Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year and the return of football to Lincoln

Its Old Year’s Night as I sit here and write this – so a Happy New Year to all, wherever in the world you may be.  As they say up in Scotland, ‘lang may yer lum reek’ (long may your chimney smoke).

The most exciting thing about the new year, of course, is that tomorrow’s home match against Bradford City is, barring freak overnight weather of biblical proportions, on.  The opposition is of particular interest to me, as Bradford is the city I was born in, so it has some sentimental resonance.  This particular matchup always brings back reminders of the terrible events of the Valley Parade fire in 1985, which saw 56 supporters lose their lives.  The fire actually has some freaky coincidences for me.  It happened on 11th May – my mum’s birthday.  It happened in Bradford, where I lived at the time, against Lincoln, where I would move the following year.  And the guy I now go to football with, my ex-girlfriend’s dad, was in the stadium that day.  It was a terrible event, and one which both clubs rightly commemorate every time they play each other.

But back to tomorrow’s clash - the main question on everyone’s lips after over a month without a match is ‘rusty or refreshed’?  Will the break mean that the players are fresh, energized, rehearsed and ready to tear the opposition to shreds?  Or will it mean that they will creak like a rusty gate, look like they’ve had too much Christmas pudding, and barely be able to find a teammate with a pass?  Bradford lost 4-0 in midweek, but at least they’ve played, and may be fired up after getting a managerial roasting.  Only time will tell, and I’ll post a match review tomorrow.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Travels with Li Dongni – Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang, Thailand (May 2008)

Off we went with a trumpety trump...

When my wife was working in Bangkok, I went out to see her and we spent some time travelling around.  We avoided the party towns of southern Thailand like the plague and decided to head north to see some of the ruins of the ancient capitals of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and historic towns like Chiang Mai.  While we were in Chiang Mai, we decided to go and see some elephants.  We looked at a few places, but they seemed to be more like circus freak shows, and that was an element of the Thai economy we certainly didn’t wish to support.  One place, however, caught our eye.  The Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre seemed to offer us the chance to get up close and personal to some elephants, but at the same time reassure us that they weren’t being exploited to give us that opportunity, and that the money we were paying would be supporting a good cause.

One of the attractions of the centre is a show by the elephants and their Mahouts (handlers). You can pay to spend a few days at the centre learning to be a Mahout, and a number of the people in the show were such people.  The experience must be fantastic – I’d love to hear from someone who has done it.

The show itself was fun – elephants parading, moving logs around, putting hats on Mahout’s heads – the usual, everyday stuff elephants do, and there was the chance to feed the elephants some bananas afterwards.  The pictures and videos below are from the show.

The show did throw up one very freaky coincidence, however.  In one part of the show, some of the elephants paint pictures, holding the brush in their trunk, and you can buy the paintings afterwards.  When I got back to England I was talking to a colleague about this (she’s absolutely mad on elephants and has done lots of travelling to similar places in Asia herself), and she said that her sister had bought an elephant painting from Lampang (over the internet) the year before.  When we checked it out, it turned out that we had met the elephant that painted her picture!  It’s a small world...

The image and video below show an elephant artist in action.

We decided we couldn’t leave without taking a little ride on an elephant ourselves, so we signed up for one of the short trips around the centre.  The Mahout was a friendly chap, and it was rather fun to be tromping around the forest paths and through a river on the back of a large elephant, and definitely something I’m glad I can say I’ve had the chance to do.  I’m sure the elephant (which I’m ashamed to say I learned the name of but have now forgotten) remembers us just as fondly...

The centre is of course always looking for ways of raising money to support itself, and one way it has decided to do this is to use one of its natural assets – elephant poo!  There is a factory at the centre which turns ‘elephant output’ into lots of different paper products and sells them.  I personally am now the proud owner of an elephant poo paper photo frame resplendent with an appropriate photograph of my wife on the back of an elephant

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Travels with Li Dongni – Jiuzhaigou, China (April 2009)

To the edge of Tibet...

