When you think of elite level footballers you very rarely think of Lincolnshire, but some of the sport’s finest names, including Ballon d’Or winners and a Gladiators presenter, have played right here in our county during their careers.
Lincoln City, Boston United, Scunthorpe United and Grimsby Town have all been English football stalwarts among the lower divisions, reaching highs of the Championship and lows of non-league across the years.
It turns out they have also been great platforms for some of the country’s finest ever talents to play at, whether it be at the beginning of their career, their performance peaks or in the twilight period of their playing days.
Here are ten of the most famous faces to pull on the playing kit of a Lincolnshire football club during their careers, including former England managers, European Cup winners and a certain cricketer you may have heard of.
England’s prodigal son in football terms. Paul Gascoigne is widely regarded as the most naturally gifted footballer this country has ever produced, winning the nation’s hearts after his inspired displays and emotional outburst at Italia 90.
The 54-year-old made almost 400 appearances during his career, starring for Tottenham and Newcastle in England before playing for Italian super club Lazio and Scottish giants Rangers.
It was the final move of his pro career that we are interested in, though; a 2004 move to Boston United. Gazza thought he’d hit the jackpot – he has revealed that when he heard Boston were in for him, he thought it was a club in America, not Lincolnshire! Needless to say, Gascoigne played just four games before leaving later that year.
Yes, you’ve read that right. Kevin Keegan is a two time winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or, awarded to the best footballer in Europe over the year. He won it in back to back seasons in 1978 and 1979 while playing for Hamburg in Germany.
It was much more humble beginnings for the former England manager, though, as he started his playing career at Scunthorpe United, making 124 appearances for the Iron before his big money move to Liverpool in 1971.
From driving a minibus to take the Scunthorpe squad to away matches to winning European Footballer of the Year twice and being capped 63 times for his country; Keegan’s glittering career owes a lot to the school of hard knocks mentality at Scunthorpe United.
A great player in his own right, John Fashanu became more famous in popular culture following his retirement from football; making his name as co-host of hit British television show Gladiators in the 1990s.
Before the peak of his playing career as part of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang in the late 80s and early 90s, Fashanu joined Lincoln City in the 1983/84 season, scoring eleven goals for the Imps and joining Milwall a year later.
An FA Cup winner with Wimbledon, twice capped by England, and the face of a staple television programme in this country, John Fashanu is without doubt one of the biggest names to play in Lincolnshire.
Sir Ian Botham is widely regarded among Britain’s finest sports stars of all time, but it wasn’t just on the cricket pitch where he made his name.
Not satisfied with being one of cricket’s greatest ever players, Beefy Botham pursued his talents in football in the 1980s, and made eleven appearances for Scunthorpe United while living locally.
His affiliation with the club stayed strong from that moment, and he had a brief spell as the Iron’s president in 2017. In 2020 he was elevated to the House of Lords as a crossbench peer.
Steve McClaren is known mainly in football circles as the ‘Wally with a Brolly’ after his disastrous reign as England manager in 2006/07, which saw the country fail to qualify for the European Championships for the first time since 1984.
However, he has also had an incredibly successful time as a coach and manager before and after his England struggles, most notably as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant when Manchester United won their famous treble in 1999, and guiding Dutch side Twente to the Eredivisie title as manager in 2010.
As a player, he had a brief loan spell at Lincoln City in 1987, though he is yet to manage here in the county, and has been out of work since being sacked by Queens Park Rangers in 2019.
Simply one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation, Ray Clemence MBE made more than 1,000 appearances in his career, and holds the record for the most clean sheets in football history.
The Skegness-born shot stopper won three European Cups, five league titles, two UEFA Cups, an FA Cup and a League Cup at Liverpool, who he joined from Scunthorpe United in 1967.
Clemence played 61 times for England in his career, and much like the aforementioned Kevin Keegan, his dazzling career all started in North Lincolnshire with the Iron.
This list would not have been complete without Lincoln City legend Graham Taylor, who is a club legend for his performances on the pitch and in the dugout at Sincil Bank.
Taylor, who sadly passed away after a heart attack in 2017, aged 72, did the rounds of Lincolnshire as a player, starting as an apprentice at Scunthorpe, before turning professional at Grimsby Town and eventually joining Lincoln City in 1968.
Upon retiring from playing in 1972, Taylor became the manager at the Imps and won the fourth division title in 1976 with a record number of wins, defeats and points at the time, before eventually being poached by Elton John to become Watford manager in 1977. He also managed England between 1990 and 1993.
Bruce Grobbelaar is known as one of the most eccentric goalkeepers to ever play the game, famed for his jelly legs technique during the 1984 European Cup final, which he won with Liverpool.
The 64-year-old South African played for an array of clubs after his 13-year tenure between the sticks at Anfield, one of which was Lincoln City in 1998, making just two appearances for the Imps.
Grobbelaar won 19 major honours as a player, surely making him one of the most decorated players to ever ply his trade at Sincil Bank at some point in his career.
An England international and back-to-back European Cup winner, Garry Birtles is a legend across the border in Nottinghamshire, but also played here in Lincolnshire at the end of his career.
Birtles, 65, was an integral part of the legendary Nottingham Forest side of the late 1970s, managed by Brian Clough, which won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980, before he joined Manchester United for £1.25 million right after.
His professional career ended with a successful spell at Grimsby Town, where he made 69 appearances to help the Mariners earn successive promotions from the fourth to the second division, before retiring in 1992.
Now recognised as a veteran straight talking manager, Neil Warnock’s long coaching career started at non-league level in Lincolnshire, and took him all the way to the Premier League.
The 73-year-old also played in our county, featuring 72 times for Scunthorpe United between 1973 and 1975. It was the club at which Warnock played the most throughout his career.
As a manager, he began at Gainsborough Trinity in 1980, before making his way up the leagues and getting eight teams promoted through the football league pyramid, a record in English football.