I conducted this interview for my 2016 book The A-Z of Lincoln City Players 1993-2016, which was a tongue-in-cheek look at everyone to have appeared for our club during that time.
I have taken the book out of circulation now, mainly because I wrote it in three months and it was littered with errors, and along the way I’ve lost the hard copies of the interviews I did. If I recall correctly I also spoke to Marous Stergiopolous, Bradley Wood and Paul Farman. Anyhow, I have been able to find this interview, with popular striker Gijs Bos. To keep filling in these dead news day gaps, I wanted to bring this to you in case you missed it first time around.
The giant Dutchman Gijsbert Bos arrived at Lincoln City in 1996 for a fee of £10,000. He was very different to the usual journeyman striker we’d been used to. First off he was tall, really tall. He stood at six feet and four inches, which suited the John Beck philosophy very well. It would do Gijsbert a disservice though to assume he was all height and no ability; he was stereotyped more by who the manager was than his own style of play.
He started out with Dutch side Ijsselmeervogels, and despite a career that brought him to deepest, darkest England, it was in Spain he first looked like securing a contract.
“Coming to England was very surprising to be honest. I never thought about professional football I stopped playing football from age 17 till 20. I only started playing again in a very low division for fun at age 21, before I moved to Ijsselmeervogels. They were in the highest amateur Dutch league, and were my local favourites.”
Ijsselmeervogels won their league that year, and as they did things changed quickly for the likeable striker.
“After winning that league in my first year, things went fast. An agent called me if I was interested to play abroad. I rejected the chance to play for Extremadura who were a top Primera B side in Spain. They became champions and played Primera Division the year after. I rejected the move because playing on Sunday would probably have cost my relationship with my future wife because of religious reasons. Spanish football was on Sundays, so I thought that’s my professional chance gone.”
Despite this set back it is admiral to hear a player prioritising his quality of life, and in particular relationship over and above his football career. However, his chance was still to come.
“When Lincoln came I was flattered to get another chance and jumped at the opportunity.”
England certainly isn’t Spain though, and even compared to the Netherlands our climate can be quite harsh.
“When I first came over on a trial I wasn’t really impressed because the weather was terrible! It was snowing, then raining and windy. Groundsman Nigel Dennis (R.I.P) showed me around that first night when I arrived and even switched on the lights at Sincil Bank, and then I was sold straight away.”
Even as far back as twenty years ago our ground was tempting players, and the ethos of our staff was welcoming and accommodating. Nigel Dennis was a wonderful member of staff and it’s nice that ex-players remember him fondly.
“Next day I met the players and staff who were very nice and welcoming. I can remember the third day as I called my mother to tell her I was never gonna play abroad as I became a little homesick.”
In the Premier League our foreign imports have fixers who look after their every need, but in the lower reaches it seems that it wasn’t quite the same. The young man from Spakenburg initially didn’t feel he could settle in Lincoln. That all changed;
“After my trial game away at Shrewsbury for the reserves, (we lost but I scored), John Beck called me in his office and asked me if I was interested in signing for little old Lincoln (as he always called them). Surprisingly my homesick melted as snow in August!”
At the time there were some skilful players at City despite us lumping it forward into danger alley, but they didn’t always get to showcase their talents. Some were more obviously suited to the game than others.
“Of course Gareth Ainsworth stood out the most as our type of play was made for him as he was fast and strong. Players like Terry Fleming and Jae Martin were maybe more technical, but there was no room for us to play the passing game, the Dutch way. I didn’t have any favourite players though, I liked them all. We had a good team spirit.”
It wasn’t always plain sailing though, John Beck had a clear strategy which didn’t always suit the players’ strengths.
“I don’t have to tell you our style of football under John Beck, it wasn’t quite attractive and we were not supposed to pass and play as we should and definitely could. We had to play long ball and go down the channels as he preferred it.”
John Beck’s tactics pulled Lincoln out of a hole, and goals from the big striker certainly helped. Frustration mounted though as Lincoln continued to play spoiling tactics despite having a strong squad of players.
“I can remember at home against Mansfield, before the game there was a lot of hassle going on in town with their fans, police sirens could been heard at Sincil Bank. With Lincoln 1-0 up, the game was really tight when I received the ball on the left halfway the pitch, I ran past a defender cut inside and scored a screamer in the top corner from about 25 yards. Afterwards John Beck was a little bit angry and told me if the ball wouldn’t have gone in he would have subbed me because I didn’t play down the channels, in his style. I thought he made a joke but he wasn’t joking. The game ended 2-1.”
