Lincoln City have had a great season on the pitch, winning the National League and securing promotion to the EFL. Things have been happening off the pitch too, with the creation of the club's first women-led fan group, the Lady Imps Supporters Association (LISA).
Maria Horner, chair of Lady Imps, tells us more about the formation of the group...
It started with a kiss, sort of. Like falling in love; the pain in your heart and a dull ache in your stomach when you know it’s real.
Lincoln City lost to York in the FA Trophy semi-final, a rare defeat late last season, but it was the moment I realised I properly cared about my club.
I analysed what it was I’d fallen for and hesitantly posted on Facebook. Suddenly a raft of like-minded women responded.
It took me by surprise. My partner, Martin, encouraged me to create a Facebook group, just to see what happened. LISA was born that Monday night in March. Within a week we had 800 people on the group. Women love their club and want to talk about it.
That’s all it was, an additional alternative space where female fans could share their thoughts, feelings and joy.
Quickly it shaped itself into a place for all kinds of random love for Lincoln City FC; selfies with the team (who caught a Cowley?), Imps beach towels abroad, red and white themed summer plants, celebrations of our fabulous season. Did we ride the tidal wave of the club’s success in the National League and FA Cup? the excitement and joy? Yep, we loved every minute! Are we all ‘bandwagon jumpers’ and not real fans’? Nope. Try that line with our member who’s been an Imp for 57 years.
But we are more than a page, we’ve made a difference – already. Women who had not been to see a live match before felt they could try it, other’s who hadn’t attended alone before had the confidence to do so.
Female supporters are connecting with each other, friendships are building online and it’s transferring to the ground on match day.
The ‘feel’ of the group is overwhelmingly positive. They say they enjoy the lack of hostility and swearing found on other sites; not because it’s banned but it’s the way it’s evolved. It’s not Pollyanna either. It can be risqué or cheeky, but it’s inclusive, and funny.
So what are we for? LISA is here to create a space to encourage more women to actively support Lincoln City Football Club and to shape it into an even more positive experience. We’ll do this by sharing our thoughts, ideas and experiences with each other and more widely by linking with other organisations to enhance our aims. Although we are Lady Imps, we welcome members of any gender, and men encouraging women to the game can only be helpful.
If you support our aims we want you with us. We are part of the football community, we don’t seek to separate ourselves, by seating or otherwise, we want to join in celebrating Lincoln City FC, on and off the pitch.
If more women enjoy that experience and feel part of their club, they will spend their money and bring their families and friends.
The football experience can be enhanced for everyone without taking away the aspects which many fans enjoy; lively goal celebrations, a chant with jocular not hateful swearing. It’s not about sanitising the sport but encouraging variety in how fans enjoy their football.
It could be providing travel options for women travelling alone to away games, mum’s discussing child friendly alternative lyrics to the chants, or just saying what we think about the match without fear of being ridiculed by a keyboard warrior who’s supported football for three hundred years and who set the exam on the offside rule.
Lincoln City FC has been hugely supportive from the start when we were just a few posts on Facebook. In less than four months we’ve had a ‘Meet LISA night’ (no yawning formalities) we are on twitter @ladyimps, we have a committee and a membership scheme and a badge beautifully designed by a member.
We couldn’t have achieved this without Anwar Uddin, head of the the Football Supporters' Federation and Kick it Out's Fans for Diversity campaign.
It’s provided LISA with a solid foundation and a website! It also made possible our first ‘official’ LISA Night social. For £5 a head the LCFC Travis Perkins suite was filled to capacity with balloons and more than 120 people served with fizz and ‘tapas’.
Pride of place was our Vanarama League Trophy and player Sean Long kicked off the celebrations. Singer Ellie-Mae and musician Jack Cook were fabulous. Our ‘voice of football’, BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s commentator Michael Hortin interviewed his regular match summariser Steve Thomson.
Steve’s experience as a former player and manager for both Lincoln City and Sheffield United provided delight with his unvarnished tales of football characters. Our own LISA comedian Gina Overton served wry wit about what women witness at football including “the crevice of doom”!
But the highlight was the room waving and swaying while more than ninety women sang Sweet Caroline! Da Da Da! Good times never seemed so good!