Another kind of destructive behaviour

Cod Almighty | Article

by Kelly Billings

30 July 2019

Nick Dale's views on fan behaviour destroy the real efforts some people at the club are making to make fans feel welcome and engaged at Blundell ParkĀ 

It’s been an interesting few days.

On Sunday, my two boys and me had a wander over to the Mariners Trust and GTSET Open Community Day. A decent turnout on a less than sunny day was treated to dancing Chinese dragons, Indian dancers, a semi-naked didgeridoo player, and semi-naked Brazilian dancers. (Not that many males seemed to mind these too much, although my 11-year-old probably got more of an eyeful than he wanted to when one shimmied past him on the back row to get in the group photo.)

The wonderful SANDS charity had a stall and there were a few activities for the kids provided by GTSET. The newly-formed Fans of the Future campaign was also represented.

Maybe I'm a little old fashioned, but I used to love the open days when they were more about the football and players. Turn up, watch them train, have a mingle on the pitch and grab a few pics with, and of, the players. But you can't deny that the new-style open day does plenty for diversity and inclusion.

After the open day, there must have been more than a few people who woke up slightly bewildered to read yesterday’s Grimsby Telegraph. There are a lot of good people who work for and represent Grimsby Town Football Club who must genuinely wonder why they bother at times.

Let's be honest. The general feeling around the club and among fans recently – after a season which, for the most part, was little more than dire – has been at least slightly apathetic.

Off the field, in 2017-18 the club was justly proud when it was one of 56 to achieve Family Excellence status. You wouldn't know it from the club but look at last season's list and you'll find the name of Grimsby Town is now missing, because of the lack of opportunities and experiences for our junior supporters. As a mum of two young, football-loving boys, I can't be the only one who finds that a genuinely sad thing.

It is far easier for children in Grimsby to whack on a Man City, Man Utd or Liverpool shirt these days. I may not agree with the direction of FOTF, but I do agree that more has to be done for the future generation of Grimsby Town fans to ensure their support for their local team. This will take more than the gift of a shirt, well-meaning as the gesture is. To nurture and encourage a love and a passion for our club needs interaction, participation and experiences from a young age and on a regular basis.

I've been attending GTFC matches since I was five or six, going with my nan, aunties, female friends and now our children. Not once did it matter we were female. We have an absolute ball on our travels

Last week I was in the club shop buying kits for my children when I was approached and asked to attend a meeting for the new women's group. It is a group I have previously been quite vocal in dismissing, for more than one reason. I genuinely would not be happy to be treated any differently to any other football fan because I'm a female.

I’ve been attending GTFC matches since I was five or six years old and went with my nan, my aunties and their friends Prim and Mary as we travelled across the country supporting our team. Not once did it matter that we were all female. In fact, had anything occurred, I’d have been more scared of my nan than any football thug who tried to intimidate us!

I pretty much grew up at Blundell Park and other football stadiums, and for the last 30 years I’ve done exactly the same, every home game, and the large majority of away games. I now take my sons and travel with my female friend and her children and I can honestly say we have an absolute ball on our travels.

We all know we have some vocal and boisterous supporters, but they are supporters who have stuck by the club through thick and thin. Supporters who, while they may be branded a "risk" by some, are some of the guys who will travel eight hours after a week's work on their only day off to watch us draw 0-0 at Exeter.

The staff member who approached me knew, as I do, that Blundell Park is a safe place to visit, that there was nothing to worry about. But she put across to me that maybe not all women feel quite as relaxed about attending Blundell Park with their children as I am, that more needs to be done to encourage junior supporters through the gates. So despite my reservations about the women's group, I agreed, with my friend, to at least attend a meeting and see what was said. What struck me was her passion to put in place the things needed to encourage participation and regain that Family Excellence status.

Nick Dale's quotes yesterday display a quite different approach from another club member of staff: talk of hooligans, thugs, banning orders. On the hand you are saying you need to attract new supporters through the gates. On the other you have a prominent club member of staff giving all those potential new fans the exact reasons for not attending that you are trying to eliminate.

Dale makes coming to watch Grimsby play sound like you'll be in a real-life scene from Green Street or This Is England. I’ve never once over the years felt unsafe with my own supporters going to watch us play, but if I were a first-time supporter – a mum or dad wanting to come with children – then I'd read all that and not bother.

The only real trouble at Blundell Park in recent years was the Port Vale game in 2018. I'd tend to blame that on the fact that it wasn’t safety-managed properly – a gate was opened which led to fighting between opposing supporters. The club were charged and fined as a result, so it seems like the FA agrees with me. It's all very well blaming the fans for everything but sometimes a bit of self-reflection is needed, Mr Dale.

FA misconduct charge: Grimsby v Port Vale

No wonder we are subjected to heavy-handed stewarding and policing at away games when our own safety manager makes us all out to be violent and nasty troublemakers. Which we are not: our away support is often commended by police, clubs and supporters

Dale has today issued a public apology for yesterday's remarks, but I’m afraid for me it’s a case of too little too late. The damage has already been done. You cannot use personal agenda and vendettas against the very supporters you are meant to make feel safe and secure within the confines of your football stadium.

There is no wonder we are frequently subjected to heavy-handed stewarding and policing at away games when our own safety manager makes us all out to be violent and nasty troublemakers. Which we are not: our away support is often commended by police, clubs and the supporters we talk to on our travels.

With rumours of a takeover still in the pipeline I can only hope that the new leadership will look to reassure the supporters and address this situation. You simply cannot have someone in place that the fans collectively do not trust, especially when their actions go against other club staff who are trying to make improvements for the better.

There is no place in English football for hooliganism but I can honestly, hand on heart say I am proud to be a Grimsby Town football supporter and I take my son to these games without fearing for his safety. In fact, should any situation ever occur, our supporters would be the ones to help protect him. Being vocal doesn’t make you a hooligan; being passionate doesn’t make you a hooligan; having a few beers with your mates on a Saturday afternoon doesn’t make you a hooligan; putting feet on a chair doesn’t make you a hooligan.

You take away the passion and the love and you'll have fans sat in a morgue which won’t make anyone want to keep coming back to BP, especially when at times what we've witnessed on the pitch hasn't exactly been enthralling. Changes are needed within the football club and its mentality towards the very people – fans new and old, of all ages and generations – who are the lifeblood of GTFC. Without the fans you are nothing and we are absolutely the best fans in the land.

Up the Mariners.

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