Looking Back At: 1982/83 (Part 5)

Welcome to part five of Malcolm’s in-depth look at the 1982/83 season.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

Part Four Here

 

February

The visit to Fourth Division Chester in the semi-final of the Football League Trophy had been scheduled for the following Tuesday night, but thawing snow and rain had left their Sealand Road ground under water (more sea than land perhaps?) meaning a postponement for a week.

Preparations for a possible addition to City’s ranks seemed to progressing with two players leaving the payroll to go on loan to Alliance Premier League clubs. Reserve defender Gerard Creane returned from his spell playing in Hong Kong to join Stafford Rangers, while Stuart Naylor went to Kettering Town but would still be able to play for City’s reserves in midweek.

A new player did actually arrive, but was rather low-key in 24-year-old striker Errington Kelly who had spent a brief period on trial with City early in the previous season. He now joined on a non-contract basis after being released by Bristol Rovers having scored three goals in nine appearances for them in the current season including featuring in their recent game at Sincil Bank. However, he was not in the squad for the visit to Orient the following Saturday with the good news being the return of Derek Bell, although City’s top scorer was only fit enough to remain on the bench.

Unusually, both left backs scored, with Phil Neale just before half time equalising a goal from Orient’s David Peach as City gave an improved performance without being able to force a winner. With Cardiff losing, the Imps were now only a point behind them with two games in hand and five ahead of Portsmouth in fourth place.

Having been postponed the previous week because of rain it now seemed as if the League Trophy game at Chester might be off again this time due to frost. However, the semi-final went ahead, with City taking the opportunity to make several team changes. A change in formation saw Errington Kelly make his debut as Derek Bell was able to return with Steve White and Gordon Hobson also included in the side. Glenn Cockerill and Phil Turner were both rested and with Steve Thompson suspended for the next two matches due to accumulated penalty points David Carr was given some match time in central defence. City took the lead midway through the first half when Trevor Peake scored following a free kick but Chester equalised moments before the break through their leading scorer John Thomas. The Imps were unable to make any headway in the second half but the substitutions of Phil Turner for Marshall Burke and Glenn Cockerill for Steve White paid off when both scored in the second period of extra time to put City into their first-ever final of a national cup competition. Waiting for City in the final were fellow Third Division side Millwall with the venue, decided by the toss of a coin at Football League headquarters, to be Sincil Bank.

Snow in Lincoln then put paid to the visit of a Newport County side on the fringe of the promotion race and being without a game the Imps slipped to third place, four points behind leaders Cardiff but with three games in hand. With two wins Portsmouth had also gone a point above them but had played two games more. City were still four points ahead of Bristol Rovers a place below them and in fact had games in hand on all the teams in the top half of the table.

A real top of the table clash was then in prospect with the Wednesday night visit of Portsmouth – if the snow and frost permitted it. But the freezing temperatures eased and the remaining snow went away allowing an improved attendance of over six thousand to turn up to see a game that could be classed as a real ‘six-pointer’. Unfortunately, it was Portsmouth who went home with all the points after inflicting City’s second home defeat of the season. With Bell back in the side Steve White dropped to the bench with David Carr at right back and Gordon Simmonite given the task of filling in for Steve Thompson. Portsmouth took an early lead and then in a dominant and physically strong performance took control in the second half with two goals from centre forward Billy Rafferty putting them 3-0 up after an hour’s play.

Looking back, this defeat was really the beginning of the end for City’s promotion chances, and although the absence of Steve Thompson probably made a difference Colin Murphy put the defeat down to missed chances in the first half and failing to control the game in the second, “it was as simple as that,” he said. In fact, rumours had been rife around the city that the manager had resigned earlier in the day after a row over the acquisition of new players. It was known that Murphy had left his office at the ground and gone home, saying he would not be at the game in the evening, but this was apparently smoothed over after Gilbert Blades had gone to see him at his home. The manager later said he had not resigned and did not intend to. But all this, as Maurice Burton noted, was “not conducive to finding the right atmosphere for such an important fixture.”

