Big weekend for the Mariners
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Big weekend for the Mariners

Grimsby defender Anthony Glennon wears a fish mask and holds an inflatable Harry Paddock as he and teammates celebrate their win against Southampton. (Photo: AFP)
Grimsby defender Anthony Glennon wears a fish mask and holds an inflatable Harry Paddock as he and teammates celebrate their win against Southampton. (Photo: AFP)

This weekend's FA Cup quarter-finals will witness a piece of history in the unlikely form of League Two side Grimsby Town who last season were battling away in non-league football.

The Mariners will be in action tomorrow at Brighton's Amex Stadium and you can be sure the high-flying Seagulls will be taking their surprise visitors very seriously.

Grimsby, who won promotion from the National League last season, have only been in the quarter-finals once before and that was 84 years ago.

Not only have Grimsby performed above all expectations to reach such a late stage in the Cup, but they have become the first team in the tournament's history to knock out five clubs from a higher division in one campaign.

It has been a great effort for this unfashionable club in a town that is better known for its fish than its football.

Their Cup run began with a 5-1 hammering of League One promotion candidates Plymouth Argyle in the first round back in November. Four of the goals came in a first half blitz. The second and third rounds saw victories over two more League One sides, Cambridge United and Burton Albion.

In the fourth round, the Mariners held Championship side Luton Town to a creditable 2-2 away draw and then demolished them 3-0 in the replay at Blundell Park. All three goals came in the first half.

Grimsby's biggest triumph however came in the fifth round when they overcame Premier League side Southampton 2-1 at St Mary's stadium courtesy of two spot kicks from Gavin Holohan.

The final whistle brought scenes of joy from the 4,000 travelling Grimsby supporters with many of them waving their inflatable Harry Haddock mascots.

Grimsby return to the south coast tomorrow when they take on Brighton, who are likely to be much more formidable opposition than Southampton.

However, Grimsby will make their presence felt with their travelling fans and an estimated 3,000 Harry Haddocks urging them on.

Grimsby manager Paul Hurst has not got carried away by the Cup run and has been more concerned about the Mariners' form in League Two where they are currently 15th.

On Tuesday they notched a much-needed 1-0 away win at Sutton United, giving them a confidence boost for the Brighton match.

Grimsby are no strangers to upsetting the applecart. To win promotion from the National League last season in the play-offs, they disposed of the two strong favourites, Wrexham and Notts County, and then beat Solihull Moors in the Wembley final.

It may surprise some that the club actually spent 14 years in the top flight in the years immediately before World War II finishing in fifth place in 1935.

Something often forgotten is that Grimsby were managed from 1951-53 by the great Bill Shankly five years before he was to take the reins at Liverpool.

Shankly had great praise for the team and in his autobiography wrote "you could not wish to see more entertaining football."

After Shankly's departure Grimsby became the first English club to appoint a foreign manager when in 1954 they signed Hungarian Elemer Berkessy but he lasted just one season.

Recent history has not been kind to Grimsby. After five respectable seasons in the second tier (the old Division One) from 1998-2002, they suffered successive relegations and began the 2004/5 season in League Two.

Matters got worse in 2010 when they were relegated to the Conference (National League), a bitter blow for a club that had been in the Football League since 1892.

They later won promotion back to League Two but were relegated again in 2021. However they bounced back in last season's play-offs.

With its strong links to the fishing industry, Grimsby supporters over the years have had to put up with jibes from opposing spectators on the lines of "What is it like to stink of fish?"

However Grimsby fans got into the spirit of things in the 1980s with their Harry Haddock inflatables while their fanzine was entitled "Sing When You're Fishing."

There will be plenty of singing at the Amex tomorrow and you can be sure that win or lose, the Haddock Army will be in full voice.

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