Looking Back At: Imps v Peterborough 1969

Wednesday 5th March 1969

Lincoln City 1 Peterborough United 1 (Football League Division Four)

Back in August the Imps had made a storming start to the 1968/69 season going immediately to the top of the table with four straight wins, plus achieving a victory over Third Division Mansfield Town in the League Cup. However, two defeats in a row then knocked them down to sixth place although they recovered in the following months to hold a place in the top four promotion places until the end of January.  Since then, with only two games able to be played in the month of February two points from the last six available had put them in seventh place going into this match although they were only one win (two points) away from a promotion place.

A weakness in the side had been perceived to be the lack of a regular goal-scorer, with Peter Kearns and Norman Corner the two main strikers from the start of the season having a total of nine league goals between them. At the beginning of December manager Ron Gray had acted initially to strengthen this department by the signing of Leicester City fringe first team player Bobby Svarc for the fairly substantial sum for the time of £6,000. However, although scoring on his home debut he had managed only that one goal in 10 appearances. Corner, although having a good scoring run at the end of the previous season had proved a lot less prolific this time around, although his presence as a target man was a key part of the team. Gray, though had elected to sell him to divisional rivals Bradford City at the end of January for £5,000 and replace him with the former ‘golden boy’ of English football, Alick Jeffrey, on a free transfer from Doncaster Rovers.

 Peterborough, in what was only their ninth season of league football after being elected from the Midland League had struggled after being demoted from the Third Division at the end of the previous season due to financial irregularities. They had spent most of the season in the lower reaches of the league table and were currently 19th, three points off the re-election zone.

The teams were:

City:

  1. Jack McClelland
  2. Graham Taylor
  3. George Peden
  4. Jim Smith
  5. Ray Harford
  6. Jim Grummett
  7. Gordon Hughes
  8. Phil Hubbard
  9. Bobby Svarc
  10. Alick Jeffrey
  11. Dave Smith
  12. Jack Lewis (for Svarc)

 

Peterborough:

  1. Tony Millington
  2. Frank Noble
  3. Ian Crawford
  4. Brian Wright
  5. John Wile
  6. Jim Iley
  7. Peter Thompson
  8. Ollie Conmy
  9. Jim Hall
  10. Peter Price
  11. Tommy Robson
  12. John Pyatt

Goalkeeper for City was 28-year-old former Arsenal and Northern Ireland international Jack McClelland who had been signed on loan from Fulham in December to cover for the absence of regular John Kennedy who had suffered an elbow injury in an FA Cup replay with Chester.

Right back Graham Taylor had been signed from Grimsby Town for a fee of £4,000 in the summer, dropping down into the Fourth Division for the first time after making almost 200 appearances for the Mariners. He was partnered by the popular George Peden, ever-present in the side since joining from Scottish club Hearts towards the end of the1966/67 season. In the centre of the defence were the tall Ray Harford, who like Peden, had not missed a game since joining the club, in his case from Exeter City in the summer of 1967, and Jim Grummett, still only 23 but City’s longest serving player, having made his debut in 1964.

In midfield was the local-born Phil Hubbard, himself only 20, and along with Grummett one of the few players to have survived Ron Gray’s rebuilding of the side in the summer of 1967. A player who could fill several roles with equal effectiveness, he had started the season in the middle of the defence before losing his place, returning recently at full back to cover for the injured Taylor before now moving into midfield. He was partnered by the balding Jim Smith, one of the players signed along with Peter Kearns and winger Gordon Hughes by Ron Gray to revitalise the side two-thirds of the way through the previous season.

On the right wing the speedy and experienced Hughes, now aged 32, had been one of City’s most effective players since joining from Derby County after much experience in the top two divisions for the Rams and Newcastle United. On the left was the 21-year-old Dave Smith who had joined from Middlesbrough’s reserve side the previous summer and who was to go on to become a City legend, making over 400 appearances for the club.

The two strikers as already mentioned were Bobby Svarc and Alick Jeffrey. The latter had seen his promise as a teenager wrecked by injury, but making a comeback with Doncaster Rovers had finished as the Football League’s top scorer with 36 goals in the 1964/65 season. Not quite as prolific since then, he still had a record of 13 goals from 29 games in the current season until somewhat surprisingly being given a free transfer by Doncaster Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy. However, although still only 30, it was clear that the athletic ability of his younger days had more or less deserted him and after four games he had yet to score for the Imps. Bobby Svarc alongside him up front was also proving a disappointment when it came to goalscoring as the two showed little sign of developing a partnership.

Substitute was 20-year-old Jack Lewis who had joined from Long Eaton in 1966 and a player forever in and out of the side despite being as many (including me) thought one of the most exciting attacking players in the division.

Like City, visitors Peterborough could also boast a goalkeeper with international experience. Tony Millington, aged 25, had started his career in the top flight with West Bromwich Albion and after a couple of seasons as mainly second choice with Crystal Palace had joined the Posh in October 1966. He had won his twelfth international cap for Wales the previous October and was currently first choice for his country ahead of Gary Sprake of Leeds.

