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Buckley's Coming Home
By: Rob Sedgwick
ALAN Buckley has sensationally returned to the Mariners for a third spell as manager six years after having been controversially sacked. With Grimsby now third bottom of the Football League, arguably their greatest ever manager joins Town in a similar position to when he first came in 1988.
Buckley appeared to have settled into retirement after having spent almost three years out of the game since he was dismissed as Rochdale manager in 2003. The 55-year-old, though, has never left the area since being sacked by Bryan Huxford in August 2000 and, in truth, since his sacking, Buckley's spectre has been hovering over the club he brought from nowhere to become an established Championship side throughout almost the whole of the 1990s. Every manager since him has been compared with Buckley, and all have been found wanting.
Just to try and explain to those who do not understand, those who have not been steeped in all of this, Buckley's Grimsby sides played a fluent passing style of football which belied their often lowly, unfashionable league status and was, on occasions, superb to watch, and a source of great pride to many of our supporters - including myself. Grimsby under Buckley might not always win, but they never compromised on his way of playing football, even if it was facing Liverpool at Anfield. Football under Buckley meant 4-4-2, passing and movement, whoever the opposition, whatever the stage. What's more, year after year we survived in Division One, and even on occasions came within reaching distance of the Premiership. And then he was suddenly sacked. It seemed the bubble was burst.
The truth is, a succession of managers have failed miserably at Blundell Park since Buckley's departure, including two of his greatest players: captain Paul Groves and more recently centre back Graham Rodger. Even last season a non-Buckleyite, Russell Slade, who guided the Mariners to within a minute of automatic promotion, failed to satisfy many of our supporters - brought up on a diet of Buckley passing fare - with his more direct style of football. Slade was deeply unpopular at Blundell Park largely because his brand of football was not the Grimsby way - Buckley's way. Many of us grudgingly acknowledged results under Slade, but his style of football meant he would never be truly accepted, and ultimately that probably played a big part in his leaving to manage Yeovil.
After another abject failure this season under Graham Rodger, the board have finally turned to the man who has twice woven his magic at Blundell Park and won promotion three time for the Mariners, something nobody else has managed since the early 80s.
The problem is all that was then, and this is now. It was a huge gamble sacking Alan Buckley in August 2000, that has ultimately proved a catastrophic decision six years, five managers and two relegations later. But likewise it is an equally huge gamble bringing back a man in his 50s who has been out of the game for almost all of the last four years.
Most of the last six years has been slow torture, many of our supporters have lost faith and drifted away from Grimsby. Others have waited knowing and hoping that the good times would one day return. Last season proved a false dawn that has led to a further continuation of the slide.
But who knows, maybe somehow, somewhere Buckley can recapture the Midas Touch that brought so much joy and happiness to so many Mariners over the years he was with us. Nostalgia is one thing (and I have it in spades), but the reality of escaping from relegation out of the Football League managed by a fallen, faded legend is another.
Whatever your view on the Buckley re-appointment, and my own is that we have to support the manager whatever we think of the decision, Saturday at Northampton in the FA Cup is going to be a very special and emotional day. If you possibly can, get to Northampton, wear the black and white stripes of the Mariners, and make lots of noise! Having been at the 1-1 draw away at Portsmouth in August 2000 (how laughable it seems now as a result to sack a manager on!) I thought the time had passed when I would ever hear the Buckley chants again.
"Walking down the Grimsby road" has never, ever sounded or felt right with any other name than his. Grovesy's, Sladey's, Lawsy's you name it, have always felt wrong. It was, and once again will be, the Buckley's Aces who will take to the field on Saturday at the start of another incredible adventure for the Mariners. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Next: Buckley Memories What you all said when Alan Buckley left.
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