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Blundell Park

Blundell Park, Sidney Sussex, Cleethorpes

A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.

Bill Shankley.  (ex-Manager, Grimsby Town).

Blundell Park at the centre of our area, has had more words written about it and its players, than any other part of our ward. Acres of print on the subject already exist and are added to weekly. Consequently this article will simply look at some of the more ancient historical aspects.

Football of one type or another, has existed in most parts of England since medieval times, but as many people know, Grimsby Town football started with ……………  Cricket!

In our area, team football, as opposed to individual football, seems to have started and was organised about 1858 by a Mr Guilliatt, then the veteran school master at the Central Market Church School, Grimsby.

It appears that it was necessary to buy for each match a pig bladder from a friendly butcher at a cost of three halfpence and place it in a pre-prepared leather case.   This was blown up through the stem part of a clay pipe, which as most men of the time smoked, was easily available.

This produced a rather oval ball but this did not seem to matter as there was no other team in the area to object!  Mr Guilliatt simply split the players into two teams each week which he decided on the day and they played without benefit of a referee (known then as an umpire).

The rules were extremely primitive and it was important to have your largest and strongest players in goal, as they had a particularly rough time.  Matches were played regularly next to a manure factory and perhaps due to the smell, no gate money was charged to spectators and the field used, was also free to the players.

As far as cricket is concerned, it had been played as a team sport for some while. As far back as 1848, return matches were played between the Great Grimsby Cricket Club and the Hull Athenaeum, which were well attended by the public.  However this was perhaps due to the fact that admission was free and other exciting events occurred at the same event, such as the assent of a hot air balloon at one match, by a Lieut. Gala of the Royal Navy.

This incidentally, was the year the Grimsby railway bridge near the church was finished. One of the workers being Tom Sayers, bare-knuckle champion of England. It will come as no surprise to learn that regular prize fights were held, usually in the Fitties, during this construction period.

 But in the cricket world and by 1858, there was still only one team in the area – the Grimsby Juvenile Cricket Club, from which was born the Grimsby Worsley C.C. This team had, of course, as supporter and benefactor, Lord Worsley of Brocklesby Park.

It was members of this team that met one night in 1878 at the Wellington Arms in Grimsby and decided they wanted to have a team sport in between cricket seasons and thus formed Grimsby Pelham F.C . , so named after the family name of the Earl of Yarborough.

This name was, however, changed the following year to Grimsby Town F.C.

Initially the team played at Clee Park in a field between Grimsby Road and the seashore. They quite quickly moved to the field close by, around where Lovett Street is situated today. There were virtually no facilities and soon they decided to look for another home.

So in 1880, the football club moved back to the original site known as, Clee Park Gardens, although it took another two years before they had anything like reasonable changing facilities – being two bathing machines acquired from the beach!  They played on that site until 1889, when the lease expired and all of that park was required for building purposes.

They then moved to Abbey Park which was next to the Central Park in Grimsby.  The owner of that site –The Right Honorable Edward Heneage, Liberal Unionist M.P. for Grimsby, was concerned regarding behavior problems and eventually in 1899 arranged for the club to move back to Cleethorpes – this time to Blundell Park. At that time Mr J.H. Alcock had paid £7500 to Sidney Sussex College for 7.25 acres of land to build an hotel (The Imperial) and he agreed to have the football club on the spare land at the back.

The land was where a brick and tiles works had been sited, behind an area that once had been a huge pit from which clay had been extracted to make products.  There had been three such pits in the land between here and Issacs Hill.  This particular area, before it was filled in, became known as the The Old  Pit Pond.  It was on this site that the Ritz Cinema was eventually built.

 A windmill for extracting water was originally situated where the Imperial Hotel now stands.

 Blundell Park was named after Peter Blundell, whose money enabled Sidney Sussex College to buy the land way back in 1616.  The club brought two stands with them from Abbey Park but again had no changing rooms of their own, so used the Imperial Hotel.

It was in this first season at that ground when the Grimsby left back accidently kicked an opponent in the stomach. The man unfortunately died the next day.

Since the 1990s, the Club has been attempting to find a new ground.  As at the date of this article all of the suggestions and attempts (and there have been several) have failed.   All we can do, is to wish the club better fortune in the future.

 It is often forgotten, perhaps due to recent setbacks, that the club has had many successes and is the only Lincolnshire Club to have played top-flight football, has reached an F.A. semi-final on two occasions and has won at the old Wembley Stadium in two finals.  They were founder members of the Football Alliance in 1889 and founder members of Football League division two in1899.

When will the Mariners glory days return?  This is anyone’s guess – but let us hope soon.