My First Game – Mark Lever Testimonial

Everyone’s first live football match is always something to savour as it’s quite often the start of a passionate obsession for the rest of their life. There’s so much that encompasses a football match rather than just the 90 minutes that keep people going back for more time and time again.

Fans get into the game of football through a multitude of reasons and get to experience it in different ways and at different levels. One thing is for sure though which I think we all agree on is that there’s always that magical feeling with being at a live football match, which you just don’t get with watching games on TV every week.

My first experience of watching Grimsby Town was no different and came back in October 1998, when I was just shy of my eighth birthday. Most Town fans will be aware that this was in fact after the two famous Wembley victories earlier in the year, so unfortunately I missed out on that!

With Division One football now being played at Blundell Park you’re probably expecting me to name some league fixture against the likes of Sunderland, Watford or Crystal Palace as my first game. It was however Town stalwart Mark Lever’s Testimonial match against then Premiership side Nottingham Forest; having been promoted the previous year from Division One as league champions.

The match was being played on a dark Monday night under the lights at Blundell Park. Most fans will tell you that they enjoy watching their team the most when they are playing at home under the floodlights. These types of games give that edge and atmosphere in its own right before a ball has even been kicked as the lights focus on the pitch and blur out everything else insignificant.

We ended up sitting in the John Smiths Upper as it was known back then, in the bottom right corner nearest the Osmond Stand. Funnily enough in all the years I’ve been back to Blundell Park to support the Mariners barring the odd game in the Main Stand I still sit in the same area of the ground as I did way back then, there’s something about it that just feels right.

When it comes to Testimonial matches they can sometimes be left wanting and a bit of a disappointment, but it’s fair to say that Mark Lever’s game didn’t fall into that category at all. The finer details of how the match played out in my head are quite difficult to remember but I do vividly remember Steve Stone making an appearance for Nottingham Forest. I have no idea why I only remember him playing for Forest as I can’t say I was ever a Steve Stone fan prior to the game or afterwards for that matter. Although whenever I’ve seen Steve Stone since then during a televised game over the years it always takes me back to this game.

The match itself didn’t disappoint and ended up finishing 3-3, which you can’t complain about for what was effectively a mid-season friendly honouring Mark Lever. I mean what else was anyone going to be doing on a Monday night anyway right? The fans who were in attendance that night would no doubt have left Blundell Park thoroughly entertained.

The same can be said for myself as the you can’t ask for much more than an entertaining game with lots of goals for your first match. The whole experience of that night at Blundell Park left me wanting more and I was hooked on Town from thereon in and wanted to go back again and again.

Back in the early days of attending football matches I always bought a matchday programme, essentially for reading material but also somewhat of a souvenir to look back on in later life. Having recently rummaged through the boxes full in the loft in preparation for putting my thoughts down on paper for ‘My First Town Match’ I did in fact come across the programme for Mark Lever’s Testimonial.

Having had a browse through the programme I hadn’t realised that Lever had invited several former Mariners back to Blundell Park to don the famous black and white strips for one more night. The likes of Clive Mendonca and John Oster had dispensation from their Premiership clubs to play, as well as a few ‘golden oldies’ such as Tony Ford and Neil Woods making an appearance, alongside the first team squad at the time.

Jokingly Lever said in his programme notes ahead of the game that as he was installed as player/manager and captain for the night he would also be taking all penalties, free kicks, corners and throw ins! I ended up writing the Town goal scorers on the back page and low and behold Lever did manage to get himself on the scoresheet on his special night, so he must have taken heed of his tactical ploys!

Just over 18 years on from ‘My First Town Match’ I still get a buzz from following the Mariners and getting myself to Blundell Park at every opportunity. It’s safe to say quite a lot has happened with Town in those 18 years, but it keeps us coming back week after week as it’s clear that this love will last forever.

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