What Constitutes a Legend? – Plus the first of my own personal Imps legends

After the Matt Rhead article I did last week, someone asked me what I thought truly constituted a legend. The word gets bandied about so much these days, I once heard it used to describe a loan player who’d been at the club five minutes.

It is easy to call someone a legend, but what does it actually mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines legend as; “An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field,” or as “A traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated.” I don’t think either fully define the word in a football context. Yes, a club legend is extremely famous in relation to the club, but I wouldn’t say notorious otherwise someone such as Delroy Facey might fall into the bracket! There’s a hint of the second being apt as well, a club legend will always be remembered for the good things and often the other deeds will be forgotten.

I’m going to name you a handful of players that I class as legends over my tenure as an Imps fan and often those players will have had bad games or spells which history conveniently forgets. However, the stories that define them are accurate and they’re far more than just famous names. My own definition of a Lincoln City Legend would be; “player who performed above and beyond, who was an integral part of the team in which he performed and who could always be relied upon to do something that sent fans home happy.”

Rather controversially I believe to be a club legend you don’t have to have played 100 games, you don’t have to actually won anything and you don’t even have to have been the best player in the side. To truly be classed as a legend you just have to have had something, that little bit of je ne sais quoi that set you apart from peers and players both past and present. So here, and for the next five days, are some of my Lincoln City legends and why it is I believe they have cemented themselves into my heart for the rest of eternity.

Paul Smith

290 (15) Apps 40 Goals

Okay I’m going to do this chronologically and, as I first went to Sincil Bank in 1986 the first true legend I’m going to talk about is Paul Smith (pictured top scoring against Enfield). Paul was something of an enigma for many years, pre-internet it was tough to track down old players and I lost track of my first true hero. Earlier this year you may recall I wrote about him, he later contacted me and we eventually met up at the Mansfield game. He’s now part of the Former Players Association and one of a handful amongst their number who can be described not just as a former player, but a bona-fide legend.

So, why Paul Smith? One of the starting points for Paul’s status as legend in my mind is his longevity. One of the factors that can turn a player into a legend is loyalty to the club, service that goes beyond the expected couple of seasons and begins to look like a decade. Paul didn’t quite make the full ten seasons, but he got close enough for it to count.

Being a good servant to the club isn’t enough though and something else Paul had was ability. Things started well in terms of being remembered for the right reasons, he chose to drop out of the Football League despite being good enough not to have to. It was Colin Murphy who convinced him to come to City from Port Vale, but he’d been on the fringes of Sheffield United’s starting line up. He was an exciting forward and at the time, a club record purchase at £48,000. Anyone choosing to drop out of the Football League should be commended, Trevor Matthewson is another whose name sticks out. Trevor moved on fairly quickly though, Paul stuck around long after the mission was completed.

I consider him a legend because he just kept signing a new deal and kept ploughing away either up front or eventually at full back. He was consistent, highly able and down to earth. I never saw him get sent off, I never saw him shirk a tackle and I never saw him let the club down. The early 1990’s were a tough time to be a City fan and yet somehow he remained consistent in increasingly poor teams. He was one of the few whom Allan Clarke felt able to adjust to the ‘new era’ of pass and move, yet he also quickly adapted back to the more direct tactics of Steve Thompson.

He suffered injuries and yet always bounced back, just as fit and just as willing to put himself and his body on the line for the team. Eventually it was Sam Ellis, a playing legend himself but a failure as a manager, that got rid of Paul Smith. The end was brutal and after leaving City he didn’t truly settle back in the game. As you’ll know he joined the police force and has recently retired.

The key elements to Paul’s tenure and the reasons he is a legend in my eyes are longevity, consistency and of course being part of the GMVC win. That’s three things that you’ll find consistent with many legends, although some will have other traits and attributes not listed there.

Grant Brown

458 (7) Appearances 18 Goals

This one is obvious isn’t it? Genuinely, if I have to tell you why Grant Brown is a legend there is something very amiss.

458 starts. Is that not enough? That makes him our record appearance holder you know, and when records fall, players become legends. Grant wasn’t a spectacular footballer, I’m sure he’d agree. He wasn’t one for mazy runs, storming volleys or crashing 30-yard drives. He was a centre half, when the ball came near him he headed it away, kicked it away or (in rare circumstances) kicked whoever brought it near him. Like Paul he signed contract after contract, like Paul he survived manager after manager and, unlike Paul, he made it all the way through to a testimonial and beyond. Again, if you need to know why having a testimonial makes you a club legend, we need to talk.

Grant signed for City in the late 80’s from Leicester and went on to enjoy 13 years playing in the Imps defence. He earned the nickname ‘hoof’ for his fondness of booting the ball as far away from the goal as he possibly could. If having a nickname bestowed on you by the crowd isn’t enough, how about it still being remembered and repeated now, 28 years after you first signed for the club? There’s a Facebook group called Hoof Grant Brown for heaven’s sake!

As the years passed by the appearances racked up and Grant went from stalwart defender to become part of the furniture. He was nicknamed again too, he became Mr Lincoln City for his unwavering devotion to the club, everyone was delighted when he finally broke the appearances record. All good things must come to an end and his reign at the heart of the Imps defence finished as we entered administration in 2002. In a cruel twist of irony he won the Player of the Year award just before leaving the club. It wasn’t the end though, he came back in a coaching role and even took over as caretaker manager on two or three occasions.

Grant Brown is a Lincoln City legend and although I always accept other people’s point of view, if you say different you’re wrong. He earns the title through longevity, loyalty and of course, consistency.

Neither of today’s legends appear in our leading scorers charts, although Paul won the GMVC they collectively spent 21 years at the club with little to no success to speak of. That said, both were fantastic servants to the club and neither every truly let the club or the fans down. They’re legends because of attitude, because of the example they set to other players, fans and young people. Remember, Paul Smith was my first proper Imps hero and as recently as 2016 Grant was writing the foreword for my first book. Proper gents off the field and proper servants on it.

Tomorrow: From the long-serving stalwarts to those who thrilled us when they were on the ball. Two more legends for entirely different reasons.

Thanks to Lincoln City Football Club for the pictures

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  1. Remember Smith arriving and seeing him play for the first time at Maidstone. Signing Paul made me think we meant business….and we did!
    Remember Brown arriving…I think with David Puttnam from Leicester. Wizard was…like Harry Anderson…someone who always looked like it…and would get the crowd to their feet. A favourite player. Sold to Gillingham?

  2. I can see that you are starting with the stalwarts Gary and then perhaps moving on to the players who have je ne sais quoi. For me – the legends (in my watching years – I don’t count the early to mid-80’s as I didn’t get to watch more than a few times a season due to lack of wider family interest!) are Jack McGinley; Graham Bressington; Keith Alexander (as player – loved him a long time before he was manager – he used to be the player manager for me in the Amiga game of the same name); Gareth Ainsworth; Peter Gain; Simon Yeo; Matt Rhead. Fin

  3. I suppose there’s a distinction between personal legends and those who everyone would consider as club legends. In my time, my own personal legends would include: Roger Holmes, Sam Ellis, Dave Smith, George Shipley, Matt Rhead, Gareth Ainsworth, Bob Cumming, Percy Freeman.

  4. Well I think I must have been a legend having received 2 votes in a player of the year 1982, and it was true I put the ball in the back of the net more times than of these others mentioned! For those who don’t know I was the Head Grounds man! Could have been more noticeable tho I didn’t even have a UNI degree. I was the first fully qualified IOG Employed by City SO there!!

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