Looking back at….

I ran a poll on my Twitter account on Sunday night to find out the player you’d most like me to write about. The results are in, the votes have been counted and verified, and I can now reveal the player I’ll be doing an article on is….. Adrian Patulea.

The voting ended Patulea with 60 votes, Steve Holmes 57, Paul Mayo, 54, Gordon Hobson, 52, Tony Lormor 37, Bert Linnecor 32 and Bob Cumming with 31. Just so you know.

Adrian Patulea brought something very different to Lincoln City, something we hadn’t seen before. Everything about the enigmatic Romanian was out of the ordinary, be it his arrival, his performances and his departure.

In the first instance it is well-documented that he impressed Peter Jackson by running around the training pitch with his wife on his back. Jackson often wise-cracked later that his girlfriend was naked, although this is unsubstantiated. Clothed or unclothed, it was a unique way to audition for a spot in the squad.

He spent six weeks training with the first team squad and finally a friendly hat trick against Lincoln United convinced Jackson to sign him. That wasn’t straightforward either, Patulea’s former club, Petrolul Ploieşti, still held his registration. They were asking for a fee, and it transpired that this very complication had occurred when non-league Burgess Hill tried to sign him a few weeks earlier. In the middle of it the player smiled innocently for the photos and talked about how much he loved Lincoln City.

Of course, for the fans it was incredibly exciting. Social Media had begun to take off, and it was full of chatter about the new player. We didn’t see many foreign strikers at Sincil Bank, certainly not ones that could score goals. He had looked a cut above everyone else in his appearance against Lincoln United, and a decent pre-season crowd were able to go home and chew over the bones on Facebook and message boards.

It seemed by scoring three goals and being registered somewhere else he became an instant fans favourite. The media loved it too, he was quoted and talked about in papers up and down the country. Jacko, ever the showman, lapped up the attention at the unusual way  he’d signed our new striker.

Eventually a deal was struck, although not in time for him to play against Grimsby. He featured from the bench in an August 2-0 win against Barnet, and unsurprisingly he scored our second goal. After half an hour as a sub against Bury, he started our next match away at Brentford. His 30th minute goal earned us a credible draw, and further strikes against Chester and Chesterfield gave him the impressive ratio of a goal every other game.

Patulea was raw, I think that is the fairest thing to say without being condescending. He didn’t seem to be one for adhering to tactics closely, although if the truth be told his manager wasn’t really one for setting any up before a game either. Patulea basically chased everything, he was quick, he worked incredibly hard and whenever he saw the goal he would shoot. He was easy to warm to, this humble Romanian boy with the Roy of the Rovers story developing at Lincoln City.

Then, nothing. Six games, not a sniff of a goal City lost and drew blanks against Darlington and Port Vale either side of a draw against Kettering in the FA Cup. Injury ruled him out of the embarrassing replay defeat, and he came back on the bench for a 2-1 defeat at Exeter. He kept his space on the bench for the first 49 minutes of our December home clash with Accrington Stanley. City started 4-3-3 and had David Graham as the main striker, and we had been terrible. John Miles gave them an early lead, and that was still the score when Patulea came on and we shifted to 4-4-2.

He scored, twice, and played a part in two other goals as City ran riot. By the end of the match the scoreboard read 5-1, Jackson hailing his masterful changes, the fans lauding their favourite Eastern European wife-carrier. I think the divide between player and manager happened that night, he played with such venom and tenacity that he seemed to be sending a clear message to his manager. The fan heard it, loud and clear.

Again he was in and out of the team, and the grumbles began. He started and scored the only goal of the game as we beat Notts County, but after a 0-0 draw at Bradford he was dropped again. He came off the bench to score against Luton Town as we lost 3-2, but then he couldn’t buy a start after the turn of the year. Geoff Horsfield and Anthony Elding came in and Patulea found himself frozen out. They scored less goals between them than Patulea managed in just sixteen days in December, but he couldn’t get a whiff of a start.

Why? Who knows. Rumour was heavy of a player and manager argument, although it would only ever be speculation. Jackson didn’t like his striker having the limelight, that much seems evident, but whether the player agitated the situation is unknown. As the season wore on talks of contracts flared up, Patulea claiming he hadn’t been offered one, Jackson claiming he just wasn’t signing it.

In March 2009, almost three months after being relegated to the bench, he scored away at Barnet. Suddenly, the player was back in favour. Six starts and three goals including the only one of the game against Macclesfield, ended as he scored in our 1-1 draw away a Chesterfield. That was April 7th, and an injury then ruled him out for the rest of the season. Despite only playing 33 times, and starting 17 times, he ended up our leading goal scorer with 11 goals.

The drama didn’t end there. As the on-field season wore away to a mid-table nothingness, off the field contract talk was the only bit of excitement fans had left. Universally Patulea was wanted for the next season, when he started he scored and we looked much livelier. Sure, he’d had a barren spell, but Lenny John-Lewis, Horsfield, Elding, and David Graham had all had far worse. He claimed in the paper he wanted to stay, he claimed he hadn’t got anything in print to sign. Jacko claimed different, he claimed the player had been offered a deal and was choosing to look elsewhere.

As soon as he arrived, he was gone. Leyton Orient offered him a two-year deal, and he was on a train to London, presumably not having to carry his wife down there. Those grumbles grew louder and louder, certainly from me. In pre-season we signed Chris Fagan and Rene Howe, and Jackson was gone sacked by Halloween.

As for Patulea, he had a season and a half at Orient, but he couldn’t capture his Imps form in League One. Despite a debut goal in a League Cup win against Colchester, he only scored twice more in 27 games, and after one appearance for the O’s in 2010/11, he moved to Hayes and Yeading. A short spell at Hereford followed, but he didn’t worry goal keepers quite as much as he had at Lincoln. Maybe he didn’t have a point to prove to anyone, maybe he was motivated at City by the fervent support he received from the fans. Whatever it was, he couldn’t replicate his Lincoln form elsewhere in England.

He returned to his native Romania in August 2011, and has since played for Rapid Bucharest and FC Vaslui before ending up in the Cypriot First Division with Paphos, a climate I can only assume is far less frosty than the one he encountered during his Imps tenure. He spent last season there, 32 years of age and still playing at a good level.