Many of you have already read my assessment of the game this morning, obviously thank you for taking the time. Next up is the story my day, and here is where I basically bang on about how great everything off the pitch is. I’m sure you know what to expect, but hopefully it’s worth a read anyway. You’ll all have experiences that are similar I’m sure.
I started out by meeting up at Ritz on the High Street for a good old fry up to get us going. Had I seen the picture that Bubs later took of me at a service station I might have opted for the fruit and cereal bar version instead. There was about 150 people kicking around at that time and although we already knew travelling numbers it was still great to see.
I had chosen to be on what Warren described as the more ‘sedate’ coach of the two he’d laid on. Early doors he wasn’t wrong either, I managed to get some shut eye as we left Lincoln, many seemed to be letting their breakfast settle. I soon sussed out that a few people around me were not Lincoln ‘fans’ as such. Directly behind me there were a couple of guys coming to their first game. It did mean the match had caught the imagination of the wider City, my hope is those attending the big game will feel they’ve seen enough to come along when we face the likes of Woking at home.
At one point the driver had a DVD on showing some football goals, and when a Chris Sutton strike popped up I booed loudly. Nobody on the coach joined in and for a minute I feared I was on the wrong coach!
We got a scheduled watering stop at Weatherspoons in Thetford and the atmosphere soon ramped up. It’s is a proven fact that atmosphere is directly linked to alcohol consumption, and despite us having a relatively short one hour pit stop enough alcohol was consumed to start generating significant atmosphere.
I’m not sure if the people of Thetford knew what happened. One minute they were plodding around their local market loading up on potatoes and low quality clothing, the next two coach loads of football fans rocked up. I overheard four senior citizens debating as to which team we were. I amused myself listening for a while as they went through the following routine;
“It’s not Norwich, I’m sure they play in yellow. Maybe it’s someone playing Norwich. They sound northern and there’s a lot of them, could it be someone from Manchester…”
I had to interject and told them we were Lincoln City and we were going to Ipswich. One sweet old lady wearing a self knitted hat and gloves screwed up her face.
“We don’t like bloody Ipswich here, I hope you give them a good hiding.”
That did seem to be an overriding theme. As I was stood outside the pub not smoking a cigar and sipping vodka at eleven in the morning a local came over staring at my chest. I was flattered for a moment, but as we made eye contact he apologised stating he only wanted to know who we were. I said Lincoln and he immediately wished us luck against ‘that bunch of wankers down the road’. Nice people.
The drinking was soon at an end (it’s illegal on a coach remember, so there was definitely NO drinking on the coach. Absolutely not. None) and after a brief ‘greatest hits’ of Imps songs in the market place the Impvasion (or impinvasion as one young man incorrectly scrawled in the dirt) moved on towards our destination, Portman Road.
We didn’t get to travel directly there, the police had recognised the potential threat from unregulated coach loads of fans turning up and had chosen to escort us to the ground in convoy. There was mild frustration that it cost valuable drinking time, but that soon dispersed as we realised it actually saved us a lot of time lost in heavy traffic. As we came into Ipswich cars and lorries were held up for the procession of Imps coaches to snake their way down towards the ground. We knew before we were important, and even the local constabulary were adding to that feeling.
I had to collect my ticket from a little booth at the ground, Alan Long had been gracious enough to secure one for me and take it along with him. I got to chat to the ticket attendant and he was one of the nicest blokes you could hope to meet. He was genuinely excited to have the Imps arriving in such large numbers, and he told me many Ipswich fans were looking forward to seeing the Cobbold Stand full of travelling support. He also told me the previous best had been 4,400 when Arsenal visited, and he thought perhaps there might have been near 5,000 Rangers fans come down for a pre-season friendly, but it had been less regulated then and hard to ascertain how many were in the ground.
To see so many Imps fans around was fantastic, and it did feel a shade like the play off final in Cardiff. He I was in an unfamiliar town bumping into people I haven’t seen in a long while. I had technically travelled alone, I got a single ticket and booked onto the coach without knowing who else was on it, and yet I felt completely at home. When City are doing well I often see a few faces that have been strangers for a while, and this was no different. I also saw a lot of the long-suffering faces I’ve seen week in, week out over the last five years or so. I didn’t recognise half of them because up until this year I haven’t seen what they look like wearing a smile and a cape of positivity.
I cannot use mere words to adequately describe what the atmosphere in the ground was like, but I’ll try. I was in Block A, close enough to the 617 to feel a part of everything and I thought this would be an advantage. The guys do a great job at the Bank every week, but the 5,000 fans were in great voice as a whole and I’m sure if I’d been in Block F it would have felt just as electric. I had the fortune to be sat right in front of my good mate Helgy who promptly opened a packet of some god awful garlic nibbles that made his breath smell like mouldy trainers. I’m glad I had my back to him!
I’ve travelled all over with City, I’m not a regular but I get when I can. I’ve stood in amongst 150-250 fans most times I go away, and I have never experienced an atmosphere like yesterday. Even when Sincil Bank is in full voice there are quiet areas (in the library), but there wasn’t a single seat in the Cobbold Stand that you could confidently say you could hear yourself think. If Danny and Nicky needed any indication of the potential of this football club they only need to look at those fans yesterday, and if players like Nicke Kabamba really are a target then he should watch some match videos because not many league clubs could generate the support Lincoln City have. Every football fan thinks their team is special, but our fans proved it against Ipswich. This is a special football club, make no mistake about it.
I’ll touch on pyro. I don’t condone it, I don’t particularly agree with it when the club could get fined, but I do admit that it did add to the atmosphere a bit. The trouble comes when some numpty throws it pitch side, then it becomes a smoking projectile and that is an issue. I’ll say no more.
