Whilst on my break back in England to visit family, I went and watched Lincoln City FC who play in the 5th Tier of English football, the Conference league. This league now has increasing number of full - time professional clubs, some who have been relegated from the professional football leagues in the past years. When I was younger there were times when Lincoln City were in the 3rd and 4th tier and they had beaten Manchester City 5-1 in the 1996 FA Cup.
20 years on, much has changed as expected but what I saw on Saturday when I went and watched their league game against Maidstone Utd was refreshing. Yes the quality of football wasn't the highest but meaning no disrespect, I've been fortunate to witness quality having had talented and gifted players, also playing against opposition such as ex-Sevilla F.C Fabiano , ex - Chelsea's Ramirez and Teixeira who was a top target for European clubs before moving to China.
The refreshment I saw in Lincoln was the professional environment and the huge passion shown by the supporters, who turned up to make an attendance of almost 4,000 people.
I've heard positive reports about Lincoln's new management team, two brothers and PE teachers; Danny Cowley and Nicky Cowley, who since joining Lincoln have become employed as Full Time professionals coaches.
I was interested in seeing what was happening with the club and what has made them real contenders for promotion, currently sitting in 2nd place.
Watching the warm up I immediately saw two contrasting teams in terms of professionalism and organisation, with Maidstone going through the motions of a typical None-league English club whilst Lincoln, were clearly focusing on a more scientific approach. When I say scientific, I mean they had a sports scientist/fitness coach who knew how to activate the players ready for action, including use of resistance bands and dynamic exercises. Each component of the warm up was kept to a time schedule and ran smoothly into the next, ensuring the whole team was ready for the kick off. One thing I liked was the two Central defenders working separately with a coach on pressing/challenging and covering as a pair, whilst on the opposite side, Maidstone Utd's central defenders did something similar but had their pairing standing in line to take it in turns attacking the ball, instead of working as a pair which would be specific to the actions they would be doing in the upcoming match.
During the match Danny and Nicky Cowley were animated throughout and I could see their passion for the game and for their players. It was obvious to see they were under pressure (of course,they are going for promotion), but they worked tirelessly through out and their passion was channeled for the better. I loved seeing this and I could see that what I had heard about the new regime was true; there was a clear plan of action and a clear concentration on fitness and work ethic that must have been installed into the players from the beginning of the season.
English Coaches may get labeled with some negative tags, that's fair enough judging by some dinosaurs who aren't willing to evolve with the game, but where credit is due, we should be proud of the English coaches willing to start at lower levels, those who are willing to work hard and also willing to be innovative. Knowledge will come in time and is important, as is experience. But without the passion, motivation and willingness to work hard to gain the knowledge and experience to improve....... we all stand still.
From being in Asia for almost 5 years now, you can't beat coming back to England and feeling the strength of a country with a footballing culture. A 5th tier team with 4,000 fans pushing their team towards promotion and staff that are keeping the club organised, whilst being awake with hunger in their chosen career.
Asia is slowly getting there but much work to do. Realisation that exposure and increasing awareness, improving grassroots and having an actual structure will eventually generate money. Cutting corners and going straight for the money will only build a legacy on fragile foundations resulting in football with no heart. We have a good idea of those countries this applies to!
On Saturday I felt the heart of the crowd, players and staff, then this carried on through the whole weekend as the whole country follows their team and debate until the new start of the week.
Football is amazing but football needs heart.
UPDATE: Lincoln City now get 8,000-9,000 attendance and have reached the 1/4 final of the FA Cup.
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