Firstly, before we get into another of Malcolm’s excellent articles on the late sixties, an apology from me. This series was meant to run concurrently, building up a wonderful picture of everything from 1965 right through to the seventies. That hasn’t quite happened because for some reason, I missed this piece on 67/68 and skipped right on to 68/69!
For the third year in a row in 1967 City had won the most votes for re-election to the Football League and while the 1960s had been a decade of almost unrelieved gloom for the long-suffering supporters that was finally about to change. Although Ron Gray, appointed as manager the previous October had been unable to prevent a last-place finish he now inspired a revitalisation of the club on and off the field.
The Red Imps branding was born, thanks to a new playing strip of all-red shirts, which with white shorts saw an end to the tradition of stripes and black shorts. Other innovations saw the match loudspeaker activity branded as ‘Radio Red Imps’, a new ‘Fighting Fund’ lottery to complement the fund-raising activities of the Supporters Club and the introduction of the Red Imps Girls selling the match draw tickets, price 6d (2½p).
Gray also had a clear-out of players on a scale not equalled until Colin Murphy did the same in 1987. Out went the remaining established players that he had inherited as manager, retaining only the youthful potential of Tom Brooks (aged 19), Alan Pilgrim (20), Phil Hubbard (18), Jim Grummett (22) and Dave Tennant (22), the one exception being Roger Holmes, himself only 24, and perhaps the most consistent of the players through the dark times of the 1960s, and the last remaining survivor of the Second Division days.
Also departing were former player-coach Roy Chapman to Port Vale despite top-scoring with 21 goals the previous season, midfielder Ken Allison (to America), winger Geoff Anderson (to Hastings), Joe Bonson (to Hednesford), Ken Fencott (Tamworth), Harry Godbold (Spalding), veteran defender Les Moore (Lockheed Leamington), Alf Jones (Wigan Athletic), stalwart full back Jeff Smith and goalkeeper Colin Treharne (to Ilkeston).
Players brought in were all free transfer men, with a new goalkeeper being Northern Irishman John Kennedy, aged 26, who had made one appearance for Celtic’s first team. A part-time professional, he was also a teacher at the City School. Also incoming was John Gregson from Mansfield Town, replacing the other ex-Mansfield right winger Anderson. 22-year-old centre half Ray Harford joined from Exeter City, full back Mick Brown from Hull City reserves, Bobby Samuels, aged 21 from Dundee United reserves, full back Alan York from Bradford City, and another part-timer and schoolteacher in 21-year-old striker Rod Fletcher, a former Leeds United junior who had made one appearance for Crewe.
In previous articles I’ve noted the games I saw myself, but from now on I missed very few – at least on Saturdays, when after arriving from Nottingham the afternoon started with pie and chips in Woolworth’s cafeteria before the walk down the High Street and Sewell’s Walk to Sincil Bank and the Railway End for at least half the match (you could still change ends in those days). After the match, there was the wait for the Football Echo at one of the newspaper stands on the High Street to read over a cheese roll in the bus station café while waiting for the train home from the adjacent St Marks station.
The season opened in fairly undistinguished fashion with a last-minute header from defender Jim Grummett rescuing a point at home to Aldershot. Attracted by some encouraging pre-season friendly results and an air of optimism an attendance of over 6,400 turned up to see five players making their home debuts. There was a new programme cover design in evidence – although the contents were unchanged, even down to the usual adverts: “Parsons Coal Scores Every Time, 156 High Street”. However, match ball donations now made their first appearance. The format was to last for some time and was one of the most feeble for years, being built around the ‘Football League Review’ which was stapled into it. This was a standard-issue magazine which to me always seemed to function as an excuse for clubs such as City to put minimal effort into programme production.
A good start was made in the League Cup, inspired by a Roger Holmes brace helping to overturn a 2-0 half time deficit to win at Third Division Mansfield Town. This was followed by two more goals for Holmes and three for Clive Ford in the course of successive away wins – a feat not achieved since nearly four years previously – to put City in the dizzy heights of fourth place. Despite a midweek home defeat by Darlington (Ford scoring again) Roger Holmes’s fifth goal in six games helped retain fourth place going into the Second Round League Cup clash at home to Newcastle United. This game really caught the imagination of the public with over 15,000 turning up to see the mid-table First Division side. With Ray Lancaster struggling for form in midfield Ron Gray had acted to bring in trialist Phil Barlow from Bradford City and he was one of the heroes who came back from a goal down to win through with goals from Grummett and a George Peden penalty in the 85th minute, the victory in no small part due to Ray Harford’s domination of Welsh international centre forward Wyn Davies.