I had the immense pleasure of being able to travel to our FA Cup 5th Round tie on Saturday with my Dad and Mo, my step-mum. My Dad is a cautious man, and that is why my alarm went off in the middle of the night, at 5am. You might have been forgiven for thinking we left a little early. You’d probably be right.
In fairness we all wanted to get to Burnley, find the ground and get parked. When I drive away I’m the same, so there’s no complaints. With it being his turn to drive I got some valuable kip in the car on the way there anyway. There near three-hour journey only took about fifteen minutes of my consciousness as I lazily dozed in the back of the car.
I had a dream, not in the car but in the few hours sleep I snatched before our middle of the night departure. I dreamed we drew the game 0-0, Burnley had a goal disallowed in the last-minute and I attended the game with my cousin Roy. In my dream I had been due to go to a Specials gig before the game and had to cancel.
When I awoke from my sleep on the journey, the first thing I heard was the Specials on the radio. The second thing I heard was Mo (my Dad’s better half) speaking about a message she’d had from our Roy about the Lincoln Loco. Choo choo. Choo choo indeed, I saw it as a premonition, so I stuck money on a 0-0 in blind optimism and eternal hope.
As we’d set off well in advance of everyone else, we arrived at a fairly empty Burnley and ditched the car in town. Dad couldn’t drink so he decided to take Mo for a tour of the town while I met with the Stacey West ticket winner, ed Bruntlett near the cricket ground. As you an imagine he was chuffed as 48 hours earlier he’d been making plans to watch the game at home. We stuck together pre-match for a few beers.
The cricket club was busy by the time we made our way inside to the bar. After sinking one in there we heard a commotion outside that signalled the arrival of the 617. The flags were out, the beers were out and in one lads case, the White Lightening was out as well. The early morning fog had burned off, and as the warm(ish) February sun broke through so it felt like the start of a summer event.
The outdoor beer queue was ridiculous, so upon purchasing two pints we returned to the ever-growing mass of Imps fans trampling the hallowed green of Burnley Cricket Club. The more people who arrived, the more songs got sung. The whole repertoire got a run out, Nathan Arnold was a cod, Luke Waterfall is magic, we are Imps and everything in between. The beer flowed, the atmosphere grew and despite the ominous warnings from the local fuzz, the police had very little to do other than mingle and mix with the fans. Despite the scares on twitter, I felt it was very well policed all day.
I’d given up hope of getting another beer given the queues, but after a quick toilet break (another queue, so very British) I bumped into Steve Nesbitt. His brother Danny had already given me a couple of Lincoln Spezial stickers, and now Steve crowned off the brothers generosity by thrusting a can of Carling in my hand. The good feeling that a big day out creates is unrivalled, and Imps fans look after each other.
Time passed fairly quickly, and before long it was time to mooch around to the ground. There was a guy doing pictures with a replica FA Cup, so being a little worse for wear I chucked him a quid for a picture, but in my usual style I forgot to breath in adequately when he clicked away. They say the camera adds a couple of pounds, in my case I think it’s more like a stone!
The ticketless turnstiles were causing a few people problems, many fans seemed surprised when they went to hand their ticket over to be greeted by an empty booth. I afforded a little smile as the guy in front of me got confused, as I knew he’d saved me the embarrassment of looking like a top notch nob head by taking it all upon himself.
I was impressed with the set-up at Turf Moor. The outside bar and smoking area within the ground was a nice touch, they may do it every week but it had a distinct air of appreciation of fan culture. It also meant a bit more of the amber lubrication before finally taking our seat in the David Fishwick stand.
That wasn’t entirely possible though, allocated seating meant very little once you got into the upper echelons of the stand. To be fair much had been made of the wooden seats, but there was plenty of room in front of them to stand and in times of excitement they were also robust enough to be stood on. Apparently. I wouldn’t know, having seen that picture of me with the cup I didn’t want to risk it.
The game ebbed and flowed, but the atmosphere was second to none. At Ipswich away we out sung the home fans, and it seemed we did exactly the same with 2,000 less at Turf Moor. I don’t recall many periods of the game where City fans were not singing, and it wasn’t just those that would be labelled as 617. Football is all about the fans and once again Lincoln showed they have a solid football league fan base. The plaudits all go to the players for yesterday, but the fans were absolute top drawer, and always are.
With half time seeing us still in the game at 0-0 the chatter all around me was about our chances of getting a replay. That wasn’t around me in the stands though, obviously I decamped to the bar for a cheeky bottle or two amongst friends. Everyone felt we were in a position to bring them back to the Bank. Not even the most optimistic fan I spoke to muted the possibility of a win though. Maybe we still dare not dream.
Ed joined us in the second half. The allocated seating thing hadn’t really worked out, and there was plenty of space around us so it seemed silly him watching on his own. Like Ipswich away, I had Helgy close by too, he was in front of my this time rather than behind. Despite the ticketing issues before the game it was funny how people seemed to have managed to be grouped together. Allocated seating at Sincil Bank has to be adhered too for safety reasons, but the Burnley stand was spacious enough to accommodate a more organic system, in other words stand where you want.
