If Lincoln City were to win this afternoon against Brighton and Hove Albion, Danny Cowley felt it would be like going to the moon. As of 5pm that makes him and Nicky the first brothers ever to venture there together.
I’m not going to report on the match itself, what more can a humble blogger such as myself add? If you want to read a report I’ve heard there is a good one here. If you want to see the action for yourself, we’ll be on Match of the Day (again) sometime around 10.20pm tonight.
If you want to read an account of the day through the (slightly teary) eyes of an incredibly proud and emotional blogger, then you’re in the right place.
For want of a better word, this afternoon was amazing. Brighton are not a team down on their luck or out of form like Ipswich were. This was a side who were in the habit of winning football matches. I’d wager that a full Brighton first team might have given us a better game, but that matters very little. Chris Hughton chose to play a weakened side, and whether that was disrespect or not is a matter of opinion. For my money the reserve side that a Championship team put out should still comfortably beat a non-league team.
Not this non-league team though.
This non-league team is different, they rise to the occasion whenever the occasion calls. Against Oldham we were magnificent, against Tranmere we were resilient, and against Ipswich we were sublime. Can we do it on a cold Tuesday in Solihull? That remains to be seen.
I still consider league football to be the ultimate goal, but games like this afternoon only come around once in a lifetime. Various media outlets have us down as being in the last sixteen on three other occasions, but the last time we made the fifth round, round five of the competition was 1887. To give that some perspective, Jack the Ripper hadn’t even committed a crime back then, and Queen Victoria was still on the throne.
So I’ll put my desire for league football to one side, and discuss the afternoon. The first thing to mention was the club putting copies of my book in the club shop. For a die-hard, time served Imps fan like me, that in itself was a dream come true. John Lewis? Waterstones? Whatever. For me the holy grail of publishing is to be considered for the club shop. It set my day up really.
I spent most of the pre match with Fe (my other half who has now been to three or four games this season after promising in August ‘one’ begrudgingly) my Dad and my lifelong mate Dave. Pre-match was great, knocking back a few Fosters from plastic bottles and mixing with more Imps fans than I ever recall seeing around the ground. I said something similar back in August when we played North Ferriby, but the scale of life around the place today was hard to measure. Up and down the High Street everyone had red and white on in some form, and trying to get served in the Travis Perkins suite was like trying to catch fish with your hands in the Witham. It wasn’t going to happen.
The atmosphere in the ground was reminiscent of those glory days against, well, Ipswich actually. The positivity and passion flowed from every man, woman and child I came into contact with. I had the immense pleasure of sitting next to Ian Plenderleith, an original DF contributor who has since become an acclaimed writer and author of Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer, a book about the NASL. We exchanged book as if I too were a proper writer, signing each other’s copies before getting sat back to enjoy what we thought would be the dying embers of our super cup run.
Sat directly behind me was another recognisable face, a certain Lee Thorpe. I’m delighted Lee came, we chatted last week and because of that he sought to come to today’s game. Lee is a great bloke, really friendly and approachable. He wanted a copy of my book too, and I even signed it to his Mum! In 1998 when we beat Brighton to go up to the third tier, I never imagined one of the goal scorers would one day want something signing by me!! He was sat next to another ex-Imp, and a favourite of mine Lee Philpott. I was a bit concerned that I might have spoken ill of him whilst penning my book, especially when he started leafing through Thorpey’s copy. Luckily I didn’t!
The roar from the crowd as the teams came out was like something off Match of the Day. I’ll rephrase that as we’ll be on that programme (again). It was like something out of top-flight. For many years Sincil Bank has been quiet, aside from the rumblings of the ever-growing 617. The last few seasons they’ve got louder, and today the whole stadium joined them. The visual display was fantastic too, not something just for cameras either, but a chance to make use of a full stand.
Despite a bright start, the opening goal confirmed what I thought to be true: City were valiantly going to go out of the competition at the fourth round stage. It was a cracking strike, probably justified after they’d hit the bar as well, but nonetheless a blow. I thought after that we held our own, and all around me at half time the consensus was that we probably played the better football.
If I had sat down and wrote a fictional account of how the rest of the afternoon panned out, I wouldn’t have dared to write something as far fetched as Lincoln scoring three times to progress to the last 16. Even as Theo Robinson was grappled to the ground, a part of me felt we’d miss the penalty. I should have known better, I spoke about the massive balls of Alan Power before, and if scoring his penalty against Guiseley demonstrated they were made of steel, today showed they were made of indestructible space-age material currently unknown to mankind. He stepped up after an agonisingly long wait before confidently hammering the ball into the TV camera in the back of the goal.
For me we’d got what we came for, a home goal to celebrate. For Danny and Nicky, the rocket had just set off, destination: the moon. Nathan Arnold floated a wonderful ball over five minutes later, and the Japanese named, Canadian defender Fikayo Tomori wildly hacked the ball into his own goal. He’s on loan from Chelsea, and with finishing like that he might get a game up front next week. 2-1.
From then on I remember very little. I ditched the notepad I’d been scribbling on for my Lincolnite match report, and paced on the spot, anxiously watched the clock, desperately wishing my life away. Next to me Ian, all the way from Germany, was pondering whether it was fair to travel hundreds of miles just to turn his back and not watch. The other side of me I kept getting a little squeeze on my arm from Fe who could see the range of emtions all converging in my head at once. The fine line between pleasure and pain was being blurred, pleasure at being 2-1 up, but pain knowing that at any minute Brighton might just get back in the game.
Then Theo Robinson scored, and it was all over. Cue jubilation? Balls to that, and I don’t mean normal balls, I mean Alan Power sized balls made of invincible alloy. Eight minutes of injury time meant there was enough time for our dream to be taken away from us.
Eight minutes later the rocket ship Cowley was landing next to Crater Tycho (that’s a bit of the moon. I just googled it, so trust me), and back on earth 8,000 fans in red and white went absolutely ballistic, dancing in ecstasy, crying with happiness or just stood in disbelief. Little Lincoln City had done it. Next stop, Pluto (or Solihull, both are as bleak).
I was one of those stood in disbelief. I think my other half knew I was only a rendition of ‘we’re proud of you’ away from bawling my eyes out with pride at what we’d achieved. I got a squeeze of the hand whenever she felt my eyes were glazing over. She knows.
I didn’t want to leave the ground, so all four of us (Dad, Fe, Dave and I) converged in the TP suite for drinks, and for me to write my report. My Dad was so happy, it was the first time I think he’s ever failed to measure our modern day achievements by referencing 1976. With a huge smile he said he’d never seen anything quite like today at Sincil Bank. It’s been a tough few weeks for my Dad, he lost his brother last week, and for the team to put a smile of sorts on his face made me quite emotional again.
We drank a few more beers, we kept stopping our conversations to repeat ‘I can’t believe what I’ve seen’, and my other half probably cradled her freshly purchased Paul Farman fridge magnet wishing she wasn’t the designated driver. Even since I’ve come home I’ve done nothing but watch video footage and film clips from the ground, read tweets and stop every so often to say how unbelievable it all is.
In a minute I’m going to go and sit next to my better half on the sofa, talk about Lincoln City and wait for Match of the Day. Then I’m going to sleep, but my alarm is set for 12.47 tonight so I can get up for a late-night TalkSport interview. Then I’m going to bed again to dream impossible dreams about FA Cup fourth round wins. I bet my over active imagination can’t come up with anything as unbelievable as what my conscious mind witnessed this afternoon.
Oh yeah, Tranmere lost too. Here’s to a bloody good Saturday, and I hope Danny and Nicky land back on earth safely in time for a Tuesday night in Birmingham.