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Mariners Set Sail On A Sea Of Luck !

By: Stephen Bierley -The Guardian
Date: 19/09/2001

GRIMSBY TOWN's independent website, The Fishy, contains a section devoted to media references about the club and the town. With heavy irony it is entitled "No disrespect to the likes of Grimsby".

Given the Mariners' early-season success, the quota of respect may be rather larger than usual come next April.

To date, including First Division and Worthington Cup matches, Grimsby have lost once in nine games and, after this 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest - "the best team we have played so far this season," said their manager Lennie Lawrence - they are third in the table behind Burnley and Portsmouth, having been top on September 1.

To add to the glee, they play Liverpool, the holders, in the third round of the Worthington Cup. "It's a great draw from a financial point of view. We'll give our best . . . and hope for a miracle," said Lawrence. Given the current marvels, Blundell Park may be renamed Lourdes and LL be beatified.

Grimsby, unlike Forest, are not a big club who have hit hard times. This may be as good as it gets. Yet, given its geographical location and a new ground, there is no good reason why the unthinkable, namely Premiership football, could not become a reality. When Town won promotion from the old Division Four in 1972 under Lawrie McMenemy more than 20,000 filled Blundell Park, and three years ago many thousands more were at Wembley to see Grimsby win both the Auto Windscreens Shield and gain promotion to the First Division via the play-offs.

There is a fan base, albeit disparate, to fill a 20,000-plus modern stadium for Premiership football. But the current board, made up of nobody with any substantial wealth, has already downsized plans for a new ground on the western fringes of the town. They talk of prudent housekeeping and living within means - in other words, no risks, few gains.

Modesty , otherwise known as lack of ambition, prevails. In the boardroom this has been the norm since the club flirted with the top from 1948 to 1951. Since then it has been a roller-coaster ride up and down the lower divisions. It has rarely been dull, occasionally perilous.

Nearly 10 seasons under Alan Buckley, during two spells beginning in 1988, brought remarkable stability and success. But, for all his achievements, he was a backwoods- man and at the beginning of last season he was sacked and Lawrence appointed.

Suddenly Grimsby were in the news. Notably Lawrence captured the Chinese international Zhang Enhua on loan. Bryan Huxford, the club's vice-chairman, who brought Lawrence in, promised an influx of "European money" and urged the club not to be parochial. But a further spate of regulation board in-fighting saw him and his chairman resign in May. It later transpired the club was £2.5m in debt.

And so, here the mighty Mariners are, third in the Division with a clapped out ground and no money. For Lawrence, who found himself locked out of the Valley when manager of Charlton Athletic, it might be perceived as luxury. In just over a year he has built a team spirit second to none and somehow enticed two Premiership players to the club, the midfielder Stuart Campbell from Leicester City and striker Phil Jevons from Everton, together with top- flight loan signings, David Beharall of Newcastle and Blackburn's Marlon Broomes.

Add the Dutch midfielder Menno Willems and it is clear just how much Lawrence has shifted the club forward in a short time. Crowds have remained stubbornly low but picked up sharply against Forest, when the ground was almost full - further emphasising the need for a new stadium. Ambition can creep as well as soar but, if ever the board had need to be bold, it is surely now, although a world recession is sending a shiver through all clubs, great and small.

Forest, with troubles of their own, have produced a crop of young players who, if they can be held together until next season, could become a potent force. In the first half they outplayed Grimsby but they were then almost undone in a vibrant second half which might have gone either way after Grimsby were forced to take off Jevons and Campbell.

"Suddenly it picked up," said Lawrence. "Some times it's just luck." And so it is. There are those who will believe the Mariners are riding on a sea of luck. And they may well be. But luck is priceless, opening up possibilities beyond mere dreams. Grimsby for the Premiership? No disrespect, now.

Stephen Bierley at Blundell Park
Monday September 17, 2001 Reproduced with permission of:
Guardian Unlimited

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