Mansfield Town manager David Flitcroft is one of a number of former Lincoln players managing and coaching in League Two this season, although not many fans will remember his very short stay at Sincil Bank. Signed by Keith Alexander on a month’s loan from Third Division rivals Preston in September 1993, the teenage midfielder made his debut as a substitute in the memorable 4-3 League Cup defeat at home to Everton. After a couple of appearances in the league, he returned to Preston but was unable to secure a place in their side. In December 1993 he was allowed to join Chester City, his third Third Division club in three months.
Bolton-born Flitcroft established himself in the Chester side and helped them to automatic promotion in his first season; Preston finished fifth and missed out on promotion after losing to Wycombe in the play-off final, while Lincoln finished…eighteenth. Chester lasted just a single season in the Second Division, relegated in 1995 with just six wins to their name. They enjoyed a good run for the playoffs in 1995-96, missing out by a couple of points, but made the semi-finals the following season before losing to Swansea. He started 1997-98 with a goal in Chester’s 2-0 win over Lincoln on the opening day, but Lincoln were to win promotion that season as Chester sank back down the league table. After two finishes in the bottom half, Flitcroft rejected a new contract and chose to join Third Division rivals Rochdale in July 1999. He made 190 appearances for Chester in six seasons, scoring 19 goals.
Rochdale just missed out on the playoffs in his first two seasons, and finished fifth in his third season, missing automatic promotion by a single point. They went on to lose their semi-final to Rushden & Diamonds, and slipped to finish 18th in 2002-03, only four points clear of relegation from the League. The FA Cup may have been a distraction, as Rochdale reached the fifth round; after wins over Peterborough, Bristol Rovers, Preston and Coventry, the run was ended by a 3-1 defeat at Wolves. This period was notable for a personal goal drought, as Flitcroft went 101 games without scoring between April 2000 and October 2002. After four seasons at Rochdale in which he scored four goals in 188 appearances, he moved on to Third Division Macclesfield Town for six months before signing for yet another basement club – Bury – in February 2004.
Success continued to elude Flitcroft, as Bury finished seventeenth in his first full season at Gigg Lane and nineteenth in his second season. After just five appearances at the start of 2006-07, 32-year-old Flitcroft departed for a few months at Conference North side Hyde United before joining former club Rochdale as assistant manager to Keith Hill in January 2007. He was to make just two more first-team appearances before retiring as a player in 2009. With the exception of the 1994-95 season at Chester, Flitcroft played his entire career in the bottom tier. He made 517 appearances in all competitions, scoring 29 goals.
Hill and Flitcroft immediately proved to be an effective partnership. Rochdale finished the 2006-07 season five points short of a playoff spot, a vast improvement on the previous season’s finish in the bottom half. Dale made the playoffs at the end of his first full season as assistant manager in 2007-08, which unfortunately ended with a 3-2 defeat to Stockport in the final at Wembley. Rochdale made the playoffs again in 2008-09, this time losing to Gillingham in the semi-finals. The following season ended in automatic promotion with a comfortable third-place finish, and Rochdale surprised the football world by finishing just three points short of a League One play-off spot in 2010-11.