Regarding Henry

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Dabb

13 December 2023

Fed up with Great Grimsby being guilty by association with rancid right-wing politicians? Don't dabble in conspiracy theories, as they used to say on Bullseye, just listen to Tony (Dabb), who doesn't so much look back in anger as look back in bemusement at how fiction became fact. Come stroll through the age of realpolitik and find the real story of Kissinger's fabled day at the football in the Costa Del Cleethorpes.

Kissinger: was he or wasn't he?

There is a question mark over the history Dr Henry Kissinger.

It is not in respect of his contribution to international relations or civil society. In spite of the posthumous praise that has been heaped on him by the politicians with an eye to their own obituaries on that count - indeed, on that body count - he was indisputably one of the twentieth century's monsters. The charge sheet of Kissinger's crimes against humanity runs to many pages and is so familiar and well-documented that to list them here is almost an insult to those who failed to get justice while he paraded around the world being lauded as a respected elder statesman.

The unanswered question for us is more parochial, but also a kind of intrigue. What connects one of the world's most notorious facilitators of mass murder to Grimsby Town Football Club?

It is common knowledge that Kissinger presented his human face as a football fanatic. He had been a capable young player as a youth in Germany. And he placed his enthusiasm for the beautiful game high among his priorities, if not necessarily at the top: "Every country," he said, "needs an army, a bank, and a football team". Kissinger was also instrumental in bringing the World Cup to the USA in 1994.

What is less well known to the rest of the world is that, in the same decade in which he authorised the illegal carpet-bombing of Laos and Cambodia, assisted in the liquidation of the Allende regime in Chile, and acquiesced to the assassination in Washington DC of Chilean Orlando Atelier, he was also in the crowd at Blundell Park. They say.

No less than The Guardian's Marina Hyde cites the 'Good Doctor's' appearance alongside Grimsby MP Anthony Crosland at a Town game, (the subtext would add: "of all places!") as evidence of the power of sport to cleanse the reputations of even the worst villains. The legend has it that on April 24th in 1976 Kissinger, en route to Kenya to discuss the 'Rhodesia problem', flew in to RAF Waddington to meet Crosland, the newly-appointed Foreign Secretary following Prime Minister Harold Wilson's shock resignation and the election of Callaghan in his place.

These were heady times. America's defeat in Vietnam had emboldened the USSR and cold war tensions were heightened. NATO, under greater pressure in northern Europe, needed all of its collective strength. Iceland, sensing an opportunity to strengthen its hand in the Cod Wars with East Coast trawler fleets, threatened to leave the organisation if it did not get protection for its own waters and get access to the North Sea stocks. Kissinger's visit would have been an attempt to mollify the UK. Give Iceland what they want for the greater good of Western security, and the benefit of USAF access to a North Atlantic base. And who better to persuade the UK to swallow this bitter pill than the Minister with a fishing town constituency?

In this context, perhaps it is not so surprising that Crosland was able to persuade Kissinger that their meeting should take place, not on Air Force One on the tarmac at Waddington, but instead in Grimsby, on the Saturday morning, enabling Crosland to attend the 3 o'clock kick-off of Town versus Gillingham, accompanied by his illustrious guest.

Yeah, great story, but what are the facts?

Photographs of a jolly Kissinger sitting alongside Crosland and among the people on the terraces, are abundant and sometimes accompany stories of the trip to Town. The facts? They are of the pair enjoying a Chelsea v Wolves game in the same year, where Kissinger received a mixed reception from fans and footballers alike. 

So what do eye witnesses say? Susan Crosland's biography of her late husband explicitly states that Kissinger never went to Blundell Park. Crosland and he talked on the plane, she said, and Kissinger left for Nairobi in a hurry. Nor are there comtemporary reports in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph or elsewhere that mention the visit. Though it was the last match of the season, Town rested at 17th with nothing to play for. One might imagine that a visit by the world's de facto 'most powerful man' would have merited a headline and a snap or two in the Telegraph.

Yet some people claim to have seen him there on the day. And the anecdote is trotted out with a frequency that appears to give it authority. Perhaps international events such as political assassinations by the likes of the Red Brigade, in the same year, persuaded secret services to make it a cloak and dagger affair. Perhaps Telegraph journalists and photographers were sworn to secrecy, or it was kept hidden from them. Pfft.

There is no evidence that the visit to Blundell Park ever took place

The truth about Kissinger's Grimsby connection, like his appearance before the International Criminal Court, is a fantasy.