Fine Margins: 2021/22 season review

In a year that provoked such wildly contrasting emotions, it seemed almost poetic that the Mariners would experience the ecstasy of promotion against the team they played so badly against in the regular season.

Many words were shared about Town’s awful mid-season run, in which we lost 11 of 14 games between late October and early January — words like ‘Sort it, Hursts!’ and ‘This is excrement’.

Yep, the Fishy’s illegitimate swear filter was one again being put through its fornicating paces.

The 2-0 defeat at Solihull Moors, which came in late November, was also part of an eight-game losing streak on the road, in which we scored just three goals.

However, another word doing the rounds was ‘data’. It told Paul Hurst, and other vital decision-makers within the club at the time, that, yes, results were a bit crap, but performances were okay.

Defeats were mostly by the odd goal. Margins were fine — as they always are in football, of course. Notts County, Wrexham and Solihull Moors will testify to that.

However, those small margins saw us fall from the top of the league all the way down to tenth, leaving us six points adrift of the last play-off spot with over half the season played.

The dream of an instant return to the Football League — though it was an ambitious one, even for the most optimistic Mariner — remained just that: a dream.

The reality was that we were, like our manager, a bit short.

HMS Piss The League had sailed without us, departing from Alexandra Dock in the middle of the night.

Jason Stockwood has since confirmed that Hurst’s job was never in doubt. What good would it do, and how hypocritical would it be (I’m paraphrasing here) if we got rid of someone, given all we’d said about building a culture of trust and backing good people?

Let’s face it — a public backing is a Judas kiss, and it’s been that way for decades. A sacking with lipstick on. If you feel the need to back someone publicly, there’s an underlying problem.

Of course, sticking rather than twisting doesn’t guarantee promotion. It could be argued that the brumal ghost of seasons past stuck by Neil Woods despite relegation, only to sack him eight months later when our debut season in non-league quickly became a mid-table procession.

But I ask you: was he valued, trusted and backed in the same way Hurst was this season?

Or did Woods operate in an environment of constant anxiety, fearing the next unfair, unhinged or badly mistimed decision that would ultimately affect his ability to do his job?

His heart rate would’ve shot up each time he heard the uncorking of another Merlot, or the sound of a keyboard being pummelled down Humberstone Avenue at close to midnight.

Hurst may not have the media-savvy persona of another unhinged character closely linked to our club’s recent past, but he does have a knack of finding good people and generating incredible team spirit without the aid of an illegal darts tournament.

(Holloway denied a darts tournament ever took place — then he confessed there may have been one, but when he walked in the room and saw two dozen men throwing arrows at a circular cork board, he didn’t realise it was a darts tournament.)

Like a Greek God, Paul Hurst — or Small Burst, as he’s known in our household — has his weaknesses. But the one thing he isn’t is a duplicitous little shit.

On more than one occasion, Hurst talked about signing ‘good people’. Talent isn’t enough.

Without doing a disservice to the bloke, Giles Coke won’t make it into many fans’ Best XIs. But he turned up one day, trained with us for a couple of weeks, out of his own pocket, and did so without any promise of a contract.

Why he ever wanted to hang around at a club with misshapen balls in the first place is a mystery, although I for one am glad he did.

And the fact he earned a deal until the end of the season — and then a year’s extension — is probably more to do with his professionalism than his talent. It embodied everything that had been missing from this club since Hurst departed in the autumn of 2016.

It’s hard not to emphasise what a gargantuan achievement it’s been to turn this club around so quickly.

Let’s be honest — neither Stockwood nor Pettit would’ve expected promotion to happen this season. There were far more pressing matters to attend to off the pitch (not least the misshapen balls).

If some fundamental improvements to the training ground, pitch and stadium could be implemented so new players wouldn’t think we were a complete basket case, then that would be a start.

When asked about the task of reparation, Stockwood repeatedly talked about culture.

Obviously, we’re talking about a culture of teamwork, positivity, kindness and selflessness — not a culture of see-who-can-be-the-most-pissed-up-player-at-training-on-Monday-morning (and get a top-bantz pat on the back for it).

The thing about culture is that you can’t just swap out an old one for a new one. Well, you can, but it takes time.

B-Corp status isn’t granted overnight.

I’ve worked at a place that has undergone massive change over the last three years and, as we all know, people don’t like change. It brings uncertainty, it disrupts an existing culture that, for good or bad, people are comfortable with, and it freaks them out.

If a new parent company barges in and says ‘this is how it’s going to be’, people will reject it. It’s certainly not going to make them jump on board, no questions asked.

But, even to the casual observer sat on the moon, it was clear that things had to change.

The change at Grimsby needed to be values-led and subtle enough so as not to send latent potential running for the hills. I’m no expert (and I certainly haven’t written an excellent book on it like some have) but this seemed like common sense to me — which just goes to show that common sense was something our boardroom lacked in abundance for the best part of two decades.

The club had been bleeding for years as a result of self-harm, and the only kind of medical treatment it ever got was sticking plasters.

Promotion was always the aim, let’s not pretend it wasn’t. But what mattered more — not just for this season, but our future — was to address the haemorrhage (at an outrageous cost), heal the wound and make that shift in culture.

Like beginning a diet, initial gains are easy. They only had to do the right thing on two consecutive days and, hey presto, you could see and feel the improvement.

The fan survey not only showed the new board was prepared to listen, it also gave them a list of priorities.

Fan Zone. Catering. Match day experience. Open and regular communications.

Then you had the playing side. The training facilities. The pitch at Cheapside. The pitch at Blundell Park.

Other things would take time too, like the squad itself. The one that began the season with that 1-0 win over Weymouth was very different to the XI that finished the play-off final.

Back on that late August weekend we had McKeown in goal; Longe-King at centre back; Crookes at left back; Hunt in midfield; Bapaga, John-Lewis, Revan and Max Wright on the bench, along with Waterfall.

McAtee, Clifton, Taylor, Sousa and, to some degree, Efete, were mainstays throughout. Everything around them changed.

Waterfall came into the starting XI and didn’t look back. In came Max Crocombe after that defeat at Solihull. Towley, Hunt, Bapaga and Revan returned to their parent clubs.

