Back to the 1970s: 1975 (Part Two) and ‘Sailing’ to the top in Shepherd’s Bush

Charlie George Derby

Last time out we amused ourselves by having a stroll through the first six months or so of the year that was 1975. West Ham and Derby County took the top two major domestic honours of FA Cup and League Title, respectively, while Aston Villa took the League Cup to go alongside their promotion from the Second Division.

So, here we go then, with a glance through the second half of the year and all the twists and turns that are entailed within.

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The summer of 1975 saw inflation in the UK raging at over 20% as the economy went into freefall. In the north of England, a series of murders of women walking alone at night was reported and would start the series of events that led to one of the largest manhunts of the twentieth century. ‘Whispering Grass’ was number one in the hit parade – a novelty record by the stars of the hit TV show, ‘It Aint Half Hot, Mum’ Windsor Davies and Don Estelle and Arthur Ashe and Billy Jean King took the major honours at Wimbledon.

The Big Kick Off

Derby County, jetting off on their summer hols as League Champions for the second time in four seasons. made a show of intent when striker Charlie George was signed from Arsenal. He was signed to supplement the likes of Francis Lee, Kevin Hector, Roy McFarland, Colin Todd and Archie Gemmill as the Rams were expected to once again challenge for the title while giving the European Cup a serious crack, also. Three years earlier, with Brian Clough in charge, Derby had been eliminated in the semi-finals of Europe’s major competition in controversial circumstances and now hopes were high that the next steps could be taken.

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Liverpool were also amongst the favourites to challenge once again, as were neighbours Everton, Ipswich Town, and possibly the previous season’s surprise packages of Burnley, Stoke City and Middlesbrough. Manchester United – newly promoted after one season in the second flight – were expected to hold their own but were not seen as serious contenders yet. Dave Sexton, by then building an exciting side at Queens Park Rangers, was acknowledged as one of the brightest and most innovative coaches in the game but few were tipping QPR to seriously trouble the title contenders.

After Derby had despatched FA Cup winners West Ham at Wembley in the Charity Shield with the minimum of fuss in a 2-0 victory, everyone got down to the serious business of league football the following weekend.

The season kicked off at Loftus Road with Sexton’s Rangers coming up against Bob Paisley’s Liverpool side. The Anfield men had had, and spurned, chances to take the title the previous season and when the home side ran out comprehensive 2-0 victors on that sunny August afternoon in front of more than 27,000 spectators, the signs did not look particularly promising for Paisley and his men.

In fact, Liverpool would get off to a sluggish start in winning just four times in their opening nine games, while the early pace setters were Queens Park Rangers, Manchester United and West Ham United.

By the time the early autumn evenings were settling in, BBC2 was showing a new John Cleese-inspired comedy show entitled, ‘Fawlty Towers’, and both Rod Stewart and David Essex were warbling their ways to the Toppermost of the Poppermost with trite little numbers; ‘Sailing’ and ‘Hold Me Close’ respectively.

You What, Son? Comprehension Problems

On a personal note, I was by now seven years old and as my family uprooted from our origins in the northwest of England to Middlesex, it’s fair to say my new classmates found my accent a constant source of amusement. As I recall, the few kids who shared my passion for football were supporters of the most local professional side, Brentford.

The England national side was locked in the middle of the qualifying campaign for the 1976 European Championships and had been drawn into a group alongside Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus. The campaign had started reasonably well with two wins and a draw, the only drawback being the goalless stalemate at home to Portugal.

Now in the autumn of 1975 Don Revie suddenly and ruthlessly dispensed with the services of his captain, Alan Ball, and following a friendly victory over Switzerland in September, prepared to do battle with Czechoslovakia and Portugal once again.

The two matches could hardly have gone worse for England with only a solitary point meaning the Three Lions were pretty much eliminated from the competition by the time the final round of matches came around.

