Memory Match: Sheffield United (A) 1983

Saturday 7th May 1983

Sheffield United 0 Lincoln City 1 (Football League Division Three)

Lincoln City’s first ever Football League match took place at Bramall Lane and their defeat by Sheffield United that day was a sign of how things were to go on for almost the next 90 years. To be fair, following that day in 1892 the Imps had only visited the Blades on seven more occasions up to the meeting in May 1983 that broke the run of defeats.

In the previous season the Imps had missed out on promotion to the Second Division (now the Championship) by a single point after drawing 1-1 with Fulham at Craven Cottage in the last game of the season. But from the start of 1982/83 a run of fourteen wins in eighteen games had put them five points clear at the top of the Third Division by mid-December. Results then began to be more mixed, but City were still in first place at the end of January although the effects of having a small playing squad had started to catch up with them. Manager Colin Murphy, who had now been in charge of the club for over four years had wished to boost the squad by the signing of two attacking players – Ross Jack from Norwich City, and John Thomas from Bolton – but the outlay of around £32,000 had been vetoed by club chairman Gilbert Blades.

Matters then came to a head following a 3-0 home defeat by Portsmouth, and two further home defeats which left City now hanging on to the third promotion place. Protests by the supporters, which included death threats to the chairman and the vandalising of his property led to the resignation of the entire board of directors. Two games later a new board, headed by former chairman Dennis Houlston was in place with City still in third place.

It had been announced that Colin Murphy could now strengthen his squad but rather than Jack and Thomas, who did not arrive until the close season, the players who did come in were more low-key. Former Wolves centre half Colin Brazier arrived on a free transfer from Birmingham City, followed by attacking midfielder Chris Thompson on loan from Second Division Bolton and veteran ex-Mansfield and Chesterfield striker Ernie Moss who joined for a small fee from Fourth Division Port Vale.

However, there was little or no improvement in results and a 1-0 defeat at Preston in the previous game had put paid to any lingering possibility of promotion. The Imps therefore went into the penultimate game of the season in seventh place with nothing but pride to play for.

Sheffield United were midway through the lowest period in their history. Having been a top flight side as recently as 1976, they had found themselves relegated to the Fourth Division in 1981. However, under the management of former Sunderland FA Cup winner Ian Porterfield they had bounced straight back, winning promotion in fine style to return to the third tier for the start of the current season. Despite a reasonably good start, and financial backing for new players provided by a board headed by former Imps director Reg Brealey they had spent most of the season around mid-table. Four wins in their last eight games had seen them rise to eighth place, six points behind the Imps.

The teams were:


  1. David Felgate
  2. Colin Brazier
  3. Gordon Simmonite
  4. Glenn Cockerill
  5. Trevor Peake
  6. Steve Thompson
  7. Phil Turner
  8. Ernie Moss
  9. Gordon Hobson
  10. Marshall Burke
  11. George Shipley
  12. Gary Strodder


Sheffield United:

  1. Keith Waugh
  2. Mike Henderson
  3. Paul Garner
  4. Paul Richardson
  5. Mike Trusson
  6. Stewart Houston
  7. Tony Towner
  8. Alan Young
  9. Keith Edwards
  10. Colin Morris
  11. Terry Curran
  12. Gary Brazil (for Richardson)

City goalkeeper David Felgate had joined initially on loan from Bolton Wanderers in September 1980, then permanently for a fee of £25,000 three months later. Missing only a handful of games since his arrival the Welshman had recently been included in the Wales squad for a European Championship qualifier but was not to earn an international cap for another year. He had recently been voted as the best goalkeeper in the division in the annual PFA awards.

Recent signing Colin Brazier was normally a central defender but had filled in at right back for a couple of games and was now returning from a two-match suspension to do the same. This was due to the long-serving Phil Neale having taken up his summer job of captaining Worcestershire in cricket’s County Championship. Taking Neale’s place at left back was the craggy Gordon Simmonite who had joined from Blackpool for £6,000 in late November. Simmonite had spent two years with Boston United winning five England semi-professional caps before playing for Blackpool in the Third and Fourth Divisions.

