It’s Groundhog Day

When the majority shareholder of your beloved football club chooses the cringeworthy username ‘getyourfactsright’ to sporadically spurt messages out on an independent forum (that, yes, is often teaming with cyniscim, flaky facts and unsubstantiated rumours) then you know all is not well in the Grimsby Town boardroom.

Rumours only exist when all of the facts are not there to work with. The topic that Mr Fenty chose to clarify on the Fishy Forum on this occasion was around the transfer of a number of shares that happened many years ago.

Ok, it’s a free country. If he wants to start a debate, or add fuel to an existing one, on an independent message board, then that’s his choice.

Personally speaking, I find it embarrassing.

There are fans who appreciate his honesty, and the effort he makes to reach out to us on the Fishy. After all, he doesn’t have to do it.

Well, yes he does. Because he makes such cock-ups of the original situations that he feels the need to clean up his mess, often years later.

You see, we need to ‘get our facts right’ because we got them wrong. And why did we get them wrong? Well, because he didn’t give us all the facts in the first place.

A little honesty up front goes a long, long way.

The departure of Paul Hurst rankles with me massively. Without any clarification from Fenty, we’re simply left to wonder why the man who sounded so committed to our future after our victory at Wembley then left for Shrewsbury just a few months later.

I’m not entirely sure why Marcus Bignot was sacked, either. The reasons I’ve heard are woolly to say the least. And if it was to do with signing all those midfielders, and it creating discontent within the squad, who sanctioned those signings?

I don’t think I heard the honest truth about the way Russell Slade was approached and appointed, either – particularly around what happened when.

Yesterday I tweeted this:

When all seemed lost in April 2010 (and it was, at half time at Accrington, when we were 2-0 down and staring into the abyss) we somehow rallied and recovered to win 3-2, and keep our slender hopes of survival alive.

We all know how that story ended, but the point is this – as bad as we were (and we were pretty bad) I was willing to fork out a fair few quid every week and travel wherever I needed to give my football club the backing it needed to have a chance of staying in the Football League.

After spending six years in the National League, travelling to all sorts of places I’d never been before, and giving Hurst my absolute backing (no matter how much abuse it brought me on the Fishy) I thought the reward would be more than this.

Three managers in one season. Reviving WD40’s company by relentlessly greasing the hinges on Blundell Park’s revolving door as players come and go.

The sale of Bogle. The departure of Disley. The criminal release of Pearson.

The squad is full of unfamiliar players. We’ve abandoned everything we did right in non-league – signing young, up-and-coming players, backing an up-and-coming manager who is now more than proving his worth in the league above.

Where we once showed patience with Hurst, we showed none to Bignot.

The football is dull. The discipline is questionable. The recruitment looks untidy and worryingly bang average. I’m not sure what we have within our squad that gives me any excitement for the future – apart from the likes of Jamey Osborne and Sam Jones, who were both recruited by Bignot.

Harry Clifton will continue to be ignored. Max Wright will probably be at Boston by the end of the season.

I didn’t go to Newport yesterday. Why would I? All those miles to travel, all that money it would’ve cost me. And for what?

Huge respect for the fans that went. They deserved far more than what they got. Plenty will continue to spend their money and stand by the team, even when it’s playing dull football going nowhere fast.

Fenty is a fan of the club. He’s a successful businessman. But that’s about as far as it goes. Just when I thought we’d learned lessons from being in non-league, we return to find that we’ve actually learnt none.

If we continue to make the same mistakes, and be led by the same person who’ll continue to make those mistakes then, well, you know as well as I do where that’ll see us end up.

And I don’t want to go there again.

For the first time in my life I feel like I don’t want to go to another Grimsby match all season. We’ve been worse, but it’s not just about the quality of football.

It’s about waking up every Saturday morning and it feeling like Groundhog Day.

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Pain and agony. Match report: Grimsby 0-2 Coventry

I’m not sure what was more brutal – The Revenant, which I watched on Friday night, or the physiotherapy I endured on Saturday morning. I’d never had physio before and I must admit, I’d grossly underestimated the whole experience. By the end of it I kind of knew how Di Caprio felt after being thrown around by that bear.

