LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Lincoln City

The Imps of Sincil Bank skip from fifth tier to Wembley

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

National League champions in 2017, 90 minutes from the Championship in 2021, Lincoln City have returned to The 92 with a bang after a six-year absence. Promotion in 2017 also followed a heroic run in the FA Cup, Lincoln rewarded with a near 60,000 crowd at Arsenal.

While the managerial team of the Cowley brothers moved on in 2019, their achievements stand comparison with those of Keith Alexander in the early 2000s, Colin Murphy in the 1980s and Graham Taylor in the 1970s. In Michael Appleton, who led his Lincoln team out at the League One play-off final at Wembley in 2021, the Imps hired an experienced manager and ex-midfielder who strode out in the club’s red-and-white stripes while on loan from Manchester United in the mid-1990s.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

Formed in 1884 from players of three under-achieving local sides, Lincoln City won early silverware in the Lincolnshire Cup and Midland League. Turning professional, Lincoln joined Division 2 in 1892, hiring the likes of high-scoring Scottish striker Billie Gillespie, later an FA Cup winner with Manchester City.

By now, Lincoln had moved from their ground of John O’Gaunts to nearby Sincil Bank, the club’s home since 1895.

Another Scot, David Calderhead, joined Lincoln from Notts County in 1900, moving into the managerial position from centre-half and leading the Imps to a famous FA Cup win over Chelsea in 1907. Soon snapped up by the Londoners, Calderhead went on to become the longest-serving manager at Stamford Bridge.

With goals from Billy Dinsdale, Lincoln were knocking on the door of the Second Division for five seasons until winning the Third Division North in 1932, ironically after Dinsdale’s return to his native Darlington. The sale of Dinsdale’s prolific replacement, Allan Hall, to Blackpool, precipitated swift relegation.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

Arriving as manager in 1946, shrewd Bill Anderson managed to get the best out of bargain-basement players for most of his two-decade stay at Sincil Bank. Goals from Jimmy Hutchinson got Lincoln back up to the Second Division, and goals from Andy Graver kept them there. Selling Graver for £27,500 to Leicester in 1954, Anderson bought him back for £14,000, then sold him on to Stoke for another tidy amount.

In all, Graver had three stints at Sincil Bank, becoming the club’s all-time top scorer. He bowed out in 1961, unable to prevent Lincoln being relegated to the Third, then almost immediately, Fourth, Division.

The revival came with Graham Taylor. Forced to finish his playing career at Sincil Bank, in 1972 the ex-full back became the youngest manager in the Football League at 28. By 1975-76, Taylor’s men were dominant, scoring 111 goals in 46 games and winning the division.

Elton John, whose Watford side trailed in Lincoln’s wake, snapped up Taylor to instigate one of football’s most unlikely but successful partnerships at Watford. Taylor took top scorer, Lincoln-born John Ward, with him to Vicarage Road.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

Taylor-less Lincoln soon fell out of Division Three but bounced back under long-term manager Colin Murphy in 1981, who worked near miracles with a limited budget. At one stage, the Imps even led the Third Division but the constant tightening of the purse strings restricted further progress. Murphy bowed out shortly before the final game of the 1984-85 season – a match at Bradford City that led to the deaths of 56 people following a horrific fire.

Murphy returned to Sincil Bank in 1987 to a club in disarray. Lincoln had fallen two divisions in two season, right out of the Football League altogether. Murphy won the Conference in his first season but could do no better than tenth place in the Fourth.

The direct play of John Beck lined Lincoln up with a promotion spot in 1998, although the club sacked the outspoken manager shortly before the successful run-in. The solitary, dismal campaign of 1998-99 saw Lincoln bid farewell to the third flight for two decades.

What followed was near financial ruin – and an inspirational turnaround under Keith Alexander, the first full-time black manager in the Football League. In what was his second spell at Sincil Bank, the first as a centre-forward later promoted to manager, Alexander stepped up to the plate when the club had just been taken over by a supporters’ trust.

