Looking Back: Scunthorpe 1996

What a time 1996 was. I remember it well, I chucked in my A Levels and decided to go out into the world to find my fame and fortune. I left school in February 1996, and by March I still hadn’t found a job. Not that I cared very much, the Mighty Imps had been taken over by John Beck, the European Championships were just around the corner and personally I liked getting up at noon with just football and beer to worry about.

The 1995/96 season had been far from a classic though. David Puttnam and Dean West had given us an opening day win against eventual league winners Preston North End, but just a few months later manager Sam Ellis was sacked and both players (both favourites of mine) were gone. A few weeks after Ellis was sacked, his successor Steve Wicks, was also sacked. In came John Beck, the manager who had taken Cambridge up through the leagues. He made us robust, tough to beat and just a little bit ugly. We were like the modern day Barrow: nobody liked us and we didn’t care, because we started to get results. After all when you’re bottom of the league, nobody cares how you win, you just have to win.

Despite our new found resilience, we were still flawed. February 17th saw us lose 7-1 away at Bury to remain in the bottom four, but on March 2nd we completed a double over Fulham, winning 2-1. That brought us into our derby match against Scunthorpe, three games unbeaten.

Early in the season we’d drawn 2-2 with them at the Bank, courtesy of goals from Udo ‘Boom Boom Boom’ Onwere (penalty) and former Iron hero Tony Daws. Onwere was still in the side, but Daws was long gone, as were most of the side that opened with a win at Deepdale.

City were still in the mire, although Torquay were a long way adrift and heading for the only relegation spot. The Fulham win had put some space between us and those grasping to stay above The Gulls, but an away trip to mid table Scunthorpe looked tricky, and defeat could see us dragged back into the struggle.

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A youthful Ainsworth

 

The Imps lined up as follows: Barry Richardson, Terry Fleming, Jon Whitney, Colin Alcide, John Robertson, Grant Brown, Gareth Ainsworth, Jason Barnett, David Johnson, Udo Onwere and Matt Carbon. On the bench for City was Phil Daley, Steve Brown and Alan Johnson

City fans had been used to seeing inconsistent football, and Scunthorpe fans hadn’t had it much better. There was just 2411 in the ground to witness the Lincolnshire derby, but they were treated to a real spectacle.

City dominated the first half, taking a deserved lead after Gareth Ainsworth seized on a weak back pass and beat Iron keeper Mark Samways. From there City threatened to add more goals to their tally, and keep the unbeaten streak going. Jason Barnett hit the post after good work from Magic Johnson. The 7-1 defeat at Layer Road seemed years away as the direct football brought us chance after chance. At half time City were still 1-0 up and Scunthorpe were lucky to have nil.

Less than 20 minutes into the second half the Iron had turned it around. John Eyres scored a smart volley just six minutes after the teams came out, and 13 minutes later Phil Clarkson thundered a 20 yard drive past a despairing Richardson. 2-1 down, The Imps needed a response.

On 78 minutes John Beck went made a change. He hauled off  Udo Onwere, and brought on forward  Steve Brown. Brown had three goals to his name, and wasn’t a renowned game changer, but City had to do something. Brown was a ‘tryer’ if you like, a man that would run through brick walls, but occasionally would just bounce off them. Like an enthusiastic puppy he’d just get back up and charge at the wall again. Everyone likes a tryer.

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Steve Brown

 

Steve Brown’s first touch led to a City equaliser. He’d been on the pitch a matter of seconds when he delivered a teasing cross into the box. Samways faltered  and the clinical boot of Gareth Ainsworth lifted the ball into the air, over the marooned keeper and into the back of the net. City had (at least) rescued a point.

Beck then sent on the target man Daley at the expense of winger David Johnson. Daley wasn’t a complicated player, he’d had a good spell in the early part of 1994/95, but had been a bit part player in the current campaign. Injury and poor form had restricted him to a handful of appearances, and it appeared as if he were heading for the door in May.

That may have been the case, but he intended to write his name in the history books, and with just four minutes on the clock he did just that. A trademark long throw from Jason Barnett was met first time by the head of Daley, and it crept past the keeper to give City a 3-2 lead, a lead they defended resolutely until the final whistle. I can’t remember the final few minutes of the game, my floppy 90’s curtains dangled in my eyes as I desperately celebrated as if we’d won the cup. Even today I struggle to remember anything if we’re hanging on to a lead. as it was we did hang on. Within weeks The Prodigy hit number one with Firestarter, and the floppy curtains were gone. By the time they hit the top of the charts with Breathe, Phil Daley was gone too.

He only played one more game for City before being given a free transfer at the end of the season, along with David Johnson. The arrival of a big Dutchman called Gijsbert Bos pretty much put paid to Phil Daley’s hopes of remaining at the club.

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Phil Daley: All 90’s haircut and classic Imps shirt

 

City stumbled their way to safety, eventually finishing 18th on 53 points, 24 points clear of the relegation spots. John Beck began a remodelling campaign that ultimately led to our 1998 promotion. As for Scunthorpe, they finished just seven points ahead of us and our battle resumed the following season, where without Phil Daley to perform last-minute heroics they gained revenge at Glumford, beating us 2-0.

As for me, I found a job in June of 1996 and enjoyed the halcyon summer drinking, working and watching England ultimately lose at football. Britpop was in full flow and my football team were gaining some pride, even if the style didn’t really give us the dignity to match. Every new number one seemed to bring a new style or haircut as I lived out the dream of youth.

That wonderful summer promised so much, if only I’d known what I had to look forward to as I was on the way back from Glumford Park that night. If I had, I wouldn’t have been sick out of my bedroom window after we lost to Germany, and I most certainly would not have tried to blame it on the dog.

 

 

 

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Looking back – Cambridge 1989

Having written about Malcolm Dunkley and the 3-0 over Cambridge 28 years ago, it got me thinking about another great Imps v Cambridge match I witnessed. It was still 1989, but this was Boxing Day of the following season.

Malcolm Dunkley had gone by then, but Lincoln still had two of the most exciting forwards I care to remember on the books, Paul Smith and Gordon Hobson. Hobson in particular was a favourite of mine. He had spent most of the early part of the 1989/90 season injured, and just a couple of weeks prior to the Boxing Day clash he’d presented my granddad with a signed football for his birthday. That was ahead of a 3-1 home reverse to Gillingham, and without Hobson, City looked a little toothless.

Paul Smith had also been injured for the early part of the year, and Lincoln were relying on Mark Sertori and new signing Matt Carmichael for goals. Carmichael had netted two in two at the start of the season, but after taking six wins from seven, City started to struggle for goals. We’d only hit more than two on one occasion in the first part of the season, an away win at Torquay. We’d failed to score seven times, and scored just once on another seven occasions.

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Imps 1989/90

 

We still sat 7th on Boxing day, just three points ahead of Cambridge in 13th. They came with a collection of players who would go on to achieve good things in football, including Dion Dulin, Lee Philpott and Alan Kimble. This was the fledgling side that John Beck built, and he was assistant manager to Chris Turner.