I’ll wager money right now that you’ve never heard of Jiuzhaigou.  Am I right?  Thought so.  It’s ok - neither had I.

But it’s a place I’ll never forget, somewhere that I now have a strong emotional connection with, and somewhere I heartily recommend you visit if you ever get the chance.

Map courtesy of the wonderful

Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) means ‘nine villages valley’ in Chinese.  It’s a site of natural beauty in China’s Sichuan province.  The name comes from the fact that 9 Tibetan villages are nestled within the mountains, rivers and pools of the valley.  It’s also a wildlife reserve, with golden monkeys and even reclusive giant pandas living in the wooded mountains, though you’d be extremely lucky to see a wild panda.

The site is located in the north of Sichuan, near the city of Songpan and definitely not on the main foreign tourist routes, though Chinese tourists are well aware of itIt can only grow as a tourist destination, so my advice is to see it quick before mass tourism ruins the experience! 

We flew in from Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan and my wife’s home city).  The flight provided some great views of the mountains, as both Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou are nestled on the edge of the great Tibetan plateau.  The airport we flew into is at Huanglong (‘yellow dragon’) - a tiny airport which only exists to serve the tourists flying into and out of the local beauty spots.  The airport itself is situated at nearly 3,500m (11,311 feet) above sea level – the third highest airport in China and surely one of the highest in the world.  I have never before been warned of getting altitude sickness in an airport!  To jump ahead to when we flew back to Chengdu – it felt more like the plane had simply driven off the runway rather than taken off, as the runway points off the edge of a cliff!

The whole area is at high altitude, and you’re often at about 4,000m (13,000 feet).  That’s halfway up Mount Everest!  For an English guy like me, who lives virtually at sea level, this is quite extreme altitude.  When combined with the jetlag of the long haul flight I had done only the day before, it led to me feeling rather drained of energy to say the least.

But on to the valley itself.  It’s a large place and could you could easily take a few days to see all of it.  We employed a combination of walking and hopping on the regular busses to make sure we saw the major bits over two days, which seemed about right.

Describing the site is very difficult, and I'm not sure I've seen many photos do it justice.  Hopefully the next few photographs go some way to showing just how breathtaking it can be.

As I mentioned earlier, there are 9 villages nestled in amongst the valley (you can apparently get in free if you are staying with a local).  The Tibetan style homes and clothing though make for a colourful addition to the greens and blues of the water, and the painting on the Tibetan houses is fascinating to explore.  The locals are very welcoming to tourists, whom they depend upon for their livelihoods.

I was even persuaded (something not easily done) to dress up in Tibetan costume and have my photo taken in front of ‘Sword rock’.  So, for your eyes only (promise you won’t tell anyone), here is the most embarrassing photo of me ever taken...

There is actually a very special reason for this place holding such resonance for me, and it’s not entirely due to the beautiful scenery.  It’s also the place where I decided to propose to my wife, in a secluded spot, by a shimmering lake, in the shadow of the snowy mountains.  Fortunately she said yes, otherwise I’d never have it in me to write about this magical place, and that would have been a real shame.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Travels with Li Dongni – Angkor, Cambodia (April 2008)

Treading very Khmer-fully...

I was very fortunate, when my wife was working in Bangkok, to be able to fly over to join her and do some travelling in South East Asia.  I may write a post in this series about some of my Thai experiences, but the one I’d like to focus on here is the brief trip we took across the border to Cambodia to see the Angkor temples.

Although world famous and hugely iconic, I have to confess that Angkor was a place I always assumed I’d never see.  One of those ‘amazing, but too exotic to realistically expect to go to’ kind of places.  So it almost took me by surprise when my wife suggested that we go.

