So much had changed and yet simultaneously stayed the same. It was the year that (one of) the Beatles topped the charts, Leeds United challenged for the title before, ultimately, falling short, the Barlow family faced trouble and strife in Coronation Street, Edward Heath was the Prime Minister and comedian Benny Hill hit the peaks of both our (your? their?) television screens and the top forty with his ‘cheeky-chappie’ visual sketches and audio warbling regaling all and sundry with tales of ‘Ernie’ being the fastest milkman in the west.
Yes, welcome back to our review of the 1970s and this time out it is our pleasure to regale all and sundry with a leap back in time to 1971. It was an era of long hair, longer sideburns, and even longer faces as Sir Alf Ramsey and his bunch of (not so) merry men attempted to put the misery of surrendering their status as World Champions so dramatically the previous summer in Mexico firmly to the back of their minds and embark on a qualification campaign for the 1972 European Championships.
Drawn in a group alongside Malta, Greece and Switzerland, England were not expected to encounter any major difficulties and indeed would emerge unbeaten in the six matches they played, gaining an impressive eleven points from the twelve available.
A New Year Starts With a Tragedy
However, all of that was still to come as the year kicked off with a tragedy of immense proportions on January 2nd. In an Ibrox ‘Old Firm’ league clash with Celtic, Rangers were being held to a goalless draw and with the 90 minutes almost up, many of the home support started to make their way to the exits. A late strike by Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone appeared to settle the match and hasten the move to the exits. However, an injury-time equaliser by Colin Stein then followed. In the excitement of the two late goals, many supporters lost their footing on Stairway 13 and 66 people ended up being crushed to death.
With such a devastating blow coming so early in the year, it was always going to be a battle for the game in general to produce any of its usual passions and excitements, but it plundered on nevertheless.
The year started with Leeds United sitting atop the table, three points clear of Arsenal in second place having played a game more. The two sides had broken well clear of the chasing pack, with the London duo of Chelsea and Tottenham a further seven and eight points adrift respectively.
Dave Edmunds – presumably no relation to Noel – was coming to the end of a six-week run at the toppermost of the poppermost chart-wise with a jaunty little number titled, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ to be replaced by the evergreen Clive Dunn and the absolutely fantastic family favourite, ‘Granddad’.
Ah, the Glory Years!
Contretemps on the Golden Mile
The FA Cup kicked off with the usual array of shocks, twists, and patronisation of the assortment of milkmen, bank clerks and teachers who played for non-league clubs making it as far as the third round proper. Leeds United squeaked past Rotherham 3-2 after a replay, while Liverpool had a similar scare against Aldershot – only managing a single-goal Anfield victory. Arsenal had no such problems, securing a comfortable 3-0 victory at ‘plucky’ Yeovil.
The main fun and games of the day took place in Blackpool, where the relegation-battling (and ultimately doomed) home side trounced West Ham by a 4-0 scoreline on a skating rink of a pitch. The night before, with the game seemingly sure to be postponed due to the adverse weather conditions in the coastal town, four West Ham players – Clyde Best, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore, and Brian Dear, had all visited a Blackpool night club before returning to the West Ham hotel in the early hours of the morning.
When West Ham manager, Ron Greenwood, heard of the contretemps, he was less than amused and after having his request to sack all four players rejected by the West Ham board, he had to settle for fining and dropping the miscreants instead.
Into February and a great treat in store (literally) for kids of that generation as the first-ever episodes of Mr Benn were screened. A personal childhood favourite of mine, the cartoon entailed the protagonist, the eponymous Mr Benn, going into a menswear changing room, putting on a costume, and then spending the duration of the programme transformed into the life of the original owner of the costume. It was a sort of ‘Quantum Leap for Kids’ if you like.
In their opening European Championships qualifier, England huffed and puffed their way to a 1-0 away victory over the European powerhouse that was Malta thanks to a Martin Peters strike. Meanwhile, Scotland failed to build upon an opening victory over Denmark when they were hammered 3-0 by Belgium in Group 5.
My Sweet Men – A Beatle’s Loss and One for Revie
George Harrison got his guitar out and strummed away. He strummed his way to number one in the charts with ‘My Sweet Lord’ and then simply kept strumming. In fact, he strummed all the way to the High Court.
A few years later Harrison produced his guitar in court in an attempt to show the judge the workings of his creative process and defend himself against charges of plagiarism of the Shifton’s hit, ‘He’s So Fine’.
It didn’t work, and the ‘Quiet Beatle’ lost the case.
Also losing were Leeds United. Big Time. Very amusingly.
The Fifth Round of the FA Cup came around on the day before Valentine’s Day, and while title-chasing rivals Arsenal were overcoming Manchester City by the odd goal in three at Maine Road, Don Revie’s Elland Road outfit were charged with making the trip to North Essex and the Layer Road home of Fourth Division Colchester United.
