Grimsby Town v Cheltenham Town
Blundell Park / Conference Premier / 30th October 2015
This whole groundhopping thing was never planned – it just sort of happened. If I went back in time and told 21-year-old Matt Harrison that by the time he was 27 he would be about to watch football at his 200th football ground, I’m not sure whether he’d be impressed or embarrassed; I’m not sure which one of the two I feel now either to be honest. But here we are anyway. Wednesday night saw me visit ground no.199 – Farsley Celtic’s Throstle Nest home – and that set up my next game as the big one. So which famous, grand arena would take the landmark moment of being my 200th ground?
Grimsby Town – Blundell Park. This trip had been booked a couple of months earlier when I noticed that Grimsby’s game versus Cheltenham Town was a Friday night game to be featured on TV and that the game fell at the end of my week off. On discovering this Friday night fixture, a pitch was quickly made to Gibbo as I explained to him that such a weekend would mean we could do two games in one weekend in the Grimsby area and within minutes my Athertonian friend was signed up for the adventure and a hotel was booked. Grimsby Town had a Lost Boyos party heading its way and I was very excited, as a trip to the very impressive-looking Blundell Park had been on my ‘to do’ list for a long while now.
Gibbo had lectures in uni until the afternoon and so I rolled into Grimsby Town station solo and with the whole afternoon to explore the Lincolnshire town. Well, I went to explore it and then found a Wetherspoons literally just outside the train station and so I got sidetracked and headed in there. As much as I love a Wetherspoons, I will say that this particular branch, The Yarsbrough Hotel, had the shoddiest, slowest service I’ve ever encountered at a Spoons. Be quicker please lads.
Eventually, once I had been served my Punk IPA (undoubtedly the Lost Boyos drink of choice this season), I headed through the town centre to see the delights of Grimsby. I’d been told repeatedly by people that on arriving in Grimsby that I should brace myself for the pungent smell of fish, but I encountered no overbearing smell at all and I wondered whether the fishy fragrance of Grimsby was a mere myth. There was definitely fish present in the next pub I arrived in though: it was Fish Friday and somehow I had ended up in another Wetherspoons – two in the space of half hour has to be some sort of Lost Boyos record. The Ice Barque branch of the pub chain was far quicker at serving drinks than its cousin pub down the road anyway.
There was still a couple of hours until Gibbo would be joining me and so my pub crawl through Grimsby continued and I think I may have found a contender for Lost Boyos pub of the season. Now anyone who has tagged along with me on my adventures will know I have a fairly peculiar taste in pubs; I’d say I’m a fan of ‘dark and dingy’ and definitely ‘traditional’. For whatever reason, the Tivoli Tavern was my sort of place. It’s dingy, very local feel just appealed to me, as did the £2.10 a pint prices. I also got chatting to a friendly Grimsby fan here who gave me the lowdown on how to get to the ground and what to expect from Grimsby Town FC.
There was one more pub visit – the rather bland The Parity – before I headed back to the hotel…I say hotel, but it is actually a pub, which, as far as hotels go, is very much to my liking. However, on approaching the County Hotel, I realised I was starving and so I adopted the ‘When in Grimsby…’ philosophy and ordered myself an almighty portion of haddock and chips from the chip shop on the same street as our hotel. It was then time to sort out the surprise in store for Gibbo…
Earlier in the week, Aaron had texted me to say that him and Joe were up for a trip to Grimsby and on seeing that there were rooms available in the same hotel as us they were on board for the ‘Lost Boyos ground 200 party’. We opted not to tell Gibbo though. So on Aaron and Joe’s arrival, we ordered some beers and waited for Gibbo to arrive into town. When he did, shortly before 6pm, I went outside to meet him and Joe and Aaron sat around the corner. Then when I led him in and told him there was a pint waiting for him around the corner his little face lit up when he realised we would be rolling out to Grimsby Town as a quartet with Aaron and Joe. His earlier claims of ‘I’m not drinking much tonight anyway’ had soon gone out the window.
The County Hotel really is a brilliant pub and surprisingly good as a hotel too, so we enjoyed the lively atmosphere in our Grimsby abode until around 7pm, when we opted to get a taxi and head over to Blundell Park. This is where things get a bit confusing as Grimsby Town FC are actually located in Cleethorpes, whilst Cleethorpes Town can be found in Grimsby. Sort that out lads.
Our taxi driver took us a strange route through several narrow streets, before eventually the hue of the floodlights of Blundell Park could be seen. Traffic was rather shitty around the ground and so we opted to hop out and walk the final stretch to the ground. What a ground too.
