Looking Back At 1981/82 (Part Five)

Looking Back At 1981/82 (Part One)

Looking Back At 1981/82 (Part Two)

Looking Back At 1981/82 (Part Three)

Looking Back At 1981/82 (Part Four)


Defeat in the next game might have left City nervously looking over their shoulder at a relegation battle, but a midweek trip to Huddersfield to pull in one of the re-arranged games was the fourth away match out of the last five and produced a sparkling performance. Played in pouring rain and a near-gale-force wind, an unchanged lineup withstood early pressure from Huddersfield to take the lead moments before half time with Tony Cunningham’s 11th goal of the season. They then stunned the home side with a second goal three minutes after the break when Trevor Peake powered in a header from an accurate free kick taken by Stuart Hibberd. The Imps went on to give a dominant performance for the rest of the game, prompting Maurice Burton to nominate the whole eleven as ‘men of the match’ in this caption which is useful to show how the team was made up at this time.


The win moved City up two places in the league table, and they built on this with another three points against visiting Brentford on Saturday. Seemingly unconvinced by City’s recent record of drawn games and not drawn by the attraction of seeing a visiting side boasting former England international Stan Bowles and veteran ex-Chelsea defender Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, the attendance dipped below three thousand again. In muddy conditions, City were driven on by the strength in the midfield of Stuart Hibberd, and midway through the second half, it was he who supplied the pass for Gordon Hobson to race through for the only goal of the match – his first since October. The win shot City up to seventh place and there was now promotion talk in the air as the gap to the top three was now just five points.

City were unchanged for the fourth game in a row for the visit of Doncaster the following Wednesday night and the recent run of improved results together with the local opposition combined to boost the attendance to over five thousand. The game was a personal triumph for Gordon Hobson following his recent return to the side as he followed up his goal the previous Saturday with a hat-trick in the Imps’ 5-0 win. The game was not without incident and controversy, however, as after becoming a ten-a-side game from the 37th minute the visitors were further reduced to nine men just prior to half time. Before the drama, City had taken an early lead when a break from the halfway line by Hobson ended with a Doncaster defender putting the ball in his own net. Hobson himself blasted in a 20-yard shot to put City two goals ahead 15 minutes before George Shipley was ordered off for the first time in his career along with Doncaster’s former England left-back Terry Cooper.

This came after a general flare-up in midfield, which included other players engaging in ‘minor fisticuffs’ behind the referee’s back. Rovers’ other fullback, Billy Russell, was then dismissed for a second offence after pulling back Tony Cunningham. It was plain sailing for City in the second half with their man advantage, and it was Hobson again involved who set up Stuart Hibberd to score his first goal for the club. The young midfielder repaid the compliment for Hobson’s second goal, and the speedy striker completed his hat-trick in injury time with a simple tap-in. Afterwards, Colin Murphy had no complaints about the performance of referee Gilbert Napthine, but Doncaster boss Billy Bremner said although he accepted the dismissal of Russell he was ‘disgusted’ by the other two and also claimed that City’s first goal was offside.


The three points from the win over Doncaster saw City climb another three places in the league table to fifth, and there was every reason to hope for further progress with a visit to crisis club Bristol City the following Saturday. Their plight was of the kind that was to become all too familiar 30 or 40 years down the line, with overspending on players with lengthy contracts in a bid to continue competing at the top level, and massive debts had been incurred, causing the club to be declared bankrupt. A new club called Bristol City FC (1982) Ltd. had recently been formed with a new board of directors. In order for this to work, the players who were on long-term deals were asked to accept redundancy and receive pay-offs of only part of the amount due on their contracts. Otherwise, they were told, the club would cease to exist. Left with little alternative in the circumstances, the players who became known as the ‘Ashton Gate Eight’ and included the likes of ex-Leeds midfielder Jimmy Mann and former Chelsea striker Chris Garland, all agreed to this and departed the club immediately. Manager Bob Houghton had left the club prior to this, and his former assistant, 34-year-old Roy Hodgson, was now in charge on a caretaker basis in his first managerial post in England.


