Andrew Abbott's Blog

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Goodbye National League.

You only had to turn your radio on for Friday Football on BBC Radio Lincolnshire last night to realise a sea change has taken place at Lincoln City. Despite the fact that this is a meaningless fixture at the end of the season City were installed in their team hotel having trained at Everton. The Imps have sold what I would imagine to be well over 2000 tickets for our farewell to the National League giving relegated Southport a nice payday before summer.

I previously cringed at Bob Dorrian’s radio pronouncements now I hang on his every word as he details City’s desire to get into the championship after umpteen years. In fact this period corresponds exactly with my own supporting career. The championship was where City were when my Dad first took me and we’ve never been near since. That’s not entirely true as a manager who is still attending games, Colin Murphy who, for the benefit of younger readers coined the phrase “Deranged Ferret” and regained City’s league status the first time the Imps were dumped out almost did it. I checked Colin’s Wikipedia entry and it didn’t make anything of it but I’m sure he got the club to within a whisker of the championship needing either a point or a win at Fulham to go up.

So to all those fans who doubt this is an achievable aspiration I point to that time. Now City are an oasis of calm with club and supporters in complete harmony and the city council organising an open top bus celebration. Then the clubs board were basically at war and the council regularly beseeched by the fans to rescue the impoverished Imps. If they can almost do it in those circumstances they certainly can now.

As we sign off this wonderful season we look forward with relish to the next. We’re promised a pleasant surprise when the season ticket details are announced. So far this announcement has not materialised but when it is I predict another rush to the box office. Long may this continue. In praising the ticket office staff, as I do, the prospect of another onslaught as fans clamour for season tickets must be a bit dispiriting but as we head for the summer the prospect of much work to do is a lot better than the prospect of none, which is the fate, I suspect of many football clubs in these uncertain times.

I did think, following the gaining of the league title last Saturday City might tail off and lose their remaining two games but the “lizards” performance at Maidstone suggests the Imps may sign off in style. One things for sure there will be plenty of joyful city slickers there to witness it.

So we say farewell to the National League, it’s been er…. an experience.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Imps, you have served your time and may now go free.

I wrote ages ago, when Lincoln City were still a league club but, it seemed to me about to surrender that status that the way back would be significantly more difficult than getting relegated. It’s been no surprise to learn that would be the case.

Never really accepted in the non league fraternity, in my view, we were, as a former league club with a big stadium a lot of smaller clubs grand day out. If I'm right about the lack of acceptance by non league it was only to be expected as we didn’t accept it either. Instead of knuckling down to the task in hand we flirted with even greater ignominy, constantly looking wistfully over the fence at the Shangri-La we’d left or rather been dumped out of feeling sorry for ourselves as we plied our trade at some of the remoter outposts of the football fraternity.

Fortunately help was at hand and it started, for me when Chris Moyses was appointed, to general eye rolling and sighing. This was what we had come to, we’re operating with an unpaid manager. Moyses however stopped the rot, even flirted with the promotion fringes. At any rate it enabled the board, who I had accused of conditioning the supporters for a permanent life at step five level, to start to turn the finances round. I was wrong, the board still had fire in their bellies and they were about to spring a surprise of their own. The improvement in the finances attracted Clive Nates to the club. To your eyes and mine, a wealthy man nevertheless the sort of investment Nates was talking about would not buy him a place at footballs top table, nowhere near but it was a fortune to the likes of Lincoln City and to his credit, citing an alliance from some way back with his favourites, Everton, Nates chose City as his project. What a happy day that was.

The Nates money and the ability of City to move forward, the result of good financial housekeeping enabled the club to attract the attention of the Cowley brothers who had enjoyed considerable success further down the football pyramid and wanted to try their model as they described it on a full time professional club. Not much of a step up said their chairman of the move but over 10,000 at Sincil Bank yesterday confirmed they were right to choose the Imps.