Jordan Maguire-Drew signed. Andy Smith joined on loan from Hull. Amos and Cropper signed deals until the end of the season. Gavan Holohan signed. Tristan Abrahams and Mani Dieseruvwe agreed loan deals.

Sean Scannell was like a new signing. Joel Grant was a figment of our imaginations.

To make this level of transition mid-season and come out the other side with a run of just three defeats in 20 matches to fight our way back into the play-off picture was remarkable in itself.

While there’s always more to do (continuous improvement is one of the club’s five values), it’s clear to see that the shift in culture has already gripped in a big way.

One of their other values is trust. It gives people at the club the freedom to innovate, explore and act upon their ideas without fear of failure or judgment. See what happens when you let Liam Emmerson loose with the equipment he needs?

And just look at what Hurst can build if you support him with the players, the coaching staff, the analyst and (dare I mention) the strength and conditioning coach.

Interesting fact: they won’t win you three points on a Saturday but they’ll help you get through three extra time periods at the end of a long season (because you never know when you might need that particular super power).

And again, look what the players can produce when they work within this culture of trust. It’s been trickling down from the top all season and the messages have been consistent in every Stockwood interview.

Values-led culture. Treating footballers and staff as people. Supporting each other. Using the power of football to bring communities together.

You know, there aren’t many things left in this ever-dividing world that have the power to unite people with so many differences. I can have a protracted Twitter disagreement with a fellow Town fan about local politics but on a Saturday I can sit next to them and enjoy their company because we can at least agree on one thing: we love our club.

Following the 0-0 draw at Boreham Wood some Town fans shared their frustration at the team not showing more attacking intent, suggesting they were in some way being held back or inhibited by the pragmatism of Hurst.

His use of subs, and timing of them, were repeatedly called into question.

While I understood where that frustration was coming from, I couldn’t — and wouldn’t — join in with the criticism given the season could still end in promotion (and yes, I’ve afforded myself a wry smile over this since Sunday).

That goalless draw was followed by the 2-1 home defeat to Solihull, which appeared to show our true weakness: we couldn’t win against the teams above us (and that we couldn’t defend against 6’9” strikers).

Ha! We can laugh about it now.

Our response was to smash Chesterfield 4-1 and then beat a Stockport side that had won 19 of their previous 20 games — coming from behind in both ties.

Now there’s a theme we stuck to.

We won crucial home games against Dagenham and Torquay, and secured a 1-0 win over Boreham Wood in the reverse fixture to seal our play-off spot.

And if we thought the 4-4 draw at Eastleigh was simply a dead silly dead rubber, it only teed up the drama that was about to follow across an unforgettable fortnight.

Our season was 15 seconds from ending. The players could’ve had their feet up on a beach somewhere in the Algarve by the time we kicked off against Wrexham.

Instead, Holohan swept home through a sea of legs and triggered extra time, leaving Ian Burchnall on his haunches.

I’m not even sure my celebrations at the time were anything to do with keeping our promotion hopes alive. It was just a late goal worth celebrating. After all, this match at County was a ‘free hit’. They were the favourites; they were winning.

And good old Town spoiled their party! For a bit, anyway.

Better was to come, as we all know. Just 90 seconds before spot-kicks were due, Mani crept across his marker to bundle to ball home for a dramatic winner and then left a swear word out there for BT Sport to deal with in his post-match interview.

Quite why they had to apologise for the bad language was beyond me. It was gone 10pm.

One late goal to save the match; another late goal to win the match. A new quote for a t-shirt. It was enough for us to dine out on for a long, long time. But it had set up another play-off match so we had just five days to relive the occasion, again and again.

And I’d still be revisiting it today if it weren’t for that incredible win at Wrexham.

Had we won 2-0 at Notts County inside 90 minutes I remain convinced we’d have lost at Wrexham. Winning in that style in Nottingham made a difference in North Wales, of that I’m absolutely sure.

So then, Wrexham. Just one defeat at home all season. They had the division’s top scorer, and an ex-Town player up front who, naturally, was bound to score against us.

Just as he did in the league.

Ollie Palmer’s move was financed by Hollywood — which had a script written, a Netflix documentary recorded and a big promotion cake baked, albeit missing just the cherry.

Oh, and they had Tozer’s famous long throw.

Home advantage, fresher legs and BT Sport cameras trained on Ryan Reynolds’ face, on his special balcony. Town were up against it on so many levels you wouldn’t believe.

They paid a lot of money for their long throw. And yet they lost the tie to a long throw we picked up from a bargain bucket in Burnley.

They paid a lot of money for Mullin’s goals too. And yet they conceded a goal and two assists to a ‘lazy’ guy kicking his heels on the bench at Scunny.

It’s a funny old game, as they say. Funnier still, when Scunny get relegated in tragic fashion.

The narrative was such that even a fortuitous 1-0 win would’ve given me pleasure in winning at the Racecourse. The fact that there were nine goals and the lead changed hands four times gave the pleasure a kind of intensity that I’ve very rarely experienced following Town, at any level.

We thought nothing would beat that night at Notts and yet here we were, into the final of the play-offs, having seen off moneybags Wrexham like they were Fulham in ’98.

Keegan should’ve told ’em — ‘Watch out for Grimsby. They don’t care how much money you’ve got. Also, don’t have one of your players fly in two-footed on their centre back in the first half.’

At least they heeded the final part of that imaginary warning. Not that it did them any good.

The game was brilliantly brutal, packing all the ups and downs we’d experienced across nine months into 120 minutes.

‘Ah, shit ref! Oh well.’

‘Hang on — yes! What a strike! Game on!’

‘Get in!!!! This promotion is on!’

‘Ah balls. Still, we’re level. Anything could happen.’

‘Shit. That’s what happens. And he’s handballed it. Course he has. That’s it, I reckon.’

‘Yessss! What a header! Maybe this game isn’t done yet!’

‘OMG Mani! Is this happening?! Someone pinch me!’

‘Ah crap. Looks like extra time. Not sure we’ll have the legs for this one.’


So many times I thought our season was over. So many times I thought our season might yet end in glory. My emotions flipped on that subject throughout the season.

And then it flipped at least two dozen times in just a couple of hours.

There was too much to absorb; I couldn’t take it all in. There had been so much drama and emotion that it didn’t seem possible that it could be wiped out by a defeat to Solihull in the final.

