Friday, 10 August 2012

On the cusp of the new football season

I haven't written about Lincoln City in quite a while now, and I think that's rather indicative of my general feelings about the state of the club and the disappointment of last season.

It seems almost blasphemous to write this, but I think that one reason that I enjoyed this summer is simply because I put the Imps out of my mind. I haven't really kept up with news of departures or new signings and I certainly haven't missed trudging down to the Bank on Saturday afternoons.

So it is with mixed feelings that I face the new season, despite my season ticket having been renewed early on in the summer.  The new season should be a time of fresh beginnings and excitement at the unknown exploits that lie ahead.  Sadly, the repeatedly poor performances of last season combined with the fact that we barely have the resources to buy teabags leaves me with no optimism that this year's team will be any good at all.  While I don't doubt Holdsworth's honest intentions, I have grave doubts over his tactical abilities.  I fear that the bottom half of the table will once again be City's domain and that attendances will continue to be embarrassingly low as the people of Lincoln refuse to pay premium prices for a bargain basement product.

To cap it all, this summer has also seen the club's official website given an overhaul (I suspect due to the removal of the Football League's sponsored template).  Sadly, I've so far found it a badly designed mess to navigate and impossible to use on a mobile phone so that certainly hasn't improved my desire to keep checking and keeping up with changes at the club.

One change for the new season is the name of the stadium.  Thankfully, the fundraising competition was won by the excellent '12th Imp' initiative, giving Sincil Bank the new name of 'The 12th Imp Sincil Bank Stadium'.  Definitely better than I feared it might be, and definitely better than losing the traditional name to that of a sponsor.

Hopefully, of course, I can return to this post in a few month's time and curse my own grumpiness and lack of faith as we sit towards the top end of the table having played some half-decent football.  If the last 18 years of supporting Lincoln have taught me anything, though, it's not to believe in miracles.  Bring on Kidderminster...

11 August 2012 - post match addendum

So, with the Imps beating Kidderminster 1-0, am I going to be retracting the above comments?  No. But I will admit to the side showing some potential, despite much more work clearly being needed.

It was good to see Taylor being given a chance, and with his bustling workrate he showed why he should have played a lot more last season.  His strike partner Duffy didn't get a sniff of goal but worked hard and was involved in quite a few attacks.  Farman demonstrated that he'll earn us a good few points before the season is over.  Finally, the centre-half pairing of Boyce and Miller looked good in open play, though its clear that set pieces still need an awful lot of work on the training ground.

On the downside, I thought that Adam Smith looked slow on the ball, and on the few occasions he had to run at his defender, telegraphed his moves and generally looked sluggish.  Substitute Vadaine Oliver takes the plaudits for worst performance of all, though, as his lacklustre, effort free half hour saw him barely willing to stay with his man, and his two efforts at goal redefine the word 'tame'.  Despite his Sheffield Wednesday pedigree, he will have to improve rapidly if he is going to prove to be worth his wages.

Still, a win and a clean sheet on the opening day is a rare thing in Imps-land, so long may it continue.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Faster, higher, stronger - my Olympic experience

Unusually, I'm going to start this post with an apology.  Despite the excitement of hearing that my wife and I had secured tickets for one of the most sought after Olympic events - the men's 100m final - subsequent talk of over zealous and inefficient security, rampant sponsorship and travel problems had soured my Olympic spirit somewhat.  Although enjoying the games on TV immensely, I had some doubts that the real life experience would be able to avoid being marred by something.  As I said, I'm beginning with an apology...

Despite slight panic an hour before our train to London at the news that Kings Cross was closed due to a power failure (which actually proved to have no ill effect whatsoever), getting to the Olympic Park was a doddle via one of the funky new high speed Javelin trains.

Amazingly, getting into the Olympic Park itself proved equally hassle free.  Talk of having to arrive two and a half hours early (which we did) to get through the airport style security (which I despise at the best of times) had me thinking that just getting within sight of the stadium would be a medal-worthy achievement.  As it turned out we walked through pretty much without pause, without even a single person ahead of us in the queue, and the security check rather cursory and certainly no trouble.

