THE inaugural Non-League Finals Day will be a strange one for Grimsby Town fans, all dependent on how today’s Vanarama National League Promotion Final pans out.
Despite a loss in the home leg of the semi-finals to Braintree, the Mariners confirmed their National League Promotion Final spot for the second season running with a memorable victory at Cressing Road last Sunday.
Make no mistake about it, even with the prestige of a Wembley day out, promotion to the Football League is the main concern for Mariners’ fans.
It speaks volumes that the club qualified for the FA Trophy final several weeks ago but they sold nearly as many tickets online for a Play Off final that they didn’t know whether they would reach or not.
Last season’s heartbreak against Bristol Rovers in the Conference Play Off final lives long in the memory. The 2015/16 campaign has all been about banishing those memories. From the ground swell of Operation Promotion to an unbeaten pre-season and a 100-plus goal campaign –make no mistake about it, Grimsby Town fans want to be lining up in League Two next season.
So that is why this season’s FA Trophy Final is such an anomaly to Mariners’ fans. On one hand it could be the club’s final match in non-league for the foreseeable future. On the other hand it could be a huge anti-climax to a season that has promised so much – the football equivalent of having a speedboat wheeled out in front of you on Bullseye when you know that you’re leaving with just your Bus Fare Home.
The Mariners have been here before, in 2013 when they faced Wrexham in the final at Wembley. But that match was crucially before the end of a campaign that finished in Play-Off failure.
If Grimsby miss out on the chance of a Football League berth again then the Trophy Final will be just a scant consolation.
That clash against Wrexham was settled on penalties. The Mariners have missed spot kicks on their last four (before that match against Forest Green Rovers) visits to the National Stadium (surely some kind of record), so they will be hoping that the match against Halifax on 22 May doesn’t go the full distance!
Not that the Shaymen have been the most favourable of opposition for the Mariners in recent seasons. After the departure of Rob Scott, Grimsby’s 4-0 reversal at Halifax probably marks as the low point of the 2013/14 campaign. And again this season, the Mariners appeared to be on their way to a title tilt against both Cheltenham and Forest Green, but a demoralising 4-2 defeat at Halifax put those hopes on the back foot.
The Shaymen have persistently caused the Mariners problems down the wings but Paul Hurst’s side have effective wide players of their own – that may give some indication as to where the final will be decided on the field.
As for Non-League Finals Day itself. The prospect of seeing Morpeth Town in action will do little outside of the non-league completest and it doesn’t seem five minutes ago that Hereford were sweeping past an Alan Buckley side on their way to League One.
It also doesn’t help that the Football Association, the organisation behind both competitions, have organised an England friendly midway through the FA Trophy Final, only due to their incompetence and short-sightedness – the eyes of the football world won’t be on the best that non-league has to offer, they’ll be halfway up the M6 instead.