One year ago, at around 9am in the morning, I rang my Dad to see if he fancied meeting for breakfast at the Corn Dolly in Wragby before the Burton game.
“I can’t Gaz,” was his reply. “We’ll do it in a fortnight.” If only we knew.
Breakfast with my Dad is just one part of the whole matchday experience that I have missed, and one year on, I still haven’t had a bacon, egg and hash brown session with my old man. We’ve chatted, we’ve drunk in my bar and we see each other when we are allowed, but we haven’t ordered a nice fry up and chatted the Imps. I’m sure you all have the same feelings about your routine.
At first, I’ll be honest, I didn’t mind the break. I missed being at the ground, but I’m not one of these hysterical ‘football day is all I’m about’ types. I enjoyed having a Saturday at home in the garden with Fe. I enjoyed not having the pressure of worrying about other team’s results as we dropped down the table. At first, it was perhaps even light relief from a season that had been a challenge at times.
After maybe two weeks, I began to miss the little things. I missed the breakfasts, sure, but also the walk to the ground, just nodding at familiar faces. Being a little conceited, I missed people I knew only by sight coming up and saying something like; “you don’t know me, but I read your site…” before we chatted a bit about the club. I missed people, and for someone who was given an ‘I Hate People’ badge for Christmas, that says a lot. Yes, I don’t like the general public, but I do like the Lincoln City public. There is a difference.
I began to miss standing in our little huddle by the TP Suite with the other armchair managers, discussing tactics and approach, arguing about why one player was better than the other. I miss Jimbo’s nuggets of wisdom, and just being around the other fans. At first, I didn’t entirely miss the football. I sometimes don’t like the actual games, because I’m so emotionally invested in them, and knowing relegation was still possible had meant I hadn’t really enjoyed a game of football at the Bank for a while, not for 90 minutes.
After all, football is everywhere, isn’t it? We got a chance in those first few months to relive classic matches, to enjoy some of our previous achievements and it distracted from the uncertainty of our future direction. I could play FIFA for a football fix, or turn to the internet to talk football. I had grown a little apathetic towards our future prospects, genuinely settling into a ‘fifth from bottom will do’ mindset over the summer. It is fair to say by the time August arrived, my feelings of detachment were about the experience, not the football itself. Yes, I missed Gav, Stan, Matt and the others who sit around me, I missed the half time scrum for the toilet, Alan’s ‘make some noise for the boys’, but part of me hadn’t missed the actual games. Maybe, because I talk and write so much about them, I still felt connected to the action. Maybe I had just made myself believe we were heading in the wrong direction and any delay to the comments of ‘wheels have come off’ was some sort of relief.
The first time I felt a desperate longing for an actual game was as late as Forest Green in the FA Cup. We ran some video clips on Match Day Live of the previous games against them, and the FA Cup matches, and hearing that roar as a goal went in just got me. Off-camera, I felt a little emotional as I realised, I did miss the football, I did miss the ecstasy of a goal going in. I don’t mean just the big ones either, I miss celebrating pulling one back in a dire game we still end up losing as much as I do the third in a rout of a relegation-haunted side.
Since then, the longing for a return has built inside me. I was lucky enough to attend the Liverpool game, but it wasn’t the football experience I know and love. What I longed for was everything, from breakfast to the bar, from checking team news on Twitter to hearing it read out against a backdrop of signing before kick-off. I miss questioning the referee’s parentage when he gives a foul against us that was totally justified, only to sit down a second later knowing I was wrong. I miss that simmering excitement as we get down the wing into the attacking third, that expectation of something happening which, 90% of the time, it doesn’t.
Most of all, I miss that moment the net ripples and whatever happened in your week up to that point just goes away. Whether 1-0 up, 2-1 down or drawing 6-6, when a goal goes in it fires something, like turning a key in an engine or lighting a firework. Emotion, desire, passion, whatever it is, you don’t get in watching iFollow. Sure, you cheer and you feel happy, but is it the same? Cheering in your living room with a dog looking bemused from the corner? Does that really compare with 8,000 other people all in a stadium feeling exactly the same as you? All different ages, sexes, religions, professions and personalities united in that split second because a goal is scored? No. Nothing compares to that. Only that shared delight can erase memories of a bad week at work, a dying relationship, a dodgy ankle or whatever else has dogged your thoughts for seven days prior.
So, that is where I am now. I miss it all, from the minute I open my eyes, knowing Fe will walk the dog because I have to meet Dad for breakfast, right through to the moment I step back through the door at night to an excited pooch with an article to write, a programme to toss on the pile and either a win to celebrate or sorrows to drown. Yes, we still have some elements of that experience, and yes, Michael’s wonderful squad have done their best to ensure our season has been better than that of many other teams, but it still isn’t the same.
365 days ago, it all felt very routine, expected and (perhaps) taken for granted. Right now, as we look forward to another game on iFollow on Tuesday, it feels anything but.
Here’s to finally getting back to where we belong, cheering those goals, sharing the agony and the joy together. Here’s to moaning that people are heading in the exit of the Coop toilets, here’s to having the cap taken off your bottle of pop. Here’s to Jimbo, the crew by the TP bins, people whose face I recognise and to the programme sellers to.
Most of all, here’s to my next Corn Dolly breakfast with my Dad.