April 22nd 2017. There is a date that no self-respecting Lincoln City fan will ever forget. There may be two games left to play in the National League, but finally our promotion back to the Football League was secured with the 2-1 win over Macclesfield yesterday. Then again, you already know that. I suspect you have talked of and read about little else in the last 24 hours.
I have spent the day wondering what words I could use to do justice to the things that we all felt yesterday. I toyed with different angles, different analogies and of course planned the regular sentiment laden prose I’ve become accustomed to providing this season.
I eventually realised that I can’t actually do justice with simple words on paper (or screen), just as photographs, videos and even commentary can’t truly encapsulate what it really felt like. I stood on the pitch with just a slight tear in my eye and witnessed scenes of unadulterated jubilation and passion unfold all around me. Young and old were crying and cheering, and I was running like a headless chicken backwards and forwards, not sure quite what to do. I ran, I stood, I crouched down, I bounced up and down – I was completely lost in the atmosphere.
I’d speculated what the moment might feel like, the one split second when the final whistle went on the game the secured the title for us. The honest truth is I can’t tell you what it was like, because it transcends words, pictures and sounds. It is something inside you that awakens and becomes alive, as if we have some sort of enzyme that is only released in moments of extreme happiness. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, holidays, fast cars, none of these things could come close to matching the feeling that washed over my body when our promotion was confirmed. You can’t describe it, much as I’ve tried over the past few paragraphs. Basically, it was bloody great.
I’m going to do a blog of my own match day experience, because that is what days like yesterday are all about. They’re about the personal experiences and interactions, the people you’ve met and the things you’ve witnessed. Every one of you will have your stories and memories, perhaps like mine they may get hazier as the day progressed!
What I won’t be doing is a match blog, because once again the occasion dwarfed the actual game of football. Terry Hawkridge was the hero, and for me that in itself really summed up our season. I spoke of seven players that I thought could get player of the year, I never mentioned Terry. I spoke of how the loan players had impacted us too recently, I spoke of how much this must mean to Alan Power with his 250 appearances. Then when it came down to it, Terry Hawkridge, a man perhaps I haven’t written as much or enough about, pops up with not one, but two goals to seal the triumph.
That proves this is an all-round team that work for each other, a team that doesn’t rely on Padraig Amond or Ricky Miller to bag all the goals. It doesn’t rely on just five or six really good players, it doesn’t rely on high earners either. The team that won the National League yesterday are a complete team, with contributions coming from all over the park. The fact that a player such as Terry who has been in and out of the side on occasion can pop up with two good goals to win the game just goes to show what DC and NC have built here.
I can’t remember all of the game, a combination of alcohol and nerves made sure of that. What I do remember is two or three wonderful saves from Paul Farman. I think he got man of the match, perhaps harsh on Terry but a fitting finish to the home fixtures for a man who talks with a northern accent, but is as Lincoln City as me or you.
For now I’m going to leave you with two quotes from blogs I wrote in August and September. There will be a blog later on today of ‘my day’ for you to (hopefully) enjoy, and then perhaps another one basically just saying how bloody great everyone and everything to do with Lincoln City is. For now though, I’ll leave you with this:
“Believe me when I say this: this season is going to be a bit different.”
I wrote those words on August 11th 2016, which was five years to the day we first tentatively dipped our toe in the tepid water of the fifth tier. We’d just beaten North Ferriby 6-1, and although many people were warning of cautious optimism, even then I felt something was happening at our football club. I suppose the words could now be classed as an understatement. I’d dare not believe that we could ever achieve what we have. I’ve said it on many occasion that a fiction writer wouldn’t be as audacious as to write the story of our season for it being deemed too far-fetched.
“I think we’re as good as any team in this division and if we keep on believing and keep on playing as we are doing there’s no reason why you can’t book your holidays for mid May, because we could go up as champions.”
I wrote those words on September 10th, and it was an honest assessment of a fledgling Lincoln City team after we’d beaten Tranmere 1-0 at Prenton Park. How important were those victories against the Trannies and Forest Green? Twelve points from our clashes with our title rivals have really been the difference this season, that and never knowing when we are beaten. I had to include this passage because for all my pessimism in my heart I saw how different this team was.
As Michael Hortin poignantly stated, in the year we said goodbye to Graham Taylor, against Keith Alexander’s last team (and Richard Butcher’s) in front of the watchful gaze of Colin Murphy, Lincoln City won the National League title. In the end we’ve done it at a canter with games to spare. Yes, the team have been brilliant and yes, the board have been brilliant as well. This season though, this wonderful, life-affirming season has been masterminded by two individuals that will now be remembered as legend of Sincil Bank forever. Who knows where the Cowley journey stops?
Whatever these two truly magnificent men go on to achieve in football, they’ve earned Football League status the conventional way: by winning games of football, week in and week out. There were to be no short-cuts, no jumping ship to take their place amongst the 92. They’re winners and by managing a squad of talented players through fixture pile-ups, historic FA Cup runs and against any adversity that came their way they have gone from PE teachers to Football League managers inside 12 months. Danny and Nicky Cowley have got a very bright future ahead of them, and if we keep them at Sincil Bank then so do our beloved Lincoln City.