After today the newspapers probably won’t bring you much coverage of Lincoln City. The national spotlight has been turned on us ever since we beat Burnley in the fifth round, but now we’ve been eliminated from the FA Cup I’d imagine we’ll become nothing more than a few column inches at the end of the season.
If Arsenal win the cup our role as ‘gallant losers’ will be mentioned alongside that of Sutton United. Maybe if we win one of the other two trophies we’re in contention for, the red tops will do a small and perhaps mildly patronising article, the more respectable papers might do a follow-up piece referencing the cup run and proclaiming how we’re finally back. I’ll guarantee the Sun won’t be interesting in contrasting Lincoln players cars with Alexis Sanchez’s Bentley anymore.
No, for many people in this country the Lincoln City dream is over. For those fans that have been around for a while, those that have the Imps in their hearts and pumping through their bloodstreams, nothing is over yet. One unlikely cup run has ended, but the dream itself is still alive. In August as we knocked that first ball forward against Woking the dream was never the FA Cup quarter final, it was never a trip to the Emirates to play a full strength Arsenal side. The dream always has been promotion to the Football League and maybe a Wembley FA Trophy appearance, and that dream is still alive and kicking.
I would be doing the players and the club a huge disservice if I completely dismissed yesterday as a sideshow in the main season. Yesterday was historic, a wonderful day out for everyone connected with the club. I didn’t blog when I got in for two reasons. Firstly the Lincolnite were good enough to employ my services for the day, and to write about it for myself whilst their content was only hours old would have been disrespectful to Daniel and the team. Secondly, I couldn’t because no matter how proud I was, no matter how well our team did, we still lost 5-0. I’m a Lincoln City fan and whether we play Whitehawk or Arsenal, losing hurts. My other half watched the goals back on her iPad as we laid in bed, and just hearing them score pissed me off a little bit.
I woke up this morning in a far more objective mood, and to make myself happier I watched the other goals from our cup run. I still get a tingling sensation in my spine when I watch Nathan Arnold round the Ipswich keeper in our replay, and obviously Sean Raggett’s header gives me goosebumps too. No 5-0 defeat in the quart final could ever tarnish those memories, and that settled me down enough to watch the showreel the Lincolnite guys edited together for me from yesterday. I haven’t watched the goals and I won’t ever. I’m not interested in watching us conceded five, but I do want to remember the great day out.
Arsene Wenger showed us great respect by fielding his full first team according to many observers, but (as my other half pointed out) he had no choice. He couldn’t risk a tepid display against us, he couldn’t throw young players in against a side like ours, full of strength and desire. Yesterday his job was on the line, we experienced that as we inadvertently walked to the ground mixed up in a 300-strong protest demanding he be sacked. As I walked up the steps into the ground and heard the team I knew he was fighting for his job, and I knew we were done for. Character, togetherness, preparation and everything good about our club can take you so far, but it can’t take you past true world-class players.
That said I thought we were superb in the first half. The gulf in quality wasn’t truly evident and up until their opening goal we’d probably had the best chance in Nathan Arnold’s curling effort. All those qualities that brought us to this stage had kept one of Europe’s best teams at bay for forty-five minutes, but that is as far as it could take us. The goal right before half time killed off the game, as crazy as one goal against sounds. There was never a chance that we’d get back into it once they’d scored, and the second half ran true to form as they outpaced us, outplayed us and ultimately ended our fairy tale run. There’s no shame in losing to a team that contains World Cup winners and Copa America Winners, not when a portion of your own team were part-time up until last season. I don’t think anyone will disagree when I say it was a mismatch of epic proportions, and yet for forty-five minutes we were on a par with some of football’s most famous names.
I’m not Danny Cowley, so when I say our support was world-class it probably doesn’t have the same impact, but our support really is from another planet. 9,000 Imps fans travelled to the game, and a majority were vocal throughout. After every Arsenal goal our chants rang out louder than theirs. Despite a few subdued renditions of ‘Arsenal’ (repeat), they were silent, and to see them streaming out on 85 minutes was insulting to us. Some hardcore stayed to applaud our achievements, but most were already queuing for the tube by the time the referee’s whistle went. Contrast that with the scenes back at Sincil Bank, where fans didn’t even leave early from watching on the big screens.
Theo Walcott showed his class by coming over an applauding our support, and I’m informed Francis Coquelin did the same thing. That was a nice touch and it partially bridged the gap between the two teams. Yes, they have better player and facilities, but on the day we had the better fans and for a couple of their players to come and acknowledge us showed proper respect. I didn’t imagine Sanchez would after being roundly booed every time he came into our corner, but I think Theo Walcott is cut from different cloth. He has always come across as a humble and intelligent man and yesterday he won a few more friends from the Lincoln contingent.
I was really pleased to see Jack Muldoon starting, and even more so to see Adam Marriott get a run out. I can’t help but feel we won’t see an awful lot of Adam in the next two months, and that is a shame as he is a superb technical footballer. To get some minutes on the pitch was just reward for his role in our cup run, not least the pass for Arnold against Ipswich. I think DC showed a little bit of sentiment yesterday with his team selection, he stayed true to the player that have helped earn us the right to appear in the last eight. It may be an indication of the sort of team he could put out at Wembley if we get to the FA Trophy final, and I imagine that will be heartening to the likes of Callum Howe.
For me, that is that. I won’t do a travel diary as I have done before because hopefully you saw it on the Lincolnite. Similarly I won’t do a match breakdown because it would be ridiculous. To use that horrible rag’s angle, why would you review a race between a Vauxhall Astra 2.0l TDI and a McClaren F1? The Astra is a sound car, functional, relatively quick and a pleasure to drive, but to compare it to one of the world’s best cars would be ludicrous. It doesn’t make it a bad car, our defeat doesn’t make us a bad team but nonetheless nobody wants to really read that sort of writing.
Of course we can be proud, every one of our players will forever be remembered by Imps fans for their achievements. Danny, Nicky and all the staff will always be noted for getting us this far, both around Lincoln and in the wider football world. The fans that got to enjoy our day in London won’t ever forget it, I certainly won’t. As I wrote on Friday though, defeat means nothing, no matter how much I don’t like seeing it. We couldn’t lose yesterday, and despite conceding five without reply we didn’t lose. Just look at some of the pictures sent to me by Graham Burrell this morning. There’s Luke Waterfall challenging Olivier Giroud for a header. There’s Alex Woodyard playing a pass with Mesut Ozil in the background. These are some of the finest footballers in Europe right now, battling hard against the likes of Ozil and Giroud!
So to coin a phrase from the Burnley game, the focus shifts now to York in the FA Trophy. Hot on the heels of our biggest cup game ever comes two more of our biggest cup games ever. Lincoln City have never played at Wembley and yet here we are facing 180 minutes that could see us finally achieve our dream. I’d like to think it’ll be a full house of at least eight thousand next week, and I can only imagine the atmosphere in Sincil Bank will be just as infectious and consuming as it was outside the Three Bells pub on the Seven Sisters Road yesterday. One thing is for certain, Lincoln City will not approach Tuesday’s game any different to how they approached yesterday. Whether it’s Arsenal or York we will have the same plan, the same approach but hopefully a significantly different result!
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