Principle over progress

I’ve been given a great opportunity tonight, something any aspiring writer should really gobble up, and yet I’ve said no.

Firstly thank you to the person who thought it might interest me, this blog isn’t a slur on you. I appreciate any potential outlets for my writing, I’ve made no secret of the fact I’d like to do this for a living. Thank you for thinking of me.

The issue is that I was offered the opportunity to write something for The Sun. I have always wanted to turn the written word into a living, rather than a hobby. The chance to attach my name to a piece of prose published nationally should be something I grab with both hands. However, I cannot go against my beliefs that The Sun newspaper is basically a massive bastard.

A couple of months ago I went into my local Spar shop to buy some milk. Whilst waiting at the counter I noticed an offer on chocolate, and as a growing (outward) man I grabbed a couple of bars of that. When I got to the till the (very pleasant) cashier asked me if I wanted a complimentary Sun newspaper. I explained I did not, I despised everything it stood for, and I left the shop without my purchases. To be fair I was having a bad day, usually I wouldn’t have been so rude, and usually I wouldn’t want to have to go somewhere else and run the errand again.

I went in the local garage instead, filled up with petrol whilst I was there and upon paying I was again offered a free copy of The Sun. I couldn’t very well walk out, I suspect that is borderline theft and I don’t think Louth constabulary would accept my defence that they offered me a free ‘news’ paper. The entire time I was paying for my fuel I was recounting the reasons why I did not want that rag, even though we were short on paper to light the fire.

That’s right I wouldn’t even light my fire with free paper if it was The Sun, I’d rather sit shivering. If I was out of toilet paper, and the only thing that was in reach was somebody else’s copy of the Sun, I’d sacrifice one of my socks. I’d probably even sacrifice one of the pink and blue Ted Baker socks my other half bought me for Christmas.

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Bastards

 

I can’t give you one solid reason for my stance, other than The Sun being a massive bastard. Maybe it was the appalling vilification of Graham Taylor. Maybe it was the Hillsborough stories and the ineffective manner in which it tried to apologise. Maybe it is the fact they champion celebrity over real news, they destroy lives in the pursuit of sales, or maybe it’s because it is a manipulative and vindictive publication used only to further the interests of those shady characters that own it.

Real news is no longer shared in papers, but in The Sun it never was. It has built a following by masquerading as the voice of the people, when in fact it acted as a voice to the people, people manipulated by cheap holidays, cheesy gimmicks and subliminal hatred. The Sun claims to appeal to the White Van Man, the average guy on the street, when it fact it is those people it seeks to twist into vengeful, hate filled victims of broken Britain. Britain is broken, in the main, because a large portion of it’s population read this god-awful hate filled rag and believe what it says to be true.

It even makes me angry that they are bothered about us. I remember in 2003 when Farnborough played Arsenal in the FA Cup, they were all over it as if they were Farnborough Town through and through. They ran articles about how the whole team cost the same as Thierry Henry’s shoes, and about how they were backing the little guy. I didn’t see them backing the little guy in 2007, when Farnborough folded though, by then they were long gone, jumping on the back of some other little team with a big game. utter, utter bastards.

So it doesn’t matter if they were going to publish my name nationally against (what would obviously be) a well written article. It doesn’t matter to me that exposure of that kind could help me give up the 7.30-5.00 working life in order for me to pursue my dreams. I’d rather work for the rest of my life knowing I stood by one of the few strong principles that I live my life by. There’s no telling if it was a great opportunity or not in truth, but I’m not willing to go against what I’ve preached in the past just to find out.

In the meantime I hope that another good chance will come my way, but if it does not I can at least sleep soundly tonight, and that is a damn sight more than I can say for Paul Cox, who’s brutal (but effective) approach to the beautiful game should keep any so-called ‘football’ manager awake at night.

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Crisis Clubs: Coventry City

We are all football fans, we all appreciate what a club can mean to an individual. In times of need my football club and the fans have often ‘saved’ me. When Maxi Jazz of Faithless sang the line ‘This is my church, this is where I heal my hurts’, as far as I was concerned he was singing about Sincil Bank.

For people living in the CV1 postcode and perhaps further afield, he could have been singing about Highfield Road, or the Ricoh Arena. The location may be different, but the passion is the same whatever colour the team you support play in.

I thought I’d write a little about the Sky Blues today, and as I’m a Lincoln City blogger I guess I’ll have to provide some sort of tenuous link to the Imps. Coventry City were the first FA Cup winners I remember properly. I attended my first City game in October 1986, and in May 1987, just weeks after we were relegated from the Football League, ‘little’ Coventry beat Spurs 3-2 in perhaps the best FA Cup final of the era. Keith Houchen’s diving header will live forever in my memory, even as a neutral. Of course Trevor Peake was on the pitch that day for Cov, and as an ex-Imp my interest was sparked.

For a really short while Coventry were my younger brothers ‘little’ club. Dad had told me I needed to support a big club as well as Lincoln, and I chose Luton Town. My brother, then a Chelsea fan decided that meant he needed a little club, and at just six years old I suppose he figured FA Cup winners were as little as he dare go. By the time Sutton United knocked them out in the third round of the 1989/90 competition Paul (my brother) had firmly placed his allegiance with the boys from Stamford Bridge. Anyway, there’s your link to me and to Lincoln City. Before all this private posturing in the Hutchinson household you had to go back to March 1963 when Coventry hammered us 5-1 in the FA Cup for our last meeting. Coventry and Lincoln do not have a great amount of history.

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Such a superb goal

 

The reason I’m banging on about the Sky Blues is, in part, due to their protests against Sheffield United yesterday. With the telly cameras focused on them at the Ricoh, fans decided to up the ante in their protests against owners SISU by staging a pitch invasion on 88 minutes. Their actions brought to national attention the discontent and suffering that fans of this once-top flight club have endured. Further footage emerged today of a Coventry fan breaking through the segregated area and attacking a Sheffield United fan for chanting pro SISU songs during the game. There is an awful lot of anger in the West Midlands at present.

I was reminded of the demonstration that took place outside the ground at Lincoln ahead of our clash with Newport a few years ago. I understood the frustration that our fans were experiencing, relegation and an apparent lack of ambition had boiled over into demonstrations, albeit far more peaceful. Bob Dorrian was the villain that day, but in the long term he’s proven that despite some early misguided decisions, he does have the clubs best interests at heart.

Can the same be said of SISU? No, of course not. It could be argued that Coventry’s fall from grace has been more spectacular than ours, once serving 34 years concurrently in the top flight, they’re now firmly ensconced in the League One relegation spots, and even the most die hard Cov fans aren’t optimistic about the future.

So who are SISU, and what exactly have they done to warrant the level of vitriol being aimed at them?  Well unlike Bob they’re certainly not lifelong fans of the club they own, and they don’t seem willing to invest in the club either. Unlike our chairman, I don’t think they’re ever going to ‘get it right’ either.

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Protests halt proceedings at the Ricoh. Coventry lost 2-1.

 

Before we look at them I think it is prudent to note that they were not there at the very start of the issues. Coventry were relegated from the Premier League in 2001, but still pressed on with plans to move to a new stadium. At the time of relegation only Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal had spent a longer period in the highest division. It was widely expected that this stalwart of the top flight would return fairly quickly. They opened their academy in 2004, and left Highfield Road a year later for the Ricoh Arena.

