City are currently hunting promotion to the Championship, a position we haven’t been in since the early eighties.
However, we haven’t actually been in the old Second Division since 1960/61, when Bill Anderson finally saw the cash-strapped Imps drop into the Third Division, and then very quickly Division Four, which pretty much set the scene for the next 60 years.
We are close to banishing a lifetime of lower league mediocrity, and even if it doesn’t happen this season, there is at least a chance it could happen. Much has changed since those heady days before the Beatles, England’s World Cup win and decimalisation, and we thought we might compare a few of the aspects which you might find interesting.
The Championship now consists of teams such as Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, all seemingly big teams. Norwich City are there too, a team we have only ever once played at Carrow Road in the league, losing 5-1. That result came during the 60/61 season, a year in which City were awful and relegated. Who else did we come up against that season? Leeds United were in the Second Division that season, they beat us 7-0 in the penultimate game of the campaign, a game in which Brian Burden was given his debut. He came from an amateur team, West Stockwith, but couldn’t handle the likes of Jack Charlton or Billy Bremner as they ran riot. The modern-day equivalent would probably be the Imps signing a young keeper from Gainsborough Trinity and playing him against Sunderland.
Liverpool were in the Second Divison at the time too. They did the double over us, winning 2-0 at Anfield and 2-1 at the Bank, despite us doing the same to them the previous season. Despite some other notable changes, none of the teams were came up against have since gone on to go bust, and only Scunthorpe United and Leyton Orient played in the second tier that season, but the fourth tier now. Swansea City, then known as Swansea Town, were one of the few teams we beat that season. They qualified for the UEFA Cup by winning the Welsh Cup, something quite common until the eighties.
Players wages have changed dramatically, but one oddity is the salary cap. The 1960/61 season saw the lifting of the salary cap in English football thanks to Jimmy Hill, and it has only be reinstated in some form this season. Back then, the average weekly wage in the top flight was £20 a week (£455 allowing for inflation), whilst the top earner got a whopping £100 per week after the cap was abolished. Staggeringly, the average Championship player now earns around £29,000 per week, which would have been roughly £1200 back in 1960/61. The first player to earn that sum in the English game was thought to be George Best seven years later.
How has the club changed since those years? The relegation came after years of financial struggle when crowds dipped below the break-even point of 12,500. It seems madness now to consider 12,5000 a poor crowd, but we regularly drew between 14,000 and 16,000 throughout the start of the fifties and averaged more than 16,000 in 1953. The drop came around the ‘Great Escape’ season of 57/58 – towards the end of that campaign attendances fall to below 9,000. Even with the euphoria of staying up at the end of 58, crowds dwindled against the following season, with a season-low of 7,000 watching us lose 2-0 to Bristol City before Christmas 1958. By the time Orient came to the Bank for our last-ever Second Division game, just 3996 fans turned up.
The reason for the decline was a vicious circle. City struggled to attract investment, had to sell players and fans stopped coming. The more the squad was eroded, the worse performances got and fans wouldn’t want to attend. The fewer fans that came, the less money there was and so players had to go. Despite brief upturns in form, the club were still forced to sell and with every sale, results took a hit. Players were signed for relatively paltry sums, such as £2500. The Supporters Club funded the purchase of Ron Harbertson, for that amount (around £60,000 with inflation), and we paid a similar sum for George Hannah, a bona fide top-flight player. That coup, worked by legendary manager Bill Anderson, helped stave off relegation after the ’58 escape, but only temporarily. He was eventually sold to Manchester City in a deal that saw John McLelland join the Imps, a deal estimated to have a value of £22,500, over half a million today. Sadly, he was also sold off as things got worse and worse behind the scenes. Chairman Charles Applewhite left after 12 years at the club, and his replacement Alwyne Mawer stated that survival was the sole aim, which we failed to achieve. We were even one of the last clubs to instal floodlights and only did so because of the generosity of the Supporter’s Club.
Contrast that with today, we have a stable board who have not tightened the purse strings so much so that the club has suffered or demanded player sales. We are not forced to sell the likes of Montsma or Grant, although it is part of the plan for progression. We do still pull of transfer coups though, and to a degree, it must be said that reflects the status back in 1960/61 – City needed to deal well to achieve anything and Bill Anderson did just that. Michael might have more resources and a stronger network, but players are still attracted here because of the personnel. Also, the fans have seemingly not changed, or if they have they have been and come back just as strong. The Supporter’s Club funding the purchase of Hannah, and the floodlights, does seem in sync with this season when season ticket money was not reclaimed, and outlets such as the FPS or Vital Lincoln City plough sums back into the club to help out. Through history, with the purchases of Peter Grotier and Kevin Austin, as well as those bought courtesy of the FPS, even with the administration rally in 2001, fans have played a big role in keeping this club alive and functioning.
The average attendance for the 1960/61 season was just 7429, which put us 67th out of the 92 Football League clubs. That improved last season, the last we had supporters in the ground, and remember it is in a lower division. We were 53rd out of the 91 clubs (the league was reduced remember), pulling 8986.
The game has changed completely since 1961. the object is the same, the passion is the same, but the rules have twisted and turned. Back then, it wasn’t a red card offence if you tackled from behind, in fact you couldn’t see a red card at all. Players could be removed from the pitch, but the card system only came into play in 1970. The pace of the game, the fitness of the players and even substitutions have all been introduced, as has televised fixtures. The Imps are on TV tonight against Gillingham, but despite the first televised match occurring in 1936, the first TV deal wasn’t signed until the early sixties, and that was cancelled when several big clubs refused to allow cameras into the ground!