Looking Back At: 1982/83 (Part 3)

Part One Here

Part Two Here




The run of wins now came to an end in, to paraphrase an American president, a game that will live in infamy. First, however, the sum of £2,500 had been released for the signing from Blackburn Rovers of the diminutive but stocky midfielder Marshall Burke. The 23-year-old Scotsman had come through the ranks at Burnley and had a useful scoring record in a total of over 60 Second Division games for the Turf Moor club and Blackburn. He had been first choice in midfield in the first part of the previous season for the Rovers but had since fallen out of favour.

Whilst Burke’s signing was a welcome boost to the squad numbers a more immediate need prior to the visit to Newport was a striker. With Derek Bell still out of action and Gordon Hobson failing a fitness test on the morning of the match that left only Glenn Cockerill to play up front. With the tactic of playing a lone striker many years in the future the speculation among those of us at the match was which midfielder would be playing alongside Cockerill. Options were reduced when it emerged that Marshall Burke’s registration had not been completed in time for him to be included in the side. Although 17-year-old defender Gary Strodder had travelled with the squad it was assumed David Beavon would have to be included somewhere in the team for his first start since March. But to general amazement and disbelief, rather even than Strodder, who although young, was at least an outfield player it was the scarcely older Stuart Naylor who was sent out wearing the no. 9 shirt with Beavon named as substitute.

Maurice Burton in his Echo match report was scathing about what he described as an outrageous gamble and a ludicrous situation for a team leading the Third Division. He had little to say about the actual match except that City were unable to display their usual attacking flair. Naylor was said have played “just like a goalkeeper operating at centre forward”, offering little more than nuisance value – “but to which team?”, pointing out that “if he were a centre forward he would not be keeping goal for Lincoln Reserves”. City held out until the 64th minute when, almost needless to say, it was ex-Imp Tommy Tynan who pounced to put a loose ball into net for the only goal of the game. City battled hard, with Beavon, in what was to be his last appearance in a City shirt replacing Stuart Hibberd in a straight swap but were unable to pull a goal back.

The game also turned out to be Seamus Heath’s last appearance although he remained with City for another month after his loan period was extended. Despite the defeat results elsewhere meant City retained top spot and Colin Murphy’s justification of his team selection in the face of criticism from supporters who had made the long journey to Newport was that he considered Naylor the best man for the job in the circumstances. It seemed pretty clear, though, that the main purpose was to make a point to chairman Gilbert Blades about the threadbare playing squad.

It was now time for the second round of the Milk Cup and the first leg brought the visit of a Leicester City side currently mid-table in the Second Division. Marshall Burke was now able to make his debut for the Imps, replacing Stuard Hibberd in midfield, while Gordon Hobson and Derek Bell were fit to return meaning a full-strength side with Seamus Heath on the bench. For the visitors, a survivor from their last meeting with the Imps in the League Cup seven years before was former Imps junior Mark Wallington in goal. Leicester also included a 21-year-old striker named Gary Lineker who had finished as top scorer for them in the previous season.

An attendance of 6,775, although not huge, was better than anticipated, and to boost the finances starting with this game admission prices for the rest of the season were put up by 10p for a stand seat to £2.50 and by 20p to £2 for the terraces. Those present saw the Imps storm into a two-goal lead in the first five minutes with goals from Derek Bell and George Shipley. Prompted from midfield by their former Arsenal star Eddie Kelly Leicester fought their way back into the game but City’s defence, with Steve Thompson outstanding held firm to give them a two-goal lead going into the second leg and leave Colin Murphy in confident mood: “If we can score again, as I believe we can, they will have to score four goals to beat us. That is a tall order for anyone.”

To help the financial situation further another useful attendance, this time of over 4,700, turned out for the following Saturday’s visit of Doncaster Rovers, with City, after the debacle at Newport rather by way of belatedly locking the stable door, having signed a new striker. This was 18-year-old Jimmy Gilligan who had come through the youth ranks at Graham Taylor’s Watford, making a handful of first team appearances scoring two goals. He arrived on a month’s loan, boosting the number of players in the squad to the dizzy heights of 16. The 6ft 2in striker made his debut off the bench, replacing Marshall Burke with half an hour of the match to go with the Imps 4-0 up and the match well won.

