Looking Back At: 1981/82 (Part One)

Following relegation from the Third Division in 1979 manager Colin Murphy had proceeded almost completely to rebuild the team, and two years later, the Imps were back in the third tier.

The 1980/81 season had been one of almost continuous success in which the only question had been whether City could finish ahead of eventual champions Southend United. As it was, the Essex side led most of the way with City two points adrift in the final table but well clear of the rest to leave plenty of reason for optimism at the prospect of the coming season.

With Murphy having built the basis of the current squad before and during the season before last, there was, for the second summer in a row, little movement of players in or out. Initially, the only departures following the end of the season were all young players with comparatively limited first-team experience. No surprises were involved in the release of 20-year-old full-back Steven Ward, midfielder David Burrows and 19-year-old goalkeeper Kevin Fox. Ward had played just two first-team games, while Burrows, who joined Northern Premier League side King’s Lynn had appeared in a solitary game for the Imps as a 17-year-old back in the days of George Kerr as a manager. Fox had found himself third choice behind the promising Stuart Naylor and had spent the last few months of the previous season on loan at Hull City without appearing in their first team. He now joined Kettering of the Alliance Premier League.

What was a surprise was the free transfer given to 19-year-old striker Wayne Biggins, considering that it appeared he’d become a regular member of the first-team squad, playing in eight of the last nine games of the previous season scoring one goal as promotion was clinched. Initially, the player was given a trial with Bristol Rovers before playing for the likes of King’s Lynn and Matlock, but in less than three years’ time, he was back in the Football League with Burnley and went on to enjoy a notable career with several high-profile clubs. The one that got away? Colin Murphy was said later to have regretted Biggins’ departure, but the fact is the club had three main strikers on their books in Gordon Hobson, Derek Bell and Tony Cunningham, plus youngster Craig Ramsay, and it may be that the finances were not there to carry another one, in view of the big loss announced midway through the previous season only partly alleviated by the sale of Mick Harford.


The first bit of close season transfer business could be said to revolve around the left-back slot. Former Scunthorpe United midfielder Nolan Keeley had occupied that position with success up to suffering an injury in early March, which had allowed the versatile Phil Neale to play a key role, providing some flair and several goals in a wide right position. With there still being some doubt over Keeley’s fitness, it seemed likely that Neale would be reverting to his old position, meaning a replacement for him on the right. Colin Murphy’s choice for this was 27-year-old Steve Cammack who actually had spent most of his career as an out-and-out striker. He had top-scored for Scunthorpe with 16 goals in the previous season, but the manager evidently earmarked him for a slightly different role. After some negotiation with Scunthorpe, who initially asked £35,000 for him, a part exchange deal was struck. This involved the outlay of £20,000 for Cammack, with City midfielder David Hughes, valued at £10,000, going the other way at Scunthorpe’s request.

Although Colin Murphy paid tribute to Hughes, saying he had been a first-class performer for Lincoln in their promotion campaign, it’s possible that he had also decided that something more than plain hard work and tenacity was required for the Third Division. This ‘upgrade’ came, financial position or not, at the end of July with the return of fans’ favourite Glenn Cockerill, who, having been sold to Swindon Town less than two years previously for £110,000 was now bought back, Andy Graver-style, for £40,000. Still only 21, the former Louth United man’s stay in Wiltshire had not been a successful one, having played fewer than 30 games in a season and a half with Swindon.



The arrival of one further player in the summer perhaps was also linked to the situation of Phil Neale. As well as his usual absence at the start of the season due to playing for Worcestershire, Neale’s cricketing career had really taken off, and following a record-breaking score of 145 against the touring Australian side, he was now being tipped for possible inclusion in England’s winter tour to India and Sri Lanka. This would have meant him missing a large chunk of the football season, and it’s just possible this contingency may have been behind the signing of a player who could take his place at left-back for more than just the usual first few weeks of the season. This was 26-year-old David McVay, something of a utility man capable of playing anywhere in defence or in midfield. In fact, during his time with Notts County, for whom he had played over 100 games in the second tier, he had at one time been hailed as ‘the new Duncan Edwards’. Colin Murphy, who had worked with the player in his time at Meadow Lane, had tried to sign him for £20,000 two years previously, but he had joined Peterborough United instead. Now, after, as Colin Murphy put it, ‘very surprisingly’ being given a transfer by the Posh, he came to City on a month-by-month contract basis, having turned down more permanent offers from other clubs.



Off the field, the new post of commercial manager was filled by Yorkshireman David Mitchell, who had previously run his own marketing company. He stated that his role would be to improve the financial situation of the club with the priorities of finding match sponsorship, shirt advertising and ground advertising. “The glamour aspect of a Football League club is very important, and I am certain that has not been properly exploited in Lincoln in the past few years.”

Meanwhile, Colin Murphy had been spending the summer on the other side of the world, first with two and a half weeks coaching the Fijian national side for a World Cup qualifying match. He had then moved on to Australia, coaching their national youth team, before a spell in Hawaii working with semi-professional players, followed by a day in Alaska with a university team. He then completed his trip back in Fiji and raised the possibility of some of the players from the Pacific Islands coming to City on trial in the months ahead.

