The slow burner: a 1997/98 review

It’s been 25 years since Town’s best ever season. Three incredible cup runs, a league campaign that ended in promotion, and two trips to Wembley.

What a time to be alive.

For those who easily transport themselves back to 1997/98 and claim ‘it only feels like yesterday’, our best player in today’s squad, Harry Clifton, wasn’t even born.

Everyone knows the big stories — the headlines that remain as big now as they were back then — but there’s so much of that season that isn’t remembered.

Like us spending a week at the foot of the third division table in September.

I always knew our start to the season was slow, but I didn’t quite appreciate how truly teeth-grindingly slow it was.

Remember also that Alan Buckley’s return wasn’t widely accepted. There was some resistance, and plenty of friction in the stands, when the campaign finally kicked off.

We drew our first three games.

Back-to-back defeats on the road at Brentford, then Preston, left us at the foot of the table, beneath a Burnley side that hadn’t even scored a goal in their first six games.

A goalless draw at home to York lifted us off the bottom, but when stand-in keeper Jason Pearcey collects the Player of the Match award you know what kind of game that was.

Six games, no wins, just four goals scored. Then, the breakthrough.

When Steve Livingstone scored in the 23rd minute at Fulham, it was the first time the Mariners had taken the lead in a league game all season. A second from Livvo late on sealed Town’s first win — at the seventh attempt.

Then local boy Wilko returned to Grimsby with Millwall and struck the winner, which saw us slide back into the drop zone.

One win in eight. Just the six goals scored.

The background to all this, of course, was our League Cup run. We’d already trounced Oldham 5-0 in the second leg of the first round, and then dumped first division Wednesday out 4-3 on aggregate to set up a home tie with holders Leicester City.

But fourth bottom was where we sat in the third division on 27 September when we travelled to Bournemouth.

Groves scored the only goal of the game in the second half to lift us to the dizzy heights of 19th.

We hadn’t yet won at home. In fact, Tommy Widdrington’s equaliser against Bristol City on the opening day remained the only goal we’d scored at Blundell Park going into October.

Two Kevin Donovan penalties helped defeat Wigan 2-1, and a single Donovan goal a week later was enough to edge past a Northampton side that had begun the season strongly.

Just as it seemed like we’d got our act together, we took just one point from the next nine — albeit the performance in the home defeat to leaders Watford deserved far more than it got.

We entered November in 17th, two points above the drop zone.

Even more remarkably, with just 12 goals to our name, we were the joint-lowest scorers in the division.

Finally, Town brought their cup form into the league, taking Southend apart 5-1. But then we drew a blank at Walsall and lost at Chesterfield.

Two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back.

Even comfortable wins over Burnley and Gillingham didn’t help us break into the top half. Ironically, a third 0-0 draw at home, this time to Wycombe, helped us do that in early December.

Between that and a 4-0 win at Bristol Rovers, Town began their FA Cup and Auto Windscreen Shield endeavours in back-to-back games against Chesterfield.

Ultimately, that win over Burnley — just four days after our League Cup exit at Anfield — was the start of an incredible run that saw us lose just twice in 23 games in all competitions (one of them being the fourth round FA Cup defeat at Leeds).

This run of form ended at Northampton, on 28 February, by which time the Mariners had got themselves firmly in the play-off picture.

Town had won nine and drawn four of their 13 home games across a five-month period.

Form dipped once we’d secured our first ever trip to Wembley (one win in eight), but a superb win at Carlisle less than 48 hours after the Auto Windscreen Shield celebrations opened up a five-point cushion over seventh place.

A goalless draw at Watford in the penultimate game — our ninth 0-0 of the season — secured our play-off place.

Since Northampton could only draw their final match, and Fulham lost, the Mariners secured third place despite a home defeat to Oldham.

Gillingham, who began the day two points in the play-offs, missed out by just one goal after they drew and Bristol Rovers won.

Town finished third with 72 points. Not in any of the intervening 25 years has 72 points been enough to finish so high in the third division.

In fact, in 18 of the 23 completed seasons since, 72 points wouldn’t have been enough to make the play-offs at all.


Don’t look at us now

You do wonder sometimes if this club, under this manager, under these owners, is destined for some good times.

We had a remarkable start to last season, only for it to go pear-shaped as soon as the clocks went back. By the time they’d sprung forward, we sneaked into a play-off spot that didn’t even exist the last time we clawed out from The Hardest League To Get Out Of.

There was no luck involved as we beat Notts County, Wrexham and Solihull over 360 minutes of play-off football to earn our place back in the Football League — and luck wasn’t present when we beat Plymouth, Cambridge and Burton and drew at Luton to tee up this fourth round replay — but it seems Paul Hurst and his band of merry Mariners just love a crunch tie.

