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Could Lincoln's FA Cup run inspire other non-league clubs?

Monday May 15, 2017


 In March, Conference National side Lincoln City became the first non-league club to play in the FA Cup quarter finals since the First World War. The Imps, who are currently being managed by Cowley brothers Danny and Nicky, managed to beat Guiseley, Altrincham, Oldham Athletic, Ipswich Town and Brighton and Hove Albion to reach the fifth round before a late 1-0 win at Turf Moor over Premier League side Burnley booked them a last-eight fixture at the Emirates Stadium.

 A fairytale run

 Lincoln’s fairytale run came to an end in North London as the spirited non-league side were dispatched 5-0 by big guns Arsenal, but their achievement was one to be proud of nevertheless. Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup as a non-league club in 1901, but in recent years, the fifth round had been the furthest that any clubs from below League 2 had made it in England’s premier cup competition.

 The FA Cup has a proud tradition of giant-killing and this season saw more shocks than most, with Lincoln’s fellow Conference side Sutton United also progressing to the fifth round before losing out to Arsenal. Those accusing the FA Cup of having “lost its magic” were forced to swallow their words, but could the examples set by Lincoln and Sutton be followed by other clubs and set a precedent?

 Lincoln’s success

 The success of Lincoln in this season’s competition needs to be put into context. The club were runaway winners of the Conference National, which means that they are currently the best non-league side in the country. Danny Cowley, a former PE teacher, is being headhunted by Championship and League 1 clubs for next season, while the squad contains on-loan Premier League players and several seasoned professionals.

 However, that is not to minimise the Imps’ achievements. While Guiseley and Altrincham may not have been the most prestigious of opponents in the early rounds, the club gradually faced tougher sides as the competition progressed before Sean Raggett’s 89th-minute header in East Lancashire ensured Lincoln’s place in the history books.

 Tamworth’s chances next season

 Lincoln’s cup run, much like Leicester City’s Premier League success last season, should encourage other non-league clubs that are keen to enjoy a big day out and the financial windfall that comes along with it. Lincoln made approximately £2.5 million from their exploits in the cup, money that should keep the club going for foreseeable future and give them a platform on which to build when they begin their League 2 campaign in August. Tamworth FC, of the National League North, are just one of many who will be casting envious glances at Cowley’s men.

 FA Vase winners in 1989 and FA Trophy runners-up in 2003, the Staffordshire club has never been able to make quite the same impact on the big cup competition as it has on the knockouts reserved for non-league clubs. Their’ best performance in the FA Cup so far came in 2012, when they were beaten 2-0 in the third round by Premier League side Everton. The third round was also reached in 2006 and 2007, with Bournemouth, Hartlepool and Burton Albion among the victims.

 Tamworth’s golden era has faded in recent years. They were relegated from the Conference National to the Conference North in 2014, but the success of Sutton has proved that you don’t have to be particularly consistent in the league to make a mark in the cup.

 Tamworth, who are currently under the leadership of former Coventry and Blackpool star Andy Morrell, are hoping for a cup run next year. Eager supporters will already be placing bets at UK betting websites on their beloved club landing a glamour tie come January 2018.

 After consecutive seventh-placed finishes in the league, 2016/17 has seen a slight dip for Tamworth, who will come in ninth or tenth this time around. Frustratingly, the club has failed to get beyond the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup since relegation, so it may take a while before the club can realistically dream of emulating Lincoln.

 Just nine non-league clubs have made it to the fifth round of the FA Cup since the Second World War, so a repeat of Lincoln’s quarter-final heroics looks unlikely for now. However, the Imps and Danny Cowley have certainly given hundreds of “bridesmaid” clubs up and down the country, including Tamworth, plenty of hope for when the preliminary rounds of the competition get underway in September.

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