Thank you for the music (references)

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

20 December 2022

A prophecy or a fantasy or the curse of a vivid mind?

Yes, kicking up papers in his well-worn shoes, it's Mr Tony Butcher, a voice from the past and the present, who takes you by the hand and leads you past Rammy’s, round the back of the old cinema and finally through the canyons of his mind.

Oh I just don't know where to begin…how about "why?" Tony Butcher

The perennial question for any supporter: why the team they support? What 'makes' them a Lion, a Tiger, a Shrimper or a Shaker; oh those poor abandoned Shakers?

There's no rhyme or reason, just accidents that happen, and my accidents led me back home, for that is where we're all from, it is what makes us who we are.

Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

You know, I could have been an Imp or a Blade. I could have stayed with my TV team, but when they sold Tony Currie, well, I had standards even if they didn't. I could even have been a Miller, but that Millers Tale turns my dad a whiter shade of pale – just another story of long-forgotten family feuding.

In the beginning there may have been cod
I was born in Cleethorpes slap bang in the middle of the 1960s. Like everyone in the expanding village of Humberston, Croft Baker Maternity Home be the place of emergence. Like everyone in their 50s my past has been knocked down or "repurposed for modern usage" – it's a block of boring flats now.

Except Blundell Park, of course.

Beautiful downtown, downtrodden, downbeat Blundell Park, first glimpsed behind the old cinema as we went on our weekly shop to Ramsden's or espied in the distance when we went to Great Uncle Jim's down Manchester Street. So I knew there was some kind of football team nearby. I'd read about them in the GET, I'd seen their name on the football pools coupon. They were doing well, they even appeared on Grandstand running around Weelsby Woods, then on Match of the Day.

But they were an abstract thing, not real, for Dad isn't much of football fan. He didn't go to games, he didn't talk about football and he worked continental shifts on the Humber Bank. He was either asleep or at work on a Saturday; and he was from Sheffield. Town were never his team, they were the team that played near where he had chosen to live.

Football was just something I played with my mates in the field behind our bungalow and watched on telly.

The first time ever I saw Stuart Brace
Then one day, hooray, the lad across the road asked me if I wanted to go with him and his Dad to watch "the footie". His name: Simon Lamb. Yes, Butcher and Lamb, ho-ho-ho indeed. Tuesday 23 October 1973: Grimsby Town v Luton Town, second replay in the League Cup. My first match, indelibly seared onto my brain.

Sort of.

I have the merest, most fleeting of memories: standing on the fence level with the penalty area at the Imperial Avenue corner and falling off the bottom rung; standing on the fence level with the penalty area at Constitutional Avenue corner and falling off the bottom rung in the second half; the team in orange scoring with a free kick; not knowing which was which and who was who.

Us and them, but who were us? I didn't recognise anyone or anything, it wasn't like this on telly.

Of course Town lost. That's the way of things. The fairy tale would be that I was hooked and went again week after week, badgering my dad and grandad or hitching a ride with friends. The reality? It had no impact whatsoever on me, I was simply bemused by the occasion. It had no context, no follow up, it was merely an isolated moment in a rather blissfully simple stroll through my junior years. No matter what they say now, the 1970s were absolutely fantastic for most kids; I had loads of other things to do with kids who also didn't go to watch Town.

The wrong Imp
I didn't start attending football matches regularly until my family had a two-year stay in Lincoln, which coincided with Graham Taylor's miracle year. The teacher who ran our school team was an old friend of his and so we got to watch them train and meet the players. Taylor even attended our school fete and called me a clever lad – you see he wasn't always wrong...

My parents ran a pub in the centre of Lincoln (now renamed and repurposed for modern usage, of course), the ground was a straight wander down the High Street and there were plenty of people available to chaperone me (remember this is the mid-70s, scraps, scrapes and worse were a fact of football life). And Taylor's Lincoln were exciting, scoring over 100 goals that year in front of packed crowds. Now I was hooked!

Dick Krzywicki, John Ward, Big Sam Ellis, Nice Phil Neal, Nasty Dennis Booth (the only one who wouldn't sign an autograph), good old Percy Freeman. I used to lean my bike on Phil Hubbard's garden wall when I went to see my mate Paul. Hubbard had been re-signed from Grimsby, apparently. It meant nothing to me: who's Phil Hubbard?

But I was not hooked on Lincoln City. It was just somewhere I lived for a couple of years, it was something to do on a Saturday afternoon that I enjoyed. Much like when I went to Plymouth Poly and watched Tommy Tynan in his pomp and Rhys Wilmott in the unusual circumstance of being a perfectly fine keeper. What else was I going to do? Watch rugby league on Grandstand?

