"A keen display of partisanship": 1925-26 part three

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

1 August 2018

Grimsby were level on points at the top of Division Three North when they travelled to Lincoln City.

Lincoln City v Grimsby Town, 24 October 1925

Then as now, the Lincolnshire derby was a thing of fierce expectation, the hope of victory matched by fear of defeat.

The Mariners' relationship with Hull City – then in the second division – was cordial. "Well done, Grimsby" had been the headline in the Hull Daily Mail when Town beat Rochdale. In December, the Hull players would go to cheer on Town in a Tuesday afternoon FA Cup replay. At the end of the season, the clubs arranged to play two benefit matches against each other in less than a week: at Blundell Park for Jimmy Carmichael, and at Anlaby Road for the widowed mother of a Hull player who had died suddenly. The FA forbade the Hull game it as it fell outside the season when benefits could be played, but the fact it had been planned is testimony to the good feeling between Grimsby and Hull.

With Lincoln, it was different. The identities of the two clubs had been forged in allegations and counter-allegations of skulduggery from the days when the Lincolnshire Cup was keenly contested.

The identities of Grimsby and Lincoln had been forged in allegations and counter-allegations of skulduggery. The crumbs of football fortune that Town had enjoyed in recent years had come at Lincoln's expense The crumbs of football fortune that Town had enjoyed in recent years had come at Lincoln's expense. When Town were readmitted to the Football League in 1911, it was City's place they took. The Mariners finished below the Imps at the bottom of Division Two in 1920, but it was Grimsby who were invited to join the new third division while Lincoln were consigned to non-League.

Then, when the clubs were reunited in Division Three (North), Town kept winning: they had won three and drawn the other of their last four visits to Sincil Bank.

The Imps' resentment can only have grown when they looked at the league table. While the Mariners were level with Bradford at the top of the league, Lincoln, having lost their last two games, were down in 13th. City had a point to prove.

Sincil Bank was packed half an hour before kick-off, with hundreds more queuing up outside. A gate of 13,078 – a record for Lincoln in the third division – included 2,000 Town fans. As the pressure in the St Andrew's stand built up, spectators climbed over the barriers and thronged almost to the touchline. At times play was halted while the police drove back fans who had spilled over onto the pitch. There was "a keen display of partisanship" although "the conduct of the spectators as a whole was excellent".

The newspapers report no deliberate fouling but the play is described as strenuous. The game swung when injury reduced Town to ten men.

At half time, the scores were level. Jimmy Carmichael had equalised from a free kick after Harry Havelock had given the Imps the lead. Jack Pugsley, though, had been badly injured. It was a serious loss. The half-back had been a "power in attack and defence" since the season began. No substitutes were allowed so Pugsley limped on to the end of the half before receiving treatment. He was still being patched up when the second half got under way. By the time he was able to resume, Grimsby were two goals down.

John Atter, the Town goalkeeper, was at fault both times. First Archie Campbell tried a shot. It was a long, dropping effort and it held no threat. Atter seemed to have it covered as he reached up with both hands for the ball, but then somehow it slipped over his head and into the net. A few minutes later, no doubt over-eager to make amends, he rushed out to close down one forward, leaving Havelock free to head for goal. Harry Arch had to be helped from the field after injuring himself trying to clear on the line, but he could not prevent the score.

For the Town fans, a well-balanced game had abruptly been knocked out of reach by those two quick, soft goals. They stood silent in a crowd delighted not only that Lincoln were winning but that Grimsby were losing. Even when Pugsley and Arch returned, the Lincoln goalkeeper made some brilliant saves and the Mariners could do nothing to silence the buoyant Imps fans. A further goal gave Lincoln a 4-1 win.

The partisan spirit of the derby infected the Lincolnshire Echo. In March, when the clubs met again, Grimsby took full revenge, running out 4-0 winners. The fact that City played most of the game with only nine fit players was a fact the Echo dwelt on at some length. "Indeed, out of the Mariners four goals, only one was a really good effort," it sniffed. On the Monday after the October game, by contrast, the paper relished Lincoln's "splendid win" without even mentioning Grimsby’s injuries.

Atter never played for Grimsby again. He had been fallible even before the derby. The week before, he had been blamed for Town falling behind against Southport, although they had gone on to win 3-2. And in a 3-1 win over Durham City, Durham’s goal had come when Atter was barged, ball and all, into the goal. Jock Archibald took over and kept goal to the end of the season.

Jack PugsleyJack Pugsley Pugsley's injury kept him out for two matches. It also cost him the chance of a first international cap. He had been named first reserve left-half in the Wales team to play Scotland on 31 October. With Wales's first choice declaring himself unavailable, there is every chance that Pugsley, if he had been fit, would have played.

The defeat at Lincoln rocked Town. It was the first of six matches in which Grimsby managed just one win, dropping their first home point of the season in a 1-1 draw with Wigan Borough. In three of them the Mariners' previously effective defence – weakened by the injuries to Arch and Pugsley – conceded four goals.

The hopes raised by Grimsby’s early season form were being tested. And when a club has been short of success for so long, doubts can surface quickly.

In 1925-26 part four: a Christmas double-header

Thanks to Dave Wherry for the picture of Jack Pugsley (copyright holder unknown).

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