The comparison between Highfield Road and Sincil Bank is striking. In the days before all seater stadiums it could hold a lot more people, 51,000 the record. Once it became all-seater though the capacity dropped significantly. When that was coupled by the lack of parking close to the ground, and the aging facilities a move was always on the cards. I suspect had City been promoted to division two in the early 1980’s we would have faced similar problems, and that lack of access and facilities is the main reason we are pushing on with a move today.

In actual fact Highfield Road was England’s first all-seater stadium, another pioneering move by football trail blazer Jimmy Hill in 1981, some eight years before the Taylor Report made it compulsory. Leeds fans tore the seats up just months after they were fitted though. It’s always Leeds, isn’t it?

In 2005 Coventry moved to the Ricoh Arena, and there began the rapid decline. They were simply tenants in the ground which was owned by a third party, Arena Coventry Limited (ACL). This point will become crucial later on.

In 2007 Coventry were on the brink of administration when Ray Ranson and SISU saved them with just 20 minutes to spare. Ranson was a former Man City defender, but SISU were not as involved with the beautiful game. They were (and still are) a privately owned hedge fund sponsor, a firm which invests in the public equity, and a firm that I expect saw Coventry City and the ‘football club bandwagon’ as something they could make money from. That hasn’t happened.

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Highfield Road. I bet Coventry fans would love to be able to turn the clock back.

 

In 2012 after five successively poor seasons the club were relegated to League One for the first time in 48 years. Worse was to come. Owners SISU entered into a dispute with ACL over the rent Coventry were paying to use their stadium. They were (perhaps rightly) complaining about a lack of access to match day revenue. All parties had previously agreed that the rent would amount to £1.2 million per year, but this did not give Coventry City access to money taken on the gate. SISU stopped paying rent, they were given a deadline to pay up, and it passed.

ACL planned to get a High Court order to place Coventry City FC Ltd into administration, but SISU beat them to it and entered administration anyway. They accepted the 10-point penalty from the Football League as a result of doing so. A further 10-point penalty was incurred when ACL refused to accept the terms of a CVA proposed by the administrator. Two different entities were tearing each other apart, and the club was stuck in the middle. It was almost as if two parents were arguing over who got the child, but only because of the financial benefits of having them.

In 2013 Coventry left their ‘new’ home, much to the disgust of the long suffering fan. All of the posturing and arguing between these two companies meant many lost sight of the real victims in the saga, the honest football fan that just wanted to watch and support his team. The young lad who wanted to wear his replica shirt and cheer on his heroes was the one who suffered, whilst these corporate companies looked to shift blame and argue over money.

Coventry agreed to play their home games in Northampton at the Sixfields stadium to ensure it could meet the fixture requirements, which essentially would be like Lincoln agreeing to play their home matches at York Street. This resulted in the then-villains of the piece, ACL threatening Northampton with legal action!!

Eventually ACL and Sisu agreed a two-year deal for Coventry to return to their rented home, and they went back to the Ricoh Arena in 2014. That was not the end of the problems though.

It is now 2016. The club languish in the relegation spots in League One, and should we gain promotion we have a very real chance of facing them next season. They are currently manager-less after Tony Mowbray left at the end of September. The hostility around the club has grown, with anger directed at the owners SISU and their apparent lack of interest in helping the club regain some of it’s lost pride. Mowbray failed to win any of the first ten matches of the season, but Cov fans didn’t hold him responsible. He wasn’t given money to invest, and after a promising campaign faded the year before, it was thought a bit of investment might have seen them ascend the league.

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The link between Coventry and Lincoln City, Mr Peake.

 

Two and a half months later nobody wants to take over the club. SISU have got through eight managers in nine years, with only Chris Coleman lasting more than 100 games. They are struggling to attract players to the club, and although perhaps Blackpool’s mis-management has caught the headlines, what has happened at Coventry is a far more sustained decline, a decline brought on by neglect by non-football people owning a football club. I doubt very much the SISU knows or understands what a football club means to the community and the people who have supported it all their life. I doubt very much that they care.

Their fans have quite rightly had enough, moving grounds, managers coming and going, administration and extended uncertainty. At the centre of all this mess is a proud football club with a strong history, and long suffering fans who deserve better from the people entrusted to run their club.

The headlines of pitch invasions and fighting in the stands may not be what the club needs when trying to find new owners, a new manager and new players, but as a die hard supporter of a football club I can empathise with them completely. They have troubles in their own lives like we all do, and yet they don’t have that 90 minute escape every Saturday. I heal my hurts at Sincil Bank, but when they go to the Ricoh those wounds are opened up and exposed. I  understand what drove our own protests four years ago, but looking back I think it’s clear things could have got a lot, lot worse for Lincoln City.

I’m sending a message of solidarity to Coventry City fans, keep fighting the disease that is hedge fund investment sponsor blah blah blah, keep fighting for your football club. Eventually, you will win.

If you’d like to sign the petition to help drive SISU out of Coventry City, then click here.

If you’d like to buy my book that has nothing to do with Coventry and everything to do with the Mighty Imps, click here.

Marching on together, a night to remember.

It seems at the moment after every game I sit down to write a blog, wondering how I can possibly find new ways to enthuse about our football club. I’m going to try because it’s what I do, but sometimes football produces moments, matches and spectacles that simply defy words. Therefore I might find it hard to express in the English language what at least 6,600 people felt tonight.

I’ll start at the very beginning, the Travis Perkins suite as early as 6.15pm. It was rammed full, not just like the ‘good old days’ under Keith but even busier. Clearly people wanted to see the draw, and as the pictures began beaming out from Sincil Bank we could already see the Coop filling up on the big screen. I’d said to my Dad I expected close to 6,000 people, and prior to kick off that had seemed like an ambitious estimate.

Obviously the draw was perhaps a little less inspiring than we’d hoped. Ipswich are mid table in the Championship, but they do average 17,000 so it will be a good payday for the club. Whenever you get into the third round draw you hope for the big boys, but nothing was decided at 7.10pm no matter who we got. Sure if we won we had a trip to a biggish club, but Oldham weren’t going to be pushovers.

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Third round draw in the TP suite. I was near the front taking this!

 

Normally I’d hang around until 7.40 ish in the bar then take a wander into the ground, but seeing how busy everything was we decided to get into the ground early. Usually it is my Dad, me and my step mum Mo, but today we had Mo’s brother, his mate and my mate Portion as well. It did seem like everyone had brought a friend or two with them, the bar under the stand was as busy twenty minutes ahead of kick off as it is at half time of any game. Binning off the idea of a pint we went to get a seat, and found the upper tier almost completely full. At that point I realised we were in for a special night in front of a big crowd, and I’m sure a lot of other people felt the same.

Now I know a lot of fans ask ‘where were you when we were rubbish’ (or something like that) to the stay away fans who come out for the big games, but I don’t at all. Football is a product and if that product is Steve Tilson or David Holdsworth quality then a lot of fans simply won’t pay to watch it. I will, most of you reading this probably will but not everyone has red and white pumping through their veins (unless we are talking blood cells, then everyone does…). Some people want to watch good football, committed players and winning teams. If we keep winning, they keep coming. I’m happy that a big cup tie can attract so many floating fans, especially on a bloody cold and foggy night in December. The next home game will attract 4,500 perhaps, but the other 2,500 from tonight will come again and will pay again. Let them come and see what’s happening at our club without labelling them as part time.

