I was going to drop this article on Friday, when the anticipation had really begun to build.
Instead, I realise many might find Friday too late to convince their other half, kids or mates, that a trip to Sincil Bank is in order. With tickets now being released in the Stacey West, I thought it was as good a time as any to put something out.
I know I was lucky enough to go back to the ground last season, watching the Sunderland game from the Stacey West, but something was missing. Not just around 6,500 fans, but the essence of a football day was missing. There was no hype on the High Street, the pubs were stagnant and too regimented and around the ground, it was like being on a conveyor belt, in and out. That was nobody’s fault, but this weekend will be different.
This weekend, it will be normal for the first time in almost 18 months.
We all have things that we’ve missed about a matchday. Doubtless, some have missed heading into town before the game for bevvies at 11 am. Some will have missed picking up their Mum or Dad, or that excited look on their kid’s face as they pull on the red and white stripes. From the moment you wake up, football day is a bit different, especially at home. I know many of you went to Gillingham (I didn’t something I have to answer for on social media, apparently), but that’s different. For me, an away day is a one-off, a different town and regime, whereas a home game is about ritual, it’s about familiarity and belonging.
Where will it start for you? I’ll get up and not have to walk the dog, the only day I don’t have to have my daily battle of the wills with the world’s most stubborn, exercise-shy mongrel. I’ll be in Wragby for ten I think, meeting my old man in The Corn Dolly for a Full English. Hell, I even know what I’ll order (big breakfast plus a side of hash browns, tea, white toast, please). We’ll then head into town, along the new bypass for the first-ever matchday, and most likely park north of Pelham Bridge somewhere.
After that, nothing will be routine about the day. Normally, we’d go in one of the High Street pubs for a few drinks, but I think going to the ground early will be a real treat. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of my football friends in the flesh, the likes of Sam, Ben, Chris and Bubs, but there are many I haven’t. Sometimes, when the day is a bit busy, I skip the fan zone and head straight into the ground, but not Saturday. No, this will be like a homecoming, and I can’t begin to imagine exactly how it will feel. Not having football has been odd, watching on iFollow was good from an analysis point of view, it allowed me to see every game, every kick, but being in the ground and around people is different. I don’t do a lot of social media interaction because many people’s opinions are of little value to me (that’s not arrogant, but there’s a lot of ill-informed chuff on there), but I do like to talk to those at the ground who I respect. Oddly, I’m thinking of people who I don’t see anywhere else, people who are just there, the usual crowd, discussing the same thing as me: the Imps.
I imagine I’ll want to head into the ground around 2.30 pm, and that’s where it might get emotional. I saw a Facebook memory of mine from 2015, one of my first games back in the stands after finishing as Poacher. I took a photo of the walk up the steps into the Coop Stand, and even now I can imagine that walk. At first, nothing but concrete steps and yellow paint, but slowly that wonderful setting emerges at the end of the tunnel. This time, it won’t be a sparsely populated, socially distanced crowd either, it will (hopefully) be 10,000 Lincoln City fans making a wall of noise.
That’s when it might get hard to fight back a little tear.
I can imagine the noise, I can picture the fans, but I’m not sure I’m quite prepared for the actual feeling of it being real, rather than in my head. Does that make sense? After 18 months, abstinence seems like normality, and yet it isn’t, normality is right there, within touching distance, so close I can almost feel it, almost taste it. Close your eyes (at the end of the sentence) and picture your walk to your seat. What will you notice most?
Once the game gets underway, things will doubtless feel normal very quickly, and my life will be better for it. We’ll come away from the ground knowing we have four days before we go again, the first night match since we drew 1-1 with MK Dons, and that will be another spectacle entirely. I think going to football again will be like riding a bike, it seems daunting the first time you do it again, but once you get there it’s like you’ve never been away. I have another analogy too, one directly from the mouth of those who have suffered from substance abuse issues – bear with me on this.
A drug addict will often tell you nothing can ever compare to their first hit of something: their first ecstasy pill or their first line of coke. That’s why some become addicted, or even overdose, because they constantly chase that elusive first high. Well, I’ve always said football is a drug, and this weekend will be like a first hit, all over again. I’ve often dreamed of being able to go back to my first match and experience things for the first time. If it were my first match, I’d love to smell the tobacco smoke again, the feel of the granite wall at the front of the Railway End on my chin, the comforting presence of my Dad, swearing angrily at nobody in particular behind me. I can’t quite get that back, but Saturday will be like the first hit of sorts. I can relive seeing the pristine Sincil Bank pitch appear at the top of the stairs, sprinklers working overtime. I can smell the slight whiff of whiskey from the guy near me with his hip flask as he gently takes a swig. Most importantly, I’ll have the comforting presence of my Dad, swearing angrily at nobody in particular behind me.
God god, I’ve missed Sincil Bank.
If this has convinced you that you need to be a part of this one-off return, a spectacle like no other, be sure to pick up tickets for the Stacey West on the club’s official site.