An outpouring of emotion: what Grimsby Town’s return to the Football League really means

Grimsby players celebrate on the pitchIn April 2003 I watched my beloved Grimsby Town surrender meekly at home to Walsall and drop out of the second division with two games still to play.

The following season, after an 8-1 defeat at Hartlepool, a 6-0 defeat at Oldham and a 5-1 defeat at Port Vale, I stood on the terrace at Tranmere, staring into the abyss, as news of a 90th minute goal elsewhere relegated us from the third division.

Two seasons later, in the fourth division, I was at Blundell Park when Northampton Town and Leyton Orient combined to deny us an automatic promotion spot we’d held all season in the very last minute of the season.

Two weeks later we lost the fourth division play-off final to Cheltenham – a team we’d beaten home and away in the regular season, and finished above in the table.

In March 2008 I was sat in the east end of Wembley as I witnessed us lose the Football League Trophy final 2-0 to the worst kind of club.

Then, the unthinkable happened. In May 2010 I watched the Mariners plummet out of the Football League on the final day of the season in a 3-0 defeat at Burton – at the expense of perennial fourth division strugglers Barnet.

Grimsby Town were a non-league club. Neither my dad, my grandad or his dad before him had seen the like. It was an all-time low.

In January 2011 we lost an FA Trophy tie 2-1 to Chasetown. In August 2011 Grimsby Town lost 5-0 at Braintree Town in our second league fixture of the season, and the football world felt like it was collapsing in on us.

Then in March 2013, when we got our first whiff of relative success, it was snatched away from us on penalties at Wembley when we lost the FA Trophy final to Wrexham.

A few weeks later we lost 1-0 home and away to Newport County in the Conference play-offs. Exactly one year later I saw our second successive play-off venture end in the semi-final stage, this time at Gateshead.

One year on, we endured the heartache of making the Conference play-off final but losing to Bristol Rovers on penalties.

Two cup final defeats. Three relegations. Four play-off defeats. Last-minute relegations. Last-minute promotion denials. Penalty defeats and all-time lows.

Fourteen years of pain. Any glimmer of success was snatched from us in the cruellest of fashions.

So what does winning promotion to the Football League mean to us Mariners?

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

It means this:

We might have already been 2-1 up when Nathan Arnold scored our third in injury time, but all those years of pain had given every single one of us such an anxiety complex that it made the final half an hour feel like an eternity – and Arnold’s goal feel like a decisive winner.

In that moment there was an outpouring of emotion; six years of promise and pain – and the end of 18 years without a thing to celebrate. I couldn’t hear words; just screams. There were hugs. There were tears. There was disbelief. A whole generation of Town fans had grown up not knowing what it was like to see their club win promotion.

But despite the torment, the lows and the near misses, we finally had our day in the sun.

And what a day it was.

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Will Connell make a sensational return to Grimsby Town?

Alan Connell celebrates a goal for Grimsby Town.

Alan Connell in the black and white stripes. Image courtesy of the Grimsby Telegraph.

There’s not a lot that gets Grimsby Town fans reminiscing about good times in the Conference – hell, we’ve only been here three and a half years. But the name Alan Connell is one that brings a smile to our faces. When a stuttering side struggled to make any impression on the league table in what was an eye-opening induction in non league football, Connell enjoyed the most profitable season of his career to date.

In 48 appearances he registered 29 times, but unfortunately the Mariners could only finish 11th in the league. A managerial change in February didn’t stop the flow of goals, but it became clear from March onwards that Rob Scott and Paul Hurst were looking to cash in on a player that had attracted a lot of attention from Football League clubs. Connell himself had publicly expressed his desire to play in the Football League, so when Swindon Town came calling in the summer with a six-figure fee the striker headed to Wiltshire.

In truth, Connell was too good for the Conference. He had a level of intelligence to his play that reminded the Mariners fans of Clive Mendonca. Both were never blessed with any pace or great aerial ability; instead they relied on their movement, poise and strength with their back to goal. They were team players but never afraid to shoot on sight, with finishes oozing class and confidence.

But let’s leave those comparisons there. After all, in football everything is relative. I’m not too sure Connell is so potent in the higher leagues – especially if his career history is anything to go by. But we know from first hand experience that he’s potent in the Conference, and that’s where we are right now.

Will he move to Blundell Park? We know Connell wants to play in the Football League – it was his desire in 2011 and it’ll probably remain his first choice in 2014. If the rumoured interest from Plymouth Argyle is true, then that could be a difficult hurdle to overcome. But then maybe Connell would rather play in a side that is near the top of their league, creating chances for him to tuck away. And that could put him in the shop window this summer.

Dropping down into the Conference is something he’s done before in order to go back up. Maybe he sees the same opportunity again – and who knows… maybe he can enjoy playing for Grimsby in the Football League next season? There’s no doubt that if Hurst is able to bring him to Cleethorpes this month it’ll represent an excellent piece of business.