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Worthington Cup 1st Round 1st Leg, 22/8/00
Cheltenham Town
The Long Dark Night of Johann Gudmundsson and Mr All Cock
By Martin Blanc

Obviously it wasn't going to be Johann's night, from the beautiful but ill-fated banana shot in the first minute, a carbon copy, pretty much down to the second, of his goal against Wimbledon reserves in Gifton's comeback game. But that one went in, and we won 5-1. This one didn't. And from then on, until he was all but airlifted to safety out of the game by GT in the second half, his touch, brains and finally his confidence deserted him as everything he touched lost us possession, every run he embarked on made Nordin Wooter's runs look simple by comparison. Allan Nielsen tried to keep Johann's chin up - heck, they all did, we're nothing if not a great Team after all. And he didn't get barracked until it was clear that the evening was not meant to be his, that the gods of football were playing a cruel trick on him, that his calibration was, well, a bit out of whack for the night.

Of course, no-one is pinning last night's debacle on his lapel alone. This was a slippery slope of a game, often literally, which started out brightly, with plenty of early forward insurgencies and more than competent defensive work. But as the minutes began to crawl by, the Curse of Worthington enveloped Vicarage Road, sucking the life from our fine body of men, leaving them at first on a par with, and finally below, way below, their industrious but seemingly unambitious lower-league opponents. County in fact never looked nearly as threatening as Cheltenham did (not until Dyer came on in the second half) - they seemed just to want not to be embarrassed by a cricket score. Well, nought for nought at the tea interval is a perfectly respectable, though cripplingly dull, effort, and it didn't bode well for the next forty-five - no, seventy-five, damn it - minutes.

Ig can maybe find something else in his notes about the football. The choicest moments, after County's first goal, were of course Wooter's. First, a beautiful cross which Darren Ward's header placed almost inch perfect, but somehow Darren Ward stopped it with his fingertips. (The DW's had a great game, in fact.) And then from Nordin, a late but tragically goal-phobic run: he had the straightest line you could draw with a ruler to travel in order just to chip the County keeper, but he just couldn't do it - instead his instincts took him wide, well, four yards wide was about all he could manage from his starting position, before a strange, rusty cross put the ball over everyone's heads, and they waved at him as one - why didn't you do it yourself? To which he had no convincing answer, at least none that we could discern from copious hand signals.

But after this, make way for our match referee, Mr All Cock. Apart from assisting in a would-have-been-magical moment of enabling Heidar Helguson to become one of the few players to score five minutes after being substituted, prissy Mr Cock managed to recruit over seven thousand people to the Paolo Di Canio fan club. Many of the crowd had left before the last-kick second County goal. I'd left my seat, was on my way, mildly cross but mostly unbothered at the result, and then had to return as the impact of the scoreline dawned. But really, despite the two hours of hackwork from the players, Mr Cock's display in the last thirty minutes was a sight to behold, as he marshalled physios like a traffic warden with his clampers, baffled both sets of players, and generally gave us a jolly good (if slightly hysterical) laugh as the game fizzled out in a plethora of spectacular County missed chances, and Gudmundssonian hoofing from the Hornets.

If this is how it is in the Worthington, and if that's how it makes the team play, think, react, then please spare us from many more rounds (as it seemed the team were trying to do last night). If we're just letting off steam after seven consecutive big scores, then I'll drink to that. But let us know in advance, eh, boys? GT suggested in his programme notes that the penalties should be taken before the game begins, rather than at the very end. Memo to GT: if the damned game's going to drivel on that long, Graham, perhaps you could phone us at home and save us, your most loyal seven thousand, the whole trip?