So when I left you with Part One we were on our break, I had a cigar in my mouth and a vodka in my hand. Before we kick off part two, there was something I wanted to touch upon. Prior to attending I said to my Dad that two things would be interesting: which loan players from last season were there, and which first team players were not there.
The first big surprise I got was seeing Terry Hawkridge arrive, and I hope he is glad he did. I shook his hand and wished him well, I imagine half of the people in there did, and the only reason the other half didn’t was the length of the queue. There was a particularly nice moment when the crowd broke out into a rendition of ‘There’s only one Terry Hawkridge’. Yes there is, and both he and our fans showed class last night.
I was delighted to see both Josh Ginnelly and Harry Anderson attending as well. It isn’t an indication that there’s anything happening as such, but I thought for a loan player to rock up at the awards night after they returned to their clubs showed how much they rated our great football club. Let us be honest, if either of those players choose to join us next season it would be a massive boost.
There were a couple of first team players I didn’t see, and I may have missed them. I know Rheady wasn’t there, but there was plenty of mention of him throughout the occasion. I didn’t see Alan Power, Adam Marriott or Callum Howe but that may be a combination of alcohol and how far away our tale was from everybody.
Lee Angol wasn’t there, I assume he was around at Steve Evans house having a McDonalds. And a KFC. And pizza. You get the gag by now I’m sure.
The night was punctuated with lots of little videos, from the goals of the season to montages put together of the cup run. They were cheered and raised lots of smiles, but one was very poignant. Respect was paid to the Imps we’d lost this season, David Herd and Graham Taylor amongst others. It was set to the David Bowie tune Heroes, and was emotional and fitting for all it paid tribute to.
I noticed a couple of notable guests at the event as well, perhaps non more so than former club chairman Steff Wright. Having seen the football club crumble and wither on his watch, I hope he got some pleasure from seeing how Bob has transformed the broken mess that got dumped into his lap in 2010.
Of course there was lots of back slapping, lots of people honoured for current service, long service and voluntary services. Remember, we just won the National League. It wouldn’t have been too much if every one of the 600 guests had been invited on the stage to be thanked for their efforts, and when Danny got up there he did. More on that at the end.
So the sticky toffee pudding got cleared away, glasses were refilled and we cracked on with the second half of the awards, starting with an auction. Two signed shirts, framed. One the green of Lincoln City signed by the squad, the second the red of Arsenal signed by their squad. Unique memorabilia worth a grand of anyone’s money surely? Keith’s wallet twitched as he prepared for a bid. I’d learned my lesson after spending nearly £300 on an auction at the last dinner. This time I kept my hand in my pocket. Bob Dorrian jokingly asked if anyone wanted to start us off at three grand.
Boom, up went a hand. Across the room it wasn’t too rich for someone, £3200. Boom, immediately the young lady who bid first time put her hand up again, and that was that. Sold for £3400. Bob joked that Richie Bates hoped it would raise a grand. On that bombshell the awards got back underway.
Away Player of the Season – Alex Woodyard
Again? Really? Even though Chris Ashton made the voting system complicated in order to be fair (as he tells us every year), it was still won by the midfield dynamo of Alex Woodyard. As in Part One, we’ll talk about Alex at the end.
Champagne Moment of the Season – All of it
Interesting awards, interesting winner. I think this was basically just another excuse to give a round of applause and a few back slaps. We never usually have a ‘champagne moment’ and when we introduce one, we can’t decide what moment wins it! You have to wonder if maybe the original winner was going to be Terry Hawkridge’s goal against Macclesfield, and when he left we hastily arranged to just give it to everyone!
Going around the room asking for people’s moments was interesting. Someone said 6-1 North Ferriby, someone said the York City cheeseburgers (obviously away) and someone even said Dover away as we got beat 2-0. I think you could ask fifty people and get fifty answers. As the club were unable to vote a winner, I thought I’d do it myself. So here is the first ever Stacey West Champagne Moment of the Year: Sean Raggett’s winner against Burnley. What could induce a spray of champagne better than a last-minute winning goal for a non-league club against Premier League opposition on their own ground?
Winning the league I suppose. Yeah, that then.
Lifetime Achievement Award – Doreen and George Ashton
Here is what these sorts of events are all about, acknowledging the real people who make a football club. I’ve said it before, managers come and go, players come and go, kits change, badges change and even grounds change. The one thing that binds a club together and makes it what it is, is the fans. Last night two fans who have clocked up over 2000 Imps games got their moment on stage, and although 600 clapped them in the hall, 10,000 should have done it in the ground. I think everyone has a Doreen or George story, everyone knows them and their unswerving support of our team. George spoke of Bill Anderson on stage, and for an Imps historian such as me that was wonderful to hear. He then said another season like the one we’ve just had, and our current managers would be ‘joint second best’ with Graham Taylor. These are the people who matter to a football club, and I hope in fifty years time I have the same commitment and passion for the club that those two stalwarts have.
