Lincoln City have been blessed by the goalkeeping fraternity over the years, with the likes of David Felgate, Stuart Naylor, Matt Dickins, Mike Pollitt, Lee Butler and Alan Marriott, to name but a few who have made a huge impression at Sincil Bank.
Possibly one of the greatest custodians, though, to have ever stood between the Imps sticks was Peter Grotier, who was a vital ever-present part of Graham Taylor’s all-conquering 1975-76 Division Four-winning squad.
The Londoner left the bright lights of the capital with West Ham for Lincoln in 1974, to initially join the Taylor revolution on loan, before making the move permanent a few weeks later, turning down a move to one of the biggest clubs in the country in the process. In one of the first-ever examples of a ‘crowd funder’ initiative, the good folk of Lincoln raised the £16,666 – then a record fee for the club – necessary to bring the highly-rated stopped to the Bank.
Over the next six years, he was to carve out legendary status with City, playing a major part, being named Division Four’s best goalkeeper two years in a row, and barely missing a game in one of the club’s most successful-ever periods. I tracked him down recently to talk about his experiences as a player with the Imps…
DP: You started your pro career with West Ham under Ron Greenwood in 1969 and was basically understudy to Bobby Ferguson (and then Mervyn Day). During your time there, though, you would have rubbed shoulders with some legendary names like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Billy Bonds and Trevor Booking – what was this experience like as a youngster making his way in the game?
PG: After spending 18 months as an apprentice, being drafted in for my debut before my 18th birthday at Tottenham was not quite as daunting as people think. Training every day with these great players made things a lot easier. It was pure football training under John Lyall when an apprentice, then under Ron.
DP: As a London lad, what was your reaction when told that Lincoln City were interested in your services for a loan spell in 1974? And how keen were you to go there? Did you know much about the Imps at the time? Did you feel this was your chance to get some regular games under your belt after making just 50-odd outings for the Hammers in five years?
PG: My original intention was to get some game time with Lincoln and then return to West Ham and push to get my place back. I had no knowledge of Lincoln City and had to look on the map to see where it was.
DP: Graham Taylor was the manager then – was it clear from the outside just what a good coach he was? If so, what stood out about him?
PG: My first meeting with Graham was at the West Ham training ground when he came to sign me on loan. He was very positive and seemed to know exactly what he was looking to achieve as a team and for each individual player. Training was always very positive with a big emphasis on fitness.
DP: You must have impressed him as after 11 games he wanted to make your move permanent, but West Ham made City stump up a record fee of £16,666 for you. The club got the begging bowls out and between them, the fans and businesses in the city, they managed to rustle up the money. How did this make you feel when you saw the lengths they went to in order to get you to the club permanently? And did it place any added pressure on your shoulders?
PG: No pressure at all, why should there be? They were getting a good goalkeeper, so in real terms the fee was peanuts, and I had a great belief in my ability. Looking back, Graham got the whole town hyped up with the whip round thing, it was his way of getting the club some positive coverage, even outside of the city, which Graham was a master of.
DP: That first season at Lincoln – 1974-75 – was a pretty good one for you as you made the Division Four team of the year, while the Imps fell just short of promotion, finishing one place outside the top four. Did you get the feeling an even better season was just around the corner? And did it justify your decision to West Ham?
PG: Missing out in my first season did give me a massive reality check. Were we the team we all thought we were, I thought we were? With being selected for every game, though, my confidence did not wane. I had no regrets about leaving West Ham, in fact I turned down a loan move to Liverpool, to be part of what I believed was something special with Lincoln.
DP: The 1975-76 campaign was one of the greatest ever in the history of Lincoln City, with Taylor’s side breaking the record for the most points in a season – when two points were awarded for a victory – winning the most games and losing the fewest. Just what was it like being part of such a fantastic squad, with so many terrific players in front of you?
PG: An amazing time 1975-76. Being a part of that team still brings a great thrill.
DP: During that campaign, after losing the first match away at Newport, Lincoln then swept so many sides away playing some brilliant football along the way – at what point did you think ‘we’re going to do something special this season’? And which games stood out that year?
PG: Losing at Newport was a kick up the backside for us, but with Sam Ellis and Dennis Booth suspended for the game, I knew we would improve. Probably the game away at Bradford was one of my memories. It was 0-0 at half-time, and Graham’s team talk was, keep it tight nothing silly and we can get a 0-0, that would be a great result. How wrong did he turn out to be. A penalty against us just after the break was awarded. I saved it and we went on to win 5-1. It was one half-time Graham got totally wrong, but there weren’t many.
DP: Taylor’s coaching and tactics were said to be ahead of his time. Just what did he do on the training ground to get City playing so well? And he also galvanised the club off the field, making them a large part of the community. Just how good was it to be part of the club in the mid-70s?
PG: Fitness, patterns of play and working closely with individuals were priority. The whole club from Ned Pinkston the groundsman, right through to the board and chairman, must take a massive pat on the back. They all in some way galvanised the club and it was great to be a part of it all.