Back to The 1970s: 1971 (part two)

back to the 1970s 1971 part two


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Last time out we had a glance at the first six months or so of the year that was 1971. Arsenal took the double of League and FA Cup, while North London rivals, Spurs, made it a clean sweep for the district domestically by taking the League Cup. Leeds United and Chelsea did the country proud with European success, and both Liverpool and Derby County were showing promise of becoming real contenders.

This edition of our retrospective glance back starts with the trophy nobody seemed that bothered about competing for in the summer of 1971.

The previous May, Arsenal had famously become only the second club to win the double of league and FA Cup in the twentieth century and so, technically, had no opposition to play against in the traditional Charity Shield game kicking off the 1971-72 season. Rather than hang around to see who the FA would put up as opposition, the Gunners elected to go off on holiday instead…er… I mean…to go on a pre-season overseas tour instead.

This left the FA hanging in the wind a bit and so to fulfill the fixture, they press-ganged beaten FA Cup finalists, Liverpool, and Second Division champions, Leicester City into meeting at Filbert Street. In a largely undistinguished game played in front of just over 25,000 spectators, the home side prevailed by the only goal of the game.

If Liverpool were unimpressed with being the fall guys to Arsenal’s double triumph, at least they were in Europe as a result. With Arsenal going into the European Cup as league champions, Liverpool took their place in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, alongside Chelsea, who had won the trophy the previous May. Also playing in Europe were Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton, who all kicked off in the UEFA Cup.

The league season kicked off on 14 August with champions Arsenal – presumably well-bronzed from their foreign travels – cruising to a 3-0 home victory over Chelsea in front of almost 50,000 spectators at Highbury.

The previous season’s runners-up, Leeds United, were expected to challenge again and they found themselves paired with another of the title favourites, Manchester City, in an opening-day shootout at Maine Road. A single-goal victory gave Don Revie’s bunch of (not so) Merry Men the perfect start, but from then on, they faced difficulties on and off the pitch.

As a hangover from the previous season’s crowd disturbance at the pivotal home match against West Bromwich Albion, the Football Association had decreed that Elland Road would be closed between August 14 and September 4. With home games scheduled in this period, it obviously left Leeds in a bit of a quandary. When opponents refused to reschedule the games involved, there was no alternative but to seek alternative venues.

Leeds, therefore, met Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Leeds Road home of Huddersfield Town, and Tottenham Hotspur at Hull City’s Boothferry Park. Both games resulted in disappointing draws and the points dropped here would come back to haunt Leeds the following May.

Manchester United were also experiencing difficulties with enforced exile from home stadia. Following crowd trouble in 1970-71, the Old Trafford side were forced to play two ‘home’ games away from Manchester. Under new manager, Frank O’Farrell, United made the relatively short trip to Merseyside where Liverpool’s manager, Bill Shankly, had persuaded the Anfield board to do his old friend and former Liverpool captain, Sir Matt Busby, a favour and allow Liverpool’s ground to be utilised as a ‘home’ fixture for United against Arsenal.

One can scarcely imagine such an occurrence these days, and even fifty years ago it was not a particularly well-thought-out idea, with running battles being fought inside and outside of the ground between the ‘invading’ United fans and the locals.

Six days earlier, Liverpool had been the usual occupants of the home changing room and Anfield had witnessed the home debut of the player who would go on to become arguably the most influential in the club’s history.

Not too many of the 51,000 in attendance knew that much about the curly-haired number seven in advance of kick-off, but by the twelfth minute they were singing his name as he opened the scoring in a 3-1 victory over Nottingham Forest. Six years later the same player’s final contribution in a Liverpool shirt was to win the penalty that sealed the club’s first-ever European Cup success, and Kevin Keegan’s legacy was complete.

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With Diana Ross topping the charts with ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ premiering on BBC2, the autumn nights started drawing in.

England continued their 1972 European Championship qualifying campaign with back-to-back matches against Switzerland. A squeaky-bum 3-2 away victory was followed by a less than impressive 1-1 home draw, but England had still done enough to win the group in advance of the final match away to Greece in December.

