Looking Back At: 1982/83 (Part Seven)

Welcome to the final part 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

Part Six Here 




The draw against Oxford had seen City slip to seventh place and they remained there after a Monday night visit to Preston when a second successive 1-0 away defeat put an end to even mathematical hopes of promotion. Fortunately, Phil Neale was able to play with David Carr the latest to succumb to a groin injury. With problems in midfield Gary Strodder was given another game there in place of Stuart Hibberd. More problems came when Derek Bell had to go off with less than half an hour played to be replaced by Hibberd which meant a reversion again to a 4-4-2 formation. Although City had started well, as the game went on they found that hard work and endeavour was not enough and they could find no reply to former Newcastle United striker Alan Gowling’s goal in the second half.

The following Saturday was the latest example of City visiting a ground for a league match for over 20 years. This was Bramall Lane and there was good news for the game with Sheffield United with the return to fitness of Glenn Cockerill and Phil Turner. Colin Brazier was also back after his suspension and was at right back with Gordon Simmonite on the left. Bell’s absence was covered by Ernie Moss so it was back to 4-3-3 for the Imps. It was Cockerill who sealed City’s best away performance for many weeks with the only goal of the match midway through the first half to produce a first away league win in a run of 13 games stretching back to New Year’s Day.

For a change – now it was too late – an unchanged team was fielded for the last game of the season which saw a visit from mid-table Gillingham. Unsurprisingly there was a further fall in the attendance by several hundred to just 2,241, the kind of figure which was to become all too typical of the next few seasons. A second win in a row, something last achieved at the beginning of January, came despite City falling behind to a first half goal from future Irish international Tony Cascarino. But an equaliser soon came from George Shipley, and two second half goals from Marshall Burke sealed a confident performance from the Imps. The win moved them up one place in the table for a final placing of sixth, 15 points off the top spot they had held for so long and six shy of a promotion place.

Glenn Cockerill was deservedly voted as Player of the Season, and although contributing a modest total of just eight goals in the league his value to the side was immense – as I overheard a Sheffield United supporter say on my way out of Bramall Lane after he had won the match for City, “Stop Cockerill and you stop Lincoln.” It was no coincidence that City’s poor end of season run came when injury kept him out of the side for more games than he played in. Second place in the voting was taken by Trevor Peake while Phil Turner took the Young Player of the Year award for the second year in a row.

Although with just one point fewer than the previous season City finished two places lower, and leaving aside the off the field upheavals which derailed the season it can be seen that it was their away record that let them down with two thirds of their 76 points being gained in home matches compared to a more even split the year before. While the defence was more leaky, the total of 77 goals scored has not been beaten in a league season to this day. 55 of these came in home matches (nine of them in one game of course) and again this figure is one that has not since even been approached in a Football League season.

If the team’s form in the previous season could be divided into three parts, this time it fell almost exactly into two halves. Up to the 24th game of the season, the 2-1 home win over Bristol Rovers, City had gained 52 points from 24 games with only six defeats and had won all but one of the rest. The next 22 games in contrast produced only six wins for a total of only 24 points – practically relegation form. What really killed things were the three home defeats in a row in February which led to the new board taking over. By then, and although money had reportedly been made available for new signings, Colin Murphy’s two main targets Ross Jack and John Thomas were no longer available. It almost seems as if no contingency plans had been made for this and although three new players did arrive, the one transfer fee paid out (for Ernie Moss) was minimal. So in effect, any new money available went on an increased wage bill rather than being spent in the transfer market. The new signings were all rather low-key but they did at least strengthen the squad so City no longer had to resort to naming schoolboys on the bench (or fielding goalkeepers at centre forward). The best of them was probably Colin Brazier, with the bonus that he was capable of playing at full back, as well as in the centre, although injuries and suspensions didn’t help his availability. Also helpfully versatile was Chris Thompson although injuries meant he missed as many games as he played in – and his record of no goals from six games was not what was wanted at the time. Moss at least kept his fitness meaning he was always available to step in for the injured Bell or Cockerill, but he could manage only two goals from 11 appearances – very likely the worst scoring ratio of his entire career.

With the team almost picking itself in the first half of the season what one might call the usual 11 players appeared in 40 or more of the total of 59 league and cup games in the season with Trevor Peake appearing in every one of them. Missing just one game was George Shipley whose 11 goals saw him reach double figures for the third season in a row. Along with Peake, David Felgate appeared in every league game being rested for just two of the early League Trophy games.

Top scorer was Derek Bell with 29 goals (11 of them penalties) from 40 games which was the best season of his career. Gordon Hobson finished with 16 from 54 games, while third highest was Glenn Cockerill with 12 from 50 games. Marshall Burke contributed 7 from midfield while Tony Cunningham hit 7 from his 10 games early in the season (four of them penalties). No one else managed more than four (Phil Turner).

The average league attendance was 4,781, a figure not to be exceeded for another 20 years. This was around 500 up on the previous season as City’s promotion challenge soon became clear, only of course tailing off towards the end of the season. This total made City sixth best in the division which was a big improvement on being sixth worst for the previous season as attendances throughout football fell for the third year in a row, dipping below 20 million for the first time since the war. Again, the economic situation in the country could be held partly responsible for this with high numbers of unemployed and an inflation rate only recently reduced to single figures.