Few at the club or in the stands expected the season that followed culminating in the joyous scenes at the stadium yesterday. The success on the field is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the metamorphosis that has seen the football club rise from another small club to one that has real potential. There is money in the bank but that is only the start of the story. For me the crux of the turnaround has been the re connection of the club and city and the surrounding area, we have fans travelling far and wide to support the club and realise their dream of becoming another Ipswich Town or dare I say it, a sort of mini Barcelona, where the football team becomes so synonymous with the area that it is indivisible from it.

I’ve written before that Sincil Bank is not an intimidating place for opposition teams, that needs addressing in any new stadium but rather the unquestioning support of the fans and the huge noise generated enables our players to give of their best and raise their game to a level greater than even they thought they were capable of. If a City player tries something and falls flat on his face that support enables the player to dust himself off and try it again. If he succeeds the noise is deafening. That’s why, in my view many of the players who have come on loan have prospered here. They may feel a square peg in a round hole at their clubs, here they are accepted and lauded.

I can’t begin to describe to you what happiness I felt yesterday. I’ve followed City for over fifty years and that championship was just the third I’ve seen with my own eyes. You’ve got to have a good memory to support the Imps but when they do hit the spot it’s all the sweeter and no season has been as sweet and as satisfying as the one we’ve just witnessed.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The waiting is almost over.

Saturday presents City's first opportunity to gain the championship and therefore promotion back to the football league off their own bat. Last Monday was a possibility but that was dependant on Tranmere dropping points. Now, thanks to that most unlikely six points over the Easter weekend City can win the league if they win themselves tomorrow. Current form is excellent, current performances not so.

Danny Cowley does not need any reminding that the last two or three outings haven’t produced great football but at this stage of the season we’d sit through anything for three points. We’re promised better:-

"It will be a brilliant occasion, if we make it happened," Danny Cowley told the assembled press. "But we have to make it happen and we have to play better.
"It won't just happen because it is a great occasion. That won't be enough to get us over the line.
"It's not often opportunities come round that have life-changing consequences. The most successful people take those opportunities and we have to grasp it and seize the day.
"We're going to play better on Saturday. We're determined as a group to play better than we did on Monday”

Whether Saturday, in front of the cameras and a sell-out crowd is conducive to a more relaxed display I’m not sure but these managers and players came to Lincoln for just this sort of occasion. I don’t think anyone expected the progress to be quite so spectacular though. Cowley is quite right, this is an opportunity for our players to become better players, league players. Whatever people may say about the National League being more professional, Division Five, all that but if you are a football league player you are a cut above. I hope they will have that thought in their minds.

The return of the fans is gratifying but it will be interesting to see where the support settles at come the beginning of next season. I’d be disappointed if attendances aren’t considerably up on where they were last time were in the league, always assuming City can get over the line.

As ever, the key to a better performance, in my view, is an early goal. Get that and I expect City to stroll it. If not, squeaky bum time again.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Lady luck smiles down on the Imps again.

You could say it’s a never say die attitude, fitness, singlemindedness but to not only rescue a game in the last few moments of a match once but then do it all over again in the space of a bank holiday weekend must mean whatever demons we may have imagined responsible for our woes over the years have been well and truly exorcised.

Having said that the penalty most certainly was a penalty (as was Gateshead’s) and you’ve got to say Arnold’s strike was pretty special and you do make your own luck, harder you work etc etc.

So after a long weekend where City could have got nothing and most certainly would have got nothing in seasons past we find ourselves just needing a point by my calculations providing Tranmere don’t win twice and get a considerable number of goals in a short space of time which we know they are capable of. A win will secure the championship and the Holy Grail.

We go on to Saturdays game at Sincil Bank against Macclesfield and I hope I don’t have to sit through another ninety minutes of tedium although I will as you will if we get the points needed. Surely after three poor performances we’re due some excitement although of course there is another possibility for the match which we won’t go into.

