"A lot of bother": the Lincolnshire Cup in 1886

Cod Almighty | Article

by Mark Stilton

12 October 2014

When Grimsby and Lincoln met in the Lincolnshire Cup for the first time in 1885-86, the real winners were determined by events that took place away from the field of play...

A Lincolnshire flag flying in Cleethorpes

Town's meeting with Lincoln City in the Lincolnshire Cup Final this week will be the 36th county cup tie between the two teams – the Mariners currently edging it with 20 wins to City's 15. While the tournament has become increasingly marginalised in the modern game, it was not always the case.

Despite it being only two years since Lincoln formed, a level of enmity had already developed The two teams were first drawn against each other in the semi-final of the 1885-86 tournament and despite it being only two years since Lincoln formed, a level of enmity had already developed between the clubs. Matters were not helped by the "Fishermen" dumping the "Cits" out of the FA Cup in the first round in October that season, having also beaten them in the third round of the tournament in the preceding season.

The FA Cup match had been played in soaking conditions at the John O'Gaunts ground – Lincoln's home until 1895. Grimsby won with two late goals in front of "a large number of spectators". That win set the tone for the season for Town, who went on to win 30 of the 38 games played, with only two defeats (one being a 2-1 away loss at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup third round).

They also strolled through the early rounds of the Lincolnshire Cup, seeing off Grantham Victoria at home by two goals to nil. The "superior play of the Grimsby club" in the second round was too much for Lincoln Rangers, who succumbed 5-0 at home. The third-round tie at Grantham Town in wet conditions provided a tougher challenge but two first-half goals for Grimsby gave them the advantage and the match finished 3-1 to the Fishermen.

A "fast and exciting game"

And so it was that Town were drawn at home against Lincoln City in the semi-final of the competition, played in March 1886. Bob Lincoln, in his book Reminiscences of Sport in Grimsby (1912), sets the tone: "Truth to tell, a bitter feeling existed between both the players and the executive of both teams, and clearly it had not been lessened by the whacking the Cits got in the English Cup."

More than 5,000 fans watched a "fast and exciting game". Town took the lead in the first half, with Lincoln equalising in the second, and the match ended 1-1 in normal time. Here is where the dispute began.

Bob Lincoln claims that "the Cits wanted to play the extra half-hour, and of course we declined, and left the field". Writing 26 years after the event, he had clearly forgotten some of the detail. In fact, the historical record shows that the game ended at the prompting of the match official.

The referee couldn't stand it, and refused to allow them to proceed Referee Samuel Ormerod, on witnessing what he was to describe as "the roughest match I have taken part in", advised City not to play extra time and request a replay instead. Ormerod – one of the founders of the original Accrington club in 1876 and later manager of Manchester City and Stockport – told the Otago Witness in 1888 that he "couldn't stand it, and refused to allow them to proceed". The referee perhaps understated things when he said: "There was a lot of bother about it before it was settled."

City lodge a complaint

Grimsby complained to the Lincolnshire FA and a meeting was convened of the full membership on the following Wednesday. Ormerod attended, stating that "he advised the City Club not to play an extra half-hour in consequence of the rough play there had been during the game". It was of no avail. City were disqualified from the competition by 15 votes to 8. Lincoln disputed the verdict and immediately lodged a complaint with the English FA.

A delegation from City attended a meeting of the English FA only two days later. Although the Blackburn Standard reported that "no discussion worth mentioning took place… [and] the whole of the business was got through before nine o'clock", the committee agreed to adjudicate in the matter if the Lincolnshire FA so wished.

And so it returned to Lincolnshire, where a special meeting of the county FA was convened the following week. This time the vote was much closer, with the chairman of the Lincolnshire FA making the casting vote, leaving it 12-11 in favour of referring the matter back to the English FA.

A day out in London

As it happened, the next meeting of the English FA was to follow the FA Cup final between Blackburn and West Brom at the Kennington Oval, which itself would follow on from the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race. Bob Lincoln travelled to the meeting alongside the Grimsby secretary and "a certain gentleman" to make representations on behalf of the Lincolnshire FA. Bob takes up the story:

"Well the day duly arrived and three of us… landed in the City at 6 a.m. Imagine your humble servant landing there after six hours' journey. Well, I suggested adjourning to the St. Pancras Hotel. We did. The hour being somewhat inconvenient the waiter apologised, but consented to oblige us to the best of his ability. The first course arrived, causing me to remark, 'Halloa, where did you get these sticklebacks!'

"Afterwards our friend invited us to be his guest, and after certain business had been done we accompanied him to one of the wharves, where we had a capital view of the race.

"Yes, we were having a good time, and inwardly I blessed my dear friend, Mr. J.H.S., of City fame, for being the means of causing me to have quite a red letter day in the annals of my life.

"A rush from there in the cab, and what a change. On arriving at Kennington Oval where we had seats reserved, the ground was densely packed. West Bromwich were playing Blackburn Rovers, and the latter had only to win it this time to win it outright. To be brief, if ever a team ought to have won it was the Throstles... Result: no goals.

