Saturday January 7th 2017 has been a day that I have realised that my long standing apathy towards Lincoln City Football Club is over. The club was five minutes away from deservedly beating a side from three divisions above, a feat that would come just weeks after beating a side from two divisions above for the second time since our relegation to the Conference in 2011. Alas, a late equaliser meant that the Imps will be forced to play their sixth FA Cup tie of the season in the hopes of drawing one of the big-boys in the fourth round, all whilst still trying to win promotion back to the Football League and mount a successful run in the FA Trophy.
I had gained a general numbness towards the football club a few years ago and it arguably started just a few months after we started our first season back in the Conference. I was sat at an away game at Kettering Town, who were then playing at Nene Park in Irthlingborough, and everything about the club had become a cancer when the person next to me said to his friend “why do we put ourselves through this stress every week?” and it got me thinking. I hadn’t been enjoying the football for some time but I was still going on a regular basis, infact I didn’t miss a single game between August 2005 and October 2013, but towards the end there were very few positives to it.
What made this even worse was that I was actually running a website based on the club at the time, but my opinions were always different of others and being completely honest, I don’t think I was mentally mature when dealing with criticism. I’ve always said that I don’t care if people like me or not, but in some respects I can’t honestly say that given how I reacted to some of the criticism, even when it was completely justified. Putting it bluntly, I was a dick.
The club at this point had been on a downward spiral for several years and relegation had felt like an inevitability. We were helmed by a chairman that very few had faith in because of a reputation of saying one thing and then doing completely the opposite.
The inevitable relegation came in May 2011. I felt numb, as you can tell from the below.
A succession of uninspiring managerial appointments, protests against the board and a variety of other things made the club not fun to be around, the place had become a cancer. Any semblance that some fans had that we were too big for the non-league was quickly stifled as we were eliminated from the FA Cup by Alfreton and the FA Trophy by Carshalton Athletic. The latter of those two results was one of the worst moments I ever had as a Lincoln fan, and it wasn’t just the manner of the defeat to a side that I believe were three divisions below us at the time, it was that it wasn’t really a surprise.
That’s the thing about non-league, just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, along comes something that can be described as an embarrassment, and other than the aforementioned Carshalton game, nothing was more humbling than going into the final seven days of the 2012/13 season with the realistic possibility of being relegated to the Conference North. What made this even more galling was that just before those seven days came an away game at Luton. Luton were midtable at the time, certainly not a force of any kind, and Gary Simpson (the manager at the time) basically said “well we weren’t going to win anyway” after a lifeless and shambolic 3-0 defeat. I don’t think I’d ever felt so empty after a game before. Fortunately we would win our final two games, against Tamworth and Hyde respectively, to avoid a second relegation in 24 months.
It was around this time that I moved to Blackburn in Lancashire to work for BT Sport. I kept up my record of going to every game before I finished work late one night, meaning I’d had an hour to make the near 150 minute trip from Lancashire to Lincoln. Safe to say that I wasn’t even going to try that madness, so I missed my first Lincoln game in more than eight years. It was a strange feeling as I listened from my laptop just ten minute walk away from Ewood Park, but it also felt like a bit of a relief, especially as it turned out to be a 0-0 draw with Tamworth. I no longer felt like I had to attend games for the sake of attending games, and within two months there were several games when I was not even attempting to go, and I made a decision in a game against Grimsby Town on Boxing Day 2013 (a 2-0 defeat that was about as comfortable as they come) that the next game against Halifax would be my last game as a regular. Instead I filled the time with going to random games around Lancashire and working at Blackburn Hawks Ice Hockey as a member of the media team.
That was it, I only attended one game for the remainder of the season, and in the season afterwards I only went to games that were near Lancashire. I returned to Lincolnshire at the end of 2014, but even then I wouldn’t go on a regular basis.
By now Chris Moyses was in charge of the club and things were getting a bit ridiculous. The club were seemingly not ambitious enough to push for anything more than midtable, and the board announces major financial issues. Arguably the popular forum for Imps fans, the Facebook group known as “Lincoln City Banter” were allegedly launching all over anyone who dared to be critical of Moyses. I say allegedly because I had left that forum in 2013 after having a bit of a disagreement with most on there regarding an issue that I won’t go into. The club was not a fun place to be. I still looked out for results but other than that I was done.
