It’s the final part of the excellent review of the 1974/75 season from Malcolm Johnson, starting in March 1975.
On Easter Saturday Rotherham had moved back into third place with an excellent 2-1 win over Mansfield while Chester could only draw at home to lowly Workington, although this put them two points ahead of City. The Easter Monday games had seen another home win for Rotherham while Chester had lost at Torquay. On the Tuesday night Rotherham made it three wins in a row to consolidate third place where they were to remain for the rest of the season, while City’s point at bottom-of-the-league Scunthorpe from one of their games in hand over Chester enabled them to move back above the Cheshire club on goal average. The unchanged side were indebted to a second half equaliser from Alan Harding in what was an even game.
If the draw at Scunthorpe could just about be regarded as a point gained another 1-1 score-line at home to Darlington, another side in bottom four, was definitely a point lost. Goal average still kept City above Chester, and they still had two games in hand, but as Chester also drew at home by the same score the chance was lost of gaining a point advantage over them. Following two successive draws supporters were perhaps beginning to have doubts and the attendance was three thousand down from the previous Monday. City fielded the same line-up for the fourth game in a row and with Peter Graham putting a loose ball into the net in the first minute of the game it looked as if City would take command of the game. But just five minutes later Darlington equalised and for the rest of the game frustrated the Imps and even came close to snatching a late winner.
Much better came back at Sincil Bank the following Wednesday night and at last a game in hand produced a win enabling City to move two points ahead of Chester. The attendance was up by around five hundred to 5,613 to see a City side without both regular full backs thrash Newport County 5-2 for only the second win in nine games. With Ian Branfoot forced to miss his first game of the season Dennis Booth moved to right back with Colin Symm coming into midfield. Phil Neale, still a Lincoln United player, returned at left back for his first game in two months as Dennis Leigh was also injured. Sam Ellis contributed yet another successful penalty, and there was also a goal from his defensive partner Terry Cooper, two for Alan Harding and Dick Krzywicki’s first goal since November.
I was at Valley Parade the next Saturday as City faced a mid-table Bradford City side and a 2-1 win was just what was needed, especially with Chester winning at Scunthorpe. Dennis Leigh was fit to return with Phil Neale now moving over to right back allowing Dennis Booth to revert to midfield. However, Dick Krzywicki was now missing so Colin Symm kept his place in the side. The game saw Bradford in front at half time before City scored twice in the last ten minutes of the game, equalising when Terry Cooper turned an in-swinging Dave Smith corner into the net, and winning the match through a last-minute Peter Graham header.
With Rotherham only drawing at Northampton City were back now to being just two points adrift of third place with a game in hand over the Millers as well as over Chester in fifth. Unfortunately, that game was the following Monday night at Field Mill against a Mansfield Town side who had already achieved promotion and were looking to clinch the championship. The Stags’ highest attendance of the season – over 14,000 – turned up to see them win comfortably by 3-1. Dick Krzywicki was back, but Dennis Booth had again to play at right back in the absence of Ian Branfoot and was given a torrid time by Mansfield winger Jimmy McCaffrey as the home side took a three-goal lead in the second half with John Ward’s 87th minute goal only a consolation.
However, Rotherham and Chester both played again two nights later, with the Millers’ draw at Bradford putting them a point further ahead while Chester beat Darlington to once again draw level on points with City who were again left with a game in hand. But promotion was now in City’s own hands as they had two home games to play before finishing the season with two away, compared to Chester’s one at home before they also finished with two away.
An improved attendance of just under seven thousand turned up the following Saturday to watch City take on mid-table Brentford at Sincil Bank. The good news was that Percy Freeman was fit to return on the bench and with Phil Neale coming in at right back City were otherwise able to field their strongest side. However, although dominating play in the first half the Imps only had a John Ward goal to show for it and after the visitors equalised not long after the break were unable to find a winner. Meanwhile, Rotherham had beaten Rochdale to consolidate their third position and Chester had won 3-0 against Southport to move into fourth place one point ahead of City who could now only be mathematically certain of promotion by winning all three of their remaining games. This changed, however, on the Monday night when Chester surprisingly lost 1-0 at Hartlepool which now meant that two wins from three games would ensure promotion for the Imps.
