I’ve come to write this in a rather roundabout way, but I think it’s a story worth telling, more in terms of what I will be writing next.
I started an article about this week in 1983, which was pivotal in the Imps’ history with a chairman change. From there, I began to delve backwards until I came to another pivotal week, in May 1982. It’s a week many of you older readers will remember all too well. However, it is also a week which might be an entry in my recent Mandela Effect article. Why? Because I always believe that our 1-1 draw with Fulham cost us promotion in 1982. I often imagined the fans coming back from London despondent and gutted at failing to win promotion, but those of you who were there will know that wasn’t the case.
Want to find out more? Here is the week that was, commencing 17th May 1982.
Monday 17th Headline
May 1982 was a turbulent time around the world. Tensions were rising in the Falklands, with a full invasion imminent. In Lincoln, gold jewellery worth £5769 was taken from Tudor House, a shop on Steep Hill, and Lincoln City were set to be robbed as well.
However, the week started off positively for the Imps. The Echo of Monday 17th reports that the prior Saturday, Exeter City made the trip to the Bank, the final team to do so that season. Steve Thompson was given the Player of the Year Award before the game started, and City knew they’d need a win, plus results elsewhere, to go in our favour. Sadly, Fulham were 2-0 up in no time against Preston, meaning the Imps needed a win. Exeter were in no mood for giving up, and keeper Len Bond pulled off an early miraculous save from Glenn Cockerill’s free kick, and future Imps assistant boss George Foster was booked for a coming together with Tony Cunningham, but there were no goals.
With 15. minutes to go, City were in trouble. Fulham had sealed a 3-0 win with ease, but at 0-0, our promotion hopes were fading. Then, a free kick lofted into the area saw Cunningham and Thompson go down. Referee John Kay pointed to the spot, and Division Two was back within our grasp. Shipley stroked the ball home for 1-0, and backed by a vociferous home crowd of more than 5,000, Cockerill added a second.
The scenes were described as being similar to those seen during the Division Four title win in 1976. The fans streamed onto the pitch, and it made for a day of celebration. Of course, they were celebrations with a caveat – everything that had been achieved up until that point hung on a single game in West London a couple of days later.
Tuesday 18th Headline
Very quickly, thoughts turned to the trip to Craven Cottage. The requirement was simple – win, and The Imps would be a Second Division side against for the first time in two decades. Lose, and we were consigned to the Third Division. A draw was ambiguous – that was enough for Fulham to go up, but we’d then have to rely on Chester City beating Carlisle United the night afterwards.
1 Burnley 45 21 16 8 65 44 21 79
2 Fulham 45 21 14 10 76 50 26 77
3 Carlisle United 45 22 11 12 64 50 14 77
4 Lincoln City 45 21 13 11 65 39 26 76
5 Oxford United 46 19 14 13 63 49 14 71
Remember, this was before the Disgrace of Gijon, an event that more or less ensured matches of such magnitude would be played on the same night. In fact, it was just a month prior to that farce. However, on Tuesday 18th, nobody really thought about that – they made their way down to London to be amongst the 20,000-strong crowd witnessing at least one side heading for the Second Division.
I can’t find the comment Malcolm McDonald made about the Imps, but it was around us being a long-ball team, and it clearly fired up Colin Murphy. “The Fulham manager has made comments about my team, but that is his business,” said Murph. “Maybe my players will prove him wrong when they get his team out on the pitch.” Imps fans could only hope.
Wednesday 19th Headline
The back page headline on Wednesday 19th couldn’t have been more accurate. The compelling drama of the season did indeed require a final act, courtesy of our 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage, but there was more drama unfolding off the field. In fact, whenever there’s a make-or-break game for City, it really is make-or-break. Remember in 2005, when rumours abound that Gary Taylor Fletcher, Richard Butcher and Peter Gain would all leave if we didn’t go up, and they did? Or the recent Blackpool play-off final, when everyone said Grant and Edun would be gone? Those harbingers of doom are often right on big occasions, and I wonder if rumours swirled Craven Cottage about the board as the game was being played? Who knows.
What we do know is a brave City side battled to a draw against Fulham. 2,000 Imps fans saw their side give Fulham a ‘footballing lesson’ according to Maurice Burton, despite having ten men for much of the game. “A majority of the 80-yard passes on view, said by Malcolm McDonald to be the prerogative of City, were mainly from his own defenders banging the ball as far out of play as possible to foil; the rampant Imps,” wrote Maurice.
Sadly, the game turned on two decisions. The first saw Robert Wilson, booked in the first ten minutes for a foul, take out Peake off the ball. Referee Mr Read didn’t see that moment, which would have resulted in a red card, but he did see Peake retaliate and booked the Imps defender. Moments later, Steve Thompson was booked for what Maurice describes as an ‘innocuous’ challenge on Cottagers’ keeper Gerry Peyton.
On 58 minutes, with the scores still 0-0, the game swung. Gordon Davies broke free of the Imps defence and was bodychecked by Thompson. It earned our Player of the Year a second booking, and unlike with Wilson, the referee flashed the card. He left the field in tears, and Fulham seized on the disruption. Tony Gale’s free-kick was nodded home by Roger Brown to give Fulham one foot in the Second Division.
