We look forward to a 2018/19 season in a position that we couldn’t have considered possible at one point. It’s been a great six months, finding ourselves third as the year opened and, despite not going up, finishing in the play offs and winning at Wembley.
The year it all changed though was undoubtedly 2017, a year that will one day be remembered as pivotal. It started with Danny and Nicky six months into their spell as managers with an exciting FA Cup third round tie to face. It ended with us third in League Two. I find it hard to write about years in football terms, usually it is season’s, but 2017 was a year in which a lot changed. It was a year that started with us hoping for wins against Dover and Guiseley and ended with us expecting to compete against Luton and Coventry. The moves we made in twelve months were so huge I think we almost missed them. What is it they say, make the lie big enough and people will miss it? well at Lincoln City it was make the progress significant enough and people will come to see it as the norm.
As 2016 morphed into a new year, we had the FA Cup third round tie at Ipswich to look forward to, a day out that we all thought would end with elimination. We knew hanging on to the top spot wasn’t going to be easy and any Imps fan asked, ‘what do you want the next twelve months to hold’, would have simply said ‘promotion’. Even if it were to come via the play-offs, promotion was the aim.
Who would dared have asked for an FA Cup quarter-final place? Seriously, who would have thought it possible for us to eliminate a two Championship sides, one of whom went on to gain promotion, as well as Premier League Burnley. On their own pitch. I’ve been a Lincoln fan for over 30 years, I’ve imagined lots of scenarios I’d like to see play out and not once did I ever imagine we’d run out at Arsenal as equals. Not only as equals, but also thought of as such a significant threat that Arsene Wenger, arguably the most innovative and influential manager of the modern era, chose to play his full first team, just to be sure.
We were fifth tier for heavens sake, our team cost less to assemble than Mesut Ozil costs to employ for a week. The comparisons were made in the National media of course, how amusing it was that these unfancied minnows had come so far. Jason Cundy made sure his disparaging comments were heard drawing anger from Lincoln fans, but he was right in a way. We had no right to be in the last eight of the oldest and greatest club competition on the planet, other than the fact we’d earned it.
How many of us as Lincoln fans had watched in envy over the years as other small teams made headlines? Cambridge, Burton and Exeter all had their day in the sun against Manchester United, featuring on TV and earning the sort of money that can set a club up for several years. I remember Farnborough facing Arsenal and thinking to myself ‘it is never us’. It never seemed to be Lincoln City, we were never the ones that broke the Premiership domination on the headlines. In 2017, it was us. It was our time.
If the FA Cup provided the catalyst for a new generation of fans to discover Sincil Bank, the National League win gave those hardy enough to know of Gomez Dali a real treat. New fans celebrated just as much as old, but right down in the pit of your stomach you appreciated April 22nd much more if you’d seen us losing to Welling, surrendering to North Ferriby and, of course, away at Carshalton. That final day was brilliant for all concerned, but for many of us it wasn’t just a triumph over a season, it wasn’t just a day to savour, it was payback. It was redemption. It was why we follow a football team at all.
A wise friend of mine once said, “how can you truly enjoy the highs if you’ve never experienced the lows,” and that is never truer n football. You can cheer a win at any time, but you can only appreciate it for what it is if you’ve shed the tears too. 2017 was the year we got ours.