Jason Stockwood - Life is Life: from Scaffa to Sunny California

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

5 June 2024

From the mean streets of Scaffa to moving with shakers in suits, our man with a plan explains how he had an epiphany in the shower and flowered.

It's not all haircuts and hair suits but there is a secret plan to annexe our historic hinterland.

TB: You existed before 2022 didn't you…
JS: (chuckling) Is that the first question?

TB: Let's talk town (with a small t) rather than Town (with a big T) for a while. Where did you grow up? Nunny, Toll Bar, yep, but I think you lived in Holton-Le Clay for a while.
JS: I was born in Scaffa, we had a council house in Antrim Way, just off Edge Avenue for the first seven years and then my Mum married her second husband and we moved out to Holton-Le Clay. We went from a council house to quite a big semi-detached house, but the marriage wasn't great. So he was at sea one day and we left to move to another part of Holton-Le Clay, a place called Beverley Close which was slightly less grand.

Yeah, my childhood was fine, and then my Mum moved into Holton-Le-Clay and when I was 16 she married for the third time. My oldest brother was already gone and my slightly older brother Nathan and I stayed in the house I was in. Mum paid for it all and my younger brother went with her to go and live with this other guy.

TB: That explains something that I thought was weird – you were from the Nunny but went to Toll Bar…you're from Wilkieland aren't you.
JS: Yeah, his sister Leanne used to cut my hair!

TB: Doesn't she still do so?
JS: Ooh, actually I haven't seen her for years. One of my really good mates, Andy Allen owned Oasis Hairdressers at Holton-Le Clay and Leanne used to work there. Yeah, he was such a legend, Paul Wilkinson, at the time.

TB: Ah, so you're a Holton-Le-Clay lad…that explains things, you're a country bumpkin from the landed gentry.
JS: It was weird growing up, I remember going to Scaffa Baths one time on a day out with my brothers and we were talking to some girls and we said we're from Holton-Le Clay and they said "ooh you’re posh". It's all relative I guess, isn't it.

TB: Yeah, I used to get that being from Humberston
JS: Ah, now that was posh!

TB: So Holton-Le Clay and Toll Bar…you were in the school team, can you remember what the kit colours were?
JS: The Holton-Le-Clay kit was - I've got a picture of it – the claret and blue like West Ham. I remember that vividly, there's a picture with the PE Teacher, Mr Salter. The Toll Bar kit at the time was this kind of generic grey – I don't know if it started that colour and then it got washed so many times – but we got a new kit when we were in about the third year. I seem to remember it being a silvery grey colour.

TB: They were green and black stripes when we played them. Are you from the era when you had to bring your own shorts and socks?
JS: No, no I seem to remember that when we got to Toll Bar there was a really big deal, they got new kit and so that may have been the last generation where you had to bring our own stuff, but we were fully kitted out. I played for the town and the county teams as well. I remember for the town team you got the old Town shirts. That that was a proper kit, not a school thing that had been washed out a thousand times. That was a big deal!

TB: That's what I was going to ask: what is you footballing pedigree? We've heard you had trials and tried to stand on the shoulders of giants. Or Garry Birtles. So what was your position?
JS: I played centre midfield, I used to play with a really good friend of mine called Dave Winfield and we played for Tetney FC outside of school as well. I was sort of an attacking midfielder and Dave was the defending midfielder. I always loved playing with him, but when I played for the county I played as a centre forward. The higher the standard the further up the pitch I went, weirdly. If I played now I'd love to be a right-back, now they do both attacking and defending. I always liked to tackle so I imagine that is the position I'd be in nowadays.

TB: So what's the greatest goal you scored?
JS: Oh god...oh I mean there was one that was actually in the Grimsby Telegraph – I've got a clipping in a box somewhere. I played for Grimsby Amateurs which my PE teacher at the time was manager of, so it was a blokes' team when I was 15. We were playing against Skegness Town and I scored a goal from outside the box. I chipped the keeper and it was reported in the Telegraph as a super strike by "Chipper Stockwood".

With Tetney we had, well, there was a teacher - Geoff Knight - that used to organise trips to Holland. He and my mate Dave Winfield's dad, Chris, organised these homestay trips and so for two years we went across and stayed with families and played in Holland. That was amazing, (a) just to be abroad and (b) staying with families…coming down for breakfast and having chocolate sprinkles on toast, that was mind-blowing at the time.

