There’s been plenty on social media over the last couple of days around our FA Cup run.
It’s been five years now, but it seems like yesterday, with Sincil Bank packed and supporters eager to show what a great fanbase we were. I remember posts laughing at Grimsby as their support tailed away under Marcus Bignot, and we thrived. A couple of years later, they came to the Bank and there was the banner proclaiming they’d forever be in our shadow. Great days, great support. I remember us taking 1,000 to York City and proclaiming we were a massive club, selling out Burnley and needing a screen at the ground… the list of moments where you go ‘we’ve got great fans’ goes on and on.
I do think we have a good fanbase. I think we’re diverse, appealing to families just as much as coaches full of people downing jager at 11 am. We’ve got lifelong supporters who go for a moan, new supporters who have ridden out the slurs of plastic to become as much a part of the club’s fabric as anyone. We’ve kept a good number of home supporters, around 8,000, throughout the Covid pandemic, throughout the change of manager and into challenging financial times. We’re good supporters, not often tainted by the idiotic scenes we saw from Leicester fans at the weekend, or Rotherham supporters. Sure, we have out moments (Sheff Weds away), but it would be fair to say, in the majority, we have a good fanbase, welcoming of other supporters who travel well and keep going to matches.
I think the times that support is tested are the telling ones, and tomorrow night’s game against Morecambe is one of those instances. There are so many reasons not to go to the game. It’s not exactly a ‘sexy’ match, is it? Morecambe are one of the few names in League One you could feel (wrongly) are beneath us as a club. We’re not as big as Charlton, Sunderland, Ipswich or Portsmouth, and we’re on a par with Doncaster, Rotherham and Oxford (or we’d like to think we are), but Morecambe? It’s all a bit ‘League Two’ isn’t it? Of course, that’s not true at all, but when you’re looking down the fixture list on release day, you’re not looking for Morecambe at home.
The current cultural climate isn’t great either; there’s never been a less attractive time to go to football. Some people still fear Covid, others couldn’t give a rats ass about it. The cost of living is going up as well, and with three games in a week, families are going to have to make choices; do we go to all three games, possibly laying out £150 in the process? It’s a nightmare for the club, because Doncaster will draw a decent crowd as it’s local, Wycombe is on a Saturday so is likely to be attractive, but Morecambe, on a Tuesday, with two ‘bigger’ games within eight days? I imagine a lot will be saying no thank you. Actually, Morecambe is a big fixture in terms of history; it’s the team Grant Brown broke Tony Emery’s appearance record against, the team who we hosted in our first home game back in the Football League, and a team who we didn’t turn up against earlier in the season.
“The more support and encouragement we can get for the players, the better the opportunity to get the result that we all want,” said Michael today. That sounds to me like a manager who knows that despite the poor home form, our best chance of getting a result tomorrow comes with a vocal and passionate home support. We used to believe we were a 12th Man, a different edge for teams to face, and we can be; especially against Morecambe. When they travel to teams that we might consider ‘bigger’ than them, they often come out on the wrong side of the result; they’ve lost at Oxford, Plymouth, Sheff Weds, Burton, Wycombe and Gillingham this season. When they go to teams whose ground is likely to be on a par with theirs, or the fanbase roughly the same, they get results (Wimbledon, Fleetwood, Accrington and Burton). In fact, the only game I’d say they’ve got something from at a ground that should be ‘intimidating’ is Crewe. We can’t sing the ball into the net, but we can at least make it a partisan atmosphere. With the greatest of respect, you wouldn’t expect a lot of noise from their supporters, asked to travel three hours, on a Tuesday night, when they only take a couple of hundred or so away on a Saturday.
I’m not trying to demean Morecambe here: I’m merely suggesting that we desperately need three points in a relegation six-pointer, and one element of the game we can control is the support. However, results have been poor at home; there’s no polishing a turd, no sugar-coating a cup of cold sick. Performances have been perceived to be poor, but as Michael explains, we haven’t been bad in some of the games we’ve lost (Accrington and Portsmouth are not included in that). “I hope they stay patient with players,” he said of tomorrow night. “They have to perform and express themselves. There have been some good performances at home, we’ve just not been able to get over the line. The reality is if we do the business in these next five or six games, we know that we’re more than capable of beating sides at the top of the table and that will put us in a really comfortable position. We have to make sure that we pick up points over the next five or six games and make sure we have a strong end to the season.”
I’m not going to say ‘tomorrow proves whether we’re good fans or not’, that’s absurd. What I would say is tomorrow could be more proof of how good our fanbase is, more documentary evidence of the fact we back our team, even when there are three games in a week, even when we’ve lost away and even when the last thing you want to do is go out in the cold and worry for 90 minutes that we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot. Besides, it might be mild tomorrow night, I’m told.
Sure, Burnley, Brighton and MK Dons are great examples of how we support our team in big numbers, but Morecambe at home is one of those games that we’re probably needed more than anything. If you have the inclination, your club needs you tomorrow night.