Before the visit to Doncaster the following Saturday Steve White returned to Charlon a week before the end of his loan period, due to what Colin Murphy described as “the difficulties at the club.” Reading between the lines, this was perhaps a desire to get him off the payroll. Errington Kelly was therefore the substitute named for the trip to Belle Vue with David Carr continuing in defence. Up to the end of December the Imps had drawn only one league match away from home, but they now made it three in a row against a side third from bottom. After Gordon Hobson had given City the lead the scores were level at the break and although Derek Bell blasted home a penalty just after the hour mark City were pegged back again ten minutes later for what had to be looked on as two points lost.

Moving on from his loan spell with Kettering was Stuart Naylor as he now joined Peterborough United on a similar basis, going on to play eight Fourth Division games for them filling in for their injured first choice keeper, a teenaged David Seaman.

The Football League Trophy final had been due to be played against Millwall the following Tuesday night, but City’s request for a postponement in order to concentrate on their league programme was agreed to. This allowed the fitting in of the visit from Southend postponed from early January on the usual Wednesday night. Whether it was due to an England match being shown on TV the same night, or more likely due to City’s recent poor form the attendance was down to just 4,000.

Although Steve Thompson was back after his suspension David Carr now had to move into midfield as the latest absentee was Phil Turner, suffering from flu. “We are becoming stretched to the limit,” said Colin Murphy. Things got worse within minutes of the start of the match when Gordon Hobson pulled a hamstring and had to be replaced before half time by Errington Kelly. After a first half display that Maurice Burton described as “dismal” he went on to categorise what happened afterwards as “positively disastrous” and it was no more than their mid-table visitors deserved when they won the match six minutes from time with a goal from prolific scorer Steve Phillips. While there was no change in City’s league position, they had now used up one of their games in hand.

This defeat and the manner of it really brought things to a head, and at the end of the match a handful of City spectators gathered to hurl abuse at Gilbert Blades with the chairman saying he agreed it was “rubbish” but objected to the language used. Colin Murphy admitted the team were “terrible,” saying it was clear the side could no longer be patched up and expect to win promotion. Lennie Lawrence, now at Charlton really summed up the situation with the shrewd comment that the players had taken all Colin Murphy’s problems onto the field with them.

The nature of these problems became evident when it was reported Murphy had been unable to proceed with his plans to bring two new players to the club that day. Norwich City’s Ross Jack had seemingly finished thinking over a move to Lincoln and terms had been agreed for his transfer for a fee usually thought to be £20,000, while Chester striker John Thomas, who had scored for them in the recent League Trophy game was also ready to join City for an agreed fee of £12,500.

It was perhaps surprising that two strikers were being sought, as although there was certainly a need for one to act as cover or provide an alternative to the usual front three, the general opinion was that cover was needed in central defence, or perhaps in midfield where Maurice Burton for one was of the opinion that a strong, dominant midfielder would be a good addition, “has anyone seen a 20-years-old edition of Trevor Meath?”. It could be that a new striker would have allowed Glenn Cockerill to provide that strong presence in midfield – although he was such a key part of City’s style up front – or it may be that Thomas in particular was earmarked to take Derek Bell’s place in the side. Strange as that thought seems it was nevertheless a fact that Marshall Burke had come into the side when nobody thought Stuart Hibberd was doing a bad job, and equally there had been no thought that David Carr was in line for being replaced as had happened with Gordon Simmonite coming in.

But speculation about how Jack and Thomas would be fitted into the side was all academic as the signings were vetoed by the directors with Gilbert Blades saying “there is just no money in the kitty to buy anyone at present.” He said the club would just have to manage with the players they had got, and pointedly made a reference to a player having been signed for £25,000 who “can’t get into the team”. This of course was David Beavon, who although having returned along with Gerard Creane from his spell in Hong Kong, might just as well still have been on the other side of the world as far as his closeness to the first team was concerned.

Financial director Heneage Dove, when launching a fundraising scheme which would allow anyone to pledge up to £100 to the club to be repaid if promotion was not achieved, echoed his chairman’s comments on the lack of any new players coming in. Basically, his view was that the squad of players who had won so many points up to the turn of the year were perfectly capable of doing the same in the remainder of the season. “Any strangers need time to adjust.”

If the defeat to Southend had been the straw that broke the camel’s back the game against Plymouth three days later crippled it for life. On the eve of the game things began to escalate when Colin Murphy called a meeting of his staff and players at the Grand Hotel.

