Comeback kings

Cod Almighty | Article

by Ron Counte

9 May 2019

There is always something satisfying about overturning a deficit. Ron remembers some of the times Town have come from behind

This week football fans have been amazed – and quite understandably – by two remarkable Champions League comebacks: Tottenham's against Ajax and Liverpool's against Barcelona. Impressive though both feats are, Grimsby fans are quick to point out that this the latter is perhaps only the second greatest comeback in Anfield history, the first of course being Town's epic League Cup win in October 2001. With the Mariners coming back from behind against the cup holders, few will ever forget the Phil Jevons wonder strike that won the game towards the end of extra time.

Tongue-in-cheek though that analysis may be, it did get me thinking about some of the epic comebacks that Town have been involved in over the years.

Overturning a one-goal deficit is pretty routine, and of course happens every time there is a score draw. Coming from a goal behind to win is very satisfying, but not that uncommon. What makes such turnarounds memorable is the importance of the games in which they occur.

Wayne Burnett's golden goal at Wembley in 1998, then, is a moment no Town fan who was present is ever likely to forget.

We all know the story. Town were a goal down against Bournemouth going into the last quarter of the Football League Trophy final on their first ever visit to the national stadium. A rare Kingsley Black header took the game into extra time. The fact that the game finished instantly when Burnett's shot hit the back of the net seemed to magnify the climactic emotional intensity of the instant. I have no idea why the authorities decided to ditch the golden goal method of settling a tie. It seems to me infinitely preferable to the lottery of penalty shootouts.

A comeback in a cup tie, by its nature, is something special, simply because it means a team progresses in the competition. But it's particularly satisfying when it comes against a team from a higher division. One remarkable such game occurred in January 1989 when fourth-division Town visited top-flight Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup.

New era

This was relatively early in Alan Buckley's first reign at the club and would become a defining moment – the start of a golden period which saw the club promoted twice. Town fell a goal behind just before half time and with 20 minutes to go it looked as if, despite a gallant effort, we were headed for elimination. Then Buckley brought on Marc North, who scored with his very first touch to level the tie. Three minutes from the end he added a second and the Mariners were through.

The cup run continued with a replay victory over Reading before the classic encounter with Wimbledon which will forever be remembered for the sight of several thousand inflatable haddocks invading south London. But more significantly, that remarkable victory at Ayresome Park signalled the start of a new era in the club's history.

Reversing a single-goal deficit is very welcome, but the occasions when Town have overhauled arrears of two goals or more really stick in the mind when recalling great comebacks. Against Peterborough in April 1972, the team recovered from two down to win 3-2 and set up the famous title-winning match against Exeter three days later. The image of Dave Worthington sinking to his knees in relief in the centre circle when the winner hit the net is engraved in my memory.

Another of the most notable comebacks, because of its context, was the incredible victory at Stamford Bridge in December 1983. It seems an age ago that we rubbed shoulders with the likes of Chelsea, but our team that day included Chris Nicholl, Trevor Whymark, Paul Wilkinson and Kevin Moore, all of whom graced the top flight during their careers. The side also included one of the greatest players to don a Town shirt in my lifetime – the wonderful Joe Waters.

Waters didn't know when we were beaten. He was the architect of a comeback that turned around an entire season

Two-nil down with 25 minutes to go, we looked beaten, but Waters didn't know the meaning of the word. He hammered home from 30 yards. With a quarter of an hour left Paul Emson levelled the scores, and another legend, Tony Ford, hit the winner four minutes later. Heady stuff – and not long previously, Waters had been the architect of another stunning comeback, one that arguably turned around an entire season.

Coming into the Easter programme in 1982, Town's spell in the second tier looked as good as over. We had recorded just two home wins all season and earlier in the campaign had endured an 18-game winless run. In those days we played on both Good Friday and the Easter Saturday: two crucial matches in 24 hours. GTFC were five points adrift at the bottom of the table and the fat lady was warming up her vocal cords. In the Friday game, when visitors Barnsley went two up, she must have been picking up the mic. Game over, season over.

But Whymark and Moore had other ideas, and levelled the scores. You might have thought we would be grateful for small mercies and settle for a point. But someone forgot to tell Waters. I remember him charging into the box, shrugging off a couple of heavy challenges and somehow forcing the ball across the line for the winner. The result seemed to galvanise the team, and gave them the self-belief to go on and win at both Newcastle and Leicester in the run-in and secure a 17th-place finish which had seemed impossible a month earlier.

No account of Town comebacks would be complete without an account of one of the most remarkable matches in the club's history. It occurred at the Hawthorns, in a first division match on 30 April 1932. The hosts West Bromwich came back once – and Town three times.

Rollercoaster football

Albion scored first, and the Mariners levelled after 20 minutes. Albion restored the lead on 26 minutes, but the great Jackie Bestall brought us level again two minutes later. On 37 minutes we went 3-2 up but the home side mounted their own comeback to level just one minute later. Scores remained tied at half time, but this six-goal rollercoaster was only a preamble to an even more incident-packed second period.

Just one minute after the restart the Baggies took the lead for a third time in dramatic circumstances. Town keeper Tommy Read saved a penalty kick, but was injured in the scramble for the rebound, which resulted in the ball crossing the line. Knocked unconscious, he had to leave the pitch for treatment. While Read was being attended to, full-back Arthur Bateman donned the green jersey but was unable to prevent a fifth home goal three minutes later.

It looked as if the floodgates would open, but ten-man Town somehow grabbed a goal back. At this point Read reappeared, his head swathed in bandages. A minute later Town were awarded a penalty and tied the score at a remarkable 5-5.
Enough, surely? But no – there was more to come. After 75 minutes the Albion keeper was penalised for taking too many steps in the box and from the resultant free kick Town took the lead for the second time and held on to record a 6-5 victory. Awesome indeed.

Details of the WBA game are taken fromĀ Grimsby Town: A complete record 1878-1989 by Les Triggs with David Hepton and Sid Woodhead (Breedon Books 1989).

Can you remember a Town comeback that Ron forgot? Get in touch and let us know.