The Fishy - Grimsby Town FC

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Days of Lore
Days of Lore

Memory Lane

By: Chris Smith
Date: 27/05/2011

I'VE been the grateful recipient of a pile of football programmes dating mainly back to the 1980s and have been busily resorting to the happy pastime of browsing through them and recollecting what we were up to at the time.

One that caught my attention was a Lincoln v Newport issue from the 1985/6 campaign. I've touched on the low attendances of this season elsewhere in a review of this season, but a scan of the gates in autumn 1985 still makes for startling reading.

Town’s gates at this time were dropping below 4,000, appalling considering we had enjoyed two successful and free-scoring campaigns immediately before. The background behind this was the Bradford fire (which resulted in the death of two Lincoln fans), Heysel and the riot at Luton earlier in the year. Add a teenager crushed at the Birmingham v Leeds game, and football wasn't enjoying the best press.

The two teams met on 5th October 1985 but don't ask me what the table looked like as they didn't publish a table in the 50p issue. Lincoln were in seventh place according to the results grid having beaten Bournemouth 3-2 a few days earlier in front of just 1,962 fans. City had finished five points above relegation the previous season after a successful start to the 1980s having been promoted from Division Four in 1980/1 and missing promotion the following season - by just a point to Fulham. They almost replaced Town, who had struggled in Division Two that year. Another near miss followed in 1982/3; again City could have been replacing Town in the second tier.

League Cup glory eluded the Imps this season as they had bowed out to York who in turn bowed out to Town. We then lost to Ipswich who we'd never beaten at that point. The opening City game against Gillingham attracted 2,099 with 2,282 turning up against Walsall. The biggest home crowd was against Donny Rovers with 3,205. Brentford interested just 1,856. Interestingly, their game at Wolves the previous weekend, a team Town had beaten 5-1 and 1-0 the previous season, was watched by only 3,351. That isn't to say that City hadn't taken any fans there. Criticism about the Imps’ membership card system was answered in the programme by alluding to serious damage caused by Lincoln fans to coaches and trains on the journey. This must have been the fledgling Lincoln Transit Elite. I have to say that was a great name for a firm.

Membership cards were of course part of Frau Obersturmbahnfuhrer Thatcher’s plan to kill off football.

The programme also featured Lincoln’s campaign in the 1911/12 Central League after Grimsby Town had replaced them in the league after one year in the wilderness. They defeated Town and Gainsborough, also a Division Two club at that time, in cup competitions. They replaced Trinity in the 1912/3 season and Trinity have never made it back.

Newport had come up from Division Four as Town were winning Division Three in 1979/80 and largely trodden water although they had missed out on promotion to the second tier by four points in 1982/3. They finished a point above Lincoln in 1984/5. County were fourteenth when they met City in 1985/6.

Further criticism about facilities at Sincil Bank was addressed in the programme. It is a sign of our comparative decline that they now have a bigger capacity than Blundell Park. The bit I do like about the programme was the fixture grid where the 26th December game at Chesterfield helpfully had Boxing Day placed in brackets for the less culturally aware with the home match against Darlington on 1st January also highlighted as New Years Day. The downside was a Manns’ beer advert in which a bar was depicted featuring Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter. When I moved to London a few months later, I was always to equate a pub selling that piss with crap lager and no cider. Oh, and overpriced with it.

Newport featured a certain Tony Pulis in their team.

The game was to end one apiece with Lincoln winning the return fixture in March by a 2 1 scoreline. City’s record after the home game was won four, drawn five and lost two. They were to win only six more of the last thirty five games and were relegated on forty six points joining Cardiff, Wolves and Swansea in the drop. Wolves have just maintained Premier League status and Swansea could well join them in a few days time. Newport missed relegation by two places but went the following season although they missed Lincoln who were relegated to the Conference on the last day of the 1986/7 season having only hit bottom spot on that fateful day. Newport were relegated from the league in 1987/8. What odds would have been given at the end of the 1982/3 season that two teams who had just missed out on promotion to the second tier would be non league sides within six years?

Lincoln did manage automatic promotion back to the league. Newport have just fought their way back to the Conference. City managed promotion to the third tier in 1997/8 when we were having our glory season but came straight back down. Lincoln fans in the early 1980s must have thought their team was really going places and I can actually remember listening to the game at Fulham in May 1982 where a win for the Imps would have meant them winning the right to have their ground smashed up by Leeds the following year as well. The one all draw meant they lost out but there were over 20,000 there if I recall correctly with a big following from Lincoln, about 4,000. I hadn't wanted City to go up unless Town stayed up but after our win at Leicester, was willing them to join us.

Mind you, going back to freefalls, who could have predicted that the freescoring Grimsby side of 1984/5 would break up and be relegated twice in the following three seasons? The 1985/6 season saw Dave Booth leave us and a terrible appointment in Mike Lyons saw us flirt with the bottom three at the season’s end before making sure the next year.

This programme reminds me that any City fan my age must hark as I do to a golden era which no subsequent team has been able to emulate. (I don't even think the Buckley teams matched our 1983 to 1985 sides). Our current situations are mind numbing, much like the football I hasten to add. It also shows how rapidly decline can set in and for teams with our fan base, there is no easy way back to that sort of success. That we managed to actually get back to the second tier after the trauma of the late 1980s was a bonus and one we should be grateful for. It doesn't happen for most and we've had a far better time of it overall than Imps fans.

Whilst I'd always want to stuff the team down the M180, the team down the A46 have always held more interest for me. I never looked out for Scunthorpe’s scores during my long exile down South, but did look out for Lincoln’s. I suppose I'm glad we have a local game next season but what an experience a Town v Lincoln derby would have been in the early eighties in Division Two. It nearly happened.

Well, that’s one programme out of the way, only another pile to reminisce over.

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