Sunday, 7 August 2011

On the cusp of the unknown – thoughts on Lincoln City and the new football season

I very deliberately haven’t blogged (or even tweeted much) about football over this summer, not in fact since I wrote my end of season review.  This has mainly been because I wanted to avoid showing myself up by making over-the-top statements of optimism or despair that I, and I’m pretty sure most other Imps fans, have been going through since we plunged into the abyss.

I renewed my season ticket almost straight away, though I’m almost ashamed to admit I paused for the briefest of moments to consider if I would.  I quickly came to my senses, reasoning that after 18 years of being a season ticket holder, just what kind of supporter would I be if I turned my back on the club at one of its greatest times of need?  I wouldn’t be able to face myself in the mirror, let alone any other fans.  I would echo that to any fairweather fans reading this – the club needs you more next season far more than it needed you at the Millennium Stadium 6 years ago (though you can leave the silly hat and foam hand at home this time)

But here we are – on the cusp of another season.  That magical time in football when everyone’s eager to get going again but completely unsure whether the next 10 months will bring the elation of promotion, the despair of relegation or the drudgery of mid table obscurity.  This is truer than ever following City’s relegation to the Blue Square Premier.  I’ve been the first person to say that we need to put last season behind us, move on, be positive and tackle this new adventure head on.  However, I sometimes wonder if I believe it myself.  I watched the first game in League Two on Saturday, between AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers, and it hurt.  I felt empty, strangely rejected.  League Two may be shit, but it’s been our home for so long, it feels sad to see that it’s forgotten us already.  I wonder how long it will take for the BSQP to feel like home.  Let’s be positive and hope that we’re in it for such a short spell of time that it doesn’t get chance to feel like anything more than a hotel room (at the Blue Square Premier Inn, as it were).

So, what are my thoughts on the upcoming season?  I have to say that, although I feel that promotion is too much to ask for at the first attempt given the other strong ex-league teams in the mix, I am confident that the season will be a positive one - one where the club can stabilize and begin to rebuild.  That optimism comes primarily from the fact that, despite needing to rebuild virtually the entire squad from scratch, I’m pleased with the players Steve Tilson has brought in.  Not just from a playing perspective, but from the fact that they seem to be of the type we needed – good, honest pros who will work hard and play for each other, rather than primadonnas with more ego than talent.  I’ve said many times before that I’d rather have 11 hardworking cloggers who’d run through brick walls than a team full of technically more proficient players who only turn up for 10 games a season.

Although pre-season friendlies should never be a reason to get overly emotional one way or the other, City’s pre-season has been generally optimistic, with some solid performances and suggestions that the new players will be able to gel together and play some composed football, and the players still with us from last year can put it behind them.  Perhaps the only worry I would currently admit to is a hangover from last season – conceding too many goals.  Against Grimsby in the Lincs Senior Cup we conceded two last-gasp goals to throw away what had been a 3-1 lead, and against Scunthorpe in the same competition we conceded in the last minute to take the game to penalties.  In the final friendly away at Boston we were repeatedly pegged back and conceded a last minute goal, thankfully hanging on for a 4-3 win.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased with the goals we’ve scored, and I know that some of the above results were when playing with trialists and after multiple substitutions, but it’s still the one thing I don’t think we’ve entirely fixed yet.

An inability to stop the opposition scoring, especially in the final few minutes of matches, effectively cost us our league place last season.  I fear that without a capable goalkeeper being signed, similar frustrations may dog us again this season, even though our defense has been bolstered, not least by Josh Gowling, a player whom I was desperately excited to get back, and I am certain will be a rock for us this season, as well as chipping in with a few goals.  He also seems a thoroughly nice chap and a very honest pro (I should also mention that he’s on twitter too, so you should definitely follow him for his post match thoughts)

One thing we should definitely be pleased about is that this summer’s off the field shenanigans are resolved well before the start of the season.  Personally, I feel that the attempts to disrupt the board were ill-timed and ultimately amateurish, and as a shareholder (albeit a very low level one), I could never support such actions.  I’m not saying for a second that the board haven’t made mistakes and couldn’t do some things better, but in the absence of a money man offering to buy the club, I feel that stability is the best thing and the board do genuinely seem to have the best interests of the club at heart.  Better performances on the pitch and the increased crowds they bring are the only real things lacking in turning the club around.

So here’s to a new adventure, a new set of players to get to know, some old adversaries to become reacquainted with and some new places to visit.  At the end of the day it’s only a game, and celebrating a good season in the BSQP will definitely feel better than celebrating a lower mid-table finish in League 2.  Let’s firmly set this season going as the first chapter in a new Lincoln City story, not the final chapter of the last few years of drudgery.  Up the Imps!

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