League One (Episode 20: A Lincoln Legend)

Little Lincoln City are not to be pushed around.

Spirits are at an all time high after our return from Germany. Danny Rowe is back where he belongs for the foreseeable future, we’ve won back to back promotions and our trophy cabinet has the first contribution from yours truly. Life is good.

In world football, my good mood rises even higher as Belgium beat their European neighbours Germany in a thrilling 3-2 World Cup final. Germany took the lead through Toni Kroos while a double of set pieces from Eden Hazard, a penalty followed by a free kick, gave them the upper hand. Germany equalised with 15 minutes left through Leroy Sane. It was in dramatic fashion that Belgium confirmed their status as champions of the world through a Vincent Kompany header in the 2nd minute of added time. It’s nice to see this generation of Belgian talent coming to fruition on the big stage while knocking the Germans down a peg too.

Moving back to matters at hand however, Charlton offer £730’000 for Billy Knott which I seriously consider. He is a good impact player and he had his moments last season but with that sale and the winnings from the tournament, I could bring in a bigger and better improvement. I have a conference call with some reps at Charlton and negotiate the price tag up to £860’000. The ball is firmly left in Billy’s court now as to what he decides to do from here. Either way, I still have Oztumer, Pett and even Joel Cooper who are capable of taking his position. Bolton boss Phil Parkinson decides to take up on my offer in Germany to ‘keep in touch’, with a £570’000 bid for Gergo. I swiftly decline as I have no intention of selling either of my free agent revelations.

In a piece of business I’m happy to do, I accept £230’000 for want-away Matt Green from Crewe. I leave him to talk with the club and he seems happy that there’s clubs interested in him so I hope it goes through for his sake.

Now there’s time in your career as a manager where you’ll be taken aback by something. Whether it’s your star player handing in a transfer request or your main striker missing a sitter. On the 26th of July, I was gobsmacked by Fulham’s bid for Josh Vickers. £1’800’000. It’s huge, huge money which I actually laugh at when I first hear the figure. I bring Josh in to talk about the offer and he seems happy whatever way this goes. He’s comfortable building with Lincoln but wouldn’t complain if I took the money and ran as he’d be a big London club with at least another 10 years of football ahead of him. I decide to stand my ground and show little Lincoln City aren’t to be pushed around. We’re not a selling club.

On the 31st of July, to close what has been a crazy month, Matt Green officially departs for Crewe. The lads seem quite upset that he’s left and to be honest, so am I. I actually trained with Matt for a couple sessions when he joined Darlington on loan for a month years ago so I’m sad to see him go. But I make it my mission to reassure the lads that a new signing will come. Very soon in fact as I have a meeting the next day with a manager to finalise some details.

In a brightly lit high street restaurant, I meet up with none other than Champions League winning and, more importantly, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez for dinner to discuss loan move for Ivan Toney. I originally wanted Adam Armstrong in but Rafa seemed certain that after a positive season with Blackburn, he was going to get a chance with the main team. After a casual chat and a drink or two with our food, we come to an agreement on a one year loan with the wages being split right down the middle. This will cost us 14.5k a week, making him one of the highest paid players in the club but he has the experience of this league and could be a huge second string player for us. We just have to wait for Ivan to decide if he wants another season in League One or whether he can chance his arm higher.

On the 1st of August, Dorrian meets me to tell me his objectives for this upcoming season in further detail. He thinks that a mid table finish is possible but he isn’t expecting another cup run like last season with a obtainable Round of 32 stage the target for the FA Cup. Looking past the short term projections, he’s wanting to see an increase in season ticket holders over the next 3 seasons which is entirely possible if we play the way we did last season.

Bolton decide they want more and come back in another bid, this time for our captain Michael Bostwick. £420’000 is rejected and as I’m about to leave the office, I strangely get a phone call from a Hellas Verona representative inquiring about taking Harrison on loan? He’s obviously turned a few heads internationally at the World Cup but it’s still an abnormal request. The following day, Billy Knott departs for Charlton but passes the inbound Ivan Toney on the way out. He happily takes the available number 10 left by Matt Green for his year spell at the club.

