The Week That Was: October 1998 – Club’s Future Cast Into Doubt

You know the drill on these by now – I’ve selected a week from the club’s history to take the newspaper headlines from and give you a flavour of what was happening daily.

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This week, the club was tapping into its support as well –  I’ve gone back to our last spell in the third tier, the one season (up until Danny’s team won the League Two title in 2019) in my lmps -supporting life we’d reached such lofty heights. We faced teams such as Burnley, Stoke, Manchester City and Fulham that season, but competing with the big boys was tough – as you’ll see.

Monday, October 5th

October 5th is a big date for me – it’s my Imps anniversary, having watched my first game on that date in 1986. On the 22nd anniversary of my watching the Imps, the debrief was all about a 2-1 defeat against Wrexham at the Racecourse Ground, the Imps tenth game without a win and sixth defeat on the spin.

City were second from bottom, having slipped into the bottom four early in the season, and a win wouldn’t have seen us out of trouble. Sadly, that was never coming anyway – not after Lee Thorpe was booked after just 11 seconds. Ten minutes later, Dave Brammer poked Steve Holmes ‘careless half clearance’ home to give the home side the lead.

Lone ranger Charlie Hartfield levelled for the Imps, and earned Man of the Match. The player who once was sent off for punching Eric Cantona earned a rave review from Brian Halford, and for a while, City were on top. Alcide headed over, Barnett had a 30-yard piledriver blocked, and Thrope saw an effort saved from just inside the area.

On 58 minutes, it went awry for City. Having already been given a free kick, Lee Thrope tangled with a Wrexham player, but earned a second yellow for his retaliation. Down to ten men, City struggled, and Stephen Roberts snatched a win for the home side with 13 minutes remaining.

“His indiscretion left his teammates a man short for half an hour at Wrexham and we ended up losing a match we should have won,” said manager Shane Westley. “I will decide what to do after watching the video and seeing the referee’s report. If Lee has retaliated – he has been booked on previous occasions for retaliation – I will take the appropriate action.”

If only that was the big news of the week.

Tuesday, October 6th

Usually, I drop the odd front page headline in, but on Tuesday, the Imps were the front page headline. “Cash strapped Lincoln City are approaching the point of financial no return,” screamed the byline on the front page of the Tuesday edition of the Echo, with John Reames telling supporters time was running out. “I know what the football club means to me and about 2,500 other people,” said Reames. “The rest of the population must decide what it means to them.”

The back page was no better for the club – Reames spelt out the issues in very blunt words. “Sometimes a board of directors is accused of not keeping supporters informed,” he said. “So, it’s time to make the situation absolutely clear – this football club is in real danger.”

It was not a headline anyone really wanted to read, and Thorpe’s dismissal seemed a long way away as the concerns spilt onto the front and back pages of the paper. However, there was some foreshadowing of what would come later in our history – Lincoln City Supporter’s Club Chairman Alan Long cited Bournemouth as an example of how the Imps could navigate the crisis, with the Cherries becoming Europe’s first supporter-owned football club.

Wednesday, October 7th

The Echo, a proper paper with proper local journalists back then, launched into action, and by Wednesday, the news was taking up pages inside the paper as well as outside. Business leader David Rossington claimed, “if we lost the football club, the city would lose out directly when the money stopped coming into the club, but it would lose out in a much wider context.” He then claimed that “many people come to a game, see the city and decide they might like to come back and stay another time. This gives tourism a boost by putting us on the map.”

Not everybody agreed. “The club made a very big mistake last year by hiking up admission prices,” said one writer, apparently unaware we had been promoted and would welcome the likes of Manchester City and Stoke. “The players are overpaid,” said one letter writer, whose name and address was withheld. “If the club charged £5 for entry, instead of what it is now, far more people would go.” Another writer went one further, saying £13 was too much, and Mr Reames should ‘be thinking of dropping them to £1.50 to get the crowds back.” To be fair, that must have been misprinted, as it was 1998, not 1968.

Plenty of people would have their say, as a planned fans forum went ahead on Wednesday night, with the paper in attendance. One person not there, but with plenty to say, was loanee Charlie Hartfield. “I have played at this level and in the First Division, and I believe this Lincoln City side is capable of climbing up the table,” he said. “Not just surviving, but getting into mid-table, and maybe even within sight of the play-offs.” It was a bold claim for a club with five points in early October, but Hartfield was committed – he confessed he’d like to make the permanent move to Sincil Bank.

