John Vickers, for a long while considered to be Mr Lincoln City, has pleaded guilty to defrauding the club out of £35,000 over an 11-year period.
I’m gutted. I was gutted when I was first told a while ago and I’m feeling the same about it now the news has come out. Deep down, I was hoping to hear there had been a mistake or that the news was incorrect. I knew it wasn’t.
I’ve not spoken to John since shortly after he went off with stress at the beginning of last season, nor have the club told me anything at all. Like many of you it’s spread via word of mouth and that’s why I hoped it not to be true. I always held John in the highest regard, he was one club official who always had time for me as Poacher. We hear chatter now about the club becoming to corporate, but once Rob Bradley stepped down the club really did change and as the mascot, I was all-but forgotten. Only one or two people bothered too much whether I was there or not, JV being one of them.
His book celebrating the 125 year anniversary was a must purchase for me and perhaps provided the final nudge towards me publishing my own stuff. When I finally gave up as Poacher and passed the role on, it was JV who presented me with a picture that is still hung on my wall to this day. As a fan, I saw him as an elder statesman, remembering a few years more than I, always one step ahead of my progress. I’ll be honest, for a while I wanted to be just like him.
I wanted to be the pioneer of the internet at the club, then I wanted to be the General Manager, be the social media man at the club. I’d hear him commentating on the video footage during the dark days of the Blue Square Premier and deep down wished I had his role, not selling bloody bricks and blocks all day.
He gave me my first piece in the programme around 2007, my first proper writing assignments. He brought me back into the fold at the beginning of last season, speaking to me after promotion and asking if I’d do something for our Football league return, something I still do now.
Was he a role model to me? Yes, of sorts he was. I respected him because he was a fan, a man who had the best interests of our club at heart, someone who worked tirelessly to make the club a better place. When we were relegated he was part of a tiny, skeletal staff fighting to keep the club afloat. He worked stupidly long hours and drove himself into the ground. Towards the end of his run I suspected there was something wrong, it became difficult to contact him or to get information about things.
Then I found out why.
I can’t condone his actions, I can’t defend taking money out of the club over the period that he did. Before Clive Nates came people were losing their jobs and the club was in serious danger, sadly there’s no possible way to excuse taking money away from us when we were in crisis, hell it wouldn’t be acceptable even if we were swimming in it. I’ve subsequently found out that something I paid into directly may have been affected and that hurts to. It hurts because I feel betrayed.
It hurts because I know whatever was going on in his life over that period must have been serious for him to do what he did to the club he loved.
Make no mistake, this news might have you believe he didn’t love the club, but I know for a fact there was a time when it meant more to him than anything, a time when 20 hour days were normal and when he did everything and anything for its betterment. There was a time as a kid when he played with a young Mick Harford in the backyard of a Carholme Road house, having his childhood dreams fulfilled by the Imps legend.
Somewhere, something happened, something that I wasn’t a close enough friend to be privy to. Sure, I knew JV through the club but we weren’t ‘mates’ as such, we never drank together or visited each other’s houses. He was an acquaintance through the club, but one I believed in, one who I thought would be there long after Chris Sutton, Peter Jackson, Steff Wright and any player you care to name, past or present.
There will be a lot of people feeling angry right now, as I did when I first found out. There will be plenty who will feel he let us down as club fans and he let the club down as an employer and they’d be right. There will be those who have read what I’ve written already and made up your mind that I’m going to take his side. I’m not, I can’t defend robbing the club of that money at a time when we needed it most.
All I will say is please, do consider that whatever drove him to do this must have been serious and that whilst forgiveness might not be possible right now, he’s still the same John Vickers that helped keep the club afloat in 2001, long before these crimes. He’s messed up, he’ll probably never get to see the club play again and doubtless his life is in ruins. The last thing he needs is some smug bastard on the internet calling him everything under the sun because I’d wager there’s little he’s not called himself over these past few months.