It wasn’t a classic Imps line up that day, but a few names stood out from the rest. The team sheet read: Andy Gorton, John Schofield, Dave Clarke, Mark Cook, Steve Thompson, Darren Davis, Alan Roberts, Graham Bressington, Gordon Hobson, Paul Smith, and Matt Carmichael. The one substitutes were Phil Brown and Mark Sertori.

City started the brightest of the two sides. Scoring goals may have been a problem, but creating chances was not and in just the second minute a Gordon Hobson cross was deflected past John Vaughan by a despairing Colin Bailie. One nil City.

Cambridge were level on the half hour mark. Phil Chapple stuck a hopeful shot towards goal, and after a wicked deflection it beat Andy Gorton in the Imps goal. Gorton had missed three games after being dropped in favour of veteran Mark Wallington, but despite two clean sheets in three games by Wallington, the eccentric keeper from Oldham got his place back.

Gorton made just 20 appearances for City, and this game was his 17th. Young defender Mark Cook made just seven, and this was his sixth. After 51 minutes he handballed in the area, and Alan Kimble netted for Cambridge to put them 2-1 up. City hadn’t scored two in a game since late October, and it looked like the writing was on the wall.

The Imps lost full back Dave Clarke to injury, and that meant a Phil Brown, who hadn’t been seen all season.

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Alan Roberts whips in a cross

 

Moments after the Cambridge penalty the energetic Hobson made in 2-2. He was held down in the area by Kimble whilst challenging for the ball, and the ref duly evened things up with another spot kick. As a young child I was delighted to see my families favourite player net from the spot to level things up.

My joy was short lived. Matt Carmichael managed to rasp a fantastic drive past the keeper, but unfortunately it was Gorton that was beaten and not Vaughan. My young eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, especially not after such a stellar display from City. I hadn’t bore witness to many own goals in my time, and that was one right out of the top drawer! Aside from Hobson both Carmichael and Paul Smith had been brilliant, and whilst the game hadn’t been one for the purists, it was exciting for a spectator.

City hadn’t scored more than two at home since April the season before, but the goal starved spectators finally got what they craved just four minutes from time. It was Carmichael who made amends for his earlier own goal, poking in after a goalmouth scramble. Alan Roberts had gone close too, Roberts was a club record signing from Sheffield United at the time, and much was made of his potential threat.

As the minutes ticked away I remembered being almost satisfied that we’d grabbed a draw, but Lincoln City weren’t. Mark Cook hit the bar, as did the GMVC hero Phil Brown. Deep into injury time it was another player from the Vauxhall Conference days, Paul Smith, that made it a Merry Christmas in our household. Wave after wave of Imps attacks were thwarted, but in the very last minute a cross landed on the ginger bonce of the former Poet Vale man, and I had a new hero. 4-3 City, and suddenly I was proud to have ginger hair.

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With his ginger mullet, Paul Smith might not have been a style icon for many: he was for me.

 

Unfortunately it was not the catalyst for a City surge up the table in the second half of the season. Our next three points Came on February 3rd against Wrexham, a debutant Tony Lormor with the goal. Alan Roberts had suffered a career ending injury on New Years Day, Mark Cook suffering the same fate in the same match. Colin Murphy looked to bolster his squad and signed not just Lormor but also David Puttnam. In April Paul Smith dropped back into the full back position, and at the end of the season Hobson left, as did Murphy. City had finished 10th, just three points outside the play-off race. The end of season lottery was more than within our grasp, but just one win in our last seven games saw us slide away from contention. The season ended with a shocking 5-1 home defeat by Exeter, a result that no doubt decided the fate of Colin Murphy.

As for Cambridge, they lost manager Chris Turner a few weeks after being beaten by Lincoln, and the assistant manager John Beck stepped up. A 2-1 win against the Imps in April saw them make a late push into the play-offs, which they went on to win. It wasn’t long before his brand of ‘football’ had won him many plaudits but few friends.

A debut to remember

City’s debutant striker Dayle Southwell has taken just eight minutes to open his Lincoln City account. Imps fans will look forward to seeing him in further action for us, but 28 years ago to the day another debutant also had a goal scoring first outing.

On February 4th 1989 City were due to play Cambridge United in league action. The U’s were 10th, City 11th and both teams still harboured hopes of a play off spot. City had a plethora of forward players to choose from, GMVC heroes McGinley and Phil Brown were still around the side, as was record signing Paul Smith. Gordon Hobson was still on the Imps books too, as well as Mark Sertori. A new face seemed unlikely, and even if one was imminent the fans would be none the wiser.

As The Imps came out there was an unfamiliar face in the City line up. At 6’5 Malcolm Dunkley wasn’t inconspicuous, and as a youngster I remember my Dad asking me ‘who the flip is that?’ Even as a 10 year old I was already becoming more of an authority on the Imps as my old man!! This was the days before the internet, so I confess I didn’t know who he was either. If only we’d had Wikipedia in 1989!

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Malcolm Dunkley had been signed from Finnish side Rovaniemen Palloseura at the end of the Scandavian country’s domestic season, and he went straight into the side with Bob Cumming dropped. He looked unorthodox, perhaps one might describe him as clumsy. Those that did (my Dad)  were soon eating their words: Dunkley had a stormer.

He opened the scoring with a superb twenty yard strike that made every one of the 3239 fans sit up and take note. Future Imps keeper John Vaughn was left grasping thin air (something we found he was good at in later life) and the ball nestled in the net right in front of me in the Railway End. I’ll never forget the look of bewilderment on Vaughn’s face.

Not long after Dunkley added a second via a header, giving the Imps an unassailable two goal lead. Gordon Hobson seized on a weak back pass to round the hapless keeper for a third, and gave City a comprehensive win.

The win meant City swapped places with Cambridge, and Dunkley was back on the score sheet again a week later as we got beat 3-2 at Hereford. Gordon Hobson added one that day too, and the pair looked to be forging a meaningful partnership up top.

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John Vaughn looks astonished as City go 1-0 up.

 

Dunkley only scored once more for The Imps in a 2-1 defeat at Darlington. His early promise faded as he began to look out of place in an ambitious Imps side. Paul Smith returned from injury, Hobson was almost always the first name on the team sheet, and both Brown and McGinley knocked Big Malcolm down the pecking order.

He played his last game for City as we lost at Grimsby Town on March 27th. He’d been an Imps player for two months, but hadn’t managed to reach the heights of his first 90 minutes. He returned to Finland where he averaged a goal every five games.

Unfortunately Malcolm Dunkley passed away at the age of 44 from a heart attack, but he’ll always be fondly remembered for that awesome debut when he appeared from nowhere to score twice for City.

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Dunkley in action as we draw 1-1 with Scarborough

Welling – 1987/88

As many Imps are travelling down to Welling, I am sat in my chair feeling like less of a fan for not travelling. One thing a cup run will do for you id make you question how deserving you might be of those few precious tickets, and despite my intentions things just didn’t come together for me to go today.

