Last night you may have read my sentimental, heartfelt prose providing reasons why there is no need for us to leave Sincil Bank. I confess I made some good points, but on reflection you have to admit it was saccharine loaded one-dimensional codswallop. Of course we all love Sincil Bank, it is the home of the Mighty Imps, but in truth it makes far more economical sense to build ourselves a nice new shiny ground somewhere off Beevor Street doesn’t it?
Of course it does, but I’m not going to spend ages pulling apart my argument from last night. Instead I am going to give succinct and undeniable reasons why we must move to a new ground, for the good of the club and to secure our long term future.
Firstly let us look at the home of Lincoln City in real terms. We do have a nice ground, but have you ever noticed things are not quite right? I’ll start in the Coop Stand, the jewel in our crown. This is a stand where, in 2017, fans find themselves queuing for toilets, up the stairs and out into the stand itself. There is probably urinal space for 20 fans, and that caters for the entire upper tier which holds what, 2000? The there is the bar under the stand that probably caters for around 100 paying fans during the half time break in a system that can be (at best) described as a free-for-all. The club are losing valuable match day revenue by not being able to process the large number of fans wanting food and drink adequately. The space is there for a second floor, perhaps a two tiered system but fitting that retrospectively would be incredibly costly.
The seating is a bit cramped too, isn’t it? I’m all for getting close to other fans, but as a man of above average girth I often find myself rubbing love handles with a similarly sized fan whom I’ve never met. When we were crap it wasn’t a problem, I usually had a whole block to myself, but the success of this season has highlighted how rammed in we actually are. Genuinely this weekend against Forest Green I knew when the complete stranger next to me got a text message, because I felt his phone vibrate on my thigh! A new stadium might allow for a couple more inches between seats, thus cutting down on uncomfortable invasions of personal space.
Don’t even get me started on those fans that need toilet breaks every fifteen minutes or so. I’m up and down more than the lifts in the Waterside centre most matches, a bit of leg room allowing for squeezing past wouldn’t go amiss.
What about those fans in the lower tier who want to exchange their hard-earned for a plastic glass of average lager? Options are limited to ‘none’ as my Dad painfully found out after securing his lower tier seats on Saturday. That wonderful stand we have, the one that looks so great when filled, simply doesn’t offer the level of service that the paying customer expects anymore. The upper tier seats get beers, but only enough urinals for 20% of the fans, whilst the lower tier get a choice of toileting facilities but alas, no alcoholic beverages to lubricate the throat in the middle of all that singing. Aside from detracting from the match day experience, the club are losing out on revenue, hands down.
While we are on the drinking subject, the TP Suite (or Centre Spot as I always refer to it) isn’t fit for purpose anymore either. When we were a bad football team you could grab a seat in there right up until kick off, but now if you don’t get there before half one and buy three pints at a time, you ain’t getting a drink. The staff do their best, but the elongated shape of the bar isn’t one that invites people in or encourages repeat visits. Once again you find a scrum at the bar, a bottle neck at one entrance and a nonsensical arrangement of seating that is virtually impossible to get in or out of once you’ve settled down. I know of people recently who have gone into the ground to get a beer at two o’clock because the queues are too long in there. Sadly for them they were Coop lower tier, so they kept their pound coins in their pocket to spend elsewhere.
I love Sincil Bank, I really do, but it is beginning to creak a little under the strain of a successful team. As the city grows so does the potential fan base, and bear in mind we had just under 7,000 there on Saturday. What if we do ascend to League One? Do you really want to be queuing for the toilets every bloody game? Do you really want to miss either the last five minutes of the first half, or the first five of the second half just because you want a wee? A new stadium with a more spacious main stand would be just the ticket.
The facilities at the ground are adequate at present, but in the modern era a ground needs to earn money for the club every day. I don’t think Sincil Bank has the location nor the facilities to attract people for conferencing or as a meeting venue. I’ve been in those types of function many times and I’ve seen the high quality of rooms that are available, and if Lincoln City are to compete with that then I’m afraid we need a new stadium. Ian McCallum and his team do a superb job with the rooms at their disposal, and their energy and customer service would help drive a new custom-made business suite forward. Imagine if we had a couple of large meeting rooms available all week around, with proper projector facilities and internet connections. This is a lucrative and expanding market and although we have a small slice of the action, it is the major hotels that really take the revenue in Lincoln. Coupled with easy access from Tritton Road there could be serious money for the football club in this sector.
