Follow Lincoln Away: Notts County

Meadow Lane now hosts National League football - Credit Graham Burrell

4110 Imps fans travelled to Nottingham for the clash with County, the largest travelling contingent in the league since 1982. If the fans that turned out for Ipswich were classed as ‘glory hunters’, the numbers yesterday suggested many have stayed around. What they witnessed, sadly, was a second defeat on the bounce for the first time since the same weekend last season.

More on that later, my travelling party opted to get a train from Market Rasen to Lincoln, then join the assembled masses at Lincoln train station to go to Nottingham. As usual my old man was in attendance, this time complimented by Neil Carlton and his lad Regan. We’ve only really got to know Neil recently which is a real indication of the solidarity and togetherness football can bring. You might think by reading the so-called banter sites and watching the endless posts berating other fans that we are a divided bunch, but some of us are making new friends rather than falling out with them.

The train from Rasen was busy, my Dad spent most of his journey staring out the window in awe as we went past places he’d known his whole life. ‘Langworth’ he said as he turned to me with a smile before then looking back out of the window. Yes Dad, Langworth. I suspect the thrill of being on a train not being powered by steam was something new for him. A birthday party from Grimsby were on board too and one of them remarked he was a Town fan. We had a brief chat and then spent fifteen uncomfortable minute essentially touching each other due to the packed carriage whilst doing our own thing.

Yes I’m wearing a pink keeper’s shirt. It’s Richard Walton match-worn, or rather bench-worn.

Eventually after passing ‘the tarmac plant’ as announced by my starry-eyed father, we pulled into Lincoln station. It was, as expected, a sea of red and white. By the time we crammed into the carriage of our next train it turned into a sea of humidity and body heat. Each stop along the way to Nottingham brought more people and brought us all a bit closer together. As we passed through Carlton it had begun to get a bit too much, it felt like we were on one of those trains you see in India with people clambering on the roof to find a space. Oddly the driver seemed intent on playing a game of ‘how many people can we squeeze in the bit near the toilet’, and every stop he let someone get on. There wasn’t a football day atmosphere despite being packed with Imps fans, there were no songs and no joviality. I think the fact nobody had been to the pub helped keep us uncomfortably quiet.

We disembarked from the train and thankfully got some gulps of fresh air as we stood pondering on which direction to take. As we did Maxi Jazz from Faithless accosted us and said he was a steward at Notts County and if we followed him he’d show us Trent Bridge. By then we’d tripled in numbers, so we chanced it and followed him. I began to get a quivering bunghole when we wandered into the Meadows Housing Estate, it felt a bit like a potential ambush situation. Some of the locals looked menacing, all the while Maxi was chatting away oblivious to us getting nervous. Luckily since leaving Faithless he hasn’t become a football hooligan and we emerged safely. He soon led us to the Weatherspoons and left us be.

A few pints and more football friends later we were off to the ground. I’m not going to bore you too much with tales of the journey, who we met and what was said because you don’t click on my blogs for that, do you? You want to know what I thought about the game, the stadium and all that. Well, the stadium is bloody nice. Maybe I shouldn’t say that so enthusiastically with it being a rival, but Meadow Lane is a good football stadium. On top of that the stewards there are friendly, approachable and helpful. I was delighted to see Maxi Jazz down the front near me, so I popped over to say hi. It turns out he was actually Sean Wallis from the Chase…

My only gripe was the food place running out of burgers and hot dogs, but I suppose having three and a half thousand more visiting fans than usual took them a bit by surprise. I like the concourse at the back of the ground, it reminded me much of the set-up in Rotherham’s ground and I strongly suspect we’ll see something very similar incorporated into any new stadium of our own. By using the whole length of the stand and having a few toilets rather than just two, it cuts down on queuing and congestion.

I sat in my allocated seat and for the first half hour I thought we matched County, we certainly created more than we did in the whole game against Mansfield. I have a sneaky feeling that Knott, Green, Ginnelly and Anderson will be our starting front four once they all settle in, and we did look pretty dangerous. Matt spurned a great chance to grab a goal and Josh had a good effort saved too. I’d gone into the game thinking a draw would be sufficient, but after twenty-nine minutes or so I was convinced we could win the game.

Then the referee ruined it. I’ll say no more.

After that there was only ever going to be one winner I’m afraid. With ten men we looked lost for a short period, and Jon Stead showed what an accomplished finisher can do with the opening goal. Could Farms have done better? Perhaps. It’s easy to find a scapegoat when things aren’t going well and as we know one of Farms’ weaknesses is command of his area. However, before the ball gets whipped into the box there are several points where the attack can be stopped but it wasn’t. It is easy to blame the keeper when things aren’t going well and that is two weeks in a row now he’s come under fire. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rested for the Barnet game, if only to take a bit of pressure off. I don’t mean rested like Luke Waterfall has been either, I mean rested for a game and then brought back in. Paul Farman is still our number one in my eyes, and even if he was at fault for the first goal we didn’t lose 1-0 did we?

