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Past And Present!

By: Alan Readman
Date: 24/10/2002

IT'S that time of year again. Autumn. Season of mists and all that. But there's a winter chill blowing through the Nationwide. Now, if only we could turn the clocks back just a little bit further.

Professional football and economic sense parted company quite some time ago. Since then they have separated, divorced, sold the family home and packed the kids off to live with Granny. What is happening now might have been sparked by the ITV Digital collapse but in truth it has been a long time coming.

I suppose it was back in the sixties when people first began complaining "Football is a business these days, not a game." The bigger clubs were seeking to buy success through "chequebook management" as it was called. The smaller clubs found it increasingly difficult to compete. We didn't like it. We knew it was spoiling the game, our game. (Whether we might have felt differently if Town had had a chequebook is another matter).

But, ironically, as football became bigger and bigger business, football clubs began operating as if the most basic rules of business, balancing the books, for instance ; somehow didn't apply to them. Only the elite few could attempt to generate the sort of income necessary to balance the colossal outgoings on ever-increasing transfer fees, signing-on fees, wages, and bonuses. The rest in trying to compete only dug themselves deeper into the mire.

Of course this is a simplistic view of things. Other factors have contributed as other writers in these columns have pointed out. Here in Grimsby when we watched Ron Rafferty and Co. playing Third Division football in the late fifties home crowds averaged between 12-15,000. Now they are less than half that for the First Division. Times have changed. We all know that. People have found other (better?) things to do on a Saturday afternoon.

So, with all that water under the bridge, is it possible to turn the clocks back and return to better days? Well, in some ways I think we've got to try and now is the time to do it.

It's time to give the game back to the fans. They are the real stars - the ones who are always there, through thick and thin, home and away. They are the lifeblood of clubs like Grimsby. Their views should be heard. They deserve to know what's going on. They should be made to feel a part of the club. To feel that it is their club.

It's time to get the club back into the mainstream of community life. Lawrie McMenemy resurrected the club in 1971 by making it part of the town. He took the players out into the factories and onto the docks and in return the crowds flocked back to Blundell Park. He was a man who knew the meaning of PR. He knew how to galvanise local patriotism. We would do well to recapture some of that.

It's time to get back to reality on the field, too. It is youth, now, and local talent, which will likely be the salvation of clubs like ours. Great, then, that we are maybe seeing the beginnings of that with Simon Ford, Iain Ward and Darren Mansarem. And why not? As the man said, if you are good enough, you are old enough. Remember Tony Ford (17 on his debut), Kevin Drinkell (16) and Kevin Moore (18), all local, all part of the promotion teams of 1978-80.

Returning the game to the fans, putting the club back at the centre of the community, focussing on youth – if that is turning the clock back, then I for one am all for it. Pointless nostalgia? I don't think so. Vital to the future I'd say. And unless I am mistaken those things, too, are part of the reasoning behind the idea for the Supporters Trust. So, if you can, get down to the Memorial Hall on the 18th. (But before you do don't forget to put your clocks back this weekend!).

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