Right back for Peterborough was Frank Noble who had come through the ranks at Sheffield Wednesday, making just two appearances for the Owls before joining Peterborough in the summer of 1967. At left back, 34-year-old Scotsman Ian Crawford had played as a winger for Hamilton Academicals and Hearts, for whom he had been a prolific scorer. After winning two Scottish League championships with the Edinburgh club, and scoring two goals as they won the 1956 Scottish Cup, he had moved south of the border to join West Ham United under the management of Ron Greenwood. After a limited number of appearances for the Hammers he had spent a season with Scunthorpe United in the Second Division before joining Peterborough in 1964. Central defenders were John Wile and Brian Wright. Wile was in his second season with the club after starting in Sunderland’s youth setup and at the end of 1970 was to join West Bromwich Albion where he would go on to play over 600 games and be named in a 2004 poll as one of their 16 greatest ever players. Wright, at the age of 29, added experience alongside the younger Wile and was now in his sixth season with the club after joining from Newcastle United for whom he had made a limited number of appearances.

In midfield was another experienced former Newcastle United man in 33-year-old Jim Iley who had been appointed player-manager of Peterborough just under two months previously. He had made around 250 appearances for the north eastern club following several years top flight experience with Nottingham Forest, Tottenham and Sheffield United. After eight games in charge, he had achieved his first win the previous Saturday at Exeter. More experience in midfield was provided by the 29-year-old Ollie Conmy now in his fifth season with the club after a handful of games with Huddersfield Town. The first Peterborough United player ever to win an international cap, he had made the fourth of his five appearances for the Republic of Ireland the previous May.

On the right wing for Peterborough was former Grantham Town player Peter Thompson who had been with the club since 1964, while on the left was yet another former Newcastle United man. Tommy Robson had joined the club the previous November after making around 50 appearances for the Magpies. He was to go on to play for Peterborough until his late thirties and become their appearance record holder.

At centre forward was Jim Hall who had finished the previous season as leading goal-scorer for the Posh despite only joining the club from Northampton in the December. By the time of his return to the Cobblers in 1975 he had become Peterborough’s record goal-scorer with 122. He was partnered by 19-year-old Peter Price who had joined the club the previous summer after coming through the ranks at Liverpool for whom he had scored 28 goals in their reserve side the previous season. Joining at the same time as Price was fellow ex-Liverpool youngster John Pyatt who was on the subs’ bench.

The midweek game was on a Wednesday as was usual for the time, and also as usual kicked off at 7.30pm. With the Imps still fighting for promotion the previous two home games had seen attendances of over 8,000, and despite a 2-1 home defeat by Scunthorpe in the last game there was a drop of less than 500 in the crowd figure for this match to 7,677.

The City team was unchanged from the previous Saturday’s goalless draw away at Notts County and they made a bright start with Alick Jeffrey giving an impressive performance in a mainly midfield role backed up by left winger Dave Smith giving what was described in one report as ‘one of his liveliest displays for a long time’. Both players put in shots off target, including a 30-yard effort over the bar from Jeffrey before Smith exchanged passes with Phil Hubbard to give City the lead after 22 minutes. However, ten minutes later the visitors were level after a scramble in the City goalmouth when the ball went between keeper Jack McClelland’s legs. Both Hall and Price failed to make connection but with the City defence unable to clear the ball Tommy Robson put it into the net.

After Peterborough’s equaliser they were content to defend their point and the game deteriorated with a series of stoppages for free kicks as City were largely ineffective in attack. Four minutes from the end it did seem however as if they had won the game when Ray Harford bundled the ball into the net after Jeffrey headed it back into the goalmouth – but it was disallowed with the referee saying the centre half had handled the ball into the net. “Why Ray Harford’s header didn’t count is unbelievable” said Ron Gray afterwards. “I definitely headed it in”, said the player himself.

But overall, it was a disappointing display by the Imps, mainly due to what was described as their ‘goal shy forwards’. Bobby Svarc was the one who paid the penalty for this, being substituted by Jack Lewis 25 minutes from the end and was to be very much a fringe player for the next 20 months before finally coming good.

I don’t recall anything of the match myself, and at the time of the disallowed goal it’s likely I would have been hurrying down Sewell’s Walk on my way to get the last train to Newark from St Marks station.

A win would have seen a rise to fifth place, but as it was, Workington’s 1-0 win over Brentford the same night saw the Cumbrian club go above City who dropped a place to eighth. This was to be where they finished the season as they managed only one win in the next seven games. The emergence of Rod Fletcher from the reserves then solved the goalscoring problem and ensured some end of season entertainment with a few wins, but a placing in mid-April of second counted for nothing as the Imps completed their fixtures while clubs around them still had five or more games still to play.

The draw moved Peterborough up to 17th and just two defeats in their next eight games saw them rise as high as 12th before they fell away again to finish 18th, still three points clear of the re-election zone.