Grimsby treading water: fixture backlogs and back-in the day abandonment

Match ball sat in a puddle.

Image taken from Kent Sports News.

If you can rest a yellow plastic duck on a saturated pitch, and it wobbles and bobs along, then it’s a pitch not fit for a football match. I have no evidence that this is how officials decide on whether a pitch is waterlogged, but a mate told me that’s the case. And he has no reason to lie.

Yes, that’s right – Grimsby Town’s match at Dartford tonight has been called off. This wouldn’t have happened if they’d just built the stadium in the Dartford tunnel. Sort it, Kents Councils, Conferences and FAs!

This, of course, is going to wreak havoc with Town’s fixture list, as it almost guarantees at least one week where the Mariners will have to play four times in eight days – unless they rearrange the game for this Thursday, which is a rumour I read on The Fishy. Handy, but not ideal preparation for the big game at Cambridge just two days later.

Grimsby had to play four times in eight days last season, when, over Easter, Town faced Barrow (30th March), Stockport (1st April), Macclesfield (3rd April) and Southport (6th April). Their return from that period was pretty good, securing two wins and two draws as a part of a 10-game unbeaten run to end the regular season.

So maybe the idea that fixture congestion could scupper the Mariners’ form at the crucial part of the campaign is wide of the mark, since last year suggests otherwise.

The abandoned match of 1993 against Sunderland

Anyway, all this talk about extending the season, playing more Tuesday night games pre-Christmas and moving the play-off final to a venue other than Wembley can wait for another day. Today I’d like to recall a match from 12 December 1993 when Town hosted Sunderland in a televised second division match.

A bearded Nick Powell in the studio and John Helm behind the microphone on the gantry – this was Your Match, a regional sports programme from ITV that, to my sketchy recollection, happened every now and again on Sunday afternoons. At the time I was too young to go to matches, but this match was an exception – this was a match in which my friend Stuart was a Grimsby mascot. And because the internet is ace, I found an account from the solitary Sunderland ball boy from that day, whose memories were published in When Saturday Comes (well worth a read, if only for the lovely Clive Mendonca anecdote).

It was a freezing cold day. It had been raining, sleeting and snowing constantly since I woke up that morning. From our seats in the main stand we watched the ball stick in the puddles as Stuart tried to enjoy a kick-around with a few other mascots, Mr Blobby and Mighty Mariner (then dressed in his yellow fisherman’s oilskins – and before he started gyrating around goalposts).

Saturated pitches aren’t always obvious to the eye. Sometimes the surface water is invisible, until the ball suddenly stops in its tracks or fails to bounce at all. But the problems were obvious in 1993, right from the very start. Groundsmen were using instruments I’d never seen before (or since) to sweep the water off the pitch. I remember watching as these sweepy things gathered more and more water, gushing and frothing until it reached the sidelines, before cascading down towards the little plastic stools that awaited the ball boys.

The game was called off after six minutes, and it came as little surprise. To watch the video footage back today, I’m amazed it ever got underway. You could see the reflections of the floodlights in the pitch puddles. Less than a minute had gone before Steve Livingstone took a tumble and slid from the corner of the penalty area and out for a throw-in. Jim Dobbin prodded the best chance of a treacherous game wide, but it barely had the pace to go out for a goal kick.

By the time Stuart had emerged from the dressing room to join us in the stand, the match had been abandoned. For a long time it remained the only abandoned match I had attended – that was until I went to Rochdale on New Year’s Day 2005 when the referee called time on a goalless affair after the heavens opened at Spotland.

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