If the first appearance in an FA Cup 4th round had been at the start of a fine run for Lincoln in the second tier, our next appearance was quite the opposite. The 1960’s might have been swinging for most of the UK, but in our little slice of England’s green and pleasant land, very little was vibrant.
After a top half finish in 1956, City failed to build any sort of momentum in Division Two. In 1957 we finished 18th, in 1958 we finished 20th, in 1959 we were 19th and somehow in 1960 we managed to ascend to 13th out of 22 teams. The 1958 season had seen us pull off what can only ever be described as a great escape. On April 7th we were bottom, five points adrift of safety and only having won five games all season. We then won six straight matches to finish one point above the relegation zone. The 13th placed finish was probably the worst thing that could have happened, the board felt we could achieve a decent placing on a shoe string budget, and by selling Richard ‘Dick’ Neal we had cemented our position as a selling club. Birmingham had paid £18,500 for the England U23 international, and we’d received Bert Linnecor in exchange. fans were furious, if only they knew the impact Linnecor would have.
Something would have to give eventually though, and ahead of the 1960/61 season long serving chairman Charles Applewhite stood down, with Alwyne Mawer taking over. The financial situation at Sincil Bank had moved from dire to potentially disastrous . Luxuries such as new players would have to be put to one side, and despite the new chairman proclaiming Division Two survival was a must, few believed him.
It took the Imps five games to even score a goal, Andy Graver finally netting in our fifth match of the season away at Sunderland. Despite three wins after that, a trip to Norwich in front of 24,956 ended in 1 5-1 defeat and our mini revival was halted. From there onwards the season was a story of dwindling crowds, bad results and non existent finances.
Of course we still missed rounds one and two of the FA Cup, the weekend of round one we (somewhat ironically) beat Brighton 2-1 at Sincil Bank. Crowds were plummeting though and only 4397 turned out to watch the game. It may seem a half decent crowd by today’s standards, but this was second tier football, and the corresponding fixture the year before saw 13,129 fans at the Bank.
Come Christmas we were third from bottom with just six wins to our name all season. We needed a big FA Cup draw, potentially one of the leading First Division sides at home. Even back them the lure of a big side in the FA Cup could perhaps revive a team’s fortunes, and it would certainly help bring some money into the club.
Leading the way in the top flight at Christmas 1960 were Tottenham Hotspur, followed closely by Burnley and Everton. The season before we’d played Burnley in the third round, and 21,693 had seen us draw 1-1 before losing 2-0 at Turf Moor. Another draw like that could help ease the financial woes.
The draw was kind but far from spectacular. First Division West Brom were to be our opponents at Sincil Bank. Lincoln had never beaten top flight opposition, and despite entering at the third round stage ten times in the previous twelve years, we had still only once advanced to the fourth round once. West Brom would attract a half decent crowd, but it wouldn’t perhaps be the size of the Burnley game, and few gave us a chance of progressing any further.
The crowd was just shy of 15,000, and despite a run of three defeats and a draw, Lincoln managed to shock their illustrious opponents. A young player called Roger Holmes had broken into the team in December, and he starred along with rookie goalkeeper Bob Graves who had played just three games prior all season. West Brom, featuring an inside forward called Bobby Robson, should have thrashed the out of form Lincoln side.
It was legendary forward Andy Graver who opened the scoring, with Bert Linnecor and outside right John McClelland also netting for Lincoln as we ran out 3-1 winners. Momentarily the doom and gloom that had enveloped Sincil Bank was lifted as we waited for the fourth round draw.
There was no kindness in the draw this time around. Sheffield United had knocked out top flight opposition as well, despatching Everton 1-0 at Goodison. We had to travel to Bramall Lane, and to make matters worse we slipped to the bottom of the table, and ahead of the game they went top. It was a stinker of a draw, the only consolation being that it was a team in our own division. We had visited Bramall Lane once that season already, losing 2-1 in October.
It was January 28th 1961. 21 points separated us, 20 league places was the difference and Bramall Lane was rocking to well over 21,500 fans. After our first round giant killing it would take a monumental effort to pull something out of the bag.
City were second best all afternoon, an Andy Graver goal was scant consolation as we lost comfortably by three goals to one. The young Roger Holmes was missing, but even without one hero from the previous round Lincoln failed to compete on any level. The FA Cup dream was over.
Sadly, our run in the second tier was to come to an end as well. That defeat signalled a miserable run for City, and we lost eight games on the bounce. During that spell we faced Sheff United at home, this time the Blades made even easier work of us, winning 5-0 in front of a meagre 5263. We did pick up four points in two days at the end of March, but even those results left us six points adrift of safety, and under two points for a win that was a big margin. Survival wasn’t ever on the cards and relegation was confirmed on April 8th as we lost away at Brighton, the game in which Andy Graver last played for the first team. An era was ending, and fans were voting with their feet.
We did win our last home game of the season, 2-0 against Orient but just under 4,000 turned up, as opposed to 10,859 who had seen our opening league fixture. On the same day Ipswich Town won the league, beating Sheff Utd by a single point. Until 2016/17 it was the last time we played the Tractor Boys.
Lincoln City were losing £250 per week, and were staring into the abyss. History would see us fall straight through the Third Division, then finish third from bottom of Division Four a season later. It took just two years for us to go from playing in the second tier and entering the FA Cup at the third round stage, to having to apply for re-election.
Had the right balls come out of the bag, perhaps Spurs at home, maybe we would have received a financial boost that could have kept us in the division. Fate dealt us a bad hand, and ultimately we played it badly as well. As for Sheffield United, they went on to the semi-finals before losing to Leicester City, who in turn lost to Tottenham Hotspur who completed the first league and cup double of the modern era.