The cries of ‘going up’ are not familiar sounds to be heard at Sincil Bank, but anyone joining us this season might be forgiven for thinking they’re a staple of the fans repertoire. At certain times in history they have rang out loud and proud across the hallowed turf though, and December 4th 1982 was one of those occasions.
Millwall were the visitors on that wintry day, and yours truly was just 4 years old and probably more inclined to sit at home playing with bits of his body that he didn’t fully understand. My old man went though leaving my Mum to handle the inquisitive 4-year old and his brother at home.
City were really at a peak in their modern history at this point. We were top of the old Third Division, now League One. We were four points clear of Huddersfield in second place, and we had a game in hand. The belief was that Lincoln City were heading back to the second tier for the first time since the early sixties, and who could blame the fans for thinking that?
In Glenn Cockerill and Gordon Hobson we had two real magicians, young, hungry and both destined for First Division football in their careers. They jinxed past defenders utilising a mixture of pace and trickery, the like of which you rarely see in the lower leagues, not from both flanks. Of course, that’s no good if you don’t have good players around you, and the likes of Derek Bell were more than happy to score goals for fun.
At the back it was a different story. By December we’d only conceded four goals at home, the iconic duo of Trevor Peake and Steve Thompson provided a wall that was rarely penetrated by opposing forwards. From numbers 1 to 13 we oozed class, pace and skill. Promotion was a formality, surely?
The trouble came when you dipped beyond number 13 in the squad, because there wasn’t one. The game against Millwall saw a debut handed to new signing Gordon Simmonite, a forward who joined from Blackpool to become the clubs 14th professional player. Imagine that, top of League One with just 14 players to choose from.
Not only that, but a gruelling two legged match with West Ham had just taken place, concluding six games in the Milk Cup. Add that to the one FA Cup tie (3-0 defeat by Hartlepool) and three Football League Trophy matches as well, and Colin Murphy was approaching a squad selection crisis. The signing of Simmonite was hoped to be the first of a couple.
4555 were in Sincil Bank to watch the visit of Millwall, Fifth from bottom and under the watchful eye of a caretaker manager, Barry Kitchener. It wasn’t a classic period in the Londoners history, Sam Allardyce was captain but there were few players of note. They weren’t quite as hard-up as City though, in the summer they’d splashed out £150k on striker Trevor Aylott, and he was in the line up for them.
City lined up that day: Felgate, Carr, Neale, Cockerill, Peake, Thompson, Hibberd, Turner, Hobson, Bell and Simmonite, with schoolboy Stuart Hall on the bench.
Predictably it was The Imps who pressed early, looking every inch the champions elect even at that early part of the season. Hobson and Cockerill terrorised their opposing defenders, twisting and turning down the flanks looking to provide some crosses. It was from the head of Trevor Peake that City almost took the lead.
Peake’s initial header was blocked but the rebound was collected by Glenn Cockerill. He created some space for himself in the box before delicately lobbing the ball back into the danger area. Peake caught it with a second header, not unlike a Sean Raggett effort, but it dropped just wide.
Gordon Hobson hit the bar with a curling effort from just inside the box before City finally took the lead after 30 minutes. A ball down the line by David Carr was missed by Millwall defender Paul Robinson, and Glenn Cockerill took full advantage. Despite the attentions of two blue shirt he managed to get a low cross towards the penalty spot. Bell took a swing and missed, but managed to compose himself to bring the bobbling ball back under control. His second bite of the cherry was far more successful, rifling in through a crowd to give City a deserved 1-0 lead.
Going up, going up, going up
The Imps second on 43 minutes was one that wouldn’t look out of place this season. Phil Turner had a throw-in back in the Imps half, and he found Hobson down the line. Hobson laid it back into the path of Turner, and he played a cute ball into the channel. Robinson came across to defend the ball from Derek Bell, but only succeeded in playing it up and across his own back four. Phil Neale saw it early, held off two defenders and made no mistake from fifteen yards out. 2-0, and City were cruising.
Going up, going up, going up
Not long after the restart Sam Allardyce committed a foul that, these days, would possibly have resulted in a red card. He went through the back of Derek Bell, winning the ball only after clattering the player. Bell didn’t protest, referee Alan Saville didn’t brandish a card and the free kick didn’t offer any goal threat. You have to love the 80’s, all burly hatchet men with big moustaches and a vicious streak.
Millwall soon pulled one back with a well worked goal. Andy Massey played a long ball into the channel for Dean Horrix. He burst down the line and aimed a cross at Trevor Aylott, but it was Massey who stole in the clip a header past Felgate to bring Millwall back into the game. He had tracked the run all the way from the halfway line, it was agoal that would have pundits purring from 1982 right through to 2017.
The Londoners were getting a foothold in the game and began to hunt for an equaliser, but it was City who secured all three points late on. As we waited for free kick out near the corner flag the referee cleared the very-eighties phenomenon of toilet paper from the pitch. Steve Thompson made his way up front to add a physical presence, as did his partner in defence, Trevor Peake. The whipped ball found Peake who nodded down for Thommo, and he struck a superb volley at goal. It beat Paul Sansome, but Robinson was on hand to clear the ball, or rather it hit him as I’m not sure he knew much about it. It dropped invitingly in the six yard box, rolled back towards goal and towards the hapless Robinson again. He pushed it away only for Cockerill to scuff a shot goalwards. Somehow it took a deflection and crept through a melee of four Millwall players and over the line, sparking jubilant scenes around the ground.
Going up, going up, going up
Allardyce was lucky not to have his name taken shortly after another hard challenge from behind, this time on Glenn Cockerill, but his efforts were in vain. City took all three points to maintain their grip on the title race, now five points clear of their nearest rivals with two games in hand. Just a few days later First Division Norwich City were beaten in the Football League trophy, and the next home game was won 9-0 against Bournemouth What could possibly go wrong? What could possibly silent the chants?
Just five months later we languished in sixth place, six points adrift of Huddersfield in the third promotion spot. Injuries had attacked a threadbare squad, the beleaguered chairman had resigned amidst death threats and the ‘team that Murph built’ began to break up. Millwall visited Sincil Bank again in the final of the Football League trophy, winning 3-2 to leave us empty handed after such an impressive start to the season.
Millwall have visited Sincil Bank on just three occasions since. In 1983 Phil Turner and Steve Thompson scored to give us a 2-2 draw, but attendances were dwindling with 3190 watching. The following season we succumbed to a 1-0 defeat, this time just 2681 came along to watch. Finally on February 13th 1999 we hosted them for our Nationwide Division Two match (now League One), when a rare Tony Battersby goal was added to by Steve Holmes to give us a 2-0 win in front of over 4500 fans. That result appeared to give us hope of avoiding the dreaded drop after just one season, but alas, it was not to be.
If you want to watch the highlights of the match, the video can be found here on youtube.