Back to the 1970s: 1976 and saving kisses in a long hot summer (part one)

1976 part one

‘Saaaaavvvveee youuuuuuurrrrr kisses for me….save all your kisses for me…Bye, bye, baby, bye, bye’.

Erm, yes, well, right. Just getting in the mood for the latest instalment of our ‘Back to the 70s’ series here, and those of a certain vintage will be able to guess from the partial lyrics of the Brotherhood of Man’s Eurovision Contest winner above that today we are going to tumble back in time to 1976.

The BHoM for those uninitiated in such things were a kind of poor man’s ABBA. Think; four-piece band – check, two male and two female members – check; one female being of blond follicles and one being brunette – check; annoying but catchy harmonies – check. 

You get the idea, right?

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Also enjoying a Big Year in 1976 were the aforementioned ABBA, Elton John and Kiki Dee, Jim Callaghan, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Lawrie McMenemy and Bob Paisley. Don Revie and John Lyall had up and down years, while ice skater John Curry and Brendan Foster did the nation proud with podium finishes in the winter and summer Olympics respectively. The summer itself was one of the hottest on record and is still referred to in revered tones in certain quarters as ‘The Great Drought’.

All of that was still to come as 1975 was ushered out the door with a firm boot to the breaches and 1976 welcomed in like a drunken but beloved uncle at a New Year’s party. Bohemian Rhapsody was in the midst of its first run atop the charts as the Christmas lights came down, while Liverpool enjoyed the footballing equivalent of ‘top of the pops’, sitting prettily in the number one position (pop pickers!) ahead of Docherty’s newly-promoted Manchester United side on goal difference only.

Tommy Doc, as he was known to friends, had worked miracles at United after first overseeing their (pretty funny, to tell the truth) relegation to the Second Division in 1974. The club had regrouped and built again based upon youth and energy while in the second flight and had stormed back as champions at the first attempt. Now, in early 1976, they were threatening to complete the transformation by adding the First Division title to complete a remarkable turnaround.

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Standing in their way appeared to be Liverpool, in Paisley’s second season in charge; defending champions Derby County; Leeds United, enjoying a renaissance under Jimmy Armfield after the nonsense of Brian Clough’s period in charge a year or so earlier; and outsiders Queens Park Rangers, led by the tactically-minded and thoroughly decent bloke, Dave Sexton.

Up early doors in ‘76 was the third round of the FA Cup. Highlights included the last two winners of the competition, holders West Ham and 1974 winners Liverpool, meeting in a clash at Upton Park won 2-0 by the visitors; Southampton of the Second Division overcoming top flight Aston Villa; Tooting and Mitcham United despatching Swindon Town after a replay; and Manchester United scrambling past Oxford United by the narrowest of 2-1 margins at Old Trafford.

Also early in January, an escalation in the so-called ‘Cod Wars’ between British and Icelandic was underway. A dispute concerning fishing rights and territories saw ships clashing in the North Sea and beyond.

As a seven-year-old, 1976 saw me in the first year of Junior School, or Year 3 in new money, and firmly entrenched in support of ‘my’ team, Liverpool. My family had recently moved from our humble abode in the north-west of the country to the delights of North Essex, where my broad Lancastrian tones and accent meant I absolutely did not get the living Michael ripped out of me of a daily – nay, hourly – basis. No way. Not at all. Never mind, I had new children’s television programmes such as Paddington and Rentaghost to cheer me up.

February rolled around and finally, Queen was dislodged from the toppermost of the poppermost and the nation breathed again in barely suppressed relief. For the first time in over two months, no more would the nation’s number one single contain the exclamative expression, “Mama Mia!”. 

Thank goodness for that, we all muttered under our chilly mid-winter breaths. But wait, what’s the title of this new record by ABBA usurping Freddie and The Boys on the throne? Throwing an extra ‘M’ into the equation, it’s true, our Swedish friends looked down upon the nation with their new single, the twee-entitled, ‘Mamma Mia’.

The first major trophy of the season was settled on 27 February, when Tony Book’s Manchester City side defeated the Gordon Lee-led Newcastle United side by two goals to one. Peter Barnes opened the scoring after 11 minutes only for Alan Gowling to equalise for Newcastle before halftime. The winning goal would come in the second minute of the second half, when the follically- challenged DennisTueart scored with a spectacular overhead kick. 

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Never mind, Everton manager, Lee would be back in the final the next year with Everton, where he would – rather amusingly – experience the taste of defeat once again.

In Europe, Liverpool and West Ham United led the way with assaults on the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup respectively, with both sides making it through to the last four. Next up for Liverpool was a two-legged clash with Barcelona, while West Ham were paired with Eintracht Frankfurt. 

As Harold Wilson handed in his notice as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, the race for the league title continued unabated. By March, it had turned into an unlikely three-way scrap for the championship with pre-season joint favourites, Liverpool, being pushed all the way by Manchester United – fresh from a season in the Second Division – and Queens Park Rangers all pulling clear of the pack.

For a while, it looked as if Tommy Doc’s young side were going to pull off a remarkable success in both league and FA Cup, as in addition to charging for the title the Old Trafford side were through to an FA Cup semi-final against Derby County at Hillsborough. Sexton, meanwhile, had manoeuvred QPR into a position at the top of the table that absolutely nobody would have foreseen the previous August and led the table with a handful of games to go.

So, 3 April 1976 came around and on a monumental day in the annals of UK historians, the nation shifted ever so slightly on its axis, never to quite return to normality. 

