Carrying on from my post yesterday about legends, here’s two more player I believe can be classed as far more than ‘stalwarts’.
Before I start though, I’m well aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s legend is another man’s nobody, I get that. However, for me to class a player as a legend I believe they must have served the club well enough for every single fan to at least class them as a cut above the average. From there, the debate can rage on.
I’m going to finish this series on ten players then each month I’m giving you, the readers of the Stacey West, a chance to induct another player into the Hall of Fame. It’s not like they’ll get a certificate or a prize or anything, but hopefully it will build up into a collection of players that fan across the ages marvelled at, and rightly so. Remember, I’m only speaking about players from 1987 onwards, leaving lots of space open for debate once I’m complete.
If you speak to anyone from the age of 27 onwards, the first name they’ll utter will almost undoubtedly be Gareth Ainsworth (pictured top). His light shines so bright that even now, two decades after he left the club, he got as big an ovation as Danny Cowley on the first game of the season. Gareth Ainsworth cut his way through the Imps fans psyche and left a legend behind that changed the landscape of the 1990’s forever.
Gareth didn’t make 100 appearances for Lincoln, but in his short stay he wrote a chapter of Imps history all by himself. There are many reasons his legend is so large, but we’ll start with the facts and go from there.
He followed manager John Beck from Cambridge to Preston North End and again followed Beck to Sincil Bank for a fee of £25,000 in November of 1995. He made his Imps debut in a 2-1 win at Mansfield and scored his first goals for the club a fortnight later in a 2-0 win at Torquay. He was ever-present in the 1996-97 season during which the Imps missed out on the play-offs on the final day. A Coca Cola cup run ensued with Ainsworth scoring at Premier League Southampton in the third round, and again in the home replay which the Saints won 3-1.
A few weeks in to the following season the inevitable happened. After signing off from Sincil Bank with a hat trick against Scarborough, he earned himself a £500,000 move to Port Vale with the Wigan offer rejected. After just 53 appearances for Vale, Premier League Wimbledon paid £2m for his services.
Sure, he was a good player. A goal roughly every two games isn’t to be ignored and his appearance in the top flight later in his career underlined his ability. That isn’t why he is such a revered character though, not one bit.
Gareth was one of the first players to start acknowledging the fans at every game. Players coming over after the game wasn’t common place, but Gareth was always the first to acknowledge all four corners of the ground. It may have been part of John Beck’s ‘Team Lincoln’ philosophy, but it made the individual the hero.
The early 1990’s hadn’t been a great time to be a City fan. After promotion from the GMVC we milled around the edge of the playoff race, functional but never outstanding. We had good players, not great ones and a slow decline followed with Sam Ellis and Steve Wicks. John Beck brought Gareth in just as a cultural explosion was happening in the country, Britpop.
That may sound ludicrous, but I genuinely believe the times helped Gareth become so loved by fans. He epitomised Britpop, he was in a band, loved the music of the day and grew his hair long and shaggy. He’d be in the local pub too, having a pint with fans or playing pool. I played against him once for the Ivy Club at Wragby. He was a harp back to the good old days when players mixed with fans after a game. He’d stick Common People on the jukebox and sing along as he bashed the balls around the table. That was my personal experience, but he just fitted in so well with the times.
Also, John Beck’s side wasn’t pretty but Ainsworth gave us something positive to take from the awful tactics. After he left, long balls into danger alley didn’t look too pretty, but whilst he prowled the line we could ignore the buildup. He’d bring the ball down and with a flick of those rock-star locks he was passed a full-back. Who cared how it’d ended up at his feet? We had Sir Gareth, ‘Winding, Blinding Gareth Ainsworth’, the king of Sincil Bank.
Gareth was a unique person and still is to this day. He was good, there’s no question about that, but he is the first legend I’ve mentioned who owned every room he walked into. He had superstar quality, the aura of greatness combined with the humble personality that endears the greatest of men to the rest of the population. He was the right man in the right place at exactly the right time. When the nation caught Cool Britannia, Euro 96 and all that, we had Gareth Ainsworth to represent us. That’s why he’s not just a legend in my eyes, it’s why he is THE legend.
From one type of flair player to another, Gordon wasn’t like Gareth off the field, not one bit. On the pitch he played much more, 330 odd appearance in red and white gave him the longevity expected from a proper legend. He scored goals too, twice as many as Gareth with a ratio of around one in three. Those stats alone probably escalate him to legend status, but he was more than just appearances and goals.
I can include Hobson because although his pomp came in the early 1980’s before I knew toileting was something preferably done outside of a nappy, he rejoined when I began to understand football. His arrival was like a home-coming, he swept back in the 1988/89 season from top-flight Southampton, a player whose skills lit up the eyes of my father and his father before him. Out there on the wing he took no prisoners, just like Gareth he’d drop a shoulder and then cut back the other way. He was exciting to watch, something the very best of legends are.
Was it the return that cemented his position? Probably not. Had he not returned I have no doubt someone would have cried his name loud at some point. He scored lots of goals in the swashbuckling side that Murphy built in the early 1980s and doubtless is classed by many as a legend for that. His return merely seals the deal, it shows a desire to play for the club, especially after dropping down four divisions to do so. Now a fringe player from the top flight turning up in Division Four would be unheard of, but that is exactly what Gordon did.
His first four games back saw three wins, all of which he scored in. He smashed a hat trick away at Turf Moor to give City a 4-1 win and four days later grabbed another brace to help us beat Exeter 2-0. He was a cut about the GMVC and his arrival signalled the changing of the guard, out with the seasons of decline and rot and in with hope, optimism and belief. His arrival was similar to that of Bozzie or Green this season, players far too good for our level last season but willing to pin their flag to our mast back in the Football League. The difference is, Hobson was already a legend and he was a flair player too. He signed off with a goal in Murphy’s final game in charge as Champion Exeter hammered us 5-1 and then, like Murphy, he was gone. In came Allan Clarke, and the Sincil Bank faithful waited once again for a hero. The waited until November, 1995.