Grimsby Town FC vs Shrewsbury Town FC
FA Cup Second Round
Monday 7th December 2015
Blundell Park, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire
I can’t lie. It’s been a bit of a rough week.
Last Second Round weekend I was at Oakwell watching Chester FC earn a well-deserved replay in my grandmother’s hometown of Barnsley. We visited her pre-match to find her listening to Daniel O’Donnell and watching the UK Snooker Championships in what would become one of my favourite entries. Last Tuesday, she died.
As passings go, she had a good one. Pain-free and surrounded by family after a visit from the vicar, she couldn’t have asked for more unless O’Donnell himself had been passing Barnsley Hospital on Monday evening following a reasonably healthy 94 years.
There were more echoes of that weekend last December. Once again, Hartlepool United would be battling for a place in the Third Round draw against non-league opposition live on the BBC. Trevor Sinclair’s hat collection would again get an outing; this time, a festive combination of Del Boy and Tiny Tim.
Unlike last year, Hartlepool would at least salvage a draw this time as the Beeb’s cameras somewhat controversially chose Moor Lane for a second consecutive Friday fixture. In a largely uninspiring draw, Grimsby’s home tie against Shrewsbury was perhaps the next best bet.
Following the Groundhog weekend pattern, it seemed fitting to be heading to Lincolnshire for a second time in two rounds exactly a year to the day of that visit to South Yorkshire. Shrewsbury’s narrow victory over Gainsborough Trinity thwarted a potential Lincs derby but offered me a return trip to a ground I haven’t visited in a decade.
In September 2005 I took my girlfriend (now wife) to Cleethorpes for the day. It would begin with fish and chips for lunch and a trip to the arcades. It would end with JP Kalala’s 89th minute winner knocking a Tottenham side containing Paul Robinson, Ledley King and Robbie Keane out of the League Cup.
I can remember being among the visiting fans applauding the home side as most of Blundell Park spilled over onto the pitch to celebrate. I also recall those same fans trying to filter out of a tightly packed stand as quickly as possible to begin the long journey back down the A1 on a week night.
Also there that night was Grimsby fan Trevor Hewson. I say ‘there’ – he just happens to have been the first fan on the pitch to celebrate with Kalala following his late winner. I wish I could say I remembered this specifically but I probably had my head in my hands at the time.
He says: “I was sat in the Pontoon Stand with my brother and dad. Somehow I managed to swerve the steward, got my arms around Kalala and was giving him a bit of love! A colleague of mine was on holiday in Tenerife watching the game. He told me he’d gone thousands of miles to get away and still saw my ugly mug on the telly.”
Following something of a journeyman career that included 7 caps for Congo DR, cult hero Kalala retired from football in 2012 aged 30. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, he’s back in Nice where he began his career and now owns a beauty salon.
When he’s not watching the Mariners, Trevor’s weekends are usually taken up with another long-time passion. Following our chat on Saturday morning, he’ll be refereeing at Oakham Town.
He continues: “I qualified on the night Cantona jumped into the stand (against Crystal Palace). I was listening to that on the radio while cycling home from my Ref’s exam.
“I share a season ticket with my brother. We take my dad so I get to about half of the games at home. I ran the line for a Grimsby friendly down at Boston United once. I’m actually down to ref a charity match at Blundell Park in the near future.“
After 40 years supporting Grimsby, Trevor has seen his fair share of promotions and relegations over the years as the Mariners made their way up and down the leagues several times. Like so many fans at this level, though, he talks just as fondly about life in the lower half of the league ladder.
He continues: “I’m originally from between Louth and Grimsby. My first game was against Watford in the mid to late-Seventies…and at the time, we were doing alright!” he laughs.
“When I first started going they went through the leagues and were sitting pretty in the old Second Division with some pretty decent gates and bringing some of the 1940s glory back. I’m pragmatic enough to enjoy it whatever level they’re at. I’ve seen us win at Anfield, Goodison and also against Tottenham on a particular night,” he jokes.
“But it’s not necessarily different if you’re winning at Barnet or Eastleigh. We create a bit of an atmosphere and I actually enjoy the football now more than then. There’s not the buzz of being at Anfield and turning round to see the Kop behind you but the football is maybe more honest and you can enjoy it for what it is. It’s real. It’s a different experience.”
That hasn’t stemmed the ambition of the fans, though. A supporter campaign called ‘Operation Promotion’ raised £100,000 over the summer after another near miss. While some fans online seem split over Paul Hurst despite being well placed in the play-off positions, Trevor seems to still favour the Manager of five years. He’s proud to have been a part of the push to get back into the Football League, too.
He says: “It was a fantastic response to losing in the play-offs which were pretty painful and the fans backed the Club. Mr Hurst is a dour guy, he’s a Yorkshireman with a very monotone voice. He’s very controlled and perhaps media savvy so he’s not the warmest but he’s adapted the style of play somewhat. Last season it was percentage football but it’s been a little more open this year and better because of that.”
