Grimsby Town are saddened to learn of the death of Bernard James Fleming.
Bernard was steeped in Grimsby Town, and in football generally in a variety of roles.
He first joined the club at the age of 20 after being seen playing for Bomber Command at RAF Binbrook during his National Service. After a successful trial he signed for the Mariners in April 1957, originally as a winger, but later being converted to a full-back. Bernard spent the next four seasons at Blundell Park, playing under managers including Allenby Chilton, Bill Lambton, and Tim Ward, before leaving the club in the close season of 1961. He then moved to Workington FC, and a year later to Chester, where his former Town manager, Bill Lambton, signed him. Bernard made in excess of 100 professional appearances, but his playing career was unfortunately ended early due to an ankle injury.
In 1970 Bernard re-joined the Mariners as the Youth Team Manager. He held the position for nine years, and worked with notable managers including Lawrie McMenemy, John Newman, Ron Ashman, and Tom Casey. His time in charge was highly successful, with his squads winning the prestigious Breda Youth Tournament in Holland and reaching the Semi-Final of the Youth Cup. Bernard also played a large part in the development and progression of many young players such as Kevin Drinkell, Tony Ford, and Kevin and Dave Moore. He also managed the reserves and was interim Assistant Manager for a short while to Caretaker Manager John Fraser. He later became Town's Chief Scout, before scouting for Southampton, Peterborough, and Darlington football clubs.
Returning to Blundell Park, Bernard became the Club Secretary from 1982-86. With his football background, his intervention ensured the signing of Mariners' legend, John McDermott, who went on to achieve a record number of appearances for the club. Bernard was succeeded in his role by his son, Ian, who then became Chief Executive.
Bernard later joined Southend United in a similar role, before taking up a number of other scouting posts.
A true Mariner, Bernard remained in Cleethorpes and continued to support the club, attending home games into his eighties.
He was a football man in every respect!
"Bernard was certainly a big influence in me getting to be a professional footballer," Dave Moore.
Town's current physio, Dave Moore remembers his time under Bernard with affection. He told us: "Bernard was my first youth team coach when I came here. He was such a lovely, lovely man, but I was quite scared of him when I first arrived - when I was just 14 or 15.
"We used to train on a Monday and a Thursday. Monday night was an hour and a half doing five a side at the Hereford School gym, Thursday night was at Blundell Park, the away team dressing room, 12-14 kids. Obviously, there was me, Tony Ford, Kev Drinkell, my brother Kev, Shaun Mawer and a few other local lads. We used to go straight out of the back of the ground, straight over Fuller Street Bridge and onto the beach, running on the beach and then back to Blundell Park. In the summer we would be piggybacking each other up the stands. There was a heading board at the back of the Main Stand where we used to go and practice headers for hours. Bernard and Brian Stratford were always there, looking after us.
"The games on a Saturday were in the Northern Intermediate League then, I remember that Peter Sheffield coaches always used to pick me and Kev up at the college, Fordy used to get on there sometimes as well. We used to go to Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Leeds - we were playing all of the good teams. Obviously, we had a cracking youth team then and we did really well.
"Bernard was always sat at the front of the bus and the lads went to the back. We always used to have sandwiches on the way home, but if you lost, nobody dare say can we have a sandwich on the way home, so you would sometimes sit there for an hour thinking, we are nearly halfway home now is he going to say that we can have a sandwich. He would turn around and say come on get these sandwiches.
"This was obviously when I was 16,17, 18, and when you get into the first team, Bernard would always be the first to say well done today son.
“I’m absolutely sure that myself, our Kev, Tony Ford, Kev Drinkell, all the lads that came through at that level, Bernard was the first influence on our careers.
"We didn’t start with Grimsby like they do now, they are seven, eight, nine, 10 now, I didn’t kick a ball until I was about 14 or 15. Bernard was certainly a big influence in me getting to be a professional footballer.
And Kevin Drinkell, who was also part of Bernard’s fantastic team, and who went on to play for Norwich City and Scottish giants Rangers, appreciates the influence that Bernard had on his career. He said: “He galvanised that team. He certainly helped me as a young footballer. I and those players of that time have a lot to thank him for.”
Bernard James Fleming
8th January 1937 - 7th March 2021.