Nearly, but not quite for Bowers

By Ian Townsend

They had their chances, and hit the woodwork, but ultimately Lincoln City ended the Bowers & Pitsea cup adventure

For those of you looking in from Premier League land, Bowers and Pitsea are a football team. Their players play football- indeed they are rather good at it, as National League Aldershot Town, FA Trophy holders Hornchurch, Bishop’s Stortford and Arlesey Town have found out already during this Emirates FA Cup competition. The reason we’re pointing this out, just in case you are wondering why we’ve started our report of today’s match in such a way, is that by 2PM this afternoon the question, “what do their players do,” had been asked six times- not, it must be said, by any of the Lincoln locals, but by the national football community. Why can’t Non-league footballers be celebrated for being footballers, without focusing on how many kitchens they’ve fitted, children they’ve taught, pints they’ve pulled or houses they’ve either built or sold?

Sorry for starting with a rant, but every time one of our sides do well in the Cup nobody wants to know anything interesting about the club, just what their players do for a day job. It devalues the abilities of those players on the pitch- and there are some fabulous, skillful footballers across our league and in this Bowers side. If they do well it’s, “isn’t that good, they’re all butchers/bakers/candlestick makers,” and if they lose it’s, “that’s a shame, but they are just butchers/bakers/candlestick makers.” Many, fine, fine footballers have come from our ranks and gone on to bigger things. It would be nice if, just perhaps, that could be remembered occasionally at this time of year.

Right, rant over. And the staff and supporters at Lincoln City managed to be both welcoming and knowledgeable, which was properly wonderful; indeed they managed that not only today but on social media during the week prior to the match, an absolute credit to their club and their beautiful- and it really is- city. We even managed to reminisce about a City FA Cup defeat at Whitehawk a few years ago, whilst having a different view about whether a repeat of that outcome would be good!

Welcome to Lincoln City

Welcome to Lincoln City

A lot has been made in the press this week about how this is Bowers and Pitsea’s first time in the First Round of the world’s premier cup competition. It is indeed a nice story, but that headline fact tends to miss the bigger tale- the rise of the club during its recent history. Under manager Rob Small during the last six years they’ve won the Essex Senior League, reached the Semi-Final of the FA Vase, won our North Division title and got themselves firmly established in the Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division. They’ve done that with one of the smallest budgets in Step Four, and managed to improve the ground, too. That they are in the FA Cup First Round is magnificent, but it can’t be looked at in isolation. It’s just the latest triumph in a collection of triumphs, albeit one which had the visiting supporters today gazing around Sincil Bank and wondering what just happened.

The fabulous old ground, home of today’s hosts since 1895, had seen more home defeats than home victories so far this season- but those victories did come against Charlton Athletic and Fleetwood Town, to give that some perspective, whilst Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers and former Isthmian League side AFC Wimbledon have left with the points. It might be old, but it doesn’t look all that old- modern, well equipped, great sightlines apart from the occasional pillar, and coming with a fabulous view of the cathedral- although we suspect that you could say the same about everywhere in the city, as the glorious old structure, built in 1068, towers over the surrounding area.

An hour before kick off and a gaggle of visiting fans behind the goal in the Stacey West Stand got their first chance to warm up their vocal chords as keeper Mitchell Beeney came out to warm up. “Bowers, Bowers,” they sang, as they shielded their eyes against the sun, which had briefly put its hat on. The weather was dry, a little chilly, and we would need the football to warm us up. Manager Rob was the next to get a rousing salute, and he wandered over to exchange some pre-match banter and a few handshakes. Speaking to the press this week he spoke about his disappointment that the match wasn’t chosen for tv, and the difference that the tv money would have made to his club. It was very easy to understand his point; surely this would be a more attractive game for the neutral than Plymouth Argyle versus Sheffield Wednesday? He had far more delight that disappointment, however:

“For me this match is the culmination of a lifetime dream and words don’t particularly do it justice. To think where we were seven or eight years ago, to walking out on Saturday in front of however many thousand people.

Sincil Bank

Sincil Bank

It won’t financially change the club forever, but it will create a special bond between the players, management, volunteers, supporters that will last for a very long time. People will remember exactly where they were the day we played Lincoln and that's something I can be very proud of.”

After an impeccably observed two minutes silence and the playing of the last post- somewhat interrupted by the distant sound of someone playing “Summer Nights’ from Grease- the hosts got us underway. Bowers, in sky blue, resembled Manchester City, and after the result from the Manchester derby earlier this afternoon we hoped that was a good omen. “We’re the Bowers and Pitsea” came the song from the away end, as the visiting fans tried to contend with the noise being made by the home support.

The hosts, driven forward by their noisy fans, started like the proverbial express train. For the first few minutes not only could Bowers not get out of their own half, they couldn’t get near the ball, and it took a strong stop from Beeney to deny Ted Bishop a goal in the fifth minute. A couple of minutes later and another Beeney save, this one from Lewis Montsma- and then Bowers gave their fans something to cheer as Quentin Monville, down the right, jinked inside his marker and fired a rasping cross across the box, just failing to find a decisive touch.

