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01/02: Preview: Grimsby Town
Opposition opinion
by Tony Butcher and Nick Osborne of The Electronic Fishcake

What happened last season?
Tony : It started with a whimper and ended with a bang. In the middle we had a Zhang. 2000/2001 - the weirdest season for, ooooooh, at least four years. Well, since the last time Alan Buckley stopped being our manager. And we ended up in almost exactly the same position as the previous season.

The unsackable Buckley was sacked after two games, a loss and a draw - the best start to a season for over a decade! Pandemonium broke out in the not so massed ranks. The players seemed to spend a month wandering the green fields of the First Division in a state of shock. Who would be the new manager? Lennie Lawrence, tired old, mad old Lennie. It certainly wasn't dull after his appointment. Perhaps the most inconsistent man in football, he was known to contradict himself three times in the same sentence.

His mission, which he chose to accept, was to go boldly where no Town manager had gone before - the foreign transfer market. Out of obscurity he plucked a bonkers Dane - David Nielsen aka the Golden Dude; a Chinese centre half - Zhang Enhua aka the Waving Flan; a statuesque Dutchman who hates fish and chips and 1001 Argentinians, Germans, Belgians and every other "uns" under the sun as the reserves became a revolving door for jobbing pros in search of a contract.

If it's Tuesday, we must have signed an Egyptian wing back with one leg.

The team changed tactics, formations, personnel, perhaps even their hairstyles at least three times in every game. Confusion reigned, as did the opposition goals (or at least they would have done if it wasn't for Danny Coyne). Slowly, slowly the team drifted towards the bottom. Some of the performances were good, but the tactics were at times pathetic, designed to maximise the threat from the opposition. Got a good right winger? We'll play without a left sided midfielder and tell the full back to go on a bender the night before....

Around January something finally clicked in Lennie the Lion's head and he decided to go back to 4-4-2 and play some of the players he'd inherited. Cue the following quote after every game "I never realised how good x was until now". Oddly the supporters did and had been shouting it at him for months. Then the team started to drift again (which coincided with some more tactical tinkering). The crunch came on a grey day at the end of March. A flukey win two weeks earlier at QPR had given some relief from the boredom and pain (oh Danny, you were wonderful that day). Tranmere at home. Halftime losing 1-0. The crowd despondent, relegation seemingly 45 minutes away. The team rotten and rotting. On came Steve Livingstone, out came the elbows. 45 minutes later Tranmere had been bullied into defeat, the 'keeper literally laid out by a Livvo "challenge" and the whole Town energised. One week later exactly the same thing happened. Losing at half time to a disinterested Watford, an all-or-nothing bravura performance in the second half which relied on anything but skill and three more points. Then an away win at West Brom, a solid, stoic and staunch Rorke's Drift. Safety was but a point away with four games left. Easy. No. Three defeats.

Last game, down to the last game. Fulham at home. Another rousing, rabid performance where every tackle was a life saver and a fortunate goal from Golden Groves (if only his first name had been Gordon, eh). Safety at last. Done in a circular route with many diversions, like a Sunday outing as navigated by a batty old granny. We got there in the end, but no-one knows how.

Nick : Last season for Grimsby was a nightmare.

You could say, having maintained First Division status, we had been successful. With our meagre resources and no money to spend, it was indeed an achievement, of sorts.

The officials at the club would have you believe that First Division survival was the best we could do, in fact they believe it's the best we could have hoped for.

For me, it was sometimes like watching paint dry. On the other hand, some of the games were played with so much passion and determination that you wouldn't believe it was the same team, unless of course you saw it for yourself. To say the season was a bit of a roller coaster ride would be an understatement.

We started the season with the intention of being involved in the relegation dogfight, and we, the fans, were not dissapointed.

After sacking the manager with only two games played, some would say that the writing was already on the wall.But with grit and determination, we managed to carve out some good results against teams we were expected to lose against.Indeed, some of the games we drew should have been wins, but it was Grimsby's age old problem of not scoring goals that always cost us the points.

