Clifton is well aware of the impact Grimsby can have on people's lives

Local hero Harry Clifton is well aware of the positive impact Grimsby has on people’s lives…. now the Mariners midfielder has his sights set on another giantkilling at Southampton

  • Clifton has contributed more than anyone in Grimsby’s fairytale FA Cup run 
  • He started at Grimsby as an eight-year-old and has made over 200 appearances 

Harry Clifton was following Grimsby Town even before he knew it. ‘My mum was heavily pregnant with me but it still didn’t stop her going to Wembley!’ laughs the Mariners midfielder about his mother Julie attending the Football League Trophy final in April 1998. ‘Apparently I was kicking non-stop throughout the game.’

Clifton was born in Grimsby two months after that Wembley win and he would soon be going to games as a fan himself. One of the first he remembers is in the League Cup against Newcastle in 2005, when Alan Shearer scored the only goal, which he watched with his grandad Billy and brother Jack.

Footage was recently unearthed of a seven-year-old Clifton giving his thoughts on that match as he left the ground to local ITV News. Well, fast-forward 18 years and he will be live on ITV’s national channel playing for his boyhood club against Premier League Southampton in the FA Cup fifth round.

‘It’s a bit mad really,’ admits Clifton, who started at Grimsby as an eight-year-old and has already made more than 200 appearances for them aged 24. ‘It’s nice to have moments like this to remind yourself of how far you have come.

‘You always dream of playing in a big cup game. I look back at that Newcastle game, and the Tottenham game in the round before, and that’s what everyone in the town still remembers. This match might be the same in years to come.’

Harry Clifton has contributed more than anyone in Grimsby’s fairytale FA Cup run this season

Clifton started at Grimsby as an eight-year-old and has made more than 200 appearances

Grimsby, who sit 16th in League Two, are the lowest-ranked team left in the competition. They have knocked out three League One sides – Plymouth, Cambridge and Burton – and Championship Luton to reach the fifth round for the first time since they took Chelsea to a replay in 1996.

‘I wasn’t even born then, so that shows how long ago it was and how big an achievement this is,’ says Clifton, who grew up just a five-minute drive from Blundell Park and is sitting with Sportsmail in one of the modest hospitality boxes at the old ground.

Mention of Grimsby in the fifth round, however, instantly evokes memories of an even older tie – the visit to then holders Wimbledon in 1989. That was the day the nation was introduced to Harry Haddock, the name given to the inflatable fishes which 2,000 fans brought into the away end at Plough Lane. Even Des Lyman showed one off on that evening’s Match of the Day.

This year, Harry Haddocks have once again been swimming off the shelves of the club shop. And a huge shoal is expected at St Mary’s after Southampton reversed their ban on the 4,000-strong travelling support bringing inflatables into the stadium.

‘When you think of the bigger games in Grimsby’s history and the away end, you think of Harry Haddock,’ says Clifton, who denies he was himself named after the fish. ‘I’ve got a picture in Trafalgar Square the day before the 2008 Football League Trophy final and there are Harry Haddocks there. This year, the fans have really got on board with it. It is great we are bringing back that memory.’

The club, now under the ownership of local businessmen Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit, are also bringing new memories to the people of the Lincolnshire fishing port town. Take last summer, when thousands of fans lined the streets for Grimsby’s open-top bus parade after their play-off final win to secure promotion back to the Football League at the first time of asking.

‘The town square was full, that was one of the best days,’ says Clifton. ‘The club has a massive impact on people’s lives here. A lot of the positivity that happens will be when the club is doing well. That is a massive factor for me as well – being able to contribute in a way that is going to help the town, not just the club.’

The midfielder will play for his boyhood club against Premier League Southampton

Grimsby midfielder Clifton talks to Sportsmail’s David Coverdale at Blundell Park

And Clifton has contributed more than anyone in Grimsby’s fairytale FA Cup run this season. It was his equaliser at Luton in the last round which secured a replay for the Mariners, who then ran out shock 3-0 winners at home after he netted the ninth-minute opener.

‘I like to get forward and to try and score goals,’ admits Clifton. ‘My idol growing up was Steven Gerrard. I always wanted to play like him and I see myself as a box-to-box midfielder, who can do both sides of the game. My engine is one of my big things.’

Clifton – Grimsby’s fittest player according to manager Paul Hurst – will need that engine more than ever against Southampton. So, can he fire up another FA Cup giantkilling?

‘There is no point us turning up and 4,000 fans coming down if we don’t believe we can win,’ he adds. ‘It will take absolutely everything and we will need to have a lot of luck on our side, but stranger things have happened.’

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