Just Passing Through

The current edition of ‘A City United’ features an article by Imps fan Dominic Picksley about Imps players that arrived with lots of promise, but ended up giving us very little in return. Whilst he managed to pick five players I’m sure we could have filled a whole magazine with pantomime villains and unfulfilled potential.

On the flip-side there is a much smaller group of player that have passed through Lincoln City, however briefly, whom I’m sure we would have loved to remain at the club. Players whose short spells might not afford them a place in the all-time legends list, but who made a strong enough impression (certainly on me) to be recalled fondly in conversation. For a bit of light-hearted reading this afternoon here are five players that I really wish we could have kept at City for much longer than we did.

Michael O’Connor

Peter Jackson is a character that split the fan base at the time, and even now, almost ten years since he first arrived at City, he still does. Many fans saw a warm and friendly man who struggled to motivate his side when he most needed to. Others saw a belligerent and self-obsessed promoter that believed his ‘brand’ was worth much more than it was. He brought many failures to City, many players that serve as the punchline to best forgotten jokes. One player he did manage to bag on loan was midfielder Michael O’Connor, and he is one player I really wish we could have kept at Lincoln City.

Lee Frecklington was loaned to Peterborough after the transfer window closed I 2009, leaving us with minimal options when it came to replacing him. Jackson swooped for Crewe’s Irish midfielder on March 6th as short-term cover. Northern Ireland-born O’Connor should never have been available to us; he had played most of the season in League One, represented his country against Scotland and Hungary and had even scored in the Railwaymen’s narrow 2-1 Carling Cup defeat against Liverpool. There was talk of him being worth in the region of £1m.

The main issue was his discipline, he had fallen out rather spectacularly with Crewe manager Gudjon Thordarson. He received one warning for a ‘breach of discipline’, but a second breach was revealed on March 4th, and he was put up for loan. Jacko moved immediately, and O’Connor made his Imps debut as we were thrashed soundly, 5-1, at Blunder Park. He was introduced with the scores level on 63 minutes, but he couldn’t be held responsible for the abhorrent defending that followed.

After that O’Connor started nine Imps games, only on the losing side twice more. He added real steel to the midfield, his no-nonsense tackling was supported by some proper quality on the ball. He was committed, determined and instantly became someone the fans were incredibly keen to keep. He scored just once, giving us a 15th minute lead as we went down 3-2 at Barnet. After that we went five games unbeaten with him in the side, including a tricky trip to Chesterfield and another to Bradford. His loan expired shortly afterwards, and without significant funds he couldn’t be brought back to Lincoln.

His final game of the season saw him line up against Rene Gattusso and Giuseppe Rossi as Northern Ireland were beaten 3-0 in Italy, another shining example of his immense quality. Crewe didn’t want him back, but Championship side Scunthorpe had seen enough of him at Lincoln to convince them he was worth the investment. After helping them avoid relegation in his first season he found his shooting boots, banging in nine in 36 matches. He was linked with moves to West Ham, Newcastle and Hibernian, but none materialised.  Since then he’s played for Rotherham, Port Vale and now Notts County, always showing the same commitment and endeavour as he did in his ten-game Imps spell.

Dean Keates

Dean Keates (pictured top) might be the Wrexham manager now, and he might well be the player that claimed he wanted to move closer to home before a U-turn after 18 months saw him end up at Peterborough, but anyone who denies he was a class act on the football field is lying to themselves.

At five feet five inches tall he wasn’t the physical presence you’d expect in midfield, far from it. Imps fans were well aware of him before Keith brought him to the club though, he had notched over 150 appearances for Walsall in a seven-year spell as well as fifty games apiece for Hull and Kidderminster. He was, for want of a better phrase, a fiery little bugger. His style of play reminded me of the cartoon character Scrappy-Do, despite his size he mixed it with the best the lower leagues had to offer, and he always came out on top. I felt his arrival was a real coup, and hopefully a signal that the ball was going to spend more time on the deck in midfield so he could be effective.

For a few months he was certainly effective. Finally, we posed a real threat from free-kicks, and his bite in the centre of the park saw us make a super start to the league season. He scored in a 1-1 draw at much-fancied Rushden and again in the final minute of our 2-0 win against Wrexham. He played a major part as we were edged out of the Carling Cup 5-4 at Craven Cottage by a Fulham side boasting the likes of Brian McBride, Tomas Radzinski and Michael Volz. For a short while the future seemed very bright.

Indiscipline started to seep in, after being sent off in our FA Cup draw with MK Dons he served a ban, but after just two games of his return he was sent off again, this time as we beat Chester 3-1. Rumours began to circulate that the combative force in the centre of the park was unhappy. Some cited our reliance on a direct approach, others on a pregnant girlfriend unwilling to relocate to Lincoln.  On January 14th 2006 we hammered Barnet 4-1 at Sincil Bank, and Keates kicked his last ball for the club. He moved back to Walsall of League One, and was back at Sincil Bank in their colours the following August.

