Andrew Abbott's Blog

Monday, 30 January 2017

The romance of the cup. Provided you’re Manchester United.

Word reaches me that the BBC, who were scheduled to show Man U’s fourth round tie verses Wigan, applied to the FA to screen the Lincoln City v Brighton game instead. The FA turned it down thus depriving the nation of seeing a genuine FA Cup story in favour of seeing possibly the most televised club stroll into the fifth round.

More importantly it deprived City of further revenue and TV exposure. Why help along a struggling club in a football backwater when you can further enrich one of, if not the wealthiest clubs in the world?

Furthermore, the FA can hardly accuse the big clubs of not taking the competition seriously or following the money when they do that. Who's following the money now?

Anyway, rant over, to the game and this was the romance of the cup made flesh as City got to grips with, for me, a very fluid and slick Brighton side who looked anything but once they’d shot themselves in the foot with a foolhardy foul in the box followed by one of the daftest own goals you’ll ever see. This allowed the Imps to haul themselves ahead and once ahead, even with eight minutes of injury time were never going to let the prize of a place in tonight’s draw slip.

As I was at the last occasion City were in the fourth round, away to West Bromwich Albion, I’m able to make a comparison. Albion were a very good side, like Brighton destined for what was then the First Division. Managed by Johnny Giles they did indeed gain promotion and were deserved winners although it was a close run thing. Brighton are a very good side, I’ll grant them that but I think WBA were better.

Of course in those days the top clubs took the FA Cup seriously and I don’t remember anyone putting out a weakened side. Coming up to date what is a weakened side? Brighton put out a team of championship standard players, just as City fielded our own fringe players in the last round of the FA Trophy but they were still championship standard players against us as ours were still national league players in the Trophy.

I’m not sure City looked like National League standard players, particularly in the second half of the cup game though. I may be looking through rose tinted glasses but I thought if you’d been transported to the game and didn’t know what you were watching you’d think it was a championship game rather than honest toilers versus the aristocrats. I can’t praise our players any higher than that.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Imps in the community.

After the reality check that was Barrow, City must now put themselves to the test once again in the FA Cup and this certainly will be a test. I want to mention firstly though a gesture from the club that wasn’t greatly publicised and that was the subsidy the club made towards travel to Barrow meaning that fans wishing to travel on the official coaches paid just £5. More of that please.

The FA Cup has caused some angst amongst the fans or at least the sale and allocation of tickets has. The club got some grief last time when they allowed ten tickets per person once they went on general release. This time they were more modest although a voucher system rather complicated things. I wouldn’t criticise the club for a moment for maximising the potential of league games by offering a voucher for a popular forthcoming match along with a match ticket. I did think they slightly shot themselves in the foot in the sale of Dover tickets by announcing at about 4.30pm on the Friday that cash sales would not be allowed for the Software Europe and COOP stands giving the impression that these were virtually sold out. In the event there was plenty of room, certainly in the COOP stand.

I would imagine the problem was there had been a certain number of Bob’s Bakers Dozen and Six-Pack tickets sold, even more so when these tickets were deemed to give priority for a Brighton ticket and the club, not knowing how many holders of these tickets would turn up on Friday, had to make allowance for all the holders to arrive at once. The sensible course would have been to announce that those multiple tickets must be handed over for an actual match ticket in advance and then the club would have known exactly how many tickets they had sold but of course that would have added to the burden of an already beleaguered ticket office.

It has been said elsewhere that communication and clarity would have helped greatly and I can only endorse that. For example, when selling a large number of tickets surely the ticket office should be open each and every day of sales for set hours and those hours should be observed. I looked on the club website yesterday and the opening hours for that day were not set out, even with fans having sat outside all night hoping to buy a ticket.

The sale of tickets ended in something of a PR triumph though with a very dapper looking chap, resplendent in a sheepskin coat being featured on the clubs twitter output purchasing the last ticket which was being served to him by none other than Clive Nates, himself resplendent in a City scarf. Publicity gold.

