Imps Book Finally Released

I’m delighted to announce that as of 4pm today my new book, ‘Who’s who of Lincoln City 1993-2016’ is finally published and available to buy through Amazon, and through me.

The Who’s who of Lincoln City 1993-2016 is the perfect Christmas present for anyone who supports Lincoln, and it makes a great stocking filler at just £13.99 per copy. It features not only every player to have represented the club in competitive games since 1993, but also an exclusive interview with former Imps striker Gijsbert Bos. It also has a foreword written by none other than Mr Lincoln City himself, Grant Brown.

It not only looks at the players but in some instances I give my honest opinion on some of the misfits and failures who have sadly graced our hallowed turf. From Simon Yeo to Drewe Broughton, Jefferson Louis to Gomez Dali and Peter Gain to Ben Hutchinson, I find something to say about each and every player we’ve seen in a Imps shirt in the last 23 years.

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If you want to know which former Imp represented the England Disability team, or went on to manage an X Factor winner then now is your chance. It is an irreverent and honest personal appraisal on all of the players who have woven the rich tapestry of Imps history since Ian and Donald Nannestad last chronicled our former players over twenty years ago.

Basically if you’re a Lincoln City fan, this is the book for you. Send the link to your loved ones. If you know a Lincoln City fan, chances are they would love to see this in their stocking on Christmas day. I’m not sure friends of Drewe Broughton or Ben Hutchinson will be too pleased with it though!

You can obtain a copy through the link that I’ll be plastering everywhere over the next few weeks, and I will be obtaining 50 exclusive copies to send out signed to those who request them. Be quick on the signed copies, they are limited to 50, although I’ll happily sign your Amazon bought copies if you so desire. If you’ve messaged me on Facebook reserving a copy then please email me gazhutch78@gmail.com as the thread you ordered it on is long gone and I haven’t got all your names!

There are three ways to buy:

 

If you want to buy direct from Amazon then click here

 

If you would like to order a signed copy to collect from me at the game on December 17th against Tranmere then please send £13.99 (and who to sign it to) via PayPal to gazhutch78@gmail.com or by clicking here

If you’d like me sign a copy and post it out then please send £17.99 to cover P&P via PayPal to gazhutch78@gmail.com, or by clicking here Don’t forget to include your address and who to post it to

 

Please note although Amazon offer ‘Prime’ delivery to buyers, they don’t offer it to me on wholesale copies so any books ordered through me will be posted out first class week commencing 12th December.

 

If you need to talk about any special requests (cash sales etc) please email me on gazhutch78@gmail.com

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Refuse to lose

Danny Cowley called it himself at the weekend. He has instilled a refuse to lose mentality in the players, and tonight we got a master class in how effective the philosophy is.

The win against Wrexham will, in time, simply show as a routine 1-0 home win in a superb run of results. What it will not say is that it was a different kind of win to what we are used to, and a win that showed we’ve learned important lessons since September.

Okay we were 1-0 down against Sutton so we needed to push for a goal. It doesn’t change the fact we lost the game because of our numerical disadvantage. We didn’t have a plan B and as a team we couldn’t secure the game at 1-0 with ten men.

Tonight we got to at least keep Rheady on the pitch, but we also took control of the game with less players. It s hard to play an effective pressing game as an attacking force a man light, there is too much risk of leaving exposed spaces. What Lincoln did tonight was play it in a defensive capacity, keeping it tight and organised whilst trying to find a route to goal.

What we saw was a real example of what Theo Robinson is worth to the team this evening. His non-stop running ensured we had something of a threat despite often being on the back foot. Rheady did a lot of defensive work which meant Robinson ploughed a loan furrow, and he did it superbly.

The two centre backs were immense as well. Waterfall led by example, and Callum Howe looked like he truly is in the great form that Southport fans suggested. He looked hungry all evening and gobbled up anything he had to. Superb work.

The red card? I thought it was high and a little dangerous, but if the ref has specified it was two footed then I think he’s wrong. On that basis it wasn’t a red card. If we’d kept all our players on the pitch I think we would have seen a three or four nil  win for City. However, that is football for you. Sean Raggett will move on, just like Bradley Wood did earlier in the season.

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Great work rate

 

Danny Cowley said afterwards that not many teams miss a penalty, play sixty minutes with ten men and still come out victorious. He gracefully didn’t mention the inconsistent decisions by the official. We didn’t use our ‘slice of luck’ either. Luck is, by definition; “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”

Nothing that happened tonight was brought on by chance, it was 100% all endeavour, hard work and ability. We chased and harried, we made blocks and a couple of saves and we threatened more than a team with ten men should. We battled against 11 men when it perhaps should have been levelled up in the second half, and yet we still won the game. We still went top.

We go top of the league for a couple of days, at least until Tranmere take on York City on Saturday. It’s the third time this season we’ve gone top, I can’t remember that ever happening in my lifetime. We’ve got there by turning on the style at times this season, and grafting out results at others. At present nobody has looked like beating us, not even Forest Green in the 89th minute. We are never beaten, you never feel our heads drop and we never stop fighting in every part of the pitch. In plainer terms: we refuse to lose.

