The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Nils carborundum, part 87

18 August 2016

Middle-Aged Diary writes: Let me warn you in advance. If you don't like Cod Almighty, if you think we have an unhealthy obsession with John Fenty, and if you think diaries are too long, then you are not going to enjoy this diary. (Although you may enjoy not enjoying it: the football fan's ultimate consolation.)

On 12 December 1993, Town played six minutes of a televised match against Sunderland before it was abandoned. All That and a Bag of Chips captures vividly why the abandonment was necessary. Why, indeed, the game should never have started. The next hour was chaotic as fans protested for a refund and club officials hid.

Eventually the club did the right thing. I don't know the details. I do remember that the next issue of Sing When We're Fishing, full of the farcical and angry accounts of its vendors, trying to sell fanzines heavily disguised as lumps of papier-maché, struck a brief apologetic note that it carried those reports, when the club did so much in the next few days to make sure that as few fans as possible lost out because of the abandonment. The club realised it was making a mistake, put itself in the shoes of its supporters and from there set about putting things right.

I was in no way affected. ITV wasn't showing the game in my area. I was watching the rain pour down, safe and warm, 240 miles away. But I couldn't turn the radio off until I heard the confirmation that the club had promised to make good.

For its writers and editors, maintaining Cod Almighty is a labour of love. We frankly could not find the time and the emotional energy if it were not so. But it is the kind of love, the kind of patriotism, that hates to see the club behaving badly.

The affair of Andy Carr's resignation/sacking as Mighty Mariner has been given a fresh twist by John Fenty's latest intervention on The Fishy. Our major shareholder posts as Getyourfactsright, the idea being presumably that now and again he feels it necessary to set the record straight, to put factual information on the record so that we can refine our opinions without getting too drawn into comment himself.

Just stating the facts sounds straightforward. The problem comes in deciding which facts are relevant. If you choose, you can make it sound like Town won 2-0 on Tuesday without telling a single lie. You just have to leave out all the facts relating to the first half.

Given that Fenty risked Town's future by voting for B teams, any football fan, even one employed by the club, seems to me to be morally entitled to voice their opinion

The Mighty Mariner affair starts with the fact of Fenty and another board member voting for the inclusion of B teams in the Football League Trophy, without reference to the rest of the board. Fenty has explained why he took that decision, but he has not explained anywhere, to my knowledge, why there was no fuller consultation.

Without rehearsing the full argument about B teams here, let's be clear that this 'trial' admits the principle that there can be a valid competitive fixture between the first team of a third- or fourth-flight club and a second-string team from a higher division. That is a principle which poses a huge risk to the football pyramid, and therefore to Town and to clubs like Town.

Given that Fenty and AN Other voted to take that risk without consultation, any football fan, even one employed by the club, seems to me to be morally entitled to voice their opinion. In writing what he personally thought, Andy Carr was doing rather less than Fenty had done in voting for what he personally thought. Unless, of course, John Fenty thinks that he is Grimsby Town, and the board is no more than a rubber stamp.

Even by his own account on The Fishy, Fenty comes across badly. He says the purpose of the conversation was to remind Carr of his responsibilites as a club employee, because he had called for a boycott of B team games. If there are other instances of Carr "slag[ging] your employer off", Fenty does not give details. When Carr replied he wouldn't be gagged, Fenty denied that, but it is impossible to think what he did mean, except that Carr should toe Fenty's (rather than the club's) line on the Football League Trophy. 

From there, Fenty made the jump to questioning Carr's status. He had started his posting by saying that "I value all of our employees and that included Andy". However, 14 sentences later he writes "I hadn't realised it was a paid role". So was Andy an employee – "a person employed for wages or salary, especially at non-executive level" – or not? And if you value an employee, surely that means valuing the work they do, not thinking it can be done by anyone who likes the idea of putting on a fancy dress and cavorting about the pitch, and is willing to pay for the privilege?

There are perhaps people who, without having given it too much thought, think they could do that, and the idea of making them pay is the kind you might entertain over a drink for about ten minutes. Then you would start to think about the range of people who Mighty Mariner interacts with – home fans and away fans of all ages and tempers – and sense should prevail.

There is one further point in the post which is demeaning to Fenty as a human. I won't compound the fault by reprinting it here. Let's just say that if a thing shouldn't be stated publicly, then it should not even be hinted at publicly either.

The game is in trouble. Something precious is being lost if a club can look at its fans and see them only as walking wallets and a source of free labour

Boardroom incompetence has always existed. For those of my generation, I need only mention balking at paying £10,000 for Joe Waters, turfing home fans out of the Pontoon, and introducing a compulsory membership scheme. And that's even before I get on to the appointment of Mike Lyons.

Nor are these kinds of behaviour limited to the Mariners.

At Fulham, they have ended the practice of giving local children the chance to lead their heroes onto the pitch, instead allocating that mascot role to sponsors. Katrien Meire, the person with such a tin ear for football values that she called fans "customers" and regards her club, Charlton, as the personal property of its shareholders, has been appointed to the FA Board.

The game is in trouble. Something precious is being lost if a club can look at its fans and see them only as walking wallets and a source of free labour. Yes, people will do a lot for the love of their club. At Grimsby, we should know that almost more than anywhere. But that effort can only be volunteered, and it demands something in return. It demands that fans are given not just a voice, but a say.

Sometimes it is tempting to think we could walk away – but we aren't customers: we are fans. And why should we give up the thing we love to those who misunderstand it so badly? There are still the overriding rushes that make it all worthwhile – not just Nathan Arnold's sprint to the corner flag and Wayne Burnett's golden goal, but also seeing Dave Boylen lead the teams back out into a Football League fixture, or clapping our hands, stamping our feet and raising our voices as one to ward off the rain and cold at Edgeley Park.

On Saturday, Orient and Town fans will take part in a ceremony to mark the naming of one of the bars after a hero of both clubs and of the country as a whole, Sid Wheelhouse. It is worth braving the advertising overload of the Telegraph site for this story, noting the care and thought that have been put into the occasion by the Mariners Trust, to do it with respect and love for the game, its fans and its players.

There, bubbling under, is one of those moments when, with fans at the centre of our thought, we get it absolutely right. It is a moment that represents a better future for the game being born.