On seeing my hometown win at Wembley
For context I’ll begin with a timeline:
- 1884: Lincoln City FC is founded.
- 8th April, 2018: Lincoln City FC make their first ever appearance at Wembley Stadium.
I'll do the maths for you, that's 134 years between those two events. 134 years between inception and a Checkatrade Trophy final vs Shrewsbury Town at the national stadium. Lincoln City won 1-0, courtesy of a 16th minute finish by Elliot Whitehouse. The abundant Imps contingent at Wembley erupted, as did I, amongst their massed ranks.
I'm first and foremost an Arsenal fan. But I was born and raised in the city of Lincoln. Given that a jaunt to Highbury, or latterly the Emirates, was a vastly more expensive day out, my youthful experiences of the terraces came at Lincoln's home, Sincil Bank.
During those 134 years of Wembley exile there were of course high points. Before my time, there was the League Two title triumph of 75/76 under the guidance of Graham Taylor. In my own youth was the brilliance of Keith Alexander, which unfortunately passed without any crowning silverware. Then came the brief reign of Chris Sutton. Hard to call that a high point. But in retrospect it was quite funny. He didn't seem to really take to Lincoln; I guess we just couldn't gel with his relentlessly happy-go-lucky demeanour.
As a Lincoln boy I can't say my feelings about my hometown ever extended much further than knowing parts of it were quite nice but generally it was all fairly dull. As a young lad itching to make his way London I felt hemmed in. I always found the notion of feeling proud to come from somewhere fairly alien. After all, none of us choose where we are born.
Something has changed recently though. Or perhaps I have.
Having not lived in the cathedral city for nearly four years now I find my affections for the place growing. Whilst I don't plan on moving back, I do appreciate now what I left behind.
Danny and Nicky Cowley took over at Sincil Bank in May 2016. Since then the high points have come thick and fast, including a return to the EFL as National League champions and becoming the first non-league side to reach the FA Cup quarter final stage since 1914. Said quarter final was against Arsenal at the Emirates. Again, I was there, amongst the loud and proud legion of City fans. My heart was with the Gunners, I confess. Truth be told, it was a conflict of allegiances I never thought I'd have to confront.
Back to Wembley though, on that recent drizzly April Sunday. The rain couldn't dampen City spirits. Pathetic fallacy be damned. On that day my loyalties were entirely in line with the City horde around me too.
It was an odd, thrilling sensation to witness Lincoln lift that cup. Much as it was odd seeing so much of Lincoln in London. It's not a particularly thick accent we carry, but you really notice it when it's rattling around Wembley Park station.
Most of the 30,000+ Lincoln fans that descended upon Wembley that day will have travelled from the Lincolnshire area. Much of my family came amongst them. It should be noted that my mum is as devoted a member of the red and white Barmy Army as anyone. I, in contrast, made my way from West Ham, wearing what must have been one of the only Lincoln City shirts in East London.
I return to Lincoln, where my family remain, as often as I can manage/afford. Unfortunately, this is an irregular occurrence. On Sunday 8th April, my hometown came to me.
It served as a timely reminder in my life of what my hometown and its people mean to me. Which is far more now that I'm gone than I realised when I was there. I discovered a well of pride for my home I didn't know I had.
You can call that sentimentalism. But that's the thing with football - take the sentiment out and you're left with nothing.
We also won a cup. It was a fine day. We didn't feel the rain.