Quite often, you’ll see stories based around what happened ten years ago, or more.
Every time we hit a five or ten year anniversary from 1975/76, or 1987/88, the programme is filled with stories from the past and people recall their memories on social media. Doubtless, next year we will start doing the same from the 16/17 season too. As football fans, we love to remember these occasions and use them to discuss memories and players, maybe even to connect in some small way with others fans and family we enjoyed them with who have since departed. It is part of football’s great allure, that often these times are best enjoyed years after. I have often said I didn’t enjoy the run into the 16/17 season, not minute-by-minute at least. Of course, moments like Sam’s free-kick against Torquay and Nathan’s goal at Gateshead are great now, but back then they simply led us to look one week later, thinking about where the journey might take us.
Ten years ago, we were on a journey too, but not one that many will be happy to talk about. The season was 2010/11 and anyone who was there will know exactly what that means. Broughton, Hutchinson, Tilson, relegation, tears, anguish and despair. Of course, it might be a decade ago now, but nobody has run an article commemorating it, few have even bothered to mention it. We have come so far since, been on the sort of journey football dreams are made of, that it seems almost counterproductive to start looking back with any malice. Yes, those times were shitty, but they’ve gone and like a bad nightmare or uncomfortable sexual encounter, they’re best left forgotten and unmentioned.
Yesterday, a Facebook status popped up on my memories which reads like this – “Not one current Lincoln player would get into a Keith Alexander side. F****** rubbish, even with five loan signings from Tilson. Relegated by March” It piqued my interest somewhat because I couldn’t remember the game, and even after looking it up, it didn’t stick in my mind. I don’t even have any pictures from it in my extensive back catalogue of images provided by Bubs, which underlines how instantly forgettable it was. Still, with no game today, I thought it might be sobering to look back and trying to remember it in context.
The date was January 15th and the Imps had played just two games since November 23rd – a home defeat by Bradford on New Year’s Day and a loss at Northampton a couple of days later. Either side of those matches, on November 27th and January 8th, we had FA Cup games against Hereford, drawing 2-2 and then losing 4-3 at home. For the record, in the same period of time this year, we have played 13 games.
The reason for the lack of action was snow, lots of it. I remember it well, at one stage it was 15″ high at my back door in Newtoft and I didn’t leave the estate for almost two weeks. At the time, I was relieved when games were getting cancelled because I thought it gave Steve Tilson time to build his squad and save us from the drop. The game on November 23rd, the last home game until 2010 turned into 2011, had been a 5-0 thumping at home to Bury. It left us 19th with 19 points, four points off the bottom spot occupied by Hereford, who then put six past us across two FA Cup ties. These were not great days, there’s no wonder few want to remember them.
The game in question on January 15th was against Wycombe, and it was particularly sad because it marked the first Imps home match since the passing of Richard Butcher. His face adorned the front cover of the programme and served as a sobering reality check on the important things in life. Butch had epitomised everything good about Keith’s sides, coming up from non-league and applying himself effectively wherever he went. That was not evident from a Tilson side, even though he had a few decent players.
Six players started who hadn’t appeared against Bury: Paul Green, Moses Swaibu, and Danny Hone, as well as loan signings Julian Kelly, Ashley Grimes and Luke Howell. Only Delroy Facey, Josh O’Keefe, Albert Jarrett and Joe Anyon kept their place, with Gavin McCallum a sub against Bury becoming a starter against Wycombe. In his programme notes, Tilson said ‘We need to get at them and we need to put them on the back foot. If we do, there’s no reason we can’t come away with a positive result.’ Inspiring stuff I’m sure. Wycombe, managed by Gary Waddock, went into the game in third place, whilst we had slipped to 23rd, level on points with Hereford.
Bearing in mind there had only been two games at Sincil Bank since November 23rd, a paltry crowd of 2890 turned out, with 212 from Wycombe. They did see an Imps side get at the visitors early and try to put them on the back foot: Josh O’Keefe hit the post early doors, then Ashley Grimes fired over after going one-on-one with the visiting keeper. It came as no real surprise when we took a 17th-minute lead, Gavin McCallum volleying home Ashley Grimes’ knockdown. Happy days, surely?
Nope. Within minutes Wycombe were level, an Andy Sandell free-kick clipped the Imps’ wall and dropped in front of Anyon, then past him and into the back of the net. Anyon paid the price for that goal (as did we later in the season) as it was to be his last outing for us before we were relegated.
Of course, after that, the visitors took the advantage and the Imps’ confidence was knocked. Marvin McCoy hit the bar from long range, before Moses Swaibu brought down Kevin Betsy to give the Chairboys a penalty. It was a mistake that cost Swaibu too – it was his last performance in a City shirt, full stop. Ben Strevens took the penalty, only for Anyon to palm it clear. Not enough to keep him his spot in the first team though, especially not as two minutes later they went ahead. A Wycombe corner wasn’t cleared and Sandell headed home his second of the game, making it 2-1.
That was on 39 minutes and from that point on City were woeful. The best chance of the second half fell to Albert Jarrett, but he couldn’t test the keeper from three yards out. Like Anyon and Swaibu, he paid the price, only appearing twice more for City before being given a free transfer. Paul Green was forced off injured too, he missed the next month of fixtures, and finally, the biggest cheer of the afternoon came for Gareth Ainsworth, taken off on 83 minutes for the visitors. Elsewhere, to make matters much worse, Hereford thumped ten-man Stockport 3-0 to leave us bottom. We were on 19 points, the game haul we had when Bury arrived at Sincil Bank on November 23rd. yup, ten years ago, we were on our arse.
I do vaguely recall the amusing post-match interview with Julian Kelly, making his debut for us on loan from Reading. He had been on loan at Wycombe the year before as they made the play-offs and after the game, he gave an interview to BBC Radio Lincolnshire, where he dropped an f-bomb live on air. He was only saying what we all felt, every bloody week.
That might be the end of the story, were it not for a remarkable rally in the weeks afterwards. Doubtless, my Facebook memories will show a hypocritical outpouring of joy towards Tilson, because we won the next five games in a row, as many as we’d won since August 28th. Ashley Grimes struck a hattrick away at Stockport to give us a 4-3 win, which highlighted them as relegation candidates. We lost just four of the next 15, taking us to a 1-1 draw with Macclesfield. It looked a little bit like play-off form by the way – following the Macclesfield draw we were just nine points outside the top seven, with games in hand over two of the teams above us.
One point from the next 30 available saw us relegated.
I find it sobering and refreshing to write this piece because it only serves to highlight how well we’re doing now. A good friend of mine once told me that you have to have bad days, otherwise you wouldn’t know what a good day was, and that’s a motto I really like to think about. Seasons like 2010/11 are just as important to remember as 1987/88, or 1975/76, because they act as context and perspective. A journey has a start point and an end point and to realise how far you have come, you have to keep in mind exactly where you’ve been.
No, this doesn’t mean I’ll be revisiting the North Ferriby FA Trophy defeat. Sometimes, context can take a running jump.