Lincoln reaches FA Cup quarterfinals
First non-league side in 103 years to do so
Goalscorer talks about "unbelievable" win
It’s back to reality for Lincoln City – having toppled Premier League opposition in a major FA Cup upset, the English team faces a trip to fellow non-league side North Ferriby United on Tuesday.
“Football’s a crazy game,” laughs Lincoln City hero Sean Raggett, speaking to CNN after writing his name into folklore in the sport’s oldest competition with the only goal in Saturday’s victory at Burnley.
The defender’s 89th-minute winner ensured a non-league team will take part in the last eight of the competition for the first time in over a century.
The Imps reached the quarterfinals for the first time in the club’s 133-year history after a victory that manager Danny Cowley described as a “football miracle.”
Next up could be a glamor tie with 12-time FA Cup winner Arsenal, which faces another non-league club, Sutton United, on Monday.
In an era of commercial primacy and billion-dollar television deals, many thought the magic of the Cup was on the wane, but Lincoln’s stunning victory has captured hearts and Raggett – an Arsenal fan who has never watched the Gunners live – is on cloud nine.
“Unbelievable,” says the 23-year-old, signed from Dover Athletic in preseason for little more than some Burnley players are paid in weekly wages.
“It took a couple of seconds for the linesman to give the goal so I was a bit anxious. But when the ref gave it, it was crazy.
“I can’t even explain the feeling. As you can tell from the celebrations, I didn’t really know what to do.”
Lincoln, relegated from the Football League six years ago, had beaten Guiseley, Altrincham, Oldham Athletic and second-tier Championship sides Brighton & Hove Albion and Ipswich Town to reach the fifth round.
Turf Moor seemed an altogether more impenetrable fortress. Sean Dyche’s team – 12th in the Premier League table and 81 places above Lincoln in the football pyramid – had lost just three of its past 29 home matches.
“We spent all week working on our game plan,” says Raggett, revealing the squad watched Burnley’s 1-1 Premier League draw against table-topping Chelsea this month on multiple occasions in the hope of discovering a weakness.
How it’s calculated
The Clarets had already beaten Liverpool, Everton and League Cup finalist Southampton at home this season.
There was no such trouble for Lincoln, however.
Admitting the squad drew inspiration from Leicester City’s 5,000/1 title-winning exploits last season, Raggett says the shock victory shows “anything can happen.”
“We said if Leicester can win the Premier League, we can go and beat Burnley in one game,” he said.
“For a non-league club to beat a Premier League team is testament to the group of boys we have and the club as a whole. Amazing.”
Secondary school PE teacher turned football manager
Last season, Lincoln finished mid-table in the National League, the fifth tier of English football.
Now, under the guidance of two brothers who quit their teaching jobs less than a year ago, the club is in pole position to win back its place among the country’s top 92 teams.
Manager Danny Cowley and his assistant Nicky, both former PE instructors at a secondary school, have taken the Imps to top spot – and a three-point lead in the race for automatic promotion – ahead of Tuesday’s game with bottom side North Ferriby.
“A lot of people have said the FA Cup is dead but they obviously haven’t been living in Lincoln,” Danny Cowley told CNN.
“Our style is to work tremendously hard. Fortunately, we have a down-to-earth group of players who have bought into everything we do.”
Such hard work has taken the managerial duo from part-time roles at a ninth-tier club to within one match of a semifinal at Wembley, the home of English football.
Cowley describes a quarterfinal against either Arsenal or Sutton United as a win-win situation but, he adds, the brothers would like to “pit their wits” against Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.
Victory for Sutton at 5,000-capacity Gander Green Lane, however, would continue the fairytale underdog story for which the FA Cup is so famed.
CNN’s Patrick Snell and Alex Thomas contributed to this report