Over the coming few days you’ll be able to read an awful lot about Lincoln City. The papers will be all over us no doubt, as they have been for the last few weeks. Every man and his dog will post a link to a blog, a match report or a website featuring some analysis or other. We’ll be the media darlings until our FA Cup Quarter Final date.
The one thing many of these journalists will not be able to do is tell you what it feels like as a fan, to be a part of this really special time. They can write as much as they want, and we’ll lap it up, but will they be able to capture the essence of what we’ve achieved today? Will they be able to put into words what you felt?
Probably not, they’ll probably focus on the fact our winger is a hair dresser, or that Rheady worked at JCB or some other ‘angle’ to get a story. That’s journalism for you, they find an angle and they deliver a story based around a hot topic. I don’t do that, I just write what is in my heart. I write what I feel, hopefully I write what you feel.
Quite a few fans collared me today on the way out of the ground and asked how I’m going to put this into words. All the way home I pondered what I could possibly tap out on my keyboard that would do justice to the events we witnessed as Imps fans today. I ate my dinner (toad in the hole, cracking), I had a little snooze and I still didn’t have the words. I watched Match of the Day with a tear in my eye (again), and I still didn’t know what I could possibly write to do today justice. The truth is, I still don’t.
The reason I can’t adequately sum up what I feel, and what I’m sure all of the 3210 travelling fans feel, is because it transcends the written form of expression. Some things simply cannot be defined by words, you have to feel them. Things like the arrival of your first born child, looking into your partners eyes on your wedding day, or the pride of supporting a non-league team that wins away at a Premier League side in the FA Cup.
When Sean Raggett’s header was adjudged to have crossed the line every thing around me erupted. For a second or two I stood frozen to the spot, and what flashed before me was Ipswich in the third round. All I wanted from our cup run at that stage was an away goal at Ipswich, and for a second I struggled to comprehend that since then we’ve beaten them, beaten Brighton and now we were beating Burnley. As pandemonium reigned all around me I had to pause just for it to sink in. I couldn’t catch my breath, and it took ticket-winner Ed Bruntlett to spark me into life on my left, and my Dad grabbing me from my right. Colin Green came down on me from behind (oo-er) and I was dragged back into the moment. I went flipping (spelt usually with a U, C and K) mental. People I know hugged me, people I don’t know did the same. I was still grabbing people for a bloody hug as we walked out past the coaches. Even then I couldn’t comprehend what we’d achieved.
Over the years as a football fan I’ve seen some big giant killers. I remember Sutton against Coventry, I remember Tim Buzaglo scoring four (I think) for Woking against West Brom too. Bradford slayed Chelsea a few years ago, and I remember watching those scenes wondering what it felt like to be one of those fans that had seen his team, his heroes go toe to toe with a top flight side and win. I need not have bothered trying to imagine what it felt like, because you can’t.
You can’t begin to imagine the joy, the pride and the sheer ecstasy of your team creating a little slice of history. I understand now why my Dad goes on about 1976 so much: when you create history it stains you as a person. It changes you, it creates an imprint on your personality that will always be there. In 1976 it was wins and points over a season that created that imprint on my Dad, and today it was us reaching our first ever Quarter Final, and all that other guff about being the first non-league team to do this and that. It has left an indelible mark on me, on you and on every single Imps fan watching the game. I was there the day we beat Burnley at Turf Moor. You’ll tell your kids, they’ll tell their kids, and I’ll probably still mumble about it in my sleep when I’m 75.
All this non-league stuff is of course mildly derogatory. On Match of the Day Jonathon Pearce likened it to Hereford and Newcastle, he was wide of the mark. Lincoln City are not a team of hod-carriers, hairdressers and ex-JCB workers. They’re professional footballers, well drilled in how to approach a football match and able enough to carry out a game plan perfectly. This isn’t a local boy-done-good management team springing a freak result, these are meticulous and methodical men with a carefully assembled back-room staff that are tuned to succeed. This result shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone who knows Lincoln City.
Journalists won’t find it a surprise because they’ve done all the stories they can, from every angle. Me? I found it a surprise because I let my pessimism rule over me sometimes. I thought we’d lose 5-1 today, I thought the top-flight side would give us the respect we deserved, play a full first team and attack us with zest and vigour. They didn’t, they (well, one of them) resorted to pulling cheap stunts to try and get players sent off. They went off method, and the team that stayed true to themselves and true to the game of football won out.
I’m going to write about the game tomorrow, and I’ll do a ‘follow Lincoln away’ piece as well. I couldn’t go to bed tonight without writing something, without trying in some way to express the things we’ve felt and seen today. I can’t, I can’t sum it up in one blog anywhere near as well as a casual observer could by simply flicking through the tweets and posts from Imps fans. Young and old, men and women of all different backgrounds, social standings and levels of literacy have created a rich tapestry of opinion and emotion. Today isn’t about what I write, or what the Guardian writes or anyone else for that matter. Today is about you. Today is about what you feel. Collectively, today is about our precious football club making history, and us, as fans, getting to live through it.
Thanks you Danny, Nicky, Luke, Sean and every single player, manager and official from my football club. Tonight, I go to bed with a new mental tattoo that will never fade.
Photo courtesy of Graham Burrell