Elsewhere in the transfer market, Manchester City have splashed the cash yet again in what many are calling the David Silva replacement. Koke signs for £56’500’000 and I can really see him settling in at Manchester with Silva’s veteran guidance. Over in Germany, Bayern Munich have signed Benfica wing back Alex Telles for £37’000’000 to further strengthen their back line which will now be: Alaba, Boateng, Hummels and Telles. Scary.

While I’ve said multiple times I’m a man of my word, I’m also a tight Northern bastard. Hence why I’ve delved into the loan market again for Billy Knott’s replacement instead of splashing the cash. On cue, welcome Rafael Barbosa, a 22 year old Portuguese attacking midfielder playing in his home country for Sporting Lisbon. I can only haggle for another 50/50 wage split but it’ll only put us another £5’000 a week out of pocket which will keep Dorrian very happy. He stands at 5’8 but he’s very fast, agile and overall an exciting little player to watch. Plus, he has an afro so you can’t ask for much more in a signing. He wants to take time to think about moving away from home as he’s actually never left Portugal which I understand. He says he’ll have an answer for us after our opening game of the season.

There’s been another couple huge deals in the world of transfers with Nainggolan joining Atletico Madrid to replace Koke for virtually the same amount of money, take a couple million pounds. Pedro gets one last big move not long after his 31st birthday when he jets over to Turin to join Italian giants Juventus for £35’000’000 which is a lot of money for a winger who’s over 30. He is also a part of a transfer domino chain as he is dubbed Cuadrado’s replacement who also joined Atletico for just under 23 million.

By the time the Blackpool game arrives, Sincil Bank has completely sold out. Blackpool have finally got a new owner to take over who has invested a fair bit of money into the squad. Hopefully, the seasiders finally get their club back on track but not today. Not against us.

Rowe, Oztumer and Dickenson all start to claim their professional Lincoln debuts. Nelson and Toney aren’t so lucky as they take a seat on the bench. I start Harrison up top over Palmer as I want pace. A quick start to this season to get us up and running. Michael Bostwick comes to see me before the game in a pretty emotional state to tell me how thankful he is. He never thought he’d get a chance to lead a team out to a game in League One after leaving Peterborough but all that matters is he’s got the chance today. The smell of freshly cut grass pierces my nostrils as chants do the same to my eardrums. Let’s get started.

The first shot we experience in  League One is one of our own when a Valerio long shot stings the palms of the keeper 9 minutes in. We don’t seem like we’re all there when Clayton plays the rapid Dolly Menga in behind 10 minutes later. Luckily, his first touch is too big and gives Vickers times to close him down. He does manage to slot the ball round him but it’s a good couple yards wide of the far post.

The rest of our first half in the third tier is eventless. Cautious is the word I’d use to describe the football so far so I tell the lads to apply some pressure to Blackpool and make them the team for the taking before they do the same.

In the 59th minute, some slow build up play finishes with Valerio passing it in to Harrison. He knocks a simple backheel to Oztumer who messes up his first touch but gets a shot off. It’s not troubling the keeper however as it’s nowhere near either corner of the goal. Dolly Menga is the man causing problems today when Turton spots his run down the right in the 67th minute. Vasil isn’t able to close him down quick enough as he whips a cross to the front post for Vassell to climb and lob a header over Vickers to score. It’s hard to deal with a man who that’s quick but I bring on Anderson and Toney for Rowe and Valerio in an attempt to bring some fresh pace to the game ourselves.

With fifteen minutes left, Bostwick picks up a frustrated yellow card so I bring on Freckles to avoid any further punishment. I want everyone attacking from now. The last chance of the game comes in the 87th minute when Freckles heads a goal kick up to fellow sub Anderson. He switches to Oztumer who plays Harrison into the box. He turns back and puts it square on a plate for Ivan Toney but he lashes it off the post. He really should have scored there and announced himself to the Lincoln following. The game finishes 1-0 and we start our new league campaign with a demoralising loss after some positive signs in pre-season.

As a wise footballing god once told me: “It’s only up from here, right gaffer?”

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