After less than three years at The Gills, Alan Pouton has finally called it a day after an infuriatingly frustrating spell during which he failed to regain full fitness, depriving us the chance to get to gauge what he could really provide us in League One. I don’t think I’m alone in surmising that Pouton playing a destructive holding role in our midfield would have helped banish some of our defensive woes.
He joined midway through the 2003/04 season, just as we collapsed into the relegation mire. Despite enthusiastic platitudes from Grimsby fans (seemingly inspired by his ability to pick up yellow cards) it was a while before he was accepted at Priestfield, though it became clear that our demise was in spite, rather than because, of his arrival. Some of his contributions were simply hot-headed and erratic, though the defining moment came in injury time of the home game with Cardiff. Trailing to a late goal following a Steve Banks cock up, we were awarded a highly debateable penalty and Animal – as those around me had already christened him – saw the opportunity to win himself some breathing space with his detractors. You have to admire his enthusiasm and self-confidence, but less admirable was his measured sidefoot into the advertising hoardings, an incident that would probably rank in the top 10 worst moments of the last 25 years and came close to inducing sobbing in the Rainham End. I remember David Crown and Dennis Bergkamp (similar players, I’m sure you’d agree) missing their first penalties when struggling for the goals to win over their new employers (Crown soon made up for it at Priestfield, Bergkamp faded into obscurity at Highbury), a fateful by-product of an over-eagerness to impress.
Already injury prone, he didn’t contribute much to the 04/05 relegation season, and was carted off on loan to Hartepool as we came to terms with League One life. Yet on his return he established himself in the side and despite persistent injuries and rumours that he was about to return to Grimsby, he settled into his uncompromising holding role. Highlights included goals against the Franchise and Southend (and a screamer this year at Gresty Road), and his forlorn trudge from the pitch in the famous win over Brentford that started the winning run to safety last year, a red card that was eventually overturned.
Undoubtedly something of a thug, it’s a real shame that he’s had to retire after just 43 games for Gillingham, and a career total of well under 300 despite all the early promise that prompted Grimsby to splash out £150k in 2000. The transfer deadline brought Nicky Southall back to the club and his early form suggests that he can still bring an added dimension to the side, but the loss of Pouton could be seen as just as crucial when we have our next “what might have been” drunken debate on the way home from another defeat on our travels. We wish him well and look forward to his nurturing a non-league side modelled on his own game, I’m sure the transition from volatile midfielder to volatile coach is not beyond him.
The Morty Vicker