I’ve been doing a feature on Twitter recently called ‘On This Day’, which is pretty much exactly what it says.
Yesterday, December 18th, was the day we beat Bournemouth 9-0 in 1982. Today, former Imps midfielder David Poppleton was born.
You’d need to be an Imp of a certain vintage to remember David Poppleton. He joined up with the Imps in the summer of 1999 as we embarked on our Division Three journey, so soon after coming out of the third tier. We went from playing Manchester City and Stoke, to facing Carlisle and Chester. David went from playing for England and winning the FA Youth Cup with Everton, to embracing life as a basement division footballer.
David Poppleton was a player who always fascinated me. The few times he did turn out in a City shirt he was composed, a ball playing midfielder with poise and grace. He wasn’t unlike another young player we had at the time, Peter Gain. Gain played out wide, whereas the Everton youngster liked to get on the ball centrally.
His story, along with hundreds like him, is what interests me as a writer. we all know about Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Trevor Peake and other legends of Imps history, but what about those with a walk-on part in the ongoing serial drama? What about those players who feature in ‘guess the Imp’ quizzes, or whose name draw quizzical looks when dropped into conversion? Whatever happened to them and what did they take away with them from their time at City?
Today is David Poppleton’s 39th birthday and here, for the first time ever, is his Lincoln City story.
He started life with Everton and England, which is where the chatty Yorkshireman takes up the story.
“I’d played for England Under 15s and Under 16s, then made the squad for the Under 17s and 18s all without playing. I’d won the FA Youth Cup with Everton, won the Under 19 youth league with them as well whilst playing approximately 50 reserve team games, but I chose to leave on my own accord to get proper game time. I had an agent called David Speedie, used to play for Liverpool and Southampton and what not. Unbeknown to me, he was trying to obtain a £100,000 signing on fee for me, so he could just take his cut, 10%. I was bouncing from club to club because of it. I went to Darlington and David Hodgson wanted to sign me, then he pulled the deal and signed a lad who’d been released by Scarborough. I spent some time at Chesterfield too.”
In the end he took the initiative himself and opened the doors at Lincoln in a way that would shock youngsters today.
“In the end I rang Lincoln up out of the Yellow Pages, spoke to Stanty and he said to come down for a trial. I played the last half hour or so of a friendly against Leicester and we got tanked 7-2, they had the likes of Heskey, Muzzie Izzet and Steve Guppy on the pitch. It was great to be offered a deal after that, I just wanted to play first team football. I’d been in the Everton squad around 1997 against Chelsea but not got on, first team football was why I left Everton. It was all I wanted, I loved playing for Lincoln, they were a great set of lads.”
“I made my debut coming on as sub at home to Barnsley in the League Cup, came off the bench against Hull after that then made my first start when we played Barnsley away in the same competition. I got Man of the Match and we were 2-0 up at one point. We played really well, Craig Hignett and Mark Tinkler played midfield for them, but me and Finns had a good game in the middle against them. We fell apart in the last 15 minutes and went out, but that got me into the first team.”
Once the midfielder had broken through, it looked for a moment as though he might be the next big thing in red and white.
“We were up against Northampton next and I think I got Man of the Match there too, I know I got ‘shot of the week’ on Sky Sports! It hit the crossbar, right in the joint. We 1-0 down at the time, that big lad Steve Howard scored for them from a corner. I hit the post in the game against Swansea as well, another game we lost closely. The next game came again Torquay at Plainmoor. It was an odd one, it was the game I got injured in and a couple of my mates were playing for Torquay. I knew Neville Southall from my Everton days and Mick O’Brien played for them as well, he’d been my captain in my youth days. We got beat 5-2, we had a bad half hour (4-1 down after 25 minutes). I got injured though and spent the next six or seven weeks on the treatment table, watching the lads play. I spent a lot of time with David Phillips, he knew me quite well and he knew a bit about my past.”
Despite having a decent set of players, David didn’t get on with the manager ‘ chairman at the time, John Reames.
“They were a good set of players the club had, I thought I could make it, but I’m not sure about the manager John Reames. He used to come on the horrible training ground at the back of the fire station in his wellies looking like Egil Olsen who was at Wimbledon! He once came on in his shoes, tried to kick a ball and fell over. Me leaving was down to John, and perhaps my naivety as a 19-year old. The club clearly didn’t have any money and I was only on £250 a week, so £13,000 a year. If it wasn’t for my Dad putting petrol in my tank I wouldn’t have been able to even get there. I had been on a lot more at Everton, but it was never about the money at the time, I just wanted to play football.”
Before he left he spent five months at the club getting to know the players and he recalls a talented squad who never quite achieved the heights they threatened.
“Looking back, some of those players had a lot about them. Terry Fleming stood out, he was a cracking player, but there was Richard Peacock who could play a bit. In the middle with me, Finns was a great player. Up top Batts was a decent player and I was close to Gainy. Grant Brown was a good professional too. We had a bit about us, we started to put a few games together and do alright. Oddly, I found the first 60 minutes of the game a bit mental, but I found the last 30 minutes easy. When the game slowed down and you needed that little bit of quality, that was more my game and probably more Finns game to be honest as well. It suited Batts and Philly (Lee Philpott). He was a good player, he’d played higher and although he was nearing the end of career Philly had a lot about him. We could stretch teams when we managed to get on the ball, we all felt more comfortable once the opposition slowed down a bit.”
Next Page – David reveals why the Third Division suited him, and which Argentinian International helped shape his forceful midfield game