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Mentioned Part 16

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 04/02/2001

Home > Features > Mentioned > Mentioned #16


"No disrespect to the likes of Grimsby..."

sunday 4th february

Lennie Lawrence Interview

From the Times

League football is moving to Grimsby. Lennie Lawrence, the manager of the club with the lowest average crowd in the Nationwide League first division, believes that gates will double should the proposed switch from Blundell Park to a site in Great Coates village go ahead, boosting a club that has been overachieving for almost as long as it has been playing in Cleethorpes.

A seasoned escapologist after his 19 years in management, Lawrence inherited from Alan Buckley in September the task of keeping Grimsby Town in the upper half of English football.

But the average attendance has slipped for the third year in succession, to 5,400 - the lowest since Buckley's first stint in charge started in 1988-89 in the old fourth division. Regaining a Grimsby postal address for the first time since the 19th century would be a timely help. A run of two defeats in eight league games has lifted Grimsby, who have not paid a transfer fee for 17 months, to eighteenth place. "We're one of three small clubs in this division," Lawrence, 53, said. "There's Crewe, us and Stockport. Tranmere are that bit bigger. It is hard because you can't pay the big wages and you can't buy expensive players. But we knew that when we came. That's why I'm here."

Lawrence spent five years keeping Luton Town afloat after making his name in Charlton Athletic's darkest hours, working out of a Portakabin when ground-sharing at Selhurst Park and Upton Park. Despite severe financial restraints, he led Charlton and Middlesbrough into the top flight. "It is my cup of tea," he said. "You'd like to be spending millions on top players, but you tend to get stereotyped in this game. That's OK. Everyone has to have his tag."

Trading imaginatively in the loan market has helped Lawrence to keep Grimsby buoyant. Stuart Campbell, borrowed from Leicester City, is performing well in midfield. Of five temporary foreign signings, Zhang Enhua, the China captain, with more than 90 caps to his name, is excelling in defence. "I'm trying to buy Menno Willems, who has done well for us, from Vitesse Arnhem, and he should cost about one-and-a-half," Lawrence said. "No, I mean £150,000, not £1.5 million. "At Luton I had a £5 million profit in the transfer market, but that was because of the youth policy. Here, with respect, there's not the players to sell. But this place doesn't owe a penny. It's hard and it is tight. But we're not working with big overdrafts to pay off. We just have to work within restrictions."

North East Lincolnshire Council has approved plans for the £12 million, 20,000- capacity stadium, which have passed to the Secretary of State. "If we can move there in the next two years or so, I think we would get eight to ten thousand," Lawrence said. "The key is to stay in the first division."

Tomorrow, Grimsby are at home to Wimbledon, the club that is a prototype for overachievement and "a fairytale that will never be repeated", Lawrence said. He maps out his own target for the season: "Survival." A chance, then, to smell the flowers, to get a cigar on? "You'd be thinking about doing it all again next season because it gets harder," he said. "I've been in this division for a lot of years now and the disparity between its bigger and smaller clubs has never been greater."

Spotted by Dan Humphrey

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