For the cathedral city of Lincoln, the spring of 2017 saw a memorable three months of football. After a record run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Lincoln City won the National League to reclaim their place in The 92.
Demoted out of the Football League for a fifth time, another record, in 2011, The Imps had never had to wait so long to return to the fold.
Promotion has the added bonus of setting up a League Two derby against local rivals Grimsby Town, who also had to wait six years until their re-entry in 2016.
Both Lincoln and Grimsby have won the Lincolnshire Cup a record 38 times. Although it gradually lost its importance after each of these dominant clubs accessed the Football League, both in 1892, the tournament had a hand in the formation of Lincoln City in 1884.
When 16 clubs agreed to take part in the inaugural competition in 1881, it was after a meeting at the Queen’s Hotel on Lincoln High Street that September. In line with the game’s pioneering developments in Sheffield and Nottingham, relatively nearby, football had been established in Lincoln since the 1860s.
But the three local teams that took part in the Lincolnshire Cup – Lincoln Rovers, Lincoln Lindum and Lincoln Albion – all lost to little Spilsby, an agricultural community of barely 3,000 inhabitants. Such was the outrage in Lincoln that Spilsby could produce a team capable of winning the first three tournaments, these three teams fell by the wayside to make room for one single club.
Lincoln City duly won the Lincolnshire Cup three years later, against Grimsby. Other team names appear in the records afterwards – Lincoln City Swifts, Adelaide – although few details remain about them today.
Until the opening of Sincil Bank, Lincoln City’s home from 1895 until the present day, the only previous football ground we know about was nearby John O’Gaunts on today’s Sibthorp Street. The back-to-back housing here is typical of this side of town, Downhill, south of the narrow River Witham.
Over the water, the city centre lies beneath the steep climb, too steep for any vehicle, to Lincoln Cathedral, the area justifiably referred to as Uphill. From the murky canal running alongside Sincil Bank, the cathedral looms way ahead on the horizon, as if there were two completely different towns.
The other local team, Lincoln United, play even further from the city centre, at Ashby Avenue, beside Hartsholme Country Park. Formed in 1938, The Whites currently compete in the Northern League Division One South, along with historic Sheffield FC and Frickley Athletic. Stagecoach bus No.66 runs every 10-15min (every 30min Sun) from stand A at the Tentercroft Street terminus to the nearest stop of Eccleshare Court, journey time 15min. Match-day admission is £9, £6 for over-60s, £3 for under-16s.
The nearest airport to Lincoln is Humberside 48km (30 miles) away but it serves few routes apart from seasonal holiday ones.
Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield is 58km (36 miles) away. First South Yorkshire bus X4 runs to Doncaster Frenchgate Interchange (Mon-Sat every 30min, Sun every hr, journey time 20min, £4), by Doncaster station. A train to Lincoln Central (£16, 50min or 2hr journey time) runs about every hour.
From London, a train to Lincoln Central from Kings Cross (cheapest single around £20) takes 2hr-2hr 30min, with one change at Newark, Retford or Peterborough. From Birmingham New Street, the train takes around 2hr 30min, with one change at Nottingham, cheapest singles £17. From Manchester Piccadilly, it takes 2hr 30min-3hr, change at Sheffield, cheapest singles £35.
Lincoln Central is in right by the city centre and alongside the main bus terminus of Tentercroft Street. Local buses are run by Stagecoach. A single ticket is £1.80, return £3, a day pass £4.20, all available on board. Sincil Bank is a 15min walk or short bus journey south – the historic sights are north, up a very steep hill.
On Lincoln High Street, County Cars (01522 567 878) offers transfers to a dozen airports, including Doncaster Sheffield, as well as local runs.
There are two hotel hubs in town, in the heights around the Cathedral, the other by the new development at central Brayford Waterfront.
In the historic quarter high over the city centre, the White Hart is a local landmark, a former coaching inn with elegant rooms and a suitably stately restaurant and bar. The nearby Cathedral View Guest House is equally upscale, all wood panelling and original stonework, with log fires in winter. Breakfast comes with locally sourced Lincolnshire sausages.
The nearest lodging to the Cathedral, The Lincoln, is a creation of the 1960s but has been completely modernised inside. Playing up to its heritage, it houses the Bar 67, all retro décor and groovy cocktails, taking its inspiration from that year’s sell-out shows by Jimi Hendrix at the Lincoln ABC.
Overlooking the Brayford Waterfront, the Doubletree by Hilton offers a rooftop Marco Pierre White restaurant and a gym while alongside, the Holiday Inn Lincoln houses a sports bar also popular with non-guests.
The budget option of the justifiably named Premier Inn Lincoln City Centre is just across Broadgate from the shops and bars.
Traditional pubs and chain bars dot the historic centre and line with waterfront.
You’ll find a little hub of drinking spots on Guildhall Street/Saltergate, where The William Foster and The Mailbox, with facing terraces, both go big on TV sport. Nearby, The Still also screens football.
Heading towards the historic quarter, the Cardinal’s Hat was an inn in the 1500s and revived as a pub hundreds of years later. No football but craft ales and quality charcuterie.
Right on Steep Hill, the Wig & Mitre is more restaurant than pub but can provide a much-needed local ale to those scaling the slope – the first pint here was pulled by the Bishop of Lincoln. The nearby Magna Carta is a traditional Marston’s pub that attracts plenty of passing trade thanks to its location near the Cathedral.
Down at the waterfront, the Witch & Wardrobe is another pleasingly old-school pub, this one with TV sports. On Brayford Wharf, The Square Sail is the main Wetherspoon in the city centre. The Royal William IV nearby is more gastropub while inside the Holiday Inn, The Sports Bar is the only one of its kind in town, with five flat-screen TVs, a pool table and table football. Just tucked in from the waterfront, the Horse & Groom provides the best Sunday roast option.
Near the station, by the level crossing, you’ll find local ales and a traditional pub atmosphere at the Treaty of Commerce.