Cheered on by thousands of fans brandishing inflatable haddock, Grimsby aims to catch another big fish when the fourth-tier minnow faces Brighton in the club's first FA Cup quarterfinal in 84 years on Sunday.
As an unfashionable underdog from a provincial town on England's East Coast, Grimsby's FA Cup adventure is the perfect encapsulation of the competition's appeal to soccer romantics.
The Mariners, which last played in the top-flight in 1948, are languishing in the lower reaches of League Two after winning promotion via the National League playoffs last year. The lowest-ranked team left in the FA Cup has defied the odds to reach the quarterfinals, becoming the first team in the competition's history to beat five clubs from higher divisions in a single campaign.
Paul Hurst's team eliminated three teams from League One and Championship promotion chaser Luton before the stunning 2-1 win at Premier League club Southampton in the round of 16.
Grimsby is only the sixth team from the fourth tier or below to reach the round of eight since the introduction of the Fourth Division in 1958-59, and only the second since 1989-90.
Its fairytale run has been a welcome sight for a town that has fallen on hard times in recent years. Located on the south bank at the mouth of the Humber, Grimsby's proximity to the North Sea once made it one of the world's biggest fishing ports. In its heyday in the 1970s, around 400 trawlers were based in the port of Grimsby, but by 2013 that number had plummeted to just five.
The collapse of Grimsby's fishing industry influenced 70 percent of the town's 90,000 population voting to leave the European Union in 2016. Fishermen had complained about regulations imposed by the EU, but Grimsby received scathing criticism when a local business group lobbied to avoid tariffs, customs and the other burdens of leaving the Union.
Grimsby's unwitting role as a Brexit bellwether has come to define the town's decline. Against such a bleak backdrop, it is no wonder the locals have embraced the positivity provided by the local club's unexpected FA Cup success.
More than 4,500 Grimbarians -- as the town's citizens are known -- will travel to Brighton armed with thousands of inflatable fish. Ever since Grimsby played then FA Cup holders Wimbledon in the fifth round in 1989 -- at the height of the trend of fans taking inflatables to matches in England -- Mariners' supporters have proudly displayed the 'Harry the Haddock' blow-up fish on big occasions in tribute to the town's fishing heritage.
Grimsby fans also run a fanzine called 'Cod Almighty,' so when Southampton tried to ban the iconic inflatables under Premier League rules, the subsequent outcry quickly forced them to relent. That set the stage for a surreal post-match scene when Grimsby defender Anthony Glennon donned a fish mask to join fans celebrating the shock victory with shoals of the plastic haddock.
Grimsby's memorable triumph even reached British Parliament, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a noted Southampton fan, offered his congratulations, saying it "pained" him to see his club beaten, but he "had a new team to support in the cup."
Now the club is dreaming of repeating its aquatic celebrations at the Amex Stadium this weekend in the club's first FA Cup quarterfinal since 1939. But Brighton, currently seventh in the Premier League, will pose a formidable barrier to Grimsby's hopes of adding to the two previous FA Cup semifinal appearances in the club's 145-year history.
"We know how difficult it is going to be, but it will be a fantastic occasion and we've got to try and enjoy it as much as we can," Hurst said. "Maybe it's time for me to start worrying about what we have to face!"
© Agence France-Presse