Continuing our look at matches chosen by patrons, we’re going to 1993, a game often overshadowed by what came after.
This match was chosen by patron Jim Olsen, and it’s one I recall fondly. Not long after this game, I went to Blackpool with my Aunty, wearing my Lincoln shirt, and got some verbal abuse from two older Port Vale fans on the seafront. It was a big win for City at the time, hence their anger, but the significance gets lost because Everton came out of the hat next.
There is some context behind the game. The Imps were under new management; rookie Keith Alexander was looking to take us into a new era of playing neat, passing football. It was a stark contrast to the years before, where Steve Thompson’s approach had been more old school, very much in the Murphy mould. John Reames clearly wanted a better product and had tried to get that (and sadly failed) with Allan Clarke. Keith was the second attempt.
Over the summer, we’d signed the likes of Dave Hill, described by Geoff Davey at the time as one of the best midfielders in the division. Steve Mardenborough came for a fee of £10,000, seen as a bargain after Darlington demanded £20,000 for his services. Still, the season hadn’t gotten off to a great start, we lost on the opening day to Colchester, and Port Vale was seen as the toughest draw we could have got. They were favourites to win the Second Division (now League One) and given no clubs above that level entered the first round, it was a hugely challenging tie, the toughest we could have got. Vale had a great side, including Irish international Bernie Slaven, Ian Taylor, Martin Foyle (record signing at £375,000 just two years earlier) and Robin van der Laan. They’d won the Football League Trophy the year before and were a big name in the lower leagues.
Much of the pre-match hype was around Paul Smith, the Imps’ record signing at one time. He had arrived at Sincil Bank from Port Vale, and our paths hadn’t crossed in that time. The Echo suggested it would be a tough return to Vale Park for Smith, especially after what was termed a ‘disappointing’ season opener against Colchester United. The truth of it is that few gave the Imps a prayer of progressing as the team bus wove its way to Burslem. However, Keith felt there might be a chance. “I think Port Vale will give us much more room to play than Colchester allowed us,” he said.
The big team news was around Tony Lormor‘s return. He’d been out since April 1992, bagging a double against Halifax on his final appearance before damaging his cruciate ligament. He missed the entire 1992/93 season and the season opener against Colchester. Steve Williams was tipped to come into the side, but instead, it was Lormor on the bench. City lined up with Mike Pollitt in goal, then Paul Smith, Dave Clarke, Dave Hill, Mark Smith, Sean Dunphy, John Schofield, Steve Mardenborough, Peter Costello, David Puttnam and Ian Baraclough. Lormor was on the bench, alongside young Ben Dixon. The Vale team included future Imps man Paul Musselwhite, and 5,175 supporters were in Vale Park to watch what they thought would be a routine win for this side.
The game was a neutral’s delight, a smooth passing game from both teams drawing plaudits from the Echo report David Garlant. The home side was described as playing crisp football, something City matched ‘stride for stride.’ Few expected the score to remain 0-0 until half time, but Keith’s Imps were solid and slick, and an uneventful opening period finished 0-0.
Within 60 seconds of the restart, the home side got their expected goal. Ian Taylor, who would go on the star in the Premier League for Aston Villa and Sheff Weds, touched home Kent’s cross to swing the tie in their favour. City hit back immediately, Mardenborough setting up Dave Hill for a vicious drive that went wide before Musselwhite pulled off a sensational save from Schofield’s effort. Those watching on would have been hard-pushed to know which side was from the higher division, such was the ferocity of the Imps’ approach.
Vale nearly made it 2-0 around the hour mark, Pollitt pushing a Tankard drive over the bar, and then Paul Smith got his big moment at his old club, clearing off the line after van der Laan’s goalward effort beat the Imps keeper. The action surged from one penalty area to the other, a typical cup tie in Garlant’s words. It almost had a penalty – Slaven’s pace and vision saw Taylor get free of the Imps backline, only to be felled by Mark Smith. His clumsy challenge was right on the paint, and a booking seemed like light punishment. The free kick was smothered, but the hosts were in the ascendency, and Taylor nodded over moments later.
On 72 minutes, Port Vale had the Imps down and seemingly out for the count. Slaven beat Clarke to a ball to prod home a Foyle flick-on. 2-0, and with fewer than 20 minutes to go, the Imps were staring down the barrel of defeat, which would have been a ‘travesty’ according to local press. The determined, cultured passing game on display was alien to Lincoln fans at the time, but little did they know just before the goal, a hero had entered the fray; Tony ‘Stormer’ Lormor.
Seven minutes after coming on the field, eighteen months after last kicking a ball in anger, Lormor scored. He lashed an effort high into Musselwhite’s goal, with nothing the former Scunthorpe man could do. It would have been too late to make the regular 15-minute updates on Radio Lincolnshire, but ahead of my 9:30 bedtime, it would certainly have popped up on Teletext to send me to bed with hope. Luckily, thanks to Lormor, I’d wake up even happier.
David Puttnam was the creator of the leveller, turning a wonderful cross into the area which former Everton and Coventry defender Peter Billing made a mess of. Lormor was on hand, the traditional fox-in-the-box, to poke home at the near post. City were level, and crucially with two away goals, which counted double. From the jaws of defeat, the Imps had snatched a technical victory in the form of a 2-2 draw away from home. To rub salt in the wounds, van der Laan headed a late chance over the bar when he should have nodded into an empty net, but the Imps cared little. All that was needed was a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, and we were into the hat with the big boys.
On the Saturday before the second leg, Vale thumped Barnet 6-0, with hat tricks for Slaven and Foyle. City drew 1-1 with Darlington, the slick attractive football not quite finding the same level of success against more direct and robust opposition. Still, that mattered little, as seven days after the 2-2 draw, a brave Lincoln side held Port Vale 0-0. It meant a victory on away goals and the joy of Everton coming to the Bank in September.
The reaction was certainly positive, with letters flooding into the Echo praising the new approach (see below). Sadly, the moments of glory the season delivered were tempered with an inability to stamp our new style on Division Four encounters. The team needed an overhaul – Lormor, Smith, and Clarke were seen (rightly or wrongly) as very much the old guard, whilst Mardenborough never justified his transfer fee. Keith’s side was sublime one game, then awful the next, and eventually stumbled to 18th in what was the Fourth Division. Recruitment during the season saw Nicky Platnauer, David Ridings, David Campbell, and Tony Daws arrive, but none could stop Keith from losing his job at the end of the season.
As for Vale, they excelled, finishing second in the third tier and earning promotion to what is now the Championship. In the FA Cup, they drew Blackpool, which I always thought was ironic given my own encounter with their fans, and they brushed them aside, eventually setting up a third-round tie with Southampton, who they ended up beating. Could that be an omen for us?
Sadly for Tony Lormor, his sensational return was something of a swansong. He came off the bench in the second leg but quickly suffered another injury and missed both games against Everton. On November 2nd, he bagged his final league goal for us in a 3-3 draw with Carlisle, sparking a run of four starts before he was replaced by young Steve Williams. His last Imps goal came as we beat Witton Albion 2-0 in the FA Cup. His last appearance came on January 29th as we drew 1-1 with Rochdale.