We’ve been dallying around the late eighties and early nineties for the last few subjects of this feature, so we’re going to move forward a little in time to a more familiar face; Lee Thorpe.
I often remark how history can be unkind to good players if they’ve played during the wrong period. Some of our most talented footballers of recent times played in the lull period between relegation in 1999 and Keith taking over in 2002. Likewise, history will not favour some of the players who represented the Imps from July 2007 until we were relegated, but it doesn’t mean they were bad players.
It’s rare when speaking of strikers who should be classed as Imps’ greats, to hear Thorpe’s name mentioned. It’s grossly unfair on him and in my opinion, reflective of the period in which he played.
Firstly, who was Lee Thorpe? For younger fans, or those who have joined us in recent years, here is the low down on another striker that sometimes, history forgets.
Lee Anthony Thorpe joined the Imps just prior to the start of the 1997/98 season from Blackpool. He was born in Wolverhampton, but served his youth with the Tangerines, going professional in 1994. He played just 12 times for them, spending some time on loan with Bangor in Wales, before making the switch to City.
He was a classic ‘John Beck’ centre forward, strong and never one to shy away from a fight. He made his debut as we lost 2-0 away at Chester in August 1997 and earned his first red card before he’d got his first goal, earning a straight red away at Burnley in the League Cup. Not long after he bagged his first goals for the Imps, away at Hull and again at home to Cardiff City.
Thorpe had a unique style that combined good old fashioned centre forward play with an incredible robustness. He was definitely a player you wanted on your side rather than up against all-too-often-too often he found himself at the centre of confrontations. However, mixed in with that raw aggression was a good centre forward, as he proved in his first season.
He netted 14, not only in the final game to seal automatic promotion, but also goals that gave us victories over not only Cardiff and Hull, but also Brighton (1-0) and Exeter City (2-1).
The following season he scored twice at Meadow Lane to give us a 3-2 win over Notts County, and then found his shooting boots with just a handful of games to go. He scored six in five games to give us a fighting chance at survival, although we were ultimately relegated. However, for the second year in a row, he finished as leading scorer.
In the year 2000 there was a famous 90th-minute equaliser against Peterborough which helped carve his name deeper into Imps folklore. If you needed a crucial goal he had the capability to get it, but if you wanted a scrap then he could provide that as well. Once again, as the dire 2000/01 season drew to a close, he was top of the scorer charts for City.
He may have been amongst the goals for the Imps, but he was often amongst the cards as well. He was sent off four times during his Lincoln career, two of these dismissals came in successive games in October 2001 leading to a seven-match suspension.
Despite his somewhat questionable disciplinary record, he was still one of the key members of the City squad during our brief foray into the third tier, and in the seasons afterwards. In his final season at Sincil Bank we were left wondering if there was going to be a club to support, but as sure as death and taxes, Lee Thorpe finished as our leading scorer. Our final game at Sincil Bank of the pre-Keith era was a 1-1 draw against Rochdale. We marched around the city centre before the game and 30 minutes into the encounter, he scored his 57th league goal for us. it was his final one as well.
Our dire financial situation in May 2002 meant cut-backs, and it saw Thorpe move to Leyton Orient on a free transfer to save costs, on the same day that the Club went into administration. Keith Alexander stated eighteen months later that he would have loved to have kept Thorpe at the club for the first play-off season, but it was purely a financial decision. Thorpe was 26.
Not only did he do well scoring goals for City, but he also enjoyed scoring against us. He netted against the Imps whilst playing for Leyton Orient, as well as Bristol Rovers and Darlington. He also played for Brentford, Torquay, Rochdale, Peterborough, Swansea and Grimsby.
It was his goal for Darlington that prompted the sacking of Peter Jackson in September 2009, so even seven years after leaving the club he was still doing us a service.
He was still playing as recently as July 2011, appearing for Fleetwood in the Blue Square Premier. Most recently he’s been working as a scout for Tranmere Rovers.