I never use the terminology I’ve used in the headline tonight. Using sleeping as a barometer of time has always struck me as something that children do, or adults who want to sound child-like and excited.
It’s usually reserved for a Facebook status about Christmas or a big holiday. I’ve saved it up though, and I’m rolling it out as a way of describing how I feel right now. I have one more night of laying in my bed dreaming about going to the Emirates stadium to watch Lincoln City in an FA Cup quarter final.
Usually dreams are reserved for situations that you wouldn’t get in real life. Often after sleeping you wake up and realise although you’ve been dreaming about something so fantastic and unimaginable, it briefly feels real when you open your eyes. That sensation usually wears off as you adjust to the surrounding of your bedroom, but for me this week it hasn’t gone, it hasn’t worn off. For thousands of others too, the dream of competing in the final stages of the greatest cup competition in the world has become a reality.
It’s not even as if we have an underwhelming opponent waiting for us. No disrespect to Ipswich or even Burnley, but Arsenal away is the real deal. Arsenal away is the stuff most non-league football fans only dream about. Arsenal away is probably still the basis of dreams for Ipswich and Brighton fans. It’s too far-fetched to be ‘Roy of the Rovers’, and even JK Rowling couldn’t summon up enough magical prose to make it sound believable. Lincoln City are a team that have never been in the last eight of the FA Cup, a team that has never really been close to it. Tomorrow the greatest novel writers in the world can sit back and watch the saying ‘reality is stranger than fiction’ come true.
I’ve subdued talk of the match myself. I haven’t got to see much of the build up in the media, and I’ve ensured that I concentrate on the important games that we had before our trip. Braintree was the focus. York was the focus. Arsenal had been parked, I didn’t need to waste time looking ahead to a dream, there was far too much real life stuff to deal with. Points needed to be won first. Right now, with just one more sleep between me and the greatest day in my clubs history, I can reflect objectively on what we have achieved.
It’s interesting as well, the usage of ‘we’ when describing a football club. I don’t work there anymore, I don’t run the club and I don’t have shares. I am simply a customer buying their product. Technically the ‘we’ is just my attempt to be a part of what happens at Lincoln City, and to a casual observer it is the most extreme form of consumer loyalty. I’ve often seen non-football fans moan about hearing a fan and his club described as ‘we’. They don’t understand, they have no real idea what it feels like to be less than 24 hours away from seeing your club in the FA Cup quarter final. They can’t comprehend what it means to see the side you’ve watched all your life in the international spotlight. After the years of struggle they have no idea how uplifting and empowering it is to see the football club they support rise from the ashes and take on the world. They just have no idea. I do though. I know.
I know how it feels right now, but I won’t be able to really comprehend Arsenal hosting Lincoln until I see us run out in our green kits to go toe to toe with one of the best club sides in the world. Make no mistake, that is what Arsenal are. They’ve been in England’s top flight since 1919 and they’ve hosted the very best players in the world. Their current manager oversaw the tremendous invincibles season, and he managed world class players like Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Arsenal are one of the world’s greatest clubs and our local side have earned the right to play them. It’s beyond belief.
There is just one more sleep to go, one sleep punctuated by my imagination creating visions of what I think it will be like. I’ll dream about winning or losing, I’ll dream about being in the stadium and watching the game, and when I wake up I’ll have it all to look forward to in real life. My mind will tell me what it thinks it will be like, and tomorrow I’ll get to see it for myself. Tomorrow I will live a day that I know I will never forget for the rest of my life. There’s a strong possibility as I’m breathing my last I’ll be recounting a story about the time Lincoln went to the Emirates.
There are not many days in your life where you wake and know without a shadow of a doubt that you’ll remember the twenty four hours ahead for ever. There are very few times you go to sleep knowing that the next time you’re awake you’ll get to witness a piece of history. This isn’t just Christmas day, that comes around every 365 days. This isn’t a fancy holiday, those you can buy whenever you have a bit of spare cash. This is Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter finals, this is a non-league club writing their name into the history books. This is a footballing story that will be written about in magazine features for years to come. This is the benchmark by which all non-league clubs FA Cup runs will be measured.
This is pride personified. This is our time. This is history.
One more sleep.