By Gerry PrewettThis weekend Bristol Rovers, who finished 2nd in the Vanarama Conference face Grimsby Town, who finished 3rd, looking to grab the second promotion spot back to League football.
Both clubs have a rich history in the football league. Grimsby Pelham was founded in 1878, five years before the Black Arabs in Bristol. Like Rovers the club was founded in a public house.
Pelham, was the family name of the Earl of Yarborough, a significant landowner in the Grimsby area. The club moved twice before settling at their present home Blundell Park in 1899.
The club had joined the League in 1892, when it was expanded to two divisions. Their first game was a 2–1 victory over Northwich Victoria. In 1900–01 they finished Champions of the Second Division with 49 points from 34 games, one ahead of Small Heath. Two years later they were back down and within a decade they were out of the League, albeit for just one season.
Following the commencement of League football after First World War Grimsby Town was relegated to the new Third Division; in the initial 1920–21 season they played against the former members of the Southern League who had been invited to form the new division, but after a year an equivalent Third Division North was created and Grimsby moved across to that.
It was during this season that the Mariners were to meet the Pirates for the first time in League action. Rovers winning the home game 2-0 on 14 September 1920 and Grimsby winning the return fixture just four days later 3-1. By 1929 they were back in Division One, where they stayed (with a brief break from 1932 to 1934) until 1939, obtaining their highest-ever league position, 5th in Division One, in the 1934–35 season.
World War again brought a halt of football activity and once more the Lincolnshire team were to suffer from the break being relegated at the end of the 1947–48 season, their last ever at the top level. In 1950-51 they again suffered relegation. Five years later they bounced back as Division 3 North Champions. From July 1951 to January 1953 they were managed by the legendry Bill Shankly.
There were just three years in Division Two before they were down again, but it took three more years for them to go back up to Division 2. The end of 1963-64 saw them back down again and this time it was a slippery slope as they dropped down to Division Four at the end of 1967-68 on goal average.
Three years later 22,489 people witnessed a home victory against Exeter City that saw the club promoted as Division Four Champions. This turnaround was credited to the appointment of Lawrie McMenemy as manager. The club stayed in Division Three until relegation in 1977 but were promoted again in 1979. A year later they finished as Third Division Champions under the stewardship of George Kerr and returned to the second tier of the English game, a level they had not been at for 16 years.
The first season back (1980–81) saw the club finish 7th. After finishing 17th and 19th in the 1983–84 season the club finished fifth in the Second Division after spending most of the latter part of the campaign in the top three promotion places.
This was their highest league finish since the 1947–48 season. Grimsby's stay in the Second Division ended in 1987. They actually spent much of the 1986–87 season in the top half of the table, but a run of 8 losses and 2 draws in the final 10 games saw them fall from 8th to 21st.
Their suffering did not stop there as the following season experienced a second consecutive relegation, placing them in the Fourth Division. Alan Buckley was appointed Manager after the 1988 relegation and by 1991 had led the club to two successive promotions. Grimsby held on the Second Division football for six years.
In the 1996–97 season the Mariners were relegated from Division One. The following season saw the return of Alan Buckley as manager, after an unsuccessful period at West Bromwich Albion, for Grimsby's most successful post-war season. With much Cup success Grimsby were still able to finish in a play off spot and face Northampton Town. The Mariners won the game 1–0 thanks to a first half Kevin Donovan goal.
The 1998–99 season saw Grimsby finish in 11th place, but the 1999–2000 season saw them struggle and finish 20th, only just avoiding relegation. After more seasons of struggle 2002–03 season, was a disaster for Grimsby Town. They Grimsby finished bottom of Division One and were relegated after five seasons at this level.
Following their relegation the Mariners found life tough in Division Two and they soon dropped into the relegation zone and went down again on the last day of the season.
With Russell Slade in the hot seat for the 2005–06 season the Mariners went into the final day of the season in 4th place with a chance of beating Orient to 3rd spot and an initial automatic promotion place well within reach. The club were one minute away from automatic promotion, but a late Lee Steele goal giving Orient victory at Oxford United condemned Grimsby to the play-offs.
The Mariners faced local rivals Lincoln City in the play-offs semi-finals, going on to win 3–1 on aggregate. In the final they faced Cheltenham Town at The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff but, lost 1–0.
The next four seasons saw a depressing decline at this once proud club, with finishes of 15, 16, 22 and finally 23rd in 2009-10, to see the demise of League football in Cleethorpes. After two seasons of finishing 11th, Town then rose to 4th twice where they lost both times at the semi-final stage. This season they have gone one better and are hoping to regain their League status.