After just one full season with the Saddlers he angered Imps fans by moving to Peterborough, which many saw as being just as far from his Birmingham base as Lincoln. It isn’t, but he became something of a villain for a short while, a situation exasperated when he made numerous appearances against us for Wrexham, the side he now manages.

Davide Somma

The weren’t many bright days during the reign of Chris Sutton, but for a short time in 2009/10 it was ‘Somma-time’ in spring as the enigmatic South African striker joined us on loan from Leeds United. He arrived with the Imps languishing fourth from bottom, desperately battling the spectre of relegation. Darlington looked doomed, but then any one of us, the Cods, Torquay or Cheltenham looked poised to join them. We were light on goals, light on attacking prowess and in real danger of slipping out of the Football League. Enter Davide Somma.

He wasn’t the only loan player that should have been far too good for our level. Nathan Baker, Chris Herd, Eric Lichaj and Matty Saunders all passed through, all with quality but perhaps not able to mould together quickly as a unit. They knew their way around a field, but none were proper goal scorers. Chris Sutton, as a scorer of goals himself, knew we needed to start putting the ball in the net, and despite Somma having a barren three-game loan spell at Chesterfield earlier in the season, Sutton saw something in him.

Just 46 minutes into his debut he grabbed our only goal of a 1-1 draw with Crewe. Two matches later he started off the 3-1 rout of Hereford, four days after that he got our only goal of another 1-1 draw with Dagenham. Then came the crucial win, 3-2 at Torquay with him grabbing a brace. If he’d stopped there his work would have been done.

Somma seemed to have it all, he wasn’t just a poacher but he had pace and an awareness of where the ball would fall. He cited Chris Sutton as an influence on his game, and Sutton boldly stated he could improve the South African’s forward player. It seemed a love-in was developing between the withdrawn manager and his outgoing loan player. On April 10th Bournemouth visited Sincil Bank and were beaten 2-1, I don’t need to tell you who grabbed both goals. Our safety was all-but assured by then, and on April 24th a 1-0 win against Bury ensured we remained in League Two, albeit for one more season. Again, Somma grabbed the goal.

From 14 starts he scored nine times, but he bowed out in controversial circumstances as he was sent off in our final day 0-0 draw with Macclesfield. Of course there was a clamour for him to remain at Sincil Bank, but his form had caught the eye of his Leeds bosses, and they wanted him back at Elland Road. Besides, how could we afford him? We had Ben Hutchinson and Mustapha Carayol to pay for instead.

The following season he smashed seven in his first nine games, including two late goals to hand Leeds an opening day win over Millwall, and a brace in a thrilling 6-4 home defeat by Preston. All season he scored 12 times in 32 outings, and he made his international debut as South Africa lost 1-0 to the USA. He scored his only international goal in February 2011 in a 2-0 win against Kenya.

Unfortunately he torn his ACL in July 2011, and despite returning for six games in 2012/13 he never recaptured the sort of form that had him on the edge of stardom. His 84th-minute Elland Road appearance against Burnley in April was his final one in the Football League.

Kevin Ellison

It is a generally held belief amongst Imps fans that Kevin Ellison is not a nice human being. He is the abrasive Scouser that has lasted longer than a Duracell battery, ploughing out a fine career with Morecambe after also playing for Rotherham, Chester and a host of lower league clubs.

He joined us from third-tier side Stockport County on loan at the end of the 2003/04 season. He came into what was one of the finest Lincoln sides in modern times, and we were on the cusp of the play-offs. Ellison slipped in at left full-back for a 13-game spell and brought a balance and aggression to the left flank that Mark Bailey added on the right. It is fair to say I liked Ellison immediately because he had everything a full back should have; pace, power, a sharp tackle and a fearless approach to football.

Ellison was a tough nut, his tackling was ferocious and his commitment never in question despite only being on loan. We found ourselves in a two-legged play-off semi-final against Huddersfield and we were almost victorious. Ellison had a superb game as we drew 2-2 in the second match, and when the whistle went he slumped to his knees, clearly gutted at the outcome. A Huddersfield fan ran past him and said something, and (if memory serves me correctly) a quick blow was landed on said fan. As I’ve said, I liked Ellison and so did Keith Alexander, but sadly his wage demands was too costly for our cash-strapped club. Had we made it to the Millennium Stadium there is a train of thought that the revenue would have brought him to City, similarly if we’d gone up I think he would have signed for us in League One (or the Second Division, not sure when it was given a rebrand).

Instead he returned to Stockport before a free transfer to ambitious Chester City who could afford his wage demands. Just months after his final appearance in a City shirt he scored for them against us in controversial circumstances. He hit an indirect free-kick straight into the back of the net and then celebrated in front of the Stacey West as if he’d won the World Cup, telling angry Imps fans that we ‘couldn’t afford him’ as he did so. Thus started one of the most lengthy and vindictive hate / hate affairs between ex-player and fans that I’ve ever known, every time he plays against City there is abuse (from both sides). I’ve seen pleasantries exchanged, pies thrown, swearing (from player and fans) and an innumerable amount of snide gestures. Even as recently as this season he was seen antagonizing Imps fans against Morecambe. However, at 38-years old he is still having an effect there, and there is no doubt he could have done a job at Lincoln City at any point over the last decade. He’s played for Hull, Tranmere, Rotherham and Bradford in the interim period, every time showing the same anger and aggression as he did during his 13-game Imps spell. Love him or loathe him, he could have been a great player for City.