Anyway on to the game. These days you know Lincoln City mean business, and after the teams came out the players did their warm up in front of the paced Coop whilst Oldham’s lot stood around already looking cold. The intensity is instilled into the team and it is getting more and more evident and widespread. I’m sure it isn’t by chance that they warm up right in front of the big stand full of Imps fans, it’s almost like a warm up for us all. The boys are there, right in front of us, acknowledging the crowd and showing they’re here to win games. I think it is purely by design to begin to entice fans in before a ball is even kicked.

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They’re not here, they’re not there, they’re not any bloody where. Empty seats.

 

First half I thought Oldham were terrible. They had a couple of half chances, but we took the lead and deserved it through a good passage of play. The League One defenders didn’t want to have to deal with Rheady, and in doubling up on him it left spaces elsewhere. Theo worked hard to get into position to take his goal, and it was a typical strikers finish: almost by chance. You could see what it meant to him, and I think it was more than just happiness at scoring in such a high profile game. I’m not convinced Theo is here just to sell himself anymore, I think he looks every inch a committed Imp. Time will tell.

With everyone on their feet I took the opportunity to squeeze out for a brief toilet break, and by the time I returned they were on their feet again celebrating Terry’s goal. I was absolutely delighted for Terry, not just because it gave us a massive edge in the tie, but because he’s had a tough time in and out of the team. He had a good game tonight and he took his goal well, especially after having an earlier effort saved. I did wonder if playing Terry is a precursor to Harry Anderson returning to Posh, and Danny is trying to get him settled back in the side.

We cruised into half time, and I didn’t bother going for food knowing the queues would be hellish, and obviously the food is awful. My mate Portion did, and he hadn’t got halfway down the line when we kicked off. He’d only just taken his seat when Theo calmly finished to give us what would be the winning advantage.

We’ve won games this season, we’ve scored goals this season and as fans we’ve had plenty to cheer. That third goal though was different to any other because it felt like we’d killed the game. Little old Lincoln City (so little we attracted 2,000 more home fans than Championship side Burton Albion did on Saturday) had gone 3-0 up against opposition two leagues higher in front of the TV cameras. The big crowd had turned up, football fans across the nation were watching and we had given them a demonstration of what we can achieve. Pride? Restored, and then some.

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Remember the night the wall came down against Stoke? Remember the night the fog set in against Oldham? History in the making.

 

My phone was going mental after that. I had a mate, a Leicester season ticket holder, messaging me saying it was the best game he’d seen all season. I haven’t heard from that mate for two years. I had two Codheads message the same, a Man Utd season ticket holder… suddenly Lincoln City were centre of attention, and we weren’t fluffing our lines. Deep down you knew we wouldn’t, deep down we knew we’d win this game. It’s the fear that stops you shouting it from the rooftops, the fear of us doing our usual thing and us fans ending up with egg on our face. Theo killed that fear for me with a superb finish.

Of course Oldham came at us in the latter stages, and Lee Croft in particular was outstanding for them. A gap opened up between Habergham and Arnold as the game got stretched, and every time they came down the right you thought they might score. They did score of course, twice but as we know twice isn’t enough when you’re three nil down.

To give the night an even more special atmosphere the fog came down as thick as I recall ever seeing at the Bank. Not one of the 4,500 fans in the Coop stand could see the bench by the end of the game, but it added to the mystique. It all felt very unique, and the relief and joy that greeted the final whistle was something very, very special. Very few of the 7,000 fans had left the ground early, and we weren’t just celebrating a win. We were celebrating a giant killing, we were celebrating rising to the big occasion, we were celebrating the whole country being able to see that we are on our way back. It was almost cathartic, finally we had beaten not just a league side, but a League One side. No longer are we the fodder for the likes of Carshalton or North Ferriby. No longer do we dream of an FA Cup first round tie with Rochdale to make us feel almost a proper team again. The last five years of hurt and embarrassment melted away as we proved that not only are we as good as anyone in our league, but we’re as good as at least one team two leagues above us.

The £27,500 prize money is a nice bonus too, as well as half the gate receipts from a 17,000+ crowd at Ipswich. If I were Dover I’d hope Rickey Miller scores a couple in the next few weeks so they can ramp the price up a bit more.

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Thirty years and two months we’ve been coming to games together. I bet you can count the number of nights we’ve had like this on one hand.

 

It’s 12.20pm now, usually I wouldn’t write this late into the night but unless you’ve been on the beer all day I imagine you too are finding it hard to sleep. I’ve watched the goals three times already, and I don’t doubt I’ll watch them three times more before I finally succumb to a nights sleep. It’s not just the goals, it’s not just the win and it’s not just the exposure. It’s the belief and pride, it’s 7,000 people turning up to Sincil Bank to watch a team to be proud of, full of belief that we were going to win the game. The last time that many people were in the Bank was one of the worst days of my life, the day we slipped out of the league. I think finally we can forget the indignity and shame of that day, and I think after tonight the rest of English football will begin to realise we’re coming back.

I am going to congratulate the crowd, and not just the 617 for their visual displays. Everyone was singing in that stand, and it wasn’t always led by the boys. I read on a thread tonight they’re a hard core of fifty or so, and it would be remiss to single out 50 from a stand with best part of 5,000 people in. All the fans were magnificent, young and old, 627 or Johnny-cum-latelys. If they heard us in Bracebridge Heath last week I’m pretty sure they heard us in Sleaford this week.

I tell you what, I bet Ipswich won’t be rubbing their hands at the draw because they know we’ll go there and give it a bloody good go. In round three against Bolton Wanderers Chris Sutton put out an assortment of loan players as we crumbled to a 4-0 defeat. Against the Tractor Boys Danny Cowley will put out a proper team, a team that is in the habit of winning matches, a team that is scared of nobody and most of all a team that I am bloody proud to support.

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No better way of showing the Imps in your life you love them by buying them this great present for Christmas.

 

Don’t forget there’s a book out that would make a great Christmas present to anyone who supports Lincoln City. It’s earning rave reviews (well, two) on Amazon. It’s called ‘Who’s who of Lincoln City 1993-2016’: and there are more than one ways to buy it.

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 I predict as a draw 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.

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.

 

 

The day after the FBA’s

You might all be bored of reading about it now, but as I got such superb support from you all over the last few weeks I thought I owed it to you all to write about the night, or at least what I remember of it.

The sheer scale of the event really surprised me with over 700 guests, and one or two familiar faces. Stan Collymore was there, up for the award of ‘best influencer’ alongside some Spanish fella I’m told is on Sky Sports. I wouldn’t know, my football world has no real need for Sky Sports.

The fact there’s an event to celebrate fans doing their own thing is excellent, and I can see it growing more and more as the years progress. Five years ago it looks like it featured about 100 guests in a small room, so it really has exploded in size and in prestige.

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Inside the Sir Alex Ferguson stand

We were seated close to the front in relation to the rest of the room, but far enough away for me not to be able to see the people on stage properly. Our table had five guys from The Anfield Talk, also up for best new blog, and three guys from a betting site called Weekend Football. The rivalry was friendly between myself and the Liverpool guys, and the Weekend Football crew were really supportive.

