The day the Earth stood still

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

24 October 2013

When the Mariners beat Kevin Keegan's Newcastle, it was the day's big story, not just in Grimsby but nationally. It was even applauded in Tyneside. Why did the match make such an impact?

On 24 October 1992, Jim Dobbin drilled a goal into the Newcastle net. Even 21 years later, it deserves to be remembered.

The bare facts are dramatic enough. That Saturday, Grimsby, 17th in the newly renamed 'first' division, played Newcastle at St James' Park. Newcastle's starting XI had cost over £3million in transfer fees; Grimsby's cost only £82,000 more than Newcastle's two subs. Not only were Newcastle top of the league: they had won all 11 of their games since the start of the season. They needed only to beat the Mariners to equal the longest sequence of wins in the English professional game.

The match was played before a gate of 30,088, the biggest attendance that day in England and Wales. With a minute to play there had been no goals and both sides appeared to be settling for a draw. Then Dobbin shot with his right foot from outside the penalty area to win the game for Grimsby.

The line-ups

Name (signed from, fee, date signed)

  Newcastle United Grimsby Town
1 Tommy Wright (Linfield, £30,000, January 1988) Dave Beasant (Chelsea, loan, October 1992)
2 Barry Venison (Liverpool, £250,000, July 1992) John McDermott (trainee, June 1987)
3 John Beresford (Portsmouth, £650,000, July 1992) Gary Croft (trainee, July 1992)
4 Steve Howey (trainee, December 1989) Paul Futcher (Halifax, £10,000, January 1991)
5 Liam O'Brien (Manchester Utd, £250,000, November 1988) Mark Lever (trainee, August 1988)
6 Kevin Scott (trainee, December 1984) Jim Dobbin (Barnsley, £200,000, July 1991)
7 Rob Lee (Charlton, £700,000, September 1992) Tommy Watson (trainee, July 1988)
8 Gavin Peacock (Bournemouth, £150,000, November 1990) Dave Gilbert (Northampton, £55,000, March 1989)
9 Mick Quinn (Portsmouth, £680,000, August 1989) Paul Groves (Blackpool, £150,000, August 1992)
10 Lee Clark (trainee, December 1989) Clive Mendonca (Sheffield Utd, £85,000, August 1992)
11 Kevin Brock (QPR, £300,000, December 1988) Neil Woods (Bradford, £82,000, August 1990)
12 Brian Kilcline (Oldham, £250,000, February 1992) Tony Rees (Barnsley, £37,500, August 1989)
14 Paul Bracewell (Sunderland, £250,000, June 1992) Mark Smith (Huddersfield, £55,000, March 1991)

 

It was a very good day to be a Town fan, but every season there will be the odd surprise result – the odd game where a side near the bottom travels, packs its defence, rides its luck and then steals a goal. Those wins, for the victors, are worth celebrating for a night or two. But this match was more than that. Grimsby matched and more than matched Newcastle, pass for pass, shot for shot. Dobbin's goal might seem, in retrospect, to have been a shot out of nowhere, but it was the just culmination of a game we deserved to win.

The season had begun amid some discontent... in his first two months at Grimsby, Groves had his detractorsThe win itself seemed to come from nowhere. The season had begun amid some discontent among vocal sections of the Town support. Relegation had only finally been avoided on the last day of the previous season. In the close season one of our outstanding players in that campaign, Shaun Cunnington, was sold to Sunderland for £650,000. Manager Alan Buckley used little more than half that fee to bring in three new players: Clive Mendonca, Paul Groves and Rhys Wilmot.

Mendonca had made his name with us while on loan the previous season but, amid a slow start in the league, doubts were raised about both the other new signings. Two weeks after the win at St James' Park, Groves scored a hat-trick at Luton and never looked back. But in his first two months at Grimsby – which is astounding to recall, given everything he went on to do for the club – he had his detractors.

However, it was the new goalkeeper, Wilmot, who bore most criticism. He had been well regarded at Plymouth, sold to Town only because they had Peter Shilton as player-manager. At Grimsby, he replaced the gallant but erratic Paul Reece, released to the anger of the fanzine Sing When We're Fishing. With some supporters predisposed against him, it did not help Wilmot's cause that he was playing with a back injury. The issue came to a head when he was sent off in a defeat at Notts County. With Wilmot suspended, Buckley was forced to look for an alternative.

That was how Dave Beasant, an FA Cup-winning captain and England international, came to make his Grimsby debut against one of his former clubs. Beasant, as Buckley describes in his autobiography, proved a catalyst. At St James' Park, Newcastle striker Mickey Quinn admitted later, Beasant hardly had a shot to save. But the confidence and organisation he brought to the defence provided the extra spark we needed to turn promising performances into a winning run of our own.

The main headline

The defeat of Newcastle was that night's main sports headline. The Grimsby-born Duncan McKenzie, presenting the phone-in 6-0-6, kept promising an interview from someone on the Town team bus. It never materialised, leaving him to apologise: "It's the story of my life, waiting for a call from the Grimsby manager." Nevertheless, the Mariners dominated the show, from exultant Town fans to the Geordie who rang to confess: "You crucified us."

Jim Dobbin celebratesJim Dobbin is congratulated by Paul Groves That reaction was typical, for, even in defeat, this was also a day for Newcastle fans to remember with pride. The Grimsby side were applauded off the field by many home supporters. A group of Town fans returned to the pub they had visited before kick-off. They received a standing ovation.