Welling have been a bogey team for us in recent years, In six meetings since the turn of the century we’ve failed to beat them at all, and yet prior to 2000 we had won three in three. A less-than convincing 1-0 FA Cup win in 1999 courtesy of a Paul Smith goal was the last time we got the better of them. Before that you have to go back to March 2nd, 1988.

Welling were our visitors in league competition that evening, and City needed a win to finally claw back the advantage runaway leaders Barnet had hung on to all season. We were unbeaten in eleven at the time, our last defeat had been November 28th 1987, 4-1 away at Sutton United. On that day we trailed Barnet by four points, and they had a game in hand. However, our Christmas form had been scintillating, matched only by that of the lot from Underhill. Just a day before we met Welling, they slipped up. They drew 0-0 at Altrincham, and that came on the back of defeat at Enfield. If City could beat Welling that night, we’d go joint top.

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Clive Evans opens the scoring for City

 

Typically it was a below average crowd for a Wednesday night in March. 3218 turned out to watch us attempt to finally share the top spot for the first time since we’d been relegated. Goal difference meant we wouldn’t be able to top the league unless we won by a significant margin (12-0 to be exact), but to be level on points and games would be moral boosting.

Keeper Nigel Batch was out injured, so at the time we had Bob Wilson’s son Richard playing in goal for us. John McGinley was suspended as well, he’d been dismissed in the February 13th FA Trophy clash with Maidstone. Rather unusually it was for head butting team mate Paul Smith (not the same one who scored ten years later I might add). It may have been Valentines Day but often the aggression needed in the late 1980’s non-league scene was directed at everyone and anyone. There was no romance on those boggy pitches in front of hostile natives.

Welling came to us just a single point outside the relegation spot, and they were going to be up for a fight just as much as anyone. Despite the long unbeaten run The Imps were going to be asked questions by their part time rivals.

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Carlo strokes the ball home for City’s second

 

The match was a typical battle, full of not-so wholesome tackles and good old fashioned brute force. Without McGinley it was up to Mark ‘Carlo’ Sertori and Phil Brown to lead to line. The opener came from full back Clive Evans. He’d been ever present since arriving from Stockport County, and his header in front of the Railway End gave the Imps the push they needed. Evans is often missed out when discussing that great 1987/88 side, but he was the epitome of consistency, and he weighed in with a few goals.

It was cult hero Mark Sertori that added a second to put the game beyond doubt. He was another who popped up with crucial goals, and he’s gone on to have a great career as a masseur even involved with the England set up. That night was a long way away from the opulent surroundings he’s worked in since, but for Imps fans his contribution wasas crucial as anything he’d done before. It meant City ran out 2-1 winners. We were joint top for the first time all season.

It was another seven games before Lincoln lost again, 2-0 away at Macclesfield. Draw against Fisher, Kidderminster and Enfield offered minor set backs, but we stayed in contention at the top of the table.

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A Paul Smith volley almost gives City the lead.

 

Just a couple of days after the Welling match, City were in FA Trophy action at Enfield. This was another naughty game which resulted in a 1-0 defeat and significant trouble amongst both sets of fans. If they’d had the benefit of mobile phones they would have been jubilant though, Barnet were slipping to defeat against Maidstone, which handed City a game in hand in the league. By the time we lost in our first trip to Moss Rose, it was two games in hand.

Evans and Sertori both had roles to play in the frantic final few days of the season. It was Evans who bagged the winning goal on Wednesday 30th April against Stafford Rangers, a goal that put us two points clear at the top for the first time all season. Just a few days later Sertori opened the scoring against Wycombe Wanderers.

Of course we all know that come May 2nd 1988 it was City who were fighting their way to the Conference title, whilst over at Underhill it was Welling who gave Barnet their first win in five to ensure they pressed us all the way. Both Welling and Wycombe finish just above the relegation spots that season too.

Gary Lund: The Forgotten Man

One of my first Imps heroes was a talented striker who might just have gone on to bigger and better things, if it wasn’t for his move to Lincoln City. These days he is rarely mentioned, but for six months at the end of 1986, Gary Lund looked like becoming an Imps legend.

For younger fans Lund played just one season for Lincoln, the god-awful 1986/87 campaign that saw us tumble out of the Football League. His name will never be mentioned as one of the best players to grace the Imps turf, but the truth is he might just have been a great footballer, had it not been for Lincoln City.

Gary Lund is a Cleethorpes lad, born and bred. He was an apprentice with Grimsby Town before turning professional in 1983 and he went on to make his debut shortly after his 19th birthday in September against Barnsley. In 60 further appearances he hit 24 goals for the Mariners, including two hat tricks.

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It was a foggy night, Lund scoring the first of Lincoln’s three goals as we beat Wolves 3-0. Crap picture, I know. My old man was there, and he said it was a great free kick.

His exploits weren’t going unnoticed, and very soon England came calling. On November 13th 1984, just 18 months after turning pro he featured for England u21 against Turkey. The game ended 0-0, but Lund took to the pitch alongside future internationals such as Trevor Steven, Paul Parker and David Seaman.

He made two further appearances for England u21s, in 3-0 wins over Romania and Turkey. He didn’t score in either match, although Steve Hodge, the father of Imps winger Elliott,  netted three in the two games. A year and a half later, as Hodge and Trevor Steven took to the Mexico pitches at the World Cup, Lund was heading to Sincil Bank.

It seemed the youngster had the world at his feet, but that world was whipped away with the arrival of Mike Lyons as Grimsby manager. Lund spoke in 2003 of Lyons having no man management skills, and in the summer of 1986 he chose to leave Grimsby. He signed for City after their relegation to the Fourth Division, no doubt lured by the promise of an immediate return to the Third.

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Acrobatic and instinctive, Lund scores against Scunthorpe in the Freight Rover Trophy.

He later spoke of his regret at joining Lincoln when he did, he felt forced out of Grimsby by Lyons and grabbed a move that, with hindsight, he regretted. I didn’t know that at the time, I was nine years old. I had a new hero and I didn’t care if he wanted to be there or not.

Whatever he did, or didn’t feel about his move, he didn’t let it affect his goal scoring prowess. He netted on his debut, a promising opening day 3-1 win over Colchester, watched by just 2303 Imps fans. He netted again on his next Sincil Bank appearance, this time 2305 turned out to watch us draw 1-1 with Preston and extend our unbeaten run to three games.

My first game came in October of 1986, Lund failed to score as we lost heavily to Hartlepool. The match day programme had a picture of him having an effort at goal in the previous weeks 2-0 win over Leyton Orient, and immediately I had my first visual reference to a Lincoln City player. Lund became the one player I knew and could recognise.

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The picture that cemented his legend for me. Lund (grounded) narrowly misses against Orient.

