"Up the Mariners, up the Mariners; we're gonna win the cup one day; up the Mariners, up the Mariners; it's Grimsby Town that rules OK".
In 1978 a three-piece band called Pisces came together to record a paean to their club, Grimsby Town, in celebration of its centenary. The refrain of the above lyric was the title of the song: 'Up The Mariners'. Contrary to the boasts of said lyric, the club, at this point, did not 'rule'. For a team that had once challenged for the league title during a period that included two FA Cup semi final appearances, languishing in the Fourth Division could in no way be termed a success. Resultingly, Pisces' optimism may appear naive. But they were on to something. The 1978-79 season was an extremely successful one for Grimsby, as they were promoted into the Third Division, finishing second on goal difference. The following season, they went one better, and won the title, before spending the early part of 1981 challenging for promotion to Division One. It's a fondly remembered period, not least because in more recent times being a Grimsby fan has caused nothing but misery.
So listening to 'Up The Mariners' now evokes an idea of a bygone era. Musically speaking it's one that predates even its release - it's hardly cutting edge for 1978 and sounds more skiffly than anything - but the lyrics, if you were to ask any fan who was there, ring true to the club as it was. 33 years on they've sunk to even lower depths than the Fourth Division, and the words feel depressingly quaint.
"You can hear us shout when our team runs out; when we're together it's a knockout sound; and in the Pontoon Stand we're the greatest in the land; and we'll sing to let you know that we're around"
The Pontoon Stand is the spiritual home of many a Grimbarian. Built with money donated by the fans it, for decades, really did produce a 'knockout' sound. Supporters were renowned for their vociferousness, leaving an indelible mark on the consciousnesses of managers later pontificating over "wet Wednesday nights in Grimsby". Nowadays there is less of an atmosphere to be found, and more of a vacuum. Many fans seem to attend more out of resigned obligation than passion and the stand is usually half-deserted. A few hardy souls in the corner, some sometimes adorned in Manchester United or Liverpool regalia, pipe up once or twice throughout each match, their faintly audible cries of 'Sing when we're fishing' seeming archaic now, in a town that has lost so much of not only its footballing, but also maritime, power.
"We are sure to win if we hang on in; like we've done for a hundred years; and we will carry on, for in our hearts we are strong; you'll know it when you hear our cheers"
In the the 1978-79 season, and those that followed, the team's courage and confidence of victory were undeniable. Decades on and both are lacking. In the 2009-10 season that saw them relegated to the Conference, Grimsby played 25 league games in a row without recording a victory. Passionless and arguably talent-lacking players proved that mercenaries existed in football even outside its upper echelons. Manager Mike Newell blamed a "losing mentality" at the club, and chairman John Fenty agreed, giving him his full backing, before sacking him the following week. Newell's later issuing of a writ that claimed Fenty nearly challenged him to a fight in the boardroom on the eve of his departure was just one of the many off-field catastrophes that somehow managed to make events on the field seem vaguely acceptable.
The following season saw a considerable improvement: stability achieved, if not the promotion that some fans had hoped for. This, of course, wasn't enough for Fenty, finger on trigger as always, this time sacking manager Neil Woods only one day after giving him his total support.
"When we're at home or away with all our might we will play; and if ever you try to put us down; just to even up the score we'll get goals all the more; for we're the Mariners of Grimsby Town"
Like much of what has happened to the club recently, this lyric doesn't really make sense. What is clear is that of late, both home and away, Grimsby have shown a significant lack of might. Goals, also, have been particularly hard to come by; Alan Connell proving last season to be the club's most prolific striker in a long time, with 29 in all competitions. At the time of writing it is unclear how much longer he will remain with them; transfer speculation being made all the more unclear by an official website backtracking on its own reports of the length of his contract.
While he would certainly be a huge loss, Connell wouldn't be the first departure of the summer. At the end of last season half the squad was released, leaving barely enough players for a starting XI, something new co-managers Rob Scott & Paul Hurst have addressed by signing half of their old Boston team, whose success in the Conference North last year last year might well help eradicate any "losing mentality" that remains.
"We've got class, we've got speed; to get us top of the league; and on the pitch we're gonna make our mark; and if it's us that you meet; we've got no time for defeat; 'cos we're the black and whites of Blundell Park"
The last time the club even threatened to reach the top of any league was League Two five years ago, in a campaign that ended in heartbreak at the last playoff final to be played in Cardiff. You have to go back another eight years to find the fabled double Wembley season of '98, in which Alan Buckley and his side won both the Auto Windscreens Shield and the Division Two playoffs. In fact, those successes are anomalies, representing two of only four top half finishes in the past 15 years, a period that has seen four relegations, eleven different permanent managers and five other caretakers.
One thing that has remained consistent throughout that time is the club's plan to move to a new out of town stadium, an idea cooked up in 1994 that has been beset by all manner of problems since. As it stands they still are the black and whites of Blundell Park, in spite of its partially decrepit state (particularly noticeable in the Main Stand, reputedly the oldest in the country.) On top of this, last year the club's planning permission for its intended site ran out, meaning there won't be any move for quite some time yet.
On the b-side of the record was 'Mariners Memories', a four minute spoken history of the club set to the same tune as 'Up The Mariners' itself, and is even more poignant. "Football is the people's game: our game", asserts our anonymous guide. "It's not a question of the players on the park and us on the terraces, we are all one team sharing the same joys and sorrows, experiencing the same emotional involvement, for football is part of our lives, the match providing the vehicles for our hopes and aspirations."
As the club prepares to begin this season with yet another nearly all-new team, that fan-team connection seems to have faded considerably. No-one knows the new players very well - no-one really even knows if they're any good. Prior experience suggests caution - it might not end well. But that's not to say it definitely won't
Sometimes, as in 1978, things do turn out right, even when everything leading up has gone wrong. Perhaps supporters can take heart from the hopefulness of the closing line of 'Mariners Memories'. "Football being football it's back to Division Four for our hundredth year, but come what may it's good to know the Mariners under John Newman and Joe Waters are very much alive and kicking." That year ended in promotion. Maybe, just maybe, this could be another season to remember. Why not?
Both 'Up The Mariners' and 'Mariners Memories' are available to download for free from Cod Almighty, whose Diary does a brilliant job of making sense of and finding humour in the turmoil of a club they love