The Thundercliffe Files: down the hatch

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

17 January 2020

Paul Linwood remains unapologetic about the drinking culture which sent Town into non-League. Our league position now is not so different to his time, but the attitudes are miles apart

The Thundercliffe Files

Saturday 8 August 2009. The heralding of a new dawn. After staying in the Football League three months previously by virtue of Luton’s 30 point deduction - had it been 15, they’d have stayed up - Town marauded into Cheltenham looking to open the new season with a win.

Mike Newell had acquired almost a new team of players that summer, as well as turning the loans of Peter Sweeney and Barry Conlon into permanent deals. Their exciting cameos the season before had given Town fans the false sense of security that this was going to be our year.

The south-west sunshine was lapped up as Town produced a first half masterclass at Whaddon Road. Passing, movement, verve and vim: all on show as the boys in blue whipped into the lead, a sweeping move finished off by Conlon. At half time we were singing, dancing and drinking to future promotion success.

What we suspect now is that image was mirrored in the away dressing room – drinking included – as the second half melted into a horror-show of failed passes, lack of running and two goals conceded. It was a game that was supposed to set the scene for the season. And it absolutely did.

On the bench that August afternoon was Paul Linwood. One of Newell’s team of new signings, Linwood joined from Chester with a reputation for being a ball-playing central defender. After Town lost their first three league games, Linwood was brought into the team and helped secure a clean sheet as Bury were beaten 1-0. Linwood played in the next two wins, both to nil.

Then a calamitous run of four successive league defeats saw Mike Newell brought to the boardroom where, apparently, during a row with Fenty, a chair was smashed and the then-Chairman "waggled" Newell's tie before sacking him.

Caretaker boss Neil Woods inherited Newell's team of journeymen. They went on a run of 22 matches without a win, then teased us at the end of the season with a renaissance, before a last-day Burton bludgeoning. The horror season of all time: 42 players used and Town abused. Thus began the wilderness years.

Linwood offered one desperate example of how far Town had fallen, how football had fallen, held to ransom by mercenaries in Mercs. Having our noses rubbed in it again with these tales from the training ground insults us further.

Newell’s tenure lasted just over a year and will be remembered for a bloated Town team, tottering around the bottom reaches of the league like a drunk in the Wine Pipe. What most fans suspected – overpaid, untalented and disinterested players – was proven true last year with Linwood’s account of his time at Blundell Park.

Paul didn’t want to discuss his 23 league games, his one goal (scored after an own-goal at Bournemouth) or his nine clean sheets (to be fair, out of a season total of 12). Paul wanted to talk about the inherent drinking culture that plagued Town that year and that undoubtedly contributed to the humiliating relegation. Finding it funny that players drank Fosters on the way to training or regaling stories from drinking dens in Laceby, Linwood subsequently missed the point when faced with a barrage of abuse from Town fans.

What Linwood had divulged ate at our very core because our football club was dying. Linwood, Barry Conman and Peter ‘Penis’ Sweeney were not bothered by the threat of relegation, the horror of non-league. They would all move on and have pay packets elsewhere.

It was the one desperate example of how far Town had fallen, how football had fallen, held to ransom by mercenaries in Mercs. What Newell and the boys inflicted on Town we may never get over. Having our noses rubbed in it again with these tales from the training ground insults us further.

Around that time, Ian Holloway was sounded out as a potential manager but instead went to Blackpool. A decade later, our paths are now aligned and with it there seems to be a desire to right these wrongs, to work with players who want to play football for the Mighty Mariners. I doubt Newell drove 300 miles to convince the parents of Chris Jones or Adrian Forbes to sign for us.

With Holloway it feels different, feels right. We may be more or less where we were in the League when Paul Linwood first walked through the door, but we are a million miles away from that culture.