Was I allowed to think like that? I felt bullish about our chances, which was unfamiliar territory and so naturally it also made me feel awkward. It’s complicated being a Town fan.

We’d been here before, though.

Rewind six years and we find ourselves up against Braintree in the National League play-off semis. Braintree — our kryptonite. They, like Solihull this season, appeared to have the measure of us in the regular season.

We had 45 minutes to do something we’d previously failed to do against Braintree in three-and-a-half games. Namely, score a goal.

A tug of a shirt, a stroke of the ball from 12 yards and that was it. Goal! Relief. Job done.

Except it wasn’t because we hadn’t won the game at that point. We’d only just levelled. But such was the outpouring of emotion in proving that we could break down the Cowley resistance that it installed a belief and an unstoppable momentum that essentially won us the play-offs in that moment.

Bogle headed in the winner during extra time (winning in extra time, eh? What a neat idea) and, like Hurst post-Wrexham, captain Disley welled up in front of the cameras.

You speak to any one of those Town players from that promotion squad in 2015/16 and they’ll all say the same thing: that was the moment they knew they’d beat Forest Green in the final.

Solihull were beaten a week before they’d even kicked a ball. We even gave them a goal advantage — you know, to make us feel comfortable.

We can’t talk on behalf of the Town players but we all felt it. After watching us win at Wrexham I was so hyped and euphoric that I nearly took up exercise again after a five-year absence.

Going 1-0 down is what Town do. They could use it as our motto and stick it on our badge where the 1878 flag is.

Jordan Maguire-Drew stepping over that ball was essentially Grimsby stepping over Scunthorpe’s body. John McAtee and his slightly dehydrated calves did the rest.

Extra time is Grimsby time. We knew it. BT Sport knew it. Solihull probably knew it too, despite all the advantages they held. Their biggest, however, had been subbed off and with him went their chances.

It’s still not known why professional footballers appear to panic so much more when the ball is hurled in rather than kicked in, but Moors only flicked on the danger and there was JMD, ghosting in at the back post to prod the ball into the roof of the net with his outstretched boot.

There were a couple of nervy moments in the nine (plus three) remaining minutes, but Crocombe claimed and cramped like a pro to the cheers of the 13,000 Mariners fans who’d paid over the odds to watch the victory unfold.

Three tight games, three draws, three of the club’s biggest wins achieved in extra time.

Those fine margins had flipped in our favour.

There’s delight in hearing players like Andy Smith, Danny Amos, Max Crocombe and John McAtee say it was the best day of their lives.

Let’s be honest — we’ve had more than 200 players represent the Mariners since we last won promotion into the Football League and not many of them will reflect on their time at Grimsby and say ‘It was the best period of my career’ or ‘I have a lot of happy memories from my time there’.

But for those few that can? They have one thing in common: they were signed by Paul Hurst.

The promotion six years ago was in spite of the way the club was run.

The promotion in 2022 is because of the way the club is run.

Rejoining the Football League was against the odds, it has to be said. But now that we’re here again, you can be sure of one thing: the owners and the board won’t be making any derogatory contract offers to its best players and making the same mistakes that meant our previous five-year stay only ever felt temporary.

With more than 4,000 season ticket sales likely, it’s clear they won’t let this momentum slip.

Making memories. Match report: Grimsby 4-3 Barnet

Once upon a time my match reports used to be written after actually attending the match. Then, due to the pandemic, they became match reports based on what I watched online.

Now, they’re nothing more than an account of how I experienced the match 70 miles away, with no visuals and, for the best part of this afternoon, no commentary either — just fleeting glances at my Twitter feed as I struggled to persuade my three-year-old son to cycle a couple of hundred yards back to our house from the local train station, rather than be carried, because daddy has a bad back.

I don’t have a bad back; I’m just weak. But he doesn’t need to know that yet.

I see a lot of Town fans take their really young kids to matches and think, ‘how the hell do you do that?’ I can’t hope to keep my lad in the same spot for more than two minutes.

His interest in sport, for now, is limited, despite the TV being jammed on the football and cricket channels at home. As an out-and-out left-footer, he doesn’t yet understand his potential value in football but, don’t you worry, I’ll be letting him know about it soon enough.

A mate of mine had actually travelled across from Cleethorpes to spend the day with us. I’d not seen him since January 2020 so it was good to catch up. We were at home when I heard us take the lead on the wireless.

We chatted away while the TV played out Ben & Hollie’s Little Kingdom and we totally missed the bit when Barnet equalised. As my ears tuned back into the football frequency, I heard the visitors take the lead.

As the start of the second half approached, we left the house to walk down to the station where my mate caught his train home. Just as we said our goodbyes and he turned to board, he told me it was now 3-1, like some kind of sick parting shot.

Really? Oh god. Barnet are meant to be a bit crap, are they not? That’s that, then.

I lost the next few minutes dealing with my son who was sulking like a football fan who’d been told his team had thrown their early lead away and were now losing 3-1. I can’t actually remember what he was sulking about (it doesn’t have to be about anything, I’ve learnt) but, when I next checked Twitter, I saw we had pulled a goal back.

The fact that it was a penalty, and that Barnet had a man sent off in the incident, didn’t register. I refreshed my feed and it was almost as if my wishful thinking had translated into reality. There it was — the equaliser!

The journey home seemed to take forever, which included my lad performing a spectacular and totally unintended stunt on his bike when the stabilisers hit a kerb and threw him round 360 degrees, yet he remained seated throughout. You almost wanted him to walk off, head down and arms aloft, accepting the rapturous applause of the couple walking past us on the opposite side of the road, but instead there were a few tears through shock.

At least I believe it was shock. Maybe they were tears of joy — he wouldn’t be able to pull that stunt again, even if he tried.

Back in our quiet cul-de-sac I tuned into the online commentary as we entered six minutes of injury time. I followed my son around as he traded his bike in for his scooter. That’s when I heard Town win a free kick and John Tondeur insist that ‘Hunt must surely fancy a strike from here’.

Ah, the noise of the crowd! I didn’t need the commentary to confirm it. I leapt up in the air, threw a few limbs and exclaimed in a way that had the noise bouncing off the houses all around us.