We’re Lincoln City and we’re on our way.

Ten years on and still recovering

“Goal 2010, a five-year plan that Mao would be proud of, aims to prepare Lincoln for life in the Championship. “Rather than ploughing all our money into buying players we’re strengthening all areas of the club, from the youth academy, to the commercial staff and training facilities,  The club is also looking to build on their supporters’ base by getting people that wouldn’t usually watch football into Sincil Bank. Unfortunately that meant staging a Westlife concert at the ground this season, but if that’s the price of success, so be it.”

The Guardian – Friday 10th November 2006

The passage above appeared on the Guardian website as far back as 2006, in the days before social media and the mass analysis we have today. Perhaps it slipped under the radar back then, much of Goal 2010 certainly seemed to. Ten years and a few weeks later and I think we are now only just beginning to emerge from the catastrophic shadow cast by the ill-fated scheme.

It was the end of the 2006/07 season where, in most peoples opinions, the rot really started. After a scintillating early season in late 2006 the Imps tailed off, John Deehan’s contacts didn’t yield the rich rewards we had hoped. We got a steady and able right back in Paul Green, but we also had to endure the likes of Jamie Hand and Ryan Amoo. Whilst other sides strengthened, we were significantly weakened.

Jamie Forrester and Mark Stallard had a superb season, but both we approaching the stage of their career where they needed younger and fitter men to take some of the goal grabbing burden. The ‘younger and fitter’ striker we hoped for turned out to be Steve Torpey.

If we had invested in that summer then perhaps the prospect of Championship football in 2010 could have been a reality. Instead we started hunting for expensive training grounds and putting on concerts that (I’m led to believe) didn’t benefit the club at all.

The focus seemed to shift from us being a football club to us being the hub of the community with some really lavish facilities, but Lincoln City FC is a football club. Successive managers tried to stop the rot, some by spending big (Jackson, Sutton), some by being thrifty (Holdsworth), some by grafting for free just to help steady the ship (Chris). I’m not sure what Steve Tilson’s method was I’m afraid. I think he hoped to stay up by conceding goals and losing games.

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Youth involved and given a chance – worth as much as heavy investment

 

I think our story goes to show how just a few months of bad decisions can affect a team for a significant period of time. Failure to invest in the right areas did untold damage across all aspects of the club. We didn’t need the training ground, we needed a centre forward. Westlife served no purpose other than to line the pockets of certain ‘partners’, but ultimately (and allegedly) lose the club money. Maybe we could have used that money to bring in a strong centre half to replace McAuley?

That’s why the current set up is so positive, because despite all of the good vibes and positivity, nobody is losing focus on the fact we are a football club. Clive and the chairman have pledged money raised by the cup run will go into the playing budget, not extra office staff, not unrelated events and certainly not on a training ground, fit for purpose or not.

Even the comment in the first paragraph about investing in youth didn’t really come to fruition did it? Jack Hobbs had moved on, and in truth he was probably the last of the really good players to come out of the youth team. Jacko (to his credit) did try and play some of the younger players, but from Luca Colman-Carr to Lee Bennett, from Martin Pembleton to Nathan Adams we just didn’t see the reward for the investment. Future managers didn’t continue with that belief in youth and all the money spent on the young players was money wasted when Chris Sutton and Steve Tilson turned up. Tragic really.

Now? Now we have Alex Simmons scoring for fun at Halifax, we have Kegan Everington and Elliot Hodge out on loan. Our young players are getting an opportunity and are being managed much better. If there is anything we can learn from the 2010 plan debacle, it is that money alone does not make a young player. They need sensible management not just from their youth coaches but also the first team manager.

When I watched training a couple of the young players were there with the squad. I’m told every match day a different pairing travel on the team coach and are given a taste of what it is like to be in the first team. When they’re out on loan they’re allowed to play in the cup competitions, they train with us in the week and they’re in regular contact with the manager. With all the great work put in by the likes of Grant Brown and John Schofield in the past decade, could we have unearthed another gem for the club if the first team managers at the time had the same ethos as the Cowley brothers? Would Gary King have benefitted from that sort of management?

 

I try to stay out of politics at the club as much as possible for a few reasons. I tried when I worked there not to criticise the regime I served because I was an employee. Now I’m not, now I can say what I want, when I want to. The exciting thing is for the first time since Rob Bradley handed over the reigns there isn’t a criticism to be had. We’re playing well, there is a bit of folding money floating around and it’s being applied in the right way. When they do ticket incentives they benefit everyone including season ticket holders, everyone on the board and connected with the club listens.They are making friends, not majestic plans and they’re investing in the real future, not some unrealistic warped vision of the future based on nothing more than rhetoric and sinking sand. On step at a time, one competition at a time and most of all one game at a time.

