We’re Off Down Wembley Way

My Grandad never saw the Imps at Wembley. My Dad had to almost retire before he got a chance and yet here I am, going twice in three years.

Like everyone in the ballot, I got the news today that my application for tickets had been successful and I shall be heading off to a third play-off final with Lincoln City. It will hopefully be third time lucky for us, and third time lucky for Michael, who has also lost twice there as a manager. I guess, whatever happens, we’re going there knowing that we’ll compete, as we did in 2005, and that we have as much chance as Blackpool of playing Championship football next season.

I feel a little happier about ticketing than I did yesterday because nobody eligible for the ballot has missed out and a few others might also get to go. It’s been a tough week for me down here on holiday, I’ve felt a bit isolated from the excitement and I confess, I felt very apathetic about going to Wembley. At one stage, I was even close to pulling out of the ballot, for no real reason. This huge occasion shouldn’t feel negative and until that announcement by the club, there was too much negativity and distrust around it all for me. Who might go, who might miss out and all of that just gets tiresome and after being there for Sunderland last week, I felt that maybe I’d step aside and just watch at home. I’m glad I wasn’t a petulant child about it, I’m glad I kept myself in, even if it looks like I’ll be driving back from Cornwall one day and then down to London the next.

Between now and then, the excitement can finally begin to build. For me, this was how 2003 felt. I was away then too, at a place with no mobile signal, and I panicked over tickets and my attendance at the Millennium Stadium. Here we are, 18 years in the future, and it has all felt very similar indeed. Funny, isn’t it, how fate plays a hand in proceedings? History feels like it has repeated itself a little, and yet history means nothing when we face Blackpool this weekend.

Credit Graham Burrell

Am I confident? Not really, no. I’m not unconfident, I’m just sat in the middle, acknowledging their strengths, understanding that maybe Lincoln fans underestimate our own players over those of our rivals. I think our second-half performance against Sunderland, and the first leg outing, showed we’re a danger, but there were also concerns. My hope is Joe Walsh plays at the back and that Conor McGrandles is given the nod. Yes, we want to go and win the game, but look how that worked against Sunderland at the SoL, at least for the first 45 minutes. No, in my opinion, we go with what I consider to be the strongest XI, keep the game tight and controlled and look to Johnson, Rogers and Hopper to provide us with a lead to defend.

Whatever happens, I shall be there and I am grateful for that. If this was a normal game, City would take 20,000 or more, I’ve no doubt at all. This is a club and a city revitalised, brought together by a remarkable story that at present, shows no signs of slowing. Of course, on the opposite side of the pitch will be a similar story, an Oyston-free Blackpool run by a fan and on the up. It’s almost poetic that two clubs so in sync with their supporters should be facing off against each other, and it is a crying shame that both teams cannot go up. They can’t though, one can and I hope with every inch of my being it is us.

In 2003, we went to the final for the day out. In 2005, we went to the final contenders, but failed to deliver. In both of those finals, we were competing for the privilege of simply performing in the Third Tier. In a few days time, we go as equals, arguably the team who perhaps deserved to go up based on how long we topped the table. We go well prepared and full of hope: hope of a victory and a history-changing promotion that could bring second tier football back to Lincoln for the first time in a lifetime.

I’m just thankful I get to go at all, but rest assured, I am not going for the day out. I did that in the play-offs in 2003, and I did it at Wembley in 2018. This time, I go with genuine hope and maybe even genuine belief.

Up The Imps.