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Diary - April 2006
Saturday 29 April
Town's hopes of automatic promotion now rest upon the unlikely possibility of Leyton Orient failing to beat Oxford in next weekend's final round of matches. A poor, disjointed performance at Macclesfield today ended in a one-one draw, while Northampton secured the fourth division's runner-up spot by beating Chester, and Orient grittily saw off Peterborough despite playing 70 minutes with ten men. The Mariners' defence never looked secure once the injured Rob Jones was inexplicably replaced in the first half by Fen Butcher rather than Glen Downey, and Town duly conceded almost immediately after Gary Jones had given them the lead on the 40-minute mark. The Os stand only one point ahead of GTFC in third place, with a goal difference five worse than Mr Russell Slade's side, but the momentum and confidence they will have gained from today's events will make it difficult for even the most optimistic Grimbarian to envisage them taking fewer than three points against 23rd-placed Oxford in seven days' time. Keep that flipchart handy, Russ.
Friday 28 April
Before leaving Costa del Humber for the warmer climes of the Costa del Sol timeshare industry, Dave Booth declared: "Watchability is winning." You can't argue with a man who took Town to their most impressive finish since 1948. Or can you?
The recent Target 6000 campaign was the club's latest attempt to tempt the population of North East Lincolnshire to come and watching their regularly winning football team, currently destined to finish no lower than fourth. The average attendance is 5,001: a mere 58 attendees and 14 league places up on last term. Tomorrow's opponents, Macclesfield, have the opposite situation and are currently nestled in 19th, their season endured by an average attendance of 2,203. Last season they finished fifth with 69 more people attending games. Some times you just have to accept what is the norm, what is expected now.
But cast those figures aside! Macclesfield is bracing itself! Town are gunning for a win from their final road trip of the season, to keep their noses ahead of fourth-placed Leyton Orient. The Mariners' impressive recent volume of away support - two and a quarter thousand at Lincoln, 1000 at Leyton Orient - will continue with a level of support not seen since, ahem, Sincil Bank. The usually spacious Moss Rose will be a comparatively throbbing throng as over 4,000 spectators pack in tomorrow afternoon.
Russ speaks up ahead of the game in a revealing interview on Mariners World, despite a microphone set up right next to the world's squeakiest door and an interviewer obsessing too much about Town being promoted on Saturday. The bald-headed mastermind keeps a level head, saying: "It's not going to be easy. At home [Macclesfield are] quite strong," and reminding us, his players and anyone else who hasn't seen a recent league table that the home team are "not out of the woods". He might as well have made like Bob Dylan, holding up a succession of cards spelling out "it could be tricky, this".
"An atmosphere helps the lads, there's no doubt about it in my mind, but despite the atmosphere, despite the occasion, we've got to focus," says a steely-eyed Slade. "We've got a job to do on the day for ninety minutes, it's vital that we do our job and we do it professionally." So long as Mrs Stick keeps her legs shut, the backline should remain as was against Cheltenham, as Tom Newey is out and Macca is rated as highly doubtful. Michael Reddy has yet to train, but that was last week's story as well.
So far it has been an Awesome April for the lads. The Lincoln defeat at the end of March was the cue for Slade's side to display everything noteworthy in their locker. The professional job defeating Wrexham. The sumptuous display against Shrewsbury. An impressively calculated draw at Leyton Orient. Resilience and mettle, and victory over a perky Cheltenham team. It's all been building up nicely. But what awaits at Macclesfield? The agony or ecstasy? This month has built renewed and undeniable optimism in our team. Winning in front of so many expectant fans will provide watchability. If Peterborough manage to steal any points off Leyton Orient? Deep breaths. What was Russ saying? Ah, let's make sure we do our job.
Thursday 27 April
Macclesfield. Hardly any fans. No money. Finished 13 places above Town last season and nearly got promoted. Beat Town 3-1 at their place. Had Alan Fettis in goal, who had played pretty well in Nicky Law's abominably uncommitted Mariners team. And was better than Anthony Williams. Tipped by many for promotion this season. Had Clyde Wijnhard up front, who had rejected a move to Grimsby under Paul Groves. Were bottom of the league twice before Christmas and haven't been higher than 16th all season. Are two points above the relegation zone with two games left, but have a very strong home record this season. Are at home to GTFC this Saturday. Have got seven players with fitness problems, including Fettis and Wijnhard, the former only having missed the previous match with a virus but the latter having been ruled out for the rest of the season since February. Like the ball in a Chester v Lincoln game, it's all a bit up in the air, isn't it?
Enough of such trivia as the Mariners' bid to avoid spending three successive seasons in the basement division for the first time since 1971. The Diary is the daily GTFC news summary that deals with the real issues, such as which former (or current) Town manager would be the hardest in a fight – and literally seven of you have emailed on precisely this hot topic. "Nicky Law and Russell Slade would be the obvious choice for a good match on the well-known inversely proportional hair quantity/fight skills theorem," writes Paul Wright, who has clearly never bumped into this gentleman in a dark alley, "but I can't help thinking that owing to his diminutive stature and the funny slope of his shoulders Brian Laws would probably be packing something sharp and metal. Conclusion: Swain on points."
"McMenemy was a Coldstream Guard wasn't he? But could he headbutt a chicken sandwich plate?" That's the hard-fightin' logic of Jeremy Baily, who adds: "Bill Shankly could shout a lot, but was he hard? Slade is a chav, so he is as soft as milk. Sorry – can't choose one to be the winner in a bun fight, although Bonetti's beater could well be the chump!" The Scunthorpe employee's experience in the ancient oriental practice of sandwichitsu is likewise highlighted by Ruth Deller and Michael Shelton, who also reprises the theme of ex-military men to suggest: "Since we're hiring out a venue for the manager brawl, we need to commission some other fights to put on the bill and keep the paying customers happy. As Shearer is injured and can't play in his charity testimonial match, why don't we have Shearer v Whittle, bare-knuckle boxing, winner takes all? Now THAT I would pay to see."
