Spring is here and when the morning sun rises at this time of year, it beams through my bedroom window like a gentle, soothing alarm clock.
The morning chorus out here is glorious (a little too early), but today of course it needed to be. Lincoln City kick off at 12.30 and it is a game that may well reflect the bright spring morning as much as anything. You see, this spring is indeed full of growth, rebirth and evolution, and much of the Imps’ whole season has been. A step outside reminds you there is still a chill in the air though, there are still those harsh reminders of a rather dismal late winter run.
On April 8th, 2017 I painted a shed in my garden, shorts and a t-shirt at best, listening to the Imps play Eastleigh. That was early spring and there was warmth in the air, and it is a weekend I’ll never forget because it handed us the advantage over Tranmere. Sure, they won 9-0 against Sutton, but so what? The Imps were on a roll. This afternoon, once the games have finished and the paint tin is out for another session of splashing around, this time on The Staying Inn, I hope to feel just as enlivened and optimistic about the better days around the corner.
Usually, when one references ‘better days’, it means those we are living in are not great, but aside from our recent wobble, they are. When I painted the other shed back in 2017, we’d played Nantwich in the FA Trophy, been to Boreham Wood more than any professional team should ever have to and, of course, twice been beaten by Barrow. We wanted better days because, despite being top of the table, we had recently experienced our nadir, the worst of times to be a Lincoln fan. At least in the 60s, when we dropped out of sight like Stefan Payne off Grimsby‘s teamsheet, we had the safety net of reelection. Our friends would see us right, even if we were shit. There was none of that in 2011 when we came down, so the better days we dreamed of really were on the back of some bad ones.
How can a Lincoln fan truly talk of better days after the five years we have had? When Danny Cowley left the club we could have teetered over the edge, or failed to make the jump to League One at all. Remember, Darrell Clarke took today’s opponents from the National League into League One, and yet today, they face a dire a desperate need for three points. If we do not win at Bristol Rovers, in what would be our first victory there in 19 years, the world will not end. If they do not win, in what would be their fifth home win of 2021, then hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Barrow they go. Again.
I’ve woken up feeling energised and alive. What is it Jack Mulhall tweets every week? He’s got that Michael Appleton matchday feeling? Well, I do too and I slept in a bed a good 25 miles from Jack’s. I feel empowered, excited and optimistic. Not in an arrogant way, Bristol Rovers won’t roll over and they’re not whipping boys, but I feel it in a ‘good to be alive’ day. All across the country, teams need wins to stay in divisions. Fans are waking up hating managers, loathing chairman and staring their own nadir in the face and yet here we are, up and alive. Sure, it’s been a tough few months, but not as tough as the Cods, who look likely to go down in League Two. Not as tough as Colchester who were sixth in December and have disappeared like Alan Judge from the Ipswich Town first-team squad. We’re not Ipswich, Charlton, Sunderland or Portsmouth all of whom feel they should be higher than this division and all of whom could find themselves here next season anyway. We’re not Swindon, with a chairman so evasive and divisive he may as well work for the government handing out NHS contracts to his sister. We’re none of those, we’re Lincoln City, a well-run side with good players, almost all of whom are contracted for next season.
When you glance down today’s fixtures, you might even notice that a point wouldn’t be bad, because we know others will drop them. Oxford and Gillingham play today, if they draw and we do it’s a step closer. Sure, if one wins they would catch us up, but the other would be nudged further out of the promotion race. The same applies to Ipswich and Charlton, both desperately needing points to salvage any late, lingering hopes of a play-off spot. Defeat, for either, would be massively damaging. A draw, and we’re one step closer. Then you look at Blackpool and Sunderland. The former a side who should have beaten us, but didn’t, whilst the latter are a team going through a defensive injury crisis and a possible loss of form at the wrong time. Was it Grant McCann who said a few months ago, Lincoln hadn’t had their blip? Well, today we find out if we are still having it, or have had it.
I feel positive about my football club. In those dark hours after defeat against Rochdale, it isn’t easy, but with the beaming sunshine bouncing off the fields of yellow around the house, it is hard not to wake up happy every day. It’s the fifth year in a row we’ve entered the final few games with something to play for, and even though last season was transitional, it was still exciting. However, whatever we have played for, we’ve been in safe hands in terms of ownership and management for five years now. We might misplace a pass or two today. The team Micahel picks might not please you, we might be one or two short through injury, but let me tell you this: there are a good 44 teams below us in the EFL, all of whom would swap places, and some of their fans might even give a limb to have the setup, squad and management we have. There might even be a few above us, in the Championship, who would love to have our board, some of our players and even our manager.
Only people who recognise when they’re lucky can truly be described as happy. A game of football draws criticism and when we lose there are those of you who like to call out ‘rubbish’, or pick faults (as I do at times), but the fact is we are blessed as fans right now and we will be, whatever today’s result. Because, when those blasted birds wake me up at 4am tomorrow with their rendition of nothing other than noise, we’ll still be in the solid, robust shape we are right now, and the long summer stretches out in front of us full of unknown joy (that’s literal, and metaphorical, for those who didn’t know).