When I look back on my early years everything that was formative seemed to be around football, being in whatever team or whatever community you are.

TB: So they allowed you to be more expansive - you had the opportunity to get out of the town…and Total Football
JS: Yeah, I never made that connection before. When you look back this is why I want my kids to play sport. You don't realise until you get older when you go for your first jobs and you go to interviews and they ask about difficult situations you've been in. For me it was football, with examples of teamwork.

I didn't realise at the time it was formative for everything I think about the world actually. And the quality of relationships and friendships that last to this day. I don't think I realised then how important it was, like I do now.

TB: It's a very individual yet collective game. You live over in Cheshire now, we don't really get an idea of what your working week is. I was thinking of your predecessor when he had several other roles. The job of Grimsby Town chair, that's a full-time job in itself. You've got other things that you do. Give us an idea of all that…
JS: I'm pretty good at compartmentalising. My wife thinks I'm an oddity that I can switch off from stuff, which is why last year was really interesting to me on a personal level. I was unable to switch off from it. It shows that it goes into me in a way like nothing else, like nothing else matters, more than anything else I've done. That was interesting, why it was such a heavy lift and why I felt numb for a couple of days after the season ended. I felt nothing, I wasn't elated or anything at all, I was just glad it was over and done. I'm really interested in that psychologically, what's that about me that carries that.

I don't have a regular week. I have always sought out variety and that's why I became an entrepreneur. I like directing my own energy the ways that I think are most useful and most productive. I like the variety of running companies and things you get involved with. I sold the last company that I ran in 2017 and I stayed on the board of that. I am a board member of a number of other businesses but that's as and when you're needed. You'll have board meetings every couple of months, and most often these days every quarter. I'll often take a call from a CEO or an investor, but the Grimsby Town project is unique for me.

About three years ago I decided I was going to do nothing else but projects related to Grimsby for three years, trying to find a way of being useful.

TB: That means Grimsby, not Grimsby Town
JS: Yeah, and when I say Grimsby it is a synonym for North East Lincs as well, it's the region. I wanted to try to be useful politically with a small 'p' in trying to use the good fortune I've had, the networks, the resources, the energy I've got to do something positive for the region.

I went back to university and I wrote about how I wanted to approach this and for three years I've done nothing but Grimsby-related projects. That's finished this month, so my world will change again, but for the last three years I would say 50% of my time has been on the football club. I am always 'on', so what that means for other people I don't know. I find I can switch into different modes quite quickly but when I need to get into thinking about Grimsby Town I think about it fully with 100% of myself.

Then the Onside Youth Zone has been another part of my time where we've raised the money to build in the town, and the programme will be ready next summer. The third component is where we've founded a charity called Our Future which is the coherent thought about all of this work where you create a narrative for the town, how you create jobs for the town and also how you create housing stock that is fit for purpose. That charity is focused on Grimsby in its first instance but will be national. We're looking for second and third places now.

That's part of my world and then I write, which I love to do – I do a lot of thinking by writing which fortunately gets published in The Guardian. I look at businesses to invest in and I advise a couple of Private Equity Funds on investing. I do a lot of things where my day would be, well, if I showed you my diary – I've done three calls on the way over here today, for example.

The reason I want variety in my life is that my number one priority is being a husband and a dad. That means that when I want to I can switch all that stuff off and be present in our holidays. I took a month off in March 'cos I wanted to do a conservation project, but I took a couple of calls when I was away. Basically for the month I went away and did something I wanted to do for myself and my family. That's the life I aimed for, designed for myself. I targeted that and was very purposeful about it in terms of the money I needed to make to do that and how I spent my time.

And I have a plan for the next ten years about how I want to be useful and interested and engaged and keep learning as well. It's not something where I can say "I do this every week".

TB: How is this actually organised?
JS: I've got a really good assistant. When I try to get involved in my own diary I make a mess of it, so I have someone brilliant at that. I'm good at reacting, quite good at making my time work efficiently for me. I quite enjoy spontaneity, something I'd lost for a number of years – a sense of spontaneity and serendipity in my life where really interesting good, creative and energetic things happen, so I try and make that happen for myself as well.

TB: Was there any particular catalytic event that made you come to that realisation?
JS: I left school and travelled for a bunch of years, then I went to university. I started reading properly in my early twenties; I hadn't read properly until then. I educated myself and did a degree in philosophy and then I went to London. I got a job in a call centre for a travel company, called Travel Finders.

