When Trinity manager Steve Housham sat down with the BBC’s Rob Makepeace last week and, with a smirk so smug it was literally audible, rolled out a clichéd, finger-based observation about Boston’s townsfolk, he probably thought he was striking a great blow to his bête noire, Dennis Greene, and dumping a gallon of napalm onto the fire of the Boston-Gainsborough rivalry.
Or maybe not. A few people tutted. The odd United fan complained to the BBC and moaned about it all on the internet. And that was about it. Beyond general amusement, nobody was really offended by Housham’s comments because Boston and Gainsborough have always made unlikely rivals. As bitter adversaries go, they’re not so much The Beatles vs Rolling Stones as Aphex Twin vs Blazin’ Squad.
By making the comments, and then snubbing Makepeace’s offer of an immediate on-air apology, all Housham did was highlight the desperation in the small towns of windswept Lincolnshire for someone – anyone – to notice what they’re up to, even if it is just the slightly bemused inhabitants of another market town down the road.
Great rivalries are not supposed to feel this forced. The fiercest are a natural by-product of geographical proximity and a never-ending battle for sporting, cultural, and perhaps even economic bragging rights, with a bit of shared history chucked into the cauldron for good measure.
The Red Sox and Yankees have Babe Ruth and the fact the old cities have hated one another for centuries. Manchester and Liverpool have been at each other’s throats since the Industrial Revolution. Rangers and Celtic… well, let’s not go there.
Closer to home, Forest fans are brought up from birth to believe that Derby County – probably the least offensive football club on the planet – are some kind of monstrous force of galactic evil. Their counterparts in Derby grow up on a similar narrative, a natural synergy that results in the kind of derby that results in away fans being marched from the train station by police dressed up as storm troopers.
But you won’t find people in Boston burning Gainsborough shirts. Nor is it ever likely to explode into a ‘bubble’ match, with fans given a police escort to a service station and then through mobs brandishing bricks. No – Trinity and Boston are rivals by convenient default, essentially because there’s literally no-one else available. There’s nothing actually behind it all. It’s just a facade, destined to forever remain a depressingly inert derby – if you could even call it a derby.
It’s a shame when you think about it. Boston’s lack of an obvious local rival (and consistently appalling cup results) robs us of the kind of frenetic game that has the creaky old stands crackling with that special kind of energy – and you know the kind I mean – that a visit from Colwyn Bay simply won’t produce.
The town’s main problem is that it’s in the middle of nowhere, a traffic jam to be navigated on the way to Skegness. This, along with the club’s chaotic history playing in an array of obscure, long-forgotten leagues means that none of the many local sides the Pilgrims have played have ever really taken root under the skin of the average fan.
Or have they? If Gainsborough Trinity aren’t really Boston’s big rivals, then who are? It’s a tough question and plenty of fans have different opinions. So let’s take a look at some of the candidates, starting with the most obvious…
Lincoln’s long history as a member of the Football League means that, despite the relative proximity of the two clubs, the Pilgrims and Imps share what is most politely described as an ambivalent attitude to one another.
Boston’s five years in the League did see sparks fly in front of some hefty Yellowbelly derby crowds – Lawrie Dudfield’s last-minute winner at York Street in 2006 and Boston’s Gazza-inspired fight back from two goals down at Sincil Bank a year earlier stand out as particular highlights – but Lincoln fans aren’t historically bothered about Boston, preferring to aim their spittle-flecked ire at the likes of Grimsby and Scunthorpe instead. Fair enough.
That said, as Lincoln continue to struggle in the Conference, their crowds slowly dwindle, and Boston creep closer to the play-off places just a league below, there’s a every chance this could soon blossom into a proper rivalry, with mopeds and flaming pig heads. Okay, flaming sausages.
Pros: Lincoln’s so close you can see it from the Stump on a clear day.
Cons: It’s a university city now. Yes, it might be the kind of university that has adverts on tv, but let it go – they’re just not that bothered about Boston.
Rival Rating: 5/10
For a town that boasts two railway stations, Gainsborough’s Northolme is annoyingly difficult to get to by train. You’d have to assume the reverse is true, which may go some way towards explaining the demoralising number of Gainsborough fans who make the trek to Boston.
That aside, Boston and Gainsborough do have a long history – a casual flick through the dusty record books demonstrates these two have been having it out for decades. But then again, Boston have played Goole plenty of times as well, and that’s not that far from Gainsborough.
Currently, though, they’re about as close as it gets to a local rival, and it’s hard to deny it’s nice to beat them. Just ask David Newton.
Pros: They’re also from Lincolnshire.
Cons: Lincolnshire is massive.
Rival Rating: 5/10
King’s Lynn F.C.
