This is a quick post. Since the curtain came down on our clash with Tranmere I’ve found it hard to get in front of a computer.
There’s been a bit on talkSPORT, the duties that I neglected at home to be away today and (of course) two episodes of Game of Thrones to catch up on. I’ve done my bit at home but wanted to get something down on record tonight.
April 22nd. It had to be, didn’t it? Two years to the day we returned to the Football League in a blaze of glory, we’re champions of League Two. It’s been on the cards all season, I called it on the site in my pre-season preview but it still had to happen. The boys have still had 44 gruelling matches, highs and lows which have brought concern, worry and delight.
I saw on social media this morning some people were nervous, I wasn’t. It was strange, I always felt it’d be today. I said several weeks ago, Tranmere at home would be the day. It felt calm, almost as if it were meant to be. I’m still struggling with this bloody illness, but it was my bunged up ear causing me concern, not fear of failing. When it did happen, some have said anti-climax; that’s not the case.
No matter what we thought might happen, no matter what we have believed would become of the season, nothing prepares you for that moment of realisation. Maybe you got it when Oldham went 3-1 up, maybe it was when our final whistle went. For some, it won’t have come until you streamed on the pitch. For me, the one moment where I felt it choking in the back of my throat was after all of that.
I watched the game in Running Imp’s box, which was a great privilege, but at the final whistle my friend Pete and I made a dash round and into the ground. We were on the pitch, surrounded by delighted faces, people joyous and ecstatic. Still, it hadn’t hit me. I took out my phone, typed the word ‘champions’ into a text message with a kiss and pressed send to Fe.
That’s when I got the full force of what we’d achieved. The National League was something different, it was redemption and a return to our former selves. This is the next step, this is what deep down every single fan who saw us beat Oldham 3-2 has believed to be possible. That night in the FA Cup we saw our team match a League One side and I recall a conversation with Pete days later where he said; ‘get out of this league and you’ll be League One in two years’. He’s like Nostradamus that man, I’m telling you.
It was perhaps fitting as I read the text I’d sent to my partner that it was Pete at the side of me. I’d have liked my Dad there too, that meeting came later, but for a second my eyes filled with tears. Visions of ’76 came to me, two years before I was born, but I’ve seen the stills. I’ve studied those pictures looking for my Dad or my Grandad, wondering if we’d ever win a Football League title in my lifetime. Today, I realised pictures were being taken that will remain part of Imps’ history forever.
My moment with my Dad came later, a rather candid and emotional hug. I’d not seen the game with him and we met in the car park behind the Stacey West. It was just a hug, no fist pumps, no songs or cheering. It was a hug, without words. Who needs them? The pain of 2011 had be forgotten in 2017, shrunk to no more than a distant afterthought in 2018 and today, in 2019, it was washed away for ever. We’re not just back, but we’re back and we’re better than we’ve been ever since my first game in 1986. All the time, every step of the ride, my Dad’s been there. That was what the hug said, nothing less.
It was always going to be today. I woke up to a message from Gordon Hobson’s son-in-law, a picture of Gordon holding a match ball he once picked up for scoring a hat trick for City, complete with good luck message. I was (very kindly) given a priceless piece of Imps’ history before the game too, a copy of ‘Cock ‘o the North’, a 1930’s publication that is the Holy Grail of Imps books. The person who gave it to me, who wants to remain nameless, said his Dad would have wanted it to go to someone who will cherish it. History, on both counts.
All of that, the omens, the date, the bits of history finding their way into my morning, that’s all part of my experience, not yours. Yours will be different. You might have had your moment as you carried your son or daughter onto the pitch, it might have been bouncing in block 7 knowing Mansfield had lost. You might have sat serenely in the Selenity stand, picturing ghosts of the past and wondering what they’d make of it all.
April 22nd, 2019. Lincoln City were finally confirmed as Champions of League Two. Whatever it meant to you, whether you celebrated in a pub with friends or like me, with a glass of Cherry Pepsi Max and a beef dinner with your partner, you’ll always remember it. What occurred today was history, to be written about, talked about and toasted for years to come.
Who knows, with three trophies in three seasons we might not have to wait 43 years for the next. That said, they say wine tastes better with age, so perhaps the fact we’ve waited so long made it sweeter. Maybe the years in the National League made it feel more powerful.
Whatever you experience was today, hold on to it. Cherish it. We don’t get gifts like this often, although the last three years might make you think otherwise!
Just in case the realisation hasn’t hit you yet, maybe this will be your moment:
Lincoln City are Champions of League Two