The main criterion in the employment of bouncers, of course, is their capacity to be a bit handy, and it was not for nothing that the fearsome Nicky Law was likened by some to a nightclub door supervisor. Two Diary readers in particular had best tread carefully in the Buxton area, as Rich Mills has nominated "that ugly one from Chesterfield we had for a few weeks. Er... Nicky Law, was it?" while Danny 'Death Wish' Wignall reflects: "I aint sure about the hardest but surely the softest would have to be Nicky Law. He was a bit on the weedy side, or the proverbial 'wimp', whichever you prefer." That's Danny Wignall, in case you didn't catch the name, Mr Law, sir.
Law might look a good bet on paper to follow Curtis Woodhouse into the boxing ring, but past form is less significant than motivation - as Law's Mariners side proved beyond doubt. "A lot would depend on the motivation of the opponent," says Pat Bell, who is mindful of some managers' less than satisfactory results while in the BP hotseat. "Law and Lyons, to name just two, would have no chance against a Town fan. Lawrence would of course avoid the fight and pay a seven-stone weakling too much money to fight on his behalf."
Wednesday 26 April
Tuesday: no news. Wednesday: Town have won a cup and one of their players is quitting football to become a boxer. It's a mad old world, isn't it?
Here we go then: it's Curtis Woodhouse. The Sheffield Star today corroborates a six-week-old messageboard rumour by reporting that the Yorkshire-born midfielder – who moved to Blundell Park only three months ago – will trade boots for gloves this summer after agreeing a three-year contract with top boxing promoter Frank Warren. After last Friday's eventual close win over Cheltenham, in which the player was presented with a 24-carat golden opportunity to score in front of the Pontoon and directed the ball approximately 18 nautical miles above the crossbar, the Diary, for one, hopes Woody will be able to land punches on chins with somewhat greater accuracy than he can kick a bag of air. Now why didn't Tony Rees and Tommy Watson ever think of this?
Staying with unarmed combat for the moment, Diary readers can always be relied upon to come good when we need to discuss the crucial issues affecting the future of our football club, so many thanks for all your emails about which of Town's former (or indeed current) managers would be the hardest in a fight. Keep them coming and we'll take a look tomorrow.
Today's silver lining is the news that the Mariners' boys became men last night, winning the Midland Floodlit Youth Cup or whatever it's called despite playing more than half the match with ten men. The balance of the competition's final, played away against Walsall, tipped towards the home side after 38 minutes with a red card for Town right-back Luke Mascall (who, perhaps surprisingly, was not one of the several players described as "aggressive" in the squad profiles published on GTFC's official website yesterday). The only goal of the game, however, was registered by Neil Woods' side shortly after the hour when winger Jammal Shahin finished from a Danny North flick-on after captain Ben Higgins' long ball. Nice to see the young 'uns taking a leaf from the seniors' book; and with Town's youth team troubling the trophy cabinet for the first time in years, some of this 2006 vintage should mature into full-bodied first-team quality instead of getting tipped down the sink to Armthorpe Welfare.
Finally today, Town's promotion hopes have risen and fallen many times this season but may ultimately rest on which begins first: the team's journey to Macclesfield this Saturday or the labour of Rob Jones's other half. The Mariners' ace centre-half has been back to his magnificent best in the side's last two or three games but may miss the journey west as his lass is about to become the latest of several Mariners missuses to drop a sprog in recent months. "She'll be told to sit still all day Friday and Saturday!" grins the player-of-the-season-elect in a Mariners World interview, possibly only half joking. "Hopefully it'll come earlier in the week rather than later in the week." Have they never heard of induced birth at Blundell Park? Sort it Sladey!
Tuesday 25 April
As tense and nervous as Town fans may feel this week, there nevertheless hovers an eerie stillness upon the black and white striped sections of the world's news media today. Having already sold 1,400 tickets for this Saturday's life-altering fixture at Macclesfield, GTFC have taken an extra 500, bringing the total available for visiting fans to 2,400. The youth team is nervously preparing for tonight's cup final at Walsall – its first in about 20 years, according to Neil Woods. And it says in The Sun that John 'I'm Ace, Me' Oster has been offered a new one-year contract by Reading despite starting only ten league games this season. I wouldn't even have known that if Guest Diary hadn't emailed to tell us.
On days like today, then, you almost feel sorry for the Grimsby Telegraph, which is so bored that it has launched into full-on Daily Mail/Express world-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart mode for a lead story about how terrible it is that the police have to deal with crime. The Diary much preferred yesterday's observation by Mariners cult hero Gary 'The Lump' Jones: "I thought the lads played some good football [against Cheltenham last Friday] – it wasn't just a case of booming it forward, which was a nice surprise!" Refreshing dose of honesty, or ironic two-fingered riposte to Town's detractors? You decide.
The Telegraph, of course, is seldom blessed with the sort of quality correspondence that sometimes gets the Diary out of a pickle on slow news days, and it is thusly that we turn to Sibbo, who has a reflection to make upon a recent footballing controversy. "What's all this fuss about Spurs and Arsenal and playing on when injured players are on the ground?" he asks. "Not with a head injury either. Didn't the same thing happen to Town against Bristol Rovers earlier in the season? Both situations ended with a goal for the side with eleven players on their feet. Still, Grimsby are only a fourth division side and not chasing a Champions League place. Funny how money talks eh." Indeed. Much in the style of one of the managers involved last weekend, the Diary didn't see the incident in question; but you wouldn't put money on Wenger if it had gone to blows, would you. Here's a point for discussion, then: which former (or current) GTFC manager would have been the hardest in a fight? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts on the BP hotseat deathmatch.
Lastly let us be grateful to Miles Moss for giving us all a bit of perspective. "A lot of Town fans will be getting far too anxious this coming fortnight about Town going up automatically, or not, or not at all," he prognosticates. "Let's use CA to calm their nerves over the next two weeks with a brightside list of reasons why finishing fourth wouldn't be the end of the world." Moss's list reads as follows:
1. If we get into the play-offs, there'll be loads of extra income for the club, especially if we get to the final.
2. If we don't go up at all, we'll get to visit Accrington Stanley next season.
3. ...and if 'MK Dons' are relegated, we'll get to boycott their ground.
4. The club will still exist, and will play football matches against a set of other teams next year.
You have to admit he's got a point with that last one. Any more? The email address remains the same, as Led Zeppelin once sang. Right, that's it – good luck to Ver Yoof for tonight, and I'll see you same time same place tomorrow.
