Lincoln City 5 Cheltenham Town 1 (GM Vauxhall Conference)
Saturday 31st October 1987
By Malcolm Johnson
The first-ever meeting between Lincoln City and Cheltenham Town took place over 31 years ago during the Imps’ first season outside the Football League since 1921. After becoming the first club to be automatically relegated from the League City had taken the unprecedented step of remaining a full-time professional outfit and set their stall out for an immediate return.
Key to this was the appointment of former manager Colin Murphy in place of player-manager Peter Daniel. Murphy had achieved much success with City earlier in the decade, taking them to within a point of promotion to Division Two (now the Championship), and after a spell in charge at Stockport, arguably keeping them in the League at City’s expense, he was back to turn around the fortunes of a club in decline.
Given this decline Murphy rightly had a clear-out of players, with 12 leaving the club including Daniel himself. As a consequence, it meant having to build a championship-winning team from scratch as there was then only one promotion place available. Funded mainly by the sale of goalkeeper Lee Butler and a few others for fairly large fees Murphy brought in several players also for fairly substantial amounts, persuading his new signings to drop down into non-league football for what was hoped would be only one season.
Not surprisingly the newly put together Imps team took time to gel, and the first two games of the season, both away from home, were lost. This was counteracted by victories in the two home games that followed, and as Murphy brought in further new players some improved results, with a few setbacks had put City in 4th place going into this match, just two points behind leaders Kettering.
Cheltenham Town, had been members of the Southern League for almost 50 years before being promoted to what was then known as the Gola League, finishing in mid-table in their first two seasons. They were managed by John Murphy who had played over 300 games for the club and as player-manager had overseen their rise to the Conference.
The Robins had lost just one league game all season but seven draws from 12 games saw them currently in 10th place, although cup commitments meant they had played fewer games than the teams around them.
The teams were:
- Nigel Batch
- Clive Evans
- Shane Nicholson
- Phil Brown
- Trevor Matthewson
- Andy Moore
- David Mossman
- Bob Cumming
- Mick Waitt
- Paul Smith
- John McGinley
- Mark Sertori (for Waitt)
- David Clarke
- Alan Churchward
- Ray Baverstock
- Kevin Willetts
- Richard Crowley
- Anton Vircavs
- Keith Brown
- Mark Buckland
- Brian Hughes
- Mark Boyland
- Brett Angell
- Nick Jordan
- Russell Gordon (for Buckland)
- Chris Townsend (for Jordan)
In goal for City was Nigel Batch, not the tallest of keepers at 5ft 10in, who had spent 11 years with Grimsby, playing around 350 games for them and taking part in their rise from the Fourth to Second Divisions. Not yet 30, he had lost his place as Grimsby were relegated from Division Two and was snapped up by Colin Murphy in the close season.
Right back for City was another ex-Grimsby man, Andy Moore, signed for a hefty £34,000 in the close season. Aged 21, he had played over 60 times in the Second Division and had recently been switched from central defence by Murphy. He was partnered by the 17-year-old Shane Nicholson one of the few players to be retained by Murphy after making his debut the previous season as City’s youngest ever player.
In the middle of defence was close season signing and captain Trevor Matthewson. He had cost £13,000 from Murphy’s former club Stockport where he had been a mainstay of the defence in the previous season. Alongside him, was the experienced Clive Evans, now aged 30, also ex-Stockport who had joined in mid-September as Murphy had continued his team building. He had played almost 400 league games for various clubs in the north-west, first coming to the fore as a midfielder with Tranmere. Originally in the side at right back Murphy had recently swapped him with Moore to play in the centre.
In midfield, another close season signing from Stockport at a cost of £6,000 was the diminutive Phil Brown. Played out wide to no great effect at the start of the season he had soon been moved inside where his size was no handicap to his tough tackling.
Also known for his hard tackles, but also possessed of more than his fair share of skill was 31-year-old Scotsman Bob Cumming. Another signing from Grimsby where like Batch he had been part of their rise up the divisions, few would argue that Cumming was the best of Murphy’s additions to the squad, having been given a free transfer by the Mariners after over 50 goals in almost 400 games for them.
City had two tall players on the wings, with David Mossman, another ex-Stockport man, signed after the start of the season and making an instant hit with two goals on his debut to help City to their first ever Conference win. On the left was John McGinley, with Nicholson the only other player in the squad to survive from the previous season. Aged 28, he had originally been signed by Colin Murphy in 1984 during the manager’s previous spell in charge. Injured during the relegation season from Division Three he had started the following season before being sold to Rotherham. Making just three appearances for the Millers he had returned in January as City began their gradual slide to another relegation.
Up front was Mick Waitt, signed from Notts County in the summer for £17,500 after scoring 13 goals in around 35 games for the Third Division side the previous season. At 6ft 4in he was not only good in the air but skilful on the ground and had shown some deadly finishing to be the current top scorer with 9 goals in 16 games including one hat-trick.
He was partnered by the speedy Paul Smith, another of Murphy’s signings after the start of the season, at a cost of £48,000 from Port Vale. This was not only a club record fee but also a record for any non-league club. He had started to repay with this with not only 5 goals but pacey displays to harry opposition defences.
Substitutes were 20-year-old Mark Sertori, who had had limited first team experience with Stockport before becoming yet another player to join from the manager’s old club in the summer, and midfielder or full back David Clarke who had cost £5,000 from Notts County after well over 100 games for them.
