Looking Back At: Imps v Tranmere 1966

Saturday 5th November 1966

Lincoln City 2 Tranmere Rovers 0 (Football League Division Four)

After having to seek re-election to the Football League in both of the last two seasons Lincoln City had not made a good start to 1966/67 and a record of only one win in nine league games had resulted in player-coach Roy Chapman being relieved of responsibility for team affairs. The new manager, former Millwall and Brentford boss Ron Gray, had been unable to prevent away defeats at Aldershot and Bradford City and the Imps were now rooted to the bottom of the league with only six points from 14 games.

Tranmere Rovers were reckoned to be one of the strongest sides in the division, having just missed out on promotion by finishing fifth in each of the last two seasons and were currently placed fourth, just one point behind leaders Wrexham. Rovers were managed by 53-year-old Scotsman Dave Russell who had had playing experience with East Fife and Sheffield Wednesday before the war. He was now in his sixth season in charge of Tranmere after previously guiding Bury to promotion from the third tier.

 The teams were:

City:

  1. Dave Tennant
  2. Tom Brooks
  3. John Murray
  4. Dick Scott
  5. Bert Loxley
  6. Jim Grummett
  7. Geoff Anderson
  8. Roy Chapman
  9. Joe Bonson
  10. Roger Holmes
  11. Ken Allison
  12. Alan Pilgrim (for Chapman)

Tranmere:

  1. Jim Cumbes
  2. Stan Storton
  3. Eddie Robertson
  4. Barry Ashworth
  5. Roy McFarland
  6. John King
  7. Mandy Hill
  8. Joe Pritchard
  9. Brian Westlake
  10. Roy Sinclair
  11. Graham Williams
  12. Alan Blundell

In goal for City was former Walsall youngster Dave Tennant who had initially joined City on trial in September and had made his debut two weeks earlier in place of the more experienced Colin Treharne.

With one exception City fielded a fairly youthful back four, with 18-year-old Tom Brooks the youngest. He had made a good impression when making his debut at centre half the season before last aged just 17, but since then had mostly featured at full back when called into the team. At left back, and making his debut in this game was Ron Gray’s first signing since becoming manager, 22-year-old Scotsman John Murray on a month’s trial from Stirling Albion. Aged 21 was the increasingly popular Jim Grummett, now in his fourth season with the club and to be ever-present in defence for the current season. Experience at the back was provided by former Notts County stalwart Bert Loxley who had joined the club as trainer-coach during the summer with his playing days thought to be over. But the 32-year-old had found himself in the first team following injuries to regular centre half Les Moore and full backs Alf Jones and Jeff Smith.

For this game the new manager fielded a formation with three in midfield. These included summer signing from Scunthorpe United Dick Scott who had a record of being a League Cup winner with Norwich City and a Welsh Cup winner with Cardiff. Alongside him were Roger Holmes, a veteran of City’s Second Division days, and Ken Allison who had arrived from Darlington the previous February as part of a deal which took leading scorer Barry Hutchinson to the Quakers.

On the right wing was Geoff Anderson, signed by Roy Chapman from his previous club Mansfield Town in the close season and ever-present in the season so far, scoring three goals. Centre forward was 30-year-old Joe Bonson, a player for whom City had paid £2,000 to Brentford in January. He had a fine scoring record with clubs in all four divisions of the Football League, but as with Dick Scott and certain other players of the mid-1960s, once joining City his career seemed to take a downturn. He had however averaged a goal every other game in the previous season after joining City but had just three goals from 16 games so far this time around. Also up front was the former player-coach Roy Chapman who had retained his place in the side under the new boss. Now aged 32, he had been a notable player for City in their Second Division days before returning from Mansfield in January 1965 and was currently leading scorer with nine goals. City substitute was 19-year-old part-time professional Alan Pilgrim who had made his debut the previous season and had recently been filling in at left back prior to the signing of Murray.

In goal for Tranmere was 22-year-old Jim Cumbes, now breaking through into the first team and who was to go on to have several seasons in the top two divisions with West Bromwich and Aston Villa. At the same time, he was about to start a lengthy career as a fast bowler in county cricket, most notably with Worcestershire who seemed at one time to specialise in footballer-cricketers (not least Phil Neale of course).

At right back was the experienced Stan Storton who was later to manage various non-league clubs in the north west including Telford United during City’s late 1980s Conference season. He was partnered by Eddie Robertson who had previously won promotion with Bury under manager Russell. The centre of the Tranmere defence featured the 18-year-old Roy McFarland who was to find fame with Derby County who he joined a year later, also playing 28 times for England. Some experience alongside him was provided by John King who after finishing his playing career with non-league Wigan Athletic returned to Tranmere as manager in 1975 leading them to promotion a year later. He then returned to the club for a second spell and led them to promotion again, this time from the Fourth to Second Divisions, establishing them for a time as a second-tier club.