The flight to Siem Reap was easily the scariest plane journey of our lives - on a small propeller plane through a thunderstorm.  You know it’s bad when you see the stewardess’ deathly white hands gripping the seat while her face turns green…

Once we had arrived safely and recovered from the terror flight, we hired a tuktuk and driver in Siem Reap for a few days to travel around as many of the temples as we could in the time available to us.  Incidentally, according to our driver, a cavalcade we saw whilst driving around was carrying the king of Cambodia but I’ve no way of knowing if it was true.  To be honest, in my ignorance I didn’t even know Cambodia had a king!

The temples themselves are quite surreal, mainly due to their architecture and jungle settings.  They were built in the 12th Century, and as you can see from the map although Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, it is only one of a whole series of them in a relatively small area, and not even the largest.  We did manage to get to a good percentage of them in the time available to us though.  The architecture of the temples is uniform but distinctive, especially the conical towers (which represent Mount Meru from Hindu mythology), the large, serenely smiling faces and the carvings of the lithe ‘Apsara’ dancing girls.

As we approached Angkor Wat, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what I was expecting to find.  I knew broadly what it would look like, but it was the rest of the setting that intrigued me.  Would the temple be an isolated building or just one element of something much bigger?  Would it be remote and virtually lost to the jungle or almost ruined by commercial enterprises trying to make money off tourists? (actually, if we’d have encountered a 5* ‘Angkor Wat Ritz’ outside I think I may have turned around and gone home right away!)

As it was, the first element we encountered was the large moat surrounding the complex, which we drove around two sides of, catching occasional teasing glimpses of the iconic towers.  We knew we’d arrived at the front gate when the tuktuk stopped and we were instantly swarmed by the ubiquitous local children selling souvenirs.  After managing to escape the throng (with my wife slightly peeved at my substandard haggling skills) we started to explore the site.  My earlier questions about the size and nature of the site were soon answered, as the scale of the complex revealed itself.  The outer walls, corridors and libraries extend quite a distance, as you work your way towards the glorious main temple, which dominates your vision.

There are traces around Angkor Wat of more ominous events.  The signs warning you not to stray too far off the footpaths in case there are still landmines are a chilling reminder of the troubles Cambodia has experienced in the recent past, and these are echoed by the equally disturbing sight of bullet holes in the walls.

Also present are the signs of cultural vandalism – looting of statues (or bits of statues) to feed an international art market that all too often does not care where its bits of unprovenanced art come from, as long as they look good in a display cabinet.  It’s a big problem across South East Asia, especially in the poorer areas, where the temptation to get money from such vandalism outweighs the ethical considerations and greater needs of heritage conservation.

As with any heritage site, managing to visit at a time when it’s not swarming with tourists enhances the experience significantly.  Some of the temples are naturally more off the beaten track, and their tumbledown nature with the jungle all around and giant trees growing seemingly out of the ruins can really provide a sense of being the first person to discover them.  It’s a magical feeling that few other heritage sites I’ve been to in the world can match.

Two particular moments of the trip stand out for me.  The first was the decision we made to get up at 4 o’clock to go and watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat.  Although unfortunately it wasn’t the most dramatic sunrise I’ve ever seen, it was a relaxing experience, and the silhouette of the temple was dramatic against a deep blue sky.

The second memorable experience occurred quite by accident.  We were at Pre Rup temple when a tropical storm hit (well, it certainly rained a lot at least).  We were at pretty much the top of the temple, with the forest stretching out on all sides around us when it hit.  The scene was dramatic enough to be memorable as it was, but it was made especially so by the local children.  As I mentioned earlier, arrival at a temple means being surrounded by local kids trying to sell you things.  These tend to be more obstinate at the bigger sites, such as Angkor Wat, but more laid back at smaller sites such as Pre Rup.  As we were pretty much the only visitors there at the time, the kids has been in a good mood, trying to sell us stuff, but also asking where we were from, what London was like, and generally being bright and inquisitive kids.  When the rain came, they all put down their wares and started to play on the temple, splashing water at each other and running up and down the steps (those steps are steep too – health and safety over here would have had a fit!).  So there we were, sat at the top of an ancient Cambodian temple, surrounded by jungle, with the rain lashing down, with local kids playing on front us, grinning and waving (and occasionally threatening to splash us with water).  I genuinely couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of how different this was to my normal life at home.