For a couple of years I absolutely loved it. I was able to travel a lot, worked with like-minded people, everyone was the same age as me, mid-twenties. Then there was a day where I could see the rest of my life ahead of me – basically at the call centre there was the number of calls waiting flashing. You took a call, it beeped in your ear and you had to sell a trip and then build that trip for someone, which I loved at first. I had this vision one day – I was probably hung over if I am being honest – and the beep was going off in my ear and I remember thinking "this is going to be it for 20 or 30 years". I literally had this vision of me being sat in the same place and my life going this way. I remember pushing the headset off my head and going "I'm not going to do this anymore".

I sought out a job where I ended up working for an airline in sales. It was a third of the wages I was making before but I knew I had to make a break. When that job came up the internet had started to come about and I looked at that. I'm really interested in it. I wrote a paper for the airline about what the internet would be for them, this was in '98. While that was happening I thought "this is really cool", I want to do something in this thing, whatever it's going to be. I was fortunate enough to get involved with lastminute.com, but I do remember the moment when I thought "I'm not doing this for the rest of my life".

I got up in the morning to go to work and I was shaving in the shower – and it's a really vivid image – I used to shave when I showered and tap my razor on a tile and remember thinking "in 30 years that tile will be worn away".

TB: Like a bowler's run up
JS: Yeah, I remember that image, I'm not going to do this, I need to create more positive agency in my decision making. It was never about money it was just about wanting to do interesting stuff with interesting people.

TB: Other people can have the exact opposite approach, which is "I want to have that stability so I can do something else" whereas your something else was that work.
JS: Yeah, my stability really came quite quickly after that. I did need stability. I didn't have a particularly good relationship with drink at the time, I was hungover a lot. Like a lot of people growing up in Grimsby, I think drink featured quite heavily in a distorted view of masculinity.

TB: You do what you do because that's what everybody does…
JS: It's about getting away from that and letting me see it for what it is. I do love a drink but in the context of being deliberate about why I do that. I was living my life without deliberate intent. The real acceleration in my career and my life happened when I met my wife and having a foundation at home of security and trust and love and stability that I'd never had in my life. That's given me the freedom to take lots of risks. It's kinda perverse in that I know I have got that security and intent in my life and love that I've never had anywhere else that's given me this amazing platform, so I’m not scared of failure.

I'm not scared of failure anyway, but having a partner who's on that journey with you. Well, look, she persuaded me to buy the football club, it was her that talked me into it eventually.

My security comes from my home life as I have this permanence and sense of stability and trust and integrity in my relationship with my wife and my kids that gives me the foundation to do everything else and take risks.

I read a lot, and cook a lot as I like cooking for my family. I stepped down from being a CEO because I wanted to be around my kids. I get up, I cook breakfast every day and I make sure dinner's ready every night. I'm not sure whether they appreciate that or not. We eat dinner together whenever possible, but 8 times out of 10 we sit around and we talk and have dinner. I love that investment in time and energy and I enjoy their company. Then I'll disappear upstairs and I read. I don't go in the bath and read for an hour every night, I don't want to put that in your head. I love that and I love to travel, we're always off on interesting trips. I love exploring and finding out about new places and trying to ignite my kids' curiosity in the world.

I exercise a lot, every day, whether it's Pelaton or running or a cross-trainer. I like to feel like I'm exercised and moving. It's all one lovely messy big continuous loop, but every day is different and I like that.

TB: I was just reflecting on all you've stated about what you're seeking to create for town (little t and big T) which is all that, but in a corporate sense. When you talk about the football club as a place where people want to be and that you have aftercare with people. You're talking about stability within an organisation. In the football, it's "don't be afraid to take risks" which is something we've heard from the present manager rather than the previous manager.
JS: Yeah, I love that connection. Something that seems at first pass inconsistent is the ability to take risks in life, which comes from a deep sense of security and self if you've got that. If you take risks randomly you're just throwing shit up against the wall, but if you're doing it from a point where failure is absolutely fine and you believe in that sense of connection and relationships and love, it emboldens you, it allows you to go and do extraordinary things.

There's a vision of an entrepreneur who's just wildly trying something but actually for me it's always been that I'm not scared of failure. One criticism I have had throughout my life is that I show up super informal – that's a bit Grimsby I think – everyone's got an ego but there's certain lack of status in the town which I really like.

When I was a kid I remember there’s was a guy whose nan lived on the Willows...

