Ok, so it’s a stretch for me to get this onto my site, but I want to write up Wragby’s cup final against Boultham United. It was played at Sincil Bank, there’s a link to the Imps, so it’s here on the site. I make no apologies.
Wragby are my team – I don’t play for them, but I did once. I literally mean once as well, I’ve told the story before, but I played against Waggon and Horses on Burton Road. We were 5-0 down at half time, our captain left at 7-0, and in the end, their two centre forwards tied their legs together with socks and played three-legged, just to compound our misery. It was the final game of the season, it finished 13-0, and I had to play under my cousin Dean’s name, and if you know me and Dean, you’ll know how. hilarious that actually is.
Still, they’re not a bad side now. They won their division a couple of seasons ago, and since then, Chris Laming from the podcast has taken over as manager. Chris had a decent career, played in City’s academy, and was on Gainsborough’s books for a while, but he’s never won a trophy. He plays sometimes for Wragby, but he’s been excited about this since the quarter-final stage. I’ve watched the quarters, and the semis, and it’s been a proper thrill ride. The celebrations when they knew they were getting to play at the Bank were brilliant, and yesterday, that dream became a reality.
This won’t be the sort of report you usually read on Lincoln because I only know a handful of the player’s names, but even so, I wanted to mark the occasion of Wragby’s appearance at the Bank, and the day in general, as a homage to those dedicated souls at the Lincoln and District Sunday League, and at not just these two clubs, but all Sunday League teams across the region. I love Sunday League, if I wasn’t shit at football, I’d play even now. I love the notion of lads like me, you, and Chris getting up and living their football dreams. Chris is a proper Sunday League Pep; he agonises over the team, draws diagrams for players, activates presses, and changes shape during a game. He’s a student of football, in his tracksuit for a village team, the stereotypical ‘pub’ team – that’s what people see Sunday League as. Do you think yesterday’s game meant less to him than the Premier League does to Pep? Did it mean less to the players than the FA Cup does to whoever gets to the final? Not a chance. That’s why I bloody love it.
In fact, if I didn’t watch Lincoln and have my time taken up writing about them, I’d definitely be involved in some capacity, even if I drove the team to away games and carried the bucket and sponge.
We turned up an hour before kick-off to a packed Stacey West car park. Another cup final had been played in the morning, and there was a crossover. It meant the Bank was buzzing, a lot like a matchday. Kick-off, scheduled for 2:30 pm, was delayed, and I’m not sure why; something about dressing rooms. It actually felt like it might be a problem with getting fans in – we entered through the 200 Club, but the queue to buy a ticket stretched right back through the bar. The beer was flowing as well, but not for me, thanks to the king of hangovers paying me an unexpected visit. It was still so busy, and great news for the players.
It was nice to see lots of Wragby faces at the ground as well. Both teams were really well represented, which was nice for the players who usually play in front of 20 people at best. I’d estimate there were well over 500 there, if not more, and the SRP Stand was bathed in the warm spring sunshine. It was the perfect afternoon for football, with a carpet of a pitch, warm sun, and lots of supporters. As well as the bar, there was also a food stand open, which really made it feel like a matchday. I’d estimate Wragby took more for their cup final than Forest Green usually brings, and that’s no exaggeration at all.
The occasion was made by some of the little touches, necessary, of course, but ones that gave the game a real feel of proper football. Stewards were present, there was a proper announcer, and as the boys trained on the grass beforehand, it could easily have been a Football League fixture. Dare I say, few games at the Bank this season have been quite as exciting as the 90 minutes we enjoyed.
Will Vickers was the referee, and he is something of a lucky charm for me – in midweek he had control of Louth Town and Wyberton in another cup final at the Wong. Louth is my closest town, I call it home these days, and they won that game as well. Could he make it a double of wins for me?
A strong early start by Wragby looked like ensuring it would be a great day for my town. There were barely two minutes on the clock when a ball over the top caused havoc in the Boultham defence, and Brenden Parker bundled the ball over the line. He’s been a huge threat for Wragby all season, bagging 17 goals in the league, and it was no surprise to see him get on the scoresheet early. The opposition looked shell-shocked as the black and white shirts of Wragby swamped the scorer in front of the Stacey West stand.
It felt like Wragby were on for a romp, but things quickly turned. Boultham are a division below, fifth in the Division Three table, but they began to show some real attacking intent. James Harness, who I believe is nicknamed Trigger from those sitting around me, made a couple of crucial saves to stop Wragby from being pegged back. Dean Hillreiner was his usual dominant self in the air, whilst Paul Norris and Ian Smith completed an energetic back three.
Boultham did get level, and although Wragby claimed offside, it looked perfectly good from up in the stands. After knocking at the door a couple of times, a ball forward eluded Hillreiner, and maybe even carried a hint of handball. Harness could do nothing with the confident finish, and the scores were back level with under half an hour on the clock.
If anything, Boultham looked more likely to take the lead ahead of half time, but Wragby’s three at the back just had enough to keep them out. There was some nice football on display from both teams, with quick and direct wingers getting joy down the flanks. While that’s where the game looked like it might be won and lost, the real turning point happened almost in the centre circle, just before half time. Liam Stephenson, one of only three players to have appeared 25 times for Wragby in league and cup, went into a 50/50 challenge in the middle of the park. His opponent came in a little too late and a little too high, and immediately it looked nasty.
Play stopped for at least five minutes as first the bucket and sponge went on but was quickly deemed inadequate. As he lay prone on the surface, you knew it wasn’t good, and eventually, a stretcher was found, and he was carried off to A&E with a suspected broken leg. Luckily, it isn’t as serious as first thought, which is good. It spelled bad news for Boultham as well – Will Vickers took his time, consulted with his assistant referee on the far side, and before play resumed, he reduced them to ten men.