Huge thanks to Malcom Johnson who has once again produced an in-depth and extensive insight into the Imps’ 1974/75 season, spread across four parts over the next four days. Enjoy.
The previous season had been rather an inconsistent one for Lincoln City, and although twice breaking into the top four promotion places a poor last third of the season had seen them fall away to finish in 12th place. Having completed over a season and a half as manager with two mid-table finishes it was still far from clear that Graham Taylor was the man to provide a long-wished-for promotion back to the Third Division the Imps had last played in twelve years before.
With Dennis Bocock no longer on the board of directors, Charles Warner, who had replaced him as chairman in April warned that Taylor would now have a smaller budget to work with following the announcement in April of quite a substantial loss of over £40,000. This, together with the amount of money that had been expended on acquiring players such as Ian Branfoot, Sam Ellis, Peter Graham and others during the year 1973 perhaps lay behind the summer transfer dealings, and probably led to the sale of previous season’s top scorer Dixie McNeil to Hereford United for £20,000. As it was, almost half of this money was expended on the purchase of Dennis Booth from Southend for £9,000, the midfielder having spent the last third of the previous season on loan.
The fee received for McNeil was more than double what had been paid for him two and a half years before, but if that represented good business the same couldn’t be said of the release of Tom Spencer on a free transfer, the defender having been signed at the same time as McNeil for similar fee. Although some supporters considered him to be the best centre half at the club, probably based on his performances in his first season, it was clear that Graham Taylor saw the partnership of Sam Ellis and Terry Cooper as his first choice for the centre of the defence. Spencer, in fact, had made the majority of his appearances in the last season in midfield, only filling in at the back when required due to injuries. He now joined rivals Rotherham United where he was to play in every game of their forthcoming promotion success.
Also leaving were the two longest-serving players at the club, left back George Peden and goalkeeper John Kennedy who had both been signed by Ron Gray back in 1967. The 31-year-old Peden, always popular with the fans for his no-nonsense attitude and powerful left foot, had only been on the fringes of the first team in the season just ended although he had been voted as City’s ‘Player of the Year’ in the season before that. He now joined Worksop Town, runners-up in the Midland League and newly-elected to the Northern Premier League, which in those days was one step below the Football League. Kennedy, now aged 34, had perhaps begun to show some signs of inconsistency, and always a part-time professional, was now to combine his teaching career with playing for Lincoln United in the Yorkshire League.
Another goalkeeper released was Eric Hulme, who had been first choice after being brought to the club by then manager David Herd in September 1972 but had then lost his place to Kennedy and only made a handful of appearances since. He also now joined Worksop. With the departures of Hulme and Kennedy that initially left the only goalkeeper on the books as 18-year-old former schoolboy international Jimmy Gordon signed from Luton Town after being released by them in July.
Also departing were experienced midfielder Terry Heath who had been forced to retire through injury, and young local-born attacking player Ian Musson who had played less than a dozen games in his one season with the club and was another player to join Lincoln United.
Something of a straight swap came with the replacement of one right winger by another. John Worsdale, another of David Herd’s signings, who had had various spells in the side over the last three seasons without ever really becoming a regular choice was released and became a third player to move to Worksop Town. In his place came a player of quality in former Welsh international Dick Krzywicki, best-known for scoring for Wales in a 1-1 draw against then World Cup holders England in 1970. At that time with Second Division Huddersfield Town, he had also had top flight experience with both the Terriers and previous club West Bromwich Albion. At the age of 27 and therefore by no means a veteran he had suffered from intermittent injury problems and spent part of the previous season on loan at Northampton. He now joined City on a free transfer and his signing was something of a surprise when it happened, as although Graham Taylor had hinted that the incoming player would be one with ‘experience of the game at the highest level’ it was widely expected that a new goalkeeper was going to be signed to fill the gap left by the departures of Kennedy and Hulme.