All in all, the season's end couldn't come quick enough for some. The last 9O minutes of the season was as exciting as the pre-season thoughts of 'wonder how well we will do'. With a calculator to hand, watching all the other results to see who would go down was almost as good as watching us win our last game of the season.

What's going to happen next season?
Tony :Next Season? Possibly not as calm as the last one. Another boardroom battle ahead. I think it's the new old board fighting the old new board. There have been so many in the last 18 months it's easy to lose track. Does it matter who they are? One set of small town businessmen with no money want to take over from another set of small town businessmen with about the same amount of money.

The club have no cash to spend, have released several decent first division players through cost cutting and have "plans" for a new ground, which is now smaller than it was. Typical of the club - something that doesn't exist yet has shrunk. Unless Lennie Lawrence comes up with at least three fluffy bunnies from an exceeding large top hat we'll somehow manage to struggle in an even poorer First Division - the division that keeps on getting worse. As this is being written we only have a couple of centre backs, one of which Lawrence has publicly stated "if anyone wants him they can have him for free".

It fills me with inertia.

But Lawrence is never one to sit still, something always seems to happen. So it isn't dull and predictable. Under Alan Buckley we always knew what was going to happen. It was a little dull, but comforting. Life is now a little more disturbing for the experienced Grimsby watcher. I look forward to seeing the Captain of the Mongolian national team confidently striding out at Blundell Park to announce it's always been his dream since he was a little boy to pull on the famous black and white jersey (of, sotte voce, Juve).

Nick :With all the 'coming and goings' of players, some real and some fictional, it's pretty difficult to see how things will shape up for the Mariners next season. Like all fans of the club, my hopes are high. With the official line being 'mid table safety' I am hoping against hope that we will do better than that. How much better is another question, one which i don't have the answer to. A faint hearted push for the playoffs might be acceptable, then again, a playoff position (mathematically anyway) by Christmas would be ideal.

Grimsby's biggest problem will be attracting quality players to the club,with high wage demands out of the question and tranfer fees way in excess of what we can afford maybe mid table is our only hope. This is a problem faced by many smaller clubs in the football league these days, and one that wont have a happy ending for many clubs in the future. The blame lies squarely on the 'prawn sandwich brigade' at the bigger clubs.Their interest is in scoring points on the political or commercial side rather than on the footballing side, but thats another story. Grimsby Town FC, will this season have one of the hardest struggles for success that they have had for a long while.Even bigger than last seasons.Just what we call success is open to interpretation. For me it will be a respectable league position and a decent cup run.With the manager planning on more loans than the local finance company, we will be struggling to find our own 'Tarzan'.With our resources we will be lucky if we end up with cheetah. All in all, the season has some great 'local derbies' to look forward to, so it wont all be doom and gloom. Expect some great results from some of the mouth watering ties that lay ahead.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
The Rutland is relatively quiet and unassuming.

What's the nearest railway station?
Cleethorpes, which is 1.5 miles away. It'll take you 20-25 minutes walking. You'll get a sinking feeling as you approach the ground on the train and keep going, and going and going...

Where is the best place to park?
I park there, so I'm not telling you. Go and park in Ramsdens like everyone else! It's all street parking. Park in the wrong place and it'll take you 25 minutes to get out of the Town. As you are from Watford that, of course, is a small traffic jam.

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"The Ball is round, even in Grimsby"

"I dont support Grimsby for the fun of it"

"We like fishing. Its pretty cool when you think about it."

"People like fish, but they dont like us. Where's the justice in that ?"

"We are a small club with no money, other supporters should recognise this achievement more rather than make the usual boring fish comments" - (Ooh the irony - Ed)

"Graham Taylor is God!!:-)"

"Danny Coyne is the best goalkeeper in the whole world and should be Wales number 1"