Too good to be forgotten

Cod Almighty | Article

by Mike McMahon

27 June 2023

Mike McMahon, DN35 podcast's very own voice of reason, looks back and ponders the legacy of last season. 

As the summer rolls on and minds start to drift towards next season, the end of last season seems, on reflection, completely un-Grimsby Town in nature.

No frantic play-off campaign, no relegation battle and no exodus of a playing squad – a clear plan on and off the field coupled with what appears to be a strong start in the transfer window; how times look to have changed.

We could perhaps be forgiven for wondering if this is the same club as two years ago and in some ways it isn't. We settled down to the 22/23 campaign still drunk (some of us quite literally) from the euphoria of the London Stadium in June, with a trip away to Leyton Orient - always a favourite destination for the Grimsby away fan. Little did we know just how good a side and season they would have.

The League Season
If I am being honest, I had a fair amount of trepidation leading into the season. After the ridiculous 12-month rollercoaster we'd just been on with both the heartache of relegation and then the exhilaration of promotion, I desperately wanted us to start the season well and for us to truly re-establish ourselves as a League side. Sometimes you long for the quiet life, just for a little bit at least!

I need not have worried though. Despite having already limited options up front before an injury to John McAtee, and ultimately losing to Orient in the first game of the season, we started well going on to remain unbeaten for the next seven league games.

Sure, the football wasn't great, but we started to see a team pulling out results and keeping clean sheets – a great way to start our adventure back in the Football League. And that right there is how you can sum up our first season back, in the league at least. It wasn't pretty at times – it was inconsistent most of the time but it was solid. A foundation was being built and progress had continued to be made.

Dotted throughout the season there were many highlights and great moments to look back on. An emphatic win away at Crewe and the introduction to Town fans of George Lloyd; it is always said never fall in love with a loan player but we never learn, do we?

An incredible comeback away at high-flying Northampton, Josh Emmanuel turning his full-back like a young Johan Cruyff and crossing the ball into the box for man mountain himself, Anthony Glennon, to tower above the defenders at the back post to score a 91st minute winner. Or going toe-to-toe with Stockport and taking six points in the Martin Pringle derby – boo Dave Challinor!

However, my overriding memory of our league season is a little left field and perhaps a touch niche – Sutton away.

Granted I live in Sutton, so I may be a bit biased here. In the build up to arguably our biggest game for decades at Brighton we made the long trip south on a Tuesday night to play a tough and aggressive side – unbeaten at home for quite some time. The weather was horrible, the pitch wasn't great and we'd struggled all year against these types of sides. But there we saw a defiant and battling 1-0 win, matching Sutton's physicality all the way.

It would have been easy for players to hide a little, keen not to get injured ahead of the trip to Brighton in front of the TV cameras, but the fact that they didn't encapsulates what I loved most about this team. What we maybe sometimes lacked in ability was made up for in character and commitment – a hangover from the play-offs?

You may have noticed most of these moments were away from home, and our home form along with a poor winter run of results is the only blemish on a pretty good first season back in the Football League. Hopefully next year can see us build and improve our home form for the Blundell Park faithful. It is quite clear good things are happening at Grimsby Town.

If that play-off campaign and escaping non-League last year was the first tentative step on the ladder of an exciting journey, our highest placed finish for years in our first back in the football league was certainly a firmer second.

Despite all this, we all know there is one thing that stands over our 22/23 season casting a glow which nothing can eclipse. Of course, it's that truly remarkable, if not all a little unbelievable FA Cup run.

The FA Cup Run
For years cup draws have hated Grimsby Town with the same ferocity as John Fenty discovering a Newport County flag. This year, it didn't look like things had changed as our first game was at home to high-flying third division outfit, Plymouth Argylle.

Yet another first round exit seemed certain when Plymouth took an early lead through Adam Randell in the fifth minute. A quick response from Andy Smith's backside seemed to steady the ship though and goals from Brendan Kiernan (2), Michee Efete and Anthony Glennon saw us run-away winners. A 5-1 win against the top team in the league above, there's our cup upset some must have thought.

The second and third rounds saw equally 'appealing' draws away at Cambridge United and at home to Burton Albion, each of which we surely thought would bring our turn to step off the FA Cup rollercoaster, but it wasn't our time yet!

In both these games, we showed ourselves to be a side that can compete against anyone at this level and above, winning 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. I think by then we all started to expect something, maybe our turn for a big away draw? Bank the money and run? Sadly, it wasn't and we eventually drew Luton away after they progressed against Wigan in a replay.

That's no disrespect to Luton. I might be in the minority but I quite like them and it's great to see them in the Premier League, but the sense of them being far too good started to kick in, without even the comfort of a big revenue earner.
Nonetheless off I popped on the short trip through Blackfriars and on to Luton, in hope rather than expectation.

