The online dating guru who sparked Grimsby’s FA Cup charge
It is ironic that for a man who ran the international operation of match.com, Jason Stockwood’s abiding love affair has been with Grimsby Town.
His wife Lorna would quite rightly disagree, but she, too, has been converted into a Mariner during the two glorious years in which Stockwood has been chairman of his hometown club.
A reign that began with an already inevitable relegation to the National League has overseen a play-off promotion that defied both a would-be movie script and a Hollywood film star and now a thrill-laden FA Cup journey that takes Grimsby to tomorrow’s quarter-final against Brighton.
Stockwood is still pinching himself about football’s ability to flirt with the land of make-believe. Having beaten three League One clubs, Championship side Luton and Premier League Southampton, Grimsby are the first side in the history of the FA Cup proper to beat five sides from higher divisions in the same season.
Stockwood said: “During the Southampton game, I lost myself for five minutes looking at the Town fans. I forgot the game and was just lost in that moment of being part of something so phenomenal for our town and such a sense of community and communion.
“It was just mesmerising and such a source of pride to see 4,300 people singing their hearts out joyously and then getting the result as well.
“For the last couple of years there have been plenty of those moments and it’s been brilliant.”
'I do it for the rare moments of joy'
As any Grimsby fan will tell you, it hasn’t always been brilliant. Over the past 51 seasons, starting the year after Stockwood was born, the club has enjoyed eight promotions, yet equally endured eight relegations, spanned four divisions and travelled to Gateshead as often as they have to Newcastle.
Stockwood’s faith has never wavered, even if that of his family has.
He added: “We live in Cheshire and on Boxing Day 2019, I invited friends and family over, about 20 of them, to watch Town play at Macclesfield. It was possibly the worst game of football ever, the worst dross.
“It was a freezing day and I felt guilty because I’d persuaded all these people to come. My wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law and my son looked at me at half-time and said: ‘Do we have to stay?’ I said: ‘No’.
“I should have gone with them because it was the most boring game, but I ended up sitting there on my own in the second half.
“I remember thinking: ‘God, this is awful. Why do we do this to ourselves?’ But we do it to ourselves so that we can experience the things when those rare shafts of sunlight arrive, those rare moments of joy.”
'I’ve got no experience in football'
Stockwood’s black and white journey has taken him from ball boy to chairman.
“I was a ball boy at Blundell Park in 1982 when Kevin Keegan and Newcastle came down. I was at the away end and the Geordies were both spitting at me and throwing coins. I was goading them on because I made 36p that day. I was made up.
“I was there for our Wembley appearances, too, but I didn’t entertain thoughts about investing in football until a couple of years ago.
“I believed there was an opportunity to get the club on the right trajectory. But it was a bet.
“I’ve got no experience in football, but I’ve got experience of human nature and I believe that if you get good people with the right culture and values and then give them the right resources, you increase your probability of success.”
Stockwood and co-owner Andrew Pettit brought manager Paul Hurst back to the club he had first led out of the National League in 2016.
“Paul’s a values-led leader, totally aligned with us in what is important to him. He wants quality, he’s ambitious, but he knows the value of graft and hard work and character as the building blocks and doing things the right way.”
The FA Cup run has generated £1.5m gross for the club, but Stockwood is all about creating memories and uniting people.
“A few moments in the last two years have really touched me. My son Tom, who was claimed as a Man City fan by my father-in-law, came to a game against Altrincham last year. During it, he turned to me and said: ‘I think I’m a Grimsby Town fan now, Dad.’
“Then in the play-off game at Wrexham which my wife came to in a dress thinking she might meet Ryan Reynolds, I looked around at one point and she was in tears and so was my son.
“At the Southampton game I sat next to my brother Nathan and my best mate from school and hugged and kissed them both.
“The Cup run has been truly remarkable and beautiful. To be able to share life-enhancing experiences with people that you love is just amazing.”