What Is Keeping Lincoln City Going?
Aldershot Town will provide the toughest test since Luton Town and Cambridge United to the Imps play-off pretensions tomorrow. The Shots have pace on the flanks and pass the ball in princely fashion, possessing a technique and tenacity that forced a 3-3 draw with Luton, who are now scoring for fun under John Still, suggesting the Imps defence will be at full stretch against a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3. Yet tomorrow we face more than that, confronting a club that ultimately condemned us to non-League football and one that triumphed in the face of extinction for the second time in a decade. Hope springs eternal then that one day 8,000 will flock to the bank once more?
Thank you for reading Neil Gentleman-Hobbs
The visit of Aldershot should see a decent crowd of sorts this Saturday with the Shots averaging 216 on away-days thus far this season. The distance will play a factor of course, something that Lincoln and Grimsby face due to the county’s isolated geography. The home crowds are certainly up, but, Grimsby, Luton, Cambridge, Chester and Halifax aside, it is unlikely that many more adversaries will break 100 if we are lucky. The 16 Lambs on Tuesday illustrated the Imps problem and this ultimately will shape the capacity of any new stadium. Yes it was a Tuesday but that was a quarter of their average take of 60 and one cannot polish a Doner Kebab either it seems?
Whilst Aldershot have taken the Chelsea shilling Lincoln in comparison is akin to the hare meets tortoise approach. We have recovered too and this season, is part of a long-term plan for both the mysterious ground move and the manager’s team building plans, but time, patience and the realities of non-league football are also unseen enemies of course. A bottom third budget, it is hoped, will deliver a top third finish; seen in the context of the previous four managers efforts this should be seen as something of a result. From a players bonus perspective – a vital part of their wage – it is imperative, yet a good season this year is perhaps more vital than we think. The game and the gap, after all, is growing as it continues to move on without us
Time, perhaps the greatest of all of life’s enemies, is not on the Imps side with the current team offering the best opportunity Lincoln have of making a return to the Football League. During the January window the chances are 2-3 players will leave with Newton, Miller and Boyce the obvious candidates. They will bring in decent money, but replacing them on the cheap is getting harder even for a talent-spotter like Simmo, who raided relegated Stockport and financially stricken Macc in the summer to maximise a paltry £400,000 budget.
Unfortunately our full-time wage structure cannot compete with the lucrative part-time deals enjoyed at Skrill North or Premier level, we must hope the board say no and allow the manager to have this Indian summer at the Imps. But that is unrealistic as the players do deserve to ply their trade at higher levels and to earn a living wage in a profession that typically yields a living for just 6 to 8 years.
This leads to public perception of the club, which is declining by the season, even if the crowds are up this season. Despite much higher than expected season ticket sales as well increased pay on the day takings this years playing budget is still lower than that afforded to David Holdsworth at the beginning of last season. Therefore the club is punching well above its weight on the field in the face of ever decreasing circles and ultimately the laws of diminishing returns.
The location of the club and the pricing add to the low away followings data (HERE) statistics that are staring us in the face. Therefore the size of any new ground behind Morrisons is looking more likely to be much smaller than Sincil Bank. This will save us rates with supposed non admission income being more and more important, with the Chesterfield model cited. Yet in reality their rich chairman will make up a huge shortfall that has allowed them to overshoot their budget again this season in order to go for an instant return to League 1.
Frustrating as Tamworth was we simply have to keep the faith in this side if the club is to be in a position to counter these problems, indeed to survive, let alone hope to thrive. The Lambs had players of Championship calibre, League 1, League 2 and a young Premiership cast-off in their ranks, compared to Tommo with 9 League 2 appearances along with Brown who played 18 bit-part appearances in League 1 under Jacko at Huddersfield before being released. There was of course the additional presence of Fairhurst, introduced on the hour, with a 100 appearances to his credit. So praise them on Saturday against another side, back from the brink but with superior resources and, remember that 10 point deduction has masked the League position that 19 points could have yielded.
The reality is hard for disenfranchised fans of our once proud club to stomach, but at least the crowds are up this season, reversing a concerning trend since we entered the non-league half-way house to the abyss . This is just as well because who is going to put their hands in their pockets to plug the gaps, let alone fund the dream, when, fans apart, few want to pitch in for vital overnight stays enjoyed by even the Salisbury’s of our world. Remember geography counts against us away just as much as it does at home, those are the hard earned points that get you prizes.
Simmo and the team have done incredibly well, more than punching above their weight. Team spirit and resilience resonate, yet the team do play football and certainly create chances even if they do fail to take them at the vital times that will turn the one point into three. Perhaps now we see why Jacko (blind optimism), Sutton (youth & science), Tilson (quality but imbalance) and Holdsworth (quantity wheat-from-chaff approach) failed in fans eyes. Ultimately Football League tables judge them, but it takes a rare man to overcome financial football odds.
So this has to be a great season one feels, with a play-off berth at least and, perhaps this will tempt someone with sufficient cash to come forward and buy out the Holding Company, to then service the debt and ultimately put funds into the team – the be all and end all in an entertainment business that is growing ever more lucrative at the top. Until then the option of saving 2-3 players wages on the rates and a ground of 5,000 with plans to increase or decrease capacity looks to be the realistic option to sustain football in the City.
We do of course have optimism and hope, they more than money have sustained Lincoln City and the passionate ‘Cits’ latterly Imps since 1884. So what is the concise answer to the question What is keeping Lincoln afloat? It is the Spirit and optimism that flows from the manager and the team to the fanatical, often ignored but not to be underestimated and understated, support that keeps the heart of the Imp beating It has done so ever since he escaped the cathedral and the angel who threatened to turn him and his heart to stone.