Always The Bridesmaid: Blackpool 2-1 Imps

I don’t want to write the game up yesterday, but I have to.

I write up every game, sometimes a little reluctantly, but very rarely with every sinew of my body not wanting to. That’s how I feel right now. If I were to describe it in any way, I feel a bit like a junkie who has just had too much – yesterday I didn’t get the excitement or the nerves, the high wasn’t there, but the lows are as bad as ever. If you are a junkie (which I hope you’re not), that is the time to stop. I won’t stop supporting this club, ever, but right now I do feel like I’m on a massive comedown without having had the pay-off.

Of course, I have had the pay-off, when we beat Portsmouth, Sunderland and even Blackpool earlier in the season. Over 46 matches I’ve seen a new, rejuvenated Lincoln City doing things we only dreamed of, not just five years ago, but ten, 15, 20 and right back as far as I can remember. It has been the best season since I started attending matches and that is the pay-off, isn’t it? That should be the focus, not what I can only describe as a rubbish day at Wembley.

It was rubbish too, I’m sorry for those who didn’t go and couldn’t enjoy it, but it was. The journey in was crap, I had a Burger King which was stale and gave me indigestion, which was the start of a terrible experience. There was some poor lad killed on a motorcycle on the North Circular, and he lay dying as we drove past. People were desperately trying to save his life, with a crowd of morbid pedestrians watching every moment, but those battling to save him were doing so in vain. We didn’t know that at the time, but it put much into perspective later in the day. When we got parked up, pubs wouldn’t admit us, nobody around the ground seemed to know where Lincoln fans should be and when we did get to Wembley way, the lack of supporters made it feel like two village teams coming together in the FA Vase final. That might even be detrimental to the FA Vase, because I’m sure that game would have more than a paltry 9,700 there.

Free Guinness on Wembley Way

Seeing the likes of Terry Hibberd before the game did perk me up. You might know Terry as the former Media Manager at the club, who left the role in December. He is a lovely bloke and I was personally gutted when he left the club as he started out like me, writing a fan blog for Sheffield Wednesday, before getting a job in football. We were both eager to meet up and doing so did add enjoyment to those early hours. The same goes for Bubs, Ben, Rick and a host of other faces I’ve not seen for months, even a full year or more. It was normality, to a degree, or at least it had the veneer of normality until you lifted up and looked underneath.

Underneath it was ‘Football Lite’, a version of the game and experience we love with a few features cut down. Inside Wembley was muted, stifled if you like. Getting in was no problem, but as soon as you did it was ‘mask up’, and I find that ridiculous. It’s nobody’s fault, but how can I sit in a pub with my mask off, but be forced to sit in open-air stands with my mask across my face? It didn’t help I forgot my usual mask, a neck-gaiter and had to wear one kindly supplied by my mate Matt. It covered half my beard, but whenever I exhaled my sunglasses steamed up – prescription sunglasses without which I can’t properly see the game. When I did pull my mask down to get a decent view a steward told me off – rightly so, it’s his job, but there was nobody doing that at the Brit Awards, was there? I spent 90 minutes adjusting the mask, wiping my glasses and getting increasingly hacked off.

Credit Graham Burrell

Around the ground, City fans stuck to the rules, remained distanced and the stewards at our end certainly jumped on those who did not, but at the other end of the ground there appeared to be no problem with large groups congregating together, and that did affect the atmosphere. Blackpool had two big groups singing, whilst we had one, behind me, of around 100, whilst everyone else remained where they were meant to be. It did make them louder than us and I’m not blaming their fans for doing what they did, nor the stewards in our end for stopping it, but it just made the day more rubbish than it was. It felt like there was an imbalance, and I don’t know why it was. Should we just have been more forceful in telling stewards to get lost? How did Blackpool achieve that and we did not? These are questions that will never be answered and probably not even asked after this article is finished.

After the game (yes, I’ve skipped the game for now), we got stuck in traffic for almost two hours thanks to that accident and ended up on a tour of the less than salubrious parts of Wembley, the St Raphael’s Estate, Ikea and then eventually, thanks to a mix up between myself and my navigator, a Wembley car park. We eventually had to take the M4 out to the M25 and come right back around, all thoroughly annoyed, tired, thirsty and down in the dumps. Then, on the way home, Matt scrolled social media and found lots of angry fans at home blaming those at the ground for not making enough noise. Madness, utter madness. That’s like accusing Michael of not being animated enough because Sky showed three shots of him looking pensive, but nothing after that.

Our last trip to Wembley was loud, exciting and even though it rained, it felt like a celebration. Yesterday did not, at all, and I’ll be honest, I feel empty and cheated. It’s not the club’s fault, nor Blackpool’s, but the situation as a whole isn’t one I think I’ll look back on fondly. Of course, it would all be very different had we won the actual game, which I guess I’ll discuss a little further. It’s my duty, I suppose.