Grimsby Town fans will be interested to see that Jack Lester has come out of retirement to join Conference rivals Gateshead until the end of the season. It’s a shrewd move by Heed manager Gary Mills, who must have been particularly persuasive to get the former Forest, Sheffield United and Chesterfield striker to join his promotion pushing side after hanging up his boots last year.
Of course, Lester now joins another former Town youth product in John Oster at the soulless Gateshead International Stadium, where Mills is building a strong squad that looks capable of finishing in the top five following a pretty awful start to the season.
Super Jack remains one of my favourite Town players. Although his most prolific goalscoring days only came after he left Blundell Park, his talent as a tricky forward was never in doubt. With the ball at his feet and his back to goal, the crowd used to hold its breath as he twisted, turned and tormented the defenders before either a) offloading the ball, or b) getting tripped. Let’s be honest – 95% of times it was b), and of those occasions, about 60% of them occurred in the box.
No one quite knows how many penalties he won in a Town shirt, but a recent estimation made by myself after six bottles of Rekorderlig cider had it down at 106.
One Saturday afternoon in 1997 when I wasn’t at the match, Town were losing 2-1 at home to Huddersfield after originally being in front. My dad was listening on the radio while I was playing Sensible Soccer on my Amiga. Suddenly my dad bursts through shouting: “Leicester’s scored!” For a moment there I wondered why the hell he thought the scoreline at Filbert Street was worthy of shouting about.
Three minutes after he left the room, it suddenly clicked. I think much faster than that these days, you know.
Town drew 2-2 and Lester’s goal was a peach. It was a typical Lester wriggle just outside the box, swinging his hips one way then the next in a very short run, before cutting inside and curling an effort into the bottom far corner from the edge of the box. I had to wait until the GTFC video was released at the end of the season before I saw that goal.
In the summer of 2007 rumours surfaced that Town were looking to bring Lester back to Blundell Park but he ended up signing for Chesterfield on a free transfer – where he scored 94 goals in 219 appearances. Lester became somewhat of a Spirites legend and joins Clive Mendonca as an ex-Mariner in being able to achieve genuine cult status at more than one club.
Unfortunately when Lester played for Chesterfield at Grimsby in 2010 he came with that former striker curse that Town just love. With the Mariners 2-0 up, he scored both goals in a 2-2 draw that snatched two points from the Mariners in a season that ultimately saw us relegated from the Football League. The last thing I – and any other Mariner now wants – is for Lester to line up against us in the play-offs and deny us promotion back to the league he helped relegate us from.*
It’ll be interesting to see how much Mills calls on the experience of the 38-year old, and how potent a goalscorer he is in the Conference after nine months out of the game.
*I’m aware that those two Lester goals weren’t the only thing that relegated us that season. A 26-game winless run, or however long it was, probably had something to do with it. Oh – and a raft of useless players.