"Jubilation in Fishopolis": 1925-26 final part

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

6 August 2019

Grimsby's Good Friday win over Chesterfield left Town, Bradford and Rochdale neck and neck in the Division Three (North) promotion race.

Grimsby Town v New Brighton, 1 May 1926

"The position between Grimsby Town and Bradford at the head of the Third Division (Northern Section) is mighty absorbing. Both play their last match on Saturday and to be absolutely sure of distinction the Grimbarians must win. Promotion will be a fitting reward for Grimsby's unremitting efforts during a strenuous season and there will be jubilation in Fishopolis on Saturday night if the Town succeed."
(Hull Daily Mail, 30 April 1926)

The Easter programme had left the race for promotion tantalisingly poised. The place at the top that the Mariners had established on Good Friday lasted through Easter Saturday, when they beat Ashington 3-1. But then they lost 2-0 in the return game at Chesterfield on Monday after Hugh Jacobson had been knocked unconscious and Jack Pugsley was concussed. Town had five games to play, their rivals Bradford and Rochdale four. Grimsby were two points off the lead.

In the next two weeks, Grimsby inched an advantage. First, Bradford lost a two-goal lead to draw with Nelson, while Town won 3-0 at Barrow. Then Rochdale lost against Lincoln while Grimsby and Bradford both won. Now Grimsby were second, a point behind Bradford with three games to play. Bradford and Rochdale each had just two matches left.

For Grimsby's game in hand at Doncaster, around 1,000 travelled from Grimsby by train, by charabanc, or by private car. There was also a large party from Bradford, including the Park Avenue players

Grimsby’s game in hand was played at Doncaster, early in the evening of Thursday 22 April. Doncaster's treasurer must have been delighted with the occasion. In a gate of 9,711, around 1,000 had travelled from Grimsby by train, by charabanc, or by private car. There was also a large party from Bradford, including the Park Avenue players, hoping the home team could do them a favour.

Grimsby's formation had been adjusted as the season reached its climax. The centre-half Jack Hardy played a more defensive role while his half back partners Jack Pugsley and Fred McLachlan were freer to support the attack. The inside forwards feature less in match reports from April; we read most about the wingers Charlie Devan and Billy Marshall.

Doncaster dominated the first half, but Grimsby beat them on the break. Jimmy Carmichael scored his 32nd goal of the season from a clever Devan centre. Marshall "raced like a hare with the ball under perfect control and scored a second with a fast, oblique shot". Devan made it 3-0 at half time.

Town went on to win 4-1 and for the third time in the season they led the division. They had been top of the table for one game in October and two games over Easter. Stay top for three matches now and the Mariners would be champions.

Two days later, they travelled to Crewe, their last away game of the campaign. A Devan header from a Marshall cross 15 minutes from time rescued a draw. Rochdale were now out of contention, two points behind with a far worse goal average. But how long the wait in the dressing room must have been before the news came through that Bradford too had only drawn. With one home game left to play, Town retained their one-point lead. The title was theirs to lose.

A long week's wait

Everything was stacked in Grimsby's favour. Their opponents New Brighton had nothing to play for, but then nor did Wigan Borough, Bradford's last day opposition. However, in addition, Town's home record was almost literally unblemished: played 20, won 19, drawn 1, lost 0, and just 8 goals conceded at Blundell Park all season. And yet. If the few minutes' wait to learn Bradford's result the previous Saturday had been long, the seven days until Town's last game must have crawled by.

Behind the scenes, the club kept busy. Over the weekend of the Crewe game, the club completed talks agreeing terms with all the first team players for next season. Every one of them would take the field against New Brighton knowing they had a future at Blundell Park, regardless of which division they would be playing in.

Re-engaging players so early was by no means typical in Division Three (North) but for once the club could afford to be relatively generous. Town's formidable home form had generated record gate receipts. The club's debts had been eliminated and directors' loans, which had been financing the club over several seasons, were repaid.

