Football is the business of memory making. It has the ability to create those rare moments of joy that transcend our day-to-day lives – that, per TS Eliot, “shall pierce you with a sudden painful joy”. This year at Grimsby we’ve had a brilliant uplift in attendances and the growing community in the newly opened fan zone.
But beyond that it has been reconnecting with the town I love, sharing moments of joy and making memories with my family and friends (old and new) that has underlined me to what football is really about.
In August last year, as Covid loosened its grip on the UK, I was with my 10-year-old son, high up in the stands in the late summer sunshine at Blundell Park watching the ships in the Humber slowly make their way into port as we edged our way to a 1-0 win over Weymouth. My son, born in London, has never lived in Grimsby and as a baby was claimed by his Manchester City-supporting grandad to continue his own lifelong obsession with him.
As the game finished, my son leaned into my right side, smiled and whispered: “Dad, I think I am a Grimsby fan now.” That moment alone made this season a success for me.
We knew this year would be a building season, a chance to learn and add to the strong core that our manager, Paul Hurst, had assembled. We experienced the best start to a season since 1982, followed by an 11‑game streak with one win in all tournaments. While a small number of fans took to social media to call for our manager’s job, we looked at the data and recommitted to our long-term values and the culture we wanted at the club. As the NFL coach Mike Smith says: “Culture drives expectations and beliefs; expectations and beliefs drive behaviour; behavior drives habits; and habits create the future. It all starts with culture.”
As an entrepreneur with a decent record of building and exiting businesses I am often asked about the secret of success in business. I tell people there is no secret but the clues that seem to improve your odds are all about culture – focus on building a culture of high trust and clear values, foster an attitude of continuous learning and most importantly be prepared to put the required effort in. Or in other words, trust, talent and graft.
Those values were never more evident than at Notts County on 23 May when Gavan Holahan, one of the players brought in the January window, scored in the sixth minute of added time to take the game into extra time and then Emmanuel “Mani” Dieseruvwe, another January signing, bundled the winner over the line in extra time. In the excitement of the post-match interview when asked about his goal, the emotion was summed up brilliantly as he said he just “threw my f-ing body at it”.
Six days after our last-gasp winner, we found ourselves in Wrexham for the semi-final. My business partner, Andrew Pettit, the butcher’s son, and me, the kid from the council estate in Grimsby, were up against Hollywood royalty, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Our evolving team of grafters versus their expensively assembled squad of outright attack, bankrolled by their Netflix documentary and sponsorship from TikTok. It was a game so full of drama that at times felt like the script was too far-fetched and where almost every attack felt like it could have ended in a goal.
After a brilliant individual goal from our player of the season, John McAtee, and another from the consistently excellent Ryan Taylor, we found ourselves 4-3 behind with minutes to go.
We eventually won 5-4. The decisive goal came from the foundation stone of our defence, the irrepressible Luke Waterfall. With all the grit and determination he has shown throughout our season, he connected perfectly with a long throw from Jordan Cropper, another of our new signings. A man who lifts expectations every time he picks up the ball and throws a perfect parabola into opposition territory. On this occasion, both players launch us into an emotional orbit I am not sure we have come down to earth from yet.
So, to Sunday. One year after Grimsby were relegated from the Football League. One year since Andrew and I became the custodians of our hometown club; and one year since Debbie Cook and Kristine Green became the first female board members in the club’s 144-year history. Our team is playing Solihull Moors in the final of the National League playoffs and we couldn’t be any prouder.
We’ll go into the final as the underdogs, just as we were in our other playoff games. At the beginning of the season as the eight pundits on BT Sport picked their playoff contenders, only one, Chris Hargreaves, thought we might have a chance to make the cut. And I’m sure that was only because he is originally from Grimsby. Solihull’s brilliant season, finishing third in the National League’s most competitive year, is a massive achievement. Having met the owner, Darryl Eales, and his directors of him at Blundell Park this year it’s clear they are trying to build in the right way and there will be no shame for either side at the end of Sunday’s game if they lose.
Success is not a destination, it is a process. Ensuring we enjoy the positive moments when they come and supporting each other through our downturns is what makes us greater together.
It is all of those experiences that weaves the social fabric that binds us.
With that in mind, we have already been successful this year and Sunday is a bonus. I’ll leave the Hollywood ending to the Wrexham owners. A Grimsby fairytale, getting back to the EFL at the first time of asking, seems unbelievable.
Whatever happens I know our club has refound its pride and place at the center of our community. This is reflected in the incredible support and unity in our town. The players have given us some of the most incredible memories this year and I’m already looking forward to what comes next.