I wasn’t going to write about Tony ‘Lionel’ James as I don’t consider him to be a nearly man at all.
Tony was one of the success stories of the late 1980s and became a cult figure at the Bank after being name-dropped on the cover of the first-ever DF. He picked up the nickname Lionel for his uncanny resemblance to crooner Lionel Ritchie.
He impressed then Imps manager Colin Murphy whilst playing for Gainsborough Trinity, and was brought to City just after winning promotion back to the football league.
He made his Imps debut in a 1-1 draw with Crewe Alexandra on August 30th of 1988, just three short months after the historic GMVC win. It quickly became very clear to all who saw him that he oozed class in the centre of defence and he was soon talked about as a man who could move for a lot of money.
He made just 29 strong performances for City alerted the attentions of Leicester City, and a deal was swiftly done to take the DF styled ‘Greatest Imps of All’ to Filbert Street. His final outing for the Imps was in a 1-0 home win over county rivals Scunthorpe almost a year later on 19th August 1989. After one slightly injury-hit season he left for a reported fee of £150,000.
He stayed at Leicester for four years and made close to 120 appearances for them, scoring 11 goals. He scored a crucial goal for them that retained their second division status in 1990 against Oxford Utd which turned him into a hero there as well. However, a broken leg sustained in 1991 really hit Tony hard and he never recovered the same form after that. Upon completion of his time at Leicester he moved to Hereford and Plymouth before retiring from the professional game in 1997 at the age of 31.
I’ve included him because I had a request, but I’m not convinced Tony James is in the same category as Matthew Ghent and Darren Dykes. He was however a name the younger fans might not have heard of.