Town take on the Old Invincibles

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

29 October 2019

Town's second home game after World War Two was a top-flight clash with Preston North End. It was Neville's first Grimsby match

The war was cruel to many professional footballers whose best seasons were taken by serving our country. Season 1939-40 had ended abruptly with the outbreak of war, but conditions were good enough for the first post-war season to commence in August 1946.

Town started the season against Manchester Utd and lost 2-1 in front of 41,025 spectators at Maine Road, followed up by a midweek game at Blundell Park which ended in a goalless draw against the old enemy, Wolves. Next Saturday, 7 September: Preston North End.

Illustrious opponents

I'd never been to a football match but was able to glean snippets of information about both teams, as we had a neighbour from Preston. He talked about the magnificent Invincibles, a club who had gone though the whole 1888-89 season without losing a match. Proud Preston North End were an outfit to be reckoned with.

In 1936-37, they had lost the Cup Final against a Sunderland side that included Raich Carter. Next year, they were in the final again, against Huddersfield Town. In the last minute of extra time, George Mutch was brought down and Preston were awarded a penalty. Regular penalty taker Bill Shankly refused to take the vital kick, so Mutch himself stepped up. His kick went in off the underside of the bar: the only goal of the game.

Town had themselves appeared in two pre-war semi-finals and in 1938-39, had finished tenth in the top flight, a place behind Preston. A close game was expected.

The changeless Main Stand

We parked in nearby Neville Street. Within two seasons it would be impossible to find parking even in Manchester Street, two streets away. We entered the Main Stand. There were no tear-out slips in the season ticket: just two sheets of cardboard stapled together. The potential for abuse came to light when we played a friendly against Glasgow Celtic, with our future central defender Duncan McMillan in the Celtic shop window. Without too much detail on the ticket, it could be used to admit more than one person.

We found our seats in the Main Stand: row F, numbers 49 and 50. Sad to relate, little has changed in the last 70 seasons either inside or behind the Stand, other than some hastily added post-Taylor Report seating.

There was a buzz, with people chatting away as more spectators arrived. I recall the front page of the programme showing the First Division teams being caught up in the net of a trawler. I had read so much about George Mutch that it was a relief to see that he was not among the changes to the teams given in that programme, shown on a blackboard paraded around the perimeter before the game.

Each set of players came out separately through the movable protective barriers in the Main Stand, with Town led out by skipper Jack Hodgson. Town were in black and white stripes and black shorts and Preston in white shirts and dark shorts. Both keepers wore red jerseys.

Pre-war veterans

Grimsby's last game of the aborted 1939-40 season had also been against Preston: Fred Howe scoring both goals in a 2-0 Town win. Incredibly, seven years later seven of that Town team were included in this new fixture. Preston themselves included five players who appeared in the pre-war Cup finals, with more than a sprinkling of Scotsmen: Shankly the best known.

Our team lined up with international George Tweedy in goal, full backs "Chopper" Vincent and Jack Hodgson, and England International Harry Betmead as stopper centre back. We played two defensive wing halves: Sam Hodgson and Tom Blenkinsopp, with two inside forwards Tom Jones and Jim McGowan. To complete the M-W formation we had two wingers - long-throw expert Jack Johnson and the ball playing Billy Wardle - and stand-in centre forward Jim Johnson.

A life-long pattern

The game set a pattern that has survived the 70 and more seasons since: it was one that Town could have won but did not. We took the lead through the 39-year-old Jones. A William McIntosh double put Preston ahead. Jones put Town on level terms but slack marking gifted a winner for the visitors, enabling McIntosh to complete his hat trick. Jones missed golden opportunities to give Town at least a point. Winger Billy Wardle was also at fault, beating his opposite full back not
once, not twice but three time before losing the ball.

The 3-2 defeat was played in front of a crowd of over 18,000 spectators. The noise level for our goals I had never experienced before, but I soon got the hang of what to do on future occasions.

The star man of the game was Tom Finney, who became a fantastic winger with both Preston and England. He displayed his quality making the first two goals. The auburn-haired wing half Tom Blenkinsopp was the star Town player. He was a busy, in-form midfielder. It was announced that both he and Finney were under consideration to appear in an England trial match.

I cannot remember too much about the end of the game. I looked forward to 21 September, when England's centre-forward Tommy Lawton would be appearing at Blundell Park in Chelsea colours.


Although we haven't played Preston since 2002, we ran across them quite regularly after that 1947 game. Here are a few notable incidents fron those games.

Our post-war record was abysmal and in 1950-51 Town signed a much-needed keeper from Barrow named Stan Hayhurst, a safe if not spectacular keeper. He came from the Preston area and made his debut at Blundell Park against North End, who were in the promotion hunt. We lost 4-0. I am confident we tried to encourage Hayhurst by applauding every time he touched the ball, but that was not often other than picking it out of the back of the net.

You will well recall the name of Alan Ball but not perhaps of his father, Alan Ball Senior, who managed Preston between 1970-73. In 1973, we played out a goalless draw in the third round of the FA Cup. We succeeded in winding Ball up. Decisions went against him on the pitch so at the end of the game he managed to vault over one of the barriers to confront the referee before being held back by members of the establishment. At least he was assured of the headlines on Saturday night and in Monday's Evening Telegraph.

Grimsby and Preston were both in the third flight in 1997-98. Town played tolerably well at Preston but lost 2-0. The weather was atrocious with rain pelting down and there was no cover as the stadium was being reshaped and modernised. It was all pretty dismal and we were thoroughly bedraggled by the end of the 90 minutes. We got ample compensation in December when we ran out 3-1 winners at Blundell Park. Preston manager Gary Peters made some substitutions to cries from the away end of "You don't know what you're doing." Not unfamiliar words. Within a fortnight and another match, Peters was sacked and David Moyes took over.

A version of this article was first published in The Mariner, Grimsby Town's matchday programme. The cover image is of Tom Finney's splash, a statue inspired by the winger taking on two defenders on a waterlogged pitch. Photo by Nic McPhee from Morris, MN, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)