As of 9am this morning, our league status was cemented and solidified. The new season fixtures have come out, and our rather underwhelming first league match is away at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday August 5th.
Uninspiring it might be, but there is a certain irony to have our season opener against the Chairboys. This season marks the 30th anniversary of our promotion from the GM Vauxhall Conference, a promotion that was secured by beating Wycombe Wanderers, 2-0. They’re also managed by Gareth Ainsworth, and so we get to see a former Imps legend pit his wits against the most promising young managers on the circuit today.
Our first home match is an equally uninspiring visit by Morecambe a week later, and there’s a team we have a good record against. In ten previous meetings we’ve won five and drawn 3, with just two defeats in the 2009/10 season blotting our copy book. The last time we met them at the Bank an Ashley Grimes double gave us a 2-0 win as we looked to stay in the Football League. We know how that turned out.
Finally those two clashes are followed by one of the more notable fixtures, a summer trip down to Devon to face Exeter City. It will be nice to get down south for a weekend while the sun is still in the sky for a festival of football. Other than that it’s a low-key start to the new season, two sides from mid-table followed by the beaten play-off finalists. No sign of any of our local rivals in the first four games, our final match of the opening month is Carlisle at home. The first month looks incredibly slimmed down when compared to last years eight matches.
Where are the other highlights? Licensing laws don’t allow me to reproduce the fixtures in full, but here are some of the dates you might want to write on your calendar. The end of September looks really tasty, Mansfield Town visit on 16th, followed by trips to Notts County (23rd) and then Grimsby Town (30th). On October 7th Chesterfield visit, and on the 14th it’s Cambridge United. Arguably that is five ‘local’ derbies on consecutive Saturdays with a cheeky midweek visit from Barnet thrown in for good measure. If we were over-awed at being back amongst football’s ‘elite’, those five weekends will remind us exactly what we’ve been missing.
We have to travel to Forest Green on a Tuesday night in September as well. Urgh.
One of the big home games, Coventry City, takes place on Saturday 18th of November, but that is the only real highlight as Christmas approaches. There’s very little Christmas cheer in December either, although we have been blessed with a Boxing Day clash at Sincil Bank against Stevenage, and another home game four days later against FGR. New Year’s Day see’s us take a long trip down to Luton, a game I suspect that won’t attract a strong away following.
Mansfield and Notts County come together back to back again in January, and February’s highlight is the visit of Swindon Town on the 3rd. Into the third month of 2018 we finally get the ‘golden egg’, a trip to Coventry and the Ricoh Arena, which is followed quickly by a trip to Chesterfield and finally the first Football League visit of the Cods since November 21st 2009.
Our final game of the season looks familiar, Yeovil. We’ve met them on the final day on two occasions already, so this will be the third time we’ve been in the same division as them, and the third time one of our fixtures has been on the final day. In 2003/04 we lost 3-2 at the Bank, and in 2004/05 we were beaten 3-0 at Huish Park. Hopefully by then, we’ll have the league wrapped up anyway!
One or two of the matches are likely to be subject to change if we progress in the different cup competitions. November 6th is FA Cup 1st round day, but obviously we have no game scheduled. Similarly December 2nd is second round date, again a free weekend for teams at our level. The dates only begin to clash after that, and although it won’t be easy, a favourable draw could see us progress to the latter stages again. If so we’d lose the trip to Mansfield on 6th January, and if we were to go further doubts would be cast on Newport at home (Jan 27th, 4th round) and maybe even Crawley away (Feb 17th, 5th round). Just be aware when buying those train tickets in advance.
If we were to get back to back quarter final appearances, in that unlikely event we’d also lose our home clash with the Cods on March 17th. I think we’re hoping for a bit too much there!
So there we have it. The fixtures are now out, the National League is nothing but a sobering memory and a reminder of what awaits us should we ever finish in the bottom two again. It is getting real now, our six-year absence is over and welcoming us back with open arms is Gareth Ainsworth, Dayle Southwell and the Beast Akinfenwa. If any battle defines the Football League more succinctly than Matt Rhead against Akifenwa, I’d like to see it!
I’ll see you all at Wycombe.