Against a Doncaster side who had conceded 20 goals in their last five games City overcame early pressure to take the lead when George Shipley was on hand to drive in a loose ball midway through the first half. Soon after the break three goals in six minutes more or less sealed the win, Gordon Hobson scoring before later Imps defender Glenn Humphries put the ball into his own net and George Shipley ran through from midfield to go top of the scoring charts with six. Although Rovers later pulled a goal back Glenn Cockerill scored late on for a 5-1 win which dumped the visitors bottom of the division and extended City’s lead at the top to four points.

It seemed the issue of the players’ bonus payments had finally been resolved with them agreeing to accept an 8% reduction in order to enable the club to have a chance of signing new players to enhance their promotion chances. Details of the dispute from the players’ side emerged with them at one stage having sent a letter to Gilbert Blades objecting to his handling of the issue. This was after he had made a number of public statements despite it having been agreed that talks would be confidential. The players also objected to being cast as the villains by the chairman when he wrote in the programme for the Reading match that increased admission prices might be necessary to settle the issue.

The following Saturday saw the long journey to Plymouth and for the second season in a row the Imps came away with a 2-0 victory. In torrential rain an unchanged side took the lead through Derek Bell in the first half, the defence then once more standing firm despite having the weather against them after the break. In the last minute of the game Gordon Hobson broke clear to take the ball round the goalkeeper, the players going over to celebrate the win with the small band of travelling supporters who had been forced to stand in the pouring rain (some things never change) despite there being fewer than 3,000 people in the vast spaces of the Home Park ground.

More financial news came with the club’s AGM which itself passed off uneventfully. Director Allan Davey was re-elected to popular acclaim and a new member of the board was Supporters’ Club chairman Vic Withers. Mr Davey was also responsible for negotiating various sponsorship deals with horticultural firm J. Arthur Bowers, including shirt advertising.

Projected figures for the current season based on the assumption that City would remain near the top of the division showed an expected loss of £142,000, but that would be offset by the fee received for the sale of Tony Cunningham which would reduce it to £65,000. Some money coming in was £7,000 from Newcastle United still outstanding from the sale of Mick Harford two years before. Gilbert Blades reported that a settlement been the two clubs had been reached just before the matter was due to be taken to the High Court. “We are now the best of friends with Newcastle United,” said the chairman. In a discussion forum afterwards local businessman and former City player Brian Heward criticised the fact that salaries and wages made up 80% of the projected expenditure. Blaming this on ‘greedy footballers’, he advocated a change to part-time football which was also something being raised by Gilbert Blades who gave his opinion that in football’s current financial state he could envisage players who would be “delivering milk in the morning and playing football in the afternoon”.

Evidently stung by the City chairman’s comments Dennis Bocock then reappeared to criticise the lack of ambition from the board. Evidently with a dig at the issue of players’ bonuses he pledged £1,000 to each player himself if promotion was won. He was especially scathing about Heneage Dove, harking back to the director’s part in the situation – now nine years in the past but which evidently still rankled with him – when Bocock’s actions had so alienated the Supporters’ Club that they had changed their name to exclude the word City from their name and become the Lincoln & District Football Supporters Club. In view of this it was perhaps strange that he stated he would be prepared to put the voting power of his shares (more than was held by any director) behind newly-elected director and Supporters’ Club chairman Vic Withers to prevent any action by the rest of the board to sell off any more players. He did however admit that the Supporters Club had proved they wouldn’t work with him in the past but “a lot of water has passed under Sincil Drain bridge since our differences of opinion”, and although he accepted that they would likely work against him if he ever were to rejoin the board he thought that the current position was now so critical that “all petty personal things of the past must be forgotten.” In response to Bocock’s offer Mr Withers stated the Supporters’ Club had no intention of discussing it and there would be no change of policy

The win at Plymouth had maintained City’s four-point lead at the top and they extended it by one with another big home win against another Devon side as Exeter City paid a midweek visit to Sincil Bank. Referee David Scott showed he was not averse to awarding penalties as three were shared out between the two sides, the majority going to City, both scored by Derek Bell. After Bell’s first penalty and a Gordon Hobson header from a free kick put City 2-0 up at the break Exeter’s penalty was immediately followed by a close-range goal from Bell before he put away his second penalty late on to complete his hat-trick and make it eight goals from his nine appearances in the season so far and show that Tony Cunningham was not being missed at least in terms of goalscoring. The only slight downside was a drop in the attendance by just over a thousand from the previous match – but no doubt that was to some extent due to the opposition being from distant Exeter rather than nearby Doncaster.