There was a lot of things to do as well, from photo booths to a football freestyler. We got a goodie back which had one of those big headed plastic figurines in it and some match attax cards. The tables all had a classic football shirts quiz on them with the winning table getting £250 credit to spend in the store. We didn’t win but if we had £250 would just (and only just) buy me the match worn Glenn Cockerill shirt they have on their site from 1982.

There was a multitude of other bloggers and ‘online content creators’ there, from the famous Twitter account ‘Deluded Brendan’ to 442oons video site. It wasn’t all bloggers like myself, there were podcast creators, video creators and even football gaming sites. It really was a rogues gallery of everyone who operates below the official media radar, the people like me who simply follow a club, or an idea. To that end it was great.

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I know the badge is upside down. It was representative of my inebriation

 

I do have a couple of little gripes about the evening. I think there was quite a bit of emphasis on the sponsors and what they could offer the bloggers. Two of the partners went to great lengths to try and ‘recruit’ bloggers to their list of clients. They’ve contacted me prior to the event as well. One of them asked if I would like to work ‘in partnership’, but then turned me down when they realised my viewing figures weren’t in the hundreds of thousands. The others, Classic Football Shirts have provided a link whereby if you click on it through my site I earn commission. I haven’t earned anything yet, probably because I forget to put the link in. I’m not in this to make money, I’m in it to write about our club*.

I was blown away to hear some of you actually watched the live stream, I was honoured you took the time to do that. As you know I didn’t win, in my category the fans vote went to a Rangers blog called John James Site which in one year has had over 7.75m hits, which is about 7.65m more than mine! I knew we were up against some heavyweights so I’ve no complaints. The judges choice went to a blog called the Football Lab, and interesting choice for Best New Blog as it’s been on the go two years and three months, but it’s a good read nonetheless.

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That’s all of us up there. That’s Lincoln City on the main stage

I didn’t come away disappointed though. I wanted to win, believe me. I’d worked out a speech where I thanked my missus, everyone who voted and dedicated the award to Collin. I didn’t get to say it, but you know what, I realised it’s still relevant. Throughout the night I was getting messages, texts and tweets offering support and luck. Some of you were tagging me in Banter with really great messages, and I realised that was what I actually craved, not a certificate from the judges. I write about Lincoln City because I love the club, and you read it because you’re the same as me. My award was simply going to Old Trafford and sitting in a room full of people because you read what I write and you supported me. I feel wrong to say ‘me’, because it was ‘us’ in there last night. We, as fans and as a club were at the awards. Without you lot I’m just a bloke who writes too much, and without Lincoln City I’m just a bloke who wants to write but has nothing to write about, so he plays on the PlayStation.

The Anfield HQ won best football club blog, I’m sure it’s a cracking read. I wonder if Jurgen Klopp messaged the writer ahead of the event to wish him luck? I wonder if the local Liverpool radio station and newspaper did a feature on them? I wonder if the clubs investors took time out to tweet best wishes, or some of the players did the same? I doubt it. Who’s the real winner? We are, our football club. Our family.

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I’m going to get all deep and heartfelt now, so if you’re done with the meaningful prose about what a club means feel free to skip a few paragraphs, probably past the Stan Collymore picture.

It’s well documented I fell out of love with Lincoln City for a while. I have had more interaction with managers, players and officials in the last twelve months than at almost any time when I was Poacher. I stayed clear of players as much as possible on match days back then, but I always felt I could offer the club so much more. Not many of you will know but in 2008 I formed a company with an events organiser friend of mine with the intention of putting on a big gig at Sincil Bank. I was the ‘feet on the ground’ and he was the brains. We met with the club and were more or less dismissed offhand. Why? Was it because I was just the guy in the suit? I think so.

I used to travel all over the country to mascot events representing our club at my own expense and I was proud to do so. Increasingly I was frozen out, especially under our last chairman’s regime. My belief in the Lincoln Family began to wane. You might recall the night the World Cup came to Sincil Bank and we had a memorial to Keith. That night I was told I couldn’t have my photo taken with the trophy because I wasn’t ‘proper staff’. That night started a long downward spiral, not only with the club being relegated but with me feeling that I wasn’t providing worth, and that I wasn’t appreciated. I think the club began to go cold.

The last twelve months everything has gone full circle, and to be representing the club once again, albeit in a different way was wonderful. The guys on our table didn’t really know about Lincoln City, but I promise you they do now. I did what you guys do when you go abroad in your Imps shirts, I represented LN5. Imp on tour. Only this time I did it with the full blessing of everyone connected with the club and the city. I don’t need a certificate to tell me I won anything last night, I have a lot of screenshots of good wishes to prove I got the prize I wanted, and have wanted since that cold Friday night at Sincil Bank.

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Stan: Which blog are you from? Me: Lincoln City. Stan: I scored a hat trick there once in a friendly. Me: We probably let you. (yes this was the end of the night, and yes I am three sheets to the wind)

The night ended (I’m sure) with a bit of milling around and propping up the bar with my good lady. The Budweiser was free, but the G and T’s and vodka and red bulls we finished on were not. We chatted a bit to Stan, had a few pictures and just soaked up the atmosphere. Will I be back next year? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll still be eligible for best new blog, but I’m not convinced a Lincoln City can hope to achieve anything more than we already have. I’m not sure next year the event will be the final act of closure on my disillusionment with the club I was born to love. I’m not sure going again will have the same impact on me personally that it has had this time around.

So thank you all for your support, your kind words and for reading regularly. Personally as I’ve alluded to things have been a bit of a struggle for the last two or three months, but you guys have given me belief in myself and helped finish rebuilding my complete and utter faith in the club and it’s fans. Now lets go and kick some Village Green arse tomorrow morning and make my 38th birthday (yes, I’m only 38. I matured quickly) one to remember.

* That’s not to say I don’t want to write about Lincoln City for a living, I do. I would love nothing more than to have Mark Whiley or Rob Makepeace’s job. I’m pretty sure everyone should email The Lincolnite and tell them they need to start covering Lincoln City, and employ me as their lead reporter.

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Football’s nearly men

I thought I’d turn my hand to something a little less Lincoln City for a change. Football history is littered with players who hae been billed as ‘the next big thing’, only to fall from grace spectacularly. Some have even hit the heady heights, and fallen further than most. So for you this evening, he is my run-down of the top four ‘nearly men’ of the modern game.

Freddy Adu

I would wager at least two of these players will be more familiar to players of the popular computer game Championship Manager (or Football Manager as it is now), than they will be recognisable to the general public.

Adu played in the MLS at the age of 14, and despite his relative youth he was touted as a star of the future. He carried the hopes of the whole USA on his shoulders, a potential world superstar that could popularise the game of ‘soccer’ across the pond.

In order to make it in the world game he had to leave the shores of America, traditionally a country to harbour professionals at the end of their career. Adu made a high profile move to Europe and joined Benfica. Fans across the world sat back and waited.

Unfortunately that is where the fairy-tale ended for the .promising youngster. He simply couldn’t cope with the move abroad and the expectation heaped on him. He went out on loan, first of all still riding his reputation by joining Monaco. They even had an option to buy the wonder-kid at the end of the season. They declined.

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A superstar in the making

 

He then went to further down the  leagues in Portugal on loan with Belenenses but that didn’t work out. He went to Greece again on loan with Aris. That failed as well. Each move sullied his reputation as a future world beater.

