One Game Away From Manchester United – 1990

Manchester United are perhaps the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world. 

They’re also rarely visitors to Sincil Bank – they haven’t been here competitively for almost 90 years, and when they did turn up in 1934, we thumped them 5-1. In fact, they haven’t won at Sincil Bank since 1906. How’s that for a record?

However, on this day 33 years ago, City were lamenting their luck at having failed to attract United to Sincil Bank. This was a United side featuring Brian McClair, Mark Hughes, and Denis Irwin, a United side flying the flag in Europe for English teams after our absence, having already played Pesci Munkas of Hungary. They wouldn’t just have been a big draw for the Imps; they would have been a huge draw. This was back when you could expect to see a full first team make the trip.

Little did we know it, but all that stood between us and a two-legged date with the biggest club in the world, a club that would go on to beat Barcelona in the Cup Winner’s Cup final, was Halifax Town.  In fact, the Shaymen would provide the opposition for us three times in a week – a two-legged tie in the League Cup sandwiching their trip to the Bank in the league.

I’m going to let clippings from the newspaper of the day tell the tale of the match, but for context, this was a Lincoln side looking to reinvent itself under the stewardship of Allan Clarke. We’d opened with a 2-2 draw against Burnley before setting off for The Shay on a warm August evening to face a team that hadn’t won at home since February.

Ah, the crying Imp. It was the first time he’d been seen that season, and we all hoped it wouldn’t be a common occurrence. Days later, as John Schofield’s goal gave us three points against Halifax in the league, the hope of a better season was restored. We’d got four points from two games, and a poor Halifax side were set to visit the Bank to conclude our tie. With two goals to pull back, City had work to do. Could we get the job done and tempt a plum tie?


“All clubs are looking for goalscorers,” said Allan Clarke afterward. “Those who have them are not willing to sell them.” Not long after, he signed Phil Stant on loan and couldn’t get goals out him him. When you can’t get goals out of a goal machine, you’re in trouble.

Still, back-to-back wins were promising, but the kicker came when the draw for the next round was made. Halifax got Manchester United.

The lack of a big game cost City more than £100,000, but what else did it cost us? Could Clarke have signed the striker he so desperately coveted if we’d got the big tie? He needed to – we only won one further game under his watchful eye, 3-1 against Northampton. The Halifax wins were the only back-to-back victories of his tenure, and he was sacked after just 179 days.

As for Halifax, they were despatched 5-2 on aggregate by a United side featuring Paul Ince, Neil Webb, and the rest of the famous early Fergie side. They also used their cup money to help make a move for Steve Norris, who joined after the second leg and went on to score 30 goals for them.

They still finished 22nd, below the Imps, even with a 30-goal forward. Our leading scorer was Tony Lormor, with 12, four of which came on the season’s final day. Interestingly, depending on your definition of interesting, Lormor replaced Norris at Chesterfield a few years later.

Disclaimer – You’ll be pleased to know that there is an element of conjecture about this article. The League Cup is drawn alphabetically, so our ball number wouldn’t have been the same as Halifax’s. Never let that get in the way of a good trip down memory lane, right?