(This will be going into the Squires Gate programme for my National League piece).
In my initial National League article for the club’s matchday programme I spoke about the ownership changes that some clubs have undergone throughout the past few months. One of these being Grimsby Town as John Fenty was replaced by Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit who are looking to transform the atmosphere around Blundell Park, in turn getting the Mariners back to the Football League following their relegation after a devastating 2020/21 campaign.
I spoke to Grimsby supporter Aaron Rattray to get a fan’s perspective on the changes they’ve completed thus far, before they went on to beat Eastleigh 2-0 on Saturday afternoon.
First of all, what were your initial thoughts when the new owners came in and could you tell us a little bit about their business and sporting background?
I think everybody was very happy, relieved and excited when after what seemed an eternity John Fenty finally sold up, John Fenty has presided over the club during its darkest days and there was no light at the end of the tunnel under him, in fact the dark tunnel was getting even longer! John and his mates successfully managed to alienate over 90% of the fan base and the vast majority of fans can and will never forgive Fenty for the damage he caused the club.
Jason Stockwood is a very successful businessman having held senior positions at Match.com, Lastminute.com and Skyscanner, and more recently Simply Business, an insurance company in London, Jason has been voted the best boss to work for for 2 years in a row, which provides evidence he knows how to treat people unlike Fenty who only knew how to alienate people.
Andrew Pettit like Jason, is from Grimsby but made their name outside of Grimsby, Andrew is a founding partner of Revcap, a private equity real estate business, Neither of them has any sporting background and neither has claimed to be experts in sport, their approach is very much let Paul Hurst be in charge of the football stuff and they take care of the business away from football with the help of newly appointed CEO Debbie Cook.
What did you really want them to change and what have they changed in the first few months that they’ve been here? How has this impacted the atmosphere around the club?
The entire club needed a total reset from top to bottom, we had an amateur set-up with a ticketing system which was so far behind the times it was not fit for any purpose, we had a training ground which was basically a few porta cabins and a piece of grass which was never cared for, a rotten match day experience which was a bad experience more than anything, terrible food, terrible drink, literally everything to do with the club was rotten. The new owners has been in post for just 5 months but already in that time we have an up to date ticketing system on par with what other professional clubs offer, the training ground has been totally revamped and actually looks like a professional football club’s training ground now which it did not before, the match day experience is much better now with the introduction of a fan zone, and vastly improved catering facilities which are provided by local businesses on a rotational basis so you are guaranteed a different menu every match!
It was obviously gutting to be back in the National League. However, how important was it to have a successful summer to gain some positive momentum before the new campaign started?
It is always imperative to have a successful summer, especially after relegation, the new owners immediately set about making vast improvements, a few of which I have mentioned above. Within a week of them taking over we had a totally new board of directors with everybody who was part of Fenty’s board leaving. The deeply unpopular stadium manager Nick Dale who was also Fenty’s mate departed the club shortly after the takeover was complete, we have a new CEO and new COO on top of this, so it really is a total change off the pitch and on it! In the 3 home games so far, attendances have more than doubled from what they were pre-covid, evidence that the New owners has got the rest of the fanbase onside.
What was the new owners first summer of transfer recruitment like? Was there a lot that needed to be done and would you have liked much more to have happened?
We needed an entire change off the pitch and on the pitch, off the pitch I have already spoken about but on the pitch has been a summer of recruitment with Paul Hurst making 15 signings so far, and we still have the number 9 shirt vacant so more to come at some point!
In our last piece together, you told me about how much you’d like Paul Hurst to be given what he wants within reason. What are your thoughts on the new returning manager thus far and are you excited about the upcoming months?
I have always thought that if he is given the tools to do the job then Paul Hurst will do the job, he got us promoted last time when Fenty was trying to hold him back, so what can he do now that he has greater backing from the new owners? he also achieved success at Shrewsbury, they were bottom of the league when he took over and he took them from bottom to mid table, and the following season he defied expectations and made the league 1 play off final. He then went onto Ipswich in the Championship where he was admittedly very much out of his depth, he then went on to a manage Scunthorpe who are in disarray, although he was sacked by Scunthorpe, the majority of Scunthorpe fans do believe he was harshly sacked. Now in the national league I do believe Hurst is more than capable of getting us back into the football league.
Currently Grimsby are in the top four and they’ve beaten good sides in the form of Wrexham and Torquay etc. What are your thoughts on the new squad and their footballing ability? Do you believe that it’s greatly important to have a good start and could you tell us a bit about the attitude of the players through games as they’ve now won three consecutive league games whilst conceding first?
If you look at many of the predictions from pundits and other fans alike you will see not many of them had Grimsby down as promotion contenders, most of them predicted mid table on the basis we have not made any “big” signings like Chesterfield, Wrexham and Stockport has, we have gone about our business quietly under the radar, which is how Hurst works, he quietly puts together a quality squad, Hurst’s teams has always been heavily focused on character and attitude, at the time of writing we have won 3 consecutive games despite falling behind in all of those games, evidence that the squad does have a lot of the character and never say die attitude Hurst prides himself on. Early days still of course but it is that attitude and character which has helped raise optimism and hopes among the fans, one hopes that this continues and let’s see if it can end up in promotion! I have no doubt Paul Hurst is more than capable of delivering that!
All in all, how much have the owners changed the club and do you believe there is a chance of a promotion back to the football league at first time of asking?
I have spoken heavily about the changes on and off the pitch in the answers above, to put it simply, the club is totally unrecognisable now compared to what it was under Fenty. is Promotion achievable? yes of course it is!
And touching on the national league for a second, what clubs do you expect to be up there come May and who has been your standout opponents this far?
8, You would certainly expect to see Wrexham, Stockport, Chesterfield etc being up there judging by the money they have spent, but despite spending a fraction of what they have spent, why can’t we be up there also come the end of season?
Other National League results this weekend –
Bromley 2 Barnet 0, Halifax 3 Stockport 0, Notts County 1 Maidenhead 0, Solihull Moors 3 Boreham Wood 1, Torquay United 1 Southend United 0, Wealdstone 2 Aldershot Town 2, Wrexham 1 Dagenham 0, Yeovil Town 0 Chesterfield 2, Weymouth 1 Dover Athletic 1.