Armand and big Joe is palpable. Armand doesn't care if he misses. He'll go again. He'll trip over his own feet in front of an empty net, but he'll pick himself up and try again. When Gary Lineker missed two sitters for Everton on his debut, Peter Reid later told him 'I knew you'd be fine, as you didn't look bothered about missing' - that's Armand.

It's not Big Joe though. He looks done in. He looks like his head's gone. I can't bring myself to berate him, though enough around me can. Gnanduillet tries to get into his head, to gee him up, but it's not working. They actually did ok as a pair today in some ways, seemingly having worked out that going for the same ball isn't a winning tactic. Please 2020, bring us a partner for Super Armand. One that will pull a defence about and run and run and run.

Tilt is belting out from the back, his arms pumping like the pistons in a vintage engine. I remember how much I love an on form Tilt. Virtue is winning 50/50s. Why don't we sing Matty Virtue's name? He gives everything. Fonz is losing the ball, then chasing, chasing, chasing and winning it back and setting up a move.

We're battling.

I inwardly mock the way they announce their substitutes

"Coming off for the Millers - no 8 - Highly combative but yet skillful midfielder, sponsored by Dave's Wheeliebin Cleaning Services - to be replaced by no 25, another equally rugged player sponsored by Smith and Son Divorce Lawyers -  she's playing away? Get it sorted!" - all delivered in the same voice that you can imagine announcing "next up on Smooth Sound, Kenny Loggins, followed by the Golden Love hour"  

But then, Spearing slides one too many times and it's a clear foul on the edge of the box. Their  manager and his hat go on a curious walk around as if he doesn't want to watch the free kick then settles in his area to study it. The wall groups itself. Howard points, it rearranges itself. The whistle blows.

They score. It seems to bend in the air a little which foxes Howard but who cares. It's Rotherham and of course they've done us. Of course they have. That music again. I want to kick the seat in front of me. I tell myself it's not over but it's Rotherham, so clearly it is.

We fashion a shot from Spearing who has played well, aside from the free kick. Dropping to him on the edge of the box after a bit of penalty box ping pong but it's straight at the keeper. We get a bit sloppy and kick out a few times. Feeney comes on, but he can do no more than run into the corner and get crowded out.

The whistle goes.

The fella next to me says 'new faces' knowingly and I concur. I wonder if Larry will lay into Big Joe or just let him sit there and think about whether he wants to be a footballer. I wonder if some of them could have tried any harder and I don't think they could. We were better second half, but some of the pieces just didn't fit the jigsaw.

On the way out, a Rotherham fan chats to me. I tell him, I rated their no10 - he tells me 'he didn't get a shot off today though' and I suppose that's the way of it - you always see your own sides' misses and the other side's danger. I think they'll go up. They looked like they knew exactly what they wanted to do and how to do it.

'You were a lot better than Peterborough' he tells me, which is scant consolation. On the way home, I listen to a bit of 606 and wonder if the callers are mentally ill or just there are more deathly boring people in the world than I imagine possible.

Rotherham FFS.

At least the solitary Chuckle brother will be happy. You'd have to be dead inside to resent that.


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