Amongst all the recent high scoring it was perhaps overlooked that City currently had the meanest defence in the division with only seven goals conceded in 11 games. However, that defence now found itself up against the highest scoring team with a visit to mid-table Brentford – who in fact were the only team to have out-scored City.

In the event it was the high scorers who came out on top with a goal in each half as City were rather overpowered in midfield by the strength of the tough-tackling Terry Hurlock and later TV pundit and personality Chris Kamara (seen on the cover of the match programme) plus the still evident skills of veteran former England international Stan Bowles. City’s best chance came shortly after Brentford’s second goal, but Jimmy Gilligan, on as sub’ for Marshall Burke took too long in front of goal and saw his shot saved. The defeat cut City’s lead at the top by only one point as the three teams immediately below them all failed to win, but it was now time for the second leg of the Milk Cup tie with Leicester City.

The home side were in rather better form than at the time of the first game having won three games in a row without conceding a goal and risen to seventh in the table. Their side showed one change from the first leg with a teenaged Alan Smith coming into the side to play alongside Gary Lineker to give them two future England strikers in partnership. For the Imps, Seamus Heath was named on the bench after Watford requested that Jimmy Gilligan not be cup-tied. Despite their recent run of good results, the home supporters evidently lacked enthusiasm for the tie as the attendance was (supposedly) just exactly 10,000 with a quarter of these estimated to be from Lincoln. Although having to withstand some tremendous Leicester pressure the defence stood firm if a little desperately at times with David Felgate outstanding. Then as Leicester seemed to run out of steam towards the end of the game Glenn Cockerill was brought down by Mark Wallington for Derek Bell to score his third penalty in as many games to send the Imps through with a 3-0 aggregate win. After the final whistle the City players gave a special salute to former chairman Dennis Houlston spotted in one of the executive boxes – “To thank him for his efforts and ambitions for us and the club last season”, said David Carr. In return, the ex-chairman sent four bottles of champagne round to the dressing room.

Another ex-chairman was then in receipt of compliments from the players when captain Trevor Peake said they wanted Dennis Bocock to come and see them play so they could acknowledge his recent offer of £1,000 a man if they won promotion. Rather pointedly, he said “At least we know that someone definitely wants us to get promotion.”

The number of players in the squad was reduced by one when David Beavon left to play in Hong Kong on a two-month loan. He was joined at the same club for a similar period by young defender Gerard Creane who was still on the club’s books but who had been playing in Finland since earlier in the year.

The attendance at Griffin Park the previous week had been over 8,000, Brentford’s biggest for nine months, and had Maurice Burton noting that wherever City went they seemed to attract better than average crowds – and wondering why this was not the case at Sincil Bank. “What do the Lincoln people want from their football team?” For the Saturday visit of newly-promoted Bradford City there was, though, an encouraging increase of sixteen hundred over the previous game. We were treated to a dour and uncompromising match with plenty of determined defending from a Bradford side marshalled by their player-manager ex-England defender Roy McFarland. Sending on Jimmy Gilligan in place of Phil Turner in the second half City threw men forward and gained the reward two minutes from time when a free kick was rolled to Marshall Burke to hammer a long range shot high into the net for his first goal for the club.


The win over Bradford City had maintained City’s four-point lead at the top but this was halved following the first real setback of the season in a 4-1 defeat at seventh-placed Portsmouth in midweek. The Imps got off to a great start with a Derek Bell penalty giving them the lead after just three minutes, but they were second best for the remainder of the game with Pompey’s deadly striker Alan Biley completing a hat-trick seconds after the break. The home side added a fourth goal midway through the second half by which time City’s best hope seemed to be that the blanket of fog around the ground would get bad enough for the game to be abandoned. Colin Murphy described it as not only the worst performance of the season but one of the poorest since he had become manager.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the club’s financial situation rumbled on. First, there was the confirmation of Gilbert Blades as chairman having served in a temporary capacity for the last five months. He expressed a feeling of optimism about the club’s future on and off the field and believed the financial difficulties were almost over although “the board has had to do some very unpleasant and unpopular things to save the club from extinction.”

