Grimsby Town held a fan’s forum last night, but the evening descended into farcical scenes as panel members aired personal grievances and argued in front of a fractured room.
Before I go on, I take no pleasure in hearing football fans in turmoil as their club is ripped apart by the board and owners. I know Grimsby fans and I respect them for supporting their local club. They’re just like you and me, certainly the majority of them are. However, at present they’ve got a board that seems intent on ripping the club apart.
The night was hosted by the BBC’s Matt Dean and had, amongst others, director Steve Marley, John Fenty, manager Russell Slade and Assistant Manager Paul Wilkinson on the panel. Within five minutes John Fenty had moved to dampen the ‘animosity’ that has been circulating around the club at the moment. He hoped the evening would be a chance to air all their issues and come out smelling of roses. After that followed a rather in-depth analysis of tactics and approach by Russell Slade (very useful for opponents, cheer Russell) a fan vented his frustration and this is where the night got very interesting.
To kick off the evening’s proceedings in proper fashion, Mariners fan Steve Kirkby then summed up the feeling amongst the Grimsby faithful.
“It’s hard to believe that it was only 2015/16 season that Operation Promotion was launched and after six long years we got back into the Football League. This should have been the platform to go on to bigger and better things but I feel the club has lost a bit of that feel-good factor and momentum. Nobody could have predicted that Paul Hurst would leave but his choice to manage at a higher level looks a good one personally. The facts are since 2016 we’ve had three managers, a ridiculous turnover of players and only one remaining member of that promotion winning squad. This is what has caused discontent amongst supporters … Lets get those attendances back up again, which is a real concern, and remember it is the fans that make this football club and not any one individual.”
John Fenty, burned. He retorted with reasons why Hurst might have requested a move and the personal abuse he had suffered. He spoke of the fan’s reaction after their first-leg defeat to Danny Cowley’s Braintree. His Mercedes SV50 (expensive apparently) had suffered a deep scratch and other vandalism. He told of the ‘huge abuse’ both he and Paul Hurst suffered in making the play-offs. After Hurst left fans that demanded he be removed have allegedly demanded to know why more wasn’t done to keep him at the club. Fenty said they did their best, they made him feel ‘sore as hell,’ going on to say that right now Fenty himself feels ‘sore as hell’. He said “I don’t like the abuse I’ve received in the last few weeks, last few years if I’m honest but the last few weeks have been the highest level I’ve experienced. I’m not a dictator, this is a democracy.”
Fenty looked beleaguered, under pressure and a little aloof. Much of his anger comes from social media interaction, he feels that posters on ‘Cod Almighty’ and ‘The Fishy’ have attacked him personally. He started by saying how his door was always open for debate, then seconds later how he wouldn’t ever speak to two posters again as they had got personal and aggressive. Surely, the chairman of a football club should not be as active on social media, should he? We all know message boards are places where extreme views and opinions are expressed, yet Mr Fenty is taking that very personally.
Fans 1-0 Board
The night ploughed on like a slow-moving car crash of a radio show, careering from the central reservation to the outer crash barrier and back. The panel was hammered for their acceptance of the Checkatrade Trophy, Fenty claiming some fans were openly bullied on social media. Steve Marley, a thoroughly unlikable character at the far end of the panel, spoke of the financial benefits, causing fans to question what price he put on the club’s integrity. If the Premier League came calling, would they sell out? Fenty rightly pointed out that as per the Football League’s constitution only eight clubs would need to oppose a move for B Teams in the structure and that it simply wouldn’t happen. The panel then used us as an example of a club embracing the Checkatratde trophy, suggesting the low turnout for their Sunderland game was because the game was dead rubber, citing our own attendance for Notts County as proof the competition wasn’t all bad.
Fans 1-1 Board.
The subject of departing players came up later, not only the recent sale of Shaun Pearson and purchase of Nathan Clarke, but also the release of Nathan Arnold. Fenty claimed Arnold had ‘messed the club about’ with regards to a new deal, perhaps missing out the salient point about different offers at different times of the year. He blamed Paul Hurst for the break up of the team, saying he felt the side wasn’t good enough to compete and that Fenty himself wouldn’t have got rid of so many players. It was an embarrassing tactic, blaming the man who’d already left the club.
The fans then turned on Russell Slade’s decision to bring in Nathan Clarke and release Shaun Pearson. As Slade discussed the move he mentioned bringing in Clarke to which one fan shouted ‘who isn’t as good’. Slade gave him the eyes back and replied ‘in your opinion’.
Stay classy Grimsby. Still Fans 1-1 Board, nobody gets any credit from that embarrassing exchange.
Next fans claimed Grimsby had not done enough to capitalise on promotion, citing our attendances and theirs as prime evidence we were doing what they should have done. Fenty battled back claiming our cup run and title win had been far more attractive than them stumbling into the Football League on the back off ill-feeling. He then asked “Are we bigger than Lincoln?” before answering his own question “Yes we are.” You may well be John, but season ticket sales, league position and fan contentment suggest at this moment in time you have some recovering to do.
He then spoke about the decision to release season tickets late, saying that the club do it every year so the memories of the previous season can be forgotten. “If we’ve had a bad season, the packs will get put straight in the bin,” was his argument. Basically, Grimsby sell tickets late hoping that between the end of the season and the new offers coming out, fans have forgotten the contempt which they’re treated with and the sub-standard football on offer. That’s not only misleading fans but also telling them to their faces.
Fans 2-1 Board.
Then a quick own goal from Fenty gave the fans a unassaible lead. He was asked by the floor “Can we have a bigger pitch please?”. “We have a big pitch,” he replied. “Our pitch is only just smaller than Wembley.” Quick as a flash the retort came back. “Can we start using it then, please.”
Boom, Fans 3-1 Board.
