Iron sink Mariners
Grimbsby Town 0 Braintree Town 1
Davis (53, pen)
5,271 (Braintree 82)
OK, this wasn't technically a '92' ground. I completed the 2015/2016 92 a few weeks ago at Southend but of course come August there will be some changes to the composition of the 92. I suppose you could say I was gambling with this one; gambling that Grimsby would win through to League 2 in the play-offs. If they don't manage it then nothing is lost, I'd never been to Blundell Park and at least it knocks off another of the '116' (that's the 92 plus tier 5, the National League).
The prospect of doing another play-off game was too enticing for me - they are always special occasions whatever the level - so off I went up to Grimsby for their semi-final first leg game in the Vanarama National League.
It was a long trip! Blundell Park is actually in Cleethorpes not Grimsby contrary to expectation albeit that didn't make difference to the 140 mile trip. It is what we would call a traditional ground, set among the houses with four huge floodlight towers at each corner meaning you can see it for miles around. I parked alongside Stanley Park and walked the few hundred yards to the ground from there.
Walking around the ground it is a mixture of old and not so old. Those floodlight towers are very rusty and look like a good sea breeze could easily bring them down while the one stand on the East touchline is a modern looking affair with a row of glass fronted hospitality boxes running along its length between a small lower tier and a much larger upper tier. The TV gantry was up in the roof of that stand which is sponsored appropriately by Findus, the fish people! There are low covered seating areas at each end and then a very old main stand that runs along the other touchline. I am told that parts of the old "Main Stand" date as far back as 1901 which would make it one of the oldest surviving grandstands in the country. Looking at the rotting wood cladding on the seaward side of that stand I could well believe it too! The Mariners were formed way back in 1878 and have been playing at Blundell Park since 1898.
I was in the home end, the Pontoon Stand, named after the fish docks in Grimsby where fishermen would work on pontoon decking. It is an all seated area as is the whole of the stadium and for this game at least it was just about full with an assortment of black and while striped shirts and inflatable fish. They were a noisy lot these Mariners and not slow to get on the backs of their side when things went wrong on the pitch!
Braintree Town are one of the new boys in English football having only come into being under their current name in the early 80s. The club changed its name from the even less glamourous Braintree and Crittall Athletic in 1981 and they have risen through the ranks of the game since then to achieve their highest ever finish this season, third in the National League. Braintree are still a team of part time professionals who mostly have their day jobs to fit their football around while Grimsby are fully professional having been in the football league as recently as 2010. They have reached the play-offs every season since but have lost out each time.
It was a good game. Grimsby dominated the possession throughout with a mammoth 75% of the ball but sadly they did little with it and a succession of half chances went begging with poor finishing and tidy keeping by Braintree's Tom King who was, bizarrely, missed off the squad listings n the back of the programme! Braintree's part timers seemed content to watch and wait. Then, just eight minutes into the second half Josh Gowling crashed into Simeon Akinola and the ref pointed to the spot. Kenny Davis put the kick away and that was that. For the rest of the game, Grimsby attacked but seldom got close to scoring. The home crowd got increasingly frustrated both with the referee who turned down a good shout for a penalty for the home side and also their own players. I guess the frustration of missing out on three successive rounds of play-offs has taken its toll.
The second leg is now down at Braintree's Cressing Road ground in Essex on Sunday and I am sure it will be another close run thing. There is no reason why Grimsby can't turn this around but they will need to find a cutting edge; they may be better prepared that their part time opponents who were back at work today after arriving home in the early hours of the morning. Suffice to say I will not be making the trip to Essex having suffered several motorway closures last night on the way home; I only arrived home at 12:30 am!