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Who Can Stop The Rot At Town?

By: Nigel Lowther
Date: 12/02/2004

THE Grimsby Telegraph's Deputy Editor, Nigel Lowther, who reported on the club for four years in the early 1990s, gives a personal view of what has gone wrong at Grimsby Town.

Home > Features > 2004 Features > Who Can Stop The Rot?

So that's it then. Another manager falls on the sword that is Grimsby Town Football Club.

The last 48 hours have had a familiar ring:

A string of poor results is topped by one so shocking that something had to be done

The chairman thanks the departing boss for his hard work but sacks him anyway

The players wonder whether their next pay cheque will be earned as easily as the last

The fans are left to reflect on shattered dreams and worry about the future.

Heard it all before? You're damn right you have.

It is almost inevitable that a manager's regime will end in failure at Blundell Park. Don't agree? Then consider the facts.

Only two bosses in the 30 years I have been watching the club have left because success on the pitch saw them poached off it: Alan Buckley (who left for West Brom in 1994) and John Newman (Derby, 1979).

Apart from Dave Booth who resigned and left the game, the rest have been sacked by a succession of boards: Ron Ashman, Tom Casey, George Kerr, Mike Lyons, Bobby Roberts, Brian Laws, Kenny Swain, Buckley - after his second spell turned sour - Lennie Lawrence and now Paul Groves (though, of course, he is still technically employed as a player).

The job has hardly been a passport to the stars. More like a trapdoor to obscurity.

Future occupants are advised to wise up on Blundell Park's past.

However, fans are not in need of a history lesson, they want reassurances about the future.

And this is where I struggle.

You see, what the past says to me is that the club has been in long-term decline.

Time and time again, it has failed to build on the successes, none more so than the appalling own goal when it did not capitalize on the near 30,000 fans who went to Wembley twice in 1998.

This club has had more ups and downs than Jordan. In fact, it has made a habit of it.

And it's made supporting it a delight and a nightmare in equal measure over the last 30 years.

If I'd been born 30 miles away, seasons of bottom-of-the-league boredom would have been endured at Blandford Park.

But what can fans look forward to? At this point, survival and mid-table nothingness would be gratefully received.

He would not want me to, but I feel sorry for Paul Groves. Nobody has given more to the club in its recent past, on and off the field.

He's always stood up to be counted: the same can't be said for others that have worn the famous black and white stripes this season.

They've stood up and disappeared - until it's time to collect the kind of salaries those who watch from the terraces can only dream of.

But the problem is deeper than the manager or the team. The club has not been right for years.

The problems began long before the ITV Digital contract was signed - never mind when it collapsed.

For too long the fans have been taken for granted. They've had to accept facilities that belong to a bygone age.

There has been no long-term planning; no building on the successes; no ambition or drive to take the club to the very top.

What do I mean? Well, there should have been a policy adopted 20 years ago to buy up the houses behind the Main Stand on Harrington Street so that the ground could have been extended.

The properties could have been rented to young players in the meantime (it took Liverpool FC a similar amount of time to extend Anfield).

There has been an arrogance running through the football club. For years, businesses, the council and residents have had their loyalty questioned for not supporting the club.

But why should they? The club has never come to terms with the fact it is in the entertainment business.

It has to compete for customers against many other activities that battle it out for precious time in our increasingly busy lives.

Not only has it failed to compete on the playing side, it has failed miserably off it, from appalling toilets to rip-off replicas.

But fans will invest if they see ambition. And that, tragically, has been sadly lacking.

Fans were fed up of hearing at the season's beginning that success meant not being relegated at its end.

Small can succeed. Look at Charlton.

I accept we have to be realistic in these difficult times. Nobody's out there with a magic wand to wave away these deep-rooted problems.

A change of manager might see us winning a few games but the issues the club has to face if it is to survive go deeper than the playing surface.

John Fenty knows this. As the major shareholder, he is doing his best to pick up a legacy that had been failing long before he became involved.

He should not be blamed for the club's current plight.

He turned over a few stones and found monsters lurking underneath.

Somehow, the club has to make a fresh start and move forward.

New faces need to be brought in to give the club a different image.

Attitudes have to change. Supporters should be given the respect they deserve, not feel like a hindrance when they walk into the club office to buy a ticket.

No other business in this town has treated its customers so badly for so long.

As for the playing staff, fans do not want to see them disappearing to Sheffield and the like after games.

If they lived in the town they would have to face the people who pay their salaries.

It would focus minds and have them appreciate what this club means to this town.

The youth section also needs re-investment. We continue to be so fortunate in this town to have hundreds of parents and guardians who give up so much to support junior leagues.

Yet where are the Drinkells, Moores, Fords, Lunds and Wilkinsons of the future? The silence is deafening.

This club means so much to people here and around the world. It's future can't be taken for granted - but then neither can its wonderful supporters.

We all have to do our bit to ensure there is a Grimsby Town for the next generation so that it, too, can appreciate what it means to be a Mariners' fan. Reproduced with the permission of the author

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