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We're In This Together!

By: Geoff Ford
Date: 16/03/2001

In an article today, Geoff Ford, Sports editor of the Grimsby Telegraph looks at the reality of life in the first division for a club like Grimsby Town. This article is reproduced in full by arrangement with the Grimsby Telegraph and answers many questions the fans have been asking this season.

Fighting for survival in the land of the giants

Living in the land of the giants is proving a difficult task for our much-cherished football team.

The club's plight towards the bottom of Division One has caused much anguish among the hard-core fans - some of whom have been shooting from the hip with scatter guns, hitting anyone who happens to be in the line of fire.

Players, management and particularly the board have been prime targets as the Mariners struggle like minnows to stay afloat in a very big sea.

Teams like Town, Crewe and Stockport County defy logic by merely being in Division One.

When their resources are compared to the likes of Wolves, Birmingham and Nottm Forest, in fact almost any other first division club, there is no way they should be able to compete.

Stockport, one of the poorest-supported clubs whose gates are still 20 per cent higher than Town's, unloaded Kevin Cooper to Wimbledon for £1m this week, the fourth first-choice player they had been forced to sell this season.

At Blundell Park, gates of 5,000 cannot finance top flight football. And yet without a placing in the top two divisions Town lose out on lucrative TV money. That is the paradox.

The fans want the board to provide money for signings and for contracts. The directors have varying degrees of individual wealth, but they are not Jack Walkers. There is nobody with that kind of money in Grimsby.

But despite the club losing thousands every week, the board has backed manager Lennie Lawrence.

The new boss was given £700,000 to spend. That is more than any manager in the club's history.

The fans perhaps do not realise that much of this has gone on loan transfer fees. Loans are not free. They cost substantial amounts even before wages are taken into account.

The likes of David Nielsen, Stuart Campbell, Menno Willems, Knut Anders Fostervold and Zhang Enhua were all brought to the club in a bid to boost the squad. Zhang's three goals have brought five crucial points - but he is on Premiership wages.

In the past, the Mariners have been able to sell a player every couple of years to finance the club. There is no Croft or Oster to sell this time around. The squad for the double-Wembley season was strengthened by the Oster cash.

Survival this season means £2.7m in TV money and the club has gambled on that scenario.

Relegation means a big cut in income - with the obvious knock-on effect on the playing squad.

Going down would be a blow from which the club might not recover for several years.

So that is the reality. A manager trying all he knows to bring in the quality needed to a financially-challenged, geographically-isolated club. And a board doing fiscal handstands to try and fund the squad-strengthening process against a background of very little gate income and ever-mounting debts.

QPR, in which Chris Wright invested £20 million, sit below Town and 19,000 home fans will turn up on Saturday to back the players in their relegation fight when they play the Mariners.

Back in Grimsby the players almost know the fans by their first names as the unequal struggle goes on.

The band in the Pontoon may resemble the band on the Titanic - but that is the reality of life in the big league for a much-loved club which is fighting for its survival.

This article was reproduced courtesy of the The Grimsby Telegraph

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