Read Jason Stockwood’s notes from Tuesday night’s edition of ‘The Mariner’ against Salford City.
Welcome to tonight’s game and to everyone associated with Salford City FC. We hope you’ve had a good journey over the M62. From our previous encounters we know it will be an entertaining game against a Club that is clearly ambitious. Salford and their high profile owners have found a manager in Neil Wood who could take them one step closer than the play-off defeat of last season.
At the end of last season, everyone who works at the GTFC was exhausted. We had achieved a historic quarter-final run in the FA Cup and our highest league position in 17 years. As fans, those were brilliant days for us, but for everyone working at the Club, the demanding Saturday and Tuesday game rhythm, additional match preparation, increased ticket office sales and added media responsibilities took a toll. The off-season then brought a surge in activity on the recruitment side and the management of operations and infrastructure, because this is often the only time some of that work can be addressed. There is a relentless pace in professional sport, especially for club management, and finding genuine periods of recovery can be rare.
And yet, thanks to our teams, led by Debbie and our manager Paul, we found ourselves rejuvenated and ready for the new season. We definitely felt much better prepared than last year when our pre-season was truncated to four weeks because the National League finished in June and the EFL started in July to accommodate the mid-season break for the World Cup.
We started to think about how we could use this time more effectively at least six months ago, particularly Joe Hutchinson, our head of recruitment, who began working on the 11 signings we have made way ahead of the summer window. It was pleasing to get most of our first-choice targets signed early to enable a full pre-season schedule, including a week for the squad in Spain. Confidence comes in part from clear planning and preparation. Although this in no way guarantees success, it definitely helps.
For Grimsby Town, in our second season back in the EFL, there is a sense of déjà vu reminiscent of 2021 when we faced Wrexham, Stockport and Notts County in the National League. In my opinion, all three of these clubs have rightfully earned their place in the EFL. For many, we are outside the odds for promotion. It’s a great motivation to go up against the big money teams and crowds at clubs such as Stockport, Bradford, Notts County and Wrexham.
The early results have been mixed for these teams but I don’t think we’ll get a real sense of teams’ levels until we get through 10 games. At Notts County on Saturday we saw the attacking options they have in abundance so they will definitely be up there come April. As for Wrexham, their stated goal is to be an established Premier League club and Mickey Thomas recently said they were “like a super club now. They get mentioned in the same breath as Liverpool, United and Chelsea.” It creates an additional layer of drama that away days at King’s Lynn and Wealdstone two seasons ago couldn’t live up to.
Of all the teams mentioned, and even though their first two games have been narrow losses, I think the infrastructure, professionalism and budget of Stockport give them the strongest chance to challenge for the title. That said, Carlisle’s promotion to League One and Luton’s promotion to the Premier League, both with one of the lowest budgets in their relative divisions, were a wonderful reminder of what the game can throw up in terms of surprises. Both teams act as inspiration for outsiders and underdogs such as us.
Whilst there is obviously work to do for us, I have been encouraged by some of the football we have played in our first few games. Particularly for a team that is still looking to gel and for some players to get some consistent game time together. We have upgraded, but so has the League and feel energised and filled with a renewed sense of aspiration and optimism. Ultimately, this yearly renewal is why we love the game, the chance to flood our lives with raw emotions and create new memories as the worst of the past fades to grey and the future starts to come into sharp focus, full of potential, hope and togetherness.