4194, or in words four thousand, one hundred and ninety four. That is how many tickets non-league Lincoln City have sold for the FA Cup clash away at Ipswich, and that still hasn’t satisfied demand.
That demand has sparked controversy though, as the Imps change in fortunes has prompted a change of heart with the stay away fans. Typically there has been some resentment growing between those who were there ‘when we were crap’, and those that are coming along now, boarding the loco as we press on full steam ahead. Are the loyal 2,000 or so justified, or should we focus our attentions on supporting our team and not trying to root out those following us because we just got good?
Firstly I’m going to make a point about the product on offer, because to many football is a product. To me (and to a majority of you) it is a way of life. Lincoln City is in our blood, it features on the walls of our houses. Our bookshelves are littered with Imps stuff and we have boxes of memorabilia. Win, lose or draw we follow the team through thick and thin. We’re one of those hardy 2,000 or so that will turn up even if we know we’re going to get trounced by Welling. Some of you are even there on the terraces at Nantwich on a cold evening before Christmas supporting the team. Not me I’m afraid, but it doesn’t mean I love the club any less. We are Lincoln City.
For many though football isn’t such a way of life, it is a form of entertainment, a product if you will. If that product is substandard or failing to reach your expectations, then you don’t put your hard earned money into it. Let me try and put this into some context for you; take Star Wars (I’m going somewhere with this). I quite like Star Wars, I enjoyed the first three although I was too young to go to the cinema and see them. When the second trilogy came out I heard fairly bad reviews, so I just didn’t go. Many true fans did though, many staunch Star Wars followers went and watched the films, happy to come back and criticise. I wasn’t that committed, so I saved my money (probably spent it on that seasons away shirt). However, when I heard the latest film was half decent, I decided to go and look for myself. I wasn’t barracked by other Star Wars fans, or belittled because I didn’t really give two hoots about the films with Ewan McGregor in them. I like Star Wars in the same way as some of the returning faces like Lincoln City. I don’t like it enough to watch low quality episodes though, but when it reaches my expectations I’m happy to fork out. Many of the newer faces at Sincil Bank feel the same way about their football.
It may be a clumsy likeness, but I’m just trying to demonstrate that the ‘new’ faces at the ground have every right to be there and have their reasons for staying away in the past. Maybe they didn’t have their Boxing Day ruined by the Guiseley defeat to the same extent that some of us did, but their money is as good as anyone else’s, whether they came to watch awful football in 2013 or not.
I actually find it very amusing that for a short period of time at the beginning of the season we were celebrating the attendances as much as a goal. The fervour around hopefully breaking 3,000 against North Ferriby, 4,000 against Sutton and then 6,000 against Tranmere was exciting and signalled that Lincoln were back. For a while a barometer of our success was how many new and lapsed faces we attracted to Sincil Bank. Now that is ‘job done’ so to speak, many are resenting the Johnny-cum-lately types. Now instead of celebrating the fact we can take as many away to Ipswich as most Premiership clubs, some are resenting the surge in popularity.
Personally I find it bizarre that people are asking ‘where were those 4,000’ in the wake of Ipswich sales. Success is going to bring people in, and on a Saturday afternoon in 2012 some of those people found better things to do in their eyes than watch a god-awful David Holdsworth side struggle to beat teams made up of part time players . Now we are back on our game those fans want to spend their money with us, they want to watch an aggressive and energised Danny Cowley team compete with anyone and everyone put in front of them. We only move forward as a club if we increase attendances, so the battle for Ipswich tickets should be applauded and not lamented as some sort of cancer threatening our club.
I feel for all fans who have missed out or who are still struggling, whether they watched us lose heavily to Plymouth in the FA Cup or not. I was very close to missing out myself, I got one of the last tickets of the second allocation after mistakenly believing I wouldn’t need to stress too much. I didn’t start banging on about the new faces ruining it for us all though, because their money will help us maintain our current situation, and perhaps even better it. The blame lay with me naively not queuing up for a ticket. The club did as much as they could, putting them on sales after a home game for instance. What more can you do to ensure fans attending games get first dibs than sell immediately after a home game?
I also found it amusing / angering that many of the dissenting voices on social media started with the line ‘I couldn’t get from x, y ,z to buy my tickets’, and yet they went on sale straight after a game. If you are one of the die-hard 2,000 or so that have been there through thick and thin, why weren’t you able to buy tickets immediately after a home games? Couldn’t make that particular game? Does that make you less of a fan? No of course not, but it does demonstrate that you don’t have to be there for every game to be a fan.
I was also tickled by the criticism of the ticket office, in particular social media posts moaning about telephones not being answered. With the threat of administration most of the staff were laid off, leaving just a couple of faces to run the office. Times were hard and the club did what it needed to do to survive. It was a heart breaking time for many at the club, but it was a necessary evil to help keep us afloat. Up until the last six months or so there was no need to bring anyone else in. Selling a couple of hundred tickets for an away match at Bromley wouldn’t justify taking on extra bodies, and to spend in that area would seem a folly.
Therefore when this big away day suddenly lands on our doorstep there is inevitably going to be an increase in the workload of the staff left over. Those staff work hard, day in day out for the club. They do their absolute best, but with the greatest will in the world they haven’t been able to answer every phone every time. It’s easy to sit at home hitting redial and swearing when it doesn’t get picked up, and it’s easy to criticise if doing that 300 times doesn’t result in you getting your tickets. Einstein once said the definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, so perhaps after call 150 or so, you might have planned an alternative strategy? Maybe buy online? Maybe go to the club and queue? Maybe do something that didn’t result in a constantly ringing phone driving the already hard pressed staff mad in a ticket office a thousand times busier than it usually is?
The underlying theme here is that it is easy to criticise, it is easy to moan and blame people for you not getting a ticket. Whether you were there when we lost to North Ferriby in the FA Trophy, whether you travelled to Nantwich, or whether you started following the Imps in 1945 I’m afraid nobody owes you anything. You’re not owed a ticket, you’re not owed any sort of priority at all. The club do their best to reward the fans who come to games by offering them up firstly to season ticket holders, and selling them after a game, but there’s only so much they can do. We’re getting better, more fans are coming back and despite doing their best, there is no way the club can reward you for all of that loyalty.
The good news is that we have been awarded another 700 tickets for the game. Be quick though, you know they won’t hang around for long.