The last time Sam Stafford penned a piece for the Stacey west, it went down so well it ended up being printed in Late Tackle magazine. He’s graciously taken the time to write about his experiences last week for too, in the second part of his guest blogs.
I make no apologies for printing Wembley stuff either, I know it has gone but it was a historic occasion and I’m delighted it has moved people enough to want to write. Anyway, over to Sam:
How could the Cowley brothers possibly top last season? An FA Trophy semi-final, an FA Cup (FA CUP) quarter-final, and a return to the 92 as National League Champions. How could I possibly top last season? My club reborn, my eldest boy falling in love with football, and the Metz adventure that he and I had during the Easter of last year. I felt compelled to record for posterity my memories of that season (which Gary Hutchinson generously shared previously on his Stacey West blog) and wrote that last season simply could never be replicated and, of course, it cannot. Regardless though of where the current play-off push either takes us or leaves us, taking my boy to Wembley to watch Lincoln makes this season, very, very special. I wanted to make a record of it as well.
I mentioned in last season’s piece that the first cup final I can remember is 1986, but I do not have an image in my mind of that match as vivid as Keith Houchen’s header a year later. I also mentioned previously that I had an affinity for Forest when I was at junior school so can also picture in my mind Gazza’s tackle, Psycho’s free-kick, and Des Walker’s own goal in 1991 (the year before my damascene conversion). I was in the same spot in Mum and Dad’s old living room for Gazza’s goal against the Dutch five years later. Sunny days. Warm, youthful, optimistic memories.
By the time Didi Hamann scored that free-kick in 2000 had been to, and comeback from, Manchester University and was perhaps a little more worldly-wise and cynical. I associate that final match in the old stadium with the greyness of the sky that day. I remember an emotional Kevin Keegan drained of the colour that had bathed the start of his England reign. The old Wembley faded away.
I remember thinking during the debates about the national stadium that if Wembley was not go to be Wembley (dig down, do away with the dog track and keep the towers and the façade), and was to be completely rebuilt then a national stadium should be in a more central place than North West London. I recall the budget increases, a silly debate about retaining the towers somehow and then, to recoup costs, the FA’s decision to hold the cup semi-finals there. All which, thinking about it now in hindsight, probably contributed incrementally over time to an almost ambivalent feeling towards the new Wembley and, inevitably, a greater fondness for the old one.
It is still Wembley though and the significance of Wembley for Lincoln City was that in the 116 years between the club being formed in 1884 and that Germany game in 2000, and then in the new Wembley era that began in 2007, Lincoln had never played there.
The significance of Wembley to me was a pledge that I made to two school friends in Grantham in 1994. I saw the two of them for a drink in London last year and neither could remember this so there may be something apocryphal about it, but I recall (admittedly not as vividly as Des Walker’s own goal) declaring in response to the suggestion that we go and watch England play Romania in a friendly that I would only go to Wembley once Lincoln got there.
The Checkatrade Trophy was, therefore, more than a day out for the people of Lincoln and another measure of progress for Lincoln’s players, staff and fans (with perhaps some silverware to mark the occasion). It was momentous day in the history of the whole club. For me it was a chance to tick off at new Wembley the old Wembley from my childhood, but, more than that, it was chance to share a big Lincoln day out with my boy, and what a day out to have in the diary and on the kitchen calendar. ‘Yes, we can go away that week. Wembley is the Sunday’. ‘No we can’t do that, that’s Wembley’, and so on. The sense of anticipation built and built.
Before I get to the day itself I can provide a little context on the season into which Wembley becomes (for now) the pinnacle. It started for the two of us when we saw Dijon get a 2-2 draw at Rennes, which was less of a drive from our summer holiday Brittany campsite than Metz was from Picardy last Easter. Eldest rationalised over the summer the three tiers of clubs that he was ‘supporting’ this time last year into a preference for Manchester United. Yes, I know, but it was not Leeds. He ticked off Old Trafford on the first day of the Premier League season against West Ham because a friend of mine kindly lent me his season tickets. He was a Manchester City fan though by the time we had got home from the Etihad having gone with my brother-in-law and his nephew to watch City against Arsenal. We went back to the Etihad again for the Italy versus Argentina friendly. He has also this season ticked off the McAlpine (as it will always be to me) having got tickets for Huddersfield against Brighton through his local team, and we took my Forest-mad niece to Preston.
Wembley was my sixth Lincoln game of the season, but with two more away games coming up I may just equal last season’s 11 if the season is extended by an extra three games.
Both boys are now playing football. Eldest trains with that local team on a Saturday and plays on a Sunday. He plays after school on a Monday and together they play incessantly in his bedroom. Sometimes one of them will want to be Greeny or Rheady and occasionally I can hear the Alex Woodyard song, which gives me hope. Eldest had his own football birthday party last time and they are both talking about having football parties this year.