Trawlermen and tourists built Grimsby and Cleethorpes, the adjoining Humberside port and resort now back on the Football League map after a six-year absence.
Representing the fishing community since 1878, based at Blundell Park by the seafront at Cleethorpes since 1899, Grimsby Town swept back to League Two after a play-off win at Wembley in May 2016.
Marketed with its smarter neighbour as Greater Grimsby, mocked in Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie of the same name in 2016, Grimsby has not featured in football’s hierarchy since the 1930s. The Mariners made two FA Cup semi-finals in the immediate pre-war period, one attracting a record attendance at Old Trafford that stands to this day. They haven’t graced the top flight since 1948.
Cut off by water on one side and miles of marshes and farmland on the other, Grimsby has proved a hardy if modest footballing outpost. The divide between Grimsby and Cleethorpes is barely visible – Park Street is also parallel to Peaks Parkway, where a new stadium has long been proposed – whereas the might Humber estuary not only separates The Mariners from nearest rivals Hull City but sedate Lincolnshire from sports-mad East Yorkshire.
While rugby league, cricket and football are followed with passion north of the Humber, Lincolnshire is where you might find stock-car racing, roller derby and, back in the day, bandy on the Fens.
As a busy port, however, Grimsby embraced football early on. When, in 1878, members of Worsley Cricket Club wanted to form a football club for winter sport and call it Grimsby Pelham, they found there were two others with the same name. Both Pelham and Worsley are linked with the Earl of Yarlborough, whose 28,000-acre Brocklesby estate is just outside Grimsby near today’s Humberside Airport.
After a first application to join the Football League, this new club became Grimsby Town.
The pub where they met, the Wellington Arms on Freeman Street, reopened in 2014. The club’s first ground, Clee Park, also lay on the borderline between Grimsby and Cleethorpes, close to today’s Blundell Park.
After Clee Park, it was at Abbey Park that The Mariners started out in the Football League in 1892, close to today’s Peaks Parkway.
As and when the new stadium is built, Blundell Park, Findus Stand, Pontoon Stand, biting North Sea wind and all, will bid farewell to well over a century of action, in all divisions, including the recent six-year stint in the National League.
Further down the pyramid, in the Northern Counties East League, Grimsby Borough and Cleethorpes Town share the Bradley Football Development Centre, an excellent 20-pitch community resource in Bradley, south-west of Grimsby.
Underused Humberside Airport is 20km (12.5 miles) west of Grimsby. The hourly Humber Flyer bus connects with Grimsby (40min journey time), Cleethorpes (1hr journey time) and Hull. Stagecoach also runs the ten-route Simplibus network that serves Grimsby and Cleethorpes. A single ticket is £1.55, a Dayrider pass £3.20, pay on board. Buses set off from Riverhead Exchange, close to Grimsby Town train station.
Mainline trains to Grimsby and Cleethorpes (10min away) from London Kings Cross require one change at either Doncaster or Newark Northgate (total journey time 3hrs, £44 cheapest online single) – there’s a direct hourly service from Manchester Piccadilly (2hr 20min, £21 online). Between Grimsby Town and Cleethorpes, the smaller stations of Grimsby Docks and New Clee, nearest to Blundell Park, are on the infrequent Barton Line, operated by northern. New Clee is only a request stop with trains every 2hrs – Cleethorpes is a more practical option for the stadium.
Taxi Cabs Grimsby (01472 343 434) is a reliable local firm.
By the ground, the Blundell Park Hotel was put on the market in 2015 after its long-term owner retired – its bar remains a popular spot for a pre-match drink.
You’ll find a string of hotels and guesthouses set in from the Cleethorpes seafront, a mile or so from the ground, and, in the other direction, a smaller cluster near Grimsby Town train station.
On Kingsway, overlooking the beach, the comfortable Sherwood and neighbouring Mansfield (No.13, 01472 603 860) are affordable B&Bs. At No.20-21, the Kings Royal Hotel (01472 691 012) is known more for its Irish pub, Mucky Muldoon’s, and regular live-music agenda.
On Sea View Street by Central Promenade, The Notts is a notch-above, family-run, three-room hotel, formerly known as Nottingham House, above an excellent restaurant and real-ale pub.
At the southern edge of Cleethorpes seafront, surrounded by theme parks and family-friendly entertainment, you’ll also find a Premier Inn at windswept Meridian Point.
All these properties are served by bus Nos.9 and 10 that run to Blundell Park.
Another hub of lodgings lines Isaac’s Hill, close to the roundabout of the same name near Cleethorpes station. Standing out with its colourful garden, the award-winning, 27-room Adelaide has been run by the same couple for three decades. A full breakfast is included in the room rate. The long-established Albany Guest House is also reassuringly traditional. Equally comfortable and affordable Claydens (01472 602 223) stands at No.6.
Bus Nos.3, 5, 9 and 10 run from Isaac’s Hill Roundabout to Blundell Park.
The most recommendable accommodation near Grimsby Town station is the three-star, 125-room St James Hotel in the Corus group, looking somewhat spiffier than its façade suggests thanks to a recent refurb. Its in-house restaurant and function room are usually busy at weekends.
Beer and seaside resorts go hand in hand. Cleethorpes is full of pubs – those at the station are particularly convenient as pre-match options.
The High Street is a good place to start, close to beach and station. The Coliseum Picture Theatre is a busy Wetherspoons set in what was an Art Deco cinema in the 1920s. Close by, the Scratching Post has just had enormous HD screens installed for match action – somehow squeezing them into the intimate, friendly space. Also offering live sport but in an atmosphere more inducive to cocktail sipping, and nearer the sea, Harveys is a cut above the average resort pub. Alongside, on the corner of Grant Street, The Swashbuckle, in the same building as the BarRacuda, puts the focus on TV football, drinks deals and live music.
You’ll find more options on High Cliff Road, just behind Central Promenade. Popular Willys has TV, sea views and its own in-house brewery, while nearby and equally revered, The Smugglers is Cleethorpes’ only cellar bar. Handpull ales (Marston’s Pedigree, Jennings Cumberland), TV football and recommendable fish and cajun-spiced chips provide ample reason to visit.
Pubs and bars in Grimsby hark back to its maritime heritage, with a more workaday feel. The Ice Barque, a Wetherspoons, is named after the Norwegian ships that traded from across the North Sea.
The Barge is just that, a superb, cosy ale bar moored on an inlet right in the centre of Grimsby, just big enough for punters to tuck into hearty mains such as Sunday roasts.
The Hope & Anchor at 148 Victoria Street, currently undergoing a change of management, is a tidy boozer with a pool table, dartboard and TV football. Walter’s is a typical city-centre pub with a range of ales and programme of karaoke and tribute acts.
On the stadium side of town, the roomy, traditional Duke of Wellington attracts regulars with its TV football, pub grub and pub games. It’s a 20min walk to Blundell Park, over a level crossing, down Hainton Avenue/Freeman Street to the end, then right along Cleethorpe Road.