Admit it, as an Imps fan you’re almost certain we’re heading for League One.
It’s not been rubber-stamped and having Danny tell us a thousand times that we shouldn’t be complacent makes us nervous, but surely we’ve got the minerals to pick up another four wins this season, haven’t we?
I’ll be honest with you, it keeps me awake at night. My dad too. We’re not together at the time of course, but we chatted the other day about the fear. He’s not an emotional man and most of my heartfelt stuff gets written rather than said, but we’re so close to touching something we never thought possible three years ago.
League One, or for those with a little more grey in their hair, Division Three. Once upon a time we were a staple of that level, even higher during the fifties. Lincoln City never were a Fourth Division club, but time is a cruel mistress and a generation of fans today don’t know anything of life outside the bottom division, unless it’s non-league.
I’ve been alive 40 years, but been coming to the Bank for 33 this season. That’s 33 opening days full of hope and, in most cases, 33 times March has come around with either nothing to play for or relegation still a fear.
Only once have I known us to be promoted out of the Fourth Division. Once. I remember it well, my last days as a fan before taking up Poacher. I remember the joy, tainted a little by the fact we played awful football, but it didn’t matter a great amount. Ask a selection of fans about that season and it’s either a happy memory, or a stain on our history.
I eat, breathe and live Lincoln City Football Club. As you know, I write about football for a living and find immense joy in penning articles about us, both on Football League World and this site. I do the podcast, I have pictures on my wall and have written books about us. Like me or not, my existence is fuelled by the club. When we lose, it hurts. When we win, it matters.
If we get promoted, it’ll be as memorable as the birth of a child, a wedding day or graduation. It will be a life moment I’ll look back on and reference as one of the happiest days of my life. I’m sure you’ll be the same.
Still, we’re not there yet, are we? We’ve got matches to play and despite that ten-point cushion (twelve in real terms), we’re still not certain. Do you lay awake at night too? Does your mind wander to 1983, for those who remember? Do those who can’t remember fear another 2007-style collapse and a failed play-off assault?
If so, here’s some tonic for you.
I’ve gone back 42 years, looking at the Fourth Division league tables as of March 20th of every season and compared them with the sides that ended up being promoted. I’ve done this for my own peace of mind but, as I’ve found some solace in the figures, I wanted to give you a chance for a sound night’s sleep too.
Only once in my lifetime has a team who leads the table on March 20th not gone on to be promoted automatically. History can tell you anything, stats can too, but the fact is that just one team in 42 years have been in our position and not gone up. Ironically, that one team were prevented from going up by us.
The year was 1992 and the league leaders were Blackpool. In a division of 22 teams, or 42 matches, they were top after 33. They had nine to play, one more than we do now, and were joint top with Mansfield. Burnley, eventual league winners, were third with two games in hand and one point to make up. The fourth placed team were Rotherham, six points shy of the Seasiders.
All Blackpool needed to do was better Mansfield’s result on the final day of the season to go up, albeit in third. They came to Sincil Bank, Matt Carmichael scored two penalties and they had to go into the play-offs, which by the way they won.
So, in 42 years of teams being top on March 20th, every single one has gone up, with just Blackpool needing a play-off win.
Happier? How about this as well. Only once in the last 42 years have two teams in the top three on March 20th not gone up automatically. That again involved the Imps.
In 1998 we never truly looked like being in the automatic mix. we hadn’t been top three all season and on March 20th we were six points outside the promotion spots. Notts county were runaway leaders, 16 points clear of Torquay in second with Barnet four points below them in third. The gap between us and Torquay was ten points.
By the final day of the season we’d closed that gap and overtaken the Gulls, as had Macclesfield. The Silkmen finished second, us third and Colchester ended up winning the play-offs.
Happier? I suppose the only worry is patterns. Patterns emerge in football and perhaps we should be cautious that the only time a team who were top have failed to finish in the automatic promotion spots, we stopped them. Then the only time two of the top three have not been promoted it was us that stopped them again and we overturned a ten point gap in doing so, the same gap we have over the chasing pack!
The one difference was we’d only played 37 matches. By the time we played the 38th, leaving eight to play as there is now, the gap was down to eight points. Still….
Finally, to deal with the big collapses of the past, those ghosts that stand on the edge of our dreams with foreboding looks on their faces. They’re not exactly relevant in our worries right now.
In 1983 we were top at Christmas but had already lost four matches by that point, as many as we’ve lost all this season. Also, we only had a seven point gap after eighteen matches. By the time game number 38 had been completed we were sixth, 11 short of the top spot and six outside the promotion spots. We blew it long before the final straight.
In 2007, with eight matches left to play we were fourth, eight points shy of the leaders. Although we’d been top at one point, it was for just a couple of days and not the whole season, like this year.
Sleep easy tonight, unless there’s a cataclysmic collapse the like of which hasn’t been seen in 40 years we’re going to League One, the big question is whether we go as Champions or not.
Disclaimer: If it all goes tits up now, don’t blame me. Cheers.
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