One of my first Imps heroes was a talented striker who might just have gone on to bigger and better things, if it wasn’t for his move to Lincoln City. These days he is rarely mentioned, but for six months at the end of 1986, Gary Lund looked like becoming an Imps legend.
For younger fans Lund played just one season for Lincoln, the god-awful 1986/87 campaign that saw us tumble out of the Football League. His name will never be mentioned as one of the best players to grace the Imps turf, but the truth is he might just have been a great footballer, had it not been for Lincoln City.
Gary Lund is a Cleethorpes lad, born and bred. He was an apprentice with Grimsby Town before turning professional in 1983 and he went on to make his debut shortly after his 19th birthday in September against Barnsley. In 60 further appearances he hit 24 goals for the Mariners, including two hat tricks.
His exploits weren’t going unnoticed, and very soon England came calling. On November 13th 1984, just 18 months after turning pro he featured for England u21 against Turkey. The game ended 0-0, but Lund took to the pitch alongside future internationals such as Trevor Steven, Paul Parker and David Seaman.
He made two further appearances for England u21s, in 3-0 wins over Romania and Turkey. He didn’t score in either match, although Steve Hodge, the father of Imps winger Elliott, netted three in the two games. A year and a half later, as Hodge and Trevor Steven took to the Mexico pitches at the World Cup, Lund was heading to Sincil Bank.
It seemed the youngster had the world at his feet, but that world was whipped away with the arrival of Mike Lyons as Grimsby manager. Lund spoke in 2003 of Lyons having no man management skills, and in the summer of 1986 he chose to leave Grimsby. He signed for City after their relegation to the Fourth Division, no doubt lured by the promise of an immediate return to the Third.
He later spoke of his regret at joining Lincoln when he did, he felt forced out of Grimsby by Lyons and grabbed a move that, with hindsight, he regretted. I didn’t know that at the time, I was nine years old. I had a new hero and I didn’t care if he wanted to be there or not.
Whatever he did, or didn’t feel about his move, he didn’t let it affect his goal scoring prowess. He netted on his debut, a promising opening day 3-1 win over Colchester, watched by just 2303 Imps fans. He netted again on his next Sincil Bank appearance, this time 2305 turned out to watch us draw 1-1 with Preston and extend our unbeaten run to three games.
My first game came in October of 1986, Lund failed to score as we lost heavily to Hartlepool. The match day programme had a picture of him having an effort at goal in the previous weeks 2-0 win over Leyton Orient, and immediately I had my first visual reference to a Lincoln City player. Lund became the one player I knew and could recognise.
I was back at Sincil Bank just before Christmas of 1986, and Gary Lund treated me to an early present. He netted a hat trick in only my second game as we thrashed Swansea 4-0. He was awesome that day, he needed a fire engine more than Will Griggs and Matt Rhead put together. His goals came as he scored eight times in seven games, and even the shy ginger haired kid at the front of the Railway End knew Lund was something special. He was quick, powerful and it seemed every time he got the ball, Lincoln scored a goal. If memory serves me rightly (and it is 31 years ago) he even won the penalty that Steve Buckley scored. I remember leaving the ground and simulating the keepers despairing dive to my Dad, and in doing so landing in a pile of dog faeces left near South Park. I still laugh at that today, I’m sure my parents don’t.
Lund scored 16 goals that season, 14 in 1986 and just two in the second half of the season, once on January 3rd against Burnley. His goal in that match, added to one scored by Richard Cooper saw us win 2-1 and climb to 6th in the table. He had been the subject of a bid from Sheffield United who were eighth in the first Division. Was his head turned by the bid? Was he unsettled at City? Something certainly happened
The goals dried up for Lund, as they did for The Imps. We drew 13 blanks between January 10th and May 9th, despite signing John McGinley in mid January to try and help score some goals. Lund added just one to his tally in March, a consolation as we lost 2-1 at home to Peterborough in front of a bumper crowd of 3316. That turned out to be our second highest attendance of the season. Manager George Kerr had hoped for a flood of goals from his impressive looking forward line, but instead they separated like water and oil.
McGinley and Lund were both on the pitch on the final day as Swansea gained revenge for the 4-0 beating earlier in the season, their 2-0 victory meant, as unlikely as it looked at the turn of the year, Lincoln were relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference. McGinley chose to stay and fight to help the club win back their league status a year later. Lund packed his bags.
The promising young striker had won an admirer in yours truly, but one goal in five months saw his stock drop dramatically. At the end of the season Brighton came in for him, but they had been freshly relegated to the Third Division. He opted to remain closer to home, and joined Notts County, where he scored 62 goals in 248 appearances. He even tasted top flight football for one season in 1991-92, the Magpies spending a solitary campaign in the top flight just before the Premier League’s inception.
As his career wound down he featured for Chesterfield and Hull, but despite that one season in the top flight he never got himself back on track. I’m sure he wouldn’t blame the move to Lincoln outright, but he didn’t move to Sincil Bank for footballing reasons, and ultimately the affected his whole career.
Lund opened an estate agent once his playing days ended, and in a 2003 interview he admitted he didn’t miss playing, enjoying his ‘real life’ career much more than his football one. Whatever he felt about Lincoln, about football and about the curtailing of his undoubted potential, I’ll always remember that quick and powerful striker, my first ever Imps hero. I’ll always remembered that hat trick that hooked me as an Imps fan on just my second trip to the Bank. Anytime anyone ever mentions Gary Lund, I’ll always think of a player who had the potential to be an Imps legend.
Right man, wrong time.