Back to the 1970s: 1973 and woe for England (part three)

1973 part three

In previous instalments of our review of 1973, we have looked at the opening months of the year and seen how the domestic honours were grabbed by Liverpool. Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur, who secured the Football League title, FA Cup and League Cup respectively. We also examined the English sides’ efforts to bring home the three major European trophies, – with mixed success it should be said – and then we rounded up by looking at the Home Nations’ progress in their efforts to qualify for the 1974 World Cup to be held in West Germany.

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In this final look back at the fourth calendar year of the 1970s, we will see the World Cup qualifying campaigns conclude and at the same time, we will look at the opening months of the 1973-74 club season. Finally, another glance at news and entertainment issues in society at the time will be considered.

The season kicked off with reigning league champions, Liverpool, failing to get off to a flyer with a win, a draw and a defeat in their first three games, while the side considered most likely to challenge them at the top of the table, Leeds United, started with seven straight wins to fly clear at the top as summer days gave way to autumn.

Manchester United, meanwhile, commenced the season with Bobby Charlton retired, Denis Law transferred to local neighbours, Manchester City, and George Best going AWOL. The result of all this drama was an unsettling one on the side and the Old Trafford men began the season disastrously, with four defeats in the opening half dozen league games of the season, to leave United firmly in the bottom three. As the 1973-74 season was the first to see three sides relegated from and promoted to the top flight, it was already becoming apparent that it was going to be a difficult season for United and their Scottish manager, Tommy Docherty.

Docherty had been persuaded to give up his job as Scotland national team manager to come to Old Trafford, and he must have looked on enviously as his successor, Willie Ormand, carried on his initial good work. On 26 September 1973, Ormond’s Scotland side made sure of qualification for the following year’s World Cup in West Germany by defeating Czechoslovakia 2-1 at Hampden Park. With six points out of six, qualification was ensured with a game still to play and so the return match against the Czechs a month later, which Scotland lost 1-0, was rendered academic.

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Into September, and the Osmonds were still on the case, this time with brother Donny going above the beyond the call of duty with a double A-side titled, “Young Love”/ “A Million to One”. For four weeks the British record-buying public could find no single record to outsell these classics and so Donny notched up the third number-one single of his career.

Good for him, I suppose.

Anywho, Leeds United kept up their storming run at the top of the First Division, and there was a feeling that at last Don Revie was letting his charges off the leash a little. There had long been a perception that, under Revie, Leeds had been functional rather than expansive, and this, added to their perceived on-field aggressiveness, had led to the Elland Road side receiving far fewer plaudits than their success deserved.

Previously, Leeds appeared perfectly happy to grab a goal and then sit on their lead, protecting it at any cost, rather than open up and give free rein to their talents. This parsimony football-wise was also partly responsible for the schadenfreude felt in certain quarters whenever Leeds fell just short of taking home the major honours. The events of the previous May, when the club lost two cup finals in the space of eleven days, had perhaps had a ripple effect, however.

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The defeat at Wembley had induced the usual grins of satisfaction at the side’s misfortune from some quarters, but the defeat in Greece at the hands of Milan in the European Cup Winners Cup had provoked a different reaction from the British public. Such was the blinding injustice of Leeds’ 1-0 defeat that evening, and the blatant dishonesty behind it, that Leeds actually found themselves in the unusual position of having the public’s sympathy.

Whether or not this new-found empathy encouraged Revie to allow his charges to cut free a little has never been recorded, but the shackles did indeed seem to have been freed, at least to a degree. In mid-October, Liverpool were defeated 1-0 at Elland Road to leave the champions in eighth spot, eight points behind Leeds after just twelve games.

Just five days after this match came England’s date with destiny when they met Poland in the final qualification game of Group 5. Following England’s 2-0 defeat in Poland in the reverse fixture the previous June, Poland had defeated Wales by a 3-0 scoreline to take over at the top of the group by a point from England, and so the situation going into the Wembley clash was simple: England needed to win in order to qualify – any other result would see the Poles through.

Before the game, although nerves were jangling, confidence was high that England would get the result they needed to progress and no less a luminary than Brian Clough declared that the game was a forgone conclusion and that the Polish ‘keeper, one Jan Tomaszewski, was ‘a clown’.

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Clown he may or may not have been, but one thing Tomaszewski had not done was quit a job he loved in a misguided attempt to get his own way. Just two days before England’s do-or-die clash, Brian Clough and his partner and assistant, Peter Taylor, had resigned from their posts at Derby County.

