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Grimsby Town Dave Boylen

Becoming a Professional Footballer


I was born in Macclesfield in 1947 and I lived in Manchester until I was 18. I was keen to get into football and played for Ardwick Lads Club. Then I moved on to Gorton Boys Club, which was a better standard.

Whilst playing for Gorton I was selected for the Manchester Boys Clubs team against Northumbria Boys Clubs. We won 6-2 and I scored five goals. Grimsby Town had a scout watching the game. He got Grimsby to invite Gorton to play their youth team. We drew the match and Grimsby signed me as a young professional.

So at the age of 18 I moved to Grimsby to play in their youth team. That was in 1965. I was so proud to be a professional footballer when England won the World Cup in 1966. It was a great time to be a footballer.

How did you progress from the youth team to the first team?

Grimsby had a great youth policy and the youth team I played in won nearly every week. We played in the Northern Intermediate League against the youth teams of clubs such as Leeds United, Sunderland and Newcastle, and we used to get gates of 2500 at Blundell Park.

Grimsby didn’t have a reserve team then, so a few of the youth team players played the odd game in the first team.

For the last home match of the season in May 1967 I was told to turn up with my kit because one of the first team players was feeling ill. In fact, the manager was intending to play me and was trying to stop me getting too nervous. We beat Gillingham 4-0 so it was a good start.

Who helped you the most to become a professional footballer?

I am only 5 feet 3½ inches tall, very small for a footballer, so the biggest influences were men who believed that size wasn’t important. My father always told me that, when the ball is on the ground, everyone is the same size. It’s what you do with it that matters. George Higgins, a Scottish coach at Grimsby, thought the same. They both believed in me and gave me confidence.

Did you soon settle into the team?

Yes, Jim McGuigan took over as manager and I was a regular the following season [1967-68]. I played on the left side of midfield and had a good rapport with the fans, so I must have been doing my bit.

At the end of the season, Brian Clough, the Derby County manager, bid £25,000 for me. He came to watch me at Swindon and even ruffled my hair as we came in for half time, but Grimsby wanted £45,000 for me and Derby signed Archie Gemmill instead. [Gemmill, another small left sided attacking midfield player, went on to play for Scotland and scored one of the best goals of the 1978 World Cup Finals]

Lawrie McMenemy becomes Grimsby Town manager

Grimsby had some difficult seasons in the late 1960s.

Yes, we were relegated to Division 4 in 1967-68. We finished near the bottom of Division 4 the following season and had to apply for re-election to the league.

When did things start to improve?

The big change came when Lawrie McMenemy became manager in 1971.

We had ability but we needed discipline and he was strict with us. He had managed Doncaster where he had got too friendly with the players and lost their respect, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistake with us. He wasn’t too friendly with us, but he told us exactly what he expected, starting with the first team meeting.

What happened at the first team meeting?

Some of us had part-time jobs in the summer, such as delivering fish at the docks. At this meeting two lads turned up wearing white coats because they had been selling ice-cream. Another was smoking his pipe! They didn’t do it again! We had to wear shirts and ties, turn up on time together and leave together. There was to be no scruffiness around the club. Dressing smartly was all part of team discipline - it was what we needed.

Do you have any other examples of McMenemy’s way of managing?

Every six or seven weeks he took all the players down to the fish docks at 5am. ‘They are the people who pay your wages,’ he said. It made us appreciate our responsibility to the supporters and the dockers loved it. They thought of us as part of them.

Were you ever in trouble with Lawrie McMenemy?

Yes, once. We weren’t allowed to go out in the evenings in the two days before a game. On this occasion we were playing a night match against Norwich City. After morning training I stopped on the way home to telephone my future wife, who was working at Ross Group, to tell her I had got tickets for her and her friends.

The telephone kiosk was outside the Albion pub. When I returned to the ground after tea I was called into the manager’s office. He had received five phone calls telling him I had been seen in a pub at lunchtime! Luckily he believed me, but he warned me: ‘Let this be a lesson to you. When you are in the public eye, things like this are exaggerated.’

Lawrie McMenemy clearly made quite an impact at Grimsby.

We began 1971-72 with crowds of under 9000. When we beat Exeter 3-0 in the last match to win the Division 4 title there were 22,500 there. That is probably my most memorable game. The players all worked very hard for one another under him.

He was clear in the way he wanted us to play. We had to get the ball forward early to the forwards and the midfield players were expected to get up to support the forwards quickly.

