Playing fetch with Buckley in the Clive Mendonca Memorial Garden - my uncle the Grimsby fan

Peter Atkin
Peter Atkin Credit: Jane Thake

By ITV Calendar Sports Correspondent Chris Dawkes

My uncle Peter was a Grimsby town fan.He named his dog Buckley after Town's legendary manager of the 1990s Alan Buckley. Often playing “fetch” with him in the brilliantly named Clive Mendonca Memorial garden.

Buckley in the Clive Mendonca Memorial Garden Credit: Jane Thake

As such, despite growing up in West Yorkshire, I’ve always had an affection for The Mariners.I remember that famous season 1997/98 when Grimsby made it to Wembley for the first time in their 120 year history. Then returned to the twin towers just 5 weeks later.Wayne Burnett was the golden goal scoring hero in the Auto Windscreens Shield final against Bournemouth. My Christmas present that year was a t-shirt with the words “I was there when Burnett scored” written on the front. I wasn’t. But Peter and my auntie Jane were. As they were for the playoff final win against Northampton, when Kevin Donovan scored the winning goal.

Peter and his daughter Polly Credit: Jane Thake

It was a real thrill to tell Peter and Jane that I’d met and interviewed Wayne and Kevin some years later for a Calendar feature about that season. They were their heroes but through association mine too. I’m pleased to say I can call Kev - who lives not too far from me these days - a friend.The following season I went to my first Town game, away at Huddersfield. I don’t remember much from that day, apart from the image of Peter thrusting his arm forward with his index finger extended, chanting the word “fish”. Very funny.

Chris and Peter Credit: Chris Dawkes

When I got my job as a sports correspondent for Calendar in 2010 one of my first jobs was to report on Grimsby’s long winless run in League 2 and their eventual relegation to the non league. It wasn’t a pleasant job and I know, like most Town fans, Peter was pretty cut up.Peter died in 2011. He didn’t live to see his beloved Mariners recoup their football league status. He also missed their subsequent relapse and descent back into  the non league in 2021.Every year around Christmas Jane and I travel to Blundell Park to watch a game. We’ve been doing it for about 7 years now. It’s the same old routine. Arrive early to find a decent parking spot. Walk to Steels, the famous fish and chip restaurant in Cleethorpes, which still seems to be stuck in a 1970s time warp. Before the trudge back along the A180 to freeze our whatsits off to watch, more often than not, a mediocre game of football. But it’s always one of the highlights of Christmas for me.

Chris and Jane at Blundell Park Credit: Chris Dawkes

There’s been nothing mediocre though about the last 12 months. Peter would have loved it. Not just the thrilling games in the playoffs and FA Cup but the restored sense of community instilled by new owners Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit.I was thinking of Peter when I reported on Grimsby’s promotion at the London Stadium last May. I’ll be thinking of him again down at Brighton. He’d have definitely been there. Harry Haddock under one arm, his other in the air. "Fish!"When Buckley sadly passed away, Peter and Jane’s next Sprocker Spaniel was called Harry. They say he was named after my Grandad but there’s definitely something fishy about that.