Monday 24 April
Luton's Michael Reddy is set to spend the week in bed in a bid to regain full fitness in time for this Saturday's visit to Macclesfield. The Mariners' official website reports that the struggling frontman is all hurty after his team's recent win over Cheltenham and will sit out training all week before seeing the physio this Friday to see whether he can make the journey west at the weekend. For several weeks now Reddy – who has just been named in the PFA's fourth division team of the season, voted for in early February, apparently – has been declared doubtful ahead of Town's matches only to break through the pain barrier and onto the team sheet, earning his manager Mr Russell Slade a reputation not so much as the boy who cried wolf but as the boss who cried groin.
Russ's vanquished Cheltenham counterpart John Ward, interestingly, has spoken of the build-up to last Friday's game and the atmosphere once it had begun. In particular, Ward feels that the Mariners were assisted by the Grimsby Telegraph's front page coverage on the day and the noise created by the home fans on the night, who, he says, "were terrific". Anyone remember February 2005, when Gary Johnson brought his excellent Yeovil team to Blundell Park and later pointed out the enormous difference between the quality of home support during the first half – after which Town were trailing one-nil – and the second, when goals from Martin Gritton and Andy Parkinson snatched three points against the eventual champions? Have we progressed a little, or have the promotion race and springtime sunshine gone straight to my head?
If Michelle Lalor's Grimsby Telegraph is showing surprisingly strong support for GTFC at this critical stage of the season, the club itself is still unleashing bullets into its own toes. As anyone knows who has tried to contact the Mariners using the email address that still appears in the club's customer charter, email@example.com is defunct – and customer service at Grimsby Town Football Club was also defunct this morning for one of the Cod Almighty team, who had to telephone no fewer than ten times before being able to buy a ticket to the promotion decider against Northampton on 6 May. Let's not forget last Friday's tannoy announcement that the ticket office would be open on Saturday, hastily followed by the official website's announcement that no, the ticket office wouldn't be open on Saturday. And doesn't the OS's declaration that Northampton – three points above Town with six points left to contest – are "almost certain to grab the second spot in League 2" strike you as just a trifle pessimistic by even Grimbarian standards?
Saturday 22 April
Result! Town's hard-earned win at home to Cheltenham last night proves enough to propel the club back into the automatic promotion places for more than a few hours as Leyton Orient stutter to a 1-1 draw at Lincoln this afternoon. The Mariners' final-day opponents Northampton restore their three-point advantage in second place with an easily anticipated win at Oxford (easily anticipated by the Diary, at any rate, who has thus coined it in from the bookies), but the Imps' favour keeps the Os in fourth, a point below Town, who asyouprobablyknowbynow eked out maximum points on Friday evening with Gary Jones' 14th goal of the season. It's a non-stop, long-playing, right-to-the-wire, squeaky-knuckle, white-bum fight to the death, so take out your calculators and set the controls for either Crewe or Accrington.
Friday 21 April
Hello all, Miss Guest Diary here – looking forward to some Friday night football. I know this goes against Cod Almighty policy, but I have two very good reasons. Firstly, it is traditional before an evening game to indulge in some excellent fish and chips at a local Cleethorpes emporium and, secondly, I get to conform to the female stereotype and go shopping on a Saturday afternoon. Since I've moved to Lincolnshire – otherwise known as "the sticks" – opportunities for shopping are few and far between and must be grasped with both hands. Little did I realise what I was giving up in moving here from that London. To put it in footballing terms – and I find these days it is possible to put most things in those terms – it's like watching Andy Parkinson and thinking longingly back to the days of Nicky Southall.
Talking of longing, I watched the DVD of the Auto Windscreens final recently – oh Wayne and those beautiful flowing
locks passes. But interestingly, I'm sure I spotted a very young-looking John Fenty cavorting about in Trafalgar Square or some such place. So maybe this whole chairman thing isn't just a macho power trip after all.
Last night Ceefax helpfully advised that, should Town lose tonight against Cheltenham, Carlisle would be promoted and Cheltenham would secure a place in the play-offs. It didn't mention what would happen if Town win, and I won't either for fear of being accused of poultry enumeration. I'll just remind everyone that tomorrow Leyton Orient are away to Lincoln who, Cod Almighty's very own statto has advised, haven't lost at home since October. Come on you Imps!
Team news is that Macca and Newey are out and Luton's Michael Reddy is 50/50 – well, with hair like that I'm not surprised. So could this be Glen Downey's day to shine – he might even get himself listed as a contender for player of the season on the official site. Rumour has it he is already the front runner for the Cod Almighty Teacup.
Meanwhile, Russ seems to have given up on the team altogether as he is "looking for one final push" from the fans. Given the funereal atmosphere in the Pontoon for much of this season, I think that means we're stuffed.
Talking of stuffing: bring on the fish and chips but don't bother with the mushy peas – I'm still a southerner at heart. Cheers!
Thursday 20 April
While the Mariners' first team has been busy chasing promotion, their second has been chasing an achievement of a different kind altogether, and fans have looked on with morbid fascination as GTFC reserves have struggled unsuccessfully to record a win for the entirety of the 2005–06 season. The players would have been sighing a huge sigh of relief as, with their game against Scarborough approaching its end, they led 3-0 – only to follow it up with a huge sigh of resignation as their opponents contrived to score three times in the last five minutes. A similar sighing pattern would have ensued yesterday afternoon at Hartlepool, where Grezza Rodgo's battlers – you can guess where this is leading, can't you – led 2-0 and 3-1 – stop me if you think you've heard this one before – only to draw three-all. Conceding two penalties wouldn't have helped, though in fairness one of the two red cards came after the final whistle. In further mitigation the Diary is compelled to point out that some of the same players have achieved much in the youth team this year, but the conclusion many will draw from the stiffs' incredible winless season must surely be: God help the first team if there's ever a massive injury crisis.
What, then, of the first team? They are playing Cheltenham tomorrow night, for reasons best known to – well, I was going to say "themselves", but the Diary remains far from convinced that even the club really know why they agreed to switch this game to a Friday night. Anyway... though it has failed to hit the bullseye consistently so far, Town's Target 6000 campaign has succeeded in raising both attendances and vocal support for the team in recent home fixtures, and the club's official website is predicting home support of "around 5000+" against Chelto. Fans are advised to buy their tickets as early as poss, adds the OS, as GTFC are "forecasting t massive queues at the ticket office". And I thought Grimsby was not in Yorkshire.
