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R.I.P. Matt Tees - A Tribute To The Town Legend

Grimsby Town Football Club are saddened to hear of the death of Mariners legend Matt Tees.

4 November 2020

Grimsby Town Football Club are saddened to hear of the death of Mariners legend Matt Tees.

Here's a tribute to the Town legend from John Kirk.

Few players have achieved the respect and legendary status of Matt Tees, Master Mariner. 

And he achieved that status in not one stint at Blundell Park, but in two, playing, and scoring against the very biggest names in English football!

In the close season of 1963, Manager Tom Johnston sold Town hero, and scoring legend Ron Rafferty to Hull City for £10,000, and bought Matt Tees from Airdrieonians for half of that.

Mariners fans were keen to see the new man, myself included, but it came as something of a shock to see an inside forward standing at just over 10 stone, and under 5 feet 10 inches, and we needed a lot of convincing that he couldn’t be knocked off the ball by the passing draught from a burly centre-half.

However, he gained a bit of early respect by notching his first Town goal after just 10 seconds in his first game in a friendly v Leicester City, Gordon Banks and all!  Then in his proper debut he set a record that he maintained through every season at Blundell Park except his very final one … he scored in his first game of the season!  His debut was at the Vetch Field, Swansea where Town not only drew 1-1, but also took to the field in the famous black and white stripes after spending several seasons in white shirts and red shorts.

Playing alongside George McLean for part of his first season, and Dick Young in other matches, Tees was in and out of the team. Matt finished the season with 5 league goals, two of those coming in memorable victories – the 4-0 win over Manchester City at Maine Road, and the 2-0 home victory over Scunthorpe United.  The last match of that season saw Town fighting the drop, at home to Sunderland, battling for the Division 2 Championship with Leeds.  In one of the most dramatic matches ever to grace Blundell Park, and with 16 and a half-thousand fans from both sides mixing all the way through the old stadium, every player on both sides ‘busted a gut’ to gain the advantage for their side, with fans doing almost as much. It’s testament to both teams that the men of the match for each side were the two goalies – Montgomery for the visitors and Charlie Wright for Town.  The game ended 2-2, with Cliff Portwood and Brian Hill scoring for the Mariners.  Anyone and everyone who had a transistor radio found themselves surrounded by fans wanting to know how Plymouth Argyle had faired, and the 20 minutes wait for the football results seemed to last forever … and when the results came in, many mental calculations were worked before people realised that Town had suffered the ignominy of relegation by a goal average difference of 0.045 compared to Plymouth Argyle.

Not perhaps the best season’s start for a Blundell Park super-hero!

Back to Division 3, and a first game that saw Town play Oldham away, and win 5-1!  George McLean scored four that day, with Matt scoring one and laying on George’s first.  In their next away game at Bristol Rovers, Town lost 5-3, despite a late comeback from Town’s attack, which included another Tees goal, and then Matt scored the second goal in a 2-0 home win against Peterborough after winning a race with two colleagues to force the ball home with his feet.  Tees next contribution was the winner at home to Watford, when he guided a Brian Clifton defence-splitting pass into Goy’s net, at the cost of being injured himself.

Matt also has the distinction of being the last Town man to score in a game at Old Trafford.  The Mariners had been held to two successive draws in the FA Cup against 4th Division Barrow.  Barrow had 14 coach loads of fans at the second replay which was scheduled for Manchester United’s ground, and Town had one coachful of supporters.  Ron Cockerill was played in attack, and Don Donovan at right-half, but according to ‘Blundell’ – the Grimsby Telegraph reporter – it was Tees “who was largely instrumental in unsettling Barrow’s defence”.  And fittingly, it was Tees second goal that has proved to, so far, be Town’s last at Old Trafford when he ran on to a through pass and steered the ball past the Barrow keeper.

Town had been heading Division 3, but after a 4-1 setback at Exeter, when Matt scored Town’s consolation, the Mariners fell away from the promotion pack, and Tees took little part in the remainder of the season until late March, scoring the first against Scunthorpe as Town overran their local rivals 3-0.