Startled and confused at first, my son joined in — despite not really knowing what had happened. He was full of joy too, running round in circles, throwing himself onto the grass verges in celebration while also asking, “Daddy, what happened?”

I told him Grimsby Town had scored. His eyes lit up and, for probably the first time — even if he was just excited because I was excited — there seemed to be a bit of connection there between my son and my football club.

Alex Hunt won’t forget it, I’m sure — but he should also know that it was more than just his first professional goal; it created a special moment that I could enjoy with my son, even though we weren’t there to see it.

And it’ll live long in our memories, too.

Getting clean: The detox begins.

Well, that’s that, then. Grimsby Town are non-league. Again.

There’s a lot to process after last night’s 3-2 defeat at Exeter, which made the Greatest of Great Escapes mathematically impossible.

There was the manner of defeat to deal with — and then there was the manner of Radio Humberside’s coverage, which had to conduct emotionally-charged (and even tearful) interviews over a phone because they refused to send a reporter to the game.

But possibly the most galling thing about last night is this:

The team that got relegated at Exeter is not the team that deserved to get relegated.

Sadly, many of those who are responsible, including former ‘manager’ and professional prat Ian Holloway, are no longer at the club.

Obviously there’s one key player who remains. But hopefully not for long.

Of course, there can be no arguments that we deserve to go down. It’s been a lousy season. A truly horrible, forgettable one.

In terms of points-per-game, there may be little to separate Hurst from Holloway — but that is to overlook the work he has done to build a team that has restored some pride in what has been a largely hopeless campaign.

He is not immune from criticism and has, for sure, made a few mistakes along the way. But that’s gonna happen when you’re forced to basically re-build a squad, mid-season.

“Player A, meet Player B. Now play like you’ve always played together. And hurry up, we haven’t got much time. Players C, D and E, I hope you were listening.”

The likes of Giles Coke and Lenell John-Lewis have brought a committed and workmanlike attitude that was so desperately missing.

Elliott Hewitt and Harry Clifton found another gear. Rollin Menayese and Jay Matete have been excellent loans.

No more darts tournaments. No more misshapen balls. No more weird post-match comments about mud being on the mud.

The temptation is to think of today as a low point. But the low point was months ago.

We’re already on the up. Okay, we’ve got to drop down to a shambolic league whose governance has been seriously called into question first, but hey — you can’t make an omelette without breaking the morale of the fans, as they say.

But the takeover edges closer. We know who our manager will be next season. We know we’ll get a hard-working team of pros.

We’ll be allowed to actually go to games.

No one wants relegation. But if it’s a consequence of the detox we’ve so desperately needed to rid ourselves of an addiction forced upon us by a power-rich tyrant, then so be it.

Delaying the inevitable. Match report: Oldham 1-2 Grimsby

I was mentally prepared to accept relegation yesterday, and we couldn’t even do that. In victory, Grimsby Town still manage to disappoint me.

Our victory at Oldham — one of the dozens of sides to have established themselves as a Grimsby bogie team during the John Fenty era — is surely only delaying the inevitable.

But it did mean social media was a happier place in the evening, rather than the depressing post mortem that would’ve surely seen hundreds of us dissect the season and all come to the same logical conclusion:

John Fenty and Ian Holloway are a pair of little shits.

It’s the Grimsby version of Godwin’s law. Instead of protracted online conversations ending with some reference to Hitler, ours end with Fenty.

I was one of the few thousand that made the effort to be at Burton in 2010 when our football club, and its fans, stooped to new lows. I felt a lot of things that day, but a general sense of ‘meh’ wasn’t one of them.

Yet that’s how I felt yesterday ahead of kick-off. It’s odd, because you’d think I’d be fucking livid. After all, getting relegated to non-league once is painful; twice would be unbearable.

But the writing had been on the wall for a long time — since pre-season in fact. Pre-season; what’s one of those? Exactly.

In attempting to keep our best player at the club, the board, in all its wisdom, offered him less money than he was already on.

Clearly, due to the lack of any sort of planning, the board felt the season wouldn’t conclude. Just when you thought no one else couldn’t be any more short-sighted than our ramshackle collection of suited gits, Ian Holloway asks us to hold his beer.

That man should not be a football manager.

We start losing lots, Fenty courts a convicted property fraudster, the takeover is back on, then it’s off, then Holloway says he’s not leaving, then he leaves, then the takeover’s back on again, then it’s off again…

Paul Hurst returns to the club, we still can’t win, then we finally win one, then we lose more, then we just seem to draw every game we play.

One of our players headbutts another of our players — that old chestnut.

The truth is, I didn’t want to pay £10 to watch iFollow and witness our relegation confirmed. There, I said it.

I’m glad those who did bother to pay £10 and risk witnessing the worst got some sort of reward.

I’ve called this article a match report, which is ambitious if you think about the fact that I neither watched nor listened to a second of the action.

“I didn’t go today Burnsy but…”

All I know is from what I saw on Twitter. Town started slowly, went behind in the first half, equalised early in the second through the much-maligned Matt Green and won it at the end with an outstanding strike from Jay Matete.

There’s your match report.

Looking at the League 2 table tonight, a defeat would have pretty much sent us down, barring an outrageous goal difference swing. We live to fight another day.

I recently watched the 10-part HBO series The Terror. It’s an excellent watch, if you like your TV programmes to be as bleak as your football team’s season, and I couldn’t help thinking about its narrative, and the parallels it shares with Town’s 2020/21 campaign.

This next bit contains spoilers — although, if you know anything about Sir John Franklin’s expedition to discover the North West Passage in the mid-19th century, you’ll be aware that it doesn’t end well.

You have the apply named Sir John — the dangerously arrogant leader of the expedition — captaining two ships into an ice pack, which traps them there for longer than the crew can bear.

You know this story doesn’t end well, yet you can’t help but watch. You’re sort of paralysed into witnessing some fairly horrific events play out.

You feel empathy for many of the crew members, but not John, who gets his leg bitten off by some kind of polar bear monster and then dumped down a fire hole while still semi-conscious.

Apparently, the writers drafted an alternative ending where John survives and gets £2.5m for wrecking the ships, and the final scene was him perched on the edge of his snooker table, warming his feet in front of the fire place looking smug.

But that would have been silly.

