Welcome to the second and concluding part of our trip down memory lane back to 1976. The first six months of the year had seen a three-way fight for the title go down to the last few minutes of the season, an FA Cup Final shock of seismic proportions, and mixed fortunes for English sides in Europe.
Off the field, musically things had been, ‘interesting’, shall we say, and with new releases from the likes of ABBA, Elton John, and, erm, the Wurzels on the horizon, the immediate melodical (is that even a word?) future looked to be at least just as challenging.
The “Long Hot Summer” of 1976 has passed into folklore. There has perhaps been an underfeeling in recent decades that this summer has been mythologised somewhat and that it was not as severe as legend would have it, but a brief look at the metrological records of the time would suggest otherwise.
Lifted directly from Wikipedia, the following figures show the stark reality.
- 22 June–16 July – 1976 British Isles heat wave reaches its peak with the temperature attaining 80 °F (26.7 °C) every day of this period. For fifteen consecutive days, 23 June–7 July inclusive, it reaches 90 °F (32.2 °C) in London; and for five consecutive days – the first being 26 June – see the temperature exceed 95 °F (35 °C).
- 28 June – In the heatwave, the temperature reaches 35.6 °C (96.1 °F) in Southampton, the highest recorded for June in the UK.
While we waited patiently for the football season to commence, we had the dual distractions of Wimbledon and the Olympics to nurture our sporting addictions. A young Swede going by the name of Bjorn Borg defeated the Romanian, Ille Nastase, in straight sets in the Men’s final, while Chris Evert won the Ladies’ title, defeating Evonne Goolagong Cawley in three sets.
The Olympics were held in Montreal, Canada, and were not exactly a resounding success for Great Britain with Brendan Foster the only track and field athlete to make it onto the podium, when he finished a distant third in the men’s 10,000 metres.
Player of the Year, Kevin Keegan, announced that the upcoming 1976-77 season would be his last as a Liverpool player, as he wished to challenge himself by moving abroad. The declaration that he was on the way out via a long goodbye tour met with a mixed response in both the Anfield changing room and on the terraces, but he was in the team as Liverpool met FA Cup Winners, Southampton, at Wembley in the traditional Charity Shield match.
A largely uninspiring affair was settled by a solitary John Toshack goal, and the following week the league season was up and running. Champions Liverpool nicked an opening day victory over Norwich City at Anfield by the only goal of the game once again, while the previous season’s runners-up, Queens Park Rangers, started disastrously with a 4-0 home reverse at the hands of Everton.
While Elton John and Kiki Dee implored one another to not break their, or anybody else’s, hearts, the long summer evenings continued. The annual Notting Hill Carnival ran less than smoothly at the end of August with riots leading to more than 100 police officers being taken to hospital and 66 arrests being made.
On television, Starsky and Hutch, an American ‘Cops and Robbers’ show, was becoming popular on the British screen, and in September the first episodes of the legend that is The Muppet Show were broadcast.
As a now eight-year-old in the second year of ‘the juniors’ in my Essex primary school, my northern accent was beginning to dull ever so slightly, to the extent that I occasionally found myself in the unchartered territory of people actually understanding more than a few words of what I was saying. Happy days indeed.
The qualifying campaigns for the 1978 World Cup got underway, with Don Revie already under pressure in some sectors due to missing out on qualification for the European Championships in which Wales had performed admirably, reaching the quarter-finals. England had got their World Cup journey underway in the summer with a satisfactory 4-1 away win over Finland, but were expected to find Italy an altogether different story. Luxembourg were the fourth and final country in UEFA Group 2.
Playing their second game of the group, England hoped to run up a big score in the return game with Finland, this time at Wembley. With this in mind perhaps, Revie picked an attacking and ultimately disjointed side that was responsible for one of the most turgid home performances from the Three Lions ever. In the end, England were fortunate to escape with any sort of victory, and the players were roundly jeered off the pitch as the scoreboard illuminated a 2-1 victory.
