Hanging on in quiet desperation is the Grimsby way

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

5 March 2024

Asked to fill a 1,000 word space in their programme our weekly word churner came up with 1,000 words to describe Town's catastrophic season up to the end of February. Yeah, that's right, before the riot of colour that was the farcical Forest Green farrago. Go on, have a read, it's something to do. It's what we're here for.

There we were all those months ago, back in the day, the first day of the season, setting off together into the wilderness and pain of the fourth division like eager puppies. Were Wimbledon any good? Were we? Nobody knew anything then.

We do now.

Where did it all go wrong?

It's the yin and yang of football, that cruel cosmic balance where a huge high must begat a lower low. How low can we go? We're on a journey of discovery.

We've spent this century swaying between looking in the bins for sell-by-date rejects and oddly-shaped vegetables, with an occasional trip to the big shops in metropolitan, cosmopolitan Sheffield when we found a few quid down the back of the sofa. But after two glorious seasons of enlightening magnificence under new ownership we aren't like that anymore. Oh no, we're different now. We're modern, exciting, professional and sensible. We have plans.

We want the good life, to be self-sustaining virtuosos who grow our own. But that's the future and we all know that children are the future. The present is focused on value. We bought a computer, it's plugged in and connected to the internet. We hired a personal shopper, gave him some of the gift tokens we won last year and a long list of toys for young Paul Hurst to play with during the summer.

It made so much sense on paper.

It started with a miss
The season started so mundanely. A draw here, a loss there, a win or two. Everything was "not quite but almost". There was potential, there were possibilities. By early September we were bumping along unseen in the middle of the table. Town turned up at Bradford for a TV game and blew the watching world's socks off with a sumptuous exhibition of passing and passion, led by our secret star signing, Kamil Conteh.

In the first half.

Someone must have turned the lights off in the dressing room at half time, we haven't been the same since.

Timidity at Wrexham was galling, especially given the way we'd overcome them in the Greatest Play-Off Game Ever just over a year before, but worse was to come, and keeps on coming. Capitulations and plain weird goals conceded against teams who had hopes of aspiring to being humdrum. Precious points were casually, carelessly tossed away like a drunken dilettante. There was a softness and listlessness that we'd never known before under Paul Hurst. The crowd curdled after an implosion at home to Colchester and a weak, meek meander at Doncaster.

And with that Paul Hurst was no more. The irony, lost on many, was that the profile for the perfect managerial fit for the predicament we were in was the man we'd just sacked. He did leave wrapped in a vibe of love, respect and regret, especially from those who'd just sacked him.

And so the boil was lanced. Or was it?

The ship seemed stable as Town were undefeated in November. Meanwhile the search for a new hero was underway, a rigorous selection process culminating in the final two candidates meeting the ultimate challenge: would they eat the sandwiches at our Chairman's house?

A whole new world
On 27 November 2023 white smoke emerged and out popped David Artell promising a brave new world. Eventually. There'll be bumps in the road he said, for progress is non-linear, he said. The players would be re-educated to play free-flowing football, but they'll get there, eventually. We won't go down, he promised us.

A heart-warming draw at somewhere unmentionable, a stroll over limp Crewe and a creditable performance at Oxford set hearts racing wildly, people cooed like pigeons as they began to look up at the stars and not down into the gutter. But is the glass half full or half empty? Well, from Christmas onwards I think we can safely say we see no glass at all at Blundell Park.

To lose at home to Harrogate may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose at Mansfield can hardly be regarded as carelessness, but to be humiliated 6-1 at home by Walsall is really tunnelling well below Dante's ninth level of hell. Shocked and stunned we were. And again the next week as the clown car carried on careering through our psyche with a madcap laugh of a 5-5 draw with Notts County, a team with a similar aversion to defending. Tranmere came, saw and conquered without even trying; Stockport took pity and declared on three after half an hour.

And then, lastly, the Donny disaster, a 5-1 thumping, another game that was already over before half the crowd were in their seats. In 2024, 21 goals from 29 shots conceded at Blundell Park in five games. Meet the gang 'cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you. But not us.

What's going off out there? There's revolution in the air with another churn of players. How can you gel if you keep on stirring? New Town Mark II diced with death and danced with disaster playing junior Pepball and were pick-pocketed by rascally day trippers. It's like the players had never met. Half of them hadn't.

Ah, now, away from home the world is different, with only one defeat in the league since the defenestration of Paul Hurst in October. What a mixed up, shook up, muddled up world we're living in. Town are just unlucky that they keep playing at home.

Someone left our cake out in the rain
A summer of revolution had seen upgrades in every position. Well, that's what we thought. Everyone signed seemed to be a better version of the player they replaced, but the mix of personalities and characteristics has been awry, for every time we take the cake out of the oven it has a crumbly exterior and gooey centre. Life is question of balance and we just haven't got it right yet.

Too much sugar, not enough spice. There's still time to get it right.