Yep, you read that correctly. Today, we’ll look back at a time when The Imps went to White Hart Lane and won.
We’ve only played Spurs eight times and only won twice. One of those games was famously in the League Cup, and the other was back in 1949 when Bill Anderson’s City (bottom at the time) travelled for a Second Division match against Joe Hulme’s side, who had only finished outside the top eight in the division once. It was a David v Goliath encounter which was requested by site Patron Ian Dovey.
For context, The Imps were new to the Second Division, having been relegated from it in 1934. After winning Division Three, we’d had a solid enough start to the season, drawing at Upton Park, a ground still scarred by the wartime bombs, and two further draws had given hope we might last longer than a single season amongst the big boys. A small stand stood on the Sincil bank side of the ground, but it was demolished, and new terracing was put in with a view to increased crowds. The capacity at the Bank was lifted to 25,000, with 19540 watching the first home game, a 0-0 draw with Spurs.
Sadly, the autumn was not kind, and City tumbled to the bottom of the table. An ageing defence leaked goals, and we were beaten 5-0 by West Brom away, then 3-0 by the same opponents at home days later. Blackburn stuffed seven past us, and Bradford Park Avenue hit six at the Bank. The writing appeared to be on the wall, and unrest in the boardroom meant a change of chairman – Charles Applewhite came in for George Wright. Amidst the anger, the Imps made a huge signing – Ephraim ‘Jock’ Dodds arrived from Everton. We paid £6000 to Everton for him, and he was a household name, a big player in the top flight. However, the board were still lambasted for not spending enough as the season began to get away from the Imps.
We’d won one in 13 games with Dodds in the side as we went to Spurs, but the Imps were still hopeful. There was talk of an exciting young player coming through called Tony Emery – the Echo of the day noted that First Division teams were eying him, including Newcastle and Wolves. The report suggested we were ‘desperate for players to strengthen various positions’, but the youngster might not be granted a move quickly – given he was our record appearance holder for many years after, it’s safe to assume he didn’t get the move.
Spurs hadn’t had it all their own way in the lead-up to the encounter. Their striker Len Duquemin injured an ankle in their Christmas Day win at Leicester. They were performing well – they’d lost just two in 13 matches and were third in the table, three points behind leaders West Brom with a game in hand. It would almost certainly have been one to back on an accumulator as a home win.
On the eve of the game, City added another new face – George Eastham arrived. He’d played alongside Jock Dodds at Blackpool and had also appeared for Bolton and Brentford. He had a single England cap to his name from 1935, and 17 years later, his son, George Eastham Jr, would be a part of England’s World Cup-winning squad.
City lined up Arthur Jepson, Bert Wilkinson, Billy Bean, Jimmy Grummett, Tony Emery, Doug Wright, Jimmy McCormick, Luke Storey, Jock Dodds, George Eastham, and Tom Docherty.
It seems some things never change; a bus strike threatened the Imps’ travel arrangements, and at one point, it seemed we might lean on Chesterfield for a trip down. That didn’t happen, and after winning the toss, the Imps settled down to a combative game of football. City started brightly, and the reporter known as N.H.B noted that high-flying Spurs officials were equally as impressed in the press box. “What is this team doing at the bottom of the Second Division?” they asked. “This is not relegation form,” to which the writer concluded, “they were right”.
Playing with ‘dash and spirit’, City ignored the conditions. The pitch was greasy, with choppy wind and driving rain coming across, but that didn’t stop Dodds and Eastham from linking up early to force a save from the Spurs stopper Ted Ditchburn. He had just been capped by England, playing in a 6-0 win against Switzerland at Highbury, and he was soon called into action again, tipping McCormick’s drive over from 30 yards.
The home side struck first on 17 minutes, and their goal came after Bean, Emery, and Grummet had all been forced into last-ditch tackles to prevent them from going ahead. According to the report, Freddie Cox beat the ageing Billy Bean ‘too easily’, and his cross hung invitingly for keeper Jepson. Sadly, he collided with Eddie Bailey, and Ernie Jones smashed the ball in with the keeper lying on the floor.
City levelled when Eastham, described as ‘slow but brilliant’, nodded Tom Docherty’s cross to the feet of Dodds. He struck a left-footed shot past the newly-capped England keeper to level things, which is how it stayed until half time.
In those days, the match report featured in the Echo, but could only go to half-time to beat the printer. By Monday, the report was watered down, so there’s little about the second period. We know the second came from a long ball that Dodds picked up before smashing a shot from the edge of the area into the net. City led 2-1, but reports of a gruelling final half hour suggest it was backs against the wall in the driving rain.
Jepson, signed from Stoke, was described as showing faultless judgement and anticipation, with the reporter saying it was him, not Dithcburn, who had the stamp of an international. Interestingly, he did go on to have an international career as an umpire in cricket, officiating at the 1975 cricket World Cup. He also played first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire.
He wasn’t the only player mentioned – Bean was described as ‘often in trouble’ but played grimly, which I took as meaning committedly, to prevent us from losing. Our wing halves were reported as being superior to Spurs’ internationals Ron Burgess and Bill Nicholson. Rather inappropriately, Grummett is described as working hard in a manner that perhaps isn’t suitable for this blog. All in, the Imps were impressive, with the report concluding, “here is every indication that City have re-captured their spirit. If they can retain it, they can stop in the Second Division.”
The chairman agreed, claiming the fans could help, and more new players were coming. It seemed like the dawning of a new era, a time for a great escape, ten years before our actual great escape. However, the supporter’s help wasn’t in getting to the ground; it was providing homes for the new players!
Sadly, it was a false dawn. City spent £25,000 in total, £720,000 with inflation, but picked up just three more wins before the end of the season. We finished bottom of the table, seven points adrift of our nearest rivals in Nottingham Forest. Crowds slipped to 11,000 for the final home game of the season against QPR, and Luton humbled us 6-0 in our penultimate fixture. It was a huge disappointment and led to more in-fighting in the boardroom, but better days were coming – the club finished 4th and 5th in Division Three before winning promotion in 1952, sparking a ten-year stay in the second tier.
Spurs finished fifth that season and Arthur Rowe replaced Hulme. He won the Second Division for them the following season, and a year later, they were champions of England. They’ve only spent a single season outside of the top flight since then, which puts the result’s size into perspective, not that we knew it at the time!