Looking Back At: 1982/83 (Part 6)

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

Part One Here

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

Part Four Here

Part Five Here



For the Wednesday night visit to Exeter City someone had responded to Colin Murphy’s plea for the donation of £125 to enable the players to have a pre-match afternoon rest in a hotel. An ‘elderly supporter’ was reported as having handed the money over to the club in fivers, asking toemain anonymous.

The squad was further depleted due to Errington Kelly having been released, perhaps due to financial circumstances and perhaps not. At any rate he now joined Fourth Division Bristol City making a handful of appearances for them in the remainder of the season. Gordon Hobson, who had managed to play against Plymouth despite his hamstring trouble now had to miss out and with Steve Thompson failing a fitness test City were really up against it. With only two fit strikers (if only it could have been four!) City were forced to revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Stuart Hibberd coming into midfield and David Carr at right back with Gordon Simmonite taking Thompson’s place in the centre. Against an Exeter side in the lower reaches of the league table City appeared to be given an advantage when Grecians’ defender David Harle was sent off after 34 minutes. However, the ten men took the lead from a free kick before half time and went further ahead not long after the break before Derek Bell pulled a goal back for a dejected-looking City side with his ninth penalty of the season. But the home side went on to make sure of victory with a third goal and further woes came with the sending-off of Gordon Simmonite a minute from time.

At the end of January City had been a point clear at the top of the division but in a huge turn around thanks to taking just two points from the last six games they were now out of the top three for the first time since mid-September, ten points off the top and two shy of a promotion place although with a game in hand.

Some worrying news for supporters came with reports that two of City’s promotion rivals were competing with each other to sign Glenn Cockerill. Huddersfield Town had offered cash, while Portsmouth were offering either cash or a player-exchange deal. The two players who might have joined City were both very much fringe players with Pompey at the time and did not seem to offer very much value in exchange for one of City’s key men. Tall striker Trevor Senior, having been signed from non-league football had made just three appearances in the current season and winger David Crown, slightly more experienced, having previously been with Brentford, had played just one game. Written offers had been received from both interested clubs, but with things currently being in limbo with the boardroom situation there was no prospect of anything happening until new directors were in place. Had the exchange deal with Portsmouth gone through City would have gained two players who ended up with career totals of nearly 350 league goals between them. Senior instead joined Reading in the summer and became top scorer in the whole of the Football League the following season.

A mystery group of unnamed businessmen were reported to be considering a bid to take over the club, but favourites were still Messrs Bocock and Houlston, in view of the fact that between them they controlled over 40% of the shares in the club. It was no surprise when both were seen in the Sincil Bank directors’ box at the next match, although Mr Bocock said that he was merely exercising his right as life president of the club to sit there and to bring a guest with him. The pair, along with Welbourn businessman Derek Overton, were there in the absence of the outgoing board who had rather wisely decided to stay away. The game, against mid-table Brentford, saw Thompson and Hobson still missing so City were forced to field an unchanged side. Young Gary Strodder continued on the bench and had to play the last half hour of the match in place of the injured Phil Turner. More gloom seemed to be on the way when the visitors took the lead midway through the first half, but City soon equalised through Glenn Cockerill and Brentford’s physical approach rebounded on them when defender Jim McNicholl was sent off and minutes later Derek Bell scored the winning goal. The first league win in eight games, it encouragingly put City back up to third place to show that promotion was still well on the cards although they were eight points off the top place they had held for so long.