Elsewhere in football, for the first time in seven years an English club failed to win the European Cup with both Aston Villa and Liverpool eliminated at the quarter-final stage. The Merseyside club however had the consolation of winning the double of the Football League championship and the League Cup for the second year in a row. For once it was a bleak year for English clubs in Europe with none surviving past the second round of either of the other two competitions. Runners-up to Liverpool in the league were Graham Taylor’s Watford with their highest-ever league finish. For the third year in a row the FA Cup final went to a replay with Manchester United, third in the league, beating Brighton – who finished bottom – 4-0 in their third visit to Wembley making up for losing to Liverpool in the Milk Cup final.

My favourite game: Manchester United v Brighton, 1983 FA Cup final replay |  Sport | The Guardian

Relegated from the top division along with Brighton were Swansea City, down after two seasons and Manchester City, their relegation sealed by a last-day home defeat by Luton Town. Replacing this trio were Second Division champions Queen Park Rangers, back up after four years, and runners-up Wolves who were bouncing straight back after almost going out of business before the start of the season. Back up after two seasons were Leicester City who finished a single point ahead of Fulham who had just pipped City to promotion from the Third Division a year before. Going down to the Third were Rotherham who had finished as high as seventh the year before, Milk Cup semi-finalists Burnley, back down after one season, and bottom club Bolton who had only narrowly escaped relegation a year before.

Going back up from the Third Division after one season were Cardiff City. Ahead of them were champions Portsmouth who after slumping from the second to fourth divisions in recent years now recovered their former status after seven seasons. In the throes of a similar but longer revival were third placed Huddersfield Town back up to the second tier after ten seasons in the basement divisions. Relegated by a point were Reading with Wrexham not far behind them as they were relegated for the second year in a row to become the lowest-placed of the four Welsh clubs. Well adrift of these two were Doncaster Rovers, back down after two seasons, and bottom club Chesterfield who a couple of years before had tried unsuccessfully to spend their way out of the division in an upward direction. Of note is 19th-placed Exeter City’s distinction of being the first club for 20 years to concede over 100 league goals and not be relegated or seek re-election. As it turned out the 81 goals they scored – the fourth highest in the division – were enough to enable them to finish two places above Reading.

Almost scoring 100 goals were Fourth Division champions Wimbledon whose yo-yo existence continued with their third promotion from the division in their six seasons as a league club. Their haul of 98 points also set a new record in only the second season of three points for a win. Also promoted were runners-up Hull City, back up after two seasons, Port Vale after five, and Scunthorpe United, aided by 25 goals from the division’s top scorer, recent ex-Imp Steve Cammack. Another former Imp was involved in Blackpool reaching the lowest point in their history by having to seek re-election. Managed by Sam Ellis in his first managerial job their cause was not helped by a points deduction for fielding an ineligible player.

A point behind the Tangerines were Hartlepool United who had been doing a little better of late and had not troubled the AGM for the last four years. Further adrift were Crewe who had more cause to worry as it was their fourth application in five seasons, while for bottom club Hereford United, who had only been a league club for ten years it was their third time in the last four. Alliance Premier League champions Enfield for the second year in a row failed to satisfy the ground grading requirements so instead, runners-up Maidstone United were put forward for election. However, all four retiring clubs got back in, Crewe and Hereford surprisingly comfortably so. But it was Hartlepool, who had the lowest attendance figures in the league, with two games attracting less than a thousand spectators, who were closest to losing their place beating Maidstone by just ten votes.


The first rumblings for the formation of a ‘Super League’ were starting to be heard, led by the ‘big five’ clubs of the time, with Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, threatening a breakaway if they could not negotiate a larger share of gate receipts, television money and other League revenues. This led to the production of a report by the economist (and Manchester United supporter) Sir Norman Chester which included various proposals, including that the Football League be reduced to 64 clubs with the remainder merging with the Alliance Premier League to form an ‘intermediate league’. The one significant change to come out of the report, and which clearly worked to favour the big clubs was that in future a share of the receipts from home matches would no longer have to be given to the visiting club.

Maurice Burton just about summed up City’s season – which he described as arguably the most disappointing in the club’s history – in saying that City would never have a better chance of promotion than they had at Christmas. His view, as with most of us was that this could have been achieved if the team had been strengthened in January. He pointed out that with players such as Trevor Peake, Glenn Cockerill and David Felgate each worth six figures in the transfer market money could have been spent on bringing in new players with the knowledge that it could have been recovered by selling any one of these if promotion had not been obtained. Instead, things fell apart and that chance evaporated in a bitter and acrimonious argument which had already gone on for most of the season before erupting completely. Colin Murphy might have seen off the board (intentionally or not) but during the time leading up to the upheaval Maurice Burton reported that his attitude had been strangely muted. Once things had settled down again, he was said to be ‘back to his shouting best’ but things were never to be quite the same again for him during the rest of his first spell with City.

For everyone’s favourite villain of the piece, Gilbert Blades, a couple of things should be said for him. There seems no doubt he was as much a supporter of the club as anyone, but with never any ambitions to be chairman, had only got the job on the resignation of Dennis Houlston because nobody else wanted it. Also, whether or not selling the ground to the council was the best way of solving City’s problems, once it was done, he was bound by financial restrictions which went with it resulting in the cutbacks in staffing costs (notably the players, of course). Overall, though, one is left with the feeling that he was the wrong man in the wrong job.

The unfortunate thing about all the off-field problems is that it so overshadowed the team’s achievements on the pitch, and as Dennis Houlston said at the height of the row “the Lincoln public may never see at Lincoln City a team again quite so good as the one at the present time.”

Well, ‘never’ is a big word – but it was to be nearly 40 years before they did.