These days he is back in the States, not at the end of a glittering career but instead with his tail between his legs.  His net contribution in seven years of football has been just 23 goals. At 27 he may still come good, but he hasn’t appeared for his country since 2011.

Nii Lampety

Now I know readers of a certain age will remember Nii Lampety. He was one of the first superstars of Championship Manager, a player rated so highly he would go on to be the African Pele. I’m sure many men in their late thirties spent some of their teenage years sat around a PC in their bedrooms cheering the young Lampety as he scored for them time and time again.

He wasn’t just a computer game wonder though. Pele himself hailed Lampety as his natural successor. He had caught the eye of scouts at youth tournaments that also featured players such as Alessandro Del Piero of Italy. He had a great season with Anderlecht and moved to PSV Eindhoven, where he was the clubs top scorer.

At the age of 19 with Ghana, he was the  Golden Ball winner at the U17 World Cup in Italy, he added an Olympic Bronze medal a year later in 1992, and then he was a runner-up in the 1993 U20 World Cup. The world sat firmly at the feet of one Nii Lampety.

He had a terrible upbringing, his body bore scars from cigarette burns from his father, and he was regularly beaten. Football was the poor young mans escape, but he had no guidance or help with his career. When he first came to Europe he couldn’t even communicate in English. Maybe the made his next destination perfect.

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In 1996 he signed for Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa. Having been linked with clubs like Real Madrid, a shady agent had effectively stolen his registration rights for himself. He sparked a bidding war which the Midlands club were at the head of. He left PSV, their star player and a far more successful club, to join Aston Villa.

Lampety struggled with the culture change, and he realised he had been duped by his agent. He scored on his Villa debut, but he fell away badly. The decline had begun. When Atkinson left for Coventry he took Lampety with him, doubtless having seen his potential. However it didn’t work out for him there either.

He found himself frozen out of the Ghana team after a sending off in the African Cup of Nations. As England basked in the glory of the Euro 96, Lampety’s promise was crumbling away in front of him.

In 1997 in a last ditch effort to revive his career he joined Union de Santa Fe, hoping that he could develop into the same type of player as one of his idols, Diego Maradona. Tragically after just a few months in Argentina, Lampety’s infant son was taken ill, and sadly passed away. Another series of moves followed, and he ended up in the German second division, where he lost another child and was subjected to racist abuse from team mates.

Nii Lampety is now a cattle farmer just out Accra, and real life victim of unscrupulous agents and poor management.

Gianlugi Lentini

The fall of Lentini was quick and concise. As a young man he conquered the football world, and rose to the top of the game. Outstanding performances at Torino alerted scouted from across the world He was a quick and fleet footed winger, he had a pin point cross as well. He was a man so skilled that clubs were willing to break the world record transfer fee.

It was AC Milan who won the race for his signature in 1992. The fee was indeed a new world record, £13m. The sublimely talented player was suddenly a household name in Italy.

Lentini had it all, as well as footballing ability he had model looks and he lived life to the full. He was every bit a modern day playboy with fast cars and super skills. His early performances for Milan were strong, and he forced his way into the Italian national team. It was hoped he would mature enough for the World Cup in 1994, which Italians felt was winnable.

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 Just a year after signing for Milan,  Lentini crashed his sports car in an accident that would rob him of his football ability. He was driving home from a pre-season tournament in August of 1993, just twelve months ahead of USA 94 at which he was due to arrive on the world stage.

He spent two days in a coma and suffered multiple fractures of his eye socket and skull. He never fully recovered, and he never rediscovered those sensational skills and latent ability he had shown before the crash. He suffered blurred vision, memory loss and dizzy spells. He could still play football at a decent level, but he simply wasn’t the same player that cost £13m. In 1994 as Italy lost in the World Cup Final, Lentini was back in Italy watching on television, a broken man

Jean Francois-Larios

Larios is the player that France forgot, a man who was meant to usher in a brand new dawn for French football. Alongside Michel Platini he had formed a terrifying midfield for French Club St Etienne, and together they won the French League title in 1982.

Larios had come through the ranks at Saint Etienne, but had spent time out on loan at Bastia with devastating effect. He was a tough holding midfielder, a ma who could release flair players and be relied upon to protect the back four. When recalled, alongside Platini and Dutchman Jonny Rep, St Etienne dominated their domestic league. Only a cup final defeat by his old club Bastia prevented them from getting an unprecedented league and cup double.

The World Cup of 1982 was so close, and the St Etienne pair were carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders. They lost the first game of the tournament 3-1 to England, but it wasn’t a reflection of our superiority. It was a close game, and the French fully expected to kick on and progress in the tournament.

With that Larios was gone, and with him a vital part of a slick French team. Despite their on-pitch success a feud had been building between Platini and Larios. It was rumoured that Platini’s wife and Larios had an affair, and although the marriage survived, the friendship and partnership did not. Platini issued a ‘him or me’ ultimatum to the French manager, and Larios was gone.

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In the World Cup Semi-Final France led West Germany 3-1 shortly after the start of extra time. The hard working and industrious presence of Larios could have prevented them surrendering the two goal lead, and eventually going out on penalties. He might have made the difference.

Larios didn’t play for France again, and Platini left for Juventus. Larios had a move lined up with Barcelona, but it fell through and he remained at St Etienne. When his big move did come a year later it was to Athletico Madrid, but disaster struck and he suffered a serious knee injury shortly after joining. He didn’t make his debut after once again entering into a feud, this time with his club over the his treatment. From there his career petered out with a succession of one year spells at a variety of clubs in France.

Could the pairing of Platini and Larios have lifted the World Cup in 1982? Platini led France to Euro 84 success, but perhaps had the successful on-pitch formula been allowed to flourish in 1982 they would have been able to conquer even bigger height. Maybe.

Larios retired in 1988, very much the forgotten man of French football, nothing more than a sad footnote, a testament to how off-field behaviour can destroy a brilliant career.

 

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Calamity Keepers

The position of goal keeper can be a thankless one. One mistake and you’re in the headlines, and if the team is playing well then you’re the one player without a chance to impress. You can only really make a name for yourself if your defence lets you down, and even then quite often praise is reserved to ‘it’s what he’s paid to do’. It’s a harsh life.

In my lifetime City have been blessed with some really good keepers. Ian Bowling, Matt Dickens and Alan Marriott are three that spring to mind, and most recently Paul Farman has managed to cement his spot in Imps folklore by racking up over 150 first team appearances, and he looks set to make many more.

What of the disasters though? There have been a few and today I thought I’d run down my top four goal keeping disasters at Lincoln City. Enjoy, or not as the case may be.

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Got, got, need!

 

4. Alan Judge

Alan Judge isn’t a name that will be recognised by the younger football fan, but for those of a certain age he’ll be recalled as a decent keeper who played for Oxford United and Hereford amongst others. He spent some time as a back up keeper at Chelsea and the thirty-something football fan might recall him from Panini stickers of the late 1980’s. Unfortunately for Judge his Lincoln City career wasn’t quite as solid as the rest.

In the 1985/86 season Lincoln City were on a downward trajectory. The squad lacked cohesion and as a club the effects of the Bradford Fire Disaster were beginning to be felt. The club looked to invest in the ground, and as a result the playing staff suffered. On our way to relegation we trialled several keepers, Dean Greygoose, Stuart Naylor and Trevor Swinburne. We also signed young Alan Judge on loan from Oxford.

