How the Imps’ Cup hero­ics last term sparked a baby boom!

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: -

WHEN Danny Cow­ley sat in the Arse­nal press room and ex­plained how the FA Cup had helped the city of Lincoln fall in love with their foot­ball team again, he prob­a­bly didn’t re­alise quite to what ex­tent.

Back then, the Imps had just walked off the Emi­rates pitch with the noise of 9,000 fans ring­ing in their ears, hav­ing just be­come the first Non-League side to reach the quar­ter-fi­nals in 103 years.

On the way to the re­mark­able mile­stone, the then-Na­tional League club had beaten Old­ham, Ip­swich, Brighton and Premier League Burn­ley.

Any­one who doubts the ro­mance of the FA Cup wasn’t in Lincoln last sea­son as the Imps planted a big smacker on the com­pe­ti­tion’s lips.

And, nine months on, the ma­ter­nity wards have been busy, too, with a baby boom in the heart of Lin­colnshire.

“It’s nice to have an in­flu­ence on peo­ple’s lives!” Cow­ley smiles, as we set­tle down to speak in an ex­ec­u­tive box at Lincoln’s Sincil Bank home.

“But it’s great. The FA Cup run we had last year has def­i­nitely changed this foot­ball club and, I think, the city for the bet­ter. Our crowds have gone from 2,500 to near-on 7,000 sell-outs ev­ery home game.

“It just cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion. I’ve al­ways loved the FA Cup. It’s a spe­cial com­pe­ti­tion and we’ll be for­ever thank­ful for what it did for ev­ery­body last year.”


Boss Cow­ley says the Cup was the cat­a­lyst for their run to the Na­tional League ti­tle.

A team that had failed to fin­ish in the top half of the ta­ble in their five sea­sons since rel­e­ga­tion from the Foot­ball League swept all be­fore them and were crowned cham­pi­ons.

“It brought the club to the fore­front of peo­ple’s minds and, most im­por­tantly, the city. The ex­pe­ri­ences we all went through to­gether kind of brought us closer to­gether quicker. It in­creased that con­nec­tion with our sup­port­ers.

“They’ve been bril­liant. We were dead on our feet in April. They sin­gle­hand­edly car­ried us to that ti­tle. We won seven games on the spin. I don’t think we played well in one of them. But they car­ried us.

“And they’ve been the same this year. They’re a re­ally in­tel­li­gent fan base. They un­der­stand the jour­ney we’re on and we’ve made a good start.”

Chair­man Bob Dor­rian ex­plains how the fi­nan­cial re­wards of the cup run – north of £1m – helped pay off their over­draft and how a club that were hand to mouth for years are now thriv­ing with com­pa­nies keen to be in­volved.

“We paid off our over­draft. We ba­si­cally don’t have one any­more. We’re ex­ist­ing on our in­come,” he says.

“It’s one of those rolling things where ev­ery­body wants to be in­volved as much as they can be. It just rolls on. Our home gates av­er­age more than 8,000, too.

“It’s quite re­mark­able what’s hap- pened at this foot­ball club. Two years ago I’d be sit­ting with the di­rec­tors say­ing, ‘If we could just get 3,000 gates we’d break even’.”

Dor­rian now gets stopped on the streets of Lincoln, even by non-foot­ball fans, for chats about how well the League Two club are far­ing.

For five years, it wasn’t like that as they – like so many other clubs – strug­gled to get to grips with the harsh re­al­i­ties of Non-League foot­ball.

Ap­point­ing two PE teach­ing broth­ers from Es­sex was the be­gin­ning of the re­birth. Danny and as­sis­tant Nicky are a ten-year overnight suc­cess.

Af­ter solid Non-League play­ing ca­reers, man­age­ment was next and three promotions took Con­cord Rangers from the Es­sex Se­nior League to the Con­fer­ence South be­fore a chance at Step 1 Town saw them guide a part­time side to a third-place fin­ish. Lincoln weren’t the only ones in­ter­ested in their ser­vices.

The best way to de­scribe them is re­lent­lessly hard-work­ing. In fact, it’s an un­der-state­ment. As we make our way in­side to have a chat, we pass their of­fice, where Nicky is por­ing over an iPad.


