This weekend is an incredibly sad one for Lincoln City and for football, with former player Kevin Austin losing his battle against cancer at the age of 45.
‘Super’ Kevin Austin, as he became known, was one of the finest defenders to grace the Imps’ turf in recent memory. In his pomp he was quick and strong, best described as a ‘specimen’, physically impressive but as athletic as any that went before him.
Austin joined us from Leyton Orient where he’d been seen on TV in the infamous John Sitton rant. Few Imps fans will have registered it at the time, but if they missed his name on TV, they certainly knew it following John Beck’s arrival at Sincil Bank.
The controversial manager knew Austin had all the attributes he needed in a defender and turned to us for help. He asked the crowd to buy him a player, we responded with coins in buckets and donations to the club. Back then, before the ski trips, expense claims and sleeping in the office, everyone trusted Beck, and we backed him. In return, he brought Austin to the club.
The powerful defender made his debut in a 2-1 defeat at lowly Torquay in a season where Lincoln missed out on the play-offs by just a point. In that season Austin showed he had a little bit of everything, pace and power with a fearsome tackle to match. He was a key player in the Coca Cola cup success over Man City and he was part of the team that took Premier League Southampton back to Sincil Bank.
The following season he was a major factor in our successful bid for automatic promotion. John Beck built his teams on strength, aggression and the ability to defend as if their lives depended on it. That was Kevin Austin to a tee, every inch the leader and inspiration.
Whilst in the third tier he scored what turned out to be the winning goal in our 2-1 home win over Manchester City, but could not stop the Imps sliding back into the basement division. As we floundered financially, having lost Beck and our place in what we now call League One, Austin’s ambition was beginning to outstrip our own.
He made 146 appearances for Lincoln, every one of them all-action and full of effort. He was a marvellous individual, a defender of such immense promise I often wondered how he’d rocked up at Lincoln. He could, and should have gone on to play top flight football.
It came as no surprise when his contract ended and he secured a move to Barnsley. After three impressive seasons in red and white, many fans felt that he’d quickly ascend the divisions in the same way Gareth Ainsworth did.
Disaster struck in only his third game for Barnsley, ironically back at Sincil Bank in the Coca Cola cup. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury in a challenge that ended his season and he never returned the same player, leaving Barnsley after only three outings. He had a plethora of clubs, most notably Swansea, and he even earned seven caps for Trinidad and Tobago, but was never able to recapture the scintillating form that had him voted at number 56 in the Imps all-time top 100 legends.