You don’t have to look very far to find their work – and some of our favourite memories – on the internet. A simple search on YouTube will throw up great games, unforgettable matches and some of the best goals we’ve seen as Grimsby Town fans. I am, of course, talking about the club’s video crew.
The fact that they’ve been recording matches from the gantry at Blundell Park for so long is epitomised by the wide-eyed look they give each other when I ask them what year they first started doing it. “Blimey,” says the instantly recognisable voice of John Moore, imbued with the tones and accents synonymous with the Town. He takes a moment and looks at cameraman Martin Wilson and statistician Graham Shearsmith. It becomes apparent they don’t really know with any confidence.
“I reckon it must have been around the 84/85 season,” says John. “It’s been a while. It was the manager at the time – Dave Booth – who requested the games to be taped.” What started out as a venture to fulfil the request of the team’s boss nearly 30 years ago has turned into something more crucial to the club and its community. Since dropping out of the Football League the video crew is now responsible for recording, editing and uploading the footage from all matches, where possible, not just to make end-of-season DVDs, but for the benefit of home and opposition managers and match officials.
“We weren’t really involved right at the start,” recalls John. “Our old mate Roly Godfrey did the commentary back then, with Dick Dunnett behind the camera. We all knew Roly because we were regulars in the Hainton Inn. Back then it was the place to be. If you weren’t in there by 8.30, people used to want to know where you’d been and what you’d been up to. Martin worked behind the bar there and Roly was the landlord, so we always used to meet up and have a chat about football and talk about the games.”
Commentating on football is about as far removed as it could be from John’s day job – a clerical officer at a local insurance broker. He admits that he had no aspirations to become a commentator but got involved after being invited down by Roly.
“Years ago there only ever used to be one commentator at a televised football match,” says John. “Roly invited me down at a time when the co-commentator trend began to emerge. He thought it would be a good idea, you know – a summariser, a different perspective on incidents, that sort of thing. And, of course, being a fan of the club, I said ‘yes’.”
Those who have bought the videos down the years will be well aware of John, his commentary – and his penchant for saying certain lines in the heat of the moment.
“Well, you just get carried away,” he says, before looking down and allowing a wry smile to widen across his face. “I’m fully aware of my style and what I say, and that other people are aware of what I say. You can’t help it. It’s instinctive. Words just come out of your mouth. The same words. It’s just a habit, I guess.”
Martin Wilson, who’s setting up the camera to record a match against Gateshead, chips in. “We were going to make a special DVD and – what were we going to call it? ‘Chance On!’, I think. Either that or ‘Surely!’”
Graham Shearsmith, who has stepped in on various occasions to do the commentary in John’s absence, also showed an awareness of his verbal habits. “What’s mine again? Oh yeah – ‘Brilliant. That’s absolutely brilliant.’” If you’ve watched the videos as many times as I have, you really can hear him say it even now.
When not commentating, Graham plays an important role in getting the footage prepared for a swift edit so that it can be uploaded onto the internet soon after the half time and full time whistles. He makes notes of the times of incidents, which Martin then refers to at half time to edit the highlights there on the gantry. It’s a slick operation. It means that the first half highlights are often available to view for Mariners World subscribers by the time the second half kicks off, and full match highlights are done and dusted before they descend from the gantry at a quarter past five (although it takes a while longer to upload).
Every match day the crew makes its journey up from the Blundell Park car park to the lofty height of the gantry. For those who have never been up there, it’s a journey that actually takes you out onto the top of the biggest and multi-sponsored stand before dropping down through an uninviting hatch onto a ladder that feels like it’s suspended in mid-air – floating above the faces of the fans sat in the upper tier. It’s a perilous trek that seems almost systematically designed to unnerve those who insist they have a head for heights. The video crew, admittedly well versed in the journey, make the climb look like child’s play.
