After missing out on promotion by a single point at the end of the previous season Lincoln City manager David Herd made few changes to the playing squad during the summer of 1972, but one that turned out to be significant was the departure of the hard-tackling John Kurila, writes Malcolm Johnson.
He had been at the heart of the Imps midfield in the second half of the season but was allowed to join Southern League side Dover. The only other player departing was centre forward Alan Gilliver, sold to Bradford City, newly relegated to Division Four (now League Two) for £4,000. A direct replacement for Gilliver at a cost of £8,000 was Northern Irishman Brendan Bradley, who at the age of 22 had already twice finished as leading scorer in the League of Ireland for County Donegal side Finn Harps. Also crossing the Irish Sea was midfielder Jimmy McGeough, joining from the manager’s previous club Waterford for a fee of £6,000. The 29-year-old had also been with Northern Irish side Derry City, scoring for them in European competition, and had played for both the Irish League and League of Ireland representative sides. Incoming on a free transfer was midfielder Colin Symm, aged 25, with limited experience of the top two divisions for Sunderland and his previous club Sheffield Wednesday.
An unwanted consolation for failing to gain promotion was qualification for the short-lived Watney Cup competition for the two highest-scoring teams in each division not to have won anything. At the end of July City faced a Burnley side who had finished seventh in the Second Division (now the Championship). In front of a respectable Sincil Bank crowd of over 7,000 the side gave an encouraging performance before losing to a late goal by Welsh International Leighton James.
David Herd had declared that his target was the Fourth Division championship, but after a season in which there had been 11 league gates of over 7,000 it seemed not everybody was convinced as under 6,000 were at Sincil Bank for the opening day visit of Hartlepool. The game saw Derek Trevis deputising in defence for the unfit Tom Spencer and debuts for Jimmy McGeough and substitute Colin Symm. The annual change of chairman from among the board of directors now saw Dennis Bocock in the hot seat and he made a plea in the programme for people to “back us in every way you know because without your support we are nothing”. The programme itself saw another change in design with the practice of having an unchanged format for year after year clearly having been consigned to the past. An increase in price to 7p also saw an increase in page size with some additional features including a look at the opposition by Maurice Burton, a look at previous meetings between the two sides and a column by the ‘Junior Editor’, one C. J. Travers, a 17-year-old from Sleaford who had won a competition for the post the previous season. There was also a double page spread of photos from recent matches, but rather oddly placed so that it was broken up by the centre pages.
An innovation at matches was ‘audio advertising’ with a company called ‘Sport Audio-Ad’ providing pre-recorded music and adverts to be played over the loudspeakers. This was all very well until midway through the season when for whatever reason new material ceased to be supplied, but in order to keep faith with the advertisers we were subjected to the same advertising spiel (“M. S. Rix at the Mini-Market for your electrical appliance discount”) and the same two records (who remembers Stuart Gillies?) during the halt time interval for match after match.
A 2-1 defeat to Hartlepool in a ragged display by City which left Herd storming: “We were pathetic” was not what anyone had expected, and was followed by my first ever visit to Field Mill which saw an immediate exit from the League Cup. A 3-1 defeat to Mansfield came despite (or perhaps because of) changes which saw Colin Symm replace Dave Smith in midfield plus the return of Spencer at the back. A point was then gained at Darlington, with Smith restored to the side in place of McGeough, full back Mick Bloor replacing George Peden and Brendan Bradley making his debut in attack.
With Spencer injured again and Terry Branston out of favour Herd then acted to bring in the previous season’s loan player Terry Cooper on a permanent transfer from Notts County at a cost of £5,000. But in another home defeat City were lucky to get away with only a 2-0 loss to an Aldershot side featuring former Imps stalwart Jim Grummett.
Faced with a midweek trip to distant Workington, history was made with the team travelling by air to a match for the first time, although Herd bemoaned the fact that in a city surrounded by RAF stations, they had to travel to Castle Donington to get a plane. The mode of travel evidently agreed with the players as with Branston recalled and Cooper switched to midfield in place of the ineffective Frankie McMahon they gave an outstanding display, Brendan Bradley opening his scoring account with a brace in a 3-0 win. Another new ground for me then was Crewe where work was still in progress on completing the covered terracing on the side of the ground now occupied by a massive stand. Bradley was on the mark again with a late goal to secure a point at Gresty Road.
After a rocky few weeks results now began to be of the kind anticipated before the start of the season and a first home win came with on-loan Nottingham Forest reserve goalkeeper Eric Hulme replacing the injured John Kennedy in a 4-1 win over Hereford United, newly elected to the League on the back of their FA Cup exploits in place of the unfortunate Barrow. Four more goals then came at Bury without reply including a hat-trick for Percy Freeman as City continued on an unbeaten sequence that stretched to ten games and established them in third place with attendances boosted to over 6,000. This included a run of seven goals in five games for the tall and skilful Bradley, as he made a sensational start to his City career. Not to be outdone, Dixie McNeil managed six goals in four games, scoring in each one. Worthy of note was the goal credited to him a 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers. Visiting keeper Kim Book caught the ball on his line and as he was standing waiting for players to move upfield McNeil simply walked up to him and shoulder charged him into the net for a goal to be awarded – to the intense irritation of Rovers’ manager Maurice Setters!
If McNeil or Bradley didn’t get you Percy Freeman would, as the ‘Big Three’ were sharing all City’s goals between them. Meanwhile, with John Worsdale as back up in attack, the 21-year-old John Ward had been allowed to join Workington on loan, scoring two goals in his first game for them. Also departing, to pursue a career outside professional football, was young centre half David Kennedy who had featured a few times the previous season but whose last game had been in the Watney Cup defeat.
Coming the other way on a permanent basis for a fee of £4,000 was goalkeeper Eric Hulme who had been something of a lucky talisman in City’s unbeaten run since his loan period had started. But after a Percy Freeman goal rescued a point at home to Northampton results and performances began to deteriorate, starting with my first trip to a ramshackle Sealand Road where another goal from ‘Big Percy’ couldn’t prevent defeat by promotion rivals Chester. A Bradley goal was enough to beat Gillingham and keep City in the top four but it proved to be the last win achieved under the management of David Herd. Meanwhile, the sad news was announced that midfield powerhouse Trevor Meath, despite recently featuring for the reserves had been forced to accept that his career was over after twice suffering serious knee injuries.