Now we signed Elliot Whitehouse or Alex Woodyard, not Steve Torpey or Ryan Amoo. We are playing the best football (alert, bold statement coming up) since I’ve been watching Lincoln (1986). I think we probably have the best squad I’ve ever seen at Lincoln. That’s come about not by grandiose plans about building empires built on poorly draining land, but by investing in the nuts and bolts of the football team, because we are a football club, seniors to juniors, office staff to stewards. We’re here for the football, nothing more and nothing less.

Mazza – Is a testimonial right?

Recently there have been calls for former keeper Alan Marriott to receive some form of testimonial match to honour his nine years at Lincoln City. Is it possible to do such a thing eight years after he left the club, and can you have testimonial match after just nine years service?

If you can, remember the scene. Tt’s 4.05pm on  Saturday May 3rd, 2003. Lincoln need a draw to qualify for a first ever play-off semi final appearance. It’s just twelve months since the spectre of relegation loomed large. Martin Gritton had given Torquay an early lead, and now the same player had been pulled back by Stuart Bimson to give the Gulls a chance to kill our dreams from the penalty spot.

A much younger and more vibrant version of me stood directly behind the goal in the Stacey West calling Alex Russell, the penalty taker, every name under the sun. In the sticks was Alan Marriott, a man who carried my hopes and dreams on his shoulders, and the hopes and dreams of over 7,000 Imps fans.

Russell tried a cheeky chip and our dependable number one didn’t commit to a dive. Planning? Luck? Who cares. He simply plucked the ball out of the air, and in a display of raw passion charged at Russell and berated him for his fancy-dan approach. Later in the game Simon Yeo banged in an equaliser to set up a two legged tie with Scunthorpe. You know the rest.

Alan Marriott wasn’t just one penalty save though, he was a record breaker and a bona-fida Imps legend. In between September 2001 and the same month in 2004 he made 140 consecutive appearances for Lincoln. In 2006-07 he seemed to break a record every single week. His appearance in the 2–2 away draw to Bury in January made him just the ninth player in the Imps history to achieve 300 appearances. His 310th appearance in the televised 3–2 home defeat to Swindon saw him surpass Dan McPhail’s record for Football League appearances.

He then kept a clean sheet in the 0–0 draw at Bristol Rovers in April 2007 which surpassed Dan McPhail’s  total club record of 102 clean sheets. A week later his clean sheet  away at Grimsby saw him surpass the clubs Football League record for clean sheets, again beating McPhail.

He reached 100 Football League clean sheets at the beginning of his following season, but John Schofield’s dismissal saw him enter choppy waters. Peter Jackson brought in Ben Smith on loan and although Mazza regained his spot he was unceremoniously dumped in the summer after nine seasons. Maybe the manager thought the club legend was past it, maybe he didn’t want someone else stealing the limelight in a testimonial earning tenth season. Who knows? History will show Mazza voted 19th in the Imps all time top 100 players, and after City he made over 200 appearances for Mansfield. Maybe it wasn’t the ‘past it’ thing then. Only Peter Jackson can tell us.

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Recently there’s been a lot of love for our former stopper on Facebook forums. Director Clive Nates was tagged in a post (which happens quite a bit; give the guy a rest, he helped save our football club!) requesting a match to honour Mazza. Simon Yeo was all over it, suggesting a few of the 2003-2006 players might come down as well.

So is it possible? Can you have a testimonial under these conditions? Well, yes you can.

The theory behind a testimonial has become a little less relevant in recent years. They were usually a benefit match at the end of a players career that helped set them up for life after football. That became far less of an issue when players started earning more in a week than I do in a year. Recently they’ve been focused on charities when featuring top flight players, and have been more of a spectacle for the fans than something the player needs.

Alan Marriott is different I would imagine. I don’t know about his personal finances and I don’t want to, but I’d imagine football didn’t make him a rich man, and a testimonial might just go down nicely. There don’t seem to be any ‘rules’ as such regarding the practice.

Clubs have typically granted testimonials to players who have ten years of service, although in recent years they have been given to players for particular circumstances such as approaching retirement. I’ve seen such games held for injured players as well.

I can see a real benefit for the ‘Team Lincoln’ ethos we’re promoting at present. If the club were to grant such a game, wouldn’t it be a spectacular PR win as well? Acknowledging a club legend retrospectively, garnering headlines and coverage as ‘the club that cares’. It’s not just PR either, the club do care. The new Lincoln City are likely to undertake such a game and not just because there’s something ‘in it’ for them.

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Maybe a former Keith Alexander eleven could play the current squad? Maybe half of the proceeds could go to the favoured charity of Keith’s family or Richard Butcher’s family? It would create a viable link between that special feeling of old, and the incredible feeling we have at the moment. It would celebrate everything that was good about 2003-2006, and everything that is good about now.

Will it happen? Who knows? Maybe Mazza wouldn’t want the fuss. Maybe the club don’t want to rake over the embers of the ill-feeling Jacko caused by releasing him. In my humble opinion there is definitely some mileage in arranging such a game for all concerned, and it would pay tribute to a player, a legend, who (in my opinion) was treated abysmally by a man who wanted all sentiment to be about him, all good feeling to be aimed at him  and who wouldn’t tolerate other people stealing the limelight.

