- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

BURNLEY, England (AP) - The players and coaches of non-league team Lincoln wandered the field, some singing and celebrating between themselves, some on their phones to family and friends, others just in shock at the size of their achievement.

Behind one of the goals, the club’s jubilant supporters belted out as one: “We’re going to Wembley.”

Lincoln had just become the first team from outside of England’s top four leagues to advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in more than a century. And it had been achieved in dramatic style, with an 89th-minute goal - agonizingly requiring the approval of goal-line technology - seeing off Premier League side Burnley 1-0 away on Saturday.

“It’s unheard of in modern-day football,” goal-scorer Sean Raggett said of Lincoln’s feat. “Crazy. Unbelievable.”

The FA Cup has had its critics this season, with many of England’s bigger clubs treating the old competition with contempt by fielding weakened teams, but these were scenes to warm the soul at Turf Moor.

The last non-league team to reach the last eight was Queens Park Rangers in 1914. Lincoln was playing in the last 16 for the first time in 130 years.

“We’ve brought some of the magic back,” Lincoln manager Danny Cowley said. “Whoever said the FA Cup is dead hasn’t been in Lincoln the last six weeks.”

Lincoln’s FA Cup run started in October when the team needed a replay to get past Guiseley, a rival in the country’s fifth-tier National League. Since the turn of the year, Lincoln - a sleepy cathedral city in the East Midlands - has had cup fever, with Cowley’s men eliminating second-tier League Championship teams Ipswich and Brighton.

Burnley was another proposition entirely. This was a team with the third-best home record in the Premier League, a team that held runaway leader Chelsea to a draw in its last match, a team that made some changes to its team but still retained most of its key players with the quarterfinals in sight.

Lincoln, though, rose to the challenge.

Matt Rhead, a giant throwback of a striker who was working in a factory four years ago, caused problems with his height and presence. Nathan Arnold, a winger who has worked as a hairdresser in his spare time, was a constant threat down the right with his pace.

Lincoln tried to play its passing game when it could and was obdurate at the back, even when Burnley threw everything at the visitors in a tense last five minutes. Eighty-one places separate Burnley and Lincoln in English soccer’s pyramid but there was no obvious difference between the sides on a chilly day in northern England.

In the end, the key moment came when a deep corner was headed back across goal and Raggett rose above a crowd of Burnley defenders at the far post to nod goalward. The ball just about crossed the line before Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton clawed it away.

“I looked over to the linesman,” Raggett, a center back, said. “I didn’t think he was going to give it.”

The referee eventually signaled and Lincoln’s players celebrated in front of their fans, who totaled 3,210. Cowley said the club could easily have taken 15,000 supporters, such was the demand for tickets.

Fortified by bacon rolls and cups of coffee and tea laid on by the club, hundreds of Lincoln supporters boarded coaches early Saturday and traveled from Sincil Bank in the East Midlands to Turf Moor, a quaint ground with quintessentially English views of rows of terraced houses and old cotton mills.

“Impvasion” - a reference to Lincoln’s nickname of The Imps - briefly trended on Twitter.

Lincoln, unsurprisingly, had sold out its allocation and the team’s fans were in good voice before and during the match, especially when an upset was looking increasingly likely.

Lincoln has made nearly 1 million pounds ($1.24 million) from this cup run, putting the club in the black for the first time in years. There will be much more cash coming its way after the quarterfinals, the draw for which is made on Sunday.

“It’s brought the city together,” said Chris Ashton, a lifelong Lincoln fan who helped organize supporters’ coaches.

Rhead said it was “chaos, pandemonium” in the dressing room after the players eventually left the field.

“It’s a day you’ll treasure for the rest of your life,” he said.

The season after Leicester won the Premier League at odds of 5,000-1, English soccer is looking at another famous underdog story.

“It’s life-changing for us,” Cowley said. “It’s game-changing for the profile of our club. Football at our level is not romantic. For them to have this moment in the limelight is something special.”


Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide