A personal look back at Lincoln City in the 1963/64 season – an oasis in contrast with the seasons of struggle that came before and after, by Malcolm Johnson
This is a revised version of an article which first appeared in Deranged Ferret in 1993
My own story begins in Caythorpe, and living there and in Leadenham, I began supporting City in the traditional way being taken along to matches by my father (as he had by his father before him). I was nine years old at the time and this was in the days of the Second Division, Andy Graver, and City 4 Liverpool 2 – I was there! I also remember standing on a box at the top of the Sincil Bank terracing to see over the heads of the crowd when soon-to-be Football League champions Burnley attracted over 21,000 to see a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup Third Round. Actually, I was little interested in the football in those days and got more enjoyment out of matches as an occasion, with the rattles and the bells and the marching band at half time, and lost interest before long.
My support for City really dates from a few years later when I was living in Nottingham with my mother after my parents separated. At school, I found myself seated next to a Notts County fan, and fed up with hearing about the likes of Terry Bly and Jeff Astle – not to mention Bert Loxley – remembered I was a football supporter myself. Looking to see how ‘we’ were doing in the league it was a shock to find the Imps weren’t in the Second Division (now the Championship) any more but about to apply for re-election to the Fourth (League 2).
So I got my father (who I spent weekends with back in Leadenham) to take me to a match again – a fixture with Doncaster Rovers in October 1963. City won 3-1 and I enjoyed every minute of it (it always helps when you win!).
Looking back on those days it does seem like a different world. England’s World Cup win was three years in the future, midfield players were still thought of as wing-halves or inside-forwards, there were no substitutes, no sponsorships and Stanley Matthews was still playing.
At the time of the match City were in 8th place in the Fourth Division but apart from the drop in status, I found there were few other changes from 1959. The programme was exactly the same and still cost 3d (1½p) with the ever-unchanging cover design seen here. The league table inside showed such teams as Bradford (Park Avenue) and Workington. There were the manager’s notes from Bill Anderson: “We have…made a fair start to the season”, the Supporters Club notes: “The Imps are definitely on the upgrade”, the teams listed in 2-3-5 formation in the middle of the programme and the usual visitors’ “Pen Pictures”. There were also plenty of adverts: “Dr. Banks Cough Mixture – Cures while You Sleep” – from Battles Ltd., The Stonebow, “Flowers Keg Bitter”, and “Redmaynes Spanish Socks Guaranteed Unshrinkable 7s 3d”.
Sincil Bank looked just the same, apart from with the addition of floodlights, and steam trains still ran past the ground at the Railway End (did the drivers slow down when there was a match on?). To convey half time scores from elsewhere there were scoreboards on both sides of the ground showing the letters A to X with a key to them in the programme. The directors box was in the centre of the South Park Stand, and in front of the St. Andrews Stand was a small brick-built dugout for the manager and trainer, and spectators had the freedom to walk all the way round the ground on the terraces.
At centre forward that day was a local-born amateur player called Barry Wilkinson. He had just had a run of three reserve games scoring a goal in each one, followed by two first team games – two more goals. He now kept up this goal-a-game record by scoring the first against Doncaster, but was to make only a total of 10 first team appearances – scoring 5 goals. One wonders why he was practically never heard of again as a City player. Also in the team were a few survivors of the Second Division days – utility player Russell Green, long-serving left back Jeff Smith and Roger Holmes who was then still only 21. Plus, there was the former England Under-23 International defender Dick Neal who had originally been sold in 1957 to Birmingham for a big fee and who had re-joined City at the start of the season.
The win over Doncaster moved the Imps up to 6th place in the league table, but there followed successive away defeats of 5-0 and 5-1 at Carlisle and Brighton respectively and then a home defeat by Carlisle. This seemed to be the pattern for the season – a placing on the fringe of the promotion race would be followed by a slide back towards mid-table. By the time of the 3-2 win over Oxford United I witnessed on the last day of November the league position was 9th – but still only 3 points off the top four (two points for a win in those days).
Oxford’s side that day included their right-half and captain Ron Atkinson then just 24 years old and who was of course to find later fame as a manager. The City side was fairly typical for the season except that the 20-year-old Brian Drysdale was filling in for Jeff Smith at left back. The goalkeeper was Terry Carling, and the rest of the back four was Alf Jones, noted for his sliding tackles, Brian Heward – known as ‘Ironman’ – at centre half and Dick Neal. The midfield two were John Milner and Bert Linnecor, the latter another survivor from better days and known for several years as the last visiting player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield. Roger Holmes was then playing on the right wing and Jimmy Campbell on the left.
The formation would these days be called 4-2-4, but back then it was simply expected that teams would have two wingers who would stay on their touchlines and the cross the ball into the middle for a big, bustling centre forward. For City at the time this was ‘Bud’ Houghton, signed in October from Oxford United and alongside him was Alan Morton, a 21-year-old who had joined from Peterborough and who was to have good season, finishing with a total of 21 goals.
City by then had gone out of the League Cup to Third Division Millwall after a home replay, Hartlepools United (as they were then known) and York City having been beaten to reach that stage. There was another victory over Hartlepools and then Southport in the FA Cup to set up a Third Round tie with First Division Sheffield United at Sincil Bank, a crowd of over 18,000 seeing the visitors win 4-0.
Immediately before the Sheffield United game City had played Bradford at home on Boxing Day (3-0) and again at Park Avenue two days later (1-0), with all the goals being scored by Alan Morton, it once being the practice for clubs to play each twice over holiday periods.
Only seeing the occasional game, my next one was a 4-0 win over Halifax Town on 8th February 1964. A paragraph in the “Supporters Club Notes” in the programme for that game was fairly typical. Appealing for a “big following” to cheer City on at Sincil Bank, it read: “Roll up in your thousands, it is the earnest wish of everyone connected with Lincoln City FC to regain our lost prestige and rise in the football world to our rightful position in Division ll…” It seems strange now, but it was then very recent – until just four years previously City had been an established Second Division club.
By that time Jimmy Campbell had been replaced on the left wing by the former Grimsby and Everton player Jimmy Fell. A hat-trick for Bud Houghton against Halifax was followed by three goals for Bert Linnecor (and two more for Houghton) in the next home game when Chesterfield were beaten 5-2. In between, a fight back from two goals down at Torquay produced a 2-2 draw (Linnecor and Houghton again) in a game in which local boy Bryan Stainton made his debut at centre half as understudy to Brian Heward.
The Chesterfield match also saw something new – pre-match and half time entertainment provided by a local pop group (as we used to call them) in an effort to stimulate more teenage interest as it said in the programme. On this occasion it was Johnny Vee & The Vampires, set up in the area in front of the St Andrews stand. City were not the first to go in for this sort of thing and at the time it was considered very ‘trendy’ to have a real live group play at a football match,
And so the season wore on. After the good win over Chesterfield only three points were taken from the next five games. Then, on Easter Monday I saw my first defeat (of many!) when Bradford City won 2-1. “The season could end in a fighting finish for promotion, and we can only battle hard and hope that we are in there with a chance at the end” had said Bill Anderson in the programme. Well, we evidently didn’t battle hard enough – maybe we were too busy listening to Lee Mace and The Sceptres.
My final game of the season was a 2-0 defeat by Workington who went on to win promotion for the only time in their League history. Elsewhere, the league champions were Liverpool. Scunthorpe United and Grimsby were relegated from the Second Division, Coventry City, managed by Jimmy Hill, won the Third Division and the list of leading goalscorers included Joe Bonson, later to join City and then of Newport County with 25. In the FA Cup Final West Ham United beat a Preston North End side including another later Imps player, Nobby Lawton. Representing the Irish League against the League of Ireland was a certain John Kennedy of Distillery in goal. Midland League champions were Grantham, and Lincoln United had a successful season, winning the Lincolnshire League championship and the Lincolnshire Senior ‘B’ Cup.
City’s final league placing was 11th. In the Supporters Club notes for the Workington game: “The present season now drawing to a close has been rather a disappointing one…after a very indifferent start, the new management, to the best of their ability with the money available, commenced to strengthen the team, and much better results were achieved. Unfortunately, injuries cropped up at a critical time, and along with cracks in our defensive system and our old inability to make scoring chances proves that we are just not good enough for Division lll at present”.
In fact, the season ought to be counted as a great success after three years of successive relegation from Division ll to re-election and almost going out of business the year before. The surprising thing to modern eyes is that Bill Anderson had remained as manager throughout the decline.
But now Anderson had pulled the club around and things looked good for a real promotion push the following year. Alan Morton and Bud Houghton had proved to be a good goalscoring partnership, with Jimmy Fell on the left wing. In midfield, it was true that Bert Linnecor had left, but with a solid and experienced defence including Jeff Smith, Brian Heward and Dick Neal it looked as though the latter would have a good chance of leading the team on the first step back to “Our Rightful Place”.
But looking back now it does seem to me like the end of an era: the last season with Bill Anderson in full charge as manager and the departure of most of the remaining players who had been part of the declining years, such as Neville Bannister, Jimmy Campbell, Russell Green and Brian Punter. But a real loss was Brian Drysdale who later went on to play nearly 300 games for Bristol City.
One last item of interest is an average attendance of 5,458. Not bad for 11th place!