Knowing us, knowing Rob McIlveen

Cod Almighty | Article

by Rob McIlveen

6 December 2022

Rob McIlveen is an occasional contributor to CA who hasn't quite got over the quality of football he watched the Mariners play in the late 70s and early 80s. He's currently trying to cheer Town fans up with a book chronicling those rare seasons when Grimsby won a league title.

Why are you a Town fan?Rob McIlveen
I was born in Grimsby, what else would I be? My dad took me to my first game on 28th October 1967. I was so naive I took my football with me because I thought I'd be allowed to have a kick around in the goalmouth at half time. I was even more naive to think it would be safe to leave the ball on the roof rack of Dad's car while I went to the game. Fortunately, he knew better and put it in the boot. Town won 3-1, and I was hooked.

It was late February 1968 before I saw them win again despite going to all the home games, but I learned then what remains true today about supporting the Mariners. On the last day of the season they had nine minutes to score a goal against Swindon and save themselves from relegation on goal average. They didn't do it. The next season they finished one from bottom of the Fourth Division but survived the re-election process. I was still hooked, but many of my contemporaries switched allegiance to either Manchester United or Leeds United.

Where was your first seat/standing position and where do you like to sit now?
When I first went I sat in the Osmond Stand behind the goal because I couldn't stand on my feet for 90 minutes. When I mastered that skill we emigrated to the Barrett Stand around where Row F is of the Lower Findus (or whatever it's called now). Nowadays I prefer the Upper Findus and the views out to sea when things get dull.

When did you first write anything about Town?
I've always liked to be involved with things that challenge the established orthodoxy when there is good reason to do so. I was one of the original writers for Sing When We're Fishing (SWWF) in 1988. I started putting pen to paper for the fanzine because I was so angry at the way Town had gone from finishing fifth in the second tier in 1983-84 to a fourth tier team at the start of the 1988-89 season that I wanted some way of venting my frustrations.

I was a prolific writer back then, and Bill Brewster and I came up with all sorts of pseudonyms to hide the fact that a lot of the challenges to the way things were being run and how Town's history was continually being airbrushed came from my pen.

How did you get involved with Cod Almighty?
I think it was largely a result of an out-of-the-blue email from Pat Bell. He'd seen something I'd written for SWWF about trying to find out Town's results on a different continent in the pre-internet age, which amused him. I remember seeing the article reproduced somewhere on the web under the heading 'SWWF Gold', which was a very nice thing for it to appear under. When Buckley took Town back to the second tier in 1991, I mellowed. Bill went off to find fame if not fortune at When Saturday Comes, and I did a few things for some glossy football magazines. Then I stopped writing anything about football. Steve Plowes had taken over SWWF and had his own team of able and humorous writers. Apart from one season's absence in 1997-98 (and that was a pretty good season), Town were a championship team until 2004. What was there for a miserable git like me to do other than enjoy watching the games?

But when Town suffered their miserable relegations all my late 80s frustration surfaced again! However, the internet was putting the print medium out of business. People like me, for whom technology was an Amstrad PCW, had to adapt. The Electronic Fishcake came along and then Cod Almighty. CA was a breath of fresh air in a way that the Electronic Fishcake and then the Fishy wasn't. The Fishy forum is sometimes an embarrassing thing to read, especially with that intercoursing swear filter. CA by contrast mixes humour, self-deprecation, constructive criticism, and investigative journalism in a way I enjoy. Without the stuff on Fenty I think the club might still be in a mess. Somewhat more informed writing than "Fenty u female private part you need to intercourse off".

Have you got any Cod Almighty T-shirts?
No. I once owned a t-shirt with "It walks, it talks, it defends, it's Futchenstein!" that Steve Plowes' SWWF produced, and I still have my "I was there when Burnett scored" t-shirt the club produced, but that's it. I imagine you have the odd Mike Newell t-shirt available if I ever run out of clothes, though.

Favourite Tony Butcherism from the million words of woe?
When I went into self-imposed exile following relegation to the non-League (see below) I relied on Tony's match reports for an accurate, if idiosyncratic, picture of how Town had played. I'm particularly fond of 'purple peeper' for some reason, but I enjoy the whole thing. I loved the 'lime and limpid green' description of the goalkeeper's jersey. When the time comes, my first pressing of the album that lyric is from should buy me a little time in a care home.

