As fans of the site will know, I grew up in Wragby, a little town ten miles or so from Lincoln.
I’ve talked about it plenty in my book, Suited and Booted: My life as Lincoln City mascot Poacher the Imp, if you haven’t read it now might be a good time to do so! Anyhow, growing up in Wragby in a certain era is one of the reasons I think this week’s cup tie is extra-special, for me and a generation of football supporters. Let me explain.
I was born in 1978, my first World Cup was 1986, my first Imps game a month or two later. It was also the case for a close group of my friends too, at least the World Cup bit. They all lamented being included in an article recently, so I’ll name them once again. There was Dayle Rowson, whom I sat next to in Class 3 of primary school and his brother Craig, who became my closest friend from the age of 15. Jason Anstice and I passed our 11 plus together and went through secondary school together, whilst Dave Adams is another primary school friend who is as close as family these days. They all had something in common; they supported Liverpool. At times, it was unbearable having them all rounding on you, cheering a 4-3 win against Newcastle as if it was the FA Cup Final.
It was actually a tough gig for them. I suspect much of their love for the club came out of the success of the eighties, but by the time they all reached 14 or 15, the Liverpool star had faded severely. They were all staunch supporters though; I’m pretty sure the Rowsons were at Hillsborough on that tragic day in ’89, and I know Jason went to the FA Cup Final a couple of weeks later. He’s a season ticket holder at Anfield and even moved to live and work in Liverpool, so we’re not talking about armchair fans here.
There were a couple of exceptions to our little group. Matt Warr, another of our circle and a current Imps’ season ticket holder, was a Spurs fan and I carried the torch for Lincoln City. That was the dynamic growing up, so down the park on a warm summer’s evening it would be a collection of lads wanting to be Fowler, Redknapp and the like, than Matt wanting to be whoever the Spurs keeper was and me wishing Tony Daws was just a little bit more high profile.
That demographic was typical of our town. You could gurantee the Adam or the Ivy, the two popular Wragby pubs, would be packed when Sky were showing Liverpool or Manchester United matches, because you were hard pushed to find supporters of other top flight clubs in the area. It seemed you were either a Red, or a Red Devil. The pubs teemed with armchair fans, belittling Lincoln City to a degree, but obviously wanting to jump on the bandwagon if we did well. The pubs emptied the night Southampton came to the Bank, for instance. Lincoln City held some supporters interest, but the two big clubs dominated the talk. People who know Wragby would know the names of Keith Reeson, John Horne and Brendan Murphy (all United), or Don Rowson and Ged Lomas (Liverpool). These guys were older than me still, by ten or twenty years, and all remembered glory days even further back for their clubs.
That’s why the game is so big for fans of a certain age. If you are ten years younger, you might not see Liverpool as such a special club, no more than say Arsenal or Chelsea, both of whom have lots of Premier League titles to their name. Even if you are five years younger than me, you might put Manchester United ahead of them in terms of size. However, if you are 40 and upwards, you remember the Kenny Dalglish years, the Bob Paisley era and the success they had. They were the biggest club in the country, from the Anfield Rap to trophy-laden seasons, they dominated the news. If Liverpool were beaten by someone, like Wolves or Wimbeldon, it was headline-worthy, just as it was when United lost to Southmapton a decade later. You can talk about Arsenal’s invicinbles all you want, but the real allure lay with those two northern powerhouses. They have 39 top flight wins between them, 19 FA Cups, 13 League Cups, 14 European titles and a World Club Cup each. You can’t find two teams anywhere else in the country with a record even close to that.
Every year as the teams are drawn in the cup, these are the two 40-somethings want to see at the Bank. These are the two that defined English football in the decade or so before the Premier League and the decade or so after. This week, it is us who have the golden ticket, it is us who have, in my opinion, drawn one of the two biggest clubs in England at home. This isn’t the same level as Southampton or Palace, it’s even bigger than Arsenal or Spurs. I think it is why there is so much excitement around the place because we all know loads of Liverpool fans, they’re a world powerhouse right now, but laden with history too. Plus, they’re coming to us.
I think back to those nights in the park at Wragby, getting utterly outclassed by everyone at the park (apart from Dave….). I felt almost reflective of the teams we supported; they all followed top flight clubs and I played like I was lower league. They went on to appear for Sunday teams and play youth football for good Mid Lincs Youth teams, I was binned off by my Dad for Wragby Under 13s and won Clubman of the Year, a consolation prize for try-hards. Now, as we sit in the third-tier and await the reigning Champions, it makes me incredibly proud that finally, after winning our games and hoping for a kind draw, we have the one we wanted. Everton last season was a good draw, arguably the best since the early eighties, but this is another level. I’m not sure I’d go for a 50/50 with Dayle, or even try to beat Dave for pace anymore, but in the pub afterwards, I could speak loud and proud about my club. I think there are even more Lincoln fans in those Wragby pubs these days, not that I’d know having not been in one since the Champions League Final in 2019.
So, please enjoy the game for what it is. Don’t be like I usually am, trying to be cool and talking about league points being important, we know they are. Football is having the enjoyment sucked out of it by bat-flu and a bumbling cabinet, so for once let’s just embrace the event. It’s an occaison, it might not be a ‘contest’ as such, but it is win/win for us. If City win, it’ll be historic. If we lose, it will be expected, money in the Bank and a memory we can ease to one side and use as a catalyst for the future.
However, we were once told something about possiblity and opinions, I’ll not roll it out here, but we know anything can be achieved on the night. Right now, the Liverpool tie looks huge, but on Friday morning it will be one of two things; either a fond memory to tell your kids in fifteen years or one of the greatest cup nights in the club’s history.
Either way, it might not come around again in our lifetime, so just enjoy the next couple of days as much as you can.