One further player joining the club was 20-year-old midfielder Gordon Byron, released by Sheffield Wednesday after starting as an apprentice with them.
The pre-season friendly matches opened with a 1-1 draw at home to Second Division Oxford United followed by a 1-0 defeat away to Southern League Chelmsford City. Two further defeats then followed in home games with third-tier sides. First, a worryingly poor performance came in a 4-1 loss to Charlton Athletic, although only 665 supporters were drawn to watch a game which saw full back Dennis Leigh head into his own net and skipper Sam Ellis miss a penalty before John Ward managed a consolation goal. The final match was rather prophetically against Watford and an arguably even poorer display saw a 1-0 defeat which left some supporters forecasting a season which would see City struggle to finish in mid-table.
The game against Watford had highlighted the need for a new goalkeeper, as with young Jimmy Gordon missing through injury City had been forced to call on former player Dave Tennant who had last played for the Imps five years ago and had most recently been playing non-league football. It was, therefore, a relief when Graham Taylor was able to arrange a six-week loan of 23-year-old Peter Grotier from West Ham United. The Londoner had made a total of 50 appearances for the First Division side, but had faded from the Hammers first-team picture since the emergence of Mervyn Day. Although asked if there was a possibility the deal might be made a permanent one Taylor said he thought it unlikely, pointing out that Grotier was a First Division keeper and would probably not consider a drop into the bottom division.
Following the disappointing displays in the friendly matches Graham Taylor had let his players know in the week leading up to the first game of the season at home to Chester that if they didn’t improve, they would be getting him the sack inside six months and sacking themselves by the end of the season.
Maybe discouraged by the friendly match results but just as likely by the disappointing tailing off of results the previous season there were under 3,000 of us present for the visit of Chester which was the lowest attendance for a first home match of the season for at least 50 years.
The match programme compared to that of the previous season – or at least the programme produced prior to the national emergency situation which from January onwards had meant just a four-page issue – showed no price increase, remaining at 10p. However, as had become usual, the holding down of the cover price saw a lessening of quality, with poorer quality paper, the return of plenty of adverts and fewer pages of reading matter including less space devoted to details of the opposition team and players.
A rather surprising team selection for the game saw Dave Smith left on the bench with new signing Gordon Byron preferred in midfield. But with City falling behind to an early goal from Chester Smith replaced the youngster at half time and made all the difference as goals from full back Ian Branfoot and Alan Harding won the match in the last 25 minutes. ‘Smithy’ was then back in the starting line-up, as Byron was replaced in the squad by experienced Irish midfielder Jimmy McGeough for the midweek League Cup First Round visit to Rotherham. The main talking point of the match was the performance by the referee, with doubts expressed over the award of an early penalty which gave the home side the lead, and also over the equally late penalty converted by Sam Ellis to give the Imps a replay.
I made the easy journey to Crewe the following Saturday to see an unchanged side go down to the first defeat of the season thanks to the only goal of the game scored in injury time.
Alan Harding, having gone off injured at Crewe was replaced in the starting line-up by McGeough for the Wednesday night League Cup replay with Rotherham, Dave Smith moving to the left with midfielder Colin Symm on the bench. It was Smith who gave the Imps an early lead but the visitors equalised soon after half time. Extra time was unable to separate the two sides meaning a second replay was necessary, with the venue decided on the toss of a coin. Rotherham manager Jimmy McGuigan’s correct call meant it would take place at Millmoor.
There had been some disquiet among supporters about the lack of goals from John Ward and Peter Graham the two main strikers, with both yet to score after four games played. However, this was put right the following Saturday against visitors Exeter City as both contributed to a 5-0 win for the Imps in City’s biggest win for over six years – “a tremendous attacking display” as Maurice Burton put it in the Football Echo. Graham’s two goals were actually the first he had scored at home, and his previous record of just two in 35 games had not so far really endeared him to supporters. His display (and goals) in this match now finally won them over.