That's yer merry lot from me for the week, as this page will be the responsibility of Miss Guest Diary tomorrow. I'll be back on Saturday night to summarise the weekend's emotional trauma and irreparable lifelong damage to all of our hopes and dreams... so until then, ta-ra!
Wednesday 19 April
Town fans travelling to Macclesfield for the final away game of the season will have to buy some of those pesky ticket things before they set off. That's the logistical prognosis cast by our chums at the Grimsby Telegraph, which explains that the Cheshire club has sent 1,500 standing tickets over to Blundell Park and nearly 400 for seats. The probably must-win match takes place on 29 April, and the news that it has been declared all-ticket was not made clear by the Mariners' official website, unless it's hidden away at the bottom of some other page somewhere about a winger arriving on trial from Mangotsfield United.
Speaking of which, two more hopefuls will be arriving at BP dressed to impress during the days ahead. Shrewsbury goalkeeper Lance Cronin has made exactly one league appearance thus far in the 20 years of his existence on this planet – which makes it all the more surprising that the Diary has actually heard of him – while failed Tranmere trialist Royce Brownlie brings with him not just a funny name but some sort of Australian league record for scoring eight times in four games half a decade ago. Good luck, Royce. It all sounds a bit Mickael Antoine-Curier, but we won't hold that against you. Now let us never speak that name again.
All this trialist talk reminds us that it's time for Town's hapless reserves to take another shot at recording their first win of the season – and, this afternoon's visit to Hartlepool being their final game of the 2005–06 campaign, it will also be their final shot. Recent trialists Michael Vickers (striker, Nottingham Forest) and Andy Bagnall (goalkeeper, Birmingham City; cricketer, Grimsby Town) will feature in the second XI's starting line-up reports the official site, finding another new and innovative way to cock things up by making some HTML tags appear in the browser window.
As Mariners hero Sir John McDermott approaches the end of what will probably not be his final season after all, Diary reader Richard Bedwell has emailed to draw our attention to a rather natty stat. A page on the mighty and anorakular allfootballers.com lists the players who have made more than 500 league appearances for single clubs, where the rightly revered right-back drops in at number 15 – "well ahead of Scunthorpe's 'best'," points out Bedders, referring to 18th-placed Jack Brownsword, who notched up a puny 597 outings for the Iron in the 1950s and 60s. Our reader goes on to note that Mickael Antoine-Curier "in 2003–04 became the first player ever to appear for six League clubs in the same season (Oldham Athletic, Kidderminster Harriers, Rochdale, Sheffield Wednesday, Notts County and Grimsby Town)." Thankyou. Now let us never speak that name again.
Tuesday 18 April
Russ and Grezz weren't paying enough attention when they were reading last Tuesday's diary, so this old Reserve Trialist gets another go. I intend to create three perfect sentences, then make four howling spelling errors near the end, thus maintaining the team's record. No, I've no idea what I'm talking about, either.
Reports from the Cod Almighty staff who attended yesterday's match seem to echo Rustle Slayed's sentiments that the team were at their best for yesterday's nil-nil with Orient. Ooh, I'd like to hear Michael Howard say 'nil-nil'. Anyway, for further corroboration of Town's good performance from our very own Tony Butcher, watch this space.
No Mick Reddy yesterday, of course, since Russ is nursing him along to the end of the season. I know the feeling - it once took me three hours to get from Lincoln to Market Rasen in my Mini, a hole in the radiator and a dodgy battery causing me to stop every few miles for a rest. I got there in the end, if it's any consolation to you, readers, without having to go through some crazy roadworks version of the play-offs.
If I stretch that metaphor any further it will snap, so let's have some plain English: it's that time of year for Town fans everywhere to dust off their slide-rules. Three matches left, one point from automatic promotion... it's very exciting, isn't it. I imagine many of you will have been looking not only at Town's remaining fixtures, but those of our rivals as well...
Carlisle are as good as up; Northampton have the easiest of run-ins, plus a trip to Cleethorpes at the last; Town... well, you know about us; while Leyton Orient have Lincoln and Peterborough to contend with - the two teams scrapping over the last play-off place. You've been through all the permutations in your head already, though, haven't you. Shall I stop?
So, as the final whistle blows on this reserve diary... Russ, how did I do?
Monday 17 April
A goalless draw at Leyton Orient benefits Town little as Northampton pull three points ahead in second place with a comfortable win over Stockport. In a reshuffled side Luton's Michael Reddy, deemed slightly too injured today even for Town to play him, is replaced by Gary Cohen, who has to drop back into defence after 20 minutes to fill in for the injured Sir John McDermott. Russ's battlers make it tough for the home side, but not tough enough, and when Marc Goodfellow hits the crossbar in injury time it is a pretty fair summary of the day.
Saturday 15 April
Though the Mariners stand one point outside the automatic promotion places with four games left to play, today's 1-1 draw at home to Shrewsbury leaves many fans with the sense that Town have blown it. This is unfortunate, since today's performance was the best for ages, excepting the lapse that handed the visitors their first-half goal (how is it that Russell Slade's side has the tallest defence in the history of association football and still can't defend corners?). The unhappy circumstances of a shit referee, a shit linesman, the Shrews' excellent goalkeeper Joe Hart, and away wins for Northampton and Leyton Orient (the latter courtesy of a penalty awarded by GTFC-phobic official Carl Boyeson) have naturally conspired to push the Mariners down to fourth place, and the Diary is yet to meet a single Town fan who thinks their side's chances in the play-offs would exceed those of the proverbial snowball in hell. But as we began by implying, a deficit of one point with 12 left to contest leaves a lot of potential outcomes yet.
Nice penalty from Goodfellow, anyway. Great performance from Goodfellow all round, in fact. Can we keep him please Russ?
Friday 14 April
Hello. Bottom-of-the-Barrel Diary here yet again, coming at you from the ancient village of Tetney-in-the-Marsh. It's my turn to use the village typewriter! I must try not to let the excitement unsettle me though, because this will be a thoughtful, contemplative, even sombre Diary.