On the Tuesday, it was Jimmy Carmichael's testimonial game against Hull. No first team players were involved. Carmichael himself took the kick off and then left the field. It must have felt wrong to play a purely ceremonial role at his own benefit, but on Saturday, it was expected that the Grimsby team would be "constituted in its fullest power" and manager Wilf Gillow was not going to risk any injury.

Gillow took his players for a quiet week at Mablethorpe "to get them away from the feverish crowd of admirers". The fever had spread.

"Football interest in Hull will mainly be directed across the Humber to-morrow, for to local enthusiasts Grimsby Town have by far the most important of the promotion or relegation issues" wrote "Eclipse" for the Hull Daily Mail. That was no journalistic homily on how success for a rival would be "good for the area". The London & North Eastern Railway arranged a special football trip by ferry and train, departing Hull Pier at 1.00pm to arrive at New Clee at 2.25 on the day of the game, for a fare of two shillings and eight pence. There really was demand on the north bank to travel to Blundell Park and see how Grimsby fared.

Saturday broke to wet and windy weather- bad enough to keep away some of the merely curious. The crowd was still 14,548 – more than had come for the visits of Rochdale, Bradford and Lincoln but not enough to break the record set on Good Friday.

Bert Mehaffy 'fielded or punched balls at every possible angle, and though his every effort meant disappointment, the crowd cheered the gallant Irishman for the finest display of goalkeeping seen locally for years'

Grimsby, playing with the wind behind them, "opened in a style which promised a decisive victory", repeatedly making progress by "clever combination". The first few minutes yielded several good chances, some wasted by Frank McKenna, others striking the crossbar and still more thwarted by New Brighton goalkeeper Bert Mehaffy. "He fielded or punched balls at every possible angle, and though his every effort meant disappointment, the crowd cheered the gallant Irishman for the finest display of goalkeeping seen locally for years."
(Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1926)

Twice, Grimsby got the ball in the net, only for the referee to rule offside. Once Charlie Devan headed the ball against the underside of the bar and the ball bounced down and inward, apparently crossing the line. No goal given: "the long arm of Mehaffy curled backward and swept it out so quickly that perhaps the defender deserved the benefit of any existing doubt."

Half time came, and somehow the Mariners, despite chance after chance, had still not scored. Bradford - also playing in atrocious weather - were leading 4-1. At Park Avenue, they had hung a notice with the Grimsby score, updated at half time and mid-way through each half. No doubt someone was posting the Bradford score at Blundell Park. The crowd must have known that a draw would not be enough. Despite having the wind against them, they had to find a way past Mehaffy in the second half.

What would the talk have been at the change of ends? The inches by which Devan's header had gone over the line before Mehaffy scooped it back. Perhaps now Mehaffy’s performance was even being magnified; if Town were to fail, let it be to some superhuman feats of goalkeeping rather than to wasteful finishing.

The mood? Some bullishly confident that Town's persistence would pay off, that New Brighton having the wind behind them might be drawn out and allow more space for the Grimsby forwards. Some despondent: "Our best chance is gone", they'd say with a satisfaction as grim as the rain. They'd have the meagre consolation of being able to say "I told you so" if Town did not win.

The second half was more open. New Brighton had been penned in by Jack Pugsley especially during the first half but now their forwards were frequently dangerous. But no score, at either end. Grimsby rallied again, but the minutes went by, the anxiety deepening with every minute the game remained goalless.

20 minutes left. The Bradford game had kicked off a quarter hour before Town's. If anyone was providing a score from Park Avenue, the crowd would have known that Bradford had won 6-1. Unless Grimsby scored, Bradford would pip them to the title and promotion on goal average, by less than one tenth of a goal. The slenderest of margins, considering Town had once been eight points adrift; the biggest of margins if the Mariners picked this day of all days to drop just their second home point of the season.

