“Goal 2010, a five-year plan that Mao would be proud of, aims to prepare Lincoln for life in the Championship. “Rather than ploughing all our money into buying players we’re strengthening all areas of the club, from the youth academy, to the commercial staff and training facilities, The club is also looking to build on their supporters’ base by getting people that wouldn’t usually watch football into Sincil Bank. Unfortunately that meant staging a Westlife concert at the ground this season, but if that’s the price of success, so be it.”
The passage above appeared on the Guardian website as far back as 2006, in the days before social media and the mass analysis we have today. Perhaps it slipped under the radar back then, much of Goal 2010 certainly seemed to. Ten years and a few weeks later and I think we are now only just beginning to emerge from the catastrophic shadow cast by the ill-fated scheme.
It was the end of the 2006/07 season where, in most peoples opinions, the rot really started. After a scintillating early season in late 2006 the Imps tailed off, John Deehan’s contacts didn’t yield the rich rewards we had hoped. We got a steady and able right back in Paul Green, but we also had to endure the likes of Jamie Hand and Ryan Amoo. Whilst other sides strengthened, we were significantly weakened.
Jamie Forrester and Mark Stallard had a superb season, but both we approaching the stage of their career where they needed younger and fitter men to take some of the goal grabbing burden. The ‘younger and fitter’ striker we hoped for turned out to be Steve Torpey.
If we had invested in that summer then perhaps the prospect of Championship football in 2010 could have been a reality. Instead we started hunting for expensive training grounds and putting on concerts that (I’m led to believe) didn’t benefit the club at all.
The focus seemed to shift from us being a football club to us being the hub of the community with some really lavish facilities, but Lincoln City FC is a football club. Successive managers tried to stop the rot, some by spending big (Jackson, Sutton), some by being thrifty (Holdsworth), some by grafting for free just to help steady the ship (Chris). I’m not sure what Steve Tilson’s method was I’m afraid. I think he hoped to stay up by conceding goals and losing games.
I think our story goes to show how just a few months of bad decisions can affect a team for a significant period of time. Failure to invest in the right areas did untold damage across all aspects of the club. We didn’t need the training ground, we needed a centre forward. Westlife served no purpose other than to line the pockets of certain ‘partners’, but ultimately (and allegedly) lose the club money. Maybe we could have used that money to bring in a strong centre half to replace McAuley?
That’s why the current set up is so positive, because despite all of the good vibes and positivity, nobody is losing focus on the fact we are a football club. Clive and the chairman have pledged money raised by the cup run will go into the playing budget, not extra office staff, not unrelated events and certainly not on a training ground, fit for purpose or not.
Even the comment in the first paragraph about investing in youth didn’t really come to fruition did it? Jack Hobbs had moved on, and in truth he was probably the last of the really good players to come out of the youth team. Jacko (to his credit) did try and play some of the younger players, but from Luca Colman-Carr to Lee Bennett, from Martin Pembleton to Nathan Adams we just didn’t see the reward for the investment. Future managers didn’t continue with that belief in youth and all the money spent on the young players was money wasted when Chris Sutton and Steve Tilson turned up. Tragic really.
Now? Now we have Alex Simmons scoring for fun at Halifax, we have Kegan Everington and Elliot Hodge out on loan. Our young players are getting an opportunity and are being managed much better. If there is anything we can learn from the 2010 plan debacle, it is that money alone does not make a young player. They need sensible management not just from their youth coaches but also the first team manager.
When I watched training a couple of the young players were there with the squad. I’m told every match day a different pairing travel on the team coach and are given a taste of what it is like to be in the first team. When they’re out on loan they’re allowed to play in the cup competitions, they train with us in the week and they’re in regular contact with the manager. With all the great work put in by the likes of Grant Brown and John Schofield in the past decade, could we have unearthed another gem for the club if the first team managers at the time had the same ethos as the Cowley brothers? Would Gary King have benefitted from that sort of management?
I try to stay out of politics at the club as much as possible for a few reasons. I tried when I worked there not to criticise the regime I served because I was an employee. Now I’m not, now I can say what I want, when I want to. The exciting thing is for the first time since Rob Bradley handed over the reigns there isn’t a criticism to be had. We’re playing well, there is a bit of folding money floating around and it’s being applied in the right way. When they do ticket incentives they benefit everyone including season ticket holders, everyone on the board and connected with the club listens.They are making friends, not majestic plans and they’re investing in the real future, not some unrealistic warped vision of the future based on nothing more than rhetoric and sinking sand. On step at a time, one competition at a time and most of all one game at a time.
Now we signed Elliot Whitehouse or Alex Woodyard, not Steve Torpey or Ryan Amoo. We are playing the best football (alert, bold statement coming up) since I’ve been watching Lincoln (1986). I think we probably have the best squad I’ve ever seen at Lincoln. That’s come about not by grandiose plans about building empires built on poorly draining land, but by investing in the nuts and bolts of the football team, because we are a football club, seniors to juniors, office staff to stewards. We’re here for the football, nothing more and nothing less.