Picking up ex-Army Bosnia veteran Simon Yeo and centre-back Ben Futcher, Alexander motivated a bargain-basement team to reach the play-offs, memorably beating local rivals Scunthorpe 5-3 in front of 9,000 at Sincil Bank in the semi-final. Two late Yeo goals put the tie beyond reach. At the Millennium Stadium, Bournemouth were a cut above on the day, although Futcher’s equaliser offered promotion hope shortly before half-time.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

Despite suffering an aneurysm halfway through the following season, Alexander still led Lincoln to the play-offs again in 2004, 2005 and 2006, all defeats. The last disappointment was particularly bitter, neighbours Grimsby going ahead in the second leg thanks to Ben Futcher, signed from Lincoln.

Alexander left for pastures new at Peterborough but collapsed again in 2010. His funeral was held at Lincoln Cathedral, players, fans and staff from his many previous clubs in attendance.

Under ex-Imps midfielder John Schofield, Lincoln reached a fifth successive play-off in 2007, only to face a fifth successive defeat. In the flamboyant style typical of Schofield’s approach, Lincoln scored three at home to Bristol Rovers only to concede five and exit at the semi-final stage.

Last-day defeat to Aldershot in May 2011 saw Lincoln fall out of the Football League for a record fifth time. This time the Imps didn’t bounce straight back – in fact, they went season after season on long streaks without a win.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

There were signs of life when Matt Rhead scored a brace on his 2015 debut, then notched Lincoln’s goal in the now regular fifth-flight derby with Grimsby. A year later, came non-league savvy Danny Cowley from Braintree as manager, with his brother Nicky taking over as assistant coach.

Better things were expected for 2016-17 but few thought Lincoln would make history. Solid at the back, underpinned by captain Luke Waterfall, the Imps suffered just seven defeats during the 46-game league season.

Alongside, a run in the FA Cup swept Lincoln to the quarter-final, the best showing by a non-league club since 1914. Two goals by Theo Robinson against Oldham, two more at Ipswich then a late one against Brighton, pushed City ever nearer to Wembley. And heart-warmingly, it was Nathan Arnold, a crowd-funded buy in 2016, who scored injury-time winner to beat Ipswich.

Although Robinson was sold to Southend days after the Brighton win, Lincoln then gave a heroic performance to sink Premier League side Burnley, Sean Raggett’s late header judged to be over the line in a frantic finish.

Sincil Bank/Peterjon Cresswell

Keeping the same green shirts, Lincoln then gave a superb account of themselves at the Emirates, Arsenal kept at bay until injury-time of the first half. The 5-0 scoreline didn’t prevent manager Danny Cowley from enjoying the post-match celebrations with the 9,000 Lincoln fans afterwards, reflecting on a historic three months – and perhaps the close chance from Nathan Arnold that could have turned the tables at 0-0.

Making the League Two play-offs at the first attempt, City overcame semi-defeat to Exeter to win the division in 2019. Unbeaten from Boxing Day until mid-April Cowley’s men were worthy champions, heading the table every week but six the whole season.

With the departure of the Cowley brothers for Huddersfield in September 2019, League One proved a struggle, incoming manager Michael Appleton finding his feet the following year to lead the Imps to a play-off place. Aiming for a first season in the second tier for 60 years, Lincoln could even afford to miss a penalty in the semi-final second leg at Sunderland and still make the final at Wembley.

Although going ahead thanks to a bizarre own goal with barely a minute played, City fell to a superior Blackpool side but can take heart from an exciting campaign that also saw the visit of Liverpool to Sincil Bank for a League Cup tie.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Lincoln’s home since 1895, Sincil Bank is an all-seated, all-covered ground of just over 10,000 capacity set amid back-to-back housing south of the city centre. Major improvements last took place in the late 1990s, when the last terracing was removed.

Running alongside the canal and Sincil Bank itself, the Lincolnshire Co-Op Stand accounts for more than half the capacity, ‘Lincoln City’ spelled out across its 5,700 seats. Opposite, the Selenity Stand doesn’t quite run the length of the pitch, allowing for a small Family Stand to squeeze in at one end.

Away fans are allocated the Stacey West Stand (via gate 8), named after two Lincoln fans who perished at the Bradford fire of 1985. Home fans occupy in the KryptoKloud end opposite. After long talk of building a new stadium, focus is now on expanding Sincil Bank – officially the LNER Stadium until late 2022 – with the Stacey West Stand to be given an upper tier. Removing the roof entails having to relocate away fans temporarily during 2022.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Sincil Bank is about a 15min walk from Lincoln train station. Turn left onto St Mary’s Street then left again at the nearby level crossing, all the way down the High Street until you reach the narrow waterway at Sewell’s Walk. Heading left at the bridge, the ground is close by.