Years of writing with an editor has taught me to keep things brief but I just want to say that now is the time for the club to seriously consider where it goes now in its relationship with the fans, particularly in the way it communicates with them. This will not be the last big game City will play this season, we hope not certainly and with big games come bigger problems. I’m backing the club to find a way around them.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

City are victims of their own success.

I just caught a glimpse of a slightly smug Gary Simpson leaving the field last night and thought, did we really play like this once? No wonder gates were nothing to write home about during his tenure. Having said that, and we’ve had it said about City plenty of times, you have to impose your game on these strong arm teams and the Imps just didn’t do it last night against what is becoming a bit of a nemesis team, Barrow.

Barrow weren’t all bad, certainly not as bad as some of the refereeing decisions which left City fans wondering why we were still playing against eleven men at the end. Matt Rhead looked more than miffed at coming off but he must have been the only one who didn’t understand why he was substituted with the man in the middle giving the impression that nothing would give him more pleasure than sending off a Lincoln player and that player would have been Rhead.

Denied that option Barrow were awarded a penalty at the end for as innocuous challenge as you’ll ever see when Woodyard, who basically took the ball off the attacking Barrow player but was judged to have fouled. Barrow duly added to their score but it would be disingenuous of me to deny Barrow their victory, I think two-nil though would have been a more accurate reflection of the game.

As Imps fans continue to clamour for tickets for the forthcoming FA Cup game against Brighton & Hove Albion I can’t help but think that bowing out of this competition at this next stage would not be such a bad thing for a small club, relatively speaking, amongst the big boys but City have shown before though that they can bounce back with a vengeance and I wouldn’t put anything beyond them.

It was a tired City that finished last Fridays match against Dover and an even more fatigued one last night though and the Imps have plenty of glory to chase in the Trophy not to mention the greatest prize of all.

Monday, 23 January 2017

City are going to have to wise up but it’s a very welcome problem.

It’s a thoughtful wife who records the match you’re at in case you want to watch it again at home. This is usually worthwhile with City at the moment and so we settled down on Saturday afternoon, having sampled the action first hand to study the Imps Friday night performance in more relaxed circumstances.

If you want a happy life, marry a girl who likes football. Where else would you get marriage guidance and football comment all in the same blog?

Watching the televised game also gave me the opportunity to listen to what Dover’s manager had to say about Lincoln City and Danny Cowley. He had been ruffling Imps feathers with his, I thought, mealy mouthed comments. He said basically City were one of a group of either former league clubs or bankrolled sides who were able to buy their way out of the National League. He inferred City had spirited away Sean Raggett from him for £50000 and it was really no wonder they were top of the league. Talk about being wide of the mark. Really, Chris Kinnear deserves the highest praise for guiding Dover to the playoff places on gates averaging 1272 but it’s hard to give that credit when you hear him undermine another managers achievement like that. He should instead consider Danny Cowleys efforts last year when he actually made the playoffs on far less than he has.

Talking of gates I found the circumstances leading up to the game puzzling. City announced mid Friday afternoon that ticket sales for Bobs bakers dozen and six-packs would be suspended at five and furthermore no cash would be taken for admittance to either of the stands down the sides. Only the newly reopened (to home fans) Stacey West stand would take cash. It was then said on the TV that City were disappointed with the 6500 who turned up. I think with a bit of forward planning City might have handled it differently and said to holders of six-pack and bakers dozen tickets call in to the office or phone to book an actual match ticket in exchange for the ticket you have and then everyone knows where they are. Yes it’s a bit convoluted but there again no one expected the sort of interest City are generating. With big attendances you have to go carefully. It’s a nice problem to have though.

As to the game we felt Dover put up a strong performance but that wasn’t the way the TV pundits saw it and seemed to be saying Dover got their tactics wrong and the team didn’t perform well. Certainly they were well shackled by City who knew they would be running on empty at the end of the game. They kept going though and when that second goal went in there was only going to be one result.

It’s nice to get some recognition though and Danny Cowley can do no wrong in the eyes of the TV and of course us the fans.

Just Mr Kinnear to convince then.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Loving life in Lincoln.

