The Week That Was: November 1998

This kinda follows on a bit from October 1998, but it’s not connected in terms of themes. 

What bothered me this week was the lack of mention of Terry Fleming and his St Lucia call-up in 1998. Given Reeco Hackett‘s recent appearance for them, I wanted to find a record of Fleming’s call-up and, in doing so, stumbled upon an intriguing week. Therefore, it’s time to analyse the week that was for November 1998.

These are a series of articles where I look back at the major headlines of the week from the Lincolnshire Echo.

Monday November 16th

The week started with the fallout from a trip to Cheltenham in the FA Cup. The Robins were under the management of Steve Cotterill, and they topped the Conference. They were riding high, and the pundits fancied us to be beaten. Why? Shane Westley had been sacked, with City rooted to the bottom of the third tier. John Reames, club chairman, had taken over, and if there was ever going to be a cup upset, it was at Whaddon Road. Gerald Sinstadt was in the gantry as the Match of the Day cameras set up to record our downfall.

City lined up Richardson, Holmes, Bimson, Fleming, Brown, Austin, Smith, Finnigan, Alcide, Thorpe and Perry, with five subs, Whitney, Miller, Gordon, Battersby and Vaughan. We’d reverted to three at the back, with Paul Smith and Bimson playing wing backs. The formation certainly worked – the Robins barely threatened us, and Smith and Bimson had our best two chances before our goal.

In the 79th minute, City scored. Alcide’s cross found Thorpe, who nodded home. Cheltenham rallied, but it was too little too late, and Reames’ new approach ensured City got the first clean sheet since August. Stevenage or Runcorn would visit the Bank in round two, as City looked to build on the clean sheet.

Part of that newfound defensive stability was down to the hard work of Kevin Austin, and it was a story involving him that dominated Monday’s back page.

The Imps’ stalwart had impressed since his move from Orient, and with news of the club’s cash troubles breaking just a month earlier, it looked like he’d be on the move. Bristol City were a second tier side, and had leaked 44 goals in just 19 matches. They wanted Super Kev and looked likely to pay £400,000 for his services. “Bristol City have been in touch several times,” said John Reames. “If they can come up with what we consider a realistic figure then it’s something we can’t afford to reject.”

Austin was given permission to speak to the Robins, and he travelled down the M5 to do just that. Meanwhile, the club confirmed Brentford had agreed to pay £60,000 for Leo Fortune-West, who had left on loan when the cash crisis struck.

Tuesday November 17th

Tuesday brought some light relief with news that two Lincoln players had been called up for international duty. I recall Dean Walling being called up for St Kitts and Nevis, the first international call up I remember for an Imp, and on Tuesday 17th, it was reported St Lucia wanted Colin Alcide and Terry Fleming. The duo were a big part of the Imps’ squad, and it was flattering they’d been recognised at international level.

Sadly, neither player got to pull on the colours of St Lucia – instead, we’d have to wait until this month for an Imp to represent the Caribbean island. St Lucia’s match, a game against Bury (go figure), fell on the same weekend as our FA Cup date with Stevenage or Runcorn (Stevenage, as it turned out), and the club vetoed the move as it was only a friendly. “They are both very important members of our squad and it hardly needs saying how significant the FA Cup match is to the football club,” said Reames. It was a wise move – later in the month, Tony Battersby nodded home Fleming’s cross for the opener, Alcide rocketed in the second and set up Finnigan for the third as we won 4-1.

Wednesday November 18th

Nope, the headline was not advertising the Third Round tie we would later take part in (given that the Second Round hadn’t been played), instead it harks back to a time when reserve teams were playing with the ground open and a mix of clubs likely to appear against you. In this instance, Newcastle United were to be the visitors, a couple of years after the high-profile friendly. There was reports Phillippe Albert might play, and possibly John Barnes, Didi Hamann and Temuri Ketsbaia. City would field Craig Allardyce, son of Big Sam, as part of a failed trial. Interestingly, if you wanted to go, it was £2 on the gate, or season ticket holders got in free.

Elsewhere, it was reported that a deal for Austin was close, with Reames suggesting it was ‘slightly better than 50/50’ that it would be done by the weekend, with an unnamed loan player lined up to come in, should we get it over the line.

