Looking Back At: Imps v Bristol Rovers 1983

Saturday 26th November 1983

Lincoln City 4 Bristol Rovers 0 (Canon League Division Three)

In the autumn of 1983 manager Colin Murphy had been in charge of Lincoln City for just slightly over five years and despite relegation to the Fourth Division in his first season had seen the Imps back into Division Three (now League One) two years later. Further promotion had been missed by a single point and the Imps had then come close again in circumstances which led to a new board of directors being in place midway through the season.

City had made a moderate start to 1983/84 but kept things interesting for the supporters with a narrow two-leg defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup. They were currently solidly placed in mid-table with prospects of moving upwards.

Bristol Rovers were in their third season in Division Three following a seven-year spell in the Second and had finished one place below City in 7th the previous season. Following the departure of Bobby Gould to Coventry in the summer long-serving midfielder David Williams had been appointed player-manager and had led them to a top of the table position on the back of a 100% home record. Although still in first place their current away league form, however, showed a record of three draws and one defeat in their last four games.

The teams were:

City:

  1. David Felgate
  2. Gordon Simmonite
  3. Phil Neale
  4. Glenn Cockerill
  5. Alan Walker
  6. Mick Saxby
  7. Keith Houghton
  8. Phil Turner
  9. John Fashanu
  10. Ross Jack
  11. George Shipley
  12. Gordon Hobson

Bristol Rovers:

  1. Phil Kite
  2. Neil Slatter
  3. Brian Williams
  4. Phil Bater
  5. Tim Parkin
  6. Aidan McCaffery
  7. Ian Holloway
  8. Geraint Williams
  9. Steve White
  10. Paul Randall
  11. Mike Barrett
  12. Archie Stephens (for White)

City goalkeeper David Felgate had joined initially on loan from Bolton Wanderers in September 1980, joining permanently for a fee of £25,000 three months later. Missing only a handful of games since his arrival the Welshman had recently become the first Lincoln City player to earn an international cap since 1959.

Right back for City was the craggy Gordon Simmonite who had spent two years with Boston United winning five England semi-professional caps before playing for Blackpool in the Third and Fourth Divisions. He had joined City a year before for £6,000 eventually taking over as regular right back from David Carr. He was partnered by Worcestershire cricket captain Phil Neale now aged 29 and City’s longest-serving player, having been part of both Graham Taylor and Colin Murphy’s promotion-winning sides.

Having lost centre half and captain Trevor Peake to Coventry due to City’s failure to gain promotion his replacement had initially been another former semi-professional international in Keith Houghton who had joined from Carlisle for a fee of £25,000. Not surprisingly, Houghton had rather suffered in comparison to Peake and had recently been switched to midfield, with the signing of 23-year-old Alan Walker for £21,500 from Telford United.

Walker had captained the Conference side to victory in the previous season’s FA Trophy final. Along with Peake, the other half of City’s successful central defensive partnership over the last two seasons, Steve Thompson was also missing. The big defender had suffered a broken leg in a controversial incident in the previous Saturday’s FA Cup win at Port Vale, and signed on loan to cover his absence was Mick Saxby, one of a string of players to spend time on loan from Luton Town in the Colin Murphy years. He had cost the then Second Division club £200,000 when signed from Mansfield four years before.

Alongside Houghton in midfield in City’s usual 4-3-3 formation was youth product Phil Turner, still only 21 although now in his fifth season in the first team, and the skilful George Shipley who had become City’s record signing midway through the 1979/80 season at a cost of £45,000 from Southampton.

Up front, the power and pace of Glenn Cockerill had been a key factor in City’s play since his return from Swindon Town for £40,000 in the summer of 1981 and alongside him was one of the players whose signing had been denied to Colin Murphy midway through the previous season thus arguably derailing City’s promotion challenge. Ross Jack had eventually been signed during the summer from Norwich City for a fee of £15,000 and although criticised by some supporters for a perceived lack of pace he was the current top scorer with 9 goals.

Also up front was the 21-year-old John Fashanu who had been signed to provide ‘competition for places’ as Colin Murphy put it. Another player from Norwich City, he had joined the previous week for a bargain £15,000 after a ten-game loan spell. On the subs’ bench was long-serving and influential striker Gordon Hobson who was still returning to fitness following a knee ligament injury.