So in complete agony I drove back to Blundell Park where more pain was inflicted upon me as I had the misfortune to watch the Mariners put in a nothing performance and lose 2-0 against Coventry in front of a decent crowd (6,767).

I’ll openly admit that I hadn’t followed Town’s ins and outs very closely over the summer, so when the players kicked off it took me a little time to work out who was who and where they were meant to be playing. By the final whistle I’d just about worked out who was who but I was none the wiser as to where they were meant to be playing. We were all over the shop. The players looked like they’d skipped any sort of pre-season, where you’d normally expect them to work on things like shape, discipline and communication, and basically played 90 minutes of a clippy-hoof-no-plan-B brand of football that you’d expect if the worst parts of Hurst and Bignot had morphed into one being and became our manager for the day.

There were two players too good for League 2 on the pitch: Jodi Jay Felice Jones of Coventry City and Siriki Dembele of Grimsby Town. Everyone else either chose to play like League 2 cloggers because that’s exactly what they are, or they couldn’t be arsed.

In truth, the first half was an awful game of football. It was the sort of game that made you wonder why you spend all summer looking forward to football returning, because it was shit. Dembele got a few fans out of their seats with a stirring run before playing in Jones, but he dragged his shot wide. In the second half, Jones would blast two efforts over the bar – one of which he really should’ve got on target – and that was it from us in attack. It’s unlikely that their keeper will have an easier day.

Cardwell, up top on his own? It was painful to watch.

Dembele drifted and occasionally darted, but for all the skill that he showed he didn’t ever hurt the Coventry defence. And while Jones was the only Town player to take a shot at goal all afternoon, I’m not convinced his best role is in attacking midfield. He did enough last season to prove he’s got what it takes to be a striker in this division. We should play him there, with Vernon if possible. They looked like they struck up an understanding when paired together against Yeovil last season but they’ve barely been partnered together since.

As for Berrett, I only noticed him twice all afternoon and they were for the two yellow cards he picked up.

Coventry’s opener wasn’t controversial; it simply shouldn’t have stood. The referee had been quite fussy all game about taking free kicks from the correct position, so when Clark knocked the ball back for McKeown to take our free kick from the correct position, the ref suddenly didn’t care about us being 10 yards further up the pitch – or that McNulty, who went on to walk the ball into an empty net, was stood just two yards away when the kick was taken.

But there can be absolutely no doubt that Coventry deserved the win. They finished the first half stronger and were in complete control once they’d taken that lead. They forced McKeown into two good saves – one in each half – and they perhaps had one of the clearest penalties I’ve ever seen at Blundell Park not given when the deadlock was yet to be broken.

However, Town were so inept that it’s difficult to tell how good Coventry are, or what they’re likely to achieve this season. If they go on to win the title, or get promoted, then there’s no shame in losing 2-0 at home to them, but I suspect we’ve got a lot more to show in the games to come.

Broken bonds

The only two players whose names I’d have considered getting printed on the back of my replica shirt have now left the club.

Thanks Diz. Thanks Shaun. Thanks for the memories.

They each gave six years to the Mariners. In that time, they came to understand what it was like to be part of the town. They both lived locally, and did work in the community. They were both honest and committed players, with the skill and graft to get us back in the Football League.

They were (and possibly still are) fans of the club.

I just watched the play-off final video again, with JT’s commentary, and while I still get incredibly emotional when Arnold rolls the ball home, the end scene – when the team lifts the trophy – now feels tainted.

There were so many happy faces on the Wembley balcony that day.

And now, a little over one year later, the only person who remains at the club is James McKeown – a player who nearly left us in January.

We won at Wembley to finally achieve what we’d come close to achieving on three previous occasions. What got us over the line that day wasn’t just skill, but also a special bond and team spirit that had grown in the squad over a number of years.

The likes of Disley and Pearson were at the heart of that bond.

Had we been able to keep that squad together, I’m certain we’d have achieved at least a 14th place finish in League 2 this season.

To be honest, I’d have accepted finishing 15th or 16th this season, if it was that promotion squad, because I’d fallen in love with it. They were playing for us.

There’s a lot to be said for continuity in football. Winning is a habit, as they say. Leicester and Chelsea have won the last two Premier League titles having made the fewest changes to their starting XIs.

