BARRY PIKESLEY: Smells Like Nineteen Spirit

The following article is reproduced from "The Robins' Review" of 12 August 2014.


94 days have now elapsed since Greg Wilkinson’s momentous eleventh-hour winning goal against Guiseley prompted those tumultuous and indelible scenes of unbridled rapture at the J Davidson Stadium.

When the final whistle of that extraordinary Skrill North Promotion Final back in May eventually sounded, I felt as if I had achieved nirvana. The gnawing demons from that traumatic relegation suffered against Eastbourne Borough at Moss Lane on Saturday, 30th April 2011 had finally been exorcised.

Consequently, here we are once again back dining at the top table of Non League football in the glamorous guise of the Vanarama Conference and this evening sees us play host to a Lincoln City team managed by the former Alty midfielder Gary Simpson.

An established England Semi-Professional International, Simpson signed for the Robins on Tuesday, 17th October 1989 and made his debut four days later in a goalless GM Vauxhall Conference fixture at Moss Lane against his previous club Boston United.

He proceeded to accumulate a total of 29 (+2 as sub) appearances for the Robins during the ensuing 12 months, until his swan song transpired in a 3-0 FA Cup Third Qualifying Round victory over Bangor City at Moss Lane on Saturday, 13th October 1990. The return to Moss Lane of Gary Anderson from Runcorn effectively signalled the end of Simpson's Alty career and he was subsequently transferred to Gainsborough Trinity.

The Tuesday, 7th November 1989 issue of the Robins Review features an article entitled “Message From The Boardroom”, which contains the following revelation: “Our recent share issue has considerably improved the club’s finances and last month we were able to break the club’s record transfer fee to sign Gary Simpson from Boston United.” This deal, therefore, was in excess of the £7,500 paid to Stafford Rangers in January 1987 for the services of the ultimately ill-fated (and habitually injured) Martin Hanchard.

As far as I am aware, the precise figure constituting Simpson’s transfer fee remained undisclosed, however, I recollect speculation at the time that the amount ranged from anywhere between £8,000 and £12,000. Whatever the exact sum, he would officially remain Alty’s most expensive acquisition until the recruitment of Ken McKenna from Telford United in the Summer of 1990.

Lincoln City’s last excursion to Moss Lane occurred on Thursday, 28th July 2005, when Keith Alexander brought his team to Cheshire for a pre-season friendly match which finished 0-0 and was witnessed by 232 spectators.

However, the Imps’ debut at Moss Lane in a competitive fixture had comprised a GM Vauxhall Conference encounter enacted on Tuesday, 8th September 1987. That contest had also concluded in a goalless stalemate and, in truth, it proved to be a rather lacklustre and prosaic spectacle on the pitch.

By contrast, events off the field of combat were rather more arresting and somewhat surreal though, as the bumper attendance of 2,398 had been swelled by a considerable contingent of livid and aggrieved Stockport County fans who were largely intent on venting their spleen on their chosen bete noire, namely the then Lincoln City manager Colin Murphy.

The preceding season had seen Murphy reappointed as the manager at Edgeley Park, during which time he had orchestrated the Hatters‘ dramatic escape from demotion whilst Lincoln City had become the first team to suffer automatic relegation from the Football League. However, merely a few weeks after the conclusion of the 1986/87 season, Murphy opted to resign from his post at County in favour of a return to Sincil Bank in order to undertake a second spell in charge of the Imps.

For the record, the Alty team on that particular evening lined up as follows: (1) John Butcher (2) Ian Johnson (3) Paul Edwards (4) Paul Cuddy (5) Bobby Fraser (6) Ossie Smith (7) Ronnie Ellis (8) John Timmons (9) Colin Williams (10) Eddie Bishop (11) Garry Worrall. Subs: (12) Mike Farrelly (for Bishop) and (14) Martin Hanchard.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln City side contained another target for the vituperative County hordes in the imposing frame of the Hatters’ former central defender Mark Sertori, who would, of course, go on to register a tally of 62 appearances for the Robins during the 2001/02 Unibond Premier League campaign.

Alty supporters of a certain vintage will recollect that the 1987/88 GM Vauxhall Conference campaign was disfigured by the implementation of an experimental offside law, whereby players could not be offside direct from any free kick. This regrettable innovation certainly proved to be an opportune aid to Colin Murphy’s rather direct ’route one’ style of football and the self-proclaimed “Murphy’s Mission: Back To The League” was duly accomplished, as the Imps went on to regain their Football League status at the first attempt.

Turning to current affairs, I confess that I am not entirely sure what to expect of the Robins this season. Perhaps the higher proportion of part-time teams that now exist in this league, as opposed to when we were last members of this division, will enhance our chances of establishing ourselves at this level?

Lee Sinnott’s pre-season comments in the local press have been reassuringly upbeat: “I have got 19 players who are good enough to make the team on Saturday and that is the biggest luxury I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

(Personally, I’d like us to have the extra option of an additional forward, however, that’s just me being greedy!).

The Alty boss goes on to aver: “The aim was a 19-man group with a nice average age about them and that is what we have achieved. There is experience in the shape of Cav (Peter Cavanagh) and Stu (Stuart Coburn) but, by and large, the age of the squad is good, so let’s roll the dice and see where it takes us.”

Never mind that somewhat anticlimactic opening day experience at Aldershot Town then, let’s hope that the Robins mark this visit by Lincoln City on The Glorious Twelfth by bagging their first catch of the season in the form of three precious points.

To quote that famous guttural entreaty of the late lamented Kurt Cobain: “Here we are now, entertain us.”