The last 24 hours have, once again, seen fans with plenty to moan about but in essence, nothing to moan about as well.
The behind-closed-doors friendly with Leicester, which ended 3-2, wasn’t streamed live and a few moaned about that. Friendlies that are played behind closed doors rarely are streamed live and why would the club wish to even try to do so when it usually just leads to criticism of players? After the Salford game, one rather large element of our fanbase went into meltdown, failing to see how we didn’t beat Salford and labelling some players as ‘not good enough’ already. That’s not why the friendly isn’t streamed, the reason is that friendlies normally aren’t and there’s no reason to at all.
The other moan has been around Cian Bolger, and one Twitter debate I saw came when a fan of 60 years claimed they wouldn’t go and watch the club again if we sold Harry Anderson. I’m not shaming that fan here, by the way, they are entitled to their opinions as are those who disagree with that philosophy. What it did for me was prompt this article on the ‘lack of connection’.
I’ve heard this a million times since 2016/17, the argument isn’t new and therein lies the reason it is effectively utter pony, in my opinion. The general argument goes that selling so many players this summer, as well as releasing 11 back in May, is making the club unconnected with supporters. fans find it hard to grasp who the new faces are, or feel affinity towards them. To a degree, I understand the basis of the argument. Watching on the other day, I felt that the team looked new and that scares me. With tried and tested players you know what you have, but with new faces there’s always a fear they might be guff. If anything, you’re more critical of the new faces because they’re the ones in the news. For instance, it was easier to say McGrandles looked average against Salford than Jorge Grant, even though both looked like they were playing their first game in five months.
I recall the end of the 2017/18 season when the likes of Alex Woodyard and Sean Raggett had gone. Luke Waterfall wasn’t far behind, Sam Habergham had kicked his last ball for the club, Nathan Arnold had gone too. Power, Hawkridge and Marriott had gone during the season too, Sean Long left, even Ollie Palmer left and the same arguments I’m hearing now were surfacing; there was no connection, the fans and players had lost their special bond, etc. I would, if I were the sort, go back over direct messages I received from people I respect greatly and show you, but I’m never one to do that. The point is the likes of Harry Toffolo and John Akinde had just arrived, fans didn’t know them. I heard people saying the connection was gone, that special feeling that took us to the National League title had evaporated. What special feeling was that? The one where 3,000 people felt angry because they couldn’t all get tickets to Ipswich away despite Johnny-come-lately’s going? The one which saw ticket office staff verbally abused because of queues and waiting? In my eyes, the special bond turned around Christmas 2016 when people sat up and took notice, and a sample of those who had been at the Bank through the hard times resented it.
In terms of players, anyone who thinks that they don’t come and go is dreaming. I wanted Bozzy to stay, obviously, but what is to say Montsma won’t be a fan favourite of the same proportion? How could Hopper have anymore vitriol pointed at him than Akinde, and why won’t McGrandles, Jones or Bridcutt be as popular as Frecklington, O’Connor or Morrell? They might, but that uncertainty is telling. We felt it last season when DC left, the feeling of stepping into the unknown. The previous manager had something special here and we felt safe; he wasn’t someone who might get us relegated, we knew that because of the unbridled success of the previous three years. Michael is not DC and that is his only crime right now. His signings have looked strong on paper, but he had a rebuilding job to do. Did he really humiliate Bolger on the radio? He said he respected the player, loved his attitude but wouldn’t stand in the way of him playing football. How is that humiliation? He didn’t say ‘Bolger will never play for this club again’, did he? I can understand people feeling angrier about Jason Shackell’s treatment, but then Shacks had given away a couple of goals and a penalty and many fans felt the same as the manager.
I suppose fans, as a whole, have double standards and that gets to me a bit. I know we’re all different, but as a collective, our words feed into a narrative. think back to Swindon at home in 2017/18, we drew 2-2. Paul Farman let a couple in and social media exploded with anger aimed in his direction. Where was our ‘special bond’ then, where was the love for heroes of 2017 when he was hammered by supporters? If DC had come out and said that Paul wasn’t going to play again, he would have been criticised for being too open.
The issue here that instead of genuine connections being lost, we’re stepping further into the unknown and it scares people, so they project their fears. I firmly believe some supporters only follow the club to be pessimistic and miserable, I suppose that’s their prerogative, but most of us just want success. We knew where we were with the squad last season, but remember Cian Bolger had only been a part of it for six months when we stepped into League One, Jack Payne and Ben Coker were both new faces too. MA has been called out for moving these players on as though they were part of something special, when in fact they contributed two goals and a red card last season. I’m not criticising the players, but I was more inclined to feel the ‘connection’ argument two years ago than I am now. It’s not Lincoln City’s fault we can’t go to games. They’ve never streamed friendlies live and ever since time began, players have come and players have gone. All our favourites left at some point; Percy Freeman, John Ward, Gareth Ainsworth, Matt Rhead, even Simon Yeo (twice). Managers have to make those decisions and often, it is managers such as Graham Taylor, John Beck, Colin Murphy, Keith Alexander and Danny Cowley who made those decisions. Honestly, look at the list of players; of those heroes, all were let go by managers who helped us to promotions, play-off finals and titles.
Michael has a hard enough job getting the current group together without fans forsaking him because they don’t know everyone’s name. I’m not a happy clapper who thinks we’ll be top ten. I’m a little apprehensive as to whether we’ll kick on or struggle, even more so looking at the opening six games. But, and this is the salient point, I am a Lincoln City fan. I understand the pandemic has made life shit, I realised it has watered down the matchday experience and I get that some fans think Lincoln United will be a better day out but you know what? I won’t be going there because I’m not a Lincoln United fan. My club needs me, even if I can only go every other game. Michael Appleton needs us because as fans are allowed back in we can make a difference. If the MA overhaul works, then we’re all winners. If it doesn’t, then we move on to the next phase. I feel it will, I think it will be a tough start and I suspect we’ll be upper bottom half for much of the season, but in twelve months time player slike Jones, Montsma and Jackson will be the new favourites; we’ll know them, we will have met them, posed for (socially effing distanced) photos and we might feel an affinity to them as we do the ones who have left.
What I will not do is use Cian Bolger’s exit as a tool to project my insecurities onto the club. Cian was a nice bloke and a decent footballer, but he wasn’t Bozzy, he wasn’t Raggs and he wasn’t Trevor Peake. Worst things have happened to this football club and in the future, worse things will happen again. Right now, we have to try to believe in the cause, whether we’re insecure or not, because Michael has signed some good footballers, and he is a good coach. We’re in decent hands, this isn’t a Chris Sutton style gamble or a Tilson style ‘doomed from the off’. There’s a reason Michael is hugely respected in football, there’s a reason Adam Jackson appeared in the SPFL, there’s a reason we had to pay a fee for Tom Hopper and there’s a reason MK Dons offered a deal to Joe Walsh; they’re all good footballers. Just because you can’t see them in a training match against Leicester doesn’t mean they’re not.
Now is the time to have some faith, put the bleeding heart routine on hold and just see what happens. If, ten games in, we’re adrift of everyone like Southend were, then maybe I could understand the comments. However, a day after we finally got fixtures, structure and the promise of some football, I can’t see any reason to be as negative as some are being, even if we are wearing face masks in Lidl.