It’s hard to believe that it has only been four months since Gary published my “plastic fan” article, and not quite 18 months since I attended my first ever football match. To say it has been a whirlwind since then is an understatement.
My life has changed beyond all recognition, so much so that I now find it hard to remember how Saturdays even used to be PF (Pre-Football). When I first contacted Gary in January, not for one minute did I envisage the interest that my article would generate, nor the number of people that would read it. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I have heard “oh, you’re the plastic fan” when it has dawned on someone that it was me behind ‘that’ article.
My allegiance to Lincoln City has resulted in more than just the opportunity to attend football matches. It has also opened the door to a whole population of fellow Imps fans and I have fully embraced what it has brought. On paper I might still be ‘the plastic fan’, but in the world of Lincoln City I have been given the wings to become a fully-fledged member of a most amazing community. My Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of football news and photos, and I love the fact that people now want to stop and talk to me about matches or the latest bits of news from the club. I guess people might sometimes think twice about engaging in conversation with me, for fear of being bored by my endless Lincoln City conversations!
The most significant development for me in relation to the Imps community has most certainly been forging a connection with a very special lady called Carole. In response to the publication of my plastic fan article, Carole’s comments jumped out from those on the banter pages:
“This is very similar to my story, except I’m in my 70’s. My Grandfather, Father and Uncle were big supporters back in the day and went to as many matches as they could, but would never have thought of taking me with them. Marriage to a resolutely anti-football fan and three similarly inclined children. But when I could I’d watch the big matches on the TV – cup finals, World cups and always keep an eye on the Imps fortunes. I’ve never been to a football match. Now I am on my own I would love to go to one, but wouldn’t know where to start!”
I have three daughters, and when we started attending football matches I would never have dreamed of excluding them. In my mind there should be no boundaries regarding what they can or cannot do because of their gender. Unfortunately, things were different for Carole. She belongs to a footballing generation where girls and women generally didn’t go to football matches. In reality there have, of course, always been female football fans, but in the 1950’s when Carole was growing up, it was unusual for girls to be taken to matches. Thankfully, it’s a very different picture now, with more girls and women attending matches than ever before, backed by the excellent work of the Lady Imps Supporters Association (LISA).
I was intrigued to learn more from Carole about why she felt that as a girl she was not taken to matches. This is what she told me:
“ There were definitely two worlds – men and women. Men went to work and women (mostly) stayed home. As the games weren’t broadcast as they are now we weren’t as exposed to it, and there was only the radio and newspapers for reports from the matches. Most families didn’t have a television and in my house we didn’t have a TV until 1953, when I was 9! Football was seen very much as a man’s ‘hobby’ and girls probably weren’t expected to be interested. Unless dads, grandads etc. went to a match and enthused about it, probably the only time girls would be aware of football would be on Saturday evenings when the results came on the radio and everyone checked their pools. “
“Even at school football was for boys only and in playtime it was only the boys that played games. Out of school it was the same, but in my case I couldn’t even play in the street where we lived as it was a main road.”
“At that time the majority of Sincil Bank, like most football grounds during that period, was comprised of standing only terraces. I’m guessing that any seats were priced out of the reach of the ‘working man’ and that is probably another reason why young children and especially girls just weren’t taken to games.”
“Finally, in my case I don’t think my mother would have ever allowed me to go to matches! I got the feeling that she didn’t approve of her father and brother’s obsession with football and to a lesser extent my dad’s! I feel she may have regarded it as a dangerous place to be! We really did live in a different world then, still feeling the effects of World War Two to some degree.”
Once Carole had her own family, the constraints of being a busy mum to three children occupied her time, and although Carole always followed news of the Imps, the opportunity to go to a match never presented itself. Carole’s time was taken up looking after her family and there was never opportunity or money for Carole to pursue her own interests. Many parents of young children will be able to relate to this. Certainly, my own experience of juggling the competing demands on my time from work, alongside managing the leisure activities of three children outside of school left little opportunity to consider anything else that wasn’t connected to existing commitments.
Fast forward to January 2019 and Carole wistfully states:
“Now I am on my own I would love to go to one, but wouldn’t know where to start!”
Carole might not have known where to start, but happily I did. I wanted her to share the magic of Sincil Bank and to finally get to a match…the opportunity for Carole to get to see the team that she had followed for so many years at a distance was becoming a reality! For Carole the prospect of getting to see the Imps play was exciting – something that she had wanted to do for a very long time. I secured tickets for the Lincoln City v Northampton Town game that was scheduled to take place on Saturday 09th February. We were all set….
