Nothing is won or lost at half time of a play-off tie. Wembley is 90 minutes closer than it was before this game, but anything can happen in 90 minutes.
I am going to write about the match tomorrow – I’m hoarse at the moment and have only just got in from the game, but I felt like this result needed something before I even talk about football. It isn’t so much the scoreline that has left me ecstatic, but the whole evening from start to finish.
It felt like a little slice of normality, or as close to it as you can get. I went in a pub with my Dad, ended up buying the drinks (some things never change) and we bickered about players. My mate Matt joined us and we chatted, as friends, like you used to back in the good old days before Covid. On the walk to the ground, I saw Ben (Grundy, not Ward), a mate I’ve not seen for a good 18 months, maybe even longer. It was, too all extent and purposes, normal.
Getting in the ground was a doddle, friendly staff eager to help were on hand to make it as smooth as possible. Even seeing Sam Kendall as I went in, teary-eyed as the players had just come out to a huge applause for the warm-up, was special. It felt like I’d never been away, but it also felt new and exciting. I’m not sure I’ve ever studied Sincil Bank quite as hard, the smells and sounds going on all around. I guess sometimes, in the middle of a season like 2019/20, it is easy to miss some of those little things. Yes, you see the same faces week after week, but when they’re not there you miss them. Yes, even Jimbo, who managed to ask me if I wanted to go halves on a box for Wembley if we got there. “How much will they be Jimbo?” I asked, to be greeted with “Dunno, twenty grand?”. Yeah, I’ll give that a miss mate, cheers though.
3145. That was the official attendance and I did worry that it might be hard to get chants going with so few peppered around the place. I know from sitting in Coop block 3 that at times, it can be hard to carry a song that has started four blocks along. Sitting in block six of the Stacey West, almost in front of the corner flag in the St Andrews corner of the ground, felt like being quite a way from the noise, but very quickly it became evident there was a desire for everyone to sing and chant. At numerous times throughout the game, I saw the library clapping and singing, meaning the noise was around the whole ground. I’d say it was spine-tingling but do you know what? It wasn’t. It was just like normality. I didn’t feel teary, emotional or anything, I just felt at home. We were back, or at least some of us were. That guilt I felt before the game wasn’t there though, the first chant did clear me to enjoy the game.
Enjoy the game I did, although my mask kept slipping off my runny, hay-fever ridden nose, which was nice. Still, it was a small sacrifice to be right there, on hand to call Lee Johnson a p**** when he remonstrated with the assistant, to ask McGeady if he was famous once when he came to take a corner. It was so nice to actually know Tayo Edun heard me when I shouted ‘well in Tayo’, rather than doing it at the TV every week for my own benefit and nobody else’s. It was also great to see some of the stuff iFollow and television doesn’t show you – Liam Bridcutt conducting everything like a puppetmaster, even when the ball is nowhere near. That man coaches everyone, all of the time. I’ll write about the game tomorrow, but seeing it in the flesh is so different to television. I’m genuinely sorry if you missed out and I do hope this doesn’t feel like a gloating piece, but I have to get something out.
We were back. I was back. Football is very much a community thing, but it is a personal experience too and I just felt real contentment at having a burger with my Dad in the pub, seeing some old faces and talking football, even if a few were tough to hear through masks. Some of the group who sit around us, such as Gav, came over for a chat too and we spoke about next season, in our seats and what that might be like. It just felt normal.
Of course, there’s nothing normal about beating Sunderland 2-0 in a League One play-off sem-final, not for Lincoln City. Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is the norm for us now. If it is, I just can’t wait for it to be shared with everyone, or at least as many as we can get in the ground.
Finally, hats off to the stewards, staff and everyone at the club for doing what they could under tough circumstances. They wouldn’t want fans in the ground with masks, and it was ludicrous when I’d spent almost two hours in the pub without one, but any direction that they needed to give was respectful and handled correctly.
I do hope I never have to experience a game like that again, but on the other hand, it is exactly what I want to see on the pitch, and what I want to feel off it, every week. That’s why we’re football fans, for big games, big wins and deep, deep passion. Up the Imps.