The Holloway Year: a tale of chaos, calamities and dishonesty

Ah, do you remember the time we were managed by that great footballing philosopher, Ian Holloway? When the path was the path and mud went on the mud?

Well, the mud got chucked at the wall, in the hope that some of it stuck. Very little of it did. And then we found out it wasn’t mud, but shit.

It all still seems like a very bad dream, except it actually happened. The almost total absence of pre-season; the covid-clause; a complete absence of an assistant manager; signing 74 attacking players who, between them, couldn’t score at a Bags’ Ball.

I mean, we’re just scratching the surface here. Playing Harry Clifton at left back; releasing two centre backs when we were playing three in the first team; signing seven players on season-long loans when we could only name a maximum of five in a match day squad. The Bilel Mohsni scooter thing.

I watched the film Compliance recently. It’s based on a true story — a caller posed as a police officer and got some restaurant staff to do some unimaginable things to each other because all the workers accepted the caller’s authority without question.

When you think about it, Holloway did a whole load of stuff to us that was weird at best, and damaging at worst. And we just sleepwalked through it.

I suppose we went along with it because, you know, it was Ian Holloway; the football manager for the Mighty Boosh generation.

We knew he was quirky; it was part of the deal. Not everything he said made sense, but that was fine because he’s kooky and eccentric. And he got Blackpool into the Premier League that time (just as Town were being relegated from the Football League).

Mad as a box of frogs. Daft, but in a harmless way. At least that was the theory.

Plymouth fans warned us that he might ditch us the moment he gets a better offer. Millwall fans warned us that he might be shit.

But he’d become more than a manager here, investing £100,000 into the club and joining the board of directors. It later turned out that he never made that investment.

That, even if it felt generous, was a little unusual. But, you know, it’s Ian Holloway. It was a sign of his commitment, and certainly not for a more-than-dubious investment opportunity that we were only going to find out about 11 months down the line.

But there was one bigger alarm bell ringing from day one — and while many of us probably heard it, none of us really worried about it, such was the state of our paralysis. It was his rather over-friendly and uncomfortable allegiance to John Fenty.

In retrospect, it had all the hallmarks of a relationship that spoke more about business than it did football.

We never really stopped to question Holloway’s football intelligence based on the level he’d previously managed at. We were just grateful that he could see us from his media-hyped tower, never mind join us.

But if Holloway had any emotional intelligence, or any sense of judgment, he’d have known not to side with Fenty — or at least not be so openly friendly with him.

While many (including me) praised Fenty’s ability to bring a manager of Holloway’s supposed calibre to Cleethorpes, the fact remained that our major shareholder was still deeply unpopular with many of our fans. The relationship had long passed the point of no return.

Media-savvy Ollie thought he could be best mates with Fenty and the fans. And for a while, that was the case, as we saw out what remained of the 2019/20 season in both good form and good spirits.

But then things unravelled quite spectacularly over the summer.

When he initially joined the Mariners, jolly Ollie spoke at length (typically unprompted) about standards and regrets — particularly about the way he left Plymouth — only to flee Grimsby like a rat from a sinking ship at the first moment of trouble.

But that’s putting it kindly. There were many signs of trouble on the pitch, long before the 2020/21 season started, but his cute media persona allowed him to escape any sort of backlash from the fans.

The summer was an absolute shambles. While most League 2 clubs were assembling squads and playing friendlies, Town couldn’t find it within themselves to retain our better players, then bizarrely chose not to arrange any friendlies bar one against neighbouring Cleethorpes Town.

Signings came late and were so wild that it was difficult to understand what the recruitment strategy was.

After returning to training later than every other club in the division, the whole squad then had to self-isolate just a few games into the new season following one player’s positive covid test.

That gave Holloway enough ammunition to complain about fixture pile-up; personal safety, injuries, and being forced to sign players who couldn’t play 90 minutes.

