Whilst Saturday’s game is all about the here and now, the three points that could see us enter the top seven. For one of their backroom staff I’m sure there will be a few fond memories to recall of days gone by. John Finnigan, Commercial Manager of Cheltenham Town, had a good spell with City at the turn of the century.
He went on to become a Robin’s legend and perhaps his time at Lincoln has been largely forgotten due to the passing of time and the era he played in. However, I always had Finns down as one of my favourite Imps players of that generation, and I wanted to dedicate a few lines of the blog to him ahead of the game tomorrow.
‘Finns’, as he was affectionately known, joined the Imps on loan from Nottingham Forest in April of 1998. He made his debut in the tempestuous Battle of Moss Rose, making five further appearances including the 2-1 victory at home to Brighton that sent us up into the old Division Two. Despite having a year left on his contract at Forest, he impressed enough to warrant the Imps paying an undisclosed fee for his services, later revealed to be £50k. He had that ‘something’, the footballers brain that belied his young age. even from his early appearances he looked like a seasoned professional, wise beyond his years which may have been due to his tutoring at Forest, but was more likely just a natural ability on the field.
He might have been seen as an odd acquisition for a team like Lincoln at the time. We played a really basic route one game at the time, no messing just get the ball forward as quickly as possible. There wasn’t always time or opportunity for midfield players to flourish, yet somehow he thrived, standing out every week.
Finns quickly became a firm fan favourite. He was a tireless worker in the middle of the park, always scrapping for the cause. He was never one to be amongst the goals regularly, although he did score twice in Division Two, once against Stevenage in the FA Cup and the only Imps goal of a 1-1 draw against Burnley at Turf Moor in the league.
He had a certain confidence on the ball that turn of the century Lincoln did not often display. We had fighters, battlers and players that were effective at what they did, but rarely had we seen a cultured midfielder, tenacious and hard-working but also with strong leadership qualities. Despite being part of a robust side, Finns was never sent off for Lincoln. I imagine John Beck would have hated that, but it is a testament to his approach to the game; firm but fair.
After we dropped back into the basement division his class and work ethic stood out even more. He was partnered by the likes of Ian Hamilton, David Phillips and other ‘seasoned’ professionals, but he always made the journeymen look average. He was composed, and yet also always disciplined. As we knocked through managers and careered towards administration he was the rock in the middle of the park, still fighting the cause as the ship appeared to be sinking around him. Sadly, it was evident to anyone who cared to watch that if the finances got too tight, Finns was a saleable asset whom we’d have to cash in.
He missed a chunk of his final season with a neck injury as we struggled against the drop and unsurprisingly we eventually forced to cash in on our prized asset. Just two months before the end of the 2002 season he joined Cheltenham purely as a budgeting measure, nothing else. There is no doubt we would have retained his services if we’d been financially viable, seeing him leave the club was gutting for a fan such as myself as he was one player we knew we could depend on.
His final game at Sincil Bank was a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Mansfield Town, his final performance for the club a brief cameo from the bench as we drew 1-1 with Hartlepool, criminally Ian Hamilton started ahead of him. Having not scored for two seasons he started his first game for Cheltenham by scoring in a 4-0 win against York. His second game for the Robins saw him return to Sincil Bank to be given the ovation he deserved after his solid service to the club. Cheltenham won 1-0 and were promoted at the end of the season, City had to battle relegation and administration.
Our paths crossed again, relegated with Cheltenham in 2002/03, he was back at the Bank in 2003/04. Predictably he scored his only goal of the season against City, equalising in the 87th minute after we led 2-1 with ten men. Moments later they bagged a winner and the ex-player curse had struck again.
He had seven years at Whaddon Road, eventually becoming club captain. In 2005/06 he scored in the play-off semi-final win against Wycombe, then played a key role as Grimsby were beaten at Wembley, the same Grimsby team that had beaten us in the semi-finals. He remained in the Robins side, playing League One football, right up until a move to Kidderminster in 2009/10 he retired after playing just 18 times for Kiddie.
The fact he had so few clubs in his career is a testament to both his value as a player and his dedication and application. Finns should always be remembered as one of Lincoln City’s best midfielders, despite playing in a team that slowly eroded away to the bare bones, both on the field and on the balance sheet. The savings made from his departure went some way to helping ensure our survival, and captaining Cheltenham to a play-off win against Grimsby should cement his status as a firm favourite of the Imps faithful.
I wonder is he is involved in the Former Player’s Association? I’m sure it is tough with him working at another club, be he is one person I would very much like to shake by the hand one day and thank for his hard work at our football club.