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Way Back Then - Part 6

By: Chris Smith
Date: 16/12/2010 (Last updated: 13/03/2011)

I WAS now looking forward to the two week lay off at Salvoes for Christmas and the Wednesday match. Although the crowd was supposed to have been 16,000 or so, there must have been many more in the ground with away fans being crushed outside the ground and my feet barely touched the Pontoon terrace until Paul Wilkinson scored the winner in the second half and everyone piled forward.

When the events at Hillsborough unfolded, there can't have been many fans that had been on packed terraces and thought that could have been me at some game that came to mind. This was the one for me. This was a game I thoroughly enjoyed but I was glad when I got a bit of standing space. Almost certainly, someone else was feeling the discomfort my friends and I had earlier as the crowd surge altered the balance in the stand. Great atmosphere with Town belting out "Hark now hear the Grimsby sing the Wednesday ran away and we will fight for evermore because of Boxing Day" which did and didn't reflect the Christmas spirit.! I thought this was our song but I've since read The Flashing Blade, Sheffield United’s fanzine, and they are squabbling with Wednesday about who sang it first with that dispute going back to 1980.

I couldn't get to the next away game at Cambridge which ended as a 2 2 draw but heard a cracking story from someone who did. The game had been moved from a bank holiday to a Tuesday night which meant my lift was working and couldn't finish in time. Apparently a Town fan had consumed plenty of fire water and was haunting Cambridge’s goalkeeper with "Goalie you're doomed, here we come again" for the entire first half. Unfortunately he was at in the second half and was giving Nigel Batch the spook treatment until he was told in forthright terms that the teams had changed ends at half time. In the next fixture, Emmo got the winner in a rare win over Cardiff on New Years Eve and the next game was Fulham away.

I listened to this on the radio having not even contemplated going to this one as I was still suffering from a New Years Eve atrocity which led to me switching to lager as a session drink. In fact I'd never touched the stuff until after this event but the hangover and quaking nausea was so severe, I thought it might be time for a change. didn't think for one minute about stopping altogether though. I also skipped the FA Cup game at fast developing bogey team Portsmouth.

However, Shrewsbury away on the following Saturday was too good to miss and we hadn't lost in the league for the thick end of two months so left Grimsby full of confidence. As far as the weather went, it wasn't the brightest of ideas with buses off the road in GY due to severe frost and it was bizarrely blowing a gale as well. There were five of us in Charlie’s mini, Chas himself with me, Rolf and Keith and another whose name I forget. Sorry about that. I knew Chas and Keith from school and we used to stand on the Pontoon together forming the Surges Crew, named as a spoof of the more infamous Service Crew but also to reflect that we were normally piling forward when we scored as we normally had room for manoeuvre where we stood. In light of what I wrote earlier about the crush on Boxing Day, it doesn't seem clever but was part and parcel of terrace culture in those days. I liked Shrewsbury as a day out. I think the ground did well for them although the pitch didn't lend itself to a particularly good standard of play. However, it was homely, in a picturesque setting and you could make a lot of noise under their covered compact away end. I visited their new ground recently and whilst I understand why they moved, it is still a shame. I can't remember how the scoring went but we won 2 1 anyway. Unlike following years, it was difficult to find a pub that would serve us but this was also a reflection of the times. We were very close to being involved in a serious accident in a blizzard on the M1 when a f****** in front forced us to skid in front of a National Express coach. Strangely, we were calm as we said our goodbyes, convinced that we were about to meet our Maker. When we finally arrived in Grimsby, we had a few steadiers in the Jubilee before parting.

Two home draws followed against Middlesbrough and Man City, the latter game’s highlights being shown on Match of the Day that night with another rotund part time fan blocking us from camera view. From the game on TV, you would think we had nothing of the game but it shows you that most games are about opinions, something I've heard George Kerr come out with on Radio Humberside and fully concur with. Man City were also challenging for promotion and it is sign of our confidence that the one all draw was seen as two points dropped.

