I always cringe at the beginning of May, when Star Wars fans start with the whole ‘May the 4th be with you’.
It was funny the first time, wasn’t it? Besides, as a Lincoln City fan, it is ten days after the Star Wars day that should be celebrated, although ‘May the 14th be with you’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, it does have a great feel for Imps fans. Why? Because of the three play-off matches we have won in our history, two were on May 14th.
The first was May 14th 2003, and I have already spoken of the first leg here. City were in wonderland, 5-3 up against Scunthorpe and on the cusp of a first major final at a National Stadium in our history. All that stood between us was the belligerent Brian Laws, who refused to shake Keith’s hand after our 5-3 win and whose assistant had stuck a flag in the ground at Sincil Bank the weekend before. Could Keith’s assortment of cast-offs and non-league hopefuls shock Scunthorpe, with the third top ten finish is as many Division Three seasons behind them? The answer, rather delightfully, was no.
I recall plenty about the game – I travelled alone as tickets were scarce and the Poacher outfit went on the team bus. when I got there, I got suited up and headed off around the pitch with a Lincoln City flag, mimicking their actions in the first leg. it didn’t go down very well. After that, dressed in what looks like someone else’s jumper, I took my seat in the stands and off we went.
City were unchanged from the first leg, namely Marriott, Weaver, Morgan, Futcher, Bailey, Smith, Butcher, Gain, Bimson, Cropper, Mayo. On the bench, Bloomer, Yeo, Willis, Cornelly, Sedgemore.
Brain Laws was convinced his ‘footballing’ side would win through, but two shocking challenges should have seen the so-called artists reduced to nine men. Today, they would have been sent off but even as recently as 15 years ago a studs-up challenge could command a yellow and little more. I’ve included the YouTube video of the game below, starting on 2.00. If that isn’t a red, I don’t know what is. Then, why not check out 3.50 onwards, for Steve Torpey’s elbow on Futcher? After all, I wouldn’t want history to have Laws down as anything more than a bad loser and a hypocrite.
Sure, Scunthorpe huffed and puffed, but they never looked like getting the two goals they needed to win the game. The closest they came in the first half was a Paul Dalglish free-kick which went wide, whilst future Imp Matt Sparrow spurned the best chance of the second period. He went one-on-one with Alan Marriott shortly after the restart but put his shot wide of the post. Laws threw caution to the wind and brought off Sparrow for Martin Carruthers, another future Imp, and he too spurned a one-on-one with Mazza. They tried to elbow us out of the tie, they tried to kick us out of the tie, but they did neither.
Instead, a wonderful Peter Gain pass picked out the man of the moment, Simon Yeo, and he strode forward before confidently finishing in front of the 2,000 travelling Imps fans. There was that moment again, the one words can’t describe. Chant’s of ‘Yeo, Yeo’ rang out around Glumford as their fans streamed for the exits. These chants were replaced with our version of Hey Jude, the first season we adopted that as our anthem. We were 1-0 up in our bitter rivals back yard, 6-3 on aggregate and going to Cardiff. Just seconds later, Yeo should have made it 2-0 and 7-3, Scunthorpe all at sea as we piled on the pressure. Who cared though, we were in the play-off final.
After the game, Keith and Laws shook hands, but Laws wouldn’t let his issue slide. Simon Yeo gave a typical interview saying he was ‘just a happy lad who’ll talk to anyone’. He laughed off being labelled a cult hero, but 18 years later that is exactly what he is. 18 years later I can name that sides, front to back, without taking a breath. They were my first true team of heroes, the first Lincoln City side to make a national stadium, the first since the GMVC years to truly bond with the fans on all levels.
All that stood between us and the Second Division as it was then known, was Bournemouth, a side we’d beaten 1-0 on the penultimate Saturday of the season, on May 24th.