In midfield were former Southend and Hartlepools man Barry Ashworth and the local-born Joe Pritchard. On the right wing was Mandy Hill who had started his career with his home town club Blackpool where he had succeeded Stanley Matthews in the side. The winner of four Under-23 international caps, he was now in his third season with Tranmere and why he was always known as Mandy when his given name was Stephen is not recorded. Left winger was a full international player with five caps for Wales, Graham Williams having had experience in the top two divisions for Everton and Swansea then playing for his home-town club of Wrexham before dropping into the Southern League with Wellington Town. He had joined Tranmere in the summer.

Rovers centre forward was Brian Westlake who had played over 100 games for Halifax Town before being another player to join Tranmere in the summer. He had come into the side to replace leading scorer John Manning who had recently joined Shrewsbury Town. Westlake was partnered by 21-year-old Roy Sinclair, Liverpool-born, who had come through the ranks across the Mersey with the Birkenhead club and who was later to spend many years playing and managing in America. Substitute was midfielder Alan Blundell, another player to come through the ranks and who had made his first team debut the previous season.

The attendance of 3,159 showed a falling off of around a thousand from the usual early season optimism, but was slightly up on the previous home game for the new manager’s first game at Sincil Bank. In his programme notes Ron Gray said he was “certainly realistic about the club’s position in the league table”, and said there was an “awful lot of hard work to be done, and it will be, to endeavour to lift the Imps from the basement floor”. He said that “100% plus effort” was needed by all, and that there was ”no substitute for hard work”.

After their evening’s fireworks people had the option of going along to the social club under the South Park stand where there was a star cabaret double bill at 8.30pm of Johnny Hughes (‘The Big Voice’) and The Two of Us (‘Guitar and Song’).

After an uneventful start to the match there was a scare for City in the 8th minute when right back Tom Brooks had to clear off the line after goalkeeper Dave Tennant failed to hold the ball from a Tranmere corner. City then had a spell on top and it was the visitors’ keeper Jim Cumbes who in turn dropped the ball at a corner when challenged by City centre half Bert Loxley. However, Joe Bonson somehow could only put the ball over the bar and into the stand. Trialist left back John Murray impressed with some skilful touches and started a move which led to Roy Chapman shooting well over the top from 30 yards.

After the break it was winger Geoff Anderson’s turn to put a long range shot over the bar before City wasted a good chance to take the lead when Bonson headed wide of the goal after beating future England player Roy McFarland in the air. However, the lead arrived after 63 minutes following a free kick 30 yards from goal. It was taken by Loxley and lofted to Chapman who headed across goal for Bonson to drive the ball past Cumbes for his first league goal of the season. Tranmere responded with Tennnant having to save from Sinclair and Westlake putting a header over the bar before they should have scored when Mandy Hill raced clear on the right but could only find the side netting with a shot that beat Tennant. The Tranmere winger came even closer minutes later when he saw another shot hit the post and bounce into the middle with no team-mate on hand to take advantage.

In what was a vigorous display by City for the new manager a well-deserved victory was sealed ten minutes from time when Chapman sent a high ball into the goalmouth and although the Tranmere defenders tried to crowd Bonson out he turned the ball to Anderson who rammed it into the net.

The win moved City to within a point of the club above them but despite a memorable 8-1 win against Luton Town a month later they were to remain bottom of the league until a run of four wins and only one defeat from seven games lifted them to 22nd place by mid-March. However, with only five points gained from the next 13 games they were condemned to finish bottom of the league by the time the last game of the season saw a Ron Gray-assembled team pull off an amazing 5-4 win at champions Stockport.

Only five of the players that took part in the game against Tranmere survived the new manager’s post-season clear-out, with John Murray not retained following his trial period, Bert Loxley reverting to trainer, Ken Allison going to play in America, and Dick Scott and Joe Bonson dropping into non-league football with Kings Lynn and Hednesford respectively. The only player of the 12 to move to another Football League club was top scorer for the season Roy Chapman who joined Port Vale.

Tranmere’s first defeat in 13 games saw them remain in fourth place but now three points behind new leaders Stockport. They remained consistently in the four promotion places, rising as high as second by the end of February before going one better than either of their last two seasons and finishing fourth.

Over 53 years on I remember nothing of the match!

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