The manager said that he felt the players deserved to be made aware of what was going on at the club and they made it clear they were aggrieved at the board’s refusal to sanction the expenditure to bring in Ross Jack and John Thomas – especially as the reason for them agreeing to the cut in their bonuses earlier in the season was in the belief that the saving was to allow new players to be brought in. Murphy was also able to inform the players of a proposal by Heneage Dove that if they agreed to a further one-third cut in their anticipated promotion bonuses this could fund the purchase of Jack and Thomas. This was refused.

Although the players admitted to having played badly against Southend, they were upset at the chairman saying they were ‘rubbish’ (although Colin Murphy had himself used the word ‘terrible’). As a protest, team captain Trevor Peake asked to be put on the transfer list, with Steve Thompson echoing the feelings of several of the others when he said that if they could not play in the Second Division with Lincoln City they would go elsewhere: “If Gilbert Blades is not prepared to help us, we have to go out and help ourselves.”

Money was apparently so tight that Colin Murphy had to put himself in what he described as the embarrassing position of making an appeal for someone to come up with the sum of £125 to enable the players to take a rest in a hotel before the match at Exeter the following Wednesday night after travelling down to Devon in the morning.

Letters now began to appear in the press, all in favour of new players being brought in, with one supporter foreshadowing a sentiment that has appeared frequently in more recent times, “This is the best chance we have ever had to get back our Second Division status.” The feeling of all was that money should be spent on new players to increase the chances of promotion even if it meant taking a financial risk – it was also pointed out that visiting supporters from Second Division clubs would mean higher attendances. As an aside, there would likely have been some truth in this as the clubs City would have been rubbing shoulders with on promotion included the likes of Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Leeds United and Derby County. A Mr K. Riach likened the situation to the lack of ambition shown in 1977 when, according to him, Graham Taylor left due to the board refusing to fund the signing of “new players who might have guaranteed City Second Division football,” and ended by saying “If Mr Blades and co. cannot back the manager let them pack up and hopefully let somebody in who will.”

Things began to escalate on the Friday night within hours of the report on the Grand Hotel meeting appearing in the Echo when graffiti was daubed on outbuildings at Gilbert Blades’s Burton Road home with the simple message: “You’re killing LCFC – step down now.” The chairman said he didn’t so much object to the slogan as to the criminal damage to his property. For Maurice Burton this was going too far, whatever feelings people had about Mr Blades’ chairmanship of the club, suggesting that the vandals, rather than spending their money on paint and brushes should chip in their cash to help the club.

In the middle of all this a football match had to be played with the visit to Sincil Bank of a mid-table Plymouth Argyle side. Good news was that Gordon Hobson and Phil Turner were both fit to play so City were back to full strength, with Errington Kelly named as substitute to the exclusion of David Carr, not in the first team squad for a long time.

Inserted into the match programme was a form for the Sponsorship for Promotion scheme recently outlined by Heneage Dove as in his programme notes the chairman reiterated that there was no money available for new players. He also, cryptically or otherwise, commented on the fact that the team had only won one out of six games since the trip to Majorca. “Perhaps a lesson can be learned from this.” This sentiment was later echoed by Heneage Dove, saying that it appeared promotion was being celebrated before it had been won. In fact, and in fairness, Colin Murphy himself later admitted to his biographer that in hindsight the trip had been a mistake.

Lincoln journalist and lifelong Imps supporters Andy Blow, currently working for Yorkshire TV was behind an idea to raise £10,000 within ten days to sign at least one of the new players Colin Murphy wanted. The manager gave his full blessing to the scheme which would have involved people and organisations each giving £100 and it was said that discussions would take place after that afternoon’s match. It appears that due to what happened following the Plymouth game this scheme and that of the directors were both overtaken by events and nothing more was heard of them.

The attendance was down below four thousand for the first time in four months and the match took place in what Maurice Burton described as ‘an incredibly false atmosphere’ with a police presence in front of the main stand from the start. They were there ready for a planned demonstration which had been co-ordinated that morning on the then-fashionable CB or Citizens Band Radio. Leaflets were also being distributed around the ground calling for the resignation of the board.

