‘The Cowleys are working wonders’ – Former Imp Alan Pilgrim talks about his career, and offers his opinion on today’s Lincoln City

Following a recent article on the site from Malcolm Johnson about Alan Pilgrim, Alan got in touch to thank us for featuring him.

Alan Pilgrim played 21 times for City between 1966 and 1971, scoring once. He saw the club experience the early green shoots of recovery after a torrid fall from grace in the early sixties.

Never ones to miss an opportunity, we convinced him to give us some time so we could cover his career and general thoughts on the club in more detail. Both Malcolm and I had plenty we wanted to ask Alan, as you’ll see below. I let Malcolm get the ball rolling as he had been the one to pen the first article.

MJ: Odd one to start with, but were you actually left-footed?

Yes, I was. I played my first few matches in the first team at left back in October 1966. The following season the manager was looking to provide some extra fire-power up front and in November 1967 he moved Jim Grummett from the back to centre forward playing alongside Clive Ford and I came in to play at left sided centre back alongside Ray Harford for the next 15 or so games. The experiment worked to a degree as Jim scored 8 goals in that period but, then Norman Corner was reinstated at centre forward and Jim moved back into defence.

Alan Pilgrim

MJ: Without sounding rude, was you content to spend practically three seasons in a row in the reserves? When you did leave City in December 1971 was it your idea or David Herd’s?

I was only ever a part-time professional in my time at City and although I loved my time playing in the first team, I was happy to play regularly in the reserves playing first of all in the old Midland League and then in later years the North Midlands League.

The reserve teams of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City were in that league and it was used to blood young players and experienced professionals on their way back to fitness after injury and it was good to have played against the likes of Stuart Pearson, Chris Chilton and Ken Wagstaffe at Hull, David Mills and Willie Maddren at Middlesbrough and Bobby Kerr and Billy Hughes at Sunderland. In the City reserve team at any one time in the 1970 season were Colin Withers, Phil Hubbard, Tom Brooks, Bobby Svarc, Alick Jeffrey, Roger Holmes etc.

I played my last first team game for City at Newport County on the 11th of December 1971 and the following week David Herd called me into his office and said that he’d had Jim Smith on the phone from Boston Utd saying that they needed a left back urgently to replace the old Derby County player Mick Hopkinson. He’d suffered a broken leg in the recent FA cup win against Hartlepool and would he let me go?

David Herd

 

I don’t think David Herd really understood the financial sense of having a few part timers available as a cheap back up to the first team and often in it. The previous season there’d been John Kennedy, Rod Fletcher, Tom Brooks and myself all part-timers but, by the time I decided to go to Boston there was only John Kennedy left.

MJ: What did you think of the managers you played under – Roy Chapman, Ron Gray, Bert Loxley and David Herd, and in particular the changes from one manager to another?

The question about managers is more difficult to answer because being a part-timer the day to day contact with the manager, coaching and training staff and the other regular first team pros was somewhat irregular. Roy Chapman signed me after I’d played half a dozen or so games for the City ‘A’ team and in that first season I played nearly 30 games for the reserves in the Midland League and I think it’s fair to say that my mentor was an ex first team centre half Brian Heward and not Roy Chapman who I didn’t see much of.

Ron Gray arrived in October or November 1966 and I had a few games in the first team. It was the first time I’d really experienced being with the experienced pro’s, I was only just 18 and I think it’s fair to say that I found it difficult as Ron’s team talks and tactics were a bit eccentric at times. In fairness though he was an experienced manager and certainly started to turn the club round and demand more of players. He also gave me a chance the following season when I played a block of 15 games covering for Jim Grummett when he was pushed up front.

Bert Loxley I knew very well as first team trainer and later as physio. The year when I played most of my first team games Bert used to train John Kennedy and myself every lunch time at Sincil Bank, John taught at a nearby school and I worked in the town clerks department of the city council and he subjected us to 45 minutes of hell every day!

David Herd I hardly knew at all, in fact in the 18 months or so he was at the club before I left, I only remember him speaking to me twice. Once during the pre-match team talk at Newport County and secondly when he told me that Jim Smith wanted me at Boston and he was happy to let me go if I wanted to. In fairness there was no pressure on me to go but, I recognised that come the next retained list I probably wouldn’t be on it so I decided to go.

Jim Smith

 

My next manager, Jim Smith, was by far the most demanding and professional of all the ones I had known. The fitness training was full of innovative ideas, everything was recorded and it was always all against the clock and he demanded 100 percent effort. Because he’d pulled such a good team together match days were sometimes a relief from the intensity of training. We even managed to beat a full-strength Graham Taylor side 2-0 in the semi-final of the Lincolnshire Senior Cup in December 1972 even with their forward line of Ward, Freeman and Smith! We won’t talk about the penalty John Kennedy saved from me which should have made it 3-0!

MJ: What did you think of Tom Brooks, another player I’ve written about recently?

Tom Brooks was a good friend of mine and I always thought he was an exceptionally good player and although he played over 100 first team games for City in my opinion, he should have played a lot more. He was equally at home at right back or centre half and as hard as nails.

I suspect he suffered from being a thoughtful, quiet individual with a talent and interest in art and I suspect if any of the managers he played for wanted to change the team they would have known that he was unlikely to kick up a fuss. Eventually, at the end of the 1970/1971 season he packed football in and pursued a career in art.

