In eager anticipation of our upcoming match with Luton, here are the three players to have represented both sides, as chosen by me. A couple are legends, one is not.
Mick Harford was hard. That is a fact, he was one of the toughest centre forwards to ever grace Sincil Bank, Kenilworth Road or perhaps to wear an England shirt. Initially signed as a midfielder from Lambton Street Boys Club in 1977, it quickly became clear his future lay elsewhere on the pitch. George Kerr shifted him further up the pitch, although Kerr was dismissed shortly after Harford’s debut in December of the same year.
Mick developed into one of the strongest and most highly sort-after Imps forward’s in living memory. His first goal came on the final day of 1977, one New Year’s Eve draw (2-2) with Chester perhaps only remarkable because of his goal. By the end of January he’d announced himself to the home fans with a brace as we beat Port Vale 3-0.
The 1978/79 season was not a classic, young Mick struggled as did the team and Willie Bell was replaced by Colin Murphy. Relegation came as had been expected most of the season, and with it the chance to terrorise defenders in Division Four. Harford grabbed his chance with gusto, scoring 16 times in the league despite missing ten games through injury in March and April. His stock was rising quickly, and the following season he earned his move. Two hat tricks helped, one in a 5-0 destruction of Hull in the League Cup, another as we destroyed Torquay by the same margin. He hit a braces against Northampton (8-0), Torquay away (2-1), and in the return leg at Boothferry Park (2-0), and in December 1980 he was rewarded with a move back to his native North-East at a cost of £180k. Nice business for City.
He wound up at Luton via spells with Bristol City and Birmingham, and it was there he really made his mark. Harford had impressed at Birmingham and in December 1984, Luton manager David Pleat paid £250,000 for his services. In his time at Luton, Harford even earned himself two England team caps, one against Israel in February 1988 and a second against Denmark in September.
Mick was part of the legendary Luton side that won the League Cup in 1988 and finished seventh in the top-flight. The following year he was back at Wembley, scoring in the final of the League Cup as Luton went down 3–1 to Nottingham Forest. He remained a key player at Luton until his transfer to Derby County in 1990 for just under half a million pounds, a princely sum in those days. Even after his transfer, Harford managed to help the Hatters avoid relegation, spectacularly scoring an own goal as his Derby side lost the final game of the season. With Luton needing a win to stay up. Harford managed to head the ball from outside his own 6-yard box, past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, into his own net to help the Hatters stay up. Harford then rejoined Luton in September 1991 for £325,000, despite competition from Manchester United. Alex Ferguson has since said that he regrets not signing Harford.
His career later took him to Chelsea, Sunderland, Coventry and finally Wimbledon before he moved into coaching and management. He’s still with the Hatters as Chief Recruitment Officer.
Peake is still revered as the finest centre half many Imps have ever seen play. He was calm and dependable, a player to be relied upon under pressure and always one step ahead of his opponents.
He arrived from non-league Nuneaton Borough in 1979 for £15,000 after first visiting Sincil Bank in the 1976 FA Cup tie which we won 6-0. He had already won England semi-professional honours too, and at a commanding six-foot he quickly established himself as a mainstay of the Imps successful side on the early 1980’s. He arrived as one of Colin Murpy’s first signings for City, and he was the figurehead for that tremendous team that threatened to break into the second tier.
He made his debut for City in a 2-1 League Cup win against Barnsley, registering a rare goal to boot. His league debut was less successful, City went down 1-0 at home to Peterborough United. However, City finished seventh in a season after relegation, and Peake helped buck the trend of conceding goals. In the season prior to his arrival Lincoln conceded 79 goals. After his arrival, we shipped just 42.
In 1980/81 he was named in the PFA Division Four Team of the Year, and he picked up the Imps Player of the Year for a second season on the trot. City conceded just 25 goals all season, the dependable Peake forming a solid partnership with current Radio commentator Steve Thompson.
Like Harford, it was never going to be long before Peake earned a move to a higher level, and in June 1983 top-flight side Coventry City paid £100,000 for his services. Whilst there he was selected to play for the England ‘B’ side, but dropped out through injury and failed to earn a full call up. He did pick up an FA Cup win though, his Coventry side beating much-fancied Spurs 3-2 in the thrilling 1987 final. He made 336 appearances for the Sky Blues, scoring seven times, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame. In 2006 he was voted ninth in the Lincoln City Legends vote, cementing his place in folklore for both clubs.
He joined Luton at the tail end of his career, signing in 1994 for £100k at 33-year old. In 1994, aged 37, he appeared for Luton in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
By no means a legend at either club, Jude Stirling does have a certain cult status at Lincoln. He started out at Luton Town as a junior, gaining promotion to the club’s first team squad the 1999/00 season. He did not make his debut until the following season when he was started against Swansea City, and he only went on to make a total of 10 league appearances in three years for The Hatters.
In 2001/02 season, Stirling was loaned out to Conference National side Stevenage Borough. He remained with Borough until March, when Luton released him. He then had spells all over the south, including (but possibly not comprehensively); St Albans City, Boreham Wood, Hornchurch, Dover Athletic, Grays Athletic, and Kingsbury Town before finding himself back in the Football League with Oxford United. He left there in January 2006, and Keith Alexander swooped.
Jude was an unorthadox defender with a giant throw and he played just six games for The Imps. Despite his relatively short time at the club he became something of a fans favourite for his ungainly style and that long throw. His contribution was minimal although he only ended up on the losing side once in a Lincoln shirt. Once we failed to make the play-off final in 2006, he was released to wind his way around many more clubs.
He had a successful spell at MK Dons after leaving Lincoln as well as spending time on loan at Barnet and Grimsby. Imps fans of a certain age will always remember chanting ‘Juuuuuuuude’ for those few minutes he did actually get on the pitch.