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Woodsy: 1st Game
Woodsy: 1st Game

The First No-Hell

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 19/10/2009

WITH all the speculation about why Mike Newell left and who his replacement will be it's easy to forget we've actually got a game on Saturday, a very hard game in fact, at league leaders Bournemouth.

First games under new managers are always special occasions. Usually there's a sudden surge of optimism. In the preceding games to a sacking you inevitably go to games as much out of duty as of hope, and in the darkest of hours you sometimes may even question why you bother at all. But with the arrival of a new face suddenly a huge new dose of hope arrives all at once and I find myself bursting to get to the next game, wherever it is, telling myself: this time it's going to be different.

Bournemouth away was of course the defining moment last season: the ground where we lost and yet won the ultimate prize: another year of life.

I've been fortunate to be attend quite a few opening games of managers in recent years. Here's a few of my favourites.

Alan Buckley III11.11.2006Northampton (a)

This was a very special occasion for anyone old enough to remember Alan Buckley's first two spells at the club. Over the years Buckley's stints had taken on a mystique all of their own, a sort of golden era when Town graced higher divisions and beat the most unlikely of teams. Younger supporters were told in hushed tones of the great man, and the fact that he still lived just down the road in Waltham further enhanced his mystique. Every time for several years that there had been a managerial vacancy then Buckley was linked with the club (along bizarrely with Nigel Clough, who has no connection whatsoever with the Mariners). Like Banquo's ghost Buckley's spectre cast a cloud over Blundell Park as we tumbled down the leagues.

By late 2006 though everyone had given up hope that he would ever come back, until suddenly he was appointed out of the blue by John Fenty as the "one outstanding candidate", before seemingly anyone else had even been interviewed.

A few hundred of us assembled at Northampton for a FA Cup tie against a side in the division above. On paper it was a hopeless game, but Buckley's influence was immediately apparent. The players were passing in neat little triangles, and we almost won the game. In the end we got a creditable draw and earned a replay. Even the youngsters nodded with suitable reverence.

In the end after a few weeks everyone realised that watching Buckley's sides was often frustrating, it always had been, and that he seemed to have lost his powers, several years before. He ended up going to way of all the others, with one last pay cheque in his hand, and the spell of his greatness was finally broken.

Graham Rodger II05.08.2006Boston (h)

Rodger was the "stability" appointment. Russell Slade had left in controversial circumstances at the start of the summer, and now his assistant Graham Rodger had picked up the reigns. Except Rodger wasn't really his assistant, he had happened to be at the club when Slade took over. Rodger was a very likeable man, but a man in the No. 2 mould, nonetheless and not a figure to lead a team.

Grimsby were to have a disastrous season after so nearly being promoted the year before. But not immediately. On came Peter Bore who nobody had even heard of and rescued Town from being 2-0 down, scoring 2 goals to win 3-2. It was a fantastic debut, and Bore has only hinted at such greatness occasionally ever since.

But Rodger's team were found out that day, they were incredibly lucky to win, and it wouldn't be long before he was demoted back to a nice avuncular Football in the Community role which more suited his personality.

Russell Slade07.08.2004Darlington (a)

Russell Who? We said when he got the job. The fans were not in truth won over immediately by Slade, and some never were. He was an outsider. He was bald. He had a funny accent you could never quite place. He'd never played football. He used to be a teacher. He was plain strange to Grimsby folk.

He also played funny formations. That day at Darlington though we were so unlucky. We started with three up front: Parkinson, Reddy and Ashley 'Stan' Sestanovich. Stan was fantastic, the best player on the pitch by a mile. We murdered Darlington that day and lost 1-0.

We should have won, even a draw would have been unfair, and the missing points cost us promotion. Slade lasted a bit longer than Stan (who assaulted a referee and was kicked out of Blundell Park), seeing out his contract and then joining Yeovil (the shame! Like being ditched by a girl for an ugly kid with ginger hair) of all clubs.