It was described by the Echo as an injustice, but it didn’t phase Murphy’s men. He sent on Dave Gilbert, and from that point on, City played their hosts off the park. Gilbert got a second assist for the leveller, his free kick was flicked on by Cockerill, and Dave Carr arrived on the scene to head past Peyton. Despite mounting pressure, Fulham held firm, and got their promotion when the final whistle went.
City were down, but not out. The draw lifted Murph’s men into the third spot, level on points with Carlisle but with a better goal difference. The Cumbrians had lost three of their last four matches but had to face Chester City in their final match. Chester, 21 points adrift of safety with just seven wins all season, were not expected to get anything, but Carlisle’s awful form left hope in Imps’ hearts. Whatever happened, there was pride all around the ground. “I had some happy times at Lincoln,” said former manager Ron Gray. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
However, that was the main story, but another subplot was unfolding. Remember how just 15 minutes or so after the Crewe game, Michael Appleton resigned? The same happened here – just 15 minutes after the final whistle, Chairman Dennis Houlston handed in his resignation.
“I have for some time been dissatisfied with the support received from most of the directors,” wrote Houlston. “Consequently, after certain discussions on April 19th, I realised that it was impossible for me to continue as chairman and director. Because the club was in contention for promotion, I decided, however difficult, not to announce my decision until after it was established whether or not this was achieved.” Houlston, the chairman who sanctioned the sale of Mick Harford but still won promotion from Division Four, had replaced Heneage Dove, the very man he handed his resignation to. It began a turbulent time off the field for the Imps, one that would run and run.
Perhaps that’s why Imps fans damaged coaches after the game. Either that or the injustice they’d seen on the field.
Thursday 20th Headline
Thursday 20th May wasn’t a good day to be a Lincoln City fan. Veteran striker Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson scored the only goal of the game at Sealand Road to seal a Carlisle win against Chester City. Lincoln missed out on promotion by a point, meaning another year in the Third Division. The paper didn’t carry lots of news about the game, just a small piece under the headline above. The lead feature on the back page? News of us heading to Neustadt in Germany for a short summer tour.
Still, Murph was already looking ahead. “Every summer, we have given the fans something to look forward to,” he said. “Every season, we have given them something to get excited about. The only problem is that my boys have put a lot of pressure on themselves by finishing fourth with several points to spare over the fifth-placed team. People will automatically expect us to go up next season.”
Murphy wasn’t strictly correct – that wasn’t the only problem.
On the front page, again in a small piece given the size of the news, was a discussion about the club’s financial situation. Despite the football on display, crowds remained below 6,000, only exceeding that number twice all season (once in the league against Huddersfield and in the League Cup against Graham Taylor’s Watford). On the field, things felt positive, despite the body blow.
Off the field, that was not the case. Player bonuses were pitched at a level the club could ill-afford, and they were hoping a Country and Western event at the ground in June would ease the burden. Dave Gilbert, instrumental in the brave draw with Fulham, was released, along with Trevor Thompson, Nolan Keeley and Craig Ramsay. The club were even in early discussions to sell Sincil Bank to the council to generate some much-needed funds.
Friday 21st Headline
A week is a long time in football. On Monday, City fans had two chances of promotion, one in their own hands and the other in Chester’s. They had a chairman who had overseen a promotion, and even if things went belly up (which they did), we seemed in good shape (which we weren’t). By the time Friday’s paper arrived, the world appeared to have fallen in.
The club were saddled with losses of £200,000 after turning a small profit the year before. Those dwindling crowds were a huge problem, despite the great football on offer. Directors had put in £100,000, according to Heneage Dove, money that was irretrievable if the club ceased to exist. Looking back, it was very much like, ‘we’re going to turn this around because it will cost us if we don’t’. The new chairman, Gilbert Blades, was committed not to selling players, as promotion was the aim, but instead running a tighter ship. David Mitchell, the club’s commercial officer, was convinced the County and Western event would fill the gap – sadly, it exasperated it, costing the Imps a further £40,000.
Despite these storm clouds brewing, clouds that wouldn’t open up and deposit their misery for a few months, the club were aiming for promotion. Blades said his aim was to get the Imps back into the Second Division in their centenary year. As we know, that wasn’t the case, and you can read a little more about his reign here.
That was the week that was May 17th onwards, 1982. It started with a celebration on the pitch and a genuine hope we’d be playing the likes of Leeds, Chelsea and QPR the following season, but that ended with a new chairman and uncertainty that would eventually lead to utter implosion. The clouds might not have opened until February 1983, but they did open, literally, over the weekend in June of the gig at Sincil Bank. Billie Jo Spears couldn’t entice fans to the ground and a washout on the first day saw fewer than 150 fans attend. It cost david Mithcell his job, and perhaps did the same to Gilbert Blades his role of chairman a few months later.
Who knows, maybe there’s another week that was article in there, somewhere.