The big game is just a few hours away and, this time tomorrow, it will be part of Lincoln City history. It’s the first time in 130 years the English Champions have faced the Imps in competitive action, and the first time they’ve ever been to Sincil Bank.
Of course, it isn’t the first time we’ve played Liverpool, with several matchups in the fifties and early sixties. We also had a friendly with them back in 2006, a game I attended as Poacher. In the lead up to today’s game, I’ve decided to include an excerpt from my book, Suited and Booted: My life as Lincoln City mascot Poacher the Imp, which talks about the incidents that game. I’ve added a few paragraphs too, just to give you some more context.
In the early part of the 2006/07 season, we had a big friendly with Liverpool, and it was a game I could make. It was odd; considering most people that I worked with had no interest in Lincoln City at the time, it was surprising how many people I didn’t know very well sidled up to me in the weeks before and asked how the ‘mascot thing’ was going. At first, I didn’t put two and two together, I thought somehow, I’d finally convinced people I was a minor celebrity.
The enquiries continued and I was just about to call Ant and Dec about going into the jungle. The penny soon dropped though, when those same people saw me again, and generally enquired as to whether I could get tickets for the Liverpool game. Still, everyone likes to be popular, so I trundled on down to Sincil Bank to get hold of something like fifteen tickets. I didn’t tell those people who wanted them that they were on free sale and plenty were available. If they thought I was doing something good for them that meant I had a good deed in my back pocket in return.
Liverpool brought a few first-teamers including Jan Kronkamp, Robbie Fowler, Salif Diao and Mark Gonzalez. I knew Robbie was an obvious target for a bit of banter, so once I’d suited up, I made my way over to him for a kick about. The Liverpool lads had a bit of a chuckle and passed me the ball a few times which I thought was excellent, with Diao looking at me as if he’d never seen a mascot before. I imagine on the pristine pitches of the Premier League, mascots tended to not get involved. Down in Division Four, I could do pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted. Looking back, it was a great position to be in, but in the circles I mixed it was pretty much the norm. We didn’t get to see top-flight mascots, I met Fred the Red from man Utd once, moaning because his £50 per hour fee had been reduced when they flew him to Singapore in a friendly. He didn’t get much sympathy, I was still buying my own water after getting out of the suit, and often changed in the tea room with Mo, our tea lady, watching on.
Still, I enjoyed the incredulous look on Diao’s face when he passed me the ball, almost as if he thought I was a new Liverpool signing. He could have been a nob about it, after all, I was taking liberties, but instead, my presence was well received. It was only a friendly after all. Maybe, just maybe, someone could have told Robbie Fowler.
I made my way to Robbie and held my hand out for a shake. I’m not a big Robbie fan and I never have been, but I did want to shake his hand because he’s a star and it looked good for a mascot. One of the other lads, Alex from TYork City, had a scrapbook of all the stars he’d met. All I’d done was tell Bradley Walsh to fuck off and missed the fireworks display where Chloe Newsome turned up. By 2006, if anyone showed interest in me as mascot from outside the Imps, they always have two questions, ‘ever had a fight?’ and ‘ever met anyone famous?’ I planned to just answer one of those with Robbie.
He may have fancied answering the other question, as he suddenly came over all aggressive: ‘fuck off mate, we doing the warm-up’ was his response to my attempted handshake. That was, I thought, very rude, and grammatically incorrect and tenuous use of the phrase ‘warm-up’ They were stood in a circle, kicking a ball at each other, if that’s the case then I often ‘warmed-up’ with other mascots and 11-year-old kids. So, I told him. “Come on Robbie don’t be a miserable sod, shake my hand”, choosing not to mention his poor grasp of the English language. Luckily for me, he didn’t feel my return warranted a good hiding and he shook my hand with a forced smile.
I missed most of the game. It wasn’t really a shame, friendlies are to a football fan what trailers are to a movie goer; relatively pointless. Sure, it was nice for the two-team fans to get to see some players they recognised, and the kids all loved it, but for a Lincoln fan there was little to hold my attention. Besides, the same fifteen people I got tickets for also wanted autographs, so I hung around the exit waiting for the substituted stars to try to leave early. I didn’t have to wait long, Robbie was taken off early and the speed at which he got changed suggested the mucky sod hadn’t even showered.
I collared him for a signing session, and surprisingly he was still a miserable sod to me even out of the suit. He stormed past me (although he wouldn’t have known who I was of course), and the other fans on the way out to his car. Steward Dave Heap was having none of it, and he followed Robbie to the car, and stood in the way of him closing the door before asking for ‘a few autographs’ in a passive-aggressive manner. Robbie happily signed a few. Later on, when Jan Kronkamp came out, he stood for a good ten minutes smiling and writing his name over and over again on programmes. He was a nice guy.
I am informed the game ended 2-1 to Liverpool, but that didn’t matter. The Imps had received some good publicity from the game, and I’d received some kudos for fraternising with the famous faces of the Premier League. Everyone’s a winner. The real winner though was Lincoln City FC. Jack Hobbs’ fee, the reason the game had been played, was swelled by many thousands of pounds with the appearance of Liverpool, and a lot of local kids got to see what they understood to be real stars. Rafa Benitez was exemplary all the way through the game, signing autographs, rather than watching his team. I think he stood for the full opening 45 minutes just signing and chatting to supporters, making it a great experience for them. If more of the big boys acted in a responsible manner like the Liverpool squad and officials, then League Two wouldn’t be so cash-starved, even today. If only they committed to sending strong-ish teams to pre-season games, instead of extending the influence if Singapore or the USA and not using it to help stimulate the game right here in the UK.
One of the girls I’d got tickets for wanted another favour after the game. She worked in the cashier’s department and employed a new member of staff whose name I don’t recall. She had been told Poacher worked at the depot and her Dad was a Lincoln fan or something, so would I mind if she came down to meet me? I thought it would earn me some ‘lad points’ with the guys in the office, so I agreed. She was brought down to the timber counter during work hours and introduced. This was all about my ego, a chance to feel slightly better about myself after Robbie kinda mugged me off, but for all the wrong reasons. I held out my hand and nervously said something like “pleased to meet you,” to which she replied; “Who are you? Where’s Poacher?”
I replied that I was Poacher and she just dismissed me offhand saying “No, I wanted to meet the big red suit,” and walked away. I guess Ant and Dec wouldn’t be giving me a call, after all.
If you enjoyed this story, then please do consider giving my book a purchase. You can buy it by clicking the following link and, as a special treat, I’ve dropped the price by £2 for this week. It is called Suited and Booted: My life as Lincoln City mascot Poacher the Imp, and it not only discusses mascot stories, the delicacies of being a lower league fan and of course, Lincoln City, but it also deal with some serious aspects such as male mental health, and delaing with anxiety and stress.