Danny Cowley made a very passionate and heartfelt plea about us fans enjoying the rest of the season, and in doing so suggested those who do not enjoy it should get another hobby. Whilst Danny could pretty much say anything these days and have me agree, I felt I had to offer my own thoughts up on why there are key times when these next few weeks are not going to be enjoyable.
Firstly, Danny’s comments. I’ve reproduced them below for you, an in true Cowley style they are inspirational and honest. Both Danny and Nicky are genuine men, they only point out their own faults and they’re gracious and sporting towards everyone and everything. When Barrow stomped all over us earlier in the season, they congratulated them on outmuscling us. When York were given an incorrect penalty to eliminate us from the FA Trophy, they refused to get drawn on the referee’s performance. You know when either of these guys speaks it isn’t just going to be empty rhetoric nor is it going to be Jackson-style bluster and self promotion.
I don’t disagree with most of what Danny says in his programme piece. I do trust in them as a group of players, I look for patterns and evidence that the recent blip was to be expected, and looking at their Braintree run last season shows they had a minor hiccup in March before powering through to third in the league. They had a smaller squad and less time with the players and yet they ended the season with a phenomenal run, and there is nothing to suggest we won’t do the same again. I trust Danny and Nicky and I trust this hard-working and talented squad they’ve assembled.
I also understand this is as good as it gets supporting your football team. Top of the league with eight matches to play, much better goal difference and your two rivals still have to meet each other. We’re playing good football, we retain possession and in 95% of our games we get (and take) at least one really good chance. Our squad is laden with footballers who should not be at this level, and yet there isn’t a big-time Charlie amongst them. Not in my lifetime has the alignment between manager, players and fans been so in tune. We’ve attracted over 5,000 fans now for 11 matches, and I have no doubt that will stretch to 15 and the end of the season. That in itself is evidence that we believe, it’s evidence we are enjoying the moment and that we are proud of everything the club is achieving.
My only minor gripe with Danny’s notes comes with the ‘constant enjoyment’ thing. As I say an increasing amount; I am a Lincoln City fan. I have been coming to Sincil Bank for over 30 years now. I’ve seen promotions (two), relegations (three) and play-off appearances (five). I’ve seen us top the league on more than one occasion, and I’ve seen a squad of incredibly talented players fail to achieve the things they should (2005, 2007). Those who have been coming forty, fifty or sixty years have seen the same all through history. We are used to something spoiling the party, we’re used to seeing someone throw a spanner in the works and us tumbling at the final hurdle. What we are not used to is such sustained promise from a group of players, and whilst watching them is a joy, feeling like we might fall at the last hurdle isn’t enjoyable at all, it’s scary and frankly it is haunting my dreams.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d much rather be chewing my nails on 60 minutes when we desperately need a goal against Bromley that I would be sat with indifference as we stumbled to a 15th place finish. I’d rather be looking out for the results of those chasing us, than watching teams above us put more and more points on the board. Perversely I’m enjoying being scared and being worried. I’m loving the fact we’re still there in the hunt, but if you told me that when we were 1-0 down to FGR I might not have believed you. The 90 minutes of football are getting tenser and tenser, and until we score the vital goals it is unimaginably hard to enjoy it to the max. However, when the ball does hit the back of the net, just as it did via Billy Knott yesterday, those moments are ones to savour. Just under a year ago we beat Chester 2-1 at Sincil Bank, I was there and George Maris gave us an 81st minute winner. Sure, I celebrated it but I can’t specifically remember it. It didn’t matter, and as a City fan I’d become numb to any success. I guarantee in a years time I’ll remember Billy Knott’s winner yesterday, because I’d sent the previous 65 minutes fretting about whether we’d score or not. It mattered, and it triggered a massive sense of relief and of course elation.
Enjoyment isn’t about unbridled excitement for the next 28 days, not one bit. There will be bumps and twists, and there will be moments when we feel perhaps we’ve lost the advantage. I won’t enjoy those moments because that fear will creep in once again, that phobia of failure from the jaws of success. That doesn’t mean I’m wishing the season away though, not one bit. I want 2016/17 to last for ever, I want to always feel this pride in my football club. I want to have those moments where it seems we’re losing grip because it makes it so much more enjoyable when we rise back up. In order to truly feel happiness, you have to feel anxious and tense. A good friend of mine once said to me ‘you have to have bad days, otherwise how will you know what a good day really is?’
Nine Inch Nails (and latterly Johnny Cash) sing a lyric in the song Hurt that goes like this: “I cut myself today, to see if I still feel.” I think that sums up the last five or ten years as a Lincoln City fan. We’d become numb to everything, and we only felt like football fans by experiencing despair and anger. Only by looking at how far we’d sunk could we feel anything akin to being a football fan. We had no positives to cling to, essentially we were the footballing version of self harming. This season we don’t need to suffer in order to feel, this season the moments of unbridled joy come every seven to ten days. It’s a wonderful ride to be on and I don’t ever want it to end, but please excuse me if there are sixty five minute or so on a Saturday afternoon when I’m not loving life. It’s called tension, and there’s much more of it coming our way.