The Story of The Imps Record Breaking Winter of 1963

60 years ago, the Imps took part in a relatively low-key affair.

We played a Coventry City side from one division higher in 1962/63, managed by Jimmy Hill, in the FA Cup. The game was a 5-1 defeat for the Imps, with Brian Punter netting our goal. It came after City, languishing in Division Four after successive relegations, had defeated Darlington and Halifax Town in the opening two rounds.

The game was remarkable because it was postponed no fewer than 15 times, and took more than two months to stage. It was originally scheduled for January 5 1963, but the snow started falling on Boxing Day as City lost at home to Aldershot, and it didn’t stop. 63 days later, making the Big Freeze of ’63 one of the most devastating to domestic football. City’s game was lost 14 times; Stranraer and Airdrie fell foul of the weather 33 times.

Here’s the tale of the most postponed game in English football history.

Sixties Sincil Bank

December 1962

Fri 28 – The Imps are scheduled to play Aldershot away, but heavy snow saw the game fall foul of the weather; one of 35 postponed Football League matches that weekend. It eventually takes place on April 3, with the Imps running out 2-1 winners.

January 1963

Wed 2 – Three days ahead of the game, manager Bill Anderson is certain the game goes ahead. “The pitch is not in bad condition,” he said. “There is practically no snow on it, and though it is hard, I think it is playable at present.”

Thu 3 – It snows heavily overnight, and the club are now fearful the game won’t go ahead. They’re advised if it is not possible, they’ll have to play on Wednesday 9th.

Fri 4 – POSTPONEMENT 1 – The game is postponed. Just over an inch of snow covers the pitch, and at 3.00 pm local Lincolnshire referee Norman Saywell calls the game off. The fixture is rearranged for Wednesday the 9th.

Mon 7 – Bill Anderson is once again hopeful the game will go ahead, with the temperature on the rise. “If this thaw goes on then all will be well,” says Mr Anderson. Overnight, the thaw does not go well; another snow shower covers the pitch with an inch-and-a-half of the white stuff.

Wed 9POSTPONEMENT 2 – It’s left to another local referee, Bernard Goldson, to do a pitch inspection on the day of the game. He finds an inch of ice underneath the snow, and obviously calls the game off for a second time. “It is far too dangerous for play. I wouldn’t like to referee on it, never mind play,” he says. It’s like a skating rink,” another date is picked, Wednesday 16th.

Fri 11 – City’s home fixture with Chesterfield is also called off by Goldson. It is eventually played on May 11, with the Imps losing 3-1.

Tue 15 – Ever the optimist, Bill Anderson thinks we can get the game on for a third time. “If it stays as it is there are great hopes of the game being played,” he says, just over 24 hours ahead of the game.

Wed 16POSTPONEMENT 3 – Overnight the heavens open once again. This time, three inches of snow cover the playing surface. It’s down to Goldson again, who carries out a 9.30 am inspection. At around 9.31 am he declares: “Too much snow to be playable.” The fixture is rearranged for the 21st.

Sat 19 – Finally, some football. City players take four hours to get to Oldham, arriving less than an hour before kick-off. The pitch isn’t in great condition, and the home side thrash us 4-1. “I don’t think this game should have been played,” says Bill Anderson, although 10,500 home fans probably disagree.

Mon 21POSTPONEMENT 4 – It’s game day, and you know what that means; a pitch inspection. It’s Goldson again, and he’s got five inches of snow to tend with. “It’s just hopeless to think of playing on such a pitch,” says Bill Anderson. There’s a new date, Saturday 26th, meaning our game against Gillingham is postponed. It goes ahead on May 15, City winning 2-1.

Fri 25POSTPONEMENT 5 – On Thursday, Bill Anderson makes it clear the game is unlikely to go ahead. “If anything the pitch is in worse condition now than it was two to three weeks ago,” concedes Mr Anderson. “There is little hope for Saturday. Goldson agrees, the following day he postpones the game, again. There’s another new date: Wednesday 30th.

Tue 29POSTPONEMENT 6 – The pitch is now facing another problem; waterlogging. Water is pooling on top of the ice that covers the turf, meaning the players can only train in the gym, as the training pitch is the same. The flooded pitch was the main reason, but the club are hopeful the home game against Barrow on Saturday will go ahead.

February 1963

Fri 1 – The club try hard to get the game on, using fertilizer in places to spread the water around. Sadly, their efforts are in vain; an overnight frost and further snow arrive the day before Barrow are scheduled to be at the Bank. That game is postponed, and eventually takes place on May 18, with City losing 2-1

Mon 4POSTPONEMENT 7 – Shock, horror, the game is lost again, but oddly rearranged for Wednesday 6th. The pitch now has almost three inches of snow on top of a sheet of ice. The FA are getting impatient too; they claim clubs should play outstanding ties on a neutral, playable pitch. Jimmy Hill isn’t in favour; “It’s a great idea,” he says, “but how many clubs would give up ground advantage? If we were drawn at home we would certainly want to play at home but as it is we are drawn at Lincoln at the moment. Sure we’ll play them anywhere… even in Dublin.” Hill’s Dublin comment is not off the cuff; he took his side there to play Manchester United in a friendly (ironically, as they’d later meet in the cup), and to play Cork City.