House of Payne. Match report: Bradford 1-0 Grimsby

If we were 13th and drifting aimlessly in the comfort of mid-table mediocrity, there might have been something about Stefan Payne’s head-buttery to laugh about.

As it is, we’re on the brink of relegation to non-league for the second time in a little over a decade, and just when you think our football club has discovered every conceivable way to disappoint its fans through incompetence, ineptitude or embarrassment, up steps a cannon looser than Gavin Gunning to drive that nail into our Football League coffin.

When we get relegated — and, let’s be honest, there’s no ‘if’ about it any more — it’ll be for reasons so multitudinous that no one blog post or even Cod Almighty feature could summarise succinctly enough for a non-Town fan to truly understand.

We won’t be relegated on Payne’s head-butt alone, but it was a moment of madness in a bizarre season that all of us, including manager Paul Hurst, want to see the back of.

Like the head-butt itself, nothing much has made sense. The total absence of pre-season; releasing our better players and replacing them with a raft of non-league signings; the infamous darts tournament that broke covid rules and incurred a fine that basically took a large chunk out of the money the fans raised when we had legitimate worries about the year ahead.

Ian Holloway’s increasingly erratic post-match interviews; John Fenty’s collusion with a known fraudster; the club statements published at midnight. Bilel Mohsni.

I could go on.

Another thing that just doesn’t make sense is that we’re far more competitive and hard to beat under Hurst than we ever were under Holloway, yet Holloway holds the upper hand in terms of points and victories.

It seems every game we play comes with a hard luck story. From the biased ref at Salford to the injury time goal at Carlisle, we have a mountain of cases in which we can confidently claim that we were the better side, we deserved the three points… but we only got one.

No referee is giving us a break and no team is gifting us silly goals (Barrow seem to be hogging that good fortune). We have to work extra hard for every break we can get, and then one lapse of concentration does for us.

I still have nightmares of that defeat at Newport. Played them off the park first half in which they had a man sent off. They sneak a goal early in the second and that was the game gone.

Today was one of the best performances I’ve seen us put in with 10 men, but it means nothing now. We lost a game we controlled for large spells and so we remain bottom of the league.

I’m no mathematician but I reckon we need to win at least four of our remaining six games to stand any chance of staying up. I’m also no psychic but, given we’ve only won two games in 2021, I don’t see it happening.

The good news right now is off the field, with the consortium’s takeover looking likely to happen following a general meeting in just over three weeks’ time.

Today, though, Bradford were just another team that didn’t have to be at their best or play particularly well to beat us.

We’re having a hard enough time scoring goals without our striker then nutting one of his teammates after the referee had blown for half-time.

With the game just about up, you can just see us benefiting from an outrageous piece of good fortune in a dead rubber, or the ref giving us a penalty for a shirt tug that never happened.

Payne’s head-butt on Filipe Morais probably signals the end of a career at GTFC in which his only achievement will be earning a place alongside Paul Linwood and Richard Brodie in the ‘Most Unliked GTFC Players XI’ that will inevitably be discussed on social media.

Absolute dogger. Match report: Grimsby 0-0 Colchester

Goals win games. Someone should tell our lot that.

If — sorry, when — we get relegated to non-league at the end of this season, it will be thoroughly deserved.

I don’t think you’ll find one Grimsby fan who’s got an imagination vivid enough or even warped enough to concoct a fanciful hard luck story.

Naturally, it’s our failure to be any good that will relegate us, but the lack of goals is the glaringly obvious problem.

That, and not being able to defend.

That’s the on-field story, anyway. What happens on the field is usually dictated by what happens off the field. Let’s not revisit that tale of woe and chronic incompetence today.

It feels like we’ve been saying it all season: beat the teams around us, and we’ll give ourselves a chance.

The phrase has had to be adapted in the last month to ‘beat the teams directly above us’, owing to the way we’ve plummeted to the bottom of the table.

Around us, above us, it makes no odds. There are some dire teams in this division, and Colchester were one of them.

Only one team was in worse form than us before Tuesday’s game at Carlisle, and that was Carlisle.

Colchester have dropped like a stone since the turn of the year, and for the first half at least played like a team bereft of confidence and nervous at the thought of being entangled with us in a relegation scrap.

Town controlled large parts of the opening 45 minutes and should have taken the lead on the stroke of half time, but Lenell John-Lewis somehow managed to guide his two-yard effort onto the top of the bar.

Jay Matete was possibly lucky to escape a red card for a bit of a lunge earlier in the game.

The protestations for the U’s were led, naturally, by football’s biggest vagina, Harry Pell. He’s one of those awful modern-day footballers who spends more time in the referee’s face than he does actually kicking a ball.

In the second half, Pell genuinely believed he deserved a penalty when he fell over his own stupid legs in the box.

In truth, Colchester will probably feel they could have nicked it in the second half.

However, they too looked like they wouldn’t be able to score at a Bags’ Ball. Town were, well, Town. Swapping John-Lewis for Stefan Payne did fuck all, and Jackson came on near the end to prove that we are just as ineffective from long throws as we are at every other facet of the game.

At this rate, we’re going to finish the season with a much lower points total than the bunch of alcoholics that got us relegated to non-league in 2010.

However, in this squad we see no lack of effort. We’re just desperately short of quality.

Our attacking options look a little brighter but still we have no invention in the final third. The ball just appears to be a hot potato for this lot.

You have it. No, you have it. Here, I don’t want it — you have it back. You gonna move for it?

Every time I watch the Mariners it’s an absolute slog. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re shit, or that it’s the fourth division’s style these days, but matches are played like dinnertime games of football at school.

The standard is pretty awful. We could have won that game 1-0 today and I’d still be honest enough to say that there was little to no excitement.

It’s got to the point where you just want this whole nightmare to end. Of course, you don’t want to take relegation now and move on when there’s still a mathematical chance of that miracle escape, but games like today’s only prolong the agony.

Back-to-back draws have left us six points adrift of safety tonight, and our top scorer is a 19-year-old central defender who, even when fit, hasn’t been able to make it into our starting XI recently.

Today was a chance to draw a team super low on confidence closer into the relegation fight.

But that was never going to happen because we can’t put the sodding ball in the sodding net.

24 goals in 33 matches tells its own story.