Nicky Law06.03.2004Wrexham (a)

I never went to this game. We lost 3-0. Nicky Law was hopeless, he couldn't stop us getting relegated. I've already forgotten all about him.

Paul Groves30.12.2001Portsmouth (h)

Paul Groves in retrospect was a good manager, and a great player too. Sacking him was a mistake. We did so well to survive in his first season, but nobody really understood that we were playing in higher divisions than the club ever "deserved" to be in the first place. He was sacked for being unable to resist the decline back to where Grimsby's football team probably belonged.

I was there at Paul Groves's first game in charge in Division One. We won 3-1 after going a goal down to Crouch, and unbelievably, I can't remember a thing about it! And no I hadn't been drinking, it's after the date when I stopped drinking at games. Here's the report though if you need reminding.

Lennie Lawrence29.08.2000Crewe (a)

The sacking of Alan Buckley in 2000 was probably the most insane act ever committed by a GTFC board, and marked the beginning of our long decline. You can blame ITV Digital all you want but the board's statement at the time that Buckley "has taken Grimsby as far as he could" shows how deeply out of touch we all were.

Lennie Lawrence was everything Buckley was not: a cockney wide boy, a smooth talking, sharp operator. Buckley registered zero on the sophistication scale, and played 4-4-2 with almost religious fervour. Lawrence began with what seemed almost unthinkable: three at the back and Paul Groves as a sweeper. Heresy! We lost 2-0 and the world was to start to gradually unfold in front of our eyes.

I wasn't at this game either. Sorry.

Alan Buckley II09.08.1997Bristol C (h)

The era when Alan Buckley was at West Brom was probably the only time when I can truly say that I hated another football club. I watched out for their results like a mania. I cheered every defeat with a fervour equal to that of witnessing one of Town's goals. The day we beat West Brom 1-0 and Ivano scored the winner against Buckley's team was simply nirvana, one of the finest moments of my whole existence.

On the day West Brom sacked Buckley it was almost inevitable he would come back. We had some non-entity called Kenny Swain in charge at the time as I recall. Everyone failed at West Brom, all could be forgiven (by me at least) and the messiah had returned as soon as Swain was sent on his way.

I'm sorry to say though I remember very little of this game. We drew 1-1 I can see. I have vague memories of a late equaliser, but it was to go on to be the greatest season of all time. Ever.

Brian Laws03.12.1994Bristol C (a)0

After what seemed a life time of Alan Buckley, the dark day came when West Brom nabbed our hero. Doom was forecast throughout Grimsby, and when Town appointed a player manager, nobody was very impressed. We all remembered Lawsy from Cloughie's sides at Forest, an attacking full back and a feisty character second only to Stuart Pearce in the nutter stakes, but he was an outsider. The fans really wanted Cockers to be the manager, and nobody chanted his name at all that day at Bristol City. We were all singing "we want Cockers back".

Until we scored, and then we won. Everyone sort of looked at one another and started singing Brian Laws's Black and White Army. It felt strange. You had to really concentrate on the words because, if you didn't, you'd say Alan Buckley or Johnny Cockerill instead of those weirdly shaped syllables: Brian Laws.

John Cockerill05.11.1994Middlesboro (h)

This was Cockers first game as caretaker I think and it can only be said that the town of Grimsby felt raped. Buckley had gone to West Brom. It was the most unspeakable atrocity. But Cockers had taken up the mantle, and he was Grimsby born and bred most importantly, but also he'd been Buckley's captain. He was the man, the chosen one.

I remember standing that day on Imperial corner with my dad and seeing the Pontoon from the side. It was superb, every single fan thrusting forward and singing Johnny Cockerill's name. We were so aggrieved and hurt that Buckley had gone and it still makes the hairs on my neck stand up when I recall it 15 years later. My favourite player Jim Dobbin scored, and then Woodsy added a second. We were 2-0 up at half time and then a Boro fan proposed to his girlfriend over the PA system. I wonder if they are still married today (I assume she said yes). I remember thinking if he'd have swapped a negative answer for three points. I know I bloody would.

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