There is no road through Grimsby that leads anywhere else. The town isn’t a staging post, it’s a destination, together with Cleethorpes, the seaside resort to which it is joined.
Half a mile from the amusement arcades and fish and chip shops on every corner is Blundell Park. All that lies beyond, 120 yards beyond to be precise, is the sea wall with the River Humber and the North Sea stretching out into the distance. It is England’s closest ground to the sea.
There is something magical about supporting a football club that sits on a geographical limb. It is our Town, our club and we guard it jealously.
The club crest depicts a trawler and three fish, while Harry Haddock has once again become the FA Cup fashion accessory de jour, 34 years on from the famous day when 3,500 inflatables were thrust skywards on the away terrace for a fifth-round tie at Wimbledon’s Plough Lane.
It is rare for Grimsby Town to invade the national football consciousness, but being a Mariner is part of who we are every day. For good and bad.
Grimsby Town travel to Brighton today to take on the next step of their memorable FA Cup run
There is something magical about supporting a football club that sits on a geographical limb
It is rare for Grimsby to invade the national football consciousness but being a Mariner is part of who we are every day. For good and bad.
My first Town game was a 4-1 win against Southend in January 1972, a promotion year under Lawrie McMenemy. There have been seven more promotions since, three via the play-offs. There have been two play-off final defeats, too. And eight relegations. Sixteen changes of division in 51 seasons.
Seven days out at Wembley. Three wins, four defeats. Standing next to my dad when a Wayne Burnett golden goal won the 1998 Auto Windscreens Trophy final against Bournemouth stands out as a glorious moment of disbelief.
Losing to Bristol Rovers in a National League Play-Off final penalty shootout in 2015 is a scar that has never quite fully healed in spite of our redemption 12 months later on the same pitch.
It is never static, rarely humdrum. As high as topping the Championship table on the night that England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001. As low as being thrashed 5-0 at Braintree Town to sit bottom of the National League one month short of 10 years later.
Yet through it all, the Town fans travel in their numbers. From Chasetown to Chelsea, from Brigg Town to Brighton.
Singing songs about nights out in Nunsthorpe (a quiet residential part of Cleethorpes) and greasy chip butties and the better known ditty ‘We only sing when we’re fishing.’
The Mariners had the highest average away following in last year’s National League, while earlier this month, 4,300 made the journey to Southampton on a Wednesday night.
Even more will travel from east coast to south coast again today to face a Brighton side we shouldn’t have a prayer of beating.
On the same December Saturday when Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister helped Argentina win through to the quarter-finals in Qatar on their way to World Cup glory, I watched Town lose a League Two game 1-0 to AFC Wimbledon at the new Plough Lane. Worlds apart.
Sunday is an uneven contest. We know that. But we are there and the black and white stripes have been in much worse places.
It took us six years and three failed play-off campaigns to slog our way back to the EFL under Paul Hurst after we first dropped out of it in May 2010.
Our miraculous play-off ride to take us back into the Football League was one to remember
Paul Hurst has guided us to two promotion-winning campaigns from the National League
Last season, we came back straightaway in one technicolour flash, under Hurstie again, who was brought back to Blundell Park by our new owners, a self-made internet entrepreneur in Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit, the head of a family butchers. Town fans through and through.
If Leicester winning the Premier League was a tale of the impossible, so too was our National League play-off ride last season, beating three clubs who finished above us, two of them away from home, all of them from a goal down and all of them in the dying minutes of extra-time.
And so to this year’s cup run. We have become the first club in the history of the FA Cup proper to beat five teams from a higher division in the same season.
Can we make it six? Probably not. But we’ll still be singing. And we’ll still be proud.