At first glance, a perfect match: similar-sized team, a similar-sized fan base, plenty of history and a mere, er, 54 miles down the A17, King’s Lynn has all the attributes of a classic local rival. Indeed, the last time these sides locked horns in a big festive derby, the Town End held plenty of angry blokes hitting each other, which is usually a good benchmark for how much teams loathe one another.
Unfortunately, King’s Lynn went bust in 2009 and Boston have yet to face the re-formed phoenix club that emerged from the ruins. So, er, that’s the end of that then.
Pros: Another historic Fenland market town that is a mecca for those with an unhealthy obsession with windmills.
Cons: Club no longer exists.
Rival Rating: 0/10
At first glance, a perfect match: similar-sized team, a similar-sized fan base, plenty of history, and a mere, er, 63 miles down the A17 and other assorted A-roads, Kettering has all the attributes of a classic local rival. Indeed, the last time these sides locked horns in a big festive derby, the Town End held plenty of angry blokes hitting each other, which is usually a good benchmark for how much teams loathe one another.
Unfortunately, Kettering Town nearly went the way of King’s Lynn thanks to following the well-trodden path of terrible financial management. The club survived – just – but now plays at a small ground outside Kettering as their old Rockingham Road ground decays.
But with a long, storied history and fans who – and this is crucial – never really liked Boston, it seems implausible to think Kettering won’t one day return to the town and re-establish themselves as Boston’s biggest rival. This, it seems, is a great rivalry merely on hold.
Pros: Plenty of slightly scary supporters.
Cons: Ground now derelict. Club a shadow of its former self.
Rival Rating: 7/10
Ah, Grantham. Poor Grantham. It’s a shame that the town that invented gravity is known today for being an unwelcome stop on the East Coast Main Line, an infuriating bottleneck on the A52 and the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, but them’s the breaks I suppose.
Marooned out at the windswept and unwelcoming athletics track called The Meres are Grantham Town, who briefly rose up to threaten Boston’s local supremacy in the late 90s – so much so that BBC Radio Lincolnshire invited their fans to launch into a tuneless rendition of ‘We Hate Boston’ live on air.
Irrational hatred of a town down the road is certainly a promising start, but sadly Boston were soon off on a highly dubious adventure in the Football league, and Grantham sank back down the pyramid.
The few local derbies played at York Street were certainly feisty affairs, with trouble breaking out on the Town End (where else?) when the two sides faced off against one another in a raucous festive game in 1998. Based on current form, future games seem a long way off, but at least we have the memories.
Pros: Half an hour down the road. Genuinely prickly games.
Cons: Athletics track around pitch. Come on.
Rival Rating: 3/10
To supporters of a certain wrinkly vintage, this entire argument is moot: it’s the Posh, they tell you, who are Boston United’s real local rivals.
Perhaps if you’re 85 you might get worked up into a fusty-smelling lather about the prospect of Boston reacquainting themselves with the old enemy, but several generations of United fans have absolutely no recollection of the clubs regularly locking horns in the old Midland League, games that exist now as fading memories in newspaper archives.
Those days are long gone. Since then, Peterborough’s population has swelled and as a result the club has outgrown Boston’s natural level. As with Lincoln, Boston have only briefly shared a league with the Cambridgeshire outfit in recent years. The sight of the Town End absolutely stuffed to the rafters with Posh fans might have been a stirring sight, but it didn’t exactly herald the dawn of a new era of inter-town hostilities.
With little prospect of this rivalry ever being rekindled on a permanent basis, this is one for the scrapbook.
Pros: Quite close.
Cons: They have a John Lewis, which officially means Peterborough fans are part of the urban elite. Put another way, identify yourself as a Boston fan in Peterborough and they’ll assume you’re referring to the Bruins.
Rival Rating: 2/10
Now we’re talking. The fact that The Hague is only about forty miles further away from Boston than Barrow is might make you think this is an absurd candidate, but let’s examine the evidence: they don’t like us, we don’t really like them, they get similar crowds and have been a perennial thorn in our sides for decades.
It doesn’t end there: the two towns are both on the coast and are both home to the kind of aggressive seagulls who have you nervously watching your double cheeseburger. And children. But mainly the cheeseburger.
Importantly, there’s niggle too: Barrow fans had a particular grievance against Boston keeper Paul Bastock for many years as the two teams tussled in the Unibond League. That, coupled with Bastock’s status as a club legend, ensured games between the two often resulted in scything tackles that would probably result in a custodial sentence in the modern era.
That’s all in the past now, of course, but there is still something in the air between the two clubs, and towns, who are more similar than we’d probably like to admit. Well, apart from the whole ‘building nuclear submarines’ thing. Cabbages aren’t quite as glamourous, are they?
Pros: Mutual dislike.
Cons: Not really a ‘derby’ as it’s a ten hour round trip. Or three hours, if Duncan Browne is driving.
Rival rating: 7/10
This article was originally published on the Boston Standard website.