I was back at Sincil Bank just before Christmas of 1986, and Gary Lund treated me to an early present. He netted a hat trick in only my second game as we thrashed Swansea 4-0. He was awesome that day, he needed a fire engine more than Will Griggs and Matt Rhead put together. His goals came as he scored eight times in seven games, and even the shy ginger haired kid at the front of the Railway End knew Lund was something special. He was quick, powerful and it seemed every time he got the ball, Lincoln scored a goal. If memory serves me rightly (and it is 31 years ago) he even won the penalty that Steve Buckley scored.  I remember leaving the ground and simulating the keepers despairing dive to my Dad, and in doing so landing in a pile of dog faeces left near South Park. I still laugh at that today, I’m sure my parents don’t.

Lund scored 16 goals that season, 14 in 1986 and just two in the second half of the season, once on January 3rd against Burnley. His goal in that match, added to one scored by Richard Cooper saw us win 2-1 and climb to 6th in the table. He had been the subject of a bid from Sheffield United who were eighth in the first Division. Was his head turned by the bid? Was he unsettled at City? Something certainly happened

The goals dried up for Lund, as they did for The Imps. We drew 13 blanks between January 10th and May 9th, despite signing John McGinley in mid January to try and help score some goals.  Lund added just one to his tally in March, a consolation as we lost 2-1 at home to Peterborough in front of a bumper crowd of 3316. That turned out to be our second highest attendance of the season. Manager George Kerr had hoped for a flood of goals from his impressive looking forward line, but instead they separated like water and oil.

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In action as we lose to Cardiff. This would have been my view of the game, Railway End, left of the goal. A defender clears off the line as we lose 1-0

McGinley and Lund were both on the pitch on the final day as Swansea gained revenge for the 4-0 beating earlier in the season, their 2-0 victory meant, as unlikely as it looked at the turn of the year, Lincoln were relegated to the GM Vauxhall Conference. McGinley chose to stay and fight to help the club win back their league status a year later. Lund packed his bags.

The promising young striker had won an admirer in yours truly, but one goal in five months saw his stock drop dramatically. At the end of the season Brighton came in for him, but they had been freshly relegated to the Third Division. He opted to remain closer to home, and joined Notts County, where he scored 62 goals in 248 appearances. He even tasted top flight football for one season in 1991-92, the Magpies spending a solitary campaign in the top flight just before the Premier League’s inception.

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As his career wound down he featured for Chesterfield and Hull, but despite that one season in the top flight he never got himself back on track. I’m sure he wouldn’t blame the move to Lincoln outright, but he didn’t move to Sincil Bank for footballing reasons, and ultimately the affected his whole career.

Lund opened an estate agent once his playing days ended, and in a 2003 interview he admitted he didn’t miss playing, enjoying his ‘real life’ career much more than his football one. Whatever he felt about Lincoln, about football and about the curtailing of his undoubted potential, I’ll always remember that quick and powerful striker, my first ever Imps hero. I’ll always remembered that hat trick that hooked me as an Imps fan on just my second trip to the Bank. Anytime anyone ever mentions Gary Lund, I’ll always think of a player who had the potential to be an Imps legend.

Right man, wrong time.

Brighton – Familiar faces in an unfamiliar setting

Our cup clash on Saturday won’t be the first time we’ve played Brighton, but it will be only the second time in our history we find ourselves hosting an FA Cup 4th round match.

Brighton first visited Sincil Bank in 1958, and the two teams had only met once before in the 1915 FA Cup. On the first occasion Brighton ran out 2-1 winners, the Imps scoring through William Egerton. Egerton scored 25 times for City in 76 games, but he also featured on many occasions during the great war, scoring 30 in 32 whilst the conflict was going on.

In 1958 it was City who ran out victorious. In November the Imps were 4-2 winners, and those two points ended up being the difference between us and relegation from Division Two. Andy Graver had only been back at the club for one game, and he made his third home debut, registering not only a goal but also an assist as Roy Chapman netted our second goal. Just months earlier fans had tried to storm the directors box after George Hannah was sold to Manchester City after just 38 games and four goals, but the return of Graver and the form of John McClelland (who arrived as part of the Hannah deal) appeased the baying crowd. Later in the season we lost 2-1 at the Goldstone Ground, but finished 19th and safe from the drop. Brighton finished in 12th.

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Andy Graver in action for City

 

Ironically it was against Brighton in 1961 that Andy Graver made his last appearance in a City shirt. He didn’t score that day as we went down 1-0, and went down to the Third Division, losing the second tier status that we have never regained.

After several meetings in the sixties and seventies our paths crossed again in the late 1990’s. In 1996/97 we won twice, 2-1 at home and 3-1 away. Gareth Ainsworth scored in both those games in a season that saw Brighton escape the drop just 12 years after appearing in an FA Cup final. They were on a downward trajectory at the time, and the Imps were resurgent.

The following season Brighton were struggling again, and our match at Sincil Bank was as crucial as they came. City had already qualified for the Third Division play offs, but a win over Brighton coupled with defeat for Torquay at Leyton Orient would see us promoted automatically. Mr Ainsworth had moved on earlier in the season, but two goals in three minutes from Terry Fleming and Lee Thorpe ensured we got a taste of third tier football for the first time since the mid 1980’s. Even a late scare couldn’t derail our promotion party.

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Impso n the up and Seagulls in the mire: five years later it was all change.

 

It was November again, this time 2003, when we last saw the Seagulls at the Bank. By that time we’d been to administration and back ourselves, but Brighton were top of League One. They had former Chelsea striker Leon Knight up front, and we expected to be turned over with relative ease. Keith’s teams never produced the expected though, and after an hour of football we’d raced into a 3-0 lead. A Paul Mayo penalty gave us an early lead, and further goals by Matt Bloomer and Simon Yeo gave us an unassailable advantage. A late Chris McPhee goal was scant consolation, although Brighton ended the season as play-off winners and regained Championship status.

Just a couple of days after that match Keith Alexander collapsed and began his fight against ill-health. From jubilation of a big cup win came the tragic news our manager was fighting something far more important than any football game. Unsurprisingly we lost our second round game, 3-0 away at Southend just a few months after we’d beaten them 2-0 in the league at Roots Hall. Just a few days before Brighton won their promotion, we went down over two legs to Huddersfield to fall at the last hurdle.

Since then we’ve taken very different paths. Brighton have established themselves as potential Premier League participants, and this season represents a great chance to finally achieve top flight status after a thirty year absence. As for City, well as we know we’ve struggled miserably against first relegation, and latterly non-league obscurity.

What Brighton do demonstrate is the potential to climb the leagues, with the right belnd of management, players and fans. They were galvanised as a club as they were evicted from the Goldstone Ground, and the spell at the Withdean only cemented their morale. In 1998 it was us that appeared to be on the up, but five years later we’d let the advantage slip by.

This season, more than any before, has demonstrated the potential size of this football club if we were to continue playing good football and winning games. They have gone from bottom of the fourth tier, to top of the second tier within twenty years, they’ve gone from the brink of oblivion to become a financially sound and successful football club.

Could Lincoln City achieve the same thing? Can the current wave of good feeling be ridden all the way through the leagues? We may think it could never happen to us, but it does happen to teams that get things right, and we have got things spot on this season.