In contrast to City’s side packed full of former Football League players the Cheltenham line-up was much more typically non-league. In goal was Alan Churchward, a 19-year-old former Swindon Town apprentice signed after a period on loan.
At right back was Ray Baverstock, another former Swindon youngster who had made 17 appearances for the Wiltshire club before joining the Robins and playing over 250 games for them although still only 23. Left back was Kevin Willetts, aged 25, previously with Hellenic League side Sharpness who was to go on to play 367 games for Cheltenham.
In the centre of defence was Anton Vircavs signed from fellow Conference side Wycombe Wanderers for £5,000 two years previously and who when he returned to the Chairboys was to play a part in their rise to the Football League. He was partnered by Richard Crowley, previously with Forest Green and Bath City. In midfield was another ex-Bath City man Keith Brown who had started his career with Bristol Rovers, making just 7 appearances for them, and Brian Hughes who had had league experience with Torquay and Swindon totalling over 100 games.
Mark Buckland had been signed from Kidderminster after playing regularly for Wolves during the 1984/85 season as they were relegated from Division Two. Another former Hellenic League player was Nick Jordan who had joined from Moreton Town four years previously. Up front was Mark Boyland who had averaged almost a goal every other game since signing from Banbury United in 1984. He was partnered by a player, who like Vircavs was to go on to greater things.
Tall 19-year-old Brett Angell was to finish top scorer for Cheltenham with 17 goals and after joining Derby County the following year progressed to Stockport County, Southend United and a string of other clubs, including Everton, eventually finishing with a career total of 200 goals in 540 games. Substitutes were striker Russell Gordon, previously with Stafford Rangers, and Chris Townsend, previously with Forest Green and Cardiff where he had made a handful of appearances.
In the match programme, ‘Manager Murph’s Message’ referred to the explosive midweek win over Barnet at Sincil Bank as “having seen us firmly secured in a challenging position”, defying the opinions of those pundits who considered the time necessary to build a team would mean the Imps being too many points adrift of “the promotion frame”. He also praised the “absolutely excellent attendance” for that match of over 4,500.
Also in the programme, Catering Manageress Mrs. Ashton was appealing for help in the catering points, and the player profile featured Shane Nicholson, although not exactly the most informative example of its type. Not surprisingly, the 17-year-old was not married, had no children, no car and no previous club or trade. Also, it seemed he had no nickname, but pleasingly had no ‘worst injury’ to report. He couldn’t claim any goal scored let alone a ‘best’ one and had no advice to youngsters. Rather far-fetchedly, he couldn’t admit to disliking anything, and was “not fussy” about any particular food – despite liking going out for a meal – and had no superstitions.
There was a slightly disappointing attendance of 2,341, which was barely just over half that for the win over Barnet, although it was still higher than for most home games over the last three seasons. City were soon on the attack with John McGinley having a goal disallowed for offside in the first minute.
Then with just five minutes gone there was a serious injury to Mick Waitt as he collided with goalkeeper Alan Churchward. The game was held up for 12 minutes before the striker was able to be carried off on a stretcher with a leg broken in three places. He was replaced up front by Mark Sertori, and with eight minutes of playing time on the clock Clive Evans scored his first City goal from close range after the Cheltenham defence had failed to clear a Shane Nicholson corner.
A minute later it was 2-0 as McGinley slotted home a low shot after Sertori headed the ball on to him. The visitors had not so far been in the game, and on 22 minutes Evans made it 3-0 with almost a carbon copy of his earlier goal.
But then City lost their grip on the match as the Robins began to find more space on the heavy pitch and they pulled a goal back 10 minutes before half time when top scorer Brett Angell headed in after City keeper Nigel Batch had blocked an effort from Mark Buckland.
Batch then had to produce full stretch saves to deny Angell again and Keith Brown. But with 20 minutes to go City eased any nerves when Sertori pounced on a defensive mix-up to score his first goal for the Imps. Bob Cumming then put the icing on the cake a minute from time with a cracking 30-yard shot.
With the top four clubs all winning City remained two points behind leaders Kettering and one behind Barnet, but Cumming’s goal was enough to improve their goal difference and move them above Stafford into third place. Kettering eventually fell away, and after several twists and turns especially in the last few days of the season the top three positions were reversed and ‘Murphy’s Mission’ of a return to the league was accomplished.
Cheltenham remained in a mid-table position, eventually finishing 13th. They were to remain a Conference club for three more seasons before returning to the Southern League then rising again to achieve Football League status in 1999.
Despite the big win my recorded player ratings show I thought it to be a fairly average display by the Imps but with good performances by Nigel Batch and Clive Evans, and not for the last time that season the star man being Bob Cumming. All that I can actually remember of the game is Mick Waitt’s injury, the concerned reactions to it of the Cheltenham players, and the length of time it took before it was thought advisable for him to be loaded onto the stretcher.
It was said that the crack of his leg breaking could be heard at the back of the South Park stand although I didn’t hear anything at the other end of the ground. Waitt was forced to miss the whole of the following season, and although returning to make a handful of appearances nearly two years after the incident was never the same player again.
Whether his absence from the side was responsible for City making harder work of the rest of the season than they might otherwise have done we’ll never know. Murphy continued to evolve the team, eventually settling on a 3-4-3 formation with Phil Brown moved into attack and proving an effective goal scorer alongside McGinley and Smith.
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