We’ve got Matt Green and Michael Bostwick, players of real Football League quality. We have the back bone of a resilient team that enjoyed success last season. We’ve got four flair wingers where most clubs only have two. We have got arguably the best squad of Lincoln City players for four decades. So what is missing?
Aside from the obvious grumbles about cover at full-back or maybe another centre forward, there is one component that is still not in place, one thing Danny and Nicky have identified as a deal-breaker, essential to us moving forward as a club. With the big kick off just three days away, ground still hasn’t been identified for us to build a new training ground on.
I openly mocked ‘Goal 2010’ and the debacle around the old training ground, and our experiences were not good with poorly draining soil and unfit for purpose investment. The problem is that the idea was almost essential, but the execution left us badly burned. I imagine it was like a family in the 1960’s getting a car for the first time, if they bought a dud they’d resist investing again, but in terms of longevity at some point a car would be invaluable. We mothballed and later closed down our training facilities, right at a time when football was demanding we had one. Now we’re back in the big leagues, and we’re being left behind.
Being promoted doesn’t just mean we get to play Football League teams and feature in the League Cup. The EFL have a list of rules longer than the bible dictating what facilities we must offer the press, visiting dignitaries and such like. There’s the compulsory drug testing to be aware of too, facilities must be available any time of the day and night for the EFL just to rock up and literally take the piss out of our players. If we’re training and they rock up at the ground there should be facilities there, and as you know that is not the case at Sobroan Barracks, as nice as the pitch might be.
It isn’t just rule compliance it will help with though. Danny and Nicky are methodical and meticulous, they look at every single minute they have with the players and what they need to do to move them on as players. They like to have different patterns for each one, different loads depending on match time or physical condition. They want to let Jimmy Walker work with Farms and Josh Vickers away from the main group, but bring them in when needed. Our squad is growing and players such as Richard Walton will be back in the week too. They will want to ensure food is delivered in the correct quantities and managed properly, and at present all of this work is done across different locations. Whilst as much as possible is being crammed into the existing facilities at Sincil Bank, it really isn’t sufficient.
The sad thing is, aside from the pitch, the other facilities were spot on. They had plenty of space in them to utilise how they staff wanted, a canteen and facilities to ensure the players were fed on site. It was private too, at Sincil Bank if they open the doors to the gym on a warm day, general public can wander past leading to infinite pictures on social media of unidentified players. Whilst our management and squad are brilliant with the fans I’m sure an element of peace and quiet might be nice.
Let me tell you a couple of stories. Firstly, I spoke last year with a player called Daren Dykes. Daren signed for us on loan from Swindon, he was a classy player that threatened a decent career but got injured. During our conversation he mentioned coming on loan and expecting to train around the ground. He was surprised to find we didn’t have the facilities, in fact his comments were ‘we were moving from one school playing field to the next, never settling in one place’. That was 2003, and yet in 14 years despite our best efforts were are training nomads.
14 years ago a player immediately noticed the lack of facilities, what about now? Players these days want to train and improve, the das of buggering off down the boozer in an afternoon after a run around the common are long gone. Even young players know that their time in the game is limited and they must do everything they can to extend that. What if an Arsenal youngster was to come and look around Sincil Bank? He’d see a nice ground, ambitious people and a great set of lads, but then they’d all pile into a four-door saloon car and drive thirty minutes across the city to a recreation ground for an hour and a half of training, then back through the traffic to the ground for dinner and a warm down. The next day they go somewhere like Exeter with their purpose-built training ground just past Clyst st Mary on the A3052, and it’s all managed in one place. He likes Lincoln City and the ambition, but where is he getting most value for his minutes? Instead of an hour sat in a car listening to whatever ‘bangers’ Paul Farman has on his stereo, he is training, learning and developing in the serenity of a private training ground.
Secondly, a very good source of mine close to the club insinuated to me the other day that we have actually lost out on players this summer because of that very reason. I don’t know who or when, I won’t speculate and I respect the people I talk to not to push too hard, but believe me when I say the persona I spoke to will know that for an absolute fact. We have had players in the bag, good players where we managed to negotiate wages, length of contracts, team status and everything else that goes into a League Two transfer, only to lose out when he realised he’d have to get changed in the rain at Soboroan Barracks, or drive up in his car like a desperate ‘full-kit’ wanker. Ponder on that for a moment won’t you. We might be going into this coming season without a striker on loan from Arsenal or Forest simply because we don’t have a training ground.
The third story is based around me, shockingly. This Tuesday I went down to the ground to use the executive box facilities. Ian McCallum is brilliant letting me use them if I need to, and I was in Running Imp’s box doing a bit of writing. It’s quite peaceful you know, looking out over the scene of so many happy times, the cathedral sat up in the air, and living so far from town it’s a real privilege to be able to access the facilities on occasion. I was just ploughing through an article when the door opened and Danny Cowley walked in. He apologised and we spoke briefly about things, and he commented that staff often used the boxes to work from. He had some important club business to discuss and eventually he went next-door to do it, within earshot of me sat in my box. Being the good little Imp I am I immediately packed up and left, I’m not sure what they were discussing but if I sat in silence for another minute or two I would undoubtedly find out.
What if that hadn’t been me, but one of those tedious ‘in the know’ crowd from social media? What if it had been a unscrupolus individual happy to splash what he (or she) knew all over Facebook in exchange for a few seconds recognition? Should Danny, Nicky, the players and the staff have to ‘make do’ with the facilities we have, or do we owe them the training ground? I think if we want to hang on to these two inspiring men for the long-term project then we need to be breaking ground sooner rather than later.
I know it’s being dealt with, I know we’re looking for sites and I know we’re a victim of our own success as landlords and estate agents doubtless see us coming wrapped in fifty pound notes after our heroics in the A Cup, but the truth is we are not a cash-rich club. We are not spending money like a kid in a sweet shop, we are not flashing money left, right and centre for the sake of it. The managers are working within a generous but realistic budget and the board are looking to do the same, but if there is one area we really do need to kick-start, it is what I am terming “Goal 2020, this time we’re doing it properly”
Remember you can still contribute to this effort by contributing to the ‘Cowley’s Perfect Pitch’ crowd funder online. Fans have currently raised over £13,500 towards the crucial new facilities, money that will be absolutely imperative in helping to fund the building of a training ground to serve us for decades to come.