There have been many players who have donned the red and white striped shirts of Lincoln City over the years, writes Dom Picksley.
There have been good ones, mediocre ones and poor ones, most of whom have had some sort of impact at the club, however small. Some have impressed, many haven’t, but there are also that hardy band who should have enjoyed a solid, and even stellar, career at Sincil Bank, but for many reasons, either did not grasp hold of the opportunity that came their way, their progress was curtailed by injury or their face did not fit at the time.
Here are five former Imps players who could have been labelled as club legends, icons of Sincil Bank, stars who ought to have been fondly remembered by the City faithful, young and old, but who are in fact mere footnotes in the history books of this proud club, recalled by a handful of disciples who were lucky enough to see them perform…
In the 1990s, City seemed to have a policy of signing a series of loan strikers in order to pep up a plethora of misfiring frontlines and Jones arrived at the Bank in 1993 with a good pedigree after scoring a shedload goals in non-league for Grantham, Kettering and Boston United. While at the Pilgrims, he netted around 50 goals in two seasons to trigger a big-money (well, £25,000) move to Southend United – with Lincoln rumoured to have been interested.
Struggling to force his way into the reckoning early on at Roots Hall, he was sent back to Lincolnshire for a spell with the Imps, a move that was met with plenty of approval by those who knew about him from his time with Boston. And his fox-in-the box capabilities were highlighted with two goals in four matches and he looked a real livewire, someone who could have thrived under Keith Alexander, but sadly his deal was only for a month and he headed back down to Essex, where he would score 16 goals in 70 outings before a move back up north to Notts County. Five goals in his first season with the Magpies suggested he wasn’t the answer to their forward line, but he struck 28 times the following season as County clinched the Third Division title, with the Imps also going up in third spot.
It used to surprise me as kid to see a young Wayne Biggins on team photos of Lincoln around 1980, sitting cross-legged on the floor as one of the burgeoning youth team players. I could never remember him really playing for the Imps, but his goalscoring prowess was all too well known thanks to prolific spells at Burnley and Stoke in the 80s and 90s. For some reason, though, he never made the grade at Sincil Bank, released after just eight games (where he scored once), drifting into non-league with two spells at Matlock, punctured by a season at King’s Lynn.
He scored goals by the bucketload at this low level, triggering a move to then third-tier side Burnley, where he would bag 36 goals in 94 outings – including 21 in the 1984-85 campaign despite the Clarets being relegated – to secure a move to Second Division outfit Norwich. Goals didn’t come so freely there, 21 in 97, and after a season at Manchester City, he headed to Stoke, becoming something of a club legend with 55 in 148 games (grabbing 28 in total the 91-92 season). He would go on to play for Barnsley, Celtic, Stoke again, Oxford and Wigan, and carved out a decent career, amassing 156 goals in 558 games, but if Lincoln had kept faith with him, just think how much of a legend he could have become.
A big, tall and physical presence up front, White was another raw striker plucked from the non-league scene by Colin Murphy in 1984 having caught the eye playing for Nottinghamshire club Arnold Kingswell. The step-up from the Midland League to the third tier of professional football was a quite a considerable one to take for the trainee electrician, although there were times he looked at home and thrived. While he was at Lincoln, he enjoyed loan spells at Boston United and Maltese club Naxxar Lions, where he showed his goalscoring prowess. But back with the Imps and in a struggling side, he ultimately found goals hard to come by, scoring just four in 29 outings, and was discarded by new boss George Kerr, whereupon he returned to Boston, before joining Grantham, via a short stint at Shepshed Charterhouse.
A life in non-league football therefore beckoned once more and there the story should end, but he got a shock call from then Bristol Rovers boss Gerry Francis, who had been impressed with the frontman when playing against the Pirates for City and from nowhere his professional career was re-ignited and he blossomed in Avon, scoring over 50 goals in 200 games for the men in blue and white, claiming joint top-scorer honours in the 1991-92 season. He was to go on and play for Cambridge, QPR, Notts County, Watford and Shrewsbury, before returning to his job as an electrician, but one wonders if Kerr had been able to spot a footballer, just what sort of impression he could have made at the Bank… and maybe with him and Gary Lund up front, then relegation to the Conference could have been avoided.
City have not had many players join on loan from Manchester United over the years, but one of the last deals overseen by former manager Allan Clarke was to bring in the precocious 21-year-old midfielder from the Red Devils, in October 1990, presumably with the notion of adding a ‘proper footballer’, to a team of ‘cloggers’. He only played four games in his month-long spell, but showed flashes of potential and you could see from his United upbringing that he was good on the ball at his feet and had that air of confidence about him. But this was not a good time to be joining the Imps, with the atmosphere toxic around Sincil Bank and Clarke finding himself massively under pressure and his job hanging by a thread.
Indeed, Clarke was to receive the bullet not long after Wilson joined and he headed back to United after just a month, back to playing reserve football. He spent a loan spell at Charlton, before joining Bristol Rovers upon his release by United, but he eventually drifted off to Finland and Sweden, where he prospered, winning three Finnish league titles with Haka and HJK Helsinki, and winning promotion to the Swedish top-flight with Ljungskile SK.
I remember reading in the Lincolnshire Echo one summer in the early 1990s that we had the Welsh midfielder on trial and he played against Lincoln United in the annual friendly encounter at Ashby Avenue. A classy midfielder who made a habit of scoring goals from midfield, he had been released by Swansea City, only to drift off into non-league football, helping Barry Town win the Welsh Cup in 1994, before returning to the league with Scarborough. It was around this time that City took a look at him with the view of beefing up their midfield options, a potential signing that excited me at the time.
As with most triallists, a move was not forthcoming and Imps fans saw exactly what they missed out on as he scored for Scunthorpe against the Imps in October 1996, eventually netting 19 goals in 125 games for United, before joining Hull and then Chesterfield. A total of 43 goals from 320 games was a decent return for a dyed-in-the-wool midfielder and is one that definitely got away from the Imps.