A player who had not left the club (although he would shortly do so) was former Imp Mick Harford who was suspended for this match. This meant that, apart from Swedish international goalkeeper Jan Moller (also soon to leave) and loan defender Aidan McCaffery the Bristol City side was largely made up of untried youngsters. Although these showed plenty of enthusiasm the Imps were throughout too strong and well-organised for them and it was only thanks to the efforts late on of McCaffery and Moller that the Imps were restricted to a first half goal from Tony Cunningham to secure an easy victory and a rise to fourth in the table, two points off a promotion place.


Before the match, it had been announced that Wayne Turner’s loan period had been extended again, which would have made a total of five months, but the game at Bristol City proved to be his last appearance for the Imps as he was hurriedly recalled by Luton due to an injury crisis. Initially, it was hoped that after being included as squad cover for the Hatters’ match on the Tuesday night, he would then return to City for the remainder of his loan period. However, he was included in the Luton side for their next game and went on to make another five appearances for them in the remainder of the season.

It can’t be said that Turner’s absence weakened the side as his place at left back was taken by the now fully fit Phil Neale for the visit to struggling fifth-from-bottom side Preston North End. But City’s run of wins came to an end despite an early goal from Tony Cunningham as chances to increase the lead went begging before the home side equalised midway through the second half. With leaders Fulham losing at home and second-placed Carlisle held to a draw, a win would have taken City to the top of the table on goal difference, but as it was, they slipped a place back to fifth.

The following Saturday saw the visit of Jim Smith’s Oxford United, and encouraged by recent results, a healthy crowd (by the standards of earlier in the season) of over four and a half thousand turned up at Sincil Bank. It took City until the 35th minute to open the scoring when Trevor Peake headed in his fourth goal of the season following a training ground move from a corner. Oxford bounced back with an equaliser early in the second half, but Stuart Hibberd controlling the midfield for the Imps set up Glenn Cockerill to score what would be the winning goal.

The win against Oxford put City up to third place, which was actually the highest position in the league they had occupied since dropping out of the Second Division in 1961. It didn’t look as though it was going to be easy to maintain that position, though, with a long midweek trip to Exeter for the game called off due to the snow in December. To make things more difficult, George Shipley was suspended for the first of two matches due to his sending off against Doncaster with David Beavon coming into the side as a straight replacement. But good news came with Trevor Peake being passed fit to play after hobbling through the last hour of the game against Oxford.

The match was a story of three penalties – two successful for City and one not for Exeter. After an even first hour, the game took a dramatic turn when a penalty was awarded to Exeter. David Felgate pushed aside the spot-kick from the Grecians’ leading scorer, Tony Kellow, and the ball was cleared by Steve Thompson for City to break away. Racing clear, Glenn Cockerill was brought down by home goalkeeper Len Bond, and City had a penalty of their own. With regular taker George Shipley absent, Tony Cunningham was the only other player in the side to have taken a penalty in the past, but evidently not fancying it after two misses early in the previous season, it was the 20-year-old Stuard Hibberd who calmly stepped up to give City the lead. Minutes later, Exeter were level after David Beavon was caught out in midfield, but the reward for a committed performance by the Imps came seven minutes from time with another penalty after Phil Neale was tripped in the area. Again, Hibberd stepped up to win the match for City and earn another man of the match nomination for himself. The win put City at the top of the table on goal difference, but they had played more games than most of the teams below them.


It was now transfer deadline day with some activity by the Imps. Maurice Burton, in one of his recent columns in the Sports Echo, had indulged in some speculation – and speculation was all it appeared to be – that City might wish to bring Mick Harford back from his current club, Bristol City. Burton’s point mainly was that City would never have a better chance of reaching the Second Division than they currently did and wondered if the club was ambitious enough to grasp the opportunity – especially if, as was more likely than a big fee being paid out, an offer too big to refuse was received for the likes of Trevor Peake or Tony Cunningham.

In the event, mention of Mick Harford was academic as he moved to Birmingham City for £100,000, a sum way outside City’s price range. Apart from anything else, it did seem that another striker was not really what was needed, with Derek Bell nearing a return to fitness. As it was, a striker did come in, and one went out, and there was very little in the way of money changing hands in either direction.