The next game up was my favourite stamping ground and Newcastle away. This meant a good weekend at Ged’s house so I travelled up from work on Friday night and arriving in time for a good booze up that evening. We won 1 0 the following day with a goal from Kevin Drinkell in about the 16th minute and then 75 minutes of defending. It was such one way traffic that most of us couldn't bear to watch the second half. The only other siege game I recall in this period was away at Everton the following season. Kevin Keegan was playing for the Magpies and actually got a free kick which he scored from but was disallowed for not waiting for the whistle. How we laughed and then the Geordies resumed throwing money at us in the Leazes Paddock in a touching show of generosity, presumably recognising the expense we had gone to going there. Nigel Batch had an absolute blinder of a game in the bits that I watched. The Grimsby defence to date, except for the reverse at Portsmouth, had been largely rock solid. We had a good night out after I had finally got back to where I was staying in North Shields. The delay was caused by rioting home fans in the streets outside and my friend and his family were all touchingly concerned at my late appearance. Further details in a previous article.

As Dave Booth pointed out in his next programme notes, the win at Newcastle, which had taken us above them into third place, only made up for the dropped points in the previous home games. Derby were dispatched 2 1 in a midweek game and we then won at Palace. I passed on this as GTFC were going to show a video of this the following week in the Findus function room although technical difficulties ruled this out. We were offered free seats as an apology in the Findus upper tier for the following game at home to Portsmouth which marked the end of our unbeaten run at home with a Mark Hateley goal in the last minute after we had battled from 2 0 down to 2 2 and then 3 2 down to 3 3. Whilst I enjoyed the view, I was still a Pontoonite at home and would watch every subsequent home game from there until we were moved to the Osmond for the 1985/6 season.

Charlton away and a day trip to the capital on what was the first of a good number of these trips with me getting the 730ish train from Town station and changing at Newark for London. The reason I got this one was that it called at Stevenage where Don, Lou (his girlfriend) and Anch from Donny would get on. It was then a quick ride on the Northern Line to London Bridge for roughly opening time and three plus hours boozing and gorging at the Market Porter. Really happy memories here, not always for the football but for the companionship and catching up with jokes and news. It’s all a bit too easy keeping in touch nowadays if you know what I mean. You really had to make an effort in the days before email and mobile phones. This particular game was Charlton’s first since coming back from the brink of liquidation. They had a strong home record and backed with a bigger than average gate, they went 2 0 up before Town pulled it back only for Charlton to score with a minute or so to go. Kevin Drinkell quickly equalised to the delirium of the Town fans. It also triggered a blinding hangover that only more Fosters lager could cure. Having switched to this stuff, I had been quickly rewarded with the fact that it was easier to get in most places than my preferred poison although The Valley was one of the few grounds where you could procure cider.

Reality kicked in and we had conceded seven goals in two games after having what looked like an impregnable defence. It got worse when we lost at Leeds the following week with Peter Barnes stating in their programme that we wouldn't go up as we were a small club. How I wanted us to stuff those comments down his smug throat but it wasn't to be despite a goal from Paul Wilkinson. Although we beat Huddersfield at home 2 1 the next week, we lost 2 0 at Brighton following that and Town and Man City were falling further behind Newcastle in third. I went down to Brighton, staying the weekend in Stevenage. It was a heavy one. We bumped into Chas and co down there and almost had a run in with some of the local Pringles before finding a pub that generously gave me too much change. I have always been honest around this sort of thing but given the prices they were charging, I made an exception in this case and gestured to my companions that it was time to drink up as the delayed action cogs were going round in the landlord’s head. One crawl later and we bumped into the Pringles again. I'm not sure what happened next, or I'm not telling, except that we were on the train to Victoria with some more local nutters chucking lighted newspapers around in the carriage. I can't say that I cared. I found that a good skinful made me treat it as a bit of added cabaret, a bit like the overdressed posers earlier. I acted as the staying awake monitor so that we didn't wake up in Peterborough and a good day out, despite the result, ended with us arriving in Stevenage at about half two in the morning.