Of course, some kids can always find time to relax...

Still no football...

As I sit here on Christmas day, stuffed with far too much Christmas dinner as usual, my sleepy mind turns to football - or rather the lack thereof.  Lincoln City’s match tomorrow away at Port Vale is off, our home match on Tuesday is subject to a pitch inspection and the chances aren’t great of that being on either.  I’m starting to wonder when the next match will be.

It occurs when I count back that the last match I saw was way back on November 23rd.  A cold Tuesday night when a little winning streak we were on was cruelly brought to a crushing end 5-0 by Bury (though I still maintain the scoreline doesn’t tell the full story of the match).

But the snow, and more fatally the ice, has meant an extended run of postponements across English football, the likes of which I struggle to remember.  Since that depressing Tuesday night against Bury, we’ve seen two league games postponed and our FA Cup second round tie against Hereford cancelled twice as well.  At this rate, we may be in the hat for the fourth round draw before we’ve even played out the second round!

With the current cold snap predicted to continue into January, it’s difficult to predict when things will get back to normal.  Without the undersoil heating of larger grounds, lower league pitches will remain rock-solid for a while even after the air temperature rises again.  At the very least, the fixture backlog will mean that even though players are currently getting a rest, they will have a huge amount of playing to do when the replayed fixtures start to back up.  A good few weeks of playing every Saturday and Tuesday seem certain, and guarantee that players will be very tired come the end of the season.  I pity those that reach the playoffs this season!

Of course, in these situations, discussion inevitably turns to two issues – the first being to extend the season to fit the replayed games in, the second being the introduction of a winter break.

On the first issue, I’m not sure what chaos it would cause with cup finals, playoffs etc.  I’ve been involved with enough event organization to know that these things are bigger and more complicated than most people seem to realise, so I’ll take a seat on a nearby fence and say that if the Football League say it can’t be done, I’m not going to argue.  The players will just have to suck it up.

The second issue is bigger, but I have to say I’m not averse to the idea.  I don’t usually hold with big clubs whingeing that they have too many games to play when they play less games than everyone else and have bigger, more expensive squads to pick from.  But the winter break idea seems to have a number of things going for it:

1) It will mean freak bad weather will be less disruptive to the season, meaning that the second half won’t be as compacted with games
2) Players will be able to rest, meaning that the football should be of a better standard in the second half of the season
3) As an England fan, I am sick of the constant excuse that our players are all tired after long seasons, and those who play in other leagues are fresher because of their winter breaks.  Let’s introduce one, and hopefully either a) it will work and England’s performances at tournaments will improve – yay, or b) it won’t work, and we can get rid of one more feeble excuse for English footballing failure.

So let’s give it a go.  It can’t be worse that the situation we are facing at the moment.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Travels with Li Dongni – Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey (September 2010)

Up, up and away...

For our belated honeymoon, my wife and I went to do some travelling in Turkey.  For us, it offered a great combination of attractions.  We’re both history buffs, so the ancient Roman sites were a source of huge pleasure for us to see and explore (I may focus on these in a future post).  We also had the beautiful Mediterranean to spend some time boating on (though I did get stung on the bottom of my foot by a big wasp during that particular trip!) and some great towns and cities to explore.  One particularly memorable element of the trip, however, was the couple of days we spent in central Turkey, in Cappadocia.

After taking one of many overnight busses we travelled on during the holiday, we arrived in the small but tourist friendly town of Goreme, nestled in the heart of Cappadocia’s chief natural attraction – the so-called ‘Fairy Chimneys’

The valleys containing these superb natural rock formations are great to explore by themselves, and we duly spent a day doing so, as well as visiting the Open Air Museum with its collection of fresco-covered churches built into the rock.

