It was (I’m sure) a bitterly cold afternoon on December 7th 1957. That’ll be The Day by the Crickets was number one and I wonder if perhaps it had played on the wireless as the rickety Lincoln City team bus made the short journey across to Millmoor, Rotherham.
Both City and Rotherham were struggling in Division Two that season. Lincoln were abject at times, after a bright start we’d lost eight on the trot, and a win against Leyton Orient a couple of weeks prior to the match had only offered brief respite. We were going to Rotherham not expecting an awful lot for the game.
Millmoor hadn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Imps either, they hadn’t won there since 1949. In the next six visits they lost five times conceding 18 goals and scoring just four. It’s fair to say even then, Rotherham was not a nice place for City to go, nor was it profitable in terms of points.
Somehow Bill Anderson masterminded a Lincoln win that cold December afternoon, goals from John Grainger (whom City had signed for £4000 from Rotherham) and Harry Troops gave us an unlikely 2-1 win. It was our last win until April 8th, where what had been an awful season became known as the Great Escape.
As the players returned to Lincoln to attend a showing of Bridge Over the River Kwai at the Ritz (probably), little were they to know the amazing end-of-season that was ahead of them. Also, little did they know that no Lincoln City team would muster a win at Rotherham until every single one of them was well past the pension age.
Many managers tried, and failed through the 1960’s and early 1970’s to win at Rotherham. In 1974/75 it was the turn of Graham Taylor, arguably up there with Bill Anderson as Lincoln’s greatest, to lock horns with the Millers away. Sam Ellis earned us a draw in the League Cup, but when we repeated the 1-1 outcome eight days later at Sincil Bank is was off back to Rotherham. This time Big Sam’s goal wasn’t enough and we were beaten 2-1. On September 7th we played at Millmoor for the third time in 18 days, and once again the outcome was a draw, this time 2-2.
Taylor had another stab in our Division Three campaign, this time losing 1-0 in front of 10,000 fans. Even the great man himself couldn’t engineer an away win in South Yorkshire.
Colin Murphy was the next legend manager to have a crack after a couple more defeats by less-able managers. It was Murphy’s penultimate season of his first spell, and an OG gave us a 1-1 draw. In his final season Rotherham were on the fixture list again, and again we grabbed a draw, this time 0-0 despite having John Fashanu and Gordon Hobson up front. In 1985/86 George Kerr guided us to yet another defeat.
Colin had a final try in 1988/89, but even with Malcolm Dunkley up front City lost 1-0. The biggest names in Lincoln City’s managerial history were trying, and failing to beat the Millers. Surely Keith Alexander, a man who masterminded a phenomenal rise from the ashes could give us that elusive win?
Unfortunately he didn’t get to try. Paul Smith gave us a 1-1 draw in 1999 under the watchful eye of John Reames in a match refereed by one George Cain, an official that would become incredibly unpopular during Keith’s reign. We did win the home game that season 2-1, Lee Philpott and a Terry Fleming penalty giving us our last victory over the Millers.
Circumstance forced us apart for the next few seasons which was probably a good thing, the next time we played at Millmoor was during Peter Jackson’s spell as manager. Mark Stallard was sent of as we slipped to a 3-2 defeat despite Ben Wright’s late consolation. His ‘Magnificent Seven’ were beaten on the opening day of the following season 1-0 thanks to Reuben Reid.
Mustapha Carayol was the last Lincoln player to score at Rotherham, his 52nd minute strike at the Don Valley Stadium was seven years and one day ago, but it proved to be no more than a consolation as Ryan Cresswell grabbed a late winner. A couple of days later we were back for our last trip there, this time in the JP Trophy, losing 1-0 thanks to Adam Lafondre. The last time we played them at all was March 25th 2011, arguably the worst home performance in a generation saw us lose 6-0.
Tonight it is the turn of Danny and Nicky Cowley, the new generation of Imps manager looking to write their name in the history books. Throughout the ages our managers have won leagues, earned promotions and put together great cup runs, but to be truly consider a great, to be spoken of as one of the all-time greats, history tells us you have to win away at Rotherham. After all, it has been 60 years.