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Way Back Then - Part 7

By: Chris Smith
Date: 23/12/2010 (Last updated: 13/03/2011)

AFTER two years of struggle, the 1983/4 season had been a veritable revelation so this season dawned with plenty of optimism from the Town faithful. The mood was enhanced by glorious summer weather and again, it was possible to fully enjoy this with the season not kicking off on the first Saturday in August as happens now.

There were no pre-season tournaments as a distraction and our high league position the previous season meant that we would not be entering the League Cup until the second round in late September.

Sadly, Joe Waters was no longer a Town player. However, we had signed Steve Foley and Chris Seagraves from Liverpool in what seemed to be an attempt at further progress. We had also won the Northern Intermediate League the previous season so we looked to have plenty of promising youngsters coming along on the production along.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a muted start to the season. Barnsley were the first team up but the large gate that had normally been associated with this game didn’t materialise. This was due to the Miner’s Strike which had started earlier in the year and which was having an enormous impact on the finances of the solid strike supporters in South Yorkshire. For once, I refrained from baiting the away fans with any means necessary. The Pontoon were gleefully belting out "Arthur Scargill is our friend is our friend is our friend, Arthur Scargill is our friend, he sacks miners..., but I had far too much respect for the stance they were taking against the incumbent far right "government... to take part. I hated the Tories and I still do, to be quite honest. Anyone who gave them a hard time was a friend of mine and I didn’t care that they came from Yorkshire and South Yorkshire at that. Before anyone thinks that this isn’t a place for politics, the behaviour of certain police forces at this time would have a direct bearing on the policing of football fans as the season continued and which I’ll comment on later. It is a bit ironic that I decided to take a political stance at a game and not join in a song given that I read When Saturday Comes and wince at some of its sense of humour failure and political correctness.

Despite joining the real world of the taxpayer and the subsequent squeeze on my own finances, I felt morally obliged to offer financial support to my Trade Union comrades and then Women against Pit Closures when the NUM’s funds were sequestrated. I did this to the tune of £5 a week which doesn’t sound much but was about 10% of my disposable income at the time and in real money, represented about a gallon of Gaymer’s Olde English Cider down the Barge on a Friday night. Ironically, had Grimsby and Immingham dockers declined to handle Polish coal, we could have been spared any more excesses of Thatcherism as the strike would have been won. If this seems like ancient history, it is far from it. I live in South Yorkshire, and heresy on heresy, am very happy that I do. The area still bears the scars of events over 20 years and the pit villages have suffered from mass unemployment, dereliction, drug addiction etc.

Back to the football though. A Paul Wilkinson goal was enough to get us a 1 0 winning start to the season although we were well beaten at Man City to the tune of 3 0 two days later. The following week, we were at Middlesbrough, and not for the first time, I missed a cracking win as a result of deciding to go elsewhere. My brother Tony was working in Chatham for the summer between his second and third years at Southampton University so I paid a visit to him on that weekend. A highly drunken weekend was had by both of us and we took in a game at Maidstone United who were hosting Northwich Victoria, original members of Division Two along with Grimsby Town. At this time, Maidstone had a ground in their own town. When we were to play them in Division 4, they had relocated to Dartford.

It is a bit unkind given that non league crowds were much lower in the 1980s than they are today, but the song "you must have come in a taxi... could have been written for the Vics fans that numbered five in total. One of these lads collapsed among the home crowd after having sampled the local hops. The home side won 1 0 and I wasn’t put out that Town had demolished Boro 5 1 to continue our fine run of success in the North East. It seems hard to believe given our recent disasters at Darlington and Hartlepool.

I saw the next game, at home to Charlton, which we won 2 1. This was closely followed by a home game against Leeds and a 2 0 defeat in front of 14000 or so. It had been goalless until about 5 minutes from the end and the game was finally settled by a Peter Lorimer penalty which gave Batchy no chance, hardly surprising as his kicks had been measured at about 80mph. We then got pasted 3 1 at Blackburn before facing Oxford at home. Oxford had been promoted the previous season and would win the Second Division title this year by some distance. Having said that, we fancied our chances before the game having done the double over them in 1979/80. It was not to be as our debutant defender, Neil Robinson, sliced into his own net on two minutes and we conceded another before getting a consolation through Phil Bonnyman. In truth however, we were well beaten.

This sort of form was to be typical for the season with victory followed by defeat and no real consistency. The following Tuesday we thrashed Barnsley 3 0 in the League Cup and progressed with a 1 1 draw there a few weeks later. Little did we know what this competition would have in store for us though…

I made my first away game the week after the Oxford match. It was football special time and I was now an old hand at shovelling five pints of Somerset’s finest within an hour at the White Hart before tottering around to the station. Whilst this pub was home to the Grimsby boot girls if I remember correctly, they weren’t in evidence on Saturday lunchtimes which was just as well given that there was plenty of competition to get served as I was not the only one with this idea. Given the propensity of Town fans to throw anything that wasn’t bolted down or securely screwed in at our protagonists on Scunthorpe and Donny stations, the trains were routed via Brigg and Gainsborough before we disgorged to the alarm of passengers at Sheffield Station. A police escort then took us to Bramall Lane and, after all that rushed alcohol, I was surprised but delighted to see a bar was available for the thirsty travellers. Even better, they did cider, the only ground apart from Charlton that did so. Given the way that football was run in those days, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was given a plastic pint glass but handed the two half pint bottles to pour in it. This wasn’t lost on our feistier element and it wasn’t long before these bottles were being lobbed into the home fans.

Gary Lund scored a first half hat trick to put us 3 0 up in the first half, but Town being Town, we let in a goal just before half time and then let them back in to 3 2 before holding on for a good away win. Lund, Emson, Drinkell and Wilkinson had all contributed goals so far and despite some defensive frailties, you always felt that we could score in any game as demonstrated by a 4 1 hammering of Oldham the following week.

Continued in Part 8

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