Nicky Cowley put out a thank you tweet to fans after Tuesdays marvellous victory over Ipswich Town. I playfully pointed out that we are the city that granted an open top bus parade to a team that were beaten in a final, as we did. I pointed out though that team fully deserved that accolade but I wanted to underline how desperate we fans are for some success.

To be honest some success would have included a tilt at the playoffs and a few more home wins, that would have satisfied most of us. Just to know that we are heading in the right direction would have been enough for now but of course it’s looking like so much more awaits us. The board of directors have expressed their delight and I bet Bob Dorrian can’t wait to get on the radio these days. His previous pronouncements used to fill me with dread.

I think now things seem to be turning in the right direction Bob feels able to reveal a bit more of what has been going on behind the scenes and it doesn’t make happy reading. We’ll never know how close the club came to folding. The board, we know, have been busting a gut to turn the finances round. The revival started, for me, when Chris Moyses worked for free and got the team in some kind of order and steadied the ship. The directors managed to get finances on an even keel sufficiently to attract Clive Nates on the board. The rest as they say is history. At least if our league place is regained that will go down in history. I don’t think the manager will want to rest there though.

This is where we the fans come in. I’ve said this before but a 9000 gate once in a blue moon is neither use nor ornament to the club. If we’re going to do any good the average gate has got to start to move up towards that kind of level then the club could really start to go places. We always say at work that the best form of advertising is word of mouth so if your neighbour shows some sign of interest in the Imps take them along to a game. The way things are at the moment the team will do the rest.

All of this doesn’t make life any more comfortable for the fans. No more swanning up to the turnstiles at five to three. If I were you I’d start saving up for a season ticket right now. Great though isn’t it?

A word finally about the other people who are loving life in Lincoln, we hope. The managers and players. As this is starting to get a bit lengthy I’ll just quote a bit from the article in the Echo that I think sums it up. Danny Cowley was explaining that contract extension talks have been put on hold due to the busy programme (I had been wondering about that) :-

When asked if he was confident his players who are out of contract in the summer - which includes Woodyard, goalkeeper Paul Farman, defenders Luke Waterfall, Bradley Wood and Lee Beevers and midfielders Alan Power and Terry Hawkridge – Cowley said: "You'd be crazy to want to leave this football club."

See you tonight.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

History repeating itself.

Forty one years ago I was at West Bromwich Albion in the fourth round of the FA Cup to see City exit the competition. That was a sideshow as of course the object of the exercise then as now was to gain promotion. Some things never change.

City were managed by a young Graham Taylor, bristling with innovative ideas not only for winning games of football but establishing the club as a part of the community.

Now, as we know City are riding high in the league. I wanted to use that expression but the reality is we can’t get any higher than top. Everyone I’ve spoken to, friend or foe, believes City will continue their march to the Promised Land. I do hope and believe so. City are managed by not one but two managers bristling with innovative ideas and re-establishing the club in the community.

As regular readers will know I had to content myself with the TV last night. I know many of you also did. It was interesting to see how much the pundits have come to our side. When we played Forest Green on TV it was Forest Green this and Forest Green that. Not anymore. The much maligned Chris Sutton was ecstatic when City scored and full of praise for the Imps and their management team. For me, time to draw a line under any animosity there. He wasn’t the worst manager we’ve had, not by any means.

On we go, it’s tempting to use the analogy of a roller coaster ride. That’s as may be but there are certainly more ups than downs at the moment or maybe it’s the case that City have been towed to the top and can possibly now look forward to one long coast to the end. A look at the fixture list will confirm however that the job is by no means done. Just to underline that point the Imps must face Dover on Friday night, one tough fixture and on the TV once again. Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Before you ask, yes I do have a ticket for that game. In the directors box thank you for asking. That’s from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Onwards and upwards.

I’m not even going to try to do some kind of warm up for tonight but I just thought I’d share a couple of things I read recently, some ideas I’d thought of myself and which have been aired on the net.

