Neville Butt's Great Grimsby XI

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

10 March 2015

Last year, Neville provided a 'dream team' for the Grimsby Town programme, but that was a selection based on more than 60 years of watching the Mariners. What changes has he made for a team limited to 1971-2002?

To meet the constraints of the Great Grimsby XI poll, I've had to retire Allenby Chilton, Jeff Whitefoot and Tommy Briggs, and I've had to change the system from 5-3-2 to 4-4-2. Not being able to find places for Dean Crombie and Paul Futcher hurt.


Three times Irish international keeper Aidan Davison was Town's loudest keeper. He boomed instructions to his defenders like Ian Paisley, while commanding his six-yard box. A consistent and safe keeper, best remembered for emasculating the threat of the long throws aimed at Northampton's John Gale in the 1997-98 play-off final.


The tributes paid by former Southampton colleague Matt le Tissier and Frances Benali capture the qualities of Kevin Moore. He was a loyal Town player who would have graced the Premiership much earlier if he had not been true to Grimsby. He was always linked with success and never shirked a tackle. No challenge was too big. His mightiest moment was perhaps in the 1979 League Cup quarter-final when the Wolves defence parted like the Red Sea and Kevin bullet-headed the ball against the crossbar. Judge a team by the quality of its left-back. This is a fantastic footballing machine.


John McDermott defended with great awareness and attacked with pace. He was never shy at putting over an accurate cross or delivering a scorching shot. When I saw John warming up against Bournemouth in the Auto Windscreens final, I knew that we had really arrived at Wembley. His 'Mr Perpetual Motion' display captured the mood of the occasion as he gave 140 per cent.


Scotland under-21 international Peter Handyside lost his way at one point, mainly due to injuries. He was of course an intelligent, capable defender but his chief asset was being able to read the game. That in turn enabled him to carry the ball forward in the style of a Beckenbauer. His finest hour was probably when he helped Aidan Davison quell the Northampton aerial bombardment in the third division play-off final.

Irish international Chris Nicholl had played more than 200 games for both Aston Villa and Southampton before joining Town as player and assistant manager in August 1983. It was clearly an apprenticeship to build his management skills, making him a natural replacement for Allenby Chilton from my 'dream team'. After 70 league games he returned to manage Southampton, replacing Lawrie McMenemy.

If you were tired of watching Mike Brolly play then you were tired of life

The tall, very fit central defender partnered Kev Moore in 1983-84 when we finished fifth – our highest post-war finish outside the first division. A skilful player, he proved a dynamic motivator but to me his ability to read the game and anticipate and intercept passes were the pivotal features of his play. 


If you were tired of watching Mike Brolly play then you were tired of life. This one-time Scotland schoolboy international was a skilled operator on the right or left wing. He replaces Jeff Whitefoot from my 'dream team'. He was a fans' favourite with his first touch immaculate and every time he had the ball at his feet there was a buzz, as we knew he would mesmerise the opposing full-back and scoot off to deliver a pinpoint cross. Accurate passing and an eye for goal were proud assets.

Mike played just under 250 league games for the Mariners. He scored 27 league goals but best remembered are the two in the 1979-80 last-16 League Cup game against Everton.

Much-loved midfielder Dave Gilbert featured in our promotion winning sides of 1990 and 1991. Gilbert skipped past defenders with ease and held his nerve when taking vital penalties. He hit set pieces with pinpoint accuracy, with Paul Groves the main beneficiary. My favourite Dave Gilbert game was we won 4-1 at Rotherham in 1990-91. He taunted their defence.

Central midfield

Another Ireland international, Joe Waters, remains a firm favourite with Town fans. He came with his FA Cup exploits at Leicester City fresh in our minds. The money spent by the supporters club as part of his transfer fee was money well spent. Joe was the catalyst around which the team was built after relegation in 1976-77.

He was, on reflection, the archetypal box-to-box player, working hard to complement his pace, his powerful tackling and his shooting expertise. His best game was probably at Blundell Park in 1979 when we defeated Bradford City 5-1. His battling qualities were illustrated firstly when he skippered Town to victory with ten men at Chesterfield and secondly when plundering a point at Boothferry Park in the 1979-80 promotion drive.

Paul Groves was one of Town's bravest players, one of the fittest, and one with oodles of ability, as well as being a master tactician and coach. He captained our two Wembley successes of 1997-98.

Groves could shoot from distance, as shown when he defeated Maik Taylor in the Fulham goal to avoid relegation and retain Town's second-flight status in the 2000-01 season.

Mendonca's low centre of gravity seemed to help his ability to control the ball neatly. His flair for moving into space, receiving a pass, and running at opposition defences was inspirational

But it was his late runs into the penalty area to head the ball home that won our admiration. Time without number he did this and I can readily recall goals netted against Burnley (1997) and Barnsley (1992-93) in the league.


Fortunately Town saw something in Clive Mendonca that his other clubs missed. His career was never quite fulfilled as he struggled with a back injury. Nevertheless, his style and touch were the trademark of this player for whom anything crude or ungainly was anathema.

Two inches less than six feet, Clive had a low centre of gravity which seemed to help his ability to control the ball neatly. His flair for moving into space, receiving a pass, and running at opposition defences was inspirational for our supporters.

More widely, he is remembered for his brilliant hat-trick netted in the play-off final in 1997-98 for Charlton against his home-town team Sunderland. The video of that game is one of our proudest possessions. He then netted a triple in his first match in the Premier League.

For Town, he secured 66 goals in 166 games. His hat-trick against Ipswich in Easter 1996, after being out of the game through injury for over 12 months, was one of the best received ever by a Blundell Park crowd. All three goals were examples of his cool, calculated finishing. Has there been a better touch player than super, super Clive in the black and white shirt?

To replace Tommy Briggs, I'll select Kevin Drinkell. He was a popular local-born player who made his debut when under 17 and learned his trade during the dog days of relegation in 1976-77.

Kev developed his game rapidly and he scored 89 goals in 242 league games including three hat-tricks against the Blades, including one in the game that won the division three title in 1980. After he left Town, Kevin helped Norwich gain promotion to the first division while his move to Rangers produced more trophies for his club.

He was fearless when running across defenders to head the ball home. I well remember his trademark goal against Bolton when we won 4-0 and Kev drove into a heavily muddied penalty area before unleashing an unstoppable drive.


Jack Lewis was ten and a half stone dripping wet but was difficult to shake off the ball with his pace and close control the bane of opposition defences. Another of Bobby Kennedy's astute signings, he grew every year as a player. Jumping Jack Flash made a major impact on 14 occasions as a sub as well as starting in 20 games in the only season Town were managed by McMenemy in the old Division Three.


Alan Buckley was a magnificent leader and football purist who enjoyed three promotion successes, took us three times to Wembley and was never relegated. He was somewhat mysteriously replaced two games into the 2000-01 campaign with the consequences dire. His first two spells in charge of Town gave us some of the best football seen at Blundell Park since World War Two.

The results of the Great Grimsby XI poll will be published in an anthology of writing about Grimsby Town to be published later this year. To vote, email, naming a team of 11 players (in 4-4-2 formation) and a manager from the period 1971-2002, and stating how long you have been supporting the Mariners. The poll closes on 1 April 2015.