Looking Back At: 1982/83 (Part 2)

Part One Here



Financial matters were to the fore again in the week leading up to the start of the Football League season with the visit of Wigan Athletic to Sincil Bank the following Saturday. In desperate times for football in general several clubs were looking to reduce the amounts of bonus payments paid to players, and almost needless to say in their present circumstances Lincoln City were one of them. Gilbert Blades complained that ‘a previous chairman’ (i.e. Dennis Houlston) had negotiated a new bonus scheme with the manager which had been agreed without being presented to the rest of the board. As this had included increases in payment of up to 300% he blamed it as contributing to the club’s financial problems and said his proposal was to instead return to the previous year’s bonus scheme and increase it by 25%. The players’ point of view was that this would mean a cut of 45% to the latest agreed scheme and while accepting that they had been given a 10% cost of living increase on their basic wages said they would be prepared to agree to an eight to ten percent cut in the bonus to help the club out. PFA chairman Gordon Taylor was expected to visit Sincil Bank for discussions and Gilbert Blades said he hoped negotiations would be quickly concluded as it would be wrong to start the season on a sour note -although that is just what happened. Blades also complained that someone had made the issue public while negotiations were still going on.

Writing in the Echo, Maurice Burton’s sympathies were with the players, pointing out that the board’s decision not to strengthen the playing staff would likely restrict their chances of earning any bonus money. Also, with the players’ basic wages lower than most other clubs in the Third Division and some in the Fourth they needed the bonus scheme to make up their money. He also had concerns that with Colin Murphy “forced by financial constraints to operate on a shoe-string budget without so much as the string to tie it together” the club could hardly complain if the paying customers decided to stay away.

Ahead of the game with Wigan City’s small squad was already being hit by injuries and other absences, notably as always in the early part of the season with Phil Neale still away playing cricket and captaining Worcestershire. It may have been that David Beavon had been earmarked to take his place at left back but with his foot in plaster due to a ligament injury a player was brought in on loan to cover the position. This was 20-year-old Northern Irishman Seamus Heath who followed in the footsteps of last season’s successful loanee Wayne Turner in arriving from Luton Town. He had been the regular reserve left back in the previous season for the Hatters and had spent the summer playing in Finland.

Another absentee for the Wigan game was Steve Thompson, suspended following his sending-off in the last game of the previous season at Fulham. The only option to cover for him seemed to be to play one of the three 16 or 17-year-olds Paul Brown, Chris Moyses or Gary Strodder, but a late arrival into the squad on a non-contract basis was announced as 32-year-old Welsh international defender Dave Roberts. Released by Cardiff City in the summer of 1981 he had since being playing in Hong Kong. In the event, Roberts was unable to play against Wigan due to his international clearance not being received in time and it was Strodder who made his league debut alongside Trevor Peake. Otherwise, the team picked itself, with David Carr and Seamus Heath the full backs and the midfield trio of Phil Turner, Stuart Hibberd and George Shipley behind strikers Gordon Hobson, Glenn Cockerill and Tony Cunningham. Derek Bell on the subs’ bench had recently asked to be placed on the transfer list as although his two and a half years at the club had been hit by injuries when fit he had usually found himself playing second fiddle to Gordon Hobson.

For many years it had been accepted that Lincoln City FC had been formed in 1883 although this had now begun to be questioned with a date of June 1884 being given instead. Despite this it was announced the club had decided to treat the 1982/83 season as its ‘Centenary Season’, as Gilbert Blades believed the 1883 date to be the correct one. Rather surprisingly, instead of an interview with Maurice Burton or his deputy the chairman instead paid for most of a page in the paper (headed ‘Echo Special Advertisement Feature’) to record his thanks to the council for their financial help and to set out his plans for the centenary. This was in spite of the fact that if June 1883 had been the correct date for the club’s formation the actual centenary would not have been reached until after the season had ended.

