Grimsby Town Football Club were saddened to read reports from China that former Mariner Zhang Enhua had passed away at the age of 48.
Lasr year, programme editor Jack Johnson caught up with the former Chinese International for 'The Mariner', which can be read in full below.
Twenty years ago the Mariners were suffering from a defensive crisis. Peter Handyside, Richard Smith and Paul Raven were all injured, so Lennie Lawrence called the former manager of the Chinese national team and signed their captain on loan.
Zhang Enhua ended up playing a key role in the Mariners' fight for Division One survival, playing 17 games and scoring three times during a memorable three-month spell at Blundell Park before returning to China ahead of the 2002 World Cup!
Programme editor Jack Johnson spoke to the former Chinese international about his time with the Mariners.
You joined the Mariners towards the end of 2000 on a three-month loan from Chinese club Dalian Wanda. Can you remember how your move to Grimsby happened?
The manager Lennie Lawrence was a good friend of Bobbie Houghton, who used to be in charge of the Chinese national team. Lennie told Bobbie that his team was short at centre back and so he recommended me. I flew to England, passed the medical test and joined in some training sessions. Lennie thought I was good enough for Grimsby Town and decided to sign me on loan. I flew back to China for a Labor Certificate and working visa and two d1sys later I returned to Grimsby. The 2000 season in China had just finished and the 2001 season was a few weeks away, so it was a good time for me to join.
I Imagine that until you knew there was Interest from Grimsby Town to sign you, you hadn't heard of the Mariners before? Are lower league clubs In England that well known In China?
To be honest, I knew nothing about Grimsby Town before I went there! At that time, the most popular European leagues in China was Serie A and the Premier League. But we didn't know much about Division One.
You made your debut In a 2-0 win against Norwich City at Blundell Park. What can you remember about that game and your first Impressions of our home ground?
I felt great in my debut! We grabbed a long-awaited victory but I was only average myself. Frankly, it was totally different from the Jia A [the Chinese division) with a much higher demand for physical play, individual skills and tactical systems. The match was played in a traditional English style, so players ran a lot, jumped a lot, even fought a lot! The ball was flying in the sky for most of the playing time! It made me excited. Blundell Park shocked me. Although it was not as luxurious as big club's home grounds, the facilities and services there were incredible. The fans there always lit me up. It was hard to imagine in China.
Over the next three months, you were a regular In the Grimsby side, playing at the back with John McDermott, Tony Gallimore and Paul Groves. What was It like playing with those players?
My partner at centre back was captain Paul and physically we were at a disadvantage with most centre forwards at that time. Sometimes it did feel hard to defend, especially during set-pieces. We once both got hit in the face during the same game. I also remember when we played against QPR, Peter Crouch was too tall to defend against - that made the match unforgettable. From my point of view on the pitch, Tony and Paul were my defending partners and they were skilful and smart rather than physical. I also remember Knut Anders Fostervold from Norway and Menno Willems from the Netherlands; we all shared a great playing time and memories and friendships as well. Playing in England was always a dream for me. It was my first time playing abroad, although it was short. They are precious memories.
You scored three goals In your 17 appearances. Your first coming In a 1-0 win at home to Burnley and the others in draws against Bolton Wanderers and Wimbledon. Can you remember them?
I was shown my goals video clip on Twitter by my friend. When I saw it, it was just like yesterday. I showed those goals to my son. He'd just been born and I believed he brought me luck. My son was born on 13th February 2001 and Lennie allowed me paternity leave for two days. I really appreciated that. I scored my first goal three days after my kid was born. I then scored another one a few days after. I thought it was my son who brought me all this luck and energy!
If your son was born in Grimsby, is he a Grimsby Town supporter?
My son Gary has a clear awareness of his birthplace and I can see the traditional English gentlemen spirit inside him. He is now 18 and studying at university. We travelled back to Grimsby several years ago and I believe he will be back often in the future because he knows that Grimsby will always be his first home.
Your loan ended sir weeks before the end of the season and you returned to China. Was there ever any discussions about joining Grimsby Town permanently?
Yes, it was a big regret. I was eager to stay on a permanent deal but due to circumstances, I did not manage to. My family were living in England but it was a big change living abroad. I did speak with my club about joining Grimsby Town but Dalian wanted me back. So they asked for a big transfer fee that Grimsby couldn't afford. Besides, the leader of the Chinese Football Association flew to London to have a conversation with me, in the hope that I would rejoin Dalian and play in the Jia A to make it more convenient for their preparations for the 2002 World Cup. But I really regret not staying at Grimsby Town. That 3-month loan broadened my horizons and helped to develop the way I played the game.
Rest In Peace, Zhang.
🙏 #GTFC are saddened to hear of multiple reports from China announcing the passing of former Mariner Zhang Enhua at the age of 48.— Grimsby Town F.C. (@officialgtfc) April 29, 2021
The former Chinese international signed for the club on loan in December 2000, making a total of 17 appearances.
Rest In Peace, Zhang. pic.twitter.com/a0hRQYjG7c