Come the summer of 2014 I decided to go to the odd game here and there, mainly at stadiums that I had never been to. The team had started the season well by the time I went on the away trip to Eastleigh. What I saw that day was far different than what I had left behind. The players cared, they tried. Had I been watching a group of players that were all trying their hardest then I would have happily stayed as long as I could, but I could count the amount of players that were putting in effort over the previous few years very quickly.
At that point I thought I’d go and watch them more ofton, infact I went less than a month later as they put in a decent performance against perennial promotion chasers Grimsby (who were eventually promoted that season), as well as a few other games. In my career I gained a promotion and moved away from Lincoln again, this time to Leeds, and as I had two jobs I couldn’t really justify going regularly. I seemed to time it quite well as an issue with Liam Hearn, one of our top goalscorers at the time, completely knocked the Imps out of their stride, and it came as little surprise when a promotion chasing start to the season became another midtable finish.
However, things off of the pitch were taking a turn as Clive Nates joined the club and investment came with him. City suddenly had something that they hadn’t had for a while, money. Moyses decided to step down as management and the club took their time over appointing a successor, but most were very happy with the outcome.
For the previous few years Danny and Nicky Cowley had seemingly flown completely under the radar of most before taking a largely written off Braintree side to the 2015/16 Playoffs against all odds. That came after three promotions in six years with Concord Rangers. For once Bob Dorrian had actually lived up to his promise of appointing an young, upcoming manager with excellent non-league knowledge. The appointment was largely accepted and praised by the fans. It was the first time in a long time that the club had made an ambitious managerial appointment.
Cowley instantly won any doubters over and you could tell that he wasn’t going to be at the club for very long, but in the good sense and even now, eight months after his appointment it just feels like we’ve got him on loan. It is widely accepted that it’s only a matter of time until he moves onto something bigger and better. He is someone who has the capability and potential to go right to the top.
Anyway, I digress. Due to living in Leeds I still wasn’t able to go to many games, a few, but not many. However, as the Imps started the season very well a few of our games were chosen for TV, so I sat and watched and the difference between now and when I stopped going regularly just over four years ago is immeasurably, it’s a different club.
Now only are we a good footballing team, the club is as one. My favourite season following the Imps so far also happened to be the first that I went to every single game, the 2002/3 season. That season had a real “Team Lincoln” feeling. Everyone was in it together, an “us against the world” mentality. No team that I will ever seen in a Lincoln shirt will ever match that team for their bond with the fans, but the team of 2016/7 comes extremely close.
By October I had relocated to London, making most games impossible to get to, but I managed to watch the Oldham game on TV, getting complaints from the neighbouring rooms in the hotel for how loud I was cheering as City took a three goal lead against a side two divisions above us. The game eventually finished 3-2 in Lincoln’s favour, but no-one watching can be convinced that it was a game with just a single goal difference between the sides.
That was one of seven wins in a row as the team came within one game of equalling the club’s record unbeaten run.
The reward for beating Oldham was a trip to Ipswich, a tough proposition as they are three divisions above the Imps, and regardless of form or confidence, three divisions counts for a lot. Despite that, confidence was high in the Imps camp, so much so that over 4,800 Imps made the trip to Suffolk, an insane amount considering it was more than quadruple what we took to Bristol Rovers for a Playoff Semi Final in 2007, and more than 1,300 than against Huddersfield at the same stage three years earlier.
As I couldn’t get to Sincil Bank to get a ticket, I decided to get a ticket in the Ipswich end, more precisely at the top of their main stand. What I saw can’t really be put more appropriately than noting that the same Ipswich fans that booed their team off at the end of the 2-2 draw stayed behind to applaud the Imps off of the pitch. It was the first time I’ve personally known that to happen.
The togetherness I saw from the team, their relationship with the fans and a manager who is tactically competent for the first time since the days of Keith Alexander, has put a smile on the face of everyone connected with the club. Add to the success on the pitch is the fact that Bob Dorrian announced that the club is now in the black financially, a significant step, and an important one.
I’ve got my club back!