Imps As One – An Interview with Gary Hutchinson

Before the big game tomorrow, I did a second Q&A for The Stacey West Blog, writer Gary Hutchinson’s creation. In turn, he kindly did one for me about Lincoln City, and how he thinks things will pan out under the floodlights and the cameras…

1. How did you come to support Lincoln City, and who took you to your first game?

I believe it is probably hereditary. My Grandad was a fan in the fifties, my Dad followed him there in the seventies, and I came along and picked up the baton in the late eighties. It was written in the stars, the day before I was born the Imps had a referee called Hutchinson! My first game was with my Dad as ‘punishment’ for swearing. It was October 1987, and the day before, he’d wanted to take me to watch Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. We’d been rained off, but he was adamant he wanted me to follow a decent side; Lincoln had been relegated to Division Four as it was known at the time, and were later relegated out of the league, the first club to suffer that fate. The next day (a Sunday) we played Hartlepool, I got caught swearing by Mum, and Dad was told he had to take me with him to the game. We lost 4-1 in front of just over 2,000 people and I’ve been going ever since.

2. What do you think about the rise in the last few years of data analysis in football, particularly in light of the Marcelo Bielsa furore? I’m sure the Cowley brothers are equally as meticulous…

I won’t go into too much about Danny Cowley’s preparation, but I’ve been lucky enough to sit on his video analysis, and I’ve been honoured to receive calls from him from time to time just to shoot the breeze. The whole spying thing is ridiculous in my opinion. Talk of a points deduction is wrong, it’s just other clubs being sour. I dare bet the ones who have signed the petition are the ones whose managers have been exposed as working far less meticulously. The game is completely different these days and preparation is key. It takes a lot of work and fans don’t like to see money spent on tracksuits behind the scenes, they like players who wear the shirt. If you get the first bit right these days, then the players will follow. We do well, our recruitment has been very good of late and that’s down to the level of analysis Danny and Nicky do on every player they sign.

3. Speaking of them, how far do you think they go can in the game, and for how much of that journey can they realistically take Lincoln on?

For us, the ceiling is the Championship for one sorry season. We’d be like Burton Albion or Yeovil Town, climbing beyond our means to a level we struggle to compete in. The key is then using that to become a stable League One club, if there is such a thing. As for Danny and Nicky, I firmly believe they can manage in the Premier League. There’s been lots of comparisons drawn with Eddie Howe, but people forget he was backed by a lot of money in his climb. They’re learning all the time and they adapt to situations well, so why not manage in the top flight?

4. There has been some talk in recent days of the Imps having ‘plastic’ fans, having seen attendances dramatically increase since they took over. Is it justified, or just a natural by-product of the new-found enthusiasm in and around the city for the team?

I hate that term. How can a League Two club have ‘plastic’ fans? Are they sat at home watching the games on TV? No. They’re paying money to watch their local club. Of course, we’ve got new and returning fans, we’ve been on an incredible journey and people have become aware of the club within the city. The term ‘plastic’ is just jealousy from other clubs who either can’t attract that fanbase when they’re doing well, or aren’t doing well enough to attract their own hardcore.

5. Who would you say fans regard as the side most likely to challenge Lincoln for the title in the final third of the campaign?

Honestly, Mansfield Town. A little bit of sick rose in my mouth when I said that, but they’re the side I think can do it. They need to though, £10k a week on Tyler Walker and Jorge Grant alone is abhorrent at this level. They’re almost as bad as Forest Green Rovers, throwing money at a situation when their ground and infrastructure is not suited to the higher level. I’d like to think Bury and Milton Keynes Dons will join us automatically, if we are able to sustain our own challenge. Nothing is set in stone, but I’ve not seen a Danny Cowley side collapse yet.

6. How much of a success in your opinion has John Akinde been in his first season in the red, white, and black?

That depends on how we term ‘success’. Has he scored as many goals as we’d like? No. He creates chances and then misses them. I think he’s got fewer from open play than Harry Anderson and in one game. Danny Rowe hit 50% of Akinde’s total. taking out penalties. However, he’s a great centre forward, he earned us the 2-2 draw at Swindon with nine men by holding up the ball, fighting for every scrap. He’s got all the qualities of a top centre forward except that clinical edge. Mind you, we’ve had 18 different outfield players, so when everyone scores a couple, you don’t need one man bagging 20.

7. What will the re-signing of Danny Rowe on loan bring to the squad from a tactical point of view?

I thought he’d bring cover out wide, but it seems he’s going to sit behind big John and look to get beyond when he can. Rowe has got pace to burn, he’s eager and sharp, too. Danny loves him, he signed him last season and he chased him before he left Macclesfield Town. When Danny spots a player, he likes he won’t leave him alone, he knows the characters he wants. I suspect in the summer we may be preparing a bid and if we do, we’ll be signing a top player.

8. How do you see Saturday’s match going?

I can see it being a game where neither side come away happy or disappointed. I’d love it to be 1-1, have Ryan Lowe calling us all the names under the sun like Darren Way did, but secretly thinking we’re the real deal. Look, we’re not always pretty. We play nice football, the two goals at Yeovil proved that, but we also know how to manage games, slow down play when it need to be done and how to frustrate an opponent. We’re not as bad as Wycombe Wanderers last season, but we’re far more street smart than the likes of Forest Green. I hate Forest Green.