We only sing when we're fishing... After years of heartbreak and glimmers of hope, what's ahead for Grimsby Town?

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A proud club thats lost its way

One of the oldest professional football clubs in England, Grimsby Town were founded back in 1878 and they have a very proud history. The Mariners have spent the bulk of their time between the Division One (Championship) and Division Two (League One), even finishing as high as fifth in the old First Division (Premier League) back in 1934/35.

Fans of EFL clubs love a trip to the east coast to take on the Mariners, a proper away day. The coast, the sheer number of pubs and of course the famous Grimsby fish & chips. Grimsby Town are a proper Football League club but their supporters' faith has been tested to ridiculous levels over the last 16 years.

At the start of the millennium, the Mariners were absolutely loving life. A double Wembley winning season in 1997/98 in the Third Division play-offs and LDV Vans trophy was something that dreams were really made of. Paul Groves, Wayne Burnett, Kevin Donovan and the evergreen John McDermott were all key cogs in that success, ensuring that they returned to the second tier after just one year.

Kevin Donovan Alan Buckley Grimsby Town
Kevin Donovan wrote his name into Mariners folklore with the winner against Northampton at Wembley in the 1997/98 Third Division Play-Off Final, the second part of Grimsby's Wembley double under Alan Buckley

Five years were spent in Division One (Championship) and on 1st September 2001, a day remembered by many fans allover England as the day when the Three Lions beat Germany 5-1, Grimsby were top of the league ahead of the likes of Manchester City, Wolves and Crystal Palace.

But then in 2002, things started to turn. Player-manager Paul Groves was dealt an unbelievably difficult hand after the collapse of ITV Digital which threatened to destroy several EFL clubs financially. And unfortunately, Grimsby were one of those to suffer. The collapse coincided with back-to-back relegations, meaning that just 2 years later they found themselves in the basement of the Football League for the first time since 1990.

Suddenly the highs of leading Division One and that double Wembley winning season seemed a million miles away and things got even worse. In 2010, the Mariners lost their EFL status for the first and only time, something that was absolutely unthinkable a decade ago. A gutless display on the final day of the season resulted in a crushing 3-0 defeat against Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium, condemning them to relegation on what was and still is, the darkest day in the clubs proud history.

But sometimes you need darkness, despair & heartache to inspire a turnaround and after what felt like an eternity in the National League (6 seasons), they bounced back in 2016 by winning the play-offs. They're now set to begin their fourth campaign back in the fourth tier and after finishes of 14th, 18th & 17th, anxiety is growing that they could once again get sucked into non-league. But with a young manager at the helm and one of the divisions best fan bases - could they surprise everyone and put their relegation worries behind them?

After three seasons of consolidation, can they push on?

The Mariners stumbled their way to a 17th placed finish in the fourth tier last season but don't let that position fool you, they're a big club at this level. Their fan base and history should put them much higher up the ladder but unfortunately clubs aren't granted places on based sentiment. Privileges have to be earned and Grimsby fans more than most know not to take anything for granted.

Their demise since 2002 has been one of the biggest in EFL history and they have a long way to go if they're to return to the dizzying heights of yesteryear. Since returning to the Football League they've had four managers in Russel Slade, Marcus Bignot, Paul Hurst (we'll get to him later) and current man at the helm Michael Jolley.

Appointing the 42 year-old was something of a gamble by controversial chairman John Fenty, with his only experience of senior management coming over in Sweden with AFC Eskilstuna. But he worked wonders instantly, arriving in March 2018 with the club in the midst of a relegation battle after the shambolic second Slade era.

Michael Jolley Grimsby Town
Moving to Grimsby Town has certainly been a steep learning curve for Jolley, but the 42 year-old continues to adapt to the rigours of EFL management and will be confident he can guide the Mariners up the table

He kept them up with a game to spare and was then given basically a blank canvas last term to take the club into a new direction. He moved on the old mercenaries, opting to bring in younger, hungry players and for large parts of the campaign it paid off. Wins over the likes of MK Dons (1-0), Tranmere (5-2) and Exeter (2-1) proved that they're capable of beating anyone on their day, but inconsistency played a large part in their undoing.

Grimsby went on losing runs of 6, 3 and 4 during various stages of the campaign, killing their hopes of the play-offs which back in February looked like a distinct possibility. At one stage fans were looking at the table with excitement, but a run of form which saw them fail to win in 11 of their last 13 matches ensured it was just a pipe dream.

A 17th placed finish is not what anyone at the club had hoped for but the fans remain behind Jolley who is still finding his way in the game. But this season we sense these luxuries won't be afforded.

Time to defy the odds

Something that may concern some Grimsby Town supporters is that the Mariners are third favourites for relegation (9/2 @ SkyBet). The bookmakers must have kept a close eye on that dreadful end to the last season and clearly don't rate their chances, but that underdog tag will suit Jolley down to the ground.

