Lincoln FC's 12th successive title proved to be their most important yet, that 2013/14 victory allowing them to be Gibraltar's first representatives in the UEFA Champions League. Now, they are hoping an uncompromising focus on success can pay dividends in Europe.
"After 11 league titles in a row it was unthinkable that we would not win our 12th and go forward as the first Gibraltarian team in the Champions League," said Mick McElwee, Lincoln's long-serving coach. "When I took over in 2003, my only objective was to allow the team to continue developing. That target remains unchanged, and I think the current team has potential to develop if it continues to show motivation and ambition."
That sense of purpose was one of the reasons that midfielder Aaron Payas joined the club from Glacis United FC in 2011. "The old cliche of 'you play like you train' is clearly evident with Lincoln and the results are clear to see with the club dominating for the last 12 years," he told UEFA.com.
Founded in 1976, Lincoln won their first domestic title in 1985 and took six straight crowns in the late 1980s and early 1990s – and another in 1999/2000 – before starting their glorious run of 12 successes in a row in 2002/03. Their 20th title in total – confirmed on 14 April this year – was the most significant, but with higher stakes came more pressure.
"It was more a sense of relief than joy when we won the 12th and most important one this season," Payas admitted. "Imagine if we had lost the league this season. Champions League qualification was our Holy Grail."
With that Holy Grail now safely in the bag, the next quest is on. On Wednesday, HB Tórshavn come to the Victoria Stadium for the first leg of their first qualifying round encounter. The prize for the overall victors is a meeting with Belgrade giants FK Partizan, but Lincoln goalkeeper Jordan Perez knows HB will be no pushover, having played for Gibraltar in a 4-1 friendly home defeat by the Faroe Islands on 1 March this year. Regardless, just being in the tournament is vindication for his side.
"For Lincoln it means establishing ourselves as the most successful club in Gibraltar," he told UEFA.com. "After 12 consecutive league titles, being the first Champions League representatives is the best reward we could have had after many years of hard work. Drawing the team from the Faroe Islands will be an exciting venture where we will be able to measure ourselves at this level."
It is a huge moment for Lincoln – no doubt – but one that McElwee feels his players can handle. "Our supporters deserve to enjoy this moment and we hope we can make them proud by playing to our full capability," he said.