The Invasion of Ipswich starts this evening in earnest. My Dad (middle name Ernest, hence the slight pun) is already there, soaking up what I imagined was quite a solitary atmosphere at this time of night. It wasn’t, he already bumped into Ken Eades and in 12 hours time another 4800 odd will be joining them.
I’ve shied away a little bit from building the hype on my blog. There’s been plenty in the media, lots of national interest and more social media excitement than Christmas and the X Factor final combined. As a reasoned and easily distracted man I’ve tried hard to focus on my new job and writing about something other than 5,000 Imps fans travelling down to Ipswich, I’ve let the experts have their say.
It may be that I have a slightly muted anticipation for tomorrow’s game, and I’ll tell you why. Please don’t accuse me of being a pessimist, as you know Lincoln City is a large part of my life (not the largest, that is Fe and as she reads the blog now so I can’t make throwaway statements like that anymore). I am also a realist, so please bear with me because as usual there will be a euphoric and positive end to this.
I don’t like seeing Lincoln City lose, and as much as I can’t wait to be part of the biggest away following to hit Portman Road since 1992, there is a good chance I am going to see my team get beaten. Mark Lawrenson and his expert helpers on the BBC have us down as losing, although all have us scoring a goal. The BBC as a whole clearly don’t fancy us winning otherwise they would have made it the feature game. Most neutrals think we’re going for a day out nothing more. The bookies have us down as massive underdogs, although the odds are not generous enough to warrant a tenner. We’re given as much hope of winning tomorrow as Iceland were given when they faced England last summer.
If everything happens according to the book tomorrow night there will be several busloads of Lincoln fans travelling back up the country with a mild air of disappointment. We will have had a great day out, but we will more than likely have lost the game. I’m not saying we’ll be crying into our coach seats, but just like the first Millennium Stadium outing we’ll have a mix of pride and disappointment.
That pessimistic view is not shared by Imps fans though. A ‘what’s the score going to be’ thread on Social Media so far has one person saying an Ipswich win (me), half (minus one) saying a draw and a profitable replay, and the other half predicting a Mighty Imps win. It turns out that I’m not like most Lincoln fans! I recall a similar level of fervour for the 2003 final with Bournemouth, another game I predicted we’d lose.
There are clear differences of course, in that match an awful lot was at stake, and tomorrow it really isn’t. If we get knocked out, what have we genuinely lost? A first fourth round appearance in my lifetime? That would be about it. we’re already winners for being involved at this stage, for battling through to the third round and for taking so many fans away. We’ve had our moment in the sun when we beat Oldham on telly, and we’ve banked enough cash to ensure we won’t be picking up loan players from Gateshead this transfer window. Tomorrow is the biggest game we’ve had in terms of support for many a-year, and yet it has perhaps the smallest consequence of all the big games I’ve ever attended. It is our day out and our chance to just enjoy and savour the atmosphere and vibrant support.
There’s no doubt DC and the team are going to battle and fight valiantly, and I think that is what has fired the imagination of the fans more than anything. Deep down even the most optimistic of fans can’t truly believe we can win, but the team has come so far that we don’t go there expecting to lose. Six years ago we went to Bolton without a hope in hell frankly. We needed something there desperately to stave off financial issues, and what we got a limp wristed second half surrender courtesy of six or seven loan players and a clueless, devoid of personality, arrogant bottler of a manager. No doubt if we did get a result tomorrow they’d wheel him out on the BBC to give his inane punditry and worthless views.
Tomorrow we travel in our droves to see a carefully assembled and crafted squad of players led by a methodical and sharp management team. Our fans don’t expect to lose because for the past few months we’ve forgotten how to. Ipswich might be several leagues above us, they might have a big stadium and far more expensive squad, but when that whistle goes it is eleven against eleven. The saying ‘anything can happen on the day’ usually gets right on my nerves, but when a team is organised, disciplined and structured then anything really can happen in a one off cup match. It’s a great leveller is the FA Cup, and if we start brightly and luck is on our side then maybe we could get something. We were never going to get a result against Bolton because that team was disjointed, substandard and led by a complete and utter failure of a manager. I can genuinely say I’d rather have DC in our dug-out than Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy, but back in 2010 I would have taken the Bolton tea lady over Chris Sutton.
Lincoln City are 1250-1 to win not just tomorrow, but the whole of the FA Cup. We may smile and think it unlikely, but eighteen months ago Leicester City were four times less likely to win the Premier League. That may demonstrate caution on the bookies part, or it may demonstrate that in this beautiful game anything is possible.
So whatever happens tomorrow each and every one of you make sure you make the most of the day out. Make the most of being amongst more travelling fans than any team have taken to Portman Road in the last 25 years. Make the most of our team giving it a bloody good go, and if we do lose come away with pride in the team, and in yourselves.
If we win, make the most of tagging me in social media posts telling me not to be a pessimistic prat for ever! It will be the happiest I’ve ever felt wrongly predicting a result.
I’ll see you all at Gateshead next week, right?
Speaking of Gateshead I have some really exciting news. If you can’t make the slightly less illustrious FA Trophy game next weekend, then for one match only you can have a real treat. Instead of listening to Radio Lincolnshire, why not tune in to full match commentary on Live Sports FM? If you do you’ll have the insane pleasure of listening to your favourite Lincoln City Blogger (me, in case you wondered) as match summariser! I’ve been asked if I’d be interested, which was like being asked if I’d be interested in a bag full of fifty pound notes and an hour long shower with Mila Kunis.
Don’t worry about forgetting, after tomorrow I’ll be mentioning it at every opportunity, which I’m sure will make a welcomed break to me mentioning my book.
I’ll see you on the other side.