I finished up the first part of my look at our rivalry with the Cod heads with an FA Cup drubbing that immediately got fans on the back of the City manager. After the debacle in the County Cup, defeats to our bitter rivals and neighbours took on a whole new meaning.
In 1892/93 Lincoln City and Grimsby Town became founding members of the all-new Second Division. City immediately doubled the wages of the playing squad in readiness for the challenges that lay ahead. Things didn’t start well despite the increase of pay though, four defeats in five games prompted the decision to bring in a ‘footballing man’ as a player coach. Jack Strawson turned to former Welsh international Bob Roberts, and a win and a draw in the first two outings looked to vindicate his choice.
His third game was an FA Cup tie with non-other than Grimsby Town. We’d already stumbled through to the 4th Qualifying Round by virtue of wins against Newark Town, Rotherham and the curiously named Greenhalgh’s. Grimsby away came out of the hat next, but a hung over player coach was at fault as we slumped 5-0. The only way the Bob Roberts could save his job now was to avoid the need to apply for re-election, and if he was to succeed he’d need to lay off the ale.
For younger readers the free movement of teams from the Football League to the Non-League hasn’t always been in place. League clubs used to have to apply to be re-elected to the league, and those from the lower reaches of the game had to apply to come up. It was a convenient system that offered some protection to those in the league, after all very few chairman would vote out one of their fellow league sides.
Having to apply for your place wasn’t desirable despite the relatively small chance of losing your place. By February 18th Lincoln needed four wins to successfully avoid the embarrassing situation. They had seven games to play, two of which were against Grimsby.
We managed to draw at their place, 2-2. The result increased the possibility of not being in the bottom four, and it was ever-present winger Frank Smallman that bagged the crucial brace. A big win followed against Northwich Victoria before the return match against the Cods at John o’Gaunts. The streets of Lincoln were alight with talk of finishing high enough to at least keep our self respect.
Roberts turned in another ineffective display as City slumped to a 3-1 defeat. Not content with knocking us out of the FA Cup, the result deflated the momentum we’d been building up in our quest to stay out of the bottom four. We finished fourth from bottom after collecting just two more wins, while Grimsby finished fourth.
The following season, 1893/94 we finished eighth, but once again it was Grimsby who knocked us out of the FA Cup, this time winning 5-2 at John o’Gaunts. The league results were honours even, we each won one of our ties. In 1894/95 it was Grimsby who knocked us out of the competition again, this time winning 3-0 in Lincoln as well as doing the double over us in the league (5-1 at Lincoln, 3-0 in Grimsby). In 1895 we moved to Sincil Bank, our first match of the season was away at Grimsby. They handed us the customary beating, 4-2. After drawing our first match at Sincil Bank with Arsenal, it was Grimsby’s turn to visit us. History will show they were the first team to inflict defeat on us at our new home.
City lost the match 5-2 in the style we’d become accustomed, but the visitors were shown no hospitality whatsoever. Grimsby had targeted Imps keeper John Mann with some horrific challenges, and a couple of their goals came from his fragile fitness. At the final whistle the Cods had to run for their lives as City fans invaded the pitch in an attempt to settle a few scores with the opposition players. Grimsby ran for their lives at Sincil Bank for the first time, but surely not the last.
Poor John Mann would have his City career ended in our November 23rd FA Cup clash with our fishy foes. He was once again targeted and once again he was visibly unsettled. For the fourth year in a row we were eliminated by our noisy neighbours, Mann dropping a couple of howlers as we went down 4-2 at the Bank. He never played for us again.
Over the next few seasons we lost ten competitive matches to Grimsby and drew two, failing to register a single win in any competition. By the 1901/02 season we had recovered sufficiently to finish fifth in Division Two, our highest ever finish. Unfortunately as we hit the crest of a wave we were unable to gain revenge over Grimsby, as they’d won the league the year before and were mixing it in the top flight with the big boys. They did beat us 3-0 in the semi-final of the County Cup just to keep us in our place, but by that time the competition was almost as irrelevant as it is today. They did the same the year after as well, but suffered relegation back to Division Two after two seasons.
Finally, on the opening day of the 1903/04 season, we got our victory over Grimsby Town. It had been just under a decade since we’d last beaten them, but winger Denis O’Donnell and striker Billy Simpson grabbed a goal each as we won 2-1. I imagine there was much merriment in the Blue Anchor that night, in fact writing this I felt like celebrating. Ten years without a win over our rivals, knocked out of cups, beaten in leagues and finally we managed to win a bloody game. I expect even John Mann afforded himself a smile, wherever he was.
The bad feeling took a turn for the worst in 1907, after several seasons of decline Lincoln had one again had to apply for re-election. This time we were up against FA Cup winners of 1901, Tottenham Hotspur, as well as another popular non-league side in Bradford Park Avenue. They weren’t alone in the battle to be re-elected either, Grimsby had also had a miserable season and they joined us in the voting along with Chesterfield.
It was widely believed that the slick Spurs side would get the nod from their peers, and that left us in a straight fight with our fellow Division Two sides to secure our status. At least that is what we thought, but in a turn up for the books it was Bradford Park Avenue who topped the polling, followed by Grimsby and then Chesterfield. We polled more votes than Spurs, but not enough to secure re-election. It looked like a season in the Midland League for us.
Now this is a piece about Grimsby, but just a few weeks later we were robbed by Spurs. Stoke City dropped out of the Football League meaning there was once again a space spare in Division Two. Logic would dictate that it would be Lincoln City, fourth highest in the voting poll, that took the spare place. Not so, Spurs benefitted from a second vote, and after two ties between us the management committee changed the rules and sad only their votes counted. Lincoln City were voted out of the league in a blatant display of cronyism. I expect they laughed themselves silly up the A46.
It didn’t take long for us to get back in though, a storming Midland League campaign saw us steamroll to the title by 13 points, beating the Cods reserves twice in the season. More agony was to follow for our fishy friends a year later as they finished second from bottom in Division Two, and they were voted out. Now who’s laughing Cods?
To bring this piece to a conclusion we move into the 1910/11 season. The Midland League Grimsby Town still managed to beat us in the Lincolnshire Cup, but then again nearly everyone else we played beat us as well in that year. The early 1900’s were an awful time for Lincoln, and we lost 21 of our 38 games in 1910/11. We finished rock bottom of the table, and when it came to re-election, guess who we were up against. Yup, Grimsby Town.
In the early days of 12 team leagues and County Cups you could expect to keep coming up against the same teams, but by 1911 Division Two was made up of 20 teams, and the first round of the FA Cup was already up to 64 teams. The likelihood of constantly coming up against that lot should have diminished, but once again we were fighting for our lives against them. One half of Lincolnshire hoped we’d retain our league status, the other half smelled of rotting fish.
Grimsby polled 18 votes, but Lincoln City only polled 17 votes. The rivalry between the two sides took yet another turn as we were demoted to the Central League, whilst our bitter rivals reclaimed their league status at our expense. After 25 years of battling, they finally had the upper hand. It may have been a short period of time in the life of our football club, but the seeds had been well and truly sown for a bitter rivalry that would last another 100 years, and beyond.