Last season we saw title favourites Notts County suffer relegation to the National League, so odds aren't everything and Jolley will certainly use this to motivate his players. But that end to the previous campaign does make damning reading. 2 wins in 13 is incredibly grim but what is even more worrying is the lack of goals - just 6 scored in that period.

Only three teams scored fewer goals than The Mariners (45) and the now departed Wes Thomas weighed in with 11 of them, so that's certainly a major issue that needs rectifying. Strong recruitment is needed this summer and with John Fenty as chairman, he's going to be feeding off scraps when it comes to landing his major targets. But the signings of James Hanson, Matt Green and Moses Ogbu do buck that trend slightly and give Mariners fans reasons to be excited, along with some much needed firepower in attack.

The lack of funds available isn't something new and under Jolley it's led to opportunities for many academy players, one of which is Harry Clifton who's grabbed his opportunities with both hands. The clubs Young Player of the Year has recently been called up to the Wales U21 squad after making 39 league appearances last term. His energy and desire makes him one of the first names on the teamsheet and he's certainly a fans favourite.

Harry Clifton Grimsby Town
Harry Clifton has been one of the breakout stars in League Two this season, making 39 appearances in the fourth tier and he's even faced Premier League opposition in Crystal Palace. Starting in Grimsby's 1-0 defeat in The FA Cup third round back at the start of the year

Alongside Thomas, Martyn Woolford, Danny Collins and JJ Hooper have also been released whilst first team duo Reece Hall-Johnson and Alex Whitmore have turned down deals and left on a free - which is a blow. The loss of successful loanees like Elliott Embleton and Joe Grayson just adds to their problems, meaning that quality is something of a worry at the moment.

But in Jolley's fairness and unlike some of his predecessors, he does have a set philosophy that he wants to stick to. He tries to get his side playing out from the back, with him preferring to go with a 3-4-3 system which has shown some signs of promise. He used his knowledge of the Swedish market to bring in left wing-back Sebastian Ring and centre-half Ludwig Ohman in January who both look very capable players at this level and specialists in those positions. Alongside that they also boast arguably the divisions best goalkeeper in James McKeown who's expected to draw interest once again this window, but he crucially has 2 years left to run on his deal.

James McKeown Grimsby Town
8 years. 410 appearances. 1 James McKeown. A modern day legend at Blundell Park and arguably the best goalkeeper in League Two

More coups like that are required if they're to build on that 17th placed finish and put smiles back on those Grimsby fans faces, but they have seen some signs of progression from the disastrous Slade era. The long balls are (very) slowly starting to go from their game, academy players are being nurtured in, they're trying to target younger players in the transfer window and there's a great team spirit starting to bubble - they need to get the results right to go alongside it.

Big summer coming up

This summers transfer window is going to be one of the most important for the club since winning promotion to the EFL and it's imperative that they get it right. Jolley has a large squad at his disposal so it looks likely that'll be a case of quality over quantity.

Alongside the arrivals of Hanson, Green and Ogbu, the Mariners have also managed to secure the signature of Notts County utility man Elliott Hewitt which looks like a promising transfer on paper. Whilst the return to fitness of Elliott Whitehouse will be like a new signing in itself, with him still yet to feature for Town since joining from Lincoln City last summer after rupturing his ACL.

The level of quality is improving year-on-year in League Two and this seasons line-up looks a strong one, with Salford City, Leyton Orient, Plymouth Argyle and of course Scunthorpe United among 6 new clubs in the division. The Lincolnshire derbies with The Iron will arguably be the games of the season in the fourth tier and it's a fixture that the Mariners have enjoyed themselves in over the years, winning 25 of the 57 meetings (17 Scunthorpe wins) but they haven't clashed in the league since 2005.

When they welcome the Iron to Cleethorpes it promises to be some occasion and it has a little extra spice with Paul Hurst, the man who guided Grimsby out of the National League, now at the helm for the relegated League One club. Before he was appointed he was something of a marmite character amongst Mariners fans but we're pretty sure we know how they'll react to him when he revisits his old stomping ground.

Blundell Park
The lowest ground above sea level in England, Blundell Park is going through a £250k facelift this summer.

This is a massive season for Grimsby and a historic one. The old symbolic floodlights have been modified at Blundell Park, the pitch has been re-laid to remove the classic goal-mouth hills amongst several other improvements in a £250k regeneration of their home. There's still cries for the club to move to a new stadium but for the time being, Grimsby are still the only team to have never played a home game.

The Mariners are one of the oldest, one of the proudest clubs in the Football League and their supporters have earned the right to enjoy a bit of success after years of mainly downs (and the odd up) since the turn of the millennium. Now it's over to you Mr Jolley & co...

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