Could Farms have done better? Perhaps. It’s easy to find a scapegoat when things aren’t going well

Not long after the red card their full back came across for a corner and had something throw at him from the stand. Who did that? If we’re going to complain about police treatment and if we’re going to shake off this tag of problem fans then we need to self-police to a degree. Whoever threw something on the pitch did a massive disservice to the other 4,000+ Imps fans and if you know who it is I urge you to report it. I’ll confess I thought Jones, their left-back, was an antagonistic bugger that revelled in the sending off and the hate directed at him. His smug smile as he picked up the missile to take it to the referee wound me up, but I’m afraid he was in the right by doing it.

I took a moment towards the end of the first half to relieve myself of some anger by going to the front of the stand and shouting a lot of foul-mouthed abuse at the referee. It might surprise you to know that I’m not always articulate and fancy-free with my words, sometimes I believe a good old fashion cuss or two will do the trick. A female steward came across smiling and asked me to return to my seat, and we exchanged some friendly banter as I carried on shouting at the referee. The steward was friendly, warm and almost understanding of my anger and her attitude placated me somewhat. After one more burst of questioning his parentage and suggesting he enjoys manipulating himself I returned to my seat. Fine stewarding, well done.

Halftime gave me another lesson in how Lincoln City should look to accommodate fans moving forward. The doors behind the concourse were opened and the smokers were allowed into the street for a cigar, fag or whatever they chose to give themselves a shorter life with. It was roped off of course much like a night club, but it was another good example of how the fan experience is enhanced at some grounds. Notts County have been the most accommodating and friendly of the away games I’ve been to this season, and little touches like not demonizing smokers underline that fact.

I was still poisoning my lungs when an almighty roar went up to signal we’d scored. A surge of lingering Imps made it up the stairs to celebrate and briefly there was hope. Perhaps if we’d scored on 70 minutes to make it 1-1 we’d have had a good chance of protecting the lead, but our goal was a consolation, nothing more.

From there a ruthlessly efficient County took us apart with an expansive passing game that tired our players out. They moved the ball from left to right which opened up gaps naturally, and having Matt Green so isolated up top meant there wasn’t a chance of a break away goal either. County have some very good players and against ten men they looked the best side I’d seen all season. It would have been a different story if Billy hadn’t been (wrongly) sent off, but he was and they made us pay. I was particularly impressed with Jorge Grant, he’s got a tremendous career ahead of him.

Terry had a decent game too, but I found the hero-worship a bit sickly if I’m honest. He was niggling our players and I’m sure I saw him kick out at Anderson, but he was still cheered louder than some of our own boys. I know some booed and that wasn’t entirely acceptable, but some cheered when he scored and that is also just plain daft. It was nice to see him not celebrate, I wonder if that would have been the same had he scored a winner in the last-minute? Our fans need to start getting behind our own players, not so-called legends that put in 30-odd appearances in last season’s 60-game haul. I know that might sound harsh but aside from his goals against Macc, Terry was a bit-part player last season. Let’s not go building a statue of him just yet, eh?

Could we have done better with ten men? It was one of our forward players sent off, so surely across the back we should have put in the same performance? There is an argument for that, but I think Danny still wanted to win the game and we took a few risks. He didn’t want to shut up shop at 1-1 and that meant leaving gaps to exploit. If it had been an away day at Crawley and we’d got two hundred fans in the stands might it have been different? Maybe, maybe not. We went for a win by bringing on Palmer and Whitehouse, and then after their third we went back to a back four and brought on Sean Long. The red card knocked us and despite getting the goal back we never got on method and a good side killed us off efficiently.

That should be the end of the blog but there were a few scenes worth mentioning after the game. On the train station platform it appeared as though a large number of Imps fans were involved in clashes with the police. I don’t know the full facts so I won’t comment too much, but what I did see was the police stood back until someone launched a can of beer in their direction. They then looked to advance with dogs at the ready, but I moved away in order to get a seat on one of the carriages when it arrived, so I didn’t see much more.

I saw plenty getting off the train though, I saw a whole row of police and dogs waiting for our fans to get back. Whilst I won’t speak out about the Notts Police as I thought they were good all day, I have to ask why our own fans were met at the train station by such force. There were no County fans to fight with, there were no opposition fans of any description. This was a large group of lads arriving back in their own town. Those lads don’t have a history of smashing up their own town do they? Why on earth are we being met by a wall of police? I say ‘we’ because it was all fans met by the police presence, and I think that was totally unnecessary give the circumstances. Of course it then only took one idiot to launch another can of beer and I hear all hell broke loose. By that time my Dad and I were waiting for our lift home, watching several drug addicts smashed on those legal highs wandering like zombies up and down Rumbold Street. Interesting then that football fans returning from an away day are seen as the nuisance, and not drug-addled, spaced-out toe-rags intimidating people all day, every day.

Thanks as always to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City FC for the photos

Seeing as you asked for a mention Neil….



1 Comment

  1. Good write up Gary, such a shame we were robbed of a good game of football. They have definitely hit quality and some of their finishing was top notch to be fair. Still up until the red card we were the better side. I couldn’t believe the police presence on our return to lincoln. I saw kids crying as the police dogs had really scared them and then the parents were kicking off with the police. Totally unnecessary I felt. Here’s to tues and hopefully we can have a competent referee and 3 much welcomed points.

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