Saturday 7 March ~
Only Grimsby fans who have watched the club for 40 years will have experienced a worse season than this. In 1968-69 the club finished second from bottom of Division Four and had to apply for re-election to the League. Nowadays, of course, there is no such reprieve for a team in that position. Three seasons ago, Grimsby beat Lincoln in the semi-final of the League Two play-off. Today the local rivals meet at Blundell Park with the home side in dire need of a win. Last week, having lost five successive League matches, they slipped below Bournemouth into the relegation places in the bottom division. In fact, Grimsby would already be well adrift if three teams hadn't started the season with points deducted, two of whom have since overtaken them.
Of the Grimsby side who lost to Cheltenham at the Millennium Stadium in 2006, midfielder Tom Newey is the one currently playing for the club, although the squad includes another player who made a famous contribution in that play-off season. Congolese midfielder Jean Paul Kalala, on loan from Oldham since November, scored Grimsby's winning goal against Spurs in a League Cup tie in September 2005. The manager at that time, Russell Slade, left for Yeovil at the end of 2005-06 (and was involved in another play-off final the following season); the current incumbent Mike Newell is the third boss in as many years.
While Newell seems to have the backing of most of the supporters, crowds are dropping – just 2,644 saw the midweek home defeat to Morecambe on February 24 when the team surrendered a two-goal lead after having a man sent off. Former players are now imploring the fans to get behind the team with the trip to Chester on March 14 looking likely to be a decisive match.
Chester are in 21st place, four points ahead of Grimsby having played a game more. Today they travel to Barnet who are three points better off having won their last two home games. In his third spell in charge at Chester, manager Mark Wright has been hampered by a transfer embargo imposed for the late payment of staff wages. Meanwhile, home crowds have dipped below 2,000 and, unsurprisingly, club owner Stephen Vaughan has not got far in his search of a buyer – although Chester fans will be relieved that nothing came of a bid announced in December from the singular John Batchelor, the former owner of York City.
Meanwhile there is uncertainty over the circumstances in which Wright's assistant Steve Bleasedale left the club towards the end of February, with Wright saying simply: "There are some things behind the scenes which I feel very, very let down about." Wright is a belligerent character with a history of falling out with colleagues, but at least he has some experience that may prove directly relevant to Chester soon – he got them promoted from the Conference in 2004.