I’m a Lincoln City fan. I don’t have a second team that I fervently support or a big club that I go and watch and cling to when they’re doing well.
When Lincoln lose there is no escape route for me, no plan B to turn to. If we lose, I lose. However, it could have all been very different for me. Instead of the Stacey West, you could be reading the Kenilworth Roader or the Mad Hatter. You see for a short while at the end of the eighties I was a fan of a second club as well, the uninspiring side from Luton.
I’ll elaborate for you, but first I want to cement the fact that I am and always have been a Lincoln City fan. My Dad is a Lincoln fan and before him my Granddad was a Lincoln fan. In 1986 with hooliganism still rampant I was punished for swearing as an eight-year-old by being forced to go to Lincoln City with my Dad. My Mum didn’t want a potty mouth at home and so I was packed off with Dad to the (empty) den of iniquity that is Sincil Bank. It was October 5th 1986 and it was bloody cold. It was also a Sunday and the turnout at the Bank was less than we average now.
We were thumped 4-1 that day by Hartlepool and I’m sure we were outplayed. I can’t remember the game though, but I remembered so much more. I mainly remember it being alright for everyone to swear a lot which as an eight-year-old kid is pretty cool. It’s probably why I think the odd F-bomb is okay nowadays. I came away transfixed by everything, and when a few weeks later I watched us beat Swansea 4-0 I was hooked for life. On the way home I dived into a dog turd whilst trying to mimicking the Swansea keeper as he dived for a penalty. I probably wasn’t cleaned up properly until I got home, and I certainly hadn’t stopped telling my Dad how much I loved Gary Lund and Lincoln City. I imagine as he scrubbed that vile canine excrement from my legs I was telling him I wanted to be Lund, or Steve Buckley.
My Dad had reservations though. He knew that school was an unforgiving place and he suggested I pick a second team to tell the kids at school were my main team. I could be a Lincoln fan, but it was best all round if I didn’t actually admit it. I often wore jumpers my Mum had knitted herself whilst at school and I had ginger hair, so I was prime bullying material. If I supported a big club though he assured me I’d be fine. He had chosen Chelsea back in the late 1960s as Lincoln faltered and that had served him well for a while. The Kensington Road boys were winning the FA Cup and being stylish and trendy. It was alright for him though, if it backfired he was always able to handle himself because he was hard, and so was his big brother.
At eight I couldn’t fight a cold without getting a kicking (still can’t). I needed to choose wisely, so in order to facilitate my choice I was handed the Panini 87 sticker album and told to pick a team. Would it be the dominant Liverpool all my friends at school supported? Would it be a Ron Atkinson led Manchester United like my best mate Danny? Would it be the emerging Everton, or would I follow my Dad into the West London Blues?
It was none of them. I picked Luton Town.
I picked them because my Granddad had taught his budgie (Dusty) to say Mick Harford (his favourite Lincoln player) and I spied Mick Harford in the white and blue of Luton Town, so I picked them. When you’re a child if your family pet can say a word or two, those words are usually worth heeding. I imagine my Dad died a little inside at the thought of having a ginger, bullied first-born who supported two shit clubs.
By the time May 1988 came around, I was in a pretty good place on the social ladder at my primary school. Luton had beaten Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup and finished 7th in Division One. Lincoln had won the GMVC at the first attempt and given me the greatest day of my life as my whole family watched us beat Wycombe and return to the Football League. I was like the Wolf of Wall Street at ten years old strutting around with a big club, pride in my other club and a bag full of Panini 88 swaps. I’d arrived.
I stuck with the two club method through into my first year at secondary school. It began to become difficult to talk about following two clubs because most of my friends had big clubs as their first choice and absolutely no interest in Division Four. Luton became the club I championed, swapping the Pro Set cards featuring their players. When they came to Sincil Bank for a friendly, I even almost went in the away end. I remember getting Alec Chamberlain to sign his own Pro Set card that night, and then I remember being physically sick drinking a concoction I called ‘Polo Water’. I won’t tell you what it consisted of, I hope it’s self-explanatory.
However, after that game, I remembered how much I enjoyed being on those terraces, and how secretly I’d wanted Lincoln to win the game all along, despite what I may have outwardly projected. After my Granddad had been presented on the pitch with a signed football for his birthday as well, I knew my heart lay with Lincoln. I began to drop whole Luton pretence in a slow and well-planned fashion (I stopped talking about them, at once). Football wasn’t about picking some club from miles away and reading about them in Shoot or Match, this was about my family, and how Lincoln City brought us together. I didn’t care that we weren’t in my sticker album and I didn’t care that my friends wouldn’t know our results.
When my Granddad passed in April 1992 I had finally bitten the bullet and pledged myself to my one true love (at the time, now it’s my fiancé Fe obviously) Lincoln City. My Granddad’s signed football passed to me as a full Lincoln City fan, and even to this day it’s possession signifies me carrying that Lincoln torch for our family. I had to carry that flame on for him (not literally, I never took the ball to a game) so I took a couple of my non-believing mates to watch us beat Blackpool 2-0 on the final day of the season. Matt Carmichael scored twice for us and Blackpool fans invaded the pitch. My mate Adam loved it and even took up Lincoln as his little club. After one year at secondary school, I was once again arriving on the football scene. It helped that despite being a poor footballer, I was in a class where only two were actually better than me, so I was often first picked when those two were captains. I even avoided being bullied for being ginger, for a while at least.
It helped that Luton got relegated a season or so later. Yeah, that helped a lot.
So, there you have it. If a talking budgie had got its way I wouldn’t be writing this now. However, a god awful drink made from a spearmint polo dissolved in tepid water and a Pro Set card signed by a goalkeeper I doubt you’ve ever heard of somehow convinced me that Sincil Bank was my home. Well either that or the strong family passion shared by every generation, but I’m sure it was the Polo water.