Burnley got a free kick around the 65 minute mark, and for some reason I panicked. I quickly cashed out my bet and took the £15 they were offering me. As soon as it flew over the bar I stuck all the money back on a 0-0. My dream had seemed pretty real, it would be 0-0 with minutes to go and Burnley would have a goal ruled out.
Ten minutes later they got a corner and I bottled it again. I cashed out for £27, just a fiver short of the top prize. The second half had passed far quicker than the first, probably courtesy of those half time beers, beers that were now paid for by virtue of the fact we’d kept it at 0-0 for 75 minutes or so.
It didn’t seem long before I glanced at the clock to find two minutes left. City had a corner. You know what happens next.
I didn’t see what happened, by this time people were stood on seats and views were restricted. I heard a roar, then a pause and then finally an almighty roar. City had scored, and as I mentioned in another blog I stood frozen to the spot. One minute from time, City had gone one nil up. I felt exactly the same as I had when Theo netted the opener against Ipswich. I think the official term is shell shocked.
That soon ended when I got mobbed from all sides. Ed screamed something like ‘I flipping love you’ which I’m hoping was reference to the ticket win. My Dad and Mo hugged me at the same time, then the love just started spreading all around. I know Colin Green was there, pretty sure we hugged. I might have hugged Martyn Green to, and a couple of others. Imps fans: we drink together, travel together and when we score it doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re an Imp, you’re getting hugged.
I can’t remember the minutes after that. I’ve seen on the highlights that they had a decent chance and Farms did brilliantly to keep them at bay. I just kept looking at my watch, letting everyone knew how long I thought there was left, whether they wanted to know or not. Eventually the whistle went, and 3210 fans erupted, as much as it was possible to go from bubbling hot for 90 minutes to eruption afterwards. I imagine the roar was deafening, certainly where I stood you couldn’t hear yourself think.
I got teary, I had been on the verge when they scored and on the final whistle the realisation hit me. I’m sure the generous helping of beer was a strong catalyst too. It’s been an emotional season, my tear ducts have had more exercise this season than when I first watched Watership Down as a child. Some people look down on grown men who cry tears of joy at the football. Those people have no passion in their lives.
I wouldn’t leave. I told Dad we were waiting to applaud the players, I don’t think he realised I meant for over half an hour. Part of Block 19 emptied next to us, and the stewards were trying to move people on, but there was no way I, nor anyone around me, was going to miss any of these precious moments. Again to be fair the stewards managed the whole situation very well. When one person in front of us started waving about the seat that he had broken off, they moved in and took the seat, but not him. Sensible stewarding given the atmosphere around them.
Slowly but surely people began to depart, and eventually my old man convinced me it might be a nice idea to get back to the car and actually set off home. It took twenty minutes or so to get away from the ground, mainly due to me stopping to give a massive hug to anyone I knew, and a few whom I didn’t. Looking back I probably looked like those student imbeciles that hang around in T-shirts saying ‘free hugs’ on them. To be fair to me I was doing it for a good reason, not just because I’m a socialist hippy with nothing better to do.
Things soured a bit once we were away from the ground. Burnley FC were very friendly, but Burnley the town was a bit different. I needed to deposit a few of the lagers I’d consumed, so we chose a local McDonalds to utilise the toilet facilities. My old man waited outside as I went in, and when I came out he’d moved away. A couple of big, unfriendly looking Burnley fans had walked past him, stopped and turned and started to give him the ‘eyes’ as he put it. Not much rattles my old man, but he was pretty keen to get back to the car.
Before we did a car full of Burnley fans pulled up and shouted some abuse out of the window, something like ‘you’ve got some shit on your shirt’ to my Dad. Once they’d driven off out of earshot we came back with all sorts of funny comebacks to each other. It seemed safer to store them up until the car had gone, rather than invite more interest in who we were and where we were from. We were all glad when we got back to the car, and one the doors were shut, locked and windows up we afforded ourselves a rendition of ‘we are imps’. Smashing day out.
If the ‘beating-a-Premier-League-team-away’ cake needed any icing, we got it as soon as we stuck the radio on. FGR were losing at Gateshead, and Dagenham losing at home to Guiseley. I started telling my old man how I’d predicted Guiseley would have a say in the title race. The discussion continued in the same vein until I’d written my Lincolnite piece, and then finally fell asleep in a slightly drunken stupor.
When I woke up with that nasty taste in your mouth you get after sinking a lot of beer and smoking a full pack of miniature cigars, I realised what a top day it had been. We had beaten Burnley in the FA Cup, we would be the media darlings for a little bit longer and we’d be in the Quarter Final draw. FGR and Dagenham had been beaten too, handing an advantage to us in the race for league football. Also, I was £27 up too after bottling my 0-0 bet at just the right time.
Someone said Carlsberg don’t do Saturdays, but if they did I’m not sure even they could pull one out of the hat like Saturday 18th February 2017. I’m not even sure a fiction writer would dare write it, only in real life could something so unbelievable actually happen.
All images by me, except the featured image by Graham Burrell