Back then long time ago when grass was green, I woke up in a daze, writes David Agnew.
Surely it didn’t happen. No, please don’t spoil my day; I’m far away. I’m only dreaming. Except that I wasn’t. None of us were. It had happened. Bradley Wood committed a negligent foul, and it was dangerous in our own half. Time was approaching the 90th minute, and the resultant hack down would allow Ipswich to load our box. How bravely we had fought. We had been so unlucky to concede late on at Portman Road for Ipswich to force a replay that they, quite honestly, didn’t deserve. Crowds stayed up all night and formed queues that were reminiscent of the Eastern Bloc countries during their time under Soviet occupation. Something had happened; masses of people, young and old, waited in sub-zero temperatures. Yet, this was not for much-needed food rations; this time, it was for the chance to see the National League leaders play Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town in a Third Round FA CUP replay. Was it madness or just FA Cup fever? Why it was both, but it was real, and it was happening at Sincil Bank. Yes, Sincil Bank, when only nine months previously, we had only managed to scrape over the 2000 mark for our last game of the season.
The orange sodium streetlights seeped onto the frosty tarmac as supporters armed with all cold weather equipment they could muster huddled together and hopefully will the time away, before the opening of the ticket office. Five o’clock came and went, then six o’clock arrived. Many realised they would have to think of some good excuses as to why they would be late for work. The sky stayed a resolute deep dark blue, with stars twinkling down in a patient gaze on those below. As the sky changed from dark blue to the dark orange of the approaching sunrise, the queue grew and grew.
Word began to get around the city. “If you wanted tickets for Ipswich, then you’d better join the queue now.” The most beautiful sunrise came, the sky turning from sunburst orange to the most glorious blue sky. The frost glistened like diamonds on the tarmac. Yet, it was still a good hour before the ticket office opened. This did not stop the crowds billowing. More and more came. News spread around the city like wildfire. BBC Radio Lincolnshire, aware that this was a massive event, sent reporters to the ground to find out what on earth was going on. It was simple. Lincoln City had reached a fever pitch. Telephones rang off the hook. People desperately joined the queue all the way around the stadium footprint, until…..until the sad news that the capacity had been reached and it was a sell out. Not even City players serving hot drinks could quell the disappointment. For some, it was a body blow. For others it mattered not. The game was to be televised on BBC1, post EastEnders.
All was set up for the perfect evening, except for one massive thing. A couple of days before the hotly anticipated fixture, the news broke that shocked all football fans. Sadly, the legendary man and manager Graham Taylor had died. A magician of a man who was adored not only by Lincoln fans but also by Watford, Villa, Wolves and Watford again. A kind and gifted manager who was cruelly treated as England Manager. Probably the most unlucky England Manager ever. Blighted by injuries and player inconsistencies, he was hounded. Yet, to us, he would always be a hero. The man who achieved record points achievement and signed many a young player who would kick on under another chap in the future, called Colin Murphy. The passing of Graham brought a sobering atmosphere to the build-up of the game, and quite rightly, he was remembered by all as the game began.
It was a great game, and we had possibly thrown it away by the scything tackle that Bradley Wood had just made. We had seen it all before, hanging on to the end and just when we thought we had achieved extra time or a memorable result, we would throw it away in the dying moments. I bit my lip as I watched the match at home. I was unwell and could not go. Don’t worry, my ticket didn’t go to waste. My fevered brow could possibly not take any more. I was freezing cold, yet sweating profusely in my sick bed. Ipswich committed all their players forward as this free-kick, deep inside our half, was about to be launched, a full salvo at Paul Farman and our defence. The salvo was launched, and bang. It crashed straight against our wall. No one from Ipswich was back. The ball found its way to Alan Marriott, who was not the fastest of our players, to say the least. He took it as far as he could and turned. Oh, the turn took an age and then, sprinting through like a leopard hunting wildebeest, came Nathan Arnold. Please be onside, please be onside, was being processed by my mind – jointly alongside taking more medication and changing my pyjama top. The ball found its way through to Arnold, and there was a hush. You could hear a pin drop. Jonathan Pearce and the crowd collectively, momentarily were silent.
The flag stayed down. Pearce spat out, “ARRRRRNOLLLLLD, Lincoln City are through!” Eight seconds. That’s all it took. Eight seconds. It seemed a lifetime, especially when Nathan made the decision to round the Ipswich keeper and pass the ball into the net. What a goal. I had no voice to shout; I had the full-on flu. I was delirious anyway. Was this an illness-induced hallucination? Was I dreaming? Nope, my phone buzzed with various messages from friends and family, with glee and most in shock. What then followed was an agonising six or seven minutes, for which we had to now see out. Paul Farman made a couple of saves, and that was it. We had beaten a team 59 places above us in the football pyramid, live on BBC 1.
Surely, this would mean that the likes of North Ferriby United and beating Tranmere and Forest Green Rovers over the line would be a formality. Wouldn’t it? Who was next? Surely, we couldn’t beat Brighton in the Fourth Round of the Cup. We did, you know. Surely, we couldn’t beat Burnley to be the first non-league team in the Quarter Final of an FA Cup for over a century. We did. It all ended at The Emirates, predictably, really, but it did. A shock loss to Boreham Wood and a late equaliser for Sutton meant that we had temporarily lost the top spot to Tranmere. We made sure we fixed that, and after navigating the nail-biting Easter Weekend of Torquay and Gateshead, we managed to secure the perfect end to a wonderful season. A season that arrived like strangers in the night. Fab. This was our moment, not the times back when income tax was all we had. Success was ours like a fluke win on the pools. It belonged to us. At the time, though, I just couldn’t believe it. It seemed like a wonderful dream mixed in with a recurring nightmare.
Seven years have now passed. My children are nearly adults. I am middle-aged. It wasn’t a dream. It was something amazing to behold. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could ever beat that in footballing terms for Lincoln, could it? Of course, it could, but It matters not, as we now enjoy life in League One with attendances we would have laughed at eight years ago. We take things for granted, sometimes, and we moan about having our most successful period for over four decades. Should you begin to become a little expectant or entitled, then please remember those times, as often I have. The fond memories of those times when we were fab. When we achieved things that seemed incredulous and impossible, to be alive and to witness such events was just simply awe inspiring. It really does make a difference and brings a smile to your face, particularly when what is outside isn’t particularly bright.
Until next time.