He’s level-headed about the ambitions of the Club, too, acknowledging the difficulty of getting out of the National League:
“We’re a big club in that league,” he continues. “But I would argue we’re only as big as Tranmere and Wrexham. We haven’t got the biggest budget despite the money that the fans put in. Forest Green put a lot of money about the place, so do Eastleigh. Tranmere and Cheltenham have similar budgets so we’re probably ‘par’ even though fans remember being up in the Championship. There’s a massive desire to go up and a little bit of expectation but I think some of that expectation is unrealistic.”
And, while the investment of the £100,000 hasn’t necessarily been seen in one bumper signing, Trevor says there’s been a noticeable difference in the quality of players coming in through the door.
He says: “We’ve got Padraig Amond who’s a decent finisher and something we probably lacked last season. We’ve also managed to retain some of our better players. Shaun Pearson had the opportunity to go to Barnsley, McKeown had the opportunity to go to a Championship club as a number two but we’ve managed to keep those players at the Club.”
And that quality, he tells me, should cause Shrewsbury more than a few issues:
“They’re two leagues above so it’s going to be a challenge but if we play to our best, we’ve got a chance. We’re a good footballing side, we knock the ball about and we’ve got a goalscorer. If we play as we can then Shrewsbury are going to find it very difficult.”
With the Third Round draw now a Monday night showpiece event for the BBC, both sides will go into the game knowing who they’ll face. While Trevor thinks Hurst will be smart enough not to tell them, he has his own preferences on which ball will precede number 53.
He says: “I’ve seen Town at around 130 grounds. I’ve not seen us at Old Trafford. It would be Man United really because we haven’t played them since 1945/46. We played them twice over Christmas and beat them twice. It’d be nice to play them for the money it would bring it to the Club and that would pretty much buy us promotion.
“We have the record attendance at Old Trafford against Wolves in the 1939 FA Cup semi-final, you know? I would be having a banner with that on if we went through – we’ve got more fans than you!”
As the draw gets underway, I’m sat in the passenger seat with my Best Man Mark ‘Hadders’ Hadfield – he last joined me at Craven Cottage last season when we missed kick-off. Tonight we’ve found the ground and have arrived in plenty of time but find ourselves reversing down a gridlocked street just outside Blundell Park after a standoff between two cars going in opposite directions ahead of us.
“You’ve got the balls,” announces Mark Chapman to testicular cancer survivor John Hartson as Hadders does a sterling job of not collecting several wing mirrors.
We eventually park up in the knowledge that tonight’s winners won’t be heading to Old Trafford. It’s the slightly less juicy carrot of Cardiff City away. It’s a source of conversation between two blokes at the urinal shortly before kick-off.
“Helluva long way,” comments one chap. “Was a bit disappointing last time we visited,” agrees another, in reference to the League Two play-off final defeat to Cheltenham Town that ended their giant-killing League Cup season.
We make our way to seats in the Lower Findus stand; I paid for the tickets while Hadders is buying the post-match chips.
“Is it kids for a quid?” he quips at my generosity. It is, actually, although we’re probably pushing it giving his impending 40th birthday.
We’re seated right on the halfway line offering a superb view of the action; a far cry from the restricted views offered for triple the price in the Premier League. As the game gets underway, Grimsby start on the front foot, having a decent chance within the first minute before winning a foul on the edge of the box that earns Junior Brown a booking.
“Ayup! Foam! He’s got bloody foam!” announces the man behind us at the sight of the referee marking out the wall with an aerosol. His excitement drew a laugh from those nearby while the friends he was with made a mental note to grab him a festive Lynx set for Christmas.
We’re immediately impressed by the Mariners in what is clearly a proper cup tie from the off. With full-blooded tackles and a high tempo, Grimsby look the better side as we discuss the difficulty in spotting the gulf in league places. Shrewsbury’s several attempts to counter attack are dangerous enough to suggest they have more than enough pace and quality to punish the National League side though.
“Referee! Where’s he going?” screams the Gillette-enthusiast behind as visiting fullback Grandison gains yards up the touchline before launching a surprisingly delicate throw-in back into play for a second time. The frustrations of the touchline fans aren’t helped when Seb Stockbridge blows to remind a Grimsby player where he should be taking a throw from not long after.
The best chance of the first half comes in the 28th minute when John-Paul Pittman’s chip into the box was met by Padraig Amond on the turn. His volley bounced off the top of the crossbar, robbing him and us of one of the goals of this season’s FA Cup (it’s well worth a look at around 30 seconds on the BBC website) that rouses the crowd in support of their side’s dominance.