Lincoln were on a date with destiny, and Gijsbert was cast in the lead role. After he scored in the first round first leg against Hartlepool, City secured a 5-4 win and a tie against Manchester City as a reward. Even as a second-tier side Man City were a big draw for any club, and the first leg was to be played in front of 7,599 fans at Sincil Bank.
“The draw was perfect of course, Man City were, and still are a big name to get in the Coca Cola Cup. After 3 minutes I think they scored to make it 0-1, and I thought they would destroy us. As the game developed we got a little more grip and scored the equaliser which was brilliant but surprisingly they didn’t speed up the game and that left us with a challenge which we took with both hands. We kept fighting and scored three more goals, included a flick on from me after a long throw to make it 4-1. I still thought this was probably not enough for the away game at Maine Road.”
The old Maine Road was a tight and intimidating ground, and John Beck’s little old Lincoln City weren’t given a hope of snatching a win by pundits. The best we could do would be shut up shop and hope for the best. The pundits were wrong.
“The big night at Maine Road will never leave my memory. Although my goal was a simple tap in we won the game 1-0 and my name would never be forgotten to those who supported Lincoln at that time.”
The name Gijsbert Bos will be remembered by more than just the Imps fans of the time. To beat Man City over two legs was a great achievement, and had it not been for a disputed penalty against Premier League Southampton, City might have progressed further. John Beck was hailed by many as a hero.
“John Beck; first I have to thank him, because he was the one who bought me and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, which I will always remember as one of my best times ever. In those three years in England I became the man I am now.”
It wasn’t all roses and light though. Beck was a strong disciplinarian and a man whom it was very easy to fall out with. Even the laid-back and amiable Bos could see there were problems.
“He was my downfall as a technical player as we were only allowed to hook and head balls into the corners. Everything I learned in Holland he wanted me to forget, just to play long balls and guide them in the corners. Everyone who didn’t do what he wanted got subbed, even players who just came on were subbed after 15 minutes if they didn’t play his game.”
At first the style was effective at getting the Imps out of the relegation spaces, but as he persisted with the long ball approach it frustrated a large portion of the fans, and the players.
“I did understand this game when I just came to Lincoln as we were bottom of the league and we needed a strategy which would make us like a machine fighting for our lives. The next season we were still playing this style and players started to question this. I really liked Lincoln and I never wanted to leave, but as for John Beck he didn’t liked players questioning his style as I did.”
Eventually the brash and abrasive manager pushed his player too far.
“I had a bust up with him before the summer break. I told him I was getting married in 2 weeks-time and wanted some more time off, but he wanted me to come back at Lincoln after two weeks’ holiday to train twice a week. I told him to ******, and if it wasn’t for John Still (Assistant Manager at that time) I would have punched him.”
That was the end of his Lincoln City career. He’d hit ten goals from 35 starts, but was cast aside for daring to question his manager. Lincoln City would go on to get promoted the following season, but Beck would be dismissed before that happened. Gijsbert moved on to pastures new.
“That argument was me finished at Lincoln basically, He sold me to Rotherham United in pre-season. Rotherham was not really what I had hoped for, although my personal life became better as my wife came over after our marriage, so I wasn’t alone anymore. After a slow start I found my way into the team, only to get injured a lot. It got even more difficult to come back after injury as every time I got injured they took someone on loan. I understood why, but it was frustrating to see that they bought the one who replaced me.”
After falling out of favour at Rotherham injuries took their toll again.
“I even went on loan for 6 weeks to Walsall but at the time they were planning to buy me I got injured again. When the second season at Rotherham developed and I still wasn’t fit, I decided to quit and return to my home town back in Holland, where I was been able to buy a house. Even though I got the opportunities to keep playing somewhere else, we (my wife and I) decided to call it a day and return to Holland. I know people would think I was crazy to stop being a professional footballer but for us it was probably the best decision.When we came back we both found good jobs and as for playing football I returned to my old club Ijsselmeervogels and became champions again I kept playing first team football till I was 35.”
Despite the somewhat auspicious end to his Lincoln career, those goals against Manchester City alone have ensured the name of Gijsbert Bos will always be mentioned in Lincoln City folklore. He was the guy who scored at Maine Road as we won 1-0.
“I am 43 now and I still look back at that time in England and mostly Lincoln and cherish everything. Last year I came over for a charity match for Lincoln legends and met with most of the players. I even stayed with my best mate back then, Shane Clarke and his girlfriend Kerry.”
It was a real pleasure to chat to Gijsbert Bos. I was just 17 the night he scored at Maine Road, and his goal gave everyone connected with the club something to be proud of. 1996 was the summer of Britpop, the European Championships in England, and Cool Britannia. Then, to cap it all off; little old Lincoln beat Manchester City. Twice.