MJ: Finally from me, what did you think of two more big names from that era, Norman Corner and Alick Jeffrey?

It’s difficult for me to pass comment as I only played in a couple of games alongside Norman and all my games with Alick were in the reserves, although I did man to man mark him at Doncaster in a terrible 0-0 draw, where in exasperation at the close attention I was giving him, he asked me why I didn’t —- off and do something useful!

Alick Jeffrey

 

Norman I think was a Ron Gray purchase and came in as a big raw-boned centre forward but, he wasn’t particularly prolific his best period coming at the end of season 67/68 when he scored eight goals in 10 matches. My abiding memory of playing alongside him was a match at Port Vale in February ’68 when Ron Gray decided to play Norman at centre back alongside Ray Harford, moving me to play in midfield in front of the two of them. It must have worked as we drew 0-0 but, the most exciting part of the night, was seeing some of the West Ham players who were friends of Ray Harford and were playing at Stoke in the FA Cup the next day. I bet they picked up some tips- not!

Alick I played alongside in the City Reserves team who won the North Midlands League in 1970. His ball control and skills were still there to see and his prowess from free kicks was second to none, but, by the time he’d moved to Lincoln his fitness and ability to play first team football were limited to less than 20 appearances and although he was still capable of producing moments of magic they were few and far between. What a player he must have been though when he was 18.

GH: Could you pick a player from the recent era who you were most like?

Recent to someone of my age is anytime during the last twenty years but, according to my brother who has been a supporter for over 50 years and in the spirit of naming someone your readers can remember Paul Mayo and I had a lot of similarities. We both had a decent left foot, we both played left back, centre back and sometimes midfield and both took free kicks and penalties.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

GH: Do you still get to matches and what do you think of the recent resurgence at the club?

I get to Sincil Bank four or five times a season. I live in Worcester so it’s quite a hike from there but, I also try to get to take in two or three away matches when they are near me like Cheltenham and FGR. There have been a few periods over the years with the Taylor, Murphy and Alexander teams where the club was on the up but, I don’t think any of them have raised the profile of the club and the city in quite the same way as the present Management.

The Cowley’s and their back up staff are working wonders with the playing side of things, the Chief Executive and his team have made great strides in making the match day experience a whole lot better than it’s ever been and the Board of Directors should be applauded for making finances available in a sensible and responsible way so that the club always remain within their allocated budgets.

We never want to be in the position again where a short-term splash of cash takes us to near oblivion.

GH: You played in the FA Cup third round (I believe) for Boston. Do you feel the FA Cup is one competition that has hardly changed since your playing days?

I did play in a third round FA cup match for Boston Utd against Portsmouth in front of a pretty big crowd at York Street and those sorts of occasions, with the small guys against a team from several divisions above are really what the cup is about. Boston lost 1-0 but, it galvanised their season and they carried on being runners up in the Northern Premier League.

Eric Redrobe, back left

 

I also played in an earlier round of the cup for City away at Southport, who I think I’m right in saying were in a division higher than us at the time. We travelled over to Southport on the Friday and woke up the following morning to a two-inch covering of snow. Matches didn’t get postponed in those days for a bit of snow so we had to send someone down to the local sports shop to get a dozen pairs of boots with studs more compatible to the conditions than our normal ones were. Only 12 pairs of boots you say, well that was because only 1 substitute was allowed in those days!

After all that excitement I think we lost 3-1. Strangely enough many years later when I was still playing footy for fun on a Saturday afternoon I played with my team in Hereford and who should I meet in the opposition team but one Eric Redrobe who scored for Southport against us!

GH: What one thing would you like to see from your playing days still in the game today and why?

Well as a defender I have to say that a good slide tackle was an excellent and fair way of winning the ball and the outlawing of it has in my opinion caused the modern phenomenon of players jumping in with studs raised.

A good slide tackle took the ball as clean as a whistle but, has now gone from the game forever.

4 Comments

  1. I got to know Alan when he became the player-manager of Skegness Town for a couple of seasons in the mid-1970s. Skegness were playing in the old Midland League, which was effectively the same level as today’s National League (North). The Midland League was a tough place indeed, where a sliding tackle was viewed as a mere appetiser. Alan’s class on the pitch was always evident at that level, with accurate distribution, just before getting crunched by an uncompromising opponent.
    But there were also Vardy-like gems plying their trade there at that time, including an unknown skinny kid from Long Eaton United who ran 50 yards in about 6 seconds to latch onto a long ball and score the winner; his name was Garry Birtles. Best of all, Spalding United had a hard-as-nails towering centre forward called Keith Alexander, who never let anyone get the better of him.
    Amazingly, the Imps were heading towards the modern-day equivalent of that very league just 4 years ago – and then Danny and Nicky arrived in Lincoln. Alan Pilgrim is ideally qualified to comment on everything they have achieved because he understands first-hand where we could have been without them.

  2. Delighted to hear from Alan again. In another lifetime I remember talking to him after Imps beat Southport 5-4 away on the final game of the season. Imps finished bottom and were about to be re-elected (again) whilst Southport as Division 4 champions were presented with the trophy after the game. Alan was certainly in the squad and seemed pretty ‘up’ about the whole experience (he mentioned something about a night club afterwards). From memory some new players, like Lewis Thom, were being tried out that day.

  3. Aa cracking read from a player from when I started watching in1966 can we have an interview with the likes of John Kennedy or Roger Holmes from that era.

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