I’m not sure what the powers that be have in mind for Saturday. One would hope the trophy would be available at Sincil Bank should the Imps get across the line, after all the Imps are the only team that could win it at that time and it would be a shame to be crowned as champions and not have a coronation but we don’t know how the league will want to do it.

I just hope our players get firmly out of their heads the mentality that caused them to stutter through the last three games and show to the watching public, both on TV and those at the game who are not regulars that they are the fine, capable and talented group of professionals that we know they are.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lincoln City on the brink after the Mother of all comebacks.

I gather that BT Sport appeared to believe they were in the presence of the champions elect as they presented their football show from Tranmere Rovers Prenton Park but it was the Imps who took all the headlines in a remarkable turnaround as they dominated but failed to capitalise against Torquay United yesterday at Sincil Bank.

Backed by a impressive 188 supporters, Torquay weathered City’s storm and appeared to be going south with all three points as it seemed the Imps long unbeaten home run was coming to an end. Despite BT Sports belief, that wouldn’t have been the end of the world for City as Tranmere, continuing their catastrophic latest home form were battling out a ding dong scrap for the top ultimately gaining just the one point from their encounter with Aldershot leaving City still in the driving seat and with a game in hand. Tranmere’s run in was the easier declared the experts but I really don’t understand how the pundits came to that conclusion when their opponents, Forest Green Rovers and Aldershot had such a vested interest in the league still. Home advantage counts for nothing if you can’t win.

It was City however that upset the apple cart, facing defeat with just five minutes to go, albeit with a hefty additional time added for stoppages due to Torquay’s delaying tactics as super sub and birthday boy Adam Marriott conjured up a late late equaliser forced in by the equally influential Anderson. Pandemonium wasn’t an adequate term for the celebration that followed from a massive, by non league standards, gate of over 9000 but it wasn’t over yet as the crowd had barely re taken their seats before Marriott had again instigated an opportunity for City, tripped just outside the box in perfect range for Sam Habergham who duly obliged with a looped free kick that shot into the Torquay net to leave the Imps on the edge of the championship.

It had been another poor show from the Imps yet in that finale they showed why they prevail, they are the very essence of never say die attitude and left the field, once again in scenes not far short of delirium. You had to feel some sympathy for Torquay, it must have been a long long journey home yet the table doesn’t lie. No team finishes at the wrong end of the league by accident and no team wins a championship by default. Barring complete meltdown it looks this morning like that is City’s reward for a season that they have dominated ever since that other remarkable turnaround, at Forest Green Rovers.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Good times never seemed so good.

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

At the end of last nights game at Sincil Bank I thought of those words from Fitzgerald’s splendid American novel “The Great Gatsby”. City had ground to a laborious win and Tranmere had, catastrophically, lost to Forest Green Rovers. I know we are encouraged to not dwell on our rivals, or should it be rival now? I had been wondering if that fantastic win by them might not be as wonderful as it seemed. Indeed I think it’s worth repeating what I said last time in the blog “I’m kind of hoping that rout of Solihull by Tranmere might have blown the Merseysiders storm out but I’m not holding my breath.” Forest Green Rovers duly obliged and Tranmere have another tough game against Aldershot but, thanks to last night a clear path for City has emerged.

The Imps are going to have to perform a lot better than they did if they are to succeed. Passing, or rather accurate passing was very much at a premium, there was indiscipline leading to Alan Powers dismissal almost as soon as he came on. You do wonder if that rash challenge spelt the end of his City career. Hustle and bustle went in place of calm industry it was a poor game and yet an amazing spectacle.

The City management are fulsome in their praise of the home fans but last night I really do believe was the supporters finest hour as they pulled the team through the game. The crowd are almost on auto pilot and you get the impression, worked up as we all are the noise levels would be the same even without a game going on. I don’t believe Sincil Bank is that intimidating a place, there are too many wide open spaces but the non stop barrage of noise makes up for that. I’ve been in big crowds at the Bank, much bigger than last night but the atmosphere never reached that level on a sustained basis.

