Twenty years ago this year saw Lincoln City promoted from the then League Division Three to Division Two. It was a pretty euphoric occasion for those of us who followed the Imps back then and it would prove to be the last time we were to witness the scenes of ecstasy as shown by Imps fans on the hallowed Sincil Bank turf on Saturday 02 May that year, for 19 barren years.
I thought it would be fitting that we paid tribute to that promotion year by reliving it here week-by-week and month-by-month between now and the end of this season. You will be able to follow the highs and lows as Lincoln City’s season unfolded and there will be many facts, figures and quotes for you to digest in a series of articles beginning with this one.
AUGUST 1997 – THE BEGINNING
I will start by explaining that at the end of season 1996/97 Lincoln City finished 9th in League Division Three with a total of 66 points from 46 games, winning 18, drawing 12 and losing 16. We scored a total of 70 goals and conceded 69 and our top scorer that year was Gareth Ainsworth with 24 goals. We finished just three points below Cardiff City in 7th place, the last play-off position being taken up by the Welshmen. It was, therefore, with some optimism that I and my fellow Imps faced the new season. Manager John Beck’s minimum target this time around was a play-off spot. Pre-season consisted of two County Cup games; the first, away to Scunthorpe Utd in late July ended in a 2-1 victory for the visitors in front of 790 fans and the second was at home to Grimsby Town which we won 3-1 in front of 1,003 which meant a Final against Lincoln Utd which wasn’t to be played until January 1998 (Imps coming out 2-0 winners).
The season proper began on Saturday 09 August with a difficult looking away fixture at Chester City. The majority of the previous season’s side had been retained, including Gareth Ainsworth, but there were a few additions to the squad, namely Paul Miller (who came from Bristol Rovers), Joby Gowshall (Grimsby Town) and Dean Chandler (Charlton Athletic). If you were a betting man, you’d have got odds of 16/1 for City to win the title at this stage. Unlike City’s trip to Chester during the 2016/17 season, there were no scenes of joy among Imps fans as a poor performance from the team saw them lose 2-0 in front of 2,478 fans. The Echo reported midfielder Mark Hone’s comments that such a showing could well be the “kick up the backside” the team needed! Three days later saw Burnley from the league above visit Sincil Bank for a Coca-Cola Cup fixture. Phil Stant scored City’s opening goal of the season which lead to a very strange on-pitch celebration as a number of Imps players sat in a long row and did just that, a row-boat impression! How many of you in the crowd of 3,010 remember that one? Sadly, Burnley equalised so the second leg, due to be played two weeks later, looked, on paper at least, a home banker.
Then it was the first home League game of the season as the Imps entertained Shrewsbury Town on Saturday 16 August. Just nine more fans were at SB (3,019) than for the Burnley game and Paul Miller registered his first goal for the Imps, a scrambled effort, to give us a first win. Next up, a mouth-watering derby game at Meadow Lane, made all the more interesting by the departure of Imps’ Managing Director Geoff Davey to Notts County in a similar capacity. It was Saturday 23 August and 5,707 fans were in attendance to witness Colin Alcide put City in front in the first half. County equalised on 64 minutes through former Imp Devon White and it looked all over a home win from that point. That is, until scorer White received a second yellow card in the 74th minute leaving the Magpies down to ten men. Almost immediately after this, Phil Stant notched his second of the season to restore the Imps’ lead and that’s how it finished. Three games played, two wins, one defeat, three goals scored and three conceded and we were in ninth place in the table.
The second leg of the Coca-Cola Cup game saw us travel to Turf Moor (funny, isn’t it, how we went there again in the FA Cup just last season?) with the tie poised at 1-1. There was to be no late winner this time around as Burnley went 2-0 up in the first 17 minutes before Gareth Ainsworth managed to pull one goal back for the Imps. It wasn’t to be enough though as the team managed by former England player, Chris Waddle, saw the game out, winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate with 4,644 in attendance.
The final game of that month was one of the best games I have ever seen at Sincil Bank as Scarborough were the visitors; just over nine years earlier, the Yorkshire seaside town’s team replaced Lincoln City in the Football League to become the first non-league side to gain automatic promotion. There were 3,162 of us present that day and we witnessed a thrilling 3-3 draw which included a famous first-ever hat-trick by Gareth Ainsworth. We finished the month still in 9th place;
Pl: 4 – W: 2 – D: 1 – L: 1 – F: 6 – A: 6 – Pts: 7
The top of the table looked like this:
Notts Co…..7 pts
Doncaster Rovers were bottom with 0 points. A fairly even start for City then, but only three points off top spot meant we were still very optimistic.
Next article: September 1997.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) January 8, 2018