In one of the biggest FA Cup shocks ever, Colchester ran up an unbelievable 3-0 advantage early in the second half, before conceding twice but hanging on for a famous 3-2 victory. Still, it left Leeds free to concentrate on the league, so every cloud, eh?
Actually, that was not quite true because as well as going toe-to-toe with The Arse for the title, Leeds were still in with a shout of European glory in the guise of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. This oddly-monikered competition was the forerunner of the UEFA Cup which would in turn one day morph into what we now know and love as the Europa League.
Also ploughing away against Johnny Foreigner as the days started to draw out a little were Chelsea, who as victors over Leeds in the previous season’s FA Cup Final were making impressive headway in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
With Britain now embracing decimalisation for the first time, your faithful scribe was approaching his third birthday and so memories of this particular epoch in time are somewhat dim, but vague recollections concerning attending a matinee performance of Ken Dodd complete with his Diddy Men (“Vertically Challenged Personage” in 2023, perhaps) just about make their way through the fogs of time.
The first trophy of the season was collected by Tottenham Hotspur, when the Lillywhites(!) defeated Third Division Aston Villa by two goals to nil in the League Cup Final.
Trinkler Tinkles and Leeds Go Mad
Meanwhile, the league title race was hotting up with Leeds opening up a seven-point gap on Arsenal at one point as Easter approached. However, Arsenal stuck to the task and slowly but surely started to claw back some of the deficit. By the time Leeds United met West Bromwich Albion at Elland Road on 17 April 1971, the race was well and truly on once again. By now, the gap was down to four points, but with Arsenal having three games in hand, the title was in their hands.
On the day in question, Leeds played badly and were already a goal down when an incident occurred that is still fiercely debated to this day. Truly, that grown men and women argue themselves into states of apoplexy on social media platforms regarding something that happened concerning men kicking a pig’s bladder around over half a century ago is a remarkable sign of the times, I guess.
Nevertheless, West Bromwich’s Colin Suggett was adjudged by the linesman to be offside as West Brom broke from their home half, but as the referee, Roy Trinkler, did not agree Suggett was interfering with play, he ignored his linesman’s signal and did not whistle. Leeds stopped playing while West Bromwich didn’t, and they went on to score a second and decisive goal.
I wish I could remember it, but seeing how it still clearly rankles Leeds fans all this time later has kept me entertained over the years.
Arsenal were not going to look a gift horse in the mouth and they went on to clinch the title by a single point ahead of Leeds. The fact that Leeds amassed 64 points and finished twelve ahead of third-placed Spurs shows just how dominant and ahead of the pack the top two were that year.
The Season’s Close
The season was far from over for both Leeds and Arsenal at this point, as Revie’s men overcame Liverpool in the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup to set up a two-legged final with Juventus, and Arsenal had an FA Cup Final date to keep with Shankly’s boys on May 8.
With Dave and Ansel Collins topping the pop charts with ‘Double Barrell’ (no, me neither) Bertie Mee led Arsenal out onto the hallowed turf and returned to the changing rooms some two-and-a-half hours or so later with the FA Cup safely tucked under his arm and the league and cup double safely secured.
A 2-1 victory courtesy of goals by Eddie Kelly ( I nearly wrote ‘Eddie Howe’ there, no doubt thinking of Don Howe, the Arsenal coach sitting on the bench next to Mee on that long ago gloriously sunny day) and Charlie George did the trick.
Leeds got some measure of consolation when they defeated Juventus by away goals, and Chelsea made it a good year in Europe for English sides when they overcame a fancied Real Madrid side in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Internationally, England won the British Home Championship tournament at the close of the season with a 3-1 Wembley victory over Scotland sealing the deal and consigning the Scots to bottom place in the group.
Two further victories – over Greece and Malta again – left England well and truly in the driving seat in their European Championships qualifying campaign, while Scotland lost twice more to leave themselves pretty much eliminated, with Portugal and Denmark earning the ire of Scots folk everywhere.
Before the nation had time to collectively muse, ‘Just what the Dickens is this new show from the BBC called ‘The Generation Game’ all about?’ the football season was at last at a close and the long summer months were upon us all.
John Newcombe captured the Men’s Wimbledon title, while Evonne Goolagong took the women’s award, and we all took a collective breather as Middle of the Road chirped away merrily at number one with, erm, ‘Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep.’
In the second part of this ‘fascinating’ look back at 1971, we will see to what extent Leeds United were able to put their 1970-71 disappointments behind them; how Arsenal reacted to the pressure of being champions and double winners; and what the likes of Bill Shankly and the young upstart at Derby County, Brian Clough, had to say about matters.