The summer of ’88 was a good one for Lincoln City. We’d stood firm in the face of potentially life-threatening relegation to the GMVC and fought our way back bravely.
It wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t ever pretty, but we did it. Like coming back in 2017/18, it wasn’t immediately straight forward, we opened with a home defeat against Hartlepool but few were too disappointed. Our first points didn’t come until mid September, winning at home to Hereford and away at Cambridge.
We had managed to get past the first round of the League Cup, back then a two-legged affair. Crewe were or opponents, with Willie Gambles goal at the Bank the odd one in five that earned us a win. That meant a big boy in the next round. Back then, all the small teams were in one side of the draw and all the bigger ones on the other side, to ensure a decent game for the smaller clubs. We drew Southampton with Le Tissier, Danny Wallace and Paul Rideout all in the squad.
It was a big draw, there’s no doubt about that at all. Le Tiss was only a youngster, but Danny Wallace would be a Manchester United player inside a year and Rideout had just returned from a spell with Bari in Serie A. It was seen as a tough test, but also a lovely fixture to truly welcome back league football.
It was also the second night match I ever went to, although asking me to recall specifics would be pointless as I’d been at school all day and it was more than 30 years ago.
The Imps’ side was a hybrid of the GMVC winners and new faces Colin Murphy hoped would take us up the division. Ironically, we’d only just done business with the Saints, bringing Gordon Hobson back to the Bank. He had scored in both wins prior to the cup tie and was looking to be a wise acquisition.
Other stalwarts of that side included Trevor Matthewson, Dave Clarke, Bobby Cumming and Graham Bressington, although GMVC favourite Paul Smith missed out through injury. Hobson was joined up front by Mark Sertori, now part of the Manchester City back room staff.
5404 turned up to watch, a huge improvement on the disappointing opening day crowd of 3361. Having had 9432 in the ground for the Wycombe game on May 2nd, to then attract a third for our league return was poor. Still, the Division One side’s visit brought our second highest crowd of the season, with only a Boxing Day clash with Grimsby attracting more.
They could well have seen a City slaughter, such was the strength of the opposition who were fourth in the top flight. Future Imp John Burridge was in goal, Liverpool hard-man Jimmy Case was playing alongside Russell Osman, two Wallace brothers prowled the flanks with Rideout up front. A young Le Tiss didn’t get a game, but Francis Benali was on the bench. Former Imp Glenn Cockerill missed the game through injury, as he did the second leg at the Dell, although he went on to play 33 times for them during the season.
The visitors got things underway inside ten minutes, a well worked set piece involving Case, Rod Wallace and Colin Clarke ended with Rideout slotting home to give them the lead. You can imagine the fear as the top-flight side celebrated,
Rideout, who had left Villa for Serie A and would later win the FA Cup with Everton, was a real handful and he almost made in 2-0 not long after. Danny Wallace was the provider, his tempting cross was slammed against the underside of the bar as City floundered. Mark Wallington, the new face in goals for the Imps, was in for a long night. He made several important saves as Shane Nicholson and Clive Evans struggled with the Wallace brothers.
There was some respite for the Imps. Jimmy Case was his typical self, picking up a booking for a foul on Willie Gamble. In those days a booking wasn’t easy to accrue and so it must have been a heavy challenge, but the resulting free kick almost led to a leveller, Shane Nicholson’s effort palmed over by Budgie.
The rain set in and I do recall running for the cover of the Railway End, trying not to look like a drowned rat in my parka coat. As it did Wallington produced yet another save, this time from Kevin Moore. Southampton were showing their class, but just before half time it could have been the Imps bagging, Willie Gamble seized on a Russell Osman mistake but was thwarted by the veteran keeper.
Next page – second half comeback from Murphy’s men