City’s central defence comprised the well-tried partnership of Trevor Peake and Steve Thompson now in their third season of playing together. The 26-year-old Peake was another player to be named in the PFA Third Division Team of the Year and had joined in the summer of 1979 from non-league Nuneaton Borough for a fee of £15,000, while the solid Thompson, a year older than Peake had signed for the club a year later from Boston United for a similar fee.

In City’s usual 4-3-3 formation, the midfield three were Phil Turner, Marshall Burke and George Shipley. Turner was back in the side after missing three games due to an ankle injury. Still only 21, he was a product of City’s nursery side in Sheffield and had broken through into the first team as a teenager early in 1980, soon becoming a permanent fixture. Burke had been a regular since joining from Blackburn Rovers in October for a fee of £2,500 after making around 40 appearances for the Second Division club. He had a useful five goals to his name in the season so far but had recently been guilty of missing a penalty in the final of the Football League Trophy. The trio was completed by the skilful George Shipley who had become City’s record signing in January 1980 joining from Southampton at a cost of £45,000 from Southampton with whom he had had limited first team experience. He had missed only one game all season, scoring 10 goals.

Up front, the influential Glenn Cockerill returned to the side after missing the last four games in an injury-troubled couple of months, his absences in that time almost certainly contributing to City’s failure to sustain their promotion bid. A third player in the PFA Team of the Year he had 11 goals in all competitions. City’s second-longest serving player was Gordon Hobson who had broken through into the first team in the days of Willie Bell as manager in 1978. Still only 25, he had top scored for City as they won promotion from the Fourth Division in 1981 and had 16 goals to his name this time around. With 29-goal top scorer Derek Bell missing due to a groin injury the 33-year-old Ernie Moss who had filled in for one or other of City’s regular strikers since his recent arrival at the club did so again in Bell’s place.

On the subs’ bench was defender Gary Strodder who had turned 18 just a month ago and had made a handful of first team appearances since making his debut in the first game of the season.

In goal for Sheffield United was 27-year-old Keith Waugh who had played around 200 games in the lower divisions with Peterborough United before joining the Blades for a fee of £100,000 to take part in their Fourth Division championship season.

Right back was Mike Henderson, also 27, who had had plenty of experience in the second tier with Sunderland and Watford before a brief spell with Cardiff, joining Sheffield United for the start of the current season. He was partnered by Paul Garner, yet another 27-year-old, who was in his eighth season with the club after playing around  one hundred games for Huddersfield.

Central defenders were Mike Trusson and Stewart Houston. The 22-year-old Trusson, normally a midfield player was having to deputise in defence for the teenage and later Imps player Gary West who had recently won a regular place in the side but was currently injured. Trusson was in his third season with the club after joining from Plymouth, had nine goals from his midfield role in the season so far and was about to be named as the club’s Player of the Season. Ten years older than Trusson, the vastly experienced Stewart Houston had played over 200 games for Manchester United, helping them to win promotion from the Second Division, and gaining one international cap for Scotland. He was also now in his third season at Bramall Lane.

Anchoring midfield for Sheffield United was the experienced Paul Richardson who had started his career with Nottingham Forest in 1969 making almost 250 appearances for them before being sold by Brian Clough. He had later helped Stoke City win promotion to the First Division then joined Sheffield United at the start of the previous season to feature in another promotion campaign. In a more attacking role was Colin Morris, aged 29, who had plenty of experience in the lower divisions with Southend and Blackpool. He had joined the Blades just over a year ago for £100,000 and with 19 goals was to finish as top scorer for the season. On the flanks were Tony Towner and Terry Curran. Towner had made his name with home town club Brighton before experience with Millwall and Rotherham who he had helped win the Third Division championship two years before and was currently on loan from the Millmoor side. Curran, now aged 28, had started his career with Doncaster Rovers before being signed by Brian Clough for Nottingham Forest. After helping Forest to promotion to the First Division he then fell out of favour at the City Ground and after a year with each of Derby and Southampton joined Sheffield Wednesday. After helping the Owls to promotion to the Second Division and playing around 150 games for them he moved across the city to join Sheffield United for £100,000 for the start of the current season. He had actually spent a month on loan with Everton midway through the current season, playing seven games and would move permanently to the First Division club in the summer.

