This weekend, we host Morecambe in the FA Cup, 47 years after our first tussle with them.
Back then, they were in the Northern Premier League, squaring off against the likes of Boston United, Matlock Town, and Gainsborough Trinity. Boston beat them 6-0 and 1-0 that season en route to winning the division, which gives you an indication of the level Morecambe were at. They had entered the FA Cup in the fourth qualifying round, beating Great Harwood 2-0, and were regarded as quite a decent side, having lifted the FA Trophy in 1974.
The Imps had settled nicely into Division Three, winning six and drawing six of our opening 16 matches. That left us seventh in the table, above Crystal Palace, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth, to name but a few. We added only one player, Phil Hubbard, returning to the club after his spell in the top flight, and we’d started as we meant to go on, conceding very few goals. The hope was the record-breaking side that secured promotion could use the momentum to bounce into Division Two, a return to the level we’d vacated 16 years previous.
We had begun to stumble – after conceding just 11 goals in the first 12 games (including a 3-0 defeat at Wrexham), City suddenly leaked ten in four matches. It looked like a wobble, and a good FA Cup run was needed to steady the ship. When a Northern Premier League team came out of the hat, there was bound to be a feeling we could progress with ease, even if the game wasn’t taken lightly.
There were some big calls for Graham Taylor to make ahead of kick-off, and he pulled no punches with his team selection. John Ward, the leading scorer, had missed the previous encounter, a 2-2 draw with Tranmere, and he sat out again. Peter Graham played up top with Percy Freeman, but Alan Harding missed out. “There are times when it is better for a player to be left out rather than persist with them when they are out of form,” said Taylor. “This is one of those occasions, and though no one likes it, Harding understands the position.” In his place came John Fleming.
Morecambe were apparently ‘confident’ of securing a replay, and the date and time had been fixed were that to happen. They boasted former Boston defender Geoff Street in their ranks, as well as right back John Yzendoorn, who lived in Lincoln for 11 years and had trialled with the Imps a couple of seasons prior. Could he come and help cause an upset?
City lined up Peter Grotier, Ian Branfoot, Phil Neale, Dennis Booth, Sam Ellis, Terry Cooper, Phil Hubbard, Percy Freeman, Peter Graham, Dave Smith and John Fleming, with John Ward on the bench. With Morecambe winning the toss, they chose to shoot towards the Railway End in the first half.
The game sounds a lot like a traditional struggle against an organised non-league team, with Maurice Burton concluding the ‘outcome of the tie rested purely and simply on whether Lincoln could get themselves in front’. Geoff Street was given the task of keeping Big Percy quiet, something Tranmere had not managed the week before with his brace in the 2-2 draw. That meant more space for Hubbard and Graham, and it was the former who got the first real chance of the game, drawing a ‘splendid’ save from stopper Peter Maclachlan, formerly of Carlisle United.
Graham had two great efforts as well, as the Imps had the chances to rack up a cricket score. He put a header wide just before half time, then missed a chance that was ‘easier to score and that’s just an opinion’ in the words of Mr Burton. He could have had a hattrick, and City looked even more dangerous when John Ward replaced Hubbard as we hunted the goal we needed. However, the game was not a classic, and chances were ground out, rather than created.
When the goal came, it was unsurprisingly scored by Percy Freeman. Fleming’s recall clearly worked, as he was instrumental, sliding a ball into Sam Ellis. He strode into the attacking half and delivered a ball that was far enough out to evade the keeper, but too close to the goal for Street, who had briefly lost Freeman. That was all the invite the big man needed, and he slammed a header into the net from 12 yards out. It was described as ‘a magnificent goal, fit to win a better match than this one’.
The game was generally dour, with the visitors offering nothing in terms of getting forward until the dying embers. By that time, Graham had missed a hat trick of chances, beating the keeper only for player-manager Johnny Johnson to scramble off the line. The thought was the ball had crossed the line, but it mattered not. It might have had a bigger implication if the hometown player, Yzendoorn, had scored late on. He tested Grotier with a rare shot which drew a save from the former West Ham man, their best chance despite them ‘trying’ to attack the Imps.
‘I don’t know how he got to it,” said the former Robert Pattinson pupil. “I thought it was going in. I just hit it, but there was the goalkeeper, and that was that. I enjoyed the match tremendously.” He got more enjoyment out of football as his career progressed – he emigrated to Australia and ended up representing his country 13 times, scoring in a 2-2 draw with Mexico and appearing in their 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign.
That was five years in the future, but on this chilly November afternoon, he wasn’t a winner. In the end, the quality of the Football League opposition never really looked like being defeated. Instead, the Imps progressed to the Second Round, where a team at a similar level awaited – Nuneaton Borough. They were thrashed 6-0, and Burnley were our Third Round opponents, but the league form wasn’t great as a result. In the next seven league matches, the Imps scored 18 goals but also conceded 18 as the defence leaked badly.
In the end, we finished ninth, respectable but some way off promotion. Sadly, Graham Taylor left that summer, and it started a couple of years of decline. The same went for Morecambe. The period after this game is described on Wikipedia as being ‘as barren as any previous period in the club’s history’, with attendance dropping from 2,000 to around 200.
In 1996, they bounced into the Conference, and ten years later (after being the opposition for Grant Brown’s record-breaking appearance), they were in the Football League, where they have remained ever since.