Player’s Player of the Season – Luke Waterfall
Hang on, is that right? Luke Waterfall? Not Alex Woodyard? No?
Seriously I was delighted to see no-nonsense Luke Waterfall, minus his magic hat, up on stage getting an award. Interestingly Keith on our table (a former manager and Lincoln Utd player) said ‘winning the player’s player is always the best feeling’. What is better than recognition from ones peers?
Luke has been a rock at centre half all season, and it stands to reason if Sean gets an award, Luke will be there somewhere. Sean won the Young Player of the Season at the game awards, Luke had a Player of the Month already in the bag. Luke scores against Forest Green to draw the game level, Sean wins us it. Luke scores at North Ferriby to win three points away, Sean does the same at Eastleigh. They’ve battled each other all season, whilst at the same time forming on of the best central defensive pairings I’ve ever witnessed at Sincil Bank. Sean is the rising star, the hot young thing with a future of bright lights and big money moves. Luke is the more experienced player, one who has served a proper football apprenticeship in the lower divisions, a man whose character has been built by knock backs, free transfers and proper battles. He’s a leader, fearless and one who stands at the front and commands his battalion from there. Yes, he got Player’s Player of the Season, undoubtedly he would have got Most Improved Player of the Season, and he’s got two years tucked up in his back pocket as well. Whether he’s magic is up for debate, I wouldn’t throw a brick at him for fear he’d hurt me in return, but he is a great defender, a great leader and a proper servant of this football club.
Player of the Season – Alex Woodyard
Firstly, called it. Secondly, what more can I say about this extraordinary young man? I’ve banged on about him time and time again on here, his industrious nature, his tenacity and never-say-die attitude. He was a shoe-in for this award, and that is saying something in a side that has Arnold, Habergham, Rhead, and Raggett in it. Alex Woodyard is class, I’ve been saying he’s class all season and now he has a mantelpiece full of crystal and silver to prove it. One day, mark my words, he will play in at least the Championship.
The awards ended there, but even though it was already 11.20pm and taxis were queuing up outside, nobody was leaving, because we all wanted to hear from two men who didn’t pick up an award of their own: Danny and Nicky. In a fitting finale to the evening they took to the stage to be asked a few questions by Rob Makepeace, questions that were broken up with constant rounds of applause. As the alcohol flowed the applause became more regular, and it erupted when those two took to the stage.
They spoke as they often have about the club, how they felt when they arrived and how good the players were. Then, from nowhere, a video. ‘Someone who can’t be here tonight’ said Rob Makepeace. Who was it? Matt Rhead? Bradley Wood? Lee Angol? Nope.
It was Arsene Wenger.
The man who has led Arsenal for over 20 years. A world class manager, an innovator and without a doubt one of the early pace setters in his field. He helped transform the English game, he’s won trophies and pitted his wits against the very best the world has to offer. At some point over the last few days he has taken the time to sit down and record a personal message for Danny, Nicky and Lincoln City Football Club.
He congratulated us on our promotion, and commented how we hadn’t been beaten since we played Arsenal (Boreham… never mind). He wished us well for next season, hopefully that comes with the loan of a couple of young players, eh? Seriously, what a great touch, a wonderful gesture from a true gentleman of our modern game. I’ve no doubt Danny and Nicky were blown away, Nicky quipping his surprise Arsene had done that after ‘Danny bored him to tears for about two hours’ after our recent game.
Finally Danny wrapped up the evening by paying tribute to the players, and their team effort. He classed what the club have achieved this season as a ‘football miracle’, and an unbelievable achievement by a group of people willing to work hard. He remarked that it must have been a special season when the likes of Sam Habergham, Matt Rhead and Nathan Arnold do not win an individual award, and continued by saying the focus for him was now on next year, after tasting success he wanted more.
Then, the killer lines. The ‘lump in the throat’ moment that perhaps I should have had watching the Ipswich goal, the Arsene clip or the remembrance video. Instead I bit down hard as Danny said:
“This is a special football club. It has class, and it has soul. You look in modern-day football, there’s not many clubs like ours.”
He’s right. We didn’t just win the National League, we didn’t just break records on the pitch. We woke up as a club, driven by class people throughout. Danny and Nicky led the coaching staff, Luke Waterfall led the playing staff and we watched in awe every week. As we did the office staff, Ian McCallum and the catering staff, Richie and Jake in commercial, the fans, the stewards, everyone worked hard to help keep it going. When the players knocked off training and the manager closed the office door to watch more clips with Nicky, the club kept on breathing and working. Office lights stayed switched on late into the evening. I wrote, you read, Helgy made money, the club came alive. We burned in the ashes of failure and we’ve risen again, reborn bolder and better than before with a fresh impetus and drive. Some National League teams couldn’t get 600 regularly at home, we got it for a £60 a head awards night, and if there had been 1000 seats we would have sold them.
Danny Cowley is right. There’s not many football clubs like ours, a last night was a fitting celebration of everything good about Lincoln City FC.