TB: You mean the Willers
JS: I would have got away with that elsewhere…
The front of the paper on the Friday was some kid who had gone away to London and done something in the music industry and he'd pulled up in the Willers in a limo. And the next night the tyres were slashed. I liked that story as it says you don't do that. You don't turn up to Grimsby saying "I made it, I'm Johnny Bigballs", because we're all the same. I know I have different skills and different talents and obviously a slightly different bank balance now, but actually I still feel I can go in a pub and be as comfortable there as I am doing the stuff that I've done in finance in New York, for example. That something about being able to shift between those worlds and being comfortable. I like the fact Grimsby doesn't allow you to get away with that and nor should it.

TB: Everybody has a skill, no matter what they are paid or their grade or what their experience is, they all have something to contribute.
JS: I'd go a bit further and build on that. In my last business we won some awards for the culture.

TB: That was Simply Business?
JS: Yeah, and I always said it's not where you end up in life it is the distance you travel. I think for a kid from not an auspicious start in life to get a steady job with a mortgage and a house the distance they have to travel is a lot further than a kid that goes to Eton and ends up in Parliament. I think that is how we should measure people – what are the embedded privileges they had been brought up with, or not, and how much effort has got them to where they are, not the status of what they are.

I had a lady that worked for me in my last business and she'd had a horrific childhood, violence and criminality, and when we sold our company everyone was a shareholder. She told me she'd taken her kid to Euro Disney and, based on where she'd started in life, she didn't think she’d ever have a job let alone be in a position where she owned a house and was taking her kid on foreign holidays. The distance that person had to travel is monumental compared to Eton and Westminster.

TB: That's your life then. Have you got a defined end point?
JS: I'll tell you one thing. In 2010 I started going over to California regularly to look at the breakthroughs in technology and healthcare and stuff. And in 2013 I went to a university called Singularity University; it's quite wacky, basically it doesn't get accredited because it wants to stay on the cutting edge of technology. It's CEOs and thinkers and they get the faculties from all the leading universities of the world to look at leading edge tech. I came home from that and I said to my wife…

TB: Do you all wear lizard suits?
JS: Well there was some wacky stuff but, well, I came to my wife and said I think our generation will live to 120-130 with all the stuff that's coming through health outcomes – this was 2010. My wife said she only wants to live until about 90. My first thought was "I'm going to be back on the market again" – which is apparently not the right thought.

I do think we are going to extend human life and I think we are living through an acceleration. I said to my kids that what we're seeing in AI now will accelerate our health and natural life span. If you think about some of the health drugs that are coming out…whether it's the life people want is a different thing, but I do think we'll have a healthy lifespan that will take us up to 120 for the generation that is in its fifties now.

TB: Humanity is capable of doing that but then it's about equity and access isn't it?
JS: Oh yeah, you're spot with the question, but I think the expectation and capability to do that is fascinating. The stuff we're seeing through AI means we're living through a greater breakthrough in technology over the last two years than we've seen in the last hundred and we as a society haven't, generally, fully grasped that yet. What AI is going to do to every aspect of how we live, well, anyway, that's a whole other conversation. So 120-130 is my end point.

TB: So you're going to come back as chairman in about 2092 then
JS: Andrew and I have said we'd rotate it like Putin and Medvedev.

TB: Which is which and who is who?
JS: I'll let time decide…

TB: You're going invade Scunthorpe are you?
JS: You said it first not me.

TB: That’ll be the pull quote on Twitter.
I'll turn left here. Music. There’s only one question we ask about music and it helps us assess the man inside. Rush? Yes or no!

JS: No.

TB: Right answer! Right Answer! That's all you need to say.
You're a child of the 80s, I'm a bit older than you, but it's roughly the same era. How big was your hair? And. And. Did you ever go near the 'tache and turquoise trousers aesthetic down Meggies?
JS: (Voice raised an octave) No on the second one!
It's only recently that I have started having facial hair, it's probably correlated to how bald I'm going. I've only really had two hairstyles, the sort of wedge style that was fashionable in the 80s with football casuals – that you're still fashioning today – and then this one which has been a progression from balding to bald.

But there was one small aberration and it was around 1985 when Chris Waddle had the mullet with a perm at the back. My next door neighbour was a hairdresser and I grew my hair out at the back and I ask her to perm it. What I didn't really think about is if you grow your hair and you perm it, it will gather up. I hadn't grown it long enough, so basically I looked like I had a tumour on the back of my head. I'm so glad there were no digital cameras. That's the closest I've come to…well, as you can tell from my time with Town I never pay much attention to my looks and fashion. That was my one attempt and it was very short-lived. I had it cut off a week later and that was it.

