Looking Back At: Imps v Maidstone (FA Trophy) 1988

I know this seems like an odd game to feature, but there are two very good reasons for it.

Firstly, I asked Patreons of the site which games they’d like me to feature in the coming weeks, and Ben Daniels chose this. The second reason it’s a good choice is because it featured something incredibly unique – an Imp getting sent off for something he did to one of his own teammates.

The Imps were favourites for the Trophy in 1987/88. Having been relegated from the Football League, but remaining full-time, we were the biggest beast in the jungle and heading into the game, Colin Murphy spoke of us being favourites. “We don’t talk about Wembley, any more than we talk about promotion,” he said.

City had a rough time in terms of matches over the Christmas period. This game was played on February 13th – we hadn’t been in League action since winning 4-1 at Welling on January 16th. It hadn’t all been plain sailing when it came to the FA Trophy either – it took three goes to get past South Liverpool (1-1 away, 2-2 at home on Oct 23rd and 3-1 at home Jan 4th).

Cambridge City were up next, another tough test which required an own goal in a 2-1 win. That meant Maidstone next, with the game being shifted to a Saturday to attract a decent crowd. 2372 turned up, fewer than for the game against Cambridge City played on a Wednesday.


Nigel Batch, out since January 2nd, returned to the side. and Murphy went with a strong set of players. The rest of the team was Clive Evans, Shane Nicholson, Graham Bressington, Trevor Matthewson, Steve Buckley, Gordon Simmonite, Bob Cumming, Paul Smith, Phil Brown and John McGinley. The game also marked the opening of the new executive club in the St Andrew’s Stand.

Murph had said before the game that our earlier victory against the Stones in the league had been played on a mudbath and that the result may have reflected that. If he thought this game would be any different, he was wrong. Sincil Bank had taken a hammering over the Christmas period and the pitch was a sticky mess, upon which the Imps took an early lead.

Clive Evans delivered a long free kick from the halfway line, which the visitors felt was handled by Cumming. The referee didn’t agree, and Cumming was able to cross for Smith to tap into the empty net at the South Park end of the stadium. First blood Lincoln.

On 37 minutes, an incident took place which will always stick in the minds of those who saw it. John McGinley rolled a ball towards Smith on the right flank, but the former Port Vale man couldn’t control it, and it ran out of play. With that, McGinley made his way over to Smith and, after a brief exchange, headbutted him.

That may sound dramatic, but there was perhaps a coming together, with McGinley putting his face in hard. Obviously, there was no requirement to go down to win anything, so it must have been severe enough to extract a reaction from Smith. It certainly got a reaction from referee Jim Borritt – he sent McGinley off.

After the game, Colin Murphy didn’t comment much, just saying, “we will be studying the referee’s report, but fortunately, the game was recorded on video.” That was seemingly the last he was to say on the matter – nothing appeared in the programme for the following game against Sutton, or indeed the one after that against Telford United.

Back on the pitch, Maidstone got an equaliser, Tony Rogers glancing a header past Batch. That came after a flurry of bookings for the visitors and was a second ‘goal’ for the Imps from Bressington, albeit one chalked out for a foul in the build-up.

After narrow margins in previous matches, City wanted this one put to bed, and a bruising encounter was developing. Borritt, accused by Echo writer Julie Sherborn of not having a grip on the game, soon had his red out again – this time it was Maidstone’s Tony Pamphlett posted to the changing rooms after kicking Shane Nicholson in the back.

The Imps were back in the ascendency after that, with Phil Brown’s deep free-kick causing chaos in the defence and Trevor Matthewson nodding home in front of the Railway End, restoring City’s lead. Despite late efforts from Mark Gall and Steve Butler, both of whom went on to fine Football League careers, City held out for the win.

Sadly, the cup run ended there. Of the eight teams left in the competition, five others were in the GMVC, and only one looked hugely tough on paper – Enfield. Obviously, City drew Enfield away and lost the tie. As for Maidstone, they were clearly on an upward trajectory, and the goals of Gall and Butler saw them win the GMVC the following year, earning promotion to the Football League.

John McGinley served a two-match ban, but any bad blood between him and Smith did last – they were both back in the team for the next matches against Sutton and Telford, and only an injury to Smith through march kept them from completing almost every game together in the final run-in.

Thanks to Malcolm Johnson, who saved the day by coming up with newspaper clippings after my microfilm session at the library was aborted due to the microfilms being sent away!