Lincoln City 2 Milton Keynes 1
Saturday 22 September 2018
John hadn’t been to Sincil Bank before. I went in 1984, but given that I arrived and left under police escort and was penned into a metal cage in between times, I didn’t have much chance (or inclination) to explore. Plus, as not a single structure survives at the ground from then, this was pretty much a new one for me as well.
Following that game (a First Round FA Cup-tie), and the replay a few days later, my life was largely Lincoln-free. I’ve seen them in League Cup games at Molineux and Ewood and in a league match at Morecambe, none of which I particularly remember. But something is stirring in the Fens. Today’s match was a virtual sellout, with no more than a few dozen empty seats to be seen, and that has been the case all this season and last. Lincoln are clearly riding a tide of popularity since their epic National League winning/FA Cup quarter-final season. And the atmosphere was amazing. So ride on, impish ones.
Lots of route choices, all of them convoluted and involving long miles on A roads. We met up in Keele (avoiding the geriatric curtain-twitchers who bothered us when we went to Forest) and drove through Stoke to Nottingham, striking out cross-country through what used to be a coalfield before Thatcher got her paws on it. Despite an incident where we almost followed a carful of Imps fans into a diner thinking they were going to the ground, we arrived at Lincoln in good time but having forgotten the first rule of driving into a mediaeval city on a Saturday – don’t.
I’m not sure what recreational drugs were enjoyed by the person who designed Lincoln’s main stand, but I’m guessing they were pretty powerful. It really is the most incredibly impractical thing, and incorporates (among other interesting features) obstructed views from the front row, any number of seats essentially open to the elements, a couple of pretty intrusive pillars, steps so steep that elderly supporters visibly struggle to climb them and sightlines that allow every departing fan to block the view of several hundred people. All this in a stucture seating only 1400 and opened as recently as 1987.
I couldn’t get a decent picture of the stand as we were sitting in it (initially in the obstructed view area in Row A, but we subsequently managed to find a couple of seats in the al fresco area to one side, from which it was at least possible to see both goals). But here is one for illustrative purposes.
On the plus side, the Selenity Stand (“Senility stand? Sounds about right for us” commented one elderly fellow at the turnstiles) does have the club shop and so forth underneath it. And it’s made of steel and concrete, which is one advantage it has over the rather humbler building it replaced. At the time of my visit in 1984, with the Bradford fire only six months away, the days of the “old” Sincil Bank were numbered. Both this stand and the one to the left, the South Park stand, dated from the 1930s. Both were made of wood. Completing the picture were an open terrace along the far touchline and a sort of covered shed behind the opposite goal, the Railway End (there is no railway there now, but once upon a time the tracks cut across the ground in that corner). This too failed to survive the Popplewell Report and was replaced in 1990 by the present Stacey-West stand, named (fittingly enough) for Bill Stacey and Jim West, the two Lincoln fans who died in that same Bradford fire.
The Sincil Bank terrace – Sincil Bank is named for the Sincil Drain that runs behind that side – was where we stood on that day. Split unequally between home and visiting fans, the unroofed away section was grim in the way that only lower-league 1980s away ends could be. Fenced at the front and to both sides, a meaningful view of the action was virtually impossible, and following the play relied on a kind of bush telegraph from those who could see the part of the pitch where the ball happened to be. The toilets were unlit, unwindowed and ankle deep in piss. And the more refined element of the home support gathered next to the barrier on our left and sent constant abuse and sundry missiles our way.
Flesh and wine
When we finally parked, having been overtaken by numerous pedestrians and a snail, it was on a side road near Lincoln High Street. This seemed pleasantly seedy, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to sample its delights. Instead we found ourself in a “fanzone” outside one end of the ground.
Now I do not much like “fanzones”. To me they are basically about clubs telling fans how to enjoy ourselves and charging us for the privilege. There are always things like “gourmet burgers” and an aspiring pub band and stalls that sell 200 varieties of hot dog while people stand about drinking horrible beer from plastic glasses and “bantering”. All too American for my liking. Was this one any different? Well, no, but hiding behind it (and this took some finding, because the whole place was thronged) was an open fire door into a rather pleasant supporters’ club with no queue at the bar. And a touching memorial to former Lincoln manager Keith Alexander and midfielder Richard Butcher, who died in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
And for lunch I had not one, but two pies in the ground. So there.
Lincoln, hopeful of extending their lead at the top of the table, started off like men possessed, displaying a style that is now known as “the high press” but in my day was described as “getting in their faces”. But they were caught out midway through the second half, when visiting substitute Healey proved too nimble for their defence and slotted a neat goal from an acute angle close in.
That simply encouraged the hosts to redouble their efforts, however, and they deservedly equalised when Akinde nodded the ball down for McCartan to drive home at the far post. And that seemed to be that as stoppage time came and went. But there was much rejoicing, going mental and franchise-baiting in the final seconds as Andrade lofted over a high corner and Shackell headed satisfyingly into the corner of the net. A Lincolnshire goalpoacher, you might say.
Teams and goals
Lincoln: Vickers, Eardley, Bostwick, Shackell, Toffolo, Anderson (Green 89), O’Connor, Pett, Carvalho Andrade, Akinde (Rhead 96), McCartan (Mensah 78). Unused subs: Gordon, Chapman, Wilson, Smith.
Milton Keynes: Nicholls, Williams, Moore-Taylor, Walsh, Brittain, Houghton (Agard 58), Houghton, Gilbey (Healey 58), Lewington, Cisse, Aneke (Sow 82). Unused subs: Hancox, Simpson, Moore, Cargill.
Goals: Lincoln: McCartan 72, Shackell 90+4. Milton Keynes: Healey 64.