The National League play-off final is perfectly poised. It pits together two sides, one that was only formed in 2007 and has no Football League pedigree, and one club with a century's worth of Football League memories behind them. In a league with Hollywood owners, massive clubs and huge attendances, Solihull Moors vs Grimsby Town couldn’t be a more fitting finale.
Despite the excitement, the build-up has been scarred by the outrageous ticket pricing, with the National League charging adults £40 for the cheapest ticket to the final at the London Stadium. Not only have fans got to fork out for travel to the capital, now they are being taken to the cleaners when it comes to pricing.
Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports host and Hartlepool fan tweeted: “Don’t we want people to support their local teams? They already have to pay for travel from Solihull or Grimsby to East London. These fans are the bedrock of football and yet treated shamefully.”
Instead, in the middle of the cost of living crisis, this showpiece event is relying on crowdfunding to fill the stands. League sponsor Vanarama generously donated £20,000 to each club to help subsidise coach travel. When the sponsor of the division is handing out cash to clubs, you know you’ve made an error.
But the fans are the ones that are suffering. Grimsby’s Mariners Trust supporters’ group said that fans including those from Wrexham, the club they dramatically defeated in the semi-finals, had raised another £23,000 to help with buying tickets and getting to London. Meanwhile Solihull said they would contribute £12 towards the cost of each concession ticket purchased. These are extreme methods that shouldn't have to be used if the National League had any common sense whatsoever.
But however many fans make it to East London on Sunday should be treated to a thriller. Grimsby’s powers of resuscitation in these play-offs have been scarcely believable and just like Real Madrid in the Champions League, many feel that destiny will carry them to the trophy. Having finished sixth in the league, ten points behind their play-off final opponents, the Mariners have produced two escapology acts that Houdini himself would have been proud of to make it to this stage.
Gavan Holohan’s 96th minute equaliser in the quarter-final against Notts County took the game to extra-time before Emmanuel Dieseruvwe struck in the 119th minute. Against Wrexham in the semis, it was even more dramatic as Luke Waterfall scored with one minute to go in extra-time to secure an epic 5-4 win. Paul Hurst’s side simply do not know when they are beaten.
Solihull’s route to the final has been much more straightforward. They went straight into the semis as a result of their third place finish and came from behind to secure a 3-1 win over Paul Cook’s Chesterfield. Neil Ardley and his men are on the brink of history, but can they get over the line after a fine campaign?
If they are to make it to the Football League they will rely heavily on wide man Andrew Dallas, who has scored 20 league goals this term, while on the other wing, Joe Sbarra has hit 18. It’s a remarkable tally for the two wide men, when many expected Adam Rooney to be the main marksman this term.
Instead these two have stepped up to the plate, and Grimsby, who have leaked goals in recent weeks, will have to sharpen up at the back. Hurst boasts threats of his own, John McAtee is their leading scorer with 15, but Waterfall’s eight strikes from centre-back prove their aerial prowess from set pieces.
Jordan Cropper’s long-throw, which led to Waterfall’s winner at Wrexham, has also caused opposition defences all sorts of issues this term. However, Solihull have already quashed Grimsby twice this term, with a 2-0 win at Damson Park coming before a 2-1 win at Blundell Park.
They’ve had the upper hand throughout the season, and over their fellow play-off finalists in the head-to-heads this term, but the play-offs and this Grimsby Town team do not follow the script. They’ve produced late magic over the last two games, but can they do the unthinkable for a third time in the London Stadium.
Let’s just hope that enough fans can make it there to enjoy the spectacle.
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