After six years in non-League the Mariners pulled together under Paul Hurst
4 August ~ “Clap, clap, clap, clap… Fish!” is still reverberating around my head a couple of months after Grimsby’s play-off final victory and return to the Football League. It doesn’t seem over six years since I wrote about going to work past the street named after Mariners legend Jackie Bestall and how he would be turning in his grave as we slipped into non-League. There is a whole generation of Grimsby fans (my own boys included) who had never experienced promotion, only relegation.
We have returned a transformed club, far more connected to the community. It took the team and the town a couple of years to overcome the profound shock of being in non-League as our Football League parachute payments dwindled away. The nadir came when we lost 2-1 to Chasetown in the FA Trophy. In the end we appointed Paul Hurst as manager (at first with Rob Scott until they fell out), an up-and-coming manager with a good understanding of our new level.
Under Hurst’s leadership we qualified for the play-offs four times in a row, losing to Newport and Gateshead in the semi-finals, before making last year’s final and losing on penalties to Bristol Rovers. This was a devastating loss, but it had a fundamental impact on the club. Hurst managed to persuade the majority of his squad to sign new contracts, and the Mariners Trust started to be more prominent with the launch of “operation promotion”. Through crowdfunding, this managed to raise approximately £100,000, allowing us to sign two new strikers, Omar Bogle and Padraig Amond, who last season between them scored 54 goals, though Amond has since joined Hartlepool after we only offered him a one-year contract.
The play-off final was played in a strange atmosphere in front just over 17,000, with Forest Green Rovers, the plaything of a wealthy man from a small town in the Cotswolds, bringing only around 4,000 supporters. Even our loss at Wembley seven days later to Halifax Town in the FA Trophy final was quickly forgotten. Nearly a full week of celebrations, including an open-top bus tour of Grimsby and Cleethorpes was not the best preparation for another final.
This team’s promotion added to new optimism in the area. After many years of decline following the collapse of the fishing industry, the town of Grimsby is at the centre of the development of the renewables industry and off shore wind energy, although that may yet be scaled back after the EU referendum vote.
As for the new season, we have replaced about half of the squad with better, more experienced players such as Ben Davies, Portsmouth’s player of the year (apparently persuaded to move because his wife is from Grimsby and a Town supporter), and Rhys Browne an Antigua international from Aldershot. Hurst has said this is the most talented squad he’s ever managed, and with more signings on the horizon there’s no reason why we shouldn’t hold our own or even emulate Bristol Rovers and go for promotion. Ian Rodwell