Old friends and new acquaintances

Cod Almighty | Article

by Grant Maconachie

6 October 2016

Harrogate Town v FC United was a match with several Grimsby links. Grant Maconachie went to meet Macca and the rest

Harrogate Town FCHaving never been one to do things by halves, I decided to take the #BTeamBoycott on to the next level – not only boycotting the EFL Trophy but supporting a different competition. After a 3-3 draw in their first match, a hastily arranged FA Cup replay between Harrogate Town and FC United of Manchester looked an intriguing prospect.

Harrogate have several ex-Mariners in their set-up, of course, and after a few messages Jon-Paul Pittman and John McDermott – now in his seventh season as assistant manager at Wetherby Road – invited me to join them as their guests. There'd also be a chance to chat with Andi Thanoj and Joe Colbeck (who had scored Harrogate's 96th-minute equaliser on Saturday) and the FC United physio, Sam Rhoades, a lifelong, born-and-bred Grimsby Town fan.

The FCUM fans I chatted with while walking up to the ground were convinced, after the thriller on Saturday, that this game had 0-0 written all over it. Even so, they would be bringing 250 or 300 fans along. They were also very complimentary of Grimsby Town and glad to see us back in the Football League – a theme repeated throughout the evening. (When I bumped into them again at half-time and shared the paltry figures at some of the Football League Trophy games they were highly amused.)

On a night when many League clubs were recording their lowest ever attendances the irony of the kick off being delayed due to the FCUM team coach being held up on the A661 due to crowd congestion was not lost on your author. I took this opportunity to do a quick straw poll from supporters of both clubs (not a hint of segregation to be seen, by the way) as to what they thought the attendance would be – opinion varied between 750 and 1,000. For a game involving teams two tiers below the Football League, with around a 70-mile journey on a Tuesday night? Now that is some support.

Meeting with Macca

Since Town's visit last year in the FA Cup, the pitch has been relaid and is now an all-weather affair, suited to slick passing and quick feet. Supporters of both teams assured me that was their style – and the game that followed was true to their assessments. Two cracking goals from Harrogate eventually ensured an easy passage to the fourth qualifying round, but the FCUM support were a real credit to the club and never stopped singing the whole game.

As the players returned to the pitch to warm down, the familiar figure of John McDermott approached with his arm outstretched – gushing with thanks to GTFC fans for the support he received recently for his crowdfunder in support of his mother-in-law. On the night's performance he was as honest as ever, happy with the outcome but thought the result could have been more clinical and conclusive, and now looking forward the return of league football on Saturday.

Macca howled with laughter as I gave him the Trophy attendance at Blundell Park (bearing in mind last year the gate for our visit on a Saturday afternoon was a capacity 1,920). He was also quick to point out the irony of Shaun Pearson going in goal because Dean Henderson was away on international duty – and pointed out that these games coinciding is one more reason the competition is a sham.

Sam would love GTFC and FCUM to meet so they can show many supposedly bigger clubs just what real, passionate support is all about

We could have chatted for hours, but Macca knew that Sam Rhoades was waiting to catch a bus back to Salford so he took the opportunity to formally introduce us and left us to it. The conversation with Sam was a delight – heightened by the fact that a young lad raised on Wybers who has now settled in Salford and a middle-aged bloke from Scartho who has resided in Wakefield for 27 years both reverted to broad Grimbarian accents as we reminisced about the place and the football.

Due to Sam's FCUM commitments he rarely gets to see Town – his last visit was Lincoln at home last season. But he checks the results religiously, follows various online fanzines, and was chuffed with the outcome of the boycott at Blundell Park (his suggestion was that Lloyd Griffith should be drafted in when Henderson is on international duty). Having attended Wybers and Healing schools in his youth, Sam went over to Salford University to study – he now works for the NHS as well as serving as FCUM physio.

Sam sees lots of similarities between the support of the two clubs in his life and would dearly love for both teams to meet so that they can show many supposedly bigger clubs just what real, passionate support is all about. Again he said that if any Town supporters ever find themselves at a loose end then the FCUM fans would welcome them along. I will certainly be making a trip to Broadhurst Park on the back of last night's friendly meetings.

Pittman's twinges

If a gentler, milder, more down-to-earth person than Jon-Paul Pittman has ever been involved in football then I would love to have met them. JPP had managed a full first half before being subbed five minutes into the second, still able to glide along at terrific pace while appearing to be wading through treacle – despite pre-match rumours that injury would rule him out. He explained that training every day of the week bar one (they get Fridays off – so much for part time?), four weeks of Saturday/Tuesday fixtures, and the all-weather pitch takes a collective toll on the body. It's better to come off as soon as you feel any twinges, he said, than trying to run them off.

Despite this, Jon-Paul is loving life at Harrogate. The opportunity to coach and develop the youth players, while continuing the pursuit of his coaching qualifications and, most importantly, spending plenty of time with his young family suits him just fine.

JPP said Shaun Pearson was always the cleverest reader of the game and therefore the most difficult to outthink in training

He discussed at length his time with Grimsby and he, like many others, was a little unsure as whether allowing Podge to depart was wise – but was over the moon for Omar's form and believes that he has the ability and desire to go places (hopefully with Town) if he has the luck of the draw with injuries. Pearson, he says, would have loved playing sweeper-keeper. When I remarked upon how admirably Pearson has risen to the challenge of League football, JPP said Shaun was always the cleverest reader of the game and therefore the most difficult to outthink in training.

Craig Disley was the next former Grimsby teammate to come up. JPP hopes he gets rewarded with a bit more game time as well as the opportunity to move into coaching, ideally at Grimsby where his family are settled (family life really is a big factor with JPP), which he wants so much to do.

As we talked we walked around the deserted ground. It was clear how content Jon-Paul is with life – and how great it is that so many ex-Town players have very fond places in people's memories, and what a fantastic family Grimsby Town FC is. As we say our goodbyes he reaffirms Macca's words of always being welcome at Harrogate, and how good it is to catch up.

This was an excellent alternative to a boycotted competition – but would I visit Harrogate rather than attend a Football League game at Blundell Park? Perhaps not, but in the future if I don't fancy a 75-minute drive each way, or I have family commitments or other plans that preclude a BP visit, I am grateful to know that there is a part of my football family happy to welcome me at Harrogate Town – and would heartily recommend it to others.

Photo by Mtaylor848: own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Questions, comments? Send us your feedback.