Tue 5POSTPONEMENT 8 – With three inches of snow and another inch of ice, there’s no improvement on the field and the game is lost, again. The club are given just under a week until the next date, Monday February 11.

Fri 8 – The Imps are due to play away at Hartlepool, but heavy overnight snow sees the game cancelled with 24 hours to spare. It’s eventually played on May 4, with City getting soundly beaten, 3-0.

Sun 10POSTPONEMENT 9 – Sincil Bank is still unplayable, with four inches of ice and snow in places. There’s no hesitation in calling the game off and rescheduling, rather ambitiously, for Weds.

Tue 12POSTPONEMENT 10 – Inevitably, the game is lost again with no thawing of the ice. As is now standard, a date is set for the following week, Monday 18th.

Fri 15 – City are scheduled to be at home against Darlington on Saturday 16th, but it is called off early. It’s Goldson again, spotting vast swatches of ice on the field and immediately calling it off. The Quakers eventually visit on May 1, with the Imps winning 2-1.

Mon 18POSTPONEMENT 11 – The people of Lincoln must be wondering if they’ll ever see football again. The groundsman must be wondering if he’ll ever see grass again. The game is rescheduled for Wednesday the 20th, which everyone knows won’t happen.

Tue 19POSTPONEMENT 12 – Imagine everyone’s surprise when, 24 hours later, the rescheduled game is lost. There is thick ice across the pitch and is described as being in a “shocking state” by  Anderson. The new date is Monday 25th.

Sat 23 – A couple of days after the Imps visit Skegness for a training session on the beach, they’re due to play Workington. Several tons of sand are laid on the pitch ahead of the game, but Brian Punter’s involvement is minimal. He is sent off after just 19 minutes for arguing with the referee and City draw 1-1, with former Busby Babe Albert Scanlon on the scoresheet.

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Sun 24POSTPONEMENT 13 – The game is lost again, with an air of inevitability about it also being lost for a 13th time. Why? Because the FA set a date for Wednesday 27th. That means a pitch inspection on Tuesday 26th, just 48 hours later.

Tue 26POSTPONEMENT 14 – No surprises as the game is lost yet again. There’s still thick ice covering the pitch, making it unplayable. There’s another new date, Monday 4th, with Mansfield’s visit on Friday 1st also expected to be lost.

Wed 27 – With snow covering the South Park end of the ground, and ice in the non-shaded areas, the situation is looking dire. . “The Imps might as well consider playing on the Brayford as on this dangerous surface,” writes an Echo reporter. Volunteers are drafted in to help clear the pitch, with drills and compressors on hand to help with the task.

March 1963

Fri 1 – The local referee, Goldson, is doing more postponing than anything. The Mansfield game is lost; it’s eventually played on March 27, although Imps fans would have preferred not, as the Stags win 6-2.

Sat 2 – The hard work is paying off; local youths helps clear the pitch, and it’s almost playable. There’s one strip in front of the shaded South Park end which hasn’t been cleared, but the rest seems good.

Mon 4POSTPONEMENT 15 – It’s a record, folks. Goldson postpones the tie for a 15th time, with a new date set; Wednesday, March 6. Braziers are used to melt the outstanding ice, and even the players work to get the game on. “There is now a 70-30 chance of us playing on Wednesday,” said Bill Anderson. “We are grateful to those people who responded to our appeal for assistance. We do, however, particularly thank those enthusiastic youngsters who turned out on Saturday and yesterday. They have done a wonderful job in helping the workmen.”

Wed 6 – No more snow, no more ice; the game goes ahead! 7440 are on hand to witness the first football at the Bank since the 4-2 Boxing Day defeat against Aldershot. Within 15 seconds, Jimmy Whitehouse gives the visitors the lead, before Bob Jackson adds a second, an own goal. The Sky Blues go 3-0 before half time, and it’s five long before Punter’s consolation for the Imps.

The next five games at the Bank see City draw once (0-0) and lose four (6-2, 4-2, 2-1 and 2-0). In fact, it’s April 27 when the Imps do win again at home, more four months after their last home win.

City’s XI for the tie was Terry Carling, Alf Jones, Jeff Smith, Fred Middleton, Bob Jackson, Albert Franks, Neville Bannister, Jimmy Campbell, Brian Punter, Bert Linnecor and Albert Scanlon. The Sky Blues lined up Bob Wesson, John Sillett, Mick Kearns, Brian Hill, George Curtis, Ron Farmer, Willie Humphries, Hugh Barr, Terry Bly, Jimmy Whitehouse and Ronnie Rees.

Taken from the next home programme, a 0-0 draw against Stockport