Welcome back to our infrequent series where we take a look back at the calendar years of the 1970s. In this arguably slightly self-indulgent ramble back to the ‘good old days’, we like to convince ourselves that everything in the world of football – and society in general – was better than it is currently, whilst at the same time rather contradictorily wondering out loud whether ‘kids these days know they’re born’, such were the hardships supposedly faced by folk ‘back then’.
Anyway, contrived introduction aside, this time out we are going to have a delve back through the archives and have a gander at the year that was 1975. This was a particularly pertinent year for yours truly as it was the first calendar year in which I had an all-consuming passion for the Beautiful Game.
Discovering football for the first time, as it were, at the end of the 1973-74 season, I became besotted with football throughout the entire 1974-75 campaign and so by the time 1974 was ushered out the door and 1975 welcomed in with open arms, I was totally in the thrall of all things football.
Race for The Title Hots Up
It was with this new-found excitement and obsession that I knew, for instance, that Leeds United were reigning league champions but in the midst of making rather a mess of their title defence, while Everton, Ipswich Town, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Stoke City were all going well in pursuit of the championship.
As for ‘my’ team, well, I had decided that I was a Liverpool supporter and I knew that the Anfield men were bubbling along near the leading pack under their new manager, a guy named Bob Paisley and a Boxing Day 4-1 victory over rivals Manchester City left them leading the pack at the turn of the year.
The country was led by a Labour government with Harold Wilson sitting in the Prime Ministerial hot seat, no doubt foot-tapping away to ‘Lonely this Christmas’ the Mud-inspired jingle that currently sat atop the charts.
The Cups That Cheer
First up in 1975 was the third round of the FA Cup on the opening Saturday of the year. Particular highlights were non-league Stafford Rangers and Leatherhead beating league opposition in the form of Rotherham United and Brighton and Hove Albion respectively, while Wycombe Wanderers and Altrincham kept dates with destiny and top-six First Division sides, Middlesbrough and Everton and came away with more than credible draws each time. Wycombe finally succumbed to Jack’ Charlton’s ‘Boro 1-0 in a replay after a goalless draw, while Altrincham bowed out at Maine Road by a 2-0 scoreline after having first secured a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.
The League Cup was already at the semi-final stage and not one side from the top flight had made it into the final four. Somehow, Chester from the Fourth Division had made it that far and into a two-legged tie with Second Division Aston Villa, managed by Ron Saunders. Meanwhile, the other semi was an all-second flight affair between Norwich City and Manchester United who had been surprisingly relegated the previous season.
Come the end of the season and all three of the Second Division sides would be promoted back to the top division, but as far as the League Cup went, there was not much in any of the semi-final matches. Chester and Villa drew 2-2 in the first leg of their semi, while Manchester United and Norwich did likewise. In the second legs, Villa just about scrambled past Chester 3-2 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate, while a single goal at Carrow Road was enough to put Norwich City into the final.
Also in January 1975, Brian Clough made a return to management when he put a disastrous 44-day spell in charge of Leeds United firmly behind him and took up a post at the City Ground as manager of Nottingham Forest.
Into February and much celebration reverberated around the nation as ‘Little House of the Prarie’ was televised for the first time, Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party, and the Scottish group, Pilot, hit the top of the charts in the first week of February with a song titled, erm, ‘January’.
The Title Race Gets Interesting
Back to the battle for the title and a goalless Merseyside Derby at Anfield on February 22 left Stoke City atop the pile from Burnley on goal average only with both sides having played 31 games. I bet my mortgage against yours that particular scenario is never repeated in our lifetimes.
The race for the title was hotting up, though, with only four points separating Stoke from West Ham in ninth place. Meanwhile, the FA Cup was bubbling up also and with the last of the non-league sides finally eliminated, Ipswich, West Ham, Arsenal and Middlesbrough were amongst the favourites and all made it safely through to the quarter-finals to be played in early March.
Before these games could be played, though, a tragic train crash took place at Moorgate tube station and 43 people were killed.
March 1 1975 saw Aston Villa and Norwich City square off at Wembley in the League Cup Final and as Ron Saunders led his side out, it was the third successive final he had been one of the League Cup Final managers. In 1973 he had been in charge of Norwich City as they lost to Tottenham, a year later he’d led Manchester City to defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and now here he was again hoping to make it third time lucky.
The match was a dour affair with not much goalmouth action occurring until the 80th minute when Villa won a corner. It was taken deep and Norwich ‘keeper, Kevin Keelan, came for it but was caught in no man’s land. Chris Nichol, the Villa centre-back, headed it goalwards only to see future Manchester City manager, Mel Machin, dive full length to tip the ball around the post. Different days, different rules and Machin was not even spoken to by the referee let alone booked or sent off.
Keelan managed to pull off a fantastic save from Ray Graydon’s penalty, but unfortunately for the Norwich man, the ball rebounded back in his path and with no Norwich defender bothering to follow up the original shot, he had all the time in the world to slot home the only goal of the game.