"The spectators [crowded] on the field of play, which caused us to have the greatest difficulty in reaching the Pavillion, where the meeting was held."

The Chair of the FA informed the club that they would have to replay the match or that we would cease to exist The chair of the FA, Major Marindin, was a "model of brevity" and informed the club that they would either have to replay the match or be reported to the FA "which probably meant that we should cease to exist as a club".

While Bob and co. were on their jollies in the capital, Grimsby – taking Lincoln's refusal to play extra time in the Lincolnshire Cup semi as a forfeiture of the tie – played the final against Lincoln Lindum at Grantham. The final was a tight match, but Grimsby won with two late goals by Atkinson. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent questioned why the match took place when the disputed semi-final against City was "still sub judice".

The following week, as a result of the decision by the English FA, the county FA ordered that the semi-final be replayed on the coming Saturday in Lincoln. Lincoln duly arrived for the match but Bob Lincoln states that Grimsby "never intended to replay, neither did we." Instead the club took the opportunity to play a home match against Gainsborough Trinity (which finished 1-1). Nevertheless, City kicked off the match alone, put the ball between the goalposts, and claimed victory and a place in the Lincolnshire Cup final – which had already been played between Grimsby and Lincoln Lindum.

A "gross insult to the English association"

The following Wednesday yet another meeting of the Lincolnshire FA took place, this time at the Queen Hotel in Lincoln. At the meeting a Mr Wilkinson of Horncastle FC put forward the motion that the minutes of the previous meeting should not be confirmed, and that the minutes from the meeting before that be instead confirmed. This effectively meant that the original decision to disqualify Lincoln would stand, despite the orders from the English FA. The motion was seconded by Mr Donson, of Gainsborough Trinity, and carried by 15 votes to 8 – with the outcome being that Grimsby would again play the final against Lincoln Lindum the coming weekend.

As a result of the vote and "gross insult to the English Association", the captain of the Lincolnshire County Eleven, Mr B Robinson, tendered his resignation. The secretary, HR Bellamy, who also felt this was an insult to the English FA, intimated that he too would retire from the committee.

And so it came that the final was replayed in Grantham on the following Saturday, with Grimsby once again beating Lincoln Lindum, this time by a single second-half goal by Atkinson. Surely now the trophy would be theirs…

Not so. Lincoln again raised the matter with the English FA, who, in a meeting the following Monday, ordered Grimsby to appear before them to explain why they had failed to replay the semi-final when ordered to do so. Until that time the cup was to be held in abeyance and the result of the replayed final against Lincoln Lindum declared void.

The Lincolnshire Association have made themselves the laughing stock of the whole football community This to-ing and fro-ing was not going unnoticed outside the county, with the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent reporting that "the Lincolnshire Association executive have been making themselves the laughing stock of the whole football community... and it is likely to lead to serious results".

However, before the next meeting of the English FA there was a further meeting of the Lincolnshire FA where a proposal was made to immediately hand over the trophy to Grimsby. An amendment by Mr Hutchinson, of Grantham, added that the cup should be held in abeyance until after the next general meeting of the English FA and this was narrowly carried by 19 votes to 18.

There was no messing around at the general meeting of the English FA the following week. They immediately ordered that the semi-final be replayed between Lincoln City and Grimsby within the following two weeks.

Two weeks passed. No match took place.

At the end of May the Lincolnshire FA held a general meeting, with the county cup dominating the agenda once more. A vote of 29 votes to 21 was taken in favour of not replaying the match, thus disobeying the orders of the English FA. Three members of the committee were deputised to attend the next meeting of the English FA to "explain the whole matter".

"Lovely baskets of fish"

Messrs Hutchinson, Bellamy and Wells-Cole of the Lincolnshire Association made their way back to the capital for a special meeting of the English FA in mid-July. The meeting, at Anderton's Hotel in London, was convened solely to "consider the action of the Lincolnshire Association in relation to the tie between Lincoln City and Grimsby Town".

Things did not look very hopeful early on, when it was proposed that the Lincolnshire Association be struck from the list of affiliated organisations. However, a late amendment that the apologies of the Lincolnshire Association be accepted was carried and the final result was allowed to stand.

However, what may have helped the amendment get carried were the "lovely baskets of fish [that] were sent to the various officials concerned". As Bob Lincoln stated: "it is the correct policy to feed a man well if you want a favour."

And so it was through insubordination, stubbornness, and plain old bribery that the trophy was finally handed over to Grimsby Town. In total, the county FA met 46 times during the season, the majority to deal with this matter alone.

The final word, of course, goes to Bob Lincoln:

"Yes, it was positively amusing to watch the faces of the opposing crowd, but eventually they accepted the inevitable with very good grace, and thus once more Grimsby Town came off triumphant, and the road was at length clear for the much coveted trophy to find a resting place in the Fisheries."

Thanks to the British Library. A reprint of Bob Lincoln's book Reminiscences of Sport in Grimsby is available from Soccer Books in Cleethorpes.

Any thoughts on this article, or the Lincolnshire Cup generally? Let us know.