The centenary was marked by having each issue of the match programme numbered as part of a set for the special year with the cover featuring an image of the oldest programme that it had been possible to locate, one dating from 1925. The programme itself continued the usual two-year cycle by maintaining the price at 30p at the expense of a loss of pages compared to the previous season. Missing were Colin Murphy’s notes, replaced by those of the chairman, but with slightly fewer advertisements it still managed to cram in a fair bit of content.

Fresh from having achieved their first promotion as a Football League club visitors Wigan took the lead midway through the first half, but City equalised less than 15 minutes later through George Shipley. What proved to be the winning goal came in first half injury time after Glenn Cockerill was brought down in the area for Shipley to calmly put the penalty away. Well in control for much of the second half, City gave a committed performance despite the bonus payments dispute hanging over them with an unnamed player quoted as saying afterwards “We felt we did the club proud…but we are still not pleased with the situation.”

It was now time for a first game in what was the first major English competition to receive a sponsor’s name. The National Dairy Council had struck a £2 million deal which meant the Football League Cup was now to be called – thankfully not in African style, the Cup of Milk – but the Milk Cup. The first leg, first round game saw a visit to Fourth Division York City with Steve Thompson now eligible to return to the defence in place of young Gary Strodder. City gave a more lacklustre display than against Wigan with Colin Murphy saying it was the most inefficient he had seen the team for the past two years. A goal down early on, the change that got the Imps buzzing came on the hour mark when Stuart Hibberd was replaced by Derek Bell with Glenn Cockerill going into midfield. However, they fell further behind before Gordon Hobson’s pace enabled him to pull a goal back ten minutes from time for the Imps to take a single goal deficit into the second leg.

Another clampdown, although not on expenditure was announced by Gilbert Blades which was aimed at what he called “scroungers.” Claiming that “a large number” of people had been getting into matches at Sincil Bank without paying he said that apart from volunteer workers no complimentary tickets would be issued in future. This included both home and visiting players, apart from passes for wives only, “Friends, relatives, neighbours and others will have to pay like anyone else.”


Two seasons ago there had been over 12,000 present at Southend for a game which was billed as deciding the Fourth Division championship. In the last season, in which the Shrimpers had finished mid-table, there had still been a respectable gate for City’s visit of almost five and a half thousand. Now, in a sign of the times, there were just 3,178 at Roots Hall for the first away league game of the season. Although the cricket season was still in progress Phil Neale made a welcome return to the side, coming into the midfield with Stuart Hibberd left out. Despite being much the better side for most of the match City’s 2-0 defeat was blamed on referee Darryl Reeves’ refusal to award penalties for what Maurice Burton considered “two of the most blatant offences I have seen in one match for a long time”. Seconds after Gordon Hobson had been brought down from behind Southend went straight down to the other end to take the lead just before half time. Just before the hour mark City were denied again after Tony Cunningham was brought down and 15 minutes later the home side went two goals in front. Late on. Derek Bell replaced Neale and in the last minute of the game was brought down for City finally to be awarded a penalty – ironically for George Shipley to see his spot-kick saved.

The following Tuesday night saw a visit to newly-relegated Wrexham with an unchanged side, and despite the narrowness of a 1-0 victory it was well-deserved with the only goal coming from a this time successful penalty. After Glenn Cockerill had been brought down Tony Cunningham took over spot-kick duties from George Shipley and made no mistake for his first league goal of the season.

There were injury worries for the Saturday visit of Reading with Glenn Cockerill and Steve Thompson both missing training due to injuries sustained at Wrexham. They were both passed fit to play though, but more serious was the case of Trevor Peake who was also unable to train due to chest trouble aggravated in the same match. Following x-rays it turned out that he had played in the last two games with a broken rib. With Gary Strodder injured in a midweek reserve game and Phil Neale required to be back playing for Worcestershire in the County Championship City’s small squad was really being shown up. With Dave Roberts brought in earlier as cover evidently having ended his brief time with the club it appeared Colin Murphy was reluctant to bring in another loan player. This was perhaps due to a total of only five loanees being allowed during the season with Seamus Heath having already become one of these. While it would have just about been possible to rejig – and disrupt – the side from the available 12 players Peake was instead strapped up and sent out to get on with it against Reading.