Blades said that he hoped the ‘sniping’ from various quarters could now stop and everyone could pull together for the sake of the club. However, he might as well have been waving a red flag to a bull as his predecessor Dennis Houlston shot back almost straight away with a lengthy statement critical of the way the directors were running the club “penny-wise, pound-foolish.” In this phrase he was referring to the club not following what was apparently a common practice of taking out insurance which would have paid the players’ win and promotion bonuses – a sum which could have amounted to £100,000. Reading between the lines the implication seems to be that the club either could or would not afford to pay the premium for this.

Mr Houlston also described the selling of the ground to the council as ‘sacrilege’ and all that the money received for it had done was wipe out the club’s overdraft at the bank which removed the need for the directors to increase their loans to the club. He stated that at the time he left the board in May his personal loan to the club totalled £60,000 (a third of which had since been paid back) compared to around £36,000 for the rest of the board combined. He darkly hinted that the directors may be hoping to avoid promotion by selling players (it was also his opinion that Tony Cunningham was ‘virtually given away’ for £80,000) and thereby weakening the team which would mean no bonuses would have to be paid. Finally, harking back to the well-worn theme that Graham Taylor had left City because of a lack of ambition by the club he expressed concern that Colin Muphy was being ‘strangled by the same old negative attitude’.

Sure enough, current financial director (and another former chairman, of course) Heneage Dove responded with criticism of his own. Regarding the issue of bonus payment insurance, he stated that the lowest premium quotation they could find was so high that it made more sense just to go ahead and pay the possible £100,000. As for criticism of the board he pointedly mentioned that neither Messrs Bocock or Houlston had been at the recent AGM when they could have aired their grievances, “this is where the mud-slinging should have taken place.” His account of the situation regarding the directors’ loans differed from Mr Houlston’s in that he (Houlston) had previously asked for part of his loan to be paid back and taken over by the rest of the board. Advising him that this was not prudent at the time Dove had requested further discussion on the matter but Houlson had not been forthcoming. He also disputed the account of the directors’ cash commitments both at the time when Houlston left and in the time since.

Dove pointedly mentioned that Mr Houlston had said nothing about the appointment of a commercial manager – evidently at his personal instigation – which had led to the heavy financial losses incurred by the Country Music festival fiasco and indicated that the ex-chairman had failed to abide by a verbal promise that he would make good any losses. He summed up by saying that the task ahead was promotion along with financial stability and he appealed for unity and support from everyone.

Well, it all went towards filling the column inches in the Lincolnshire Echo!

Back to the football, and City bounced back from the heavy defeat at Portsmouth with an emphatic 3-1 win at Chesterfield. For those still getting to grips with the second season of three points for a win Maurice Burton pointed out that a win and a draw from the two away games gave a better return than two draws would have done. Giving a man of the match display Gordon Hobson gave City a first half lead and although Chesterfield equalised minutes after the break put them back in front with a header just after the hour mark. He then set up Derek Bell to seal the win which maintained City’s two-point lead at the top.

City’s squad was reduced to the barest of bare bones again with Jimmy Gilligan and Seamus Heath returning to their respective clubs on the ending of their loan periods. Gilligan, who some years in the future would return on a permanent basis, later described his loan as ‘a disastrous spell’, claiming he had understood he was joining Lincoln to gain first team experience. In reality, it was never likely that he was going to be more than squad cover in case of injuries.

With the loss of the loan duo, David Beavon playing abroad, and Stuart Hibberd unfit City were down to just 12 professionals including goalkeeper Stuart Naylor for the visit of top flight club West Ham United in the next round of the Milk Cup. Rather than include Naylor on the bench Colin Murphy called up 16-year-old schoolboy striker Stuart Hall from the youth team to wear the no. 12 shirt.