On we go to the crucial Easter weekend where, if they play their cards right and things go their way City could themselves almost grasp the prize. Poor old Gatsby ended up floating face down in his swimming pool. After last night I honestly don’t think that fate awaits Lincoln City.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Enjoy these moments. If you say so Danny.

I’d quite forgotten what it’s like to be nervously checking on all the results our rivals are posting in connection with a promotion push. Relegation worries are a similar concern but at least there’s not that pit of the stomach dread that goes with them.

One rival in particular is certainly giving us a run for our money and you don’t need me to tell you who that rival is.

In theory, looking at the fixtures, every remaining game is winnable although games against sides fighting for their lives at the foot of the table are never easy and never predictable.

I’m kind of hoping that rout of Solihull by Tranmere might have blown the Merseysiders storm out but I’m not holding my breath. City are consistently winning but not all that convincingly. There’s that game in hand but it needs winning.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s game but I’ve just got this nagging doubt that Chester have been a bogey side for us in the past, right back to Graham Taylors side when they beat us to promotion by the slenderest margin. Now would be a great time for us to register a good convincing win although I can’t say that’s what I expect.

All I can say looking down from the top of the league is a lot better than looking down at the trapdoor but am I enjoying it?

Ask me in few weeks.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Back to business.

Just three weeks to go to restore Lincoln City’s pride and after Mondays performance I have every confidence in the squads ability to achieve the ultimate prize, our league place back.

Like you, I suspect and the team and managers, whatever they may say, I was glued to my phone on Tuesday to check the fortunes of our main rivals Tranmere as first they raced to a two goal lead, then got pegged back and finally won in the last moments of their game. Fair play to them, it will just make our minds even more focussed on the matter in hand.

What gives me confidence is the manner of the win against Dagenham & Redbridge. I’ve seen City play better this season but they battered their opponents with no trace of any fatigue and showed they had lost none of their desire and were still full of energy even after the games they’ve had.

Danny Cowley told the press that performance merited a couple of days off for the players:-

“The boys were outstanding on Monday evening, their energy and intensity was fantastic. It says a lot about their physical condition at the moment and also says a lot about their mental toughness.
“This is the first time they have had a couple of days off together since Christmas and it was just the right time really to recharge the batteries mentally and physically and to have a bit of time away from each other.

It’s to be hoped that this will have the desired effect as we enter another intense league period which sees the Imps play tomorrow then Tuesday and then on Good Friday.

It would be nice to think by Saturday week City’s task will be clearer and the other protagonists fallen away a bit but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lights, camera, action!

Any notion that two games in three days would dampen the enthusiasm of either Lincoln City players or fans was dispelled last night in front of the BT Sport cameras as City ripped in to Dagenham & Redbridge in front of the biggest league gate of the season.

In the pub, or rather outside it as it was rammed, it was apparent that this was going to be another special night under the Sincil Bank lights and the fans were turning out in force, once again on a lovely early April evening. Everyone seemed in very good spirits, Daggers fans included as we all warmed up for the big event.

Inside the ground and it was pulsating as we approached kick off. I think with Alan Longs microphone playing tricks again making him sound like that bloke who was on the telly years ago we might as well put the announcements on the scoreboard as even on those occasions when you can hear anything it’s drowned out by the crowd.

As an occasion, not necessarily the game although that was a 100% improvement on Saturday, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a better match at Lincoln with the fans revved up and the stands nicely filled but it was a good game and a marked contrast with Saturdays offering although it does help when the opposition come to play rather than spectate.

The excitement generated, the quality of the players, the energy and drive displayed, Danny Cowley was right, if you can’t enjoy this take up chess or something. It quite literally can’t be improved upon as a spectacle.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Imps roar to victory.