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The FA Cup 4th round: History (part 2)

If the first appearance in an FA Cup 4th round  had been at the start of a fine run for Lincoln in the second tier, our next appearance was quite the opposite. The 1960’s might have been swinging for most of the UK, but in our little slice of England’s green and pleasant land, very little was vibrant.

After a top half finish in 1956, City failed to build any sort of momentum in Division Two. In 1957 we finished 18th, in 1958 we finished 20th, in 1959 we were 19th and somehow in 1960 we managed to ascend to 13th out of 22 teams. The 1958 season had seen us pull off what can only ever be described as a great escape. On April 7th we were bottom, five points adrift of safety and only having won five games all season. We then won six straight matches to finish one point above the relegation zone. The 13th placed finish was probably the worst thing that could have happened, the board felt we could achieve a decent placing on a shoe string budget, and by selling Richard ‘Dick’ Neal we had cemented our position as a selling club. Birmingham had paid £18,500 for the England U23 international, and we’d received Bert Linnecor in exchange. fans were furious, if only they knew the impact Linnecor would have.

Something would have to give eventually though, and ahead of the 1960/61 season long serving chairman Charles Applewhite stood down, with Alwyne Mawer taking over. The financial situation at Sincil Bank had moved from dire to potentially disastrous . Luxuries such as new players would have to be put to one side, and despite the new chairman proclaiming Division Two survival was a must, few believed him.

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City 1960/61. Some smiles, but only for the camera

 

It took the Imps five games to even score a goal, Andy Graver finally netting in our fifth match of the season away  at Sunderland. Despite three wins after that, a trip to Norwich in front of 24,956 ended in 1 5-1 defeat and our mini revival was halted. From there onwards the season was a story of dwindling crowds, bad results and non existent finances.

Of course we still missed rounds one and two of the FA Cup, the weekend of round one we (somewhat ironically) beat Brighton 2-1 at Sincil Bank. Crowds were plummeting though and only 4397 turned out to watch the game. It may seem a half decent crowd by today’s standards, but this was second tier football, and  the corresponding fixture the year before saw 13,129 fans at the Bank.

Come Christmas we were third from bottom with just six wins to our name all season. We needed a big FA Cup draw, potentially one of the leading First Division sides at home. Even back them the lure of a big side in the FA Cup could perhaps revive a team’s fortunes, and it would certainly help bring some money into the club.

Leading the way in the top flight at Christmas 1960 were Tottenham Hotspur, followed closely by Burnley and Everton. The season before we’d played Burnley in the third round, and 21,693 had seen us draw 1-1 before losing 2-0 at Turf Moor. Another draw like that could help ease the financial woes.

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The teams from the actual programme.

 

The draw was kind but far from spectacular. First Division West Brom were to be our opponents at Sincil Bank. Lincoln had never beaten top flight opposition, and despite entering at the third round stage ten times in the previous twelve years, we had still only once advanced to the fourth round once. West Brom would attract a half decent crowd, but it wouldn’t perhaps be the size of the Burnley game, and few gave us a chance of progressing any further.

The crowd was just shy of 15,000, and despite a run of three defeats and a draw, Lincoln managed to shock their illustrious opponents. A young player called Roger Holmes had broken into the team in December, and he starred along with rookie goalkeeper Bob Graves who had played just three games prior all season. West Brom, featuring an inside forward called Bobby Robson, should have thrashed the out of form Lincoln side.

It was legendary forward Andy Graver who opened the scoring, with Bert Linnecor and outside right John McClelland also netting for Lincoln as we ran out 3-1 winners. Momentarily the doom and gloom that had enveloped Sincil Bank was lifted as we waited for the fourth round draw.

There was no kindness in the draw this time around. Sheffield United had knocked out top flight opposition as well, despatching Everton 1-0 at Goodison. We had to travel to Bramall Lane, and to make matters worse we slipped to the bottom of the table, and ahead of the game they went top. It was a stinker of a draw, the only consolation being that it was a team in our own division. We had visited Bramall Lane once that season already, losing 2-1 in October.

It was January 28th 1961. 21 points separated us, 20 league places was the difference and Bramall Lane was rocking to well over 21,500 fans. After our first round giant killing it would take a monumental effort to pull something out of the bag.

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2.45pm kick off – I wonder if they were worried about fading light?

 

City were second best all afternoon, an Andy Graver goal was scant consolation as we lost comfortably by three goals to one. The young Roger Holmes was missing, but even without one hero from the previous round Lincoln failed to compete on any level. The FA Cup dream was over.

Sadly, our run in the second tier was to come to an end as well. That defeat signalled a miserable run for City, and we lost eight games on the bounce. During that spell we faced Sheff United at home, this time the Blades made even easier work of us, winning 5-0 in front of a meagre 5263. We did pick up four points in two days at the end of March, but even those results left us six points adrift of safety, and under two points for a win that was a big margin. Survival wasn’t ever on the cards and relegation was confirmed on April 8th as we lost away at Brighton, the game in which Andy Graver last played for the first team. An era was ending, and fans were voting with their feet.

We did win our last home game of the season, 2-0 against Orient but just under 4,000 turned up, as opposed to 10,859 who had seen our opening league fixture. On the same day Ipswich Town won the league, beating Sheff Utd by a single point. Until 2016/17 it was the last time we played the Tractor Boys.

Lincoln City were losing £250 per week, and were staring into the abyss. History would see us fall straight through the Third Division, then finish third from bottom of Division Four a season later. It took just two years for us to go from playing in the second tier and entering the FA Cup at the third round stage, to having to apply for re-election.

Had the right balls come out of the bag, perhaps Spurs at home, maybe we would have received a financial boost that could have kept us in the division. Fate dealt us a bad hand, and ultimately we played it badly as well. As for Sheffield United, they went on to the semi-finals before losing to Leicester City, who in turn lost to Tottenham Hotspur who completed the first league and cup double of the modern era.

The FA Cup 4th Round: History (part 1)

If you’re hoping to read a history of the FA Cup 4th round here I’m afraid the title is misleading. This is a look at the FA Cup 4th round ties that have featured Lincoln City, and Part One brings you the 1953/54 season.

Before I start let me acknowledge a mistake I made on an earlier blog. I stated that City had only made the fourth round of the FA Cup twice before. I was mistaken, we have featured at that stage three times. Aside form 1976, both of the previous occasions we were a Division Two side, and therefore we only had to win one game to get to that stage.

Before Danny Cowley and Graham Taylor saw us into the third round, and before Keith and Colin Murphy brought us success of sorts on the pitch, there was a man called Bill Anderson. Bill managed at Sincil Bank from 1947 through until 1965, and will probably be the longest ever serving manager the Imps have had. In that ‘Wenger’ length spell he took City into the second tier, twice, and spent nine consecutive years battling away just outside the top flight. He also took us to the FA Cup 4th round twice.

As we entered at the third round stage for nine consecutive years it is perhaps surprising that we failed to make the fourth round more than twice. We found ourselves losing seven times at the first hurdle. We lost third round replays to Burnley, Leicester, Peterborough,  Liverpool and Southampton, with only Wolves and Southend beating us at the first attempt.  However, on two occasions we did progress beyond the third round.

