Remember This? – Imps and Peterborough in 1997/98

This weekend we welcome Peterborough United to the Bank, and by ‘welcome’ I mean ‘hopefully beat’.

Peterborough is an odd one because I was always raised to think it was a derby, but with an hour-and-a-half between the two teams, it shouldn’t be. Still, we are inextricably linked with Posh, probably exchanging more players with them than with any other team. Who can forget the exodus there with Keith and his lads moving? Or, Harry and Bozzie coming here? What about Francis Green too, our first cash signing for years who left Posh to impress?

We’ve had a few meetings in the past too – 47 in total, the first of which came in the mid-fifties. We’re certainly rivals of sorts, but I’m sure they would class Cambridge as more of a derby, whereas we are almost certainly more invested in our battles with Scunthorpe and Grimsby. Still, in 1997/98, we were certainly rivals of Peterborough, as both sides vied for promotion from Division Three, which was Division Four, which is now League Two.

Typically, they were probably the ‘better’ side on paper, with strikers like Martin Carruthers and Jimmy Quinn, playing better football and, if terrace talk was to be believed, paying bigger wages than us. On the other hand, we were John Beck‘s battlers, launching long balls into danger alley and winning fewer friends than the Wuhan tourist board.

Our first clash that season came at London Road, and the Imps were arguably on top going into it. We had lost one match in 21, that being an AWS Windscreen’s tie with third-tier Wigan. Yes, we had been held twice by Emley and lost on penalties, but we had last lost in the league on September 10th against Rotherham. That had been Gareth Ainsworth’s last game for the club, and despite losing our biggest star, we were been unbeaten in the league for three months.

We were second, level on points with Notts County but with a poor goal difference of plus seven. Incidentally, we had 41 points, as we do right now, but had played two matches more. Behind us, by a single point, were Posh, boasting a plus 20 goal difference. A draw would have been a great result and one we had every reason to expect.

Unbeaten since he left

I remember it well. I was freshly 19, and, if I’m honest, stuck in the awkward middle ground between boy and man. I worked at McKechnie Plastic Components and that evening was our Christmas do, which I seem to think was at West Ashby Country Club, but I might be wrong. I know that rather than travel to London Road, I went into Lincoln to buy a nice shirt with the intention of impressing a young lady working in the paint plant I had my eye on. At that age, I seemed to flit between football and social quite easily, missing chunks of games then going every week for a few weeks. I recall getting back to the car park at exactly two minutes past three, as Lee Thorpe gave us the lead. 1-0 at London Road, and the Imps were going up (in my eyes).

The Imps line up that cold afternoon was Simon Brown in goal (his only appearance), Whitney, Austin, Walling, Holmes, Hone, Paul Smith (who completed a £30,000 permanent move not long after), Fleming, Thorpe, Alcide and Gavin Gordon. On the bench, all of whom came on, were Craig Stones, Steve Brown and Dave Regis on his only outing for the club. That’s a decent Imps line-up and as I put the radio on in the car, I felt a massive sense of belief. So what if Emley had just knocked us out the FA Cup? We were going up. I don’t recall if it was full match commentary then, or updates every fifteen minutes and the odd goal alert, but I struck up the engine of my Mk3 Escort and headed for home, looking forward to a night on the ale wearing my nice shirt and boasting of an Imps win.

If we were furnished with a report every fifteen minutes, the next time I heard anything City were 2-1 down. In front of 8771, future Imp Martin Carruthers bagged a quick brace, on 13 and 14 minutes. As the half-hour struck, the avalanche of goals continued and David Farrell netted for the hosts. By half time, it was 4-1, Mark Hone’s unfortunate own goal ending the game as a contest. City went go for broke in the second half, sticking Dave Regis on up top in place of defender Kevin Austin, but a second from Farrell ten minutes from time broke Imps’ hearts. Shamefully, we wouldn’t win another game until January 31st, keeper Brown immediately returned to Spurs and Regis never played again, despite having the best chance of the second half for City, turning well and firing straight at keeper Taylor.

To make matters worse, Little Miss Paint Plant wasn’t interested and I was sick on my new shirt before midnight. Merry bloody Christmas.

