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The Big Freeze

By: Chris Smith
Date: 07/01/2010 (Last updated: 30/01/2010)

AS I sit here with £40 and £80 worth of unused Notts County and Man City tickets, I cast my mind back to the 1981/2 season when it really was cold. Grimsby seems to be getting some of the better weather now, but it wasn’t the case nearly thirty years ago when we were all but snowed in.

I have to mention the 1978/9 winter when the snow in February 1979 remains the most I’ve ever seen. It was the season before I got hooked so I can’t say what effect it had on Town although we got promoted easily enough. Research shows we went three weeks in February without a game though. At the time you could have been forgiven for thinking along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow.

Back to 1981/2 and I was a student at Essex University in Colchester and the Siberian airstream hit Eastern England a week or two before Christmas. Up until then, the weather had been unremarkable. So had Town, by and large, and we were sliding towards the bottom of Division Two as was, having last won in the league in early October at Bolton. I missed that one but managed to see the next away game, a six nil defeat at Luton. It was a bit of a culture shock with my first two seasons seeing a promotion and a near miss attempt to get into the top flight.

I think I saw us at home to Newcastle at the end of November. Town then played at Oldham the following week and didn’t play a home league game until January 9th, against Orient. At least the weather was so bad, I had already written off any chance of getting in any football over the Christmas break back up north. I can’t even remember who we were due to play as I don’t have a full programme collection from that time. What does stick out in my mind is walking with my Dad to the British Legion on Cartergate at Christmas lunchtime where I had a companiable three pints of Gaymers Olde English, one of my fave ciders. The ground was thick with snow with ice in the air. I kept a thermometer in the back garden and we were getting readings of minus fifteen and minus twenty on occasion. The downside of this was that we sobered up instantaneously on leaving the Royal Oak the previous night. It is still clear in my mind how we cut across Hereford School fields on top of deep frozen snow to go to Mass where the warmth rendered us inebriated again.

Boxing Day saw what felt like a massive thaw, although not like the one just gone where the Notts County game was mysteriously called off. We were walking back from some relatives’ house when it suddenly felt like a heatwave as the temperature surged to freezing point. There were people walking around town with rolled up sleeves and open collars. A bit different to when I walked over the Freshney a week earlier. I can say I’ve walked on water. That’s just occurred to me. Doesn’t quite make me Joe Waters though, who always did walk on water in my book.

Our next game was away at Millwall in the FA Cup and I travelled down with the Supporters Club on the first Saturday in January, desperate for a game. It felt positively tropical in comparison to the previous weeks although there were deep snow banks along the A46. As we hit London however, a cloudburst wiped out most fixtures including ours so we ended up going to see Orient versus Charlton who generously put up several coaches of Town fans, including the Handicapped Supporters (who they really looked after)and some Millwall fans keen to get to a game. Given the hospitality shown to us by Orient, we didn’t let them know we would have gone to West Ham against Everton if we’d known their game was on. Orient duly won and I think we might have taught them the Chicory Tip version of Orient having sung Lewie Chatterley to the same tune some years before. It caused a bit of angst to the Charlton fans to see the Grimsby contingent get behind the home team.

Sadly, I couldn’t afford to make the rearranged game at Millwall a few days later so listened to the score coming through on a radio at a neighbour’s 21st birthday do. We won six one after being a goal down at half time. Oddly enough, I wasn’t too miffed, being young enough to reason there would be plenty more wins for me to see. At 47, I have to say that has held true and my career as a Town fan has only hit the buffers over the last six years or so.

The 1981/2 winter was to have another bite and it became colder than it had before Christmas. Town managed to get their game on against Orient on January 9th on what remains the coldest home game I have ever been to with the Pontoon bouncing up and down to keep warm. Orient fans were guests of the Supporters Club and the team got in on the act as we lost two one at home to fellow strugglers. Along with Wrexham, Orient and Town were rooted in the bottom three. My highlight of the day, apart from getting out of the cold, was watching a slimmer Cheryl Baker in the Land of Make Believe video in THAT outfit on TISWAS of all programmes. Sally James (kids ask your parents) suddenly didn’t seem quite so appealing. Well, I was 19 at the time.

