The early nineties are an era that perhaps should be remembered more fondly by City fans than they are. We had a decent side under Steve Thompson, a team that went on a superb run late in 1991/92, setting us up as title challengers the season after.
It could be that period is forgotten because of the horror injuries suffered by key players which affected our form – the ACL wasn’t a well-known injury back then, but after Gazza did his in the FA Cup final, the public became more aware of what such an injury entailed. Not long afterwards, City suffered four to key players, and this was in the days of much smaller squads. It certainly took its toll.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. City were depleted in early 1992, but not because of ACL injuries. Going into the trip to Gillingham on February 29th, Jason Lee, Graham Bressington, and Paul Ward were all suspended. Paul Dobson and Keith Alexander were both injured, meaning manager Steve Thompson turned to an unfamiliar name to lead the attack – Jason Kabia. He had made his debut, albeit from the bench, as we drew 2-2 with Crewe the week before, but before that, Imps fans knew nothing of him. At the time, he was only a trialist, signed on a short-term deal.
Kabia came to the Imps courtesy of a recommendation by his brother Jim. Jim scored more than 100 goals during a spell with Boston United, and managed them for a short while, and he recommended his younger brother to Imps boss Thommo, a former teammate. Jason had an eclectic career prior to coming to Sincil Bank – he had appeared in Southern California for a South Orange Coast side, and then for Lyme Regis. He had been on Chesterfield’s books as a youngster, and represented Clipstone and Oakham prior to coming to the Bank, juggling that with his day job as a joiner.
“Jim arranged for me to have a trial in the (Lincoln) reserves,” he told the Echo at the time. “I’ve scored a few, then I got a bit of luck with injuries and suspensions at the club and got my chance in the first team.”
That chance came at Preistfield against a slick Gillingham side. They had only lost once at home throughout the campaign and were expected to brush past City, without an away win since November. Kabia played up top with David Puttnam, Tony Lormor relegated to midfield, and it was Puttnam who gave the Imps the lead. Prolific striker Steve Lovell bagged a leveller, but the Gills looked ineffective and content with a draw.
I always chuckle when I hear Micah Richards talking about bursting onto the scene, but Kabia certainly did that. He had struggled in the first half (understandably, according to Echo reporter Chris Hutchings), and suddenly came to life in the second, finishing off a good team move for his first professional goal. He added a second quickly after, wriggling free of former Imp Alan Walker to give the Imps a 3-1 win. Boom, he’d burst onto the scene.
The cat was out of the bag, and the Imps had a new saviour during a time of injury crisis. He was given a one-and-a-half-year deal not long after and cemented his place in the squad. Kabia played in 15 matches, mostly from the start. When Jason Lee returned, they formed a partnership up top, and whilst the 22-year-old was a little naive at times, his enthusiasm certainly endeared him to supporters. He netted again as we beat Aldershot 3-0, only for the records to be expunged when they folded.
City had scored 24 goals in 28 matches prior to Kabia’s brace, but in the final 14 (that counted), we netted 26 (29 if you could include Aldershot, which we can’t). Kabia was part of an exciting strike force, and he bagged one more, as we hammered Chesterfield 5-1, finishing off a Matt Carmichael cross. Hopes were certainly high for the following season, for our young striker, and our promotion hopes.
City started the 1992/93 season as red-hot favourites for the title, having won the last seven matches, conceding two goals and scoring 18. Kabia started as our ten, alongside Jason Lee. He impressed in a pre-season game against First Division side Notts County, but City started the season badly. Defeats against Colchester (2-1) and York City (1-0) saw Kabia dropped to the bench. He returned for a handful of matches but was dropped for the trip to Northampton Town on October 3rd.
City led that game 1-0 after Dave Clarke’s 25-yard drive but were riding their luck. The Cobblers, bottom of the table, hit the crossbar and the post and then had one ruled out for offside. Peter Costello came off, Jason Kabia went on, and he found an unlikely second. In front of 1,922 supporters, he had scored his final goal for the club.
After a short spell coming off the bench, he started as we drew 0-0 at home against Wrexham, but hadn’t been able to impact matches as much as Thommo hoped, and it was his final start for the Imps. With City’s promotion prospects fading before the clocks had changed, it called for change, and City called in Neil Matthews, on loan from Stockport County. He bagged three goals in his first three games, and Kabia was frozen out.
It meant a loan spell for the striker, and Doncaster Rovers were one team eager to have a closer look. He went there on January 25th, having not featured in the first-team squad for two months. “Not running a reserve team makes it difficult to keep players fit,” lamented Thommo. “With Neil Matthews coming to the club, it is difficult for Kabia to make the frame. I see him as one for the future.”
Sadly, there was no Imps future. On February 16th, Doncaster faced Crewe; ironically the team Kabia made his first Imps appearance against. It was his fifth outing for Rovers, and he was stretchered off, having ruptured his ACL. He returned to the Imps, and it caused quite a stir – Rovers refused to pay City £1200 owed as part of the transfer. “If they do not pay within three days, then we will instigate legal proceedings,” said managing director Geoff Davey. “At the end of the day, clubs should not take on players they cannot pay for – this is bad news.”
It was bad news for Kabia, that’s for certain. He appeared in the club photo at the beginning of the following season, a campaign that saw Keith Alexander take over as manager, but he didn’t regain a place in the squad. He joined Tony Lormor, Paul Ward and Sean Dunphy on the treatment table, all players who damaged their ACLs, leaving the Imps short of numbers, but not short in terms of outgoing wages. Thommo might have seen Kabia as one for the future, but he had gone, as had his strike partner Jason Lee, with whom Kabia had become oddly synonymous.
The player’s promising Imps career was ended; he wasn’t given a squad number for the following season, and he left the club. He moved to Malta, where he regained fitness and played for title-chasers Valetta, scoring in a 4-3 reverse against Hibs, which turned out to be a title decider. He scored 14 times in 27 appearances for the club before moving back to the UK. He then appeared for Gainsborough Trinity, before heading over to Ireland to play for Cork City, Galway United, Waterford United, Kilkenny City and Cobh Ramblers.
Having clearly settled in Ireland, he had a son, Jaze, who also appeared for Cobh Ramblers. Jaze is currently on the books of Livingston, playing on loan at Queen of the South.