My Favourite Game

Grimsby Town’s match programme included a regular feature in which fans wrote accounts of their favourite games.

This gave the club an idea – and they approached me to bring it to life.

The brief

To edit 23 articles by 23 authors and get them in shape to feature in a specially commissioned book.

This was particularly tricky because we wanted to make all chapters consistent in style, but allow the personality of each author to come through.

The process

Once I had all the raw content, I created a style guide so things like dates (1997/98 or 97-98?) and leagues (first division or Premier League?) were consistent and referred to in the right way.

The style sheet ended up being four pages long!

The copy

This is my chapter in the book:

Accrington Stanley 2-3 Grimsby Town
English League Two
The Crown Ground
Monday 5 April 2010

Once upon a time there was a stigma attached to playing ‘the likes of’ Grimsby. And then we became really snobbish ourselves and said the same about Accrington. I often wondered if Stanley fans took as much gratification from beating us as we did beating Wolves and derailing their promotion push to the Premier League.

It may sound strange to read it (it certainly feels quite odd typing it) but one of my favourite games in my time of supporting the Mariners was against Accrington. I know. You didn’t see that coming.

Forget your victory at Anfield, Kalala’s late winner against Spurs and the two Wembley wins. Six incredible minutes while stood on some grey concrete steps in Lancashire gave me unquantifiable football pleasure.

If the game hasn’t already leapt out at you, then let me set the scene. It needs painting. After all, it was a season in which Town were ultimately relegated from the Football League, so it’s likely you’ve banished all memory of this particular encounter.

It was Monday 5 April – Easter Monday, in fact. For the third season running I’d made the trek across the Pennines to watch the Mariners take on Stanley. Three years previously I had made the jaunt to see us lose 4-1 in what really was a truly forgettable game. The following season I went for revenge, only to be served up an identical 4-1 defeat.

It was like being made to drink a cold cup of sick.

These were difficult times if you were a Grimsby fan. The shame of losing heavily, with such regularity against a side famed only for being patronised in an eighties milk advert, was an invitation for ridicule. New lows and all that.

Town went into this particular bout with Stanley with just five wins under their belt from 39 league games. With just seven matches to save our season, we were languishing on 31 points. It was a must-win game – if only to keep that faint hope of survival alive. We all know how that story ended.

Sometimes I wonder whether it would’ve all been less painful at Burton had we just rolled over at Accrington. And following a first half performance in which we appeared to be actively seeking Conference football by conceding two typically soft goals, I phoned a few friends at the break to discuss how I was witnessing first-hand our slide into oblivion.

Everything was grey. This division. This team. This place. How had we become so bad that we were getting routinely trashed in Accrington? Were we really about to become a non-League team?

I was not a happy man, and neither were the couple of hundred Town fans around me on the open terrace. We hadn’t even booed the players off at half-time. We didn’t have the energy. We were drained of passion and enthusiasm; we were resigned to defeat. And although I can’t speak for everyone else, I felt resigned to relegation too.

This was it. These were the final death throes. A hundred years of League football – mostly played out in the top two divisions of this country’s system. And it was ending here, in Accrington, a place I’d come to hate.

Six minutes. That’s all it took for us to score three goals – and to make me fall back in love with the club after a nine-month tiff. Town did what Town never do – they fought their way back. Mark Hudson volleys the ball home from inside the area on 56 minutes. Michael Coulson clips a free-kick directly into the corner of the net on 59 minutes. Jamie Devitt slides the ball into the far corner two minutes later. Town had come from behind to lead 3-2. From absolutely nowhere.

And there was still half an hour left to play. Normally, when Town are one goal to the good, a nervousness envelops whichever ground we’re playing at; a sort of inevitable sense that something dark and unworldly was about to occur – a terrible lapse in concentration at the back; a bobbly back-pass bounces over the keeper’s wild swipe and into the net; a rubbish decision from the ref.

But that fear wasn’t present. On reflection, 3-2 was a delicate scoreline – probably more delicate than we gave it credit for at the time. But the euphoria we’d experienced quashed any anxiety that may have developed. We simply couldn’t believe what had just happened.

When the third goal went in, I didn’t know how to celebrate. I found myself stood next to a child I had never seen before, and my natural reaction was to pick him up. In the cold light of day, the move seems an increasingly odd one, but at the time it felt entirely normal – to the degree that I didn’t even consider it strange until I recalled the moment while explaining it to my wife when I got home.

The players were applauded off the pitch at full-time like heroes, as we temporarily forgot how rubbish they’d been all season. The highly unusual comeback showed character, tenacity and fight; an attitude that had previously been absent as we took the battle to the last game at Burton.

And, as it turned out, it was the first time I had ever seen the Mariners overturn a two-goal deficit to win a match. I know that for a fact because, to my shame, I’ve got a record of every single Town match I’ve attended – and so in nearly 300 games, Grimsby gave me a genuinely new and pleasurable experience.

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