The Week That Was: 1995 – Ainsworth Debut, First John Beck Win

I’ve decided to start putting together a new feature, which like most of the features may be sporadic, looking at a full week in the life of the Imps.

The British Newspaper Archive has extended the coverage of Echo back issues to the late nineties, so it’s easy to now find out what was happening over the course of a whole week. To start, I’ve opted to look at the week commencing October 30th, 1995. It was a crazy week when you look back – Coolio was number one with Gangsta’s Paradise, but for the Imps there were three debuts, a first John Beck win, red cards, former players scoring, transfer requests and early subs, to name just a bit of what happened.

Let me know if you like the new feature in the comments or by dropping comments on social media.

Monday, October 30th

The first week that was begins with the Imps bottom of Division Three, already on their third manager of the season. John Beck had yet to claim a win, but the Imps were finally accruing points. The Monday morning was all about a debrief after Exeter City were held to a 1-1 draw, the Imps’ seventh point of the season and John Beck’s first as manager. Martin Phillips gave the home side a 13th-minute lead, only for Phil Daley’s header to be ruled out for a push moments later. Udo Onwere was forced to clear off the line from Richard Pears, whilst Richardson (Barry) made a fingertip save after a 25-yard drive from Richardson (Jon).

It was Baby Barnett, a fresh-faced 19-year-old debutant, who earned us a share of the spoils. His 33rd-minute header from Tony Daws’s cross was enough to bag a draw. John Beck was happy with his new signing, but as ever, he giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. “I am pleased for the lad, scoring on his debut,” said the controversial manager, who ten months earlier had been linked with the Northampton job. “I’ve told him his performance wasn’t good enough. Just after he scored, Darren Huckerby got a great cross in and Jason wasn’t at the far post.” Ouch.

Another order of business for Monday morning was the arrival of a new face. He cost £25,000 from Preston North End, rising to £50,000 if he made enough appearances. He was 22-year-old Gareth Ainsworth, a man Beck said would bring ‘pace, passion and goals’. “We’ve heard it all before”, fans surely thought.

Tuesday, October 31st

The nation were being regaled with tales of Halloween horrors – the papers were full of the details of Rose West’s grisly murder trial. At Sincil Bank, John Beck was focused on taking apart Steve Wicks and Sam Ellis’s Imps and replacing them with a vision he had for the club. Perhaps this Ainsworth segment should have been the headline for the day – hindsight would make it a momentous occasion. Beck signed Ainsworth for the third time when he joined the Imps, but I guess back then, he was just another signing.

The day’s big news was a possible departure – Andy Leaning asked to go on the transfer list. He’d been the first choice under Steve Wicks, but as soon as Beck arrived, Barry Richardson came in, and Leaning had played his last game. He had been voted Player of the Year in 1994/95 by supporters but accepted his time was up. “I’m 32, and at this stage of my career, I have got to be looking for first-team football,” said the former Bristol City stopper. “It is more difficult for goalkeepers than other players because we cannot force our way into the team in any other position.”

Leaning didn’t get a move until the summer when he joined Dundee in the Scottish First Division.

Wednesday, November 1st

City were away at Mansfield Town on Wednesday evening, and the paper was full of speculation as to how they might line up. Another new signing, Jon Whitney, was in the squad alongside Ainsworth, and they were scheduled to be the 32nd and 33rd players to wear City’s colours that year, and it was only November! “Whitney is big, strong and quick. He has a great left foot, plenty of desire and is a quality defender,” was the way Beck described his second cash signing in a week, £20,000 from Huddersfield Town.

Our opponents, Mansfield, were a mixed bag, having beaten Wigan 6-2 three weeks prior but having suffered defeats against Preston (6-0) and Bury (5-1) to slip into the bottom four. The Imps were still seven points behind the Stags and had only scored a single goal in eight hours of football, but it would be a game remembered for all the wrong reasons when the paper reported on it the following day.