“Oh, it can wobble up here,” says John. “You know, when the weather gets bad and the wind picks up, it can move around a bit. There was one lad who came to record a game last season for his team and he was a bag of nerves. He had to be strapped to this metal rail here at the front the whole time. It’s not the easiest gantry to get to but there are worse. Leeds – Elland Road – is one of the worst we’ve been to. It’s just a vertical ladder that goes about 40 feet up in the air. It’s even more difficult when you’re lugging a load of equipment up there with you.
“A couple of seasons ago we actually recorded from the roof of a stand, but it was at Chasetown so we weren’t that high up. At the opposite end of the scale we’ve recorded from the ground before, although not intentionally. We were at Halifax a few decades ago and we’d set up to film from the seats. We were aware that some Town fans were delayed in getting to the ground, and about 10 minutes into the game about two thousand Town fans turned up! We had to move and we actually ended up filming over the top of a wall. I had to stand on an upturned milk crate to see the game.”
The gantry is full of electronic paraphernalia – all necessary to complete their match day tasks. There are three TV screens that Martin observes as he moves the camera to follow the action, while John commentates on the left and Graham makes notes on the right.
“I don’t think I’ve missed a goal yet, although I’ve come close,” says Martin, which is a pretty impressive record given the length of time he’s been filming matches. Martin, 58, works as a payroll and admin manager for logistical company in Goole and travels back for every home match and tries to get to as many away matches as possible. These days he’s helped by his son Sam, who’s become part of the team.
“During the last 20 years I think we’ve only spent about £20,000 on equipment. It’s not a huge amount, really. We’re not professional and don’t pretend to be, but we try and do it as professionally as possible – otherwise clubs won’t let us back in again. Everyone has been accommodating in this league.
“Things have changed since we’ve dropped out of the Football League. We weren’t relied upon so much back then, but now we’re responsible for editing the highlights and giving copies of the matches to referees. When the club considers to appeal against a refereeing decision, then the footage they refer to is ours. Unfortunately, in some cases, it’s an off-the-ball incident so there’s no evidence. Like most people I follow the ball. Sometimes you get an inkling that something is going to happen off-the-ball but ultimately you have to follow the action.”
On the topic of giving a copy of the match to managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst, John adds: “I’m sure they must watch it in silence! We try not to be prejudiced and we’ll call it as fairly as we can. We don’t want to be disrespectful to anyone. It’s TV commentary and, you know, the pictures are there for all to see; if it’s crap then people will see it’s crap. It doesn’t always need me to say it.”
Following the end of games the crew edits the match highlights and makes copies of the DVD. The equipment is packed away and some of it is lowered down on a rope to John who has already climbed up and off the gantry, across the top of the stand, down the ladder at the back of the upper tier and taken up his position directly below. “Considering I don’t have a head for heights, I don’t do half bad getting on and off that gantry,” he says. I’m not quite sure whether to take him seriously.
Does John and the crew miss being with the fans and part of the atmosphere? “A part of us does, I think, but we’ve been doing this for so long we’ve just adapted,” he says. “At the end of the day you’re a fan of the club and so we enjoy watching the game – wherever we may be. Being on the gantry arguably gives us the best seats in the house. You can really appreciate the game, you know, technically, from up there. God knows how managers see from the dugout.”
Martin, Graham and Sam follow on, but their work for the day hasn’t ended there. They go into one of the corporate boxes and do some cut-aways for a special DVD they created for the Mariners Trust’s evening with Alan Buckley. John does a few unscripted pieces to camera. “If I owned a bleep machine I might even be able to put together a blooper real,” says Martin. So even John – the man, the imperious and commanding voice of GTFC – isn’t immune from making mistakes, no matter which corner of his house he’s presenting videos from. “I don’t think I’ve ever sworn during a match, but Town have pushed me close on more than one occasion!”
Special thanks go to Grimsby Town Football Club for allowing me to spend the afternoon with the video crew and granting me access to the gantry.