At the same time as the Brentford match report was appearing on the back page of the Lincolnshire Echo the front page was occupied by an ‘Exclusive’ story that Elton John’s songwriting partner the Sleaford-born Bernie Taupin was interested in buying Lincoln City. Although the Echo was increasingly to go down the sensationalist road in its reporting of City in years to come this was something of a first, and it’s noteworthy that the story did not appear under the byline of Maurice Burton but that of a Tony Shaw. Burton was not averse to covering a bit of rumour and speculation but anything he reported on would usually have some basis in fact. It seems likely that the piece was published ‘over his head’ and was typical newspaper talk, with any ‘mounting speculation’ over the millionaire Taupin being ‘poised to put in an offer’ for the club confined to the reporter himself. It’s easy to see how two and two could be put together to make any amount of ‘speculation’: Lincoln City – Graham Taylor – Watford – Elton John – Bernie Taupin – Lincolnshire – Lincoln City. The main snag to the theory would seem to be that unlike Elton John there’s no evidence of Bernie Taupin ever having any interest in football. One item of actual news in the piece was that an offer that Gilbert Blades described as ‘derisory’ had been made for the club and rejected. This had come from the mysterious ‘unnamed businessmen’ who turned out to be a group made up of some of the club’s vice-presidents. Heneage Dove also spoke to point out that the directors had not in fact resigned but were prepared to do so if another board could be put in place and this could only happen with the agreement of the outgoing board.

Two more days went by with no further developments as the transfer deadline day for any new players to be brought in drew nearer, and which after all was what had caused the whole situation to blow up. But negotiations were clearly going on behind the scenes as what Maurice Burton in an ‘Exclusive’ this time described as a ‘dramatic swoop’ took place on the Wednesday night and a new board was in place.

As one of the chief names being bandied about it was not altogether a surprise that the new chairman was Dennis Houlston – although it was only ten months since he had resigned the post, an action which had eventually led to City’s recent crisis situation. What was a surprise was the absence of Dennis Bocock from the new board with the other three new directors being 41-year-old corn merchant John Reames, local solicitor (not another one!) Michael Pryor and Welbourn builder Derek Overton, the quartet having agreed to buy all the shares held by the outgoing board with a figure of £125,000 being quoted.

As for Dennis Bocock who found himself out in the cold, he had thought until the very evening of the last day of the negotiations that he and Houlston would be acting in partnership, with Houlston as chairman and himself as vice-chairman. “We had been walking inside each other’s boots and wouldn’t make a move without ringing each other.” He expressed himself as being deeply distressed and disillusioned at his exclusion.

The Supporters’ Club made a point of pledging their complete support to the new board and my own take on the situation is that they wouldn’t have done so if Dennis Bocock had been involved. There was very much ‘previous’ between them and in fact it was due to his actions in the past that they had changed their name to exclude Lincoln City from their name. Bocock himself had admitted as recently as the previous October that the Supporters Club had proved they wouldn’t work with him in the past and would likely work against him if he ever were to rejoin the board. It seems quite likely that this had been emphasised to Dennis Houlston by the Supporters’ Club with the consequent exclusion of Bocock from the deal.

It was evident that Houlston was everyone’s popular choice to return as chairman, especially when he announced that the immediate future of the club was to make “a big bid for promotion” and that “Colin Murphy can have his two new players if he still wants them.” Unfortunately, it appeared that City had missed their chance of signing either Ross Jack or John Thomas as the manager reported “circumstances have changed” over the past couple of weeks and it soon emerged that Norwich for one had changed their minds about parting with Jack. This meant the search for new players had to start all over again. One new signing did quickly arrive, however, with Steve Thompson still unfit 25-year-old Colin Brazier joined on a non-contract basis after being given a free transfer by Birmingham City. Starting his career with Wolves he had made almost 100 appearances for the top flight club over five seasons. After then playing in America. he had joined Birmingham in October making around a dozen appearances in the First Division.

The interest by other clubs in Glenn Cockerill now hardened into a bid of well over £100,000 from an un-named club but this was turned down by the newly in place board.

Brazier went straight into the side for the match at Bradford, but while the good news was that Gordon Hobson was fit to return the bad was that Phil Turner was now missing due to an injury sustained in the Brentford match. With Gordon Simmonite reverting to full back David Carr was left out altogether and the surprise was the inclusion of Gary Strodder in a defensive midfield role rather than Stuart Hibberd who was dropped to the bench with City continuing in a 4-4-2 formation. After an even game the home side took the lead midway through the second half and City were then up against it when Glenn Cockerill was stretchered off with Colin Brazier taking his place up front. But although a late header from Marshall Burke secured a point for the Imps this was not enough to keep them in the top three and they slipped to fifth place.