Back home
We came back home in 1977 in time for the glory years, but Town's march through the divisions was just back-page headlines, Sunday afternoon highlights and the occasional treat of a real game. I was even playing snooker at the Leisure Centre when Town beat Everton in 1979. I wouldn't make that mistake again…

…for my very first Town away game was the Everton burglary in 1984. I shared lodgings in Plymouth with an Evertonian and we bumped into each other at 11 o’clock and off-handedly agreed to think about going up for the game. At midday we crossed paths again and just walked off to the train station. The train was late and we didn't get into the ground until the 15th minute. I stood in the Gwladys Street End staring at a sea of Town fans, only slightly annoyed with myself for making the practical decision to stay close to my mate – and therefore my accommodation - for the evening. But, hey, Everton were going to win, obviously…

It's amazing how much a stifled eruption of joy can sound like a primal scream of angst. Which is handy.

I had the bug for live football, but had to settle for a green substitute while I was far, far away with my feet down in the crowds of the Argyle. I knew where my heart lay, for when Town went there I was in the away end with 44 others, furious at Lyons and his lunacy. 5-0! Five bloody nil, with Agnew as sweeper.

Something tells me I'm into something good
It all really began when I moved to Watford to start work. Money and time allowed me the freedom to choose and indulge in something which luckily coincided with Buckley Mark I, the wonder years. It struck me straight away: Town were the town, they were my home, they represented me to the world. Strangers passing in the street by chance two separate glances meet and what are the standard questions? "What do you do?" "Where are you from?" "Who do you support?"

You don't know what you've got 'til you've gone away.

1 November 1989: Peterborough away on a Wednesday night. I persuaded an old college friend to come along as he also had nothing better to do on a damp evening in London. He left London Road open mouthed and purring at the passing and movement machine of Town, then 23rd in the fourth division. Of course we conceded a last minute equaliser, that's the way of things. But Town were superb, pure silk, sublimely sensational.

Occasional viewing from a southern base with infrequent trips "home", meant I simply saw all the defeats and missed out on the home front, watching the thin in the thick of it. I dipped my toes into the fanzine scene, writing for Sing When We’re Fishing expressing unfocused rage at Tony Rees (I never forgave him for getting sent off at Coventry) and some focused rage pointed at Tommy Widdrington.

Also some 'match reports' – just a hotch-potch of basic events and moments missed in the standard reporting. Geoff Ford never mentioned the things we found amusing, those memories we have of the game we saw. It's not all goals and misses. Where's the slapstick? Where's the ambience of the afternoon, the mood, the fetid fury, the isolated moments of wit and wisdom: "Oi Warren Barton – does your mother cut your hair?" "Woods, you're an enigma!" and, of course, that popular terrace refrain "Spatial awareness Jobling!"

So, in 1998, when I got a home computer, the internet and a season ticket it got me thinking…memories. Fleeting, elusive, and inaccurate in a mixed-up, shook-up, muddled-up whirl.

The further on from an event the more jumbled these things are, the further away you are physically from the event the more you want to know about it. An entrepreneur would say there's a market out there, an egotist would say there's people who need to know what I think. I just fell into it, one of many people posting 'match reports' on what they'd just been watching. Well, in theory we had been watching the same game…

The writing's on the wall
From 1998 to 2000 I posted my memories of the games in the form of a structured match report on an email distribution list, written down straight after I got home and finished before Match of the Day started. As the mailing list included people who lived all over the world, and hardly any had been to the games, they were hungry for facts, every little detail to live the game as if they were there. So these were long, descriptive recitals in order of occurrence, precise co-ordinates for each event recorded so the reader could picture exactly where something happened, with the occasional flowery description or phrase or reference thrown in as it popped into my head, like word association.

From this distribution list emerged a fanzine – The Electronic Fishcake. It was, to start with, the natural place to put these meandering musings on Mariners matches. No publication can cater for all tastes and Cod Almighty was later born to serve a particular niche outlook and attitude.

My initial efforts were dreary wordfests with the occasional flash of light. The first game of the 1998 season, Ipswich at home, a 0-0 draw with Stacey Coldicott unfortunately waddling out of position on the right wing. It was titled "Bobo Petta and a man from Wees" as Ipswich had Bobby Petta and Marco Holster, a man born in Wees, in their side. Mmm. Trying too hard there. Things can only get better. Can't they?

In truth there is also an element of catharsis for me: the anger, delight, and ennui all flow away through the simple act of describing what happened. In my own words, just like you'd describe it in the pub to your mates, not as some dry exercise in fact and cod-technical opinion. It's how we, the people, see the game and remember the moments. It's a snapshot of how a supporter sees the game.
This supporter.

It's just one supporter, one view, but it is what I see and remember. If it amuses you fine; if it informs you, great; if you're aren't interested, well, don't read them. It's just folk memory, social history, one of many descriptions of the same event from, quite literally, a different point of view. In the round you get the full picture, but you can't see the full picture if no-one takes a snap.

And in the end
Oh, and finally, just one more thing. I've never been up the Dock Tower or around Chapman's Pond and it's red socks to go with red sauce on my sausage sandwiches.

Why? It's who we are.