The game had been made all-ticket with a 16,000 capacity and the 2,500 home stand tickets had quickly sold out. West Ham had taken up their full allocation of 500 stand and 1,000 terrace tickets but although the match was not a sell-out the attendance of 13,899 was the highest for six years and thanks to the subsequent rebuildings and reductions in capacity at Sincil Bank has not been exceeded to this day. Those who were there saw a visiting side who were currently placed third in the First Division behind Liverpool and Manchester City despite having lost 5-2 at Stoke the previous Saturday. Exactly half of West Ham’s match squad were made up of full internationals including recent England caps Alan Devonshire, striker Paul Goddard and defender Alvin Martin. Also included was winger Francois Van der Elst who had played for Belgium in the 1980 European Championships final.

Colin Murphy had said that he saw no reason to change City’s policy of attacking sides home and away: “We shall have a go at them from the start and try to make a game of it.” The Imps, however, made a nervous start in blustery conditions and the visitors took the lead in the 24th minute with a shot out of the blue from 35 yards by Paul Goddard which dipped and swerved all over the place to leave David Felgate helpless. In the second half City subjected the Hammers to something of a pounding, and with veteran defender Billy Bonds tormented by the speedy Gordon Hobson, and Alvin Martin having his hands full with the energetic Glenn Cockerill the Hammers defence was reduced to kicking the ball anywhere. The pressure finally told seven minutes from the end when Marshall Burke’s free kick was headed in by Derek Bell from 10 yards to set up the chance of a big pay day from the replay at Upton Park.

It was another big game at Sincil Bank the following Saturday, this time in the league and an encouraging six and a half thousand turned up for the visit of second-placed Cardiff City, newly relegated and paying their first visit to Sincil Bank since 1959. Marshall Burke had been playing for a month with a damaged toe but passed a fitness test and was able to be included in an unchanged side with young Stuart Hall again on the bench. The game was a stormy affair with Cardiff playing it hard, and after they took the lead through former Manchester City striker Dave Bennett players began throwing punches at each other when Phil Turner was felled just before half time. Things boiled over again on 59 minutes with an ‘unseemly brawl’ between Bennett and Marshall Burke which saw both players sent off. Three minutes later City were awarded a penalty for handball and Derek Bell smashed home the spot kick for his 13th goal of the season and fifth penalty. The winner for City came when Cardiff full back Paul Bodin put a back pass into his own net. The aftermath of the game saw Cardiff captain Jimmy Mullen threaten to report both Burke and Gordon Hobson to the PFA for their conduct during the match, while manager Len Ashurst was highly critical of City, accusing them of setting out to break his players’ legs. In response to these comments Gilbert Blades said he would be contacting Cardiff’s chairman to demand they were withdrawn and an apology given as they were not only offensive but “libellous and untrue.”

The Milk Cup replay with West Ham would normally have been scheduled for the following Tuesday night, but due to international commitments with Alvin Martin and Alan Devonshire included in the England squad for a European Championship qualifier in Greece the following day it was arranged for the Tuesday after that. This meant the next game was the start of the FA Cup trail with a visit to mid-table Fourth Division side Hartlepool United. Although I’d made the effort to see City play at Hartlepool a couple of years before I decided it was too much trouble to make the journey for an FA Cup game and instead went to a match elsewhere.

Followers of these chronicles may have noticed that in seasons gone by I have often mentioned games not involving the Imps that I have been to, and perhaps may or may not have noticed that I haven’t mentioned many in recent times. This is because I had more or less stopped going to any, partly due to now being in my thirties and not as young and keen as I had been, but also due to the advent of Radio Lincolnshire which meant I could stay at home when City were playing an away match I couldn’t get to and keep up to date with how the game was going. The day of this Hartlepool game was an exception with a trip to see mid-table Alliance Premier League Boston United at home to perennial Fourth Division strugglers Crewe Alexandra. Along with a chance to see ex-Imps Mark Cox and David Gilbert playing for the home side there seemed every prospect of a Cup upset, and sure enough the non-league side saw off their visitors by 3-1 with a goal from their prolific former Mansfield striker Jim Lumby and two from up-and-coming youngster Chris Cook.

