Living in the shadows of their city rivals

For some football clubs, becoming professional is often a mere pipedream – they find themselves a million miles away from the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Arsenals of this world, and wallow in the achievements of their neighbours.

For one Lincoln-based club, even sharing their city with a League Two side is often tougher than it might seem.

Lincoln United manager John Wilkinson freely admits that his team will never overtake the Imps. Photo: Lincoln United Football Club

Lincoln United, the city’s ‘second team’ behind professionals Lincoln City, play in the Northern Premier League First Division South, four leagues below their city co-habitants and on level eight of the football pyramid.

“I think you have to start with a mind-set that you’re never going to pass Lincoln City,” John Wilkinson, the Whites’ manager, admits.

“You’ve got to assume that, right or wrong. People say, “You’ve got to be more ambitious than that,” but you’ve got to be realistic as well. You can’t expect to oust them. All you can aspire to is to be as good as you possibly can.”

Wilkinson could be described as ‘Mr Lincoln United’ after occupying one role or another at the club for 16 of the last 20 seasons. He’s been at the helm in his current spell at Ashby Avenue since November 2009.

Without the luxury of TV rights and high-profile advertising that professional clubs can boast, Wilkinson explained how it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a club like Lincoln United to stay afloat:

“The one thing that is a big thing for clubs like this is pre-season friendlies because they put a lot of funds in your bank in pre-season and it makes a heck of a difference.

“Obviously FA Cup prize money can help and hopefully you get the odd lucky draw where you’re away to Northwich Victoria in the FA Trophy [United took Northwich to a replay in this season’s competition].

“Other than that, it’s a wing and a prayer really. We sell programme adverts and the usual things, but it’s harder and harder season on season.”

The club’s financial woes don’t help when it comes to bringing in new, experienced players either.

“One of the hardest things for this club attracting ex-professionals is finance,” Wilkinson says. “When you tell most of them what you can afford to pay them, they fall through the floor.”

Three ex-pros who luckily didn’t fall through the floor, though, are Terry Fleming, Steve Melton and Stuart Reddington.

At 37, Fleming is the oldest of the three, but carries with him bags of experience, having made over 400 appearances for a whole host of Football League clubs. He even spent five years at rivals Lincoln City, notching up nearly 200 games for the Imps.

Sadly for Whites fans, a Manchester City-style takeover is not on the cards, as it becomes progressively more challenging to finance a football club at any level.

“I really think that this club can comfortably achieve the next level,” Wilkinson says.

“After that, we’d have to have Elton John or somebody invest, and I’m not sure that’s good anyway because it’s very much a temporary thing.

“If you get a private individual who takes you two divisions up, when he leaves, you’re back probably four down.”

This isn’t to say they don’t take football seriously at Ashby Avenue, though. Everyone involved at Lincoln United will strive for success at the club, from the tea ladies to the ground staff, and none more so than Wilkinson himself.

Sometimes being realistic is not only encouraging, but refreshing as well. And in the future, United and City, though this time not of the Manchester variety, might just get to face each other on equal terms in the not-too-distant future.

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