The Cult of Football

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

I’ve been reading Ian Plenderleith’s rather excellent book ‘The Quiet Fan’ recently, a meandering tale through his life as a football fan, but not fanatic.

It’s well worth a read despite me almost certainly identifying with the type of character he refers to as only wanting to spend ten minutes a time with in the early sections of the book. I’m an obsessive, one who collects, hoards and spends too much time reminiscing and arguing points long gone, never to be settled.

I am a huge collector, I love old programmes, shirts and badges. I have oddities, such as Jeff Hughes call up letter to Northern Ireland Under 21s, and a copy of a player’s contract from the early 1920s. Occasionally, when I have a spare hour and want to immerse myself in Lincoln City, I go through this stuff, reading old programmes, photographing shirts or trying to catalogue what I have. My desire to be in front of a spreadsheet wanes long before my desire to root through my Imps collection.

Productive morning

Fe and I even chuckle because she admits he has no idea what any of it is worth if I had some sort of accident tomorrow. Macabre, maybe. I try to educate her though, because if she thought about selling my Limited Edition play-off final shirt for a tenner, or handing over my St Andrews Stand appeal badge as if it were a £3 special from the club shop, I’d come back to haunt her for the rest of her days.

There’s no value to be put on these items, not truthfully. To me, it is priceless, because it all builds the mystique and identity of me as a Lincoln fan. Not to you, not to anyone else at all, to me. I want to have belonged, still belong and, when I do finally pop off upstairs to chill with Butch, Keith and my Grandad Hutchinson, I still want to belong.

It’s why I write the books, not for monetary value or anything like that, but because as a kid I was enthralled by Ian and Donald Nannestad’s books. They brought to life periods of the Imps’ history that had been closed off to me, they strengthen my knowledge and passion for the one common cause I’ve always believed in and fought for. In putting my own material out there, physical and real, I hope it might surface in twenty or thirty years time, in the hands of an Imps not yet born. I want my name to be associated with the club I love in that way, I always have.

I can’t think why I get moaned at for having too many shirts I never wear

As a kid, I wanted to manage Lincoln, but I knew to do so I’d have to become a player first. I tried that, it didn’t work as I didn’t like to get hurt, no was I the athletic type. In my late teens the solution arrived in the form of a big red suit and from there, I’ve been linked to the club I consider to be as much a part of me as my pancreas,

That is why, whilst reading Ian’s book, I’ve been trying to formulate what it is about football that means so much, but manifests itself in different ways with different people. I liken being a football fan to being a tropical fish. There’s many different types, some that can’t be kept together, some that are better in groups, others alone. There are bottom feeders, breeders and all shapes and sizes but they have one thing in common; they need water to survive. They are all brought together by that condition and I see us as the fish, Lincoln City as the water.

I’ve spoken at length in the past about my start in life as a City fan and over the years I’ve experienced a transformation of sorts. I began as the little ginger kid with his Dad at the front of the Railway End, progressing through those awkward teenage years where I turned up hoping to avoid trouble and keep my head down. When I started as Poacher I was approaching 18 and I began to get more vocal, to a point where I became the angry ball of rage that I look upon with bemusement now. I’d call the ref all sorts of names relating to genitalia, I spit vitriol and hate at anyone not in Imps colours and I kept the rose-tinted glasses firmly on my face. Between 1998 and 2009 there wasn’t a penalty at the Bank justly given against us. True story.

More to come too!

I recall being asked not to drop the ‘C’ bomb once, I can’t remember who we were playing but they were obviously bad buggers because they weren’t in red and white. One of our own asked me not to swear and I did it twice as loud next time. Indignant at being told how to support my club. To a degree, that is my bug bear now.

Over time I’ve developed a calmer streak at the game. I still want Lincoln to win, despite what I say if they fail to do so I still enjoy my Saturday evening and Sunday a little less. I’ll drop the odd profanity, but usually in a positive way, such as ‘effing get in’, rather than questioning the referee’s parents or bluntly assessing the opposition left back’s tackle. I save my vocal chords for the podcast, my views stored and formulated over an hour’s drive home to be expressed via the keyboard not spat in someone’s face.

I’ve even gone from enjoying eight pints before a game to sipping Coke. Change, but one thing remains constant; I still bloody love the club. As do you, I’m sure, otherwise why would you be reading a football blog? I know I have fans of other clubs follow me, Bury, Birmingham and a host of others and over the years I’ve learned that these people are not the enemy, they just fervently follow a team local to them. They’re like me, some of them more so than many of our own fans and yet I’d still identify with the red and white on match day over anything else.