There are no rentable units at the ground at present, and something closer to the centre of town would constitute prime retail space. Shops and other outlets could be a real money spinner on a day to day basis. Maybe there could be a small bar space, or even a night club of sorts? Perhaps there could a cinema incorporated, a bowling alley, anything that attracted significant rent and round the clock revenue. Anything except a soft play area! Beevor Street is in close proximity to the university, and that in itself would make it a very attractive prospect to potential tenants.
A new ground so close to our growing university would offer so many great opportunities for additional revenue that it seems almost ludicrous that we haven’t moved before now. The uni has revolutionised Lincoln, and as a younger man I despised the change it brought to our city. Now I have a clearer head on my shoulders I recognise how it has turned Lincoln from a nowhere town into somewhere thriving and bustling with energy.
People point to the likes of West Ham or the Emirates as an example of how a new ground can kill the atmosphere for a football club. I’d like to point to Morecambe, Burton Albion, Bolton Wanderers and Derby County as example of it being done right. A new ground doesn’t have to kill off atmosphere and support, after all anyone who attended games during the Peter Jackson era will recall very little atmosphere anyway. As long as fans are consulted and listened to a new ground could be a major step forward for the club. Nobody wants a soulless identikit stadium on the outskirts of town (Glumford Park, The New Meadow etc), but a state of the art, multi-functional arena that incorporates aspects of the club’s history and sympathetically pays homage to Sincil Bank at the same time? I’ll have some of that all day long.
To everyone who agreed with the sentimental side of me last night, here’s a message: we will be moving grounds, no matter how much it ‘hurts’ us. We do need somewhere with better access, better facilities and significant earning potential, and it makes far more sense to build a new one from scratch than to try and make good what we already have. Our days at Sincil Bank are numbered and even the most hardened lovers of our home ground will have to get used to the fact that one day in the not-too distant future we will be kicking off a season much closer to the city centre. If you think not being at the Bank hurts, imagine how much not having a club would sting. We might have our immediate future secured thanks to the FA Cup heroics, but a new ground could secure our long-term future as well.
I’m not sure what I’d like the ground to be called, but definitely not the New Bank or anything Sincil related. We wouldn’t be trying to recreate our old ground, we’d need to be respectful to it. When Shrewsbury called their place the New Meadow, they instantly conjured up comparisons with the old Gay Meadow. Instead I’d like to see something new, something that is related to the club and the city, but something that does not try to be Sincil Bank.
It might not be all bad though. Imagine the scene, you’ve worked your way through town and ended up walking down Alexander Way towards the ground. Once there you have the choice of two bars, Taylors Bar which is a nice sedate drinking den catering for the older, more discerning fan. On the other hand you could go round to Cowley’s Cantina (three promotions in three seasons will see us in the second tier, they deserve a bar named after them) where the 617 can mob up and create the sort of scenes we’ve become accustomed too. Once inside you can make your way to much smaller blocks with more leg room and wider seats, you can go to the toilet without having to miss much of the action and crucially you can buy food prepared on site which includes some margin for the club and some actual taste for the consumer. Maybe you’ll head to Butchers Burger Bar, or perhaps Rob Scott’s Pie Shop will tickle your fancy. You’ll be watching a team that is financially secure, part financed by our wonderful rise up the leagues, but also by the constant stream of income from the various shopping outlets and business facilities in use at the ground 24/7. We’ll still have a Stacey West End, there will still be little reminders of Sincil Bank all around, but somehow it will all just be better. Perhaps most importantly of all when the bloke next to you gets a text message, you won’t feel the vibration on your own thigh, and I think perhaps that is the most convincing argument of all.
I have to confess I’m completely divided as to whether I think we should move or not, as you might have guessed. I have no conclusion to the argument because I simply convince mysef one way and then the other. I’d miss Sincil Bank like an old family home, and I think a part of the club would be lost should we move. However, if a new stadium is done sympathetically and with the fans consulted and included then I see the huge advantages that could offer as well. I’ll be arguing with myself well into the night, and as my therapist said to me the other day, that simply is not healthy behaviour. Neither is eating a Double M’s burger, but we still do it when we’re hungry.