Lincoln City getting into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, the first non-league side in over 103 years, has to be one of the best stories of the year in football, if not the best, in England. With the “Piegate” scandal taking a lot of the fun out of the story of the other non-league club, Sutton United, in the 5th round of the FA Cup, Lincoln City’s completely improbable run to the quarterfinals has an almost fairy tale quality about it. After Lincoln City’s unlikely win at Burnley, the Imps have had an incredible amount of attention paid to them, the most they have had since former manager Keith Alexander led them to four straight playoff defeats. Alexander, one of the few black managers in England, passed away in 2010 of a brain aneurysm after braving another aneurysm while manager of Lincoln City in the 2003-04 season. Lincoln is enjoying another fantastic season, tops in the Conference Premier, on the road to once again be a Football League team.
West Ham United has links to Lincoln City, as if the fairy tale run to the quarterfinals wasn't enough to get otherwise neutrals in the Cinderella’s corner. West Ham are letting Lincoln City train at Chadwell Heath on Friday before the match on Saturday, March 11th, not only because they’re nice people, but because Lincoln City’s goalkeeper coach, Jimmy Walker, played for West Ham and also because brothers Nicky and Danny Cowley, the management team at Lincoln City, are boyhood Hammer fans from Essex. The West Ham blog The H List has a fantastic piece about Steve Cowley, Nicky and Danny’s father, being a youth coach in Essex in the 1980s, if you needed another reason to root for Lincoln City on Saturday against the big, bad Arsenal.
Lincoln is an unfashionable town in an unfashionable part of England, and if Americans have heard of it, it’s probably because of the beautiful cathedral, the Roman arch that stands in the town or one of the original copies of the Magna Carta from 1215 that is on display in the town’s castle. But since Lincoln is far off the beaten path for most tourists, the number of Americans that have heard of the town is vanishingly small, and of those that have heard of the town, an even smaller number will have heard of the football club, Lincoln City FC.
Lincoln City hold the dubious record of the longest stretch in the football league without ever playing in the top division and the record number of relegations from the football league with five. The highest that Lincoln City has ever placed was 5th in the Second Division in the 1901-02 season, and they have not been higher than the third division since 1961. The improbability of this cup run cannot be understated. With March Madness approaching, Americans can think of it this way. It’s not like Larry Bird leading Indiana State to the NCAA final, it’s as if the Community College of Allegheny County had a basketball team full of people who barely played at the high school level and they somehow made the Final Four, beating Seton Hall, Temple, and Pitt on the way there, instead of beating Brighton, Ipswich Town, and Burnley.
So cheer the Imps on, knowing that this will likely be the only time any of those players for Lincoln will ever take the pitch at a stadium like the Emirates, and those long suffering Lincoln fans have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Arsenal to celebrate. Cheer on Lincoln City, because teams like this play in places like Sincil Bank in front of fans that go to the games like their father and grandfather once did, and take their children and grandchildren out to the local side on Saturdays. It’s the soul of English football that exists in places like this, something that every West Ham fan will remember that existed in Upton Park and that has yet to reappear in the London Stadium. Root them on, for the memory of what football used to be before the money and the television contracts made it a business.