For the record, Joe Waters scored in front of 6,877 in what was a low crowd for Town. Only three games would draw fewer fans although our average at that time was high with the first four games producing an average of over 10,000 fans.

It was back to University a few days later with the freeze still on and that was the only reason I was quaffing cans of Special VAT cider quickly on Town station (I was afraid it might freeze). I was partly reduced to this as my softer southern housemates were using up my future drinking money on wasteful things such as central heating. It was that cold that other students’ houses were virtually uninhabitable so our relative palace was full for a few weeks. The worst culprit for wanting the heating on full blast was a West Ham fan from Cornwall who’d never seen a snowflake (see 1980/1 article on the GTST site to see why my Mum nearly clattered the **** when he came up to Grimsby for a game)

The following Saturday, Town were due to play at Leicester and unsurprisingly, it was called off. The only game around that looked likely to be on was Brighton against West Ham and we persuaded a housemate to drive down from Colchester to the South Coast, just to keep the Cornishman happy of course. The reality was we all had cabin fever. Brighton won 1 0 in front of nearly thirty thousand which was par for the course for them. Unfortunately, the car became a cropper at Brentwood in Essex on the way back. Given that it was still freezing, we ended up getting plastered in a pub up the road whilst waiting for the RAC to transport us back to Colchester. I thought one of the lads was pulling faces at the driver’s daughter who was possibly a product of the south Essex mudflats, but it was just his own hideous attempt not to regurgitate the lager he’d been on all evening.

Town had been drawn at Colchester or Newcastle in the fourth round of the Cup and as a financially challenged student, I naturally wanted the Us to win. Until I got in the ground that is, and realised what a bunch of w****** the townsfolk were. There had been a lot of mither between locals and students in the previous couple of years with those from overseas coming in for some brutal racist attacks so they’ve never been top of my greetings card lists. Thankfully, Newcastle won 4 3 and the first of a series of enjoyable trips there was made.

We won there, two one, on January 23rd to set up our defeat at eventual finalists QPR the next month. The following week, we played only our second home league game in two months at home to Charlton, a three all draw which I celebrated with a few large bottles of Merrydown in the road outside our house in Colchester.

The effects of this winter would be felt until the end of the season. Town at one point, had eight to ten games in hand over other teams although this was often due to away games being cancelled and the backlog was worsened by our run in the FA and Group Cups. Given our form, it was just as well the game with Leicester was called off. We hit some form in the last two months and our penultimate game was at Leicester with two Trevor Whymark goals doing the business in a two one win. That had me pogoing around the house that April when the main talking point was the Falklands War and the sad loss of lives and ships.

Our next win would come at home to Derby on March 20th. This was our first home win in six months which is mirroring our current struggles somewhat. It was our first league win in five months. We won six and drew three out of the next fourteen before losing at home to Cardiff on the last day. We played seven games in April and five in May.

I’d not really thought about it before, but did that winter give Town some respite? George Kerr, in my opinion, had been unfairly sacked after the Orient defeat, and unlike today, there wasn’t a sudden influx of players when Dave Booth took over. I think some of the stuff that Town played when they found that missing form was fantastic. We even scored more goals than the previous season. We won the Group Cup! I really enjoyed it. If ever a club had a renaissance following that hard winter, it was Grimsby.

Having said that, two other clubs spring to mind as completely turning their season around as they ploughed through a fixtures backlog. Liverpool had lost at home to Man City on Boxing Day and were thirteenth in Division One. They beat an excellent Ipswich Town side to the League title. In our division, Norwich, who had lost more games than they had won as late as March, stormed to the third automatic promotion spot. This was the first season of three points for a win, which benefited City who denied Wednesday promotion.

Really fond memories. It seems like yesterday. I wish it was. It has to be one of my favourite seasons.

(I’ve done a review of the 1979/80 and 1980/1 seasons for the GTST site. The fuller 1981/2 and remainder of the 1980s will follow there)

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