Cods find the net. Again...
If someone had said to me just over forty years ago: "One day, you will visit a ground called Highbury to watch a team that plays in red shirts," I know what I would have thought. On Saturday, 3rd October 1972, I had just watched Fleetwood being beaten six goals to two by Morecambe at long lamented Christie Park in the Northern Premier League.
And in due course, I visited a football ground called Highbury several times - most surreally when a uniformed policeman who actually looked like a pig sang 'Ave Maria' as the Metropolitan Police Brass Band accompanied him from an Art Deco stand and World War Three broke out in the background on the North Bank as the North London tribes of Tottenham and Arsenal met in a London derby. It was totally bizarre.
But things move on.
Arsenal don't play at Highbury any more; Morecambe don't play at Christie Park. Fleetwood have risen from the ashes and also through the leagues and were today looking to establish a double over their rivals from just up the Irish Sea coast, having won easily at the Globe Arena during September no less than four goals to nil with someone called Parkin collecting the match ball after netting a hat-trick. Shrimps' supporters have choked on ginger cake ever since...
Jon Parkin wasn't in the Cod Army line-up today. For the neutral, this was probably a shame: the first half of this game - where wind and incessant rain were a feature throughout the 90 minutes - was a scrappy affair during which neither goalkeeper was seriously tested.
Words were presumably said in the dressing rooms at half time because the visitors came out much the stronger initially. The Shrimps' loanee striker Richard Brodie - who was roundly booed throughout the game by the home supporters for whom he was on loan last season - missed the first chance right from kick-off. Within a minute of the restart, he created an opportunity for Izak Reid with a sublime pass into the box from the Morecambe left wing: the number seven in the black strip only just failed to connect. Brodie soon had another go and got Fleetwood Captain Rob Atkinson booked after a dive with less then five minutes of the re-start on the clock: from the resultant free-kick, Reid was denied by former Shrimps' hero Scott Davies in the Cod Army's goal at the cost of a corner kick. It was all Morecambe at this point but the home team could have taken the lead when substitute Alex Titchiner only just missed Barry Roche's right-hand post with a sharp header after fifty-six minutes. This was the Cods' first serious threat to the Shrimps but more chances were to follow as the match progressed. After Stewart Drummond made a poor clearance in his own half, Alix Marrow volleyed just over the bar after 58 minutes and strike partner David Ball also missed - this time with a header - only a minute later. At the other end of the pitch, the ever-eager Brodie managed to muscle his way down the Fleetwood left flank with just over an hour played and swing over a peach of a cross which Davies did well to hold on to. Just a few moments later, Morecambe's number 10 played another superb pass into the penalty area this time from the Fleetwood right which Reid might have converted if only he was a couple of inches bigger.
It was end-to-end stuff at this point and Fleetwood`s Shaun Beeley was not far away with a long range volley after 66 minutes which went just over the crossbar. The play immediately swept up the other end and at this point, I for one thought that Morecambe were edging things. Until it all went wrong from their point of view in the sixty-eighth minute. A long punt up the Morecambe right flank found Ball completely unmarked in their penalty area and he beat Barry Roche all ends up with a fantastic header into the net. After this, it seemed to me that Morecambe lost their shape and despite Jim Bentley ringing the changes, it was the team in the black strip who continued to struggle until literally right at the end, when Fleetwood's post was the only thing that prevented an injury time equaliser. Fleetwood could have added to their lead most notably in the 72nd minute when a wicked cross slithered its way right across the visitors' penalty area on the deck without anyone from either team being able to get a foot to it. Two minutes after that, Roche was tested again when dealing with a long-range shot and the huge Irishman was at his very best when he kept out a free-kick with just ten minutes left to play.
Morecambe Football Club could learn a lot from their neighbours down the coast. Everyone I came across today from the club were a credit to Fleetwood - friendly, helpful and polite. Even my staunchly feminist girlfriend admired the way the lottery tickets were marketed: the four young women who touted these things round the ground were simply gorgeous: who could refuse them? The huge scoreboard earned moolah for the club throughout the game with all the adverts it displayed. It adds to the febrile atmosphere by showing live feeds of the players in the tunnel just before the game and then replays in stunning definition the exciting bits of play. Contrast this with the afterthought of a thing which often malfunctions at the Globe Arena. But - best of all - the way the ground was flooded with a deafening rendition of the Captain Pugwash theme as a man dressed as a fish leapt up and down on the screen in time to the music once the Cod Army team actually took the lead was worth the admission price on its own. This was proper entertainment - and even the programme was better put together, more interesting and had fewer typos in it than the won solo at the Lobe Area - sorry; the one sold at the Globe Arena...
Fleetwood have the double over the Shrimps this season. They have also apparently moved into a totally different league in terms of how the two clubs are being administered at present. Good luck to them.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton (C) (Y); 4 Jordan Mustoe; 15 Chris McCready; 16 Stewart Drummond; 17 Andy Fleming; 8 Andrew Wright; 18 Gary McDonald (9 Lewis Allesandra 81 mins); 7 Izak Reid (27 Jack Redshaw 71 minutes); 11 Kevin Ellison; 10 Richard Brodie.
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 6 Will Haining; 3 Robbie Threlfall; 12 Dan Parkinson; 19 Joe McGee; 23 Chris Doyle.
Fleetwood: 1 Scott Davies; 2 Shaun Beeley; 3 Dean Howell; 8 Jamie Milligan; 11 Barry Nicholson (18 Jamie McGuire 24 mins; 20 Damien Johnson 87 mins); 12 Junior Brown; 13 Alan Goodall (Y); 19 Steven Gillespie (17 Alex Titchiner 46 mins); 25 Rob Atkinson (C) (Y); 26 David Ball; 27 Alix Marrow.
Substitutes not used: 5 Steve McNulty; 15 Conor McLaughlin; 16 Chris Maxwell.
Ref: David Webb.