The 1953/54 season was our second season back in the second tier, and Anderson was looking to establish us as more than a yo-yo team. We’d won Division Three in 1947/48 only to be immediately relegated. Another Championship in 51/52 saw us promoted again, and a 15th place finish the season after was seen as success of sorts.

The season kicked off on 19th August, 1953, and in front of 17,000 fans at the Boleyn Ground City fell to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of hosts West Ham. Once again it seemed like we’d be in a battle for survival.

I’m not going to blab on too much about the league form that season. We were 6th come October and in a good place to record our highest ever finish, but a 9-2 defeat at Leicester started a run of just two league wins in 15 games, which essentially put paid to our promotion hopes.

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Former Imps manager Bill Anderson

 

In the FA Cup we were handed a kind draw, a home tie against Walsall. Whilst it may not sound kind now, they were rock bottom of Division Three South, with 11 defeats away and just a solitary draw to show for their endeavours. They had also had to apply for re-election twice in the previous two season, having finished bottom in consecutive seasons.  At the time of the draw we were 18th, but we’d won eight and drawn four of our sixteen home games. It seemed like a banker.

Walsall had beaten non-league Bath City in a rare away win in the first round and had then registered a 3-0 win over Crewe in round two. I’m sure a third round tie with a team sat 18th in Division Two wasn’t the tie they wanted.

13,890 saw the match, an attendance which may sound impressive, but four days earlier 16,910 saw us record a rare win against Hull City. Legendary striker Andy Graver scored that day against the Tigers, and he also scored in the first match with Walsall. The issue was the underdogs wouldn’t go down without a fight, and they came away with a credible 1-1 draw.

We travelled to Fellows Park five days later hoping to put paid to the minnows and give us our plum 4th round tie. City weren’t financially secure and even sixty odd years ago talk would have been about the revenue we could generate from hosting a big side at Sincil Bank. Once again Walsall proved stubborn, it was 1-1 again even after a gruelling spell of extra time. It was second replay time four days later.

The schedule was punishing though and in between we hosted relegation rivals Derby County at Sincil Bank. With three games five days it was only expected we’d lose players to injury and fatigue, Tony Emery missed both the Derby game and the third replay. Former Manchester Utd player Brian Birch had scored in the Derby game, but he made way for the returning Ernie Whittle, an inside left who had been injured in early December.

As on Friday night with Dover it took an own goal and one from our own to finally see off Walsall. It was the returning Whittle who finally grabbed a winner at the neutral City Ground in Nottingham. After three FA Cup games and a league match all in the space of nine days, we were through to the 4th round. As for Walsall, they finished bottom for the third season in a row.

Of course the draw wouldn’t be televised back then, but I’d imagine each of the players and players had an idea of who they’d like to face. I can picture fans wanting reigning champions Arsenal, or maybe the mighty Manchester United. I bet Imps player Roy Finch fancied playing his old club West Brom who were top of Division One. Other big names at the time would be Wolves in second place, or Huddersfield in third, whom ever-present Imps left half Robert Owen had played for during the war.

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Ernie Whittle

 

We did get our big draw, and it was Preston North End who were to visit Sincil Bank. They had been runners up in the First Division the previous season, and featured players such as Charlie Wayman who finished top scorer in 1952/53, Tommy Docherty and of course the legendary England international Tom Finney.

The proximity of the matches had seen several key players lost to injury. Former Preston full-back Doug Graham would have relished facing his old team, but he had missed both replays against Walsall and wouldn’t return to first team action until March. Penalty taker Horace Green was missing as well, the regular right back had come back briefly for the first replay, but wouldn’t be seen again until February. It wasn’t the ideal preparation.

City sold all 25,000 tickets that were allocated for the game, and I’m sure the scenes we even more astounding than those we saw for the Ipswich replay! The attendance record at the time was 23,146 for a 1949 league game with Grimsby, and it was widely expected that record would be beaten.

On the day 23,027 turned out, a record that would stand until Derby County visited more than a decade later. Despite it being late January the City had seen a covering of snow, and although it had stopped by the time the Division One giants arrived, the ground was hard and a strong wind added to the tough conditions.

PNE showed their class early on, Tom Finney provided the cross for Jimmy Baxter to give them a 1-0 lead. A couple of minutes later Lincoln had the chance to bring the game level. They were awarded a penalty, but in the absence of Horace Green, it was the hero of the previous round Ernie Whittle that took responsibility.

I’m informed that as he ran up to take his kick the ball moved in the strong wind. Obviously I can’t confirm or deny that as I was still no more than the grandson I imagine a young Geoff Hutchinson thought he might get one day. I’m sure my Granddad was at the game, and I’m sure if he were alive today he would tell you the ball moved. Whatever happened, Whittle missed ad with that went our chance of a replay, or maybe a famous first win over top flight opposition.

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The great Tom Finney

 

Preston added a second before the end to kill off any hopes of a fifth round match, and it ended 2-0. Ironically it was Ipswich Town whom Preston faced next where they ran out 6-1 winners. They also despatched Leicester City, the side who’d beaten us so comfortably earlier in the season, en-route to finishing runners up to West Brom in the final. Five days after they beat Leicester 3-1 in the quarter final replay, we also beat the Foxes in League action at Sincil Bank, our 3-1 win coming as just revenge for the savage mauling at Filbert Street. Leicester had the last laugh, they won our league and were promoted along with Everton.

Ernie Whittle only played four more times for Lincoln after his miss before securing a move to Workington. City went on to finish 16th in the table, sandwiched between Hull City and Bury. The FA Cup tie had bought in a reputed £3,465 which was a princely sum back in 1954, and it contributed to a yearly profit of £2,725.

As for a young Geoff Hutchinson, by the time he saw FA Cup 4th round action again his infant son, Pete,  would be old enough to go to school and was probably already skipping school to smoke with his friends (eh Dad?)

In Part Two: City beat First Division opposition for the first time in their history to make the fourth round, but the season doesn’t end well for our red and white heroes.

The Boxing Day Hoodoo Strikes Again

“Hark now hear, the Lincoln sing. The Grimsby ran away. We will fight for evermore, because of Boxing Day

I first heard those magical words in 1988, several years after we had last played Grimsby Town. Something used to spark the imagination about a Boxing Day fixture, something that kept my old man singing songs from ten years previous. He was singing this particular tune as he prepared to go and watch us beat Kidderminster Town 5-3, three days after Boxing Day in 1987 (I love my old man to pieces, but sometimes his songs don’t bear chronological relation to anything). Unfortunately I was misled by my father as to the level of success we achieve on Boxing Day, and although in 1987 we managed a 2-1 win at Boston, generally speaking the 26th of December is not a good date for Lincoln City.

Of course yesterday nobody ran away, certainly not from Lincoln City. Guiseley fronted us out in the bitter cold winds, and chance favoured them instead of us. It gave my left over turkey a bit of a sour taste, and made sure the next few days a little less ‘celebration’ and a little more ‘anticipation’ for New Years Day. We shouldn’t have been too surprised though, because we seem gripped by a Boxing Day hoodoo.

