Our resident historian, Malcolm Johnson, takes you on a trip down memory lane ahead of this weekend clash v Newport County, specifically to a controversial moment from 1982
Appointed manager of Lincoln City midway through the 1978/79 season Colin Murphy had been unable to prevent relegation to Division Four (now League Two) but the Imps had bounced back two years later and in 1982 missed out on promotion to Division Two (the Championship) by a single point.
City had made a blistering start to the 1982/83 season with six wins from seven games putting them two points clear at the top of the Division Three table by the end of September, winning Murphy the Manager of the Month award. The Second Round of the League Cup (then known as the Milk Cup) had been reached with an aggregate victory over Fourth Division York City, together with progress from the group stage of what is now known as the Checkatrade Trophy.
The successful results had been achieved with a first team squad reduced to 15 players following the sale of big striker Tony Cunningham to Second Division Barnsley for £80,000 after scoring seven goals in the first ten league and cup games of the season. The figure of 15 players included second-choice goalkeeper Stuart Naylor, 17-year-old defender Gary Strodder and loan player Seamus Heath.
Newport County had hit the headlines two years previously when as holders of the Welsh Cup they had reached the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Managed by former Sunderland full back Len Ashurst their league form had however been indifferent, and Ashurst had been sacked the previous February to be replaced by former Derby County manager Colin Addison. In what was his second spell in charge of the club, Addison had seen Newport to a 16th-placed finish. In the current season they had like City progressed in the League Cup and the Trophy, but a midweek defeat at Brentford had seen them slip from 6th to 9th place in the league table.
The teams were:
- David Felgate
- David Carr
- Phil Neale
- Glenn Cockerill
- Trevor Peake
- Steve Thompson
- Stuart Hibberd
- Phil Turner
- Stuart Naylor
- Seamus Heath
- George Shipley
- David Beavon (for Hibberd)
- Mark Kendall
- Vaughan Jones
- John Relish
- Neil Bailey
- Keith Oakes
- Grant Davies
- Steve Lowndes
- John Aldridge
- Tommy Tynan
- Nigel Vaughan
- Karl Elsey
- Kevin Moore (for Elsey)
In goal for City was Welshman David Felgate who was into his third season with the club and a year later became the first Lincoln City player since 1959 to earn an international cap. At right back was David Carr who had originally joined from Luton Town as a midfield player in 1979 before being first moved to central defence then full back where he formed a solid partnership with the long-serving Phil Neale. By now the captain of Worcestershire, Neale had as usual missed the early games of the season due to his cricketing commitments. Signed on loan from Luton to cover his absence was 20-year-old Northern Irishman Seamus Heath who had recently been pressed into service as a left-winger due to City’s injury problems. Well-established was the central defensive partnership of the classy Trevor Peake, like Carr signed prior to the 1979 season, and solid ex-Boston United man Steve Thompson. In midfield was the supremely skilful George Shipley, City’s record signing at £45,000 and now in his fourth season with the club, while in the centre were two products of City’s nursery side in Sheffield, both aged 21. Phil Turner had broken through into the first team as a teenager early in 1980, soon becoming a permanent fixture, and alongside him was the tall and combative Stuart Hibberd who been a slightly later developer, coming into the side midway through the previous season as City just missed out on promotion.
Colin Murphy’s favoured formation was a 4-3-3 with a well-complemented front three combining the strength and mobility of Glenn Cockerill, the pace of Gordon Hobson and the goal-poaching of Derek Bell. With Bell out of action, a 4-4-2 formation had been employed in a midweek 3-0 win over Sheffield United, but after scoring two of the goals in that game Hobson had suffered an injury which ruled him out of the Newport game after a late fitness test, leaving City with one fit striker.
City’s small squad was due to financial restrictions imposed by chairman Gilbert Blades, and although £2,500 had just been released for the signing of midfielder Marshall Burke from Blackburn Rovers it was too late for him to be eligible for the visit to Newport. Meanwhile, languishing in City’s reserves was a player whose signing was one of Colin Murphy’s biggest mistakes and must rank as almost the worst £25,000 the club has ever spent. David Beavon had joined from Notts County just under a year before and after a handful of games in midfield or full back had not been in the first team picture since the end of March. Prior to the match, with Gordon Hobson rumoured to be unfit, leaving City with just 13 fit men including two goalkeepers and the 17-year-old apprentice Strodder it was assumed that Beavon would have to be given a game and there was speculation as to which midfielder would be the likeliest to play up front with Cockerill – the days of teams fielding a lone striker being some way in the future.
