The Weirdest Thing to Happen at Our Club?

I saw a tweet yesterday asking for the weirdest thing to happen at our club, and my immediate response was to think of John Beck and the alleged whiskey fraud.

Of course, at the time it seemed amusing, but it is far from it. Beck was arrested along with five others for a fraud that alleged whiskey intended for sale in Poland was being moved on in the UK, thus avoiding tax. It was all fanciful and nothing ever came of it, but it was still another chapter in the eventful life of Mr Beck, loved and loathed in equal measure at Sincil Bank.

The season prior to this Beck had been caught submitting some dubious petrol claims and that had resulted in a written warning. With safety all-but assured, it seemed as though John Reames was now wondering if he had the right man for the long term, after getting through Steve Wicks and Sam Ellis earlier in the campaign. In Brian Halford’s book ‘Past Imperfect’, Reames is quoted as saying:

“John Beck had the same attitude to money as supporters. ‘You’ve got to find the money’, he’d say. You can’t find money if there is no source. Obviously, John had a reputation in football but I naively believed I could control him. Most people learn by experience, and I thought maybe he’d have changed slightly. In that first season, he achieved everything he said he would achieve, but then nothing developed.”

The following season hopes were high, but a defeat at ailing Torquay on the opening day of the season set us back some. We then drew 2-2 in the League Cup with Hartlepool, leading into our first home game against Leyton Orient. I remember it well, my Uncle Keith came up from Exeter to watch and he and I took our place in a sparsely-populated Stacye West Stand. 3085 other fans were in attendance for the first home game, maybe a reflection of the time, maybe a reflection of Beck’s growing unpopularity amongst some supporters.

Before the game, I doubtless went up the High street for a beer or two and paid little attention to who was in the dugout during the first half. Obviously, with no social media, the news of what happened filtered through steadily, with few noticing Beck’s absence around us, due to few actually being around us. The ground was quiet, the seats mainly empty and the news uncertain.

It was only upon getting into the car on the way back that we turned the radio on and heard what had happened. John Beck hadn’t been sacked, as some speculated, nor had he resigned. Instead, HM Customs and Excise had chosen five to three on a Saturday afternoon to arrest him. John Reames wasn’t happy after the game, as the clip above shows, and rightly so. even worse was the goal which led to them levelling in the last minute, an indirect free kick for a backpass saw them slam home after Gareth Ainsworth’s header.

It was a surreal time and Beck was back in the dugout for the Tuesday night game against his former side Cambridge, which we drew 1-1. Nothing ever came of the arrest and Beck was free to carry on as manager, eventually earning us automatic promotion, despite not being able to see the job through. 19 months after his arrest, crowds had declined.

Just 2281 turned up for our March 1997 clash with Swansea City (who were 21st), and a 1-1 draw gave us the third game in a row without a win leaving us eighth in the table. Chants of ‘Beck Out’ rang around the ground from those opposed to him, whilst his backers stayed silent, me included. In typical arrogant John Beck style, he bundled his way into the media room after the game mocking the supporters. “Beck out, Beck out,” he muttered smiling as he boldly sat down in front of the assembled journalists. “I don’t think this football club can afford, financially, professionally or in football terms to sack me.” At that point, the game really was over. John Reames sacked him.

He moved to dismiss his manager based not on performances, dwindling crowds or fan opinion, but for the unauthorised holiday taken after a 1-1 with Cambridge on ‘unlucky for Beck’ Friday 13th November 1997. Wilful neglect of duties, a serious breach of contract, these days it would probably be classed as gross misconduct. In those instances, the employer doesn’t have to pay a penny. John Beck was suspended and finally dismissed.

Beck wasn’t happy. He claimed unfair dismissal, but that was rejected by a tribunal. Not surprising really, two written warnings prior and then a rock-solid gross misconduct charge had nailed his coffin lid well and truly shut. He had overseen a hoof into danger alley for the last time. Shane Westley stepped in and six wins from eleven was enough to push us up.

The John Beck story is far more exciting than this article can describe and for those wanting to remember, I did a three=part series which I’ve linked below.

Were you a John Beck fan, or did his football turn you off? Let us know on our forum, here.

John Beck Part One

John Beck Part Two

John Beck Part Three