Most of the 1960s were dark days for Lincoln City, with three successive seasons of relegation and re-election followed by three out of four when further applications to retain their league place were necessary.
In 1967 for the third year in a row City had topped the poll for re-election but while the decade so far had been one of almost unrelieved gloom for the long-suffering supporters that was finally about to change. Although Ron Gray, appointed as manager the previous October had been unable to prevent a last-place finish he now inspired a revitalisation of the club on and off the field. Part of this was the introduction of the Red Imps branding which saw a new playing strip of all-red shirts and white shorts which saw an end to the tradition of stripes and black shorts.
Gray also had a clear-out of players on a scale not equalled until Colin Murphy did the same in twenty years later. Out went the remaining established players that he had inherited as manager, with the most senior of those retained being midfielder or winger Roger Holmes at the age of 24, and 22-year-old defender Jim Grummett.
Players brought in during the summer or just prior to the end of the previous season were all free transfer men, with goalkeeper John Kennedy, and defenders Mick Brown, George Peden and Ray Harford which made up, apart from Grummett, an entirely new City defence
Also coming in were two new wingers, John Gregson on the right and Lewis Thom to play on the left, with the rest of the usual first team squad made up of players Gray had brought to the club the previous season such as midfielder Ray Lancaster and attacking players Clive Ford, Billy Cobb and teenager Jack Lewis.
Held to a home draw by Aldershot in a slightly disappointing season opener the Imps then travelled to Mansfield in the first round of the League Cup which was still a fairly new competition, now in its eighth season. City’s best so far had seen them reach the third round in 1963/64 before losing to Third Division Millwall in a home replay. They had equalled this run in the season before the present one when typically-poor league form had been belied by beating two second tier sides in Hull City and Huddersfield Town at Sincil Bank before losing 5-0 away at First Division Leicester City.
The game with Aldershot had seen league debuts for three players, goalkeeper John Kennedy, right back Mick Brown and winger John Gregson, while left winger Lewis Thom and full back George Peden were making only their second and third appearances respectively. Ray Lancaster, Clive Ford and Billy Cobb had all been brought in during the season, leaving only Roger Holmes and Jim Grummett as survivors from the cup run of a year ago.
It was an unchanged team that took the field at Mansfield and the Third Division side swept into 2-0 lead in the first half hour with goals from midfielder Tommy Mitchinson and left winger Tommy Knox before Billy Cobb pulled a goal back with an overhead kick before half time. Immediately after the break, man-of-the-match Roger Holmes equalised after going on a solo run and seven minutes later headed what proved to be the winner from a John Gregson corner.
The reward for this first, though minor, act of giant-killing was a home draw with First Division Newcastle United who although narrowly avoiding relegation the previous season were still renowned for their FA Cup-winning exploits of early in the previous decade.
In the meantime, two more goals for Holmes and three for Clive Ford in the course of successive away wins saw City in the unfamiliarly high position of fourth place. Despite a midweek home defeat by Darlington (Ford scoring again) Roger Holmes’s fifth goal in six games in a win over Halifax helped retain fourth place going into the game with Newcastle. The game really caught the imagination of the public with over 15,000, the highest attendance for four years, turning up to see the mid-table First Division side which could boast a number of star players. Iam McFaul, although Newcastle’s second-string goalkeeper already had one Northern Irish cap to his name and would go on to be first choice for his club for several seasons. Also a current Irish international was right back David Craig, while midfielder Eric Ross, a Northern Ireland U23 midfielder would later go on to win a full cap. Other Under-23 international players in the side were experienced centre half John McGrath and striker Albert Bennett for England, and Scottish winger Dave Hilley. Right winger Jim Scott had a full Scottish cap to his name, while the star man of the side was Welsh international centre forward Wyn Davies. One of the best target men in the game at the time with six goals in 16 games for Wales in his career so far, as it said in the ‘Pen Pictures’ in the match programme he was: ‘Rated as one of the outstanding forwards in the game today.’
Davies had scored two goals in Newcastle’s 5-1 over Chelsea a fortnight previously, a game at which it was reported Lincoln’s legendary centre forward Andy Graver had been present. Although he denied suggestions that he had been back in his native north east to spy on the opposition, claiming he had merely been on holiday, it would seem unlikely Graver didn’t give at least some sort of informal report to Ron Gray, and who knows whether it had some bearing on what would be City’s victory?
With Ray Lancaster struggling for form in midfield after the first few games of the season Ron Gray had acted to bring in trialist Phil Barlow from Bradford City but otherwise the side was unchanged from the win against Mansfield. Clive Ford hit the woodwork for the Imps early on but they fell behind soon after the break to a goal from a free kick scored by Newcastle’s Welsh international defender Ollie Burton on as a substitute. City fought back to equalise with an 81st minute header from Jim Grummett and four minutes later won the match when George Peden blasted home a penalty awarded for handball. The Imps held on in the closing minutes for a heroic victory due in no small part to Ray Harford’s domination in the air of Wyn Davies.