In February everyone was getting excited about football in Lincoln. City were top of the table, with promotion to League 1 becoming more and more of a possibility. Carole was getting excited about going to her first ever football match and I was getting excited about being able to take her to Sincil Bank. I learnt an important lesson a few days before the match, when casually chatting to some friends about the excitement of the forthcoming game and my new connection with Carole. Somewhat carelessly I hadn’t paused to consider who I was talking to….“Oh Val, I think Charlie might be interested in hearing about this”. What!? I’d always known of course that Jill’s husband had an important role at BBC Radio Lincolnshire, I confess I hadn’t actually realised that he is the Managing Editor.
I was soon to find out, when the next morning I received an email from Charlie, along with another from Martin, News Editor for the radio station. They were keen to speak to me about the plastic fan article and what had happened subsequently with Carole. Somehow I found myself agreeing to speak live to Scott Dalton on his breakfast show on the Friday morning before the match, and again on the Monday morning after. I’d love to say that I felt completely relaxed about the prospect of being broadcast live to the good people of Lincolnshire about my new found love for Lincoln City, but I would be lying, and I confess that I felt greatly relieved when Carole agreed to join me on the show.
Our trip to BBC Radio Lincolnshire was actually the first occasion that Carole and I met each other, having only communicated via text messages until that point. It seemed fitting that the first time we were to meet was to discuss what had led to our connection in the first place. It was a very memorable experience and despite our nerves, the broadcast seemed to go well, and we enjoyed meeting Scott and getting a very grand tour of the radio studio with Charlie.
After our intrepid visit to the radio station, we still had the excitement of match day to come. We arranged to meet up before the match and walk to Sincil Bank together. Carole wanted to call into the club shop, so we made sure that there was plenty of time to do so before making our way into the ground. It was a cold, but dry day, with an air of anticipation in the stadium. It was the first home match after the consecutive away draws at Bury and Notts County. I was certain that for Carole’s first match she would get to see a win for the Imps on home ground. Unfortunately, the ref that day had other ideas and the match experience was a little tarnished for Carole.
Nevertheless, taking Carole to see the Imps play for the first time and being able to share such a significant milestone with her was a wonderful occasion for us all. Just as I had felt attending my first match at Sincil Bank, like me, Carole was captivated by the level of noise in the ground. She was particularly impressed by the 617 lads, without whom the match day experience would most certainly be much poorer. Carole was a little disappointed not to have witnessed an Imps victory, but this did not detract from her obvious enjoyment at being able to see her first match. Leaving the ground that day we promised that Carole’s first trip to Sincil Bank would definitely not be her last.
Following the weekend, we made a return trip to Radio Lincolnshire to catch up with Scott Dalton, where we had the pleasure of re-living Carole’s first match experience while live on air with the listeners. I’d made a short recording at the ground and it was wonderful to hear the cheering and singing being broadcast on a dull Monday morning. Carole joked with Scott about how the ‘Hey Baby’ tune had been a bit of an ear worm over the weekend, and complained that the “ref had been diabolical”. We agreed that it is never too late in life to try something for the first time, and revealed that we had already made plans to go to more matches together.
Since then, Carole has been to a further four home games: Macclesfield Town (30th March), Cheltenham Town (13th April), Tranmere Rovers (22nd April) and finally Colchester United (4th May). Despite attending a total of five matches, she is still waiting to witness a win for the Imps at home, having seen them draw four matches and lose against Colchester. Following draw number 4 of 4, Carole said, “I must admit I’m beginning to think that my presence there is detrimental!” Like the rest of us who have felt the same after a draw (after maybe forgetting to wear our lucky socks!) this won’t be putting Carole off returning to Sincil Bank next season. Like everyone, she is excitedly anticipating what League 1 football will bring for the Imps.
For the final match of the season, Carole was keen to get there under her own steam and bought a ticket in the Selenity Stand. After the match, watching the cup presentation and celebrations, Carole found herself next to a friendly lady from LISA. “The lady next to me was very chatty and is a member of LISA and she wants me to join,” Carole told me. It’s impossible not to feel proud of Carole’s tenacity and to marvel at her strength of character. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Carole and am delighted to have been able to help her fulfil her desire to see the Imps play. This is just the beginning; we know that we will always stay friends and that we will be able to share news and experiences during the next season and beyond.
“I’m sure we will see each other and it’s been a great experience for me to be with you all”.