So I've had three hairstyles, and one lasted just a week. So that's two I’d own up to. My brother had a perm which was phenomenal. There's a passport photo that still exists. My oldest brother was a rocker so he had really long hair. He was really into heavy metal, Kiss and probably Rush as well at some point; he's a real muso and still plays in bands today. He had every hairstyle imaginable, it probably put me off, seeing how ridiculous he looked.

TB: I almost asked if you had a perm, but thought, nahh, he couldn't possibly.
We're coming to the end of talking about you personally, so I'll ask a question to wrap it up. After becoming the owner/chairman you suddenly had a change in profile – you had a public profile. Did you notice how people changed, how they interacted with the character 'Jason Stockwood', rather than the person?
JS: I haven't noticed that. If you pick the right partner in life you know you are never as good or bad as people say you are. The bins still need taking out every night. When we sold our business for half a billion dollars the bins needed taking out and nappies needed changing that evening. I like that. I know Debbie (Cook) felt this acutely – that there was a role that she was playing – for me I'm not in the town day-to-day.

On match days I love talking to people and I guess it has given me an opportunity to talk to more people. I genuinely haven't felt anything that different. I do feel that I'm playing a role, but that is to try and improve the football club. I haven't thought more about what that means for me personally. Mmm, maybe I should have thought about that a bit more.

Combined with the work of Our Future and Onside it feels like we're trying to tell a different, more positive story about the town in general. I'm happy to try and tell the story of the town and use my voice. It doesn't feel like people have changed towards me. My brothers and my mates go to the football still and treat me exactly the same, which is how it should be.

TB: What about that celebrity thing where people can start to smile at you just because they see you and there's some kind of false connection.
JS: I did notice that, it’s usually after matches when we're stuck in traffic, people wind their windows down and chat about the game or wave and stuff, so there's that, but if you're at the football most people talk to anyone and everyone anyway. You don't need to be the chairman to have a conversation about the football. We talk to strangers about football, that's what football fans do. I have not noticed that at all to be honest.

TB: I suppose we’re going back to the beginning here, especially on social media, there is the character 'Jason Stockwood' people try to communicate at, which is probably where that difference is.
JS: Yeah, I wonder whether I should have thought more about that. I've got one mode. How I am speaking with you now is how I would be with an investor, my kids. Maybe the reason I can sustain the high levels of energy and varied interests is that I don't have to switch between modes. What you see is what you get, I don't filter, I don't think I need to behave a certain way, and that allows me to keep going. I don't think, oh fucking hell I'm going to go and meet these people so I need to be this or that. Maybe that's a Grimsby trait.

I recognise that I have assets – of skills and networks and resources – that might be different to people, but it doesn't set me apart. I don't walk into the ground feeling my views or my worth is any better than anybody else.

TB: You don't walk into the ground thinking: "Let's get into character"?
JS: No, I'm genuinely interested in everybody's stories, what you can learn from each other, and I always have been. The fact that I've had a bit of success in different areas, look, no false modesty, I'm proud of what I've done and it's great to have those things but I've always thought the next thing is the most interesting thing in your life.

Look at someone like Tom Turgoose. He's done a video for us, he's always super helpful if we need to do something socially…What I love about it is if you met Tom and you didn't know him, that he's got this amazing film career...he's a Grimsby lad, proud of that, he's a lovely bloke.

We've all got an ego, but I like people who wear it lightly. If you're good at stuff people will find out, there's something about that which I really admire in other people.

TB: Basically people have character, they don't have to be a character.
JS: Yeah, I like that, I like that.

TB: Pulp Fiction, Mr Wolf, not my original.
JS: I like that. Adversity is not just character defining it is character revealing. I'm always nervous about people who lead with their character, it's usually an insecurity or frailty.

There's a miscomprehension about people's biases and prejudices. When you come up to Grimsby anyone is fair game. I think it is done with love and affection when we take the piss out of each other. It's not meant to be malicious but if you see and witness it and you're not used to it, well it's unrefined sometimes. I love it, it's unique and we forget that. It's a really welcoming place and honest, it's rough around the edges, the arse even, but there is a genuine character and identity to it.