The main purpose of our visit to Goreme, however, was to experience a hot air balloon trip, which we’d booked before leaving England.  The conditions in Cappadocia are apparently perfect for ballooning, and many dozens of balloons go up every morning at dawn, to catch the sunrise.

I think I need to make a confession at this point.  I’m not great with heights.  I’m not terrible, but it’s not my favourite thing in the world either, so I had some trepidation about doing the whole ballooning thing.  My wife will tell you that while she was bouncing around for weeks with the excitement of going, I was acting more like I was going to have my toenails pulled out.  But on with the story…

On the morning of the balloon ride, we got picked up from our hotel (oh, which was in a cave by the way - Goreme is such a funky place!) at 5.15am and were taken with some other balloon-trippers outside the town to a launching area, where we were treated to some light breakfast and drinks while we watched a couple of balloons, including ours, being prepared, and started to see the first of the many other balloons flying that morning float away over the rocks.

Once properly inflated (is that the technical term?), it was time for us all to make a rather undignified entry into the basket by clambering over the sides.  The baskets were surprisingly large, holding about 24 people but in four inner compartments, with a central compartment for the pilot (yes, they are still called pilots) and his gas canisters.

The takeoff is remarkably smooth, though it seems to take a long time to get a decent way off the ground.  Any fears I had about being stood in a picnic hamper being suspended by ropes from a tent filled with hot air soon vanished entirely.  The whole journey was super smooth, and the basket big enough for you to forget about the height.  One thing I particularly liked was the fact that the basket (well, the whole balloon really I suppose) gently turns so you get to see what’s happening all around.  As we were ballooning at sunrise, it meant that everybody got to enjoy the wonderful views and weren’t competing for the best photo opportunities.

The ride itself lasted about an hour, and took us both up high to get views over the whole area and down low into valleys to get up close to the ‘chimneys’.

The landing was actually quite funny, as they attach ropes to the basket and bring it in to land on the back of a trailer, so they can just drive it away when the canvas is deflated.  After another undignified moment clambering out of the basket, it was time for some champagne, collecting our certificates for completing the trip (we worked so hard to earn those!) and we even bought one of the official photos of us in the balloon as it was taking off.

So that was it, the whole thing was over by about 9 o’clock, but the experience of gently floating over the land in a balloon was one that I’d recommend to anyone, the fact that it was at sunrise was just the icing on the cake.

Travels with Li Dongni - my travels

Tripping the light fantastic...

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel to a few different places during my life (and I hope to travel to a fair few more before I’m done).  This is mainly due to my wife’s itchy feet, and the fact that her ‘get up and go’ attitude drags me off to places that I’d never be proactive enough to arrange to go myself.  Invariably, her drive has led to some of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I’m eternally grateful to her for them.

Although it’s not my intention to do an in depth travel diary about our trips, I would like to do an ongoing series of posts highlighting specific memorable experiences and places.  I hope that they may inspire you to go somewhere you’ve never been, or remind you of your own travels to these and other places.

As Henry Miller said, ‘one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things’, so please feel free to leave comments about your own travels and experiences on these posts.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Don't poke the bear

What on earth is going on in Korea?  Specifically, what on earth are South Korea and the USA doing holding live fire drills so close to the North?  It was interesting to read that at a meeting of the UN Security Council to decide how the current tensions can be relaxed, Russia and China both said the drills were a bad idea, but the ‘good ol’ US of A were keen to press on, and it seems the South are keen to do whatever is needed to keep America happy and on side.  I should mark the date in my diary – the day I was in agreement with the Russian and Chinese governments.*

I completely fail to see what positive effects the drills could have had. In the long run, North Korea will not back down because of these shows of force, even if it is genuinely outgunned - it’s just not in its nature.  So this sabre rattling (or maybe it’s better to call it willy waving?) can surely have no effect other than to turn up the heat just a little bit more.  Oh, it (hopefully) won’t cause a war by itself, but it may go a long way towards convincing the North that the other side is not only ready for war, but actually fancies a little bit of rough and tumble.