This dual resignation had come about as the culmination of their long-running battle with Derby chairman, Sam Longson, and the Derby board who had felt that Clough should be concentrating more on managing the club and less on his media responsibilities. Attempting to call Longson’s bluff, Clough and Taylor handed in their resignations in protest and, to their great consternation, had them accepted.

Undeterred by this setback, Clough took his place in the television gantry and thus had a bird’s eye view of the events that unfolded on that misty autumn evening almost five decades ago now.

Following his mistake in Poland, Bobby Moore found himself dropped by Sir Alf Ramsey for the first time, so was alongside his manager on the bench as Norman Hunter and Roy McFarland took up central defensive duties for the Three Lions. The home side, unsurprisingly, made all the early running but were unable to make any sort of breakthrough in the first half despite McFarland hitting the post, Colin Bell having a tremendous shot well saved, Clarke almost scoring with a header pushed around the post, and Mick Channon also having a looping header pushed over the bar.

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With the second half kicking off scoreless, England continued in the same vein, with Tony Currie having a fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area pushed away by Tomaszewski as England continued to pile forward. As the hour mark approached, with still no dent in the scoreline, and England starting to commit more men forward, Poland broke out of defence and the ball was played along the England touchline right in front of the benches and the royal box.

Norman Hunter moved across and seemed to have everything under control when, in a practical replication of Moore’s mistake in Poland four months earlier, he inexplicably seemed to stand on the ball and concede possession.

Poland’s number 7, Lato, took over and headed off at pace towards the England goal, but with more than half the pitch to cover, and being right out on the wing, there was still plenty of opportunity for England’s defenders to retrieve the situation. Unfortunately, they made a collective pig’s ear of the situation.

Firstly, Lato was able to run forty yards unchallenged, with McFarland backing off, and then when Robert Gadocha, Poland’s number 11, made a dummy run across the face of the penalty area. England left-back, Emlyn Hughes allowed himself to get drawn out of position and followed him. This left the way clear for Domarski to move into the space vacated by Hughes and Lato was able to find him with the simplest of passes.

Hitting the ball first time as Hughes desperately tried to cover, Domarski did not make the cleanest of strikes and his shot would have been one that Peter Shilton in goal would have been expected to deal with as a matter of routine. Instead, Shilton took his eye off the ball, it squirmed under his body and Poland were one ahead.

Wembley was stunned and could only look on in frustration as England fought to get themselves back in the game, with Channon having what appeared to be a perfectly good goal disallowed. On 64 minutes they were thrown a lifeline when the referee ruled that Peters was fouled in the area and Allan Clarke fired home the resulting penalty to level up the scores.

The remaining 25 minutes was a practical non-stop siege on the Poland goal with Bell and Hector having attempts cleared off the line and Currie also going close and being thwarted by Tomaszewski in goal. When the final whistle blew, there had been no addition to the scoreline and England were – unbelievably – out of the World Cup.

The country, in general, couldn’t believe it – let alone the footballing fraternity – and for the first time since before the war, and just eight years after winning the tournament, England would be absent from the globe’s premier event. It was a disappointment that Sir Alf Ramsay was not to recover from and come the end of the season his contract as England manager would not be renewed.

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Back to the club scene and Liverpool’s difficult start to the season continued with elimination from the European Cup at the hands of Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia, who dispatched the reds courtesy of two 2-1 victories. While Leeds continued on their unbeaten run in the league, they too came a cropper in Europe as they were defeated in the third round of the UEFA Cup by Vitória F.C. of Portugal, 3-2 on aggregate.

Britain limped towards the conclusion of the year amidst a number of strikes – the firemen and ambulance crews being among them, while terrorism continued to be a blight on the name of Northern Ireland.

Princess Anne did her best to lift the national gloom with an early winter wedding to Captain Mark Phillips, but just a week before Christmas a train crash at Ealing resulted in 10 dead and 94 injured.

Manchester United continued to struggle and as Slade wished the nation ‘Merry Xmas”, Tommy Doc found his side fourth from bottom and mired in a relegation battle. Leeds United and Revie saw in the new year sitting pretty at the top of the table, unbeaten in 23 league games so far, and eight points ahead of Liverpool who had dragged themselves back up to second.

So 1973 ended and as usual, it had been a year of mixed fortunes both on and off the field. 1974 approached, and it would turn out to be an important year for Don Revie, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Tommy Docherty – but not quite in the ways they had imagined.