In Phil Neale’s absence Stuart Hibberd returned to the side which produced a brilliant attacking display including the award of two more penalties, both again put away by Tony Cunningham. The first of these came after just ten minutes when Gordon Hobson was brought down, with the second midway through the second half when Reading defender Steve Richardson handled the ball on the line. Although booked under new regulations for that season an indication of how times have changed is that the referee drew “universal approval” for not sending the player off – apparently due to pleas on his behalf by the City players. In between the penalties the Imps had gone 2-0 up with a header from Steve Thompson and with Trevor Peake given a respite with ten minutes to go Derek Bell came on to score his first goal since January to seal a 4-0 win that put City into the third promotion place with four games played.

A disappointment was the attendance of 2,790 which was almost 400 down on the previous match despite City’s win in midweek. Chairman Gilbert Blades warned that if low gates continued the club would be in financial trouble again while at the same time warning that a settlement of the players’ bonus payments issue might result in increased admission prices.

An addition to the staff at Sincil Bank for a change came with the appointment of Ivan Wilkinson to aid with the youth setup. Recently taking early retirement from schoolteaching he was a fully qualified coach who had experience with the English Schools FA and had worked in the past scouting for clubs such as Coventry City.

The second leg of the League Cup tie brought York City to Sincil Bank with the Imps feeling confident of turning around the 2-1 deficit from the first match having registered an away goal. Although missing training in order to rest his fractured rib Trevor Peake continued in the side with the only change seeing Phil Neale, back from cricket again, replacing Seamus Heath at left back. After an even first half the Imps took control after the break with Tony Cunningham heading the Imps level on aggregate. Three goals then came in the last ten minutes with Tony Cunningham scoring his fourth penalty in three games before a Gordon Hobson header put the Imps 3-0 up on the night. A last-minute Steve Thompson own goal was no more than a consolation for the visitors as City won through on aggregate by 4-3. The attendance was down by only a few dozen on the previous game (my excuse as usual was due to the continued lack of a late train to Newark) which was maybe not too bad considering an expected lack of interest in a first round League Cup tie against a lower division outfit.

On top of breaking his leg earlier in the summer there were further woes for Phil Hubbard when the ex-Imp was found guilty of drink-driving, and despite the pleas of Gilbert Blades acting on his behalf was fined and banned.

Away at Bristol Rovers in the next game I paid my first visit to their quirky Eastville ground still in use for greyhound racing, and related to this my chief memory is of the incomprehensible Totalisator display on the inside of the front of the roof at what was actually called the Tote End. Due to the greyhound track the curved end to the ground meant the end terracing was irritatingly distant from the pitch and another feature was the sight of the elevated M32 at the far end. Eastville was closer to a motorway than any other ground in the country and it was said that people were known to stop their cars on the hard shoulder for a free view of the match before being moved on.

The Rovers side included two later Imps players in Errington Kelly and recent signing Nicky Platnauer while for the Imps with Derek Bell suffering from slight hamstring trouble he was replaced on the bench by Seamus Heath.

A rusty-looking City side, perhaps affected by delays on their journey down fell behind early on to a lobbed goal by Rovers’ prolific scorer Paul Randall, but quickly equalised through George Shipley following a throw-in. With about an hour gone the winning goal came when Phil Turner scored following a free kick and City then were in control of the game and could have made it three towards the end when Tony Cunningham ran most of the length of the pitch to get in a shot which was pushed wide by the goalkeeper.

This proved to be just about the last action in a City shirt for Cunningham as with rumours that a player was going to be sold in order to help fund the players’ bonus payments it turned out that he was the one, joining Second Division Barnsley for a fee of £80,000. Chairman Gilbert Blades said the club had been forced into the sale due to the financial situation, “particularly the low gates.” On that subject, financial director Heneage Dove echoed the point, saying that receipts from home games would need to be double what they were to avoid having to sell players.

