Just over 10 years ago, Grimsby Town, managed by Lennie Lawrence, were second in the Championship and talking about winning promotion to the Premier League. It was, as most supporters acknowledged at the time, always an unlikely prospect – the Mariners have always been chronically under-resourced, and a couple of injuries quickly put their ambitions in context – but the most pessimistic Grimsby fan could not have imagined that a decade on they would be out of the League altogether.
The more sanguine among the 2,100 who travelled from north-east Lincolnshire managed to sing about it – 'Whatever will be will be, we're going to Salisbury' – but the atmosphere, once Burton went ahead in the 10th minute, was volatile. Police and stewards went beyond the call of duty to keep the more idiotic Grimsby fans off the pitch during the game, and were unable to do so once the final whistle brought the curtain down on almost 100 years of League football. At least 20 Grimsby fans were ejected, and there were 12 arrests. One report suggested a Grimsby fan had kicked out at the scorer of the third Burton goal, Shaun Harrad, although Harrad said afterwards he was unaware of any contact.
Town were remarkably unlucky – they hit the post twice, the first time barely 20 seconds before the Burton opener – and faced a goalkeeper, Kevin Poole, who belied his 46 years with a string of superb saves. But as Grimsby's manager, Neil Woods, said afterwards, it was failing to win any of 25 games between September and February which did for them.
Chairman John Fenty looked shell-shocked, though Barnet's late winner against Rochdale rendered Grimsby's result irrelevant. Berated by some supporters to his face, Fenty promised the club would stay full-time, protect the job of every employee, and try to bounce back immediately. "Financially it's a massive blow, but we have some good directors and we'll be doing our best to regroup and make sure we have a squad capable of winning promotion next season," he said.
A decision on the future of Woods would be made by the board, he said, although he felt recent form – four wins, a draw and a loss from six games – was an indication that Woods deserved a chance to bring them straight back. "After 100 years of League football, it's not nice that this should happen on my watch," he added, quietly. Woods was equally bereft. "I can't find the words," he said. "It'll have a big effect on the area, we know that."