The previous season had ended with City having to make their fourth plea for re-election to the Football League in nine seasons, with former Manchester United centre forward David Herd unable to prevent a 21st place finish after his appointment as manager at the beginning of March.
There were a number of changes to the playing squad prior to the new season, with perhaps the biggest surprise being the release of midfield schemer Bill Taylor. The reason given was that the record of 71 league goals conceded meant new defenders were a priority with other players needing to be released to make way for them. The 32-year-old Taylor soon joined Fulham to start a coaching career that was to lead him to being part of the England set-up before his untimely death.
Along with Taylor, three players who had formed the centre of City’s defence for the majority of the last four seasons also left, with Ray Harford, who had arguably just had his poorest season for the club sold to Mansfield for £6,000, and long-serving Jim Grummett, who been wanting a move for the last year joining Aldershot for £4,000. Similarly long-serving back-up Tom Brooks also left to pursue a career outside professional football. With a surfeit of strikers on the books another £2,500 was raised by the selling of Rod Fletcher to Scunthorpe, although some said he had not been given a fair crack of the whip by not being played in his best position the previous season.
Players coming in were all on free transfers, and to the disquiet of some supporters all fairly inexperienced. Two came from Leeds United, being centre half David ‘Jack’ Kennedy, aged 20, with just three first team appearances behind him, and 18-year-old winger David Walls. From two of the manager’s previous clubs came flame-haired Northern Irish midfielder Frank McMahon, aged 21, from Waterford, and from Stoke City’s reserves, 22-year-old full back Mick Bloor and winger John Worsdale, also 22, who had played just four times for the Potteries club.
Off the field, as part of a planned rotation amongst the board members Charles Warner had succeeded Heneage Dove as chairman, and there was soon to be the arrival of a new, younger club secretary in Dick Chester. The latter, apparently at the instigation of David Herd who remembered the ‘United Review’ of his Manchester United days, was responsible for a new-look match programme more fitted for the 1970s than its predecessor. Printed on glossy paper, there was much more content, including in addition to the usual features, full pages devoted to columns by the sports editors of the two local papers. Later in the season cartoons by a local artist also began to be included. All this was at the usual price of 5p, although including plenty of familiar adverts – Parsons Coal, still being ‘Top of the League for Smokeless Fuels and Coal’ – along with some new ones: ‘New Watneys Red – You’ve Only Got to Taste It’, and an admonition to ‘Get a Great Bite’ at the Wimpy Bar on Waterside South.
Due to being on holiday I missed the first game of the season which brought Colchester United to Sincil Bank, but the 6,000-plus who were there saw the Imps in their new Arsenal-style strip of red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts (although this was to change to red shorts later in the season) line up with Mick Bloor making his debut at right back alongside Graham Taylor and a new central defensive partnership of Terry Branston and Trevor Meath. Also making a first appearance was John Worsdale on the right wing, with Phil Hubbard and Nobby Lawton in midfield and Bobby Svarc and Alan Gilliver up front. It was Hubbard and left winger Dave Smith who got the Imps off to a winning start.
Scunthorpe United were then played twice in four days, Gilliver’s first goal for the club being enough to see the Imps progress in the League Cup, but the second visit to the Old Show Ground saw the Iron gain revenge despite a goal from the fit-again Derek Trevis who had replaced Worsdale in the side.
I then managed my first game of the season with the visit of fellow re-elected side Newport County. Two more goals from Gilliver contributed to a 3-1 win as young David Walls made his debut to the exclusion of Svarc who dropped to the bench. Two defeats then followed with a total of seven goals conceded at Crewe and Stockport, David Kennedy coming into the side and scoring his only goal for the club in the latter game as Trevor Meath was moved into midfield.
The Second Round League Cup visit to a Blackburn Rovers side newly relegated from Division Two (now the Championship) then saw some changes made, as David Herd hit upon a 4-3-3 formation that was to serve the club well. In came the fit-again Percy Freeman and the young John Ward to play alongside Gilliver as three out-and-out strikers. Frankie McMahon replaced the injured Nobby Lawton for his debut in midfield and Derek Trevis dropped back into defence, a position he had often played prior to his joining City. A 0-0 draw secured a replay at Sincil Bank the following week which saw Phil Hubbard replace Ward in attack and come up with a ‘perfect’ hat-trick, scoring with a header and both feet to see off the Third Division side.
A first away point of the season was gained at Workington then two more goals for Hubbard in a 3-1 win against Cambridge United set things up for the midweek visit of league leaders Grimsby. The best league attendance for nearly 12 years of over 15,000 turned up to see a satisfying victory over the old rivals as three more goals were scored without reply including a crashing 25-yarder for McMahon’s first City goal and a first of the season for Percy Freeman as City moved into the top half of the league table.
A League Cup exit came at Loftus Road, as a Queens Park Rangers side containing the likes of Gerry Francis, Terry Venables, and Rodney Marsh was simply too good for City in a 4-2 win. However, the goals continued to flow at home, with Hubbard scoring his seventh goal in five games and Percy Freeman a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Exeter.
But then, just as it looked as if the Imps were on the point of breaking into the top four, they were knocked back again as once more seven goals were conceded in two away defeats. However, they continued to flow at home as Freeman’s eighth goal in seven games contributed to a 3-2 win over Peterborough. This game saw a surprise reappearance in the side of Roger Holmes who had last appeared in the first team 18 months previously and was still on the books as an amateur following the series of injuries that had blighted the later stages of a career stretching back to City’s Second Division days. Sadly, he had been called into the side to replace midfield powerhouse Trevor Meath who had been back to his best form until the aggravation of his knee injury in the previous game at Doncaster. With Holmes no longer really up to the mark former Fulham midfielder Roger Davidson was brought in on a trial basis and made his debut in the first away win of the season, achieved thanks to a Phil Hubbard goal at Bury as a more defensive formation was employed with David Kennedy as a third centre back.