15 May ~ Many clubs are finding it difficult to keep even their most loyal supporters happy these days. But at Lincoln City, times are particularly hard. In addition to suffering dwindling attendances, the Imps recently found themselves the subject of a large-scale protest after the board turned on disgruntled fans. After five unsuccessful play-off finishes under the late Keith Alexander then John Schofield, the Imps struggled for four years. A winless run of 11 games at the back end of 2010-11 saw them slip into the Conference where they had previously played one season, in 1987-88.
Manager Steve Tilson was sacked in October after three wins in his first 14 matches, although his successor, ex-Birmingham stopper David Holdsworth, proved no better, leaving fans perplexed at the club’s inexorable decline.
Despite suffering relegation form, chairman Bob Dorrian backed Holdsworth and called on fans to see the team through to the end of the season unscathed. With Lincoln limply staving off successive relegations, a protest prior to March’s home match with Newport County was organised. The board soon released a strongly worded statement condemning the protest, using inverted commas to describe "supporters" voicing dissatisfaction. The statement claimed that any protest would further destabilise the team’s relegation fight and was motivated to undermine the board’s authority.
The statement drew furious reactions from supporters online. Some suggested it would only make the protest more forceful. Others voiced concerns that the board had launched an assault on free speech and rights to protest. More bizarrely, prior to the Newport game the club announced that the main stand, which houses the directors’ box, would be closed during the match due to a water leak. Conspiracy theories abounded, with some suggesting the board had concocted the story to excuse themselves from facing angry fans.
The protest saw a sizeable turnout of fans calling for Holdsworth to be sacked and Dorrian to resign. Conversely, what followed was City’s first win in two months. Having faced criticism and requests for the statement to be retracted or reworded, the club made a half-hearted attempt with a website story thanking fans for their support during the Newport match. This included a picture from inside the bowels of the main stand of buckets and flowing water, presumably included to keep conspiracy theorists quiet.
From there, the team completed a hat-trick of wins. The remaining matches saw City limp over the finishing line to guarantee Conference survival with one game to spare, albeit aided by results elsewhere. A "boardroom blog" appeared, updating fans on decisions made by the Sincil Bank powerbrokers. Dorrian also sanctioned subsidised transport to the final match at Ebbsfleet to thank supporters for sticking by the side despite their "indifferent form" away from home over the season. Whether these moves will be enough to repair the fractured relationship between club and supporter, however, remains to be seen. James Prentice