Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Championship Season Awards Dinner at the Lincolnshire Showground. It’s the furthest I’ve travelled in over a month thanks to my dodgy back, but after missing Gateshead, Southport, the open top bus and the ProNinety match I was in no mood for missing out again.
Usually the awards are handed out on the pitch before the final game of the season, but given that there was a far more prestigious award at stake on April 22nd, the dinner was hastily arranged to accommodate them. The cynical amongst you might comment on what a good fund raiser it was for the club, the fans amongst you will appreciate what a truly wonderful occasion it was.
‘6.30pm for 7pm, guests can arrive from 6pm’, was my understanding. By the time I arrived at 6.30pm the ruck at the bar was like nothing I’d see before, confirming that most guests must have turned up dead on 6pm. The whole place was thriving with activity, lots of smartly dressed people all eager to have a few beers and celebrate what has been a truly epic season. Fitting than that we were in the Epic Centre.
As you know I went off to the Football Blogging Awards back in November, a glitzy affair at Old Trafford packed with stars of the independent media scene, and me. It was all glitter balls, nice tables and smart suits, a proper ‘do’ as my old man would probably call it. Let me assure you despite the opulent surroundings in Manchester, last night was every bit as good.
We mingled and it was nice to catch up with a few readers of the blog as well. I wasn’t there for selfies and signatures, but there was one man I really wanted to get a picture with, and that was Paul Farman. There’s a running joke here up in the Wolds that my other half is a Farms fan ahead of being a Gary fan. There’s the fridge magnet, there’s a postcard bearing his face on our kitchen shelves, and when my recent signed photograph went up she stood looking longingly at it. I needed a picture with Farms, because I imagine it is the only way I’ll make the screensaver of her phone. Made it.
The was one other photo I hadn’t gotten yet that I was determined to bag. It’s silver, shiny and for six years it has been pretty much all we’ve craved as fans. Breath in, smile and at last minute look in another direction. Job done, photo ruined.
It was nice to catch up with a few people whom I don’t see a lot of, Joe Owen being one. Joe is the son of steward Paul Owen (another top bloke), and I’ve known Joe since he was a much younger man. I love how football clubs bring people together, and bring people back together. I used to see a lot of Paul and Dave Heap when I did Poacher, but these days I don’t get to chat to them so it was excellent to be able to say hello, especially with a smile on our faces!
After a few beers it was time to take the table for the first half. We had a good table of people, and a couple of the ‘usual suspects’ were there, the guys who always want to be at these events and dinners. Dave Mundin, Bubs, Rick Keracher and Kev Barwise to name a few. We’ve racked up a few of these events together now, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Heather Bruntlett was there too (the new Poacher’s Mum), Keith Lowman who wanted to get some money spent in the auction, and a couple of other top lads.
Rob Makepeace and Alan Long took to the stage, and I must confess to being a little jealous. I used to be Alan’s sidekick on the pitch as Poacher, but Rob was excellent too. It felt like a national awards ceremony with some banter between them and exchanged with the players and crowd. As good as that was though, there was some business to get down to.
Young Player of the Season – Sean Raggett
Who else? It is often hard to imagine Raggs as a ‘young player’ given his immense stature and number of games. He’s been brilliant for us all season, not just in his own box but also in the opposition area. The fact is if you win the National League Young Player of the Year, you’re going to win it for your team as well. He was a deserving winner, but again, when you win the league it would be very hard to not be deserving of the award! Raggs was typically softly spoken, but attention was paid to his post-match interview away at Forest Green when he said ‘we won’t let anybody run away with this league’. He was right.
Community Player of the Season – Paul Farman
A football club is as strong as the ties it has with its community. If a team is out in hospitals and schools, popping into businesses and having a real public persona, then it will garner support from the people of the city. With Alan Long in his role as Community and Player Liaison, it means the club are doing whatever they can to build those relationship. However, as Alan said, that will only work if the players are on board and I imagine any one of the squad could have won this. From those that serve tea in freezing cold queues, to those who sponsor local youth team players. As it was the likeable Geordie himself, soon to be our record keeper appearance holder (Dan McPhail made 309), Paul Farman. He quipped that it was probably only because he lived in Lincoln that Alan constantly gets him to do things, but deep down you know the players would do whatever was necessary for the club.
Goal of the Season – Nathan Arnold v Ipswich
There was cause for some debate on our table. There were five nominees, two for Raggs (Burnley and FGR), Sam Habergham v Torquay and two from Nathan (Ipswich and Gateshead). Our table was split, some thought Raggs against FGR was worth it for what it represented, how it put us back into the title race. There was a strong shout for Sam too, that free kick under immense pressure turned Easter on it’s head. I shouted Ipswich in the cup, for me it had everything. It had beautiful technique not just from Nathan but from Adam Marriott as well, and it just lifted the whole City. If Oldham in the cup changed attendances, Ipswich in the cup fired belief. In the end it did win, but not without Bubs next to me insisting Nathan’s goal at Gateshead should have won, because again he showed great technique and calmness, but also because Bubs got a good photo of it!
Volunteer of the Season – Andy Helgesen
The number of years I’ve stood on the pitch hoping to win this award is untrue. I craved it at one point, hoping all my time as Poacher would be recognised, certainly under Jackson or Holdsworth. It was quite comforting last night watching on not hoping to hear my name read out and being disappointed. Instead, the winner was so-well deserved, a man whom I’ve worked closely with on various things and who works tirelessly and selflessly to put money into the Imps coffers. He’s one of the faces behind the FPS, he dreamed up the training days, in fact behind every fund raiser at the moment there seems to be Helgy. On a personal level I count him as a good friend, on a professional level it is his commitment and drive that has helped to push the fundraising forward. Would we have Nathan Arnold without the crowd funder money? Who knows. These awards are also about unsung heroes, and Helgy, uncomfortable in the limelight, was asked for a few words. He used that time to mention his next fund raising scheme, and that tells you all you need to know about him. Helgy: After a lot of the personal shit we went through together with the 12th man and all that, it was one of the highlights of my night to see you recognised in this way. Well done mate.
Twitter Player of the Season – Alex Woodyard
Alex Woodyard. I’m going to have to write about him a fair bit, so I’ll save it for one of the other awards he won.
Lincolnshire Echo Player of the Season – Alex Woodyard
Ditto. He’s a special young man though, isn’t he?
That brought us to half time of the awards, and it brings me to the end of part one. At this stage last night I recharged my vodka and Red Bull, banged a couple of cigars down me whilst chin wagging with David Martin and Jon Battersby, before tucking into a rather delicious steak and ale pie. It was tasty food washed down with alcoholic beverages surrounded by people who all loved the same things I do. What could be better?
At half time of the blog I shall be having a cup of tea, washing down a late Rice Crispy breakfast whilst surrounded by a tonne of MOT that my other half is having to shovel onto the drive because my back is made of paper mache. I’ll pen the second half this afternoon.
Coming next: Which players were there who you might not expect to be? Did anyone else win an award other than Alex Woodyard? How many people missed their 11pm taxi? All that and more.