As Bristol Rovers proved, from the season before, it was possible to go up again with virtually the same squad. I was desperate for us to keep the majority of our squad together, and it’s a crying shame that it wasn’t.

Fair enough, you’re not going to keep Tait from playing in the Scottish Premier League, or Nolan from plying his trade in League 1, if that’s what they wanted.

But letting Amond go to Hartlepool after scoring 37 goals for us in one season?

Personally speaking, I thought Robertson and Clay were worth another season after they’d worked so hard to get us over the line.

What happened – or what didn’t happen – with Arnold is possibly the most upsetting, yet typifying, moment of last summer. No player is bigger than the club but, come on, the guy was good enough for League 2.

Did we dick around with contracts? Whatever the real story is, from the outside it looked like we weren’t prepared to reward those promotion winners with the contracts they were looking for.

Although it’s only recent history, I feel like it’s history that has already written itself. Of this era, our future Wikipedia page will read:

“After spending years building a team the fans could be proud of, the club then ripped it apart the very summer they returned to the Football League. Further instability followed when new manager Marcus Bignot made a host of unnecessary signings.”

On the pitch, we’ve had an acceptable first season back in the Football League. Off it, we’ve been awful.

Three managers, poor recruitment and lop-sided formations were just a few of the main issues. We’ve slipped back into our old ways. Bridges built through campaigns like Operation Promotion feel like they’ve burnt away because we have a non-chairman who doesn’t know how to communicate in the 21st century.

And now two of our most loyal and esteemed players have been released. With them goes any remaining bond between the players and fans.

Slade built a competitive squad for 2005/6, but while they came close to delivering success I don’t think I felt as close to those players as I did with the class of 2015/16.

By releasing Disley and Pearson, I hope we’re not swapping loyal grafters for disinterested journeymen who won’t be with us in six, five or even two years’ time.

“Look at the scenes behind the goal! The agony is finally over!”

We all know what happened on Sunday 15th May 2016.

Grimsby Town beat Forest Green Rovers 3-1 in the National League play-off final to win promotion back to the Football League after a six-year absence.

We’ve seen the goals a million times. We’ve replayed them again and again in our minds, and on YouTube.

I think it’s fair and accurate to say, I could never get fed up of watching Nathan Arnold slot away our third goal in injury time.

But as I was at the match – and not listening from a hotel in Seattle (as I was in 2015) – I always wondered what it would be like to watch the TV footage but with John Tondeur’s commentary.

So, ladies and gentlemen. After a few hours of trying to work out how the hell you put something like this together, here you have it.

Grimsby Town’s play-off victory as you’ve (possibly) never seen it before. Enjoy.

Take it away, JT!

 

 

Playing with purpose. Match report: Grimsby 4-2 Yeovil

“They seem to know what they’re doing more than usual,” said my dad, barely three minutes into the game.

My dad’s last game was the 2-1 home defeat to Wycombe – as was mine – and the contrast was clear from kick-off. Who knew that 4-4-2 could work? We looked organised, the players played with confidence, and we were as creative and incisive as I’ve seen us all season.

Then we won a penalty, which Sam Jones tucked away with the only kind of aplomb you know, and Chris Clements soon doubled our lead with an effort that deserved to find the net based solely on the neat bit of teeing up he did for himself immediately before the strike.

Town, being Town, let the Glovers back in it way too early in the second half. Under Bignot we’d have turned to the person sat next to us and pulled a sort of constipated face in anticipation of a nervy last 40 minutes, in which we’d have scored a last-minute own goal, gave away a silly penalty or allowed the referee to take all our playing abilities out of the equation and intervened with an uncontrollably bad decision to make the very angry bloke at the back of the main stand completely lose his shit and put his fist through the corrugated steel behind him.

But this was a team that had already showed enough to suggest that we wouldn’t crumble.

Despite Scott Vernon either being unavailable or overlooked in the game against Cambridge, I always felt there would be a place for him in Slade’s team. The goal today helped, of course – even if it came off his back, a yard out, without him even knowing.

Vernon’s the experienced front man, with the strength and intelligence to make our manager weak at the knees. He’s our new Lump, and every Slade team needs a Lump. He combined really well with Sam Jones, and they worked tirelessly as a front pair.