Take last year. The 1-0 defeat at home against Halifax Town was our sixth game without a win. In context it was ‘just another defeat’, in reality it was another defeat against opposition we expected to beat on Boxing Day. Halifax were relegated at the end of the season, and our next win didn’t happen until January 30th, ironically coming at home, 1-0 against Guiseley. I’m sure we’d all take that in five days time.

In 2013 it was the turn of Grimsby Town to inflict the festive misery on the Imps. Jake Sherdian was sent off, and in an example of how far we have come, Bohan Dixon kept Jon Nolan on the bench. Three days later it was Halifax again compounding a miserable festive period, trouncing us 5-1 after Alan Power’s 12th minute dismissal.

2012? Grimsby beat us 4-1 at the Bank. 2011? Grimsby again, at home again, this time a Liam Hearn goal snatching the win for them. Francis Laurent and Conal Platt started up front for us. Let that sink in for a moment. Yes we lost yesterday, but we have taken some massive strides since 2011.

The harsh fact is we’ve only won one Boxing Day clash since we’ve been in the National League, and that was the 2014 win against Alfreton, a win followed up by victories against the Codheads and Barnet. 2014 was a good Christmas for Lincoln City, although by January 10th we were back to our inconsistent selves, losing 4-0 at Eastleigh.

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Often our best hope for a good Boxing Day result is snow, and lots of it.

 

Mercifully the year we were relegated there was no Boxing Day football, the dousing of snow we endured kept football at a minimum, in truth probably the very best thing that could have happened. The less football we saw in the 2010/11 season the better. I still wake up remembering the joy every time a  home game was called off.

For our last really good Boxing Day result you have to go back to December 2009, seven years ago. At the time we were in free fall, motor mouth ‘manager’ Peter Jackson had gone, Mr Personality Chris Sutton had arrived and the club looked to be in the depths of a relegation battle. We hadn’t heard of Davide Somma at the time, or his knack of scoring goals for fun. We went into the Boxing Day clash with Chesterfield expecting nothing more than a trouncing and confirmation of the fact we were absolute crap.

We won 2-1, and if memory serves me correctly the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Jack Lester as he missed a penalty at the Stacey West end. I would say it was a Merry Christmas, but with Brian Gilmour up front for you, Christmas can never truly be ‘merry’ in the strictest sense. If only we knew what was coming.

In 1999 it was Halifax again (3-0), 1997 Rotherham (1-0), and in 1996 Hull City beat us 2-1.

Let’s keep going back shall we? I feel inclined to mention Boxing Day 1985, a fairly unremarkable 2-2 draw against the Spireites. I want to mention it because a reader of my blog, Warren Ward, scored our second goal as we got a point. A point wasn’t much good though, Warren didn’t play again until April 22nd, and by then we were all but relegated. His three from five games at the tail end of the season couldn’t keep us up.

1984, Orient beat us 1-0. There was no 1982 Boxing Day fixture, but on the 28th we lost to Huddersfield. Even in 1947/48, the year we stormed to the Division Three North final we lost the festive fixture, 3-2 to Accrington Stanley. I picked that game because the superbly named Jimmy Hutchinson (no relation) bagged a brace.

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Lincoln City 1985/86. Warren Ward should be on here, he isn’t.

 

I picked a few random seasons from my books as well. 1962 Aldershot beat us 4-2. 1971 Southend beat us, 1970 Colchester, 1968 Port Vale did us 1-0 in front of 12,208 at Sincil Bank.

What is the point of me bringing you all this misery I hear you ask? Did we not suffer enough losing in dramatic fashion to Guiseley yesterday? Yes we did suffer enough, but our fathers suffered over Christmas before us, and before them their fathers suffered too. In fact their fathers also suffered. In our very first Boxing Day fixture we faced Horncastle Town competing for the Lincolnshire Senior Cup. The date was December 26th (obviously) 1884, and we lost 3-0 on The Wong. It was our only our fifth competitive game, but we were already setting precedents. The harsh truth is this: if you’re a Lincoln City fan, prepare for a shit Boxing Day.

The only exception to this terrible curse is if we play Macclesfield or Boston, two teams we have registered wins over on December 26th. Sadly Macclesfield could have done us a favour by getting a result this year, but succumbed to a late Jeff Hughes goal. It was Jeff Hughes who scored our winner against Boston, Boxing Day 2006. Hughes sat out the 2005 0-0 draw with Boston.

So what of New Years Day? Do we have another monkey on our back, and do Guiseley have a real chance of seizing on our festive frailties?

Our first ever NYD clash saw us beaten 5-1 by Newcastle United (1893), but in the main things do tend to pick up. The freshly christened ‘Boxing Day Hoodoo’ does seem restricted to that short period in and around Christmas Day, by the time the New Year arrives managers down the years seemed to have kicked some arses and got a response. Whilst we’ve lost all but one of our Boxing Day clashes in recent years, we’ve drawn three and lost one of our New Years clashes, with the closest fixture in 2014 (Jan 3rd) bringing us a 4-1 win.

Let’s just hope that Boxing Day 2017 sees Sincil Bank under six feet of snow, with no chance of a match until at least January 1st!

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Boxing Day 2010/11 season. One of the highlights of the campaign.

2006/07 v 2016/17

There’s little doubt we are currently watching one of the best Lincoln teams for a long while. Last night I proclaimed on social media I thought it was the best side in a decade. In order to achieve that feat it would have to be a better side than John Schofield’s play off semi-finalists of 2007.

As I have an extra hour to play with today and my body clock isn’t as easy to put back an hour as my normal clocks I decided to do a pound for pound comparison of yesterday’s squad compared with the Imps team that took to the pitch on the corresponding date in the 2006/07 season. On the 28th of October 2006 we beat Swindon 1-0 away to go top of League Two. Tough competition for the class of 2016.

I would like to point out that I’m going to have to be really objective here. I know some players read my blog (cheers boys) but I can’t let that cloud my judgement if I’m going to get an honest result. Also I haven’t planned this in advance, I’m literally matching the players up one against another as I type.

Here goes:

Alan Marriott v Paul Farman

Ouch, started with a tough call. Paul Farman is my favourite Lincoln keeper since Alan Marriott, but Mazza was an outstanding stopper who deserved his testamonial. I’ll never forgive Peter Jackson for treating him the way he did. I’m afraid at this moment in time Mazza edges it purely for his consistency of performances over a spell of several years. However Farms isn’t far behind and if he continues to perform to the levels he’s found in the last twelve months then I have no doubt he could go on to eclipse everything Mazza achieved at Lincoln.

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Lee Beevers v Bradley Wood

That’s right, Lee Beevers was our right back the night we beat Swindon, and ten years later he could have been compared to himself had it not been for that cruel injury on Tuesday night. Remember I’m comparing the Lee Beevers of ten years ago to Bradley, not Lee of today. Even then it is an incredibly tough call. I’m going to say that I think Bradley Wood of today could give Lee Beevers of ten years ago a run for his money, but Lee went on to achieve good things at a better level. It’s a tough call, but as it’s 50/50 I’m going to plump for Bradley Wood because I’ve never seen him lose a 50/50!

