If you’re hoping to read a history of the FA Cup 4th round here I’m afraid the title is misleading. This is a look at the FA Cup 4th round ties that have featured Lincoln City, and Part One brings you the 1953/54 season.
Before I start let me acknowledge a mistake I made on an earlier blog. I stated that City had only made the fourth round of the FA Cup twice before. I was mistaken, we have featured at that stage three times. Aside form 1976, both of the previous occasions we were a Division Two side, and therefore we only had to win one game to get to that stage.
Before Danny Cowley and Graham Taylor saw us into the third round, and before Keith and Colin Murphy brought us success of sorts on the pitch, there was a man called Bill Anderson. Bill managed at Sincil Bank from 1947 through until 1965, and will probably be the longest ever serving manager the Imps have had. In that ‘Wenger’ length spell he took City into the second tier, twice, and spent nine consecutive years battling away just outside the top flight. He also took us to the FA Cup 4th round twice.
As we entered at the third round stage for nine consecutive years it is perhaps surprising that we failed to make the fourth round more than twice. We found ourselves losing seven times at the first hurdle. We lost third round replays to Burnley, Leicester, Peterborough, Liverpool and Southampton, with only Wolves and Southend beating us at the first attempt. However, on two occasions we did progress beyond the third round.
The 1953/54 season was our second season back in the second tier, and Anderson was looking to establish us as more than a yo-yo team. We’d won Division Three in 1947/48 only to be immediately relegated. Another Championship in 51/52 saw us promoted again, and a 15th place finish the season after was seen as success of sorts.
The season kicked off on 19th August, 1953, and in front of 17,000 fans at the Boleyn Ground City fell to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of hosts West Ham. Once again it seemed like we’d be in a battle for survival.
I’m not going to blab on too much about the league form that season. We were 6th come October and in a good place to record our highest ever finish, but a 9-2 defeat at Leicester started a run of just two league wins in 15 games, which essentially put paid to our promotion hopes.
In the FA Cup we were handed a kind draw, a home tie against Walsall. Whilst it may not sound kind now, they were rock bottom of Division Three South, with 11 defeats away and just a solitary draw to show for their endeavours. They had also had to apply for re-election twice in the previous two season, having finished bottom in consecutive seasons. At the time of the draw we were 18th, but we’d won eight and drawn four of our sixteen home games. It seemed like a banker.
Walsall had beaten non-league Bath City in a rare away win in the first round and had then registered a 3-0 win over Crewe in round two. I’m sure a third round tie with a team sat 18th in Division Two wasn’t the tie they wanted.
13,890 saw the match, an attendance which may sound impressive, but four days earlier 16,910 saw us record a rare win against Hull City. Legendary striker Andy Graver scored that day against the Tigers, and he also scored in the first match with Walsall. The issue was the underdogs wouldn’t go down without a fight, and they came away with a credible 1-1 draw.
We travelled to Fellows Park five days later hoping to put paid to the minnows and give us our plum 4th round tie. City weren’t financially secure and even sixty odd years ago talk would have been about the revenue we could generate from hosting a big side at Sincil Bank. Once again Walsall proved stubborn, it was 1-1 again even after a gruelling spell of extra time. It was second replay time four days later.
The schedule was punishing though and in between we hosted relegation rivals Derby County at Sincil Bank. With three games five days it was only expected we’d lose players to injury and fatigue, Tony Emery missed both the Derby game and the third replay. Former Manchester Utd player Brian Birch had scored in the Derby game, but he made way for the returning Ernie Whittle, an inside left who had been injured in early December.
As on Friday night with Dover it took an own goal and one from our own to finally see off Walsall. It was the returning Whittle who finally grabbed a winner at the neutral City Ground in Nottingham. After three FA Cup games and a league match all in the space of nine days, we were through to the 4th round. As for Walsall, they finished bottom for the third season in a row.
Of course the draw wouldn’t be televised back then, but I’d imagine each of the players and players had an idea of who they’d like to face. I can picture fans wanting reigning champions Arsenal, or maybe the mighty Manchester United. I bet Imps player Roy Finch fancied playing his old club West Brom who were top of Division One. Other big names at the time would be Wolves in second place, or Huddersfield in third, whom ever-present Imps left half Robert Owen had played for during the war.
We did get our big draw, and it was Preston North End who were to visit Sincil Bank. They had been runners up in the First Division the previous season, and featured players such as Charlie Wayman who finished top scorer in 1952/53, Tommy Docherty and of course the legendary England international Tom Finney.
The proximity of the matches had seen several key players lost to injury. Former Preston full-back Doug Graham would have relished facing his old team, but he had missed both replays against Walsall and wouldn’t return to first team action until March. Penalty taker Horace Green was missing as well, the regular right back had come back briefly for the first replay, but wouldn’t be seen again until February. It wasn’t the ideal preparation.
City sold all 25,000 tickets that were allocated for the game, and I’m sure the scenes we even more astounding than those we saw for the Ipswich replay! The attendance record at the time was 23,146 for a 1949 league game with Grimsby, and it was widely expected that record would be beaten.
On the day 23,027 turned out, a record that would stand until Derby County visited more than a decade later. Despite it being late January the City had seen a covering of snow, and although it had stopped by the time the Division One giants arrived, the ground was hard and a strong wind added to the tough conditions.
PNE showed their class early on, Tom Finney provided the cross for Jimmy Baxter to give them a 1-0 lead. A couple of minutes later Lincoln had the chance to bring the game level. They were awarded a penalty, but in the absence of Horace Green, it was the hero of the previous round Ernie Whittle that took responsibility.
I’m informed that as he ran up to take his kick the ball moved in the strong wind. Obviously I can’t confirm or deny that as I was still no more than the grandson I imagine a young Geoff Hutchinson thought he might get one day. I’m sure my Granddad was at the game, and I’m sure if he were alive today he would tell you the ball moved. Whatever happened, Whittle missed ad with that went our chance of a replay, or maybe a famous first win over top flight opposition.
Preston added a second before the end to kill off any hopes of a fifth round match, and it ended 2-0. Ironically it was Ipswich Town whom Preston faced next where they ran out 6-1 winners. They also despatched Leicester City, the side who’d beaten us so comfortably earlier in the season, en-route to finishing runners up to West Brom in the final. Five days after they beat Leicester 3-1 in the quarter final replay, we also beat the Foxes in League action at Sincil Bank, our 3-1 win coming as just revenge for the savage mauling at Filbert Street. Leicester had the last laugh, they won our league and were promoted along with Everton.
Ernie Whittle only played four more times for Lincoln after his miss before securing a move to Workington. City went on to finish 16th in the table, sandwiched between Hull City and Bury. The FA Cup tie had bought in a reputed £3,465 which was a princely sum back in 1954, and it contributed to a yearly profit of £2,725.
As for a young Geoff Hutchinson, by the time he saw FA Cup 4th round action again his infant son, Pete, would be old enough to go to school and was probably already skipping school to smoke with his friends (eh Dad?)
In Part Two: City beat First Division opposition for the first time in their history to make the fourth round, but the season doesn’t end well for our red and white heroes.