So we gained our first sight of the Olympic stadium, which is very nice, though I have to confess having seen the Bird's Nest in Beijing at close quarters I'm afraid it lacks something of the drama of its Chinese predecessor.  The tooth-like fabric strips around the outside look exactly like the cost cutting second option that they are.  Nevertheless, the stadium, swimming pool and 'Orbit' sculpture by Anish Kapoor combine to make the Park an architecturally fascinating place to be.

The greatest surprise inside the park for me was the commercial activity, or rather the lack of it.  Understandably, there were no unofficial stalls of any variety, and the most visible retail outlets were the identical sets of food stalls dotted around.  Considering the massive amounts of merchandise available from seemingly every high street shop in Britain, I was amazed at the lack of shops around the place.  My wife hoped to buy herself a Chinese flag to wave, but nothing of the sort could be found anywhere.  Even Olympic branded merchandise was limited to a small number of tiny shops within the perimeter of the stadium.  As for the food, prices were high but we decided to try some fish and chips.  Again, my expectations were low but proved wrong as we were swiftly served a portion that was very tasty indeed, and certainly didn't do a British classic a disservice to any foreign tourists trying it for the first time.

All this of course is mere window dressing and we moved inside the stadium as soon as we could to start to prepare for the events we'd come to see.  We wandered around the lower concourse of the stadium before taking our seats, and specifically took a trip to get close to the impressive flame.

Although our seats were, as expected, on the opposite side of the stadium to the start and finish line, the view was incredible and a testament to the stadium's design.  I'll let the following photographs speak for themselves.

A nice and unexpected bonus of the evening was the medal ceremonies presenting golds to Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Mo Farrah (10,000m).

I confess that this was my first time watching athletics live, and I found it something of a confusing experience, being used to being spoon-fed TV commentary with its computer graphics, close-up camera work and constant replays.  The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric and the main reason for being there, but it would also have been nice to feel that I was able to follow the progress of events such as the high jump and hammer throw.  Thankfully, races on the track were rather easier to engage with.  I've no intention of describing each event in detail, so what follows is a selection of my photos from the evening, but I have to say that seeing Christine Ohuruogu win her 400m silver medal and Oscar Pistorius make history simply by competing certainly stand out as unexpected highlights.

Of course the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the 100m final, though unlike many of the people sat around me, I don't subscribe to the hero-worship handed to 100m runners - I feel that other many other athletes and events deserve far higher plaudits for their achievements.  The two semi finals went without incident, though it was clear that Usain Bolt was on good form - both in terms of running and mugging to the camera.  You no doubt saw the final on TV and it naturally didn't last long so I'm not going to describe it, but here again are some photos of the race and of Bolt parading around in celebration.

I only found out afterwards that there had been a bottle throwing incident (nobody in our part of the stadium had any clue that anything untoward had occurred).  In a way though, I'm not surprised.  Although the atmosphere was incredible, and it was heartening to see athletes of all nations being applauded enthusiastically, I was surprised to see glass beer bottles being sold inside the stadium.  As a football fan, and therefore used to even the lids of pop bottles being seen as offensive items, it seemed incredible and many people were clearly using the opportunity to have more than a few drinks.  I've no idea whether drink was involved in this incident, but the whole set-up seemed to be asking for trouble.

So there it was - my first experience of the Olympic games, and an unexpectedly positive one.  Overall, considering the worldwide importance of the event, everything seemed very well organised and relaxed.  Special mention has to be given to the multitude of volunteers, who apart from simply giving their time were unfailingly enthusiastic, friendly and welcoming even at the end of the night when some of them must have been exhausted.  They deserve huge plaudits for all their efforts.

And thus ends part one of my Olympic experiences - part two will come in September when we are fortunate enough to have tickets for the Paralympics to see swimming, table tennis and basketball.  Look out for a similar update then.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Lincoln Castle Festival of History

During the sunnier part of yesterday we took a trip up to Lincoln Castle (an arduous trek of at least 5 minutes) to take in some of the Festival of History event happening this weekend.  I just thought I'd share some photos I took of the re-enactors in action at this historical mashup.