Who remembers Goal 2010? It was the ill-advised plans by the club board to secure Championship grade facilities by 2010, a plan conceived when we sat mid-table in League Two having failed for consecutive seasons to get promoted.
I’ve spoken about it extensively in the past, more often than not in derogatory terms. The plan was to build the facilities and invest in the infrastructure before we had any level of on-field success. What the club board planned to do was built a magnificent castle on foundations of sand. They wanted to be a Championship club, but they didn’t have the successful playing side to get them there.
Goal 2010 wasn’t solely to blame for our demise, but the mothballed training ground was a testament to the poor planning and lack of foresight shown by those in charge at the time. The ‘build it and they will come’ attitude might have worked for Tony Wilson at the Hacienda nightclub, but for a football team I’m afraid it is a non-starter. Now I am hearing talk of new training facilities all over again, and yet this time I’m as excited as Nicola Sturgeon watching Braveheart.
This time around the outcome may be the same, but the journey has been very different. Talk of a new training ground has been prompted by the manager, not a suit sat around a table. When offered funds for players Danny has been frugal and cautious, but it is he that wants the new facilities. This isn’t a statement being made by a board member wanting headlines for themselves, it is a direct request from a management team that have already given us much more than we had when the original plans were conceived. We’re not building on foundations of sand (nor of clay under the soil), this time the essential factor is in place. This time we’re building after the on-pitch success, not trying to stimulate it with expensive white elephants.
Instead of a ‘build it and they will come’ mantra we seem to have adopted a ‘get them in and then they’ll help build it’ instead. We didn’t need expensive training facilities and all-round investment in the club to attract Danny, Nicky and their backroom staff and players. All we needed were people in charge who could sell the dream. Instead of a group of businessmen treating football like a company, we have in charge now a group of men passionate about Lincoln City that have sold their passion to the brightest young managers in the Football League. In turn they’ve sold the dream to some of the brightest young players out of the National League. As a direct message to the board of 2006: that is the way to go about making your club a success.
There might be a few fans, like me, who have to sharply draw breath when talk of building a new training ground is mentioned. I acknowledge it wasn’t a major part of our demise, but nothing epitomised more the problems we had at the club than the whole Goal 2010 fiasco. Jack Hobbs brought £750,000 into this football club, as well as gate receipts from a lucrative friendly and in return we got Steve Torpey up front and some purpose-built training facilities. I’d be angry now if we were looking at building a palace for the likes of Bohan Dixon and Gomez Dali to train on, but we’re not. We’re now looking to provide two masters of their craft with the tools and facilities with which to continue their wonderful work. In 2010 we were effectively handing our inefficient managers the very finest oils and cloths so they could set about polishing a random selection of turds. In 2017 we are going to be providing Van Gogh and Da Vinci with new brushes, canvasses and oils.
In fact the news I’m hearing about how we’re going to set about spending some of the money we’ve raised this season is very satisfying. I’m led to believe supporters are going to get a nice surprise when ticketing details are announced for next season, and given that I expect us to sell 3,000 or more season tickets, that in itself will be a boost for the club. Discussion around the new stadium also seems to be sensible and balanced, especially given suggested capacity. At the beginning of the season the talk was of perhaps 10,000 seats, and evidence up until then suggested that would leave around 7,000 to be filled by new fans. Fast forward twelve months and those fans are already back, drawn by the end product served up by Danny and Nicky. Now we’re thinking 15,000, not because we’re reacting to a single season success, but because the true potential of the football club has become apparent.
Thanks to the university, Lincoln is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Tourists are flooding back due to a variety of reasons, one of which has to be our recent cup run. Everything has come together in unison to create a time when Lincolnites have ‘never had it so good’. Seriously, even the Eastern by-pass has been started, and I didn’t think I’d ever live to see the day. The city is on the move, and at its epicentre is a football club busting at the seams with potential.
Do I think we can make the Championship by 2020? That would be a bold statement. There are all sorts of factors that contribute to a club being successful, and although we can point at the likes of Burton and Rotherham as examples of how it can be done, we can also point at Chesterfield to show the pitfalls. A new ground alone won’t do the trick, nice training facilities alone won’t either. At all times the expansion and investment must be underpinned by a competitive side on the pitch, and a clear footballing direction.
Goal 2010 failed because those in charge lost sight of the purpose of a football club, and that is to serve up a product. That is why people come to football games, because the product is worth paying for. Thousands of fans watched us beat Oldham and they started to come to Sincil Bank to see it for themselves. We didn’t disappoint, not once throughout the whole of last season did we serve up the sort of turgid, off-putting displays that had become our trademark over the past decade. The product was good and those consumers kept on coming to watch. They’ll be back next season too, and if the product is good then they’ll remain loyal.
The problem arises when the product becomes stale and bad value for money. Attendances plummet back down to the hard-core 2,000 or so when the football is bad, when the club loses direction or when the ambition of the fans is not matched by the players. Under Danny and Nicky there will be no lack of ambition, and further up the ladder I believe Bob, Clive and the board will always look to match the managers ambition too. That is where things are going right, because it is the ambition and drive of the manager that is pulling this football club forward, not the pipe dream of a collection of suits around a table who don’t understand core concept of paying to watch football.
Championship 2020? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s just focus on Southport away this weekend, and then we’ll have a summer looking forward to being a Football League club. If Danny and Nicky have taught us anything it is that we take things one step at a time, one game at a time. By doing that and all remaining focused on the tasks in hand, I think anything could be possible.