It seems rather whimsical, whilst sat here writing all day looking at the snow, to consider warmer climates. Few of you will know this but I’m doing some freelance work for a site called www.footballleagueworld.co.uk and I’ve spent most of today shivering under a blanket tapping away on my keyboard.
As the day drew to a close I decided to investigate Lincoln’s first ever foreign tour, something that I was sure would invoke images of warm beaches, bronzed beauties and sangria. That would be a million miles from frozen wastelands, six-foot snow drifts and rationing my milk. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The year was 1949, post-war Britain was once again open for business and the Mighty Imps had recently tumbled from Division Two to Division Three North. Whilst relegation dampened the spirits, it didn’t dampen their sense of adventure and a deal was quickly struck with a team from Europe to play a pre-season friendly fixture. So, in May just a couple of weeks after relegation, the boys got on a plane (pictured top).
Where were they flying though? Would it be to face an early incarnation of the Magical Magyars, or perhaps the south of France to bask in warm sun and fine wine. No, I’m afraid both are wide of the mark. They were going to Iceland.
They had received invitations from two Reykjavik clubs to play friendlies and Bill Anderson assembled a squad of sixteen to fly from Northolt to Iceland. I’m not disputing Iceland is a beautiful country and my own personal choice for a future holiday, but I’m sure a bunch of footballers in 1949 felt more inclined to head south. As three of them were sick disembarking in Reykjavik, I’m sure they felt even less happy with their summer vacation.
Their opening game, against Valor FC was due to take place on Friday, the day after landing, but it had to be postponed because of driving snow. In May. That gave the players time to relax in the wind and ice before finally getting to play on Monday. They faced the Icelandic champions, a team so good they were known simply by their initials: K. R. The pitch, unsurprisingly devoid of grass, was rock hard and yet City still emerged as 2-0 winners. Back to the hotel to warm up.
Just 24 hours later the Imps players were back in action, proper men not needing a summer break let alone a winter one. It was Valor FC up in the rearranged fixture, Tom Docherty and Ernie Middlemass grabbing a goal each as City won 2-0 once again. They got another day off before a third match in four days, this time winning 1-0 against a side made up of players from Vikingur and Fram. These are real teams by the way, not Quiddich teams from Game of Thrones.
Before they flew back there was the small matter of the final game, the biggest footballing event Reykjavik had seen for days. They assembled a ‘Rekyavik XI’ to face the Imps, but on the other side our heroes could barely muster a side. The bitter cold and hard pitches had left City carrying more injuries than a pre-season tour really should. Jack Bickerstaffe, Jimmy Grummett, Eddie Ramsay and Ernie Middlemiss all sat it out, Tom Docherty played despite carrying a knock. There was little shock in the 4-1 score line, City soundly beaten in front of 5,000 fans.
On the back of the tour Bill Anderson invited three players over to train with City, one of which actually came. Halldor Halldorsson spent a short period with City in the early part of the 1949/50 season without ever breaking into the first team.
Did the tour work? Well, no further pre-season matches were recorded so that was pretty much it for match sharpness. Middlemiss, and Ramsay didn’t play again for City, Bickerstaffe played once all season and both Grummett and Docherty missed the opening day defeat against Oldham, the former missing the first five games. However, after two defeats in three matches, the season really got going and City finished fourth. The next time they jetted off they did indeed head south, to Jersey in 1952/53.