This week, I had the pleasure of catching up with Imps’ goalkeeper Sam Long, chatting for the club programme ahead of the Gillingham fixture.
In that interview, which you can read by buying a copy of the programme here, Sam talks about his early career, knockbacks and all, as well as detailing the life of an academy player. It’s a great read (even if I do say so myself) as Sam is a very honest lad with a great story to tell.
As part of the chat, we got around to speaking about the Under 18s recent win against Preston in the FA Youth Cup. Sadly, since Sam and I had a chat, the FA have suspended action in the FA Youth Cup, meaning the game against Watford in the Fourth Round won’t go ahead as planned. That is a huge blow to the young Imps, who battled valiantly against a Preston side expected to beat them, coming out with a credible 1-0 win. Sam was confident that any tie against Watford would be winnable, despite the lads being underdogs.
“After beating Preston, we think anything is possible,” said the 18-year-old former Crystal Palace youth. “Watford will be similar, we’ll be the underdogs, but I think we can go and win the match. I’m really excited about the game as are a lot of the boys and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Imps got to this stage courtesy of the 1-0 win in the last round, a match played on the Deepdale pitch. Freddie Draper netted the only goal of the game, earning him a place on the bench last night. He sat alongside Under 18 teammate Sam, a full professional who pulled off a super save just before half time to keep the scores level.
“I shouldn’t have had to make a double save because I spilt the first one,” he joked. “The lads did really well, a lot of people wouldn’t have thought we could have won that match but I felt the way we played showed us looking comfortable on the ball. There were times when we had to dig in and be strong defensively, which we did well.
“All over the pitch, we worked really hard and the lads were exhausted after the game. Think we deserved it, we’d had a two-week break before the game and it was called off twice, so to deal with that and win was great. I hope we can repeat it when we face Watford in the next round.”
Whilst I had Sam on the phone, I was keen to know a little more about some of his teammates, and whilst the programme interview focuses entirely on him, it was nice to chat about some of the players that Imps’ fans might not be fully aware of. One was striker Draper, who will certainly be on the radar of a few more fans after last night, despite not getting on the pitch.
“Freddie has been really good for us. He came in during the lockdown and none of us had met him. When he first came to the house, a few of us were surprised; he’s massive! The things he does for us might not always be the things people notice, he’s great at holding up the ball and pressing, but his finishing is really good too. He’s someone we can really use as a weapon for the rest of the season.”
Whilst we already know plenty about Hayden Cann and Sean Roughan, another player in defence who hasn’t stolen the headline, yet, is Jasper Tetlow.
“Jasper had a tough first year, he was injured for a lot of the year. Since he’s been playing, he’s been really strong, and has formed a good partnership with Hayden Cann. We’ve not been conceding a lot of goals and he’s been really good, especially from set-pieces in both boxes.”
I then asked Sam about Billy Brooks, a player I know a couple of connoisseurs of Imps under 18 football have been raving about for a while too.
“Billy is a nippy little player; he works really hard and is honest on and off the ball. Technically he’s one of the best I’ve seen at this age. He’s been excellent this season and hopefully can keep doing what he is doing.”
Finally, Ben Sault is a player we’d seen around the first team over the summer, and his pass set up Draper for the goal, It seems he is another name worth keeping an eye out for in terms of a first-team squad spot.
“Hopefully we can get as many of the boys as we can from the 18s to the first team,” Sam concluded. “Ben is one who is really professional around the house and around the rest of the boys. He’s always doing things properly, sleeping and eating right. He’s been a role model to some of the younger ones in the group and I think that if he carries on working as he does do every day hopefully, he’ll get what we all want, a first-team spot.”
That might be the aim for every player in the under 18s, but for Sam Long, it is a reality. He talks about the impact training with the seniors has had on him, how he reacted to the Scholar of the Year award and what attracted him to Lincoln over other clubs. Don’t miss it, get your programme ordered today.