Looking Back At: 1978/79 (Part Four)

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

Part One Here

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

January

With the New Year’s Day fixture with Bury at Sincil Bank having fallen victim to the weather the next game was a daunting visit to leaders Watford, whose three-point lead at the top was matched by City being three points adrift at the bottom. City had a new goalkeeper on view for this match as Ian Turner had returned to Southampton (and was immediately sold by them to Walsall) on the expiry of his loan deal. With Peter Grotier still out of action Colin Murphy brought in Ipswich Town’s experienced reserve Laurie Sivell. The only other change saw the return of Alan Harding in place of the injured Graham Watson with Phil Neale moving inside. It seemed Murphy had given up on Tynan as John Ward kept his place as did Glenn Cockerill in place of Hobson despite the latter’s goal at Exeter. City were rather outclassed on the day as might have been expected, but a snow-covered pitch perhaps acted as a leveller, and a 2-0 defeat was at least an improvement on the home game with the Hornets, although with both goals coming from Luther Blissett it took his tally to four against the Imps in two matches. The points stretched Watford’s lead at the top, but the Imps were no worse off at the other end although Tranmere above them had two games in hand.

 

The weather intervened again the following Saturday with the scheduled visit of Rotherham United being called off, but despite again being played in snowy conditions the game at Carlisle a week later was able to be completed. Terry Cooper was now fit to return in place of Smith, and with John Fleming out of the side Glenn Cockerill was moved inside with Phil Hubbard wide on the right – until he was moved to the right back position of early in his career in place of Brendan Guest who was substituted after struggling against Carlisle winger George McVitie. But a goal in each half by the Cumbrians meant another defeat for City.

There was no game the following Saturday, this time not because of the weather but because Shrewsbury Town were involved in the FA Cup Fourth Round, so City ended the month still three points behind Tranmere at the bottom and nine points away from safety, plus with many other clubs also suffering postponements they had played more games than all but two of their rivals.

 

February

 

A snow-covered pitch at Sincil Bank prevented the scheduled home fixture with Brentford from going ahead, a frozen pitch then put paid to a trip to Walsall the following Saturday, and after a blizzard hit Lincoln during the week leaving four-foot-deep snowdrifts it was no surprise that the game with Blackpool was then also called off.

With nothing happening on the pitch, off it there was news that close season Bell signing Billy Wright who had not been in the first team picture since the end of August had joined Southern League Premier Division side Nuneaton Borough. However, the big news was that just four months after being signed for a record transfer fee Tommy Tynan had been put up for sale. Colin Murphy hinted that the player’s attitude left something to be desired and said “If a player is not happy with the club, it is not conducive to a good spirit prevailing.” It later emerged that Tynan had been in the habit of avoiding payment of taxi fares from his home in Sheffield to Lincoln by falsely saying they would be paid for by the football club. For these and other financial offences he was later fined by the magistrates’ court.

Another player on his way out was player-coach Jim McCalliog whose contract was terminated “by mutual consent”. This followed the appointment as City’s new coach of Lennie Lawrence (“Every manager wants his own staff around him”, said Murphy). The 31-year-old had recently been assistant to Malcolm Allison at Plymouth as well as having a brief spell as caretaker manager of the Devon side.

 

City managed their first game for over a month with a Friday night trip to Colchester United, but the day before saw the departure of Tommy Tynan to Fourth Division Newport County. Once again, the transfer fee set a new record for the buying club, with Newport paying £20,000 for him. Although this meant a loss of £13,000 on what City had paid out just four months before there was an indication that further payment could be due with Colin Murphy saying “If the player performs well, Lincoln City stand to gain a considerable amount more for him.”  There seems every likelihood this happened, considering that Tynan went on to become a goalscoring legend at Newport, averaging better than a goal every three games, and later on even more so at Plymouth where he averaged nearly a goal every two games. But there is no doubt that Tynan didn’t suit City and City didn’t suit him, with neither the contrasting figures of Willie Bell or Colin Murphy able to do anything with him, and while at the time City suffered a big loss on his transfer fee it was also the case that his departure helped reduce the wage bill at a time when City were overstocked with players.

 

Frosty conditions at Colchester relented in time for the game to go ahead, but unfortunately it brought the third 2-0 defeat in a row, and in fact was the ninth occurrence of that score-line in 17 away league and cup games in the season so far. A surprise was the return in goal of Peter Grotier following his long lay-off with a cartilage problem but with Terry Cooper injured in training Mick Smith returned in defence. With Phil Neale also out with a hamstring injury Gordon Hobson returned to the side with Glenn Cockerill moving into midfield. Another surprise was the deployment of Brendan Guest in a midfield role with Phil Hubbard remaining at full back where he had finished the previous game. A hard-working first half performance was negated by two goals in the second half, and only a missed penalty late on by Colchester prevented a heavier defeat.

The weather then intervened again with wet snow in Lincoln the following Wednesday causing the postponement of that night’s game with Shrewsbury due to a waterlogged pitch.