Game or no game I’m happy to write about a man who gave me a lot of happy memories at the end of the pitch usually reserved for pan and suffering.

 

Shaw Lane AFC

The Imps have been drawn away at Shaw Lane of Barnsley in the FA Trophy, and a look at their current form suggests we are not in for an easy ride.

Shaw Lane play at the same level as Lincoln United, the Evo stick First Division South. It is essentially step eight of the football pyramid. On paper that might seem like a winnable tie, and for the current Lincoln side it should be. It is not one to be taken lightly though, not at all.

Shaw Lane have won their last TEN matches on the spin, and they’ve lost just one game in 18 matches and just two games all season. They’re on fire and as recently as October they handed Lincoln United a sound 5-2 thrashing. They’re top of the league, joint with Newcastle Town on 37 points but with two games in hand, and they’re six points clear of third place Spalding United (with two games in hand). They’re having a good season and no doubt will relish a chance to pit their wits against the finest the National League has to offer.

The club officially only formed in 2012, although Shaw Lane have had sports teams since 1991. They are an amalgamation of three ailing teams. In 2011 the senior side of Shaw Lane Community Sports Association merged with Worsbrough Common FC to form Aquaforce Barnsley FC (stay with me). A year later they also encompassed Barugh FC, another struggling side to form Shaw Lane Aquaforce. Since 2012 they’ve experienced four successive promotions and will be aiming for the fifth this season. As recently as summer 2016 they had to drop the Aquaforce from their name to comply with advertising regulations as they climbed the non-league ladder.

Borrowed from the Shaw Lane Facebook page. I gave them a like so hopefully they don’t mind!

 

Their goal threat comes from all across the pitch. Former Oldham youth Jack Touhy and former Frickley striker Gav Allott have both recently been amongst the goals. The Ducks (as they’re known) current leading scorer is Alex Byrne, a former Northwich player and Non League Yorkshire Player of the Year nominee. It’s clear that despite them not being a familiar name to the Imps, they cannot be under estimated as a team on form and sure to raise their game for higher opposition.

It’s worth noting that former Imp Lee Bennett and current Gainsborough Trinity player Matt Thornhill both played for Shaw Lane last season, and Jake Beesley current of Chesterfield also played for them on loan this season.

The tie is on December 10th at 3pm Shaw Lane, in Barnsley.

Routine win for in-form City

After a foggy and uninspiring first half, two goals in two minutes switched the race for the Football League firmly in the favour of the Imps, although nothing is won and lost in November.

Maidstone came with a game plan to play tight and hit us on the break, but a failure to break at pace or with any venom left their tactics looking increasingly ineffective. One thing they did do was defend well, certainly for the first 45 minutes or so.

After the break it looked to be much of the same until a cross from the right went over everyone, and then when it was delivered back in from the left Matt Rhead (predictably) headed into the path of Theo Robinson. The striker added to his Imps tally to the relief of everyone in the stadium. Until then I wondered if we might be on for another ‘Solihull Moors’, and I suspect Theo was overjoyed his hard work in recent weeks had yielded a goal.

Once we got one I thought the floodgates might open, and within a couple of minutes it was two. Keeper Lee Worgan played an appalling ball straight to Nathan Arnold, and a player of his class needed no prompting to set up Big Rheady for our second, game over.

It was a deserved victory without ever being truly inspiring, but good teams don’t roll sides over five or six nil every week. Good teams keep winning games, or as Danny said in his post-match interview they ‘refuse to lose’. For the thirteenth time in a row we simply refused to lose.

I though it was a workman-like performance without being particularly scintillating. We have had a lot of games in a short space of time, and they keep coming with another tough game on Tuesday, so I could understand why a desire to close it down in the last twenty minutes or so brought a few less chances. To use a phrase from Gary Waddock, we controlled the game from the very start to the very finish. Professional, clinical and most of all effective.

One observation of mine was what a nice group of fans Maidstone have. Firstly for a side battling at the wrong end of the table it was good to see just over 200 of them in the stands. All too often teams at the right end of the league struggled to muster 100, and they were vocal as well. Fair play to all those who travelled up.

I chatted to a couple of them in the bar beforehand, and aside from a shared hatred of Dover they struck me as a club with the right motivation and the right attitude towards their progress. They haven’t been bank rolled by an egotistical multi millionaire hell bent on seeing his local poorly supported team in the Football League. Instead they’ve battled back from bankruptcy and have a very pragmatic and realistic approach to their life at the top of the non-league pyramid. If we get out of this league this season it will be them, along with Southport that I hold a certain degree of fondness for.

Besides both their fans said they disliked the Dover chairman intensely and an enemy of his is always going to be a friend of mine.

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Helped set up the first goal

 

Other things to come from yesterday included a solid display from Terry Hawkridge out wide. There were times when he seemed to drift inside and I think he was looking to offer the same variation to his threat as Harry Anderson does. It was a Hawkridge cross that helped set up the first goal, and overall the tricky wide man asserted himself well on the game.

