Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a sponsor’s event at Sincil Bank, with my Dad and nephew Isaac.
Over the last few years, The Stacey West has been a sponsor of a player. We were able to pay for Danny Rowe in 2017/18, and for a few years, an overseas couple has sponsored a player, and our name has accompanied the sponsorship, as they wished to remain anonymous. That meant that for the last three seasons, I’ve been able to attend the event organised by the club where player sponsors meet the players.
The event has always been interesting. A couple of seasons ago, it was held pitchside, with the players on one side of the advertising hoardings and the sponsors on the other. It was enjoyable enough, but on that occasion, I did get a sense from one or two that it wasn’t a great camp. It was Chris Maguire’s first introduction to supporters, and he basically said Lincoln was crap with nothing to do, and some of the other players stood in their little cliques and only signed something when the likes of Cohen Bramall, a cracking lad, took a shirt to them. I’m not saying there were necessarily bad eggs in there (other than the obvious), but I came away questioning one or two of the players. For instance, Lewis Fiorini was a great lad, but he was stood on his own for much of the event, making an effort where a couple of others did not.
Last season, the event was up in the SRP 200 Club for the first time and was much more enjoyable. There was clearly pressure off some players, and certain ones were really chatty. I’d gone to the event last season unsure of how we were progressing, and one or two players put me at ease. Tom Hopper and Anthony Scully, in particular, made me hopeful for the season, and they were players who ended up playing minor roles.
Yesterday, I wanted two things out of the day. I wanted Isaac to meet some players, and I wanted to get a feel for the group myself. Would they stay in their groups, chatting amongst themselves? How would they respond to sponsors? Nobody would be rude, they rarely are, but I came away hugely enthused.
“They’ve got great banter between them,” was what Isaac observed, and he was not wrong. I asked some of the players to record themselves saying ‘I’m xxxx and you’re listening to The Stacey West Podcast”, which created lots of joking around. It was interesting to watch the dynamic; Reeco Hackett ribbing TJ Eyoma, Danny Mandroiu and Ethan Erhahon jibing at each other. Sean Roughan was taking it so seriously that he went almost outside to avoid the players giving him stick. It felt like being amongst a tight group of friends willing to rip each other to shreds, making them stronger. I’m sure you and your mates do it – I do. Along with my mates Dave, Matt and Dayle, we are always on at each other, and yet the four of us would always defend each other if someone else had a pop.
It was nice to see Lewis Montsma at the event. I don’t know why it should have been a surprise, and the injury is clearly going to take time to get over, but he looked chilled amongst the group. All the players had time to chat to different supporters beyond signing items, and they all felt approachable. Last season, for the first ten minutes or so, it was difficult to interact, but yesterday it seemed much more relaxed (not that last year was bad at all).
I did want to mention four players, although every single one of them was great. Firstly, Ben House was the last to go – some of the sponsors had even left before him. He stood in a corner chatting away, and even our group left before he did. There’s something about Ben that’s really endearing, not just a willingness to engage and chat, but even in his demeanour, just a sense of a down-to-earth guy. It was one of the first times I’ve been able to chat with him, and he impressed me.
I’m a fanboy – when I see a Lincoln City player, I may as well see Liam Gallagher or Robert de Niro; that’s the level to me. My favourite players were always those who wore red and white, and even now, two decades older than many of them, I still feel it. I still got a little nervous approaching the players, but there was something about Ben House that was just humble, even in his body language, that made him easy to chat to.
Adam Jackson is another guy who I have a huge amount of time for. This year, I took up a lot of Jacko’s time, and I forgot I was talking to a player I cheer on every week. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, and he came to the Priory event we did last year, and he’s a massive credit to the football club. It would be remiss of me to write about our conversation too much, but when he says things like ‘there are no bad eggs in the group,’ you know it’s not just parrotted lines that players spout all the time. He’s a genuine guy, someone who is really relatable. I know he has a young family, like Ben House; maybe it’s fatherhood. Sadly, I wouldn’t know.
I wanted to mention Lasse. Look, I’m not picking players out here because any of the others weren’t top lads, they all are, and I’m genuine when I say that. I didn’t say the same two years ago, but I firmly believe this is the most likeable group we’ve had in a long while. There’s always been one or two who are harder to reach, I found that when interviewing them, but not in this group. However, when it comes to likeability, Lasse is right up there with the most likeable players I have ever spoken to. In terms of his personality, there’s something infectious about his persona, something almost innocent in the way he interacts. I think you all know that I think it comes across in interviews and media appearances, but he’s just the same when you’re face to face. He took time to chat to Isaac about a couple of bits, and even as we left he drove past, waving out of the window like your mate might when he’s leaving your house. I said last year there’s no player who I wanted to succeed as much as Lasse and it’s beyond heartwarming to see how well he’s doing now.
Finally, the captain, Paudie. He opened the proceedings, he’s the one who does a little thank you before getting started. As soon as he had, he came across and said hello, and he was clearly leading by example, as he does on the field. Tom Hopper was the same last season, but this time I had Isaac with me, and Paudie was asking him loads of questions. It was a great start to the event, but I’ve left it until last because I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact. When Paudie signed I knew we’d got a good player, but not that we’d got a great person. He put Isaac at ease, and my Dad even decided to meet a couple of the players after Paudie kicked us off. Dad wouldn’t admit it, but I think he gets a little starstruck too, and Paudie put paid to that nice and early.
Football is very tribal. Those outside of the game always question why we refer to our club as ‘we’ – ‘we’re away this week’ or ‘we looked good against Notts County‘. After all, the club does not pay us, we’re not volunteers there (or most of us aren’t). There’s no official connection other than the tribal instinct to follow our teams like our dad did or, hopefully, like our cool Uncle Gary does.
Sometimes, I’ve looked at some players and felt that they don’t get it. Sometimes, I have felt it’s ‘we’ for some and ‘them’ for others. Tomorrow, as we watch the players emerge for the first home game of the season, I’ll truly feel that we are a ‘we‘. Paudie O’Connor is my captain, our captain. I’ll feel a connection to those players, all of them; I’ll feel that ‘we‘ and I know that they get it as well.
We might not win the league. We might not be promoted. Hell, we might even struggle, but I have no doubt that whatever happens, it will not be because of poor attitude or a lack of togetherness, and on the eve of the first home game of the season, that is a massive comfort.
Up the Imps.