November 1991, yours truly has just turned 13 and the Lincoln City bug has firmly taken hold. In the days before internet, it was often hard to get information about the club. I still knew heading down for my birthday match that the Mighty Imps weren’t all-that mighty.
In truth they weren’t looking good at all. As we purchased my brand new replica shirt from the club shop using my saved up pennies, I overheard bits of conversations about a lack of goals. Surely this couldn’t be right, after all we had two of the greatest players on the planet in Tony Lormor and Paul Smith? I idolised these players, but I’d been absent from Sincil Bank that season. We weren’t a well-off family and living in Wragby meant I couldn’t just get to a match when I wanted. This was my first trip to Sincil Bank this season, and my first as a teenager.
Instead of actually going to games I was a teletext fan, checking our games ever thirty seconds or so. Once every fifteen minutes Radio Lincolnshire would go over to the ground, and that was the extent of my knowledge. I was painfully aware that a few months earlier recently-promoted Barnet had won 6-0 at Sincil Bank,but I assumed it was a one off.
In truth ahead of Scunthorpe coming to Sincil Bank we were on an awful run of form. Paul Smith’s goal in our October 19th draw at York was the only goal we’d scored since September 28th. We had lost 5 of our previous eight games and drawn the other three, and there were few signs anything was set to change that afternoon. We were caught in the bottom three of the league table, and I think our visit to the ground was purely to satisfy my birthday wish rather than some sort of masochism and my Dad’s behalf. I can’t recall exactly, but I’d say he trudged to Sincil Bank that day, with an excited and slightly oblivious child in tow.
The Imps lined up as follows: Matt Dickens, Matt Carmichael, Shane Nicholson, Kevin Finney, Gary West, Grant Brown, John Schofield, Paul Ward, Jason Lee, Tony Lormor, Dave Clarke (subs) Dean West, Darren Dye
The first thing that you will probably not notice is the absence of Paul Smith. It was just the second game he’d missed all season, but it was gutting for me. I was still sporting the ‘shave at the sides, don’t touch the back’ mullet of ginger that I believed he made acceptable, fashionable almost. Without him in the side I was just a brand new teenager in (tragically) a padded lumberjack shirt with an awful haircut. More on that shortly.
My recollection of the game isn’t as good as you may think, but very early on Scunthorpe took the lead. Trust me when I say a Paul Longden lob forward saw Dean Martin race through to score. Trust me, not because I recall seeing it but because I’ve researched it.
I imagined having to not wear my shirt out on the green near our home that evening for fear of having the piss ripped out of me. Looking back, a hat might have been advisable too.
City were soon level, scoring only the second league goal we’d seen at Sincil Bank that season. Paul Dobson had scored at home to Chesterfield on September 21st, but for two months the faithful had nothing to cheer at all. This afternoon was different, Jason Lee (pre-pineapple) created some space for winger / full-back Dave Clarke, and his cross landed at the feet of Kevin Finney to give us an equaliser. His shot beat Paul Musselwhite in the Iron goal, a name we’d eventually see in city colours.
It was 1-1 at half time and my Dad took us to the little coffee hut to get some crisps or something. We got to the front of the queue and he asked what I’d like. I assume I asked for chocolate, then as an after thought (it was just my birthday treat) I asked for a coke too. My Dad grimaced and (I shit you not) I remember to this day the reply of the lady behind the counter.
“She’d better quit while she is ahead I think.”
My hair had ensured I was mistaken as a lumberjack-shirt wearing long-haired girl. I expect I went bright red and muttered something embarrassing like ‘I’m a boy’ before closing my eyes and wishing that the ground would swallow me up and spit out a real boy with a crew cut and a piercing glare. It didn’t.
Still smarting from my early-teen gender issues we took our seat, desperate for City to press on and give us something to cheer in the second half. Paul Ward almost did, he was a former Scunthorpe player in his first season with City, and he was fortunate not to be sent off. He landed a heavy tackle on Ian Hamilton, another future Imp, and he was already on a yellow. It was an awful challenge, but the game of yesteryear was tougher and meaner and he stayed on the pitch. Good job he did.
Grant Brown almost played the Iron back into the game with an errant back-pass, but Tony Daws (future Imp) fired his shot against the legs of Matt Carmichael. At the other end John Schofield looked to be creating a bit of space, but Dave Hill (future Imp) scythed him down from behind, and I got to learn a new swear word from my Dad. Still 1-1, still 11 v 11. Just.
Ten minutes after the restart there was something for us to cheer as the Imps went 2-1 up. It was Jason Lee again causing the trouble, his cross was met by none-other than Tony Lormor and he slammed the ball home to give City the lead. Before the joy of a derby-day lead had sunk in it was 2-2. Graham Alexander (never played for the Imps) picked the ball up a good 25-yards from goal and beat Dickens with ease. As you were gents.
The game now transcended form, league position and all of the stuff so-called experts base their analysis on. It had now become a fight, a football match where anything could happen at all. Just over 3,000 fans began to get edgy, loud and tense. Tackles flew in, tempers frayed and most importantly Lincoln roared forward again and again. If I were 38 and sat in the Coop stand I’d turn to my Dad and say ‘there’s only one winner here’. Instead I just tucked my ridiculous rat tail into the collar of my shirt and hoped people realised I was a boy.
With quarter of an hour to go City scored a third. Shane Nicholson whipped in a free-kick from the left, and a typical lower-league scrambled ensued. Bodies flew in, boots lashed out and within seconds the net bulged courtesy of one Tony Lormor, his second of the game. As he wheeled away to celebrate I couldn’t help but notice his sensible hair-cut. He might not have been flying the ginger flag, but he made the red and white stripes look bloody good, and as I was sporting only my second replica shirt ever, I vowed I wanted to now look like him. Sorry Paul Smith.
There was no reprieve for the Iron, no counter to our third goal and thankfully no real further drama to worry about. As the seconds ticked down the ever-unreliable Musselwhite failed to hold on to a shot and Tony Lormor pounced to complete his hat trick. 4-2 to City, and we were due to go home happy.
Seven days later we were even happier as we thrashed Doncaster Rovers 5-1. Having scored just eight goals all season, we banged in nine in two weeks. After that? Jost two in December and January. In total we scored 50 goals that season, 14 in our last four games and nine in a two-game spell in November. Can you imagine how poor the other 34 matches must have been?
On the way home I doubtless got to mull over my choice of hero. Paul Smith would get his day again no doubt, but as a 13-year old I had choices to make. I was a teenager now, and watching ‘Super’ Tony Lormor bag a hat trick made me wonder if maybe I might be due a style change.
“Dad, do you think I should get my hair cut like Tony Lormor?”
I imagine my Dad looked me up and down, from ginger mullet, through the over-sized lumberjack shirt, down my unbranded tracksuit bottoms an ending with my market stall trainers, and inside he jumped for joy. There was hope after all.
“How do you mean son?”
I imagine I pondered on the words of the canteen lady for a second, no more and replied.
“Well, anything that doesn’t make me look like a girl?”
My first steps towards adult hood had been taken, and I can thank Tony Lormor and his derby-day hat trick for setting me on the right path.