Seventh heaven and unholy smoke

Cod Almighty | Article

by Lee Johnson

1 March 2019

At the end of February 1990, Town seemed to be going nowhere. Seven games in March changed all that.

Tony ReesGrimsby Town’s last promotion from the fourth division came in the 1989-90 campaign. With hindsight, the season could be viewed as just the beginning of the successes that became known as the Buckley era. In reality it took a remarkable run of results in March to propel the Mariners into a promotion spot.

At the end of February 1990, Grimsby Town’s league record stood at: P31 W11 D11 L9. Hopes that had sprung from the previous season – when Town enjoyed a classic FA Cup run and just missed out on a play-off place – hadn't quite been fulfilled. A support that had largely become accustomed to second division football in the recent past still needed convincing that this manager and his team were back on the up.

On Saturday 3 March, goals from Tony Rees and Dave Gilbert gave Town a 2-1 win against Doncaster Rovers in front of 5,536 fans at Blundell Park. The following Wednesday I decided to travel by car to Edgar Street, home of Hereford United. Before the game I paid a visit to Hereford Cathedral to culturally insure myself against the prospect of an otherwise fruitless journey. I needn't have worried, as a Gary Childs goal secured a hard-fought 1-0 win.

We achieved an identical result the next Saturday, at home against runaway league leaders Exeter City, courtesy of another Gilbert strike. Quite suddenly the pre-season dream of promotion had become a little more likely.

A week later Town were travelling to Rochdale, where I arrived by train in the company of a work colleague by the name of Lee Walker. Lee was probably the most unlikely person ever to have travelled away to a Grimsby Town fixture. He'd never been to a football match before, and was simply the victim of being in the close vicinity of my enthusiasm the previous week. On a lovely, sunny day a very late Gilbert goal gave Town a fourth straight win. It left me with the indelible mental image of a bemused Lee, arms folded and rock steady amid a sea of jubilant and very animated Mariners fans.

On the road

Lee didn’t join me, along with 7,689 others, to witness an unusually comfortable 3-0 home win against Scarborough the following Tuesday (with two goals this time from Tony Rees and one from Mark Lever). But at least he had ticked off watching a football match from his bucket list.

Gillingham away was next up, and this time Town’s run had generated enough interest for me to be a passenger on a minibus organised by a friend of a friend. As was usually the way on this sort of trip, our first stop was the Bradley Inn, where if thirst didn’t provide a good reason, we at least found someone to fill the spare seat on the bus.

I became aware of a pungent, sickly-sweet aroma drifting towards the back of a bus. I had no idea what it was but the result of today's match didn't seem so important

At another stop, somewhere in Cambridgeshire off the A1, that same person dropped what I thought was just a cigarette end in the footwell of the entrance to the minibus as he got back in. I was surprised at both his anger and his willingness to grub around on the floor to retrieve it.

Not long afterwards I became aware of a pungent, sickly-sweet aroma drifting towards the back of the bus. Due to a sheltered upbringing I had no idea what it was, but I did know that the result of today’s match didn’t seem as important to me as it did when I’d woken up that morning.

Quite frankly, this could be the only explanation for what followed. The driver ran out of petrol on the M25 and asked us to push the bus up a slight gradient in the hope that we could start it again and run on fumes to within reach of a petrol station. We stupidly obliged, with one person waving the speeding traffic away, while the rest of us pushed. Little did we know that the upward gradient would shortly become a downward one, and we would be required to sprint just to get back on board. Not that we should have worried, as when the gradient levelled we promptly came to a standstill again.

We were eventually aided by a kind motorist with a petrol can, who no doubt had witnessed the whole fiasco. The match, unsurprisingly, is a bit of a blur, but the record books show that Town recorded a sixth consecutive win, by two goals to one, with Keith Alexander and Rees finding the target.

Derby day

The final day of March 1990 brought a home fixture with local rivals Lincoln City. Could we make it seven in a row? Lincoln were on the fringe of the promotion hunt too, so combined with Town’s run this game really did have all of the ingredients for a cracker, and accordingly tensions were high.

Happy to just be walking to a game after the Gillingham trip, I found myself among a large group of Lincoln supporters adjacent to the Conservative Club on Grimsby Road. Suddenly, a front door opened on the opposite side of the road and a large group of what could loosely be described as Town 'fans' sallied out and pitched straight into the Lincoln supporters, with me in their midst. At a time when modern football is often rightly criticised, it's also necessary to point out that some things have greatly improved.

Slightly ruffled, I took my place on the old Imperial corner. A second-half Gilbert penalty at the Pontoon end gave the Mariners a deserved 1-0 win in front of a very healthy crowd of 11,427.

What a month. Town went on to promotion as runners-up to Exeter City, and the following season made it back-to-back promotions to complete the journey back to Division Two. Pride in Grimsby Town Football Club had been restored, and they were most definitely back on the up.

Send us your memories of March 1990.