I’ve already blogged previously about our 2-0 win over Scunthorpe back in 2005, but flicking back through my old files I found this assessment of our situation just over a decade ago. I don’t think I need to say anything else.
Mondays win over Scunthorpe seems to finally have convinced the watching world that Lincoln are not just about big balls forward to towering Neanderthal figures who terrify and traumatise opposition defenders into conceding sloppy goals. The watching world saw two fantastic strikes thanks to Sky TV, Simon Yeo and Gary Taylor Fletcher and were finally convinced City were a side with genuine automatic promotion hopes. The Sky nominated experts were ex European Cup Winner Gary Birtles and Yeovil manager Gary Johnson, both respected voices on the football circuit. Both pundits used those loud voices to send a vibrant and clear message to League Two and more significantly League One. Lincoln City are a team to be feared.
The result and goals rather than the performance had City fans finally believing that this could be the year they finally make the jump to League One. Many young fans couldn’t possibly remember league competition that features Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest or Bradford but the prospect of big clubs visiting once again rekindles memories of 1998, Man City and Fulham. Last time round City faltered and stuttered with a weak squad and ugly tactics. A second bite of the cherry next season would see the ugly tactics refined and repacked as an effective and exciting attacking game. The squad is getting deeper with five quality forwards backed up by three competent midfielders and a posse of strong and committed defenders. Alan Marriott has always been ready for football at a higher division and with an impressive crop of young stars such as Ollie Ryan, Jack Hobbs, Leon Mettam and Shane Clarke coming through the ranks the future certainly looks bright. The TV appearance simply pre warned the teams glancing over their shoulder in League One.
What the TV cameras didn’t manager to show was the sound foundations the club has laid down from the boardroom through the club and out into the community. Financial security seems to have been secured with ambitious but sensible transfer fees being paid out for apparently good quality players. How deep the club are willing to dig in order to keep the players whose contracts are close to expiry is a question yet to be answered, but the fans trust in the club to offer the right deals. Two years back their were rumblings of discontent as Stuart Bimson moved on and the same last year when League Two’s best right back Mark Bailey departed and moans both years over the failure to secure Simon Yeo’s signature for the coming seasons. This year the Yeo grumbling roll on but there is belief players like ‘Sloppo’ and Peter Gain might actually stay. League One football is an enticing prospect for any player, but with the close bond between the players and the fans certain favourites are much likelier to remain at the club.
As an ardent fan Mondays result whetted my appetite for visual reminders of successful Imps teams in action. Rushing down the club shop clutching my freshly earned bonus I lashed out on copies of Imps v Boston (2-0), v Grimsby (4-2) and bizarrely enough the 1988 win over Wycombe that sent the Imps back into the league. Coupled with Mondays nights game these moments were classics to savour and selected using a great process of elimination. Admittedly they were three of only six or seven available, but the significance of all four games I now own would have made me choose them from a list of hundreds. The reason was encapsulated by the coverage on Monday night – local pride and a belief if we go up we can stay up. Despite Scunthorpe being above us in the league City top the ‘Lincolnshire mini-league’ which this year signals Lincolnshire top side. Its official, we are the pride of Lincolnshire.
The two homes draws with The Mariners and The Pilgrims weren’t groundbreaking, nor the 3-2 reverse at Glanford Park. Our success was achieved mainly away from home in front of 2,500 fans at Blundell Park and York Street, as well as in front of thousands two days ago. All three games combined to earn an accolade that fans may remember for years. The promotion picture is peppered with our top county sides Scunthorpe and Lincoln so the possibility of the mini league breaking up is very real. This could be the only chance in history that all four clubs are pitched together in competitive action and it is beyond doubt that Lincoln will come out on top. The undisputed Pride of Lincolnshire. Sweet.
The other film I purchased on the wave of euphoria I’ve rode through the week was the scrappy 2-0 win over Wycombe in May 1988 that completed our year in the Conference doldrums. Played on an appalling pitch by two relatively poor teams by today’s standards the game doesn’t make pretty viewing, not aided by the fact that it’s a terrible quality having originally been filmed by one man and his camcorder. None of those reasons can detract from it obvious historical value to Lincoln City Football Club. On that day in May 1988 City weren’t certain they’d be promoted, but they were favourites. The players, officials and fans all knew in their heart of hearts they were going up. They were also reasonably sure they wouldn’t be coming back down again. Most the team had league experience and had been honed into a strong and committed side. Colin Murphy had quickly blended a squad of players capable of not only achieving promotion, but also sustaining life in a higher league. The team won the game by two goals to nil and duly got promoted not having yet suffered the infamy of a return to the non league ranks.
Which brings me to the copy of Mondays game that I have since watched twice more from start to finish. Unlike 1988 City aren’t assured of promotion but their fate is in their own hands. The Imps have five of their promotion rivals to play, but they aren’t the only side with a tough run in. All the sides around City have to play each other and relegation haunted clubs fighting for survival. Should they win all their remaining games City would be left with 83 points meaning that current leaders Yeovil would only be able to drop four further points in their run in, which equates to two of Rushden, Kidderminster, Wycombe and Southend. Food for thought or pie in the sky speculation? Either way a good spell in the final games against our competition will certainly leave us in the promotion frame, and for the first time since 1988 we have a great chance of getting up and staying up. The climb through the league pyramid can be an arduous and drawn out affair peppered with years of uncertainty and under achieving, and to finally see light at the end of the tunnel is both exciting a terrifying. 17 years may have passed since we last fancied our chances on a bigger stage, since we last felt our club could financially sustain football at a higher level. This could finally be our golden opportunity to make the step up and reclaim our place away from the basement division.
The club certainly were on a sound footing at that time with a collection of good players, high crowds and the goodwill of the city behind them. Sadly of course Rob Bradley stepped down and we saw Steff Wrights reign start brining the infamous ‘Championship 2010’ campaign which saw money frittered away on training grounds and not playing staff. Heart breaking.