Memory Match: York 2-0 Imps 1993

Classic match? A 2-0 defeat by York City? How on earth is that a classic match? I’ve picked it because it was my first ever Imps away day. I know we lost, but I’m sure this is worth a read.

My earliest experience of travelling away with Lincoln was in 1993, heading off to Bootham Crescent. I was 14 years old and not particularly streetwise I’m afraid. My Dad and I had been to a few home games before Christmas that season, but we rarely travelled away. I’d badgered Dad for a trip away, and in a moment of Christmas drunkenness, he promised to take me to a game.

There was a caveat, though, one that Dad thought would get him out of taking me. 1992 hadn’t ended well for us; we’d been eliminated from the FA Cup by Stafford Rangers at the end of November and had just three games before Christmas. Two were in the Autoglass Trophy, even without a boycott they attracted bad crowds. 1066 saw us lose to Rotherham, and 1263 saw the draw with Scunthorpe which ended our interest in that competition, a run that continued for another 26 years.

We had one league game before the festive period, away at Rochdale. Neil Matthews scored our only goal as we lost 5-1 at Spotland. I’m sure Dad was confident when he said we had to win our next three home matches if he was to take me away. My Dad is no statistician, but he knew we hadn’t won three on the bounce at home all season. We rarely did.

What followed was a Christmas miracle, straight out of the sparkly world of Walt Disney. The poor ginger boy, desperate to attend his first-ever away game (probably), looked to the stars and asked Santa for three wins on the bounce and a bike. Probably a bike and three wins, actually, knowing me. We faced Cardiff, future champions, as well as Doncaster and Carlisle. On December 25th, Santa did bring me a bike, and he delivered on my other wish after Christmas too.

Cardiff City, en route to becoming champions, were beaten 3-2 at the Bank in front of 4359, me included. David Puttnam, one of my all-time favourite players, had a storming game as he scored one and created another. Neil Matthews and Dean West also scored, which is another reason to celebrate. Matthews lived in Wragby and was considered something of a local hero purely by virtue of the fact he bought a house in my postcode.

The next two home matches were Doncaster and Carlisle, both coming after a slight hiccup at Shrewsbury. Fear not, Peter Costello scored twice to beat Doncaster, with Jason Lee and Paul Smith doing the same to beat Carlisle. Dad’s plan had backfired; he now had to take me away. As luck would have it, York was our next match, so at least he would have had to drive far. There were no excuses, no way to get around it, we were going away.

A gold Cavalier. Probably not ours, but bloody similar.

There were no mobile phones in those days, so we looked for the floodlights to find the ground upon arrival in York. I suspect every ‘away day’ story ever written about a pre-1996 trip starts along those lines. For the record, we drove there in my Dad’s gold Vauxhall Cavalier, and I imagine we had his Madonna ‘Like a Virgin’ cassette on as he blew cigarette smoke out of the window. God bless the 1980s, or rather early nineties (we were a bit behind the times).

Bootham Crescent hadn’t changed a great deal in 25 years, we were on the uncovered terrace on a chilly, slightly damp late January afternoon, looking down the pitch towards the David Longhurst stand. I vividly remember being a little emotional about seeing that stand; Longhurst had passed away on the pitch not long after we found our way back to the Football League. The memory of Teletext showing ‘match abandoned’ and us not knowing why will always stay with me. I’d been laid out on the floor of the living room playing Subbuteo with myself (because apparently, I cheated too much) when Longhurst passed away. Seeing his name on the stand brought that home, even at 14.

That emotion soon changed, though as York outclassed us all over the park. We didn’t know it at the time, but they were on their way to a fourth place finish and eventual play-off final win. They’d drawn seven of their eight games going into the tie and saw this game as winnable, despite our good away form. Away from the Bank, we had only lost three all season, two of those in the first three games. We had beaten Northampton, Hereford, Bury, Darlington, Scarborough and Crewe on our travels, as well as drawing with Doncaster.

If this was colour you’d see the Imps shirt was a deep royal blue. It’s the only away shirt I bought as a kid 

I was a foot shorter than I am now, but that didn’t stop Dad standing right at the back of the stand, leaving me to peer over heads and hope most of the action happened up the other end where I could see. I missed us almost taking a 12th-minute lead after one of their defenders sliced against his own bar, but I managed to get a decent view of Paul Stannicliffe scuffing home a 21st-minute opener for them.