Paul Mayo v Sam Habergham

Sam Habergham, all day long. I was never the biggest Paul Mayo fan anyway and I feel that Sam has more to offer going forward as well as being more than a match defensively. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of our England C left back as yet, and running at 80% I think he’s a better option than Mayo.

Nat Brown v Sean Raggett

Again a clear win for the current defender. Sean Raggett is getting better and better, and his partnership with Luke Waterfall is beginning to look incredibly solid. Yesterday we conceded two which was unlike this defence, but Raggett increasingly looks lik a player who will play higher than the National League, and probably higher than League Two as well. Nat was a limited centre half who played with passion but didn’t have the ability to reach the levels Raggett does. My only whinge with Raggett is sometimes he carries the ball out of defence and you just want him to play it easy and drop back into position. Despite that it’s a win for the current team.

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Adie Moses v Luke Waterfall

We’re comparing a player on his way down (Moses) against a player on his way up (Waterfall) and it’s a close call. I think had we been comparing six months ago I’d be tempted to go with Moses, but his spell at Lincoln was at the tail end of a decent career. Waterfall has come on leaps and bounds since being given the captaincy and has possibly been our most consistent performer over the last ten games. This is looking like a whitewash, but the current side gets it again.

Defence: Tough on Paul Farman coming up against a real club legend in Alan Marriott, but other than that the defence of 2016 is (in my opinion) much better than the defence that topped League Two going into November of 2006. The best defender of 2006 (Beevers) is with us now!

Ryan Amoo v Harry Anderson

The question here isn’t would Anderson get into that Lincoln side, that answer is obvious. The real question is how did Ryan Amoo ever get into the side in 2006? He wouldn’t make the bench in 2016, in fact he would probably be out on loan somewhere like Halifax or Fylde. No contest.

Nathan Arnold v Jeff Hughes

At last a proper match up to get my teeth into. Nathan Arnold is a league quality player, of that there is no doubt. Jeff Hughes ten years ago was just embarking on a sterling career that would see him play at a really good level. I like Arnold a lot, he has a great engine and an eye for goal, but Hughes was in his Lincoln prime in the 06/07 season and even with my tinted spectacles on I can’t give this match up to Arnold. Two players who would grace any team at League Two level, even today.

Lee Frecklington v Alan Power

Now we’re talking, now I’m beginning to see what the 2006 side did have to offer. After a mediocre looking defence we’re into a real powerhouse of a midfield. Lee Frecklington ran the show that season and was pushed out of the club by ego Jackson a season later. Alan Power is another Lincoln City stalwart who deserves a promotion to add some glitter to five years of real battling. I really rate Power and I’m delighted to see him in the side but if someone offered me 2006 Lee Frecklington to play alongside Woodyard I’d take him all day long. This one goes to Freck.

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Scott Kerr v Alex Woodyard

Scott Kerr divides opinion even today. Many have him down as a pointy and shouty workman with little substance and a lot of bluster. Others have him down as an unsung hero, a workhorse who kept running above and beyond the call of duty to try and pull the Imps out  of the mire. For the record I have him down as the latter, and therefore this isn’t a straightforward choice. Woodyard though, well Woodyard is different class. He does the unsung work and a lot of the dirty work, but he does it in such a way that you notice what he’s doing. His passes aren’t always the easy option, but nine times out of ten they hit their target. Like Kerr he perhaps needs to add a goal or two to his repertoire, but if he does then they boy could go on to play (and I’m not living in cuckoo land here) top flight football. That’s how good Woodyard could be, and I’m afraid that puts him a cut above Scotty Kerr.

Midfield: It’s a tight battle, John Schofield assembled a decent midfield back in the day. It’s a draw overall, but I think the margin of victory for Anderson over Amoo gives the mantle to the class of 2016. Again.

Mark Stallard v Matt Rhead

Now here’s a clash you wouldn’t want to get in the middle of. Anyone getting caught in a Stallard and Rhead sandwich would come off worst. They’re actually very similar players, both rough and tumble forward men with a reputation for being bruisers, but both possessing some really neat touches and flashes of skilful inspiration. Both score goals at a good rate and both bring something unique to the side. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to call this, so it’s going down as a draw. I know some might say Stallard was a bit more mobile but I refuse to undersell the importance of Rheady to the current side. I think he’s been a revelation this season, he’s bounced back from the whole transfer list thing and shown such amazing character that I can’t honestly say I think Stallard was better.

Jamie Forrester v Theo Robinson

Well for a start Jamie scored his own goals and didn’t need to claim them from other people. This is a no-contest like Amoo v Anderson, Jamie Forrester oozed class from the second he pulled on a Lincoln shirt to the moment he left the club. He lacked the pace of Theo but his football brain compensated for that as he got older. His touch never, ever let him down and he was perfect foil for the big man Stallard. In 2016 the general consensus is that we need a Forrester style player in and around Matt Rhead, and at the moment that hasn’t proven to be Theo Robinson. Time may prove me wrong, but this one goes to Jamie.

Up front: It’s a win for the 2006 pairing of Stallard and Forrester. They’re the best centre forward pairing we have had in an awful long time and history hasn’t dulled their appeal for me.

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On the bench

It’s just a straight out ‘which bench was stronger’ question here. Against Swindon it was Simon Rayner, Colin Cryan, Leon Mettam, Martin Gritton and Ollie Ryan. Yesterday it was Jamie McCombe, Terry Hawkridge, Taylor Miles, Elliott Whitehouse and Jack Muldoon. Again I think 2016 edges it for depth and versatility.  In 2006 we were fine unless we needed a change anywhere across the midfield, whereas yesterday we could change any position on the field bar Paul Farman. The squad as a whole is incredibly strong and that is reflected on the bench.

John Schofield / John Deehan v Danny Cowley / Nicky Cowley

Up to October 28th 2006 I probably wouldn’t have heard a word against John Schofield, but after this game we lost five of the next six, and in the season run in we won just twice in 15 games including the play-off semi finals. Was there a plan B for Schofield? Probably not. The squad wasn’t strengthened adequately in the transfer window, and again in the summer and we paid the price. I don’t think in a years time we’ll look back on this season and say the same things about 2016/17 Lincoln. When we hit a bad patch earlier this season the managers had the resourcefulness and character to make the changes that corrected the slump, and I think history will eventually back up my choice of our current managers over the 2006 paring.

So overall I make that eight v four in favour of the 2016 side. Could they hold their own in League Two? Undoubtedly. The 2006 squad overachieved in those first few months of the season and then capitulated, whereas I firmly believe this current side will be in the mix right up until the end of the season.

I refuse to do a like for like from the season before because the Keith Alexander years were beyond compare, and to build the squad he did from administration would amount to much more than a straight forward match up, player to player. However I’m confident in saying now that this is the best side we’ve had in ten years.

Up the Imps.

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