The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Another page in Orwell's discarded manuscript

4 February 2020

Yesterday, John Fenty confirmed what was patently obvious from his statement last December. Then he said there would be no takeover. Instead, investors were invited to join the board and - working under the board - accept responsibility for delivering a new stadium. If that went well, then, perhaps, at some date in the distant future, Fenty would be open to the new investors taking control of the club.

Potential investors were in other words offered responsibility without power: the chance to put their money under Fenty's control. Now Fenty has confirmed that, not terribly surprisingly, no one wants to take up this ungenerous offer.

John Fenty is worried about the time that has been wasted in taking the club forward, in particular for developing a new stadium. He has a point.

Late in the 20th century, the club pursued a development at Great Coates, persisting with it even as commercial trends and planning policy shifted away from out-of-town developments, and retail interest in the project was withdrawn. The club has admitted £350,000 was lost on that particular pipedream.

Then there was Peaks Parkway. There was never any commercial interest in this edge-of-town site. Instead, the dream was 'obtain planning consent, and they shall come'. Who can forget the video of Fenty standing in a field with the horse? Or the weekend he played the Grand Old Duke of York, marching interested parties up the Parkway and down again? Or the wonderful Extreme Leisure, hired to build the vision of the new ground. They had no background in developing football stadiums but they did have a director's wife who loved to lecture us about how we weren't proper fans.

To the idea that the club stadium could be used as an engine for town regeneration, Fenty was a very reluctant and a very late convert. In 2016, when the idea first began to gain traction, consultants SLR were commissioned to carry out a feasibility study, with criteria for the project carefully defined to ensure that only Peaks Parkway could meet them. Even as late as January last year, four months after the club appeared to have accepted that the new stadium had to be tied to the Town Deal, Fenty was still telling us that "Peaks Parkway was stalling for a number of reasons, but ultimately it remains my opinion that it is the best location."

So the idea that two years has been wasted is simply wrong. Looking purely at relocating Grimsby Town, it is more like a quarter of a century now, most of it on John Fenty's watch. If we focus on relocation as a vehicle for wider town regeneration, Fenty can hardly claim two years when he only fully came around to the idea a few months ago.

And his timelines are equally faulty when it comes to the takeover talks. It was only in May 2019 that Fenty was asserting all potential investors to date had been "tyre kickers". So serious negotiations can only have been going on for a maximum of seven or eight months, not 24.

Middle-Aged Diary is with Baz Whittleton. I have no brief for the investors who have been engaged in those talks. Colin Dodd came surrounded by warning signs. However, Tom Shutes certainly sounds like he deserved better than to be blamed for the club's paralysis. He joins ITV Digital, Mike Parker, Grimsby Town fans and pre-2019 NE Lincs council on the ever-growing list of scapegoats.

George Orwell is the man we need. The only question is: which is the most appropriate reference? 1984, with the systematic rewriting of history; or Animal Farm, when Napoleon, having once piddled all over plans for a new windmill, then tries to claim they were his plans all along.

Your periodic reminder: whoever owns the shares, Grimsby Town does not belong to John Fenty or the board. It belongs to all of us. It is a shame we have to devote so much time to him, when there are people associated with the Mariners who we can take pride in.

At an honoured place in the Grimsby hall of fame is Joe Waters, captain of the third division winning team of 1979-80. Don't let anyone tarnish your memories of that amazing time: whether the memories are yours, your parents or your grandparents. Yesterday, the Mariners Trust announced that Joe will be back in the UK for the launch of Champions, Rob McIlveen's book celebrating that fabulous season. More details soon but the date for your diary is Thursday 9 April. Don't let anyone keep you away.