In the late 80s I was a mascot for Grimsby Town. I don’t remember too much of the day – it was 25 years ago after all – other than the fact I smashed several balls past Paul Reece in front of my school mates in the Pontoon before the game began. But one of my enduring moments of the day was as I waited in the tunnel to walk out on to the hallowed turf at Blundell Park. As the players left the dressing room, Mark Lever hammered his fists on the walls to gee his teammates up. I don’t remember the result (Google tells me a 1-1 draw with Hereford), but I vividly remember the Beverley-born centre-half thumping his way towards the pitch, screaming at the other players.
Grimsby Town have been blessed with some cracking central defenders in the last 20 years. Paul Futcher would top most fan polls, with Andy Tillson and Peter Handyside probably not far behind. All three were classy defenders more than capable with the ball at their feet. Mark Lever, on the other hand, was your traditional defender who would do anything to stop the ball going into the net he guarded. He would put his head where it hurt and hoof the ball over the Main Stand to ensure he cleared his lines. He wasn’t flashy and he knew his limitations, yet he remains one of the best Grimsby Town defenders of modern times. They simply don’t make centre halves in the mould of Mark Lever anymore.
After coming through the youth setup, Mark Lever started his first team career alongside the legendary Paul Futcher before cementing his place in the side next to Peter Handyside. Lever played in one of the club’s most iconic sides as Alan Buckley led the Mariners to the double Wembley wins in the 97/98 season. Lever played 55 of the 68 games that season as almost 35,000 fans made the journey to London to take over the capital and bring home the Auto Windscreens Shield. A few weeks later and promotion via the Play Offs followed. Although Kevin Donovan and Wayne Burnett are remembered most in those two games for their goals and performances during the season, Lever and his fellow defenders kept a number of clean sheets which helped fire the Mariners to promotion.
Many Town fans were disappointed when Lever left to join Bristol City and when he later joined Mansfield there were calls for him to come back to Blundell Park. That’s the lasting legacy the centre-half had on the supporters. Mark Lever will forever be an unsung hero amongst Mariners fans. He was the kind of footballer every fan wanted in their team – the defender who would run through a brick wall to win a header or throw himself at the ball to make a block. He was definitely one of the lads too – read Chris Hargreaves’ autobiography for a Mark Lever-inspired story on a post-season trip abroad. A wall thumping leader, Mark Lever will always be one half of a central defensive pairing in my personal best ever Grimsby Town XI.