Looking Back At: 1978/79 (Part Three)

This is Part Three of a five-part series, courtesy of Malcolm Johnson

Part One Here

Part Two Here


There was said to be a large number of applications for the manager’s job to take over from the sacked Willie Bell, including former Imp Derek Trevis who had also tried for it after George Kerr’s departure a year before. He had been playing and coaching in America and flew over especially for an interview with the board (one wonders whether in mid-Atlantic he passed Willie Bell going the other way). Also mentioned was England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, but one who dropped out of the running was Jim McCalliog who said he had decided after all that he could serve the club best by concentrating on the coaching of the players. There was strong speculation that a player-manager would be appointed, with, as nowadays, the rumour mill working overtime with names ranging from Billy Bremner, and indeed about half of the late 1960s Leeds United team, through Alan Ball and top-flight centre halves John Wile and Larry Lloyd. Maurice Burton, writing in his Sports Echo column, was more ‘in the know’ than others, and while admitting that it was still up in the air who the new man might be he was eventually to be proved right when he mentioned as a “strong candidate” an individual with experience of management in the First Division.

Peter Grotier was now suffering from a knee injury and had been ordered to rest for a month, but Chris Turner was recalled by Sheffield Wednesday after his loan period ended as they were suffering from a goalkeeping crisis of their own. A new keeper had therefore to be brought in and McCalliog arranged a loan for Ian Turner, one of his team-mates in Southampton’s FA Cup-winning side in 1976. The 25-year-old, after losing his first team place with the Saints through injury had still played a number of games in their promotion-winning side the previous season but had yet to feature this time around. He went straight into the side for the visit of fourth from bottom Mansfield Town the following Saturday. Other changes saw right winger Alan Jones make his first appearance since March after finally recovering from a long-lasting hamstring problem. He took the place of Gordon Hobson, with John Fleming replacing Phil Hubbard in midfield. Tommy Tynan, recovered from his bout of flu and after scoring four goals for the reserves in midweek returned with Alan Eden dropping to the bench.

As with the previous game at Southend, City showed a willingness to work for each other and fight for every ball, but a failure to put the ball in the net proved costly when Mansfield’s Dennis Martin scored the only goal of the match six minutes from time. Considering the fiasco of the last home match, and bearing in mind the game was something of a local derby there was an encouraging increase of around 700 in the attendance, and there was praise from chairman Heneage Dove for the way in which the supporters got behind the team. I think we were just glad to see the back of Willie Bell!

The name of the new manager was now announced, and was one possibly not too well-known to many supporters, although the 34-year-old Colin Murphy had quite recently spent ten months as manager of First Division Derby County – so he was evidently the man Maurice Burton had tipped for the job. Murphy’s playing and early management career had been spent in the Southern League before becoming assistant to Dave Mackay at first Nottingham Forest then Derby. He had somewhat surprisingly succeeded Mackay as manager at the Baseball Ground before being replaced in September 1977 by the higher profile Tommy Docherty. Since then, he had been coaching the reserve and youth sides at Second Division Notts County.

Of his appointment Murphy said that while some people might think him crazy to become a manager again, the way he saw it was that success with Lincoln would give him a chance to manage in the First Division again. He went on to please the supporters by praising what Graham Taylor had done for the club, and unlike with his immediate predecessor, said the spectre of Taylor wouldn’t haunt him because he hoped he could get the team to play in the same way. He said there were some good players at the club, but they seemed to be playing for themselves with no organisation and that discipline needed to be tightened up.

Murphy took charge with the team five points adrift at the foot of the Third Division table and eight points from safety from relegation. With sixteen games played they had scored just nine goals and conceded 33, needless to say, the worst record in the division. This compared with eleven months previously when Willie Bell, also charged with saving the club from relegation had taken over from George Kerr with the side third from bottom, two points from safety and with fifteen points from twenty games. Bell, to his credit had lifted the Imps to safety – that Murphy was not to do the same could not be held too much against him considering he was starting from a much worse position and with a far worse situation on the field.

The new manager’s reign started with what on the face of it would seem to be a tough visit to Sheffield Wednesday. But the Hillsborough club were at a low ebb in their history, spending a fourth season in a row in the third tier and currently no better than a solid mid-table side. Colin Murphy made encouraging noises leading up to the match, saying he hoped the confident and enthusiastic attitude he had been displaying to the players would rub off on them, tellingly going on to say that “When I see good players lacking in confidence on the field, I don’t blame them, I blame the coaches and managers.”

Known to be an admirer of Phil Neale’s qualities, and said to have tried to sign him for Derby County it was no surprise when Murphy brought Neale back into the squad for the first time in the season – although only on the subs’ bench. The only change made to the starting eleven was the return of Gordon Hobson instead of Alan Jones on the right wing.


I paid what has turned out to be my last visit to Hillsborough to date, and standing on the Leppings Lane end was rewarded with an end to my run of four successive 2-0 away defeats – although not with a goal as a hardworking performance by the Imps in a goal-less draw earned their first away point of the season.

Colin Murphy made his home debut as manager the following Saturday and was given a warm reception when chairman Heneage Dove introduced him to the crowd from the steps of the St Andrews stand. The attendance of around three and a half thousand was about the same as for the previous home match, but given that was against fairly local rivals Mansfield compared to distant Plymouth a few hundred extra supporters must have been attracted to see what effect the new manager would have. The four-game goal drought did at least come to an end, with no less than three being scored for the first time in the season as an unchanged team was fielded. Two of the goals came from the penalty spot as with regular penalty taker Clive Wigginton not in the side John Fleming stepped up for the first time and was twice successful as City came back from an early Plymouth strike. When Gordon Hobson made it 3-1 early in the second half a comfortable victory looked on the cards for a change, but after an 80th minute penalty of their own given against Terry Cooper for handball Plymouth forced a desperately disappointing equaliser in stoppage time.

With three goals conceded against Plymouth changes to the defence might have been expected in any case for the FA Cup First round visit to Blackpool the following Saturday, but in the event, these were forced due to Mick Smith and Dennis Leigh suffering from injuries. Back came Clive Wigginton who had performed well in a midweek reserve match, and – at long last – Phil Neale made his first appearance of the season. Another change saw Mick Harford fit to play his first game since mid-September replace Tynan while Phil Hubbard was named on the bench.

As for myself, I’m afraid that just six weeks after having been there I didn’t fancy another long trip to the seaside, although as it turned out there was a slight improvement on the previous result in that the Imps did at least score a goal. John Ward’s strike came in the 80th minute though, and with the home side already two up the Imps were unable to force an equaliser.

Instead of travelling to Blackpool I made the easier journey to Birmingham to see bottom of the First Division side Birmingham City take on Bristol City. An attraction was Argentinian full back Alberto Tarantini, who, unlikely as it seems now (and also did then) had been signed for the Blues by their ex-Imp manager Jim Smith just three months after being a member of Argentina’s World Cup-winning side. Playing alongside him for Birmingham was Willie Bell’s transfer target Malcolm Page while also in the Blues side was later Imps manager Alan Buckley. Another later Imp on view was defender David Rodgers for Bristol City.