Pre-season training for the second year in a row saw a week’s visit to RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire, although an absentee for the first day was goalkeeper David Felgate, who had been called up for training with the Welsh World Cup squad. While there, the Imps not only beat the airmen in a darts match but also at football, running out 9-0 winners with hat-tricks for Derek Bell and Steve Cammack, plus two goals for Glenn Cockerill and one for Gordon Hobson. The game saw Nolan Keeley and David McVay play a half each in the left-back slot while young Stuart Naylor also had half a match in goal. Another game took place against a Leeds United XI, which saw a 2-0 win with goals from George Shipley and Phil Turner as the team had to be re-shuffled due to injuries to Trevor Thompson and Steve Cammack. Steve Thompson was forced to miss both games due to shin trouble.

A team mostly made up of young players who had not been involved in the stay at the RAF base visited Gainsborough Trinity before the pre-season matches really began, made up of games in cup competitions. First in the Lincolnshire Senior Cup was a visit from Second Division Grimsby Town, managed by former Imps boss George Kerr and with past (Clive Wigginton, John Ward) and future (Bobby Mitchell, Nigel Batch) City players in their side. A crowd of around 2,000 turned out to see City win 1-0 with a late goal from Gordon Hobson in an impressive display which saw some spectacular goalkeeping from Batch to keep the score down, along with City hitting the woodwork three times. The side saw Nolan Keeley at left back as he continued his comeback from injury, with Steve Thompson and Steve Cammack both still unfit.

The following Saturday saw the first game in a new competition, which, in the absence of a sponsor, was the rather unimaginatively titled Football League Group Cup. Something of a forerunner of what later became the EFL Trophy, it had been introduced to replace the Anglo-Scottish Cup following the withdrawal of Scottish clubs from that competition. City were one of 32 teams invited to take part, comprised of 25 teams from the lower two divisions, six from Division Two and Notts County newly promoted to Division One. These were divided into eight regional groups of four with the winners of each going forward to the knockout stage. It was Notts County who provided City’s first opponents and there were just under 3,000 present at Sincil Bank, with the only change to the lineup seeing the fit-again Cammack replace Bell as one of three strikers in a new 4-3-3 formation for City. Gordon Hobson gave City an early lead which was cancelled out by later Imps player Gordon Mair. Although the First Division side had most of the play in the second half, they were unable to find a way through a solid City defence in which David McVay replaced Nolan Keeley after the break.

The following midweek saw two games in two days, starting with a visit to Scunthorpe in the Lincolnshire Senior Cup. Goals from Tony Cunningham, his first of the pre-season, and George Shipley with a late penalty secured a 2-2 draw and a place in the final of the competition. With Trevor Peake having taken a knock in the Notts County match, his place alongside David Carr was taken by David McVay, with Steve Thompson still unfit. Second-half substitutions saw Derek Bell replace Steve Cammack and young Gerard Creane replace Keeley, with McVay going to left back. After playing a side newly promoted to the First Division in the Group Cup, the next game in the competition on the following night saw the visit of a side newly relegated from it in Norwich City. The attendance was a thousand down on the Notts County game as City fielded the same starting eleven as at Scunthorpe, with Steve Thompson and Trevor Peake both still not fit. Further injury worries came after just 14 minutes of the match when Phil Turner was carried off with cartilage trouble. His place in midfield was taken by David McVay, with Gerard Creane coming on in defence. Creane himself was replaced late on by 16-year-old apprentice Paul Brown. City lost to the only goal of the match scored from a free kick, and had David Felgate to thank for keeping the score down as Colin Murphy admitted the players were not used to the new system they were trying to play, with the number of injuries making preparation difficult.

The third and last of the group matches in the Group Cup came at Fourth Division Peterborough the following Saturday. Without the injured Turner, David McVay continued in midfield thanks to the return of Trevor Peake, with the only other change being Derek Bell being given a game instead of Steve Cammack. A poor performance in a 3-1 defeat saw the Imps exit the competition with just one point from three games, as George Shipley’s goal was one of the few bright spots in a game which saw Felgate have ‘a nightmare’ in goal.

A side made up mostly of younger players, but including Glenn Cockerill, Steve Cammack and Derek Bell, visited Boston FC and defeated the Midland League champions 2-1 with both goals coming from Bell.



After five years in which the first Saturday of the season had seen games in the League Cup, that competition now reverted to solely midweek games, meaning proceedings for 1981/82 began with a Football League match. For City (and me), this meant a trip to Portsmouth, who had finished sixth the previous season and a tough proposition for an injury-hit side. With Steve Thompson and Phil Turner still missing, Colin Murphy sprung a surprise by bringing in 18-year-old David Gilbert, whose only previous first-team experience had been as a late substitute in the last game of the previous season. Despite his appearances in the pre-season games, Nolan Keeley made way for David McVay in the left-back slot, and with Glenn Cockerill and George Shipley the only fit midfielders, rather than bring in the young Stuart Hibberd Murphy elected to revert to the usual 4-4-2 formation with Gilbert wide on the left and Steve Cammack on the right, saying “we shall go and attack them…we are not in a situation to conjure up a defensive game.” However, with it being an away game, it was defender Gerard Creane who occupied the sub’s bench rather than Derek Bell.

An innovation for this season was that of three points for a win, but neither City nor their hosts were able to take advantage of this as the Imps battled to a well-deserved draw at Fratton Park with Steve Cammack’s first goal for the club being cancelled out by a late equaliser.

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