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02/03: Preview: Grimsby Town
Opposition opinion
by Tony Butcher of The Electronic Fishcake

What happened last season?
Everything !

What's going to happen next season?
Who knows ?

Yes, the magic carpet ride that is the lot of your average Grimsby fan is about to set off on another crazy flight of fancy. And what a ride last season was. Up, down, flying around, looping the loop and defying the iron laws of logic. We were everywhere and nowhere, baby.

The first month of the season was just a long running, one joke sitcom - "Whoops missus, where's me left back?". Mad Lennie Lawrence picked a rotten team, they played awfully but kept on winning. Crewe, West Brom, Barnsley - all flippin' murdered 1-0. One shot, one goal. I suppose it was a kind of magic. It did help considerably that the opposition insisted on missing open goals, several per game. The biggest laugh of all came at 3pm on Saturday 1 September. We skipped gaily out of Blundell Park, whistling a happy tune - Town were top of Division One. England's slender victory over Germany later that day was lost in the fog of fantasy.

All this fortune must end, we thought. Courtesy of Marcus Hedman's comedy Coventry 'keeping the following week, gifting one more win, the long, slow torture was delayed for seven more English days. I'm sure you don't wish to intrude on our personal hell, let's just sum it up as during the period September to December 2001 it was humiliating to be associated with the inept, turgid, incoherent and above all pathetic dross that represented our town. Frankly, relegation, there and then, without passing go, to the third division would have been deserved; the team was bereft of skill, intelligence, wit, heart or hope.

So why wasn't Lawrence sacked? Because he's lucky Lennie, friendly Lennie, the man with a smile on his face, a song in his heart and a quip for all seasons. Lucky? Yes, because Town freaked a win at Anfield, which superglued his posterior to the manager's bench for another couple of months. But in the league the hammerings continued, there really was no point in the games being played - here are two goals, we won't shoot, have the three points. The crowds dwindled to the solid core, and less and less people braved the dread, the slow, cold clinging dread of trudging up Cleethorpes Road and into the ground.

Lawrence even admitted in the press that he didn't know how to save the club, to turn the tide of woe. But still he carried on, as did the horror, the horror before our very eyes. By December the crowd was arguing amongst itself, with the nadir of nadirs being at Walsall. A disgraceful 4-0 defeat where the players had quite obviously given up. Half the dwindling away support even called for more goals, cheering on Walsall. It took another two weeks for Lawrence to be finally terminated, allegedly cruelly between Christmas and New Year. There was some dancing in the streets at the announcement, but also raging at the board during the next game. Half the crowd cheered, half wailed and raged and even booed the new player-manager, Paul Groves. Even victory failed to shut the moaners and groaners up. You see they don't like Paul Groves because he was twice signed by Alan Buckley - and resentments run very deep. January was a shocker, with no goals between 1st and 29th, and two games against York in the FA Cup which saw Town totally outclassed. Even old Tireless Lee Nogan ran rings round the defence! February meandered by with some better performances, but rotten fortune (and a couple of extremely controversial refereeing performances. You may recall the Watford game and the second goal. Now if that had happened to, ooh say Wolves, we could all have laughed along with it). Town were 6 points adrift of safety, hope gone, relegation a certainty. No money, no chance.

Ah, but the darkest hour is just before dawn. Groves, suddenly pulled not one, but two, bright gleaming Charlton rabbits, Messrs Todd and Pringle, out of a top hat we never knew he had. And later, on transfer deadline day, four useful doves from his large black cape. Pringle only lasted 1 games before the much despised Chucker Challinor snapped his legs in two, but his enthusiasm, experience, and mere presence galvanised the strikers. Likewise Todd in defence, plus an air of calmness and authority. We hadn't had what a casual observer would label a defence before, just a collection of blokes standing in a field near each other, sometimes.

And boy did the world change. Town were acceptably average away from Blundell Park, with one bright, gleaming proud trophy to hang on the wall - Town effectively started the Wolves wobble. Wolves, and their supporters, turned up expecting three points to be presented to them, before kick off, on a silver salver, with an option for goals on demand. Gloriously their premature promotion bubble was pricked and we can still hear Molineux deflating now, several months later. Psssssssssssstttttttttt.

At Blundell Park there really was a miracle performed, with the Pontoon transformed into a chorus of angels, singing songs of praise to all striped warriors. Now even the most disinterested observer will have noticed that Grimsby Town don't usually "do" goals. If we win, it's 1-0 (Groves). We have the most parsimonious strike force in the division. The jaw dropping, throat aching, tear inducing exhilaration of March cannot be described by words alone. Oh to be in Grimsby now that spring is here. Palace? Swept contemptuously aside 5-2; Wimbledon pulverised 6-2 (with two hat tricks to boot!) and Burnley flicked away like a speck of dust 3-1. Safety was confirmed by Crewe's implosion and Barnsley's belief that they were a "a team with Premiership ambitions". Yes Kevin Donovan, you said it when you signed for the Tykes, we remember, we will always remember. Schadenfreude!

Safe for another year and with a game to spare too, which enabled the players to avoid victory at Millwall, ensuring the safety of the supporters. Nice of them to think of us.

The season was bizarre, it had everything, ending on the highest of highs. One could actually enjoy games, even when still in the relegation places. The crowds flocked to the Park to see the most exciting, attacking and joyous football played by Grimsby Town for a generation. Hanging on in quiet desperation is normally the Grimsby way; these were not normal times.

It is impossible to predict what'll happen this season, as I type this we haven't got enough contracted professional footballers to have 5 subs. And two of those are up for sale, with the club desperate to get rid of the huge wage bill. Oh yes, and half of those which are left are players Groves clearly doesn't want (as he replaced them with loanees last year). Oh, and half the rest are so old and injury prone they barely count. Grimsby could well be this year's Stockport, or Swindon. Able to fulfil the fixture list, b-b-b-but that's all folks! Our only hope isn't Obi-Wan, but the magnificently sensible Paul Groves, though even he would be pushed to spin gold from the slender threads of hamster hair he has been left with.

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)

"Laws and Lyons weren't really bad players but I just hate both of them." (re worst 11)

"Worst manager would be Mike Lyons or Brian Laws"

"were going up, your not" (sic)

"Town will do a Stockport this coming season."

"We're so bad we have to laugh"

"We are ALWAYS bookies' favourites for the drop, yet have spent eleven of last twelve seasons in Div One. That's more than lucky"