“Speaking as a Grimsby Town fan of 40 years standing, I do feel the club needs all the exposure we can get,” said Kathryn Wheatley. “But not that sort of exposure, thank you very much.”
Wheatley, the Labour leader on North East Lincolnshire council, was reacting to images of Boris Johnson entering and leaving the Covid inquiry on Wednesday, wearing a big woollen bobble hat labelled GTFC.
“What does GTFC stand for?” asked Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Grimsby Town Football Club” came a chorus of replies on social media.
It is said locally that the hat is one of two gifted to Johnson by Great Grimsby’s Tory MP, Lia Nici, a fierce supporter of the former prime minister. After Johnson resigned she declared that Johnson had “done more for Grimsby in generations, if ever”.
That’s not an opinion universally shared in the town.
Wheatley said Grimsby Town was a 140-year-old club which was “rooted in the community … and to be associated with that bumbling liar is not something we would want for our community, our town or our club”.
Wheatley thinks Johnson is wearing the hat as an affectation. “He’s just wearing it as a way of making himself look slightly more eccentric.”
Already a petition has been started to “ban Boris Johnson” from wearing the hat “and shaming a community”.
It was instigated by John Dale, who accused Johnson of using the town “to add lustre and glamour to his own shattered life. He is also bringing Grimsby into serious disrepute.
“This petition asks that Johnson stops wearing the hat and adopts a hat more suited to his lowly status. Eg: MUFC.”
The Covid inquiry is not the first time Johnson has been spotted wearing a Grimsby Town bobble hat.
There was also a sighting in 2020 when Johnson was photographed on holiday in the Scottish Highlands; and in January 2022 he was seen wearing it as he took an early morning jog with his dog, Dilyn, near Downing Street.
When Johnson was asked about it by Grimsby Live in 2022, he said: “It’s what I grab when I run out the house. There’s no particular science to it.”
Johnson is not thought to be an actual diehard fan of Grimsby Town, currently struggling near the bottom of League Two. Few people expect him to be at Saturday’s home match against Crewe Alexandra.
The politician has declared himself a football fan but never said which team he supports, if any. The closest he got was as London mayor when he said he supported “all of the London teams”.
It’s a striking vagueness given how other prime ministers have happily declared or hinted at their team. Rishi Sunak is Southampton; Liz Truss is Norwich City; Theresa May is thought to be AFC Wimbledon; David Cameron is Aston Villa; Gordon Brown is Raith Rovers; Tony Blair is Newcastle United; John Major is Chelsea.
Margaret Thatcher had no time for football.
Grimsby Town is, as Wheatley said, a proper community club. When Sacha Baron Cohen was researching his film Grimsby he was spotted wearing a replica shirt at Blundell Park and later joined fans in the pub.
“I wanted to discover what makes them tick,” he said at the time. “Are they really scroungers? What I found is people are on the dole because after the closure of the fishing industry there are no jobs. Huge swathes of the town are derelict. Vilifying these people is wrong.”
On social media on Thursday, Johnson’s hat brought mockery. Does it indicate something “fishy is going on underneath”, said one post on X, formerly Twitter. The question is not why was Johnson wearing a Grimsby hat, another post said, but “would Grimsby want him as a supporter?”
It might be funny if it was not so serious, suggested Matthew Patrick, a Labour councillor for the town’s Heneage ward. “But Johnson was never a serious politician.
“Grimsby was an area no less hit than anywhere else by the Covid crisis, I know quite a few who people who lost relatives. I would have preferred it if he had worn more neutral colours.”