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Smiles all round
Smiles all round

Happy Days

By: Chris Smith
Date: 08/02/2010

F*** ME, it’s all a bit depressing isn’t it? If I read many more of the threads on The Fishy, I’d be trying to con Valium again. No disrespect intended to posters either, but any optimism seems to be grasping at straws and the pessimism is entirely understandable.

When we first came down to this level, I looked at it as an opportunity to regroup and although we’ve been piss poor before, even my optimism of six years ago has been worn by the sheer length of mediocrity.

I suppose my experience of the basement is different to the fans post 1990 and those who were around to witness the 1960s. The season before I started going to Town games, we had spent just two years in Division Four, and done well in both campaigns. This brings me to twenty years ago.

When Town fell from grace in 1988, I was working every Saturday so was unable to see many games. Any opportunity to watch Town was therefore a privilege and overrode any feelings of inferiority about our status. The 1988/9 Cup run invigorated the club and we finished ninth in our initial campaign. I was really proud of that. Hopes were therefore high at the start of the 1989/90 season. I’d changed jobs although my attendance was restricted by living in London and difficulties in adjusting to monthly pay as well as a large capacity for alcohol.

I’ve been looking through Dave Wherry’s excellent "The Grimsby Town Story" and totted up the games I saw that season. I was surprised to see I made seventeen. This was the first year the London Mariners really got cracking with travel all over the place, including trips for home games on Tuesday nights.

The first game I saw was at home to Coventry in the League Cup and we absolutely pasted the First Division club three one with Garry Birtles scoring a delightful goal in front of the Pontoon. I can still remember going absolutely mental with 10,000 others. I knew we would be back. It was a shame that Coventry stuffed us three nil in the second leg with newly signed Kevin Drinkell in their ranks. There were 5,000 Town fans there, an incredible following. I’m going to have to dig out an old SWWF with Ron Counte’s account of his return to Grimsby with the Park Street Mafia after he got separated from us.

After a promising start, the league form was indifferent, but I was enjoying the novelty of having a good number of Saturdays off. If I couldn’t manage a game for whatever reason, I’d go to West Ham/Arsenal/Brentford/Hayes. Anywhere for that matter. I saw my first league fixture at Lincoln in October, a one all draw, with Keith Alexander heading an equaliser. The day was memorable for seeing Lincolnshire Police having to use hire vans to beef up their own fleet given the expected influx. We saw Keith, who was out injured, as we left a pub after the Peterborough away game in a midweek fixture, where Ricky Gabbiadini scored for us in a similar scoreline.

Despite being well behind the front runners, I was buzzing for the home game against Aldershot in November, which we won two one, with the Pontoon singing "Ten men went to kill a fat boy" at a particularly repugnant and generously proportioned away fan. I really wish I had that enthusiasm at home games at the moment. I need to regain the gratitude I had then to be just happy to be able to watch the Mariners again. It didn’t matter where they were placed at that point.

The week before, the London Mariners had made the trip to York in the FA Cup, and given the state of the A1, we left London earlier than usual, arriving at York in time for most of the lunchtime session. The Timewarp, as performed by our impressive away support, stands out with the two goals by Chris Hargreaves in our two one win.

Scunny were actually above us in the table and Lincoln were also challenging for promotion. I was fortunate enough to get a few days off at Christmas, so made the Boxing Day game at Glanford Park. I think it was an eleven o’ clock kick off (can’t think why!) so I had the surreal experience of going sober, although the number of pranged motors on the way and by the ground suggested many drivers weren’t. Although we were two nil down, goals by Alexander and Agnew, in the last minute, meant that we earned a draw. Straight after our equaliser, Scunny won a penalty which was either missed or saved (can’t remember in all the pandemonium and intervening cider) to seal a good point amongst all the drama.

It was almost twenty years ago to the week when I really got back into routine for the first time since 1985/6 and start what would be another run of regular away games since 1984/5. Whilst Town were managing to get some good home wins, we were plodding along around mid to lower mid table. The first of several boozy visits to Cambridge came at the end of January. I’d enjoyed some spectacular drunken days there in the early 80s although the football was usually non existent. 1989/90 proved to be no different, where a crawl around the city was followed by a two nil defeat. Our away support was respectable as ever and I don’t recall being too downhearted. I think my neighbours might have been in Feltham, West London, after I staggered down Uxbridge Road singing songs of undying loyalty to er, nobody else who gave a ****. At midnight.

Mind you, hope sprung eternal and the fight for the play offs was tight although we did need to get a good run going. A promising draw was obtained at promotion chasing Maidstone, whose three two win at Town early in the season was to be the first in three consecutive home league defeats.

The Maidstone game was unmissable for a London based fan. I actually went to their old ground in 1984 when I saw them beat Northwich Victoria one nil in front of five very pissed away fans. They were now playing at Dartford’s ground, just one stop out of the London travelcard zone, so the fare savings could be channelled to a good lunchtime session. As at Scunny, we came back from two nil down, equalising in the last minute. This led to mass pandemonium on the away terrace with hundreds of Town fans bouncing up and down whilst gesturing at the incredulous home supporters on the buses waiting to go back to Maidstone. I’d become good mates with long time Town fan Micky Birtles, and I’ll never forget that explosion of joy and boogieing with him and the rest of our group. It was a gesture of defiance we need on and off the field now.

Two good home wins in February, against York and Burnley, were negated by a one nil loss at Colchester, who would end up relegated by the end of the season. The original game at Layer Road was called off at short notice due to a waterlogged pitch. The rematch, also a midweek game, saw plenty of Mariners turn up. This was really impressive given the length of journey and league position.

Ian Knight sadly had his leg broken at this game which we lost one nil. One obviously incensed Town fan lobbed a bottle of brown sauce at the referee which the official failed to notice and which seemed to prove a point. A chant of "Brown sauce boys we are here" than started, which despite the circumstances, had us laughing. Despite the fact that we had nothing to do with it, we’ve wheeled this ditty out over the last two decades as a reminder of how funny some banal chants can be and a reminder that we were there. We were treated, at half and full time, to the sight of Essex Police standing in front of our corner, Alsatians at the ready.

I was looking forward to Aldershot away a few days later. One reason was that the town was on a direct line from Feltham. The other was that the train left at 1120 which gave me time to shovel a few Blackthorns down at the Railway, unsurprisingly by the station. I then met Don, who I’d done plenty of away games with in the 80s, and my brother Tony at Ascot where we decided to partake of a few more. I’ve been to Ascot many times since. Unfortunately, that’s when I’ve slept past Feltham after a good day/night out although I always managed to catch the last London train back. I’ve only had to walk back from more nearby Staines once, which is eight miles if you go in the wrong direction like me.

I admit it, we had a few more in Aldershot which led to me being warned about my language whilst having a rant at the referee although I didn’t recall any of it. Despite the haze, the warning light bulb went on in my head that told me I was probably getting away lightly. Don’t ask me about the game although it was a goalless draw on a gloomy afternoon. I think that left us thirteenth in the table.

The article continues in Part Two

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