Cod Almighty | Article
by Ron Counte
5 July 2017
Those of those watching from the sidelines as our black and white-clad heroes turn our dreams into reality are not worthy. Or are we? It is easy for those of us in the stands to form opinions about what the players are really like, but our assumptions are never really put to the test. Until we meet our heroes in the flesh.
My first encounter with a player came when I was a pimply youth during the 1971-72 season. I was in the local corner shop on Clee Road when in walked none other than Captain Marvel himself, Dave Worthington. With his sleek, long black hair, his perma-tan, and his expensive looking leather jacket, to my adolescent eyes he seemed to be the epitome of cool. It was as if he had just stepped down from Valhalla. I knew each minute detail of his features having studied the poster of him which I kept on my bedroom wall. I would gaze longingly at it for hours while dreaming of one day picking up the mantle of being captain of Grimsby Town.
So there we stood, just the two of us, and I was suddenly aware of an oppressive silence. In those days I was not blessed with the verbal diarrhoea which would characterise my later life. I struggled to try and find something to say to break the uncomfortable silence. In the end though, the only thing my feeble, star-struck, brain could come up with was: "Are you Dave Worthington?"
"No," he replied.
There seemed no way back from this, despite the fact that we both knew he was lying. Another interminable silence persisted until, mercifully, the shopkeeper handed over my bag of sherbet flying saucers and I could make a hasty retreat. Crimson with embarrassment I sprinted home as if pursued by the hounds of Hades.
Bruising as this encounter was, it did not deter me from wanting to speak to my idols. A few months later, just before the start of the following season, I was watching a six-a-side tournament on Sussex Recreation Ground when my pal pointed out one of our new players, Barry Lynch. This may not be a name that you are familiar with, as he never quite made the grade with us. I sidled up to him and asked his autograph, something which I imagine very rarely happened to Barry Lynch. Somewhat taken aback, he nevertheless obliged.
At this juncture I felt it only right to say something.
"Good luck at York tomorrow," said I, referencing the season's opener the following day at Bootham Crescent. This was greeted by a blank stare and yet another uncomfortable silence. Of course Barry was not in the first-team squad – he seldom would be – and it took quite a while for the penny to drop.
"Cheers," he said bleakly before turning walking away.
Given these less than auspicious early exposures, it was quite some time before I plucked up courage to initiate conversation with a player again. In fact it was the best part of 20 years. On this occasion it was the formidable Shaun Cunnington who was the object of my ham-fisted attempts at conversation.
I had written a match report for Sing When We're Fishing in which I described how one of Shaun's shots at goal had caused several dozen people sitting at the back of the Pontoon to duck for cover. I was quite pleased when, a few weeks later, he quoted from the report in his captain's notes in the matchday programme. High praise indeed. You can imagine therefore that when I bumped into him in the bar at Hinckley Town, during a low-key pre-season friendly, it would be a case of 'hail fellow well met'.
"Hello Shaun," I said cheerfully. "I'm Ron Counte."
Total silence. Undeterred, I pressed on. "I wrote the piece in Sing When We're Fishing that you quoted in your captain's notes last season."
This finally drew a response. "Good job I'm not playing then," he remarked grimly and fixed me with the kind of stare which had sent shivers of fear through countless opposing midfield players.
"Er..." I muttered, somewhat perplexed.
"You don't think much of my shooting ability then?" he offered.
"Er..." I repeated as my throat went dry. "It was written out of respect," I added desperately.
"Yeah. Right," he rejoined, unconvinced.
At this point I could tell that I was overstaying my welcome and made a sharp exit. A sobering lesson to us fanzine scribes that some of the players we write about may not appreciate our humour at their expense. When he left the club I wrote a glowing, heartfelt testimonial which was printed in a Sunderland fanzine. I only hope that he read it.
Putting a bucket on the bar, Mark Lever said: "Fill this up with lager please. The gaffer said we could only have one drink, but he didn't say how big it could be"
A couple of years later I was once again attending a pre-season friendly, this time at Kettering, when none other than Mark Lever walked into the club bar. This seemed like a good opportunity to engage with a loyal servant of the club. However as I approached him I was a little surprised when he suddenly produced a bucket from behind his back.
Placing it on the bar he said to the barmaid: "Fill this up with lager please."
She looked somewhat nonplussed, which in the circumstances was understandable.
"The gaffer says we can only have one drink each, but he didn't say how big that drink could be."
Sensing that my hopes of discussing the relative merits of the flat back four versus the wing-back system were diminishing fast, I thought better of trying to engage the man and so turned away, studiously examining my watch for five minutes until he left.
Thus far, then, my attempts at opening a dialogue with my heroes had had somewhat disappointing results. But the ultimate confrontation was yet to come.
In 2015 I attended the launch of the We are Town book at Blundell Park. There we were, Pete, Rich, and I clutching copies of the book while various leading members of the pantheon of Grimsby legends strode like gods across the room. Chief among them was the great Sir Alan Buckley. We pondered whether we dare raise the courage to approach the notoriously prickly maestro, and whether we would have the temerity to ask for his autograph.
It's coming to something when grown men find themselves reduced to the knee-trembling nervousness of teenyboppers approaching their favourite pop star. However, caring nothing for the potential embarrassment, I decided that I may never get a better opportunity to meet him. But just what do you say to one of your all-time heroes? When you think about it there really is only one thing you can say. That is to thank them for the wonderful impact they have made on your life.
So I strode purposefully up to him and rather feebly enquired whether he would mind signing my book. Of course he did, with total charm. So switching into fanboy mode I simply said to him: "Mr Buckley, can I just say thank you for everything you did for this club and its supporters? You were amazing."
The great man turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said very humbly: "Oh, it wasn't me. It was the players really." I had to disagree. Pete and Rich, from their positions of comparative safety behind me joined in with a chorus of enthusiastic support.
I didn't think it was possible for Alan Buckley to rise higher in my estimation than he already did, but the gracious way in which he spoke with us that night left us all on a real high. As we walked meekly back to our table, clutching our now priceless autographed books, we exchanged knowing glances. We had been touched by greatness.
Tell us about your encounters with Town players and managers. Have they changed or confirmed your opinions of them?