The fee for the striker, with seven goals in the season so far (four of them penalties) was a good deal less than that received for Glenn Cockerill in 1979 and less than half that for Mick Harford a year after that and perhaps reflected a depressed state of the transfer market. The need to raise funds was emphasised with the release of the final accounts for the year ending in June which were even worse than anticipated. In fact, they showed a record loss of over £259,000 with the biggest contributor to this being a net loss on transfers of over £72,000. Due to no player having been sold for a big fee as in the previous two years the income from sales was only minimal compared to the expenditure which accounted for the arrivals of Glenn Cockerill, Steve Cammack and David Beavon. Thanks to a successful second half of the season gate money was up by almost 20% but on the other side of the balance sheet was a loss of nearly £39,000 on the ill-fated Country Music Festival and an increase of 30% on salaries and wages mostly with regards to the playing staff – no doubt due to playing in a higher division.

With regard to the selling of players, the hottest property at the club was almost certainly Trevor Peake, although Maurice Burton suggested David Felgate – no doubt with the thought that Stuart Naylor could step up to take his place. But unlike with Cunningham and Felgate there was no ready-made replacement for Peake ready to come into the side. Derek Bell, although very much a different type of player to Cunningham was at least on hand to take his place – although this now left no cover for the three-striker formation favoured by Colin Murphy. It also reduced the first team squad to just 14 which included two goalkeepers and a player on loan.

For the home game with Orient – they had dropped the ‘Leyton’ part of their name since their last visit 20 years ago – there was an increase of nearly 400 on the attendance for the previous game which was something, as Derek Bell made his first start of the season. He also registered two goals in a game for the first time since his arrival at the club as Tony Cunningham’s departure was not missed in terms of the result. The comfortable 2-0 win put City two points clear at the top of the division with just six games played.

The following Wednesday night brought another club to Sincil Bank in a league match for the first time in 20 years as newly-promoted Sheffield United came to town. They had of course visited just a month before in the League Trophy resulting in disturbances in the city centre and this kind of incident was repeated with ‘soccer hooligans’ turning the lower High Street into a ‘battleground.’ Over 200 ‘rioting supporters’ were reported to have ‘fought a running battle with bottles, glasses and iron bars’ plus home supporters attacked the Golden Eagle pub ‘trying to get at the Sheffield fans’. Around 3,500 United supporters were estimated to have travelled and at the request of the police the whole of the Sincil Bank terracing had been given over to them. However, along with ‘skirmishes’ in the city before and after the match there had also been fighting on the terraces with two policemen injured and two City fans taken to hospital. A total of eight arrests were made and a police Superintendent stated that ‘on the whole the situation had been fairly well under control.’

During the game some City supporters had thrown coins at Sheffield United goalkeeper Steve Conroy, and Gilbert Blades perhaps unwisely, even if tongue-in cheek said afterwards that he would have liked them to throw money at him instead as “we badly need everything we can get!” Councillor Robert Mason, responsible for the area where the main trouble occurred took exception to this and accused the chairman of complacency. In return, Blades offered to meet Mr Mason to discuss the situation “providing he is not electioneering.”

As for the match itself, there were injury troubles for the Imps with Phil Neale playing despite a rib injury sustained against Orient and, as so often had been the case with Derek Bell, the striker having to miss the game through injury. This meant a change in formation with Seamus Heath coming into the side to play wide on the left in a 4-4-2 formation as David Beavon warmed the bench. In front of an attendance of over 8,500 swollen by the visiting supporters City triumphed over adversity to outplay their big-spending visitors and maintain their position at the top of the table. Given the lead by Gordon Hobson seconds before half time City wrapped things up in the last nine minutes, Trevor Peake heading in a corner and Hobson stealing the ball off defender Stewart Houston to put the ball in an empty net.

City’s record of six wins out of seven league games in September was enough to earn Colin Murphy the manager of the month award, his second of the calendar year.


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