Stop believing and start accepting. Match report: Grimsby 1-2 Forest Green

There are 45 points to play for, and tonight Grimsby Town sit just five points adrift of safety. But let’s face it, shall we? We’re down.

This team loses when it deserves to lose, and it loses when it deserves a draw.

I don’t think we’ve actually played well enough in any of our 31 league games this season to claim we’ve deserved all three points. Maybe Cheltenham away, but that’s it.

Our downward trajectory has been so severe that it can’t simply be dismissed as naive, penny-pinching mismanagement. It’s beyond such terms.

I’m only left to assume that those responsible for running our football club since 2004 have had some perverse, deep-rooted and potentially subconscious desire to inflict pain on anyone who has ever felt anything for Grimsby Town.

It’s been that bad.

That day at Wembley in 2016 was all in vain. All of Amond’s 37 goals. Disley’s tears at Braintree. What did they give us, really? Five unspectacular seasons back in the Football League, where we’ve struggled to average a goal a game.

And what’s been our greatest achievement in that time? How many players have we signed? Crucially, how many of them would you want bring back, or wish we’d never let go?

Although it was an improved performance from Town today, against a side in the automatic promotion spots, it was a familiar story.

Bright patches interspersed with ill-discipline. Some measure of control 40 yards out but nothing beyond.

And then, of course, we concede. A whistle-happy ref is given an opportunity to penalise Town, and he does. It’s soft enough to make me angry on any other day, but today I was so resigned I just accepted it.

Town equalising before half time wasn’t in the script. A bit of good fortune, and bad defending, allowed Hanson to score his first league goal for us in over a year. It was the type of goal we usually concede. Maybe our football fortune was changing?

Don’t be silly. Order was restored in boringly predictable fashion midway through the second half.

Unless a charitable Forest Greener was going to whack the ball in his own net, the Mariners weren’t going to get anything from this game.

The full-time stats tell the story: Grimsby had one shot on target all game, and the visitors gift-wrapped it for us.

It was the same story in Tuesday night’s 1-0 home defeat to Leyton Orient. Just one shot on target in 90 minutes, only the visitors on that occasion weren’t so charitable.

Only two shots on target at Harrogate last weekend. Only two against Crawley, albeit we made both of those count.

The more players we use, the worse we get. At no point this season have we been a team; just a collection of individuals thrown together with no time to understand each other, or the club.

They’re just going through the motions. No passion, no pride, no fight.

And who can blame them, really? What have they got to inspire them? Who have they got to motivate them? Grimsby Town will get relegated to non-league for the second time in May and barely any of these players will be around to deal with that consequence.

As I jumped around, breathless, when Arnold scored that third goal at Wembley, I felt a second’s sympathy for the very few genuine Forest Green fans that day. Imagine being forced to play another season in that god-forbidden hell-hole of a league.

Five years on, it looks like we’ll be returning to it, while the vegans look set to climb into League 1.

There may very well be 45 points to play for. But this lot have only managed to pick up eight points from the previous 45, scoring an average of 0.6 goals a game.

That’s why that five-point gap is looking not just improbable, but impossible.

Barely conscious. Match report: Scunthorpe 3-0 Grimsby

This match was billed as one of Grimsby Town’s most important of recent times and we played like it was a kick-about at Sidney Park.

The players looked like they’d spent a day idling around at school and were just looking to mess about for a bit at home time until their parents called them in for their tea.

James McKeown asked whose ball it was, and then we played in the submissive way that people do when they seek parity but know they’re chronically inferior.

And it’s not as if Scunny are any good. At all.

Just under 11 months ago we went down the M180 and beat them with goals from a couple of their former players. They had a man sent off and Kevin van Veen was baited every time he touched the ball.

You actually felt sorry for them. They looked abysmal and offered nothing. Ian Holloway came onto the pitch at full time to applaud the fans, and we all went home happy with the result and felt positive about our future.

Of course, we weren’t to know that a global pandemic would finish the season — just like we weren’t to know that we’d release some of our best players and replace them with non-league punts because our board wasn’t willing to contribute a single penny of its combined wealth during a crisis that threatened our existence.

And yet, they insisted Shutes & Co prove they had the funds to get us through any potential hardship. Brazen. 

Scunny are no better now than they were on 7 March 2020. Our victory on that date proved to be another false dawn — a bit like the one we were given when JJ Hooper scored a hat-trick at the tree huggers and we could dream of not being in the bottom half of the fourth division.

Then, as now, we went backwards. Austerity (which is not his real name) tightened his purse strings, and his grip around the neck of the club, to leave us barely conscious. 

And that’s what we got on Saturday; a set of barely-conscious footballers going through the motions, ambling about as if there’s nothing left in their lives to inspire or motivate them. Not even a beer-fuelled darts tournament at a raucous Ally Pall could wake this lot up.

I’ve not really said anything about the players this season as the issues have clearly been at the top (three relegations, and a very possible fourth, tells you everything you need to know about the Fenty era).

Town’s penchant for giving away soft or needless free kicks, and being offside, remained a strong feature of our play — as did defending like donkeys.

Granted, the free kick that led to the opening goal wasn’t a free kick — and Eisa’s strike was special — but everyone knows there are always moments in football you can’t legislate for and yet we responded to this setback by reverting to type.

Heads dropped. A quick glance at each other. A shrug of the shoulders. No words. No galvanising. No leadership.

At one insane point, Matt Green got the wrong side of his marker to bear down on goal, albeit at an angle, but he delayed his strike and gave the defender enough time to get a block in.

We can’t do anything in the final third but as soon as we invite the opposition into our area it’s absolute chaos.

I’m not even sure how Scunthorpe’s second went in — I thought it was an own goal from our debutant loanee Rollin Menayese. But forget soft, it was positively soggy.

No one took charge and no one belted the ball clear when they had half a sniff.

We hoped we might have got a bit of new manager bounce under Hurst, but that didn’t happen. At the very least we thought we could keep us shape? No such football fortune.

This isn’t a dig at Hurst. His half-time triple substitution sort of made a difference, but then how could it not, given the bar had been set lower than Gavin Gunning.

The Iron’s third was probably — marginally — offside, but it says something about Town’s fans when, in a crucial local derby, none of us are even bothering to debate it given its futility. Scunny could’ve scored just once and they’d have been comfortable winners.

