Seasons in the sun

Cod Almighty | Article

by Ron Counte

3 August 2017

When Town won promotion to the second flight in 1980, it seemed like a dream come true. Now it is what many Town fans expect.

Who are we? Or rather what are we? Are we a small struggling club destined to crawl around the basement regions of the football pyramid with the other hopeless bottom feeders? Or alternatively, are we a second-tier club currently down on our luck and in temporary exile? The answer really depends on when you first started watching the Mariners.

I first became a regular during the 1971-72 promotion season. Throughout the 1970s we spent plenty of time in the third division but for us the prospect of reaching the second tier was but a dream. Then, on an overcast afternoon in Mansfield in April 1980, all of that was to change.

I have two vivid memories of that day. The first is of a Town fan who was allowed to bring his flag into the ground, but not the flagpole. In those days the away end at Mansfield was a primitive open affair, which actually had trees overhanging it. So our erstwhile flag bearer, undeterred by the over-zealous stewards, simply reached up and grabbed a branch from the tree to use as a makeshift flagpole.

My second memory was of the final whistle when my travelling companion turned to me, with tears in his eyes, and said "We've done it." We had indeed. The coronation followed shortly after when we thrashed Sheffield United to win the Third Division championship, but it was at that moment on the grey, cold stone steps of Mansfield that, for the first time many of us could remember after 16 years, we could look forward to Town playing in the second flight.

We had no idea how we would fare in this undiscovered country, but we need not have worried. With players of the calibre of Moore, Waters, Ford and Drinkell in the side, we held our own quite comfortably in the first season. Three years later we finished fifth, but that was before play-offs so it didn't earn us a shot at the top division. Altogether we spent seven seasons in the second division and along the way we had some memorable victories including thrashings of Manchester City (4-1), Wolves (5-1) and even a stunning 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge. Halcyon days indeed.

At the end of the 1987 season we were relegated to the third tier. Now we have a rather curious relationship with that division. Since 1980 we have been in the third tier on four separate occasions, and each time have been there for precisely one season. We either get promoted or relegated. In 1988 we went straight through the division as if it was heavily greased Bat Pole and ended up in the fourth division.

However we were not to remain there very long. Within two years Alan Buckley had got as promoted and the following year, 1991, we once again went straight through the third division like a dose of salts and were back in the second division.

This time we remained for six seasons, and had the pleasure of watching the likes of Mendonca, Futcher, Groves, and Bonetti. However we were relegated in 1997 and resumed our love-hate relationship with the third tier. The clubs inhabiting that particular division must have realised instantly that either one of the promotion spots or a relegation place was definitely accounted for by our arrival. Sure enough, we did not disappoint. Reappointing the once and future King Alan Buckley we bounced straight out of the division like a gymnast on a trampoline, back into what had come to seem our natural habitat in the second tier.

This time it was more of a struggle for the club, but even so our undoing was not of our making. In 2002 officials of the Football League acted with unbelievable naivety in signing a multi-million pound deal with a worthless start-up company with no assets. Not having the presence of mind to ask for a parent company guarantee from two of the richest media organisations in Europe, the hapless executives consigned Grimsby and several other smaller clubs to the financial abyss when ITV Digital imploded. And so, after five seasons, our stay in the second tier once again ended in relegation.

A Town fan in 2004 would have noted that 18 of the last 24 seasons were spent in the second tier. And therein lies the problem

Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we again slid straight through the third tier to arrive back in the basement. So a Town fan on his summer hols in 2004, looking back on the previous 24 seasons, would have noted that 18 of those were spent in the second tier. And therein lays the problem. Because the massive cross which successive Grimsby managers had to bear was the fact that most seasoned town fans at that time considered us to be a second tier club.

Of course we were not to know that we had even further to fall, and the full extent of our decline was unimaginable given our recent history. Younger fans who started watching Town in the 21st rather than the 20th century may well have different expectations. 12 years a slave to unsuccessful football might even have changed the mindset of those longer-in-the-tooth diehards. But I think people of my generation still very much see Grimsby as a team which should be, at the very least, aspiring to the second tier.

I still see no reason why reaching the second tier should be considered unattainable. I'm sure I am not alone in this, which is why any manager which does not get us out of League Two pretty sharpish will be branded a failure. Alan Buckley was a small man, but he has left giant shoes to fill, and until someone does by returning us to the Championship there will be many who feel that we are underachieving.

For many years now we have had very wet summers. But I look forward to the time when we will once again enjoy our seasons in the sun.

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