Talking of different days and different conditions, the following week Arsenal and West Ham met in the quarter-final of the FA Cup at Highbury on what was possibly the muddiest pitch ever seen in top-class football in Britain. West Ham wore an all-white kit which simply must have been thrown away afterwards – no way was it ever going to get clean again. As for the match itself, a little-known striker by the name of Alan Taylor, who had been signed by West Ham from Fourth Division Rochdale scored twice to put the Hammers through to a semi-final clash with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town at Villa Park.
In the other semi-final being played at Hillsborough, Birmingham City were favourites to progress at the expense of Second Division Fulham, led by Craven Cottage legend, Alec Stock. In the Fulham ranks were old stagers Alan Mullery, and the former England and West Ham captain, Bobby Moore.
Before these matches took place England had to encounter the latest helping of a ‘Scottish Invasion’ in the form of the Bay City Rollers and their timeless classic, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ that bothered the chart compilers at number one for no less than six weeks and ended up being the year’s top-selling single.
Richard ‘Sugar Plum’ Briers and Felicity ‘Treacle’ Kendal starred in a new TV comedy aired by the BBC called ‘The Good Life’ and Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in cinemas.
So, onto Villa Park and Hillsborough, then. Two tight matches ended up all square and so necessitated replays. Fulham and Birmingham managed a goal apiece at the first time of asking while Ipswich Town and West Ham cancelled each other out without a goal in sight.
Birmingham and Fulham replayed at Maine Road, Manchester and after 120 minutes the sides were still deadlocked. It was then that Fulham’s John Mitchell stepped up to score the most important goal of his career to pinch it right at the death and send the Craven Cottagers wild with delight and to Wembley.
Clive Thomas Takes Centre Stage
Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge West Ham and Ipswich were doing battle but even when combined they were no match for the undoubted star of the show: the one and only Clive Thomas – referee extraordinaire.
Ipswich made the early running and they had what looked a perfectly good goal disallowed early on by Thomas before Alan Taylor struck again to give the Hammers the lead. Before half-time, Ipswich had equalised when West Ham’s Billy Jennings sliced an attempted clearance through his own goal to send the sides in all-square.
Early in the second half, Thomas mysteriously disallowed another Ipswich strike and it was almost inevitable that West Ham would go on to grab a winner. This they did through that man Taylor once more.
Such was Ipswich’s fury that day that manager Bobby Robson went to his grave three decades later convinced a great injustice had been done, while Ipswich captain, Mick Mills, simply refused to ever speak to Thomas again – this included during the pre-match handshake and coin toss in every subsequent match involving the two of them.
Not that West Ham were too concerned with Ipswich’s grievances – they were through to their third FA Cup Final and a meeting with their old favourite son, Bobby Moore. Moore had been rather unceremoniously bundled out of Upton Park some 15 months earlier and had ended up at Second Division Fulham, where his ageing legs were compensated for by his still sharp and astute footballing mind.
By the time the two sides walked out at Wembley, the chase for the league title was done and dusted. And what a chase it had been! With no less than seven or eight sides in with a chance of taking the title right up to the last embers of the season, it was Dave Mackay and his Derby County side that finally prevailed by two points over Liverpool.
It was a wonderful season with the lead changing hands constantly, but on Merseyside, it is still talked about as ‘the one that got away’. Ironically, it was Everton and not Liverpool that looked to be favourites going into the closing weeks of the season but an awful run-in when the Blues lost to Carlisle United and Luton Town, who both ended up getting relegated and Sheffield United after leading 2-0 at one stage, did for the Toffees’ title hopes.
Also going down were Chelsea, while Tommy Doc led Manchester United back to the Promised Land at the first attempt as Second Division champions.
More From Taylor
With Mud replacing the Bay City Rollers at number one with their cover of the old Buddy Holly hit ‘Oh Boy’, West Ham and Fulham met on a drizzly day at Wembley. The neutrals and the romantics wished for a Bobby Morre-inspired Fulham victory back at the scene of Moore’s greatest triumph, but alas for the great man reality bit him and his teammates on the nether regions and two more goals from the man, Alan Taylor, secured the cup for West Ham.
Leeds United had recovered sufficiently from the debacle that was Brian Clough’s forty-four days in charge to make it through to the European Cup Final in Paris, after defeating Barcelona in the semi-final. Although they played well in the final in the French capital against West German opponents, Bayern Munich, refereeing decisions and bad luck on the night conspired to consign Leeds to a 2-0 defeat. The rioting from some Leeds fans that followed resulted in Leeds being banned from Europe for a season.
The season wasn’t quite over yet though, as the British Home Championship internationals still had to be played. England played out two draws with Northern Ireland and Wales, while Scotland beat the Irish and drew with the Welsh so setting up a winner-take-all clash between the Old Enemy at Wembley.
In what was probably the highlight of Don Revie’s ill-fated three-year reign in charge of England, the home side ran out winners by the unlikely scoreline of 5-1 with Gerry Francis netting twice and Kevin Beattie, Colin Bell and David Johnson grabbing the others.
Next time out, we’ll have a look at the second half of 1975 and see how Manchester United fared on their return to the First Division, how Derby County got on in their pursuit of the European Cup, what Dave Sexton and Bob Paisley had to say about matters and enjoy reminiscing about Billy Connolly hitting number one in the charts!