I watched the full 90 minutes on iFollow and the match report could be as succinct as this: Scunthorpe, without being at their best — and, let’s be honest, their best ain’t great — scored three goals.

Grimsby, on the other hand? Foul. Offside. Foul. Offside. Oh ffs. Foul. Offside. Come on, ref.

Given the situation, and given what was on the line, it was probably the poorest showing from a Town team in a long while. Well, since that tripe at Tranmere.

And yet Hurst’s post-match interview was probably one of the best. I found myself standing up and applauding him from my dining table at home when he tore into the players and questioned their desire.

When your whole career exists in such a competitive environment, your desire should be the last thing that gets questioned.

The league table doesn’t quite look as disastrous as it could have done, had Southend not lost in the week and then again on Saturday.

Stevenage lost also. And by virtue of not playing, Barrow improved their situation too. Scunthorpe have put distance between themselves and us on a day when we could have gone above them. I don’t believe Bradford are in any genuine danger of going down.

The next two games — away at Barrow and home to Stevenage — have quickly become must-win when a must-not-lose scenario had previously been the minimum requirement.

In terms of quality, this is one of the worst fourth divisions I’ve seen since we began playing in it in 2004. And we’re one of the worst teams in it.

Getting us back into the Football League was hard work. If Hurst keeps us in it from this position, it’ll rank as an even better achievement.

A trudge. Match report: Grimsby 0-0 Southend

A lot was made of the state of the Blundell Park pitch going into this match, but it’s the state of our squad that continues to give us the most concern.

With no new additions in the week, Hurst had the same crop of crap to choose from, minus Morais, Clifton and Rose, who were all nursing injuries.

Spokes and Hewitt in the centre of midfield is about as inspiring as the Pyewipe estate on an overcast day — industrious, but nothing much to look at.

If naming Preston on the left of midfield was the best curveball Hurst could throw at Southend, it tells you all you need to know about our current predicament.

It’s unfair to say that Green can’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo when he’s not ever in the vicinity of a cow to even attempt it, but the bloke was desperate for something more than George ‘international’ Williams to work with.

However, there was some hope in seeing Big Jim Hanson on the bench. Sat next to him were five more attacking options, and Sam Russell.

This was a must-not-lose game — and we didn’t lose it, virtue of some stoic defending when needed and an excellent star-jump save from McKeown right at the death.

It may have actually done us good to weather some pressure in the first half. Southend had the better of it and found the side netting early on. The pressure brought a succession of corners, but Town always seemed to do just enough to clear their lines.

Given our propensity to concede early on in just about every game we play, there must have been a sense among the players that we’d emerged unscathed from a period when we usually go behind.

The match stats show that we had just one shot on target all match, and that came early on from a 20-yard Matt Green shot that drifted politely into the midriff of the Southend keeper.

Spokes blazed over a little later from a similar distance and I can’t really remember us doing anything else of note in the final third for the rest of the match.

At least we had a go in the second half against Cambridge. That said, Cambridge were 2-0 up and not interested in taking any risks whatsoever, so the comparison is as futile as the signing of Alhagi Touray Sisay.

You didn’t get a lot of excitement for your £10.

But if it’s unnecessary fouls you tune in for, then Town absolutely delivered. Elliott Hewitt was the pick of the bunch, scoring about seven our eight fouls alone, and somehow escaping a yellow card.

At one point in the second half, Southend won a free kick and got two of their own players booked. Can’t say I’ve seen that too often.

It was just a very bitty, very scrappy, very poor game of football. Southend created more and came closest to scoring, but it was as messy and untidy as a students’ communal kitchen at 2am following a big night out.

Hanson replaced Williams midway through the second half, which should’ve helped, but it didn’t. I like Big Jim but he jogged around like his spine was Royal Doulton china; too afraid to go near anyone for fear he’d break.

Sean “1 in 10” Scannell (seven times out of ten he’s injured; two times he plays and is anonymous; but he’ll play brilliantly once — as described by my Huddersfield-supporting work colleague) made a late appearance from the bench, but he looks like a man who has been told he’s made of wax and has just had his wick lit.

Jackson also got a bit of game time. While he brought with him energy that other subs lacked, his touch was heavy and his running off the ball was as wayward as John Fenty’s character judgments.

But let’s not rip into the team unnecessarily. We certainly kept us shape better than the two previous games; we earned a clean sheet against one of the division’s form teams and we remain in touch with the three to four teams immediately above us in the table.

It could’ve been worse. It’s not a motto to live by but we’re Grimsby Town, and we know what worse looks like.

Hurst has another week to work some magic in the transfer market, and players like Hanson and Scannell have more time to improve their fitness.

Morais looks like our best option to link midfield with attack, and he could be back in time for the trip to Scunny next weekend. Gibson and Jackson remain options off the bench while we wait for a saviour to be signed.

The Holloway Year: a tale of chaos, calamities and dishonesty

Ah, do you remember the time we were managed by that great footballing philosopher, Ian Holloway? When the path was the path and mud went on the mud?

Well, the mud got chucked at the wall, in the hope that some of it stuck. Very little of it did. And then we found out it wasn’t mud, but shit.

It all still seems like a very bad dream, except it actually happened. The almost total absence of pre-season; the covid-clause; a complete absence of an assistant manager; signing 74 attacking players who, between them, couldn’t score at a Bags’ Ball.

I mean, we’re just scratching the surface here. Playing Harry Clifton at left back; releasing two centre backs when we were playing three in the first team; signing seven players on season-long loans when we could only name a maximum of five in a match day squad. The Bilel Mohsni scooter thing.

I watched the film Compliance recently. It’s based on a true story — a caller posed as a police officer and got some restaurant staff to do some unimaginable things to each other because all the workers accepted the caller’s authority without question.

When you think about it, Holloway did a whole load of stuff to us that was weird at best, and damaging at worst. And we just sleepwalked through it.

I suppose we went along with it because, you know, it was Ian Holloway; the football manager for the Mighty Boosh generation.

We knew he was quirky; it was part of the deal. Not everything he said made sense, but that was fine because he’s kooky and eccentric. And he got Blackpool into the Premier League that time (just as Town were being relegated from the Football League).

Mad as a box of frogs. Daft, but in a harmless way. At least that was the theory.