City would have been half way to their target with a win on the Wednesday night against a Crewe Alexandra side placed 18th in the league table. There was a theory amongst supporters that as promotion out of the division for Chester would rob Crewe of their big annual local derby match it would be in their interests to make sure Lincoln went up instead, and would therefore practically allow themselves to be beaten. However, even though Crewe, thanks to results elsewhere the previous night were now safe from finishing in the re-election zone they set their stall out to gain a point and packed their defence throughout the game. Ian Branfoot was back for this match with Phil Neale moving across to left back in place of Dennis Leigh, suspended for two matches, while Percy Freeman came in for the injured Peter Graham. But City were unable to create more than a very few scoring chances, finding Crewe goalkeeper Geoff Crudgington in commanding form when they did especially in dealing with crosses into the area.
The point against Crewe did at least move City back up to fourth place with a goal average now said in the press to be ‘fractionally’ superior to that of Chester compared to the ‘vastly superior’ of a few weeks before. Rotherham had drawn at Reading and now had a points total that City could only equal at best so it was really down to gaining a win and a draw from their games at Workington and Southport to ensure finishing above Chester. This is of course assumed Chester would win their final game, which ironically was at Crewe, and I travelled to Gresty Road that Saturday hoping to see the Railwaymen frustrate their visitors in the same way as they had the Imps. However, hopes were in vain as Chester won through 1-0 to inflict Crewe’s first home defeat since Boxing Day.
Meanwhile, City were at Workington with the only team change seeing Peter Graham return instead of Freeman. A Sam Ellis penalty and a fifth goal of the season for Ian Branfoot produced a 2-0 victory to keep them ahead of Chester. I was on the train back from Crewe when I heard the result on someone’s transistor radio, with the Sports Report presenter saying it ‘virtually ensured promotion’ for City. In the knowledge that throughout all the battle with Chester for a promotion spot we had always had a better goal average than them I happily settled down to work out how many we could afford to lose by at Southport on the Monday night and still get promoted. But I couldn’t believe it! Checking and re-checking my calculations it seemed that whatever a losing score-line was – whether it was 1-0, 5-0, 2-1, 4-3 or anything else – it would still make City’s goal average worse than Chester’s.
Of course, even just a draw let alone a win would make goal average irrelevant and apart from the return of Dennis Leigh City were unchanged for the game at Southport which had originally been scheduled for FA Cup Third Round day when City were playing Swindon. This was long before the days of Radio Lincolnshire or Ceefax on TV so the first chance to get any news of the match was on the Radio 2 sports bulletin at around 10pm and it was devastating to hear City had lost 3-2. The game had seen City dominate proceedings from the start, but they fell behind to an unlucky deflected goal with Southport doubling their lead minutes later. Dick Krzywicki soon pulled a goal back but poor marking allowed the home side to be 3-1 up at half time. It was then one-way traffic as City did everything but score until 17 minutes from the end when Sam Ellis, as usual, made no mistake from the penalty spot. But once again City just couldn’t get the ball into the net typified by John Ward putting it over the bar from five yards in the last minute of the game.
So, the season ended with 0.0383 of a goal being the difference between promotion and a fifth-place finish for the second time in four years. It was simple to look all the way back to the opening day of the season and say that if Chester had been beaten that day by 2-0 instead of 2-1 then promotion would have been achieved, but as Graham Taylor himself said, you could equally as well look back at any match where a goal was conceded and say that was the one that made the difference.
The season could perhaps be said to have fallen into three parts, the first two months or so saw some indifferent away results which kept the side in mid-table but with a good home record which allowed the chance of a promotion challenge to later be mounted. Things then took off, and included the sequence of six wins in a row and the long unbeaten run in the middle part of the season. My own view is that the FA Cup involvement at this time was a distraction, with four games necessary to reach the Third Round, but City then went on to be well set in third place following the home win over Shrewsbury in early February. Following this, however, in the final part of the season there were only six more wins out of 19 games, too many of which were drawn, especially at home which meant things went right down to the wire – and in the end of course couldn’t have been much closer.
