Pound for pound, and class for class, the worst Grimsby team I have seen since I was born

If wallpaper could speak it’d say ‘Hi, my name is Grimsby Town’.

We are in one hell of a rut.

At the start of December we were outside the League 2 play-offs on goal difference only, and today, seven games on, we’re sat 17th, having picked up just two points from a possible 21 while playing some of the most gut-grindingly boring, hoof-and-hope, chew-on-cotton-wool-and-scratch-your-nails-down-a-blackboard type of football seen at Blundell Park since… well, since manager Russell Slade was last here.

No one wanted Russell Slade back, except for one man. A man who thinks he knows best; a man who thinks throwing money at something will solve everything; a man who has overseen our most consistent, under-performing, lowest ebb-reaching spell in the club’s entire history.

Slade is a deeply unloved manager and so it was always going to be an uphill task for him to win over the fans when Fenty believed he should return to Cleethorpes last April.

‘Thanks for your efforts, Marcus, but you’ve fucked the squad up, unsettled our longest-serving players and none of us can really see what you’re trying to do tactically,’ Fenty might have said.

Scarily, he could easily say that to Slade today.

He then went on to not say: ‘We know you had a long-term plan, Marcus, but fuck that – I’ve heard my mate is available. I don’t care if you’ve just led us to victory at Blackpool.’

So Slade was swooped in. He’s had nine months at the helm now, and in that time he’s managed to turn us into a worse side than the one he inherited.

Firstly, by releasing some of our most loyal and creative players and buying very average replacements (and I’m putting that politely) and, secondly, by getting us to play some truly appalling football.

The football has been so terrible that I publicly declared on Twitter last weekend that I wasn’t going to pay to watch us again this season unless something changes.

Since May 2016 we’ve gone from a club that had won promotion back to the Football League with a young, up-and-coming manager and real momentum – backed by the kind of amazing support that can raise £110,000, just because it could – to this unrecognisable squad of complete misfits.

We’ve won nine league games this season and the general consensus among the fans is that only a couple of them have been enjoyable – our opening day win at Chesterfield, and a Tuesday night game at home to Swindon.

We might not be in the relegation zone but if you judged us solely on creativity, goal threat, entertainment and value for money then we’re well adrift at the bottom of the league.

And when Slade is on speaking terms with the local radio, he’s telling them after our most recent defeat that we need to go ‘back to basics’.

He’s been here for nine months, for Christ’s sake, and has signed no fewer than 15 players:

Jake Kean, Ben Killip, Nathan Clarke, Paul Dixon, Reece Hall-Johnson, Karleigh Osborne, Mitch Rose, Siriki Dembele, Diallang Jaiyesimi, Sam Kelly, Martyn Woolford, Harry Cardwell, JJ Hooper, Jamille Matt and Charles Vernam have all entered the building and, broadly speaking, done nothing.

He also offered new contracts to youth players Jack Keeble, Tom Sawyer, Harry Clifton and Max Wright who have (on account of never being picked) also done nothing,

This is without doubt Russell Slade’s squad. He built it, he got it to the verge of the play-offs, and so if he’s now suggesting that it isn’t good enough and needs to buy reinforcements after just sending our most gifted midfielder back to part-time football and benching our top scorer after ruining his confidence then, if I were the majority shareholder, I’d tell him to swivel.

We are at a crossroads here and you can bet your mortgage that we’ll choose the wrong direction.

We could stop giving Slade money and ask him, politely, to pull himself together and be a fucking manager.

Or, we could continue giving Slade money to buy more players, use more money to pay off the players he no longer wants – even if he signed them – and piss more money up the wall to increase those benign loans.

The reason Fenty has put so much of his own personal fortune into the club is to cover for the colossal amount of mistakes he and the board have made over the last 17 years.

We, the fans, didn’t make those decisions. We didn’t put us in financial hardship.

What put us there is a succession of poor managerial appointments, a succession of war chests for them to waste on poor signings, and absolutely no sign of a long term plan or philosophy that would help us achieve financial stability and self-sufficiency.

Backing Russell Slade with more finances, which the club publicly declared in a press release (I thought they did all their PR on the pitch?), will ultimately create more debt. Later this year Fenty will once again have to put his hand into his pocket and dig deep to keep the club afloat.

This vicious circle needs to be broken. Only the sale of Omar Bogle saved us from going further into Fenty’s debt last year, so unless we can keep on discovering his like, we’ll simply continue to be run by an individual who needs to accept that he’ll never get his benign loans back and should instead work on finding someone else who can plug the holes in this rapidly sinking ship.



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.

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.

Being economical with the truth

For the first time ever, I think, Grimsby Town’s transfer activity on deadline day stopped me from going to bed at a sensible hour. I actually went to sleep believing that Omar Bogle was still our player, but woke up this morning to find he is not.

