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Nationwide Division One, 14/4/01
Grimsby Town
Round and round
By Matt Rowson

Spotted on a Grimsby Town Messageboard:

"Why do some Town fans always expect instant success?"

Read that again. Contemplate. How many debates does that single line provoke, how many arguments does it suggest?

Why, for example, should any Grimsby fan anticipate success in any form? It's not as if Grimsby have a history littered with silverware and vanquished foes...a couple of Division Two Championships is as good as it's got and the last of those was in the thirties, before most of the current support were born.

Then there's the slightly uncomfortable grammatical incongruousness of the words "always" and "instant", which conjures a disturbing image of a group of Mariners' fans poised with the bunting and corked champagne for the triumph that's surely just around the corner. An eternal state of purgatory, perhaps. Was Samuel Beckett from Grimsby?

No less remarkable is the concept of a club with an average home gate of under five and a half thousand having a support whose sociology is well defined enough to merit discussion of its subgroups. In an ever-shrinking world, village small-mindedness is alive and well and living on the Internet.

It's noticeable how so many of the supporter stereotypes illustrated and suggested by the above statement are evident on every single football messageboard. Having spent much of the last four years trawling opponents' boards in preparation for BSaD previews, I feel I'm qualified to comment....

Common enough are the Dramatists...invariably discontent with the status quo and prone to forceful statements opening with "The time has come for...", or "I have concluded that....". By and large, nobody responds to his or her postings.

Then there's the group who would probably call themselves Realists. Generally accepting of their team's station and countering demands for investment on the part of the Dramatists ("The time has come for the board to make some money available or get out!") with arguments grounded in what appears to be common sense. To what extent their motivation is well-figured logic versus an insecure need to believe that Everything Will Be All Right is probably variable.

Differentiating a Pessimist from a Realist can take some time, but the distinction is clear... the Pessimists are the ones who go quiet after wins but reappear with a swish of the e-cloak, harbingers of doom following every defeat.

Less common than you'd expect are the Blind Optimists, whose braying "well, I think we're gonna win ten-nil!" doesn't sit very comfortably with the general tone of the rest of the board. The exception to this is of course on other teams' messageboards, where they're very much fighting their corner. Anyone who's watched his or her national side play on TV in a foreign bar can probably at least comprehend this mentality.

There are other stereotypes, perhaps less frequent but equally predictable... the Old Timer ("I remember when this messageboard was fields..."), the Reticent Insider ("I know all sorts of stuff from inside the club but I can't divulge any of it..."). Perhaps, sadly, rarest of all is the bolt of lightning, which I guess can hit any of the above types at any time, an insight so sharp that it transgresses any in-built preferences. Such as the Grimsby correspondent who pondered "Do we really want to stay up? Do we really want ANOTHER season of hanging around the bottom of the table, losing most of the time and at best squeezing in again?". Or words to that effect.

Survival's looking fairly dicey for Grimsby either way, tight as the bottom of the Division is (and despite late bids from the likes of Pompey and Norwich). Their run-in consists of ties with Fulham, Blackburn, Brum, West Brom and Sheffield United as well as ourselves. They could really do with a run of form.

For more details, visit the marvellous "Relegation Calculator" on The Electronic Fishcake. However, it seems likely that our fates be linked together by more than the mathematics of Saturday's three points... an alternative definition of Eternal Purgatory is surely games against Grimsby Town, which have always existed and will go on forever. (How this fits in with Manchester City, who have replaced us in four divisions in the last five seasons without playing us in the league since 1989 isn't clear).

Increasingly, it's noticeable that clubs' end-of-season fate will determine an awful lot more than who they'll play next season. Forest, it is clear, will struggle to balance the books if they don't go up. Similarly, with eleven senior players' contracts expiring in the summer, the Mariners could do with avoiding the drop. And, of course, if Palace go down in their stead, so much the better....

In goal for Town will be Danny Coyne, no longer the terrified "dodgy keeper" who provided a rare moment of hilarity in the Tranmere game of our relegation season. Coyne was linked with a Premiership move before the deadline, and has been in fine form all year. His cover is giant Swede Morten Hyldegaard, on loan from Coventry, whilst youngster Steve Croudson waits in the wings.

Lennie Lawrence has publicly rued the return of Chinaman Zheng Enhua to his homeland, even if the Mariners' support aren't sure if this is a bad thing. Popular Scot Peter Handyside would appear to be the likely beneficiary; his absence had been causing no little consternation. Alongside him, reliable skipper Paul Groves has dropped back from midfield but still makes regular forays forward. With Richard Smith and Paul Raven both injured, cover would involve Steve Livingstone, Tony Gallimore or Menno Willems shifting from their preferred positions.

Right-back is the solid and long-serving John McDermott, who has recently signed a new contract. His cover is youngster Danny Butterfield. On the left, Tony Gallimore is dodgy defensively but puts in a mean cross; in the absence of the injured Ben Chapman, midfielder Dave Smith is the likely cover.

In midfield, the shaven heads of Stacey Coldicott and Alan Pouton identify the midfield engine. Former York man Pouton has missed much of the season, and his form has been up-and-down since his return. More consistent is another loan signing, Leicester's energetic Stuart Campbell, who plays down the left. Eternal frustration Kevin Donovan will probably feature on the right. With the popular Wayne Burnett injured, as ever, cover is provided by Dutchman Willems, Dave Smith and the now 32-year-old Kingsley Black.

Up front, an ineffective first-half performance by Mike Jeffrey and Daryl Clare on Saturday led to them being labelled as "Jeffrey and Bungle". Jeffrey has also been christened "the new Lee Nogan", not as a compliment. Clare's apparent habit of wandering nonchalantly back from offside positions may have been inherited from reserve team coach Paul Wilkinson, ex- of this parish. Yet another loan signing, Fulham's Luke Cornwall, has pace, and scored two off the bench on Saturday.

Then there's Steve Livingstone. Do you remember what happened to Mark Hughes when he lost his pace? Aggressive striker to out-and-out chopper, right? Now take Tommy Mooney. Remove any pace. At all. Add a stone or three. And (with apologies to the irate individual at the Hawthorns) give him ginger hair. Presto. Watch those elbows.

Bradley Allen is a final possibility up front, but is still recovering from an ankle problem. The lively David Nielsen, so impressive at Vicarage Road, has joined Wimbledon.

Grimsby are definitely a Good Thing. But whilst our play-off hopes are still smouldering, we have no room for sentiment. Experience suggests that sides playing an open game are more bountiful prey for the Hornets this season, let's hope that trend continues.

As for the opening statement, perhaps the most interesting observation of all is the confirmation that the standoff between diametrically opposed and irreconcilable camps is played out at every club. Arguments never to be resolved. It's football itself that is the Eternal Purgatory. And we're all stuck in it.

I trust you've all renewed your Season Tickets?