Next Omar Bogle. When Grimsby got promoted they released ‘Operation Promotion’. I remember it well, working in Cod land I was subjected to taunts about how much they could raise compared to us. Their fans believed the money went some way to signing Omar Bogle and now they’re unhappy with his sale being for an undisclosed fee. Furthermore, Fenty revealed there had been a sell-on clause but as he’d sold for the same price Wigan paid, they got no monies. Steve Marley chimed in stating categorically that Operation Promotion did not pay for Bogle. It’s a ‘urban myth’ he claimed. Omar Bogle had already been scouted and budgeted for. Essentially Grimsby fans, your money went elsewhere and you need to stop whining. It was cringeworthy, a slap in the face to those who did raise money.
Fans 4-1 Board.
The subject of new investment came up and Marley commented that a cash-rich individual had been approached to come on board, but refused as he didn’t want the abuse that the other board members suffered. Matt Dean, in his capacity as a journalist, asked who it was. Marley told him he wouldn’t answer that and if Dean expected him to he was suffering from ‘rank stupidity’. A fan from the floor questioned the statement and Marley told him to ‘shut up’ curtly. The fans erupted, Marley the subject of much of the discontent. “you’re not fit to represent us on the board” was one audible cry.
Matt Dean defended himself, saying had he not asked the question he would be fundamentally failing to do his job as a journalist. The room had now turned to journalistic integrity and if the bubbling issue hadn’t surfaced just yet, it was about to. Fenty steadied himself for the killer blow, Dean was possibly unawares that his role of compere was about to take a vicious turn for the worst.
Fans 5-1 Board.
The debate swung onto the subject that has ‘gripped’ the area recently. Curtis Woodhouse allegedly attended Grimsby Town for advice about coaching recently. Matt Dean the BBC reporter for Grimsby Town, suggested he was close to becoming Slade’s assistant. The club put out childish statements telling him directly he was wrong, hanging the journalist out to dry. The report surfaced again the next day and the same childish battle ensued. Last night, Fenty smelled blood, it was as if Matt conducting the panel had been set up so he could be hung out to dry. I have to transcribe what I can because frankly, it was unbelievable what followed.
Fenty: “We have been pilloried as a football club for batting down a story that had no foundation, or a foundation which should have been researched. Now we have been pilloried for that, and I would like to get to the bottom of it. And secondly, when the club made its first statement to rebuff what you said, you weren’t content with that – the next day you said that you had it on good authority that, effectively, the board intervened and stopped this happening.”
Dean: “I didn’t actually say that. That was your inference. That’s the way it was interpreted.”
Fenty: “An inference means an awful lot to fans, because they can be led. If you led them in that way, then please answer to why you did that?”
Dean: “As you well know John, I had a meeting with club officials last week, and we discussed this.”
Director Phillip Day: “Yes we did.”
Fenty: “I didn’t know about this.”
Fenty didn’t even know Matt Dean had been in for a meeting at the club! He had attacked him in front of a baying crowd, only to be told the issue had been sorted. Dean wouldn’t have expected an issue he thought to be resolved to surface, but it didn’t deter Fenty, he continued.
Fenty: “At the end of the day, we got pilloried for putting out a statement that rebuffed a nonsensical, didn’t happen, event. It was then followed up by suggesting that the board had intervened – suggested, inference, or whatever you want to call it. We then put out another statement. There was a raft of fans that think we were wrong to rebuff that. How can we leave in the arena that Curtis has been appointed as first-team coach which, without all the speculation that brought at the time, without rebuffing it. How can the club be wrong? Can anybody really honestly answer that?”
Russell Slade chimed in telling Matt Dean that trust had been broken and that previous managers had said the same. Dean, by now desperately trying to defend his journalistic integrity, said; “I’ve been a journalist for twenty years…”
Before he could finish a fan chimed in; “Yes, and all that time you’ve been shit.”
It was embarrassing that a man paid to write reports was being harassed in such a way, especially by a man such as Fenty who, earlier in the forum, had lashed out at fans bullying each other on social media. The whole event was shambolic, a man was being openly bullied by those he sought to report on and those he broadcasts to.
By the end of proceedings there were no winners, the room argued with themselves, some fans apologising to Matt Dean, others steadfastly demanding he apologise and arguing he was absolutely in the wrong. The panel had somehow managed to worm around key issues such as the club’s failure to capitalise on promotion, selling off the crown jewels and even got away with a board member telling fans to shut up! As the curtain came down it was Matt Dean, a man paid to write stories and rely on sources, who looked the one under pressure. Shameful, disgusting and shambolic are just three words that describe the way he was treated and probably accurately describe the way the club is being run.
I hope Grimsby fans eventually find some light at the end of the tunnel, whilst Fenty and the board are actively looking to sell, they have not run the club into the ground, they’re only just outside the play offs. There are clearly fundamental issues between both parties that need sorting though if they’re to make progress. May I tentatively suggest to the board that the best way to sort them may not be slanging matches and mud-slinging live on the radio, or trying to hang a journalist out to dry because he was misled by one single source.
To end: Matt Dean didn’t vandalise Fenty’s car or abuse Paul Hurst, Matt Dean didn’t let the promotion winning squad break up and leave, Matt Dean didn’t vote for the Checkatrade Trophy’s current format against fans wishes, Matt Dean isn’t to blame for Blundell Park being run down with over flowing toilets and creaking facilities, Matt Dean didn’t appoint Marcus Bignot, Matt Dean didn’t sell season tickets late trying to bury a bad season and Matt Dean does not tell fans to shut up if they disagree with his reports. I’m sorry, but from an amateur journalist / reporter to one who has been in the job 20 years; you were treated disgustingly last night and deserve better.
Grimsby Town is in melt down and they way things stand, something has to give.