Have you ever played football with, or against, any Town player?
I was a teenager in the mid-1970s. Then, you could watch any game of schools' football and find a future Town player. Which is exactly what newly-appointed Town manager Tommy Casey did when he arrived at Blundell Park in 1975! I was at Nunsthorpe Primary school, sat on Tony Ford's table, and played in the school team and then the Grimsby Junior Boys team with him and others. The list is not endless, but certainly very long. There really was an awful lot of talent in those days. Older readers will remember Phil Higgins, Bryan Klug, Paul Emson, Kevin Drinkell, Paul Bartlett, Phil Bunce, Terry Donovan, Kevin Kilmore, Kevin Moore, Dave Moore and Paul Casey amongst many others. They're just some who either put up with my inadequacies or got kicked by me for being too good.

Where's the wettest you've ever been watching, or listening, to a Town match?
Listening to the League Cup fifth round replay against Wolves in Phil Ball's bedsit when I was at college. We couldn't get to the match so I supplied the beer and he the funny cigarettes. Town were losing and I'd just opened another can of beer when Liddell (or Palmer) scored the equaliser. I tried to stand up to cheer but only succeeded in knocking the can over into my lap. I thought I was paralysed and just sat and watched the beer pour out of the can. The game went into extra time and I still couldn't move when it ended. It's not big and it's not clever kids, but it was very funny at the time.

Have you ever watched Town from the wrong end? How did you survive?
Yes I have, but not through choice. I was one of the many people who turned up at Anfield in January 1980 without a ticket for the game against Liverpool. The Merseyside police weren't expecting a large number of Town fans and didn't have a clue what to do when it dawned on them that the allocated stand was full. The option was to 'fuck off' or stand in the Kop. What an unpleasant experience the latter was.

My group were able to survive because we were helped by some Liverpool supporters who made us walk in the middle of them, but others weren't so lucky. Fortunately, Town lost 5-0. I hate to think what would have happened if we'd drawn, or worse still won. It was 42 years ago, but I still shudder to think about it. Who would I want to win in a Champions League Final between Spartak Moscow and Liverpool? Guess.

Which Town player do you love and why?
Love's a bit strong, but I am very fond of Joe Waters. On the pitch, he was peerless and his goal against Barnsley on Good Friday in 1982 is the best of its type I've ever seen. As captain, he was loyal to his teammates. I remember an incident in 1980 when he thumped a Hull City player who'd fouled Bob Cumming, although it wasn't like Cumming needed his protection.

Off the field, he is a perfect gentleman. The only time I've ever been told that somebody wanted to meet me was when Waters said that to a Radio Humberside radio presenter. Joe had just read the final draft of the 1980 Champions book and, I think, was surprised that anybody cared enough to document the season. At the double celebration evening in May, he stormed over to the table I was sitting at looking very angry. "You've got two things wrong about me in your book" he said. "You said I miskicked the ball against Wimbledon and then did it again in the following match. I never miskicked a ball once let alone twice" he continued before bursting into laughter. I honestly thought I'd offended him. I have a lovely inscription in my copy of the book: 'To Rob. Best wishes. IN SPITE OF THE TWO MISTAKES, still the best book I have read. Joe Waters' What a lovely fellow Mr Waters is.

Have you influenced anyone with the Town? How are they today?
When I was a postgraduate in the early 1980s, I had the job of helping new undergraduates settle into college life. One of my charges, an overseas student, was particularly homesick so I though it would be fun to take him to a football match. As it happened, Town were playing at Luton. I spent the whole journey there telling him what a wonderful team we were and how much he'd enjoy it. "Is this supposed to be happening?" he said as each of Luton's six goals went in.

I'm a miserable bastard when Town lose, especially when they lose heavily, and it's best to keep out of my way. The poor bloke had to suffer my foul mood all the way back and had nowhere to escape. I was hardly what he needed to cheer him up. I don't think I ever saw him again the rest of the year. I probably influenced his mental health, but not in a good way. Still, he went on to become the Prime Minister of a Commonwealth country so it all turned out well in the end, I suppose.