My man of the match was Theo Robinson. He’s come under fire from some quarters for missing a few gilt-edged chances against Aldershot, and at times his first touch has been reminiscent of a wrecking ball. His work rate has never floundered though and I thought he had one of his best games in a Lincoln shirt yesterday. Recently Rheady has dropped a little deeper to win the ball, we saw it against Forest Green and we saw the same yesterday. When him and Robinson are close together in and around the penalty area we are a real danger, as proven by the first goal.

I hope there is a possibility of keeping Theo for the season, and I’m wondering if that slows down the search for a striker to play off Rhead. We keep talking about Miller and Akinola (and I keep banging on about Karambe) but with Eliot Whitehouse seen as a centre forward in the England set-up, perhaps he is actually the answer along with Robinson and Marriott. Young Elliot almost scored a stunning third with a powerful volley, and something keeps telling me he might just prove to be more than a midfield option for the club.

Thirteen games unbeaten, so just five to go until we usurp a record set by John Beck’s side in the last promotion season of 1997/98.  I’m not one for putting too much emphasis on stats and omens, but we lost that last unbeaten run to Wigan in whatever they called the Football League Trophy back then. Our eighteenth game could be the yet-to-be drawn FA Trophy match ahead of Tranmere at home and the Guiseley double header. It could be that the lowest priority as such is the game we lose our unbeaten run.

Speaking of unbeaten runs, Barrow are on a 20 game unbeaten run at the moment, and outside of us I think they pose a significant danger to our title challenge. I’m not sure Dagenham have the minerals for a title fight, and Village Green are doing their best to flush it away (once again), but Barrow are a real and present threat to us. Our January 6th clash certainly looks tasty, although before that they have a Christmas double header against Gateshead to negotiate, another team unbeaten in eleven up until yesterdays thrashing by Woking.

Of course we could lose our run at home to Wrexham Tuesday night, especially as they’re off the back of a good win against Village Green. That’s the problem with an unbeaten run, eventually you are going to lose it. As confidence grows, you know you are going to come away from a game suffering disappointment. Eventually. I just hope when it does there is an amount of daylight between us and second place, such as four points or more!

That disappointment was not yesterday though, and for the first time in a few weeks our fate is entirely in our hands. If we won every game until the end of the season we’d be champions. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Lot’s of people asking about my book yesterday as well. I’m hoping to be fully proofed by Monday night, so all being well it should be available on Amazon by the end of the week. Once I know details of pricing etc I’ll be all over it, you’ll be as sick reading about my book as you were about the FBA’s!!!

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Maidstone: It’s not the first time… or is it?

Fans of a certain age (an older age) will remember the name of Maidstone from the GMVC years. They were not only our league opponents twice, but also visited Sincil Bank in the FA Trophy. Here we are again, twenty seven or so years later as adversaries in the fifth tier.

However the Maidstone we face tomorrow are not technically the Maidstone we faced of old. In the days prior to ITV Digital the first Maidstone went bankrupt, and although we see ourselves as scraping the bottom in the National League, they are capping off a fine rise from the ashes.

Maidstone evokes many memories for me, but they all stem from the clubs prior incarnation, Maidstone United originally formed in the nineteenth century. They struggled for many years until eventually winning the fifth tier in 1984, but were denied promotion through election and an inadequate ground . When we fell out of the league in 1987, Maidstone was one of our destinations.

We played them away first of all, Mick Waitt and Paul Smith giving us a 2-1 victory as part of a 12 match unbeaten run. They first visited Sincil Bank competitively in February of 1988, this time Paul Smith and Trevor Matthewson scored the goals to give us a 2-1 win in front of 2452 in the FA Trophy.

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We ended that season with three home matches, and if Barnet were on form we needed to win all three. On April 27th 4892 fans watched the first of those matches, against the Stones. this time drew 1-1, a result at the time that could have cost us the one automatic promotion spot we desired so much. You know that wasn’t the case.

Maidstone gained promotion the season after we did, and in three seasons they established themselves as a decent side in the Fourth Division, even making the play-offs. We met six times, City winning three and the Old Stones winning three as well. Our last competitive meeting fell on April 11th, 1992.

That day was incredibly sad for me personally, it was the day my granddad passed away prematurely. He had fed my Lincoln City addiction from it’s inception, he even had a budgie that could say ‘Mick Harford’. Both him and my Dad created the monster that bombards you with writing every 24 hours or so. That day in 1992 I didn’t feel like celebrating the solitary Matt Carmichael goal that separated us by the final whistle.

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I didn’t get to see us beat Maidstone again either. They had overspent in getting into the Football League. Their own ground had not been suitable to host league football, so they moved to Dartford, an action that cost them over a thousand fans from their average attendances. As the debts piled up they took a gamble, and purchased land back in Maidstone for the best part of half a million quid. The problem was they didn’t have planning permission, and the council refused to grant it to them.

On the opening day of the 1992-93 season they had to cancel their match at Scunthorpe United. The ground at Dartford had closed, and they only had two players registered after a mass exodus. The end was nigh.