I still find away days very odd because those first fifteen or twenty minutes define the mood of the day. Every away day starts with hope and optimism, these days, usually in a minibus full of people drinking and predicting Lincoln wins, but those first twenty minutes either shatter illusions or help to create them. My first away day was just like that, without the beer and with a little more Madonna than I might have liked. At least Mum hadn’t driven I’d be suffering Elkie Brooks and Tammy Wynette all the way home.

I’ve billed it as a classic at the top of the page; it probably wasn’t. It rained a bit, we attacked a bit, they attacked a bit, and then it was half time. Dad enlightened me as to why we were standing at the back; his boss was standing in front of us, and he didn’t want to see him. He referred to him as ‘Dewsy’ and urged me to half-suck Polo mints before flicking them forward onto his balding head. I obliged, much to the amusement of my Dad; after all, I was still a kid, and the guy’s hair went around the sides of his head, leaving the bald bit on top as a proper target. Dewsy was not so understanding, but he just couldn’t figure out where the sticky half-sucked mints were coming from.

The second half offered some respite for my Dad’s hapless boss as my Polo supply ran out. Lincoln’s ideas ran out, too, not before Jason Lee had got a great chance to make it 1-1. He raced forward, one-on-one with York’s Dean Kiely. He steadied himself, and we all drew breath as the game hinged on one crucial moment. Lee met Kiely’s eyes, took a swing at the ball and fell. The ball was a couple of feet behind him; he’d ran on without it and swiped at thin air. Having a striker playing with his own invisible ball was never going to help us get a result, nor a mix-up between our defenders and keeper, which allowed Tony Canham to score. I’m not pointing any fingers, but both Matt Carmichael and Grant Brown were on defensive duty that day.

Dad told me that losing was alright because their manager was John Ward, the famous Lincolnshire Poacher. We’d buried my granddad eighteen months or so before in a John Ward scarf, so apparently, it wasn’t all bad. It felt all bad; we had a long drive home to go, and I’d already inhaled enough passive smoke for one day.

That warm-hearted feeling soon evaporated as the Imps fans began to sing anti-miner songs at York’s support. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the miner’s strike and subsequent struggle had obviously affected the area. The song went along the lines of ‘you can stick your something miners up your arse’.  It was an eye-opener because on the news, I’d seen how tragic the effects of mine closure had been, and yet apparently, in the context of a football match, we really didn’t care. I didn’t sing it, not because of the swearing but because, frankly I was bored. 2-0 down, and we still had 15 minutes or so of standing around in the rain left to go.

That song riled their support up sufficiently to warrant chasing us out of the ground, something no 14-year-old expects to have to witness on his first away day. I remember Dad charging towards the car and yelling back at me, ‘if I get too far ahead, shout me’. He then looked on as I overtook him and got back to the car a good five minutes before he came panting around the corner, still convinced we were about to taste some York City, Dr Martens.

We only felt safe as we headed out of York, listening to the ‘Sports Report’ on the BBC. The tune was so memorable, and I can hum it even to this day, but I’m not entirely sure how I’d convey it in words. It went something like ‘der-der der-der der-der-der-der-der, der-der der-der der-der’, if you remember it, you’ll know. It made a change from listening to Material Girl then waiting while Dad rewound the tape to listen to it again as it was ‘his favourite’.

That was it, my first away day from which I emerged unscathed and a little wiser to the world. A couple of weeks later, as we beat Hereford 2-0 thanks to a Neil Matthews brace, we parked outside Dewsy’s house on Sincil Bank and left a packet of Polo son his doorstep to remind him of his journey. Dad said he’d been pretty hacked off after the York game and spent most of the following Monday complaining about it. I never met Dewsy, nor got to apologise for my childish actions, as he passed away a few years after that.

I’m usually very good with away days and remembering which we went to and which we didn’t, but I struggle to recall the next time I travel away. I know the next time I didn’t, it was two weeks later, and Dad had got the taste for being beaten on the road and driving home listening to Madonna, so he roped a couple of his mates in to go away to Scunthorpe in the league. I’d have loved to go, but a pretty girl I liked would spend the afternoon with my mate’s sister, and he invited me to his house to play computer games. So, while City drew 1-1 thanks to Graham Bressington’s goal, I sat huddled around my mate’s Super Nintendo while a pretty girl and his sister completely ignored us in the next room.

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