Can Blundell Park be a fortress?

 by Doug Jefferson

As the new season is finally approaching there is more positivity surrounding the Mariners than I can just about ever remember.  Our fans combined with the fantastic work of the Trust have raised over £100,000 in Operation Promotion, we have retained the majority of a squad we seem to agree would have got us up automatically had they been together all season and we have played alarmingly well in our friendly matches.

In 7 days, when the players walk out at the Aggborough, they are likely to cheered on by a thousand-plus Mariners (and 500 sharks) hoping to continue our excellent away record.  After all we’re the Grimsby, the mighty Grimsby – we always win away.

Three days later we welcome Barrow to Blundell Park, exactly the type of game last year we struggled through and generated headlines about Blundell Park being a negative place to play football.  Often these games would be won eventually but with a worryingly weak performance that would launch doubt all over the place, on more than a few occasions these would lead to dropped points.

Last season while we topped the away league table by 4 points, we were only 7th in the home league table a mammoth 15 points off Bristol Rovers and 10 behind champions Barnet.  Closing that gap of course would have resulted in a very different outcome.  Win those two opening games against Nuneaton and Dover as well as overturning the Lincoln abomination for example and we would be visiting Portsmouth instead of Boreham Wood, Conference title in the bag.

There are numerous arguments about why our home form was so inferior, often it was felt that we were set up negatively so teams who came to defend effectively neutralised us.  Or perhaps it was that we lacked a flair, inventiveness and sense of adventure to break down teams when they didn’t attack us.  One of the reasons also regularly suggested that while our support can be amazing at home it often seemed to produce a rather more oppressive atmosphere.

There have been efforts to change this, the Scarves in the Park push last season tried to lift the atmosphere at home in the mould of themed away days.  But it has been noted by our opponents as a clear weak point, during BT Sports coverage of the Eastleigh playoff semi-final Mark Creighton, Kidderminster Assistant Manager, specifically commented on how to beat Grimsby at home and his experience last season as they came and took 3 points off us;

“We went with a depleted side, we did park the bus (…) we frustrated them and we spoilt the game and the crowd got frustrated and that suddenly filters down to the players on the pitch and everything comes a bit edgy.”  

There are always arguments as to why this is and whose responsibility this is.  Should we expect the team to lift the fans? After all we are the ones paying to be entertained and it is hard to be cheerful if dull and unproductive football is being played.  But equally fans are not customers, we are invested in the ‘product’ in a way that is not the case with other things we pay for, and footballers feed of the momentum and support of crowds.

Early signs suggest that there are reasons for hoping our home form could improve. Our performances have cheered fans in the friendly games and we have shown a certain attacking verve.  Over the summer it has been the attacking areas we have strengthened most and while we have lost the 20 goals of John Lewis, he was hardly a guaranteed 20 goal a season striker.  For all his hard work and qualities that he did bring he could miss easy chances and polarised fan opinion.  We have replaced him with one of the hottest properties in non-league football in Omar Bogle and Padraig Amond, who has been in fine form so far.  We have added depth with Andy Monkhouse and Nathan Arnold showing that while they are exciting wingers they can also produce the goods up front thus seemingly adding a bit more flair to open teams up.

On the pitch then it seems we have worked hard to change this and while we will have to wait for the competitive games to make a true judgment we can be hopeful it will be a different story this year.  The area where we can make a difference as fans now is off the pitch.

Every club will always claim to have the best fans in the land, but in a summer where we have put in over £100,000 just to try and get us promoted back to the Football League, on the back of three consecutive years of playoff failures, the most recent being as devastating as anyone can imagine:  we can lay an honest claim to this accolade. 

Surely though we have to make one more push, to be as vocal at home as we are away, to have patience when teams are trying to spoil our game and mainly not form judgments on players performances after 20 minutes.  Perhaps then we will finally be able to welcome more than a weekly 100 people to Blundell Park as we see league football return.  Can Blundell Park become a fortress? I think it can, I hope it can, and I know we can make the difference.