“Jamey’s goal was Reddy-esque,” mumbled Dale from the back of the room in the post-match press conference. It was. Osborne ran onto a clearance from a Yeovil free kick and suddenly found himself in the clear before he’d even broken out of his own half. At the crucial moment, just outside the area, he stepped across and in front of the only Glover chasing him back before taking the ball on and caressing it into the far corner as if he’d been doing it all his career.

No more sweating for us.

Well, you say that, but I wasn’t completely convinced we’d see things out comfortably after Yeovil smashed in a second because my mate Pete said before the game that with the pressure off for both sides it’d would either be a tepid affair or end 4-4. For a moment that second prediction of his was about to be played out.

But despite scoring two goals, the visitors never really looked like they’d get anything from the game. In fact the two goals flattered them, while five or six wouldn’t have flattered us.

There was just enough time left for me to praise the referee – seconds before he ignored what I felt was a pretty nailed-on penalty when Vose was brought down in the area. I’d have liked to have seen us hit five to wipe out the memory of us conceding that many at Crewe in February.

So even when we play with two central midfielders as wingers in a 4-4-2 we’re good enough to see off average teams in League 2. Osborne showed craft and skill and was understandably named man of the match for his goal, assist and general marauding down the left, while forgotten man James Berrett has played himself back into contention for next season.

I haven’t mentioned Disley because that’s exactly what he does. He glided through the game, bringing calmness in the centre and setting the stage for others to perform. It was vintage Dis.

There was some good football played in the final third, too. And while we weren’t afraid to lump it from the back, the punts forward just had a lower trajectory and more of a purpose. They seemed to find Vernon and Jones more easily, and it would often stick. I dunno, it was almost like we had a plan or something.

It was a thoroughly dominant performance – although I’m not sure how much Yeovil, wearing a strip inspired by what you’d typically find in a doorway down a deserted back alley in Manchester at 3am on Sunday morning, contributed to our success because they were pretty awful considering they technically had something to play for – as did we, of course.

Even now, the play-offs aren’t mathematically out of the question with two games to play.

Lop-sided. Match report: Grimsby 1-2 Wycombe

On both occasions yesterday when Town kicked off following Wycombe’s goals, literally none of our players were stood on the left side of the pitch.

The kick-off taker (possibly Calum Dyson) was stood centrally, naturally, while Danny Andrew was also central, just in front of the D, with James McKeown just behind. Every other bugger in a black and white shirt was stood on the right side of the pitch, as if the Main Stand was breathing some terrible disease on them.

Was this tactical? If so, what the hell were we hoping to achieve from it?

Our deficiency on the left is now so well known that future opposition won’t have to bother sending a scout to watch us.

It’s on Google Earth. You could probably see it from the moon.

I guess you could say we have nothing left to give. But that’s not funny. And none of us left yesterday’s match laughing.

At a time when we’re not helping ourselves, the last thing we need is a referee who’s not willing to help us either. All he needed to do was apply the rules of association football fairly and correctly, and he couldn’t even do that.

We should’ve seen it coming. It’s somewhat ironic how the OS used this picture of referee Nick Kinseley to warn us of impending doom. His expression became mine by full time.

In midweek the whole world seemed to stop immediately when Fernando Torres was knocked unconscious.

Yesterday, Gavin Gunning got knocked unconscious and the ref let play continue long enough for Wycombe’s Plaster of Paris Cowan-Hall to ping the ball into the top corner for what turned out to be the winning goal.

The ref wasn’t even sure about giving a stonewall penalty on Tom Bolarinwa, and had to look to his assistant for help.

I’ve seen us lose a lot this season (seven in nine), but the manner in which we went down to the Chairboys was particularly galling.

True, our showing for the first 30 minutes was very encouraging, and we should’ve been at least two or three up by half time – but there were still plenty of holes in our performance.

Having said that, irrespective of our left-sided issues, our confusing formation, our indiscernible style of play and chronic lack of pace, Wycombe were pretty awful and we should’ve beaten them.

They looked every bit like a side that’d been struggling and sliding down the league in recent weeks. McKeown was able to keep his luminous orange outfit in pristine condition.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for an uncharacteristically panicked swipe by Danny Collins and an abysmal piece of refereeing, we could’ve played until midnight and Wycombe wouldn’t have scored a ‘conventional’ goal.

