Recently there have been calls for former keeper Alan Marriott to receive some form of testimonial match to honour his nine years at Lincoln City. Is it possible to do such a thing eight years after he left the club, and can you have testimonial match after just nine years service?
If you can, remember the scene. Tt’s 4.05pm on Saturday May 3rd, 2003. Lincoln need a draw to qualify for a first ever play-off semi final appearance. It’s just twelve months since the spectre of relegation loomed large. Martin Gritton had given Torquay an early lead, and now the same player had been pulled back by Stuart Bimson to give the Gulls a chance to kill our dreams from the penalty spot.
A much younger and more vibrant version of me stood directly behind the goal in the Stacey West calling Alex Russell, the penalty taker, every name under the sun. In the sticks was Alan Marriott, a man who carried my hopes and dreams on his shoulders, and the hopes and dreams of over 7,000 Imps fans.
Russell tried a cheeky chip and our dependable number one didn’t commit to a dive. Planning? Luck? Who cares. He simply plucked the ball out of the air, and in a display of raw passion charged at Russell and berated him for his fancy-dan approach. Later in the game Simon Yeo banged in an equaliser to set up a two legged tie with Scunthorpe. You know the rest.
Alan Marriott wasn’t just one penalty save though, he was a record breaker and a bona-fida Imps legend. In between September 2001 and the same month in 2004 he made 140 consecutive appearances for Lincoln. In 2006-07 he seemed to break a record every single week. His appearance in the 2–2 away draw to Bury in January made him just the ninth player in the Imps history to achieve 300 appearances. His 310th appearance in the televised 3–2 home defeat to Swindon saw him surpass Dan McPhail’s record for Football League appearances.
He then kept a clean sheet in the 0–0 draw at Bristol Rovers in April 2007 which surpassed Dan McPhail’s total club record of 102 clean sheets. A week later his clean sheet away at Grimsby saw him surpass the clubs Football League record for clean sheets, again beating McPhail.
He reached 100 Football League clean sheets at the beginning of his following season, but John Schofield’s dismissal saw him enter choppy waters. Peter Jackson brought in Ben Smith on loan and although Mazza regained his spot he was unceremoniously dumped in the summer after nine seasons. Maybe the manager thought the club legend was past it, maybe he didn’t want someone else stealing the limelight in a testimonial earning tenth season. Who knows? History will show Mazza voted 19th in the Imps all time top 100 players, and after City he made over 200 appearances for Mansfield. Maybe it wasn’t the ‘past it’ thing then. Only Peter Jackson can tell us.
Recently there’s been a lot of love for our former stopper on Facebook forums. Director Clive Nates was tagged in a post (which happens quite a bit; give the guy a rest, he helped save our football club!) requesting a match to honour Mazza. Simon Yeo was all over it, suggesting a few of the 2003-2006 players might come down as well.
So is it possible? Can you have a testimonial under these conditions? Well, yes you can.
The theory behind a testimonial has become a little less relevant in recent years. They were usually a benefit match at the end of a players career that helped set them up for life after football. That became far less of an issue when players started earning more in a week than I do in a year. Recently they’ve been focused on charities when featuring top flight players, and have been more of a spectacle for the fans than something the player needs.
Alan Marriott is different I would imagine. I don’t know about his personal finances and I don’t want to, but I’d imagine football didn’t make him a rich man, and a testimonial might just go down nicely. There don’t seem to be any ‘rules’ as such regarding the practice.
Clubs have typically granted testimonials to players who have ten years of service, although in recent years they have been given to players for particular circumstances such as approaching retirement. I’ve seen such games held for injured players as well.
I can see a real benefit for the ‘Team Lincoln’ ethos we’re promoting at present. If the club were to grant such a game, wouldn’t it be a spectacular PR win as well? Acknowledging a club legend retrospectively, garnering headlines and coverage as ‘the club that cares’. It’s not just PR either, the club do care. The new Lincoln City are likely to undertake such a game and not just because there’s something ‘in it’ for them.
Maybe a former Keith Alexander eleven could play the current squad? Maybe half of the proceeds could go to the favoured charity of Keith’s family or Richard Butcher’s family? It would create a viable link between that special feeling of old, and the incredible feeling we have at the moment. It would celebrate everything that was good about 2003-2006, and everything that is good about now.
Will it happen? Who knows? Maybe Mazza wouldn’t want the fuss. Maybe the club don’t want to rake over the embers of the ill-feeling Jacko caused by releasing him. In my humble opinion there is definitely some mileage in arranging such a game for all concerned, and it would pay tribute to a player, a legend, who (in my opinion) was treated abysmally by a man who wanted all sentiment to be about him, all good feeling to be aimed at him and who wouldn’t tolerate other people stealing the limelight.
Game or no game I’m happy to write about a man who gave me a lot of happy memories at the end of the pitch usually reserved for pan and suffering.