No one knows how much Wigan paid for him, or what kind of deal we negotiated, or how well Solihull did out of the whole thing. I’m sure this will all become clear once the Fishy has speculated to such a degree that it either drives one of the shareholders to put the issue to bed with a badly written club statement, or Wigan relax and let us know from their end.

Anyway, good luck Omar – you did us proud. That winner you got at Braintree in the play-off semi final second leg was a moment I’ll never forget, and those two goals in the play-off final at Wembley still give me goosebumps, as well as a glimpse into what football heaven is really like.

I can live with his departure. We always knew he would go for a fee, and him going now means we probably got more money than we’d have got if we held onto him until the summer.

The cash will surely be used to cover the transfer fees and wages of our eight new additions – Adi Yussuf, Gavin Gunning, Jamey Osborne, Chris Clements, Akwasi Asante, Luke Maxwell, Sam Jones and Calum Dyson.

So, eight in, one out – although I expect more than just Bogle will be heading out of ‘the BP’ in the next week or two as the shunned squad players contemplate the prospect of not even warming the bench but sitting on a standard plastic seat in the stands like the rest of us. Or staying at home.

I fully supported the appointment of Marcus Bignot and I still believe things will come good. He hasn’t made that bad a start as Mariners boss, on a points-per-game basis, although it is worrying to see the standard of our performances dropping when really they should’ve started badly and gradually improved as the players got to grips with his new style and system.

He’s made radical changes after initially saying everyone at the club would get a chance to prove themselves with a run in the team. I don’t think he’s delivered on that promise.

He also said Bogle wasn’t for sale, and sold him, and said he wants to keep Disley when he clearly doesn’t intend on using him. Bignot says Disley can leave on his terms, like he’s doing him a favour, and being respectful. Maybe Disley just doesn’t want to go?

And then there’s been that disagreement between him and our loyal first choice keeper. McKeown said the boss made it very clear he wouldn’t play again this season, and Bignot says otherwise. I don’t know who to believe – the person who has been at the club for six years and been as honest as the day is long, or someone who’s been at the club two minutes and already lied about a number of things.

I say ‘lied’. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad. Let’s just say Bignot is economical with the truth, and knows what the fans want to hear. It’s strange, because our last manager had no idea what the fans wanted to hear, and he was often hammered for it.

The manager claims we don’t have any width in midfield. He didn’t include the only two players capable of offering width, Bolarinwa or Chambers, in his latest squad of 18, then tells Chambers he’s free to leave.

Then he signs four central midfielders when we already have six on our books, three strikers and a centre back – and no wingers.

It’s just odd. I don’t know what to make of it all.

This was meant to be a season of celebration and stability. We’d have all been happy to see the team that got us promoted stay together and continue battling for each other to finish 12th in League 2. I know I would’ve.

But Hurst broke it up more severely than I could’ve expected, and the team he left us with has been broken up severely again just a couple of months on. Those few players who survived the Hurst cull, and the ones we connected with the most – McKeown, Disley, Gowling – are no longer in the side. It seems a shame.

In fact, I just looked at the XI who beat Forest Green on that marvellous day in May and not one of them will start our next match at home to Luton:

McKeown – out of the side and looking to leave
Tait – left for Motherwell
Robertson – released and retired
Gowling – out of the side and told he can leave
Nsiala – left for Hartlepool
Arnold – released and joined Lincoln
Nolan – left for Chesterfield
Clay – released and joined Motherwell
Disley – out of the side and told he can leave
Bogle – sold to Wigan
Amond – left for Hartlepool

Today’s sole survivor is Shaun Pearson, who was only on the bench for the play-off final and came on as an injury time sub:

Pearson – in the side
East – released and joined Guiseley
Marshall – released and joined Boston United
Pittman – released and joined Harrogate Town
Hoban – released and joined Mansfield

I’m not one for living in the past, as the last 15 years haven’t been particularly kind to us. Football moves on, and so should we, but the success of last season was the result of a manager who was given time to build a squad and create a style of play that gave us the best chance possible of winning promotion.

The same has to apply here. Things are messy now, but I’m sure that once everything settles down – and that still might not happen just yet, what with about eight players looking for new clubs – we’ll perhaps begin to see what Bignot is trying to build.

I’m sure he’s a good manager, but it’s difficult to believe anything we’re told right now. If he builds an exciting and attacking squad that gets us scoring plenty of goals and pushing for the play-offs, then there won’t be many complaints.

Time for Hurst to show he’s learnt from past mistakes

Christian Jolley celebrating

Christian Jolley celebrates his play-off final goal against Wrexham at Wembley in 2013.