Readers over the age of 30 may remember the Mike Yarwood Show, which was, along with Morecambe and Wise and Tufty the Squirrel, one of the major audience-pullers on 1970s television. Typically an hour long, the first 55 minutes would be devoted to much side-splitting hilarity as Mike's impersonations of Eddie Waring, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson left us all choking on our Spangles. Five minutes from the end, however, we would hear the dread words "and this is me", at which the talented mimic would abandon the comedy and sing us a song, usually involving the words "my kind of town" and "Chicago". At this point we realised that the "me" he had described was actually a dull, gap-toothed man with a voice like a drowning dog, and we would go out and make a cup of tea before Starsky and Hutch came on.
So, you ask, why are you twittering on about this seemingly irrelevant childhood icon? Well, because this stage of the season has a distinctly "and this is me" feel to it, in my view. We have watched with laughter as our team of hoofers, stoppers and sprinters have performed their impersonation of a promotion-winning football team, never believing for a
moment that, come the spring, we wouldn't have drifted down into a more realistic league position. Yet here we are in second place with the day of the crossed bun upon us. We have two games in three days, after which we will surely know whether we are a drowning dog or a big, joyous, fat-bellied pasta-popping Pavarotti who will bring tears of joy to our long-dry eyes.
I don't know about you, but I've tensed up.
If only I was as confident as workhouse boss Russell Slade, who according to a recent interview seems already to have disregarded any league position lower than second as a possible outcome. Grimsby Town watchers unlucky enough to sit near me in the Pontoon will know that pessimism is my default setting, and it will remain so, and yet... and yet... it is Easter after all, so maybe a Jesus-style resurrection of our beloved football club is a possibility.
Oh no. The village elders have seen the word Jesus on the paper and there are rumblings of discontent behind me. They are invoking the names of their pagan gods. I must go.
Thursday 13 April
When you think of bars and recent Grimsby Town players, you tend to think of Tony Gallimore; but it is a different kind of bar that concerns the Mariners this week as Soccer AM rolls into town. As Reserve Trialist Diary reported on Tuesday, the profoundly irritating Sky TV programme – in which presenters hilariously refer to GTFC as "the fishy people" – has been filming a dazzling piece of entertainment called the Crossbar Challenge, in which players kick a ball towards the goal from the halfway line and try to hit the crossbar. Reporting on the efforts of Sladey's sloggers in this ground-breaking televisual extravaganza, the Grimsby Telegraph plays into Murdoch's clammy palms by teasing: "To find out if the Mariners pulled it off, fans will have to tune in to Sky Sports," but succeeds only in strengthening the Diary's resolve to stick with Fighting Talk this Saturday morning. The Telewag piece is headlined TV test a real morale boost – which seems a decidedly positive spin, given that a more realistic summary would probably be TV test a real and unnecessary distraction as club prepares for crucial promotion run-in.
Speaking of reserve trialists, which we sort of were, the Diary notes that recent, er, reserve trialists Will Ahern and Rory Patterson both scored last night as their club FC United of Manchester wrapped up promotion to Division One of the North West Counties League with a 4-0 victory over Chadderton. This does not imply in any way, of course, that the Mariners were wrong not to immediately follow up their interest in the FCUM duo with offers of hard contracts; and in any case, the transfer deadline has passed, so Town wouldn't have been able to sign them anyway... er... right?
Speaking of promotion, which we definitely were, although not in a directly GTFC-related context, the Diary has received an email from Grimsby Tim (aka Disgruntled of Bearwood), asking: "Who on Earth writes the sports news on AOL Sport? According to their latest offering Town are involved in the Division One promotion race and, believe it or not, are a Yorkshire club." Bizarre indeed, Tim, but what can you expect if you rely on AOL for anything?
Before I bid thee cheerio for the week and hand over to tomorrow's guest diarist, there's one more email, this time from John Pakey. "Ahoy!" he begins, nautically. "I've been chatting to my colleague at Colchester United and he has been in contact with Grimsby Town's Frenchman Mk1, Thomas Pinault. Apparently he got a bad injury in pre-season last year while trying to wrestle himself into the plans of some fourth division club – Oxford, I believe – and ended up having to head back to France, where he picked up another injury. One operation and long recovery later he is hoping to once again break into the basement division of the Football League when he heads over to these shores this summer. Rumour has it that Oxford is a target, as also is the mighty Mariners. Could the Gauloise-smoking Gallic wonder once again be pulling on the black and white stripes for Town next season?" The sight of Messrs Slade and Pinault kissing and making up is one we would all dearly love to behold, John, but I fear the chances may be slimmer than of seeing Messrs Adams and Paisley snogging on the steps of Stormont.
Wednesday 12 April
Eh up. Your great-tasting regular Diary is back on duty today, having paid my debt to consumer society – and bitterly regretful at having missed the great sport to be had yesterday from Town reserves'
hilarious heartbreaking failure to record their first win of the season despite leading three-nil with five minutes to go. Sometimes it just isn't your season, is it. Can we give them some sort of award for entertainment of an unintentional kind?
Talk of awards brings us neatly, since it's that time of year, to the Mariners' player of the season gong, the voting for which is now open on the club's official website, and Steve 'Mildehall' may or may not be more likely to sign a new contract if his employer starts remembering his name. The choice of players available in the vote is as idiosyncratic as the spelling, with Terry Barwick, Marc Goodfellow, John Lukic and Tom Newey all included and no sign (as usual) of the legendary Mr Glen Downey – possibly to head off a Diary campaign to have the hero of the Racecourse voted Town's top dude of 2005–06. Much like Silvio Berlusconi's ongoing claims to credibility, it sounds to me like a load of old ballots.
A strong contender in the poll will, of course, be Luton's Michael Reddy, who has scored 14 goals this season and won an even greater number of free kicks and penalties for the Mariners by diving. Did anyone notice the prolific Hatters forward talking about his growing reputation as a cheat in the Grimsby Telegraph a few days ago? Reddy appears to have been claiming that if there is "contact", then he is allowed to dive, because "that isn't cheating really as far as I am concerned. Continued from Back Page It is making the most of the situation." No, Michael – it is deliberately misleading the referee as to the effects of the challenge and it is misappropriating the match officials' exclusive authority to adjudicate on foul play. Honestly!
