Right place, right time: following Town in the late 1980s

Cod Almighty | Article

by Bruce Fenwick

20 September 2017

Bruce jots down his first memories as a Town fan. What a time to begin...

1988-89: In the beginning

Town fansMy old man didn't follow the Town but I now realise how much he and my mum did to make sure that I could. In our house formula one and rallying were the inherited motorsports. I had a go at racing go-karts but Dad soon, understandably, got pissed off getting the gear ready on a Saturday while I was cheering on the black and whites at Blundell Park, so that was knocked on the head. The Mariners had my full attention.

My mates had started to go to Town games at the end of 1987-88. They came to school talking of Marc North's (RIP) penalty miss against Aldershot which saw us relegated from the third division, but also about how exciting it was, and about everything that was going on off the pitch in those days.

It was actually a school trip to watch GTFC away at Glanford Park that started it for me. It was 10 September 1988. I was 13. My abiding memory is from outside the ground, of fans with bloodied shirts wandering about. Inside the ground we drew 1-1, Big Keith (another RIP) scoring for Town.

The following week it was Rotherham at home. I was keen to go again and so began a 29-year (and counting) addiction that I have been unable to shake. Mum or Dad took me and a schoolmate on the 20-mile round trip to Blundell Park and dropped us, as was to become the custom, outside Hobson's chippy. The only instruction was that we were under no circumstances to go in the Pontoon. So Joe and I took our seats in the Main Stand, towards the Pontoon end.

Town got absolutely smashed 4-0 but, for probably the same masochistic reasons I have gone since, I was hooked; I loved it. The referee got hit on the head by a roll of ticker tape thrown from the Pontoon and it looked mental in there.

After about three games, the Ponny beckoned. We decided we wouldn't tell our parents so we'd get dropped off by Hobson's and walk right round the ground, down Imperial Avenue and into the Pontoon – genius. Did I wonder or care what my folks did between 2:30 and 4:40? (I'm sure it finished earlier then.) Did I hell – but the adult me is now very grateful.

I took up a regular spot as near to the top left corner of the Pontoon as I dared or could get. I would walk out of the tunnel nearest that end, turn right and head up a couple of barriers. From 1988 until 1995, when the ground was made all-seater, that was pretty much my GTFC home.

We fell just short of a play-off spot that season but better was to come. Little did I know it but I'd started going at just the right time

It was full of characters. Some older lads who used to stand near us were called Fat Mick, Ginge, and Wingnut, I think. God knows how I remember their names, but I was impressionable and they seemed to keep a bit of an eye on us youngsters – as well as "borrowing" our programmes. They usually came back, depending how many people wanted a look.

Who in there at the time could forget the old "Scoreflash" on the scoreboard and the cheers that went up when Scunny, Hull or Lincoln were losing? Even the fake shouts of "scoreflash" followed by an "ahhhhhh!!!" Or the aptly nicknamed Nutter, who used to scale the stand's roof beams to a chorus of "He's going up, he's going up, you're not".

1988-89 was Alan Buckley's first season and is remembered for the Harry Haddock game at Wimbledon. I didn't go but it was a sign of how Buckley was turning things around that Rotherham – who had stuffed us in my first home game, remember – were beaten 3-2 in December in the second round of the FA Cup.
In the end, we fell just short of a play-off spot that season but better was to come. Little did I know it but I'd started going at just the right time.

1989-90: The only way is up!

After starting the 1989-90 season against John Beck's Cambridge, who would go up through the leagues with us, I got my first real taste of big games at BP in the League Cup. First we beat Hull 2-1 on aggregate, Gary Childs scoring an absolute screamer in the home leg. But then even better was to come as we beat first division Coventry 3-1 on a Tuesday night at a rocking Blundell Park.

When my friends and I emerged from the alleyway on to Neville Street, heading towards Hobson's, a roar went up. We saw Coventry fans at one end of the street and Town fans coming from Grimsby Road at the other, and quickly went back where we came fromas it kicked off around us. In those days there was often fighting outside Hobson's as I waited for my lift home. It seemed the norm rather than an exception.

As well as having my first season ticket, in the Pontoon, that season also saw my first proper trip away with Town. Once again, it was not exactly what the parents had in mind. I had two mates stay over at mine and we got dropped off in town to go 'shopping'. It was derby day though and we decided we'd head to Lincoln on the train.

It was Saturday 21 October 1989, and what an eye-opener it was. The train only had two carriages: one normal and one "special" – mesh windows and no seats. It was full of some of Grimsby's 'finest'. We must have looked out of place though, as before long we were invited into the 'posh' carriage with seats.

The scariest part of the day was calling home at 5pm to say we didn't need picking up from the Riverhead as we were in Lincoln. It did not go down well

Upon arrival in Lincoln everyone piled onto the platform. As we walked out of the station the police stopped us. "Where are you going, lads?" was the customary question. "To the football" was our naïve reply. Frogmarched to the ground, we and most of 'the finest' were in the ground at about 12:30 for a 3pm kick-off. Bored wasn't the word. While they trashed the burger van at the top of the corner terrace, we sat around waiting for kick-off. Eventually Big Keith scored a header in a 1-1 draw.

The scariest part of the day, though, was calling home at 5pm (from a phone box – no mobiles in those days, kids) to say we didn't need picking up from the Riverhead as we were in Lincoln. It did not go down well.

Town were really starting to click and it was a great time to be going. My one regret now is that I wasn't a little older to appreciate the football on offer. We had a teacher at school who to this day I blame for the thousands of pounds I've spent following Town away from home: Mr Hampson, sport-mad and a Town fan to boot. It was great at school; lessons didn't start until we'd discussed the weekend's result and performance.

He was only in his mid-20s and used to go to away games with a couple of his mates. After a while he invited some of us to go with them (can you imagine that now?). I will always be grateful though. It was brilliant. They weren't big drinkers but we'd occasionally stop at the pub for a pint and he and his teacher mates would take on the Pot Black quiz machines with reasonable success.

Our first game with them was Rochdale away on 17 March 1990. Town won 1-0 with a Dave Gilbert goal but my abiding memories are of a packed away end. Town fans everywhere. We went in a pub behind the ground and all the lads were playing football on its bowling green.

A Garry Birtles hat-trick, with promotion already sealed, was an end-of-season highlight. It was great to get my programme signed by the man when he returned about 25 years later plugging his autobiography.

Thanks to Grimsby Town FC for the image.

Send us your feedback on this article