The news that Grimsby Town have signed Christian Jolley and Gregor Robertson is definitely welcome, and the additions should strengthen what’s already a very decent squad for a push at the Conference title.

But forgive me if I don’t get too excited just yet. While this is more good work by Paul Hurst in the transfer market, only time will tell if they have the desired effect. We’ve been here before – twice, in fact – and on both those occasions we’ve come up short.

While Robertson will no doubt slot into the left back position in the continued absence of Aswad Thomas, Jolley’s role seems less clear. Is he a winger or a striker? Well both, according to his Mariners Player interview. You can see why his credentials appealed to Hurst, who favours a tricky, pacy wide player with an ability to play up top.

If used as a winger, or inside forward, what does this mean for Mackreth, Pittman, Arnold and Neilson? If used as a striker, where does Palmer fit in? Will Hannah drop one more down the pecking order? And will Watson get another game?

I’m delighted with the quality of these signings. Hurst doesn’t sign many duds – and even the ones we knew nothing of (Magnay) or doubted (Clay) have turned out to be better than we imagined.

But my true judgment will be reserved until May, when we’ll know if we’re back in the Football League or remain a Conference club.

The two previous January transfer windows have promised much and delivered very little. Hurst arms himself with so many attacking options that no one player feels like they can command a starting spot every week, and I think they find that unsettling. A lack of consistency usually delivers a lack of form.

His tendency to rotate his attacking players has not worked. We failed to get the best out of Jennings last season, we saw very little from a promising signing in Tounkara, and as a creature of habit, Cook never suited Hurst’s rotation policy. Neither did Hannah.

Hurst has a squad that many other managers at this level would envy – and that’s credit to him – so the important thing now is being able to get the very best out of it.

As one of Hurst’s big advocates, if there’s one area of his management that I doubt it’s this. Get the best out of the strikers he’s got, between now and the end of the season, and he’ll write himself into the Grimsby Town history books.

Let’s hope that’s the case. In the meantime, here’s hoping he gets (and keeps) all our players fresh, focused and firing.

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.

How to solve a problem like Grimsby Town’s striker issue

Andy Cook runs away with his right arm aloft to celebrate scoring a goal for Grimsby at Tamworth.

Andy Cook scoring a winning goal at Tamworth last season. Image courtesy of the Grimsby Telegraph.


Strikers, strikers, strikers – they’re all Grimsby Town fans are talking about these days. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was thinking we had too many strikers. I also remember, this time last year, signing Lenell John-Lewis on an 18-month deal – just after we had added Richard Brodie to the squad – and wondering exactly why the management felt the need to have eight strikers on our books. Fat load of good that approach did us back then.

Sadly the Mariners haven’t often had strikers who were capable of scoring over 20 goals in a season. Alan Connell was the first since Kevin Donovan in 1998 to achieve that feat, scoring 29 goals in the 2010/11 season. We finished 11th.

That summer we bought Liam Hearn from Alfreton. He went on to score 29 goals too – even though it took him about 10 games to score his first. He really ought to have scored over 30, but he, like the team, ran out of steam towards the end of April. And again, the Mariners fell short of the play-offs.

So, um, yeah – you can see where this is going.

When we did finally make the play-offs, last season, we did it without one player scoring over 20 goals. Andy Cook managed around 16, while Ross Hannah chipped in with 10 (nine during his loan spell and one after signing permanently in January).

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a striker that scores 20-30 goals – after all, when you have a Ronaldo or a Messi in your team, you’re going to win things. Personally I feel uneasy when we start to depend on one particular player to score all the goals. Some of the best Buckley teams had goals distributed throughout the team – which was a clear reflection of the way the Great One got his teams to play.

Maybe that’s not the only way, and so perhaps not always the right way. But just recently there seems to be this opinion that if we don’t get another striker we’re going to lose our play-off spot. Perhaps.

Time for Cook to step up to the plate?

But I do think it’s time to give Cook an extended run in the first team – his performance against Huddersfield reminded us all of his talent. I seem to remember it took him time to score his first goal last season, but once he got going he was a regular scorer. It may be that we already have the answer to our striking conundrum without having to participate in Sky Sports’ overly-hyped time-limited period of transfer activity.

I’m a big fan of Cook and I’d like to see him given a chance alongside Hannah up front, with Neilson and one of Colbeck and Rodman dishing up some tasty service from the wings. With Craig Disley and Scott Kerr in the centre, that to me seems a fairly strong side capable of scoring goals.

But I understand that Hurst is looking for a Hearn-type player to push Hannah for a starting place. Whether it’s Gillingham’s Adam Birchall or someone else, I don’t think they necessarily need to replace Hannah upon signing. He’s got 10 goals so far this season and roughly a 1-in-2 strike ratio, so it wouldn’t seem fair to drop a player currently on course to make that magical 20-mark.