Sergio Torres

It’s Torres! I remember those posts on the Vital message board even today. Peter Jackson had been sacked, City seemed to be in disarray and we desperately needed something to spark a revival. Our recruitment had been less than average in the summer, and Jacko had reaped the rewards of that by losing his job. From nowhere we had picked u the Peterborough playmaker on loan, a player that seemed so far from our grasp you had to check if it was April 1st. These days fishing an trolling online were common place, but back then ‘fun’ wasn’t defined as lying on the internet and claiming ‘banter’.

Three great seasons at Wycombe saw Sergio Torres become a much-coveted player, and his value rocketed with each game. His story is unique, the Argentinian brick layer who believed in himself so much he came over to England to forge a career. With his South American flair and exotic hair cut he certainly caught the eye, but it was his tricky displays in the centre of the park that ensured teams from higher up the Football League noticed him. He joined Peterborough for an estimated £150k, but the move was not a success for him, and despite his immense promise he struggled to break into their side at the start of the 2009/10 season. They had been promoted to the Championship and he had fallen out of favour. Out of the blue he pitched up at Sincil Bank, catching fans by surprise.

You don’t usually find a team making a big signing when they’ve just sacked a manager, whether it is on loan or not. Torres seemed like a saviour, like the sort of player that could propel us back to play-off candidates. After five years in the top seven we had now been outside of it for two, and promotion still seemed more likely than relegation. Torres was the sort of player that could help push us up the league. It may not have turned out like that, but his arrival gave us belief, albeit for a short time.

In his first three games we conceded seven, scored none and obviously secured no points. Chris Sutton arrived and Torres immediately hit his first goal for City, securing the former Celtic man a 1-0 win in his first game in charge. In five more games he scored once more, this time as we beat Telford 3-1 in the FA Cup. Torres had that creative spark that we had so desperately lacked, and maybe the sort of quality a former top-flight player turned lower-league manager might have wanted to keep at the club. Sadly for us the budget didn’t allow it, even if Sutton had wanted it. Torres made his final Imps appearance in our 1-1 home draw with Cheltenham, the same game in which Ian Pearce and Barry Richardson were sent off for fighting on the touch-line. By then the Sutton-circus was in full swing and Sergio Torres was not set to be a part of it.

In the summer of 2010 it was rumoured we were interested in him again, but instead non-league Crawley, managed by Steve Evans, paid £100,000 for him instead. The investment paid off though, he helped them to the FA Cup Fifth Round and the Conference title, swapping places with us in May 2011. He then helped them to an immediate promotion to League One as well, enjoying four good seasons before dropping down to Whitehawk, where he played 66 minutes of our rather embarrassing 5-3 FA Cup defeat in 2015.

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  1. I never knew that latter bit about Ellison. I have always liked him and cheered him on for Morecombe when he has scored wondering why we never had him up front instead of left back. Oddly doesn’t change my view of him, where as Peter Gain I can’t stand for doing similar.

        • Opinion now officially changed. Feel bad for not having the context then. He was a hero of mine growing up watching Lincoln as a teenager so it hurt when he did what he did. Makes sense now.

  2. The one loan player that always come to mind who I wish we could have kept was Wayne Turner in the middle of the 1981/82 season. Then there was Eric McManus a couple of seasons before, but that didn’t matter as we then brought in David Felgate.

  3. Paul Groves was the big loss. We signed Grant Brown and Groves went to be Grimsby’s main man for several seasons.
    John Cornforrh was another who impressed on loan from memory

  4. So sorry to hear that Somma did not go on to have a more substantial career. There were a few moments there where I thought Sutton knew what he was doing. Somma was awesome. All those loan signings disappeared though and not much had been done to build a team of permanents who could do well.

  5. Showing my age here, but the loanee who really made an impression was a young Tony Woodcock, came to Lincoln in early 1976 with the less stylish Bert Bowery (sort of an early version Rheady). Woodcock greatly impressed fans and management in the season of GT’s greats. Think he scored in his first match, a 6-0 pasting of Southport. Wikipedia says 4 appearances, 1 goal, and credit to Graham Taylor for a key role in his development. IIRC GT tried to sign him in the summer, Brian Clough was happy to do a deal which also included the mighty BB, in exchange for Phil Neale, we turned it down – think it foundered on the BB part of the deal, though GT knew what a talent he had in Neale and was reluctant to let him go.

    Woodcock started to establish himself the following season as Forest won Div 2 (Championship), the rest is history, but nearly an Imp!

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