Although it created a positive story, he chucked on 15-year-old Louis Boyd in our Mickey Mouse cup draw with Harrogate, who promptly scored, breaking two club records in the process. A tremendous feat, for sure, but Holloway made it seem like he had no other choice, despite having 30 full-time pros on his books.

He insisted on asking fourth division footballers to play out from the back when clearly none of them were capable.

He dropped our first choice keeper in favour of the goalkeeping coach, who subsequently dropped a clanger at Southend — to Greg Halford, a player who had been training with us for weeks but chose to sign for Southend the day before the game.

I mean, if you were an ambitious writer who liked to push boundaries, you wouldn’t dare write the script that Holloway was leading. It was a dark comedy to most, but pretty bleak for us living it.

Then the whole Alex May affair came to light. It’s not worth me repeating it here, but it raised serious questions of our major shareholder and his duties as a local councillor, plus the integrity of our entire board — which, of course, included a certain Mr Holloway.

Actively pursuing a £1m investment from a convicted property fraudster was not the sort of future Grimsby fans wanted.

Holloway was on the board of directors. It’s fair to assume he knew the details of the investment. In fact, it’s fair to assume he knew the details up front, back in December 2019, when John Fenty persuaded him to join the Mariners.

But when the news broke, Holloway thought he’d found a way to side with the fans. He made no comment of the investment, neither confirming or denying his knowledge of it, as Fenty bore the brunt of the backlash.

Instead, he made his own statement, via Twitter, to say the fans were different class; he was here for the football and he was going nowhere unless told to.

Six days later, he walked.

In his resignation tweets, Holloway said he felt unsettled after he was contacted by far more credible and entirely more ethical people regarding a separate takeover. He believed a fresh start for everyone was best.

In the club’s official statement on the same matter, it suggested Holloway was only interested in working with the current board — you know, the one that likes to invite criminals to invest.

It’s doubtful that Holloway enjoyed much of the football management side here at Grimsby. His recruitment was abysmal; his tactics were haphazard or incomprehensible; and then there was that time he claimed Tranmere played a different system to what we were expecting when they trounced us 5-0, even though ex-Mariner Paul Bolland on radio commentary duty that day said Tranmere had, in fact, played the exact same system in the previous two matches.

Holloway brought absolute chaos to our once proud club. He was snippy with the local media, defensive about poor results on the pitch and absolutely silent about his conduct off it.

In the end, Holloway was exposed for being nothing more than a soundbite with a deceptive and duplicitous core; someone who was in cahoots with Fenty — a man with morals so low you’d need a special ROV to scrape them off the base of the Mariana Trench.

The final kick in the balls, though, was when Holloway went and hit top bins on Soccer AM to take the plaudits of the armchair football fans across the country. Meanwhile, none of the players he signed for Grimsby can hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.

Holloway has already intimated that he may not manage a football club again, thus making it his decision when, for any reasonably informed football club owners out there, he should never be a credible option anyway.

Meanwhile, his assertion that the Grimsby owners were ‘hounded out’ (by the fans, or the prospective new owners, or both) highlights his tunnel vision further. It’s a conscious effort to ignore the tale of the past two decades, in which Town fans have stories aplenty of how Fenty brought austerity to GTFC while board members pocketed any profits.

I’ll wrap up with a quote from the Hollow Man himself:

I was given some decent values from my mum and dad in our council house, and one of them was honesty and trust and loyalty. And I forgot to do all that at Plymouth. I left them, and I made the biggest mistake of my life.

It appears he also forgot to do all that at Grimsby, although I somehow doubt he regards leaving us as a mistake.

However, we are not an isolated case. Holloway’s history is catching up with him, which may explain why it seems likely he’ll pursue his media interests over football management in the future.

Here in Grimsby, he’ll be remembered as Mr Runaway; the man who talked the talk but chose to walk when he put our Football League existence on the precipice.

Beware the man who speaks about trust; he’s often the one you can trust the least.