Looking Back At: Southend Away, 1981

Saturday 11th April 1981

 Southend United 0 Lincoln City 0 (Football League Division Four)

Appointed manager in November 1978 Colin Murphy had been unable to prevent Lincoln City’s relegation from Division Three (now League One) at the end of the season, but after rebuilding the side he had overseen a solid 7th place finish in Division Four at the end of the 1979/80 season. Now, after rising into the top four promotion places after only three games of the current season the Imps had spent the majority of it in second place and with six games still to play had effectively clinched promotion the previous Saturday with a 1-0 win over Hereford United at Sincil Bank. This had actually been only Lincoln’s second victory in a run of nine games which included six draws as they eventually rather ground their way to promotion based on a tight defensive record.

Southend were managed by Scotsman and former Burnley and Brighton full back Dave Smith who had led Mansfield Town to the Fourth Division championship in 1975 before joining the Roots Hall club a year later. He had led Southend in turn to promotion in his second season and stayed with club despite relegation back to the fourth tier two years later. Since early October Southend had been the team City were chasing at the top of the division and results elsewhere the previous week meant they too had already clinched promotion to bounce straight back to Division Three. But like City their recent form had been mixed with three defeats as well as three wins in their last six games.

With City two points behind Southend with a game in hand the match was being billed as a title decider, and with the Shrimpers being the top scoring team in the division and the Imps having the best defensive record, home manager Dave Smith summed it up in his programme notes: “To me the clash is very much a case of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force.”

As things turned out the former came out on top.

The teams were:

City:

  1. David Felgate
  2. Trevor Thompson
  3. Phil Neale
  4. David Carr
  5. Trevor Peake
  6. Steve Thompson
  7. Tony Cunningham
  8. Phil Turner
  9. Gordon Hobson
  10. Wayne Biggins
  11. George Shipley
  12. Derek Bell (for Biggins)

 

Southend:

  1. Mervyn Cawston
  2. Micky Stead
  3. Steve Yates
  4. Tony Hadley
  5. Alan Moody
  6. Dave Cusack
  7. Terry Gray
  8. Ron Pountney
  9. Derek Spence
  10. Keith Mercer
  11. Anton Otulakowski
  12. Garry Nelson (for Mercer)

City goalkeeper David Felgate had joined initially on loan from Bolton Wanderers the previous September, signing permanently for a fee of £25,000 three months later. The 21-year-old had not made the Bolton first team but had played over 50 league games in loan spells with Rochdale and Crewe.

Full backs were Trevor Thompson who had joined from Newport County mid-way through the previous season for £10,000 and Phil Neale who had spent most of the current season playing in midfield. At 26, and the longest-serving player in the squad he was the last survivor of Graham Taylor’s championship side of 1975/76 and was already back in pre-season training for his summer job of playing county cricket for Worcestershire.

In the centre of the defence, Trevor Peake was in his second season with the Imps after joining from non-league Nuneaton Borough for a fee of £15,000. The 24-year-old, who was to be named in the PFA Fourth Division Team of the Year, had formed a solid partnership with Steve Thompson, another player costing £15,000 from a non-league club, this time Boston United from whom he had joined City just after the end of the previous season.

In midfield, plenty of endeavour was supplied by Phil Turner, a product of City’s nursery side in Sheffield who had broken through into the first team the previous season and was now a regular at the age of 19. Alongside him was David Carr who had joined the club from Luton Town for £20,000 in the summer of 1979 and had initially been played in midfield before forming a partnership with Peake in defence. He had recently been switched back to midfield following Steve Thompson’s return from injury. The midfield trio was completed by the skilful George Shipley who had become City’s record signing midway through the previous season at a cost of £45,000 from Southampton.

For this game Colin Murphy sprung a surprise on Southend (“I like to keep a trick or two up my sleeve”) by playing young striker Wayne Biggins in a deep-lying role behind the front two. The 19-year-old, sometimes known as ‘Bert’, was a product of the youth system and was playing just his fourth game after scoring on his debut against Hartlepool three weeks previously. With City having a surplus of strikers at the time he was allowed to leave during the close season and dropped into non-league football before working his way back up and going on to play for several high-profile clubs, most notably Stoke City.

City’s leading scorer with 21 goals was Gordon Hobson who had joined City in December 1977 after playing local football in his native Sheffield. Originally a winger he had emerged as a prolific scorer under Colin Murphy. Also up front was another of Colin Murphy’s 1979 summer signings from non-league football, Tony Cunningham having joined from Stourbridge for £20,000. He had played only intermittently in the current season until stepping into the shoes of the departed Mick Harford in mid-December.

Substitute was striker Derek Bell who had cost £33,000 from Barnsley midway through the previous season but who had been prevented by injury from making more than a few brief appearances in the current campaign.

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