Looking Back At: 1981/82 (Part Four)

Looking Back At: 1981/82 (Part One)

Looking Back At: 1981/82 (Part Two)

Looking Back At: 1981/82 (Part Three)


The following Saturday’s home game against Chester, despite there having been something of a thaw in the Lincoln area, was called off due to ice and snow under the shadow of the South Park Stand. Conditions had improved, however, by the Monday night when Boston FC were the visitors for a public friendly match. The game brought Glenn Cockerill into direct opposition to his younger brother John and also featured Wayne Turner playing in midfield with his loan period from Luton having been extended for a third month. Three goals in front at half time, the Imps coasted to a 4-0 win with goals from George Shipley, Tony Cunningham, and Steve Cammack, plus David Carr – operating at right back in a sign of things to come. Two days later some more match practice was fitted in with a full first-team lineup fielded in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough Reserves in a North Midlands League game, the goals coming from Gordon Hobson and George Shipley.

With an apparent easing of the weather in the Lincoln area, it seems likely a home match the following Saturday would have gone ahead, but City had an away fixture, and conditions were evidently worse in the London area with several inches of snow on top of a frozen Craven Cottage pitch meaning the game at Fulham was called off as early as the day before. So once again, a friendly match was fixed up for the following Tuesday night with a game at Sincil Bank against Luton Town.

Despite the attraction of playing against the current Second Division leaders and reduced admission prices, fewer than 500 spectators turned out for the game. Those who stayed at home did the right thing as once again the weather took a hand as fog drifting over from the Sincil Drain began to close in after half time, causing the match to be abandoned with 51 minutes played, the only incident of note in the first half being a missed penalty from George Shipley. But two days later, the full first team was again fielded in a reserve match, with Gordon Hobson scoring in a 1-1 draw with Mansfield Town, who also fielded their first team squad.

The Imps finally got back into league action when the Sincil Bank pitch was described as ‘hard’ but not frozen, enabling Gillingham’s visit to take place. The attendance for the match dipped below 3,000 for the first time in a season and a half, with supporters perhaps uninspired by the Imps’ current league placing of 17th. A throwback to the early 1960s was pre-match entertainment being provided by what Maurice Burton described in the Echo as “a pop music group” called Formula. He rather sniffily went on to say that although it seemed to go down well with “the younger generation”, ”I doubt whether this kind of entertainment will bring in many additional football fans.”

Changes to the lineup from the last game well over a month ago saw a new full-back partnership of David Carr and Phil Neale, which was to stand City in good stead for some time to come. With Phil Turner suffering from a knee injury, his namesake Wayne was played in midfield with David Beavon on the left, where he had created a good impression in the friendly and reserve matches played during the lay-off. Up front, Derek Bell got the nod ahead of Steve Cammack or Gordon Hobson, with young David Gilbert on the bench. After looking understandably rusty early on, the Imps stepped up the pace in the second half and took the lead with an amazing 30-yard left-foot volley from Steve Thompson. Looking in no trouble after that, the win was sealed with a last-minute goal from Bell.

Some off-the-field news saw David Gilbert in trouble with the law as he was found guilty and fined £30 by magistrates for being in possession of a loaded air rifle in a public place. Defended by City director and solicitor Gilbert Blades the 18-year-old said that he had been out shooting sparrows in Tritton Road woods to feed an injured kestrel he had found: “I love birds.”

Despite the win over Gillingham, Colin Murphy was evidently still intent on trying to get the players up to speed following the long lay-off, and the full first team was fielded for a reserve match which saw a win over a strong Notts County side. The lineup rather surprisingly saw young Stuart Hibberd included in place of George Shipley, and the same side took the field for the visit of Portsmouth the following Saturday as City’s record signing was dropped for the first time. Hopes of a progression up the league table were stalled in a scrappy game with several bookings for both sides as City fell behind early in the second half before raising their game. With the popular David Gilbert replacing David Beavon for the last half hour to have an immediate impact, Derek Bell was left with his fifth goal of the season to rescue a point.

