The Premier League is the Holy Grail for footballers around the world and going from Lincoln City to the top-flight may seem like an impossible dream.
For our American friends out there, it’s like College Football athletes going from the NCAAF lines to being drafted into the NFL. It’s a long road!
However, there have been numerous players that have played for the Imps throughout their career that show that there is a pathway to the Premier League.
These are three players that have played for Imps, either before or after playing in the Premier League table.
West Bromwich Albion fans used to sing that Gareth McAuley was better than John Terry, but that is something that Imps fans have always been aware of. McAuley started his career at Linfield before a move to England finally arrived in 2004 when he signed for Lincoln City.
He made an immediate impression for the Imps, as he formed part of one of the strongest defences in League Two. McAuley was an integral part of the team that reached the final of the League Two Playoffs.
He continued to impress in his second season with the club, as he was named in the League Two Team of the Year.
However, it was clear that he was set for bigger things, and in the summer after the end of the season, he moved to Leicester City. After five years in the Championship with the Foxes, and then Ipswich Town, he finally secured a move to Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion.
McAuley was an integral part of the Albion team throughout his stay, as he made over 200 appearances for the club. He left the club after the 2017-18 season, which saw the Baggies relegated.
Gareth Ainsworth may have only played for the Imps for two years, but fans still regard him as one of the best players that the club has ever had. He joined the club in 1995 after making a name for himself during a two-year stay with Preston North End. Ainsworth made nearly 100 appearances for the club and scored 37 goals during his stay. His performances during in the 1996-97 season saw him named in the PFA Third Division Team of the Year, and he appeared destined to move onto bigger things. Ainsworth would sign for Port Vale in the summer of 1997, where he would spend one season before Premier League side Wimbledon agreed to pay £2 million for his services.
However, his five-year stay with the club was plagued with injuries, which meant that he was never able to show how talented he was during his time in the Premier League.
He made just ten Premier League appearances for the club before the Dons were relegated to the First Division in 2000. Ainsworth would leave Wimbledon in 2003 and sign for Cardiff City on a short-term deal, before signing for Queens Park Rangers and then Wycombe Wanderers.
Neal Eardley was part of one of the most exciting Premier League teams of all-time, as he made 31 appearances for Blackpool during their season in the top-flight in 2010-11.
Unfortunately, their time in the Premier League was short-lived as they were relegated at Old Trafford on the final day of the season. After their relegation, he stayed for two further seasons at Blackpool, and he made over 100 appearances and scored two goals.
In 2013, he moved to Birmingham City, but his three-year stay with the club was plagued with injuries. After moves to Hibernian and Northampton Town, he signed for the Imps in 2017. Eardley went on to play 122 times for Lincoln during a three-year stay with the club and was named as the Player of the Season after his first campaign. He left the club in August 2020, as he signed for Burton Albion.