Departing was Steve Cammack, who it later became clear was not happy with his time at Lincoln. “Things have not quite worked out for him,” was Colin Murphy’s view on the matter, whereas the player himself was later to be rather more blunt, referring to Murphy in unflattering terms and describing playing for Lincoln as “a shocking experience.” Apart from anything else, he was clearly unhappy about what he considered as being played out of position wide on the right instead of as a central striker. Although Cammack had scored some useful goals from the wide position, after he had then been moved more centrally, he had lost his place to Gordon Hobson and had not featured in the squad at all since the beginning of February, with young David Gilbert holding down a regular place on the subs’ bench. At any rate, with Scunthorpe manager John Duncan anxious to sign him, Cammack returned to where he had come from the previous summer at a fee which later emerged as being considerably less than was paid for him.

Quirkily, midfielder David Hughes, who had joined Scunthorpe as part of the deal to bring Cammack to City, now did the same in the reverse direction. After playing regularly for the Iron in the first half of the season, Hughes had now seemingly fallen out of favour and basically returned to City as squad covers on a deal for the remainder of the season. Also coming in as short-term cover with Derek Bell not yet fully fit was a surprise in the return of favourite from the Graham Taylor era, John Ward. Now 30, the striker had made just a handful of appearances for Second Division Grimsby in the current season and had been on the point of moving into a coaching career with Taylor at Watford when he received a phone call on deadline day from Colin Murphy. As he put it in his autobiography, Ward decided to join City on a whim, thinking it would be good to start and finish his playing career at his hometown club.

A third player coming in was as a result of Steve Thompson having gone over the threshold of 22 penalty points for bookings and despite the best efforts of Colin Murphy at the FA hearing being suspended for two matches.  Rather than move David Carr from full-back or bring in reserve Gerard Creane to take Thompson’s place in the side, Murphy instead brought in the experienced David Rodgers on a non-contract basis. One of the previously mentioned ‘Ashton Gate Eight’ who had been forced to end their lucrative contracts with Bristol City earlier in the season, he had spent most of his career in the top two divisions with them. Curiously, Rodgers had been attending the same FA disciplinary hearing as Thompson and Murphy (where he had escaped a ban), and it was there that he signed the forms to join City – with Thompson as a witness.


Rodgers went straight into the side for the visit of mid-table Southend, with David Beavon perforce continuing in place of the suspended Shipley. The attendance was up to just short of five thousand as people turned up to see the league leaders in action, but we were disappointed to witness an anxious display from the Imps against an unadventurous Southend side. With George Shipley, the one player who might have unlocked the visitors’ defence missing, it was hard work until the breakthrough came just over ten minutes from the end. This was a fiercely-struck cross from Phil Turner turned into his own net by Southend full back Micky Stead, but six minutes later, the Shrimpers’ other full-back Steve Yates headed an equaliser. The game saw perennial substitute David Gilbert get onto the pitch in place of Beavon as City made use of their no. 12 for the first time in eight games.

The point gained against Southend was enough to keep City top of the table on goal difference as previously second-placed Carlisle were beaten heavily at Fulham, who moved into third place, while a draw for Chesterfield saw them out of the top three with Reading now second after a big win over Exeter. Only one point was now separating the top five sides, and it was Burnley, the team in sixth, who were the visitors to Sincil Bank the following Wednesday night in a game rearranged because of the Boxing Day snows.

Not downhearted by the loss of two points against Southend, and perhaps due to the ‘big name’ attraction of the opposition, the attendance rose to over six thousand to once again see the table-topping Imps in action. George Shipley was thankfully now back in the side as the only change to the lineup against a Burnley team, which showed a lot more positive intent than Southend had done. City had looked the better side in the first half with only Burnley’s experienced goalkeeper Alan Stevenson keeping the scores level, but after the break City were forced into a change due to an injury to David Rodgers, David Carr moving into the middle with Phil Turner at right back as David Gilbert came on into midfield. Stevenson was finally beaten when Glenn Cockerill scored from a narrow-angle midway through the half. But Burnley, with current Northern Irish international striker Billy Hamilton on their side along with past and future English international midfielder Martin Dobson and teenage winger Trevor Steven, was not done, and it was Steven who hit a late equaliser. The point gained moved City one point clear at the top, but they had played three or four games more than the teams below them.

It had been a busy but productive month for City with nine games played, producing six wins and three draws and a rise from 13th place to top of the division. This was enough to earn Colin Murphy a Manager of the Month award, and the club, as a whole, also received some recognition, with the recently-launched Central Television awarding them their Merit award as the outstanding Midlands club in the month.