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Grimsby Town’s two historic FA Cup semi-final runs



A look back at the club’s greatest period

It’s hard to know what, in the year 2023, looks more far-fetched. That when Grimsby play Brighton on Sunday they will be attempting to reach the club’s third FA Cup semi-final, not the first; or that the previous runs to the last four, which included wins over Manchester City and Chelsea, had nothing to do with David or Goliath.

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1936 and 1939: Grimsby’s glory years

Grimsby’s semi-final appearances in 1936 and 1939 were highlights of the greatest period in the club’s history. From 1929–48, including a break for the second world war, they spent 10 out of 12 seasons in the top flight. All three of Grimsby’s England internationals were capped in that time.


The path to the semi-final

Only two powerhouses of English football – and, in one case, some grotesque ill fortune – stopped Grimsby reaching Wembley. After beating Hartlepool and Port Vale, Grimsby were drawn at home to Manchester City in the fifth round. Grimsby’s stirring 3-2 win at Blundell Park was among the best FA Cup matches of the decade, one that had highfalutin reporters rhapsodising about the quality of play and the sportsmanship. City’s second equaliser led to the lustiest cheer of the day – and that was from the Grimsby fans.


Tactical sophistication and injury impact

Grimsby’s tactical sophistication is one of many recurring themes in their two Cup runs. Grimsby beat Middlesbrough 3-1 in the quarter-finals, a game in which Betmead and Ernie Coleman were sent off after a fist-based disagreement. It meant, crucially, that Betmead was suspended for the semi-final. With a couple of Division Two teams in the last four, Grimsby were 5-2 second favourites to win the Cup.

The semi-finals

Against Arsenal, who were still a symbol of class, glamour and might despite being in an unplanned year off from the league, Grimsby lost 1-0 in a one-sided match. Grimsby’s hero was Tweedy, who made many good saves and three astounding ones. In the last season before the second world war, Grimsby controlled the match with calm authority against Chelsea, even if the only goal came when Chelsea were temporarily down to 10 men.

The ill-fated meeting with Wolves

Grimsby were drawn to meet Wolves, the most exciting team in the country, at Old Trafford. Grimsby controlled the match brilliantly but goalkeeper George Moulson suffered a concussion while making a brilliant and brave save at the feet of Dicky Dorsett. Grimsby were hammered 5-0, with Dennis Westcott scoring four.

Final thoughts

Grimsby’s two FA Cup runs were memorable for their tactical sophistication, injury impacts, and the enduring local pride they inspired. Even though the club hasn’t returned to the semi-finals since, fans continue to fondly remember those moments of glory.



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