One of the debates that split the room at last night’s fan’s forum was the plans to leave Sincil Bank at some time in the future. Whenever a football club leaves its ground there is consternation and much sentiment, we will be no different.
We’re the only ‘Bank’ in the Football League and our ground, like many that have already fallen, is steeped in history. In an ideal world I’d fight a move, I’m a believer in sentiment and history in football. Hell, half of my writing on here is looking back at seasons, players and matches of the past. A football club is defined by its history, players move, managers chance, fans come and go but history is the one thread weaving it all together.
The ground, sadly, is not. It is a physical place in which a football club plays and whilst we love Sincil Bank, the truth is that it is rapidly becoming unfit for purpose. Once upon a time a club could survive without the ground generating revenue, but such is the game today every commercial angle must be explored. I’m not going to expel the virtues of a new ground here though, I’m going to tell you why my spiritual home, the place where I’ve always felt I belong, is slowly becoming very hard to sustain.
First up, the new piece of news to me, the water coming into the ground. Before last night I didn’t realise there was a water issue, but those problems we have with toilets would only be exasperated if we increase the pressure on them. Our toilet facilities were fine with 2,500 or even 3,000 fans, but 7,000? 8,000? The demands on the facilities are increasing and we are unable to increase the facilities with them. The simple fact is we cannot install more toilets and sinks because utility provision won’t allow for it.
If we were to stay put, that would be one of the main areas we would need to improve. The facilities are simply not sufficient for the number of fans coming through the door. Those in Coop lower lament the fact they can’t buy a beer at half time, believe me many of us in Coop Upper feel the same. The footfall through the bar area is dangerously high, the scrum for the toilets isn’t always a nice thing to be involved in. There’s a bottle neck as several hundred fans push to get through the single doorway into the toilets. I know some feel hard done to that they can’t get in the bar themselves, but any more pressure on the area and we’d be in serious danger of a crush. We can’t even open the fire doors and rope an area off outside, because the Sincil Drain side of the ground is officially a road.
We found out last night that Sincil Bank must have the capability to be fully evacuated inside seven minutes. As things stand it takes more than that to leave the Coop Stand when the final whistle sounds. There might well be large spaces between the Stacey West and the Selentiy Stand, but simply filling it with temporary seating only increased the foot traffic around that area of the ground. Some people seem to think temporary seating is an easy thing to install, it’s not like a deck chair, you can’t just buy it, put it up and sit in it. There’s regulations, rules and of course safety to consider.
I’ve heard so much talk of ‘just knock the Selenity Stand down….” as if it was a simple task. What happens to the club in the year and a half it takes to build a new stand? Where is it run from? Where do the VIP members and sponsors go? Where does the board hold it’s meeting, tickets get sold, merchandise get sold, etc? How do we cope with a decreased attendance for two years, just as we’re experiencing 8,000+ every week for the first time since the early 1980’s? Whilst this work is being done, how easy do you think it would be to keep traffic flowing around the ground too? Just knocking a stand down is neither easy nor cheap and the implications of doing so are extensive.
Even traffic flow around the ground is less than ideal. Coaches coming around the ground cause an issue, one had to be brought through the fan zone the other evening. Cars come and go with pedestrians all around and there is an accident waiting to happen. I used to have a car parking spot long the back of the ground near the TP Suite and believe me, it is only sheer luck that nobody has been hurt leaving the ground. Traffic management is something closely monitored by safety groups and ours is a nightmare scenario. Even round by the main gate fans run the gauntlet to get across the road whilst cars come out of the ground. In truth, leaving the ground is absolute mayhem. the Stacey West car park has got better, but the bottle neck around the houses for a good half hour after matches is another real problem. I can leave the game before the final whistle and still be sat in my car waiting to leave Lincoln thirty minutes later. Okay, it might not sound like a major issue, but if we do climb the leagues how much more traffic can we expect?
Sincil Bank is creaking at the seams, each nook and cranny is being utilised as best it can be, but it simply no longer achieves the primary aims of a football ground. Do you know the executive boxes have one toilet upstairs for 18 boxes? Have you seen the tiny kitchen the wonderful staff use in the South Park stand? How they manage to produce the quality they do in such cramped conditions is beyond me. All around the ground, good people are making our wonderful ground work as best they can, but it is quickly running out of shelf life. The only two choices are renovation or a move, but renovation doesn’t change the situation around the ground, parking, traffic management and the movement of fans to and from games. With the fan zone, simply getting from the Sincil Drain to the club shop can be a push, and a new ground will take all of this into consideration.
What truly amuses me is the people saying we shouldn’t move are often the ones saying we shouldn’t have such large segregation, we should let all fans into the bar, we should have smoking areas, we should replace the PA and a host of other complaints. Sadly, these issues are only going to get worse as we get better. Yes, there is a danger the bubble will burst and we’ll be back down to 3,500 fans each week, but if that is the case there’s even more reason to have a ground generating money daily rather than just on match days.
I’m a sentimental fool, I love Sincil Bank, I ignored the cramped seats in the Coop meaning I’m never comfortable for ninety minutes. I make do with missing ten minutes of football to have a wee before it becomes an extreme sport. I eat before going into the ground, not because the food is so bad but because the queue is. I even gave up smoking for a short while instead of crave throughout half time. I have memories there that will never be matched, not just those from Macclesfield in 2017 or Wycombe in 1988, but days such as the one in 1990 against Gillingham which ninety nine percent of you will have forgotten. My granddad was presented with a ball by Gordon Hobson that day for his birthday, a ball I was given after he passed just two years later. You’ll have those personal memories too, nondescript matches that slip me by but remain with you because your granddad was there, your dad or your daughter was at her first game. Moving ground won’t erase those recollections or devalue them. Leaving Sincil bank is inevitable but it will never be the end of the stadium, it sounds very ‘new age’ but it will always live on in photos, books and in our memories. The current custodians of the club understand the importance of history and of the connection between club and fans. Of course there will be a tribute to Bill Stacey and Jim West. We’ll still have a view of the cathedral and we’ll still have a place to call home. Moving won’t be the end of the road for Lincoln City, merely the next step on the journey.
When we left the John O’Gaunts ground in the early 1895, we did so because the club had been turfed out and needed a temporary home. For 123 years, that home has been Sincil Bank, but in less than a decade our tenure here will come to an end. Don’t be sad that it had gone, be happy that it happened. Cherish these final wonderful years in our ground and embrace the future. It’s the only way we can truly progress.
Don’t think that the club have taken this decision lightly, not one bit. Our chairman grew up on these terraces, other board members did too. We have the fans in place at the highest levels to ensure that if it were feasible, in any way, to remain on course with our growth model by staying put, we would do it. If it was financially viable to develop our ground, we would do it. When that final ball is kicked at Sincil Bank it will break my heart just as much as those who staunchly want to remain at the ground. Sadly, for the club’s longevity and financial future, the only choice is to move.
It is going to happen, I’m afraid it is inevitable. If you’re a ‘remainer’ you’re going to be sorely disappointed in a few years time. I take no pleasure in delivering this news, but I’m afraid we all have to face facts. The future is not in LN5, but it is looking stable and secure for our beloved football club. By moving grounds we may be leaving a place many of us consider to be a second home, but hopefully we are securing the club’s future for the next 100 years.