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.


Marmite Men: How Grimsby Town’s record signing divided opinion

Throughout the 2013/14 season Grimsby Town have been asking fans to write about ‘Marmite Men’ – players fans either loved or loathed. This is my article on the Mariners’ record signing, Lee Ashcroft, which was published in the Braintree match day programme on Saturday 14th September.

Lee Ashcroft wearing the black and white stripes of Grimsby Town

Grimsby Town’s record signing Lee Ashcroft

For many Town fans, he’s the striker that never provided a satisfactory return on a record-breaking investment. To others, he was a player of undoubted skill that simply struggled to find the form that justified the price tag.

Or, to use a culinary analogy (which seems appropriate given the rumours that he supported the town’s pastry industry), he was like a frustratingly average main course at a restaurant famous for poor puddings.

Record breaking fee

Lee Ashcroft arrived at Blundell Park in the summer of 1998 from Preston for the princely sum of £500,000, paid by Alan Buckley to today’s current Manchester United boss David Moyes. At 26-years old, he joined to bolster the Mariners’ attack to consolidate the club’s place back in the second tier. By the age of 30 he’d be playing non-league football.

In many ways, the transfer was always going to fail. Town had never committed so much money to one player before. It was also a signing that broke previous conventions from the Buckley era. Had he arrived from a lower league’s reserve side for just a few thousand pounds, the fans may have been more forgiving.

But at half a million quid – and with the Mariners still riding on the crest of a double Wembley wave – Ashcroft came with a weight of expectation never seen or felt before in these parts. A mixture of injuries and inconsistent form meant that he failed to command a regular place in the starting XI, which made it difficult for the majority of fans to warm to him.

Sharp, strong, willing, cultured… but frustratingly inconsistent

Ashcroft was neither tall nor fast. In that sense at least, he was a typical Buckley striker. Sharp with the ball at his feet, and strong with his back to goal, Ashcroft crafted opportunities from his willingness to run the channels and take centre backs into areas of the pitch they didn’t want to go.

His debut goal was a cultured one, full of the poise and technique that Buckley was so happy to pay that sum of money for. It came in a 2-1 home defeat to Barnsley when, after receiving the ball from Tony Gallimore with his back to goal, he played a quick one-two with Jack Lester before rolling his marker and sweeping the ball home.

His strike at Bristol City later in the season – when he struck an effort into the top corner from 30 yards out – underlined his obvious talent and demonstrated his ability to conjure something out of nothing. In January 2000 he put in an immense display against Forest, out-witting an experienced back line to lead the Mariners to an epic 4-3 win.

Sadly, such outstanding performances were all too fleeting in his Town career. Sporting a tuft of scruffy dark hair and stubble before David Beckham had made it trendy, Ashcroft often coupled his untidy appearance with untidy performances. One week he’d kill the ball with an excellent first touch; the next week his close control would end up in the main stand.

The partnership with Jack Lester

Given the transfer fee, it was all too easy to demand 20 goals a season. However, Ashcroft was never an out-and-out striker. His most productive season was his second at Town, when he and Lester struck up a particularly fruitful partnership. His accuracy from the spot was constantly tested as Lester enjoyed a typically assiduous campaign hitting the floor in the box. Ashcroft never missed from 12 yards.

And just as that partnership was establishing itself as one of the division’s best, Lester moved to Forest for £300,000. It was a massive blow to the team, the fans and the partnership, and it signalled the beginning of the end of Ashcroft’s career as a Mariner.

The slide into Non League

Although he finished the season as Town’s top scorer with 13 goals, he was sold to third division Wigan for a reported £350,000 in July 2000. The fact that he joined a town famous for its pies was one not lost on Town fans.

Sadly it was the same story at the JJB Stadium. After a decent first season for the Latics under Bruce Rioch he fell out of favour in the second. Unsuccessful loan spells at Port Vale and Huddersfield was followed by his release in February, and he saw out the season playing for Southport in the Conference.

His rapid decline through the leagues following his departure from Town wouldn’t have come as a surprise to some. However, to those who saw the glimpses of the quality he had (which includes me, a handful of other Town fans and the England Under 21 bosses that gave him an international cap in 1992) it tells the story of what happens when gifted individuals fail to translate their latent ability into results on the pitch.

Today Ashcroft manages Northern Premier League first division north side Northwich Victoria following six years at the helm of Kendal Town. He was in the news earlier this year for abusing a female opposition coach, which led to him receiving a 10-game ban.