The only situation Reddy will be making the most of this Saturday, though, could be a day off work if today's Telegraph is to be believed. The redoubtable Riby Square organ cites Town boss Mr Russell Slade, who says the Graignamanagh tumbler picked up a knock during last Saturday's defeat at Carlisle Five, as did Jones the Stick, and the two players have joined Gary Cohen in the GTFC treatment room ahead of this Saturday's visit of Shrewsbury. Shrews boss Gary Peters is said to be extending a thumb and forefinger toward a nearby dish of saline food seasoning compound.
Last up today we turn to Lee Mathews, who is not an unnamed trialist, nor indeed a named one, but has news of one, because he went to Town reserves' defeat (sorry, tautology) against Scunthorpe last week and emailed to correct the Diary's mistaken impression that the stiffs fielded Rob Murray in goal rather than the Polish trialist who had been spoken of beforehand. "I was sat next to the Polish guy's agent," writes Lee, "and it was him who was playing, not Rob Murray." Well, that's the last time I believe Town's official website! "He certainly didn't do anything to impress. Although his agent told me he had been playing in Australia recently and name is Wojek lol." Thanks for the information, Lee. Was "lol" his surname, or are you just laughing out loud at his first name?
Tuesday 11 April
Hello there. Reserve Trialist Diary here. I hope to give a good account of myself during this rainy midweek match; after that, you'll never hear of me again.
Talking of the reserves, which I sort of was - well, I mentioned the word 'reserves' above - Deviant Diary And His Spirit Wife was almost nostradamic yesterday, predicting that the second string's duck would be broken - not by bird flu - but by a first win of the season. Sure enough, two goals from Jermaine Palmer and another from Andy Taylor meant that with five minutes to go it was Town Stiffs 3, Scarborough Seconds 0.
However, even more sure enough, the minor Mariners contrived to concede three goals before the final whistle went, disappointing Graham Rodger, and infuriating Wayne Rooney, who had taken Deviant at his word and placed £450,000 on Town to win. Bad luck Wayne, another week's wages down the pan.
Make a note in your (lower case 'd') diaries, for Grimsby Town are live on Sky this Saturday! Yes, you've already seen right through my lame gag, so I won't bother trying to string you along with talk of extra-terrestrial telly revenue: some of our squad are merely taking part in the 'Crossbar Challenge' on Sky's highbrow Saturday morning version of Question Time, Soccer AM. Filming today, the task is for the chosen Town players to hit the crossbar with a ball kicked from the halfway line. Insert your own gag about hopeful long balls and accuracy.
Right, it's only Tuesday, so I'm ignoring any early news of the team's fitness and availability for the Easter weekend matches. Besides, the less I think about Town's run-in and the possibility of the play-offs, the happier I am.
Someone who's very happy at the moment is Graham Hockless. Did you like that link? A career in local radio beckons, I feel. Anyway, tiny little Graham is chuffed to bits with his new life in Australia, where he's playing for Richmond SC of the Football Federation of Victoria, as opposed to Richmond, who are one of those capped-sleeve t-shirt violent nutter teams. Like Chester.
Right, that's your lot. G'day!
Monday 10 April
Beware the wind.
With Mr Regular Diary suddenly unavailable as he has to go to the shops (and thereby reconnecting with his Grimsby roots) Deviant Diary slashes and burns his way through the jingle-jangle-jungle that is the start of the most important weekend ever this weekend.
For those roaming the Earth outside of North East Lincolnshire, news of the Carlisle Five game was brought to you by good old Auntie Beeb. It's good to know that some traditions never die: Radio Five managed to have a reporter who not only avoided naming any Town player, but also the word 'Grimsby'. Marvellous! What a professional! So for those who want to know how Grimsby Town played, you'll just have to wait for our substitute match reporter to finish making his eighth cup of tea of the day. He promises it'll be here soon. I think he's trying to find the right words to describe Junior Mendes's contribution. He may be some time.
With Carlisle Five humbled and humiliated by only winning 1,-0 Saturday was the day the league shook still. Wycombe's automatic promotion chances are now officially as dead as that swan in Chapman's Pond that had bird flu last Friday but not today. We know that because their manager, the ex-Scaffold and Spurs Scotsman, told Miss Guest Diary's dentists last week. What better source than a man with a drill and a bill? It's a three-horse shootout for two places. Horses with guns? Sounds like a Channel 5 show.
After bemoaning "three minutes of madness" Rantin' Russ reflects: "We've got a very big weekend ahead of us next weekend," just to make sure you know when the big weekend is. Better make sure the players don't enter the egg hunt; we want no distractions. It was, says the Grand Dame of Grainthorpe, a crappy game. Much like the rest of the season then. Still, nice to see some honesty. Oh, a scrappy game. What's the difference?
And finally, Cyril, the reserves will finally break their run of victory avoidance by finally winning, thanks to an unnamed Notts Forest striker who is not named in the squad. Also not named in the squad is that unnamed Polish goalkeeper and the thoroughly named Miles Chamberlain, who is still supposed to be on loan with Worksop. Ah, they've named him now, that Forest striker; the High Court must have lifted the injunction. It's Michael Vickers! Often best not to know, isn't it. That's the first and the last we'll hear of him.
And that's the last you'll hear from me unless Mr Diary gets overtaken by ennui as he treks through the tide of consumerist tat and forgets to buy his mum a birthday present. If in doubt buy a pencil and a pencil sharpener. My mum was pleased.
Friday 7 April
Let's get straight to the business end, gentle reader. Town are not going to lose 5-0 at Carlisle tomorrow. This assertion means we have to score at least five goals ourselves to get any points though. Not for nothing are they known as Carlisle Five – Hawley's pace and Bridges' guile will sorely test Town's overgrown centre-halves. Rodger(s) should have pruned Jones vulgaris and Futcher heracleum mantegazziani back in early February, before their sap started to rise. Instead they have ended up as leggy specimens, susceptible to low, flat crosses, which means they can't leap like salmon but are forced to stoop like the hunchback in the park. But perhaps tomorrow is the day for that solitary mister, Justin Whittle, to relive his Shearer moment. Yes, that's it – surreptitious elbows and a subsequent offer to sort it out down the tunnel. That hand gesture, caught by the Sky cameras, is the highlight of my season so far. Well, they do say you have to fight your way out of the basement division, don't they?
