It was a strong Everton side, packed with flair and ability. Lookman and Calvert-Lewin are both players we’ll hear more of in the future, Sigurdsson is a world-class talent and Bernard is slippier than wooden decking in winter. All over the park they had names we recognised and as the teams were read out my mate Dave gave me a sideways look. I didn’t need words to read his mind, it was something along the lines of ‘shit’.
In the first few minutes we looked to acclimatise well, of course we didn’t threaten the goal particularly, but we weren’t going to be over-awed. They then flashed an effort over from twenty yards and gave a glimpse of their class. Before quarter of an hour had gone, we got two more.
The first goal came as a consequence of Leighton Baines getting too much space on the right hand side, whipping in a great ball to Lookman who headed over Josh Vickers and into the net. Bozzie tried a cheeky handball to deny the goal, but it was clearly over the line anyway. The homes fans rippled with a cheer, but they were sat down and quiet by the time Lookman was embracing his team mates. As the ball left the centre circle to resume play it was all Lincoln noise once more.
They did their best to shut us up with a second goal, once again carving their way through the defence before Bernard slipped a cheeky little lob over Vickers. there was nothing our keeper could do, not for either goal, but with 15 minutes on the clock we were 2-0 down to a slick and cultured footballing side. My dad looked at me and said; ‘this could get embarrassing’. I responded by joining in with chants of ‘we’re gonna win 3-2’. Deep down, I feared another Arsenal, another 5-0, another day in a nice stadium I’d do my level best to forget. Basically, my miserable predictions were coming true.
I wasn’t going to sit down and shut up though. I hadn’t gone all the way to Liverpool with a face like a slapped arse to just lie down and take a thrashing. The Imps’ fans were loud and proud and no matter what I felt about the importance of the game, I was going to make sure I did my part. If I felt guilty at letting Danny down in amongst 5,500 fans, how must the players feel? Luckily, they responded just as we did. They fought, the harried and they scrapped and as they did, my mood lifted entirely. Completely unconnected to Carlisle going 2-0 up against Mansfield, obviously.
From that goal onwards Lincoln City did themselves and their fans proud. It would have been easy to defend at 2-0, to sit deep and hope to hell it didn’t get worse. It would have been just as easy to let the heads drop and see the top flight side gobble up seven, just like Tranmere. There was none of that, instead there was fight. There was desire. There was a ‘f*ck you’ attitude that typified everything we’ve become, a never-know-when-you’re-beaten belief surging through the players.
Who led the charge? for me, Harry Anderson was excellent, barging and bashing his way through whenever he could, chasing the ball like a greyhound chasing a stuffed rabbit around the dog racing track. Michael O’Connor was brilliant too, he broke up play whenever he could and kicked everything that needed kicking. you could see we were League Two and they weren’t, but we never let that get us down.
There were chances at both ends, they always looked dangerous when given the time and if we ever sat off them they had the skills to unpick the defence. In League Two we can get away with giving teams possession thirty yards from goal because often they do nothing with it. Give a big six side that grace and they’re going to put the ball at your keeper.
John Akinde ran himself into the ground, always a willing outlet but ploughing that lone furrow he’s used to by now. The main issue was every ball into him saw two defenders pick him up, one of which was £12m Kurt Zouma. The other was Colombian World Cup star Yerry Mina, himself worth around £27m. I had to defend John on the way home to someone who claimed he’d done nothing, but when you’re sandwiched between players who cost more than your entire club, there’s only going to be so much you can do.
It was the Colombian who brought down Akinde on the left flank to earn a free kick around the half hour mark. This was our chance, a set piece. We’re known for getting balls into the box and putting a head on it and my pre-match bet had us to lose 2-1 with Jason Shackell to score any time. As the ball came in I saw Shackell rise and briefly I saw pound signs. I soon forgot about those as his header was saved and Big Bad Bozzie slammed the ball home. We had our goal.