The first is a quote from an article in The Daily Telegraph and it’s from Danny Cowley:-

“I’m from Essex, my knowledge of local geography here wasn’t great,” he says. “When I first came, I’d be saying, 'How long’s it take to get to so-and-so?’ And it was always two hours. Everywhere is two hours from here. The consequence of being exactly in the middle of nowhere is that we can create a real strong allegiance with the club. There’s 100,000 people in this city. In our own small way, this is a sleeping giant. We’re beginning to wake it up. Now let’s tickle its belly.”

Just stick with me, the other thought was in an article, a tribute really to Graham Taylor and it referred to meetings that took place whilst Taylor was manager at Lincoln with, amongst others the Cobbold brothers who were so instrumental in Ipswich Town raising their own profile and eventually winning the First Division title and the FA Cup and indeed the EUFA Cup. Taylor thought he could do the same with Lincoln City.

When we were in Ipswich for the match we stayed over and had a look round the town on the Sunday. It’s an unremarkable place and not big at all. Yet there we all were in a 30000 seat stadium. Where do all those fans come from?

Coming back to Danny Cowleys point in actual fact the population of the built up area of Lincoln and surroundings is something like 130,000. What’s the population of Ipswich? 130,000.

What Ipswich have and Norwich too for that matter, which also isn’t particularly big, is an affinity with their counties that causes football fans of whatever allegiance to look to them as their club. Could Lincoln City do the same, just as Graham Taylor imagined all those years ago?

Maybe I’m getting the cart before the horse here and of course Ipswich Town did have the Cobbold brothers, Norwich have Delia but success breeds success and you never know if another Clive Nates or two might be inspired to come on board the Lincoln Loco. We can but dream.

I’ll get back to sleep now.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Back to the future.

Well what a week in Impdom and what a day yesterday. I didn’t in all honesty expect the Cowley brothers to extend their contracts but jolly glad they did.

As they say and as we know the Cowleys are ambitious and, contract or not they will be on their way at some time or other. The extended, bigger contracts will however give City more leverage in the event of a departure mid season.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I don’t believe they will leave the club in such a way. I don’t think they want to have a reputation of jumping ship. They did it at Braintree but I don’t think they want to make a habit of it. A top level promotion on their CV or dare I say it more than one promotion and a reputation gained for leaving clubs in a far better position than when they arrived as they did at Concord Rangers will look very good to recruiting chairmen.

I’ve always said that with Lincoln City the Cowleys know there is plenty of scope for upward movement though the league(s) and this week will have certainly underlined the possibility there is for much increased attendances. I will say though that it’s all very well selling out for a cup replay (thanks very much by the way, I didn’t get a ticket) but those extra fans need to commit themselves to regular attendance and it’s high time City were the best supported side in the league rather than the third best. Supporters will also have to appreciate that if the Imps are to progress that support is needed through thick and thin. It’s easy to support a side that have had the sort of season City have. The pity is many of the missed out regulars, like me have followed the Imps through some pretty humdrum times and I’d say to whoever is sitting in my seat on Tuesday you’re welcome to it provided you become a regular fan.

A couple of things also occur. I understand the proviso to the Cowleys signing on the dotted line was the provision of better training facilities not their pay. Credit to them and I hope the club make good on their commitment without delay. City used to have state of the art facilities and had to let them go due to financial constraints. After all training is the players workplace and it’s so much easier to recruit players if they can feel the club is fit for purpose and their working conditions are going to be pleasant and meet the managers requirements.

The other thing I would like to see and this may not strike a chord with all of you but if we are going to progress the Imps will need a stadium that pays for the team rather than gates providing the clubs main income. The university has brought a heaven sent opportunity for commercial activity in the city with many seminars, courses and business opportunities all of which require purpose built facilities available for rent. A new stadium in a convenient out of centre location could tap into that market as well as providing a more engineered environment for our supporters new found volume. It will be a bold step but if it can be achieved could set the club on its way looking well beyond the present incumbents of the hot seat. City do need to bear that in mind and do their best to accelerate their plans in that regard.

On to the trophy and City will give opportunities for those on the periphery of the squad. I’ve not heard anyone disagree with the managers announcement on that which was fair of him given the distance to Gateshead.

