The dark days of the 1960s had seen successive relegations from the Second to the Fourth Divisions followed by four applications for re-election to the league in five seasons, but three years of stability for Lincoln City had followed under manager Ron Gray writes Malcolm Johnson.
However, there had been increasing disappointment that a promotion challenge had not been sustained in either of the last two seasons and in May 1970 this led to changes in the boardroom with buying of shares giving control to four of the existing directors who felt that a stalemate had been reached in the club’s affairs. The new chairman was farmer Heneage Dove, replacing Walter Mant who resigned from the board along with two colleagues.
Before long, Ron Gray had been dismissed despite having over a year left on his contract and although it emerged later that former Manchester United star David Herd was in the frame for the manager’s job it was given to City’s 36-year-old trainer Bert Loxley. There had been a possibility that Graham Taylor, now with coaching qualifications could have been appointed as his assistant but Loxley preferred that the full back concentrate on a playing role.
The new boss made few changes to the playing squad, with unsuccessful goalkeeper Colin Withers released along with midfielder Dave Helliwell and young reserve striker Roy Turnbull. Withers was to spend a season playing in Holland before joining Southern League Atherstone Town while Helliwell, despite having had a disappointing time with City went on to spend six seasons in the Fourth Division with Workington before finishing his league career with Rochdale.
Just two new players were signed, one of them to become a Sincil Bank legend. A 25-year-old former lorry driver named Percy Freeman joined on a free transfer from West Bromwich Albion. Although Newark-born he had played for a variety of local clubs in the West Midlands area before joining the First Division outfit, making just three appearances for them. Several other lower division clubs were said to have been interested in signing him, so it was all-round a good bit of business by Bert Loxley to get him to join the Imps. Also joining was 27-year-old Derek Trevis, something of a utility player, who cost £6,000 from Third Division side Walsall and who had previously made around 200 appearances for Colchester United.
The club was also said to interested in signing David Herd as a player following his release from Stoke City, but the veteran centre forward elected to continue his playing career with League of Ireland side Waterford who were managed by his former team-mate Shay Brennan. Another rumoured transfer target was experienced centre half Terry Branston being lined up as a replacement for stalwart defender Jim Grummett who it was reported wished to leave the club. However, Branston for now opted to remain with his present club Luton Town.
The season started on a historic note with the Imps providing the first opposition for Cambridge United, newly elected to the Football League in place of Bradford after being Southern League champions for the last two years. The Park Avenue club had finished bottom for three years in a row and in next to last place the season before that, so it was little surprise to anyone outside West Yorkshire when they became the first club to be voted out of the league since Gateshead ten years earlier. In addition to the achievement of their Southern League championships Cambridge had put a lot of effort into canvassing for votes and reaped their reward, resulting in a home game with the Imps to welcome them into the league.
I couldn’t miss this game, although it meant a three-hour journey from Nottingham on the Clacton-on-Sea summer coach service. Arrived at Cambridge, and with prominent floodlight pylons visible not far from the town centre I made my way the ground only to find it was the home of Cambridge City. Luckily, there was still time to find out the location of the Abbey Stadium in time for kick-off and the purchase of a programme boasted to be a ‘Special Issue’ although it turned out that the only thing special about it was being double the usual price.
Percy Freeman and Derek Trevis made their debuts for the Imps in a new strike partnership, with the previous season’s top scorer Rod Fletcher pushed out to the left wing to the exclusion of Dave Smith. With most neutrals hoping for a win for the newcomers Derek Trevis put a dampener on things with an early goal but Cambridge rescued a point with an equaliser 12 minutes from the end.
Attention then turned to the League Cup with a visit from Grimsby on the Wednesday night which in those days was still the night for midweek games. A welcome innovation for me was a new kick-off time of 7.15pm as this meant I could now stay to the end of the match and not be faced with running down the High Street to St. Marks Station for the last train. However, much to my disappointment this was only to last for three games due to objections from people finding it difficult to get to the ground early enough.
There was a long overdue change to the programme after three seasons, with a new cover design although there were only a few additions to the content including two pages giving maps and directions to forthcoming away fixtures. The only other change was the moving of the team line-ups to the back page and the inclusion of biographical details of the referee. These improvements came at the cost of a one third price increase to one shilling, also shown on the cover with its decimal equivalent of 5p ready for the ‘new money’ to be introduced the following February. One shilling was also the cost of the Golden Goal tickets introduced for the first time.
Derek Trevis was on the scoresheet again, along with a first goal for Freeman in a hard-fought match with a late penalty save by John Kennedy seeing the Imps go through to the next round with a 2-1 win. ‘Big Percy’ then made it three goals in two games with a brace in the next match which was the famous occasion when the goalposts collapsed. Standing in my usual place at the Railway End I had a close-up view when with a cross coming in, several players ended up in the back of the net and brought the crossbar down with them as one of the posts snapped off just above the ground. Losing 2-0 with only four minutes to go the visiting Brentford players immediately surrounded the referee apparently demanding the game be abandoned, but Mr Williams of Wrexham came on the loudspeaker system to announce the game would resume when the goalposts were replaced. This was eventually done, with even some of the City players helping to string the net up on the new set of posts, fetched from the St Andrews pitch. Although the majority of the crowd had left, after a delay of around forty minutes the remaining time was played out.
Successive away defeats then followed, with the first change to the line-up seeing the recall of Dave Smith on the left wing in place of Rod Fletcher. Although his pace was an asset in that position too often good positions were being wasted due to Fletcher’s inability to cross the ball with his left foot.
A 3-1 home win over Workington including a fourth goal of the season for Freeman saw the Imps in mid-table for the visit of Second Division Sunderland in the League Cup. Ineligible for the game was Terry Branston finally signed for £5,000 after losing his place in the Luton Town side. Over 10,000 turned up at Sincil Bank for the visit of the side newly-relegated from the First Division and boasting five internationals in their lineup. Two headed goals from the ‘deadly duo’ of Trevis and Freeman saw the Imps through in a 2-1 win which would have been more convincing had visiting keeper Jim Montgomery not saved a penalty from Bill Taylor.
League action then saw a fine 4-1 win at lowly Barrow with Branston making his debut to the exclusion of the want-away Grummett and Rod Fletcher back for one game at centre forward in the absence of Freeman. An oddity was Barrow’s goal being scored by Bobby Svarc who had been allowed to join the north west club on loan from the Imps and allowed to play against his parent club.
Despite a disappointing home defeat to Southend just under 9,000 then turned up to see another two goals from Freeman in a 3-0 win over a lifeless Grimsby Town side. Wins at Aldershot and by 4-1 at home to Exeter with a hat-trick for Derek Trevis saw City in sixth place in the league table as they went into their Third Round League Cup tie, which for the first but not the last time meant a visit to Crystal Palace. Lying third in the First Division, the London side proved too classy for the Imps with a 4-0 win. Two nights later four more goals were shipped in a 4-3 defeat at Stockport, although this did include a brace for Phil Hubbard, making it five in four league games for him. Since first coming into the Imps side almost five years before there had always been some question as which was the local-born player’s best position – full back, central defence, midfield or striker. It appeared that previous manager Ron Gray had favoured him as a right back, but this season he had really come into his own in midfield, frequently running at opposition defences in a similar manner to the departed Jack Lewis and as often as not finishing off with a goal.