Nobody sat down near me for 90 minutes. As the game ebbed and flowed I felt like I was back in the late 1980’s, with everyone stood up and chanting. For some I imagine it rekindled memories of the glory days of 1976 (before my time despite my rugged facial features), or even the early 1980’s. There was a togetherness, a passion and a real belief that we could get something from the game.
The home fans were class throughout. They applauded the attendance and in the corner close to me they turned and applauded us directly. I think they appreciated what we brought to the tie, and the odd one I spoke to couldn’t enthuse enough about the quality of our support, and of our football. I even heard one say to his friend (as we were leaving) ‘how are that lot in the Conference? They played us off the park and their fans were class’. He’s right, we did and we were.
When we sang ‘Championship, you’re having a laugh’, some Ipswich fans clapped and joined in. When we sang ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ to Mick McCarthy a large number joined in. I got the impression deep down an awful lot more than 5,000 people wanted Lincoln to win that match, because it might spell the end of a miserable few months for them.
I actually feel for Ipswich and even for McCarthy. He seems like a lame duck manager desperately clinging on to the burning embers of his failed tenure as manager. His players (in the main) don’t look like they want to play for him. The home fans turned quicker than a pint of milk left outside in the desert and that spurred our players on. We might have been a 12th man, but Ipswich’s fans were almost our 13th man. McCarthy was complimentary about us and I respect his honesty, but surely his date with a P45 is getting closer by the day.
At the final whistle I felt incredibly emotional. I’ve said on this blog many times that we’re back, we’ve arrived, we’ve announced ourselves on the big stage and all that, but yesterday took that to a new level. 1976 – the last time we were in the FA Cup fourth round draw. 1976 – the last time there was such a correlation between Lincoln City, it’s board and it’s fans. 1992 – no team has taken more fans to Portman Road since then. We haven’t just ‘come back’, we haven’t just ‘announced’ ourselves again on the national stage. we’ve taken it one step further. This is unchartered territory for a whole generation of Lincoln fans, the recognition of our achievements, the style and quality of the football, the sound financial footing: even through the Keith years not all these things were in place. Even during Colin Murphy’s spells as manager we lacked some of these components. I know we need to win the league to prove that it has substance, and that nothing is won in the Fa Cup third round, but everyone in the Cobbold Stand surely felt the same. This is different.
As a side note it was great to see Colin Murphy getting off one of the coaches yesterday. He was the manager of the Imps during the Vauxhall Conference winning season and he will be hoping as much as anyone that Danny and Nicky can achieve a similar feat this season.
We left the ground in the same manner as we got there, surrounded by friendly locals wishing us well and then escorted by the police. The local constabulary were largely anonymous during the whole day, helping us to and from the ground but standing off and letting us enjoy the day. It is very rare travelling fans congratulate everyone, but the police, stewards, officials and fans of Ipswich Town treated us with respect and dignity. They deserve a round of applause, but I don’t have that emoji available to me here, so you’ll have to just picture it for yourself.
When I got home I received the ultimate confirmation that we had surpassed anything I had thought possible in the last 30 years. We appeared first on Match Of The Day, something that I never thought I’d live to see. As Trevor Sinclair likened our set up to that of a ‘Championship club’ I had to swallow hard and pretend I had something in my eye. Finally the club I loved had got the recognition it deserves, finally we were competing and achieving to a level that gave us some respect.
Lots of fans said they couldn’t sleep when they got home. I slept long and hard, I don’t react well to getting up at 6am on a Saturday, nor does sporadic all day drinking help keep me awake late into the evening. I woke up this morning and spent half an hour flicking through social media, reading stories and looking at pictures. It dawned on me that I was there, I had been at an event that in forty years time old men huddled around jars of real ale will speak of in Lincoln pubs.
Ah, but do you remember when we took 5,000 to Ipswich?
Yes I do, I remember when not only did we take 5,000 but we played them off the park, we deserved to win and we were up first on the countries most iconic and recognisable football show. Hopefully I will remember it because it will formulate one more chapter of a season that set us on our way to becoming a well established Football League team, perhaps (and I’m dreaming here) a well established League One club? Why not? Nobody else took more fans away in the cup, and that includes Premiership teams. This club has needed someone, something to spark it back to life. It has taken five years of hard work from Bob and the board, a year of investment and input from Clive, a year of bridge building by Chris Moyses and finally the ‘coup de grace’, the arrival of the brightest young managers in the English game. This hasn’t happened overnight, the rebuilding has taken years. The road hasn’t always been easy and there is still more to do, but finally we’re not just breathing and functioning again, we’re fighting and competing. We look like a proper football team with well drilled, able players providing a product that the people of Lincoln can buy into.
I’m also delighted in particular for two players, Alan Power and Paul Farman. Here are two players who have seen the bad times and had to fight through them. They’ve both had to fight for their place on occasion, they’ve both taken stick from the fans at times and they’ve notched up almost 500 appearances between them. Two more committed servants of the club you will not find, and to see them both in action on MOTD was incredibly pleasing.
I’m going to get a last minute dig in about Championship 2010, and I apologise to those who don’t like it. When that was launched it was discussed that investment off the pitch would bear fruits, and on the pitch would take care of itself. In actual fact Bob, Clive, Roger and the board have proven that you have to get the product right first. Build it and they will come, and the Cowleys are building something that everyone wants to come to. What price on a 9,500 crowd for the replay?
I’m sorry this blog was so long. I could have written thousands more words, and still missed things out about yesterday. I’m sure everyone reading this will have their own memories of our great day out, and they are memories that are not yet complete as the Tractor Boys come to the county built on the farming industry a week on Tuesday. It isn’t even over yet.
Now, how many are joining me at Gateshead next week?