More city pressure, and another Bowers break saw Monville once more cause trouble in the away defence, and the visitors got a corner. City manager Michael Appleton had spoken before the game about needing to deal strongly with Bowers set pieces, but they didn’t have to deal with this one as Jamie Dicks corner flew over everyone and out of play. Bowers were suddenly energised, however, and Monville, particularly, was at the centre of everything positive. A long throw conceded by a desperate challenge on Monville found Max Cornhill, and his shot hammered against the bar, perhaps touched onto it by Sam Long in the home goal. So close, and the visiting fans got even louder.

Bowers emerge for the warm up

Bowers emerge for the warm up

More City pressure as we entered the second quarter of the match saw them earn three corners in quick succession. The hosts were in the ascendency once more, with everyone in blue behind the ball, but the defending was robust and organised and, again, the breakthrough didn’t come. A clearance gave Monville the chance to take a long throw, and from the clearance a wild challenge from Jamie Dicks saw an enormous scuffle and a yellow card. He wasn’t the only player booked, Dan Nlundula for the hosts joined him for instigating the handbags that followed the challenge- a challenge, which, by the way, made no contact whatsoever, although that was perhaps more luck than judgement. We reached the half hour mark with no goals but the best chance coming the way of the visitors, despite the fact they’d been under the cosh for the majority of the match.

Ten minutes before the break a foul on Cornhill on the right gave them the chance to put another ball into the box. Dicks swung the ball towards the far post, and Long had to throw himself to his right to deny a goal. It was certainly a cross, but it was also certainly going in had the keeper not intervened. A corner was put out for a throw, and then two Bowers players went down injured together- bringing a chorus of boos from the home fans. Danny Norton and Monville were the twosome, and Norton seemed to be in trouble- and indeed that proved to be the case, as he limped off, replaced by Luca Albon, whose first task was to defend a corner. The rain then began to fall, despite the BBC weather app promising it wouldn’t. Perhaps Michael Fish is once more in charge? Mind you, it said there was a two percent chance and it rained for approximately two minutes.

Half time arrived goalless, and the attendance stats showed that four hundred and nineteen of the five thousand eight hundred at Sincil Bank were from Bowers, a tremendous effort- similar to that delivered by their team in the first forty five minutes.

City were first out for the restart, and for a while it seems that James Thomas was going to play them on his own, but eventually the rest of the Bowers side joined him and the visitors got us underway once more. The opening goal probably should have come four minutes in, and it should have come to the hosts, a fabulous cross finding Maguire at the far post but the ball ending up the wrong side of that post, much to the delight and relief of the fans at that end. The next chance also came their way, and this one saw Beeney make an excellent save from a header, before, luckily, the resulting corner came to naught. The nippy Dan Trendall came on for Thomas- an attacking change for Rob Small, perhaps trying to relieve some of the Lincoln pressure by creating some of their own.

Our heroes arrive

Our heroes arrive

“League One, you’re having a laugh,” sang the visiting fans as another ball went awry. City were making a number of unenforced errors, in truth, but all that was missing for them was the end product. We continued to hope they wouldn’t find it- but they came very close, a cleverly worked free kick seeing a shot from the edge of the box strike the post in the sixty fifth minute. More pressure, more scrambling at the back, and a shot well over the bar relieved the panic for the visitors- but they were once more penned in their own half. And then, disaster. A ricochet, and Max Sanders found himself free on the right, ten yards from goal, and his power was, finally, too much for Beeney. One-nil. “We’re the famous Lincoln City and we’re going to Wembley” swirled around the ground. All we needed was a plethora of tinfoil FA Cups and the picture would have been complete.

What could Bowers do in response? Initially the pattern of play remained the same, and Beeney was forced to make a fine double save with seventeen minutes remaining to keep them in the game. But in the game they were, and the home fans around the press box remained nervous. They were more nervous when a ball from Manor sent Trendall haring forward, but he was eased off the ball- fairly, despite the screams from the visiting hordes- and the chance was gone. Twelve minutes remained for Bowers to find an equaliser, but again Beeney was called into action- another superb save.

We moved into the last five minutes. Rob Small waved his team forward, but an effort over the bar from Trendall apart, they made little progress- but when the board went up advertising four more minutes the groans around the stadium told us what the home support felt. They just wanted the whistle. Monville suddenly came alive and moved inside, but he saw glory ahead of him and shot wide, off balance, from twenty five yards, and looked disconsolate. One minute, thirty seconds, a Monville cross, a lunge from Cornhill, and nearly, so nearly, but that was that. Bowers were out, but goodness they made us proud.

Bowers now go back to concentrating on the league. Their first FA Cup First Round adventure is over- but you suspect it won’t be their last.

Ready for remembrance

Ready for remembrance

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