This might seem like an odd statement; it’s obviously not 20 years ago we were first good, but in my lifetime, it almost was.
I started following the Imps in 1986, and aside from 1987/88, we’d never really been favourites for promotion and lived up to that. Perhaps in 1992/93 under Steve Thompson, maybe under John Beck in 1998/99, but there were always teams better than us. At the turn of the century, we’d been really poor, but Keith Alexander and his side changed all of that. We started 2002/03 as outsiders, hanging on to our existence by the skin of our teeth. We started 2003/04 among the front runners, a team people were going to keep an eye on.
That is what has sparked my idea this season – I want to track the 2003/04 season match by match, in real-time, to give you an idea of exactly what I mean. For me, the 2003/04 season was the first time we were not only ranked as promotion hopefuls, but we lived up to that and dare I say, by the end of the season, we had the best Lincoln City squad I’d seen in my lifetime.
I’m going to try to keep these simple – pictures if I have them, a brief match report and starting XI, but hopefully, you’ll find these an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
The Imps season started with a tough home tie again Ian Atkins’ Oxford United. They finished eighth the season before, pipped on the final day of the season by us. Had Simon Yeo not bagged late against Torquay, Oxford would have been in the play-offs instead of us.
City lined up 3-5-2. Alan Marriott, Ben Futcher, Simon Weaver, Paul Morgan, Matt Bloomer, Paul Mayo, Peter Gain, Richard Butcher, Richard Liburd, Simon Yeo, Rory May, with Dave Wattley, Ben Sedgemore, Ellis Remy, Alan Pearce and Niall McNamara on the bench. Yeah, we had a bit to go at this stage. Oxford featured former Imps Paul Wanless in their side, and the much-despised Andy Crosby, a top defender and pantomime villain at the Bank.
Yeo was the big hope for City, having had a sensational finish to the previous season, and a bumper crowd of 4,543 (yes, bumper) expected much. Within six minutes, the visitors led. Julian Allsop saw his shot blocked by Paul Mayo, but Scott McNiven picked up the loose ball and squared for Steve Basham to score.
On 14 minutes, Yeo was booked for a tussle with Oxford’s John Ashton. 16 minutes later, after being (correctly) judged offside by Andre Marriner, he kicked the ball away in anger, striking a ballboy and got sent off. “Kicking the ball away and getting involved in scuffles is amateurish,” raged Keith Alexander after the game. He might have been angry that the Imps goal threat went with Yeo – City only had three efforts all game, one off target from Yeo, another from Peter Gain and a solitary shot on target from Richard Butcher.
Not a good start to a season that saw us as among the promotion hopefuls.
On a personal note, my brother and I were at this game and gave Andy Woodman in the goal abuse all game. Afterwards, he turned to us and said, ‘it’s only game lads’, which made me feel about one inch tall. Also, at the end of the game, Crosby came off raging, and I recall Andy Townsend and him exchanging words after Crosby said, ‘I don’t know how you watch that shit every week’.