When we think of how low we have been since relegation from the Football League, people often talk of our defeat at Carshalton in the FA Trophy. My own personal ‘bottom scraping’ moment was January 25th 2014, when North Ferriby visited us in the FA Trophy. I often do these Looking Back features on good games and happy times, but to give a fair and balanced reflection of Imps history I have to cover the bad times too.
For while in 2014 it felt like we might have turned a corner. Despite Gary Simpson’s protests that we had a weak budget, we were beginning to assemble a squad of players that should have been able to push us towards a play off challenge.
Paul Farman was, and still is a good keeper at this level, and Alan Power has proven he is a key part of what we are now close to achieving. All around them were players of undoubted quality.
Sean Newton, despite allegedly having a bad attitude, is a very good football player. Tom Miller has gone on to play in the Football League with Carlisle, and Jon Nolan has done the same with Chesterfield. Adi Yussuf wasn’t even getting around the team, and he’s leading Grimsby’s line now. Even the likes of Danny Rowe and Bohan Dixon are having great seasons in the league below us as well.
The truth is (as far as I’m concerned) that Gary Simpson was adequately backed by the board at the time, and to his credit he built a team of players that should have been there or thereabouts at the end of the season. I always was (and still am) a Ben Tomlinson fan in particular, with the right management and guidance he could still be a massive threat in the National League.
On their day Simmo’s team could turn out a decent result as well. We won four of our first six matches of the season, and despite setbacks (5-1 defeat at Halifax for instance), there was still cause for optimism. On January 4th 2014 we held eventual runaway Champions Luton Town 0-0 at Sincil Bank, and three days later Nick Wright, Delano Sam-Yorke, Jon Nolan and an own goal gave us a convincing 4-1 win at home to Alfreton. Fans weren’t convinced though, those games were watched by 2,928 and 1,877 respectively, and our ‘big’ Boxing Day clash with Grimsby attracted 5,421. That’s less than yesterday against Woking, and 1,729 of those were travelling cod heads.
We were 16th when North Ferriby came in the cup, and despite them spending big it seemed to represent an opportunity to progress to the quarter finals of the competition. Billy Heath was their manager at the time, and they boasted players such as Nathan Peat, Danny Hone, Jonathon D’Laryea and Nathan Jarman. They may have had a bit of money, but pound for pound we should still have matched them. These players are still in the league below us, or even further down the spectrum, They were however, in the habit of winning.Lincoln City were in the habit of disappointing.
The crowd crept to just over 2,000, 146 of those travelled down from the banks of the Humber. In his programme notes Bob Dorrian spoke of both the financial rewards of progressing in the competition (£7k for the winner of the tie), but also the prestige a of possible Wembley outing. I wish I could travel back in time and show him some highlights of this season, because at the time he was a beleaguered chairman under immense pressure he didn’t deserve. The board had backed Gary Simpson, half-decent money had been spent and there ought to have been some payback. On that cold January day there wasn’t.
North Ferriby dominated the game from start to finish, although City could have taken the lead. On 21 minutes Nick Wright saw his header saved by Adam Nicklin, but there ended the Lincoln City assault on goal. Four minutes later our embarrassment began. City’s defence were caught napping, as so often was the case, and Liam King was allowed to stroke home from the edge of the six-yard box. In case you think he’s gone on to bigger and better things, Liam King is currently at Halifax Town.
Before half-time North Ferriby made their absolute dominance pay with a second goal. A weak header back towards goal from Nat Brown allowed Ryan Kendall to sneak in and toe-poke the ball past Farman. Kendall has since played for Harrogate Town, before returning to North Ferriby where he has scored six times in 54 appearances. Obviously hasn’t come up against Nat Brown too many more times.
The second half went much the same way as the first. Disconsolate fans sat and watched in horror as the village side scored twice more. Nathan Jarman (latterly of Gainsborough Trinity) was brought down by Paul Farman, and it was Jarman who dusted himself down to drill the ball home for the third.
Liam King added a late fourth as Lincoln failed to muster a decent effort at goal throughout the game. It was, in truth, a pathetic performance against a team that should have been put out of sight. The players who played for North Ferriby that day have not gone on to great things, they were lower league journeymen who shouldn’t have matched the squad assembled by Gary Simpson.
Simpson was not happy with his players efforts after the game.
“It was poor, I can only apologise to the supporters who came to watch that. It is the worst performance since I’ve been manager of the club. We didn’t see it coming. The coaching staff and me were only commenting how great and sharp they were looking in training on Friday. We were out fought, they lost their individual battles, their collective battles. It was not good enough. We gifted them a couple of goals, to be honest, they deserved it because they worked harder than us. I’m embarrassed that a side we’ve put out has played like they have, because as a rule we’re not normally like that.”
We had been stuffed 5-1 by Halifax Town a few weeks earlier, but after that Trophy debacle there wasn’t another mauling. Unlike Steve Tilson, Gary Simpson didn’t make heavy home defeats the norm, and even when we did concede goals, we began to score a few as well. We finished 14th in the table on 65 points that season, and even though form picked up, his sides never achieved the consistency that the investment needed. Ironically he was dismissed just as he seemed to be making the Imps tough to beat the following season, a 3-3 draw at Forest Green Rovers capped off a run of just one defeat in nine games. We had led 3-0 after 62 minutes, but they pulled three goals back and Gary Simpson was relieved of his duties within days.
The defeat against North Ferriby didn’t trigger his eventual demise, but for a Lincoln City fan I think it signalled a real low point. Despite turning a corner financially and investing in better playing staff, the club simply weren’t moving forward at a rate acceptable to the board nor the fans. The arrival of Chris Moyses divided opinion, but there’s no doubt his input from November 2014 to May 2016 was vital in helping the whole club turn around, and whilst on the pitch our fortunes remained constant, off the field the first knockings of change had started.
Beating North Ferriby 6-1 earlier in the season was cathartic and satisfying for anyone that witness that horrible humiliation in January 2014. Going there on Tuesday week and taking over the ground will complete a long journey, a journey that started with them humbling us in our own back yard, belaying their village status and our standing as a proud league club. Hopefully it will end with us going to the village and demonstrating the stature of this proud club, by not just taking over the ground, but winning handsomely.
To cleanse myself I’ve vowed that the next ‘looking back’ feature will be the Imps record 11-1 victory over Crewe Alexandra.