Finally, Lincoln City have announced the arrival of the talented and tenacious attacking midfielder Billy Knott.
Schooled at Chelsea and Sunderland, revered at Bradford and Gillingham. England honours at Under 16, 17 and Under 20 level. Skill, panache, poise and a range of passes that matches that of the great Peter Gain. On paper, Lincoln City have signed player that shouldn’t be anywhere near League Two.
Football is a cruel mistress at times, and it hasn’t always been kind to young Billy. A rash incident at Chelsea in his youth cost him the chance of emerging at Stamford Bridge, and early promise at Sunderland was cut short when Paulo Di Canio left. The fiery Italian liked Billy though, perhaps he saw something of himself in there.
A loan spell at Woking left an indelible mark on the Cards, their fans got to see glimpses of the sublime player he could be. At Bradford City he got some revenge on Chelsea, he was part of the team that defeated them 4-2, and after the match he received a signed John Terry shirt that he passed on to his father. Despite his talent he lost his first team place and was released against the fans wishes.
So it was on to Gillingham, closer to home and a chance to rebuild his career under Justin Edinburgh. The former Spurs man described Knott as a ‘bright talent’ who was also a ‘a very creative goal scoring midfielder and a very good dead ball specialist’. Perhaps he was then misused on the left of a diamond formation, but a change of manager early in the season left Knott out of favour once again. That is the path that first led him to Lincoln City.
The lad we first saw lacked a bit of fitness and certainly confidence. He’d gone from representing his country at 19 to the National League at 24. At a time in his career where he could be playing in the Championship he was being asked to travel to Eastleigh and Gateshead. The obvious rumours were of a disruptive player whom teams simply didn’t know how to manage.
In fact that very accusation was levelled at him on Twitter, and several ex-players were quick to defend him, including former City full back John Nutter. He said that Billy is ‘one of the most likeable and easy going team mates I’ve ever had, and a terrific talent too’. Josh Ginnelly lashed out at the troll saying Billy could ‘pass a ball through a letterbox’, and Swansea’s Oli McBurnie simply offered these words of wisdom; ‘He (the troll) couldn’t be more wrong Knottdog, keep doing your thing bro you’ll be back where you deserve to be in no time’.
Today after a few weeks of speculation and social media chatter, Billy Knott officially became an Imp. He’s a talent, perhaps one that has slipped off course, but nonetheless a talent. My own view is that he is the best technical footballer I’ve seen in a Lincoln shirt since Peter Gain, and like Gain he has the ability to play much higher. Danny Cowley has described him in the past as a ‘super talented kid who can be whatever he wants to be’. Billy Knott is a great footballer, and if Matt Green was a marquee signing yesterday, Billy Knott’s arrival has the same gravity just 24 hours later.
Here’s the kicker, here’s the icing on the cake. We haven’t just got a good player, but we’ve got him at a time when I believe we are the very best place he could be playing his football, anywhere in the world. I firmly believe that in Danny Cowley, Knott has the sort of mentor that will handle him exactly as he needs to be handled. He knows the lad, not just from last season but going way back to work experience in DC’s previous life. Danny is a renowned man manager, and the one thing Billy needs is someone who understands him.
I don’t know Billy, I’ve never spoken to him but I imagine him to be a complex person, a lad who has been through an awful lot of different emotions in the game during his short life. As a young lad he was at the very top, Roman Abramovic’s Chelsea, one of the first real financial super powers. His fall from grace has been slow, but is punctuated by playing highs. For every release he’s suffered he has fans believing in his talent. For every manager who has cast him aside he has another who has built up his reputation again. I hate the term ‘rollercoaster of a journey’, but when you’ve gone from Chelsea to Lincoln via Sunderland, Bradford and Gillingham then I’d say that’s exactly what you have. At 24 he’s stood on a threshold looking at two very distinct pathways. One is further decline, more broken promises, poor management and loss of favour.
The other is the one I believe we’ll see him take. It involves this diamond of a player, grubby after a couple of years of neglect, being picked up and polished by our own treasure hunters, Danny and Nicky. I see him being given a role at the head of the diamond, never allowed to feel comfortable as Elliott Whitehouse will be there pushing him all the way. He’ll feel loved though, not just by the fans who always appreciate a true footballer, but also b the managers who know what a talent he is. I haven’t seen them waste a player yet, I haven’t seen a lad out of position all the time. Billy Knott is a round peg, and he’ll get placed in a round hole for the good of everyone.
Danny is right, Billy Knott can be whatever he wants to be. If he gets twelve months consistent and ‘on-method’ football under his belt I believe he will become a City favourite. His range of passes and his penchant for the unpredictable is a joy, and the longer he spends with his team mates the more he’ll develop an understanding with them He’ll be fitter than any point since he started getting first team football, and I genuinely feel this is the true ‘big’ signing of the summer. Matt Green is a great signing, but believe me Billy Knott is every bit as good as that. We might have been made to wait for our new faces, but it was worth it.
Welcome to Sincil Bank Billy, now get out there and prove me right.