Judge played just twice for Lincoln, once in a 1-1 at home to Bristol City. It was seen by many as a good solid start to his tenure and it halted a run of five straight defeats for City. Next up were promotion hopefuls Derby County at the Baseball Ground.

I’m a little too young to remember that game but I’ve spoken to a handful of people who were in the 10,560 crowd and they tell me exactly what you’d expect from what turned out to be a 7-0 defeat. Lincoln were awful. Judge and his porous defence were breached again and again. Shortly after he was sent back to Oxford. He wasn’t the only casualty of that day either. Full backs Rob McNeil and Mark McCarrick never played again for Lincoln and centre half Gary Richards played once more (4-0 defeat by Cardiff) before he sloped off never to be seen again as well.

The result sent Lincoln on another seven game winless streak and the season ultimately ended in relegation by three points.

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Before prison

 

3. Matthew Ghent

I’ve already covered Ghent in my A to Z of City anti-heroes so I’m not going to write much about him here. He had come on as a 38th minute substitute for Alan Marriott in a league clash with Carlisle with The Imps 1-0 down, and kept a clean sheet. He’s the only goal keeper on my list who had a blinder in his Imps outing, so much so he was named Man of the Match in his next game. It was just a crying shame he was listening to the announcement rather than watching the ball as non-league Dagenham scored a last minute winner through his legs to knock us out of the FA Cup. Later spent time in prison which is where I wish number 2 had been in 2011.

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Bet he still misses it

 

2. Elliot Parrish

When Steve Bruce recalled Trevor Carson after our 2-1 defeat by Stevenage towards the end of 2010/11 season it caused then-manager Steve Tilson all sorts of problems. He’d already told many senior players they weren’t going to be retained and he couldn’t swallow his pride and bring talented Joe Anyon back into the side. He thought he’d solve the problem as he solved all his problems, and that was to borrow someone else’s player.

The issue was that in mid-March most clubs have settled squads, young players are out on loan and they’re not looking to do business. One exception to this rule was Aston Villa, who were willing to loan twentieth-choice youth keeper Elliott Parish. Tilson assumed (wrongly) that Parish would be better than Anyon so he snapped him up.

Now I’m not blaming Parish for us going down, but I will state firmly that had Carson remained with the club we would have stayed up. Had Anyon been chosen in goal we would have stayed up. If we’d put an outfield player in goal and hoped for the best we might have stood a chance. Instead we exposed young Parish to what I assume is the worst couple of months of his life.

The kid was out of his depth and he wasn’t protected by a paper thin defence either. In nine outings he conceded 23 goals including six against Rotherham, four against Gillingham and three in that final day defeat by Aldershot. It may be history clouding my memory but I can’t recall him making a single save. He was out of his depth, and as he drowned he took our club down with him.

Since Parrish has gone on to make a decent league career, and with game experience has come a degree of consistency. However irrespective of what he achieves between now and the day he retires he will always be the keeper who seemed to butter his gloves before taking to the field.

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To blame or not to blame?

 

1. Simon Brown

1997/98 was a good year for Lincoln City. By fair means or foul we battered our way to a third place finish, inspired by John Beck and his assembled team of hatchet men and committed, dogged professionals. We lacked finesse, we lacked poise but we made up for it in graft and fight.

Just before Christmas we travelled to our promotion rivals Peterborough United for a crucial top of the table clash. The week before we’d been knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Emley, and ahead of the Peterborough clash John Beck dropped Barry Richardson and brought in promising young keeper Simon Brown from Spurs.

Brown had a stinker as we lost 5-1. Lee Thorpe put us ahead before a first half collapse saw us go in 4-1 down at the break. Nobody blamed the young keeper, not directly. However after the game he was sent packing back to East London, and the experienced John Vaughan took his place in the sticks.

Brown has since gone on to have a decent career, most notably with Colchester. He was fortunate that his brief flirtation with the ruthless John Beck didn’t set him back!

Do you agree with my picks? Was there another calamity keeper that I should have included? Let me know in the comments, or on social media or whatever.

17 DAYS LEFT – Has your mum voted yet? No? WHY?

I’ve made it through to the finals of the Football Blogging Awards 2016 thanks to your votes, and I need now need your votes again. There are a couple of ways you can register your vote. You can click on the link below and select ‘The Stacey West Blog’ from the drop down menu under the Best New Blog Category. All you need is an email address to vote. If you voted in the first round you can now VOTE AGAIN in the final stage.

http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/about/vote-now-football-blogging-awards/

If you do Twitter it couldn’t be easier either – just click on the link below to be taken straight to a tweet to vote

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Please take the time to vote. This is a prestigious blogging award and for us to get to the final is amazing in itself. For a Lincoln City / Non League blog to win the main award it will take all of our collective input, but we made it this far so anything is possible!

Where now for the EFL Trophy?

Despite languishing in the National League I still pay attention to the issues affecting League Two sides in the ever-increasing hope that we might be affected by them before the end of 2017. This week the controversial EFL Cup has come in for strong criticism.

The competition has had many guises, from Autoglass Windscreens Shield to LDV Vans Trophy and back to the Freight Rover Trophy. The Football League’s third proper cup competition has had man ghastly titles and even more ghastly formats. Calls are increasing for it to be abolished altogether as it’s current format attracts increasing criticism and anger. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do, but I don’t believe it has a future if it carries on in the direction it has taken.

Firstly why I think it is important and why it does have a future. It’s being misinterpreted as an opportunity to give younger talent from a higher division an outing, whereas it should be an opportunity for league clubs to trial their younger players. Grimsby Town should be able to field a percentage of their academy side to give them competitive first team football. Youngsters from Chelsea or Leicester can go out on loan to a lower league side and get competitive matches, if anything this freedom of movement saved us our league status in 2010. Players like Chris Herd and Nathan Baker have had decent careers because they played league football at Lincoln. How many Lincoln youngsters didn’t get the chance because of this?

Do you know the only Lincoln game Sam Clucas featured in? A Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match against Darlington. We all know where Sam Clucas is now, and if our manager at the time had a little more foresight we might have reaped the rewards ourselves, not let our rivals cash in on him.

It goes back further. Lee Frecklington played two games in his first season for Lincoln, and both were  in the Football League Trophy. The competition isn’t a back door for top flight youngsters, it’s an opportunity for lower league youngsters to make their mark. Of course it is up to their managers to spot their contribution which in Sam’s case was unfortunate because Peter Jackson was sacked the next day.

Did you know the Football League Trophy was the first silverware of Harry Redknapp’s illustrious managerial career? Or that the 2015 final attracted over 70,000 fans? This shouldn’t be disregarded as a Mickey Mouse trophy and it shouldn’t be treated like one by the FA.

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Ex-Imp Mick Harford didn’t mind winning it in 2009

 

When I think of the competition I don’t think of half empty stadiums although their were plenty. Lower league football isn’t cheap to follow, and the lure of seeing Chesterfield’s reserve side come and turn you over isn’t going to get the better of an important league clash. Football fan’s do not have a bottomless pit of money and it wouldn’t be easy to put bums on seats whatever the gimmick.

When I think of the competition I remember the Area Final against Port Vale in front of a packed Sincil Bank, or a semi-final against Wrexham when our dismal league showing was overshadowed by the possibility of playing at Wembley.