In true ‘red rag to a bull’ fashion, the North will surely only fight fire with fire.  Although North Korea has said it won’t react specifically to these live fire drills, the nature of the standoff hasn’t changed.  Or if it has, it’s certainly not a step closer to peace due to some shells landing in water North Korea claims as its own.  Despite claiming that it is the North that is being the aggressor, actions such as this do not seem to be those of mature nations trying to avoid conflict.

Not that I want to appear to be defending the North’s actions in any of this – the sinking of the South Korean ship ‘Cheonan’ in March and the attack on Yeonpyeong island in November were unforgivably aggressive acts, designed to push the limits of patience and tolerance and provoke further aggression.  They were though no doubt of internal value to strengthen the military’s support of Kim Jong Il and his heir Kim Jong Un.

Ultimately, it seems certain that the only long term solution to the peninsula’s problems is a change in the political and economic situation in North Korea.  But I fear that too little talking and too much growling will never help that be a peaceful change.

I think that one interesting thing we’ll see come out of this is the increasing perception of China as an international diplomatic strength.  They may be secretly embarrassed by their ally North Korea (thanks, Wikileaks), but if they can successfully keep the warmongers of North Korea and the USA apart, they may begin to earn respect as a tolerant middle man.  Its certainly in their interests – China doesn’t want American troops that close to their border any more than they did in the 1950’s, but realises that North Korea is not the most stable decision maker and would expect Beijing’s assistance if the situation deteriorated.  Peace is the only option that keeps China safe as well as both parts of Korea.

Perhaps if America were successfully fulfilling the role of unbiased arbitrator the situation would not have reached the position it is in now.  Somehow, though, this whole situation seems to come down to what America wants, rather than what the international community decides is best.  Doesn’t that sound depressingly familiar?  I think this is one occasion when America needs to realise that it cannot be both military ally of South Korea and international peacekeeper at the same time.

The people I feel genuinely sorry for in all of this are the people of South Korea (who don’t seem to ever get much of a mention) – let’s not forget that Seoul is within easy reach of North Korean missiles.  They are caught between a rock and a hard place – a power hungry, war mongering country with a gun to their head on one side, and North Korea on the other.

*Interestingly, the opinions of the other two permanent Security Council members, the UK and France, aren’t being reported in the media.  Maybe they both did the smart thing and kept their heads down?  As a UK subject though, I’d be very interested to know who my government was backing in all of this.  I’m sure I could take an educated guess though…

Saturday, 18 December 2010

My Flickr photostream

You’ve probably noticed that I have a link to my Flickr photostream on the right.  Just there.  Seen it?  Great.  Why not go and have a look at it?  I’ll still be here when you get back.

I try and keep the photostream pretty clean and not fill it with every single photo I’ve ever taken.  Instead, I try and only put up the photos that I think have turned out particularly well.  They are mostly from my travels in the UK, Europe and Asia.

So if you have 5 minutes to spare, why not head across and have a look.  You can even leave a comment or two if you wish, I’m always happy to receive feedback.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The joys of supporting a rubbish football team

I’ll come out and say it from the start – I don’t like the Premiership. Actually, maybe it is better to say I don’t like what football is turning into, and I see the Premiership as the putrid sore that shows how sick football has become.

Funnily enough though, it’s not the foreign players, money or diving that lead me to think that (though there are aspects of all of those that do indeed make me angry), it’s how the whole nature of football has changed.

What I hate most about the Premiership is how everyone assumes you support a Premiership club.  Even when you tell them who you support, they follow up with ‘yes, but who in the Premiership?’, as if supporting Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal et al is an underlying unifier of all football fans.

I hate travelling abroad and seeing Premiership shirts being worn by people saying ‘I support Man U’.  No, you don’t, you just bought a shirt with their name on it.  If I buy a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, it doesn’t mean I have declared my undying fealty to the brand.  And for these ‘fans’, it’s no different.  They have no more connection to their chosen club than I have with Walt Disney.  Maybe, if they supported their local team instead, it would mean more to them and maybe, just maybe, the quality of football in their country might actually go up.

