Strengthening Player – Matt Boswell, Emperor Zero

I doubt if anyone heard of Matt Boswell's (from the post-punk band Emperor Zero)  favourite football club, Grimsby Town FC. But still, any football addict can connect to the romantic descriptions of  Boswell about his team from the depths of the lower leagues: the sensational victory at Anfield and what is the best thing to do before Grimsby match. In Strengthening player I'm presenting a questionnaire with 12 questions to artists, musicians, writers  about their favorite team.

1. What you do in these days

I’m in a band called Emperor Zero. We’re based in Manchester and signed to a strange, chaotic label called SWAYS. At the moment we’re taking time out from playing live so we can write some new songs and do some recordings; if it all goes well, then hopefully this will become our debut album. A song called ‘Heart of Iron’ will be released as a digital single at some point in the next few months. I’m not sure when though. It keeps getting put back. The problem is that SWAYS keep remaking the video. Have you ever seen the film Heaven’s Gate? It was an ambitious, expensive flop that bombed at the box office and sent the studio bust. The director of our music video says ‘Heart of Iron’ is going to be his Heaven’s Gate. It could be the end of SWAYS. He’s locked himself in a shed and won’t show anyone what he’s up to. He’s either a genius or a madman.

2. Who is your favorite team around the globe?

Grimsby Town. They’re a small club who you probably haven’t heard of. At the moment they’re not even in the football league as they got relegated to the conference a few seasons ago, but when I was growing up they were much better and had a reputation for playing attractive passing football. At one point they were in the division that’s now the Championship, only a few places away from the Premiership.

In the photo, that’s an actual original Grimsby short I’m wearing. It was given to my Uncle Mick by one of the players, a left-back called Dean Crombie. I’m not quite sure how Uncle Mick managed to get his hands on the shirt, as he had quite a few. He works in the motor trade so there was probably some dodgy dealing involved.

3. How the love story with your team began?

Grimsby Town FC Logo

Grimsby Town FC Logo

The first game I went to was Grimsby against Sunderland when I was five (at least according to my childhood collection of Grimsby matchday programmes), but I actually remember the second game better; we were playing Derby County and I was about six. The ground, Blundell Park, is on the coast in Cleethorpes in an old council estate. It’s a fairly run-down area, but to me everything seemed really grand and magical. We sat at the top of the biggest stand in the ground, the Findus stand; in the distance you could see trawlers sailing backwards and forwards across the North Sea and seagulls were flocking over the pitch. I remember being really impressed by how far Grimsby’s goalkeeper could kick the ball. As it grew dark the floodlights came on and they were the most incredible, gigantic structures I’d ever seen, like four glowing Eiffel Towers. I like the way you call it the ‘love story’ with my team, because to me these memories are still incredibly romantic, even though the reality of Grimsby today (both the place and the football team) is rather different. It’s definitely a case of the heart ruling the head.

4. Who is your favorite player (doesn’t have to be from your team)? Why?

I don’t have a particular favorite. There are some good players in the Premiership at the moment but they’re hardly likeable human beings, or else they’re too bland to capture the imagination in the way that players of previous generations did, people like George Best, Eric Cantona and Paul Gascoigne. You wouldn’t want to have a pint with any of them, as my friend Austin Collings would say.

5. What is the best game and the worst game you went to?

The best game I’ve ever been to was when Grimsby beat Liverpool 2-1 in the League Cup at Anfield in 2001. They absolutely murdered us, we hardly got out of our own half, but by some miracle we managed to get to full-time at 1-1. Then at the end of extra-time, just as it looked set to go to a penalty shootout, our forward Phil Jevons scored a wonder goal from way outside the area. I was standing right behind the top corner of the goal and had a perfect view as the ball flew in. I remember my Dad groaning when Jevons took the shot as he thought we should’ve just been trying to keep possession and that he’d never score from there. Ha! My Dad is such a pessimist … There’s still a Grimsby song where the fans sing ‘Je-vons, with a wonder goal, Je-vons with a wonder goal’ to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shops Boys.

 Grimsby Town Vs Liverpool 2:1 (the last minute winner goal after 6:00)

I’ve got too many ‘worst games’ to choose from but watching Grimsby away to Oldham when we were 5-0 down at half time was a definite low. My cousins all went to the pub but I stuck it out with my Dad and Uncle. You have to be quite masochistic to support Grimsby. We only lost 6-0 in the end, so the second half was kind of a moral victory.

6. What is the peak moment and the low moment with your team?

Alongside the Liverpool game, the other highlight was the 1997-98 season when Alan Buckley was our manager. We went to Wembley twice, having never played there before in the club’s history, and we won both times. We beat Northampton in the Second Division play-off final and Bournemouth in the Auto Windscreens Shield final, thanks to a ‘golden goal’ from permed playboy Wayne Burnett. Those were the glory years. Or the glory year. We’ve never scaled those heights since. In fact, we’ve lost every other Wembley final and we keep getting relegated. Losing the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final to MK Dons in 2008 was another low point. The only good thing was the Town fans singing ‘It’s the shittest paint in the world, the shittest paint in the world’ to the tune of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ as we trudged out the stadium.

7. Which player you want to see playing in your team?

Beggars can’t be choosers. A half-decent striker would be nice. And that’s not asking a lot. The conference is the kind of league that’d make Danny Graham look like Maradona.

8. Who you like to beat the most and why?

Lincoln City, without a doubt. That’s our local derby. Lincoln is about an hour’s drive away from Grimsby and it’s also the place where I grew up. In the last two seasons we’ve beaten them away from home on Boxing Day: the best Christmas present you could wish for.

9. If you were a player in a professional team what kind of player you might be?

Central midfield was always my position growing up. I fancied myself as a bit of a creative, playmaker type. If books, music, girls and booze hadn’t got in the way, I could’ve been the white Ruud Gullit.

Blundell Park

Blundell Park

10. Do you have any superstitions before games? Which?

Before a Grimsby game I find it’s generally a good idea to have at least three pints.

11. What are the shortcomings in supporting your team?

Where do I start? The fact that they’re not very good at football is the main shortcoming … In fairness, that’s a bit harsh. We’ve had quite a good season and hopefully we can make the play-offs for a chance to get promoted back into the football league. (I did the interview before the end of the season. Grimsby finished fourth, which sent them to the playoffs but a lost and a draw against Gateshead F.C kept them at the conference)

12. Who are your top five favorite players from your team of all time?

Amazing question. I’m going to go for the following Grimsby legends, all from back when we were good: ‘Super’ Clive Mendonca, Paul Groves, Ivano Bonetti (a star Italian winger from the 90s who left the club after the manager, Brian Laws, threw a plate of chicken wings at him), Peter Handyside and Danny Coyne.

13. Which curse you use the most while watching a game?

I’m really bad and foul-mouthed; the words that come out my mouth at a Grimsby game can’t really be printed. My Dad always says he’s pleased my mother can’t hear me, although he’s just as bad.

Emperor Zero are a pseudo-intellectual post-punk band from Manchester. Their latest single is ‘Mental Health Café’, available on 7” vinyl from SWAYS Records or as a digital download from Bandcamp. The record sleeve features photography by Natalie Curtis, whose been interviewd by Offside Stories about her love for Manchester City.

Emperor Zero – Mental Health Café

Emperor Zero – Man With Red Eyes

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