The early rounds can be tedious and relatively pointless affairs. For smaller squads there is a lot of pressure when the League Cup, FA Cup and a punishing 46-game domestic season all have to be factored in. I have no doubt that a coach ride to Fleetwood on a rainy November night isn’t attractive to officials, players, fans or club accountants. At it’s worst the competition can be expensive.

That is it can cost money unless you progress in it. I can recall the night we faced Port Vale in the area final in front of just under 5,000 Imps fans. We’d beaten runaway leaders Chesterfield earlier in the competition in front of just over 2,500. Both those nights it was worth  opening the stands, but in an earlier round less the 1,000 saw us beat Blackpool 3-1. My point is that these games attract a crowd if there is a suitable reason. A match you’re expected to lose against a team like Blackpool doesn’t whet the appetite, but a local derby might and the chance of Wembley certainly will.

If the competition is to survive then the ill-fated academy idea needs to be binned off immediately. The draw should always be regionalised, even if Yeovil met Bristol Rovers and Cheltenham every year at least they wouldn’t spend a small fortune travelling there. A guaranteed derby match of some form would at least put another 500 bums on seats. My case point is the year before the Blackpool win we faced Mansfield at home at the same stage and 2,200 turned up. Keep it regional as far as you can and keep it local.

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To boost the number of teams it should be contested by League One, League Two and National League sides. I enjoyed the match we played against the then non-league side Morecambe in the very first round of the 00/01 season. Lee Thorpe scored a hat trick in a scintillating 3-2 win. I felt introducing those teams could add a couple more local derbies (if regionalised) and of course more opportunities for younger players in our league. It would also give National League teams an opportunity to pit their wits against teams from the football league. It didn’t do Morecambe any harm did it?

It needs to be a clear and concise format as well with minimal games. There’s no TV money at stake and no need to saturate already heaving fixture lists with meaningless games. If you’re not likely to progress in the competition then one early season derby loss wouldn’t be a bad thing, not if you gave your youth keeper and centre half their debuts. However if you get through a couple of games then there is the lure of Wembley and that is enough for any club.

The finals should be staged towards the end of the season at Wembley. Both semi finals should be contested on the same day in the national stadium with the final played the week after at the same location. It would give a further opportunity for a big day out and the semi final format eclipses the ‘non league day’ format of the Trophy and Shield Final that has been successful for the last two seasons.

Finally, just make the prize money a bit more lucrative as well. There is never a shortage of sponsors for the competition so surely one of them can come up with a few more quid for the teams performing? Even if travel costs were covered and there was a bit left over for a curry on the team bus on the way home I’m sure some clubs would be happy. The happiest ones would be those travelling to Wembley because they’ve won three games of football and banked a five figure sum in the process.

In it’s current format the Football League Trophy is a farce. This week Luton Town replaced their goal keeper after six minutes as they didn’t really want him to play but he had to start due to the rules. The format might have been saved had all top flight clubs been instructed to take part, but there are glaring omissions from the roster. It is a confusing format that seems game intensive and simply hasn’t draw the crowds it might do. It has become the punch line to a cruel joke being played on lower league clubs, and if anything it shows a clear and unacceptable disregard for the issues facing smaller football club.

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Would this young man have broken through without the competition?

 

The plain and simple fact is that you will never ever regularly attract football fans to yet another competition unless there is a significant reason. Simple economics mean that not all fans can get to every game, and even at a tenner a ticket I can’t see Grimsby fans flocking to Blunder Park to watch an Aston Villa development side. If it’s a local derby you’ll get a few more fans, if the chance of playing at Wembley is realistic then maybe a few more will come. Outside of that there should be no further agenda.

Three matches a year against disinterested non league opposition are not going to help the next Wayne Rooney or Jack Wilshere with their careers. However the next Lee Frecklington or the next Sam Clucas might be sat on a League Two bench right now just wishing the rules allowed their club to play whoever they wanted.

Given their match with Sheffield Utd in pre-season I’m not entirely sure Humberside Police would agree with me that another local derby on the calendar is a good thing. I would imagine a few more than 1600 will turn up for the Mariners and the Blades a week on Tuesday.

I’ve made it through to the finals of the Football Blogging Awards 2016 and I need your help to push us over the line. There are a couple of ways you can register your vote. You can click on the link below and select ‘The Stacey West Blog’ from the drop down menu under the Best New Blog Category. All you need is an email address to vote.

http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/about/vote-now-football-blogging-awards/

If you do Twitter it couldn’t be easier either – just click on the link below to be taken straight to a tweet to vote

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Please take the time to vote. This is a prestigious blogging award and for us to get to the final is amazing in itself. For a Lincoln City / Non League blog to win the main award it will take all of our collective input, but hey we made it this far so anything is possible!

David Herd

Former Imps manager and Manchester United legend David Herd passed away over the weekend aged 82.

 He started out playing for Stockport County before a 1954 move to Arsenal for £10,000. He made 180 appearances for the Gunners scoring 107 goals, including one in the last league match before the 1958 Munich air disaster against Manchester United.

 In 1961 he signed for United for £37,000 and played for seven years at Old Trafford appearing over 265 times and scoring 145 goals including two in the FA Cup final win over Leicester in 1963.

He moved to Stoke City towards the end of his career in July 1968. Stoke were struggling at the wrong end of the table and he left in 1970 after making just a handful of appearances. His playing career finished with him having made five appearances for Scotland, scoring three times.

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As his career came to an end he was linked with the Lincoln job as early as August of 1970 but instead he recovered playing fitness and chose to play for Waterford in the League of Ireland. However as City struggled under the watchful eye of former trainer-coach Bert Loxley his name became linked again, and he joined the club in March 1971 with the popular figure of Loxley returning to the back room staff.

 His tenure at Lincoln didn’t start well with just two wins from 15 which left us requiring re-election. There was a feeling the club could be about to turnaround though. Under Loxley they had made the FA Cup 3rd Round and been 3-0 at Torquay, only to lose 4-3. The potential was there and it was hoped David Herd could turn fortunes around.

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Taken from the Imps v Aldershot programme from December 1971

 

Herd set about signing players in the summer and for the first time in many years Lincoln mounted a serious promotion challenge. An opening day win against Colchester due to goals from Phil Hubbard and Dave Smith in front of 6607 at Sincil Bank certainly got fans thinking, and by the time September 29th came 15015 were convinced enough to watch us despatch Grimsby Town by 3-0. The Imps were in business.

 City were almost invincible at home, not losing until April 15th 1972 against Darlington. The team was an embryonic form of the superstar side of the 1976 season, with Graham Taylor on the playing staff along with John Ward, Percy Freeman and Hubbard and Smith. John Ward played 11 games that season, three as substitute appearances and he netted five times. In January David Herd became the first ever Imps manager to win a manager of the month award after wins over Workington,(1-0), Brentford (4-1) and Doncaster (2-0) with a 2-2 draw in front of 15856 at Grimsby as well. Form faltered towards the end of March but despite a late season loss of form (just two wins in ten) The Imps finished fifth, seven points behind eventual league winners Grimsby and just three points behind promoted Brentford in third.

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Imps 1971-72

 

 In the close season Herd used his contacts to bring in Brendan Bradley and Jimmy McGeough, stars of the League of Ireland. Bradley had scored nine goals by the beginning of October as the Imps looked to mount a challenge once again. However a 3-1 defeat at Bradford on December 2nd meant just one win in nine games, and amid rumours of a crisis Herd left to focus on his business interests. He didn’t manage again despite experiencing moderate success at Lincoln.

