Goodnight, Mister Tom

Credit Graham Burrell

It’s official – after three years at the club, Tom Hopper has pulled on the red and white for the final time.

As reported here yesterday, our captain and number nine is leaving for Colchester United three years after joining us from Southend. The move comes on a day that has also seen Charley Kendall leave the club on loan, which will doubtless set a few nerves jangling. Right now, don’t be concerned; the club are sure to be confident of an incoming player and only IF we get to Tuesday and nobody is here should we panic or begin to question. I’d personally be braced for Freddie Draper to also head out on loan because right now, he’s not getting game time, but there’s talent there, and we need him to have some senior football at a decent level. Maybe, if him and Kendall are both out for four months and do well, we won’t be worried about a striker coming in during the next transfer window. Maybe. We signed three strikers last January, and yet here we are. Again.

For now, we should raise a glass to Tom for his efforts in a Lincoln shirt. He divided the fan base in the same way as John Akinde did, as a striker who didn’t score many goals. It would be hard to say too much about his first few months at the club, beset by problems such as Covid, the early finish to the season and high squad turnover. However, from the get-go in 2020/21, he proved to be a huge asset to the club, playing very much as a false nine, which saw him all over the field, but often not the fox in the box fans wanted. That said, his work rate undoubtedly helped with our surge to the top of the table, and it’s no coincidence we looked a far less threatening force when he picked up an injury.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Tom returned to give us perhaps the most memorable week of Imps action post-DC. His goal against Sunderland in the first leg of the play-off semi-final was an emotional moment, but his strike at their place in the second leg was the stuff of dreams. We went from being on the verge of defeat to victory (winning on aggregate), and it was a genuine moment of utter joy. For that, I will be forever thankful.

However, it’s been suggested that Tom was carrying an injury even then, which he certainly brought into last season. By his own admission, he wasn’t competitive last year, struggling for goals and not looking as impactful as he has had the season before. He fought through 22 outings, registering his first home league goal in the season’s final game. Many predicted an exit when the new manager came in, but Tom was named captain instead.

Credit Graham Burrell

That almost certainly backfired. Mark Kennedy has said (apparently, I missed it) we missed out on a striker in the summer because they felt they wouldn’t play enough games with Tom named as captain, and then Tom got injured again. Just when we needed the other striker, we didn’t have him, and the burden for goals fell on the shoulders of Ben House. He picked up the chalice relatively well, and he’s been a shining light in a team that creates fewer chances than most. When Tom returned to fitness, Ben was still the first choice, and when Ben was out, we looked a weaker side for it.

That really spelt the end for Tom, who was approaching the end of his deal and was unlikely to get another. Given he now has a young family, there was also a suggestion he wanted to be back down south and closer to his wife’s family, which makes Colchester a thoroughly good option.

Credit Graham Burrell

Tom Hopper is a nice person and committed footballer who (like many over the last few seasons) saw his Lincoln City career blighted by injury at key moments. Who knows what might have happened had he not gotten injured in the latter stages of the 20/21 season? Who knows what might have been had he gone into the following season and been able to turn in 40+ matches? Sadly, we’ll never know because it didn’t happen.

However, we’ll always have those play-off goals against Sunderland, and for that, I’ll always have a bit of love in my heart for Tom Hopper. Best of luck in the future, Tom.