I’ve been a little reticent with some Wembley build up, certainly before the weekend. I didn’t want to agitate those proper fans who insist we focus on the league and that a cup final is a distraction.
I suppose I didn’t want to see myself as one of those fan boys, the ‘Wembley here we come’ brigade that genuinely do forget about the league. I certainly didn’t want to be the chump who got a ‘617 Sqd’ flag printed up despite having nothing to do with the lads. Who would want to be that person?
For this article, I’m not going to think about the league or promotion though. You know why? Because Lincoln City are in a cup final and, whatever you may think about having the U21s compete alongside us, it was is a huge achievement getting to the final. Sure, I’ve heard it called a friendly tournament, games against reserve teams only we took seriously. After watching Accrington throw Billy Kee and Kayden Jackson into our tie, or Peterborough naming Jack Marriott, I’d beg to differ.
Once we got out of the group stages we faced strong sides and to get to the final is something we should be proud of. I won’t feel ashamed or less of a fan just because fans of clubs that didn’t make it think we’re scabs. I bet you any amount of money Grimsby would have sold six-figures for another trip to Wembley, they loved this competition back in the days they could actually win it. Port Vale do to, I’ve seen today they’re selling 25-year anniversary T-shirts from their Autoglass Trophy win. Don’t be fooled by the hype, this isn’t a gimmick or a con, it is a cup final that we have done brilliantly in so far.
I’ve been a Lincoln City fan for as long as I’ve known what football was. I first got interested in the game in 1986, the summer of the Mexico World Cup. There wasn’t much football on the TV back then so when it suddenly appeared most nights, it was hard to avoid. I spent the summer kicking a ball around at Chambers Farm Woods with my mate Daniel Blackburn, him a staunch Manchester United fan through his Dad. I looked to my Dad for inspiration and I got Lincoln City. My Granddad was on the terraces before I was an itch in my fathers nether regions, so it’s a family thing.
Aside from the odd year of success (1988, 1998, 2003-05 ish) it has been a laborious task following Lincoln. Long drives on the M62 to lose at Rochdale. Miserable afternoons watching teletext as someone or other beat us by two or three goals. Endless headlines proclaiming our latest player was going to set the world on fire, only to discover it was Kevin Hulme. Always, you’re waiting for the pay off, the moment all the time and emotion invested in your side rewards you with something. Thanks to Danny, Nicky and everyone at the club, we’ve been getting ours since the start of 2016/17. It’s not stopping yet. after not seeing Wembley for our entire existence, we could well be going again in a couple of month.
First though, this weekend. I was trying to put together in my mind why a trip to the National Stadium is so special. Going to Cardiff twice was a brilliant experience and at the time I wouldn’t hear a word against it, but it wasn’t Wembley. Even without the Twin Towers, the arch is becoming just as iconic. It symbolises history, lifting the World Cup, FA cup finals that are forever seared into our consciousness. Gazza in 1996, Houchen in 1987, even Jim Montgomery’s heroics in the mid 1970s. Wembley is English football and therefore it is football. We invented the game, we’re crap at it now, but we brought it to the world and for almost a century the pinnacle of the English season has been the FA Cup final at Wembley. What is football without history and sentiment? What is a football club without history? Shirts change, players change, grounds change everything changes, except history. In essence my Granddad supported a completely different club to me, he wouldn’t recognise the Bank now, but it was still Lincoln City and back then (as it is now) getting to Wembley was a historic event.
It’s not even the stadium itself that is special, it is what it represents. Back when I was growing up in Wragby we used to play Wembley down the park, I think it was a free for all where you had to score past a hapless keeper, but the premise was the same, the winner celebrated as if he were at Wembley. twin tower, arches, whatever, Wembley is where you go when to win something in England.
I felt a certain shame we’d never been, I know fate kept us from there under Keith Alexander, but I hated being the answer to that question, which clubs have never played at Wembley. If I was asked it or had it pointed out, I’d always mentioned Millwall in 1983 when we got to the FLT final, or the play offs. I’d make excuses to defend my club, but after Sunday I won’t have to.
We’ll all have our stories, we’ll all have loved ones who won’t be there who I’m sure we’ll think about on the day. My Granddad passed in 1992, he missed the Keith years too, but I’ll have a thought in my mind for him when the teams run out. In my mind, we’ve already won whatever the outcome because we’ve thrown off the hoodoo. If we win the actual match, that will be beyond my comprehension. Oddly, I haven’t given the game any thought at all. Perhaps that is why it’s good we’re going in the Checkatrade, because when we go in May it won’t be an occasion, it’ll be a football game.
I don’t buy into the ‘we’ve sold more tickets than you’ or ‘you lack integrity for going’ or any of that bollocks (sorry, but it is what it is). I think about my experience, about what the day and the event means to me. Football is a shared experience but it is also a very personal thing too and I prefer to focus on what we’ve achieved on the field. Yeah, 26,000 is a great amount but just because the Shrews have sold 11,000 doesn’t make us better in terms of support or worse in terms of integrity. By the way, anyone who think they could have sold 20,000 if it wasn’t for the boycott is dreaming, they’ve probably lost 100 or so like we have.
I feel sorry for the hard-core Lincoln fans who are staying away and I would like to thank Nick Proctor in particular for being gracious in not trying to devalue our achievements or the final itself. There’s too many good people too quick to call this trophy a gimmick or a joke, what they’re doing there is bitterness at having the integrity to stay away but knowing deep down, they’re missing a great day out. I’d hate to have that on my mind, that awful contradiction rattling around in my head. Fair play for not going and hopefully they’ll get to join us again in May.
For now, it’s little over 36 hours before I head down to check into the hotel and meet up with our good friends over from New Zealand. On Sunday my Uncle, a Lincoln fan until he left in the early 1980s for Exeter is joining us along with his boy Dan. Dave, my lifelong mate and season ticket buddy is coming too, as is Pete the Manchester United supporting Imp who’s seen plenty of games this season. My Dad will be there, another fine memory to forge with him that lasts a lifetime and he’s bringing Mo. I’m bringing Fe to, of course going to Wembley is a day to share with everyone and remember forever.
Whatever the score, however the game goes down, words cannot of justice the pride I will feel at watching my beloved Lincoln City take to the Wembley turf to compete in a Cup Final. I’m a little choked writing this right now and only now am I truly allowing myself to get a little bit excited.
We’re the famous Lincoln City, and we’re going to Wembley. Finally.
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