I was a foot shorter than I am now but that didn’t stop Dad standing right at the back of the stand, leaving me to peer over heads and hope most of the action happened up the other end where I could see. I missed us almost take a 12th minute lead after one of their defenders sliced against his own bar, but I managed to get a decent view of Paul Stannicliffe scuffing home a 21st minute opener for them.
I still find away days very odd because those first fifteen or twenty minutes define the mood of the day. every away day starts with hope and optimism, these days usually in a minibus full of people drinking and predicting Lincoln wins, but those first twenty minutes either shatter illusions or help to create them. Barnet this season was a classic example, high spirits all the way to Barnet, plenty to sing about before the game then as soon as the teams started you knew it wasn’t our day. My first away day was just like that, without the beer and with a little more Madonna than I might have liked. at least Mum hadn’t driven I’d be suffering Elkie Brooks and Tammy Wynette all the way home.
I’ve billed it as a classic at the top of the page, it probably wasn’t. It rained a bit, we attacked a bit, they attacked a bit and then it was half time. Dad enlightened me as to why we were stood at the back, his boss was stood in front of us and he didn’t want to see him. He referred to him as ‘Dewsy’ and urged me to half-suck Polo mints before flicking them forward onto his balding head. I obliged, much to the amusement of my Dad, after all I was still a kid and the guys hair went around the sides of his head leaving the bald bit on top as a proper target. Dewsy was not so understanding, but he just couldn’t figure out where the sticky half-sucked mints were coming from.
The second half offered some respite for my Dad’s hapless boss as my Polo supply ran out. Lincoln’s ideas ran out too, not before Jason Lee had got a great chance to make it 1-1. He raced forward, one on one with York’s Dean Kiely. He steadied himself, we all drew breath as the game hinged on one crucial moment. Lee met Kiely’s eyes, took a swing at the ball and immediately cemented his image of useless striker in my mind for all eternity. The ball was a couple of feet behind him, he’d ran on without it and swiped at thin air.
Having a striker playing with his own invisible ball was never going to help us get a result, neither a mix-up between our defenders and keeper which allowed Tony Canham to score. I’m not pointing any fingers, but both Matt Carmichael and Grant Brown were on defensive duty that day.
Dad told me that losing was alright because their manager was John Ward, the famous Lincolnshire Poacher. We’d buried my granddad eighteen months or so before in a John Ward scarf, so apparently it wasn’t all bad. It felt all bad, we had a long rive home to go and I’d already inhaled enough passive smoke for one day.
That warm-hearted feeling soon evaporated as the Imps fans began to sing anti-miner songs at York’s support. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the miners strike and subsequent struggle had obviously affected the area. The song went along the lines of ‘you can stick your something miners up your arse’. It was an eye opener because on the news I’d seen how tragic the effects of mine closure had been and yet apparently in the context of a football match, we really didn’t care. I didn’t sing it, not because of the swearing but because frankly I was bored. 2-0 down and we still had 15 minutes or so of standing around in the rain left to go.
That song riled their support up sufficiently to warrant chasing us out of the ground, something no 14-year old expects to have to witness on his first away day. I remember Dad charging towards the car and yelling back at me ‘if I get too far ahead, shout me’. He then looked on as I overtook him and got back to the car a good five minutes before he came panting around the corner, still convinced we were about to taste some York City Dr Martens.
We only felt safe as we headed out of York listening to the ‘Sports Report’ on the BBC. The tune was so memorable, and I can hum it even to this day, but I’m not entirely sure how I’d convey it in words. It went something like ‘der-der der-der der-der-der-der-der, der-der der-der der-der’, if you remember it, you’ll know. It made a change from listening to Material Girl then waiting while Dad rewound the tape to listen to it again as it was ‘his favourite’.
That was it, my first away day from which I emerged unscathed and a little wiser to the world. A couple of weeks later, as we beat Hereford 2-0 thanks to a Neil Matthews brace, we parked outside Dewsy’s house on Sincil Bank and left a packet of Polo’s on his doorstep to remind him of his journey. Dad said he’d been pretty hacked off after the York game and spent most of the following Monday complaining about it. I never met Dewsy, nor got to apologise for my childish actions as he passed away a few years after that.
I’m usually very good with away days and remembering which we went to and which we didn’t, but I struggle to recall the next time I travelled away. I know the next time I didn’t, it was two weeks later and Dad had got the taste for being beaten on the road and driving home listening to Madonna, so he roped a couple of his mates in to go away to Scunthorpe in the league. I’d have loved to go but a pretty girl I liked was going to be spending the afternoon with my mate’s sister and he invited me to his house to play computer games. So, while City drew 1-1 thanks to Graham Bressington’s goal, I sat huddled around my mates Super Nintendo while a pretty girl and his sister completely ignored us in the next room. Life goals.