Jimmy CarmichaelJimmy Carmichael Yet another cross was played into the New Brighton box. Yet again, Mehaffy got to the ball and punched it clear. This time though, his clearance was less than safe. Jimmy Carmichael is first to the ball as it comes to ground.

There are 17 minutes left to play, the crowd desperate. They implore Carmichael to hit it. A lesser player might have given way to the mood, might have driven the ball as hard as he could back into the box, hoping it would somehow find its way past the crowd of players, or perhaps take a lucky rebound. Carmichael is calm enough to weigh up his options and to trust in his ability. He kicks it high, over Mehaffy, still off his line, and over the defenders. The ball dips below the crossbar and settles into the net.

This time there was no arm to sweep the ball back, no whistle for offside. Grimsby – Carmichael - had scored. It was the goal that marked the end of Grimsby's two decades in the doldrums and the start of an era.

"Enthusiasts, almost delirious… swarmed to the touchline to dance, cheer and toss their hats in the air. This though pitiless rain was falling and a cold wind whipping the ground. The referee had to wait for the crowd to resume their places before restarting."
(Athletic News, 3 May 1926)

Town had some scares after Carmichael's goal, but there was no further score. Grimsby Town were the champions of Division Three (North).

Compare the scenes. At Park Avenue, the 10,000 Bradford crowd waited the quarter hour after their game had finished for news of the Grimsby result. The last they had heard it had still been 0-0 so hopes ran high "until the fateful telephone rang. A window in the pavilion was opened and there came the announcement 'Grimsby's won.' There were no groans, no recriminations, just bitter silence, and in five minutes the crowd was gone."
(Leeds Mercury, 3 May 1926)

At Blundell Park, the crowd swarmed onto the pitch, and carried the players shoulder high to the dressing rooms. Staying below the Main Stand in the rain, they cried for speeches. The Mayor, Councillor E Harrison, told the crowd that "The chairman has asked me specially to thank the players for the excellent way they have worked. It has simply been a splendid team."

The support which the public had given the players had had a great deal to do with their success. Another factor was the harmony which had existedJimmy Carmichael "said that the support which the public had given the players had had a great deal to do with their success. Another factor was the harmony which had existed."

Then the manager: "Mr W. Gillow said that at one time matters looked black, but they had got through by reason of the determination, harmony, and never-say-die spirit which they had shown. {applause.}"
(Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1926)

Which black times was Gillow looking back to? Just half an hour before, when his players kept going against the wind and a desperate defensive effort? Or the club's poor autumn form, when the brittle faith of a club that had got used to falling short had been tested? Or perhaps still further back, when as a player he'd seen his predecessors and the board blaming each other for the team's failings? No wonder both he and Carmichael emphasised how important had been harmony.

Finally, the crowds made their way back to Grimsby and Cleethorpes and even to Hull, reluctant to turn their backs on the scene of joy but ready also to take the news with them, to revel in it. No doubt there was "jubilation in Fishopolis" that night. No doubt Gillow, Carmichael and all the players enjoyed the celebrations to the full.

Was there perhaps the odd cynic shrilly insisting that regaining a place in Division Two - a place the club had once taken for granted - was really no great feat? The crowds and their feverish enthusiasm gave the short answer. A team can only win the challenge it has been set, and the last feat, especially for those who have known nothing else, is always the greatest.

Unless it is not the last but the next feat that is the greatest. For it turned out that, in winning Division Three (North), a new generation of Town players was only just beginning.

Afterword: what happened to the team of 1925-26

Grimsby Town team 1925-26(Players only) Back row: Wilson, Archibald, Jacobson; Middle: McLachlan, Hardy, Pugsley; Front: Devan, Gardner, Cooper, Carmichael, McKenna, Marshall
Manager Wilf Gillow's recruitment policy was to find "young men of promise." His success is borne out by the fact that four of the team who beat New Brighton, as well as squad members Joe Robson and Charlie Wrack, stayed on to play for Grimsby in Division One, four seasons after the Division Three (North) title season: Charlie Wilson, Hugh Jacobson, Joe Cooper and Billy Marshall.

