I feared it might not be very spring-like today in the Hutchinson household. Sure, the sun is out and there was a visit to Mum to look forward to, but as of 1pm yesterday afternoon I suspected the winds of winter would still be blowing a gale up in the Wolds. Of course we turned our 1-0 half time deficit into a fine 3-1 win, and suddenly the sun felt warmer, the birds sang louder and even the Sunday garden centre trip was filled with wonder. Never mind the music they piped into the café this afternoon, all I could hear was ‘We are Imps’ over and over again. What a great time to be alive!
To make myself feel even better I thought I’d head on over to the FGR message board to glance through their comments and perhaps find some sort of twisted pleasure in their suffering. I know that is grossly unfair, but something about Forest Green Rovers sticks in my throat like when you swallow a fly. One part of me almost respects Dale Vince for trying to impress this eco-warrior philosophy on his local football club, but the other 99% of me feels revulsion that he has taken a club away from the fans and turned them into a side show, and of course I feel anger and embarrassment for them at the amount of money being spent on not achieving success. Somewhere buried deep inside me is a furious anger that a man who was once a New Age Traveller, living an alternative life of free love and social equality, spends so much money on a personal folly. Surely his £3m a year would be better helping people and expressing the philosophy he spent the 1980s living by? What is the point in becoming eco-friendly if you waste the money you save on expensive footballers that only a handful of fans want to pay to watch?
Forest Green do have support, but are they really suitable for the Football League? Does a travelling fan base of 122 for a top of the table clash really warrant having £3m spent on it every year? It is those fans that were there before the falafel and the wooden stadiums that I really feel sorry for. It’s the fans that were at the 1982 FA Vase final when they beat Rainworth Miners Welfare 3-0 who now have to witness a rich businessman proclaim year after year ‘were going to win the league’, only to see a succession of managers fail to mould a team capable of turning up for the big matches. It’s guys who posted the following whom I do genuinely feel for:
“You just knew we’d lose today. We have no steel whatsoever and it’s not individual players it’s the entire club from the top down. We won’t go up this year, we won’t even get to the final this year and I’ll tell you something else; we ain’t going up next year either. Until we can change it up and stop being so intimidated by the big crowd and tv camera atmosphere we’ll never get out of this league. God help us if we go up, imagine playing against Pompey or someone like that, with our tactics and mentality we’ll get thrashed. We can keep selling vege burgers all we like, we are a small club who are struggling to hold our own against the big boys and we always will be, that’s a fact. I love my club and have supported them through and through but it’s getting so repetitive. The same mistakes, the same goals conceded. Teams know how to beat us and that has got to change. So angry! Not because of this result but because you know we’ll all be here feeling the same after the playoffs are all over. Lincoln and Tranmere to go up I’m afraid.” Source here
He is right and his sentiments resonated with me. Instead of my shallow pleasure at their short-comings I felt empathy for a group of fellow football fans who are becoming accustomed to successful failure. We know how that felt, 2003-2007 we were successful enough to make the play offs every year, but we failed time and time again to actually make the step up. There are differences, we weren’t spending millions of pounds and we had quite a few bums on seats, but that feeling of anger and frustration is the same.
We also had a great manager in Keith Alexander, and I’m afraid FGR do not have that in Mark Cooper. I’m informed we were keen on Cooper shortly after Peter Jackson left in 2010, but Darlington rebuffed our approaches and we ended up with Chris Sutton. Would we have been any better with Cooper? I’m not so sure.
I think you can lay some of the blame for yesterday’s defeat directly at the managers feet. Tactically there seemed to be no direction from the former table toppers, and Cooper had to resort to cheap digs about a bobbly pitch to try to save face. He claimed his side try to play a bit of football and that we deliberately sabotaged their attempts with a poor pitch. Blatantly this is untrue, although our first goal came from a long Paul Farman kick, our usual approach involves passing and moving, something that would be inhibited by a poor pitch. The harsh truth is that for all the tippy-tappy football FGR try to play, they do not have direction or penetration. They had no killer ball yesterday, they had nobody willing to improvise or create something unexpected.
Surely Keanu Marsh-Brown could have been that player? He’s a footballer I admire greatly, he’s quick but has a wicked shot and can make something from nothing. He impressed me at Barnet, an despite choosing pounds and pence over league football he impressed me at FGR. Yesterday he was fit and able to put in 90 minutes, but he wasn’t even at Sincil Bank. How can that be a shrewd managerial move?
There is a real lack of stability at the New Lawn as well. Cooper is arrogant and often calls out his players for poor performances. This undermines any team spirit, and part of our success has been built on not having an open blame culture. DC doesn’t blame players for anything when we lose, nor does he blame the referee or a bobbly pitch. In truth the only person I’ve ever heard DC blame for defeat is himself. If only Mark Cooper could show the same humility, perhaps his players might have more heart and desire. Again yesterday he blamed individual errors, and although he didn’t specify them I’m sure he wasn’t talking about his own tactical mistakes.
There is also a lack of consistency in the FGR team that has proven to be their downfall. If you look at the players that played against us back in November, only six of the 14 had kept their places in the team. Contrast that with our side, 11 of the 13 players used yesterday played some part in our 3-2 win last year. Cooper lost players such as Aaron Racine, Charlie Clough and Elliot Frear, whereas Danny held on to the likes of Alex Woodyard, Sean Raggett and Sam Habergham. Our players want to stay and play for the manager and the club, whereas Cooper has not instilled the same togetherness in his squad. Is that due to his highly critical nature? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t help but feel our two-legged defeat against York was as much to do with chopping and changing the starting eleven as it was down to York’s resurgence. Yesterday we rolled out the old guard and it paid dividends.
This is a Lincoln City blog so I don’t want to pay too much more attention to Cooper or his expensively assembled squad of players that are failing to combine as a unit. I just wanted to write something else about the game, because for me (and for a hardcore of perhaps 5,000 Imps) yesterday was the most important result of the season, bar none. I had a bigger smile walking away from the ground than I did for the Ipswich replay, or at Burnley or at any other league game. Yesterday was our critical match, it was the point at which almost every Lincoln team over the last two decades have stumbled and fallen. It meant more than any cup run or any other distraction the football gods may place in front of us.
Yesterday we stood up and were counted, from the 11 starters, the subs and officials and each and every one of the 6,700 ish home fans who didn’t just turn up for Arsenal or Burnley. A team assembled on half the budget of the FGR side put in a performance that was twice as good. We proved that you can’t just spend money on a team and buy success, and to a degree we disproved the saying that ‘fans don’t win you football matches’. FGR withered and died in the face of massive home support, and now with six weeks of the season left our destiny is in our hands.
I hope those birds keep singing, the sun keeps shining and most of all that we keep winning right the way up until the final match of the season. We are Imps.
Photos by Graham Burrell, cheers mate!