It wasn’t my intention for this post to turn into a rant, but it is genuinely frustrating to see how fickle fandom can be nowadays.  To hear Arsenal fans on the radio whingeing that because they haven’t won a league title in 6 years they’re going to stop going to watch the team is ridiculous.

For those of us who doggedly turn out week after week to watch the dirge regularly served up in the lower leagues (and non leagues), it’s less about how many major trophies you’ve won in the past 6 years and more about how depressingly easy it is to count how many matches you’ve bloody won in that time.

Anyway, on to the main topic I wanted to write about, which is my own love / hate relationship with my team.  You may have guessed by now that I don’t support a Premiership team, but I should point out that I don’t feel that lower league supporters have any moral superiority over their higher division counterparts.  A true supporter is just that, whether their club plays in the Premiership or the Northern Counties East league.  The trouble is that those true supporters are so much harder to spot when the clubs are bigger.  I actually feel a little sorry for the real fans at those clubs (the ones who would still be there if the club fell from grace) – lost amid a sea of part timers, waving newly purchased scarves and foam hands, asking who the guy with the ponytail wearing number 5 is.  

My gripe is with these fair weather, 'fashionable' football fans who have a warped view of what being a real football fan entails, and will drop their club as soon as trouble emerges, or they decide to follow a new fashion trend.  Unfortunately, top flight football in particular seems to be basing it's future around these most unstable of foundations.

I suppose I should nail my colour to the mast at this point and reveal myself as a proud supporter of the mighty Lincoln City F.C.

Although LCFC began life in 1884, a founder member of the Football League, my own story with them began in 1993/4.  I’d like to say that my support has seen the club’s glory years, but sadly I arrived on the scene too late to witness our triumphs of the late 1970s (triumphs comparatively speaking of course), and have witnessed what can only be described as season after season of fairly regular application of effort with occasional outbreaks of skill.

However, I don’t want people to think I have a complete downer on my own team. You may even be questioning why I support them (or even why I like football in general).  But maybe that’s where I’m going with all this.  Why do I still support my team, when the relationship seems so one sided?  I pay for my season ticket every year – money which could be spent on many other things, and I’m grateful to my wife for entertaining this crazy hobby of mine.  All she usually hears is me grumbling that there’s a match on, which we’ll probably lose, and then grumbling afterwards when we actually have lost.  So why?  Am I insane?  What is it that keeps pulling me (and maybe you too) back week after week?

Maybe it’s that underdog spirit, that sense that each season or even each match might be different, that something might just click.  Maybe it’s like the lottery – you buy your ticket every week, and get caught in the trap of thinking that if you miss a week, your numbers are bound to come up.  In footballing terms, the match you miss is the one where you finally play well and batter someone.

Ultimately, I suppose we keep going not because we chose the team we follow, but precisely the opposite.  Our teams chose us.  We didn’t watch Match of the Day one Saturday evening and decide to declare our undying love for the team that just happened to win 5-0 that week.  We were taken to our first matches by dads, grandads, mums, brothers, husbands or friends and something clicked.  I’ve gone to the theatre lots of times, but no matter how good a play was it’s never made me go back every single week.

I’d like to suggest that nobody has ever seen Lincoln City play by accident.  Even the biggest football hater will have seen snippets of Man U playing when flicking between TV channels or watching the news.  No-one has ever been channel hopping on a Sunday afternoon and as a result fallen in love with Lincoln City.

We’re there because fate made it so and it’s our duty to keep going.  Maybe, just maybe when (not if) that success we all crave finally comes, we’ll know that we’ll have earned the joy and pride it brings.  Earned it in a way no part time Man U fan celebrating yet another title could ever hope to understand.

And anyway, Lord only knows what would befall the universe if we stopped.