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The Long Decline
The Long Decline

The Long Decline - Part 3

By: Chris Smith
Date: 23/10/2009 (Last updated: 13/12/2009)

THE thing is, despite what happened in 1985, many clubs didn’t clean up their act. How Oxford coped in the top flight with the tip that was the Manor Ground, I don’t know. Still, the punters were rolling in for a few years, but when the penny dropped and they moved grounds, it was too late.

The inevitable fall had happened. They may go up this year, in their fourth season as a non-league club. Luton is another example of missed opportunities and have they paid for it as well. There are plenty of adjectives for Kenilworth Road, none of them complimentary. Whatever happened, this is an example of two ex top flight clubs who each won the League Cup and are now plying their trade in a highly competitive Blue Square Premier League. What concerns me is that we could join them and we would struggle there the way we are playing now.

I include clubs like this as I see Town as a parallel. We could have had a more far sighted board when we were last playing in the Championship or Division Two as I prefer to call it. A couple of year’s successes post the double relegation of the 1980s, and despite the Hillsborough disaster, anything happen? Not as far as I know, and we end up with a capacity of less than 10,000 and miss out on the revenue that big away crowds could have brought. Perhaps I’m being too hard on the previous boards although they sometimes seemed more interested in fighting each other.

It could be argued that Town have been punching above their weight but I’m sorry, I don’t accept that argument. We should have made tier two our natural level. We might be out on a geographical limb, but the population of North East Lincolnshire is about 160,000 which is hardly small, and let’s face it, we’ve not had that much competition until recently. Was board inaction a result of fan apathy or vice-versa? One point worth bearing in mind is that carp as we may at Scunthorpe’s attendances, they have a much smaller catchment area so they don’t do badly at all in comparison. Perhaps the Grimsby public needs to look at how committed it was to its football club. We might have a comparatively higher basement division fan base but it doesn’t rise much with success.

I do accept that there is a deep rooted problem at the club. I think John Fenty has had to pick up the pieces of previous regimes’ poor decisions.

Each time Town have bounced back from relegation, it has been as a less strong team. Much as I admired the AB teams, they were not, in my book, the equal of the early 1980s team. The team promoted in 1980 stayed in Division 2 for seven seasons. We were fortunate to get AB that first time around because it stayed the general decline and we got six years at the higher level. Likewise, to get two Wembley trips and an immediate promotion in 1998 was due to being fortunate enough to have the right manager appointed at that time. Who can blame him for leaving the first time? We had a good football team that was never going to progress any further hampered as we were by a decrepit ground and consequently a reduced income stream. When the club sacked AB for the first time, they reckoned he had taken the club as far as he could. Perhaps the board were right, but whose fault was that? Whose fault was it that we couldn’t compete? Who was ultimately responsible for the long term strategy of the club, which included providing the infrastructure for expansion? Did fans sense we wouldn’t be going any further and stop coming were they just taking our club for granted? I don’t know. I suspect it was both. My brother came up with a good comparison and it is the folk who move out to a village, don’t go out because they’re now overspent and then whinge because the local pub shuts as no-one is using it. Either way, we are paying the price for it now.

A timely and appropriate ground move would have meant that we could have sold any number of tickets to the Sheffield clubs, Forest, Man City, Wolves etc instead of being limited to 1,800 or so. I don’t mind big away followings filling the club’s coffers. Instead, we ended up in the situation at the last home game of 2005/6 where we could only offer 7,000 or so tickets to home fans, if that. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Of course, North East Lincolnshire Council is hardly a paragon of good local government and has plenty to answer for. When Brentford and Charlton got pissed off with their councils’ inactivity around their clubs, they put candidates up against the mainstream parties and that got their attention. I don’t know if anyone felt strongly enough to do it in Grimsby. I would have if I had lived there. I think there is passivity to our decline.

Just as the club have come back weaker after relegations, so has the region in economic terms. No fishing industry and the Humber Bank chemical industries decimated. We have the biggest port in the country to compensate for the fact that UK PLC produces nothing anymore but the port isn’t as labour intensive as before. We aren’t going through a recession; the downturn hasn’t even begun to really bite yet. Many have mistaken groundless house price rises for long term prosperity and are going to have a very nasty wake-up call. It has all been a chimera and no-one, least of all GTFC seems to have seen it coming, let alone prepare for it. This town has been in decline since the fishing industry was finished. However, as Burnley have shown, it is possible to get to the Premier League despite being a small economically depressed town.

The article continues in Part Four

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