Half time came and with it came the queues for the toilets in the Coop stand, a phenomenon not seen at Sincil Bank for a long while. By December we’d seen big wins at home, we’d seen table topping football but nothing could prepare us for a giant killing of this magnitude. At second round stage the biggest clubs you can play are those in League One, and Lincoln City had dismantled Oldham and looked great value for the two-goal lead.
Minutes after the restart it was three. Alan Power was making just his seventh start of a tough season, but he cleverly disposed Oli Banks in the middle of the park and played a lovely ball through to ‘FA Cup Theo’. With the cameras rolling he didn’t need to be told what to do, his delightful flick showed class and composure to put the Imps 3-0 up and all-but into the third round. Who cared if it was only Ipswich? Most of the chatter was about prize money anyway, that’s when we weren’t signing ‘who are ya?’ to the beleaguered travelling fans.
The Latics brought on Billy McKay and Lee Croft and to be fair to them it changed the dynamic of the game. Two goals in three minutes brought them right back into it, the first a firm header from defender Peter Clarke after a corner. Erwin then slipped a ball through to the substitute McKay, and he threaded home past Farms to jangle those Imps nerves just a little bit more. Nerves jangled, perhaps so. Noise silenced? Not a chance.
Oldham piled on the pressure as the minutes ticked away, Lee Croft in particular a threat, and it was his stinging drive that almost brought them level. Farman was equal to that, and all over the pitch whatever Oldham tried, Lincoln had an answer. It was nail-biting stuff as we edged towards the 90-minute mark.
At that point the evening began to feel ethereal. The fog that had been threatening to come down all night dropped across the park like a blanket of smoke. Fans couldn’t see from one side of the pitch to the other, the keepers could barely see the half way line. If Imps needed anything other than a 3-2 lead and 7000 fans to make the night unforgettable, this was it. Then, from the thick fog came the shrill sound of a final whistle being blown. City had won 3-2, and 7,000 fans went home happy even if by the end they couldn’t actually see what they’d paid to watch.
Danny Cowley paid tribute to the club’s fans after the game, and although it wasn’t the first time he had done so it was the first time he’d seen us out in such force. He claimed the 7,012 supporters in the ground “carried” City to the win after conceding two quick goals.
“For us to have over 7,000, it’s beyond all of our wildest expectations. I think credit goes to the players, because they’ve got people in the city believing again. We said it in the dressing room that they might have League One players, but we’ve got Premier League people. We’ve got proper people, proper characters and they dug in when it really mattered.”
He spoke those words live on Radio Lincolnshire, and no doubt any armchair Imps fans listening in were convinced that now was the time to go and check out the Cowley revolution. They had read about it in the Echo, they had heard it on the radio and now they’d seen it on TV. This was Lincoln City 2.0, a new and improved red and white army with match-winning capabilities and the ‘character’ upgrade thrown in as well. We even had an influential and likeable figurehead leading the revolution, a modest man who spoke honestly and passionately about the club. Why would they not come flooding back?
3374 was the average attendance before that night. Including that game the average attendance through until the end of the season was 7442. That is a whopping 120% increase, the sort of step change that sales managers would be given company cars for, the sort of increase that even the Wolf of Wall Street might even be humble about. That foggy night in December really did change the attitudes of some of the passing fans, some of the lapsed fans and it piqued the interest of some who had never been before. 6335 turned out for Tranmere Rovers visit 12 days later, we took 4,838 away to Ipswich and by the end of the season 8942 had gone to Arsenal and 10,000 were out in force to watch us win the league.
There have been important matches in the league, that is for sure. There have been cup games that represented bigger acts of giant-killing too, there’s no mistake there. There is not a single game you can pinpoint that represents such a turn around in attitudes nor that signals such a significant rise in attendances as the FA Cup tie with Oldham. At the end of the game we sang ‘we’re Lincoln City, we’re on our way back’, and for the first time in 2016/17, the nation heard us.
It wouldn’t be the last time either.