Based on the title of this article you may be led to believe that this is an article about the on-pitch form of the Imps during what has seemed to be an endless barrage of away matches during the month of March so far. However, the issue I want to talk about is something that is happening away from the turf of The Recreation Ground, The Ironmongery Direct Stadium (still Cressing Road to me), The Emirates and Bootham Crescent and it’s occurring in the fan forums and discussion pages run and frequented by ‘loyal’ Lincoln City FC supporters, writes guest blogger Danny Finn.
Part-timers. Plastic fans. Paper fans. Glory supporters. All phrases which I have seen or heard being used to describe people, like myself, who don’t or can’t, for whatever reason, watch every ball being kicked this season. It seems recently with all the success we have been having on the pitch, that some people have taken that as a sign that they now have the right to judge who is ‘worthy’ of being a follower based on how many minutes and miles they have racked up and because they were present for these massive moments in the club’s recent history. Now I must emphasise that this article isn’t an attack on these fans or anyone in particular. It’s more of a plea for everyone to unite and get behind our team in what is the most important run-in, certainly in my living memory, and I’m sure in a whole host of other peoples as well. To attempt to drive home this point, I’m going to take you through my Imps memories and ask you a series of questions on which to think about.
My first proper memory of the Imps comes from when I was merely 6 years old, although I’ve been told recently that I had attended games with my grandad when I was even younger. It was the 19th April 1997 and local Division 3 rivals Scunthorpe United were in town for a league game. I remember being so excited at the prospect of watching live football but jealous at the same time as my best friend at the time and his big brother were mascots for the game. Watching them emerge from the tunnel in front of the heroes in red and white made me so envious that at that exact moment I knew that this was my club forever and I wanted a piece of that pie! We won the game 2-0 and I remember being filled with joy and euphoria about beating our rivals relatively comprehensively, even though I was a fresh-faced fan and had no real grasp on the magnitude of the victory. How many of you can remember your first game? Does it make you less of a fan if you can’t? No.
I obtained my first season ticket in the following season and attended every single home game with my Grandad, even though he’s a Leeds fan at heart (that’s a story for another day), getting my opportunity to lead out my new heroes against Hull. Being granted the opportunity pass a football to Stuart Bimson, Gavin Gordon and my ultimate idol at the time, Grant Brown was a moment that I didn’t stop talking about for weeks and apparently still wish to speak about today. The whole match experience was incredible and something I wanted to repeat again and again. How many of you have ever graced the hallowed turf of Sincil Bank? Does it make you less of a fan if you haven’t? No.
Promotion to Division 2 followed at the end of this season and I allowed my dreams to run away with me, envisaging us playing at Old Trafford or sharing a pitch with teams like the mighty Arsenal in the upcoming years as we breeze up the leagues, unchallenged by mere mortal teams such as Gillingham and Northampton Town. The Cowley brothers are responsible for one of these unrealistic 18 years in the making dreams coming to fruition when we visited the Emirates to take on the talent of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil 6 days ago. Whilst I may have seen this happening in a vision back in 1998, as I grew up, so did my grasp on expectations and I will honestly hold my hands up and admit that the words “We will never play a Premiership team in a game that means anything” escaped my mouth as recent as this pre-season as we prepared to face shock league winners Leicester in a friendly. How many of you have ever had concerns over the direction the team is heading in or doubts about whether your support is wasted? Does it make you less of a fan if you have? No.
Despite the bitter disappointment of relegation straight back to Division 3 at the end of the 98/99 season my love for all things Lincoln didn’t diminish and I renewed my season ticket and spent all week waiting for Saturday to come around so I could pull on my replica shirt and back my boys. Midtable mediocrity followed for the next couple of seasons before narrowly escaping relegation to the Conference in 01/02 season which I’m positive would have seen a mass exodus of fickle fans claiming to not want to support a rubbish non-league club much like what actually happened just under a decade later. Mine, and thousands of other fans love did not waiver and the next 5 years provided us with a rollercoaster of emotions, orchestrated by the big man himself, Keith Alexander. 2 trips to the Millennium Stadium, a lot of tears and several pitch invasions later we were still in League 2 and my heart still danced to the Lincoln City beat. How many of you have felt bitter disappointment in a Lincoln result or season and voiced that disappointment to anybody who would listen? Does it make you less of a fan if you have? No.