The game comes to an unwelcome halt in the 39th minute when Conor Townsend’s break into the box is halted by Jayson Leutwiler. The crowd screams for a penalty as the visiting ‘keeper brings the Hull City loanee down but it quickly becomes clear the big Swiss stopper has sustained a serious facial injury in the process. He’s eventually stretchered off to warm applause with a badly broken nose, concussion and facial lacerations.
“Thought it was a pen,” Trevor texts from the Pontoon end to my left at half-time. “Right in front of us as well.” TV replays suggest he’s right.
We notice a few advertising hoardings during the break. There aren’t many places other than Cleethorpes where you’ll see world renowned beer brands advertised alongside the local fish market. Meanwhile, the local optician is doing a roaring trade.
Shrewsbury start the second half with renewed vigour and look more threatening in the opening five minutes than they did for much of the first period. We notice some discontent around us, which comes as a surprise – rather than encouraging the team, it feels a little disgruntled which seems unreasonable given the domination of a side two divisions above them during the first 45 minutes. An example of the reality check required among some that Trevor mentioned, perhaps.
“Happy Birthday to Pete Ramsden on your 60th birthday,” booms the stadium PA in the 60th minute, as an image of Pete beams out on scoreboard. Inexplicably, he doesn’t look a day over eight years old on the black and white image. Must be the Lincolnshire sea air.
Grimsby almost take the lead again in the 62nd minute with Townsend’s cross-cum-shot bouncing off the face of the crossbar. It’s followed by a free header for Shrewsbury’s Collins eight yards out that is tamely guided into the ground and the grateful arms of McKeown as both sides push for the opener.
“What are you doing ref?” screams a man in winter wear, leaving his seat in the final ten minutes to charge towards the pitch as frustrations with the match official grew. Hadders lets out a chuckle:
“How can you take a man being aggressive in a bobble hat seriously?” he ponders as ASBO Compo sits back down.
“Tonight’s attendance is 3,366,” announces the PA. “Including 75 visiting supporters.” A small snigger is quickly drowned out by applause which seems to be directed to the second part of that announcement. There’s a genuine acknowledgement that 75 fans have braved the six-hour round journey for a match moved from a Saturday to a Monday for television. Like Trevor said: This is proper football.
Superbly named sub Omar Bogle almost breaks the deadlock within minutes of coming on, beating his man before opening his body to curl a left footed shot just over the far upright. Further chances follow in the final minutes and I point out the clock to Hadders in the 89th…the moment a certain Congolese barber broke the deadlock in 2005.
“Come on Town, we deserve this!” shouts the man next to me, and he’s right. It’s not to be this time, though, and the ref brings the game to a close to warm applause across the ground.
We catch Trevor outside the Club Shop on our way out of the ground. He seems pleased that we’ve enjoyed the game in a full-blooded match that saw 30 shots and 29 fouls despite the lack of goals.
“The Slade thing gives it a bit of an edge,” he says on the potential of a trip to Cardiff City, referring to former manager Russell rather than festive frontman Noddy. The man who masterminded that Tottenham win still divides opinion here.
Trevor continues: “He produced a relatively successful side but threw in the towel and buggered off to Yeovil before the playoff game. He’s not on my Christmas card list. As for Cardiff, it’ll be so tough but if they underestimated us then you never really know.
“I’d be torn to go or not as it’d be another club to tick off but it’s a bloody long way and I always get terribly drunk in the Welsh capital. As ever, if we do get through, it’s all about the money into the Club and there are lots of places where we’d not get as much of it as Cardiff.”
With that, we bid farewell and head off towards his recommendation of a chippy. Unfortunately, it’s closed for the night so Hadders is buying the poppadoms as a local curry house takes our custom. We wash down the Chef’s Special with a couple of Cobras. It’s the perfect end to a rough week.
Finally, after more than a decade, I can associate Grimsby Town with Baghdad Duck instead of the Congolese coiffeur from Cleethorpes. Redemption, at last.
The Underdog Blog Record 2015/16
P 7 W 2 D 3 L 2 F 5 A 6 GD -1
Grimsby Town FC vs Shrewsbury Town FC
FA Cup Second Round
Monday 7th December 2015
Blundell Park, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire
|Grimsby Town FC 0 –||0 Shrewsbury Town FC
Grimsby Town FC: McKeown; Tait, Nsiala, Gowling, Townsend; Arnold, Disley, Clay, Monkhouse; Amond (Alabi 86’), Pittman (Bogle 77’).
Subs: Robertson, Brown, Pearson, Jones, Henderson.
Shrewsbury Town FC: Leutwiler; (Halstead 45’); Grandison, Gerrard, Knight-Percival, Brown; Kaikai, Lawrence, Ogogo, Whalley; Vernon (Akpa Akpro 80’), Collins (Barnett 80’).
Subs: Sadler, McAlinden, Clark, Smith.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
Attendance: 3,366 (75 Shrewsbury fans)