Our memory match today comes from the Imps’ title-winning season of 1975/76, and it focuses on the Christmas fixture between Graham Taylor’s team and a struggling Barnsley side. It has been picked by site patron Karl Mercer, and with good reason – you can find out why at the bottom of page two.
The 1975/76 season is always characterised by the record points tally, the goalscoring prowess of our centre-forwards, and a handful of big matches. It’s interesting to dive into a specific mid-season game and find out a little more about how things were day-to-day, game-by-game. It seems on December 27th, 1975, the Imps were already catching the eye.
The Christmas period had been kind, and the cherished Imps scribe Maurice Burton had enthused about the Boxing Day trip to Doncaster Rovers. A brace for Ward and Freeman gave us a 4-2 win in front of more than 14,000 supporters, half of which are reported as City fans. It was another win on a relentless run that had seen us drop just one point in ten matches. We were scoring freely, and aspiring to promotion back to the Third Division, a level we’d passed straight through in 1961/62.
The visitors were lowly Barnsley, occupying the spot fourth from bottom of the division. Their away form was the problem – two draws and seven defeats left them floundering on their travels. Just two defeats at home was top-ten form, but they couldn’t snatch points away from home. They were tight, though – they’d conceded just 23 goals in 21 matches, something supporters might not have considered when the two teams took to the field.
City were nursing injuries, two crucial ones. Peter Graham had picked up a knock prior to the Doncaster encounter, and missed out, whilst Alan Harding was injured at Belle Vue and missed a portion of December and January. It meant a rare start for Dick Kryzwicki, who had previously only started five Fourth Division matches that season. The Welsh winger had appeared 40 times, scoring eight times the year before.
The Imps lineup was Peter Grotier, Ian Branfoot, Dennis Leigh, Dennis Booth, Sam Ellis, Terry Cooper, John Fleming, John Ward, Percy Freeman, Dave Smith and Dick Kryzwicki. 12,074 crammed into the Bank to watch proceedings, the largest home crowd of the season up to that point. Perhaps, looking back, there was an element of Tranmere from 2016 about the game – a sense that the journey was attracting new faces. It was certainly the first game of Karl, and his friend Cotty, and there was another returning fan whose letter was printed in the next programme (I’ll cover that below).
Before the game, the Red Imps’ Association presented a cheque for £5000 to director Gilbert Blades, to help offset some of the cost of promotion. This was a big thing – the photo made the back page of the Echo and underlined the excellent support fans have given the club over the years, from the Red Imps Association right through to the Fan’s Player Scheme today.
1975/76 Barnsley sound a lot like 2020/21 Wycombe – tough, uncompromising and hard to break down. It might not have been the case if we’d scored after less than two minutes, as we almost did. We forced an early corner, and Smith’s delivery was headed past Peter Springett in the Tykes goal by Percy Freeman. With the keeper beaten, Barry Murphy came to the rescue to head off the line. It was an early chance and a sign of what was coming.
City were relentless, despite their heroics at Doncaster just 24 hours before. Remember, there was no let-up, no break, these games were played on back-to-back days. Barnsley had a ‘routine’ home win against Rochdale the day before, but City were still pumped from their epic encounter with Doncaster. Still, it appeared momentum was with the Imps, with Smith and Ward both spurning good chances. Barnsley were happy to soak up the pressure and look for something on the break, with Cooper blocking a thunderous effort from Alistair Millar with Imps keeper Grotier apparently beaten.
The Imps kept on knocking at the door, but Barnsley remained resolute. Springett’s handling was one reason, plus the strength of defensive pairing Mick Pickering and John Saunders, who would later experience promotion from Division Four with the Imps. Eventually, with just five minutes to go before the break, City went ahead.
John Ward was the architect; he flicked the ball over a defender and bore down on goal, only for two blue shirts to close in on him. Referee George Flint had no hesitation in pointing to the spot when Ward tumbled, with Burton suggesting it seemed to be a push in the back from Murphy. He was booked for protesting and up stepped Sam Ellis to face his former Sheff Weds teammate Springett. Ellis had missed one at the Bank against Bradford City a week earlier, but made no mistake this time around, sending the keeper the wrong way. It was Ellis’s second goal in as many home matches, and the Tykes’ Martin Gorry picked up a double as well – his protests landed him a yellow card, just 24 hours after he picked one up against Rochdale.
Gorry was very lucky, because just moments earlier, he’d taken out Kryzwicki with a challenge that Burton felt warranted a yellow. After the goal, treatment continued for the City man, and Barnsley looked to use it as a springboard. They launched an attack as he gingerly got to his feet, and almost scored. Millar’s cross turned into a shot and Leigh sliced the clearance against the inside of the post. A grateful Grotier dropped on the ball as all eyes turned to the linesman, who confirmed the ball hadn’t crossed the line. For all the Imps’ dominance, it was a close moment.