Following on from Part One of my interview with Imps legend Paul Smith. If you missed it, find it here first!
After the GMVC winning season, Paul went on to establish himself as one of the first names on Colin Murphy’s team sheet. However, two spells out with injury the following season meant he missed 18 league games. When he was fit, he played, starting just one game as a sub after returning from his second spell out.
The following season took much the same pattern, 13 games out injured and just one appearance from the bench. That saw the end of Colin’s reign and the arrival of Allan Clarke. Clarke wasn’t popular amongst the supporters on the terraces, but for some of the players his innovative approach was welcomed.
“I enjoyed playing under the management of Allan Clarke. He changed the style of play from a direct approach employed by Colin to a more patient approach based on keeping possession and good movement off the ball. In my opinion it was always going to take some time to successfully change the playing style of the team and bring in the right players to do so. Unfortunately, the results didn’t go our away early season and Allan as many managers ultimately have done before him he paid the price without being given sufficient time to make the change he had wished.”
The change in style wasn’t something some of the players took to, but for Paul it was different.
“I was lucky in that I was always able to adapt my game to the style the team was being asked to play. My game as a centre forward was predominantly based on my pace which meant I was always pleased when the ball was played quickly and quite directly to exploit the space behind the oppositions defence. The one thing defenders, especially centre halves hate is running back towards their own goal chasing a centre forward who has pace and high levels of fitness.”
“I remember one now famous Premier League Manager and Ex England Manager threatening to break my legs after I had given him a few yards start in beating him to a long ball over the top at Bolton in a cup game, whilst on loan at Stockport before slotting it in the net under the advancing keeper.”
The 1990/91 season saw Allan Clarke arrive, get sacked and have his place taken by Steve Thompson. For Paul, things went well. He was ever present in league and cup, starting just once as a sub at home against Hereford. He came off the bench, scored and didn’t lose his place for the rest of the season.
“Tommo was my team mate before being given the manager’s job a transition that he completed exceptionally well in my opinion. Tommo is a bog character and he quickly turned the team’s fortunes around. Tommo was very strong on fitness, organisation and was an excellent “man manager” in terms of his communication both on an individual and team basis.”
It was Steve Thompson that finally converted the pacey striker to full back, completing the switch that had been instigated many years earlier at Sheffield United.
“Tommo asked me to revert back to the right full back position which I was happy to do as he always encouraged his full backs to get forward and be attack minded but firstly they were able to defend. During Steve’s first season we ended the latter part of the season on a high and in a rich vein of form going on an extended unbeaten run culminating in the drubbing of Carlisle 6-2 at Sincil Bank in May 1991.”
In Thompson’s first full season, City struggled for goals. Tony Lormor scored nine to finish top scorer, closely followed by Matt Carmichael on seven and Jason Lee on six. However, switching to a less offensive role wasn’t frustrating for the former goal scorer.
“I didn’t find it frustrating playing full back because as a professional you are paid to do a job and if the manager selects you in his team you perform the role whenever it may be to the best of your ability. Tommo asked me to play at full back and I was happy to do so. The full back position was not unfamiliar to me as I had played there for Sheffield United on numerous occasions and at a higher level.”
Paul was a team mate of Jason Lee, despite his six goals he went on to get twelve the following season before earning himself a move and eventually a career in the top flight.
“Jason Lee was a good friend of mine and roommate on away trips. Jason always gave 100 % and even in periods where goals were in short supply for him he was always a handful for the opposition in terms of his aggressive style, his physical presence and athletic prowess. I was not surprised at all to see Jason progress in his career to the higher divisions and that he had a very long successful career in the game.”
Another player that divided opinion at the time was Paul Dobson. Dobson had scored the goal that relegated Lincoln in 1987 but had arrived 1990 shortly after Allan Clarke left. He was often left out of the side, despite scoring four times from four starts.
“Paul Dobson was a different type of player. He had a proven track record on terms of his goal scoring record. He was more of an instinctive player who could sniff out goal scoring opportunities mainly in and around the oppositions box. Dobbo was a great character off the pitch and in the dressing room but despite his undoubted ability to find the net he did not manage to convince management he was worthy of regular starting place in the team possibly due to his work rate when not in possession of the ball.”
Paul continued to see managers come and go, Steve Thompson surprisingly left at the end of the 1992/93 season to be replaced by Keith Alexander. Keith’s first reign was markedly different to his second, he played an open passing game, did well in cup competitions but lacked consistency in the league.
“Keith was a fantastic and a very decent man who had the highest professional standards both as a player and as a manager. Keith wasn’t given enough time to make his mark during his first managerial spell at Sincil Bank. However, I was so pleased he later went on to prove that he had all the required attributes to be a very successful manager.”
Particularly topical is the cup run from 1993/94, Keith guided the side to a two-legged Coca Cola cup match against Everton, narrowly losing 4-3 at Goodison Park before again narrowly losing the return leg 4-2. There was no disgrace in an 8-5 aggregate score against a Premier League side, nor the 3-1 defeat against a strong Bolton Wanderers in the second round of the FA Cup.
“The decent cup runs we had that season were memorable and showed that the team were making progress however the league results are all important and despite the team was going through another period of transition with a new manager the league results that season were responsible for Keith’s departure. I firmly believe Keith would have succeeded if he was given more time but as I mentioned previously time is precious commodity in football management especially if league results are not forthcoming.”