The side that died had featured some really good players in the four seasons our paths crossed. From striker Steve Butler in 1987/88 who went on to enjoy a good career with Cambridge and Gillingham, to midfielder Ricky Newman who later turned out for Palace. They were guilty of  bad financial management, and they went to the wall just a few months after Aldershot in scenes that have now become all-too familiar in lower league football.

Interestingly a plan to merge with Newcastle Blue Star was refused by the Football League as they deemed they had to remain in the county of Kent to retain League football. There was no such complication for MK Dons years later.

So that was the end of the old Maidstone. A new side was formed called Maidstone Invicta which took the old Stones youth players, and they began their long climb back up the non-league pyramid. In 1995 they changed their name to Maidstone United, and just a couple of years ago they finally moved back into their own town in a proper stadium, the first time they had played in Maidstone since 2001.

The current side come to us on the back of five  games without a win, three of those without a goal. Former St Neots midfielder Bobby Joe-Taylor and Liam Enver-Marum are their leading scorers with five goals each. The latter enjoying prolific spells with Eastbourne and Basingstoke in the past. They haven’t scored for three games now, and they haven’t kept a clean sheet since playing North Ferriby on September 10th.

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Without wanting to under estimate them, this is the sort of match that we need to ensure we manage sensibly and effectively. Wins away at Village Green and York have left us riding the crest of a wave, but it’s important we don’t fall off against so-called lesser opposition.

The only two teams of note that they have beaten are Macclesfield and Boreham Wood, but they currently sit in 18th and look to have a season of struggle ahead. That said, anything can happen on the day as the draw against Solihull Moors proved. The euphoric scenes of the last week are now just a memory, and everything has to be focused on three more points to keep chipping away at Village Green, and to keep putting daylight between us and that sixth placed team.

For me it will be a bitter sweet day. I’d be lying if I said I could remember whether we were due to attend the game or not in 1992, I can’t specifically say that I’ve waited 25 years since that awful April day when Geoff Hutchinson passed away, for a win over Maidstone. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I missed that win because of what happened.

I can say though that ever since that day, I imagine my granddad has been looking down and I doubt very much that he has seen a better team playing in red and white since he’s been up there. I’m sure he would have loved Matt Rhead with his obvious Percy Freeman comparison, and I suspect he’d enjoy watching a ‘proper footballer’ like Nathan Arnold ply his trade as well. I’ll think of him in the stands tomorrow, and I hope for the same result as twenty four years ago, only by more goals.

The team we faced tomorrow have battled their way back up, and that’s exactly what we are in the process of doing. I can’t see anything other than a Lincoln win, but complacency from fans or players would be a bad thing. We need to keep filling Sincil Bank, getting closer to that total of 4892 that watched our last fifth tier game against Maidstone. I hope at the end of this season, we’ve achieved the same outcome as we did in May 1988.

 

Football’s dirty secret

There’s a scandal on the horizon that I think is set to blow the world of football apart. It flips the roles of players being the villains and exploiters, and it will have wide reaching repercussions as it continues to develop.

In the last week three professional footballers have waived their right to anonymity and spoken out about the sexual abuse they received as young players in the 1980’s. Eleven more men have come forward and not yet been named, and the suggestion is that a ‘Jimmy Savile’ style scandal is about to rock the game.

Firstly former Bury defender Andy Woodward admitted he had been a victim of convicted paedophile and former football coach Barry Bennell. Bennell, a former coach with Crewe Alexandra was convicted in 1998 after admitting 23 crimes against young boys, but now 18 years later some players are taking very brave steps to reveal further crimes committed by not just Bennell, but other as-yet unnamed coaches in the game.

Yesterday former Crewe player Steve Walters also spoke out about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the monster Bennell. Walters trained at Lilleshall with the likes of Ian Wright, and at one point was tipped to have a big future in the game. Irrespective of his potential he became a victim of a pied piper style abuser who lured hopefully young players into his life, and his home.

Today another player added his name to the list of those affected by sexual abuse in football, former England and Liverpool player Paul Stewart. Stewart’s revelations however pick further at a scab hiding a nasty underbelly to our grass roots development, because his abuser is unnamed, so there is a strong suggestion it may not just be Bennell who committed these crimes. There may be other men, still involved in the game who are also guilty.

All three players have battled their demons over the years. Woodward retired from the game at just 29 and has spoken of feigning an injury on the field just to get taken off after experiencing a panic attack related to his abuse.

Steve Walters was once touted as a potential first £1m pound teenager, but a blood disorder curtailed a promising career. He fears it may have been contracted as a result of the abuse he suffered, and only after seeing the bravery of Andy Woodward did he feel able to speak out. During the original conviction of Bennell he was quizzed about his relationship with the coach and denied he’d been a victim out of fear.

Since finishing his career Paul Stewart has battled drink and drugs later in his career, and at 15 he was told his family would be killed if he spoke out about what was happening. He went on to have a good career, but perhaps never truly reached his real potential.