As soon as we turned the corner onto the road leading up to the Blundell Park turnstiles, I had fallen in love with the place. The gargantuan, rusting floodlights are indefinitely specimens of magnificent beauty and the unusual and imposing Findus stand marks the ground out as a place full of character. It was incredible to think that this impressive ground has now been hosting non-league football for 5 years; Grimsby really should be in the Football League. It was to the back of the Findus Stand we headed to get our tickets for the game, although we planned on heading into the Pontoon Stand as we were told that that was where we would find the atmosphere (and the cheapest ticket prices).
Next to the ticket office we found the club shop and with today being a landmark occasion, I went in with the intention of buying a Grimsby Town scarf; I did not expect to leave with a £10 inflatable haddock – I should probably explain. Harry the Haddock was the must have inflatable item amongst Grimsby fans a decade ago and he could be found at home games and on away terraces up and down the country. This season the Mariners Supporters’ Trust have decided to resurrect the famous fish and with the help of local businesses helping to produce more inflatables, Harry is available at the club once again. Obviously, when the lady offered me one and informed me that the money goes towards the supporters’ trust I figured that an inflatable haddock was a far superior memento to the usual scarf purchase.
There wasn’t too long until kick-off and so we headed straight into the Pontoon Stand ready for tonight’s Conference clash. The queue for the little bar behind the stand was a bit too long, so a prematch beer was snubbed and instead we headed around to our seats in the stand. Just like outside of the ground, Blundell Park looked very impressive – the sort of large, traditional ground that are usually my favourite. 3 sides of the ground are very similar with 3 sides being single-tiered seating stands and because of this the Findus Stand looks even more imposing. The two-tiered Findus Stand has a strange sort of lopsided look to it and I’d not really seen a stand like it before – it really does look great.
Anyway, shortly after arriving at our seats, the teams were coming out onto the pitch with Grimsby Town in their traditional black and white and Cheltenham in their purple and yellow away shirt; Cheltenham’s away shirt divided opinion amongst our party with 2 of us dubbing it ‘cool’ and the other 2 dubbing it ‘hideous’ (I fell into the former category).
As the game kicked off, fireworks began firing into the Cleethorpes night – this wasn’t anything to do with the club though, it just seemed a local wanted to get some of his fairly pathetic fireworks shown on BT Sports.
Whilst things went bang off the pitch, on the pitch the game was failing to explode into life. The first half saw two well-matched teams play out a fairly scrappy game, although arguably Grimsby were having the better of it. More impressive though was the Grimsby support to our left who were in great voice throughout with several brandishing their own Harry the Haddocks as they chanted “FISH!” and “We only sing when we’re fishing!”
There were a couple of half chances for Grimsby, but nothing concrete, although it appeared that they should have had a penalty when a Cheltenham defender handled in the box; the ref agreed with the offence but awarded a freekick on the edge of the box and not a penalty – a freekick that Grimsby wasted by firing straight at the wall.
There wasn’t much else to say about the first half really, although after earlier slating the firework efforts from the ground’s neighbours, one firework did eventually head over the ground itself and make one almighty bang, as smoke came raining down on the ground. It was probably the most exciting thing that happened throughout the whole half.
Half-time: Grimsby Town 0 – 0 Cheltenham Town.
Once again, the little bar/hatch had a really long queue snaking from it and so instead we just sort of mulled at the front of the stand surveying our our wondrous, floodlit surroundings, whilst I continued to perve on the aforementioned floodlights above us. I do find my obsession with large floodlights slightly odd.
The second half was instantly more entertaining thanks to one key component that was missing in the first half: Mighty Mariner – one of my all time favourite club mascots after this night. I was fairly sure that Mighty was drunk as he danced around in front of us and repeatedly mimed a fishing action to go along with the ‘Sing when we’re fishing’ chant. Plus, he repeatedly attempted to wind up the away goalie by diving on the floor behind the goals every time Cheltenham stopper Dillon Phillips took a goal kick.
Phillips was to have an interesting evening at Blundell Park, as the home fans proceeded to abuse him throughout the second half for his apparent timewasting (we genuinely thought he was taking an adequate amount of time with his goalkicking to be honest). More on Phillips later.
Grimsby had probably had the better of the game, but Cheltenham would grab themselves a goal in the 68th minute. A low ball into the box eventually landed at the feet of defender Aaron Downes who turned and fired his shot powerfully at goal leaving the Grimsby keeper no chance. Cue the small contingent of Cheltenham fans behind the goal going crazy and hopping over seats to get to their players. At least my run of almost a year of no 0-0s on British soil was going to continue (only the Germans have let me down in past 12 months with 2 0-0s in 3 days back in August – cheers Sandhausen and Stuttgart Kickers).
