A Road To Wembley
In case you hadn’t realised, my boy and I are both diehard Imps fans. My eldest is completely footie mad, but his love for Lincoln City FC has grown into an almost all encompassing passion over the past few seasons.
Sparked in 2014 during the last World Cup, we’ve watched our local heroes evolve from struggling non-league passengers into giant killing FA Cup quarter finalists.
We’ve seen crowds at our hallowed Sincil Bank swell from just over 1,000 into more than 10k. We’ve won the league and the admiration of fans across the world – it’s been a spectacular and privileged journey.
We didn’t think it could possibly get any better – but then we went to Wembley.
I’d only ever been to our national stadium once before. That was back in those embryonic 2014 footie days with my aforementioned young partner in crime.
We’d managed to bag some free tickets for the England ladies vs. Germany, so turned it into a boys only outing for his sixth birthday celebrations.*
This time it was even more special. Our beloved League 2 Imps were appearing in the Checkatrade Trophy Final, pitched against high-flying Shrewsbury Town from the division above.
We’d watched in awe throughout the season as City progressed through the controversial competition. Dispatching fierce rivals Peterborough Town and young Premiership upstarts from Everton and Chelsea along the way.
Now we’d made it to the showpiece final, the chance for more silverware and a cracking way to crown our first season back in the football league proper since time forgot.
We dared to dream and a dream it turned out in the end.
As the sacred Sunday approached, we were all pumped up and excited for the weekend ahead.
Another road trip was on the cards, with granddad on board this time too. The three amigos were hitting the capital hard – lock up your Haribos.
With our lunches packed and our tea suitably flasked, we set off at 9.30am prompt, waved dutifully farewell by mummy and my (football hating) youngest – well you can’t win them all.
The scarves were waving in the wind as we launched ourselves down the A1 – ‘Three Lions’ and Dario G blasting out of the football playlist I’d cunningly concocted a few days previous.
Our journey (through the drizzling rain) was peppered with jovial beeps to other travelling Imps, in addition to a pit stop for a satisfying breakfast ‘Sub’, another first for our young companion, who gave it his thumbs up as ‘better than McDonald’s’.
As we approached Wembley the traffic of course increased, but fear not, we weren’t parking in an official stadium slot. Abdul from ‘JustPark’ was awaiting us on his driveway just a 10 min walk from where the afternoon’s action would unfold – we were well on track.
Unfortunately as it turned out, Abdul’s was a little closer to the ground than we’d anticipated, so after an hour of queuing through hundreds of fans just to get an extra few yards, we unceremoniously dumped the car and raced into Wembley with only a few minutes to spare.
The atmosphere was electric and the players were already out and warming up. The fans were singing and there were familiar faces everywhere – it was just minutes to kick off.
As the tension grew so did the rumbles in our tummies and it was only as the teams walked out to sing the National Anthem that we realised we’d left our stash of snacks in the car.
We didn’t have an E-number between the three of us and were forced to watch in envy as families gorged on popcorn and hotdogs in the close vicinity.
It was more than our appetites which were about to be whet however as the Shrews finally got the game underway.
It was a cagey affair in the first few minutes but the crowd were in fine voice as City held their own during the opening encounters.
Then with just 16 minutes on the clock, Elliott Whitehouse was on hand from a corner to fire the ball home and send 20k plus yellow-bellies into rapturous joy.
We were 1-0 up in the cup final, dreamland again. Cowley’s army on the front foot as per usual – everyone on cloud nine once more.
The Shrews came close a few times, but a spectacular save from the Imps keeper and some dogged defending by the rest of the lads saw us enter the last 10 minutes of the game with our noses still ahead.
The ref added five minutes of injury time to our agony but after what seemed like more than double that to us long-suffering fans, he eventually blew his whistle and history was secured.
They’d done it. Lincoln City’s first appearance at Wembley was victorious, in contrast to the unlucky Shrews who’d now come away for the fourth time with absolutely nothing to show for it.
It was a magical moment. The crowd couldn’t contain ourselves and as the players and managers walked over to thank us and lift the trophy, we all realised we’d experienced something rather special.
As the fans filed out and the celebrations continued our rumbling tummies were about to be satisfied. Wembley’s finest (sic) fried chicken duly demolished before our mad dash back up the M1.
In the tired silence of the night on the long journey home, my thoughts were my own as I quietly contemplated what we’d been lucky enough to witness.
It is quite remarkable how far the Imps have come, from obscurity to challenging champions in the space of just a few months.
Memories created to last a lifetime, I could hear my son telling his own grandkids how City had lifted the trophy ‘all those years ago’. The heart in my chest was singing as loud as the fans had been earlier in the afternoon.
A large glass of red wine and a quick look at the highlights were the order of the evening when we finally arrived home just after 9:30pm.
It had been the day of days, the game of games and an adventure that we’d never ever forget.
Whatever the future holds for LCFC, one thing’s for certain. The experience of the last two seasons and our long awaited trip down Wembley way will forever be etched into our consciousnesses.
‘Imp’ossible is just an opinion for the red and white army from our beautiful cathedral city after all.
See you next season.
*search for ‘Now The Parties Are Over’ in Desperate Dad at www.barrylwood.wordpress.com to read more on this particular adventure.