Before the start of the match, it was cheers for the team and jeers for the directors before the game settled down with City doing well and taking the lead with a Derek Bell penalty for his 25th goal of the season. But Plymouth equalised out of the blue in the second half and City, now looking nervous, conceded a second goal with eight minutes to go. With the crowd looking really restless there was the worry that the planned demonstration would turn ugly. But the police cordon in front of the directors’ box held firm to keep the crowd at a distance as the players quickly left the field and Colin Murphy went to his office where he told Maurice Burton he would be resigning – “I have had the heart ripped out of me.”

Around 400 protesters then gathered behind the main stand to make their feelings known in a demonstration that was well controlled by the police and although it was described as generally good-humoured that did not apply to the reception given to the chairman and directors. An hour after the match ended Colin Murphy came out to address everyone, saying he would deal with the situation, “You can’t blame Mr Blades for the performance this afternoon.” The crowd only began to disperse when Murphy appealed to them to go home, “for my sake, and for the sake of the players.”

Gilbert Blades who had to be given a police escort home put the blame for the demonstration on the manager, particularly his unforgivably having called the Friday meeting of the players, “It was the most diabolical thing a manager could do,” and said all the ‘mob hysteria’ had stemmed from that. He was, however, being either naïve or unrealistic when he alleged everything was going well and “everyone was in a good humour until Plymouth scored their winning goal.” He said he couldn’t forgive Colin Murphy for getting the crowd against the directors and that he should have been training the players for the game on the Friday instead of getting them talking to the media about club politics. It appears the chairman was unaware that after the meeting the players had then gone on to have their usual full training session. As for Colin Murphy, “He has his head in the clouds…and thinks he is managing Manchester United. He should look at our gates and relate things accordingly.”

Letters continued to come in to the Echo in support of the manager and criticising the “narrow-minded and amateurish” decisions of the board, and while there was a recognition that Gilbert Blades had spent many years supporting the club the overwhelming feeling was that money should be provided for new players to help the club progress.

On the Sunday evening, after apparently a day of receiving death threats and abuse by telephone, Gilbert Blades convened a board meeting following which it was announced he and all the directors had resigned.

When the news broke on the Monday morning one caller to Radio Lincolnshire was delighted with the news, apparently with the idea that with no board of directors it meant the club would have to close down resulting in the end of football hooliganism around the city which was apparently her main concern.

In reality, it meant the existing board would continue in control of the club until their shares could be purchased by a new individual or group who would form a new board of directors. The sum of £250,000 was mentioned as being the necessary amount needed, and speculation mounted as to who might be interested. No surprise that the ‘usual suspect’ Dennis Bocock was one of those mentioned, along with recent former chairman Dennis Houlston and former director Reg Brealey. Of the outgoing directors, it ended a 17-year spell on the board by Heneage Dove who said he was not prepared to change his views that keeping a club solvent should be the main priority. Vic Withers, the most recent recruit to the board and chairman of the Supporters’ Club said that having lost credibility with the majority of the fans it would have been stupid to go on.

One of the organisers of the demonstration against the board hailed their resignation as “Fantastic news. Now perhaps we can have directors who will buy players,” while Colin Murphy professed to be amazed at the resignations, “It’s none of my business – my job is the football side, not politics.” The city council – owners of Sincil Bank – pointed out their interest in the club and that one of the conditions of their purchase of the ground was that the club put their financial house in order “…and they were certainly doing this.”

Dennis Bocock initially emerged as the front runner to take the club over, but Reg Brealey, also mentioned, said that while he was prepared to help the club financially if asked, he could not become a board member again – not surprisingly as he was currently chairman of Sheffield United. He went on to say that he expected Mr Bocock would ‘come to the rescue.’ Dennis Houlston was cagey about his intentions when interviewed by the Echo, “You have caught me too early in the morning.”

Mr Joseph Wheater, one of the chief critics of the selling of Sincil Bank to the council back in the summer cropped up again in ‘I told you so’ mode – “I predicted all this would happen…and now my words have come true.”

In amongst all excitement there was some football played on the Monday night against Boston FC in a match arranged to have a look at the visitors’ defender John Cockerill, brother of City’s Glenn. A side made up of youngsters plus David Carr, Stuart Hibberd, Gerard Creane and David Beavon were beaten 2-1 by their Northern Counties East League visitors.