 There is a train of thought that the work he put in at Lincoln set the foundations for the next manager, Graham Taylor to achieve the wonderful things he managed to achieve. Certainly he impressed at Sincil Bank losing only three league games at home during his tenure. However it was his insistence on a defensive approach away from home that broke up that positivity.  Despite leaving City still finished a creditable 10th after Taylor took over, and those who remember that far back speak of Brendan Bradley as being one of the finest players ever to pull on an Imps shirt.

David Herd passed away aged 82 on October 1st 2016.

 

PES 17 (PlayStation 4) review

Such was my malaise this year with the PES v FIFA debate I missed the release date of Konami’s yearly foray into the football game market. PES 16 had lured me briefly as it had with it’s 15 and 14 incarnations before it. However it was more a case of showing courtesy to an old friend, a nodding glance backwards at days when it was the king of the genre.

Inevitably FIFA comes along with it’s flashy presentation and massive licensing and little old Pro Evo gets put to one side. They don’t do themselves any favours though when buying licenses like Euro 16 and then delivering a really disappointing add-on. It was this poorly presented summer release that convinced me FIFA was the way forward. I was already planning how to live through the career of young Alex Hunter in the brave new EA Sports feature ‘The Journey’.

Curiosity got the better of me though and when I actually discovered Pro Evo had been out for a week or three I decided to give it one last bash. I had no intention of doing so but an old friend (Mr Judson) recommended PES this year based on the demo he’d played. For me this was big news.

Chris was the first person to recommend FIFA over PES to me way back in 2008. I bought FIFA 09 and the corresponding PES release in a break from tradition. I had never bought a FIFA release over Konami but as Xbox 360’s broke onto the scene EA Sports stole the crown, and in truth since then they’ve ruled the roost. Recently people have said ‘this years PES is a winner’, but ultimately  it’s almost always been dewy-eyed respect for it’s past glories or hipsters wanting to back the lesser known soccer release to be trendy.

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I’m not going to talk you through the licensing and presentation issues in this review. They’re still there. Going online and downloading official kits and names is possible and it is easier this year than in past years. However the commentary still grates like fingers down a blackboard, so to try and heighten my pleasure I switch off Jim Beglin and Peter Brackley.

I launched straight into the master league mode which is what I played as a younger man. I put a little work in before hand looking up how to design Lincoln’s kits and badge and how to upload them. It sounds geeky I know but in my heart I wanted PES 17 to blow me away, and the only way I could help was to make sure I could be Lincoln. FIFA can’t give you that.

The first few games weren’t great. I have played so much FIFA the controls are like second nature, and I found myself trying the use the skill buttons from FIFA on PES. That didn’t work as you’d expect. I lost a couple of games to nil on regular difficulty, so I switched to amateur. I won my next five games by six or seven goals. The difficulty levels are certainly not well stepped.

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My first six game-months as a manager did nothing to convince me that I shouldn’t attend a midnight lanch of FIFA last night. I struggled along and scraped by, looking at tutorials on YouTube and trying to figure out  some sort of strategy and game plan. Once upon a time I had been a Pro Evo king, when games could only be played by being in the same room as your opponent. I went undefeated for almost two years in 2001/02. Now I was struggling to beat Brentford on regular mode and I couldn’t even afford to sign players. I was stuck with the lame master league eleven of nobodies and no means to improve who I had.

It seems obvious now but as the games rolled on I learned a few new tricks and moves. I began to recognise my nameless players skills and strengths and I began to adapt my formation to suit.

Okay I wasn’t waltzing around defender after defender with neat shimmies like FIFA, but I was dissecting something much more realistic. I began to see the runners, and I started to understand the fundamental differences in controlling my players. Slowly but surely I was getting rid of my ‘FIFA programming’ and learning how to play PES properly.

I’m not sure at what point I forgot I was playing my so-called second choice game. Maybe it was the heart breaking moment Birmingham pulled back two goals in a game I’d dominated by suddenly attacking me in the final ten minutes. It might have been the moment my new six foot six loan striker headed in a cross just as I’d hopedwhen I signed him. It might have been as Coutinho (‘S’ Coutinho. Steve maybe?) turned a Reading defender and scuffed a weak shot into the ground and past the goalkeeper. I realised I was becoming immersed in a truly brilliant game, a game that had grabbed me like no FIFA release since 2009.

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Everything began to feel so organic. Opponents missed glorious chances to leave me with my heart in my mouth, but they had the ability to conjur things up out of nothing as well. I noticed Barnsley begin to press further forward 60 minutes into our clash so I switch my tactics to an over the top approach looking to hit space. I won that game with a late ball over the top and found myself leaping off the sofa with joy. The result left my sixth in ‘English Division Two’ as it’s called, or the Championship as we know it.

At first I had been trying to play FIFA on PES and I had simply been found out. This isn’t just a game, it’s a proper simulation. Every team has a different approach and I found myself trying to adapt as games wore on. I even upped the game time from 8 minutes to 12 minutes just to experience more of the tactical cat and mouse. I found the longer game allowed more time for slow build up, passes sideways probing and looking for the space to open. Some games I could swarm all over my opponents just looking for an opening, and then others I barely get a touch as a slick CPU packs the midfield and stifles my threats.

I didn’t need the frostbite game engine or the bundles of official teams and players, I just needed this wonderful simulation of the game I love, perhaps not catching the drama of the pitch, but perfectly recreating everything that is glorious on it. The sound isn’t great, the commentary is awful and even the additional effects are very 2006. PES have made no major strides in audio in the best part of a decade. I can forgive that.

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Before I knew it I’d hit the transfer window on my master league game, and a youth team player I’d brought in sold for £12m. I could go out scouting, but it had to be measured and calculated. The team chemistry system is brilliant and really makes you think about which strategies to play. The menu may well still be clunky but what you do off the pitch in PES is as important as what you do off it. On FIFA I marvel at scrolling through page after page after page of real players and data, but on PES I barely read the names. I didn’t care who I signed, I cared what I signed. I needed a six foot six striker to aim my big lump forward at, and whether that was A.Brown or Z.Zubizaretta. I didn’t care, and I still don’t.

The truth is that FIFA is presented much better. Graphically FIFA is better and in terms of options and depth FIFA is better. It clearly has a much bigger budget and much more mass market appeal. However these are football games, and all of the bells and whistles in the world do not change the fact that the action is judged on those 90 minutes your pixelated players spend out on the turf. It’s those 90 minutes that truly matter and this year, more than ever PES has the upper hand in this crucial area. The simple fact is that once you can play it properly it is a significantly better football simulation.

I know when I want an additional challenge that I will yearn a little for those options and game modes over on FIFA. I know as a football game addict I will have both and I will occasionally stray across to FIFA to assemble my ultimate team or to play the Alex Hunter thing. However I will always know that whilst the goodies FIFA offers outside the game engine will give them some of my attention, I will always be wishing that it was the Konami game I was playing when the ball is on the pitch.

I haven’t played FIFA 17 yet. I will, tomorrow and I’ll do a review as well. However I don’t need to play it to make the following statement: FIFA 17 is a beautifully constructed video game version of football.

PES is football.