Firstly, in an early morning kick-off, a league match that would ultimately prove decisive was settled by a strike two minutes from time. The flame-haired teenager David Fairclough was already carving out a reputation for scoring late and vital goals for Liverpool, usually after his introduction as a substitute, and so his introduction into the fray of a goalless Merseyside derby at Anfield after 64 minutes came as no surprise. With Liverpool on course to drop a valuable home point, Fairclough popped up just in time to send the red half of the city into raptures and keep Liverpool tucked in just behind QPR at the top.

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So it was that the Liverpool players went off to the Grand National in the afternoon in chipper mood in time to see Rag Trade pip the legendary Red Rum

Later that same afternoon two goals from Gordon Hill in Sheffield put Manchester United into the cup final, while similar strikes at Stamford Bridge by Southampton’s Paul Gilchrist and David Peach saw off Crystal Palace from the Third Division.

Simultaneously, QPR were winning 2-1 at Newcastle to maintain their lead at the top with just four games to play.

Notwithstanding the various contretemps being played out on the football fields of England, the biggest event of the day took place in The Hague, Netherlands, where participants from 18 countries were taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest. Representing the UK were the Brotherhood of Man and their infectious tome entitled ‘Save Your Kisses for Me”. Striking a chord with listeners everywhere, the record was already sitting atop the UK music charts, where it would reign undisturbed for six weeks, and now it seemed that all of Europe agreed with the British record-buying public as it won the competition at a canter, gaining almost twice as many votes as the runner-up.

Easter came and went and with James Callaghan taking over as Prime Minister, the nation lost one of its favourite comedians when Sid James passes away at the age of 62. By now both Liverpool and West Ham United had successfully negotiated their respective European semi-finals to set up final clashes with FC Bruges and Anderlecht respectively. With just a handful of league games left, the top of the table looked like this;

Manchester United were still very much in the hunt, but the title was looking like coming down to a straight shootout between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool, with the West London club being slight favourites. Indeed, three victories from their remaining matches would crown them the most unlikely of champions for many years.

The title turned on the weekend of April 17 when QPR played away to Norwich City, who had been promoted alongside Manchester United the previous spring and had been enjoying a decent if fairly innocuous first term back in the top flight. 

On a day still talked about in East Anglia, West London and Merseyside, Norwich pulled off a worldly, winning 3-2 and allowing Liverpool to move back to the top of the table with two games to go, courtesy of a 5-3 home victory over Stoke City. Liverpool then maintained this lead by defeating Manchester City 3-0 away on a day that QPR were winning 2-1 at Highbury, and Manchester United were defeating Burnley by the only goal of the game at Turf Moor.

Thus the table now looked like this. 

It was now Liverpool’s to lose, but United could still be in with a shout if they won their three remaining games. QPR now required Liverpool to slip up, however. 

United’s free-flowing football had been a joy to watch, but now at the business end of the season, some of the young players in the squad perhaps started to feel the pressure both physically and mentally, and successive defeats to Stoke City and Leicester City ultimately put paid to their title ambitions.

As the season came to a climax, Liverpool played and won the first leg of the UEFA Cup final at Anfield against Bruges by a slightly unsatisfactory 3-2 scoreline, to leave the destination of the trophy in the balance. Queens Park Rangers then concluded their league season with a 2-0 victory over Leeds United at Loftus Road to head back to the top of the table, while Manchester United headed off to Wembley in an effort to shake off their title blues and secure the FA Cup against the unfancied Southampton, managed by Lawrie McMenemey.

In one of the biggest cup final shocks of all time, Southampton pulled off an unlikely victory when Bobby Stokes scored the only goal of the game with just eight minutes remaining to, leave United empty-handed and with nothing to show for the season.

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By now ABBA was back on top of the charts with ‘Fernando’ and Liverpool were looking to follow suit when they played their final league game at Wolverhampton Wanderers on 4 May. The game was originally due to be played at the same time as QPR’s final match some ten days earlier, but had been delayed due to Wales calling on Liverpool striker, John Toshack, for their European Championship Quarter-final with Yugoslavia. 

Going to Molineux, Liverpool needed a win or a low-scoring draw (due to the vagaries of the old ‘goal average’ system) to take the title, while the home side needed a victory to stand any chance of staying in the division. With QPR players watching the game live at the BBC headquarters near Loftus Road, Steve Kindon scored first to raise hopes of a West London title, but late goals from Keegan, Toshack and Ray Kennedy cruelly shattered such dreams and brought Liverpool their record ninth title.

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When the Anfield men were able to ground out a 1-1 draw in the return leg of the UEFA Cup Final in Bruges two weeks later, it meant that Bob Paisley had emulated the double success of League and UEFA Cup achieved under Bill Shankly three years earlier.

West Ham, unfortunately, fell at the last hurdle in their quest to make it an English double in Europe when they were defeated 4-2 by Anderlecht in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup at the Heysel Stadium.

So, we headed off into the long hot summer ahead with the Olympics in Montreal to look forward to. Before we did so there was just time to congratulate Scotland on winning the British Home Championship courtesy of a 100% record in matches against Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The fact that all three games were held at Hampden Park due to the Scottish FA refusing to travel to Belfast at the height of the ‘troubles’ perhaps only slightly diluted the achievement.

Also receiving the plaudits were Kevin Keegan, who was named Player of the Year whilst being the subject of a record transfer bid from Real Madrid, and Roy Race – the legendary player-manager of Melchester Rovers who tied the knot with his long-time girlfriend, the intriguingly-named Penny Laine.

In the next look part of our look back at 1976, we will see what the second half of the calendar year had in store in both a footballing and a general sense. Could Liverpool build upon their twin successes of 1975-76? Would Manchester United bounce back from double disappointment? Could Queens Park Rangers turn out to be a force to be reckoned with for the long term or would their near miss be a flash in the pan?

Most important of all, would the Brotherhood of Man ever again adorn the Toppermost of the Poppermost?