I talk to a Grimsby Town fan ahead of the new campaign, what are the expectations of the Blundell Park faithful for the season ahead?
Tell us a bit about your season last season firstly. Would you say it was a success or failure? Did you achieve anything throughout the season, and were the fans happy with the end result?
Well, before last season had started, we got all the way to Cardiff but lost in the play-off final despite having a great season but not everyone was happy with the style we played under Russell Slade, he left and as did our player of the year Rob Jones so we faced a big rebuilding job. We didn’t really look for a suitable replacement and quickly brought in the assistant of the past few years who stated he’d play a better style. We started very poorly and it wasn’t until he was sacked in November that we had to pick up or face losing our FL status, which was unthinkable. We brought in Alan Buckley who had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with the club beforehand in the past two spells here and initially it worked, despite the fans being 50/50 about this appointment. The target once he got back was to survive and pick up but we lost seven in a row without even scoring and went back to fearing the absolute worst.
As it was we made it very comfortably in the end and even had time to blood a few home grown youngsters to be proud of, and they were really the only successes in a way so after 2005/06, it was a failure. Most fans here expected us to do what Lincoln do and challenge again for the top seven.
Obviously every close season sees players leave. Who left your club and were you happy with the decision to let those players go by your boss?
Last season we had two major players in Gary Cohen and Michael Reddy out injured for all of last season and they were main reasons for our initial struggle, because they were valuable players the season before. They didn’t really play at all so in the end we terminated the contract with Cohen but we can get him back should he ever get his knee right again and Reddy was let go because despite our patience with him, he wanted to go. I’m happy with this because it frees up money we can play players that will actually play more in a season that aren’t injury prone.
Other players let go were Simon Grand, Gary Croft and Matthew Bloomer. All three were just bit part players under Buckley and have all found clubs now where they will be good squad players.
The main one leaving in a playing capacity was John McDermott who finally retired after twenty years service to us. He will be missed a lot on the field as he was someone the fans could relate to, going through a lot of ups and downs in that time and a natural born leader for the club on and off the pitch. he is now working for the club helping the college academy, part of the clubs youth empire
So obviously, with players going out, some have got to come in. Who has come in for you, and do you expect them to do well? Tell us a bit about these lads?
We haven’t brought in many up to the season start as of yet as Buckley is still looking to bring in someone who he says will benefit us, so it says he’s happy with the squad at the minute. So far, we’ve brought in a goalkeeper in Gary Montgomery, ex Rotherham and Coventry who’s had an half decent pre-season when he’s played here and there he’s looked like a good shot stopper. It’ll be difficult to say who’ll start the season in goal until we find out on the opening day but I think it’ll be Phil Barnes.
Viewed as a replacement right back for McDermott, we have Jamie Clarke but it seems his best position is in midfield. Played under Buckley at Rochdale, he will know how we’ll play our football and will look forward to the season without off the field problems, like he had at Boston last year, apparently a good striker of the ball but yet to see this so far in pre season. Should settle right in here.
Lastly, an experienced League Two player in central midfield from Bristol Rovers in James Hunt. He spent three months here towards the end of the season and was a major part of us getting out of trouble. Alan Buckley started to play a 4-5-1 formation that got us good wins at MK Dons, Mansfield, Boston and Hereford and Hunt was played mainly as the holding midfielder and it proved to be successful. He’ll be challenging for the two central spots with Paul Bolland and Danny Boshell as we’ll be looking to play 4-4-2 more this season.
We are a striker and probably a defender light from having a good summer of additions and having a squad capable of lifting us into the play offs.
Who are going to be your star players this season then? Who`s going to get the goals, and who`s going to stop them?
Defence wise I think Nick Fenton will have a good season. He had a run from January to March where he wasn’t really fit enough and so we leaked goals but when he was 100% he won headers not only when he needed to clear any trouble but also chipped in with goals which is what I like. He’ll form a good partnership with either Justin Whittle or rising star Ryan Bennett, who is only 17/18 years old but looks to play a much mature game for someone so young.
Peter Till will create a lot of chances should he sorted his final ball and crosses out to a more consistent level. Over the years I’d say we’ve suffered from not giving our strikers chances because we’ve not had anyone apart from Curtis Woodhouse that cross the ball into good areas, they usually hit the first man. Peter has pace and can beat his man but will need to find consistency to help us fire and I think he will.
Goals wise up front, it’ll be either of the initial starting pair of Gary Jones or Danny North. Jones has been around for years and is an excellent target man while North hit six goals towards the end of the season and will know what League football is all about now. He should have a good season, service permitting
Season ticket sales help the club at the beginning of the season to stabilise the place and give it a bit of extra income. How many season tickets have your club shifted these season so far, and what do you expect the average attendance to be throughout the season?
The season tickets have sold quite well considering where we finished last season and it’s because of how we picked up from February. The fans saw the football coming back that had been missing and Buckley’s style is what people are used to here, so the feel good factor is here again. We have sold around 2,600 tickets, which will bump the average attendance up to around 5,000 or a little bit higher depending on how we go about the season with the likes of Lincoln, Notts County and Bradford to visit, they’ll bring a few over to help create a good atmosphere, which rarely happens at Blundell Park
Tell us a bit about your gaffer and his backroom staff. Do the fans like the gaffer, or can you see him being out of a job after a run of bad results?
Alan Buckley is Mr Grimsby Town despite having had difficult spells at Rochdale, West Brom and Lincoln sandwiched between his three spells here he’s always done very well for us. When he was brought back in November 2006, the fans were split about the appointment but now he and his assistant Stuart Watkiss have formed a good partnership, the fans aren’t split as much and we all look forward to seeing what they can do for us. It’ll make him happy that we’re not one of the favourites for promotion because this gives him time to build the squad he wants and although some fans get impatient with the lack of transfer activity recently, he knows what`s best for us so we trust him. It’ll take a lot to get him sacked, we’ve had our bad run of form under him losing seven in a row December to January 2006.
This question is split into two. What do you BELIEVE your club can achieve this season, and what do you HOPE your club can achieve this season?
My belief is that the club will surprise a few and even fans here by being top six. No reason why Buckley can’t earn a fourth promotion with us because he knows how to do it which will stand him in good stead over most other managers. We’ll play our usual good football and earn respect and will want to be dangerous at home.
The hope is that we do get promoted but it will be very tight, it’s a league where everyone can beat each other yet again and there’s a few teams that will challenge for the top seven. It’s even but we are actually a very settled squad this pre-season, we won’t take much time to gel
Finally, whom do you expect to win the division, who do you think will go up with them and who do you think will be relegated?
Darlington to win it. Dave Penney knows what`s required of a title winning team in this league and will work his magic again. They’ve got some good signings and won’t flop this time. To follow them I can’t look past Peterborough and MK Dons to go up and any of Stockport, Lincoln, Notts County, Rochdale, Shrewsbury, Wrexham in the play offs.
I believe Macclesfield and Accrington will go. There’s not too many teams I think will struggle badly this season other than them