Tomorrow, 4000 Imps fans will make the short journey across to Nottingham to watch the Imps go toe to toe with second-placed Notts County. It promises to be a great away day, result dependent, but in truth it is another milestone passed on our journey as a club.
One year ago 150 fans made their way down to Dover and watched arguably the poorest performance from Danny’s Lincoln. We were awful in losing 2-0 that day, and nobody could have foreseen that a year later we’d be going to Notts County. That in itself is an achievement, but the fan numbers are beyond unbelievable. Just like last season, a fiction writer may pause briefly before writing a phoenix like rise from the ashes such as ours.
In 2003 when Keith Alexander’s collection of cast-offs and wannabes made the play-off final our average home attendance was 3924. That includes other teams away following too and yet tomorrow we’re taking more than that away for one match. It’s the largest league away following Lincoln City have had since 1982 when we were on the verge of promotion to the Second Division (now Championship) and needed a win at Fulham.
Granted most sides we’ve visited could not accommodate such a large following, and Notts County have been generous with the allocation, but why would they not? With an average of around 5900 themselves this represents a real boost to their coffers, and despite the tactics of making Meadow Lane unwelcoming with dark corridors, they’re more than happy to make it a loud cauldron of support for both sides. Money talks, doesn’t it?
What also talks loudly is endeavour, and the reason Lincoln City have such fine support right now is because every match, every week, we can see the players trying and never being outplayed. Aside from Arsenal, how many teams have truly outplayed us since Danny took over? Barrow away we were out muscled, Dover away perhaps, but very few other sides have. We’ve never been over-awed by anyone, and that is truly remarkable.
I’ve been brought up to believe that for every positive showing there’s a poor one too, for every match where the side are on the same page, there is one where they play like strangers. We romanticise about the Keith years and rightly so given the achievements of the side on a much smaller budget than we have this season, but let’s be honest it wasn’t always great. I remember us beating the leaders Hartlepool 3-0 in a complete performance, but that was followed up by a draw and successive 2-0 defeats against Bury and Exeter. When Mark Bailey scored to give us a 2-0 win at Carlisle, two matches after that we surrendered weakly 3-1 against Bristol Rovers and 3-2 against Yeovil. We achieved but there was always a hiding to be had. I don’t see that with this side, I don’t see a team on the fixture list where I think ‘we’ll get done 3-0 there’. We’re adaptable, committed and as together as any Imps side since 2002/03. Back under Keith we had three quarters of the ingredients of a successful team, this season I think we’ve nearly got a full basket.
I’ve seen such brainless comments as ‘will they still be here when we lose a few games’, and you know what? Some will and some won’t. Football is a product, and whilst for some we’re born into it and unable to alter our course, others come for the enjoyment of watching us compete and to be entertained
Danny has only ever suffered back-to-back league defeats once, on the 17th & 24th of September last season, and I suppose fate suggests the same could be possible on the corresponding weekend this season. Can you see this side going out and putting in a gutless display, or being outclassed by County tomorrow though? Do you think we’ll rely on points from the lower teams to push us into the top ten? Or will we compete with everyone put in front of us, and it will be sharpness in front of goal and a slice of luck that separates the sides? I believe it will be the latter, and I suspect the majority of our fan base do too. It’s why we only took 1478 in the 2005/06 season to County, and why we’re taking three times that tomorrow.
The success of the side means tickets are harder to come by, and I was saddened to see discussions online about ‘plastics’ again. I’m beginning to get annoyed with the whole debate, and often those arguing are contradicting themselves too. If it wasn’t for the new and returning fans we wouldn’t be taking 4,000 to Notts County, and that is a source of pride to all of us. Yet, when tickets for Grimsby are hard to come by because of our new popularity, people start calling out the new fans. I’ve seen such brainless comments as ‘will they still be here when we lose a few games’, and you know what? Some will and some won’t. Football is a product, and whilst for some we’re born into it and unable to alter our course, others come for the enjoyment of watching us compete and entertain our fans. If that drops off it is a natural phenomena for some fans to stray, and not necessarily just those that had their interest sparked last season.
We should be embracing everyone who is on this journey because it won’t last forever. What is happening right now at the club is unparalleled in all my time following them, the rise in attendances, the ability of the team and the quality of the product on offer. We’re all contributing to that, not just those that sat through defeats against Welling. If we’re going to be proud of having such fine support, boasting of full stadiums and high travelling numbers, we also have to make peace with the fact sometimes tickets are going to be scarce. Being in the crowd in 2013 means nothing in 2017, the most important fans are the ones we have right now. That will be the same in 2020 as it was in 1996. A club is only as good as the players it has at any moment in time, the fans it has at any given time and the people running the club. This Lincoln City is not the same one that flirted with bankruptcy and administration after coming down, and we’re all the better for it.
So tomorrow let us go to Nottingham in our thousands, a sea of red and white sweeping through the city. Let us all enjoy it in our own way, be it by having a few drinks or having a day out with the family beforehand. Let us not look to criticise anyone in our own ranks either, new or old all of these fans will be able to say ‘I was there when we took 4,000 to County’, just like people will tell you they were there at Fulham in ’82. By being with the club right now, you’re cementing a bond and that is the same whether your first game was 1987, 2016 or last week. Does it matter when someone starts supporting a club, or does it not just matter that they do?
An offhand note: I will be sitting in my allocated seat and so will the seven or eight of us who organised to get tickets together before the game. We’re travelling together, we’re drinking together and we’ll watch the match together. To believe that you can sit where you want just because you used to when we were poor in half empty stadiums is selfish and unfair I’m afraid. If there is a possibility of switching seats or something like than then I’m open to it, I’m not as obtuse as to not try to accommodate people but I won’t be told by a handful of fans on social media that they’ve decided it is ‘sit where you want’. Notts County have decided otherwise, and I’m afraid allocated seating is another by-product of being popular. Respect other people, please. I’m always stressing nobody is more important than the fans we have right now, but similarly you are no more important than the next man just because you sing all the time or stand up. We’ve paid our money too you know. If everyone works together there won’t be a problem, but you must consider things other than yourself.