It is the history, the shared experiences of the people for whom it means something more than a game, a rivalry and a cup run. It’s the shirts I’ve been sorting out this morning, the shared memories of goals, players and seminal moments.

But why? What is it about football that captivates and owns me? I suspect many people have different routes by which they arrived at Sincil Bank and of course, some will feel stronger than others about it, but there’s a good hardcore of us that have been going, through thick and thin, for a lifetime. There’s too many to mention, but Mandi Slater started out around the same time as me, Sam Wray whom I spoke to for the first time this week has seen as much Lincoln City as anyone. Marcus has always been there, leaning to the left of course but backing up his strong views. There’s hundreds more, some I know and many I do not, but we know who we are and each season new people come along, tainted or touched by the Imps’ bug in a way that nothing else can.

Is it belonging? Is it that mob mentality, that primal feeling you get from being amongst a thousand like-minded people, all wanting the same thing and all erupting with joy at the same moment, united forever by a shared passion for eleven red and white shirts? I’ve often asked what is a football club, what is the constant from my first game on that cold October afternoon in 1986 and now? Not the players, not the kit, not the staff and not even the structure of the ground. No, it is the history, the shared experiences of the people for whom it means something more than a game, a rivalry and a cup run. It’s the shirts I’ve been sorting out this morning, the shared memories of goals, players and seminal moments.
Next page – more of the passionate stuff.


  1. As a 12 yr old I dreamed of wstching my Imps at Wembley , I acheived my dream when I was 57.Alan Jones screamer v Wednesday .5 goals v Donny to win Div 4. Keith.Murph Schoey Hobson Harford Ainsworth .Beating Stoke including Shilts and then the Cowleys league and cup run we are many things , late leavers ,good donators ,old ,young ,plastic,fantastic byt we are Imps ,we are imps ,we are imps

  2. This is a good thoughtful summary of being a fan, any fan, and deserves a wider audience. I’ve supported Lincoln since the early 1960s,dipped in and out due living away. This has been a fascinating decade. I have followed routine battles against relegation in the Conference as Bob kept us afloat. I’ve been to Arsenal, Wembley and can now routinely chant We Are Top of The League.
    You are right. The saga never ends. We all have our different ways and reasons to relate to and follow the team. Respect the team and each other. Tranmere on Tuesday.

  3. Ive always said ” If you want to do any thing for the club do it cos you love the club “and NOT like lots do cos they want to say “Look what ive done” and look for congratulations! Any way you may be like a lot of truly loyal fans and get forgotten when you are not needed. UTI

  4. On the Mitchell and Webb, I think it is more a dig at how Sky market the game and the premiership itself.

    As for being a fan. I started out a Norwich fan, came to watch Lincoln at 15 when I moved here and got hooked. Through my time at uni, ironicaly at Norwich, the bond grew stronger as I was known as the Lincoln fan and also the club was a link to home. I came back home and followed us through the playoff years. Since then I moved down to London but as you have said the club gives identify. It resonated with me and going to watch Lincoln is getting touch with a friend or back home. I used to follow where I could down here.

    However, as much as the last few years have been great, I have got detached. I am not sure if it is because I now have a wife and child so Lincoln City has moved down the list. Or if it is because it is not my club anymore. The slightly helpless entity that was floundering and unloved in 2015, has suddenly become a packed out fun machine. I struggle to get a ticket now as an occasional fan. Part of being a fan for me was the club needing me as I needed them. Now I am a nothing, which is fair. They are doing just fine without me. So I find myself more a fan of football, and sport overall as I am an avid Buffalo Bills and Yorkshire cricket fan. Not to mention Tour De France and the Olympics. It is just the way things have gone. I still listen to every Saturday game on line with my daughter in the hope she will pick it up as well. But I know the club don’t mind if I do or don’t listen. WHich is great, the club is going up a level. But it is sad to me because the element of belonging is lost.

  5. Great piece Gary.
    It’s so true that every imps story is different.
    Mine started with a friend taking me to Donny away in 92 (iirc), I had no idea what I was missing.
    I’m envious of those that were introduced by their father, mine doesn’t like football, never has.
    I’m grateful to that old friend, like most are to their fathers.
    I’m also envious of those that can go every week.
    As you say though, we’re all fish out of water when we’re not there.

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