West Bromwich Albion and Reading FC both fancied Percy Freeman but it was only Lincoln City that could get the best out of him. The Baggies ended up giving him away whilst The Royals actually gave him back to us for £10,000 less than they paid for him, despite him averaging a goal in every four matches simply because he lost his taste for the game. Percy Freeman aka Big Perce, enigma, gentle giant, goal machine and gracious god of Impdom died today our condolences go to his family. This obituary is the least STMI can do for the legend.
Thank-you for reading Neil Gentleman-Hobbs
Freeman was old school, a living god to any Imp the right side of their late thirties to fourties. Big, strong and as direct as a Lincoln Loco express train he had a shot like a cannon and a forehead as tough as Hemswell Cliff. Carved from local stone in Newark the legend the left returned and was part of the hospitality team until recently. But Big Perce a gentleman giant in every sense of the word will be a part of the fixtures, fittings and legends of this City forever more.
Alas, he was plucked from his Newark home by Stourbridge before big timers West Brom signed him in 1968 as understudy to England international Jeff Astle (174 goals in 361 games is incredible and he got 31 for Notts County). The apprentice was unable to displace the sorcerer making just three appearances for the First Division side before the late Bert Loxley snared the Lincoln poacher on a free. Percy scored on his debut against Cambridge, settled a huge cup tie against Sunderland (10,789) and got two more to start with a goal in his first four consecutive games. The all action style and towering aerial presence were idolised on a Clanford end starved by a decade of demise (the Imps had been a bedrock of the old second division through the 50s and early 60s). Though we would still finish twenty-first on the bottom rung his 16 goals and 5 braces (Brentford, 2-0, Grimsby 3-0, Bradford 4-1, Torquay A 3-4 and Aldershot 4-4) lit the season and suggested better was to come in the seventies.
Percy got 14 the following season as the Imps flirted with promotion to finish fifth, as the talisman led the line. He got a Hat trick against Exeter (4-1) and brilliant Braces against Colchester away (2-5) and Darlington away (3-3). The crowds returned as Herds rejuvenated Imps played to 16,498 V Scunthorpe (1-0), 15,015 V Cods (3-0 ), where Big Perce waded in with a goal and man of the match performance; and another 12,199 V Southend in a stalemate. Typical gates that season were 7,500, with 2 over eight thousand and another 2 in the nines. The intimidating Clanford End and atmosphere of the Bank had seen the Sincil siege mentality return. Get that this season and we are half way there.
Despite the Imps making the top three at one stage of the season controversy was to rip through the Bank. The popular David Herd was removed (potential legal issues forbid us saying exactly why – so keep that one in your trousers so to speak) with Graham Taylor coming in on 10th December. The young man’s first job was to sell Percy, already on 9 goals including a hat-trick against Bury (4-0), for a whopping £11,500 to Reading. This despite the fact that gates were pretty good too with 7,425 V Burnley Watney Cup (0-1) and 6.657 V Northampton (1-1). Naturally the turbulence and the lack of big Perce had an affect as crowds fluctuated from 3k – 4K when we had enjoyed 4 successive 6k crowds when we were in top 3 prior to Hurdgate.
Percy played regular first team football for a season and a half at Reading but his heart wasn’t in it any more. He became disillusioned and left football completely to work as a scaffolder. He then returned in an hour of need for the Royals to play a dozen games (Played 60 times with 13 goals) before the Imps came in for him. This floated Freeman’s boat and he jumped at the chance. Taylor and the Imps board were pretty chuffed when Reading reluctantly accepted a £1500 fee and a ten grand loss on the deal. They looked on in utter disbelief as Percy’s hunger returned. He and the Imps would ransack the Fourth Division bagging more records than Woolworth’s. Percy would get 23 (plus 2 Cup) and John Ward would hit 29 goals as as the Imps clinched the championship in record-breaking style.
Imagine turning up to Sincil Bank and seeing 71 home goals (an average of more than three a game!), 111 in all and 74 points (equivalent to 106 with three points for a win). Just like the Keith Alexander era from 202 – 2006 the strength was at the front and back with Ward and Freeman up front; Ian Branfoot (5 goals) and Sam Ellis at the back. That’s not forgetting the work of midfield maestro John Fleming who scored 9 that season (indeed Ellis got 15, Graham 12, Smith 9 and Harding 9.