We got back on a bit of track by beating Barnsley 1 0 at home and then Swansea 3 0 with a Kevin Drinkell hat trick. My younger brother was at home from University for these games. The match day routine was to get on The Barge at roughly eleven and try The Guardian cryptic crossword which was impossible sober. Then, after a few pints, the clues would slot in. we'd go home for dinner and then walk the 3 ½ miles or so to the ground. What I find hard to believe now is that it would take about 20 minutes to walk from behind The Cricketers to The Angel on Freemo where we would have a quick constitutional before arriving at the Clee Park about 10 or 15 minutes before kick off. This was some achievement as we didn't leave the house much before two. If I get a bus up to the ground now, I always think about that as it passes The Angel and wonder if we passed through a space and time continuum on the way to Blundell Park. It doesn't quite seem possible.

It was the big one next. Sheffield Wednesday away. We filled the Leppings Lane bit of the ground, having overrun the local hostelries. Tony was nearly caught out in The Gate when asked who he supported and thought they were home fans. They were actually some of our "finest" All I can say is I was glad they were on our side. At this time, there was a craze in town and particularly it seemed at Salvoes, where someone would make what seemed like the mating call of a bird of paradise which would be answered in an equally exaggerated manner by a distant recipient. It is supposed to have been started by pissed locals going home after a night in Cleethorpes. They were on fine form on this occasion. Given that it was a blazing hot day and the cacophony of wildlife calls around me, I was almost transported to the Papua jungle despite the other usual derby game row. I know the senior copper near me was at breaking point and probably saw something sinister in the fact that the mating calls were being answered from by the Hillsborough Kop. He even threatened to nick the next person making animal noises.

Unfortunately, the home team won through a dodgy penalty (what else) that was dispatched by Tony Cunningham and virtually promoted them. Chas managed to drive from Sheffield to Grimsby in less than an hour so Tony and I had a few in the Tivoli before going home. As our folks were away, we weren't running to any timetable and did our bit for the local economy.

Two days later we murdered Cambridge nil apiece and it was all over. It shouldn't detract from a brilliant performance from their goalkeeper, Dean Greygoose, who kept them in it. They hadn't won for half a season so it was an opportunity missed although they beat Newcastle in their next game. We won one of our last four games against Blackburn 3 2 in a very good game that meant we finished above them. Our last home game was against Chelsea who had a 8-10,000 or so strong following. I certainly don't believe the official gate of 13,000. They had gone 1 0 up when they were awarded a penalty that Nigel Batch saved so at least we had something to cheer. Even better, Chelsea winning deprived Wednesday of the Second Division title. They had been narrow favourites to win this as they were at Cardiff on the last game and we'd only lost one at home before this game. Our game had been held up as Chelsea fans spilled on to the pitch as the Osmond had been filled well beyond its capacity. Oddly enough, the only bad tempered pitch invasion was a few Town fans deciding they liked the odds. A mate from Uni who followed Chelsea had never seen anything like it.

What a good season. We finished fifth on goal difference behind Man City on 70 points, 10 behind Newcastle. Now compare us to the four teams that finished above us. Chelsea, Wednesday, Newcastle and Man City. I've read the 1983/4 and 1984/5 season reviews in Man City’s King of the Kippax fanzine from 2007/8. It was so gratifying to see Town mentioned so often in an unrelated publication. I don't think Newcastle were mathematically certain of promotion until we lost 2 1 at Oldham on the penultimate game of the season.

Looking back at the great teams of my lifetime, I don't even think that any of Alan Buckley’s teams came close to the skill of this side and I'm so grateful I was around to see it. I hope some of our younger or newer supporters get a chance to see something like this; they deserve it more than me. At least I can say I have seen a team that made a concerted challenge for promotion to the top flight. I can almost forgive the club for putting me through the last couple of seasons.

Continued in Part 7

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