Not the team, they were quite lack lustre if I’m honest. What brought about Lincoln City’s win and return to the top of the league was a more or less constant wall of noise from the supporters that is making Sincil Bank such a fearsome place for visiting sides to come and prosper although Bromley certainly made a spirited fist of it. As far as I’m concerned some of my applause at the end was for Bromley too. For a team with nothing to play for they gave City as thorough an examination as any.

Before the game though, a unique opportunity for us supporters to salute a true hero. George “Johnny” Johnson, the last surviving British member of the Dambusters, a cause we have taken as our talismen, was guest of honour at the match enabling fans to deliver to Mr Johnson an ovation so long, warm and loud that he will live the rest of his days knowing, whatever the indifference of the nation to the exploits of these young men, whatever the posturing of politicians, that we fans recognise and appreciate the sacrifices these men made in putting themselves, night after night, through the most terrifying ordeal, not to perpetuate conflict but to try to bring it to an end.

It’s doubtful if any of the crowd yesterday had any personal recollection of the Second World War but because of Johnny and his young comrades however difficult and humdrum our lives may be we have, in the main, lived them free from the spectre of war and our recognition of that was shown yesterday.

I think also, the fact that City showed Mr Johnson such respect and gave him VIP status, that’s the reason we have all fallen back in love with our football club. The Dambusters is a cause taken up by the fans rather than the football club officially but the fact that the club so readily entered into the fans regard for them encapsulates what we are about now. Our own magnificent men, the Cowleys have reconnected the club with the supporters and now the club have firmly placed itself at the heart of the community.

Churchill, Wellington, Nelson, heroes all but we salute George Johnson, an ordinary man from ordinary Lincolnshire who did the extraordinary many years ago that we might be free and live in peace and friendship with our neighbours. Our hero, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Is there time for football? Yes, you bet. Danny Cowley said in an almost soul-searching write up in the programme that we must live for the moment as we, all of us strive now for the ultimate success, promotion but the match was the epitome of attrition as the Imps came up against an almost immovable object in Bromley. Park the bus is a rather overused metaphor these days but Bromley set about their task with determination. We salute that too although parked buses don’t hit the post as our opponents did. A missed penalty from the usually reliable Alan Power who had another excellent game otherwise, didn’t help to relieve the frustration.

I actually said to my co-sufferer Stewart “Will somebody please have a shot?” At that point Billy Knott did, releasing pandemonium. I’d quite like to be outside Sincil Bank to hear the sort of noise we generate at the moment and I’d imagine the decibel level reached record volume as City clawed another three points to keep them at the top.

We only have to wait till Monday for the next instalment. I wonder how I ever get to sleep at the moment.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

End game.

Feeling the strain? I know I am but not Danny Cowley according to the Lincolnshire Echo. Cowley says we should all be enjoying the ride and I’m sure we are but it’s all too close to call at the moment:-

"I'm really excited about what is to come," he said. "These next 30 days can change Lincoln City Football Club forever. We're now coming down the back straight.
"It's brilliant. It's great that it's evoking so much emotion and opinion – and we're living it.
"How many other teams are there that are just playing for the end and are waiting for next season? Plenty.
"Whereas we are living the moment so let's embrace it and enjoy it and roll with it.
"Let's keep doing what we've done all season and believe in what has created the success we've had. If we all keep the belief, the rest will take care of itself."

I’m trying Danny, believe me I’m trying.

Already though, to my mind things have changed, it’s the forever bit that I aspire to. Match days are those of a proper football club if you get my drift. In the pub, on the High Street, at the club well before kick off thousands mill around the stadium, the shop, the offices and the bars giving a real big football club feel. I’m not sure I recall that on such a protracted scale and it’s a fantastic time but Danny Cowley is right to emphasise one thing. He’ll not be around forever, we know that. We hope promotion can be achieved. Most of us are firm in that belief but I think Cowley does, when he eventually move on want to leave a football club that is changed forever. That would be a fine legacy.