Of Owls and Cods

Cod Almighty | Article

by Gordon Wilson

19 July 2018

Percy Ronson stand at Fleetwood Town

Cod Almighty's diary recently considered, with what some might deem insufficient respect, the idea of neighbours Cleethorpes Town and Grimsby Town meeting in the same division. The same piece politely, though tenuously, entertains the prospect of The Owls potential climb to the heights of the Conference North. But we might wish to reflect on a recent precedent before dismissing these possibilities out of hand. Remarkable parallels can be drawn between the recent successes of the Owls and those of Fleetwood Town who, for a period last season, flirted with the unlikely possibility of playing-off for a place in the second flight.

As a Sand-grown'n [Blackpool born] Grimsby Town fan with Fleetwood family roots, I followed the progress of my 'second team' from their days in the Lancashire Combination to founder members of the Northern Premier League in 1968. In that first season I remember climbing over the wall to watch them, from a mound of earth behind a goal. They battled with a Boston United team largely made up of former GTFC veterans, and managed by Don Donovan – former Mariner, father of Terry and grandfather of Keeley. The Pilgrims' attack that day was led by Town legend George McLean.

I mention the mound of earth with a purpose. That earth now rests underneath the concrete steps of the Percy Ronson stand, the away end, where hundreds of Town followers, and no doubt, many supporters of the Owls, have made their presence felt at the Fylde coast Highbury.

Fleetwood Town were promoted to the Northern Premier League Division One in 2005 – just as Cleethorpes Town were, from the same level last year, ground improvements pending and now realised

The Percy Ronson was built in the summer of 2004, as a direct response to Fleetwood being denied promotion because of a failed ground grading, despite finishing runners-up in the North West Counties League. And it is here that Owls and Cods should be viewed in parallel terms. Fleetwood Town were promoted to the Northern Premier League Division One the following season – just as Cleethorpes Town were, from the same level last year, ground improvements pending and now realised.

Three years later, in 2007, from that new Highbury terrace, I watched Fleetwood crowned champions of the Northern Premier League and began to seriously dream of watching Grimsby Town and Fleetwood Town meeting at Blundell Park in league competition. It never occurred to me that it would happen in the Conference and within only two years, or that the Mariners would ever be anything but victorious.

And it is here that I would advise CA's diarists to be cautious in their imaginings. Eleven years on from that Highbury reverie, I still find my first love, the Mariners, below my 'second team' in league status.

The speed of the Owls' progress bears intriguing similarities to that of Fleetwood, who achieved seven promotions in ten years. And it began at the same level, with two in three seasons following ground improvements.

Both clubs are young. Cleethorpes Town were formed in 1998. Fleetwood Town reformed after bankruptcy in 1997. Cleethorpes has a larger population than Fleetwood. The Owls' nearest neighbours may seem to have a monopoly on support, yet Fleetwood competed for a fanbase with nearby Blackpool – who held Premiership status during the Cods' rise from non-League to the third flight – and Preston, Burnley and Manchester are only short distances away.

Some insist that Fleetwood's climb has only been down to the money of chairman Andy Pilley, a self-made local millionaire businessman. Pilley took control of Fleetwood Town in the February before the promotion denial. Yet, without such patronage, Cleethorpes Town have already matched the start of the Lancashire club's remarkable journey, in an equally short time.

And as so many faithful supporters have come to realise, having a millionaire at the helm does not guarantee smooth passage. Something else is vital. Perhaps Cleethorpes Town might come to prove they have that – whatever it might be.

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Photo: Ceaton89 cc-by-3.0, from Wikimedia Commons