It’s ten years ago to the day that England triumphed in Munich, beating Germany 5-1 in a World Cup 2002 group qualifier. But ask any football fan from Grimsby about the significance of the date 1 September 2001 and they won’t even mention England, Germany or 5-1.
You see, it’s a little known fact that Grimsby Town – today sat second bottom in the Conference – used to actually be quite good. Ten years ago they beat Barnsley 1-0 to go top of the second division for a weekend. From that lofty height the Mariners were able to look down on the likes of Manchester City, West Brom and Wolves. Just over a month later they would even go on to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in a League Cup third round tie that was won by an incredible 35-yard screamer from former Everton striker Phil Jevons in the last minute of extra time.
It was Jevons who notched the winning goal in the game against Barnsley – a match that kicked off early to allow fans to watch the England match in Germany later that day. Ahead of kick off it was widely known amongst the Town faithful that three points would put the Mariners at the top of the league and so, in true Blundell Park fashion, a nervy performance ensued.
The goal came after 22 minutes when Jevons, a £250,000 summer signing from Everton, slid the ball home from 10 yards after a clever cut-back from the bye-line. The game may also be recalled by Grimsby fans as the one when the Barnsley keeper, Kevin Miller, was forced to change his jersey twice. His original black jersey clashed with the Mariners’ home strip and his replacement green jersey clashed with the officials’ strip. Green goalkeeping jerseys come with a heavy superstition around these parts, and even though he soon changed to a yellow one the damage had already been done and Miller was sent off late in the game for bringing down Grimsby midfielder Alan Pouton when through on goal. Pouton’s dive, incidentally, was bloody awful.
It wasn’t the most convincing of wins but it accompanied the 1-0 defeats of Crewe and West Brom from Town’s first two fixtures to place them top of the division. Grimsby also drew 2-2 at home to newly promoted Preston and lost 4-2 at Portsmouth when Pompey had the likes of Peter Crouch and Robert Prosinecki up front, but ten points from their first five games was enough to take top spot as many of the other teams weren’t playing due to the international fixtures.
That evening Michael Owen scored a hat-trick and both Emile Heskey and Steven Gerard each chipped in with a goal as England did the nation proud with an outstanding display in Germany. Of course, Germany went on to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 anyway and reached the final while England went out in the quarter final to Brazil. Grimsby, on the other hand, won their next game 1-0 at Coventry but were never expected to sustain their excellent start to the season. They won just one of their next 20 matches which took them into a relegation scrap. In fact, by mid-February they looked good bets for the drop but a remarkable surge in form under rookie manager Paul Groves, who took over from Lennie Lawrence in December, saw the Mariners to safety with a game to spare.
So what has happened in this last decade that has caused the team to plummet so severely? The ITV Digital debt from the time clearly affected the club as the resources they had expected to receive from the company didn’t arrive and the club therefore struggled to support the three-year contracts that were given out to the likes of Jevons. While the Mariners commendably cut their cloth accordingly and always staved off the threat of administration, some of the blame has to go to bad management and poor managerial appointments which have led to three relegations and a big fall in attendances. Throughout the ten years there has been one common denominator – chairman John Fenty – and it’s the belief of the majority of fans that changes must be made at boardroom level before there can be any hope of a revival.