A tense first half and a few lucky breaks with refereeing decisions and as half time approaches, we are still in it! Then, with one of the slowest headed goals I think I have ever seen, Gavan Holohan makes it 1-0. Pandemonium follows, as does the half-time whistle.

"I don't think we're going to get embarrassed, that was my worry before the game" I remember saying to a pal at half time, but expecting them to come back at us in the second half. How right that was, out Luton came and within 20 minutes and one very dodgy penalty were in the lead.

"That's it then." I think that's what we all thought – I definitely did. Again this team seemed to grab something from somewhere and almost immediately Harry Clifton slotted in an equaliser.

Harry will always get the plaudits, and rightly so as he's a hell of a player and he's one of our own. However, the tireless hard work from Danilo Orsi up front on his own all afternoon running himself into the ground, along with a truly brilliant assist for the equaliser sometimes goes undervalued.

A well-deserved if unexpected draw, but I had the feeling we had missed our chance of nicking it at the end; a thought Paul Hurst seemed to share in his post-match interview. You'd have to imagine they won't let that sort of performance happen twice when they come to Blundell Park.

Now the replay against Luton, which I can't quite say much about as I couldn't make the game. Instead I settled for the dulcet tones of John Tondeur on Radio Humberside. Something I'd forgotten about John: I love the man to death but listening to him in a tense game is not great for the heart!

I'm not sure why it seemed so tense though, we played them off the park. A fantastic first half saw us take a 3-0 lead into half time with a very late Danny Amos free kick. All of a sudden, we're in the fifth round of the FA Cup, how did that happen?

The draw seemed a little underwhelming at first. Yes, Southampton were, at the time, a Premier League club, but it wasn't Manchester United, Liverpool or Tottenham. However, the draw made way for one of the best nights of my life supporting this football team and memories that will live long with me and I suspect with you as well!

The incredible sight of over 4,000 Town fans making that long trip down to the south coast during the week, packed into that away end creating an almighty racket with Harry Haddocks everywhere. Simply amazing.

In the game itself, similar to Luton away, we rode our luck and got the benefit of a few key decisions at important times. The big thing was that we didn't concede early. So often you see smaller teams come up against Premier League opposition and lose that early goal – it's an uphill task from there. We didn't, though, and like many other giant killings before that's when the pressure can shift onto the 'bigger' team.

Half time approached and we were good value for a draw when the game seemed to stop, confusing those around who thought maybe there was an injury somewhere. Until the sudden realisation – we're playing with bloody VAR! Now I don't think I can ever really criticise it again after what it did for us at Southampton, but how fans can be left standing around clueless for what seems forever whilst some bloke in a van is going frame by frame on a replay is beyond me – I truly now appreciate what Premier League fans mean!

The penalty was ultimately given and up steps Gavan Holohan, the coolest man in the stadium to slot home what I don't think any of us would argue against being the best penalty to ever be taken in the history of football. I'm usually an optimist but, as I get older and especially with Town, I find myself more and more of a worrier – perhaps it's because of our experiences over recent years. So obviously I expected that to be our moment, Southampton would come back but we would always remember taking the lead. I don't need to tell you what happened next though, how wrong was I? GBH on Danilo Orsi, Holohan stepping up again, brave defending and the bloke in a van back again – but with a ruler this time!

Ultimately our journey ended where it had had its biggest moment of joy - back on the south coast. But it really didn't matter; we'd become history makers and shown the country who and what we are. Five thousand fans singing Sweet Caroline after full-time at Brighton will again be something that stays with me forever.

The Legacy
Earlier I said that Southampton was one of my best nights supporting Town. It was, but not just because of the result. I'm from Yorkshire originally, yes I know, and have no family connections with Grimsby. I now live in London and my 4-year-old boy was born here and his only connection with the Mariners is me.

I have tried to come to terms with the fact he’ll probably end up supporting Crystal Palace, Chelsea or Arsenal as he hadn't shown any interest in Grimsby despite my best efforts. I took him along to the game just in case a miracle happened and I could say he was there with me; well it did and he was.

More than that, though, something happened that I wasn't expecting. Meeting Mighty Mariner, owning two Harry Haddocks and experiencing the game - the noise, the atmosphere – have left him absolutely obsessed with Grimsby Town. He wants to come to other games now, he asks me if he can see Mighty again, have a Grimsby shirt - none of which interested him before. For that, Grimsby Town F.C, the players, the manager, the owners - thank you!

Sometimes in life the enormity of something you achieved or witnessed doesn't quite strike home as quickly as you'd perhaps expect; I think this is one of those moments. Sure, we know it's amazing now but for some of us it won't be until 15 or 20 years, as we sip a mildly warm cup of Bovril in the Findus (yes, I am quite confident we will still be playing at Blundell Park then!) that we will quite realise what we actually achieved. We were there, we saw that!

"FA Cup Quarter Finalists – you'll never sing that!"