Of course, a year isn’t a season and half of 2017 may have been triumphant and jubilant, but the other half was been about the next phase. Promotion assured, the club set about evolving and developing back into a Football League side. A frantic summer saw signings made, not enough of them perhaps, but the quality of which we hadn’t experienced before. I don’t think I can ever recall a summer of business that quite had the impact of 2017. Michael Bostwick and Matt Green are established Football league players with experience and know-how, both of whom would walk straight into 99% of teams in our division. Harry Anderson is the most exciting young player I’ve seen here since Lee Frecklington, another true transfer coup arriving later in the season. Danny Cowley will be the first to admit he didn’t have it all his own way in the summer, perhaps he would have liked one or five more, but the foundations were laid for the next six months.
Off the field things began to grow dramatically too. It seems hard to recall queuing around the ground for tickets, but that was reality before the implementation of the automated ticketing system. It may not seem like much, but Lincoln City finally jumped into 21st century football. We weren’t dragged there kicking and screaming, it was embraced and delivered with determination and grace. I’m not saying there weren’t hiccups, nor that there aren’t now, but it was another 2017 innovation that we will cherish for years to come.
We appointed a new CEO too, Liam Scully. His arrival only started the influx of fresh faces behind the scenes, all with individual remits to improve life off the field for Lincoln City. In came the fan zone, a relatively new phenomenon that simply wasn’t required when 2,000 people barely bothered turning out for a home game. All around the ground the experience changed, match day now is completely unrecognisable to that of 12 months ago. Even the Double M’s burgers got better, briefly.
2017 was the year that Lincoln got behind it’s football club in a big way too. Some teams earn promotion and do not capitalise, such as Grimsby. Some earn it and simply don’t have the fan base to capitalise, like Forest Green. We won the title and won a legion of new Imps, not always welcomed by some which was a shame, but boosting attendances immensely. My lifetime has been spent sitting in a half-empty Sincil Bank along with around 3,000 others watching us play. This year we sold more season tickets than ever before, more than our average attendances for over a decade. Finally, the people of Lincoln got behind the team and what it was trying to achieve. If only the board knew, it wasn’t pleas and begging that gets fans behind the club, it is on the field success.
April 22nd was the day for celebration and many tears were shed, but I saved one small tear for August 5th. On that day Lincoln City ran out a Football League side again, something I genuinely believed would take a decade to happen at best. My pride was restored in my club, we came alive again. That we didn’t get beaten on the day was a bonus, a sneak preview of the fact we were competitive. It was fitting that we played Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe, he was a true Imps hero and somehow it seemed poetic that he was in the opposition dugout on the day.
After that we had four months of battling, fighting to not only re-establish ourselves as a Football League force, but also to combat the fresh pressure that comes with increased status. The level of expectancy has risen substantially, suddenly we’ve gone from half-expecting to lose at home against a part time club to considering a home defeat against Coventry to be a poor result. We’ve gone from bringing in players on loan from other National League clubs to speculating on who we’ll spend a six-figure sum on. In twelve months our world changed, not slightly but extraordinarily. Everything was different now, everything.
In December 2016 we faced an exciting future, one we hoped brought league football and financial stability. With those things assured our focus turned to the next step, the next chapter in this remarkable story. Every supporter thinks he knows what we need to progress, everyone has different ideas and ways they’d like the club to develop. However, I’d wager every single on of us believe that’s the first month of 2018 can be every bit as important as that of 2017.
With a clear direction on the training ground, more players will be more likely to sign. I’ve heard figures bandied about as to how much we might have to spend, those figures don’t relate to transfer fees we’ll pay but they’re significant sums. We’re not broke, but we won’t be matching Notts County’s spending either. Throwing £300k away on two players is folly when they could walk away for nothing in two year’s time.
2017 was the year everything changed, from attendances to expectation, on and off the field. We face the coming season with excitement and positivity, not the usual trepidation and fear. We’re on a sound financial footing, we have two of the brightest managers in the lower leagues and a playing squad to be proud of. 2017 saw Lincoln City regain pride, belief and dignity, it saw us move from one banding to another and everything we have today is because of the heroics performed that season. Sean Raggett, Alex Woodyard, Terry Hawkridge, Jack Muldoon, Alan Power, even Adam Marriott, they’ve all moved on, but they were as significant as anyone we have at the club right now. Very soon we’ll consider 2017 the past, not too distant but a year remember for one or two key moments.
It was more than that. It was the year we came back to life.