The start of the new season sees Lincoln City play their third season back in the Football Conference and after three years of difficulties on the pitch, there are signs at the start of this season that a corner might be at the point of being turned, although there are still… issues to be resolved behind the scenes at the club, as Keith Duncombe reports.

We’re Going to Piss This Tin-Pot League!

That’s a joke, of course. The chance of Lincoln City FC, the team I support, pissing any league at all after they dropped out of the Football League on the last day of the season three years ago was – and is – approximately zero. Those of us who have followed the Imps for several decades will remember that we have been here before. The Imps have the dubious honour of being the first team to ever have suffered automatic relegation from the Football League, when it came at the end of the 1986/87 season. I’m also told that we hold the record for the most number of relegations from the Football League overall – four, to be precise. The Imps additionally have a number of other ignominious and thoroughly inglorious firsts and worsts in their history, but as I need to finish this article without sinking into a pit of black despair, I won’t list them all here.

On this fine website, LCFC has made a number of appearances under the “Clubs in Crisis” tag over the years. This isn’t surprising, given the club’s precarious history in recent times, but embarking on our third outing in the Conference, are we still worthy of being filed in the category marked “basket case”? The answer – as with so many other things in life – is “maybe”. The last two seasons have been enervating, morale-sapping battles for both financial and on-pitch stability. Our finishes (both just above relegation with last day drama thrown in) and the departure of managers Steve Tilson and then David Holdsworth, have ensured that the customary gloom lurking over Sincil Bank has largely continued to prevail.

Things off the pitch in the rarefied world of football club politics (or “two bald men fighting over a comb” as it should really be known) have been “interesting” as well. The club only avoided administration after a cash injection of £500k, the majority coming from board Chair and long-time fan Bob Dorrian. Falling attendances, loss of Football League revenue and the constant paying-off of players has halved the clubs turnover from around £3.2 million to just £1.6 million. The wage-budget, which may have been close to £1 million in our final season in League Two, has also, inevitably, halved. With some big-spenders in the Conference, the Imps’ budget has been firmly mid-table and looks unlikely to get much bigger in the near future.

The structure of the club has also changed radically. After the bail-out, the Board set-up a “holding company” and most Board members – as well as the Supporters’ Trust which owns one million shares – transferred their shareholdings into this new company. This was ostensibly to make it easier for outside investors to buy the club, but it has never been made clear why this would be the case, and neither Trust members nor other share-holders were consulted about the move. This re-organisation is now the subject of a legal challenge by an ex-Associate Director of the club which will be heard at the Manchester county court shortly. Sadly, LCFC has a history of legal battles between various factions within the club and this looks set to continue for the time being, at least. May the best bald man win!

But things are not all grim (you have no idea how difficult it is to write that without touching wood, throwing salt over my shoulder and praying to whatever Gods I don’t believe in). Gary Simpson has been appointed as manager and, as the erstwhile deputy of the late – and hugely missed – Keith Alexander, he knows the club inside out (he still wears the yellow socks that were Alexander’s trademark at games). Simpson also seems to have signed one or two reasonable players and early performances suggest that there might just be a half-decent team lurking in there somewhere, organised by a manager who at least seems to have a plan. The football may not always be the prettiest, but I’m sure most people who follow lower-league football will rarely have seen the words “pretty” and “LCFC” in the same sentence without a strong negative qualifier.

Season ticket sales also topped 1,200, a decent figure after the almost entirely miserable previous three seasons of rank football and pitiful underachievement. New sponsorship (including for the stadium) has been secured and most fans that follow these things seem to think that whilst losses may continue, they should be just about containable in the medium term. So, what’s my prediction for this season (you have to make one, you know, it’s obligatory)? I’ll go with top-half, probably around tenth place in the final table. Doesn’t sound great, does it? But if we’re not fighting relegation again come March 2014, I’ll be really quite pleased and mildly encouraged.

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