Whilst not quite marking the end of an era, Paul Farman is the last player from the darkest days in the club’s history to leave Sincil Bank. There will not be many players who have witnessed life at such opposite extremes at any club, let alone Lincoln City. From Boreham Wood to Burnley, Farman experienced life at both ends of football’s evolutionary scale.
Farman originally arrived at Sincil Bank on loan from Gateshead on 3 November 2011. City’s new manager David Holdsworth was desperately seeking a replacement for the suspended Joe Anyon and knew Farman from an unsuccessful trial at Mansfield in January 2009. The new goalkeeper came very close to keeping a clean sheet on his debut as visitors Barrow snatched a stoppage-time consolation, but most importantly the 2-1 win lifted City out of the bottom four of the Conference Premier. It is worth noting that Lincoln were in the relegation places when Farman made his first Conference appearance for the club and champions when he made his last one. That sounds like quite a transformation, but no one could have imagined the trials and tribulations experienced and overcome during the intervening six years.
Farman played so well that he kept Anyon out of the side for the whole of his two-month loan period. In that time, he conceded just nine goals in his eight appearances in a desperately poor side. The upturn in form helped City to seventeenth in the table and may have been instrumental in the club retaining Conference Premier status. Unfortunately, he picked up a groin injury in the Boxing Day defeat to Grimsby and returned to Gateshead despite Holdsworth wishing to extend the loan.
It is interesting to note that Joe Anyon – kept out of the side by the young loanee – was voted Player of the Season by the supporters in April.
No one knew at that stage that Farman would ever return, yet the seeds of a special relationship had been sown. Five months later he was back, signing a permanent one-year deal on 23 May 2012. Swapping his original No.28 shirt for the No.1 he would retain for the rest of his Imps career, he made his second debut on the opening day of the 2012-13 season and kept a clean sheet as City got off to a winning start against Kidderminster. In October, he became the first City player to be called up by England C, although the scheduled game in Albania was ultimately cancelled shortly before kick-off due to flooding. It was really all downhill after that. The highs that season were practically non-existent as City struggled to retain their Conference status for the second year in a row. The minor FA Cup run could have culminated with Farman pitting his wits against the international lights of Liverpool, but ironically Matt Rhead ensured that did not happen. Farman did well enough to be offered a rare two-year deal in the summer and was one of the first players to sign on for the new season.
Stability was the urgent need in 2013-14, and new manager Gary Simpson achieved that with some astute signings. Farman appeared in every game until an injury picked up at Hyde on 8 February 2014 ended his season. Unfortunately for him, the injury also led to the signing of Nick Townsend from Birmingham and ultimately one of the worst examples of man-management possible. Just a week before the start of the 2014-15 season, Simpson re-signed Townsend on a season-long loan and immediately stated he would be the first choice goalkeeper for the coming year. If there is a textbook designed solely to demotivate a player, Simpson wrote it that day. Far from sulking, Farman immediately made a public statement vowing to fight for his place. On 12 September he joined Boston United for three months to get some game time, although he picked up an injury in early October and made only four appearances for the Pilgrims.
With Townsend turning in some fine performances, it seemed that Farman needed a stroke of luck to win back his shirt at Sincil Bank. That stroke of luck arrived right on cue when Birmingham refused City permission to play Townsend in the FA Cup at the end of October. Farman was recalled and retained the No.1 position for the next three years, missing just four league games through injury in the whole of that time.
He came back to Lincoln a better goalkeeper without question. On 10 January 2015, he saved two penalties at Eastleigh, although the Imps went down 4-0 after the early dismissal of hothead Jon Nolan. It proved another season of disappointment as the Imps finished in the bottom half again, but everyone was struck by the strength of character Farman showed in the face of some woefully inept management by Simpson. His replacement Chris Moyses handed Farman a further two-year contract on 26 February, which was signed with alacrity. At the end of the season he was voted Player of the Season by the fans despite making the lowest number of appearances in any of his five full Conference seasons (28). The award was just reward for (and perhaps a comment by the fans on) the treatment he had received from the previous manager.
