The game against Bolton this weekend will see the return of a former Imp, but not one many people saw play for City.
Jack Hobbs has made himself a hero at Bolton for signing a new deal during the troubles and waiting for the FA to ratify it. As an experienced Championship defender he could easily have found another club, but instead he remained loyal to the side that gave him employment last season.
During a career that included stints with Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Leicester, Hobbs developed a reputation as a fearless leader with good aerial ability and a bit of pace too. What some supporters who have found the club in the last decade or so may not know is that he started his career with Lincoln City.
Hobbs was a special talent who came through the youth setup from the age of 11. He came from a footballing family; his sister Nicola also featured for Lincoln and went on to play for Doncaster Belles, Everton and London Bees. Jack is the younger of the two and, after spending five years in the youth setup he was given a three-year scholarship.
He might have found his way into the Lincoln youth setup, but Peterborough were his local side. He went to Spalding Grammar School and played for Moulton Harrox. At Under 14 level he was also allowed to play for Spalding Athletic despite being on Lincoln’s books. Hobbs, who eventually stopped growing at the height of 6ft 3in, also played cricket for Lincolnshire at youth level.
On January 15th, 2005 he finally got to make his debut, coming on as an 89th-minute sub for Matt Bloomer. At 16 years and 149 days, he became the club’s youngest ever Football League debutant, breaking a record that was previously held by Shane Nicholson. Nicholson is still the club’s youngest ever player, his first appearance coming at the age of 16 years and 112 days; he didn’t make his Football League debut until a couple of months later at 16 years 173 days.
I remember the game well, not for Hobbs coming on but for Junior Agogo being sent off. We had gone 1-0 up thanks to Francis Green and Agogo levelled, allegedly making a gesture to the home bench as he did. That earned him a red card and the game ended 1-1. 3929 fans watched that match, 197 of them from Bristol Rovers: that seemed to be a busy afternoon.
The club felt Hobbs was going to be a big player in the future, but so did Liverpool and Arsenal. He didn’t feature for the first team again that season, although he was an unused sub as we beat Grimsby 4-2 the next week, and in matches against Rochdale, Boston and Cambridge. He didn’t feature on the bench after February 19th and watched from the stands as we eventually blew automatic promotion and lost to Southend United in the play-off final.
That summer saw interest from Arsenal and a deal was close to being agreed. How different might his career been if he’d gone to the Gunners? It’s hard to say, but the move fell through after they wanted the sell-on clause removed. At that time it was speculated that both Spurs and Bolton (ironically) were in the hunt.
It was Liverpool who won the race for his signature, not only agreeing to a sell-on clause but also to a friendly at Sincil Bank in the 2006/07 season, which attracted a large crowd. By then, Jack had played for England Under 19s and seemed set for a big career.
He did enjoy a strong career, perhaps not the illustrious one his beginnings hinted at, but a stellar one in which injuries hampered his progress. He played five times for the Reds and twice in the top flight. One of those matches was against Bolton (ironically) where he replaced Jamie Carragher in the 51st minute and the other was a start against Reading. He spent the final six months of the season on loan at Scunthorpe, then the whole of the 2008/09 season at Leicester City, where he faced the Imps in the Football League Trophy.
It was a hugely successful season for him; they won League One and he was named in the PFA Team of the Year. at just 20-years-old he left Liverpool for an undisclosed fee which gave us a small boost, but not the sort of sum I expect we had hoped for when rebuking Arsenal. Another successful season saw him lift their Player of the Year award, and the Player’s Player of the Year award. It seemed as though he was on his way back up the divisions.
Sven Goran Eriksson was the man who eventually let him leave Leicester, first on loan to Hull City and later permanently. After his loan spell he said he wanted to return to Leicester, but returned to Hull permanently and stayed for two Championship campaigns; one of which he missed three months of thanks to an injury, Hull were promoted at the end of his second season and he was sold to Forest.
In five seasons he played just 86 times for Forest, constantly struggling with injury and form and he found himself released at the end of the 2017/18 season. He finally got the move to Bolton last season and played 27 times as they were relegated.
He’s finally back at Sincil Bank for the first time since that Liverpool friendly over a decade ago and I’m sure he’ll get a warm welcome, although hopefully not from Tyler Walker.