Michael Walker: Alan Power enjoying time in FA Cup limelight
Dubliner who has laboured in lower leagues revelling in Lincoln City’s FA Cup run
Alan Power scores Lincoln City’s equaliser against Brighton from the penalty spot at Sincil Bank Stadium. His side went on to win 3-1 to earn a visit to Premier League Burnley. Photograph: Andrew Vaughan/ CameraSport/Getty Images
The ball was in the back of Brighton’s net, Sincil Bank was in uproar, the TV replays were about to roll and Alan Power was on to his next trick.
This entailed Power celebrating Lincoln City’s equaliser in the fourth round of the FA Cup with a swift swaggering impression of Conor McGregor. It turns out McGregor is a man Power knows from a different time.
“He played for Crumlin briefly, you know,” Power says of McGregor.
“We knocked about a bit together in the glen in Crumlin. He was a left winger if I remember right. Not bad actually.”
“No, not really. He was confident.”
Sounds plausible. “Yeah; I think he chose the right way.”
McGregor’s right way was boxing, martial arts, global fame. Power’s right way was Crumlin United, Nottingham Forest, a couple of other stops and six years in Lincoln. “I’m too pretty for boxing,” he jokes.
Fame, such as it is, has come late. At 29, Power has been out of the limelight long enough to understand a burst of attention is just that.
His has come via Lincoln’s unlikely run to the fifth round of the FA Cup, which takes them to Turf Moor, Burnley. It is Premier League versus non-League. It is the millionaires’ game – yes, even at Burnley – versus the working pros’ game.
Power never generated the excitement that surrounded, for example, Burnley’s Robbie Brady as a boy, and he has not generated Brady’s earnings since. But for aspiring teenagers at Crumlin United, Power’s story might be more instructive. If Brady is an Irish dream, Power might be an English reality.
“Some people might think that we’re skipping through life,” Power says, “not at this level. It’s hard work.
“But I’ve played professional 10 years and I’ve had a living off it. It’s nothing to retire on. But I’ve really enjoyed it and I still really enjoy it. I would still say it’s a good life. Maybe you don’t get millions but I can’t look back and say this has been bad.”
Hard yardsLincoln City
Power has been there all through the hard yards, joining in 2011 a few weeks after Lincoln’s demotion. He has seen further relegation scares. Loyalty, longevity, even captaincy offer no guarantees, though, and Power is fighting for his place; this is professional football. He discovered that at Forest.
Power’s innate talent was on display in Dublin from his youth, whether with St John Bosco, Belvedere or Crumlin. He soon started making those trips for trials – to Ipswich, Birmingham City, Forest.
But Power did not rush.
“Sometimes a lot of pressure is put upon boys,” he says, “but I never felt that. I didn’t feel the need.
“Boys miss out on the enjoyment of football, of knocking about and playing with their friends. I’m still in touch with lads from Crumlin. Mark Byrne, who’s at Gillingham now, has just been on to me.”
Remaining in Dublin may affect some boys’ confidence, but it did not affect Power’s recognition. He was selected for the junior Olympics in Italy in 2005, having already made the Republic of Ireland Under-17 team. Anthony Stokes, Keith Treacy, Alan Judge, were contemporaries.
But after visiting Nottingham, Power “felt right at home”. Even though Forest were in League One and Premier League Blackburn were hovering, Power chose Forest.
He signed as a “YT” trainee for a year but halfway through was given a two-year pro contract. “I was doing well, got in the reserves quite quickly. They saw something in me, Gary Megson at first, then Colin Calderwood. ”
The dream then was to be Roy Keane. Having moved over at “17/18”, there was a Forest debut at 19. It was in the Football League Trophy against Peterborough and Alan’s parents, Antoinette and Thomas, flew over. They saw Alan play in front of Wes Morgan in midfield; when Alan was replaced after 74 minutes, it was by Neil Lennon.
It wasn’t. “After that I didn’t really feature. I felt hard done by. Colin Calderwood wasn’t ‘feeling’ me and if you’re face doesn’t fit . . .”
Matters came to a head when Calderwood fielded a young side in an FA Cup-tie but did not include Power: “I wasn’t happy and a I let him know. It wasn’t a big kick-off, just a word on our own. He said: ‘You’ll get your chance.’
“I went to Grays Athletic on loan, scored a couple, thought I did well, came back and Forest won the reserve league that season.”
He continued to be called on by Ireland – Under-18, Under-19 and one Under-21 international. However, by the start of the next season, Power was playing for Hartlepool United. This was not the chance Calderwood had in mind – or maybe it was. Whatever, Power didn’t take it.
Released by Forest, Power initially viewed Hartlepool as “a blessing – I was out of work”. Danny Wilson was manager – “excellent” – but Power was a 20-year-old living on his own in a strange town with, by local standards, money to spend.
“I let myself down,” he says. “I didn’t take football as seriously as I should have. I probably could’ve done with an arm around the shoulder. You don’t have to get wrapped up in the football bubble, but if I had my time again I’d do things at Hartlepool 100 per cent differently.”
Power played just eight times in two years. Then he was out of the Football League, at Rushden. At least he was playing again – 42 games in a season.
“Unfortunately,” as he says, “the club went into administration.”
But it was in mid-table – 17th, 16th 14th, 15th, 13th. Now, suddenly, Lincoln are first and shaking superiors in the FA Cup. Of the Crowley brothers who have have overseen this upward surge, Power uses descriptions such as “relentless” and “infectious”.
In the cup he scored the winner against Altrincham, then League One Oldham were beaten. Against Ipswich in the third round, Lincoln took 5,500 supporters. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Lincoln’s buzzing. And the Ipswich fans were brilliant, clapped us off.”
Lincoln got a replay and won it. Then Brighton, top of the Championship. Richie Towell opened the scoring, Power equalised. “Two Crumlin boys!”
By the end it was 3-1 to Lincoln. “The Imps”. The magic of the FA Cup.
It hasn’t always been this way. Power can recall a red card in defeat at Whitehawk and given that Caldwerwood moment at Forest, “love-hate,” is Power’s relationship with the famous competition.
But for now it’s love. There may yet be promotion.
And then? Then Power and Lincoln can talk. His current contract expires at the end of the season. The working pro’s reality.