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A Trip to Mecca

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 08/07/2004

IN a new series looking back on last season, exiled supporter Andrew Doherty recalls a trip to Blundell Park in October to see the Mariners take on QPR, where they lost 1-0 in the final minute.

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This tale is dedicated to my QPR-supporting friend and work colleague Ian Hillier, who was unable to experience the following events.

It all started with a momentous life decision earlier this year when I considered going to see Town play at Bristol City, but was put off by the admission price of £23. Nay. Living in Basingstoke as I do, I haven’t been getting to many home games, but after deep reflection, I decided that I’d be better off financially and in terms of life enrichment if I spent my time going to home games. After all, where’s better than Grimsby and Cleethorpes ? I will own up now to working for the railways, as will become apparent, but one big advantage is that we get cheap travel. So, on Saturday 4th October 2003, my son Merlin (11) and I got up at some unearthly hour and set off for the Kingdom of Grimeswold, as my wife Sam calls it.

We got on the 0810 Kings Cross to Leeds ‘White Rose’ train - that’s a Eurostar train set to those who haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about - and it left on time. Engineering works dictated that we changed at Newark Northgate instead of Doncaster. This was fine, until the Customer Service Leader (modern terminology for a smiling guard) announced that the train would call at Peterborough, Grantham, Doncaster, Wakefield Westgate and Leeds. Hang on, what happened to Newark ?. I mentioned this to the Customer Operations Leader - that’s the grumpy guard which the Great North Eastern Railway has - but this one was very helpful and reassuring and confirmed that the train was going to stop at Newark. At the same time the smiling guard wasn’t so smiling because other passengers were remonstrating that they wanted to get off at Newark, and she told them that it didn’t stop there. After a conflab between the grumpy guard and the smiling guard, whose roles now seemed to be reversed, the smiling guard grumpily announced ‘Here is a passenger announcement. This train will call at Newark Northgate. We apologise for any inconvenience caused’. Which inconvenience was this ? Now I know Newark is a dismal place, but it would have been far more inconvenient if we hadn’t stopped there. Or was the no longer smiling guard alerting us to the fact that we’d be better off not going to the match ?. An omen, perhaps.

Anyway, about 100 people piled off the train at Newark Northgate, mostly QPR supporters, who clearly weren’t used to the vibrant culture of places like this. We all trooped over the stairs to wait for our connection to take us to the Promised Land. It was 1000 am, and the sun was freezing already. The wind was coming from the frozen north, and we all were able to benefit from the aroma of the nearby glue factory. Merlin said he felt sick with the smell, so I took pity and led him into the café between platform 2 and 3 to buy him a drink and get out of the odorous cold. Right in front of me was an impressive range of ice-creams with a sign ‘cash only’. I decided not to buy one, not because I didn’t have the cash, but it wasn’t Appleby’s. We left the café and in came our train, a single car unit. On the side of the coach was a label with ‘Coach C’. As I often do, I failed as a father by being unable to explain to Merlin what happened to Coaches A and B, and anyone who wanted to travel in one of them. We set off full and standing as we saw a Class 66 hauling a failed GNER passenger train into the station.

Hours later, we arrived at Grimsby Town station. The QPR supporters, who I had by now weighed up as a decent lot, had come to realise that this was a long way from Shepherd’s Bush Green. If it was minus 5 wind chill factor in Newark, it seemed like minus 10 in Grimsby. The sun had frozen. People were still going round in shirt sleeves. Merlin and I took a walk through the anaemic Freshney Place, and walked past ... two ice-cream parlours. A bite to eat at the centre of haute cuisine (in Merlin's eyes), Pizza Hut, and it was time to catch a bus to Cleethorpes, but not before I’d bought a nice Lincolnshire Pork Pie from Pettitts. Here’s a thought - why don’t they sell proper haslet down south ? Arriving at the bus station, we found a 9X bound for North Sea Lane, and paid 90p for one and a half to Blundell Park. Great value, I thought, but I quickly realised I’d splashed out here because a father was very seriously telling his son that it would only cost 25p if you got off before the market. Overhearing people’s conversation, everyone was discussing money.