Thursday November 19th

Being a disgrace was something this City side had been accused of at times in late 1998 – 13 defeats in 19 did not look pretty, and a freak 2-1 win against Manchester City would not change that. However, against Newcastle United, the reserves were applauded, going down 3-1. Lionel Perez and Albert were the big names on show, although Raguvald Soma was on trial with the Magpies, and he ended up playing five times for Norway. 907 fans turned out for the game, which saw Alcide play in defence. James Coppinger and Andreas Andersson combined for the first goal, David Burt added a second, Garry Brady a third, whilst Gavin Gordon netted a late consolation for the Imps.

All eyes were turning towards the weekend clash with Luton Town. They had already knocked Premier League Coventry City out of the League Cup, and then did the same with second-tier side Barnsley. Lennie Lawrence, the former Imps assistant, had them playing some wonderful football, with striker Phil Gray in red-hot form. However, fans were eager to see Reames’ new formation after the Cheltenham victory, and there was hope perhaps we could take something from the game.

Friday November 20th

Good news or not? After 106 outings for the Imps, Austin looked likely to leave, but he shunned Bristol City, despite a £400,000 deal being agreed, and instead lined up against Luton for appearance 107. Of course, City fans would be delighted at the outcome, but the money could have been a huge help during troubling times. Ultimately, Austin would leave the club for free at the end of the season, joining Barnsley.

Saturday November 21st

City went into the Lurton game rooted to the bottom of the table with 11 points from 17 matches, already seven from safety. Luton were pushing the top six, sitting eighth, but just two points off fifth. The Imps had Walling, Jason Barnett and Lee Philpott injured, and those two defenders were missing out on facing Gray, signed from Fortuna Sittard for £400,000, and with seven goals in nine matches. The whole Imps squad had just 16 from 17 games. It looked like a mismatch.

Instead, Reames’ City put up a spirited fight in a game that had plenty of green shoots for fans to be optimistic about. Almost 5,000 fans turned up to see Paul Smith go close for City, and Simon Davies foiled by Richardson. Gray, a constant menace, was then denied one-on-one with Richardson, as the game ebbed and flowed.

It was the Imps who drew first blood. Fleming whipped in a cross for Battersby, as he would in the FA Cup a few weeks later, but this time the striker headed it into the floor for Paul Smith. He smashed the ball past the Luton keeper from 14 yards with just five minutes to go before half time.

They say scoring just before halftime is good, but it wasn’t enough for City. Before referee Mark Cowburn blew on his whistle, the Hatters were level. It was a set piece that was City’s undoing, as it had been on multiple occasions during the season. A corner whipped in caused panic amongst the red shirts, and Gray made it eight goals in ten games from close range.

City came out with a spring in their step in the second half, and only a strong save from Kelvin Davis prevented Gavin Gordon giving City the lead. Mitchell Thomas then went close for the visitors, but Fleming was on hand to clear off the line with Richardson beaten. City might have been bottom, but it was hard to tell, and on 61 minutes, the Imps regained the lead. Paul Smith delivered the cross and Gavin McGowan, in his haste to stop a lurking striker from prodding in, smashed it into his own net. 2-1 City, and moments after it could have been 3-1, Thorpe firing wide from 20 yards. John Finnigan did the same five minutes later as City sought to claw back that deficit at the foot of the table.

Sadly, Luton got a leveller, and it was as easy as the first. A corner to the near post found sub Gary Doherty unmarked, and he headed home. Simple, and a carbon copy of two goals Stoke City had scored as they won at the Bank a few weeks earlier. Sean Evers could have won it in the third minute of injury time for the visitors, but Richardson made a crucial save to give City a point.

Rob Bradley on entering the Lincoln City boardroom 20 years ago and the future of the Trust - Lincolnshire Live

‘It is disappointing to concede two goals from set-pieces,” lamented Reames. “The second, especially, was bad defending.

“We are changing things around and the players are adjusting to those changes well,” he added.

He wasn’t wrong – City lost just seven of the next 21 matches, one of those against Second Division side Sunderland in the FA Cup – the only home defeat between Halloween and March 28th. Sadly, eight defeats in 12 at the end of the season saw us relegated.

That was the week that was November, 1998.