So having opted for the blue pill over the red at Sincil Bank, with a disastrous hammering ensuing, the Town squad will surely not being given a choice as they board the bus for the trip to Carlisle. What a long, strange trip it will be. And seemingly without young Mr Cohen, whose knee got damaged in the Wrexham win. So Parky, who has been crying on every provincial hack's pillow about how he hasn't been offered a new contract yet, is hoping to get a game. Mr Slade has inspired yet another perverse Grimsby Telegraph headline. Go for IT! is not a rallying call for the white heat of 21st-century technology, though, more about trying to go away and win against the in-form league leaders. "There has been a lot made of the threat they pose," says Russ, "with Karl Hawley and Michael Bridges scoring for fun of late. But we have our own threat in the shape of Michael Reddy and Gary Jones who have 27 goals between them. Hopefully we will be able to ask a few questions of the Carlisle defence."
Carlisle manager Mr Simpson is as aggressive as your Guest Diarist sounded earlier when he is quoted as saying: "If we win it can be a real kick in the guts for Grimsby. It isn't a title decider in my opinion. There's still a hell of a lot of football to play – but it's a big one. At this stage it's about results, and however you can get them. It's about rolling your sleeves up, fighting and scrapping for everything - and we've got players who can do that." Great minds, eh? Elsewhere in the Telegraph Mr Bridges says a point would be fine. And yes, he can vaguely remember young Reddy from his time at Sunderland, although Mr Reddy himself explains that they were only at the club together for a fortnight before Bridges headed off to that car crash of a club named Leeds. Young Michael also provides us with a less than Parkinsonesque analysis of the promotion arithmetic: "Promotion is within touching distance now with six games to go. I don't know how many points we need, though some have made estimates about how many wins or points we may need. We just want to go out and try and win every game and see where that takes us."
You can't argue with that sentiment, can you? See yer.
Thursday 6 April
Keen-eyed readers will already have correctly predicted how today's Diary would begin – just as the Diary correctly predicted how last night's reserves match between Town and Scunthorpe would finish. Despite the club's official site spinning it into "one of their best performances of the season", Graham Rodger's supine second string slumped to yet another defeat at Blundell Park by the margin of two goals to one, as anticipated on this page yesterday lunchtime, with GTFC goalscoring legend Glen Downey finding the net yet again. Dave the Engineer has emailed to confirm that Manchester City trialist Ian Bennett took part in the match, as did Miles Chamberlain, who you will recall is supposed to be on loan at Worksop Town. "Me and Sib were talking to Miles mum' at half-time," writes Dave. "He stood out as best player for us. Barwick looked out of his depth and committed almost all the fouls we conceded. The goalie made two gaffes for the goals and Jermaine Palmer is nearly as good old Mike Jefferies [sic]." Until evidence to the contrary is forthcoming, the Diary is going to assume that Rob Murray kept his place in goal solely because the OS didn't fancy trying to spell a Polish name.
If fans of Grimsby Town Football Club cannot claim to support one of the giants of the English game, they have long been able to console themselves with the Mariners' presence in pub quizzes and football trivia questions. Even this humble claim to fame took a serious knock when the Football League let Rushden in, so that Town were no longer its only club that never plays at home. Then boring big team Manchester United announced that they were going to become even more boring and big by increasing the capacity of their stadium, threatening Old Trafford's record attendance figure of 76,962 for the FA Cup semi-final between GTFC and Wolves in 1939. The Glazer Blacksox are expected to break their own paltry record of 70,504 when new sections of the ground open this Sunday, but the Diary is cheered to note a Sporting Life piece explaining that even when the work is complete, the Traffordbowl's capacity will still not exceed the attendance for that hallowed cup game of yore. It is to be hoped that this detail of the story proves more accurate than its reckoning of when the Town/Wolves match took place.
On 29 November 2003 Grimsby Town lost at home to Tranmere in a game the club had designated "Ladies' Day", and the Mariners' official website combined these two circumstances in the memorable headline Ladies Day Ends "Bosoms" Up! On 16 June 2006 Grimsby Town will be staging an event featuring "a popular drag artist and 2 male strippers". Come a long way, haven't they.
April and May! So many birthdays! So why not treat the Grimsby fan in your life to a DVD of the Mariners' recent 5-0 thrashing by county rivals Lincoln? At just £12.99 from the Imps' official website, it would actually make quite a good joke present for a Town fan, might allow you to read what was actually written on Russ's flipchart at half-time, and is probably much better produced than any of the vids on offer at Blundell Park...
OK, I'll stop. That's all for the week from me, but return ye tomorrow as Friday's news is rounded up, summarised, and bought a pint of Bullion by the one and only Mr Guest Diary. Ta-ta and take care.
Wednesday 5 April
Tuesday. 15:42. Diary receives text message: "Town will look at Man City midfielder Ian Bennett in Weds reserve game v Scunthorpe Utd. Town are also hoping to take a look at an unnamed Polish keeper."
15:45. Diary notes appearance of story on GTFC official website confirming content of text message.
19:24. Diary celebrates, having dropped Mrs Diary's mum off at the train station at the end of her visit.
19:49. Diary visits fellow member of Cod Almighty team, discusses Man City midfielder Ian Bennett and unnamed Polish keeper.
Wednesday. 10:43. Diary receives email from another fellow member of Cod Almighty team discussing Man City midfielder Ian Bennett and unnamed Polish keeper.
10:46. Diary fires off email to Man City-supporting friend requesting any available information on Ian Bennett.
10:47. Diary receives auto-reply from mailserver of Man City-supporting friend, who will be on holiday until 11 April.
10:50. Diary notes appearance of story on GTFC official website giving line-up for reserve game, which does not include Ian Bennett or Polish goalkeeper, but does include Miles Chamberlain, who is supposed to be on loan at Worksop Town.
10:52. Diary googles Ian Bennett, finds 94,000 results linking to former Birmingham City goalkeeper of same name.
12:46. Diary starts writing, notes subsequent addition of Ian Bennett to reserve line-up on GTFC official website, curses mildly.
13:16. Diary notes that Grimsby Telegraph has reported Bennett's participation in tonight's match but has copied earlier line-up from GTFC official website which did not include his name. Diary giggles a bit.
