Following on from yesterday’s article looking at the early part of the 1974/75 season, here is Malcolm Johnson’s excellent, in-depth analysis of the autumn of 1974.
The game with Rochdale was due to be the last one of goalkeeper Peter Grotier’s loan period from West Ham but negotiations to make the transfer a permanent one came to a head with the announcement that a club-record transfer fee would be paid for the Londoner. Thought at the time to be £20,000 it later emerged as the very precise figure of £16,666. Two thirds of this would be accounted for by the remaining half of the transfer fee received in the summer for Dixie McNeil, but to make up the balance an appeal was launched for donations from supporters. In order to organise the appeal a committee was formed to be co-ordinated by Brian Heward, ex-player and chairman of the Red Imps Association the club’s fund-raising body. Over a year earlier there had been a falling out between the club and its supporters club which had as a result re-titled itself the Lincoln & District Football Supporters Club. However, since the departure of Lincoln City chairman Dennis Bocock earlier in 1974 there had been signs of a thawing of the relationship between the two bodies and this was shown by the donation of £3,000 to the appeal by the L&DFSC and their involvement with the committee. Peter Grotier himself, while admitting that at the start of his loan he had no thought of signing permanently, said the support he had received from fans during matches and that they were prepared to pay for his transfer had won him over.
There were an additional 500 supporters at Sincil Bank the following Saturday to see Grotier give a typically competent performance in a 2-1 win against Bradford City but there were still fewer than 3,000 present, as City remained in mid-table.
Much is often made of the small squad of players City were forced to operate with in the first half of the 1982/83 season, but it’s worth remembering they started the 1974/75 season with exactly the same number of players and with no recognised reserve cover for any of the back four or the two strikers. Any cover had to be found by switching players about and this was in evidence against Bradford. Terry Cooper’s suspension due to an accumulation of penalty points carried over from the previous season meant his place in the centre of defence had to be taken by Ian Branfoot. This meant midfielder Dennis Booth switching to right back as Colin Symm came into the side for his first start of the season. It did not help that Dennis Leigh was also suspended and the left back position was filled by the loaning of Notts County player Eddie Cliff. Both of City’s goals came from John Ward to draw him level with Peter Graham in the scoring charts.
I was doing well with my third away match out of five in the league with a trip to London to see an unchanged line-up bring a point back from Brentford thanks to an 88th minute equaliser from Alan Harding. This result was followed by a midweek away draw at Doncaster with Cooper’s return from suspension meaning Dennis Booth could revert to midfield. However, Dick Krzywicki was only fit enough for a place on the bench after taking a knock at Brentford and Colin Symm took his place on the right. It was Symm who gave the Imps an early lead before the Rovers went ahead after half time with Peter Graham’s sixth goal of the season then tying the game up.
Concerns were being expressed about the low attendances seen at Sincil Bank, with the 3,113 against Northampton in the previous month being the highest for a league match since the middle of February when that season’s promotion challenge began to fade away. Still in a mid-table position, it was clear that supporters were not convinced there was any great chance of success in the current season, and even on the back of two home wins and two away draws there were only a few dozen over three thousand at Sincil Bank for the visit of lowly Workington. With Dennis Leigh’s suspension completed he returned to the side and with Eddie Cliff’s services no longer required he shortly afterwards went back to Notts County. Dick Krzywicki was able to start, but now Alan Harding, having taken a knock at Doncaster was confined to the bench meaning Colin Symm kept his place in the side.
As with Peter Graham, centre half Sam Ellis had never quite been taken to heart by supporters the previous season, with some considering that Tom Spencer would have been a better bet in his position, but the game against Workington was the one in which he finally won them over. After giving the Imps the lead from the penalty spot in the first half, Ellis then charged the length of the pitch to get on the end of a Krzywicki cross with five minutes to go to seal a comfortable 3-0 win.
Meanwhile, the Peter Grotier transfer fee appeal fund was progressing with events arranged such as a cheese & wine evening, a dance at the Social Club, and a sponsored walk. An additional sponsored walk had seen a group of supporters walk from Sleaford for the game with Workington ending with a collection around the ground at half time.
The win against Workington moved City up to eighth in the league table, handily placed just two points off the top four with a game in hand over most of the teams above them. In hindsight it was the game which really started the Graham Taylor bandwagon rolling – although that only began to become evident the following week at Darlington – as it was the first in a run of five games in each of which City scored three goals or more.
On a personal note, my mother had been admitted to hospital a few days before the game against Workington but she had insisted I go to the match as usual. A couple of days later she died suddenly, and although friends expressed surprise that I should make the long train journey to Darlington the following Saturday, again I knew it was what she would have wanted. I also knew there was no point just sitting at home – and as it turned out events at The Feethams certainly gave a lift to my spirits.
Colin Symm was unavailable due to an injury suffered in training, and it’s not meant as any discredit to him to say that with Alan Harding returning City were able to field their strongest side. Including League Cup games, City’s away record in the season so far showed four draws and four defeats but they finally achieved a win in some style. Although going behind early on to the home side the Imps soon equalised through ex-Quaker Peter Graham before Dick Krzywicki put them in the lead before half time. Goals from Ian Branfoot and Dave Smith made the final score 4-1 with Graham Taylor rating it as the best performance since he became manager.