Whilst the next season was very average for Town, it was to be the first season that Matt really ‘strutted his stuff!’  Scoring in the first match of the season – as already said, something he always did – at Bristol Rovers, Matt scored an amazing 28 league goals in 43 starts, beating the next highest scorer Rod Green – by 20 goals.  But the partnership and understanding that the two created was one of the ‘greats’ – and for a short 18-month spell, all to Town’s advantage.  Added to those 28 league goals was another 9 in FA and League Cup games, including Matt’s only hat-trick of the season when he knocked three past Preston NE in the 4th round of the League Cup.  Memorable games for Town and for Tees that season included another big win at Oldham Athletic when Tees and Green shared the 4 Town goals between them, Matt scoring both Mariners goal to earn Town a draw at the Old Showground, and another two at Portsmouth to see Town safely through the third round FA Cup replay at Portsmouth.  In November Matt and Rod Green had earned the Mariners a replay at West Ham when they notched the Mariners goals in a 2-2 Blundell Park draw against a team featuring Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst – England heroes a few months later as they won the World Cup!  In fact, Town had been leading the game 2-1 with only a few minutes to go before Hurst had given the Hammers a life-line.

Matt missed the opening three games of the 1966-7 season, so he made his season’s debut against …. Scunthorpe!  And what a match to make your first appearance of the season!  On 8 minutes (the Grimsby Telegraph report says) “Graham Taylor intercepted a pass from Barker, fed Hill, who sped past the recovering Barker, and crossed for Tees to volley into the net on the turn.”  It should be remembered that in Scunthorpe’s goal was a young Ray Clemence, future England star!  Rod Green and Brian Hill each scored a hat-trick to end Town’s scoring with 30 minutes still to go, the match ending 7-1 to the Mariners!

Town had sold Charlie Wright the popular keeper to Charlton the previous season, and in November Brian Hill was let go to Huddersfield for £22,000, apparently by the then Town Board without much say coming from Jimmy McGuigan, and by January when the Tees-Green partnership had totalled 25 more goals between them, Charlton bought the Town duo as a pair for just £23,000.  Even in the mid-sixties that was a snip.  The Town fans were disenchanted, and that seemed to be the last that they would see of Matt Tees.

But in 1970, Chairman Paddy Hamilton signed Tees from Luton – where he had been after his stint at Charlton, and an extra 3,000 fans promptly turned up to see the conquering hero perform his magic once more – and score in his first Mariners match of the season!

But then came Lawrie McMenemy, and the season that Matt Tees is probably best remembered for … 1971-2 and the winning of the Fourth Division Championship!

Obviously Tees scored in the first match of the campaign, again, – happily not just against arch-rivals Scunthorpe, but a hat-trick to boot!  Hardly a game that he played in did he fail to find the back of the net.  McMenemy had – like those Mariners fans almost 10 years earlier – wondered how the wiry Scotsman could stand up.  Not only did he stand up, but he belted in the goals from all angles with feet and head, climbing high above the centre-halves to help Grimsby score victories one after the other.  Counting the last few games of the previous season, Town went 20 matches with just 2 defeats and three draws!  With McMenemy saying all the right things off the field, and Tees and his team-mates doing all the right things on the field, Blundell Park saw the crowds rolling back.  From late August onwards 5 figures were the norm rather than the exception, and when Town played Norwich City in the League Cup more than 22,000 packed in to see a draw.  Matt’s scoring boots went AWOL in the middle of the season – together with Town’s results, but once back in form from February onwards, he averaged almost a goal a game to mid April, and then in front of another massive 22,000+ crowd the final match saw Town wallop Exeter 3-0, with Matt fittingly scoring the first, bringing his season’s total to 29 in League and Cups.

Ominously, for the first time in a Mariners shirt, Matt failed to score in his first game of the season for the start of the 1972-3 campaign.  The previous season had been his swansong, and Matt’s age was turning against him. His last goal came appropriately in a double strike to beat Watford away, on January 20th but his last cup appearance was another one that will live long in the memories of Town fans when the Mariners lost to a hotly disputed penalty at Coventry.  Matt continued in and out of the team to the end of the season, pulling on his final Town shirt for the last game of the season at home to Plymouth.

He then moved on to non league football with Boston United.

So ended the Town career of a true legend.  How wrong we Town fans were to be worried about the sinewy Scot.  Thin perhaps … but a genuine MIGHTY Mariner!

After retirement from football Matt settled in Cleethorpes and worked for the Volvo Motor Group and DFDS Transport.

Almost half a century after his last game for Town, Tees is still lovingly remembered by hundreds, if not thousands of own fans who took him to their hearts not once, but twice, and again in his retirement.

Five foot 10, and 10 stone 4 he might have been in his playing days, but for all who saw him, he was, and always will be remembered as a giant of a man.

Matt: Thanks for all the memories and the joy you brought to football fans all over the country, but especially to we Mariners.

Matt Tees: 1939-2020

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