Welcome to our look at the second half of the year that was 1979. In our first glance at this long-lost calendar year, we examined the continuing success of Liverpool, the advent of Nottingham Forest’s first European Cup victory and the novelty of seeing a member of the so-called fairer sex being handed the keys to Number 10 Downing Street.
As we pick up the thread now, we do so with the domestic football season kicking off at Wembley on 10 August. The traditional Charity Shield curtain-raiser between league champions, Liverpool and Arsenal, winners of the previous May’s FA Cup Final tussle against Manchester United was played out in front of a record 92,000 crowd.
A gloriously hot summer’s day two days past my eleventh birthday saw me and Swiss Family Nesbit taking in the sun at Clacton-on-Sea and staying in touch with events at Wembley via transistor radio. With primary school finally firmly in the rearview mirror, it was a summer mixed with excitement and apprehension with potential new beginnings on the horizon.
No doubt Phil Thompson, recently installed as Liverpool captain in place of the departed Emlyn Hughes who had moved on to Wolverhampton Wanderers, was sharing such sentiments. If he was fazed by them, it did not show much as Liverpool hit their straps in an impressive 3-1 victory.
The league season kicked off the following week with Liverpool – as usual – installed as the bookies’ favourites for the title, with Nottingham Forest, West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and Manchester United all attracting fairly short odds. Cliff Richard was duly impressed and released a ditty entitled, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” to celebrate and in doing so succeeded in knocking Sir Bob off the Toppermost of the Poppermost after four weeks of ‘Not liking having to go to work on Mondays’, or something.
Meanwhile, ITV boffins went on strike, meaning that the commercial station would be off the air for twelve weeks. The usual problems in Northern Ireland continued when murdering, cowardly thugs claimed a ‘success’ as they killed an old man and a young boy on a boat by planting a bomb in the dead of night and running away. The fact that the man was Lord Mountbatten, and the Great Uncle of Prince Charles, made no difference to their warped way of thinking.
Despite their fine Wembley showing, Liverpool for once failed to hit the ground running and won only three of their opening nine league games to leave the reigning champions in seventh place behind the embryonic leadership pair of Manchester United and Nottingham Forest who were both four points ahead.
To make matters worse, Liverpool were also eliminated from the European Cup at the first time of asking for the second successive season when they lost 4-2 on aggregate to the Soviet champions, Dinamo Tbilisi.
Meanwhile, Forest as holders safely negotiated the opening round of the competition, defeating Swedish champions, Östers IF, 3-1 on aggregate, and FA Cup winners, Arsenal, did likewise in the European Cup Winners’ Cup as the Gunners overcame Fenerbahçe of Turkey courtesy of a 2-0 Highbury victory and a goalless draw.
Sting and his Police buddies had a message in a bottle for us all, while The Buggles duly informed all and sundry that the demise of the radio star was apparently due to the advent of video. On the small screen, it was an autumn of ends and beginnings. The last-ever ‘Fawlty Towers’ was screened while the first of a new show titled, ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ made its debut. Also popping up for the first time were ‘Terry and June’. ‘To the Manor Born’ and ‘Minder’.
The series of unsolved murders of women out alone at night in the north of England continued unabated with the discovery of a body in Bradford. The poor victim was classified as the twelfth victim of the monster known by the moniker of ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’.
Back to the football, and the transfer market once more seemed to take on an entity all of its own. Just seven months earlier, Cloughie had taken matters into his own hands and doubled the previous transfer record when he decided to pay a million big ones for Trevor Francis, but as the autumn nights started to draw in, the record was broken again by almost a 50% hike twice in the space of four days.
Firstly, Steve Daley was transferred from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Manchester City for £1,450,000 and then just days later, Wolves splurged that dosh and a little bit more (£1,500,000) to land Andy Gray from Aston Villa. Needless to say, neither transfer was a particular success and both deals would go on to have wider-reaching ramifications, as the failure of Daley at Maine Road contributed greatly to the dismissal of manager Malcolm Allison a year or so later, while the costs incurred in bringing Gray to Molineux almost resulted in the club going out of business altogether.
England kept their European Championship qualification hopes on track with three straight victories over Denmark, Northern Ireland and Bulgaria and these wins meant that progress to the finals in Italy the next year was assured with a match still to play. Unfortunately, they would be the only representatives of the home nations as both Wales and Scotland joined Northern Ireland in crashing out.
Personally, I was trying to settle into life at secondary school. I was finding it all a bit of a mixed bag, to tell the truth. My school was an uninspiring fairly large comprehensive school in North-West Essex and although in later years it would spawn such alumni as Louie Spence, Olly Murs and Leroy Thornhill (the dancer from Prodigy), my particular cohort kept any talents rather well-hidden.
Those of a certain vintage who remember the TV programme Grange Hill will probably have a good idea of the state I found myself thrust into.
Still, onwards and upwards. Dave Sexton seemed to be building upon Manchester United’s unsuccessful FA Cup Final appearance the previous May as his Old Trafford stalwarts continued their good start to the season at the top of the table. By Bonfire Night, however, Bob Paisley’s men were back on track and breathing down United’s neck, with Cloughie still threatening to go one better than the previous season’s runners-up spot.
From the end of October to the end of the year, Liverpool played eleven league games and won ten, with just a goalless draw at Highbury in front of 55,000 hardy souls breaking the run. This spate of good form included a Boxing Day victory over nearest rivals, Manchester United, at Anfield. A match made memorable by United’s ‘keeper Gary Baily hitting the Liverpool crossbar with a long clearance that bounced over Ray Clemence’s head.
Liverpool also went some short way to making up for their European disappointment by progressing to the last four of the League Cup where they were drawn to play Cloughie’s Forest side in the two-legged semi-final in early 1980.
As the calendar clicked over into the New Year, Liverpool sat atop the table, two points ahead of United having played a game less. In third spot were Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton side while Nottingham Forest had started to fade and sat back in eighth position.
Still in the European Cup were Forest and Celtic who had quarter-final dates with Dynamo Berlin and Real Madrid respectively to look forward to, while Arsenal were flying the flag for England in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and were contemplating a last-eight clash with IFK Göteborg on the horizon.
As The Clash released their album London Calling, Sting and his fellow law enforcers enjoyed another number-one single, this time pondering the similarities of returning from a beau’s place of dwelling to the assumed joy one would experience should they happen to find themselves ‘Walking on the Moon’.
Not having experienced either eventuality I couldn’t really vouch for the veracity of emotions as described by Wallsend’s finest tunesmith. Nevertheless, I did find myself falling rather more in line with the sentiments expressed in Pink Floyd’s assessment of the British education system as described in their own seminal chart-topper, ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part II).
As the first J.D. Wetherspoons was opened in London, the year – and with it, the decade – stumbled uncertainly to a slightly confusing and shaky close.
The 1970s had been a decade of change both within and without the world of football, of course. Three World Cups had been completed with three different winners, and while Liverpool had snatched four of the First Division titles available, the other six had been shared around by five clubs, with Derby County being the only other club to enjoy dual success.
Similarly, the FA Cup had been won twice by Arsenal and then once apiece by another eight clubs with two sides from the Second Division taking the cup.
So, the nation complete with its first female Prime Minister, peered cautiously over the precipice at the incoming year and the 1980s in general and collectively wondered, whatever next?