Summer Football – The Imps have been there, done that

June 2019 and England’s sporting attention is focussed on the cricket World Cup, the European Nations League and Super League with the Football League, for City at least, having finished a month ago. Step back 72 years though and June 1947 saw Lincoln still having two Football League matches to play for reasons explained in the following piece.

1946/47 saw the return of the Football League after seven seasons of regional competitions during the 2nd World War. It was still a time of great austerity though and City were grateful to receive donations of clothing coupons towards playing kit with over 80 being offered by supporters and at the AGM in August director Col.T.W.Pitcher produced a further 50 saying “a friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, has given me his own and his son’s coupons. That is what I call practical support” whilst a shareholder present at the meeting also handed in his ration book. A request by the Football League to the Ministry of Food for professional footballers to be allowed an increased bread ration though was refused!  

The fixture list was the same as the abandoned 1939/40 season but due to delays in the setting of admission prices no season tickets were issued and one other factor that was to later prove problematic was the Governments concern over the number of mid-week matches that may be played leading to unauthorised absence from the workplace so they were to be restricted. The Football League proposed an extension to the season to start a week earlier on August 24th and finish a week later on May 10th but it wasn’t acted on and so City began the season by being the first opponents at Hull City’s new Boothferry Park ground where a crowd of 25586   witnessed a hard-fought goalless draw. City rose as high as 2nd in the table by mid-September but defeat in the return game with Hull at the end of December meant the club started the New Year in 14th position.

A victory in the 1st Round of the FA Cup, 4-2 at Stockton, meant a postponement of the home fixture against Wrexham on 2nd Round day when ironically it was the Welsh side who were City’s Cup opponents and victory after a 2nd replay meant the Rochdale game on January 11th was called off with City losing 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in the 3rd Rd of the Cup.  The Rochdale match was quickly arranged and was played on a Wednesday afternoon eleven days later but the crowd of 3249 was the lowest home gate of the season.

14th in the table was still the position when Oldham Athletic won 3-1 at Sincil Bank on February 1st but the game was played on a pitch thickly covered in snow apart from the 18-yard boxes that had been cleared. The snow also provided plenty of ammunition for the spectators on the Sincil Bank terrace who bombarded one of the linesmen with snowballs after some questionable decisions. The referee stopped the game and police officers were deployed on the terrace in a bid to stop the snowballing!

Snow fell throughout the week and the following weeks game with Southport was called off on the Friday with Sincil Bank covered by up to two feet of snow with the Football League allowing the Club to call the game off without the need for the referee to inspect the pitch. Trips to Rotherham United and Bradford City fell victim to the weather on the following two Saturdays.

March began with high hopes that the home fixture with Barrow would go ahead especially after snow had been removed from the pitch by volunteers in the morning but when referee Mr Francis arrived at 12.30pm he decided the corner flag and goal areas were too dangerous to play on and immediately called the game off and left. Poor Barrow had left home at noon on the Friday, been stranded in Manchester due to impassable roads and had finally arrived in Lincoln by train at 11.15pm. City were spared a similar wasted journey the following week when the trip to Accrington was called off on the Friday morning.

The weather finally relented enough to allow the fixture with Carlisle United to be played on March 15th after which a rapid thaw and torrential rain brought flooding to Lincoln with Sincil Bank surrounded by up to a foot of water and the directors unable to access the offices and board room for their weekly meeting!

Mid-week also saw an announcement by the Football League that due to the reluctance to allow mid-week games the season would be extended into June but just as City would have thought the worst was over the weather had one final victory to come as Halifax’s Shay pitch was still covered by up to a foot of snow and ice so the scheduled March 22nd game was called off.

Normality finally returned from the end of March onwards and after playing six games in each of April and May, City entered June still in 14th place with two matches to play, the first one taking place on June 7th with the visit to Halifax who regardless of the result were destined to finish bottom of the table.  

City were forced into making a change from the team that had lost the previous game 8-4 at Accrington (a game that saw Tom Cheetham become the first City player to score a hat-trick in a Football League game and finish on the losing side) as Harry Parr was selected to play for the British Post Office team in Paris! Although that sounds strange today the City players were part-time and Parr worked for the GPO in Lincoln. Despite going a goal behind after just four minutes City recovered well to lead 3-1 at half time thanks to goals by Cheetham, Lawrie Smedley (Parr’s replacement) and Jimmy Grummett and despite the hosts pulling one back in the second half City held on to win 3-2.

One week later and 287 days after visiting Hull the season finally came to an end with the trip to Bradford City being one of seven fixtures played on June 14th City can therefore, along with the other 13 clubs involved, lay claim to having played a Football League match on the latest date the season has ever finished.

As can be seen by the results of those games it wasn’t to prove a successful end to the season as despite dominating most of the game City found the home goalkeeper Matt Middleton in fine form making several excellent saves and when he was beaten Jimmy Hutchinson was ruled offside and the “goal” disallowed. Bradford settled the game by scoring three times in six minutes either side of half time whilst late on Hutchinson was again denied this time by a goal line clearance when he beat Middleton with a shot. Despite being in mid-June though the weather had a final surprise as the game was played in a gusty wind and driving rain almost as though NHB in the Echo reported “the Clerk of the Weather had put his clock back for the final day of the soccer season”.

City scored 86 League goals during the season, bettered only by Champions Doncaster with 123, 2nd placed Rotherham with 114 and third placed Chester with 95 but conceded 87 with only Carlisle (93), Accrington (92) and Halifax (92) conceding more which meant an eventual final position of 12th place with 39 points from 42 games. Less than a year later though City were celebrating winning the title and a return to the 2nd Division for the first time since 1934.

By Gary Parle