19:00. Reserve match begins. Town lose 2-1.
21:00. Graham Rodger tells GTFC official website that Bennett played well. Bennett is never mentioned again.
Tuesday 4 April
The Mariners will have to play this Saturday's 5-0 defeat in Cumbria without the services of Gary Cohen, whose removal from last weekend's win over Wrexham has been confirmed as owing to damaged knee ligaments. According to the club's official website, Cohen, who has been something of an unsung hero for the Mariners in the second half of this season, is "almost certain to miss" the visit to Carlisle Five as a result of the injury, and, hang on, knee ligaments, that means he'll probably be out for flipping ages, doesn't it? The news confers added significance upon Marc 'The Refrigerator' Goodfellow's excellent (first-half) performance against Wrexham and probably spells a return to the starting line-up for Andy 'The Two-Handled Saucepan' Parkinson. Curtis Woodhouse is "still struggling with a hip problem", meanwhile; maybe he should listen to some Hot Chip on a customised iPod.
Following the accidental recent success of Town's Target 6000 campaign (one strongly suspects that without the April Fool promotion, the game against Wrexham might have been attended by 7,000 supporters), the club's next home game has been granted 'kid for a quid' status. The Grimsby Telegraph (naturally) reports that the younglings will be admitted for just one hundred pence to the Mariners' 15 April meeting with Shrewsbury, and there'll be a jolly Easter game for them involving 250 chocolate eggs hidden around Blundell Park – an activity that would clearly not have gone to plan had Tony Crane remained at the club.
Local seafood merchant Fraser Seafoods has bought a gigantic halibut weighing more than 350 pounds – or, to put it another way, even more than Tony Crane. The monster fish was caught and landed by a Norwegian trawler and sold to the Grimsby-based company, which now plans to process and sell pieces of the beast to caterers up and down the country – unless, of course, Russell Slade plays it in the centre of defence this weekend.
Rutland Arms regulars and long-time buddies Dave the (Quality) Engineer and Sibbo have both emailed the Diary on the same subject. "How did the dead ball specialist known as Newey contrive to win the man of the match award v Wrexham?" asks Dave. "As usual, their winger/attacker-type person had acres of space to control the ball and pass it infield, and when the so-called left-back attacked, the ball ended up dead. Confused? So am I. Thank goodness for the Lump." Sibbo concurs with the Cod Almighty verdict that the real MoM last Saturday was the magnificent Paul Bolland, adding: "Our engine room doesn't get enough recognition. Is that anything to do with va-va-voom, do you think?" Not sure, mate, but Arsenal would surely have run the Premiership's top three a lot closer had they chosen Bolland to replace Patrick Vieira – and, for that matter, paired Thierry Henry with the Lump up front. Their loss is our gain.
Monday 3 April
Wrexham manager Denis Smith is hopping mad about his side's limp surrender at Blundell Park on Saturday. Look! His head is about to explode! That's how angry he is! I say he's hopping mad about his side's limp surrender, but in truth Smith is electing to emphasise the role of the match officials in Town's 2-0 win rather than his own side's abject inability to create anything resembling a genuine goalscoring opportunity from their abundant second-half possession and their predictable if late capitulation to Mr Russell Slade's crafty counterattacking ruse. "Grimsby's first goal was offside and we should have had a penalty when Jon Walters was brought down, so instead of chasing the game we'd have been 1-0 up," whimpers Smith, flapping his arms about and stamping his feet. "In the lower leagues we get the worst officials, and at Wrexham we get the weakest of all because we're a nice team who don't go kicking people." On the other hand, though, Den, your fans can run onto the pitch and punch the other team's goalkeeper without fear of either prosecution or even a ban from the ground, so it all balances out, eh.
Ticket news, woo woo, ticket news. All supporters wishing to attend the forthcoming
defeats crucial promotion deciders at Leyton Orient and Carlisle Five are directed to the Mariners' official website, where we learn that the London club has issued 1,400-odd tickets for the Easter Monday game. These are available now at just 16 United Kingdom pounds to season ticket holders and people with "3 counterfoils from any home games", while the remainder of the population will have to wait until 10 April – unless, of course, GTFC are perpetrating another hilarious April Fool prank! This Saturday's visit to Cumbria, meanwhile, is strictly pay-on-the-gate, and only 12 quid, which is nice. "Away fans are accommodated the Petterill stand," explains the OS, the missing preposition hopefully being 'in' rather than 'on top of', 'behind', or 'in an unlit dungeon underneath'.
What is it with Worksop Town and GTFC defenders? Unable to resist the lure of, um, livewire striker Tony Crane, the Notts non-Leaguers followed up by signing Dean 'Fuck This, I'm Off To Cyprus' Gordon at the beginning of last month and have now returned to Blundell Park for thirds, taking reserve centre-half Miles Chamberlain on loan late last week. Chamberlain, who can apparently pass the ball a bit, was also lent out to Eastwood Town earlier in the season and joined the Conference North side on Friday, just ahead of the 89th transfer deadline of the 2005–06 season but not quite in time to make his debut in their crunch relegation clash against Redditch United on Saturday. I had a takeaway pizza in Redditch once. It was rubbish.
Finally today, be sure to note that the sports memorabilia auction and casino night scheduled to take place at McMenemy's on 4 April has been cancelled. Got that? Eh? What do you mean you didn't know about it in the first place? No, me neither.
Saturday 1 April
The Target 6000 campaign hits that target for the first time - despite rather than because of the club's cack-handed April Fool antics - as 6,058 spectators watch the Mariners pick up what football types are keen on describing as "a massive result" at home to Wrexham. After last week's drubbing at Lincoln, today's match looked increasingly likely to prove decisive in Town's campaign for automatic promotion, and Sladey's scufflers turned in their best performance for months to record a 2-0 win with goals from Gary Jones and Luton's Michael Reddy, moving four points clear of fourth place with six games to play. Assuming defeat and certain doom at Carlisle Five next Saturday - which Russ's tone of voice certainly seemed to be doing on Radio Humberside this evening - the side's next could-prove-decisive clash will be at Leyton Orient on Easter Monday. Me? Scared? No, I'm just shivering. Freezing, isn't it?