Lincoln looking forward to going out in a blaze of glory.
This Friday sees the finale of the FAWSL this season as the final trophy of the year; the Continental Cup, is decided. Having recently lost their League Champion’s title which they have held for the previous nine seasons, Arsenal will be looking to retain the cup that they have won for the past two seasons, and end the season on a high. While reaching cup finals is the norm for Arsenal (this is their 5th final in the past 3 seasons) it will be the first time that Lincoln have ever made it to a national final. It will also be their last because as from next season the club is to relocate to Nottingham and play as Notts County as owner Ray Trew merges his two clubs under one banner. Sportsinternational went over to Lincoln to chat to manager Rick Passmoor and get his thoughts ahead of the big game.
Lincoln may have had a disappointing season this time around; finishing in 6th position in the FAWSL, but they do have a very big feather in their cap going into this match and that is the fact that they are the only side in the division that Arsenal have yet to beat. Both matches at Lincoln finished 1-1, while the 0-0 draw between the sides at Arsenal was a hammer blow in the Gunners title challenge. So can Lincoln go one better and beat Arsenal for only the second time in their history? "They are side of great technicians" Rick said reflecting on the Gunners "If they don’t go through the middle with Nobbs and Little, they can go out wide to the likes of Yankey then they get the full backs bombing on". Given the amount of talent that they have Lincoln will, in his words, have to be "Dogged and frustrate them"; something they did to great effect at the game at Borehamwood. The key thing and buzzword around Lincoln HQ is preparation; "Each player will know exactly what it will take it be better than their opposite number" He added, “We need everybody to turn up...We can’t have one or two off it [top form] because we aren’t good enough to cope with that...But we are going to win the game"
Lincoln have been used to tough games right through this cup run. They were drawn in a group with Arsenal, Bristol (both championship title contenders) and Birmingham. If that wasn’t enough the club had to play two matches away from home. First up was Arsenal at home (1-1) Then a long trip to Bristol in which Lincoln won 1-0. This meant that Lincoln went into the final group game at Birmingham knowing that a draw would be enough to see them through to the semi final stages. The Imps fell behind early but striker Carla Cantrell equalized midway through the first half to send Lincoln through in second place behind Arsenal. It was a tough group to come out of but as Rick pointed out “It was typical Lincoln, the tougher it gets the better we got...And when you look at the three games we deserved to get through" and crucially, "Got the results when needed"
This set up a semi final away at the league leaders Liverpool; a side that had already beaten Lincoln twice this season. It didn’t start well as Liverpool took the lead in the first minute. So what was going through Rick’s mind after Natasha Dowie had fired the Reds ahead? "The good thing I thought was that we had 89 minutes to get this back, and if you looked at that game we played very well" He added. Lincoln drew level early in the second half through Courtney Sweetman-Kirk. Although the last 15 minutes Liverpool applied plenty of pressure "It was a bit like the Alamo" as Rick put it, Lincoln dug in and forced extra time.
"When it got to extra time I said to the players there was only going to be one team win it" because they knew they couldn’t break us down explained Rick "and throughout extra time I was picking the penalty takers" it may be a surprise to some that Lincoln didn’t practice penalties before the game, but as Rick explained picking penalty takers is just as much about peoples character as it is anything else. After two misses for Liverpool and just one for Lincoln, Carla Cantrell was again the hero for Lincoln as she buried her spot kick to send Lincoln through. The ironic thing about that though, was that Carla could well have been the only person in the stadium who didn’t know that if she scored Lincoln, were through. "If she gets an opportunity this Friday I won’t tell her what the score is so she can just go and kick it into the net" joked Rick.
This Friday’s game is to be played at Barnet, which is much nearer for Arsenal to get to than Lincoln so I asked Rick if this was harder to plan for. It is harder as he explained some of the Lincoln players live an hour and a half away from Lincoln so they have an hour and a half’s drive just to get to the team bus. Then it’s the long drive to Barnet. As part of the meticulous planning for the final, a delegation from Lincoln traveled down to look at all aspects of the Hive (Barnet's stadium) and the manager was comfortable with what he saw. Rick (like many others in the game) would have preferred a location more central to both clubs. He was quick to point out that Lincoln have some "Fantastic supporters and if the game had been nearer or on a weekend we could have taken maybe 3-400 more fans"
Lastly I ask Rick where a cup win for Lincoln here would rank in his career. "Pretty good” he grinned, "But what I would be more pleased with is that for 18 years of female football in Lincoln, this set of players have got some sliver wear”.
The major thing that struck me both looking around the HQ, and also throughout the interview, was how well and how detailed the planning is for every game. Each player has been given all the information about their opponents, and how to execute the plan when they have the ball and when they don’t have the ball. Lincoln may be seen as the underdogs going into the final but they are ready and will be giving it their all. Hours of planning has gone into this from the management of both the playing and non playing side. It is now down to the players.