The match programme for the game was a very minimalist four pages, and as there is no price shown may have been a team sheet given out free.

The struggle to raise a team was at its height for the following Wednesday night’s trip to Oxford United to replay the game abandoned because of fog in November. Having come through a Monday night reserve game Steve Thompson was at least back in the centre of the defence, but on top of Phil Turner still not being fit and Glenn Cockerill expected to be out for two weeks following his injury at Bradford Phil Neale now had the ‘flu and Gordon Simmonite was suspended for two matches after his sending-off at Exeter. It was a strange-looking lineup that took the field at the Manor Ground with on the face of it no less than six central defenders named in the team. Gerard Creane, who had been played as a defender in more recent times came into the side up front for his first game in over a year – and which proved to be his last for the club – while Colin Brazier and David Carr filled the full back positions and Gary Strodder was once again preferred to Stuart Hibberd in midfield. Never looking cap-able of winning the match City held the home side at bay until former Birmingham striker Neil Whatmore hit the only goal of the match midway through the second half.

To cover for Cockerill’s absence a new player was brought in ahead of the home game with Chesterfield. This was 23-year-old Chris Thompson who joined on loan from Bolton Wanderers until the end of the season with a view to an eventual permanent signing. He had played around 80 games for the Second Division side, mostly as an attacking midfielder, scoring 20 goals, with 14 of these coming in the previous season when he had been top scorer for the Lancashire side. However, after just four goals in the current season he had recently lost his place. Colin Murphy was pleased with his new capture and described Thompson as Second Division standard, plus, as he said, “I feel like a tiger unleashed from a cage at being able to sign a player.”

Before the game against fourth-from-bottom Chesterfield the new chairman introduced himself and the rest of the board to the supporters on the pitch, and in his programme notes gave rather barbed thanks to the outgoing board “for all their work and endeavours even if their philosophies did not meet with the approval of most supporters”.

Chris Thompson made his debut for City up front and Phil Turner and Phil Neale both returned so it was a more familiar-looking City side with David Carr at right back as Colin Brazier who had impressed so far was missing through injury. Dennis Houlston had appealed for a big crowd to turn up (“We regard tomorrow as the start of our campaign to get promotion”) and there was at least an increase of eight hundred or so to lift the attendance to well over four thousand for the first time in four matches. City took control of the match from the start, and two goals in two minutes from George Shipley – his first since the beginning of January – midway through the first half were enough for a comfortable win against a side fourth from bottom.

There was news of two former Imps managers, with George Kerr, out of work since being sacked by Grimsby a year ago being appointed by Second Division Rotherham. Sad news was the death at the early age of 49 of Roy Chapman who had suffered a heart attack shortly after taking part in a five-a-side exhibition game.

Two days before the transfer deadline there were some ins and outs with the millstone around Colin Murphy’s neck, David Beavon, joining Northampton on a free transfer, while Gerard Creane returned to Finland for a second loan spell with the club he had spent time with the previous year. A new striker joining the squad was again neither Ross Jack nor John Thomas but the veteran Ernie Moss whose signature had been sought back in January and who now arrived from Port Vale for just £1,500 on a short-term contract after scoring 11 goals from 33 appearances in the current season. A prolific scorer in the lower divisions for several years with over 180 goals in almost 550 league games the 32-year-old was prized by Colin Murphy for being able to go straight into the side due to his ‘vast experience and ability’ and described him as having a heart of gold and being popular wherever he had played. But like the signing of Alick Jeffrey 14 years previously it was probably fair to say that as this level Moss’s best days were behind him.

