I don't know why I like you, but I do

Cod Almighty | Article

by Alex Ramsden

18 October 2022

When his grandad took him to his first game he fell asleep. But now Town are an important part of Alex's identity

It's a love affair as old as time - or at least as far back as the 1870s - but the relationship between a human and their football team is special. And so it should be. When people talk about football fans, they often talk about identity (they probably also talk about obnoxious singing, beer showers and taking over the busy little market towns of Britain, but anyway) and how the club and its players, no matter the length of their career, mark a person with an indelible permanent stroke.

For me and thousands of others like me, that team is Grimsby Town FC. For many a decade I have accepted frustration, accepted mediocre and expected little else. That is the beauty of it. There is no glory in supporting your home town team, necessarily. Every so often they'll do something special and remind you that the love is there, flooding back over the North Wall into the grateful arms and hearts of the Mariner masses.

It just probably doesn't do it often enough. I have my grandad to blame (or thank) for my lifelong courting of that team we call the Grimsby. He took me to my first game against Gillingham way, way back in 1998: that was a time before social media and million-channel television, kids. I was only four or five and fell asleep. I couldn't keep awake to watch 90 minutes of football. The only distant memories I have of the day are being completely over-awed by the amount of huge people towering over little old me as we climbed the endless steps to the Upper; and, for some reason, seeing the ball get hoofed out of the ground.

When I went away to university, Grimsby Town became the thing that I was known for. I would sit in my student bedroom putting my creative writing degree to good use by penning opinionated and unnecessary articles about my team. They even got several mentions in my undergraduate assignments and, later, my MA dissertation

Grimsby became a regular in my life. That remains the only time I have ever fallen asleep watching the sport, and I have been to many games nursing a nasty hangover. It was also the only time, sadly, that I set foot inside Blundell Park with my grandad as his age and mobility crept up on him and he was eventually content to sitting at home watching Soccer Saturday instead. It was several years until I returned to the welcoming fold of the Pontoon stand, and now as a season ticket holder, I feel guilty that I let my youthful self fall into a snooze at a gritty goalless draw, almost a quarter-of-a-century ago.

Identity and belonging are big buzz words related to football fandemonium. When I went away to university, Grimsby Town became even more than my life obsession; they became the thing that I was known for. I would sit in my student bedroom putting my creative writing degree to good use by penning opinionated and unnecessary articles about my team. They even got several mentions in my undergraduate assignments and, later, my MA dissertation.

I guess the point is that your football team is always so intertwined in your life. You can never escape it. I have seen more relegations than promotions (just) in my lifetime and each one has left a scar. A metaphorical one, you understand. Although, I did once fall down a row of chairs at Bradford away and have since been left with a mark on both of my shins where their sharp seats chopped into my legs like a chef going at it with celery.

I regularly think back to the days when Grovesy commanded the Town midfield; to Jevvo and his jinking run before unleashing a javelin that skewered Chris Kirkland at Anfield; to Omar Bogle sticking his tongue out with the play-off promotion trophy in his hands; to Kalala and his Spurs-of-the-moment banger from outside the box; to Disley's tears and Mani throwing himself fucking at it. All those memories, distorted and dramatized over time, make up a huge fragment of my personal fabric. I know it's really easy to say because of, just, obviousness, but without being a Mariner then I'd never have experienced any of those ultra-highs. You don't get that kind of stop-motion narrative from a Premier League team. It must be really boring watching watered-down football in atmosphere-free bowls with the prawn sandwich brigade.

No, I believe in lower-league football. As much as it was an annual festival of pain, non-League football was honest. I think anyone would agree that much. Wigs at Woking, the Mariachi band hired to descend upon Barnet and trudging through wind and rain to go and watch a bore draw with Nuneaton Borough steeled a whole generation of Townites against the harsh realities of life on the East Coast. It makes the good times feel even better. That win over Wrexham (which I hope is featured heavily in their "look-at-me" documentary, by the way) was the culmination of a season of slog, sparkle and suffering that had taken everything out of everyone, leaving us all a barely-standing shell of a person. I will die on this hill but you would not muster that kind of emotion if you were watching, for example, Chelsea. Unless you come from West London, I suppose.

But that's the thing: we don't do outsiders. There are very few Town fans that are supporters because we were the best team in the league at some point. I can hear some of you laughing. How many people support Chelsea simply because they were successful, rich and command a global audience of billions? Exactly. It isn't honest football. Grimsby Town is a community. A bastion of invincibility, as one ex-Mariner boss chirped up with. It is a sense of pride and shame both at the same time. It forges lifelong relationships and bonds people together in a way that nobody can fully understand. Somewhere along the line, it gets under your skin.

I fell in love with Grimsby Town in the way that a person falls asleep. Slowly at first, and then, suddenly, all at once.