But going in the other direction, second half especially, we were pretty toothless too. And we didn’t score any conventional goals ourselves simply by being rubbish at shooting.

It was bad enough falling behind at the hands of incompetent officials, but what made it worse was that we’d not shown much after the half-hour mark to suggest we were likely to find an equaliser from somewhere.

I’ve only seen us score five goals in nine games, so you’ll understand why I wasn’t holding out much hope.

But I’ll give us some credit. We had a go. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was more than I was expecting. Bignot made attacking substitutions and threw on Dominic Vose in an attempt to make something happen. And it nearly did.

Their keeper was surely their man of the match – helped, no doubt, by Sam Jones’ staggering ability to shoot straight at him from six yards.

Despite leaving Blundell Park feeling gutted and frustrated in equal measure, there was a tinge of hope in there too.

We showed some cohesive attacking play in the first half, which forced their keeper into making good saves. The players seemed to have a better grasp of where they were meant to be, and what they were meant to do – although that ebbed away towards half time and we reverted to typical Town nothingness in the second half. But then we showed a bit of fight and spirit at the end.

Some of the best sides have been built from the back. We seem to have a solid base – now Bignot needs to work on developing our attacking play.

He says he wants to play exciting, attacking football, but he’ll need width and pace. So I guess we won’t be seeing that this season. Also, I still feel the players don’t truly know how he wants us to attack.

I remember Bignot using all-encompassing words and phrases like ‘being positive on the ball’ and ‘always playing forward’ in an interview with Radio Humberside.

Sounds good, but I hope he’s more specific than that with the players on the training pitch, because at the moment they’re carrying out his vague plan with appropriate vagueness.

Occasionally it comes off, but most of the time it just looks like every player has been told they’ll get an absolute bollocking if they ever pass sideways or backwards.

So what happens is that we get a succession of fairly aimless clips and clearances that just go forward. If we could add a little direction too, then that’d be ace.

And, of course, it’d be really good if we had an option to use the left side of the pitch. Without it, through sympathy alone, Danny Andrew will continue to be everyone’s man of the match as soon as he steps out onto the pitch.

Wilted spinach. Match report: Crewe 5-0 Grimsby

Every time I go to watch Grimsby Town play a match of association football, we’re shit. Totally shit. Absolutely hopeless.

Now, I know this isn’t a very fair reflection of where we are right now. We’re not shit, totally shit or absolutely hopeless, generally. We’re actually just six points outside the League 2 play-offs.

We’re only shit, totally shit and absolutely hopeless, it seems, when I’m in the stands.

The trip to Gresty Road was my eighth match of the season – I’ve seen us win one (at home to Morecambe on the opening day), draw one (at home to Barnet in Marcus Bignot’s first game in charge) and lose the other six.

And all those six have been to nil. And totally shit, of course.

The home defeat to Cheltenham was bleak. The home defeat to Portsmouth was painful. Let’s not forget I paid over £80 to go to Stevenage a fortnight ago, where I was treated to a load of shit on a concrete canvas.

Oh, and I saw the home defeat to Crewe, too.

Last season – a season in which we were quite good and won promotion – I only made four away games, and we lost three of those. And I thought that defeat at Halifax was shit.

All this makes following the Mariners more difficult than it needs to be.

The thing about Gresty Road is that it’s one of the least intimidating grounds to play at. It has one huge and sparsely populated stand with no one making any noise, and Town’s contingent tucked away in a concrete replica of Blundell Park’s wooden Main Stand, making all the noise.

More than half our squad live just a few miles down the M6. I mean, for Christ’s sake, an away game at Crewe couldn’t have felt any more like a home game for our lot.

Added to this, Crewe couldn’t win for shit. And their manager, David Artell – who’s one Sainsbury’s carrier bag short of being Angelos Epithemou – even did our team talk for us, saying that Alex have got better players than us.

That comment clearly didn’t ignite the fire in any of our players’ bellies because we went there and flopped over pathetically like a slop of wilted spinach on a dieter’s dinner plate .