In the news in the second half of the year was the children’s TV show, Blue Peter, which decided to bury a time capsule in the grounds of the BBC Television Centre to be dug up on the first show of 2000, and a certain Margaret Thatcher, who in her role as Education Secretary in Ted Heath’s government was responsible for a plan to do away with free milk for Britain’s schoolchildren, thereby giving birth to the moniker, ‘Margaret Thatcher – Milk Snatcher’.

Brian Clough and his buddy Peter Taylor were getting Derby County into shape, and now in their third season after promotion, the Rams were beginning to emerge as genuine title challengers.

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As the dark winter nights fell upon the nation, the title race was beginning to look intriguing and was shaping up to ultimately prove to be one of the most exciting ever. Derby were handily tucked in amongst the top five alongside Liverpool, Manchester City and Leeds United – who had recovered from their slow start. All these teams, however, were left trailing in the wake of Manchester United, who had seemingly been revitalised by the incoming O’Farrell and led the table by four points at the halfway mark, with 33 points from 21 games.

Champions Arsenal had not made the best of starts and so Bertie Mee decided to shake things up a bit. Sensing there might be an opportunity to prise Everton stalwart Alan Ball away from Everton, Mee made the Goodison club a transfer record offer of £220,000 and the diminutive midfielder was on his way south. Years later Ball would write that the transfer was pretty much against his will and he never really felt at home at Highbury. The Gunners failed to accommodate Ball and his style of play, and vice versa, and despite staying five years, the move was not a success.

Back to politics, in October the House of Commons voted to join the EEC with the intention of the process being completed in 1973. I wonder how that idea turned out? Also in October, the first-ever CAT scan was carried out in a hospital in Wimbledon, and the Democratic Unionist Party was founded in Northern Ireland by the Rev Ian Paisley.

In European club football, Arsenal made short work of both Strømsgodset from Norway and Grasshopper from Switzerland to reach a quarter-final match-up with Ajax in the new year, while Liverpool bowed out of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the second round 3-1 on aggregate to Bayern Munich.

In the UEFA Cup, English interest was maintained by Wolves and Tottenham who both progressed through to the latter stages. England’s two other representatives, Southampton and Leeds United, crashed out of the competition in the first round – Leeds spectacularly so.

After winning the first leg of their clash with Belgian side Lierse 2-0 away from home, Leeds looked ‘done and dusted’, or ‘home and hosed’, but in one of the biggest upsets in world football since…since…erm…since Colchester United beat Leeds the previous February, Lierse somehow won the return leg at Elland Road by a 4-0 scoreline.

Remarkable, Jeff!

Meanwhile, Scottish sides were having a bit of a go in Europe too, with both Celtic and Rangers reaching the quarter-finals of their respective competitions. Celtic had a last-eight European Cup clash with Újpesti Dózsa of Hungary to look forward to, while Rangers were preparing to do battle with Torino in the European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final.

To reach this stage, the Ibrox men had had to overcome Sporting CP from Portugal in the round of sixteen, and in the first leg held at home had raced into a three-goal lead within the first half-hour. Two late Portuguese goals left the tie on a knife edge and when the return leg finished 3-2 to the home side, extra time was required. Both sides scored one apiece in the additional thirty minutes to leave the aggregate score tied up at 6-6.

With three away goals to Sporting’s two, Rangers appeared to have won the tie on the old away goals rule, but unfortunately, the referee seemed to be in a world of his own and instead ordered a penalty shoot-out which the Portuguese subsequently won 3-0 against an understandably perplexed and demotivated Rangers side. Unsurprisingly, Rangers appealed and as a result, were reinstated and awarded passage through to the last eight.

Christmas approached and after enjoying the likes of Rod Stewart and Slade at number one in the charts over the preceding weeks, the nation was in for a treat when it came to the year’s yuletide chart-topper. Proclaiming his alter-ego, Ernie, to be the ‘Fastest Milkman in the West’, television favourite, Benny Hill, enjoyed a barely credible four weeks atop the charts.

Goodness me.

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So, on that rather unconvincing note, the nation ushered out the remnants of the year that was 1971 and looked forward hopefully, or pleadingly even, to 1972. It was to prove a memorable year for many – not least of all Don Revie, Malcolm Allison, Brian Clough and Bill Shankly.