Growing Pains – Why ‘too corporate’ is wildly incorrect

I’ve had a title for an article for a week or so now, coming out of a meeting last weekend. I’ve wanted to pen something about the club’s direction, about its destination and how it affects us all.

The problem is that aside from a title, I haven’t known how to write the actual article. I know the message I want to convey, but how do I do so without sounding like my opinion is the only one that matters? Apparently, depending on who you listen to, I’m either too pro club, or I’ve been very anti-club recently.

The truth is, I’ve been neither. If I’ve sounded negative it’s because I care so damned much about my football club that I’ve become jaded. On the field we’re not doing badly, but it’s all getting a bit close for comfort. I love football, I love Lincoln but now we’re tasting a modicum of success I’m not sure I enjoy watching Lincoln play football. 

That might sound silly, but match day leave me full of nerves, worried that the small divisions amongst the fans may grow, worried some aspects of our support will plot the club’s ultimate downfall without realising. I worry that after setting ourselves up as champions-elect earlier in the season, we’re going to fall away. The business end of the season does that to me, but only since 2016. Before that there was no expectation. 

The other reason I’ve been jaded is the criticism levied at the club for every decision they make. I know the old adage about pleasing some of the people some of the time, but ever since the season ticket announcement I’ve felt very disillusioned. Not with the club, not with the fans, but with the fractured connection between the two. I appreciate that it’s tentatively been moved on from, but there’s still a shadow being cast over the pace.

Ever since the end of season awards bash in 2017 was priced quite high, there’s been a feeling that the club is losing it’s community feel, that we’re becoming disengaged with fans. It’s not correct, the club is bothered about fans new and old, but how do I begin to broach the subject without stepping on toes and offending someone?

I’ve always tried to pride myself on seeing both sides of any story at the club. Readers of the blog have often praised that, although some see it as sitting on the fence. Take the recent ST announcement. I could see how the short notice wound many up, but that was because fans felt the £349 was the early bird price. The announcement didn’t make it clear that this was a subsidised price, a one-time offer that comes in below the early bird price. I knew from discussions that to be the case, but I could see how fans felt backed into a corner. 

It’s the same when people’s seats have been moved for any number of reasons. I understood how people felt when being forced to other areas of the ground, but looking at it from the other side of the fence there’s the financial element. We’re one of the few clubs to have a ‘one price fits all’ method It’s something the club stick with because of the spread of fans all over the ground. If they were genuinely ruthless, they’d announce that Upper 3, 4 and 5 were now £25 seats, prime location with uninterrupted views. Other clubs do it but we’ve steered clear. Still, it is easy to accuse them of going to corporate when they attempt to subsidise that ‘one price’ model with extra revenue from the Legend’s Lounge, isn’t it?

I don’t buy the idea that the club are becoming too corporate and moving away from what matters because pre-2016, there wasn’t a community feel around the place. The club tried, often failing, to attract new fans and aside from 2,000 or so hardcore supporters, the fans didn’t feel connected either. Going back in time there were struggles to put bums on seats when Steff Wright was in charge and before Rob and the Trust saved the club there were membership card schemes and all sorts. Going back over history, there’s always been a fear or distrust of those in charge, a fear it’s being run as a business and not a football club.

This mythical ‘fan-led’ attitude that people think we’re moving away from never truly existed. The 2016/17 was the closest we came, but that was because it took everyone by surprise. The only way to maximise our potential back then was to queue for tickets, serve tea to people who had frozen in the cold and offer cheap FA Cup seats. Were FA Cup matches cheaper in 2011? No. We moved quickly to be one thing in 2016 and have had to move away from that again.

Liam Scully comes under a lot of pressure from people who don’t fully understand him or his role. He understands business and he won’t shy away from delivering bad medicine. I know that sometimes he gives a businessman’s answer to questions, but as he rightly pointed out on social media the other day, his initiatives have actually brought people closer together, the fan zone for instance. How can the architect of the fan zone, the man who drove it and delivered it, be criticised for forgetting fans?

There’s also a feeling that inclusion is us moving away from some sort of traditional roots and what I think lies at the crux of the issue is the development of football as a whole, not just of Lincoln City. I’ve seen LISA hammered on social media at times, I’ve seen the ‘casual’ fan feel they’re being nudged to one side, but they’ve always got a place. The 617, the football lads who want beers in the Anchor and bouncing in the stadium, they’re still catered for. If we’re going to survive as a club though that isn’t enough.

Football has moved on from the eighties and even the nineties, not just in terms of hooliganism but in terms of how it is approached from a business point of view. Back when I first started doing Poacher the commercial team used to number one, two at a push, and sell advertising space and executive boxes, but in 2019 it’s different. Now there are partnerships and grants, there’s sponsorship of everything and anything and different avenues and revenue streams have to be explored. Maybe, if we’d been as business savvy then as we are now, we wouldn’t have had to march to save the club in 2002.

I was reading an article about the High Street (in general, not just Lincoln), explaining buying patterns are changing and stores are closing. It struck me as similar to football. When I was a lad, I used to love getting twenty quid in my pocket and going into town, wandering around game stores and CD shops, buying stuff. As technology changed I was loath to use Spotify, hated downloading games, but it’s progress. It hurt in the first instance but the thought of having to drag my sorry arse into town now, park the car and be disappointed around fifteen shops makes me cringe.

Football is changing too in just the same way. The way we used to buy tickets, watch the game and receive news about the club is changing. The routine of turning up on the day, paying cash on the turnstile then leaving to pick up a Sports Echo on the way home has gone. That was my day back in the nineties and I look back thinking how good it was, but it’s gone.

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  1. Much of this fades away if the team does the stuff on the pitch. That’s what generates the euphoria and it’s been missing lately, that’s what generates the togetherness and of course the excitement and the enthusiasm. Come on you Imps!

  2. Gary,

    A good article. In effect I think the message that could be taken back to the supporters board meetings is this.

    It is not what you say. It is how you say it.

    Essentially there have been bungling press releases, which are later rowed back upon slightly, or significantly and there appears to be not enough thought go in to them sometimes. It is as if no one proofs them, to see how they may sound to the majority.

    Communication is the key. The club as a whole needs to work on this, to ensure that they can emulate our management team on how to communicate effectively with the fan base. On too many occasions in the last 18 months, this has been the issue.

    If the message is delivered in the right way, even if it is ‘bad medicine’ well, then that spoon full of sugar will help the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.

  3. I remember a Social Geography lecturer telling me about the so-called ‘Community Spirit’ of the back-to-back housing in Manchester that was pulled down in the ’60’s. He was heavily involved in the process and stated that there wasn’t any ‘Community Spirit’ until a street was identified as having to be cleared, that was what created the togetherness. External factors bring otherwise disparate groups together, but only temporarily. The more people involved, the more room there is for different agendas. It is all part of the growing pains of moving from a lowly supported non-League club to Championship wanabees. It is just natural evolution that we will all have to get used to.

  4. Excellent article Gary, always nice to hear a reasoned opinion, rather than the knee-jerk ramblings on social media.
    A couple of wins & the positivity will come pouring back.
    Two wins from our next two games will paint an entirely different picture, of that I’m sure.
    Keep up the (very much needed) good work.

  5. best article yet people have to expect change and if we get promoted to have to pay more for the privilege of watching a much better standard of the league. remember we lost 20 000 pounds a week last season and that cant go on indefinately, lets support Liam Scully in his efforts to bring us into the 20 th century.

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