The latest financial figures were released which showed a £15,000 profit had been made on the year ending the previous June. This was a big improvement on the loss of over £82,000 the year before that and was largely thanks to the sale of Mick Harford for £175,000, which was practically the only money received in transfer fees. Including £25,000 for David Felgate fees paid out showed a big drop to around £73,000 due to large amounts having been spent the previous season. The promotion season had seen an almost 30% rise in gate receipts with a similar increase in donations from the Supporters Club. However, there had been a drop in the club’s own fundraising activities apart from a big increase in the profits from the Social Club, and there was an increase in salaries and wages for playing and other staff, including a 49% increase to “team manager and coaching staff.”

At the subsequent shareholders’ meeting, Mr C. Ashton noted this, and chairman Dennis Houlston said it was due to Colin Murphy and his staff of Lennie Lawrence and John Sheridan having started on very low wages, saying they would prove themselves first and asked for more money later, “you can decide for yourselves whether it was worthwhile.” But the debit balance was still as high as £186,000, and with the recent lack of revenue during the bad weather lay-off and a projected decline in attendance figures not helping there was the announcement of economic measures to be introduced by the club in the hope of saving £45,000 a year. It was said this was in order to concentrate resources on the first team and it started with the immediate withdrawal of the youth team from the Northern Intermediate League. Colin Murphy put a brave face on this, saying it might give the youngsters an earlier chance to play in the reserve side and that “we shall continue to develop the young players as we have all the time I have been here.”

Dennis Houlston pointed out that the declining attendance figures were a national trend and also hinted at cuts to the playing staff as the club currently had 20 professionals, including three goalkeepers plus one player on loan.

After a big money sale in each of the two previous seasons – first Glenn Cockerill to Swindon, then Mick Harford to Newcastle there had been no direct mention of selling a player to ease the financial situation, although it was being suggested that Tony Cunningham might be next. In fact, there were rumours that top-flight side Middlesbrough had been watching the big striker with a view to a transfer, but Colin Muphy said “no firm offer” had been received. As far as Mick Harford was concerned, there was some disquiet at the news that City were still owed money from Newcastle on his transfer, especially as they had since sold him on to Bristol City. But Dennis Houlston, interviewed later, said there was no doubt the money would be received and explained that it was always intended to be paid in instalments to ensure City had a regular source of income. It appeared that payment to Scunthorpe United for the transfer to the City of Steve Cammack was also being made on the same basis, although Houlston admitted they had been “perhaps a week or two late” with the latest one.

It was now time for the Lincolnshire Cup Final with a visit to Boston United. Trevor Peake was ruled out with knee trouble, meaning a place in the side for Gerard Creane, while Tony Cunningham was rested, with Steve Cammack taking his place. George Shipley was still out of the side, featuring in a reserve game and scoring two penalties.

As usual in meetings between the Pilgrims and the Imps, there were players on each side with connections to the other. Boston included Mark Cox and later City manager Gary Simpson in midfield, with Phil Hubbard on the bench, while Steve Thompson captained the Lincoln side against his old club. Despite striker Russ Allen having to go in goal after Boston goalkeeper Kevin Blackwell broke a bone in his hand after 30 minutes, it wasn’t until just before the hour mark that Steve Thompson put City in front from a corner. However, Boston levelled through midfielder Brendan Phillips to take the game to penalties, which saw Cox manage the only successful attempt out of four for the home side while Stuart Hibberd, David Carr, and David Gilbert saw the Imps lift the trophy by 3-1.

Apart from goalkeeper Blackwell’s injury, the game at Boston also took its toll on the Imps, with Derek Bell suffering an ankle ligament injury that would put him in plaster and cause him to miss all but the last month of the season. For the visit to fifth-placed Carlisle United, Steve Cammack retained his place up front alongside Tony Cunningham. Gerard Creane again deputised in defence for Trevor Peake, but George Shipley returned to the side in place of Stuart Hibberd. City were rocked by a goal midway through the first half, which they claimed was handled into the net by Carlisle centre forward Paul Bannon but overall, they could have few complaints about the 1-0 defeat. Colin Murphy was upbeat after the game, saying Carlisle were probably going into the Second Division (they were as it turned out – just), but that in terms of performance, City were not all that far behind them. As Maurice Burton drily put it, the league table showed “a slightly different picture” – in fact, one of 15 places between the two sides.