Who are Lincoln?
Named in honour of English lower-league team Lincoln City, at the instigation of Reg Brealey – friend of the club’s original owner Charles Polson – Gibraltar’s ‘Red Imps’ have won 22 domestic titles, including the last 14, matching Latvian side Skonto’s European record of successive championships.
A semi-professional team, they are contesting their third UEFA Champions League campaign. “Everyone here is just a big group of friends who have been training all our lives together,” explained club director Elton Duarte. “We don’t get paid for what we do and we all have to work, but now we have a dream tie with Celtic.” Lincoln were eliminated by Denmark’s Midtjylland in the second qualifying round last season, but as defender Joseph Chipolina said: “[Midtjylland are] a good club but they don’t compare to Celtic.”
Do they have a Celtic connection?
They do. Long-term coach Mick McElwee – now assistant to Lincoln’s Uruguayan boss Julio Ribas – is a lifelong Hoops fan. “It’s quite hard to put into words what this means,” said McElwee, who has been in Gibraltar for about 30 years. “To be going toe-to-toe with a team like Celtic is fantastic.”
Lincoln captain Roy Chipolina used footage of Celtic fans to inspire Lincoln to a 3-2 aggregate victory against Estonian title holders Flora in the first qualifying round, as namesake Joseph recalled: “Roy put up a video of the Celtic fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and it was amazing. We watched the video in the dressing room and it gave us goose bumps. He had also posted it online during the day and said: ‘This is what we’re going to experience if we go through.’ It gave us a boost to go and win the game.”
Should Celtic be nervous?
Celtic fly out to the Rock for their first competitive fixture under new manager Brendan Rodgers direct from a pre-season training camp in Slovenia. Mindful, perhaps, of predecessor Ronny Deila’s disappointing results in Europe, ex-Liverpool boss Rodgers will know his side need to be on their game. His assistant John Kennedy said: “We are going in as favourites but we will make sure we do our homework and make sure we are up to speed – that we are fit and strong. We want to be in the Champions League and you can take no chances.”
“I was surprised Lincoln are through, if I’m honest,” Rodgers added. “From our reports, [Flora Tallin] were the better side in the first leg. Our only issue is that it gives us a day less. If we’d been playing in Estonia, we’d have been on Wednesday.”
Now 28, defender Joseph Chipolina has scored two of Lincoln’s three European goals this term, and as one of several senior internationals in the team, he demands to be watched. Scots may also be familiar with 34-year-old forward Lee Casciaro, who became momentarily famous for equalising at Hampden Park when the nations met in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying – his strike was Gibraltar’s first in a competitive match.
Scotland went on to win 6-1, but after a summer watching the likes of Iceland and Wales surpass expectations at the EURO, the Celtic players will do well to give all of Lincoln’s players respect. “For every one of us to have on our CV that we’ve played Celtic is great,” said Chipolina. “We’re really happy.” Imagine how much happier they might be if they avoid defeat on Tuesday.