Sadly, he’d played his last game for us, and his last Football League game in the Wrexham defeat.

Thursday, October 8th

Thursday was a big day for City – it saw the start of the fan’s fightback but also a player exit.

Leo Fortune-West, who had a decent start to the season with a solitary goal, moved on loan to Rotherham United in the Division below. The Millers took up his wages, and he immediately scored in there 1-1 draw with Swansea City (Charlie Hartfield’s parent club). “Everyone knows that we have got to bring in players if we are going to be able to compete in the Second Division,” he said. “But we can’t just keep adding to the playing staff. If players come in, then inevitably others have to leave.”

That was one headline from the fan’s forum, but certainly not the only one. A fighting fund was set up by supporters in the standing-room-only fan;’s forum, and at the end of the event, beer glasses full of cash were passed to the chairman. Reames gave an impassioned speech but admitted we were trying to compete in Division Two with Division Three finances. “What I need to make clear – absolutely clear – is that there is no way this club is going to fold,” he said. “The football club will not go into receivership. it’s just not a possibility. I won’t let it happen.” Of course, just three years later, Reames’ actions helped ensure that was the case.


Friday, October 9th

A week is a long time in football, and just as night follows day, games follow news during football season. ‘City’s financial problems have taken centre stage this week,” wrote Brian Halford. “It’s back to on-field business tomorrow when the Imps make the short trip to Notts County.” With one win all season, and County comfortable in mid0-table with 15 points, it wasn’t a game anyone expected a result from. Manager Sam Allardyce might not have known City had only won twice in 23 visits to Meadow Lane, in 1893, and 1997.

Grant Brown and Jason Perry were in contention to return from injury, meaning only Paul Smith, Nicky Reeson and Dean Walling were confirmed absentees. As for County, they featured former Imps Gary Strodder and Gary Jones, future Imp Richard Liburd, and future Liverpool star Steve Finnan.

Saturday, October 10th

Lee Thorpe was the villain the week before, but with his suspension not kicking in straight away, he was the hero of the hour against County. He bagged two, having moved into the middle rather than out wide, and City had been 3-0 up at one point. “What a match,” screamed Halford’s report. “What a gruelling, titanic, thrilling, boil-in-the-bag spectacle.” The week had been tough, full of fear and worry, but how that can turn, albeit briefly, on a Saturday afternoon packed with joy.

An action-packed game got interesting on 28 minutes, when debutant keeper Brian Parkin caught Jon Whitney’s long throw. He was only in as Darren Ward was on international duty, but he let the ball squirm from his grasp. Terry Fleming poked it to Thorpe, who hammered home. Playing in his one and only Magpies game, Parkin was embarrassed again minutes later, as a long throw from Barnett was headed backwards by Alcide, leaving the stopper stranded. At 2-0, City were rampant, and Tony Battersby almost made it three. He was only in the side because Hartfield pulled a stomach muscle in the warm-up, but he was denied whilst one-on-one with the calamity keeper.

Battersby was in the news again after the break, when he was punched by former Imp Gary Strodder, with the latter being sent off, and moments later it was 3-0. A Steve Holmes flick on triggered a goalmouth scramble, with Thorpe deflecting the ball into the net. 3-0, surely the Imps were home and hosed?

Not so. Despite Imps’ dominace, with which it ‘could have been 5-0’ (eight efforts on target, nine corners) County were handed a lifeline. Whitney pulled back Sean Farrell in the area, and Ian Hendon slammed home a penalty to make it 3-1. With 20 minutes to go, Andy Hughes lifted a chip over the head of Richardson to make it 3-2. Could City hold on against ten men?

Yes, but it was close. Firstly, we saw a dismissal of our own, Kevin Austin, sent off for a second bookable offence. Then, Gary Jones strode through and beat Richardson, with the ball seemingly crossing the line. The referee gave the goal, but the linesman had his flag up, and for a moment, the 1,000-strong travelling support held their breath. Had we been denied the win? No! Steve Bennett changed his mind, disallowed the goal, and City held on for the victory.

“(It was) great to end the losing sequence, but the last 30 minutes were the longest of my career,” said Westley afterwards.

Sadly for Westley, he would get just one more victory, beating Manchester City 2-1 ten days later, but additional defeats against Stoke (2-1), Gillingham (2-1), Chesterfield (3-0) and Walsall (2-1) saw him dismissed. In those three final matches, the Imps conceded a 90th-minute goal, and Reames swiftly took over to steady the ship on the field and off it.

That was the week that was October 1998.