How far does this scandal run, and what could be the repercussions for the game in the modern day? In the 1980’s there was far less regulation of football coaches, and in such a macho, male dominated world I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying it must have been for young boys with talents to fear losing their whole career over the evil actions of people put into a position of trust.

Bennell was a sophisticated and ‘clever’ abuser. He kitted his home out with pool tables and pin ball machines, and used his position as a top coach to sell the promise of successful careers to young players. He had boys staying at his home, a veritable Aladdins cave for hopeful teens. In promising to make them top players, he robbed them of that chance in the cruellest way.

Former Wales manager Gary Speed once stayed with Bennell in his house of horrors, although both Bennell and the late players wife deny that anything occurred that might have caused his tragic suicide.

I can only see this getting bigger and bigger. A potential first £1m teenager, a £2.2m footballer from the early nineties, who else has been affected by this horrible secret? How many more players at all levels have been targeted and had their career destroyed by these people? Hopefully due to the extreme courage of Andy Woodward the true extent can be revealed and punished. It certainly won’t just be the three brave men who have been in the media recently who have been affected.

My only hope is that football responds in the correct, 21st century way. Perhaps in the mid eighties and nineties this sort of frank honesty wouldn’t have been dealt with in the correct manner, by fans or officials. However, as we enter a brave new age of awareness and heavy retrospective action I hope that football as a whole is able to offer the victims the safety and help that it couldn’t twenty years ago.

This may not be my usual type of blog, but it is important that everyone openly discusses and understands the depth of the problem. 99.9% of men involved at youth level are good people and they will perhaps feel some fall out from this story as it develops. I hope that it doesn’t suffocate our youth game, but I hope that it gives all players belief that they can speak out and have the full support of the clubs and the world of football as a whole.

 

 

This is OUR time

There’s only so many passionate and emotive blogs I can write before they become irrelevant. There’s only so many times I need to wax lyrical about what we’re seeing at Sincil Bank. I don’t need to point it out, 1068 of you saw it for yourself tonight.

My job is to simply record what is happening so we have a permanent reminder, so that when the loco stops, wherever that may be we have reference to just how good things have got.

Firstly let me address the elephant in the room (my room, not yours). I wasn’t there tonight. 1068 of you led an imp-vasion of York and I wasn’t amongst your numbers. It isn’t that I’m a fair weather follower, far from it. Sadly I suffer on occasion from a bad back, and tonight a car journey simply wasn’t an option. I spent the evening listening in agony to the dulcet tones of Mr Makepeace and Mr Thompson, wishing that I was experiencing the euphoria that you guys were.

1068. Let that sink in. That is more than seven National League teams average at home, and if you take away following into account it’s probably more than ten or twelve National League teams’s home support. Dagenham get 1500 on average at home, and most of their visiting fans are within a thirty mile radius. 1068 is better than League One teams expect to take away. It is three times as many as Scunthorpe, top of League One, took to Peterborough tonight.

1068 is more than North Ferriby and Guiseley get combined, and I don’t doubt for those two away trips our travelling contingent will outnumber the home fans. Believe me there’s no way I will miss those games, even if I have to take enough tramadol to knock out a buffalo. Even two buffalos, although it might be advisable in that instance if someone gives me a lift.

Borrowed from Lincoln City’s official Twitter feed, Imps fans tonight. 1068, in case I didn;t mention it.

 

On to the game tonight. We won 4-1, but you know that better than me. We outplayed and outclassed a weak side on their own turf, and their frustration clearly boiled over with that horror challenge on Alan Power at the end of the game. Even when they got a glimmer of light we extinguished it before it even had a chance to flicker properly. We went, we saw and we did the job.

We didn’t just win by the way, we won with first team players out of the side. Callum Howe came in and looked every inch a first team regular, Elliot Whitehouse surely staked a claim for a starting place and Terry Hawkridge terrorised their defenders time and time again. Every single Imps player was excellent. I’m going to make my second confession of the night now: I didn’t expect it.

Maybe I’ve seen too much Lincoln City over the years, maybe I’ve travelled to too many games riding a wave of euphoria only to be brought crashing down to earth. I felt the script was written for us to go down 2-1 tonight, with Robbie McDaid and Sean Newton scoring against us. Instead Newton fluffed his lines and McDaid was anonymous as we simply ran York ragged. It sounded like it could have been six, seven or eight. The saying goes that you can only beat what’s in front of you, and tonight we did our job professionally, clinically and emphatically.

Apparently we weren’t at full strength, but what is full strength? Callum Howe has been captaining another National League side, Terry Hawkridge has over sixty Football League appearances to his name and Elliot Whitehouse scored for Englan C last week. Is someone honestly telling me they are ‘only’ reserve players? Of course not.

Someone did try telling me on twitter last night that we rely on three key players, and without them we’d be mid table. I realise Arnold and Anderson have been key to our success, obviously Raggett and Waterfall have been superb, our full backs provide attacking options and defensive cover, we score more goals than anyone in the top five divisions and Alex Woodyard has captained his country. Paul Farman is the best keeper in the National League and even our squad players are a match for anyone in this league on their day.