In goal for Bristol Rovers was 21-year-old local boy Phil Kite who had broken into the first team three seasons ago and been ever-present last term. Full backs were Neil Slatter who had made his Rovers debut as a sixteen-year-old and was already a Welsh international at the age of 19, and Brian Williams who had previously played as a winger with Swindon, Queens Park Rangers and Bury. In the centre of defence, Tim Parkin had started his career with a few games for Blackburn Rovers before playing for Malmo in Sweden from whom Rovers had signed him two years before. Partnering him was Aidan McCaffery with around 60 games for Newcastle before joining Derby County from where he had moved to Bristol Rovers for a fee of £40,000 three years before.

In midfield was former apprentice Phil Bater who had recently re-joined the club from Wrexham and who was to go on to make over 300 appearances for Bristol Rovers. Also in midfield was 21-year-old Geraint Williams, now in his third season, and who was to go on to help Derby County rise from the Third to First Divisions before spending three seasons with Ipswich in the Premier League, winning 13 Welsh caps along the way. On the right wing was 20-year-old local boy Ian Holloway who had come through into the first team the season before, finishing with 7 goals and beginning to make a reputation for himself with his attacking flair. Nowadays, of course, ‘Ollie’ is best known for spells as manager of Blackpool and other clubs and for being a TV pundit. Left winger was Mike Barrett, another Bristolian, also with his only club, and who was to suffer a tragically early death from lung cancer less than year later.

Up front was prolific striker Paul Randall, who had been sold to Stoke City for £180,000 after scoring 37 goals in 58 games for Rovers. With goals harder to come by in the top two divisions he had returned to Bristol for £55,000 two years later. He had been the previous season’s top scorer with 22 goals and currently had 9 to his name this time around. Alongside him was Steve White who had started his league career with Rovers before being sold for a club record fee to Luton Town. He had then moved on to Charlton, making three undistinguished appearances for City on loan from them earlier in the year before returning to Rovers in the summer. Substitute was 29-year-old Archie Stephens who had been playing local football in his native Liverpool before joining Western League sides Westbury United and Melksham Town and being snapped up by Rovers in 1981.

In his newspaper column prior to the match Colin Murphy had pointed out that he was in the process of rebuilding the team and had some wise words to say which hold good even more so today: “Supporters might well say “never mind making profits, let’s win promotion,” but if you do that, the answer is that there might not be a football club at the end of it all.”

The attendance of 3,709 was fairly typical of the season so far although it was down by around 900 from the previous game which had seen the visit of Scunthorpe, and of course from the 12,000 which had turned out for the game with Tottenham

Although Bristol Rovers made a bright start to the match this ended when a through ball from Glenn Cockerill was deflected by defender Aidan McCaffery into the path of John Fashanu just over the halfway line. He accelerated away and scored his first City goal with a shot on the run from the edge of the penalty area which gave goalkeeper Phil Kite no chance.

The second goal, on 36 minutes, involved Cockerill again as he opened up a gap on the left for full back Phil Neale to run on and pull the ball back for Fashanu to slide it into the net. Kite then initially denied Fashanu his hat-trick with a brilliant save from the big striker’s volley but his and City’s third goal came 12 minutes into the second half. Once again Cockerill was involved, and after being put through on the left by Neale he sped away to set up the almost unmarked Fashanu to slot the ball under the keeper. ‘Fash’ then turned provider eight minutes later, taking a pass from Gordon Simmonite down the right to cross the ball for Ross Jack to score with a powerful header past Kite.

With praise for a brilliant midfield display by Keith Houghton and sound performances by defenders Mick Saxby and Alan Walker not surprisingly the Echo named John Fashanu as man of the match. My own recorded player ratings agreed with that with Fashanu earning a rare 9, with good performances also by Saxby, Simmonite and (as more often than not) George Shipley.

The win saw City move up one place to 12th which was about where they stayed for the majority of the season, slipping to 14th by the end. The defeat knocked Rovers off the top of the division and two defeats and a draw in the next three games saw them slip further away, spending most of the season in 5th place where they were to finish.