To an extent, the Magpies could afford to be generous. They had beaten Sunderland, they had a significant gap at the top of the division, and they would get their revenge in May, securing promotion with a 2-0 win at Blundell Park. Beyond that, though, they recognised that they had been beaten by the better side on the day. It was a day when Newcastle fans proved they loved not just their club, but football. Generous in defeat, Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan spoke for all:

"It was only 1-0 to Grimsby but it was our biggest hammering since I entered management... If we were to lose I'm glad we've lost to a footballing side. They haven't bullied us. They haven't kicked long balls and done all the things a lot of people think the first division is full of. They got the ball down and took advantage of us having an off day. They played like we normally play. It would have been some game if our standards hadn't slipped."

And perhaps there was, in the national response to our win, something a bit wider even than the recognition of a worthy performance. Sing When We're Fishing printed a column from a north-eastern columnist who, watching three young lads writing 'Grimsby' in the fog of a bus window, asked: "Who would have imagined... the original unglamorous club would become THE cult team on Tyneside?"

This was the first season of the Premier League, a new stage accelerating the concentration of wealth at the top of the game

The key may be that word 'unglamorous', for since England's semi-final defeat in the Italian World Cup in 1990, glamour was beginning to wash back into football. This was the first season of the Premier League, a new stage accelerating the concentration of wealth at the top of the game.

For all Keegan's and their supporters' generosity on the day, Newcastle would prove to be a harbinger of the way the game was going. Like Grimsby, they had struggled in the 1991-92 season. Where Grimsby stuck with the same chairman, the same manager and largely the same players, Newcastle were taken over by Sir John Hall, appointed Keegan as manager and did their utmost to bring in new players. Indeed, Keegan had briefly walked out when the money for new signings was not immediately forthcoming.

Contrasting approaches

Having survived the drop, Newcastle threw money at joining the Premier League. Their matchday squad on 24 October included five players signed since February at a cost of more than £2million. Before his appointment, Keegan had been out of football for a decade, with no coaching or management experience. He was however, a lure, a magnet for players and supporters. Keegan deserves credit; other managers have been given the funds to build a squad, but few have turned around the fortunes of a club as swiftly and successfully as Keegan transformed Newcastle. Both Keegan and Buckley prided themselves on turning out sides who played good football. But Buckley's Grimsby, in contrast, had been developed over years, on modest resources.

With the exception of Beasant, Grimsby's matchday squad was made up of players who stayed several years at the club, players who improved as we climbed the divisions. Dave Gilbert, for instance, would have us roaring encouragement as he ran at a right-back, taunting him with his twists and turns. But too often when he first joined the Mariners, he had been content to end a run by banging the ball against his victim's shins to force a corner. His judgement improved, his passing improved, and his passing played its part in setting up Dobbin.

Buckley identifies Tommy Watson as having had a "storming" match at Newcastle. When Buckley first arrived at Blundell Park, he had seen no better use for Watson than to loan him to Frickley Athletic. And yet, while he never quite became a first-choice pick, his tigerish tenacity belied his light frame, and his willingness to chance a long shot lit up many a match. Jim Dobbin

Jim Dobbin Watson is one of the few players from that day who seldom feature in Town fans' picks of best-ever XIs. Another is Jim Dobbin.

To appreciate Dobbin, you had to hear and read what his team-mates had to say about him, about his willingness not just to graft but to graft accurately. He passed the ball well. He was rarely required to make the 40-yard passes that draw tremors of applause. But he'd consistently pass to the right player in the right place. With a name that led opposing fans to belittle him, he was the perfect player for Grimsby. Often overlooked, this was his, and our, day in the headlines.

Grimsby beat Newcastle at the cusp of a profound change in football. It was one of the last great days of the Football League. Perhaps it is fanciful to imagine that the affection Town's win inspired – in Grimsby, on Tyneside and across England – owed something to an understanding that, even as football became fashionable, some good things in the game would decline.

Money had always talked, but now it was beginning to shout... television was increasingly focusing on the game at its glossiest, weakening the tie between clubs and their communities

Money had always talked, but now it was beginning to shout. People who, misguided as they could be, loved the game for itself, had always jostled with egotists to run the sport. Now they were being shoved aside by people whose first motive was money. Children had always been tempted by the teams they saw only on Match of the Day. Now television was increasingly focusing on the game at its glossiest, weakening the tie between clubs and their communities.

But just for one day, 24 October 1992, the most down-to-earth of coaches from the most homely of clubs took his carefully constructed team into this emerging new world and won, outplaying their more illustrious opponents. It was a Parthian shot against the overweening ambitions of the Premier League.

For two decades since, the Newcastle model is the one that has flourished, the growing inequalities in the wealth of the game enabling the richest clubs to cherry-pick talent – a virtuous circle, for some, where wealth brings success and success brings wealth. But the clubs that aspired to join the elite had to gamble. For Newcastle, the gamble paid off. Other clubs – Bradford, Leeds, Portsmouth, among others – would put their survival at risk.

Across England, across Tyneside, Grimsby's 1-0 win was a seven-day wonder. Even some Town fans now associate Newcastle first with Alan Shearer's lip. But don't let the dust settle on the image. On 24 October 1992, Jim Dobbin drilled a shot into the Newcastle net. Remember it, as a peak in a beautiful chapter of Grimsby Town's history, as one last moment before the second division became distorted by the riches of the layer above. Remember it above all as a beacon. It does not just illuminate the past but could still light the way to a more sustainable future.

  • Just how much too strong are Pat's Mariner-tinted spectacles? Tell us your thoughts about this article
  • Thanks to Grimsby Town FC for permission to reproduce the picture of Jim Dobbin, and to the¬†Grimsby Telegraph for permission to reproduce the picture of the team celebrating