 I wish I could fathom out which three players are stopping us from being mid table.

Not only do we apparently have play-off quality (at least) players throughout our squad, but we also have a potential war chest to utilise come January. It might be Black Friday this week, but for at least one National League club I suspect it will be a black January with us poised and ready to tempt another top player to our ranks. Akinola? Miller? Who knows, just being in a position to discuss the possibility shows you how far this club has come.

I’ll get a chance to dissect the tactics on Saturday, I’ll be able to offer the usual analysis, opinion and generally bang on about how great things are at the club. However, tonight I’m going to let 4-1 away at York speak for itself.

I am going to end by eating a bit of humble pie as well. I’ve seen the pictures of the fans crammed in behind the goal, I’ve seen the images of the red smoke emanating from the collective army of Imps fans. I’ve vocally opposed the use of pyro before, but you know what? On a wet and cold Tuesday night in York, with 1068 away fans cheering on a convincing and comprehensive win, I get it. I understand it. Lincoln United away in the middle of summer? No. Tonight? Now I understand, to a degree. If we get fined then it’s a problem, but until we do I can see why our fervent and dedicated supporters are pushing hard to create atmosphere.

Elsewhere tonight everyone around us won, but very few of those teams keeping pace have scored seven goals away in their last two games, three against the (former) runaway leaders and four against a team that last year played league football. Danny Cowley would like us to keep a couple more clean sheets, but if we score three or four in every game and concede just two or three then we’re going to win the league, it is that simple.

I’m going to be frank: I’d wager Maidstone are absolutely shitting themselves. If we carry on playing like we are doing then they’re right to be. In fact, if we carry on as we are doing, every single team in the National League should be wearing brown trousers and carrying around a can of air freshener, because we are on a roll. we’ve got the winning habit.

We’re Lincoln City, and this is our time.

Howe-zat, Cal’s back

One of the only negatives from the stupendous 3-2 win at Forest Green on Saturday was a fifth booking of the season for goal hero Sean Raggett, meaning a short lay off. In his absence it’s time to recall Callum Howe from his Southport exile, and welcome him back onto the Lincoln City promotion express.

The young defender has spent most of the season out on loan at Southport, joining up after our 4-0 demolition of them at Sincil Bank. He’s been incredibly impressive there, rising to captain the side in their recent revival.

He’s played 15 times for Southport and managed to get on the score sheet alongside former Imp James Caton in a 2-1 win over Torquay a few weeks ago. The fans and officials think very highly of him, and to that end Danny Cowley has played a blinder.

Raggett and Waterfall have looked immense, but rather than just having a talented player kicking his heels, we allowed Howe to get regular football at our level with a rival. With Howe in their side they’ve taken points off Tranmere, Eastleigh and Aldershot who are all in that chasing pack.

Now we need a fresh and ready player to drop in for Raggett, and Callum Howe comes with games under his belt. He’s clearly highly thought of there and he is already up to speed in terms of fitness. He’s even trained with us as Southport only train three days a week, so it’s as if we’re getting an in form new signing who already knows everything we’re trying to achieve.

fgr9

I’ve not got a picture of Howe to hand, so here’s Raggett scoring in the 91st minute against Village Green again 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

Howe himself will be delighted to be back in the fold. Speaking in the match day programme against Aldershot he said;

“I am in regular contact with the manager. We speak before and after games and that communication is really good to have. Obviously I would love to be a part of the success we are having here and be in the team, but the lads are playing so well and in reality it would be tough to force my way into the side at the moment.”

At this stage of the season when games come thick and fast, and adverse conditions come in to play it pays to have a large squad, and it pays even more if that squad are able to immediately slot in where required. There will be no match rustiness for the former Scunthorpe man at all.

Southport fans are lamenting the loss of their captain. On the ‘Port Chat’ message board they’ve expressed dismay at losing such an influential player.

One poster, named Exile said;

“Has been a cornerstone of our revival. Like everyone else, would love to see him back here.  Good luck to him…”

Another named Paskin wrote;

“Was only a matter of time as he as been brilliant for us. Hope to see him back one day! Good luck to him.”

It’s been common knowledge that Howe is still rated by the Cowley bothers, but it was a shrewd move to send him out so early in the season for game time at Southport. They couldn’t have picked a better club either, the side from Haig Avenue are one of the few I really like at this level. They’re a friendly bunch and they have affected the form of a few of our rivals.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howe back there before the end of the season, depending on how Raggett recovers from the injury that threatened to rule him out of Saturday’s win. Let’s not forget just minutes before his venomous volley, captain Luke Waterfall also went down with a knock, so to have a fit and able replacement for either is a real bonus.

Southport will be hoping the recall is temporary, but I imagine any move wouldn’t happen now until January at the earliest. In the interim I genuinely wish Southport all the best, and I look forward to them being the last ground we visit during our National League stay, just like it was the first in August 2011.

photo by Graham Burrell