The Thundercliffe Files: Jollification

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

27 March 2020

Michael Jolley’s tenure at Grimsby Town analysed through the songs on the Lightning Seeds album, Jollification

The Thundercliffe Files


It seemed a perfect match. Young, hungry badged-up coach swipes right to attract badly-run and fast-sinking professional football club. Those initial flirtations were enlightening, Town writing a bold statement about a left-field appointment saying "We truly believe it is a real coup to persuade Michael to join Grimsby Town Football Club."

For Town fans dismayed at the lack of impetus since rejoining the Football League, the appointment of a fourth permanent manager since that promotion was met with delight as we were promised "high-pressing, attacking football" and a dynamic approach to the game.

Jolley then completed the first part of his mission: to retain our status in the league, and everything seemed almost too good to be true.

Lucky You

Jolley had a streaky reign as manager, often going on winning runs followed by consecutive losses. Those defeats were often heavy and deserved, but the wins were sometimes lucky. Take the games over Christmas 2018. A four-game winning run that included a 4-0 win over Notts County that flattered Town, a one-shot-at-goal win at Port Vale and then the great escape against Exeter - Town probably deserved to lose by eight that day, save for herculean defending, goalkeeping and nerves of steel from Mitch Rose.

Open Goals

JJ Hooper and Jamille Matt were profligate, but it was the lack of goals that burdened Jolley. Town failed to score in 25 of his 73 league games, and often went on long goalless runs. This led to much of his full season being soporific - something he tried to resolve with James Hanson and Matt Green, to - for him - middling effect.


When Jolley arrived the club was in a bad way, heavy with the detritus of Marcus Bignot and Russell Slade. A hefty squad made up of bit-part players who couldn't care less about the club was ultimately trimmed and a new culture born - that of the young player. Jolley is to be credited with giving the likes of Max Wright, Matty Pollock and Akheem Rose their chance whilst cementing Harry Clifton's place in midfield.

His signings too were mostly young and hungry. Embleton and Robson on loan spring to mind, but Hendrie and Hessenthaler were both under 25, and the likes of Grayson and Vernam were given licence to play.

Couple all of that with the burgeoning youth system and Jolley left a legacy that Hollway has been keen to exploit.

Why Why Why

Jolley was an articulate manager with what seemd like a different approach to the game and the chance to create big things at Town. Most depressing then were his inane press conferences, particularly after a game. I want my manager to see the same game I did, but his soundbite-ridden blockages soon began to wear thin. Being a manager can't be easy but you get more fans on your side with honesty, humility and humour, not terse replies and cliche,


Jolley’s tactics seemed to change from week to week, sometimes one touch pass and move, the next game kick and rush. Having built a team around Embleton, his lack of form and subsequent injury saw inane game plans for half the season.

Not so at Selhurst Park where the Jolley master plan was to man-mark eight players, giving Palace a lot of the ball but defending for all we were worth. Despte Fox’s VAR faux pas, the players stick gamely to their task, Mitch Rose following Zaha everywhere. It almost ended with what would have been one of the most amazing draws ever, yet Town fell asleep at the crucial moment and the chance was gone.

Feeling Lazy

Wes Thomas.

My Best Day

There were a few good days in that 18 months. Walsall and Exeter from this season, Swindon from last, but nothing as good as that Notts County game. Everything on a knife edge for both teams, Jolley managed to get his inherited, bloated team to give just one final push and that last-minute Matt finish sealed a super last few games.

Jolley had managed to stave off what seemed certain relegation with a ramshackle squad playing beyond themselves. That win shouldn't be forgotten, not least when you see where Notts County are residing now.

Punch & Judy

Jolley’s reign is ultimately opaque, save for moments that matter - smash and grab at Swindon, Chelsea away and Port Vale at home this season. There's one that sticks out like a sore, gloved thumb: Wes Thomas scoring with his hand against Tranmere. That's the way to do it.

Telling Tales

It had to end somewhere, and what did for Jolley was an x-rated rant at BBC Humberside journalists, covertly filmed and then leaked onto social media. Much has been made of the circumstances around the expletive laden tirade, not least around dignity in the workplace, and it was ultimately right for Michael to go.

It's unfortunate that his time with the club will always be tainted with this, given his penchant for blooding youth and desire to build something in the community, but that final act painted a picture not unlike the one I witnessed at Selhurst Park. With players warming up and getting last minute pointers, Jolley stood apart, caressing a football with his right foot, no talking, no pointing, no encouragement. This aloofness told me the pressure was too much, not able to engage. That manifested in the shooting.