Courtesy of Malcolm Johnson
Date of birth: 20.7.47
Height: 5ft 9in
City appearances: League: 20(3), goal: 1 FA Cup: 1
Total: 21(3), goal: 1
John Alan Pilgrim, usually known by his middle name, played for his local club in the Grantham League before joining City’s youth setup for the 1965/66 season, soon graduating to the reserve side. In March 1966, player-manager Roy Chapman gave the 18-year-old amateur a taste of first team football bringing him on in place of Ken Fencott for the last 10 minutes of a game at Crewe with City on the point of losing 7-0.
Becoming a part-time professional, Pilgrim became a regular in the reserves, usually playing at left back, and it was in that position that he started a match for the first time in October 1966. With City leaking goals in recent games the experienced full back pairing of Alf Jones and Jeff Smith was replaced by Alan Pilgrim and fellow teenager Tom Brooks. After keeping his place for two more games Pilgrim was then dropped to the subs’ bench for one further appearance as new manager Ron Gray brought in Scottish trialist left back John Murray before turning to the more experienced players again for the rest of the season.
Having been named as substitute on several occasions Pilgrim had evidently displayed enough potential to be among the few, mainly younger members of the squad to be retained by Gray in his close season clear-out of players who had been part of three seasons of struggle for City. Pilgrim’s first taste of action in 1967/68 came in early November as the manager, trying to change things round after three successive defeats brought him into the side to play in the centre of the defence allowing Jim Grummett to be moved into midfield. However, he was left out of the side to face Derby County in the League Cup Fourth Round replay in front of a record Sincil Bank crowd. Pilgrim was back for the next league match, scoring what was to be his only goal for the club with a crashing 25-yard shot in a 3-2 home defeat by Luton Town. He then kept his place in the side as Grummett was moved to centre forward due to the disappointing form shown by recent signing Norman Corner. After a run of 13 games the 21-year-old was then dropped to the bench for the next two, making way for Grummett in defence as Rod Fletcher was tried at centre forward. But after three further games in the side with Grummett back up front, Pilgrim lost his place for the rest of the season with City in the middle of a poor run of results only put right by some new signings by Gray.
After a total of 17 appearances and one goal in the 1967/68 season Alan Pilgrim then became a mainstay of the reserve side, not featuring at all in the first team for the whole of the following season with Tom Brooks preferred whenever it came to filling any first team vacancies due to injury.
Part of the reserve side that won the North Midlands League championship in 1969/70 Pilgrim was called into the first team for the last game of that season playing alongside Brooks and helping to keep a clean sheet as Darlington were beaten 1-0. With trainer Bert Loxley replacing Ron Gray as manager Pilgrim remained on City’s books for the 1970/71 season but once again spent the whole of it in the reserves despite a series of injury problems disrupting the first team.
With another change of manager new boss David Herd retained Pilgrim yet again for 1971/72, making him second only to Phil Hubbard as the longest-serving player at the club. As usual ever-present in the reserves, but something of a forgotten man where the first team was concerned, it was a surprise when he was called up to play in a 2-0 defeat at Newport in mid-December, although with regular central defenders Terry Branston and Derek Trevis both injured Herd had little alternative. This game turned out to be Alan Pilgrim’s last City appearance as over the Christmas period he joined Boston United, managed by his old Imps team mate Jim Smith. Pilgrim was soon turning out for the Pilgrims in the FA Cup Third Round as they were narrowly beaten at home by Second Division (Championship) side Portsmouth.
After a season and a half with the Northern Premier League side, Pilgrim moved on to Skegness Town of the Midland League in the summer of 1973, becoming player-coach two years later and then player-manager at the age of 28 in March 1976. He twice led the seaside club to below mid-table finishes before joining Ruston Bucyrus in March 1978.
Alan Pilgrim’s Football League record totalled 23 appearances with 1 goal scored.