The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

We're on our way

13 May 2016

Retro Diary writes: Well, here we are again. We wanted another chance, and we got it. That big red bowl, with all its horrible memories, awaits. We're a bit older, and a bit less starry-eyed, but all importantly, we're back for something like redemption. Grab something black and white and forget what went before; it's time to go.

At no point since 1,687 away fans filtered out of Kidderminster's Aggborough last August has this felt like a promotion season. A curious inability to stick our best eleven on the pitch and leave them there; slow starts; momentum-stifling substitutions; lack of nous to break down the division's bus-parkers; anonymous loan signings; and post-match interviews that seemed over-happy with mediocre performances have all seemed to slow the juggernaut down.

As an inhabitant of the Main Stand I get to hear first-hand the dog's abuse hurled at the back of Hursty's head. We managed to finish below a bunch of part-timers with a PE teacher for a manager. And yet here we are, still, with 90 minutes between us and a return to League football. It's a chance we need to be taking – it doesn't really matter how.

Just as the odd lacklustre home performance shouldn't lead to abuse for the team and demands for the manager's head on a stick, neither should the club's glass-always-half-full brigade claim the moral high ground for last week's single victory.
As the 75-minute mark approached at Braintree, everyone except original/regular and Mardy Diaries in their Sheffield pub thought we were going out, our season was over, and the manager was probably a goner. Braintree, who'd been wasting time since the third minute, were successfully doing the spoiling job they've done so brilliantly all season, and it looked like it would work a final time.

But then, and how could you credit it, with all those taxi drivers and plumbers playing out of their skin, Braintree's old pro, the one who doesn't have to get up in the mornings, Mark Phillips, committed suicide for his team by hoiking Gowling's shirt in the box right in front of the ref, and then getting needlessly sent off when his mates were dead on their feet. The whole Grimsby team were heroes, but it was Phillips who won that game for us – of that there can be little real doubt. If I were the Braintree manager I would have sacked him before he got off the pitch.
As Podge started his run-up for the penalty, it was too much for me - I think I nearly blacked out. It wasn't the consequences of him scoring, but missing, that were the problem. Your life would never be quite the same had that happened – and the next hundred years of Grimsby Town's history may have foundered in those two seconds. And a dodgy, scuffed old penalty it was too, but the keeper obliged us by flopping gently the wrong way. Oh… my… God.

So to Wembley we go. But Forest Green, the old shipping containers, aren't just going to park up, wilt in the sun and let us win. This time, there's no merit in sitting back, soaking up the pressure. But by rights, the whole of the football world should be willing us on. A club like Town shouldn't have their progress impeded by a loss leader for an electricity company. FFS, even the Lincoln mascot wants us to win.

Forest Green are an experiment of a most unattractive kind. This venerable old club has, concealed beneath multiple layers of modern façade, a historic core. I fantasise that the eternal minnows in the black and white stripes and red socks, smeared in the mud of the old Lawn's glutinous goalmouth and watched by a few hundred stalwarts, is the one we're playing on Sunday.

But that identity has been so subsumed by all that is overstretched, short-termist and brutish, not to mention a quite revolting green, that it's now hard to feel any empathy with them at all. They've had a makeover that's made them look worse. They're the baddies now, and Dale Vince seems to be oblivious to the preciousness of the thing he's treating as a toy.

I sometimes wonder if you asked their fans whether they would give all the money back for the return of their old Saturday afternoons – their stripes, their integrity – whether they would take you up on it. I suspect not. But you can't help thinking that they'll have no choice in the end, for their demise is already written. We just hope they don't hammer the lid down on Town's coffin during their short spell in the sun.

As I may have said before, the thing we shouldn't hold against Forest Green is all their eco stuff. For football, it is unique and brave. For fans of Town, a club whose ground is a hundred yards from the tideline, to criticise renewable energy, which was pretty much invented to prevent devastating sea level rise, just makes us sound like loons. Also, before you antagonise our opponents for not being cruel to animals and moving to a system that can feed millions more people in this world, just have a word with yourself about the kind of human being you want to be.

Ironically, at least their fans will be able to get their mitts on a mucky burger at Wembley. The irony is, it will cost them eight quid.

I suppose we had better acknowledge at this point that there's a possibility we might not win. What happens then? Another Operation Promotion? Or a slow, apathetic drift into the abyss? It doesn't bear thinking about. If this were a film, now would be the time for the happy ending – anything else would be just too hard to take. But we must guard against the stakes becoming so high that we can't function any more.

Actually, we may be there already. After the final whistle last week, the sight of captain fantastic Craig Disley – a bloke who was born, not like us in Croft Baker or on the Nunny, but in Worksop – unable to give a TV interview because he was in tears, will live with me for a very long time. The stakes are already too high to be healthy.

But then, it's one game. Just one game. A slip, an injury, an own goal, a wonder strike – that's all it would take. The big Wembley pitch, the vertiginous, tiered sides, the waves of sound and curved, infinite crowd, half in, half out of the sun, might all prove too much for Forest Green's inner minnow. God do we hope so.

We're old hands now – Wembley days are something we've done before, and we've learned to suck up the punishment they dish out. But this year, as anyone can surely see, it's our turn to be Bristol Rovers. Actually, it must be. It has to be. Anything else is inconceivable. That big red bowl is about to resound again to the word 'fish'. Hold on tight and see you in the next life.