STRIKER Tim Grice is probably more frustrated than most players that the football season has ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Leek Town stalwart, who arrived at the club from Eccleshall in 2011, scored his 199th goal for the club in the 2-0 victory over Lincoln United on March 14 to keep Blues top of the BetVictor South East Division and on course for promotion to the Premier Division.
But the news that all football from Step Three down was being brought to a close has put his landmark on hold – for now, but he says he’ll just have to be patient before he can break out the Champagne.
“It’s frustrating really that football has come to a halt when I’m so close to the 200 mark, but I’m partly to blame for that,” he confessed, adding: “I had a few chances to score when we played Chasetown recently and although I scored at Lincoln, I had another chance to make it to the 200, so I can’t blame anyone but myself for that. But I’ve got plenty of legs in me yet, so I’m sure it won’t be too long before I get there once we kick in again,” said the 30-year-old, who grew up in Trentham, but now lives in Meir.
Like most clubs at non-league level, communal training was suspended following guidance from the Football Association, and players asked to train as best they can on their own.
But that’s not something that’s concerning Grice too much as he keeps himself pretty active anyway. Up until recently it was with a little help from his uncle, John Grice, with weekly squash sessions.
His uncle was well known in local footballing circles, having spent years playing in a very good Shamblers side, until injury ended his playing days.
However, he’s a more than capable squash partner during the sessions they used to have at the Tollgate Club on a Monday and Friday.
“I like to keep myself active and that’s going to be even more important now we can’t train together as a group at the football club.
“The games of squash came in handy, but I also do a lot of work on my running machine three times a week.
“I don’t like doing too much work on the pavements or roads, they are so uneven, so I make do with a running machine I have at home. I’m not a gym man,” he pointed out, “but it’s down to us all individually to do our bit and keep in the best shape we can.”
So as well as keeping fit with his uncle during their weekly squad sessions before new restrictions were introduced, he’s never short of advice, whether it be from his uncle, his brother Mark or sister Beth, who also happen to be strikers.
Mark plays up front for Staffs County Senior League side Foley Meir, while Beth is a striker for Crewe Alexandra Ladies.
“It’s good having close family to turn to at times. Mark, Beth and I are on a chat group on social media and we are always in touch talking about football,” said Tim, who is behind his brother when it comes to goals this season.
Tim’s on 24 for Leek Town this season, and according to the latest Staffs County Senior League news sheet, Mark leads the scoring charts with 30.
“Mark keeps telling me he’s scored 50 goals a season for the last 10 years, I think he’s trying to wind me up but it’s all good banter and we have a good laugh about it. He’s 35 now and still playing at a good standard with Foley Meir, so hopefully I’ve got a few good years and goals left in me too,” said the younger brother who works part-time as a delivery driver.
Tim is also an admirer of his sister Beth who plays up front for Crewe Ladies and has scored her fair share of goals too.
“I haven’t had the chance to watch too many of Beth’s games, some of their games are miles away, but she’s handy up front, so between the three of us, we’ve not got a bad strike force.”
As for the future, Grice says it’s a case of wait and see, but he echoed the views of his manager Neil Baker about what should happen now the season has been brought to a close. Baker said he couldn’t see the season being completed and insisted the fairest outcome would be to promote the two teams with the best points per game ratio.
“It’s not looking good at the moment, as far as us getting promotion, but you just don’t know. I think the fairest way is for the authorities to work out the promotion issues on a points per game basis.
“Three-quarters of the season has been played and I don’t think it would be fair to just start again next season. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and the last thing we want is to just finish the season without some reward. That’s how I feel about it, but it’s not my decision.
“But my concern at the moment is making sure we all get over the current crisis, it’s important we all look after ourselves and go again when all this is over.”
Grice became the club’s all-time record scorer since records began, beating the previous record of 152 goals set by former Stoke City youngster Dave Sutton, who joined Leek in the late 1980s and was part of the club’s historic run to the FA Trophy final in 1990. He left the club in the 2000/2001 season.
Grice said it was a proud moment for him when he broke the record, scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Spalding United back in April 2018.
He said at the time: “It was great to have finally broken Dave’s record and I’m really happy from a personal point of view, but I am honest enough to admit Dave played for Leek at a higher standard than I am currently, so you have to take that into account.”
But since that record, Grice has continued to score goals for the club he just loves playing for.
“I really love it at Leek Town, it’s a really friendly well-run club. I don’t think I would have stayed so long if I wasn’t enjoying it so much.
“We’ve got a good blend of experience and youth and everyone gets on with one another. We always have a drink together after a match, or after training and it’s a great atmosphere,” added Grice who puts most of his improved form down to the management team.
“It’s been great working under Neil (Baker) and Pete (Ward, assistant), while coach Simon Bell has returned to the club and he has also made a big difference, not just for myself, but the team in general.
“Neil’s been great since the moment he set foot back in the club. He’s got bags of experience following his time at Crewe Alexandra. He lives in the town and loves the club and he’s really keen for us to do well.
“Training sessions were fantastic, he goes into a lot of detail, making sure we work on the tactical side as well as keeping our fitness levels us.
“He has a go at me at times, but a lot of it is tongue in cheek. One of his favourite lines is: ‘it seems like I’ve been coaching you for 50 years and you’re still making the same mistakes’.
“The manager has put a good squad together, that’s why we are top of the league and at the time going for promotion. I can’t emphasise enough what a great club I play for and long may that continue, whether we see this season out or have to start all over again next season.”
One of striker’s biggest fans is chairman John Eeles, and he believes the striker, who is in his best form at the club, will soon reach the 200 mark.
Eeles said: “As many people know, Tim has been a constant at the club since I became a director and Chairman, and I have witnessed the vast majority of his goals. He was agonisingly close to getting the 200 at Lincoln as a shot in the 90th minutes just evaded the goal.
“I am sure when we resume footballing activities it wont take long for Tim to hit the magic number, and I look forward to him scoring many more in a Leek Town shirt.
“Tim currently tops the goal scoring charts in the South East Division and is currently second in the entire Northern Premier League. We are lucky to have Tim at our club, and I feel he is currently in the best form of his time at Leek Town.”
FC United of Manchester’s Tunde Owolabi has scored 28 goals in the Premier Division, none from the penalty spot. Leek Town’s Tim Grice has scored 24 goals in the South East Division, none from the penalty spot, and Workington’s Scott Allison has scored 22 goals in the North West Division, four of them from the penalty spot.
There are fears the BetVictor League will expunge all records, which could wipe out Grice’s goals this season, but Eeles says that won’t happen with the club’s own records.
“Whatever the league decide to do, Tim will remain on 199 goals for Leek Town as far as we are concerned. He deserves that at least.
“His record will stand with us,” confirmed the club chairman.
Grice has been recognised for his sterling efforts for Leek Town during 2019 by being nominated in the senior individual category in the Sentinel/City of Stoke Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
He was nominated by the club chairman, who feels the striker deserves to be rewarded for his loyalty and service to the club.