Now the abuse towards Phillips escalated to the extent that one particularly angry Mariners fan entered into an exchange with Phillips and offered him out in the car park later. Phillips looked bemused by it all as he was subjected to the most raucous choruses of the goalie-distracting classic chant of “Oooooooooohhhhh!…You’re shit, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!” I’ve heard at a football match. The passion put into the ‘Aaaaaaahhhhh” section has been unrivalled on my travels.
Grimsby tried to grab an equaliser, but it just didn’t look like it was going to be their night and they never truly troubled their pal Phillips. The four of us realised that the goals were finished for the evening and we waited for the final whistle and for our night out in Grimsby to begin.
Full-time: Grimsby Town 0 – 1 Cheltenham Town.
After the final whistle, all eyes turned to Phillips as he walked behind his goal to collect his towel and water bottle. Initially he walked towards the home fans abusing unfazed, before he then launched into a passionate series of fist pumps directed at the home fans complete with cries of joy at his team’s victory. Cue the home end going crazy and wanting to kill Phillips, whilst a member of Grimsby staff also tried to stop him before complaining to the officials. To be honest, I thought ‘fairplay to him’ as he celebrated – if fans can give it out so easily, they have to be able to take it too. It was nice to see a bit of ‘character’ from the keeper too. Cheltenham’s victory saw them climb to the top of the league and Grimsby would finish the weekend in the Conference play-offs. Anyway, it was time to say goodbye to Blundell Park and with Harry the Haddock in tow, we headed back around the corner in search of a taxi to take us back to our hotel.
It seemed that the area around the ground had cleared mighty quickly and soon we seemed to be the only souls on the street as we waited outside Tesco for our taxi to arrive. Despite being 5 minutes late, this taxi driver actually seemed to know where he was going and got us back to our hotel much quicker and for a £1 cheaper. Having snubbed a trip into Cleethorpes town to stay closer to our hotel and a night out in Grimsby beckoned. We had no idea what was ahead of us.
We arrived back into our hotel/pub to find the bar very busy as we were greeted in by a band playing a cover of Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me. A pint was enjoyed in the safety of our hotel (and with Harry the Haddock enjoying himself) before we finally decided to brave the streets of Grimsby on a Friday night; although the start of any real adventure was slightly curtailed when Gibbo insisted we go in the Yarsbrough Hotel as he had missed out on the Wetherspoons earlier (once again service was slow).
We then attempted to enter a few pubs only to be told that they were all closing and soon there was only one option left and I think we’d all been trying to avoid it: The Bank. This place will live long on the memory. I think I’ll let a combination of the Aaron, Joe, Gibbo and my tweets at time give you the gist of this bar:
Yes, I did climb up the stairs to the toilet and indeed find a semi-naked man questioning and starting on bouncers as to why he was ejected; yes, everyone was dressed in the trackies and trainers (apart from those in Halloween costumes; and yes plenty of beer and Jägerbombs were drunk in here to make sure we forgot about our surroundings. All in all though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have good fun in The Bank. I even performed my karaoke staple of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Joe and Gibbo dueted on some crappy Michael Bublé song much to the joy of the female clientele remaining in the bar at close to 2am. 2am! How we lasted in there for that long I’ll never know. We were even kicked out of there as the last men standing as the lights came on to signal the end of the night.
All that was left to do was to head to the kebab shop near our hotel, where we carried on a tradition from our night out in Nottingham in September: asking the kebab shop worker the hygiene star rating of their establishment. Suspiciously, the worker at Pizza Planet didn’t know the rating of his kebab shop – not to worry though, food was still purchased from him (apart from by me for some reason – clearly the huge haddock and chips from earlier had done the trick for me and drunken Harrison figured he’d dodge another meal).
And so came an end to our evening of revelling on the east coast. It had been fun and certainly my favourite sort of way to enjoy Friday night football: an afternoon full of local pubs; meeting up with the lads in our hotel, which was an awesome pub too, for more drinks; visiting what can only be described as an outstanding football ground; and then partying into the early hours at what I would learn the next day is considered Grimsby’s roughest bar. Good times. The only thing that had let the day down I suppose was the football on offer. But who cares when there’s so much fun to be had off the pitch.
Highlights: afternoon pub crawl, Tivoli Tavern, The County Hotel (top accommodation choice Matt!), Blundell Park is beautiful, Grimsby fans, Harry the Haddock, Mighty Mariner – top mascot, The Bank was…interesting.
Low Points: poor game.
See all my photos from our trip to Grimsby here.