The 1907/08 season had been one long struggle for Lincoln both on and off the pitch, writes Gary Parle.
An opening day 4-0 defeat at Derby, when captain Billy Simpson injured his knee and missed most of the season, set the tone and by the time of the visit of Leeds City on February 22nd City had been bottom of the table since November 30th with just 12 points from 26 games although only two points behind Chesterfield and three behind Grimsby and Blackpool.
The weather in early hours of that Saturday had been “somewhat boisterous” and as kick-off approached, with scarcely 1000 spectators present, the Lincolnshire Chronicle in the following week’s edition vividly described the scene as there being “ominous-looking clouds all around, intensely leaden and almost without a break. The wind was blowing a gale from south to south-west and was obviously gradually increasing in violence. It howled and roared with a weirdness which was scarcely distinguishable from the subsequent peals of thunder”
The two teams kicked off but within a few minutes there was a “couple of flashes of lightening and the hail began to descend” whilst “the force of the gale gathered with alarming rapidity” with the players and officials making a mad dash to the dressing rooms. Those spectators stood in the open rushed to find cover in the stands with “hail beating with furious force” but for those who had sought shelter in the reserved stand on the east side of the ground panic began to spread as the structure began to shiver and shake in the wind. Some made a dash from it only to be beaten back by the “blinding fury of the storm”
Disaster then struck as a section of the stand, some thirty yards long, toppled over along with about 40 people inside. Other spectators quickly began to rush to the aid of those trapped in the wreckage. City player George Nisbet, himself on the injured list, was praised for helping extricate one man from beneath the wreckage but despite many initially fearing a high toll of serious injuries or even deaths it was quickly established that only one spectator, Ernest Cooper of 5 Harding Street, New Boultham, had sustained serious injuries whilst others, including City’s secretary John Strawson who was hit on the head by a beam of wood, had sustained cuts and bruises.
Other casualties included the instruments of the Lincoln City Brass Band which were badly damaged whilst the Lincolnshire Echo said that their man’s telephone had been wrecked! It was reported later in the week that Cooper was recovering well in Lincoln Hospital.
The gales caused havoc at other grounds as well with rooves being blown of stands at Hull City, causing a temporary halt to their game with Gainsborough Trinity, and Birmingham whilst another small stand was blown over at Rotherham County
Forty minutes after the stand had been blown over the match resumed although the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reporter said “a restart could and ought to have been made fully twenty minutes earlier and the discomfort of players having to wait in their damp clothes thus lessened” although it did concede that “the unfortunate incidents which had occurred took the heart out of the football”
With the benefit of the wind in the first half Lincoln took full advantage but it wasn’t until the 41st minute that Billy Langham opened the scoring and he added another on the stroke of half time with Walter Wilson scoring a penalty in-between time. The teams turned straight around at half time but Leeds hopes of taking advantage of the conditions to stage a fightback were dealt a blow within three minutes when Wilson scored another penalty and in the 89th minute Henry McCann added a fifth.
The victory, coupled with a defeat for Chesterfield, lifted City off the bottom of the table but four games later a home defeat against Glossop saw the side sink back to the bottom and that was where they remained for the rest of the season followed by a failed re-election appeal in the summer that saw an end to Football League membership and a return to the Midland League for 1908/09.
Sources: Official History of Lincoln City, Home | Search the archive | British Newspaper Archive for various newspapers including Lincolnshire Echo, Lincolnshire Chronicle and Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Past Imperfect.