Reckless abandon

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

14 April 2020

Farce or frustration are inevitable when a game has to be stopped. But Neville Butt's memories suggest it often rebounds to Town's advantage

West Yorkshire Diary recently mentioned two abandoned matches. Both have remained in the memory.

The game with Sunderland in 1993-94 was intended to be part of the New Year celebrations and a focal point for the day. The ground was awash prior to kick off. Did the presence of the TV cameras have any influence on the game starting? You make your mind up on that one, about a game played on a paddy field with the football skimming off the surface like a bouncing bomb.

The game at Rochdale in 2005 still makes me shudder and shake. My touchline waterproof leaked and by the time we left for the car it was sleeting. The coldest conditions I have ever met, barring one evening game at Ewood Park in the days when Mike Hickman played for Blackburn.

Referee Halsey signalled the abandonment with the gusto of an ice hockey referee at the end of a game

The diary provoked memories in other readers. There was the game that should have been played but wasn't, and that in the end was worth a small fortune to the Mariners. That was a match in the McMenemy promotion season in 1971-72: a home game with Exeter. I switched on Radio Humberside and expected to get news of the game but nothing was forthcoming. Eventually we learned it had been abandoned for fog that had lifted by a quarter past three. My brother told me that by the time they had reached the roundabout at the bottom of Isaacs Hill the conditions were perfect.

Then there was a game at Swindon Town in 1996-97, played on a hard, frozen, bumpy pitch? Town were at their silky best in one superb six-man move and Richard Smith managed to leave an impression – sadly on a Swindon player. But Swindon took the lead from 25 yards and they were leading 1-0 when Referee Halsey decided in the 31st minute that the pitch had taken a turn for the worse. He signalled the abandonment with the gusto of an ice hockey referee at the end of a game. The players - especially those of Swindon - felt the pitch was no different than it had been 31 minutes earlier.

Not mentioned yet were four more games from the last decade. Earlier this season, our contest with Macclesfield was abandoned after 45 minutes with standing water both on the pitch and outside the ground. And in August 2017, a League Cup tie with Derby County was stopped after 19 minutes when heavy persistent rain left the Blundell Park pitch waterlogged. The Rams had led thanks to skipper Richard Keogh's fifth minute header, but there was nothing left for the players but to warm down. The other two matches were more contentious.

Tensions flared when Grimsby hosted Rushden & Diamonds back in 2011. The visitors were leading when the game was abandoned after 51 minutes, due to a heavy fog that ran parallel with the Main Stand. The Diamonds boss, the late Justin Edinburgh, vented his anger at referee Paul Graham as the players left the pitch. Not long before, Chairman John Fenty had been seen by some talking to the fourth official, and the referee. Edinburgh felt he was putting pressure on, trying to get the game called off, but Mr Fenty said it was purely the referee's decision. "It is an entertainment game with fans paying good hard-earned money, and they have come to see a spectacle and they couldn't see it at all. They have to give due respect to the fans." An interesting argument, but games with Rushden & Diamonds or Wycombe Wdrs were never spectacles.

After slithering in the mud for 45 minutes the game was abandoned, a big disappointment. To use a wartime slogan "Was the journey really necessary?"

In January 2014, Grimsby faced having to fit another game into their fixture schedule after their game at Forest Green Rovers was abandoned due to floodlight failure at the New Lawn. Frustratingly, it had been a game worth seeing. The Mariners had taken an eighth minute lead through Lenell John-Lewis, before James Norwood equalised for the hosts three minutes later. Town had chances to reclaim their lead in what had been an open, end-to-end contest before the problems with the floodlights started on the half-hour. Play resumed briefly after a 10-minute delay but further failures then meant the referee had to abandon the contest. The irony that the Forest Green chairman Dale Vince OBE, the former new age traveller turned green energy industrialist, was the owner of the electricity company Ecotricity was not lost on the travelling supporters.

Finally, a memory and a question of two much older games. In 1954-55, a late Jimmy Bloomer goal forced a replay after a 5-5 draw in our FA Cup tie with Fulham. The players duly assembled at an almost snowbound Grimsby town station, and dutifully waved for the local press, to make their way to London. The condition had worsened by the time they reached Craven Cottage. After slithering in the mud for 45 minutes the game was abandoned, a big disappointment for our fans who had hoped for a second miracle. To use a wartime slogan "Was the journey really necessary?" The replay was played shortly afterwards in normal conditions, and we inevitably lost. 

An answer is required please. I feel but cannot prove that Town were winning at West Ham in a battle with the Hammers in the late 1940s and that Tommy Briggs scored goals that were ineligible for his career goals tally. Can anyone shed light on that?

The front page image (cropped by us) is by mdavidford, available under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you can answer Neville's question, or have more memories of abandoned matches, get in touch.