After years of financial struggle, news broke today that Lincoln City are not only clear of their debt to the Coop Bank, but are also in the black for the first time in many years.
I recall my early days as Poacher the Imp, the on field failures of the team was always set against a back drop of financial struggle. Budgets were tight, spending was low and a measure of success was not always league position, but financial security for another year.
Many of our current fan base will not clearly recall the summer of 2002, but I do. I remember as if it were yesterday the angst felt across the city at the possibility of not having a club to support. The fear was very real, our final home game of the season against Rochdale could easily have been our last.
We marched across the City to highlight the club’s plight, and to attempt to raise cash to help us avoid being wound up. The result that day was a relatively dour 1-1 draw, but the tense and apprehensive manner with which the final whistle was greeted was no surprise given the situation. For a couple of weeks the spectre of losing our beloved Imps wasn’t just real, it was knocking on our front doors and demanding to come in. The fat lady cleared her throat, and the football world waited for the first of the ITV Digital victims to turn up its heels.
We made the play-offs the next season, but on the opening day as we sat listening to City draw 1-1 with Kidderminster on the radio, I remarked to my Dad that success would be finishing 22nd and solvent. Even after the furore of Cardiff had died down less than a year later, I still measured success on the balance sheet, not the league table.
Therefore, todays announcement from Kevin Cooke that we are back in the black and debt free is not to be under stated. When we came down that hooded figure the ‘death of football clubs’ was studying google maps to see how far he had to travel to Sincil Bank. We stayed in the National League that year, just, but starting the next was a bonus given the financial ramifications of being relegated.
Speaking to the Echo this evening Cooke said;
“We’ve paid them (the Coop bank) back in full now, we don’t owe them a penny for the mortgage (on PlayZone) and the overdraft, it’s all paid off.”
Those words in themselves signal for me the first major ‘honour’ of the season. Leagues and cups are all well and good, but financial security of this manner is a trophy all in itself.
Financial security has never been something Lincoln have really enjoyed for any period of time. Our second division days in the 1950’s dwindled away as money got tight, in the 60’s our constant battles in Division Four meant we were always focussed more on the financials than winning games. Success was held back in the 1980’s as Colin Murphy’s swashbuckling team were denied extra players because of money worries. All through time we seem to be struggling against going bust, skimping on squad investment because simply paying the bills was more expensive.
Thanks to an unprecedented cup run, and significant investment we are now free to pursue League Football without the caveat of ‘business survival first. That knowledge is always going to resonate more with anyone who laid in bed in May 2002 praying the club would pull through. The teenagers of today know only on the field demise, they’ve never stared oblivion in the face, and walked away. I have, I remember how empty my life felt when my football club was dying in front of me. Imagine the on-field misery 2011-2015, then times it by Saturdays attendance. Add the number of times I’ve written a gushing blog about the club this season, and you still won’t be anywhere close to how that felt.
With this in mind, I’ve had a rethink about the part of me that hoped we lost on Saturday so we can concentrate on the league. Danny and Nicky Cowley are here until 2021, and promotion or no promotion this year, they’ll be with us to fight another day. This club will be back in the Football League soon, but if it is not this season then it won’t be the end of the world. Every May your points tally is reset and you get to go again, but money is cumulative and if we were to beat Brighton the additional income would help give us even more security, even more of a war chest to bring back the league status we once assumed was our right.
So every inch of me hopes that we do spring an unlikely result on the Championship leaders. I hope we snatch a win and go on to an even bigger prize, even more of that lovely folding stuff and ever deeper rooted financial stability to use a spring board for years to come. A win might keep attracting investors, Clive seems to have friends in wealthy places, and the better we do, the more money pours into our club from all angles. That can only be applauded, even if it has a temporary effect on winning the League.
I think we can do both, have another cup game and win the league. I want for both to happen more than I’ve ever wanted anything I can ever recall, but if (heaven forbid) we don’t get promoted, there’s always next year. The Football League isn’t going anywhere, but Lincoln City are going places, on all fronts.