Keith was rather surprisingly dismissed after one season and replaced by another former player, Sam Ellis. Bar short spells of injury Paul had been a staple of the City team for many seasons, but the belligerent new boss had other ideas.
“After many fantastic seasons where other than periods of injury I was always selected to play in the team I was very disappointed to be informed by Sam Ellis on the first day of reporting for pre-season training that he was placing me on the transfer list. I’m of the belief that I still had a lot to offer the club in terms of my experience and with my level of fitness I think I could have continued to perform at the required standard and contribute effectively to the team. For the first time in my career I found myself sitting in the stand watching my colleagues. This is not easy for any professional and I was no different. I determined to try and force my way back in the team.”
Paul went out on loan for games as first Nicky Platnauer and then Dean West took the right back spot. Other ‘seasoned’ professionals such as Trevor Hebberd and Steve Foley came and went whilst Paul didn’t get a kick.
“Following a short successful loan spell at Kettering under the management of Graham Carr, I returned to Lincoln. I was pleased to be reselected and win my place back in the 1st team away at Scarborough and retained my place for most of the remaining season. However, I still knew that I would be leaving the club at the end of the season.”
The end curtain came down on a fantastic Imps career after a 3-3 draw with Scunthorpe United on April 17th, 1995. He was replaced by youngster Steve Williams who came on and scored the equaliser. If this is any measure of Sam Ellis as a manager, a young player called Darren Huckerby, blooded by Keith the year before, started his first game of the season on the same day.
After 306 appearances and 40 goals, he left Sincil Bank. Until September 2017, he didn’t return.
“On leaving Lincoln I signed a 12-month contract for Halifax Town under the management of John Bird which I really enjoyed. I was offered a further contract however at 32 my thoughts turned towards my long-term future beyond professional football.”
Paul, like many lower-league footballers, had not been set for life as a player. He needed a career, something outside the game.
“In June 1996 I applied successfully to join South Yorkshire Police as PC. Prior to applying I spoke to former Imp and team mate Gordon Simmonite who had joined SYP during the Vauxhall Conference winning season. I was based at West Bar Police Station in Sheffield City Centre for the first 7 years of my service reaching the rank of Acting Sergeant. My roles included uniform patrol, shoplifting squad, PSU (aka Riot Police) and neighbourhood policing. I always worked the Sheff Utd matches at Bramall Lane and my role was to be positioned on the pitch side track at the cop South Stand or on several occasions stood between the dugouts and players tunnel.”
Eventually he returned to the county in which he’d become an unassuming football hero.
“In September 2003 I successfully transferred on promotion to the rank of Uniform Patrol Sergeant to Lincolnshire Police as my wife originates from a village near Louth where we bought a house. I was initially based at Boston where I was on duty on a night shift when the riots and serious racial disorder in the Market Square occurred in the early summer of 2004. I spent a very long and at times scary night on a bridge in the Town centre being pelted by bottles and bricks and could only stand watching very frustrated as shops and two police cars were set on fire as we awaited the arrival of reinforcements deployed from other areas to assist in restoring order. After 8 months I moved to Skegness Police Station where I served as Patrol / Shift Sergeant and Custody Sergeant. Skegness is a great place to work from a policing point of view and in the summer, is an incredibly busy and at times challenging place to police.”
Paul continued to serve in the Police Force up until last year.
“In early 2007 I moved again to Louth Police Station which also covered the Mablethorpe and Alford area. I was on duty on the 25th June 2007 when the serious flooding occurred. I spent a very long shift working in rural areas locating and supervising the evacuation of vulnerable elderly people or people who were trapped in the homes with the flood water still rising. In September 2007 I transferred to Derbyshire Police as we decided to move back to Sheffield. My last shift in Lincs was on nights at Skegness dealing with the serious fire on the 16th August 2007 which gutted much of Grand Parade which I was one of the first officers on scene. In Derbyshire I was based in Chesterfield Division covering Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire initially as a Patrol Sergeant. I quickly moved to a new role working with the local authorities coordinating the Community Safety Partnerships. In late 2016 after almost 20 years’ service I retired from the police.”
Once again after serving somewhere for a long period of time, he felt it appropriate to move on. Unlike his tenure at City though, this time it was on his terms.
“It is an appropriate time to retire I believe as the police service is going through a very difficult period in terms of the government’s austerity measures which have had a devastating impact on police numbers and resources with officers being stretched to their limits daily and moral at an all-time low. Without wishing to be too political I sincerely hope that the Government now take head of the police federations numerous warnings regarding the cuts in terms of public safety in light of recent tragic events and the continued threats we will continue to face for the foreseeable future.”
Since retiring Paul has spent time with his family, kept himself fit and even found time to come down to Sincil Bank for the recent match with Chesterfield. That came about after I wrote an article on him on the blog last year, he saw it and got in touch. We conducted this interview after which he came along to the game.
“I’m currently enjoying some extended time out from work … I suppose until I get bored. However, I’m so busy at present I sometimes think I don’t know how I found the time to work. Much of my time now is spent walking our dog in the nearby beautiful Peak District which is on the door step of Dore where I live in Sheffield. I keep myself fit running frequently and attending the gym. I always keep a close eye on the football results and often tune into Radio Lincs on a Saturday afternoon where I enjoy listening to Tommo’s familiar voice and his always witty and knowledgeable comments on the players and team’s performance.”
Paul is now involved with the Former Player’s Association and will be attending the Champions Dinner on November 15th. If you’re interested in having a table or individual seat, click here for more details.