The Imps’ Last Silverware of the 20th Century

The year is 1988; Lincoln City have bounced back from the GMVC at the first attempt.

Fans were eager to put trips to Fisher and Enfield behind them, instead focusing on Torquay, Burnley and Leyton Orient. It was like being back in the land of the living, and the Imps were alive with hope. In fact, on Wednesday, 19th October, we were on a run of one league defeat in eight, which coincided with Gordon Hobson’s return to the club. We had an attacker from the First Division in our ranks, we didn’t need to qualify for the FA Cup, and everything was pointing forward.

Only there was one last reminder of the GMVC to come. The James Thompson Shield. Or the John Thompson Shield. I’m not sure – the club programme said one thing, and the Echo said another. To make it more confusing, it was to be presented by Jim Thompson, but Peter Hunter turned up to do it instead.

The James Thompson Shield (assuming it was named after Jim) was a competition much like the Charity Shield but between non-league teams. It pitched the winners of the GMVC (us) winners against the FA Trophy (Enfield) winners, with Enfield having won it before, in 1983. Echo writer Neil Custis described it as ‘memories of bygone non-league days’ in his pre-match write-up, but as we’d only been promoted in May, those memories were still perhaps a bit too fresh.

And, as it turned out, the last for 29 years

Enfield had won the GMVC in 1986, the final year before automatic promotion took place, with Exeter, Torquay, Preston and Cambridge winning reelection. They perhaps had a cross to bear having then finished fourth in the following season and thus missing out on promotion again. Those with long enough recall will remember City thrashing Enfield 4-0 in the league game at Sincil Bank the season before. When we visited their place in the league, we drew 0-0, but Enfield’s 4-0 win against Kettering at the end of the campaign handed us the chance to go head-to-head with Barnet for the title.

Enfield were big players in the division for a while, and it was also worth mentioning that they’d knocked us out of the FA Trophy, winning 1-0 in March after a foul on keeper Richard Wilson led to a goal. That game made headlines for the wrong reasons when the Echo reported, “City Fans on Rampage In London”. The result meant we wouldn’t be breaking our Wembley hoodoo for another 30 years, so no more rampaging.

Still, all of that was a distant memory. Enfield arrived fifth from bottom of the GMVC, whilst City were focused on the upcoming visit of Darlington, despite a trophy being on offer. Trevor Matthewson was adamant that the Imps were going out to win the game; “We are going out to win the game,” he said, proving my point. “There is no way we want to get beat by a non-league club because we are professionals,” he added, perhaps remembering the time just seven months earlier when that exact thing happened against Enfield.

City had injury issues – Paul Casey hadn’t played all season, whilst new signing Tony James also missed out. Graham Bressington didn’t train before the game but made the league fixtures on either side, whilst Dave Clarke was out with a bug and also appeared in both league fixtures. Enfield were without future Chelsea striker Paul Furlong as their injury problems mounted. The last thing either team really needed was a meaningless game, and the only saving grace for City was it took place at Sincil Bank, albeit in front of a paltry 1,257 supporters. The league matches on either side attracted 4535 and 3705, but it did mean three home matches in a week. Oddly, the game prior had been our first against Scarborough, winners of the GMVC in 1987, and the game after was Darlington, who were relegated to the GMVC at the end of the season.

The Imps lined up Mark Wallington, Clive Evans, Shane Nicholson, Phil Brown, Steve Holmes, Trevor Matthewson, Darren Davis, Steve Buckley, Gordon Hobson, Willie Gamble and Mark Sertori. Rick Ranshaw and Mark Cook were the subs. The interesting note here is Steve Holmes, a City youth at the time, making his debut (if this could be classed as a competitive game). Many forget the big defender had three spells with us.

The Echo rammed home the fact that we’d won silverware, but the result was never in doubt. The Imps led as early as minute seven when Holmes found Hobson on the flank. The tricky winger beat a couple of players and sent a cross over, which deflected into the path of Mark Sertori. He made no mistake, threading the ball into the net through a crowd of players.

Sertori scores – taken from the Darlington programme the following week

The chances were described as coming ‘thick and fast’ for City, with Gamble, Hobson and Sertori all testing the keeper. Even with a central midfield pairing of Phil Brown and Shane Nicholson, both out of position, City looked strong. Gamble ‘persistently made openings for himself’ according to Echo writer Neil Custis, who later worked for The S*n, and the young striker made the second. He latched onto Buckley’s long ball, lifted a shot over Pape and watched as it bounced towards goal, only for Hobson to steam in at the final minute and smash it into the net, you know, just to be sure. 2-0 City and Enfield were already beaten.

After half-time the London side rallied, with Wallington producing two good saves from Danny Benstock, who went on to play 21 times for Leyton Orient. In the FA Trophy tie earlier in the year, City dominated the first half and lacked punch in the second, and on a chilly night at the Bank, the same happened. However, on 75 minutes, the silverware was made safe; Sertori crossed for Hobson in a reverse of the first goal.

Mark Schiavi, a 1981 FA Youth Cup winner with West Ham, made the scoreline a little more respectable with a late consolation, but it was never going to affect the outcome. The final whistle went, and the Imps were given the huge chunk of silver in front of a crowd described as ‘hardly as emotive’ as the one from the previous May. The official winner’s photo doesn’t really suggest delight either.

“I’m disappointed with our performance in the second half,” said skipper Matthewson. “We just sat back at let them come at us.” He needn’t have been so despondent, as a team with just two changes took to the field against Darlington a couple of days later, winning 3-2. Gamble, Nicholson and the in-form Sertori all bagged goals.

However, aside from the County Cup, this was the club’s final bit of silverware until the National League triumph in 2017. It was also the final knocking of that nightmare relegation, but memorable season in which we bounced back the first time.