That moment was when everything I’d thought about the game went. I later realised much of my dismay was the Arsenal game coming out. I couldn’t leave Arsenal disappointed because we’d come so far and achieved so much, but losing 5-0 hurts. I feared we’d have no such hiding place this time, no great run to mask the pain of a heavy defeat, but as Bozzie wheeled away to celebrate you just knew it wasn’t going to be like that. We weren’t here for a hiding, I had no reason to fear a long drive home. This was to be a day to remember and for the first time since the Port Vale opener, I smiled.
I did more than that, I screamed, cheered and sung. I had been doing it all match, but every word got louder and prouder. It’s fair to say the final 15 minutes of the half were ours, we laid siege as much as a League Two side can against a side worth several hundred million pounds, but we did. We got corners, we got throw ins in good positions and we earned every moment of our time on the ball. When the half time whistle blew at 2-1, Everton we happier to hear it.
Little Lincoln City had been stung, but we’d bitten back and were in the ascendancy.
If there was ever a moment that summed up the difference between the two sets of supporters it was the moment the whistle blew. 5,500 Imps fans sat down, at least those who were going for beers or the loo, whilst the quiet majority stood up. I know it’s a home and away thing, but it felt like a signal of intent. Everton had one of those though, bringing on Gomes and Tosun at half time. That’s Andre Gomes on loan from Barcelona, a player who cost them 350m including add ons, and Cenk Tosun who cost Everton £27m. We stuck with the same eleven who looked entirely capable of slaying goliath.
In the second period we looked on the cusp of creating a good chance without doing so, but Everton were always dangerous. Josh Vickers ensured he’d have a memory to take away that didn’t involve picking the ball out of the net, pulling off a wonderful stop to deny Sigurdsson on the hour mark. As the game wore on we saw less of the ball, but without conceding any serious chances. When we made a change it was bringing on Matt Rhead, Shay McCartan and eventually Ellis Chapman, all of whom cost us the grand total of nothing. Everton had £50m Richarlison to fall back on.
Bozzie had to stop Idrissa Gueye getting away and Vickers pulled off a great stop from Tosun, but Everton looked to be out of ideas and perhaps content with their 2-1 win.
As we entered the final ten minutes, City got a second wind. The set pieces were the one area we looked like scoring and with ten minutes left Jason Shackell got on the end of a corner and beat Jordan Pickford. Richarlison, with a mouth full of Andrex, cleared off the line and earned his wages alone in saving them embarrassment.
We weren’t done yet though, a masculine looking Ellis Chapman, seemingly aged three years over the Christmas period, flicked a wonderful ball into Shay McCartan. Was he fouled? Some say yes but he wasn’t. Moments after City got a corner, but it fizzled out and almost as quickly, so did the game. The final whistle wasn’t met with much enthusiasm from the home fans, but little was all afternoon. Instead, Goodison rang out to songs and chants from the visiting supporters, loud and proud.
There’s no more for me to say, not really. Everyone one has their memories of the day, not one of the players had a bad game and I left with something I never thought I would; joy and pride. Like many, I’m emotionally invested in promotion, it means so much and along the way I lost sight of what yesterday could have been about. Tranmere trouncing didn’t help, but as we funnelled (slowly) out of Goodison Park my team had come to my rescue. they’d shown me that it isn’t all about promotion, that there are moments that transcend a league win.
Moments where you stand in one of the most recognisable grounds in the country and watch the home fans applaud your efforts as a club more than their own team.
Moments when a sold-out ground has to play loud music to drown out the chanting of a League Two side.
Moments when you realise that whatever happened against Port Vale or Crewe, this group of players are good enough and those nagging fears of collapse are entirely unfounded.
Moments when you know that your football club isn’t just ‘on the way back’, but going somewhere they’ve never been in your three decades as a fan.
That is what Everton meant to me, it just took actually being there for me to see it. Plus Mansfield lost. All in all I was still smiling when I finally walked through my front door at 11pm.
I’m still smiling now. Up the Imps.