Saturday’s win had moved City up a place to fourth with only goal difference keeping them out of the top three and it seemed things were back on track again although there was a note of caution from Maurice Burton who had described the opposition as “the worst Chesterfield side I have seen for years.” The next three games (two of them away) were all ‘six-pointers’ against sides in the top five but if there was a feeling of optimism ahead of the midweek visit of Newport County it all came crashing down with a 4-1 defeat. Changes made to the side saw Ernie Moss make his debut in place of the injured Hobson and Gordon Simmonite, his suspension completed, returned at right back. David Carr dropped to the bench for the match played in pouring rain on a pitch that churned up into mud. Not for the first time, that City flop Tommy Tynan returned to haunt his former club, scoring two goals including the opener after just seven minutes and a second just before the break which put his side 3-0 up and beyond City’s reach. Midfielder Steve Lowndes took advantage of City mistakes to score his second goal of the night midway through the second half and a late goal from Derek Bell was only a consolation. Colin Murphy described the performance as “A catalogue of schoolboy errors” and said Newport “must have thought it was Christmas.”

The result against Newport had seen the visitors leapfrog City into second place and the Imps were now back down to fifth, a full three points off the top three. They now had a game against another Welsh club with a first visit to Ninian Park for over 20 years to face a Cardiff City side occupying the third promotion place.

Gordon Hobson was back in the side, but with Marshall Burke now absent Chris Thompson dropped back into midfield. City were much improved defensively from midweek but it was a nervy first half from both sides before the only goal of the game came from Cardiff defender Gary Bennett following a free kick. City remained in fifth place but were now a big six points behind their hosts.


City now faced the team immediately above them with a trip to Huddersfield Town. First, though, there was the announcement of the PFA awards for the season with David Felgate, Glenn Cockerill and Trevor Peake all named in the Third Division team of the year. More good news about Cockerill was that he was fit to return to the side for the visit to Leeds Road with Ernie Moss dropping to the bench, but with Steve Thompson now injured it was fortunate that Colin Brazier had recovered from his ligament injury to take his place.

The Imps were back to something like their best in this match, with Brazier’s performance ensuring that Steve Thompson was not missed and in a tremendous game a draw was a fair result. Gordon Hobson’s first half breakaway goal was cancelled out in the second when Huddersfield defender Dave Sutton headed home a corner, but a point apiece was not what either side wanted as they both slipped a place in the table with Imps now down to sixth.

Perhaps because it was Easter Monday the attendance at Sincil Bank then held up well for the visit of Walsall despite the heavy defeat in the last home game and the record of only one point from two away games. With Steve Thompson expected to be out until the end of the month with damaged ligaments he was not missed as Colin Brazier continued in his place and gave a man of the match performance. Another new man also did well, with Ernie Moss, in for the injured Hobson, scoring his first goal for the club. Chris Thompson had also succumbed to injury but Marshall Burke was fit to return in midfield with Stuart Hibberd on the bench. Moss gave City an early lead which was soon added to by Derek Bell’s 11th penalty of the season but further goals never seemed likely, and it was perhaps fortunate that player-manager Alan Buckley’s goal for Walsall came only minutes from the end.

The win over Walsall had not improved City’s placing, but thanks to defeats for Bristol Rovers and Cardiff above them they were now only three points off a promotion place and a visit to third from bottom Millwall seemed to offer a chance of at least maintaining this position. Derek Bell, substituted against Walsall at half time due to a groin injury was missing but Gordon Hobson was able to replace him in the team. It was Hobson who scored City’s first half equaliser, but an in-and-out performance which saw too many missed opportunities by the Imps ended with a 2-1 defeat which put them back to six points off the top three. With games running out the defeat had Maurice Burton reflecting that there seemed to be something missing from the City team, and wondering whether they and Colin Murphy had the will to take the opportunity for promotion that was still just about remaining.

