The day Gazza came to Sincil Bank

Lincoln City 2-2 Boston United
Saturday 11th September 2004

With negative stories of Gazza once again in the news, we thought we’d share an article that originally printed in A City United, courtesy of Jamie Ward, all about when the legend himself came to Sincil Bank

 If you were a football fan growing up in the nineties then you, like me, would have had your own footballing heroes. Locally, mine was Gareth Ainsworth. Worldwide, there were others. Ronaldo (the original one), Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo. The world was blessed with flair players. Nationally, not so much. However, there was one. Paul Gascoigne.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Gazza. Every English fan of the 90s loved Gazza. He was a player unlike anything we had produced. Bags of talent. A true flair player. Able to create a moment of genius out of nothing, the ability to change a game with one special moment. There was the World Cup in 1990, where Gazza was nothing short of sensational, helping England to the semi-finals, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since. There were the tears after receiving a yellow card in the semi-final against West Germany which would have ruled him out of the final. Then there was THAT free kick in 1991 in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal. The move to Italy that changed Sunday afternoons in England (‘Golazooooooo!!!!’). The wonder goal against Scotland at Wembley at Euro 96.

Gazza was indeed the nations darling. And then came the decline. The special moments began to disappear. In its place came rehab, drink, mental health problems and the whole KFC bucket incident (google that if you don’t know…it really is staggering). But, still, we all felt a sympathy for him where others may have been forgotten, cast onto the celebrity scrapheap.

As for me, I loved Gazza…up until Saturday 11th September 2004.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

First, the back story. Since returning to England from Scotland, where he spent a successful period at Glasgow Rangers, Gazza’s career had nosedived. He joined Middlesbrough in 1998 where everything started rosy, but by 2000 he was offloaded to Everton. Time in rehab hampered the midfielder’s progress and he left Goodison Park in 2002, joining Burnley. Gazza featured for the Lancashire club on just six occasions before moving to China in 2003. And then, the ultimate low…in July 2004, the most naturally gifted English footballer of a generation returned to England…and joined Boston United.

Immediately we all looked at the fixture list. The Boston game was always one of the first fixtures to look for anyway, the local rivalry intensified by our hatred of their manager, Steve Evans. However, with Gazza now on their books, an additional element was added to the fixture.

We all doubted whether the former England international would stick around long enough at York Street to be involved in the game at Sincil Bank, but as the day of the fixture drew nearer it became increasingly apparent that he would be available to play. The draw of Gazza had already increased Boston’s average attendance by over 1,000 and over 7,000 fans were at Sincil Bank to see an England legend appear for one of our most fierce rivals.

The Boston team that day also included another ex-Premier League player, and former Lincoln City striker, Jason Lee, whilst Lee Beevers, who would later make the first of his two of his two transfers to Lincoln was also in the starting eleven.

Going into the game, form had been patchy at best. Lincoln were yet to win a home game, after defeats to Rushden & Diamonds and Notts County had preceded a 1-1 draw against Southend. Form had been better away from home with wins at Shrewsbury Town and Bury. However, two away losses at Scunthorpe United and Swansea City meant that the club were languishing in the bottom half of the table, despite starting the season as one of the favourites for promotion.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Boston had started the season slightly better, with three wins, all of which came at home. The club were yet to win on the road, with two defeats and a draw so we were confident that we could pick up our first home win of the campaign and get our season back on track.

The Imps began the game with Alan Marriott in goal, in front of Matt Bloomer, Gareth McAuley, Jamie McCombe, Ben Futcher and Paul Morgan. A three-man midfield consisting of Nathan Peat, Peter Gain and Richard Butcher offered support to the front two of Francis Green and Simon Yeo. Gazza started on the substitutes bench for the visitors.

The game started tentatively, with both teams sounding the other out. Clear cut chances were at a premium but Lincoln struck first just after the half hour mark after a rare Jamie McCombe run into the opposition box was picked out by Francis Green, who slotted the ball past Nathan Abbey in the Boston goal. First blood to the Imps.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

The goal spurred Lincoln on, and the hosts were unlucky to go in at half time just a goal to the good, with Abbey keeping Boston in the game.

The second half began as the first ended, with Lincoln much on the front foot. Matt Bloomer forced Abbey into another save before Francis Green saw a header sail agonisingly past the post. However, the Imps persistence paid off just before the hour mark as the two involved in the first goal swapped roles, this time McCombe finding Green with a lofted header, leaving the striker the easy task of slotting into an empty net. 2-0. The first home win of the season was finally here!…

And then came Gazza. Steve Evans responded to the second goal by throwing on a 37-year-old, slightly overweight alcoholic. Unfortunately for us, this 37-year-old, slightly overweight alcoholic was also a football genius, despite his age and physical state.

Gazza didn’t make an immediate impact. No, he merely read the game, taking his time when in possession (of which every touch was ironically booed by the home supporters). With time ticking on, and the win looking in the bag, Boston were handed a lifeline in the 85th minute when a deep cross into the box from Gazza was adjudged to have been handled, and Courtney Pitt duly dispatched the resulting spot kick.

Boston were back in the game, and pressed immediately for an equaliser. Three minutes after the goal, the visitors won a free kick on the left touchline. Gazza stepped up whilst those in the Co-op stand behind him jeered. The midfielder looked slyly over his shoulder, then whipped in a perfect free kick, which found Jason Lee at the post. The striker was then left with the simplest of headers and nodded gratefully past Alan Marriott to bring the scores level. 2-2.

At that moment Gazza went from being one of my childhood heroes to the despised pantomime villain. As Jason Lee celebrated wildly with the rest of the Boston players, Gazza turned towards the Co-op stand and launched his own celebration, drawing a less than friendly reaction from the Imps fans. Yes, of course we had goaded him, jeered him, abused him for the last half an hour but how dare he do it back??

Gazza only lasted one more game at Boston before he left the club citing ambitions to move into management (although rumour has it that the real reason is because Steve Evans wouldn’t let him appear in ‘I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here’).

Looking back now I can appreciate what I witnessed that day. He may have been 37-years-old, his personal life may have been a mess, but in his 30 or so minutes on the pitch at Sincil Bank he had dazzled us. Yes, he was way past his sell-by day, but he was ultimately a football genius.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

 

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