In this day and age, when there are so many bat-shit owners and overly-complicated tactics floating around, sometimes all you need is a sensible head.

This would in any other walk of life only help you tread water; retain your position. No more, no less.

In modern day football, however, this keeps you moving forward steadily as the clubs blinded by the bright lights of big money see their troubles (see: overspending) catch up with them and fall to the wayside, effectively moving clubs like Grimsby one rung further up the ladder.

And while the world watched Wrexham bottle it, once again, in the final minutes of their replay against Sheffield United, Grimsby blasted past a Luton side 60 places above them.

The Clifton-Orsi combination has bore plenty of fruit this round. They combined to score three of our five goals to earn us a trip to Southampton, which is a shit draw for a fifth round being played in its entirety in midweek.

Three days later we’ll have a league game at Carlisle.

Southampton away meets the Shit Draw criteria based mainly on away travel, but also that we technically got what we wanted — a Premier League team in the cup.

Yeah — but not that Premier League team.

Now that we’ve got really good at this FA Cup business, we’re at the stage where we’d rather like a shit draw. If we can somehow sneak past the Saints, don’t give us Man City or anything like that. Fleetwood would be grand.

And now that we’ve started to get a bit more media attention for being the lowest-ranked team left in the competition… well, can you leave us alone? Don’t look at us. You’ll jinx it.

Typical Town. We spend our whole time trying to get something, and when we finally get it, we don’t want it.

Gutsy. Match report: Luton 2-2 Grimsby

The most Grimsby thing that could happen right now is draw Manchester United away in the fifth round of the FA Cup but lose the fourth round replay to Luton.

But let’s not worry about that tonight.

Tonight we’re on one of those highs Renton described, after a threadbare squad in which attacking ability was pretty much non-existent injected a pure football high into our veins.

A 2-2 draw at the mighty Luton! Who’d have thunk it.

It was our glamour tie. Of all the teams to draw in the fourth round, this was the shittest. Away to a club two leagues above, but whose attendances aren’t a great deal beyond what the Mariners can pull in on a good day in Cleethorpes.

Not expected to win. Rubbish gate receipts. And to think — it was this or Wigan.

Town drew top seed Plymouth in the first round and battered them. We then put in a top performance to see off Cambridge at the Abbey, then squished past Burton on a sloppy pitch to earn our trip to Luton.

To say we went into this match out of sorts is an understatement.

So far in January we’ve released back-up keeper Pardington, seen loanees Pepple, Simmonds, Richardson and Kiernan return to their parent clubs and sent Maguire-Drew packing to Yeovil.

For this FA Cup tie, we had Taylor and Cropper injured, in-form Khan crocked for the next six weeks and Amos suspended. Wearne was cup-tied after featuring for Torquay and talisman McAtee couldn’t play because, of all things, he’s on loan with us from Luton.

The only player we’ve actually brought in this January transfer window, Mikey O’Neill, was also cup-tied.

We hadn’t played since a 5-0 humbling at Swindon, so the club had been sitting around for the last two weeks covering a wound that, for some reason —possibly boredom — a section of fans wanted to wriggle their fingers into and poke around.

Basically, this should’ve been a cake walk for Luton.

But they didn’t expect the Triple H: Holohan, Hunt and Harry, whose barnstorming performances not only kept us in the game but kept us in the cup.

Clifton waltzed into the box like Groves in his pomp, following a slick flick from the enigmatic Orsi. While the Luton defenders were busy admiring his good looks and Reddy-esque locks, he’d clipped the ball through to our Harry, who buried it barely sixty seconds after Town had fallen 2-1 behind.

He just loves scoring on his travels (or so his mates in Ibiza tell me).

On a day when your squad’s thread is so bare you can’t name a full subs bench, you need to take your chances.

Town, with only Orsi as a recognised out-and-out striker, scored twice at a Championship club and worked their keeper. We took our chances and could even have sneaked it towards the end.

After taking the lead, falling behind and then immediately equalising, this match had Wrexham vibes for sure.

Hurst has his detractors, and he always will because he’s no Buckley (who, it must be noted, always had his detractors), but in a week when Grimsby fans seemed to enter some kind of meltdown because everyone’s signing players but us, the nucleus of this reminded those reactionary supporters itching for something to moan about that we ain’t as bad as they want us to be.

Even the head of recruitment data copped it a bit, despite no one knowing their name.

True, had this string of results been under Slade, or under any manager during the Fenty era, then yes, quite possibly I’d have been airing my concerns too.

But this isn’t that era.

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.