100 per cent representative: an interview with Jon Wood

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

13 November 2016

As the Mariners Trust representive on the Town board, Jon Wood needs a huge capacity for hard work and juggling responsibilities. But it's not the lonely role cynics might expect.

Jon Wood, the Mariners Trust representative on the Grimsby Town board, was pushed abruptly into the spotlight at a fans forum in September. The trust's representation before was, as Jon says, popularly described as "Dave Roberts and that other feller". But when Dave stood down in June, Jon had to answer a question about the club's stance on the Football League Trophy.

"In the board, I had argued vehemently against the inclusion of B teams," explains Jon. "But when that decision was made, as a board member I had the legal obligation to support it. The subtlety of that perhaps didn't come across when it was discussed at the fans' forum in September, especially when people were tweeting a summary of what I had said. I am, absolutely 100 per cent, the fans representative in the board. But when the decision has been made, I might still disagree but must still abide by it."

After just an hour with Jon, it is very clear that he is a man who sees it as a duty to shoulder responsibilities, no matter how uncomfortable. During a matchday afternoon at Blundell Park, Jon – in mid-grey suit, neatly knotted club tie, large poppy and trimmed beard – is, by a distance, the most smartly dressed person I see.

"Joining the Grimsby board has, let's say, altered my match day. It used to be a bus to the pub and to the ground with friends and family, a day of leisure. Now I've got to finish whatever I'm doing, get a shower, get my suit on. As a senior nurse, I wear uniform to work. I didn't even need a suit, before. Then at the game I have to behave. I can't stand and bellow at the fourth official, no matter the provocation."

By taking up the challenge of representing the Mariners Trust on the club board, Jon has swapped leisure for another responsibility, on top of being a nurse, husband and father. "If I'm on call, I have two phones in my pocket. There might be something the board need to sort out, or I might be needed in work.

"I got involved with the trust a few years ago when there was talk that it could fold. There was a notice of a meeting saying the trust needed people who could help. I said to my wife, I think I ought to go to that. Straight away, she told me to go. You've got a lot to offer. If there is something you can do, you don't want to be sitting here in a couple of years time saying if only."

Making time

Jon had already been active in the community, a governor at his son's school, a voluntary worker and an active member of his church; roles that he's had to give up to make time for the board. "History is made by the people who get involved," Jon tells me. "Fans' participation doesn't come with an invitation. You have to work for it, and work at it."

An operational matron, Jon needs to be able to manage people and budgets, skills transferable to most walks of life including helping run a football club. Time management must be another skill he needs, juggling work, family and the club, a huge devourer of time and effort. Jon speaks with some pride of helping giving the club bars their first redecoration in around 20 years when the trust took them over.

If his involvement with the club creates a danger he might not see enough of his children – Matthew, 15 and Katie, 13 – at least they get to see a lot more of Grimsby Town. "They know their way around the ground now, people here know them."

I pay to sit in the Main Stand because that's where I like to sit. It's not because I'm not allowed to sit with the rest of the board

That must be some boon: Jon remembers his pride when Matthew pretended to be John McDermott or Paul Bolland during kickabouts, rather than Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney. "The club has been very good recognising my family needs, organising meeting times to suit me." he goes on. 

Now Jon is a member of the Grimsby board like any other. He has full access to all board papers, is fully informed of everything that is going on and takes a full part in meetings. "When I open my mouth, they don't look up whether the trust has kept up with its payments before letting me speak. And I pay to sit in the Main Stand because that's where I like to sit. It's not because I'm not allowed to sit with the rest of the board."

Jon was fully involved both in the discussions over the departure of Paul Hurst ("What he and John Fenty said in the media is a fair reflection of what happened. There is no grassy knoll") and the appointment of a replacement manager. "What stood out with Marcus was his incredible enthusiasm, his fervour, his positivity. What Paul Hurst has done for Grimsby is on record, but Marcus offers us something a bit different."

Red line issues

As the member of a board of a public limited company, Jon is legally bound to keep some things to himself. "That can be hard. There can be times I'm dying to talk an issue over with someone, but I can't. It was easier when Dave was on the board as well, of course. We could bounce things around a bit."

Jon has the additional responsibility of representing the Mariners Trust and through them the opinions of all supporters. This can sometimes clash with his responsibiity to support board decisions, as we saw during the debate about B teams.

"There are red line issues, issues over which I'd have to resign, like anyone. But short of that, it's the choice between standing outside with a placard or staying in the room and trying to have an effective influence."

However, there is no permanent them-and-us divide on the board. On the proposed building of a new stadium on Peaks Parkway, for instance, Jon is convinced that the club has the right location and, as a resident in Park Ward, is enthused about what the new ground could bring to the area.

"The board members are all Grimsby fans. They all want what is best for the club, in their different ways, and have the best of intentions. Being on the board has made me a lot less cynical about the club. I have seen the enormous dedication there is to the Mariners, right through from the board to the casual match day workers."

It is clear Jon shares that dedication: "It is a massive honour to represent fans on the board of Grimsby Town. It's not always easy but it is rewarding. Ultimately if I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't do it, and until there is someone better able to do it, I'll carry on doing my best."

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