I’m predicting plenty will make the trip though. Just remember. Supporting your football team is for life, not just the good times.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Graham Taylor.

Amid all the euphoria of the Cowley brothers agreeing to extend their contracts with Lincoln City FC we now have to suffer the grief and that’s not too strong a word, of the death of Graham Taylor at just 72.

The TV news just said he came to prominence with Watford FC but as we Imps all know he first cut his teeth at Lincoln. It wasn’t an auspicious start and he wasn’t far from the sack and only kept on at the insistence of, amongst others, my late father in law who was on the board at the time. I heard of this from the great man himself when I was at Watford FC as a guest of the Professional Footballers Association.

Taylor showed us that, as Imps we didn’t have to accept the inevitability of the decline that had set in at Lincoln and his team swept gloriously through division four as it was at the time winning the championship by a considerable margin. They were wonderful times.

I see in our present managers many of the qualities Graham Taylor possessed. Their patient rebuilding of the reputation of the club coupled with spectacular success on the pitch are straight out of the Taylor manual.

Sadly Graham Taylor was lured away from Sincil Bank by the millions of Elton John before he had a chance of furthering City’s progress. Let’s hope a fitting epitaph may be provided by our present managers. A promotion for the Imps thus restoring our much coveted league place.

Graham Taylor always had a place in his heart for Lincoln City. Personally having met him a couple of times I’m enormously saddened at his demise. The football world has lost one of the greats.

Rest in peace.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Tractor Boys fans cover themselves in glory-unlike the team.

I don’t get to away matches much these days, in fact ever since the demise of Boston United I don’t think I’ve seen City away once.
All that had to change of course once the Imps got drawn away to Ipswich Town in the third round of the FA Cup. Essential viewing as many of my fellow supporters agreed.

Away travel produces various emotions. Generally the “welcome” ranges from suspicion to downright hostility. Until we went to Ipswich that is. You could tell from the good natured banter on social media that this trip was going to be different and so it turned out. Leaving aside the magnificent efforts by the Imps this was an away trip that would prove to be an absolute pleasure. We were approached several times in the pub by locals who just wanted to welcome us and ask about the team and management. They knew what was happening at Lincoln and wanted to hear all about it.

On to Portman Road itself and when we arrived it was in full swing and by the time of kick off the away side was rocking. Even then the local fans distinguished themselves applauding the fact that this was the grounds largest away following since the stadium went all seater. At the end hundreds held back to applaud the Imps off the pitch. Classy. If you meet any Tractor Boys at the replay please extend the hand of friendship as they did.

Friendship is not a term I would apply to the relationship between fans and management and the limitations of the team when faced with a non-league outfit, albeit a fit for purpose one, was apparent. In fact I’d go so far as to say that were it not for a striker on loan from Premiership Leicester City, Town wouldn’t have got anywhere near us.

Usually when a team compete against one so much further down the pyramid the team from lower down would take on the role of battling spoilers. Not a bit of it. City not only went toe to toe with the Championship side but matched them in all departments even keeping the ball from Ipswich in long displays of possession passing. Two terrific strikes from Theo kept City on the front foot.

We parked very close to Portman Road and in the ensuing traffic at the end we had plenty of time to re tune our radio to BBC Suffolk and that was an education. It’s fair to say Mick McCarthy has no support left, not from anyone who was prepared to come on to the radio anyway. Those that did were full of praise for the Imps, many expressing the view that a stranger at the game would have been unable to distinguish who were the Championship team and who were the non-leaguers. Some were shocked to have been told by City supporters that in fact they felt City had not really been at the top of their game on Saturday and could play better.

I’m not really sure I disagree with that to be honest. It’s difficult to say when the opposition is one we don’t come into contact with. I did say before the game the first tie was City’s best chance of progressing. Having seen them in the away leg I’m actually quite confident our involvement in the FA Cup may not be over yet.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Relax. We can’t lose!