However, of the rest, the reserve forward Bill Gardner remained at Grimsby longest. He left for Darlington in September 1927, after nine second division appearances. The other seven all left after one season or less in Division Two. 

The only member of the title-winning team who was born locally was Charlie Wilson, but the team became local. Six lived on in the area after their playing careers were over and eventually died in Grimsby or Cleethorpes: Wrack, Wilson, Jacobson, Cooper and Marshall again, and also Jimmy Carmichael.

Scoring the title-clinching goal against New Brighton proved to be Carmichael's crowning achievement. Now 32, he made 16 appearances in Division Two but scored only 4 goals. He lost his place to Robson in November 1926, eventually signing a deal for Midland League Worksop Town which allowed him to carry on training with the Grimsby squad.

By mid-February 1927, only goal average was keeping Grimsby out of the Division Two relegation places. Gillow must have concluded that many of his squad would never reach second division standard. Nine players were put on the transfer list, including Carmichael, Frank McKenna and Jock Archibald. McKenna's appearances had been restricted by injury and the arrival of Jackie Bestall. He was sold to Fulham with Charlie Devan in May 1927. Devan had not featured in the first team since 5 February when he had scored in a 5-2 defeat at Portsmouth. 

Archibald had a sorry afternoon. Twice he stood appealing for off-side instead of playing to the whistle when goals were scored, and twice had he shown his usual anticipation and dash he might have saved his chargeArchibald suffered a sudden loss of form. The goalkeeper was still attracting praise early in the season, but he was dropped in December. Restored to the team for six games in January and February, he conceded 26 goals. On 12 February, Town were beaten 5-2 at home to Oldham. "Archibald... had a sorry afternoon. Twice he stood appealing for off-side instead of playing to the whistle when goals were scored, and twice had he shown his usual anticipation and dash he might have saved his charge."

The following week, Town signed a new goalkeeper and sent Archibald a letter telling him not to attend Blundell Park. The club gave no further explanation and Archibald said he did not know why he had been banned, but did admit he had been seeking a move away from Grimsby. He joined Darlington, also in Division Two, but after they were relegated Archibald returned to Scotland.

Town's form improved enough that they finished 1926-27 in 17th, four points above the relegation zone. Wing halves Fred McLachlan and Jack Pugsley had featured throughout the season and were offered terms to remain at Blundell Park. Both rejected them. McLachlan was transferred to Bury, but made only two appearances for the first division team before he returned to the northern section with Halifax. Pugsley joined Bristol City so that he could carry on living in Cardiff. He went on to win a Division Three (South) title with Charlton. Five years after his injury against Lincoln had denied him a Wales cap, he made his first and only international appearance in 1930 against Ireland in a 7-0 defeat.

In January 1927, a year after his 40-yard shot had broken the resolve of Halifax, club captain Jack Hardy was barracked by fans during a home defeat by Barnsley. He immediately put in a transfer request and was sold to Oldham for £750. He appeared for them only twice. Before the year was over, he had returned to South Shields, this time for a fee of just £250.

The next few years brought him little first team football except in loan spells and trials. For all the power of his play, Hardy appears to have been dogged by ill health. He was on South Shields' transfer list when he died of pneumonia in January 1932, a month before his 33rd birthday and less than six years after he had been at the heart of Grimsby's 1925-26 title-winning team.


Although I've tried to tell the story of the 1925-26 season from contemporary newspapers, it would have been impossible without A complete record by Les Triggs, David Hepton and Sid Woodhead; We only sing when we're fishing by Dave Wherry; and Mariner men by Rob Briggs and Dave Wherry. Over and above that, I'm immensely grateful to Dave who had been very generous in sharing with me his own notes and pictures from the period.

Thanks to Dave Wherry for providing the team photograph and picture of Jimmy Carmichael (Copyright holders unknown.)

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