It turned out I made a good choice in not bothering to go to Hartlepool as City crashed out of the FA Cup in a performance which Maurice Burton described as slip-shod and untidy. Although dominating the first half hour City failed to trouble the home side’s 5ft 7in teenage goalkeeper and fell behind to a goal from a corner just before the break. Hartlepool went further ahead with a 30-yard shot which David Felgate was unable to keep out and were in more trouble when George Shipley was sent off with an hour gone. The home side rubbed it in with a late third goal, and while the ending of City’s FA Cup involvement was maybe no bad thing considering how they had seemed to get bogged down in cup games in the same stage of the previous season, they could ill afford to be without Shipley through suspension.

The following Tuesday night was scheduled for the visit to West Ham for the Milk Cup replay. 1,500 City supporters were expected to travel, with a special train being run in addition to the usual quota of coaches. However, it turned out to be a wasted journey as a torrential downpour in the late afternoon following two days of steady rain saw the referee – who had waited as long as possible – call the match off 90 minutes before kick-off with vast areas of the pitch under water. Both managers agreed that the match could not have been played, and although some City supporters, including office staff and players’ wives were invited for drinks and sandwiches by West Ham this was small comfort to the majority who had made a wasted journey.

Gate receipts from the home game with West Ham had amounted to £26,158, which after expenses left each club with £7,835. From this City had to pay bonuses relating to appearance money for this stage of the competition, but it may be that the money made from the game allowed City to give what, in view of the upcoming suspensions of Marshall Burke and George Shipley was a much-needed strengthening of the squad. £5,000 was spent on former Boston United player Gordon Simmonite who joined from Blackpool after 70 appearances for the Fourth Division club. Ever-present at right back for the Tangerines in the current season he was described as being able to play anywhere across the back four and also in midfield.

Simmonite was on the subs’ bench for the next game at Oxford United with Stuart Hibberd fit again to replace Marshall Burke in midfield who was suspended for two games after being sent off against Cardiff. The opportunity was taken while Burke was going to be absent to have the broken toe he had been playing with in the past few games put in plaster.

After the wasted journey to east London earlier in the week there was another one for the travelling supporters at Oxford the following Saturday when the game was abandoned midway through the second half because of fog. But we – and I made the four-hour journey myself for this one – did at least see an hour of football, although with the fog having closed in after half time that’s maybe an exaggeration as from behind the goal it was impossible to see as far as the halfway line. Goal-less when it was abandoned there is no telling how the game would have ended up, but with a defeat for second-placed Newport City’s lead at the top suffered by only one point.

The Monday night saw the West Ham replay finally happen, and with Gordon Simmonite cup-tied the only change from the Oxford lineup saw young Gary Strodder get the nod over Stuart Hall on the subs’ bench. Changes to the West Ham side from the first match included Francois Van der Elst in the starting lineup in place of Alan Devonshire whose injury had forced him to miss any involvement in the recent England match, while West Ham’s regular left back Frank Lampard, Sr. came into the side after being suspended for the game at Sincil Bank.

Rather disappointingly the attendance was actually a couple of hundred fewer than at Sincil Bank as the League Cup even in those days was beginning to be less of a draw for big clubs – although West Ham’s average for the season was to be only around 22,000.

Despite taking the game to the home side the Imps fell behind in first half injury time when a high cross into the Imps’ box was not dealt with and Phil Turner ended up giving away a penalty. Although David Felgate brilliantly parried Ray Stewart’s spot kick the West Ham full back reacted quickest to fire the loose ball into the net. A deserved equaliser for City came in the 73rd minute when George Shipley put in a shot which was deflected into the net. Into extra time, and just as it was looking as if a second replay would be necessary two nights later West Ham’s Sandy Clark hit a close-range winner with four minutes remaining.

The players’ views of their chairman were made plain after the match, with Glenn Cockerill quoted as saying that when the team were allowed into West Ham’s directors’ lounge after the match Gilbert Blades walked straight out, “which to me just summed it up. It would have surprised me if he’d bought us a drink.” As for Gordon Hobson: “The chairman never even came in the dressing-room and said, ‘Well done, lads!’”