It’s Grim up North East Lincolnshire

THE League Two table currently has more footnotes than a PhD thesis, thanks to the number of teams who have had points deducted this season. (See footnote.*) All the more remarkable, then, that Grimsby should manage to slip into the bottom two, despite having had no points deducted at all.

By all accounts, last night’s 0-1 defeat at home to leaders Brentford was marginally less fun to watch than Meet The Spartans. When even the local paper is describing the performance as “another display starkly lacking in ideas”, you know there’s a problem.

“Heaven Help Us” yelled the headline on the back page of today’s Grimsby Telegraph after the Mariners fell to defeat in a Blundell Park downpour, managing just one shot on target in 90 minutes.

Manager Mike Newell has never been one to walk away from an argument. He has managed, in the last three years, to spark an FA bungs inquiry by claiming that corruption was rife in football transfers, to claim that the appointment of female officials was “tokenism for the politically-correct idiots” (he subsequently apologised) and to argue that football was going soft due to an influx of foreign players.

Since taking over at Grimsby in October, Newell seems to have spent most of his time getting into arguments with referees – taking only a brief break shortly before Christmas to make an unsuccessful bid to attract Robbie Fowler to the club as a player-coach.

Newell has been sent to the stands twice in the last month. He was banished from the touchline by Stuart Attwell during the 2-2 draw against Exeter three-and-a-half weeks ago.

“I don’t like to sound off, but it annoys me a little bit when you see Premier League referees coming here with their yellow shirts and their microphones taped to their face,” said Newell afterwards, presumably trying not to sound off.

He was then sent from the dugout again at Rochdale on Saturday after almost getting into a fight with their boss Keith Hill – who used to be his team-mate at Blackburn in the early 1990s. Again, a refereeing decision lay at the heart of it, with Newell convinced Dale’s second goal was offside.

“The idiots who make the rules just don’t understand the game,” Newell said afterwards, “and the fact they are discussing 20 minute half-time breaks this weekend and whether or not to allow players to put tape on their socks just about sums them up.”

Grimsby’s fans might wonder why Newell is pouring so much energy into berating officials when his side are embroiled in a relegation battle they shouldn’t have been anywhere near.

The Mariners had a 17-point start on Rotherham and Bournemouth, and a 30-point start on Luton in August. After Grimsby’s dreadful start under Alan Buckley, Newell arrived just in time to see Rotherham overhaul them in late October. Last night’s Bournemouth’s 1-0 win over Aldershot saw them move above Newell’s side too. At this rate, even Luton might fancy their chances of closing a 13-point gap before the season’s out.

Incredible to think, really, that in the autumn of 2001, Grimsby sat briefly on top of what was then the First Division, and knocked Liverpool out of the Carling Cup at Anfield. Some fans blame the collapse of ITV Digital – and the resulting debts the club was saddled with – for the Mariners’ woes. Some accuse chairman John Fenty of poor decision making.

The reality is that haulage millionaire Fenty has poured in plenty of money at Blundell Park, and it’s not as if investors are queueing up to take the club off his hands. Sometimes, clubs just keep getting it wrong, on the pitch, in the dugout, perhaps in the boardroom too.

It doesn’t mean those at the top don’t care – Newell’s continuing ref rants are a clear sign of his passion. But passion isn’t going to keep Grimsby up. And to get relegated this season, when four other teams in the division have had large points deductions, really would deserve an historical footnote all of its own.

*Footnote: Luton have lost 30 points (20 for breaking Football League insolvency rules, 10 for misconduct relating to the paying of agents via a third party), Rotherham and Bournemouth both had 17 points deducted (for failing to exit administration under the normal league rules) and Darlington have been given a 10-point penalty (for the comparatively straightforward offence of entering administration).

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