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We were Town!
We were Town!

Way Back Then - Part 10

By: Chris Smith
Date: 24/05/2011

WE then played Man City at home who would scrape to promotion on the last game of the season. Their cause and confidence wasn't helped as Town simply outclassed them and we went mental in the Pontoon as Drinkell scored his 100th goal for the club assisted by Gary Lund (two) and Bobby Cumming. The final score was 4-1 and they were lucky to get one.

The City interlopers in the Main Stand also soon wished they hadn't got the excitement they were looking for so a good day for Town fans all round! There was a good turnout of fans at Fulham the following week which was to be my tenth and last away game of the season. This meant the usual pickup at Stevenage and another session at London Bridge in the now (sadly) gentrified Market Porter. By the time we had arrived at Putney Bridge, it was throwing it down and the open terrace didn't seem so appealing. Thankfully, despite all the terrace strife, Fulham was a safe ground and we paid a mere 50p to transfer to the side stand although I still called the steward something rude because of this (sorry about that). That was a little worrying as it was the first time I'd really got stroppy after drinking too much since I had left Uni. We decided to give the seats a miss and instead went into the home end with quite a few of our compatriots. As we entered the terrace, a shout of "They're Town fans!" went out. "How do you know that?" was the response. "Because they're pissed!" was the retort. Apparently, our numbers were swelled by a Birds Eye factory outing and the journey back up was a fine a display of mass drunkenness as you are ever likely to see. We got in the stand just in time to see us go 1-0 down only for us to pogo up and down when we equalised. Unfortunately, I turned on a Fulham couple who had been speaking to friends throughout the game, telling them to **** off when they wished us a safe journey home after our 2-1 defeat. I doubt they'll ever see this, but sorry again. I hate to see our fans act so boorishly when we are away from home and it is probably because I remember my own unacceptable behaviour at times. Worse, it embarrassed my companions. We were also tormenting travellers on the Underground and anywhere else for that matter, by singing Billy Bragg songs in homage to the striking miners. We reasoned that anyone who had voted for the Tory b******s deserved to have this inflicted on them. I actually erroneously regarded cockneys as fitting this bill but they actually provided a fair few of the remaining Labour MPs. When we were doing a rendition of "I was a miner, I was a docker, I was a railwayman between the wars..." one Saturday night outside the Tivoli, an unusually friendly copper enquired whether we had enjoyed our night out at the time we had got to "build me a path from the cradle to the grave". When we affirmed that, yes, we had indeed enjoyed ourselves he merely smiled and told us "Good, now piss off home". What a star! It's just a pity that the Met who were billeted at Cleethorpes didn't have these social skills because when they disappeared to Hatfield Main each evening along Laceby Road, there was plenty of gesticulating towards them and it wasn't of the have a nice day variety. Or so I'm informed.

Where was I? Oh yes, Wimbledon at home the next week and a 2-1 win followed by a goalless draw at Barnsley in front of just over 3000 as the strike came up to the year mark. We then got hammered 4-1 at Shrewsbury before playing late promotion hopefuls Brighton at home on a Tuesday night. We were 2-0 up with about 10 minutes to go and with Peter Grotier standing in as goalkeeper, we managed to lose 4-2. Although Brighton really had to win this one and hope results went their way on the last game of the season, this has to count as one of the great capitulations of all time.

The final game was Crystal Palace away, which we won 2-0 but this was rendered meaningless by events elsewhere. I was watching World of Sport when the studio went live to Valley Parade to show an incident at the Bradford City v Lincoln game. Within seconds, a stand erupted in flame and I can remember watching in shock as a fan was seen staggering across the pitch absolutely engulfed in flames and it became clear that many were trapped in the inferno. All I could think was Thank God there wasn't fencing in front of that stand. It is often forgotten that two Lincoln fans died that day and the Stacey West stand at Sincil Bank is named after them in a tremendous gesture by the Imps. As if this tragedy was not enough, which occurred as a result of continuing neglect of what could only be loosely called stadiums and an utter contempt for fans' safety, a 15 year old was killed when a wall collapsed during a riot between Birmingham and Leeds fans at St Andrews. This incident reflected a general rise in incidents in and outside of grounds and Grimsby fans were no exception. An Oxford fan I know who is living out in Malta gave me quite a graphic account of his own experiences at Blundell Park that season.

A few weeks later and 39 Juventus fans were killed in a stampede at the European Cup final in Brussels. Blame has to be put in some part to the Liverpool fans although the stadium was also unfit to hold the game. It isn't for me to apportion blame but all this went down with Thatcher rather badly especially as it came on top of a spectacular riot by Millwall fans at Luton in an FA Cup game a few months earlier. I have written elsewhere that this incident had me estimating the amount of improvements this had done to Kenilworth Road which was a tip even then although entirely befitting a rather nasty element of the home support.

The game was therefore under threat. ID cards were being mooted along with away fan bans and it was clear that Thatcher would rather have seen the game disappear. Against the backdrop of rising football violence, the State was also sponsoring the oppression of legitimate trade union activity and it became evident that the police were acting unlawfully in incidents that the tabloid press saw fit to ignore. The fact that some police officers had been behaving at least as badly as the worst football hooligans was lost on our inglorious leader. The nasty agenda of the right wing dominated press became more evident four years later with Hillsborough and the further demonisation of all football fans, the majority of whom were horrified about how events spiralled out of control at the end of the 1984/5 season. The focus on crowd control rather than fan safety which the Bradford fire demonstrated was already a low priority probably contributed to the events of April 1989.

The "Government" readily agreed that all English club fans should be banned from Europe which probably cost a very talented Everton side the opportunity to become an established European competitor and deprived relegated Norwich the chance to play in Europe for the first time. Not for the first time, ordinary fans would pay the price for the sins and omissions of others. This was the real legacy of this season.

As a Town fan, it was a real shame. On the pitch, we had seen some brilliant attacking football and had the Everton scalp to warm us. That's why I just lauded Everton, to make us look even better. We were the second highest league scorers in our division and scored 90 goals in all competitions. Although the season had finished rather flatly, there would normally have been plenty of optimism for the following campaign. I have to admit that my appetite for the game was diminished although the only thing that would stop me going to all the home games the next year would be my economic migration to London. This would be the second and last occasion that I would see very game at Blundell Park. I like to travel a bit now so inevitably miss a few games here and there despite having a season ticket. I immersed myself in cricket that summer and whilst up and ready for the 1985/6 campaign, many other fans were not. Town's crowds would continue to fall (despite the entertainment, they had continued to fall since the 1980/1 season) even though we were barely pulling 4000 at the season's end. Dave Booth left early the next season having thought he had taken us as far as he could and we were set for a decline that we haven't really recovered from to this day.

Kevin Drinkell was poached by Norwich for peanuts and Paul Wilkinson had already gone to Everton, scoring against Liverpool in his first Merseyside derby game. Steve Foley also left although not because of his football ability from what I gather but off the field issues. Chris Nicholl went to better himself at Southampton and good luck to him as his signing two years before had contributed greatly to Town's improvement during this period.

This would be a far cry from the annihilation of Man City in April. I'm grateful I saw this period in Town's history but reflecting on this twenty plus years on, I see it as a time of missed opportunity when a bit more investment would have seen us into Division 1. Perhaps other fans sensed the lack of ambition at board level and voted with their feet.

Just to make matters worse, the NUM were starved back to work during the summer to end one of the most shameful episodes in this county's political history and I was seething at the lack of my local union's lack of solidarity which we paid a high price for over the coming years.

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