In goal for Newport was Mark Kendall who had cost a club record fee of £45,000 from Tottenham two years before and was to go on to make almost 300 appearances for the Ironsides before joining Wolves and helping them to promotion from the Fourth to Second Divisions. Full backs were Vaughan Jones, who before and after his spell with Newport played almost 400 games for Bristol Rovers, and the long-serving John Relish. In the centre of defence was 22-year-old Grant Davies alongside former and later Peterborough United man Keith Oakes who was to join City in the late 1990s as physiotherapist. In midfield, Newport could boast a pairing as good as any in the division, with the diminutive Nigel Vaughan, shortly to win the first of ten Welsh international caps, and the local-born Steve Lowndes, another player later to represent his country. Also in midfield were Lancashire-born Neil Bailey and Karl Elsey who later played for Maidstone United during their brief spell in the Football League. As in midfield, up front Newport had a pairing as good as any in the division, one of them being John Aldridge, at the age of 24 with his first league club. He went on to have a stellar career, most notably with Oxford United and Liverpool, finishing with a total of 330 league goals and being capped 69 times for the Republic of Ireland.
Alongside him was a player who if David Beavon was the worst £25,000 ever spent by Lincoln City would certainly be ranked as the worst £33,000 after being signed from Sheffield Wednesday by Willie Bell four years previously. Playing just nine games for the Imps he was quickly sold on by Bell’s replacement Colin Murphy at a loss of £8,000 in February 1979 to Newport. His career then took off, and after averaging a goal every three games for the Welsh side he became even more prolific with Plymouth Argyle and ended with a career total of 259 league goals, only one of which was scored in the red and white shirt of Lincoln City. Newport substitute was former Swansea winger Kevin Moore.
With Gordon Hobson having been ruled out that morning and it only emerging at 2pm that new signing Marshall Burke would be ineligible to play there was late drama when reserve goalkeeper Stuart Naylor was seen arriving at the ground by car ahead of the team coach, sparking fears amongst supporters that David Felgate had suddenly been transferred. But to the amazement and disbelief of those of us who made the long journey to Somerton Park, the 19-year-old Naylor was sent out wearing the no. 9 shirt with outfield player David Beavon named as substitute. Maurice Burton in his Echo match report was scathing about what he described as an outrageous gamble and a ludicrous situation for a team leading the Third Division. He had little to say about the actual match except that City were unable to display their usual attacking flair, geared as it was to a target man holding the ball for runners to break quickly. Naylor was said have played “just like a goalkeeper operating at centre forward”, offering little more than nuisance value – “but to which team?” – although being tall he did win an occasional ball in the air. City held out until the 64th minute when they lost possession on the edge of their own penalty area and saw Newport substitute Moore’s pass rebound off Aldridge for Tommy Tynan to put the loose ball wide of Felgate into the bottom corner of the net. City battled hard, but with Beavon, in what was to be his last appearance in a City shirt replacing Hibberd in a straight swap were unable to pull a goal back although Oakes had to make a late clearance off the line for Newport.
Despite the defeat results elsewhere meant City retained top spot and Colin Murphy’s justification of his team selection in the face of criticism from supporters was that he considered Naylor the best man for the job in the circumstances. It seemed pretty clear though that the main purpose was to make a point to chairman Gilbert Blades about the threadbare playing squad. With the return to fitness of Hobson and Bell City remained top of the table until the end of January by which time the lack of players finally began to catch up. With the chairman refusing to fund any new signings massive unrest caused his resignation and the forming of a new board, but with the damage done and momentum lost City fell away to a final placing of sixth. The table-topping side then gradually began to break up starting with the departure of Trevor Peake to Coventry City in the summer of 1983. Stuart Naylor, after eventually succeeding David Felgate in goal was the subject of a big money transfer to West Bromwich Albion in 1986.
Newport tracked City’s league position closely for the rest of the season, overtaking them to reach top spot by the beginning of April before a run of five defeats in their last seven games saw them finish fourth. As with City the season was a high point for them and was their best finish since before the war, but also like City their team began to break up and they again tracked City by following them out of the league in the late 1980s, in their case going out of business mid-season in the Conference.
The match attendance was 3,749, and I remember little of the actual game apart from the appearance in the team of Stuart Naylor – seeing Glenn Cockerill apparently giving him a few last-minute tips on how to play centre forward during the pre-match warmup. But I rated Phil Turner as the best player, with Trevor Peake and Steve Thompson above average, as my ratings show I must have thought the team were doing their best in difficult circumstances with only Naylor (not surprisingly) and Seamus Heath below par in what along with Beavon turned out to be his last City game.