With the budgeting restrictions he had to work with Graham Taylor made the call to go into the season with only two recognised strikers, perhaps with the thought that Dick Krzywicki would be able to fill in for either of them if required. The drawback to that was if the Welshman was doing so then he obviously wasn’t playing on the wing where he so often proved to be a key man, and in his absence from that position the side was weakened. In hindsight, too it would have been better to have got Percy Freeman back from Reading (assuming that was possible) as soon as John Ward got injured in mid-November, as it has to be said that Ade Coker with only one goal in seven games was not all that effective a stand-in. It was plain unfortunate that Krzywicki began to suffer a series of injuries at around that time.
The side also perhaps suffered from not having a prolific goalscorer during the season – if only Dixie McNeil had still been there! (31 Third Division goals for Hereford that season). Having said that, neither Rotherham nor Chester could boast a player with as many as 20 goals in the season. Of the two clubs Chester’s John James had the most with 17.
This lack of a prolific striker was emphasised by City’s top scorer being centre half Sam Ellis with 15 goals, ten of these coming from a 100% success rate with penalties. John Ward and Peter Graham both finished with 13, Ward from fewer games, as both had spells out with injuries, while Alan Harding contributed a useful 10 with Dick Krzywicki on 9.
City’s total of 79 league goals scored was the highest since the 1955/56 season so there had been plenty of entertainment for the fans, and with 48 goals conceded if goal difference had been used to decide the final positions their figure of +31 would have seen them finish ahead of Chester who had scored 64 and let in 38 for a figure of +26.
It may have been due to a general will to give more reward to attacking football but it does seems likely that Lincoln City’s experience in this season helped focus attention on the matter, and when Arsenal tried again a year later with their proposal to replace the use of goal average with goal difference it was agreed by the clubs and began to be used from the 1976/77 season onwards.
With the Lincoln & District Football Supporters Club now back in the fold again a Player of the Season vote took place following a gap of a year and the winner was Terry Cooper.
Elsewhere in football, Derby County were the league champions for the second time in four years, this time under the management of Dave Mackay. Both Carlisle United and Luton Town were relegated after one season in the top flight along with Chelsea, while their London neighbours Tottenham avoided the same fate by a single point. Bouncing back to the top tier after one season were Second Division champions Manchester United under Tommy Docherty. They were accompanied by Aston Villa, winners of the League Cup in an all Second Division final against the third promoted side Norwich City. Bottom of the Second Division were Sheffield Wednesday, relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history. Champions of the Third Division were Blackburn Rovers while at the other end Huddersfield suffered their third relegation in four seasons to drop into the lowest tier for the first time. Mansfield Town were worthy Fourth Division champions ahead of City with their total of 68 points being the second highest ever achieved in the division to date. All four clubs applying for re-election were successful, although Workington who had finished next to bottom for the second season in a row only scraped in by eight votes ahead of Kettering who had finished fourth in the Southern League.
FA Cup winners were West Ham United in an all-London final against Second Division side Fulham. Leeds United, fielding a side including later Imps manager Allan Clarke, became only the second English club to reach the final of the European Cup but were beaten in Paris by West German side Bayern Munich. The game was marred by rioting from Leeds fans which saw the club eventually banned from European competition for two years.
Two days after the traumatic defeat at Southport the Imps beat Grimsby 2-0 in the final of the Lincolnshire Cup in front of 2,000 faithful fans at Sincil Bank. Graham Taylor admitted the reception from the crowd gave the team a bigger lift than anything and set everyone looking forward to the next season. About this, he said prophetically, “We want more points, we want to score more goals, we want to reach the Fourth Round of the FA Cup and the second round of the League Cup. We want to do everything better than we did this season.”
And it all happened!