Firstly, England were defeated 2-1 in Czechoslovakia despite going ahead through a goal from Mick Channon, and then could only manage a 1-1 draw in Portugal with Channon once again getting on the score sheet. Elsewhere, Scotland were trying and failing to get out of a group that contained Spain, Romania and Denmark, and Northern Ireland, despite putting up a good show, could only finish second to Yugoslavia in a group that also contained Sweden and Norway.

Wales, on the other hand, were having more luck in their group with Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg and following an opening defeat to Austria, amassed straight five wins to finish top of the pile and so qualify for the last eight.

Autumn saw such notable events as the Sex Pistols’ first live concert and the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland escalating with an increase in the number of murders and bombings both in the province and on the mainland. The rock group Queen released a single titled ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which was met with a mixture of praise and ridicule in the music press, different sectors of which described it as ‘outstanding’ and ‘pretentious’.

Autumn in Europe – Derby Hit a Real Rock

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Liverpool hit a bit of form in the league with the start of a run that was to see just one defeat in 23 league games but were eliminated from the League Cup in the third round. Better luck was to be had in Europe where aggregate victories over Hibernian, Real Sociedad and Śląsk Wrocław from Poland saw the Reds safely through to the last eight of the UEFA Cup by Christmas.

Also going well in Europe were West Ham United who had reached the same stage in the European Cup Winners’ Cup following victories over Finnish side Reipas Lahti and Ararat Yerevan from the Soviet Union.

However, the real drama was to be found in the European Cup where champions Derby eased past Czechoslovakian side Slovan Bratislava in the first round only to be drawn against one of the favourites, Real Madrid, in the next stage. The first leg took place at the Baseball Ground on October 22 1975 and the capacity crowd packed in that night saw one of the most memorable games in the old ground’s history.

Derby got off to the perfect start when they raced into a 2-0 lead within the first quarter of an hour. First, Charlie George struck to put them ahead after only nine minutes, and then just six minutes later Francis Lee fell over in the penalty area – as he was rather wont to do – and the Soviet referee pointed to the spot. George lost no opportunity to net both his and Derby’s second of the night.

In the 25th minute, however, Madrid pulled one back and in netting, Pirri scored what would ultimately prove to be a very decisive goal.

Before half-time, David Nish had restored Derby’s two-goal advantage and when George completed his hat trick with another strike from the spot, Derby looked to have done enough to progress to the quarter-finals with a 4-1 first-leg victory.

The second leg played at the Bernabeu a fortnight later, couldn’t have been more of a contrast than the first if it had been scripted. This time it was Real Madrid that sprinted into an early lead and although it was only 1-0 to the home side at half-time, two goals early in the second half opened up a 3-0 advantage and put the Spaniards ahead on the away goals rule. When Charlie George scored his fourth goal of the tie just after the hour mark, Derby were back in the ascendency but a late penalty converted by Pirri brought the game into extra time.

The only strike in the further period was by Carlos Gonzalez and so after holding a three-goal advantage after the first leg, Derby were out of Europe..

Twice in 24 Hours – When Games Were Played on Consecutive Days

The calendar year started to wrap up, and as it did so the Queens Park Rangers story hit a slight bump in the road with only one win and two draws to show for in December as Liverpool gained revenge for the opening-day defeat with a 2-0 scoreline the weekend before Christmas to move back to the top of the table.

With Christmas Day being a Thursday that year, sides played on two consecutive days – the traditional Boxing Day fixture on the Friday, and the ‘normal’ Saturday fixture the day later. With a win over Manchester City following a draw with Stoke City, Liverpool went into the New Year atop of the pile – ahead of Tommy Doc and Manchester United on goal difference only. Leeds and Derby County came next, a single point behind, with QPR back in fifth a further two points adrift.

The nation settled down to its turkey and stuffings with the aforementioned Bohemian Rhapsody sitting nicely at the top of the charts and with much seemingly to look forward to.

1976, eh? Now, what a year that would be!

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