I received a message last night from a regular reader called Neil, who was keen to know my thoughts on a move away from Sincil Bank. I’ve deliberately avoided the discussion on here, for me it is like discussing whether or not to put your Mum in a home. You know it is inevitable (sorry Mum), you know it is for the best but you can think of a thousand reasons not to do it. In moments of quiet contemplation and mild schizophrenia I often find I am debating the move with myself. Half of me is all for a new ground, the other half would prefer we stayed put. Therefore tonight I am going to let one half of me pen a defence of our famous old ground, and the other half will get a chance to retort tomorrow.
Colonel Swan might sound like a make of matches, or KFC for really posh people, but he was in fact the man who originally owned the land upon which so many great occasions have taken place since. The year was 1895 and our John O’Gaunts ground had been earmarked for development. The possibility of renting Sincil Bank came up, and the ‘Cits’ as we were known then made the short hop up the High Street to take residence at the place we’ve called home for the last 122 seasons. My Granddads Dad probably went along as a boy to watch us draw 1-1 with Arsenal in the first ever game there. Probably.
One of the main reasons for wanting to stay at any ground is sentiment. Lincoln City and Sincil Bank go together like eggs and bacon, letters and stamps or the Sun and made-up stories. It seems almost incomprehensible to have one without the other, and for me it has been a source of pride that we have remained in our home for so long. All around us clubs have upped sticks and decamped to soulless Lego brick stadiums on the edges of towns across the country. We have stayed put, almost in the city centre but absolutely within walking distance of some fine watering holes. Whilst at Shrewsbury they need a park and ride to get to the games, we Imps can still start our day with a bit of shopping before hopping down the High Street from pub to pub ending up on the welcoming terraces of our home ground. Sincil Bank is still part of the community, it is still synonymous with Lincoln City and I hope it always will be.
We move on to the sentiment, which as you know is my specialist subject. I could write sentimentally about a big pooh I had at lunch time, so to write about my spiritual home is going to be incredibly easy. Personally I first attended in 1986, and for the last 31 years that ground has been my place of solace. When times have been bad I can go to the Stacey West or (more recently) the Coop Stand and just exist amongst a couple of thousand like minded people without having to worry about what is happening outside the turnstiles. When your life is in turmoil a trip to the football is cathartic, your focus is switched to formations, opposition and results. Sure, it would be the same at a new ground but by association Sincil Bank has become a place of solace, and I’ll explain why it is specifically that place that is so important.
In the 1890s as Lincoln were setting up their home for the next century, a Russian man called Ivan Pavlov was conducting an experiment (stick with me, this is relevant). Essentially he was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food. They had become classically conditioned, in other words they associated him with food because he had brought them food so regularly. The same can be said of Sincil Bank. Because I (and many of you) have shut off from the real world so many times at Sincil Bank, we no longer even have to think about it. Just the sight of that emerald green pitch or that god-awful square stand on its own will trigger positive memories and feelings. We are Pavlov’s dogs and Sincil Bank is our trigger for happiness.
I associate Sincil Bank with my Dad too, and I know many of you will be the same with members of your family. I was brought up on a diet of stories about collapsing walls in FA Cup ties, packed Railway Ends watching Murphy’s marauders just missing out on promotion and big Percy Freeman barging keepers into the back of the net. As a child I bonded with my Dad as we thrashed Bath and Enfield at Sincil Bank with me rsting my little ginger chin on the granite wall at the front of the Railway End. During those awkward teenage years the only time my Dad and I didn’t argue and fight was at football watching Jason Lee trip over the ball. We both decided he was absolute mince. As I’ve grown into a (supposed) man we have stayed close by coming together week after week, month after month to watch bad teams and good huff and puff against a variety of different opposition. We were right side Stacey West, now we’re Upper Coop but always we’re sat facing the same direction. Now, after 30 years of sharing the terraces the only time we do argue and fight is at Sincil Bank, this time over Matt Rhead or whether Alan Power should be playing. Could that sort of history be recreated away from our beloved home? Could a new ground possibly hold so many special feelings and memories? I don’t think it could.
All of this doesn’t do justice to how good our ground actually is. For all the perceived faults we do have one of the finest grounds outside the top two or three divisions. We might not have stands in the corners and the acoustics might not be perfect from certain places, but the Coop stand is an impressive sight even when it is half full. The views from the executive boxes are something to behold too, I firmly believe that looking down the pitch towards the Stacey West with the Cathedral in the distance is one of the best views in English football. Sure I am biased, but a new ground couldn’t possibly hope to recreate that iconic view. It brings Sincil Bank and the city of Lincoln together in perfect harmony, and it is even better when Sam Habergham is driving a low free kick past an opposition keeper right in front of you.
I understand arguments about maximising profits etc, but tonight is my night. I am voting to remain and I feel we have ample opportunity to redevelop Sincil Bank and make it far more lucrative for the club. Eight months ago the need to move ground was pressing for financial reasons, but after the cup run I’m not so sure that we have such a pressing need to move. Could we simply redevelop what we already have? We may have sold Play Zone, but there is still the land behind the Stacey West that could be used for more than car-parking, it could be used to build and expand. A small shopping precinct serving the Sincil Bank area might prove to be popular. We could also knock down the St Andrews stand (I forget it’s sponsored name) and build something akin to the Coop Stand on the other side, perhaps adding in some new executive box facilities and rentable office space as well? Wouldn’t that be considerably cheaper than an all-out move? There might be some pennies left over to then use any land we may have already procured for the training facilities that Danny and Nicky are so keen on.
Access is an issue as I understand it, and to facilitate staying at the Bank we’d need to open up an access route to South Park. There is already a road, but perhaps car parking isn’t as adequate as we’d like. That said many of the grounds we’ve been to have far less access and car parking than we do currently, and I wouldn’t imagine that this would prove to be such a stumbling block if we really wanted to stay put. Grease a few palms, build on the goodwill that currently exists between club and city and ‘bingo’, we have our access road.
I have often posed the question, what is a football club? Managers and players move on, owners change, kits change and nicknames change. The only real constant is the fans, but for Lincoln City another constant has been Sincil Bank. It is steeped in football history, from the great escape of 1958 to the record breakers of 1976. We’ve seen heartbreak interspersed with success, we’ve seen legends such as Richard Butcher and Keith Alexander, or Gordon Hobson and Percy Freeman plying their trade and sending us home happy. We’ve experienced the villains as well, taking delight in going to our favourite place to boo Chris Sutton or Drewe Broughton. Sincil Bank is a stage, every bit as famous (to those who have attended regularly) as the Globe Theatre or the Royal Albert Hall. We’ve seen seasons of tragedy, seasons of comedy and seasons of unbridled joy, always played out on the same stage albeit by different players. To leave the ground might make sense to some, but I think it would be like losing a member of the family. Even if you put your Mum in a home you can still go and visit her, but if we move they’re going to tear down the scene of so much joy and replace it with bloody houses. Houses I tell you! We’ve got plenty of them already, and houses still need access and facilities just like our football ground.
You can take the club out of the ground, but you can never truly take the ground out of the club. Shrewsbury fans still talk about the Gay Meadow, Arsenal fans long for the days of Highbury and I doubt there is a Coventry fan alive that wouldn’t go back to Highfield Road in a heart beat. There is no need for us to lose this crucial part of our identity, and I for one (well, half of one) believe we should stay put.
Tomorrow: I argue against myself and put together a convincing argument as to why we should move. Also my Mum texts to angrily ask why I have referenced putting her in a home several times on the internet for everyone to read, and probably writes me out of her will in the process.