The Arsenal Winger Who Signed For City And Left An Hour Later

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Yesterday, we looked at some players City almost signed – from James McClean to Darren Rogers; we featured players who had been to the Bank but failed to be as captivated by it as you and I.

It prompted our resident historian and lifelong Lincoln City supporter Malcolm Johnson to mention that we’d once signed a player from Arsenal, only to release him from his deal on the same day. Malcolm mentioned the player had been pictured in the Echo signing the deal that brought him to the club, so with a spare hour, I delved into the British Newspaper Archive to find out all about it. As usual, Malcolm was right!

The year is 1967, and the transfer happened (or didn’t) on January 23rd. It sounds very much like a deadline-day disaster, but it wasn’t – there was no transfer deadline back then. The Imps were rock bottom of the Football League, having started the decade in the second tier. Ron Gray was in charge, he had taken over from Ron Chapman, but the ghost of the legendary Bill Anderson still stalked the corridors of Sincil Bank.

City were three points adrift at the bottom of the table, but had been narrowly beaten 2-1 at Southport on the Saturday before the transfer debacle. Gray wanted to add to his attacking options, and a late edition of the Monday paper announced he got his man – Arsenal winger John Corr, known then as a fresh-faced 19-year-old Johnny Corr. For those into Irish family pop bands, he’s no relation to The Corrs.

Corr hadn’t appeared at senior level for Arsenal but had played regularly for their reserves. He was a slightly built winger who today you might have considered had come to the end of his pathway at the First Division club. He was also Glasgow-born, and City had some luck with Scots throughout their history. Those who grabbed the late edition of the Echo would doubtless have been delighted to see attacking options added, not least because an improving City had given second-placed Southport ‘a big fright’ according to Maurice Burton. “Lincoln could have done with a lot more drive in the front line,” wrote Burton. He added that new signing Ray Lancaster had a solid debut, remarking, “two or three more signings of this calibre should make a tremendous difference to the side”. Fans hoped that might be Corr.

A quality picture, brought to you by the British Newspaper Archive

Corr signed the deal, watched by Ron Gray. The image should have appeared in the January 24th Echo, stating how we’d added to that forward line. He was due to appear against Newport that weekend (in a game that was cancelled with the Imps in Monmouth). Instead, the image was run under a more sombre headline. The 19-year-old had decided the bottom of the Football League was not for him.

He agreed to join the Imps but immediately had second thoughts and asked to be released from his deal. Ron Gray said the player wished to return to Scotland, and that the club could not insist upon the transfer when he was reluctant to go through with the deal. Having agreed on a fee with Arsenal manager Bertie Mee, the money was returned, and Corr returned to Arsenal, where fans expected him to return to Scotland. Remember, Corr hadn’t actually said he wanted to go back to Scotland, but that is what had been reported. Sound familiar?

If that doesn’t sound familiar, this will – instead of heading north of the border, Corr spent another couple of months at Arsenal before moving further south, to Exeter City, on a permanent deal.

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The season ended with the Imps needing to seek re-election, and the same happened the following year. Our Easter games in the 1967/68 season saw us play away at Exeter on April 12th and at home on the 14th – in between, we went away to Newport for three games in three days! John Corr played in both matches but failed to score against the Imps. The following season, a mistake by Ray Harford saw Corr net the first of a 3-0 Exeter win in Devon – that was one of 19 goals he scored for the Grecians in a three-year stint blighted by injuries. It was the only time he bagged against the Imps, but by the end of the 1970/71 season, he felt his time was up.

He requested a move and went to Cheltenham, a move he later regretted. He stayed in the Exeter area and later appeared for the Devon FA. In 2022, he returned to the club to talk to supporters in their museum at St James Park. Who knows, but for a split-second decision in January 1967, he could have been appearing with Roger Holmes at the fan zone at a home game this season.