I’m planning on a leisurely drive down to a very pleasant part of the country tomorrow whereupon I’ll park up, get something to eat, maybe a pint of excellent Suffolk ale and go and watch my favourites happy in the knowledge that win lose or draw I’ll have had a rewarding and fairly unique day.

As long as City don’t get overrun by Ipswich Town tomorrow, and I don’t think they will, the game presents an opportunity to see the Imps play in a completely unpressurised way. The match has no bearing on the league, which is the overwhelming priority and furthermore, provided there are no injuries will merely provide a diverting sideshow to the main thrust of the season. Ipswich Town should win, we know that, their fans will expect it.

Yet a little voice in my head says we have a chance here you know. I think our players think that. Our manager certainly thinks that and the bookies think that pronouncing City as the most likely to cause an upset. Like us, Ipswich have other priorities but I don’t think their manager dares to do what he has done previously and field a weakened side. His job may even depend on it.

Reading what Matt Rhead has to say in the Echo about the game, senior players are approaching this match in a very mature mindset. It’s an opportunity for them to show their mettle and for the younger players their potential and I believe they will try very hard to do just that.

Ipswich will go into this game fearful in my view. Their manager, Mick McCarthy has been very blasé about the match. I can’t believe that’s his true view, certainly I can’t believe his statement earlier in the week that he’d not given the game much thought. I know two people at least who will have lived and breathed this match ever since the Guiseley victory and you know who I’m talking about.

So many good things are happening for those of us of a red and white hue at the moment. So much so that, as long suffering Imps, we can’t quite believe it and are awaiting the inevitable disappointment. That will come but, as far as I’m concerned we can look forward to quite a bit more good before we must return to our hum drum football lives. These times have visited us but briefly as Imps so we certainly should be living for the moment and treasuring each day as it unfolds as I’m sure you are.

In the meantime, as far as tomorrow is concerned win lose or draw, we really can’t lose. Enjoy yourselves, it’s later than you think.

Or is it?

Monday, 2 January 2017

New year, new unbeaten run to be established for Imps.

City rose from the mediocrity (by their standards) of the first half to register an emphatic win to obliterate the memory of their loss to Guiseley on Boxing Day. It was far from easy.

We’ve been spoilt really in the marvellous run up to Christmas where City have generally swept away any pretenders who have had the presumption to appear at their door and attempt to prise any points away from Sincil Bank although, the North Ferriby game apart, teams have generally put up spirited resistance. Yesterday was no different especially with Guiseley emerging victorious in the previous game no doubt believing they had the advantage over second in the table Imps.

You’ve got to say the referee had a hand in the result, setting off initially to disapprove of virtually everything the Imps did. Referees presumably get affected by unusual circumstances and it’s not often officials at this level will get to operate in front of such a large crowd and it was a proper “look at me” performance from the man in the middle as he pulled City up constantly in the first half spoiling any hopes of a flowing game. Of course what often happens in these circumstances is the opposition start to believe they can get away with almost anything and it all got a bit rough and Guiseley certainly came unstuck in the second half with two men and their manager sent off by the end producing an amusing (if you’re not from Guiseley) scenario where half the home fans baying for more bloodshed and the other half of the crowd realising there are only so many sendings off allowed before the game has to be abandoned and shouting for forbearance. It is the pantomime season after all.

In the end it was an eventful and ultimately satisfying return to normal service for home fans at least with something for everyone provided your name isn’t Sam Habergham who sliced a haymaker into his own net. Marriott, in another supersub appearance, once again affecting the game and the result immediately, this time carving into the box and inviting the foul which Guiseley duly obliged with. Fans were on the edge of their seats though as a penalty for City is not necessarily the virtually nailed on goal it would normally be but there were sighs of relief when it was Alan Power who purposefully stepped up to the spot and blasted home the kick. After that a win was virtually ensured.

After yet another Marriott rescue everyone was wondering how much longer he will have to wait for a start particularly as Robinson, unusually for him of late, put in a real lack lustre effort.

We all now move on to the FA Cup and by that I mean virtually the entire 5000+ crowd, City fans having magnificently sold out their very generous allocation for the game at Portman Road.

It promises to be a real party atmosphere.