Alternatively, head for the concourse for local buses just behind the station, alongside Tentercroft Street. From bay H, bus 15/16 leaves every 15mins (every 30mins-1hr from mid-afternoon, not Sun) for Sewell’s Walk 5mins away – from there, turn left and follow the narrow waterway to Sincil Bank. From mid-afternoon and on Sundays, hourly bus 9 sets off from bay K, bound for the same destination.

The sat nav code for Sincil Bank is LN5 8LD. The club offers pre-booked match-day parking on its website. This is at South Common car park (LN5 8LN) just the other side of Sincil Dike from the stadium but only has room for 250 vehicles. It opens 3hrs before kick-off and closes 1hr after the final whistle, pay £5 online. There’s also a Saturday-only arrangement for supporters to use the city’s Central Car Park (Melville Street, LN5 7BP) at a discount rate of £4.20. Scan the QR code on the club website at the ticket machine – this is by Lincoln station, so you’ll then have to walk the 15mins to the ground or catch the bus (see above). 

For midweek games, the club has also agreed discount rates (£1.75 after 6pm) for the municipal car parks at Tentercroft Street (LN5 7DB, special phone pay code 7840) near the bus station, at Lucy Tower Street (LN1 1XL, special phone pay code 7852) by the Brayford waterfront and, nearer the ground but with fewer spaces, at Chaplin Street (LN5 7BN, special phone pay code 7854). Use these alternative codes to pay by phone rather than the ones on the boards there. Again, you’ll have to make your own way to the ground after you park.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are distributed through the office (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, match-day Tue 10am-8pm, match-day Sat 10am-3.15pm) next to the club shop behind the Selenity Stand, and online

Match-day sales are also usually available. If by chance a game sells out, enquire at the club (01522 458 884, tickets@theredimps.com) about its buy-back scheme, which allows season-ticket holders to sell back their seat if they can’t go. 

Prices are an across-the-board £24, £19 for over-65s and 18-21s, £10 for under-18s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Lincoln now have two outlets, the club shop behind the Serenity Stand, slowly emerging from lockdown and usually open for match days, and the Waterside Store (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 10.30am-4.30pm) on the lower ground floor of the Waterside shopping centre on Lincoln High Street.

As opposed to the storied home shirt of red-and-white stripes, the change strip is a mess of dark grey and sky blue markings. Third choice is yellow with black sleeves. Imps feature on all souvenirs, of course, the hip flasks, socks and children’s sticker sets, even the Love Is… Lincoln-branded Valentine’s cards, which your prospective companion may – or may not – appreciate. 

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The nearer you get to Sincil Bank, the more pubs line the High Street. Some are more partisan than others but even with City’s return to League One, most should be welcoming to visiting supporters.

The easiest choice, though furthest from the ground, would be the Ritz, a standard Wetherspoon set in the former cinema of the same name. Nearby, the Anchor is probably the rowdiest and most Imps-focused of those along this stretch.

On the same side of the High Street but a good 300 metres closer to Sincil Bank, the Millers Arms offers a beer garden, pool table and TV sport. Imps haunt The Shakespeare, the closest on this side of the road to Sincil Bank, provides plenty of football on TV.

Quite a way down but still easily walkable to the ground, the Golden Eagle is the convivial outlet of the Castle Rock brewery, set in a coaching inn dating from the early 1700s. With its log-fire lounge and pretty beer garden, plus TV sport in the back bar, plus hand-pulled ales, it’s a decent option for a quiet pre-match pint, allowing 10mins to stroll to Sincil Bank afterwards.

On the stadium side of the High Street, the standard Golden Cross is where Lincoln fans down lagers before the ritual dash for three o’clock.

There are no pubs amid the back-to-back housing around the ground, only a really decent chippie, the highly recommended Back of the Net on Scorer Street, which reopened in 2019 after the previous co-owner died in a tragic cycling accident.

Away supporters are welcome for pre-match drinks around the match-day University of Lincoln Fan Village behind the KryptoKloud end and the Fan Lounge within it. The Red Imp bar behind the Lincolnshire Co-Op Stand is for home supporters only.

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