The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

He stays on the ground for a few seconds, then he's back up in the air, flapping his enormous wings

14 September 2018

Wicklow Diary writes: Here we are. Town v Oldham. The bottom half of Division Four. We're better than this, aren't we? That's a dangerous thought to have as winter approaches with Michael Jolley's rebuild still at the embryonic stage. Actually, it's been a while since we didn't have dangerous thoughts. We've hardly had two minutes of peace since May 2016. Before that we had the worst promotion season ever, enduring 47.75 games of angst and stress before we found our uplift party mojo. Before that it was five years of just angst and stress without the happy ending. Before that? You were there, you get the picture.

So, can Town fans be happy again for an extended period of greater than one week? Happy is aiming high. I'll take a state of acceptance or zen. We should be better at this. We are the team with the most promotions and relegations. Saying that we can't handle a little choppy water is an insult to our maritime and footballing heritage. So what is this zen you speak of?

Liverpool Street station, 7:30pm, 9 December 1995. The arrival from Norwich pulls in and dozens spill out on the platform, magically reassembling like the baddy liquid metal terminator at the end of Terminator 2. Moments later the station concourse is echoing to call and response chants of "Ivano, Ivano", "Bonetti, Bonetti" on the way to the pub overlooking the concourse. Town have just drawn two-all at Norwich.

We should have won. Few seemed to care. We had been quite brilliant. There were times when Norwich simply couldn't keep up. We were in that golden two-month spell when Laws doped Buckley's pass and move with an injection of Ivano. Norwich had knocked out Bayern Munich on their Carrow Road pitch a mere two years previously, yet we almost played them off it. We didn't win but it didn't hurt. Zen was fleeting in that well-documented season. We would finish 17th, neatly sandwiched between Norwich and tomorrow's opponents Oldham.

Football is a metaphor for life? The best days pass you by, only later can you look back and appreciate true happiness and contentment. Hidden in among the routine and the mundane, that was the moment, the perfect time. Later you look back and ask yourself why you didn't appreciate it more. 

In seasons like 1995-96 when we flirted with greatness, deep down we knew that we were probably not good enough, that we'd fall short. We shouldn't feel ashamed of this. I think the whole nation exhibited this strain of Grimsby DNA during the World Cup in the summer.

And it's always been here in GY, of course. Let's ask Dave Booth about 1984: "I think it was just too much... the teams around us were too strong and we were little Grimsby alongside them." Or George Kerr in 1981: "I'm not just saying that we won't get promoted to take the pressure off the players. I think we'll just miss out." Let's go way back to the Town chairman, George Pearce, in 1939: "If we should fail – and I am told the Wolves have already won – we shall still be very thankful we have got thus far."

Our place, in our own minds it would seem, was to put manners on the bigger guns without ever expecting to become one. In 1995, we were just about able to do it. Within a few years it was becoming almost impossible, even with Alan Buckley putting high octane in the family hatchback to race against formula one cars.

Looking back, I think we were all OK with that. It wasn't lack of ambition. Just realism. Occasionally teams like Charlton, Swindon, Oxford, Barnsley or Oldham would toss this reality to one side and break into the top flight. Envious? No, not really. They were kindred spirits and I wished them well. Yes, even Barnsley.

Would zen would come with finding our place in the natural footballing order? We accept that under the current league structure we will never be Liverpool or Man Utd. That ship has sailed and a club can no longer grow organically to become the best in the land. Geography was probably always going to limit us in that regard. As well as that, the honour of the largest fishing port in the world came with a flip side: a good chunk of GTFC's potential spectators were often in Faeroes, Fair Isle and Viking at 3pm on a Saturday when they'd have preferred to be at Blundell Park with their family and friends.

Of course, we don't want to be the worst team in the world either (last season at Exeter gave us a nasty taste of that). So we oscillate up and down. Division Two used to be our typical resting spot, our natural place in accordance with the geography mentioned above. But where is our 'natural home' now? And if it's higher than our current ranking, how long will it take to get there?

Oldham, yes. Their oscillations haven't been as violent. Unfortunately for them, however, they celebrated their 20th consecutive season in Division Three by getting relegated out of it in May. In the eight seasons prior, they showed incredible balance by finishing between 16th and 19th every time. That might be as remarkable as our converse record of immediate relegation or promotion from Division Three on our last five visits. Cheeky Oldham, sat swinging their feet on a branch while Town repeatedly climb and fall out of the tree. 

So we have to go back to 2004 for our last league game with our favourite Latics. Nothing zen about that, was there? Our future collided with our past as Scott Vernon scored a hat-trick in a 6-0 tonking which did for Paul Groves as Town boss. They have been on shaky financial ground over the last few seasons but have the "Under New Ownership" sign in the window since January. Previous owner Simon Corney had been open about his desire to sell for years but would only sell 'to the right person'. Now where have we heard that before? Time will tell if the new owner, Moroccan businessman Abdallah Lemsagam, will turn out to be Mr Right for the Latics.

Team news. We seem to have loads of half-injured or half-fit players and it's playing bloody havoc with my pick your team thingy in the Telegraph. The good news is that 20-goal striker in waiting Wes Thomas has completed his two-match ban and will return to score the winner tomorrow. In awards news, Siriki got goal of the month in the third division. At our level, Lincoln won goal and manager of the month to go with the League title they won in July. On the subject of our county friends, it's been bouncing about on social media but in case you missed it check out Mascots92in92. Cool idea and a great cause. UTM.