Worse was to come when England travelled to Rome for the do-or-die clash with Italy in November. Once again, Revie seemed to have a brain burp when it came to picking his side and deciding on the tactics, with some of his choices seemingly making no sense whatsoever. A totally unbalanced side was sent out to play in the Italian capital with only the vaguest of plans on how to approach the game. Having put his trust in the flair of Stan Bowles, for example, Revie issued no instructions to the QPR man other than, ‘Do what you normally would,’ – hardly inspiring stuff.
England were fortunate to get ‘nil’ in a disastrous 2-0 defeat which even then the footballing world knew was pretty much the death knell for England’s World Cup qualification hopes.
Meanwhile, Wales and Scotland were doing battle in Group 7 alongside Czechoslovakia. The autumn 1976 games saw just two games in the group, with Scotland losing 2-0 away to the Czechs and beating Wales by the only goal of the game at Hampden Park.
Northern Ireland were in Group 4 together with the Netherlands, Belgium and Iceland. A more than credible 2-2 draw in Holland was followed by a 2-0 defeat away to Belgium for the Irish.
In European club competition, Liverpool successfully negotiated the first two rounds of the European Cup, defeating Crusaders of Northern Ireland 7-0 on aggregate in the first round, and Trabzonspor of Turkey 3-1 over two legs in the second. Southampton followed suit in the European Cup Winners Cup with aggregate victories over Marseille (5-2) and Northern Ireland’s Carrick Rovers (9-3). QPR led the way in the UEFA Cup, progressing to the quarter-finals with aggregate victories over SK Brann (9-0), TJ Slovan ChZJD Bratislava (8-5) and FC Köln (4-4) on away goals.
In the league, Liverpool were making a good fist of defending their hard-won title and were battling Ipswich Town and Manchester City for the top spot as the autumn nights drew in. Bobby Robson’s Ipswich side had progressively been getting stronger over the past few seasons and had seriously challenged for the league and FA Cup ‘double’ just two seasons earlier.
Being unfortunate enough to be drawn away to Clive Thomas in the semi-final had put paid to their FA Cup hopes against West Ham United, and a push in the league that fell just short of success compounded a season of ‘nearly but not quite’, but now there was a real feeling in East Anglia that it could be their season at last.
Manchester City, under the stewardship of former captain, Tony Book, were surprisingly ahead of their city neighbours, United, in the title-challenging stakes. Looking to build upon their March League Cup success, and finally put behind them the heartbreaking title ‘choke’ of 1972, City were playing football almost as expansive as their local rivals. Peter Barnes, a blond-haired winger, was instrumental in this attacking outlook which was paying dividends.
Tommy Doc possibly had his mind on, erm, ‘other matters’, shall we say, in the early months of the 1976-77 season, with six league defeats by the turn of the year had Manchester United falling behind in the race for the title. The UEFA Cup challenge ended as early as the second round when United were defeated 3-1 on aggregate by Juventus.
In the Second Division, Wolverhampton Wanderers were determined to reclaim the place in the top flight they had so reluctantly relinquished just a few months prior, and together with Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea and Blackpool were partaking in an intriguing promotion scrap. Also joining the fray was Nottingham Forest, led by Brian Clough by now reunited with his old chum, Peter Taylor, with the men from the City Ground very much in the running.
In November 1976, a peanut farmer turned politician was elected President of the United States when Jimmy Carter defeated the incumbent, and unelected, President Ford. Meanwhile, ABBA made it back to the heights of British music with their third Number One of the year with “Dancing Queen” – a woman who, evidently, was 17, and ‘digging the dancing scene.’ Not quite sure what that meant, but it sounded fun though.
So, 1976 came to its natural conclusion and as the Christmas lights flickered on around the nation, Liverpool were reflecting on two successive defeats. The first was a shocking 5-1 defeat at Aston Villa in which all the goals were scored in the first half, and then an almost as dismal 2-0 defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened West Ham United. These slips meant they spent the festive period behind Ipswich Town at the top of the table.
Johnny Mathis saw us over the threshold into 1977 with his yuletide warble, “When a Child is Born,” and we all looked forward in hope mixed with trepidation at the coming year.