Dear Staff & Players of Lincoln City FC,
My name is Gary, I’ve been following this football club since the dark days of 1986. Fresh from the tragedy of the Bradford Fire, I came to the club when the focus was, quite rightly, not on football. We suffered successive relegations as a result and lost our Football League status.
After bouncing back, we never became the third-tier club my Granddad believed we should be. He’d remembered the days before Bill Anderson when we were a Third Division North club, then he experienced the fifties and the second tier. You may not know it, but for ten years Bill Anderson kept us in the old Second Division. Sadly, Geoff Hutchinson died on 11th April 1992, never seeing us get back to a level he thought we belonged at.
Throughout our history we’ve flirted with Division Four, but only in my era have we really become a staple at that level. We had one season in the third-tier, as you’ll know from the recent news reports. However, in 1998/99 even the bravest, most optimistic fans could only see us finishing 20th. We didn’t by the way, we were relegated after a brave, but futile fight.
Since then I’ve seen my club almost fold on more than one occasion, I’ve spent nights laying awake wondering if I’d have a team to support. I’ve cried at play-off failures, bawled at relegation. I’ve shied away from telling workmates who I support and I’ve despaired as we came close to following Stockport, York, Darlington and Halifax into oblivion.
I never thought we’d play Ipswich as equals, not in my lifetime. I didn’t ever think I’d see my club lift a Football League title, something I’m sure you’ll wrap up in the next seven days. I never thought we’d go to Wembley and lift a trophy there either. I never thought I would feel not just pride, but an intense joy when someone asks me who I support.
You may know this, you may not but in 2016 I had a serious flirtation with stress and anxiety. My route to becoming well again brought me to the written word and seeing as Lincoln City is all I really know, you became the subject of my ramblings. I’ve written about the Imps on this site since before Danny and Nicky took over and at first, it was a hobby. The success with which the club have progressed has been eclipsed by my own development and today I am a standalone writer, someone who (hopefully) never has to revisit those dark days of selling building materials and hating my life. I sincerely hope the same can be said about the football club, never must we return to the days when losing at home to Welling was met with an acceptance.
All of the progress and achievement of the recent seasons was capped off this weekend when you confirmed League One football. Three years, two promotions and a Wembley final, that is without a doubt the most successful period in the club’s entire history. Think about that for a moment, whether you’re a key player like Michael Bostwick or one who hasn’t featured as much such as James Wilson. Whatever your role, you’re at a club creating history and whatever you go on to achieve, you’ll always be a part of this. In years to come this season, these achievements will be talked about around family dinner tables.
Growing up, my Dad and Granddad used to talk about Percy Freeman and John Ward, or Gordon Hobson and Glenn Cockerill. Even the fringe players from those successful eras evoke images of success. That’s what you’ve achieved. In the eyes of thousands of fans, you and your teammates are now the embodiment of success. When I’m 65 and telling my nephew about how good this side were, your names will pop up.
From me personally, a thank you. Thank you to all of you who have helped me, be it with interviews, or just by being bloody brilliant on a Saturday and giving me something to write about and talk about. Thank you for bringing me much closer to my Dad too. We always had football, but with this success there’s a stronger bond than ever. When you score, when you win matches I know you’re creating personal memories for me and him that will last me a lifetime. There will be a time when I have to go to games without my Dad and although I’ll be sad, I know the images in my mind will be travelling back from a 6-2 win at Port Vale, or hugging him as Alan Long announced we’re promoted. I know this season will be something we cherish together for as long as our lives go on.
I love this football club, whether it’s the bricks and mortar of the ground, the various takes on red and white stripes we model each season or the faces I see every week and have done for years. The spirit at the club might not be all that different to any other, but it’s ours. Lincoln City isn’t just a sports team, it’s a community and a way of life for some. I can’t claim to go to every away game, but I’ve not missed a second be it on the radio, iFollow or at the ground. What you do, matters. When you win, I win. When you lose, I feel like I lose too. When the club makes a big signing, it boosts my life, it makes me feel better.
You, more than any other group of players and staff in my lifetime, have achieved something remarkable. I’m not detracting from the great work Keith Alexander did, nor Colin Murphy’s mission to get us out of the GMVC, but the Cowley era has to be the most successful of our entire existence. The constant drive forwards, the unparalleled success and now a chance to compete at a whole new level. It’s exciting, invigorating and I wanted to say thank you.
Thank you from me, still the wide-eyed 7-year-old at heart who watched his heroes beaten 4-1 by Hartlepool in 1986 and fell in love. Thank you from my Dad, who feels closer to his Dad whenever we succeed, despite his passing 27 years ago. Thank you from my partner, who doubtless loves me supporting a team that wins because (and I’m sure she’d echo this) my smile is prettier than my scowl. Thank you from every single on of the readers of my site, and from those fans who don’t know or care who I am, but still feel that intense joy when you win matches and reach new heights.
So to Clive, Roger and the board, Liam and the office staff, Terry and the media team, Danny, Nicky and the backroom team and Freck and the rest of the lads, thank you. You’ve done your club, the city and the supporters proud and will surely continue to do so.
This is a wonderful time to be a Lincoln City fan and although I love the club as much when were winning as when we’re losing, it’s a damn sight easier when you’re top of the pile.
Now go and win us the league.