It’s the sort of title I know will delight our opponents in League Two. Our recent success has had them calling us plastics recently, none more so than a few Grimsby fans in the aftermath of our derby win.
Unlike John Smiths, they are bitter. Bitter that we’re in the ascendency, bitter that the decisions went our way yesterday and most of all, bitter that their club officials couldn’t capitalise on their success whilst ours did.
For a few short moments yesterday the usual chants of ‘where were you when you were shit’ began to ring out from the away end. Harry Toffolo’s goal soon put paid to that and if there as any further chanting I couldn’t hear it over the 617 lads who, for those who don’t know, formed around 2012 to improve the atmosphere at a dying club. Funny then how a video of them doing their thing in a side street at the Bank drew the accusations of plastics.
That’s a favourite of football fans isn’t it? The rise of the Premier League and the prawn sandwich brigade has left anyone finding the game late, or following a club as they rise from the ashes, labelled as a plastic. It’s a derogatory term for those unawares, pointed at us because our average crowd was 2,000 in 2014/15 and it’s near 9,000 now.
It’s implied that the 1500 or so who follow Grimsby are ‘real’ supporters, whereas our own support has only come out of the woodwork because we did well in 2016/17 and when we start to flop it’ll fall again. The suggestion is our support, the very best in the division right now, is based solely on success.
That sort of thinking should win a ‘stating the bloody obvious’ award. When a team does badly, their attendances go down. When they do well, those attendances go up. That is football, that is exactly what happens to virtually every other team. Grimsby fans seem to think their support remains the same because they’re loyal and we’re just a bunch of glory hunters. The hilarious thing is that they’re no different to us. Genuinely, the only thing that stops them getting bigger crowds is winning matches. They’re local fans supporting their local club. Amongst their number are two team supporters, just like we have. They’re virtually identical because our towns are thirty miles apart, average wages are the same, the culture is the same. We’re the same apart from one salient fact: we’re top of the league.
In fact, 99% of the teams we play are exactly the same as us, from towns and cities used to lower league struggle, sometimes climbing the ladder briefly and other times falling down it. Oxford and Luton in the division above are the same as well. They’re getting good crowds now, but were they getting the same numbers when they had to play Histon and Kettering? Of course not.
Grimsby even had the ‘plastic’ effect themselves. In 2010/11, the year they went down, their average was 3,072. During their first league season, it went up to 5,259. I make that 2,200 plastics, or as I like to call them ‘new or returning fans’. If there’s any shame in that it is the level of growth being so low. That low growth can be seen during their Championship years though. Between 1992 and 1997, in the second tier, they only got around the 6,000 mark even with the increase of away supporters. Cue chanting: ‘our plastic fans, are better than yours, our plastic fans are better than yours.’
Many of our current fans were not watching when we lost 4-0 against North Ferriby in the FA Trophy. That’s absolutely true. That’s not because they’re fair-weather fans, some hadn’t even discovered the club at that point. What has happened to us is the result of the FA Cup run and our success in the National League. our club grabbed the chances provided and marketed themselves perfectly. Who recalls the FA Cup run of 2016/17 being cheaper entry through to the Brighton game? That helped.
The PR from our management team, both the football side of the club and those running at the top, has been excellent. There’s been a few bumps along the way, but the remit was always to ensure that the fleeting success the FA Cup run can brought had to be seized upon. The club had to retain the returning fans, those discovering the club and those in the city who had previously dismissed us. I don’t care what the background of the fan is, they’re here now and their money spends the same.
I know it’s jealousy on the parts of others. I know that Grimsby have to console themselves in one way or another, having conceded local pride to us for far too long. They missed their chance at pulling away when they came up, never gelling with Paul Hurst and having a board that seemed to want to piss supporters off rather than get them involved. If they’d stormed to the top of League Two would their attendances be the same as they are now? No. they might have been as high as 6,000.
If they were to be the same as now, the joke is surely on them because there’s no expansion potential for their club. If they believe their support wouldn’t grow by winning a few a games and getting a promotion push going then they’re in a sorry state of affairs. Surely the entire point of football is for your club to get better, on and off the pitch? Grimsby missed their chance and that’s why they rock up at ours and moan about our big attendances, because they wish it were them. If they tell you they don’t and they’d rather have 3,000 hardcore over 9,000 in total, then they’re utterly deluded.
Do we have new fans? Yes. everyone starts somewhere and even those hardcore Grimsby fans must have been unawares of the club at some point. They had a first game, just like the 8,100 home fans yesterday. everyone starts supporting a club at some point, some of our fans started in the last three years but why should that matter?
I can tell you this though, as a city Lincoln is growing. The university is bringing investment, new houses are popping up all over and people means more potential fans. As the city grows, the club grows. In truth, the expansion of our fan base should have happened around 2010 as the city truly sparked into life, but we were crap and few other than the lifers want to watch a crap team. Grimsby as a town is not growing and that possibly means their potential for getting new and returning fans into Blunder Park is much smaller. They’re scared Imps, because they think we kight leave them behind.
Now we’re good and the people of Lincoln are building an affinity with their club. Grimsby, Cambridge, Mansfield can all come and give us stick about it, but you know deep down when they’re in their half empty stadiums (or half a stadium in Mansfield’s case), they’ll secretly be wishing they were us, attracting big crowds and winning matches.
PS: Scunthorpe United, we’re coming for you. It’s called LINCOLNshire for a reason.