Looking Back At: 1970/71

Two more defeats followed after the Stockport game, both by 1-0 including the reverse fixture with a Cambridge United side including former Imps winger John Gregson and former trialist Peter Leggett. This turned out to be a stormy affair with the visitors holding on to an early goal before having two men sent off in injury time in a game in which City themselves were no angels.

Results continued to be mixed as Branston, in the receipt of criticism from some supporters was dropped and Jim Grummett brought back into the side with Derek Trevis now playing as a sweeper. This allowed Rod Fletcher to return and he responded with a couple of goals. Phil Hubbard was also moved to full back for a few games to the exclusion of George Peden as Bert Loxley sought to change things around. Back in midfield again, Hubbard was on the scoresheet in a satisfying 4-1 win over Scunthorpe United built on a first half penalty save by John Kennedy from a 19-year-old Kevin Keegan. A midweek visit to table-topping Notts County then followed with the surprise inclusion of reserve defender Tom Brooks as part of a packed defence that secured a 0-0 draw. But home and away defeats saw City down in 15th place by the time of the visit of Barrow in the FA Cup.

Out-of-favour striker Bobby Svarc had scored three goals in a two-month spell on loan with Barrow but an injury crisis at Sincil Bank meant he was hurriedly recalled and almost predictably scored one of the goals in City’s 2-1 win. The number of injuries also saw the inclusion of young full back Joe Kelleher for his only first team appearance. After having failed to establish himself in the side since joining from Leicester two years before Svarc finally came good for City just at the right time with Percy Freeman suffering intermittent injury problems and hit a purple patch of 12 goals in 17 games that brightened up the mid-season after City’s early season spark seemed to have deserted them.

With Terry Branston having had to deputise at full back for a couple of games Graham Taylor was fit to return for the visit of Third Division Bradford City in the Second Round of the FA Cup for the second season in a row. Former Imps favourite Norman Corner was on the scoresheet as a 2-2 draw was repeated in the replay the following Wednesday, Corner emulating Svarc in scoring in both games. With John Kennedy and Gordon Hughes now on the injured list 19-year-old former Manchester United youngster John McInally was in goal and Rod Fletcher on the right wing for the second replay with Bradford as yet again there were goals for both Corner and Svarc as the Imps triumphed 4-1 at the neutral ground of Belle Vue, Doncaster. In the league however, the Boxing Day visit of Colchester was the middle one of three 2-1 defeats in a row, and if losing wasn’t bad enough a blizzard which sprung up, blowing into the faces of those of us on the Sincil Bank terracing made me the coldest I think I’ve ever been in my life.

Disappointingly, the Third Round FA Cup draw had produced a visit to Third Division Torquay and despite taking a three-goal lead midway through the first half the Imps threw it away by letting in four goals.

With George Peden on the injured list Branston, now appointed team captain, had another spell at right back with Graham Taylor on the left. Good news was that powerful midfielder Trevor Meath was fit enough to make a return to the first team squad after his serious knee injury the previous January but was still some way off his best.

Despite a 3-0 win over promotion-chasing Southport the Imps remained rooted in the lower half of the league table and attendances were down to the 4,000 mark from an early-season 6-7,000 as hopes of a promotion challenge were disappearing. With Percy Freeman now on the injured list it gave the opportunity for Rod Fletcher to have a run of games in his best position but he could only manage one goal before being required to fill in at times on both wings.

The disruption caused by a series of players having spells on the sidelines through injury did not help when a run of two draws and three defeats ensued, including by 1-0 in front of a crowd of over 10,000 at Sincil Bank swelled by supporters of a Notts County side marching towards promotion. This game saw the debut of two new signings as the squad received much-needed strengthening with two players who had been turning out regularly for Third Division Brighton. Into midfield came 30-year-old former ‘Busby Babe’ Nobby Lawton who had over 150 Second Division games for Preston behind him and who had captained them in the 1964 Cup Final. With him for the cost of £10,000 came big striker Allan Gilliver with 8 goals for the Seagulls in the season so far and who had plenty of Division Two experience with Huddersfield and Blackburn. It did not help that the next game saw the visit of third-placed Bournemouth and a 36th goal of the season by their scoring sensation Ted MacDougall contributed to another home defeat which left City one point outside the bottom four and worse saw both Gilliver and Bobby Svarc added to the injured list.

The result of all this was the end of Bert Loxley’s term as manager as he reportedly with some relief reverted to the position of trainer only. His replacement was David Herd who had turned down City’s approach for him as a player the previous summer. With his playing career now over after making just a handful of appearances for Irish side Waterford he took the manager’s chair at the age of 36. He started off well with two away draws followed by the visit of a top three side for the third home game in a row which saw Oldham Athletic beaten 2-1. Disappointing news for some at this time was the release of veteran winger Gordon Hughes on the well-worn path to Boston United.

The good start for Herd was not followed up however, with a run of four defeats including a remarkable 4-5 loss at home to York City which included a first goal for the 18-year-old John Ward, given his debut in the previous match at Workington after scoring nine in eight games for the reserves. In his programme notes David Herd had suggested ‘a real cracking game’ might be in prospect, and that was certainly the case in a first half when it seemed as if every time a player had an effort at goal it went into the net. But as so often with a high-scoring first half, after the break there was only one further goal – unfortunately scored by the visitors. Three more goals were shipped without reply as bottom-of-the-table Barrow went away with revenge for their FA Cup defeat. With George Peden having suffered a broken leg at Scunthorpe the Imps were really up against it with injuries again, with Trevor Meath having to play in a variety of positions and Tom Brooks returning to the side at full back.

By now employing a system of three at the back a run of four draws was not enough to lift City above 21st position. A first win in ten games with the fit-again Freeman and Svarc scoring, was followed by two further draws – one off them almost another 4-5 scoreline but ending at 4-4 – which saw the Imps unable to escape the bottom four.

The Player of the Season was deservedly Phil Hubbard who finished with 19 goals, many of them from midfield although increasingly played as a striker later in the season. Percy Freeman, Derek Trevis and Bobby Svarc were also well into double figures with City’s total of 70 goals scored equalling the best outside the top four clubs – but the 71 conceded was the fifth worst in a season which had started quite well but then steadily deteriorated with an apparently endless series of injury problems. A criticism of the club was that Bert Loxley had been left to do the jobs of both manager and trainer without assistance, with the implication being he had insufficient time to ensure the fitness of the players which had led to so many injuries. David Herd certainly made no bones about saying soon after his appointment that there was a ‘lack of fitness among some of the players’. At any rate, City, for the fifth time in nine seasons had once again to apply for re-election to the Football League – but better times lay ahead.

Champions of the Fourth Division were Notts County with a record number of points and also promoted were Bournemouth, Oldham Athletic and York City. Elsewhere, Arsenal became only the fourth side ever to do the ‘double’ of winning both the First Division championship and the FA Cup as they beat Liverpool at Wembley. Closer to home Lincoln United won the championship of the Yorkshire League in only their fourth season in the competition.