Farman missed just one game as the Imps began their journey back towards the Football League in 2015-16, and retained his place for 2016-17 as Danny Cowley’s team swept all before it. The fact that he was one of the stand-out players of that momentous season highlights the belief that the better players will come to the fore in the better teams. It earned him a further two-year contract during the close season of 2017, although he was destined not to see it out. He lost his place in the side after a 4-1 defeat at Notts County in September 2017 and never really got it back. After spending the best part of eight months sitting on the bench – and not complaining about it in any way – it became almost inevitable that he would be seeking pastures new at the end of the season. On 12 June 2018, he signed a two-year deal with League Two rivals Stevenage, and an eventful seven seasons at Sincil Bank were over.
At the end of the day, Paul Farman has left Lincoln City in search of first-team football, and at 29 we cannot deny him that. Even the best things come to an end, and his departure leaves Matt Rhead as the club’s longest-serving player at three years. Only Rhead and Luke Waterfall remain from the squad Danny Cowley inherited two years ago, showing there is no room for sentiment in football. Of course, there have been errors along the way – goalkeepers are usually made to pay for most of them with a goal – but the good times outweigh the bad many times over. Danny Cowley believes we defend as a team, and that must mean we keep goal as a team as well. Considering the rubbish Farman had to play alongside for the majority of his Imps career, his record is actually very good. During his six Conference seasons, Farman appeared in the team with an astonishing 121 players, and 134 during his time at Sincil Bank. That is a very high turnover, indicative not only of a series of unsettled teams, but also of an unsettled club. The only constant throughout the six non-league years and the first season back in the League was Paul Farman, and that is no mean achievement.
Were the 100 Legends poll to be held again, Farman would surely feature prominently. His commitment was never less than 100% regardless of the shambles around him at times, and he embodied the fighting spirit that was necessary to carry the club along its tortuous journey back to the Football League. Loyalty is a rare commodity in these days of avaricious agents and supercharged signing-on fees, and Farman offered that in droves. It would have been easy to walk away from the club when money troubles dominated the horizon – which was essentially from 2011 to 2016, remember – but Lincoln had quickly become his home and he was happy here. The money on offer was barely adequate within the wider context of professional football, but Farman just wanted to play. If character were rewarded in financial terms, he would have been a wealthy man by now.
I am very glad that Paul Farman appeared for City in the Football League. It would not have been right otherwise, and no one deserved it more. But it is for 2016-17 that he will be remembered. In the season in which he set a new club record for appearances in a season by a goalkeeper (58), he finally became the player we all felt he could be. The world watched enraptured on their television sets as Farman and his friends matched the best and beat most of them. He helped to create the kind of memories money cannot buy, and set the standards by which all other Imps inevitably will be judged. He arrived at a time when the club was trying to lick some gaping wounds and left with the club on a sixty-year high. It would be entirely fair to say he did a great job for us.
But for all his achievements as an integral part of that wonderful team, it is perhaps his ebullient personality and love for the club that will remain the longest in our memories. We may remember some key saves at Burnley, or keeping Wrexham at bay with City down to ten men, or yet another huge clearance down the pitch to the detriment of a long-standing groin injury. But perhaps the one image that stands out above the rest is of Farman leading the celebrations at the end of the Macclesfield game, his National League winners medal proudly around his neck. There is not a single living person who can claim he had not earned that medal, and probably many times over.
What Paul Farman ultimately achieved at Lincoln City is the stuff of fantasy, and possibly the season to end all seasons in any player’s career. Let’s hope he remembers 2016-17 with the same affection we will remember him and does not have nightmares over the carnage he witnessed before that.
Paul Farman at Lincoln City:
** 250 appearances (the fifth-highest by a goalkeeper in the club’s history after Alan Marriott, Dan McPhail, John Kennedy and Peter Grotier)
** 62 clean sheets
** 22 clean sheets in 2016-17
** Player of the Season and Away Player of the Season 2014-15
** National League Champions
** FA Cup quarter-final – a club record – and the first non-league club to reach that stage in 103 years
** FA Trophy semi-final – a club record
** Five appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy winning side
** Club record for the most appearances by a goalkeeper in a season (58 in 2016-17)
** One of only two players to have appeared for City in all six Conference seasons (with Alan Power)
** The only player to appear in all six Conference seasons and the first season back in the Football League
** Started more games than any other player during City’s six years in the Conference (231 in all competitions)
** His total of 232 appearances during City’s six years in the Conference is the second-highest behind Alan Power (261)
** The first City player to be called up by England C, although without making an appearance
** National Game Awards (i.e. non-league) Goalkeeper of the Year 2016-17.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) June 13, 2018