Read Jason Stockwood’s notes from Saturday’s edition ‘The Mariner’ against Crawley Town.
Welcome to Blundell Park today as we gather to mark a special day in the club’s history, celebrating 145 years of our existence. We’re delighted to welcome the players, staff, and fans of Crawley Town, a club with its own storied history dating back to 1896.
A particularly warm welcome goes out to some of the former GTFC players and staff in attendance today. I must extend a special greeting to Garry Birtles, a double European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, an England International, and, most importantly (for me), one of the greatest players to ever don our black and white stripes during his 69 appearances for The Mariners from 1989 to 1991.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a poster of Garry from Shoot Magazine on my bedroom wall as a 9 year old. So, when I had a trial at the club in 1989, I was thrilled to get the chance to train with the first team and, more precisely, watch him in action. I was so enamored with his divine touch and movement that I couldn’t even speak in his presence. During one warm-up session where we had to dive through each other’s legs and then jump onto the back of the nearest player, I found myself on Garry’s back, probably hugging him a bit too tightly. It led to our only conversation, with him saying, “Get off, you’re strangling me.” Today offers me a chance to thank him for finishing his career here and probably to apologise as well.
Contemplating the last 145 years, I was reminded of a recent conversation with my son, who has just begun studying philosophy and religion at school. His first homework assignment went big straight away and asked the question, “What is the meaning of life?” As we talked, he wondered aloud if life is like starting with a blank canvas, painting your picture for 80 years, only to wipe it clean upon death. In such a scenario, he asked, can there be a meaning at all? After a few moments of being amazed by such profound thinking, I explained that the metaphor seemed flawed because the canvas is not yours alone. We all contribute to it, adding our own story to the narratives of those who came before us. The bigger picture is the story of our family, our town, our country, and the world.
Last April, I stood by the new GTFC mural painted by the Grimsby Creates collective, a group of approximately 20 artists led by Sam Delaney and Kevin Atkins. This mural vividly depicts 145 years of our club’s history through images of some of the most famous players to represent the town, including George Tweedy, Jackie Bestall, Bill Shankly, Alan Buckley, Tony Ford, Wayne Burnett, and many more. These players and managers have thrilled, inspired, and filled our days with iconic memories since that initial gathering at the Wellington Arms 145 years ago when it was decided that we should have a football club to fill the winter months.
I was overwhelmed when I first saw the mural. Not only did it carry the weight of history on the pitch through those images, but it also made me reflect on the hundreds of thousands of fans, like myself, who have walked the areas around Blundell Park for the last 124 years (we moved here in 1899). All the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who have passed through the turnstiles in our corner of North East Lincolnshire, embracing the club and taking Grimsby Town FC into their hearts. There’s no other institution that has endured for this length of time and remained such an integral part of our identity, a potent symbol of the town. Alongside the Dock Tower, built in 1852, the football club forms an iconic thread that connects us to all those who came before us, shaping our town and laying the foundations for the lives we lead today.
Describing the sense of responsibility and deep obligations that Andrew and I feel as custodians of this history is a challenging task. It fills us with immense pride to both honour the past and strive to improve this club for the future. Our aim is to keep adding positive memories to the canvas that is the history of our club and town and hoping someone will be reading another Chair’s thoughts 145 years from now.