Thanks to Matt Morton, (@MrMorton1978 on Twitter) who has taken the time to pen another excellent Lincoln City fan story for the site.
I have a confession to make – I don’t remember my first Lincoln match.
I know it was my dad who took me and I know I loved it, because all these years later I still obsess over every result, constantly refreshing the Twitter feed when I can’t watch on iFollow. I am currently living in the south of Spain, which seriously limits my chances of getting to a match. On the upside it’s sunny nearly all the time and I do have a team to follow here who I feel I am allowed to support without breaking allegiance to the Imps. The Lincoln Red Imps are now the team I get to see for real and like their namesakes are doing rather well (something like 18 titles in the last 20 years).
Due to the vagaries of the Gibraltar league, the team who finish top qualify for the qualifying rounds of the Champions League, so it is always possible that Lincoln Red Imps will be playing in Champions League next year. Anyway, I digress, the reason for writing this is to tell a story of ‘die-hard’ fan who fell out of love with football and then due to Danny and Nicky has fallen head over heels with the beautiful game once more. You may even consider me a plastic fan as my most recent matches have been Arsenal in the FA Cup and the Checkatrade Trophy final.
As I mentioned, I don’t remember my first game, but my first ‘real’ memory is when my best friends’ sister was too shy to be a matchday mascot and I had to step in at the last minute. I still have the picture of me and my friend sitting on Gary Strodder’s knee and the whole experience is still as clear as the day. The smell of the changing room, the banter between the players, getting to kick Gordon Hobson on the shins to ‘check his shin pads were working’ is all still as real in my mind as the day it happened. From that moment I was truly hooked. It was, however, the season Lincoln were relegated to the Vauxhall Conference and it was my first taste of what it meant to be a Lincoln fan.
The next season was all a bit of a blur. My dad was doing shift work, so we didn’t get to that may matches. Following on Ceefax became the Saturday ritual. As the final day of the season approached, my brother and I knew we had to be at the Wycombe match. We begged my mum to take us, but she had never been to a match before so was apprehensive. She eventually caved in and we went. I don’t know how early we got there, but it we were some of the first through the turnstiles. We made our way to the concrete wall at the front and didn’t move until the final whistle – when we had no choice but to invade the pitch, mum included as hordes of people began vaulting us to get to see their heroes. I begged Nigel Batch for his gloves (I was also a keeper) but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and surmise that he didn’t hear me above all the chanting.
From then on, Lincoln were my team. While friends at school all supported the ‘big’ teams (Liverpool, Man Utd, Nottingham Forest), I was Lincoln through and through. I had my Lincoln Subbuteo team and I even painted them to match the current squad at the time. It did always strike me as odd that all Subbuteo players were white, so I was keen to redress the balance. As the years passed, so did the matches and the many disappointments. When I was old enough to get to the games myself, I became a season ticket holder. I also travelled to most away games on the official Lincoln bus (definitely singular in those days).
You (the SW) always speak with great reverence of Chris Ashton as Mr Lincoln City and I couldn’t agree more. Those away days just wouldn’t have been the same without him and I am smiling now writing this, thinking how much he must be enjoying what has happened over the past few years. Supporting the Imps during these years were a hard slog. I can barely recall a win away from home – scoring a goal seemed to be about all we could hope for on those long trips to Carlisle and Torquay. Losing 6-0 at home to Barnet with Mike Pollitt getting man of the match for preventing a cricket score was a particular low point of the home matches. My point here is that I never gave up, I stuck with them and carried on going to matches with hope. I loved the standing section in the Stacey West, the surge when we scored was something that got me through the week at school.
Then I sent a cheeky letter to the club. I was studying photography at the time and after a mildly successful work experience at a local paper was picking up a few freelance jobs for the local press. I was still at school, but I thought I’d chance my arm and offer to provide pictures for the programme for the away games as I noticed they often only had match reports. To my surprise they agreed and also said they would like me to cover the home games as well. So, from being a fully paid up season ticket holder, I was suddenly working for the club. I did it all at cost price, so the club only paid for the film and the price of printing the pictures (I did make money on the side selling the pictures of the away games to the Echo so don’t feel too sorry for me!). I was in heaven. Free entry to all home matches, free travel to all away games (sometimes on the team bus) and getting to rub shoulders with the players and managers.
It was all a bit daunting when it was down to me (16 at the time) to organise the team for the pre-season photoshoot, but it all went well and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. I remember seeing my name in the programme next to the photos and walking into school proudly displaying my efforts. Big Sam Ellis was the first manager when I was there, and then John Beck arrived.
His tenure has been heavily covered and I have nothing new to offer except to confirm that most of the stories about his tactics are true. Being the club photographer, I was given access to the changing room after big wins (Man City in the League Cup for example) and thinking back I don’t think I appreciated the privilege that this was. I now realise how lucky I was to be living most fan’s dream, but at the time I was just worried about getting the shot and not getting a camera ruined with champagne!
During the promotion season, I was lucky enough to secure a full-time photography job with the Echo. This meant I still got to photograph Lincoln – although now only at home matches, and often only for one half, as one of us had to dash back and have a picture ready for the front of the Sports Echo. I never held out much hope of us staying in Division Three, but the feeling of being promoted and being allowed in to celebrate with the players, it seemed worth it at the time.