Plymouth fans warned us that he might ditch us the moment he gets a better offer. Millwall fans warned us that he might be shit.

But he’d become more than a manager here, investing £100,000 into the club and joining the board of directors. It later turned out that he never made that investment.

That, even if it felt generous, was a little unusual. But, you know, it’s Ian Holloway. It was a sign of his commitment, and certainly not for a more-than-dubious investment opportunity that we were only going to find out about 11 months down the line.

But there was one bigger alarm bell ringing from day one — and while many of us probably heard it, none of us really worried about it, such was the state of our paralysis. It was his rather over-friendly and uncomfortable allegiance to John Fenty.

In retrospect, it had all the hallmarks of a relationship that spoke more about business than it did football.

We never really stopped to question Holloway’s football intelligence based on the level he’d previously managed at. We were just grateful that he could see us from his media-hyped tower, never mind join us.

But if Holloway had any emotional intelligence, or any sense of judgment, he’d have known not to side with Fenty — or at least not be so openly friendly with him.

While many (including me) praised Fenty’s ability to bring a manager of Holloway’s supposed calibre to Cleethorpes, the fact remained that our major shareholder was still deeply unpopular with many of our fans. The relationship had long passed the point of no return.

Media-savvy Ollie thought he could be best mates with Fenty and the fans. And for a while, that was the case, as we saw out what remained of the 2019/20 season in both good form and good spirits.

But then things unravelled quite spectacularly over the summer.

When he initially joined the Mariners, jolly Ollie spoke at length (typically unprompted) about standards and regrets — particularly about the way he left Plymouth — only to flee Grimsby like a rat from a sinking ship at the first moment of trouble.

But that’s putting it kindly. There were many signs of trouble on the pitch, long before the 2020/21 season started, but his cute media persona allowed him to escape any sort of backlash from the fans.

The summer was an absolute shambles. While most League 2 clubs were assembling squads and playing friendlies, Town couldn’t find it within themselves to retain our better players, then bizarrely chose not to arrange any friendlies bar one against neighbouring Cleethorpes Town.

Signings came late and were so wild that it was difficult to understand what the recruitment strategy was.

After returning to training later than every other club in the division, the whole squad then had to self-isolate just a few games into the new season following one player’s positive covid test.

That gave Holloway enough ammunition to complain about fixture pile-up; personal safety, injuries, and being forced to sign players who couldn’t play 90 minutes.

Although it created a positive story, he chucked on 15-year-old Louis Boyd in our Mickey Mouse cup draw with Harrogate, who promptly scored, breaking two club records in the process. A tremendous feat, for sure, but Holloway made it seem like he had no other choice, despite having 30 full-time pros on his books.

He insisted on asking fourth division footballers to play out from the back when clearly none of them were capable.

He dropped our first choice keeper in favour of the goalkeeping coach, who subsequently dropped a clanger at Southend — to Greg Halford, a player who had been training with us for weeks but chose to sign for Southend the day before the game.

I mean, if you were an ambitious writer who liked to push boundaries, you wouldn’t dare write the script that Holloway was leading. It was a dark comedy to most, but pretty bleak for us living it.

Then the whole Alex May affair came to light. It’s not worth me repeating it here, but it raised serious questions of our major shareholder and his duties as a local councillor, plus the integrity of our entire board — which, of course, included a certain Mr Holloway.

Actively pursuing a £1m investment from a convicted property fraudster was not the sort of future Grimsby fans wanted.

Holloway was on the board of directors. It’s fair to assume he knew the details of the investment. In fact, it’s fair to assume he knew the details up front, back in December 2019, when John Fenty persuaded him to join the Mariners.

But when the news broke, Holloway thought he’d found a way to side with the fans. He made no comment of the investment, neither confirming or denying his knowledge of it, as Fenty bore the brunt of the backlash.

Instead, he made his own statement, via Twitter, to say the fans were different class; he was here for the football and he was going nowhere unless told to.

Six days later, he walked.

In his resignation tweets, Holloway said he felt unsettled after he was contacted by far more credible and entirely more ethical people regarding a separate takeover. He believed a fresh start for everyone was best.

In the club’s official statement on the same matter, it suggested Holloway was only interested in working with the current board — you know, the one that likes to invite criminals to invest.

It’s doubtful that Holloway enjoyed much of the football management side here at Grimsby. His recruitment was abysmal; his tactics were haphazard or incomprehensible; and then there was that time he claimed Tranmere played a different system to what we were expecting when they trounced us 5-0, even though ex-Mariner Paul Bolland on radio commentary duty that day said Tranmere had, in fact, played the exact same system in the previous two matches.

Holloway brought absolute chaos to our once proud club. He was snippy with the local media, defensive about poor results on the pitch and absolutely silent about his conduct off it.

In the end, Holloway was exposed for being nothing more than a soundbite with a deceptive and duplicitous core; someone who was in cahoots with Fenty — a man with morals so low you’d need a special ROV to scrape them off the base of the Mariana Trench.

The final kick in the balls, though, was when Holloway went and hit top bins on Soccer AM to take the plaudits of the armchair football fans across the country. Meanwhile, none of the players he signed for Grimsby can hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

Holloway has already intimated that he may not manage a football club again, thus making it his decision when, for any reasonably informed football club owners out there, he should never be a credible option anyway.

Meanwhile, his assertion that the Grimsby owners were ‘hounded out’ (by the fans, or the prospective new owners, or both) highlights his tunnel vision further. It’s a conscious effort to ignore the tale of the past two decades, in which Town fans have stories aplenty of how Fenty brought austerity to GTFC while board members pocketed any profits.

I’ll wrap up with a quote from the Hollow Man himself:

I was given some decent values from my mum and dad in our council house, and one of them was honesty and trust and loyalty. And I forgot to do all that at Plymouth. I left them, and I made the biggest mistake of my life.

It appears he also forgot to do all that at Grimsby, although I somehow doubt he regards leaving us as a mistake.

However, we are not an isolated case. Holloway’s history is catching up with him, which may explain why it seems likely he’ll pursue his media interests over football management in the future.

Here in Grimsby, he’ll be remembered as Mr Runaway; the man who talked the talk but chose to walk when he put our Football League existence on the precipice.

Beware the man who speaks about trust; he’s often the one you can trust the least.