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A little local difficulty
9 February 2010
The date was 17 February 2007, the setting was Field Mill, Mansfield and the score was 1-1 with ten minutes left. A drab affair had left the 1,200 or so Town fans pretty dejected. But a young striker had other ideas. Local lad Danny North replaced the tiring Martin Paterson and his pace began to worry the home defence. Moments later he raced on to a through ball to smash home the winner and send the packed away end into delirium. A hero was born.
Fast forward three years and a 22-year-old North finds himself on the footballing scrapheap, released by his hometown club with only a single goal to his name all season. The man once touted for the big time is now without a club. But how was this happened? North's transition from a talented striker to a shadow of his former self seems to have happened almost overnight.
Indeed, football is a short career, and life in the lower leagues is nothing if not unpredictable. Michael Reddy is a perfect example: the former Mariners frontman was the subject of a big offer from Bristol City (variously rumoured to have come in between £250,000 and £500,000) but just months later was without a club and almost without the ability to run ever again. As similar as the two situations are, North's situation is different on two levels: his injury record is second to none and his attitude has never been in doubt.
North's Town career began slowly; he made his debut in a 3-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers in 2005, when he came off the bench to replace Andy Parkinson with just a minute to go. He made just one appearance in the following season, but began to score goals in the reserves and threatened to carry on his promise from youth team level. North scored his first goal for the club in a 4-3 win over Bristol Rovers in February 2007, just a week before his late winner at Mansfield. Eight weeks later North scored a hat-trick as the Mariners thumped Barnet 5-0 at Blundell Park, claiming the match ball with an injury-time spot kick. He was the first man to complete such a feat for Town since Alan Pouton and Michael Boulding famously both hit hat-tricks in a 6-2 win over Wimbledon in March 2002.
"The reasons for North's exit are clear... but the reasons for his dramatic loss in form over two years are more blurred"
In March 2008, Grimsby reached the final of the Football League Trophy at Wembley. North would lead the line for his hometown club alongside fellow youth products Nick Hegarty and Ryan Bennett. Just a month earlier North had been named as the fourth division player of the month thanks to his goalscoring exploits against Wrexham, Chesterfield and Shrewsbury. In the week before Wembley North had been the subject of a BBC Sport website interview where he spoke of his memories of a youngster watching Grimsby at Wembley and the atmospheres of the two trips. They were the words of a striker brimming with confidence and excitement of playing at the home of football, but in reality North's performance in the final was disappointing and he was substituted at the break by Peter Bore.
Since that fateful day in north London, the career of the young frontman has been on a downward spiral. Despite scoring Grimsby's 7,000th goal in all competitions in a League Cup tie against Burnley in August 2008, North's season was one of disappointment. He failed to carry on his sparkling form of the Wembley campaign, and new manager Mike Newell added to his striking options with the signings of the likes of Adam Proudlock, Barry Conlon and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro. North was placed on the transfer list but a move away from Grimsby was not forthcoming: his solitary league goal in the 2008-09 season came in a 3-1 home defeat to Chester which cost Alan Buckley his job. North was again told he could leave the club by Newell in November 2009, and again a transfer never materialised. He was eventually released by Newell's successor Neil Woods on 1 February 2010.
The reasons for North's exit are clear. A lack of first team action and little hope of it in the future left Woods with no real option other than to let him go. But the reasons for his dramatic loss in form over a period of two years are more blurred. Questions over North's fitness have rumbled since the 2008 pre-season where he looked to have lost the yard of pace that earned him so many goals in the past. Some sections of Town fans opted to hurl abuse at North wherever possible, leading to his confidence visibly dropping, and a severe lack of service from the midfield left him desperately short of chances on goal. When chances did come, North's touch seemed to desert him, and his decision-making in front of goal often lacked the authority of previous seasons.
One thing is clear though: North needed to leave the club. He wasn't included in Woods' master plan to keep the club in the league and perhaps the rut of playing and living in the local area was beginning to set in. There is talk of a move for the striker from Bury; it would seem a perfect place to go. New surroundings, a new manager and a move away from the area might just bring back the Danny North that we used to know and love. Sure, the quick, sharp, energetic striker may return to haunt the Mariners one day, but we should expect nothing less.
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