Paul Hurst: a tough act to follow

Cod Almighty | Article

by Ben Bowers

27 October 2016

It took five years, but Paul Hurst transformed Grimsby from a team going nowhere in the Conference to one capable of flourishing in the fourth flight

Let’s go back to the beginning. Paul Hurst inherited a mess of a football club in March 2011. Following the most toxic and abysmal season in Grimsby Town’s history and a third relegation in under a decade, the team were mid-table in the Conference when Hurst took over. Here is the team from one of his first matches in charge (a 2-2 draw at home to Tamworth):

Town: Arthur; Bore, Atkinson, Watt, Ridley; Coulson, Cummins, Hudson, Eagle; Duffy, Connell

From that starting eleven, only three of those players have gone on to play in the Football League. The fans were disillusioned, the football wasn’t great and most of the squad was below-par.

Now think of what Hurst has had to contend with: a barking mad joint-manager for two years; a demanding fan base for whom anything other than promotion was a failure; a chairman who averages a PR disaster once a week; uncertainty over a new ground; teams who put ten men behind the ball and came for a point; ... The list goes on. It wasn’t Hurst’s fault that Scott Neilsen was inexplicably sent off against Gateshead, or that Will Puddy was not dismissed in the final against Bristol Rovers. Much of what happens in football comes down to events over which managers have little control.

Yes, the club spent too long in non-League, but in a way it benefited the club in the long-term. It needed to reach the lowest depths - to lose 5-0 at Braintree - in order to re-build itself. Grimsby went to hell and back, but now the relationship between the fans and the club has never been better. Over £100,000 raised by fans for Operation Promotion is a testament to this, as well as the incredible away followings. Much of this was down to the winning mentality which Hurst created on the pitch.

Believe it or not, the Conference is the hardest league to get out of. Only two teams can get promoted, one through the lottery of the play-offs. The average position of teams in the season after they lost the play-off final was ninth; Wrexham, Gateshead and Kidderminster had one very strong season that they could not replicate.

There is more to being a manager than shouting on the touchline and giving an animated post-match interview. Otherwise, Stuart Pearce would be managing Real Madrid

In the Conference most contracts are only a year long. Players at that level do not make enough money to travel long distances and most of them have families to look after. Grimsby’s relatively poor location and transport links make it harder to attract players. Add into this clubs such as Fleetwood and Forest Green with their much larger wage budgets.

Yet every year Hurst managed to sign quality players (and Anthony Straker) and the squad got stronger year by year. This season’s squad looks the strongest and they are under no threat of relegation. Remember when Mansfield, Cheltenham, Barnet, Cambridge and Newport pipped Grimsby to promotion? Well Grimsby are above all those clubs in the league.

I will confess, after the first leg against Braintree, I began to question whether Hurst would be able to get Town promoted. But luckily he made me - as well as many other fans - look like idiots. In the age of social media and 24-hour news, there is a greater emphasis on the personality and 'entertainment factor' of the manager, while every defeat provokes a meltdown. Hurst defied all this. The reality is that there is much more to being a manager than shouting on the touchline and being animated in the post-match interview. Otherwise, Stuart Pearce would be managing Real Madrid.

Of course he made mistakes, but he was tactically consistent and played round pegs in round holes. All the players spoke highly of him and he managed to persuade players to stay at Grimsby even when they had better offers coming in, such as Barnsley coming in for Shaun Pearson. I can’t for the life of me understand why he has chosen to go to Shrewsbury. It seems like a sideways move and it is likely he will be back in the fourth flight next year. But he is only young and he is on the way up.

He has left the club with a strong spine of Mckeown, Pearson, Disley and Bogle. He gave the club its greatest moment of this century and he made people proud to support Grimsby Town. For that, thank you Paul.

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