Off we went, through places which I had only seen on odd visits since I left Grimsby in 1980 and others which are lasting symbols of the town - Freeman Street Market, Riby Square, the Dock Tower. Is the Hitchin Rail pub still there, I wondered, and do people still pile out of there from the DHSS and get into fights with foreign seamen who’ve arrived on the docks and are looking for a few pints and a bit of entertainment ?

Living down South, I often hear people announce loudly on their mobile phone ‘I’m on a train’. Well, a passenger behind us announced ‘Hello Mum, I’m on a bus’. I don’t know if Mum was impressed, but it sounded a lot posher than ‘I’m on a push bike’.

Armed with this information and clearly impressed, Merlin asked if he could share this information with his mother. In an ever-improving Grimbarian accent, he proudly informed her (Sam) of our chosen method of transport. Sam can only have been impressed. She asked me where we were. I informed her that we were now on the Cleethorpe Road approaching Ron Ramsdens with the Blundell Park floodlights in the background. Her response made me realise that my missionary work had paid off ‘ ah, Mecca’.

We got off at Mecca, and bought the tickets. £17 + £8 for the best seats in the John Smith Upper and a great view of the oil tankers on the river Humber. That’s more like it. Shame they re-named the Findus Stand as the John Smith Stand. It always seemed more appropriate somehow when it was the Findus Stand. Anyone remember the Barratts Stand, and can anyone remember seeing any of the game through all the tobacco smoke ?

A quick visit to the Club Shop, and Merlin was the proud owner of a pair of woollen GTFC gloves. A best seller, I reckon.

We had tons of time, so we decided to take a walk up to Cleethorpes. Along the way, Merlin discovered fish sticks and I picked up the World’s Greatest Newspaper, The Grimsby Telegraph (formerly Grimsby Evening telegraph), complete with tide times and other crucial information.

St. Peter’s Avenue was bustling with life, and as we tuned the corner to head towards Cleethorpes Market Place, I noticed there were two shops selling ice-cream. There were people queuing up in one called Burgess’s.

I must confess that I was surprised at the number of Italian restaurants and pizzerias that had sprung up in Cleethorpes. I’m sorry but this is a Viking place - just look at the people, the colour of their hair, the weather - not a snapshot of the Mediterranean. Costa del Cleethorpes ? I don’t think so. Anyway, confidence was restored when we walked past Steele’s restaurant, the untouchable Ernie Becketts and the other outlets for that most Viking Food, fish and chips. Sad to see there are no decent record shops in Meggies (that’s another term for Cleethorpes, for those who didn’t know) any more, but then I suppose when I left the place, this part of the local economy must have taken a dive.

We had a pleasant surprise when we got to the sea front - the tide was in. It’s amazing how exciting that can be, when as a child you’ve got nothing to do. This big child thought it was good anyway.

After a visit to the gents on Cleethorpes station and discovering that they’ve gone posh and got heads on the taps this year, we walked along the sea front from Fantasyland to Wonderland (reality check : this is Cleethorpes we’re talking about, and these are real places). Along the way, I saw a wonderful sign on a café window, whose exact words were ‘ Tea and Coffee to Take Away !’. This is innovation itself. Clearly Starbucks hasn’t got a grip here. I was also intrigued by the other message on the window - ‘Eat In or Take Away. Same Price’. There’s some clever marketing going on here. Too clever for me though. The significance of this was still puzzling me as we walked past all the amusement arcades a.k.a. Family Leisure Centres and the shops with ‘6 sticks of Cleethorpes rock for £1’ - now there’s a real bargain.

By the time we reached Wonderland, it seemed like minus 15 wind chill factor. In fact I was thinking this as two girls went past, dressed as if it was Biarritz in August. But what a view! (of the place, not the girls). The river Humber a few yards on the right, and ahead panoramic views of the ubiquitous Dock Tower, Grimsby Ice House and of course Mecca.

The article continues in Part 2

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