Lincolnshire Derby: Lincoln City v Grimsby Town Rivalry & History

Grimsby Town v Lincoln CityThe Lincolnshire derby between Grimsby Town and Lincoln City may fly under the radar for many football fans but for local supporters these are the biggest games of the season.

A journey of around 40 miles separates Lincoln's Sincil Bank Stadium from Grimsby's Blundell Park close to the banks of the River Humber.

This is a trip made by fans for over 130 years with the first fixture taking place back in 1884 in the months before Lincoln City had formed as an official association.

There is a long history between The Mariners and The Imps which we look into below as well as previewing the next meeting.

Map of Grimsby Town & Lincoln City Stadiums

Map of Grimsby Town & Lincoln City Stadiums

About the Lincolnshire Derby

Lincolnshire Flag on Brick Wall

Just as the London derby could be a game featuring any number of teams based in the nation’s capital, so too is the phrase ‘the Lincolnshire derby’ used to cover a myriad of options.

Lincoln City, Boston United, Gainsborough Trinity, Grimsby Town and Scunthorpe United all come under the banner of being Lincolnshire teams, but it’s the battle between the team from the city named after the county in Lincoln, and one far better known as being a fishing town in than a footballing one in Grimsby that takes the headlines and the one we’ll be looking at here.

Perhaps one of the big reasons why the battle between Lincoln City and Grimsby Town is seen as being the fiercest of them all is that it was also the first derby between two Lincolnshire teams that took place. It was the third of January 1884 when the Imps rocked up to Clee Park in Grimsby to take on the Mariners in a match that resulted in a 1-0 win to the home side.

In more recent times, the two sides have been in the same division as each other more regularly than any of the other Lincolnshire teams, adding a degree of spice to a fixture that already tended to split families down the middle. They have gone head-to-head in every tier of the English Football League system apart from the Premier League, so it’s fair to say that they view each other as rivals for entirely fair reasons

Lincoln City’s History

Lincoln Cathedral

Nicknamed the Imps because of the legend of the Lincoln Imp, the club was formed in 1884. The club has enjoyed a number of ups and downs over the years, not least of all in 1985 when two Lincoln supporters died in the Bradford City Stadium fire. Named Bill Stacey and Jim West, the club named a stand in the ground the Stacey West Stand in their honour.

In footballing terms, Lincoln’s success has been limited to winning the lower tiers at times in the past. They won the North side of Division Three back when it was split geographically in 1932, 1948 and 1952, for example, and were League Two winners in 1976. They also picked up the Football League Trophy in 2018, which was their first piece of silverware since winning the National League the year before.

The 1980's and the Bradford City Stadium Fire

Arguably, Lincoln’s most mixed decade was the 1980s, with the tragedy of the Bradford Stadium fire coming in amongst relegation battles. They headed out of the Third Division in 1986, suffering an automatic relegation from the Football League the year after.

Having almost reached the Second Division just four years before, it’s fair to characterise their decline as a steep one. It was also the fourth time that they had dropped out of the Football League, which remains a record.

Relegation to the Conference

They then gained promotion out of the Conference at the first time of asking when they won the division the following year, remaining in the Football League until 2011.

League PositionTeamTotal Points
20 Morecambe 51
21 Hereford United 50
22 Barnet 48
23 Lincoln City (Relegated) 47
24 Stockport County (Relegated) 41

Many people were surprised that they lasted as long as that. The team entered administration in 2002, seeing the first-team squad stripped of players. The following season saw Keith Alexander defy the odds and keep them up with a team largely made-up of former non-league players. Not only that, but he actually managed to get them all the way to the play-off final, only to lose 5-2 to Bournemouth.

2016/17 FA Cup Run

Perhaps Lincoln City’s best season of the modern era was the 2016-2017 campaign. As mentioned, they won the Football Conference at the same time that they made it all the way to the quarter-final of the FA Cup.

They had previously made it to the last sixteen on three different occasions, but they went one step further thanks to wins over Guiseley in the fourth qualifying round, Altrincham in the first round and Oldham Athletic in the second as well as Ipswich Town after a replay in the third round.

They then beat Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion in the fourth round to set up a tie with Premier League team Burnley in the last sixteen. They eventually lost 5-0 to Arsenal.

Grimsby Town's History

During all of the troubles that Lincoln have suffered over the years, their rivals in the Mariners have been able to watch on amused most of the time. Formed as Grimsby Pelham in 1878 and changing to Grimsby Town the year after, the Mariners was created partially to give members of the town’s cricket club something to do in the winter months.

They initially played matches at Clee Park before moving to Abbey Park in 1889 and then to their present location of Blundell Park a decade later.

The side has enjoyed their own share of ups and downs, gaining promotion to the First Division in 1902 before being relegated two years later and then falling out of the Football League altogether within the decade.

Success was to return to Grimsby in the years between the two World Wars, however, despite the fact that in the first year after the First World War they were relegated down to the Third Division. Within eight years, however, they’d made their way back up to the First Division and remained there until 1939, barring a couple of years out.

Glory Days During the 1930's

The 1930s proved to be successful years for the club, seeing players called up for England duty and reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1936.

They achieved that feat again three years later, setting an attendance record at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, when they played against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves were also the team that they played when they set their own ground’s attendance record of 31,651 in 1937.

In the FA Cup game against the Midlands team the Mariners’ goalkeeper was injured early on and the rules of the game at the time didn’t allow for substitutions, meaning that an outfield player had to go between the sticks and they lost 5-0.

Post War Decline

Chart Showing the Number of Seasons Grimsby Town Have Spent in Each Division

The heights of the inter-war years were met with lows of the decades that followed, with the club suffering a decline in the wake of the Second World War. They dropped out of the First Division in 1947 and, at the time of writing, have never returned to the top-flight since.

They then spent the 1950s and 1960s bouncing between the Second Division and the Third Division, known for a time as the Third Division North.

There was a brief highlight when a Scot named Bill Shankly took over as manager for a time. Shankly would later go on the revolutionise Liverpool Football Club, but the closest he came to success at Grimsby was when they nearly gained promotion in 1952, missing out because only one team could go up and they finished second to a certain Lincoln City.

The Mariners enjoyed something of a revival in the 1970s and 1980s before falling back down the pecking order towards the end of the 1980s. As with Lincoln City, Grimsby Town have endured financial troubles at various points, including in the post-millennium years when the collapse of ITV Digital left Town with debts of more than £2 million.

Since the club’s formation they’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success, including winning the Second Division twice and the Third Division North the same number of times. They won the Football League trophy in 1998. There’s some debate over which of the two teams can claim to have been the most successful, which almost certainly adds to the feeling of animosity between them.

Fan Violence and the 2005 Stabbing

UK Police Officers

As is so often the case with major derbies, the bad blood between the two sides seems to have worsened with the passing years. Often this is because younger supporters have grown up being told that they ‘hate’ rivals, whereas the older generation experience the enmity as they were going along.

The younger fans then feel a need to demonstrate how much they hate the rivals, resulting in a worsening of relations. Elsewhere in football this can be seen in the fact that the Merseyside derby used to be known as the ‘Friendly Derby’, with the two sets of supporters chanting ‘Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside’ together, whereas nowadays there is no love lost between Liverpool and Everton fans.

When it comes to the Lincolnshire derby the worsening of relations can most clearly be seen with the stabbing of a Lincoln City fan close to Blundell Park ahead of the derby.

There was also an incident a few seasons later when a steward at the match was hit by a chair that had been ripped out of the ground and thrown at the pitch. Thankfully such incidents are few and far between, but they’re a sad reminder that for some people the football is little more than an excuse to fight and attack supporters of a different team.