Which Town player have you found yourself near and where?
Tony Gallimore, on or about 20th July 2002. Back when Ryan Air flights were 99p plus taxes, I flew from Stansted to Malmo to watch Town on their pre-season tour of Scandinavia. The plane was full of Swedish goths, English archaeologists, and probably some who were both. I didn't know it, but Town were also based in Malmo. I was enjoying a late night stroll in the city centre when I saw rather more of Gallimore than I ever wanted to. It really was a Kaffa-esque moment. I walked past a shocked Swedish couple leaving a night club. "Don't worry, he's from Grimsby" was all I could think of to say in my best Basil Fawlty voice. John McDermott writes about the evening in his autobiography, but I can assure you his is a more sanitised version. Still, it'll remain Gallimore's and my little secret. Oh wait...

What's the oddest place you've bumped into a fellow Town fan?
The following day I made my way to the Danish town of Herfolge where the Mariners had a friendly match. Herfolge really is a barren hell-hole of a place, and an ideal setting for one of those horror films in which there is no mobile phone signal and the characters are murdered one by one in the most gruesome fashion. As I made my way along what I thought was a deserted railway platform, I heard a voice behind me shout "Rob McIlveen, you c**"t'. It felt just like being in Grimsby except it wasn't. I turned round and there were half a dozen Town fans, one of whom was a long-time friend (hence the salutation).

If you could turn back time?
I'd offer Paul Groves some careers advice. When I watched Town on that tour I remember thinking at the time that Groves looked like a man with the world on his shoulders. When I saw the Herfolge match (lost 2-1) and the one at Frem (lost 3-1) a couple of days later, I could see why. I have no idea what league Frem were in, but they looked nothing better than a Conference North side.

They ran rings round the Town players, who included a trialist called Tresor Luntala. He looked as out of place as anyone could do on a football pitch. I knew then that somebody needed to tell the very decent Mr Groves that he was better than this, and if he had any sense he should find himself a club where he would at least stand a chance of being successful. I imagine he'd have got me thrown out of the ground if I'd offered him that advice, so I kept quiet. As he trudged off towards the changing rooms at the end of the game he glanced up momentarily, and now looked like he had the whole solar system on his shoulders. Groves was sacked in February 2004 and Town were relegated by a country mile.

Have you ever exchanged words with a Town manager?
On our way towards Herfolge's awful ground, one of our number managed to persuade a bar owner to open up and get us some drinks. We saw the team coach pull up in a deserted car park. I was deputed to ask what time the game kicked off (honestly, none of us knew!). The coach door opened, and there was Paul Groves looking like the supervisor of a lunatic asylum's day out. "What time does it start?" I said. "Four o-clock" he replied, and closed the coach door. That was the extent of our interaction. I didn't even get a chance to wish him "good luck", but by God did he need it.

Are you a forgiving soul? What is the longest Town-related grudge you hold?
In most cases, yes, but I think I'm like a lot of fans who saw the descent into non-League as the event that nearly killed the club. I gave up making long round trips to Blundell Park in 2010 as I just couldn't get excited about what I sometimes heard described as 'mouth-watering' games against Braintree, Coalville, and so on. One person shoulders the blame for that. That's my grudge and it's not going away any time soon. I also have no time at all for Holloway. Fenty's famous 'building' had just about had its fire extinguished and the club appointed a man with a box of matches and a petrol can as manager.

New ground or redevelopment of Blundell Park?
In a way my head says anywhere but Blundell Park and my heart says nowhere but Blundell Park. 'Anywhere but' is based only on the horrific parking problems around the ground, but that's all that seriously exercises me. Couldn't the parking issue be solved with a carefully thought out and well-resourced park and ride option with a dedicated matchday bus lane?

Can't we rebuild the stands one by one, starting with the Main Stand? I've never understood how people can watch a match from that stand anyway. Since there's just the sea behind it couldn't a new Main stand be taller without affecting residents? A new stadium costs an awful lot of money the club doesn't have and what would its capacity be? A soulless 20,000-seater filled a handful of times in a decade? No thanks. Get into the Premier League and then build a stadium is a more rational approach, surely? I still have my 'Fuelling dreams' red baseball hat by the way...

Socks. Red, white or black?
Red. Only ever red.

Do you care about the national team?
Before a tournament I ask myself if I would be happy to see players be World Cup Winners and held in the same high regard as people like Sir Geoff Hurst. So, Sir Joe Cole and Sir Wayne Rooney as national heroes? The current lot (Magiure aside) seem decent enough human beings, so Come on England!