As many Imps are travelling down to Welling, I am sat in my chair feeling like less of a fan for not travelling. One thing a cup run will do for you id make you question how deserving you might be of those few precious tickets, and despite my intentions things just didn’t come together for me to go today.
Welling have been a bogey team for us in recent years, In six meetings since the turn of the century we’ve failed to beat them at all, and yet prior to 2000 we had won three in three. A less-than convincing 1-0 FA Cup win in 1999 courtesy of a Paul Smith goal was the last time we got the better of them. Before that you have to go back to March 2nd, 1988.
Welling were our visitors in league competition that evening, and City needed a win to finally claw back the advantage runaway leaders Barnet had hung on to all season. We were unbeaten in eleven at the time, our last defeat had been November 28th 1987, 4-1 away at Sutton United. On that day we trailed Barnet by four points, and they had a game in hand. However, our Christmas form had been scintillating, matched only by that of the lot from Underhill. Just a day before we met Welling, they slipped up. They drew 0-0 at Altrincham, and that came on the back of defeat at Enfield. If City could beat Welling that night, we’d go joint top.
Typically it was a below average crowd for a Wednesday night in March. 3218 turned out to watch us attempt to finally share the top spot for the first time since we’d been relegated. Goal difference meant we wouldn’t be able to top the league unless we won by a significant margin (12-0 to be exact), but to be level on points and games would be moral boosting.
Keeper Nigel Batch was out injured, so at the time we had Bob Wilson’s son Richard playing in goal for us. John McGinley was suspended as well, he’d been dismissed in the February 13th FA Trophy clash with Maidstone. Rather unusually it was for head butting team mate Paul Smith (not the same one who scored ten years later I might add). It may have been Valentines Day but often the aggression needed in the late 1980’s non-league scene was directed at everyone and anyone. There was no romance on those boggy pitches in front of hostile natives.
Welling came to us just a single point outside the relegation spot, and they were going to be up for a fight just as much as anyone. Despite the long unbeaten run The Imps were going to be asked questions by their part time rivals.
The match was a typical battle, full of not-so wholesome tackles and good old fashioned brute force. Without McGinley it was up to Mark ‘Carlo’ Sertori and Phil Brown to lead to line. The opener came from full back Clive Evans. He’d been ever present since arriving from Stockport County, and his header in front of the Railway End gave the Imps the push they needed. Evans is often missed out when discussing that great 1987/88 side, but he was the epitome of consistency, and he weighed in with a few goals.
It was cult hero Mark Sertori that added a second to put the game beyond doubt. He was another who popped up with crucial goals, and he’s gone on to have a great career as a masseur even involved with the England set up. That night was a long way away from the opulent surroundings he’s worked in since, but for Imps fans his contribution wasas crucial as anything he’d done before. It meant City ran out 2-1 winners. We were joint top for the first time all season.
It was another seven games before Lincoln lost again, 2-0 away at Macclesfield. Draw against Fisher, Kidderminster and Enfield offered minor set backs, but we stayed in contention at the top of the table.
Just a couple of days after the Welling match, City were in FA Trophy action at Enfield. This was another naughty game which resulted in a 1-0 defeat and significant trouble amongst both sets of fans. If they’d had the benefit of mobile phones they would have been jubilant though, Barnet were slipping to defeat against Maidstone, which handed City a game in hand in the league. By the time we lost in our first trip to Moss Rose, it was two games in hand.
Evans and Sertori both had roles to play in the frantic final few days of the season. It was Evans who bagged the winning goal on Wednesday 30th April against Stafford Rangers, a goal that put us two points clear at the top for the first time all season. Just a few days later Sertori opened the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers.
Of course we all know that come May 2nd 1988 it was City who were fighting their way to the Conference title, whilst over at Underhill it was Welling who gave Barnet their first win in five to ensure they pressed us all the way. Both Welling and Wycombe finish just above the relegation spots that season too.