I’m not one for being unnecessarily critical to the point where you ruin someone’s self-confidence or career, but I should also point out that I’m very fond of the cruel-to-be-kind scenario. Which works out well for match reports like these.

The first half, other than telling me that Crewe were better at scoring than we were – to the tune of four – it also taught me that:

Yussuf couldn’t hold up a post office queue of old grannies with a sawed off shotgun, let alone our mixture of panicked clearances and aimless punts.

I’m not sure I can even call it ‘long ball’ tactics because long ball, by its very nature, implies some sort of method – usually hoofing the ball in the general direction of a player, ideally big enough and strong enough to hold it up.

Dyson looks like he might be a bit taller and stronger than Yussuf. Unfortunately he also looks a clumsier and less mobile version of Andy Cook. I didn’t see us win one aerial dual all half.

We were carved open down the wings. Davies and Andrew weren’t full backs, or wingers, or wing backs. They can’t have been – because if they were, Crewe wouldn’t have put 214 crosses into our box in 45 minutes.

Pearson seemed to play more like a right back, Collins a left back, and Gunning completely exposed in the middle.

And if someone could’ve told me which one of Clements, Comley and Osborne was meant to be in this very modern ‘holding position’, then they’d have been lying because no one occupied that space at all.

We just let Crewe’s roaming forward line run at us, and run at us, and drive into huge, sweeping spaces between the centre circle and the edge of our box.

As for conceding from direct free kicks, it’s getting silly now. Portsmouth, Donny, Stevenage and now Crewe. It’s happening too frequently for it to just be ‘bad luck’. Clearly we’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

The fourth goal was probably offside, but we’d just wasted a load of money and a load of breath supporting a team that couldn’t defend against the fourth worst side in the entire Football League, so we weren’t about to waste more valuable oxygen on the officials too.

If it wasn’t for McKeown, it could’ve been six or seven by half time. I’m sure he made an incredible save low down at some point, but what with all those goals flying in it’s difficult to remember at what stage he made it.

He also made an outstanding save in the second half, but almost got caught out from a spectacular lob from way out (which he managed to push over the bar), before having a rush goalie moment and getting away with it.

Ah yes, the second half. After making all three subs at the break, Bignot shuffled his pack into a more familiar 4-4-2 formation and we immediately looked more comfortable.

Or Crewe took their foot off the gas quite considerably. It was one or the other – but most probably a classic mix of both.

Davies and Collins were full backs, with Pearson and Gunning as centre backs. Bolarinwa was on the right wing, Osborne was definitely central, while Comley and Clements appeared to take it in shifts on the left. Sam Jones and Asante were our new strike pair.

It’s difficult to know how to feel about that second half because the game had gone and the whole thing felt like a training match. We weren’t as much as a shambles – in fact we controlled large periods – but we still managed to lose the half 1-0 and blaze the only genuine clear-cut chance we created all game high and wide from six yards.

Their fifth. Yeah. Converted by a totally unmarked and unseen Crewe player running in on the edge of our box.

There was just enough time for Gunning to absolutely poleaxe one of Crewe’s tricky midfielders, who was weaving and sliding his way through the spine of our team like an Olympic bobsleigher until Gunning decided to give up on any thought of playing football and shoulder-barge the flash bastard to the ground.

He was kind of lucky not to be sent off for that, given that we know this ref sends players off for less.

At the full time whistle, only Pearson truly applauded the fans (before Bignot instructed the rest of the team to do the same after their huddled de-brief on the pitch).

It was a strange post-match situation, and not one I’ve experienced before. The majority of the fans wanted to let the players know that the performance was not acceptable, so they booed – but they weren’t really into the booing because, after all, this is a relatively new squad, with young players, and most of us are still on speaking terms with Bignot.

So it was ‘boo Town, you’re rubbish, boooo’ but then also clap, clap, clap, fair enough, you’ve not gone running down the tunnel. But still. ‘Boo, rubbish, sort it Bignots’. Then more clapping.

Then Bignot came over and spoke with the fans. There was some sort of apology. There was also something said that he took personally, but I didn’t find out what that was.

Bignot has built his side now. The January transfer window closed, and the squad is locked in. We’ve made our bed, and now we’ve got to lie in it.

But yesterday we defecated all over the sheets.