The 2010/11 season is another year that sits poignantly at the front of my mind, but for altogether different reasons than that of the previous 10 years. It was the year I started University and the first time in 13 seasons that I didn’t purchase a season ticket. However, I quickly converted my new housemates and course colleagues into Lincoln City followers and attended the large majority of home games anyway. What I saw on the pitch during that dreaded campaign deeply hurt me and made me the brunt of many of my new friends’ jokes. Watching the reason you fell in love with the game as a child crumble and collapse without the mass majority of employees seeming to care is soul destroying and anyone who stuck with the team through that season deserves immense respect. Many a night was spent alone in my bedroom digesting what I had just seen unfold in front of me and questioning what was happening to my beloved club. I made a promise to myself to not give up and kept reminding myself of those old clichés aired by pundits on Match of the Day. “Things can only get better” and “The only way is up”. How many of you have ever thought about or physically taken a step back from the club but remained a fan at heart and returned at a later date? Does it make you less of a fan if you have? No.
I continued to withhold from buying a season ticket throughout the next 3 years of my degree but still attended regular both home and away games with old friends as well as new. Hopes were raised with outstanding performances before being dashed the following week by an appalling showing from what I could only assume were alien brothers of the players who had been so spectacular the game before. Consistency was the buzzword thrown about by the managers in charge during these period, managers who did not make many friends in the stands with their demeanours and attitudes. Away trips in the FA cup to Walsall and Mansfield yielded different results and produced emotions not felt since the relegation days when Mansfield went on to host giants Liverpool in the next round in front of a packed-out Field Mill. Resentment for the management and board was strife around the city which contributed to three forgettable seasons of sub-standard football. How many of you have ever felt anger towards somebody at the club or the club as a whole? Does it make you less of a fan if you have? No.
Just as new friendships were formed during university, so were new romances and the lasting love resulted in me making the difficult decision to move across the country to Liverpool with my now wife to support her continuing journey to follow her dreams and become a vet. With this move came the obvious logistical nightmare of potentially not being able to watch my beloved Imps week in, week out. Believe me when I say this was not a decision I took lightly and the football club was definitely a factor in my decision process. Ultimately, my life was taking me away from the city but my adoration and passion for the club was in no way affected. How many of you have ever moved out of the city making it much harder to attend as many home games as you would like? Does it make you less of a fan if you have? No
Since the transition to Liverpool, I have only managed to visit Sincil Bank a handful of times when I am back to visit family or in the city for another occasion. Despite the 130-odd mile distance between me and the ground I am always thinking, reading and/or talking about Lincoln to anybody who has ears and the patience to listen and my fingers are never far from the pulse of the club. Be it watching press conferences on Facebook, listening to games and interviews on the radio or reading articles online or in papers, my life still heavily revolves around Lincoln City, sometimes much to the annoyance of my better half. This year’s FA Cup run has provided me with plenty of opportunities to talk about the fairy-tale journey in the school where I work leading to 24 new Junior Imps fans who know what mood I will be in first thing on a Monday morning based on the result and performance over the weekend. I’ve shown highlights of games and interviews with Danny Cowley during lessons, using these to not only engage them educationally but to help them understand what having true passion about something feels and looks like. Since moving here 2 and a half years ago, I have made a conscious effort to go and see games whenever the newly named ‘Lincoln Loco’ makes a stop near my house, attending games in Southport, Tranmere and Chester. How many of you don’t or can’t attend as many away games you would like due to other commitments such as work or family? Does it make you less of a fan? No.
In conclusion, as previously mentioned, this article is in no way intended to attack anyone or accuse our fan-base of looking down on others due to their apparent commitment level. If I want you to take anything from this article it’s that every single one of our incredible fans is different. We all live in different areas. We all have different jobs. We all have different incomes. We are all different ages and generations. We all have different commitments. We all have different memories. We all have different opinions. We are all individuals. But instead of singling out people due to these differences we need to be all pulling together in the same direction and carrying on providing the best support in the league (and leagues above) for our club. We need to continue to get behind the players and staff, starting against York on Saturday, regardless of whether it’s your 1st or 49th game of the season. Regardless of whether it’s your 1st or 65th season. Regardless of whether you’ve been there through thick and thin or come back to the club recently after a hiatus. We are all one club and need to do all we can to end this already historic season on the highest possible note.
Onwards and Upwards!