I’m not sure of the ages or experience of my readers, but if you’ve been Imps fans for 15 years or more, you’ll all remember May 10th, 2003.
Recently, Jamie Ward wrote about it in A City United and we adapted that for a double paged feature in Graham Burrell’s book Imperfect Focus. It is a day that will forever remain etched in my mind, because it was the first time Lincoln City had ever reached the play offs.
Last week you read all about the Torquay draw courtesy of Mark Whiley and a host of other outlets no doubt, but just like the Yeovil game, that result merely opened up the chance to face higher opposition. Finishing fifth in 2003 were Scunthorpe and, as we’d finished sixth, that meant a two legged affair against our rivals.
We’d already beaten them on aggregate through the season, not that it mattered. In September 2002 Brian Laws side were beaten 1-0 courtesy of Ben Futcher’s goal. Jamie McCombe came on for the Iron that day, but to no avail. Later in the season we earned a 0-0 draw there, uninspiring but enough to ensure we finished in the top seven.
Those results all counted for very little fifteen years ago today though, as Keith’s assortment of cast offs, non-league hopefuls and grafters took to the field against Brian Laws slick Iron side. We had Dene Cropper up front, Simon Yeo on the bench despite his first goal in seven months putting us in the semi-finals, and Ben Sedgemore in the centre of the park.
Scunthorpe had a far better side of individuals, but as Sedge always said, we were far more than the sum of our parts. They boasted Paul Hayes and Martin Carruthers, long before both became tired veterans. They had a tired veterans, Peter Beagrie, as good a veteran as you’ve seen in the basement division to be fair to him. Alex Calvo-Garcia was a Spaniard of some quality too, wherever you looked they oozed quality.
We weren’t there to make up the numbers though, not one bit. Keith Alexander’s teams had a similar mentality to Danny Cowley’s, refuse to lose. Often that side was tactically naïve, there wasn’t really a plan B other than lump a big defender up front, but anyone facing Lincoln City in 2003 knew they’d been in a battle. Despite our great season, the crowd of 8902 was phenomenal. We’d started the season getting 3,000 or so, much like the 2016/17 campaign.
Keith revitalised Lincoln City in the same way Danny has, but also in a very different way too. His style was different, his media handling markedly different, but he did galvanise the fan base. As the red and whites shirts ran onto the sandy Sincil Bank, we all had pride running through our veins. We hadn’t finished top six with a Bozzie or Neal Eardley, we’d done it with former Ilkeston defenders and Worksop strikers. Deep down, right in the pit of my 24-year old stomach, I thought we’d be beaten.
After 20 minutes I’d already shed a tear, Paul Mayo and Simon Weaver had given us a shock 2-0 lead. Weaver’s goal wouldn’t look out of place this season, a whipped free kick from near the corner flag nodded in at the far past. If we’re honest, their defending was poor, but ‘Horse’ as he was effectively known didn’t care.
The second started the same, another free kick from the flank, this time cleared with ease. Richard Butcher hooked a hopeful ball back in, perhaps looking for a head. Instead, he found Paul Mayo twisting expertly to volley in an exquisite second. The collection of misfits were sticking a middle finger up to the form book.
Scunny pulled a goal back at half time, one which filled me with injustice at the time. It shouldn’t hae, a scrambled effort crossed the line but got hooked away and the referee gave it. At 24, I used to have rose tinted glasses, I had rose tinted everything back then and I swore it hadn’t crossed the line. “I was right in front of it,” I lamented to anyone who’d listen at half time. “We’ve been robbed.” We weren’t.
I’m often critical of Dene Cropper, he was a non-league footballer who tried desperately to be league quality, but for a brief moment on 55 minutes he achieved his aim. He strode past the Iron defence and square for Paul Smith, the former Forest winger not the long-serving full back, to slot home. Those were two players I’d knocked all season, combining to give us a two goal cushion.