I always pay close attention to the official predictions of pundits and magazines. Some, such as FourFourTwo, I’m asked to contribute to before they make their calls.
I find it interesting this season that we seem to once again be everyone’s dark horse. Gabriel Sutton, a lad who knows his lower league football, thinks we’ll finish ninth. FourFourTwo thinks we’ll finish tenth (although I shouted Cian Bolger as out most underrated player in the preview…..) and the D3D4 guys are always tweeting about our great transfer business, hinting at us being an outside bet for the top ten.
Gab’s preview of League One this coming season is an interesting read and I’d urge anyone to pop along and have a look. His final statement about us is: ‘Lincoln can launch a Play-Off push this season – and give their fans a clearer sense as to why their coach is so widely acclaimed.’ FourFourTwo claims that MA toiled with Oxford before winning promotion and that they feel he’ll give us an edge this season. I don’t think there’s a Lincoln fan out there who wouldn’t snap up a top ten finish right now before a ball is kicked.
It does make me wonder if perhaps we’re blinded by being too close to what is happening. Are we still tainted by events of the past, such as Peter Jackson’s bold transfer business, or the overhaul of the squad that Chris Sutton conducted? Do we still fear failure more than we cherish success? After all, even as we lifted out third trophy in as many seasons in 2019, some supporters were walking out of the final game in disgust at a one-off performance.
If I were asked to call our league position this season, I’d say 16th and be happy, but is that pessimism on my part, as it is with many of you too? I wonder if losing players like Bozzy, whom we all saw as a fighter, leads us to feel we lack something that maybe we don’t need anymore. Maybe that ‘up and at ’em’ underdog feel we had during the previous manager’s reign isn’t the method to take us forward, no matter how fondly we look back on those times. We are all still thinking of where we have come from, maybe even fostering a little bit of the little team mentality we used to good effect, whilst the club has actually engaged a shift in emphasis that is only visible from the outside looking in.
I would be inclined to dismiss one pundit putting us up there. When two do it, two respected ones too, not some kid in his bedroom (or bearded 40-something in his home office). These are people paid to watch football week in, week out. Gab spoke to fans of every single club before putting his predictions together, he worked on it for weeks beforehand, constantly watching teams evolve and develop. Last season, he wasn’t far out at all with his predictions, only getting the odd ten place swing, otherwise looking very accurate indeed. He isn’t blinded by losing certain players, he isn’t fearful of watching us play out from the back and he doesn’t feel the apparent disconnection with the new squad. He is objective, analytical and unbiased.
I have made little secret of the fact I like Michael Appleton. he is a football man, he doesn’t do the limelight, he isn’t a fist-pumper, a screamer or an animated character. He is a scholar of the game, he’s had to be following the early curtailment of his own playing career. He’s learned from the best, he’s lived the training methods he delivers and he’s seen some of the world’s best players going through their training regimes. He knows what he wants and he has what I believe to be an unwavering belief in his own method. When a manager believes in himself and his players, it breeds confidence, we’ve seen that before. Michael has had success before too, but as Lincoln fans we only cast a cursory glance over his Oxford reign. Two Wembley finals and a promotion, as well as an eighth-place finish in League One? Some fans just hear Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ when they read about it. They shouldn’t – whether they had a bit of cash or not is irrelevant, MA didn’t buy his way to success with Oxford, he worked for it.
Others see that. Some of our fans greet each signing with something like ‘that isn’t Tyler Walker’, whilst D3D4 comment things such as ‘smart pick again’. There’s a deeper belief in our squad, methods and certainly in our coach outside the club than from many casual observers within. I know that’s not the case within the club itself by the way; There is a real belief we have assembled a talented squad this summer capable of surprising many, something Michael himself has even alluded to. I also know that there are a silent majority who see the positive impact Michael has, and the way he wants to play. For years and years, I sat in the stands hearing people moan about direct football, but now we play out from the back I hear them moan we don’t get it forward quick enough. That is what a lack of perspective can do; we live the games every week, we hear the moans, whereas observers such as D3D4 and Gab have the objectivity and distance to make conclusions based not on emotions, but on facts. That’s why their predictions matter.
I don’t buy into the disconnection, but I am now aware many do and I think that has also led to maybe pessimism and fear. All summer we feared for the future, feared for our squad and whether we’d have a club. That will change of course, when we play football and see these new players in action we’ll begin to feel a part of everything again. The next few months will be uncomfortable for supporters, although don’t believe the rubbish about not being able to sing, it’s a myth. Still, the game will look very different to how it did back in March against Burton Albion, but I do wonder if maybe that won’t just be in how we observe the game.
I wonder if perhaps we might just see a Lincoln City that few of the supporters expect, but seemingly the rest of the football world are already praising?