FA Cup third round: Former online dating boss Jason Stockwood on his beloved Grimsby Town

Co-owners Jason Stockwood (right) and Andrew Pettit (left) celebrate with former midfielder Giles Coke after Grimsby Town win promotion to League Tw3
Co-owners Jason Stockwood (right) and Andrew Pettit (left) celebrate with former midfielder Giles Coke after Grimsby Town win promotion to League Two
Dates: 6-9 January Coverages: Gillingham v Leicester City (12:30 GMT) and Sheffield Wednesday v Newcastle United (18:00) live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app on Saturday, 7 January, and Manchester City v Chelsea (16:30) live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app on Sunday, 8 January.

As former head of a well-known dating website, Jason Stockwood is used to romantic stories.

“I made a point of speaking to customers every week to get feedback,” says the chairman of League Two club Grimsby Town.

“One lady told me she was divorced and felt she would not find another partner only to discover her daughter had signed her up to Match.com.

“A fireman she had seen in town she was attracted to reached out on the site and now they are married. It was beautiful hearing stories like that.”

On paper, Stockwood’s relationship with Grimsby is a match made in heaven.

Born in the fishing town, he was raised by his mother, a single parent, and grandma four miles from Blundell Park, home of the Mariners.

He has been a Grimsby fan since boyhood.

As a ball boy in the 1980s, Stockwood watched matches sat on the side of the pitch and would dodge coins thrown at him by opposition fans in the Osmond Stand.

Now aged 52, he has established himself as a global technology entrepreneur via a wide range of jobs including stints at Walt Disney World in Florida and one lively summer on the Greek island of Zante as a holiday rep.

In May 2021, Stockwood linked up with fellow entrepreneur and Mariners fan Andrew Pettit to take over Grimsby.

The co-owners are facing the greatest challenge of their business careers – reviving the fortunes of the club against the backdrop of a soaring cost of living.

“Andrew and I look for challenges, we look for problems to solve. That’s the life of an entrepreneur,” adds Stockwood, whose team host League One Burton Albion in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday (17:30 GMT).

“There is great solidarity in the community that we are seeing not just at the football club, but the town overall.”

Grimsby Town fans at London Stadium for the National League play-off final against Solihull Moors in June 2022
Around 13,000 Grimsby fans traveled to London Stadium to see their team promoted to the Football League in June 2022

‘Fans threw coins at me – I made 32p’

Stockwood grew up in Antrim Way, Scartho, with his mum, grandma and three brothers, and describes himself as a “council estate kid”.

“It was a happy childhood. It just happened we were skint,” he says. “My mum was a real grafter, even though she was a single parent, she had three jobs and a real work ethic. She is an inspiration.”

In the early 1980s, Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were football’s poster boys, but Stockwood’s childhood idol was Joe Waters, a hard-tackling and industrious midfielder for Grimsby.

As ball boy, he got to see his hero close up.

“It was magical feeling being on the other side of the wall,” Stockwood adds. “I used to be on the edge of the pitch in a green tracksuit that sadly hadn’t been washed all season.

“I remember one game I was positioned at the away end and Newcastle fans were throwing coins and spitting at me. I picked up all the coins and took home 32 pence that day. I always say that was the start of my entrepreneurial career.”

Stockwood was awarded a scholarship in the United States which gave him a taste for traveling and would lead to a stay on a kibbutz in Israel before a job looking after holidaymakers in Zakynthos.

“Being a holiday rep is one of the hardest jobs I have done,” he says.

“There were people who got into situations with the police which I had to solve, people who had a little bit too much to drink, and people who got ill. There was even a person who died.

“I was 25 and dealing with highly stressful situations. There was no rulebook. People think you’re out there drinking and having fun.

“It was a great education in terms of dealing with problems and thinking on your feet.”

With the internet taking off, jobs in online travel followed which reached a senior level before, in 2007, Stockwood moved into the world of online dating.

Within months he was promoted to international managing director of the website.

A mural at Blundell Park, home of Grimsby Town Football Club
A mural at Blundell Park illustrates Grimsby’s proud fishing heritage

‘My friends thought online dating was for losers’

While tens of millions of people around the world use dating apps, meeting a partner online was not so popular back in the early 2000s.

“I started to use an online dating site around 2005 and when I told my friends they thought it was hilarious,” adds Stockwood.

“They thought it was for sad, lonely losers. I was involved in technology and I remember thinking that online dating was really going to take off and change how people met.

“It’s no longer one of the most embarrassing ways to meet a partner.”

Stockwood met his wife, Lorna, online. The couple have been together for 17 years and are married with two children.

Blundell Park, home of Grimsby Town
Grimsby are looking to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1999-00

‘Grimsby’s full of hope and resilience’

Since Stockwood and Pettit became co-owners following relegation to the National League, Grimsby have won promotion back to the Football League.

Attendances are up, with 6,000 season tickets sold for 2022-23, yet there is lots of work ahead if the Mariners are to keep moving forward. Patience is key, insists Stockwood.

“In the middle of last season, before we were promoted, we won one game in 10,” he says. “The banners were out and people were online calling for us to sack the manager [Paul Hurst]. At no stage did we consider that because we know this is a process.”

The town of Grimsby was left reeling when, in 2014, Channel 4 filmed its Skint documentaryexternal-link, portraying the fishing port as poverty-stricken and a benefit black spot. Four years later the town was crowned “Britain’s unhealthiest high street”.

During the cost of living crisis, the football club has reached out to the community to provide a warm space, while fans donated more than 150 winter coats which were distributed to those most in need.

There is also an initiative in place with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)external-link that allows young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to watch games at Blundell Park for free.

“Grimsby is a town like any other in the UK in that it has pockets of deprivation and a broad church of people who are experiencing the cost of living crisis,” adds Stockwood, whose club sit 16th in League Two and are looking to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 23 years.

“What I see in the community is a togetherness, a resilience, hopefulness, a spirit of endeavor and aspiration.

“I’m involved in the building of a youth facility in the town and the kids I’m working with are ambitious and hopeful about the future.”

Stockwood believes anything is possible for the people of Grimsby and their football club.

“For a kid from a council estate who ended up as a tech entrepreneur and fellow at Oxford University, there is an obvious belief that the future is positive,” he says.

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