Up front was the prolific scorer Keith Edwards now in his second spell with Sheffield United. After just under a goal every two games for the Blades he had been sold to Hull City with whom he had kept up this scoring frequency before returning in September 1981 as yet another player to be the subject of a £100,000 transfer fee. It had paid off as he set a new post-war scoring record for the club with 35 goals. The present season was to be a comparatively lean one for him in terms of league goals with just 13, but he also contributed a total of 11 in the various cup competitions. Normal service was then resumed for him with 33 league goals in the 1983/84 season. Alongside Edwards was Scotsman Alan Young who had played over 100 games for Oldham before Leicester City paid what was then a club record transfer fee of £250,000 for him in 1979. He helped the Foxes to promotion to the First Division although they were then relegated back down again. He then joined Sheffield United in time for the start of the current season in the biggest of the big money transfers for £250,000 but injuries had rather restricted his appearances and he had appeared in just 26 league games scoring seven goals – although like Edwards he had several more to his name in cup competitions, in his case six.

Substitute Gary Brazil was a Crystal Palace youth product, joining Sheffield United in 1980 as a 17-year-old. The midfielder had only broken through into the first team in the current season with many of his appearances coming off the subs’ bench.

I used to visit Bramall Lane about once a season in the 1970s, partly because it was fairly handy to get to (unlike Hillsborough), and partly because it gave an opportunity to visit the cafeteria in the Sheffield branch of Woolworths to enjoy some of the best steak & kidney pie EVER. But this was my first and only ever Imps game at the ground and I took my place on the terracing below the stand at the Bramall Lane end – doubtless well-fortified with pie, chips, beans and gravy.

The match programme cost 40p compared to 30p for that season’s Sincil Bank offering but eight of its 32 pages were made up of a standard insert on general football matters used by several clubs at the time.

The attendance of 11,842 was up by over four thousand on that for the Easter Monday visit of Bristol Rovers and on top of that game being won was doubtless swelled by a good few from Lincoln. It was around a thousand below Sheffield United’s average for the season with their best league attendance being over 16,000 for the early-season visit of Huddersfield Town.

City produced what Echo reporter Maurice Burton considered their best away performance for many weeks against what he called “the expensively-gathered Sheffield United aristocrats”, and indeed it put an end to a run of 12 away league matches without a win stretching back to New Year’s Day. In contrast United were on the back of a run of nine home wins in a row, but they were weaker in midfield on the day against a City side which showed something of their early-season form. City’s first goalscoring opportunity came following a break forward by Gordon Hobson which saw Ernie Moss lay the ball off to Glenn Cockerill but he put his shot over the bar. The striker made no mistake midway through the first half after Trevor Peake had won the ball with a crunching tackle after he had appeared beaten. George Shipley took the ball on to hit a magnificent pass through the United defence for Cockerill to get the better of veteran defender Stewart Houston and fire low past goalkeeper Keith Waugh.

There were chances early in the second half for Keith Edwards and Colin Morris although Cockerill came close again when he chipped the ball over Waugh’s head and just over the bar. The home side went all out for the equaliser in the late stages of the game but City held them off with some determined tackling plus some brilliant goalkeeping from my man of the match David Felgate. He had to make a superb save to prevent Peake heading into his own goal, then touched an Edwards header over the bar. His best though came when a Mike Trusson free kick was fired through a crowd of players and despite almost seeing it too late, he was able to throw up an arm to deflect the ball off target. There was still time in the dying seconds for Moss to break away and hit the bar with a cross shot when he might have done better to turn the ball inside to Marshall Burke.

The win saw City remain in seventh place and a home win over Gillingham the following Saturday saw them to a final placing of sixth. That was really the end of the successful times under Colin Murphy, as although there was a mid-table finish the following season, the side slowly began to break up in the summer starting with the departure of Trevor Peake. Although a big bid for Glen Cockerill was refused Derek Bell was the next departure, apparently for financial reasons as the player turned down a new contract.

Sheffield United lost their remaining two games (one of them taking place the day after City’s visit) to slip to 11th place. They would resume their upward progress the following season though, finishing third to return to the second tier after five seasons.