Dave Regis (left) – couldn’t find one of his 40 minutes in an Imps’ shirt, sadly

They were due at the Bank on April 18th and an awful lot happened in the interim period. We won six games between those two matches, John Beck was sacked and Shane Westley took over. There was a mass brawl at Macclesfield, John Finnigan joined the club and I shifted my attention from the paint plant to the sixth form of my old secondary school, with an equally as disappointing outcome. The cold weather disappeared and that Saturday afternoon was a lovely warm affair if I recall correctly. I got the bus in from Wragby fully engaged with the promotion push once again, despite three games without a win. We were eighth, outside the promotion spots, but guess who was seventh, one point clear of us and having played a game more? Yup. Posh. They had won three matches in 13 and once again, the promotion pendulum seemed to be swinging in our favour. All we had to do, was beat a side we had lost 5-1 to earlier in the season to sneak into the top seven.

The side had changed a little, John Vaughan was in the sticks and Grant Brown was back from injury. Austin, Walling, Holmes and Jason Barnett made up the back five, with Smith, John Finnigan and Terry Fleming in the middle of the park. Colin Alcide was up top with Lee Thorpe. Veteran striker Dennis Bailey was on the bench, alongside Paul Miller and Jae Martin. Barry Richardson would have been in goal, but he was serving a suspension for kicking a Macclesfield player in the head the week before, and Jon Whitney was serving what seemed like a mandatory suspension for him too.

I almost missed the kick-off, due to getting my first tattoo. I wanted ‘100% Imp’ written on my upper arm, but thanks to my mate’s persistence I went for the full badge at Wizardry in Ink opposite KFC on the High Street. As a point of interest, my mate went for a design we later discovered Peter Andre also had, much to our amusement. Anyhow, whilst in the chair the tattooist began to take the mick, telling me City were rubbish and I may as well not bother with the tattoo. He told me there was no way we’d win the game and as we bantered, he said if we did win, I could have the design for free. I paid (£45 I think) and told him I’d see him later. He didn’t think I would. Deep down, neither did I, but what did I have to lose?

I seem to recall as I got into the ground (minus my mate Jason Andre) Peterborough scored. 40 seconds in and the away section of the 6,500 fans were cheering Jimmy Quinn’s goal. Their cheers turned to tears as it was disallowed for offside, and less than a minute later, we took the lead. John Finnigan, on his home debut, whipped a free kick in from the left and Colin Alcide bundled the ball into the net. I was barely settled down in my seat in the Coop Stand when we made it 2-0, allaying fears of a December-style collapse. It came from the left, a long throw from Fleming was flicked on by Alcide and Paul Smith swept in ahead of his marker to nod the ball at Tyler. The keeper stopped the shot, but Smith’s momentum ensured he could stab the ball home. Cue delirium.

Smith, a few years after his £30,000 move

Things got even better just before half time. In December, it was David Farrell putting the game beyond doubt before the whistle blew, but in the warm April sun, it was Alcide, steaming in to head home Finnigan’s corner for 3-0. Peterborough trudged off full of despair, whilst my arm bled profusely from the celebration. By then, Jason had got his Andre tattoo and had joined me. I seem to think that was the last time we went to a game together until we lost to Rochdale in 2010.

Despite being the better side for much of the second, City didn’t add to the tally, but the 2-0 win was enough to ensure we leapt above Posh and into the play-offs. In a tight division, we then won 2-1 against Exeter on the following Tuesday, securing a play-off place the following Saturday away at Darlington. Remarkably, having been eighth with four games left, we beat Brighton on the final day to snatch the final promotion spot. Peterborough finished ninth.

After the game, I made my way to the tattoo place and I’m not sure exactly what happened. I have previously said I got my money back, but I now seem to vaguely recall it being closed as it was just after five. who knows? I do clearly recall making my way up the High Street with blood pouring from my tattoo though, staining my shirt too. I took a moment in the doorway of Coral’s bookmaker to assess the damage, and a passer-by stopped to check I hadn’t been stabbed as there had been some trouble after the game. I made some unfunny quip about bleeding red and white, then got on the bus home ahead of a night out showing off my (quite bad) tattoo.

What a remarkable pair of results – losing 5-1 and looking awful in December, to completely overawing them four months later on our way to securing promotion. It wasn’t the first time we were involved in a promotion battle, nor the last (2006/07 anyone?), and hopefully, we can repeat the home result this weekend and strengthen our current push for a higher level of football.

If you weren’t there, I found this video of the game for you to enjoy, including the win against Exeter in midweek (which I also went to, minus Jason Andre and with an arm free of blood).