He also built our confidence. He gave us all responsibility and convinced us that we were better than our opposing numbers in the other team. I remember playing Preston, who were a division higher than us, in the third round of the FA Cup in 1973. I was marked out of the game, never had a kick, but we drew. For the replay at Preston, Lawrie said to me: ‘You’re the one that can make us tick. You can do whatever you want to get rid of your marker.’ That gave me the responsibility. In the end, I stood on the opposite wing, the right, unmarked, and I made the winning goal.

We did very well in Division 3 that season, but Lawrie was ambitious. He wanted to manage a bigger club and Southampton took him at the end of the season.

Which managers stand out after McMenemy?

They all had their strengths. Colin Addison was a good coach. He trained us hard in the mornings, treated us with genuine care and respect, and had great knowledge of the game.

On one occasion against Crystal Palace he told their manager, Malcolm Allison, to leave our changing room because Allison was a big personality and he was trying to take our minds off the game.

What is the worst moment of your career?

That was coming back from a knee injury in a reserve team match at Halifax. Their full back spent the first twenty minutes fouling me. Then he kicked my knee. I lost my temper, swung at him and got sent off. I felt dreadful. I had let everyone down, especially my teammates.

How did your career end?

We were relegated back to Division 4 in 1976, but the future looked quite bright because we had some great youngsters such as Terry Donovan and Kevin Drinkell who I had been coaching in the afternoons.

That summer I had an offer to play for Los Angeles Skyhawks. I would have been the first Grimsby player to play in the USA, and would have come back to play for Grimsby for the start of the next season.

But the club would not let me go to America and two matches into the following season I walked out. It was a sad way to leave and it was a few years before I went to Blundell Park again.

What are your favourite memories?

They probably involve the fans. There were a number of trawler captains who would make sure they were in dock in time to get to matches. One of them, Norman ‘Mad Mack’ McKenzie once got a taxi to Exeter to watch us! He came back on the team bus with us and the taxi followed on behind. He was a real character. Every Christmas Day I visit his grave, and his family place a Grimsby Town rosette there.

Life after Professional Football

What did you do after you left Grimsby?

I got a job as an electrician’s helper at Lindley Oil Refinery in Immingham and was player-manager of an amateur football team, Drewery Sports. After that I worked for various companies.

How did you become involved in charity work?

My friend, Archie White, died and I organised his farewell event. It was so well attended that I repeated it to raise money for deserving causes.

I organise four events a year – a golf day, an after-dinner talk, a tribute night where tribute bands play, and one other. The events have raised almost £400,000 for charity in 15 years. We have had many famous footballers here, including George Best, Dennis Law, and seven of the 1966 World Cup winning team.

Why did you become a local councillor?

I did it to serve the people of Grimsby as well as I can. I am passionate about reducing the number of unnecessary rules and paperwork, and about the treatment of old people.

It came about because of my frustration with new and ridiculous rules. I am a qualified youth leader and had done that work for 20 years. Then they brought in new rules that meant I couldn’t carry on doing the volunteer youth work that I had done successfully for 20 years.

How do you help local people?

One example is an 82-year-old lady who has cancer and was ordered to repay over £1300 she had received in benefits. I took her case to a tribunal and did an after-dinner speech to raise money for her. In the end, the benefits people had to admit they had made a mistake.

What advice would you give to a young footballer?

Learn another trade besides football. Most young players do not make a career in the game, and for those that do, it is a short career. When you retire from playing you have over 30 years of your working life left.

Also, do soccer coaching courses. Coaching can be a second career and does a lot of good. Graham Rodger, an ex-player and ex-manager of Grimsby Town, ran courses that took over 100 kids off the streets on Friday nights.

Have your feelings about Grimsby Town changed since you left the club in 1977?

Yes. I have gradually become more involved. I was delighted when they reached Wembley with Alan Buckley as manager in 1998, and again in 2008. He was very good tactically and he liked the team to pass the ball through midfield.

I have been involved in the media, writing about the club for the Grimsby Telegraph. I also commentate for local radio and the club DVDs. I try to be positive about the club and the team.

How do you see the future of the club?

It is so disappointing to see the club out of the Football League. I feel for the Board of Directors and the fans. We are one of the biggest clubs in the Conference. I think the way forward is through developing young players.

Did the boy from Manchester imagine that he would live most of his life in Grimsby?

No. I’m grateful that this town has given me a good life. The football club gave me a start, I married a Grimsby girl and have two beautiful daughters. When I signed for Grimsby Town I never imagined I’d still be here over forty years later, but it’s a good place to live. We’ve got the sea, the countryside and local industries – a good mix.

We just need Grimsby Town back in the Football League as soon as possible.

Dave Boylen

 

 

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