There is a mystique and allure around the final day of the season, certainly if you’re not being relegated.
It is the end of another nine months of endeavour, hope and effort (or not, in 2011). It signals a new beginning, it is football’s winter in the heart of real summer. Everything dies away and you’re left cradling whatever feast your team served up for you. Even relegated teams begin to look forward to competing in a league lower than before (how hard can it be?), whilst midtable also-rans are convinced that they’re going up, not down next season.
We say goodbye to players, we bid farewell to supporters who we sit next to every single week but would not normally invite out for a pint. We celebrate, even when there’s nothing to celebrate. For those who live their life in seasons, not years, it is our Christmas, with New Year’s Even coming the week before the big kick-off. That’s how the summer sometimes feels without football, like the expanse between Christmas and new year where you feel alright but with no purpose or focus.
That should be today. If things had remained on course, today we’d be celebrating the fact we’d survived in the third tier for the first time since 1985. It would be a rather poignant afternoon as the last time we retained our third-tier status was at Valley Parade in 1985. We’d raise a glass to the 56, we applaud departing heroes from our Championship season and we’d be full of hope for Michael Appleton’s vision for 2020/21. The opponents barely warrant a mention, unless it is a critical game, who cares whether it is Rochdale, Yeovil or Wycombe Wanderers? They’re only a bit-part player, a walk-on role in the final episode of Lincoln City, series 124.
I clearly recall my first-ever final day; May 2nd 1988. I had been to watch City in 86/87, but wasn’t at Swansea on that fateful afternoon. Instead, my whole family attended the game against Wycombe, we were pressed right up at the front behind the goal at the Railway End. It was quite an experience for a youngster, the sort that could turn you off top-flight football for good.
Others have stood out for me over the years. Watching us beat Blackpool 2-0 courtesy of Matt Carmichael’s brace of penalties was a big afternoon for me, as was missing out on a play-off spot under John beck in 1996/97 after losing 2-0 to Rochdale. A year later, another May 2nd, we were on the way back up again, this time automatically, just weeks after I got my first Imps’ tattoo. Again, a year later we were beaten by Wycombe and relegated, another example of the highs and lows.
2011 brought a final day like I’d never experienced. Having not been at Swansea, nothing could prepare me for the desolation and disgust I felt when we went down. I was in a seriously bad place personally, my own mental health resting on a knife-edge. I drove home from that game at the very bottom of the barrel, my 2010/11 season comfortably the worst ever both on and off the field. In July 2011 I met Fe and a new season started.
Recently, the final day has been one of celebration. I know Macclesfield wasn’t the last game, but it was our final home game and perhaps the very best day of my footballing life. Wycombe in 1988 was great because we went up, but in 2017 I understood much more. Football for a 10-year-old is black and white, heroes and villains, but when you’re approaching 40 it is very different. A year later, as we secured a play-off place, I was laid up in a hospital with steel rods freshly inserted in my back; not the best final game ever. That brings us to last year and one of the oddest; the day we were crowned champions and yet perhaps a little bit of an anti-climax after two matches of celebrations prior.
Some final days are not even that; the march around Lincoln in 2001/02 wasn’t the final game of the season, but it was a final day at home like no other. It really could have been the ‘final day’ as such; we didn’t know what the hell was going to happen. Now, 18 years later, we’re in the same boat. It’s May 2nd, a day the sun always shines on, a day when we’d be drinking on the High Street, having fun and basking in safety and instead, we’re all at our homes, wishing things were different.
They will be, one day, but for now we’re left with our memories and a handful of hope for the future. Nobody knows what the future holds; work by May 26th, football by January 2012, it’s all speculation. To celebrate the final day together, Bubs has put together some images from his favourite final days. We’ve avoided the obvious three, mentioned above because that wonderful era has been done to death recently. This football club existed before 2016 and it will go on long after 2019, so as you watch a great moment from the Cowley era this afternoon, we’re celebrating some of the moments from before.