A kaleidoscope of a game

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

14 January 2024

In January 1933, Grimsby Town, under a new manager, played out a 5-5 draw, their second of the season. In an edited extract from his forthcoming book, Pat describes the scene

Where not so long ago crowds of 20,000 might have jostled into Blundell Park to watch Town take on the biggest clubs in the country, there was a gate of less than 6,000 for the visit of Charlton Athletic on 7 January 1933. Christmas was over, everyone was short of money and memories of Division One were starting to drain, leaving a residue of regret.

Grimsby, relegated last May, had started the season under a new manager, Frank Womack, and he was experimenting with the players he had inherited. In October, Pat Glover had scored four goals as Town raced into a 4-1 lead over Preston North End, but they had been held to a 5-5 draw. Afterwards, Womack had reshuffled the defensive trio - goalkeeper Tommy Read and full-backs Charlie Wilson and Hugh Jacobson - who had done more than anyone to keep the Mariners in the top flight for three seasons. Jacobson had been described as half the Grimsby team; he was immovable at left-back, but the ex-Cleethorper Charlie Wilson's ten-year Town career was brought to an end and for two months Read lost his place to the promising young goalkeeper George Tweedy.

In mid-December, Grimsby won consecutive games for the first time all season and were briefly able to look up the table instead of down, until they lost their next four games. In the Grimsby Daily Telegraph, "Blundell" suggested that the constant reshuffling of the team was preventing them developing any consistent form. Now 18th in Division Two, their game against the bottom club Charlton must have looked like a match they could not afford to lose.

Jack BestallAt first the Mariners looked awful. Tommy Read, back in goal, gifted Charlton the lead. Pat Glover quickly equalised but otherwise he looked slow. Jack Bestall, his face pale as ever, worked anxiously to get the Town attack moving but with so many of his team-mates out of form, his promptings led nowhere. The half backs – Alec Hall, Harry Betmead and Ted Buck – were utterly unable to find their men and Charlie Craven, the inside left, also seemed only to give the ball away. James Dyson and Horace Fielding were isolated on their wings, ineffective in the rare moments that they were involved in the action. Three Charlton goals in ten minutes brought Grimsby face to face with another defeat; a Craven goal in the last minute of the first half offered faint hope.

After the interval, Town were transformed, sweeping almost at will through the Charlton defence. Glover shot narrowly wide before diverting a Bestall shot to force an astonishing save. No penalty was given after Dyson was brought down in the box. Craven dribbled in on goal, drew the goalkeeper off his line and shot. The ball bounced off the foot of the post and rebounded into the arms of the keeper who was lying in the mud. Somehow there were no goals until Charlton broke away and scored their fifth. Fans registered their disgust and started to leave.

Yet Town battled on. First Glover and then Fielding scored and now they were only 5-4 down with a quarter of an hour left to play. Suddenly an implausible win looked almost probable, the small crowd stirred to a fever, but Charlton's goalkeeper made more astounding saves and minute by minute ambition dwindled into the last chance of rescuing a draw. The referee had looked at his watch when the ball reached Dyson near the halfway line. The winger meandered into midfield, until, urged forward, he exchanged passes with Fielding, accelerated past two more defenders and swept the ball into the net. There was hardly time for Charlton to re-start; for the second time in three months Blundell Park had witnessed a 5-5 draw.

As "Blundell" wrote, it had been a kaleidoscope of a game, the football sometimes brilliant but often mediocre or worse. As the euphoric glow of the late equaliser cooled and supporters saw that the teams around them had won, thoughts turned to the point dropped against the worst team in the division.

At the end of the season, Grimsby established a settled side, based on the team which had drawn with Charlton, and with an eleven-game unbeaten run avoided a second consecutive relegation. The following April, the same team were promoted back to the top flight as Division Two champions.

Pat is working on his book with the kind encouragement and advice of, among others, Bill Meek, Dave Wherry, Gordon Wilson, Kris Green, Miles Moss, Rob McIlveen and Tim Bell (who supplied the photo), as well as the excellent staff and resources of Grimsby Central Library. He hopes to publish later this year and you can follow him on X at @30s20s