He pops his head out and ex­plains how he’s re-watch­ing that morn­ing’s train­ing ses­sion be­fore nip­ping off for a scout­ing mis­sion at Don­caster Rovers in the evening.

“We’re just or­di­nary peo­ple in Es­sex,” Cow­ley says. “Our neigh­bours don’t know who we are! To come to Lincoln and have the me­dia at­ten­tion from the cup run – for ev­ery­one, the club and the play­ers – it’s changed all of our lives. “You have to get used to that, man­age it and make sure it doesn’t af­fect or in­flu­ence the per­son you are. You have to keep your head down, keep work­ing hard and re­mem­ber what’s got you to this point.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here. We feel so priv­i­leged to get to the po­si­tion where we are Foot­ball League man­agers.

“Not many peo­ple get to man­age Foot­ball League clubs that haven’t played pro­fes­sional foot­ball, so we’ve had to work very hard and we’re de­ter­mined to make the most of it.”

Dor­rian re­in­forces the ethic they be­came known for in Non-League as they com­bined busy jobs at the Fitzwimarc School in Rayleigh with their other pas­sion.

Cow­ley, whose wife Kate is also a PE teacher at the school, is back at his old work place to take a cross coun­try run-

ning ses­sion ev­ery Wed­nes­day morn­ing. Dur­ing his time there, the school reg­u­larly won na­tional and in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions in ath­let­ics and gym­nas­tics.

“I’ve never seen man­agers who are so or­gan­ised, who em­braced so many new things and, most im­por­tantly, work as hard as they do,” Dor­rian says.

“I, and the foot­ball club, feel very in­debted to Danny and Nicky for what they’ve done for us. I’m ec­static they joined us.”

The feel­ing is no doubt mu­tual as they’ve achieved their dream of Foot­ball League man­age­ment. But, with all last year’s suc­cesses, they didn’t ex­actly make a quiet en­trance into the top 92 and the bar has been set.

“Our sup­port­ers have been used to win­ning,” Cow­ley ad­mits. “We’ve only lost one game here since last Sep­tem­ber so there is an ex­pec­ta­tion and we do have to man­age that. It’s im­por­tant be­cause, if the ex­pec­ta­tion is bet­ter than the qual­ity of the team, that can be when prob­lems arise.

“But the sup­port­ers un­der­stand. It’s a tough league. You only have to look at the bot­tom.

“Ch­ester­field are a good team, whereas if you look at who was bot­tom of the Na­tional League this time last year you can see the gulf in com­par­a­tive terms.

“We’re small – we’ve only got 19 play­ers. We’re 15 play­ers with four loans, so we’re prob­a­bly the small­est group in the Foot­ball League. “We've got to add the right one or two in Jan­uary. If we can do that, keep im­prov­ing each in­di­vid­ual and the col­lec­tive, then we can be com­pet­i­tive again.” Keep­ing the spine to­gether was key. They per­suaded star mid­fielder Alex Wood­yard to stay while Sean Raggett, who scored the win­ner at Burn­ley and was bought by Nor­wich, has re­turned on loan un­til Jan­uary.

“We've kept the spine and the group to­gether,” Cow­ley says. “That was re­ally im­por­tant be­cause we've been through a lot to­gether. Then we’ve added some good char­ac­ters around that.

“We are al­ways bat­tling lo­ca­tion here. Peo­ple don’t travel through Lincoln so not many peo­ple know of us and where we are. And not many peo­ple know what a won­der­ful city it is, ac­tu­ally. It’s a won­der­ful city, a great place with bril­liant peo­ple.

“We took the play­ers to the cathe­dral last year. We want them to un­der­stand the DNA of the city, what makes the peo­ple of Lincoln tick. Once you do that, you can bring peo­ple to­gether.”

By Matt Bad­cock

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

THUMBS UP: Danny Cow­ley GLORY GOAL: Sean Raggett scores against Burn­ley in last sea­son’s FA Cup run. In­set, Danny Cow­ley with chair­man Bob Dor­rian and the FA Cup plus Lincoln’s baby boomers

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