Cod Almighty | Article
22 January 2007
The predicament that Grimsby are currently in has taken me back to the late 1960s. Back then my best friend was Alan Nicholson (he may have spelt Alan differently but this was a long time ago). Alan had a Proper Dad. My dad was lovely – I loved him to bits and still miss him terribly – but Alan's dad played football with him and had mock fights. Mine had no interest in football, and the only time I had a mock fight with him he complained about a bad back for the next two weeks.
So Alan developed an interest in football quite a bit before I did, but gradually his enthusiasm seeped through to me. I well remember how he glumly charted Grimsby's decline with weekly updates: "We've lost again, looks like we're going down to the fourth division." A year later it would be: "We've lost again, looks like we'll be applying for re-election."
Eventually I was invited to share in his misery, and one dark damp evening we piled into his dad's Ford Cortina to see Grimsby draw 2-2 with Aldershot. I don't think it was a particularly memorable match. In fact all I can remember was Mr Nicholson senior moaning about Town's inability to win their home matches. There was a pitch invasion at the final whistle; I think some seats were ripped up too. I can certainly remember our headmaster at Western Secondary Modern, Charlie Warman, berating "those mindless individuals who followed the crowd chanting: 'We want a riot'." Ah, those carefree days of hooliganism.
Many was the time I would look up the table and wonder what it was like to support a successful club, like Workington
I think that season Grimsby finished in lower mid-table mediocrity but by the next Alan and I were old enough to go to matches by ourselves on the bus. It was a long, hard struggle and for much of the season it looked as if we would be applying for re-election again. Many was the time I would look up the table and wonder what it was like to support a successful club, like Workington! But re-election was staved off by a superb run which saw us gathering points left, right and centre – including, I think, a win over runaway league leaders Notts County.
But the run was not enough to save Bobby Kennedy's job and he was sacked at the end of the season. I always thought that was a little harsh because at last he looked like he was putting together a decent side. I even dragged my dad to Blundell Park: it was against Colchester (we won 5-3) and he embarrassed me by first insisting he sat down, then compounded it by confessing to the ticket man that this was his first trip to BP since about 1938. The ticket man thought this highly amusing, especially as it was the last match of the season.
Bobby Kennedy's departure brought something wonderful to BP: Lawrie McMenemy. We knew that the wind of change was whistling through the club pre-season when we beat the Japanese national side 7-2. Dad took us to that one too, and he had a business colleague from Japan with him. I forgave him the embarrassment of the Colchester match when he managed to take us into the dressing rooms so his colleague could meet his compatriots. We were in the hallowed area beneath the Main Stand, although my main memory was of seeing Stuart Brace's naked backside through the changing room door. At least I think it was Bracey. How would I know what his arse looked like?
The season began proper with a 4-1 thrashing of Scunthorpe, Matt Tees scoring the first hat-trick of the season anywhere in the league and the crowd chanting "We want five". The rest is famous history: the Grimsby Evening Telegraph called Town "11 roaring tigers" as we got goals galore throughout the season – 12 in the first three games, I think. And all this against a background of threatened insolvency: £11,000 Or We May Die was the Telewag headline. I've still got the cutting somewhere.
It was halfway through this wonderful 1971-72 season that we received the news that because of Dad's work we were going to have to move to Norwich. Of course, it was Norwich we were drawn against in the League Cup (was it the fourth round?). An exciting 1-1 draw at BP was followed by a 3-1 defeat at Carrow Road. I got some stick at school for that. Sadly I left Grimsby at Easter that year and missed the glorious 3-1 win against Exeter that saw us crowned Division Four champions but I'll never forget the excitement I felt when I heard the news that we'd done it.
I can't remember us ever berating the team for lack of effort – which we seem to do week in and week out these days
And now here we are, having spent so much of the last 30 years in the second and third divisions (I'm speaking in old money terms), back at the bottom again and struggling to hold on to our league status. One major difference between then and now is that when we got beat (which was often in the early days) it was because the other side had better players or better tactics. I can't remember us ever berating the team for lack of effort – which we seem to do week in and week out these days.
We did have some good players too. Many of the team that struggled in 1970 were still there when we won promotion. Our wonder winger Stuart ("Brace grabs a brace") Brace. Dave Boylen, who was Division Four's answer to Alan Ball. And Dave Worthington – who may not have been the greatest player but did have a very famous brother so we forgave him a lot. We also had our 'Arry in goal, ever present, ever reliable.
As I survey our current plight, it's those who were brought up in the 1980s and 90s who I feel sorry for. Up until recently you've only ever had a passing acquaintance with the fourth division. But this is where I came in, supporting a struggling smalltown club, dreaming that one day we could do better. Back in 1971 the thought of Grimsby mounting a promotion challenge to the third division, let alone becoming an established second-flight club, seemed as unlikely as me ever playing at Wembley (and if you'd ever seen me play you'd know what I mean). But it happened – and it will again, I'm sure.
One final thought. What of some of the other teams that were around us in those days? I've already mentioned Aldershot and Workington, but weren't the only home games we lost in 1971-72 against Newport County and Southport? And where are they now? I hope that's not an omen. Up the Mariners – and whatever happens, thank you for giving me so much excitement and happy memories. I wonder what happened to Alan.
Martyn notes: I haven't actually checked any of this for historical accuracy so there may be some errors, but hopefully not major ones. At the end of the day this is how I remembered it.