The highest gate of the season saw us take over 5,000 to Reading (15,900), but with Big Perce pulling out with an injury Wardy got the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. The gates that season were huge with 14,092 witnessing his brace against Doncaster in a 4-2 win. Another 13,880 rolled up for the neutering of Northampton 3-1 and Stoke were humbled 2-1 in front of 13,742. Typical gates were 7,500 plus with 6 gates over 10k. The tide of optimism was infectious and gripped the city. Doubtless GT the young fabulous manager could have played but for his career ending ankle injury. At the tender age of 31 , he was just a year older than Percy and the youngest manager ever to land a football League Championship.
The following season in the 3rd Division saw us finish ninth, going briefly third after a 2-2 draw at home toRotherhamin front of 9,318, with Freeman and Hubbard getting ours. Despite the old bones giving him grief Percy would bag a brace against Tranmere and a memorable equaliser in front of a huge 14,706 at the Bank againstSheffieldWednesday (1-1). Percy would hang up his boots at the end of the season grabbing 9 goals in 27 appearances with 3 as a sub.
The Bank saw some great crowds that year with a 3rd Round FA Cup replay (novelty value) defeat against Burnley (0-1) enticing 11,414; and typical gates of 6,400 with 6 gates over 7K, 2 in the 8’s and 2 in the 9K’s. Both GT and Big Perce left Sincil Bank in the summer of 1977 with Graham going to join Elton John at Watford on the way to a glittering career culminating in the England Manager’s job. Percy got a deserved testimonial before he retired from the professional game to concentrate on his roofing business. He turned out for Boston for a season or two before managing Nettleham, Boston FC and Stamford. Big Perce finally managed local pub team Ivy Tavern FC a watering hole Chris Moyses often frequented.
A quick video of the legend and then a season by season bio
Full Name: Freeman, Ronald Peter
Date Of Birth : 04/07/1945
Birthplace : Newark
Apps : 166 ( League 138) ; Subs : 15 (league 14) ; Goals : 76 (league 64)
Season by Season
1970/1971 : 21st Div 4
Apps : 29 ; Subs : 0 ; Goals : 16
Hat tricks: n/a
Braces: Brentford (2-0),Grimsby(3-0), Bradford (4-1), Torquay A (3-4),Aldershot(4-4).
Highest gates: 10,849 V Notts Co (0-1), 10,789 V Sunderland LC2 (2-1)
Typical gates 3,500 – 4K as we struggled bright start though with 3 7k plus crowds & 8k V Cods.
Season 1971/1972 : 5th Div 4
Apps : 35 ; Subs : 5 ; Goals : 14
Hat tricks: Exeter (4-1)
Braces: Colchester A (2-5) Darlington A (3-3)
Highest gates: 16,498 V Scunthorpe (1-0) 15,015 V Cods (3-0 Scored 1) 12,199 V Southend (0-0)
Typical gates 7,500 with 2 x 8K’s & 2 x 9Ks
Season 1972/1973 : 10th Div 4
Transferred in Dec
Apps : 27 ; Subs : 0 ; Goals : 9
Hat tricks: Bury (4-0)
Highest gates: 7,425 V Burnley Watney Cup (0-1) 6.657 V Northampton (1-1)
Typical gates. Fluctuated from 3k – 4K though 4 successive 6k crowds when we were in top 3.
Season 1974/1975 : 5th Div 4
Apps : 11 ; Subs : 2 ; Goals : 3
Highest gates: Mansfield (0-0) 13,108, 8579 V Shrews (3-0) 8,291 V Cambridge (0-0), 8,032 V Rotherham (2-0)
Typical gates: 2700- 3000 until Nov then 5k –6k with 1 x 7k and 2 x 8K.
Season 1975/1976 : 1st Div 4
Apps : 37 ; Subs : 5 ; Goals : 25
Hat tricks: n/a
Braces:Cambridge (4-2), Scunthorpe (3-0), Doncaster (4-2) Watford (5-1), Bradford A (5-1)Doncaster(5-0) 9 in 6.
Highest gates: Doncaster 14,092 (4-2 bagged a brace) 13,880 V Northampton (3-1) Stoke LC 13.472 (2-1)
Typical gates: 7,500 with 6 gates over 10k.
Season 1976/1977 : 8th Div 3
Apps : 27 ; Subs : 3 ; Goals : 9
Braces: Tranmere H (2-2)
Highest gates: Sheff Wednesday 14,706 (scored in 1-1 draw)Burnley FA Cup 3R replay 11,414 (0-1)
Typical gates 6,400 with 6 gates over 7K, 2 in the 8K’s 2 in the 9K’s