An ancient Mariner reaches back

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

28 February 2023

Neville Butt has only been to Southampton once and then for no more than to drop his daughter off so she could report for duty on one of the cruise liners…

There have only been 29 meetings between Grimsby Town and Southampton, dating back to 1920, with nine victories for the Mariners, nine draws and 11 successes for the Saints. The last meeting was in 1978.

Southampton were formed in 1895 by members of the St Mary’s church and became Southampton FC in 1897. As a Southern League club, they enjoyed early success in the FA Cup as losing finalists against Bury in 1900 and Sheffield United in 1902, before overcoming Manchester United in 1976.

In 1920, both Grimsby and Southampton were founder members of Division Three and met for the first time that December, with Grimsby winning both games. The following year, after Grimsby had transferred to Division Three (North), the teams met in the FA Cup, with William Rawlings scoring a brace that contributed to the 3-1 Saints' success. After that the teams met intermittently in Division Two.

In July 1937 Jimmy McIlwaine became assistant manager at Grimsby Town under their newly-appointed manager, the former England international defender Charlie Spencer. McIlwaine had previously been prominent at Southampton after success at Portsmouth. Grimsby were then playing in the first division and narrowly avoided relegation at the end of the 1937–38 season. The management team pieced together the team that lost to Wolves in the infamous 1939 FA Cup semi-final. The pair remained in situ after the war but relegation, not helped by the illness of Charlie Spencer, concentrated the mind of McIlwaine who set up a masseur practice in Grimsby.

The next league confrontations between the teams were in 1948-49. Southampton did the double, winning 1-0 at Blundell Park through a mishit penalty that trickled in at the keeper's left-hand post at the Pontoon end. The taker was Bill Ellerington who stubbed the ground as he shot. He remained ineffective in the contest from then on, but no subs were allowed back then.

When Bill Shankly was appointed Grimsby Town manager in 1951 he immediately tried to resurrect the career of Roland Wheatley. His left 'boot' was greatly admired, but he only played five games before the injures that had curtailed a promising career at Southampton reappeared. He later rejoined the Saints as their chief scout.

On holiday in 1956 I was fortunate to see Jimmy McGowan play for Southampton against Exeter City. Jimmy McGowan with his well-groomed Brylcreamed hair had played in 34 games for the Mariners, half of which were in the top flight for the and the rest in the old second division, until he broke his leg at West Bromwich Albion in 1948-49. A wonderful touch player, Jim was sold to Southampton in 1950 but managed only 79 games in eight years at the Dell (Southampton's old ground), scoring but nine goals. In Mariner Men, Rob Briggs and Dave Wherry report that he was hit by a lung infection in 1953-54. He died in a drowning accident in 1984.

The 1954-55 season was a shocker for Town, redeemed by a cup run that included swamping the Saints 4-1, with Ron Harbertson and Ray Harrison both knocking in doubles prior to a third round dream fixture with Wolves.

At the start of the 1960s, Town needed to get back into the old second division and one of the games in a successful run was against the Saints. We had admired both their wingers Sydenham and Paine and leading scorer Derek Reeves for many seasons but the red and white stripes were further assisted by one-time Chilton chick Dick Connor and a future Town defender Brian Clifton. Connor played 186 times for Town and 78 for Southampton. Clifton, cool assured and superb in the air, played in more than 100 league and cup fixtures for both teams. Connor won champions medals with Town and the Saints and moved into management with former Town reserves player Dick Renwick as his aide.

The last league meeting between the two sides was in 1963 when we were hammered 6-0 by a team still containing Sydenham and Paine, but also Martin Chivers and George Kirby.

The impact of Lawie McMenamy at both clubs cannot be overstated. When he was appointed at Blundell Park in 1971, he was quick and generous in his praise of the work of his predecessor, Bobby Kennedy, but from there he developed and encouraged support from fans, looked after the players and did thorough research on the opposition for players he wished to buy. In 1972 Grimsby won the fourth division title under his management before he left a year later to manage Southampton. He took Town old-stagers Lew Chatterley and Jim Clunie to the Dell to help behind the scenes, steered the Saints to FA Cup victory in 1976 and later to promotion into the first division.

Southampton and Grimsby's last meeting was a three-times replayed FA Cup tie in 1978. The powerful, rangy Chris Nicholl was among the Saints starting XI as Chris prepared to fulfil his management ambitions. The ever-spectacular and ultra-fit keeper Ian Turner remembered his Town grounding as the Saints eventually progressed into round four. The second replay was played at Leicester City, the gate below 12,000. It cannot have been profitable and it must have been a pain to play in. Unsurprisingly, second replays did not last for many more seasons.

The FA Cup has changed in the four decades since, but some things remain. Harry Haddock, very much like a fish out of water, is laid out on a nearby desk, still pouting after we failed to wallop Harrogate but a little more relaxed after the way we played on Saturday. He is going with the flow as Town stand on the cusp of more cup magic.