On This Day: Imps Linked With First Division Striker

I’ve fallen down a wormhole.

Now I have access to the British Newspaper Archive; I literally cannot stop perusing old newspapers. There are huge gaps at present in the archive, but I’m still finding plenty to interest me, and occasionally, I even write something for you as well!

Have you ever wondered what was in the Imps news on January 22nd, 1983? No? Oh. Maybe this isn’t for you, then!

On this day 40 years ago, the Imps were linked with a new striker – Ross Jack, from Norwich City. Jack had begun his career with Ross County before moving to Everton, for whom he appeared once (scoring once) in five years. He then moved to Norwich and hit 14 for them in 1981/82, finishing as their top scorer, as they were promoted to the First Division. However, he struggled to make an impact in 1982/83, and at Christmas, ambitious Colin Murphy wanted him to help push us into the Second Division. The price was £20,000 (around £62,000 with inflation), which seemed a bargain for a 23-year-old.

Why is this so important? Well, as covered here, it came at a crucial time for the Imps. On this day 40 years ago, we also beat Bristol Rovers 2-1, maintaining our push towards the Second Division. However, Murphy wanted to recruit to give his threadbare squad a chance of promotion, having been forced to play keeper Stuart Naylor up front earlier in the season. It later transpired Jack had agreed on a move to City and came to Sincil Bank for a look around, but chairman Gilbert Blades wouldn’t release the funds. Instead, Murphy was forced to chase a loan signing, Steve White from Charlton. White played three times, then left.

Six games passed between Jan 22nd and Feb 26th, and City picked up just three points. Having looked certain for promotion, Murphy’s squad was stretched, and the fans turned on Blades. He handed his resignation in on February 27th, shortly after letting Murphy sign Errington Kelly on a non-contract basis, another bargain basement player who struggled to make an impact.

There was no social media back then, obviously, but there was still an upwardly mobile fanbase willing to protest and make their anger known. Images from the 2-1 defeat against Plymouth show supporters on the pitch, whilst the letters pages of the Echo weeks afterwards were filled with complaints about the club not being able to find the money for Jack.

Jack was kept out of the Norwich side for much of the season, appearing only a couple of times on the bench. Ironically, another future Imps figure, John Deehan, took his place, scoring 20 goals as they fought in the First Division. City fell away from the promotion race, but in August 1983, new chairman Dennis Houlston did find the cash for Jack, and Murphy got his man; it was front-page news too.

Finally, eight months after the news first broke, Murphy got his man – but was it worth it?

Jack looked the business at first, bagging a brace against Orient just three matches into his Imps career, and after hitting six in his first eight matches, he looked to be a bargain. City were struggling for consistency in the 83/84 season, and Jack’s form reflected that. Despite a good run in the first team, goals didn’t flow as they had at Norwich. He only hit three in the league between October 2nd and May 12th, adding one in the Milk Cup to secure a win against Spurs, which many fans will remember.

The following season, Jack suffered injuries, but bagged seven in 18 starts in the league. However, he only started seven league matches after the turn of the year, and he donned the Imps shirt for the final time on the fateful final day of the season away at Bradford City. He wasn’t the only one – it was the end of an era as manager Colin Murphy left.

Jack departed the club in the summer of 1985, along with Gordon Hobson, Steve Thompson, George Shipley, John Thomas, Alan Walker and David Felgate. He moved to Dundee on a free transfer, and despite starting well for them, tailed off. The best of his football came playing for Dunfermline, where he was the leading scorer three seasons in a row, and finished as the second-highest scorer in Scotland’s top flight on one occasion.