Supporters evidently had the same feelings as Maurice Burton and probably also following a glance at the league table the attendance for the visit of Wrexham was a thousand down on the previous home match. Once again, a change had to be made due to injury with Glenn Cockerill’s absence due to ankle trouble being balanced out by the return of Derek Bell. Loanee Chris Thompson was now fit enough to return on the bench. As with the Walsall game it was another unconvincing performance by the Imps which nevertheless produced a comfortable win. The presence on the field of two goalkeepers currently second and third choices for Wales respectively in David Felgate for Lincoln and Eddie Niedzwiecki for Wrexham kept the game scoreless at half time, but the visitors’ keeper was helpless to keep out a Phil Turner header on 47 minutes. He could also do nothing to prevent Ernie Moss tapping in a loose ball to complete the scoring later in the half which was marred by the sending off near the end of Colin Brazier and Wrexham striker Steve Buxton for fighting. Wins for Huddersfield and Portsmouth, however, enabled City to only cut the gap to third place by a single point.

It was now time for the delayed final of the Football League Trophy, and considering it was City’s first ever appearance in a national final neither the venue (Sincil Bank) nor the opposition (relegation battlers Millwall) were likely to capture the imagination. Nor did the weather help, and just 3,142 bothered to turn up in pouring rain. City were faced with selection problems again, with Glenn Cockerill having had his injured ankle put in plaster, and Derek Bell missing again with groin trouble. Other changes saw a reversion to the 4-4-2 formation that had recently been forced on the side, with Gary Strodder, who had signed professional forms prior to the match, played in midfield with David Carr given a game at right back. Millwall also had a much-changed lineup from the recent league meeting between the two teams due to several players being cup-tied. However, striker Dean Neal who scored one of his side’s goals in that match was able to play and scored two more against City. This was after City had led at half time through Marshall Burke, but after the break the visitors soon went ahead with a goal direct from a corner and Neal made it 3-1 with 20 minutes to go. The Imps then had a chance to pull a goal back but Burke’s rather tame penalty was saved by the goalkeeper. The midfielder did then get his second goal of the game but with too little time remaining to force extra time.

The Imps were finally now, as the saying goes, free to concentrate on the league, and with little margin for error they visited the side they had earlier beaten 9-0 at Sincil Bank. Things were very different now, though, but there was great interest in the fact that Bournemouth had recently signed on a short-term contract the legendary and mercurial Irishman George Best. For City, the two Thompsons were able to return to the side, fortunately so in the case of Chris as Phil Turner had suffered an ankle injury in training. With Gordon Simmonite suspended again, this time for accumulated penalty points, Colin Brazier was at right back with David Carr dropped to the bench again as the unsatisfactory formation with Gary Strodder in midfield had to be played again. Any chance City had of getting anything from the game went with their inability to put the ball in the net, and the only goal of the game scored by the Cherries’ leading scorer Trevor Morgan realistically ended City’s chances of promotion. As for the now 35-year-old Best, he was reported to have played at his own pace and in his own way and although having little effect on the match the fans loved every minute of him.

The next game saw the visit of Oxford United who were currently making the headlines after their chairman, the notorious press baron Robert Maxwell announced that he was about to acquire a controlling interest in fellow Third Division side Reading. His plan was to merge the two clubs into a new one to be named either Thames Valley Royals or possibly Thames Valley United, to play at a new ground to be built at a location such as Didcot somewhere between the two towns. Thankfully, following uproar from both sets of supporters the move was eventually to be blocked by a High Court injunction.

Derek Bell returned to the side so City were able to revert to their favoured 4-3-3 formation, but Chris Thompson was now missing with a groin injury so Stuart Hibberd was brought into the side in place of Gary Strodder who dropped to the bench. Colin Brazier was suspended following his sending-off against Wrexham while Phil Neale was now back captaining Worcestershire although there was a chance the opening County Championship game of the season would be lost to rain allowing him to play for City. However, that didn’t happen, and with Gordon Simmonite back from suspension he partnered David Carr at full back. Not surprisingly, given the way the season had petered out the attendance was below three thousand for the first time since September. In an indifferent performance, especially in midfield which Maurice Burton described as ‘woefully inadequate,’ the 1-1 draw – the first home draw of the season in the league – owed much to a magnificent performance by David Felgate. City took the lead in the third minute then Oxford striker Mick Vinter headed a corner past his own goalkeeper and from then on it was poor finishing and good goalkeeping which kept the Imps in front until midway through the second half.

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