Following on from these excellent instalments, here’s Part Three of Malcolm Johnson’s look at the 73/74 season.
With City continuing to play home games on a Sunday I once again went to a First Division game on the day before, this time to Filbert Street to see Leicester City take on Everton in a game which featured two later Imps players in opposition – Graham Cross and Bob Latchford. The following day showed the novelty of Sunday games to be wearing off as the Sincil Bank attendance was down to just 2,615 despite it being a local derby with Mansfield. With Jimmy McGeough’s suspension for his sending off at Brentford not yet due to start and Sam Ellis recovered from a rib injury sustained in that match it was once again an unchanged team. However, City were unable to build on John Ward’s close-range strike early on and conceded a late equaliser from a penalty given away after Ellis handled the ball.
This season was the first in which PFA members voted for Player of the Season awards and these were announced as early as the beginning of March. To the surprise of some supporters, City’s Ian Branfoot was declared the best right back in Division Four thus becoming the first Imp to win such an award.
Prime Minister Edward Heath had called a general election on the issue of “Who governs Britain?” and, although only narrowly, the result told him it wasn’t going to be him. The incoming Labour government under Harold Wilson quickly made a settlement to end the miners’ strike and the three-day week came to an end which meant a return to normality in football and elsewhere
After the promising start to City’s venture into Sunday football with the win over Rotherham the next three home games on that day of the week had produced two defeats and a draw, and together with an away defeat seemed to indicate the day didn’t suit the Imps. At any rate the experiment came to an end and the next game saw the visit of Hartlepool on a Saturday. Perhaps indicating the day of the week had played no part in City’s poor form after all the visitors went away with a 1-0 win in what Maurice Burton in the Football Echo described as City’s “Worst performance for many a long day” as they “looked lethargic and disinterested for far too long”. Also of concern was the drop in attendance to exactly 1,800 – the lowest attendance for a Football League match at Sincil Bank since all the way back in 1927. With McGeough suspended Spencer had returned in midfield, but he and Peter Graham who had been drawing some criticism from supporters for his lack of goals were left out for City’s final Sunday game the following week at Darlington. With John Worsdale and Ian Musson brought into the side City bounced back with a 3-0 scoreline for their first away win since October with goals from McNeil, Ward and Cooper.
Despite the win at the Feethams City actually sank two places in the league table and there was a further fall of two more places to a season-low of 15th following a 2-2 draw with Swansea which did at least see 500 more through the Sincil Bank turnstiles. With Dave Smith making a return from injury for his first game of the year in place of Terry Heath the side was otherwise unchanged. The match got off to a sensational start when future Welsh international Alan Curtis put the visitors ahead within 30 seconds of the kick-off. However, a minute later City had equalised through John Ward before the same player put the Imps ahead with a back-heeled goal after eight minutes, the scoring being completed just over ten minutes later.
The restrictions on the use of electricity were now finally lifted which meant City were able to host Colchester the following Wednesday night but although the emergency was over it was disappointing that the match programme remained in its minimal four-page format for the rest of the season. The City side saw Terry Heath fit enough to return in place of Dave Smith who had only been able to play the first half of the Swansea game and Jimmy McGeough, with his suspension now served was on the subs’ bench. Jim Smith’s side, however, were too strong for the Imps with a 1-0 win courtesy of Bobby Svarc’s third goal of the season against his old side. The scoreline was reversed at Newport the following Saturday though, thanks to Ward’s 16th goal of the season as City ended the month in 12th place. Changes for this game saw Peter Graham return from injury in place of Worsdale with Musson preferred on the wing, and McGeough back in place of the again-unfit Heath.