The day that Harry Haddock became a huge part of Grimsby Town folklore was one of what might have been for Alan Buckley’s young side.
After an exciting cup run that took in victories over Third Division leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fourth Division leaders Rotherham United, First Division Middlesbrough and Third Division Reading, the Mariners faced their sternest task with a trip to FA Cup holders Wimbledon.
The inflatable craze had taken English football by storm, primarily giant bananas at Manchester City. Not to be outdone, the Mariners unveiled Harry Haddock (more of a rainbow trout), thanks to an initiative launched by the Grimsby Telegraph’s Nigel Lowther.
Harry began to be a regular fixture on the terraces at Blundell Park and even began to appear at away games, as Buckley’s side won a thrilling Fourth Round replay at Reading.
But nothing could have prepared the football world for the sight of 7,000 Mariners’ fans crammed into Plough Lane (outnumbering their top flight counterparts considerably), the majority of whom were wielding an inflatable fish.
Shooting towards the large ranks of Mariners’ fans in the first half, Buckley’s side responded well to the party atmosphere behind the goal. Town settled quickly and took the game to their loftier opponents, duly taking the lead on 14 minutes.
A corner from the right was swung in to the near post, where Keith Alexander stole a march on his marker and headed past the stranded Hans Segers.
Buckley’s brand of football was the polar opposite to the hoof and rush employed by the Dons and, in truth, the London side couldn’t get near the Fourth Division Mariners in the first half.
Town nearly fashioned a second before the break. A raking pass forward found the run of Shaun Cunnington in behind the Dons’ defence, and he pulled the ball back for Kevin Jobling to loft a cross into the box that Richard O’ Kelly narrowly flashed over the bar.
Wimbledon regrouped at the break and, with the pitch becoming even more of a quagmire, their direct style of play came to the fore.
They drew level just before the hour when Dennis Wise’s shot took a deflection that evaded Steve Sherwood in the goal and allowed John Fashanu to bundle the ball over the line at the far post.
Town players looked crestfallen, as the Dons’ stars wheeled away in celebration. Years later, Mariners’ fans surmised that had a Grimsby player appealed then the goal would probably not have stood – instead there was just an awkward silence.
Within minutes, the home side had turned the game on its head. Again Wise was involved. He twisted and turned to create space on the right wing and crossed for the unlikely source of left-back Terry Phelan to send a diving header into the goal.
Now it was the Mariners’ turn to regroup. Buckley had an ace up his sleeve in Marc North, who had played most of the game at right-back. The hero of the Third Round win at Middlesbrough, North was more accustomed to a forward role.
And he came agonisingly close to drawing Town level in the closing stages, but his effort was disallowed by the officials.
As Town stood shell-shocked, the Dons advanced up the other end and another fortunate deflection fell kindly for Wise to hammer home a volley into the roof of the goal.
It was cruel on Town but their place in the hearts of their followers was complete and the Mariners would go onto big things in the future – for 18 February 1989 was Harry’s day.
Dons: Segers; Joseph, Scales, Curle, Phelan; Kruszynski, Wise, Miller, Fairweather; Sanchez, Fashanu.
Mariners: Sherwood; North, Tillson, Lever, Agnew; Jobling (Dixon), Cunnington, Cockerill, Saunders; Alexander, O’Kelly.