#WFC1982 – Steve Sims & Lincoln United

Pre-Season Friendly
Lincoln United FC v Lincoln City FC
Friday, 4th July 2014, 7.30pm
Ashby Avenue
Entrance £5, Programme £1
Distance (from Vicarage Rd) 136 miles, Attendance “about 650”
I hadn’t properly considered the astonishing rush hour traffic before departure but, given that – in the wonderful ancestral world of Watford 1982 – all the roads lead back to Lincoln, there really was no better place to start this season’s journey.
Nearly forty years ago, Graham Taylor first practiced his version of legacy-building in the heart of this provincial city. Literally a stone’s throw away from Sincil Bank and his footballing heroes – Dennis Booth and Sam Ellis – a young Steve Sims was growing up in Abbot Street. Son of former Imps’ amateur centre half, Frank Sims, Steve determinedly played for his “City of Lincoln” Grammar School, the county and despite his connection to the other Lincoln club, even turned out for the Lincoln City Supporters Club Sunday league youth sides. Another Abbott Street resident, regularly in these teams, was school friend Dean Crombie. Dean would go on to a fine career at both Grimsby Town and today’s guests Bolton Wanderers.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (92)w2Skilled with both feet from an early age, Frank knew Steve was good enough, so drove his son anywhere for match practice. On the pitch, Steve was happy to follow in his father’s footsteps. He explained, “I was always a centre back. My dad played there, so that’s where I was put too.” During games Frank would be informative without being pushy; “He’d call yes and no from the sidelines but, he was never loud.”
Being a small city, then as now, these two Lincoln footballing communities were indelibly intertwined. Whilst Taylor tried to sign the Sims the younger for City – “He came round to our house a few times.” – United’s legendary Fred Green was already deeply established in the area. Manager of both United’s first and youth teams, influential school teacher Green also coached the “Lincoln Boys” team for which Steve played. This gave him unrivalled access to a good crop of youngsters and soon led to 15 year old Sims turning out for United’s U18. It was a United youth side that went on to sweep the board in “all” the regional competitions.
Playing up, Steve believes he matured much quicker and, got a good grounding that his career would benefit greatly from. Moreover, due to Fred Green’s hard work with youth players, it would ultimately lead to his transfer to Leicester City; the club where he would incidentally share digs with Gary Plumley.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (10)wThough Ashby Avenue was home to Lincoln United; back then Steve remembers their pitch as little more than a stand-less patch of grass to the near side of the cricket square. There were changing rooms but no cover for spectators. To get on, this had to change.
Initially developed to comply with the strict rules for entry to the FA Cup, Ashby Avenue now has a fine compact stadium, with three covered sides and a capacity of 2000. It also now sits in a very pleasant setting, at the far side of the Hartsholme Cricket Club, backing onto the county park.
Though Sims proudly recalled beating neighbouring City in county cups “4-1 and 7-1”, until last season there had been a hiatus of meetings between the two; even the pre-season friendlies had ground to a halt. Now however, the amicable rivalry between the city’s two main clubs has been reconvened.
Arriving just in time for kick-off, I was soon to find out that Ashby Avenue was going to be home to one of the friendliest local derbies about. Naturally everyone here knows everyone else however, from the moment I arrived – from club president to gate man – everyone also wanted to talk; to celebrate their clubs.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (16)w“Oh, you’re the Steve Sims chap!” came the warm response as I introduced myself. Pressing me with boardroom refreshments, volunteers like Anne Smith remembered Steve from his youth and even more fondly, of him returning to present awards. Amongst footballing stories, Deputy chairman and former manager, John Wilkinson recounted tales of living next door Sims. I heard fondness of Graham Taylor inviting them down to Hertfordshire, whilst Dean Crombie’s younger brother Allen became Green’s successor and with it achieved almost equal legendary status.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (117)Though Dean played for City, Allen proudly declared “I was always United”. Launching into wonderful anecdotes of the United’s exploits – including a record breaking FA Cup run – before us both Lincoln sides were doing enough to instigate stories of their own.
In Sims’ era, the two provincial clubs were seemingly light years apart; now however just three pyramid levels separate the two. Although both played in contrasting red and white, the fans blended into one. Whilst Imps’ fans outnumbered the Whites; on the fields the parity was far more noticeable.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (37)140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (38)City started brighter, creating a few hairy moments in the Whites’ box; however it was United who took the lead. Sean Cann tore down the left wing, before clumsily being felled as he went to cross and, Danny Brooks neatly converted the resulting penalty. Despite some increased confidence and a string of incredible Robert Preet saves, United’s lead wouldn’t stay long. The equaliser came from an unstoppable deflected Alan Power drive and, just before the break John Nolan’s shot hit the bottom corner.  After the interval the home side again had good opportunities but, a late Tom Miller effort put the game beyond doubt.
140704 Lincoln United psf - Steve Sims (135)wAfter my evening in this incredibly friendly home of football – where any rivalry seemed unimportant – neither the defeat nor the rain could dampen spirits at this welcoming club. About me optimism for the coming season was seeping from every pore; whether it be the smooth running of their club, the improved catering or new fenced off covered terrace behind the near goal, the volunteers were rightly proud of their club.
And, as in Fred Green’s day with Steve Sims and co, most importantly all the Whites I spoke to – in George Asplin and others –again seem rightly proud of the young players coming through their ranks.
Final score: Lincoln United 1-3 Lincoln City
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Because these articles are initially appearing in the 2014-15 Watford FC matchday programmes, they will consequently have a delayed publication on here.

140809 Steve Sims programme (1)   140809 Steve Sims programme (2)

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