A few weeks ago, we looked at the calendar year of 1971 and amongst other happenings we reminisced on how Arsenal snatched the League and FA Cup ‘double’ from under the noses of Leeds United. We highlighted the significant comings and goings at Liverpool in the summer of ‘71 with the signing of a curly-haired lad from Doncaster who would go on to become the first British footballing millionaire, and we touched upon the sterling job a certain Brian Clough and his mate and right-hand man, Peter Taylor, was doing at Derby County.
The 1971-72 season was thus highly anticipated and the first three months of the season lived up to expectations with the top of the First Division looking a bit cramped as the clock ticked over into 1972.
Manchester United, under their new manager, Frank O’Farrell, led the way at just past the halfway mark with 35 points from 24 games and thus a two-point lead over their City rivals, now managed by Malcolm Allison. Impressive though this lead was, there were already signs that United were beginning to run out of steam as just three points had been taken from the most recent four matches and a five-point lead at the top whittled down by 60%.
The New Year was to prove to be a memorable one, though, with an almighty scrap for the title going literally to the last seconds of the season.
New Year: New Problems
In the news as 1972 landed on the nation’s collective doorstep was the worrying rise in unemployment figures that were pushing 1,000,000 for the first time since the 1930s and were almost twice the figure the Conservative Party had inherited at the last general election less than two years earlier.
Edward Heath as Prime Minister thus had a lot on his plate as, in addition to the ailing economy, the situation in Northern Ireland was continuing to deteriorate with terrorist atrocities on both sides of the divide abundant along with zealous policing from the security forces. These difficulties would come to a head early in 1972 with the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry when the armed forces opened fire on unarmed protestors, killing fourteen members of the public.
With Benny Hill and his alter ego, Ernie: The Fastest Milkman in the West, finally knocked off the top of the charts, the way was clear for The New Seekers to buy all the world a coke and teach it to sing. This they did for four weeks.
Musically, 1972 would go on to be a good year for T.Rex who would hit the Toppermost of the Poppermost twice with “Telegram Sam” and “Metal Guru” respectively, and the phenomena that were The Osmond Family. Firstly, Donny of the clan fell in love with a puppy and thus declared his infatuation, and then his younger and smaller sibling, ‘Little Jimmy’ proclaimed himself to be of Scouse heritage with an over-abundance of hair and set about a-wooing an unnamed ‘sunshine daisy from LA’.
Let’s get back to the football pretty sharpish, shall we?
On the international front, England had come through a qualifying campaign for the Euro ‘72 competition by winning a group containing Switzerland, Greece and Malta with only a 1-1 home draw spoiling what was otherwise a perfect 100% record and now faced a two-legged quarter-final against West Germany in April. Scotland had been eliminated from the tournament, finishing behind Belgium and Portugal but ahead of Denmark. Similarly, Wales and Northern Ireland encountered no luck in getting out of their groups, won by Romania and the Soviet Union respectively.
Mixed Success in Europe
In European club football, the Arse had made it to the quarter-finals of the European Cup after victories over Strømsgodset of Norway and Grasshopper of Switzerland but then met their own personal Waterloo when the Total Footballers of Ajax diddled the Highbury men home and away to proceed 3-1 on aggregate. Also making the last eight were Celtic who went one further than the North Londoners as they defeated Hungarian side Újpesti Dózsa 3-2 to set up a last-four clash with Inter.
In the Cup Winners’ Cup, English representatives, Liverpool and Chelsea – neither of whom had actually won the FA Cup the previous May – had both been eliminated the previous autumn and so left flying the flag for Britain was Glasgow Rangers who made it all the way to the semi-finals and a clash with Bayern Munich, conquerors of Liverpool. A 1-1 away draw in Munich was followed by a dramatic and emotional 2-0 win back at Ibrox to set up a final in Barcelona against Dynamo Moscow.
The UEFA Cup was progressing simultaneously with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur both making it to the last four and being drawn apart, hence opening up the possibility of an all-English final. With Wolves meeting Ferencváros of Hingary and Spurs doing battle with Milan, the first legs took place on 5 April 1972 with the return games happening a fortnight later.
Wolves managed a more than credible 2-2 draw in Hungary while Spurs sneaked a 2-1 home advantage over Milan to set up two storming second legs. At Molineux, Wolves went into a two-goal lead before the visitors pegged one back early in the second half. A rearguard action did the trick for the Old Golds and so they prevailed by a 4-3 aggregate. Meanwhile, at the San Siro, Alan Mullery swept Spurs into an early lead and a 3-1 aggregate advantage before a Milan penalty with twenty minutes left tied matters up on the night and set up another nervy finish.
Spurs were able to hold out and so more than three decades before the first all-English Champions League Final, Wolves and Tottenham met up to decide the destiny of one of Europe’s top trophies.
The FA Cup was also reaching its climax with Leeds United overcoming Birmingham City with little fuss in the semi-final played at Hillsborough, and cup holders, Arsenal, defeating Stoke City after a replay for the second successive season at this stage.
Hereford United: A Footballing Fairytale?
The real fun and games in this year’s competition took place in the Third Round when Newcastle United were drawn at home against Southern League Hereford United. A match that was postponed twice eventually ended in a 2-2 draw after Hereford had taken a shock lead after just 17 seconds and then knocked in an equaliser after Newcastle had hit back with two quick goals by the 13th minute.
The replay held at Hereford’s Edgar Street home ground also fell foul of the weather and so took place on the day of the Fourth Round. When it was finally played, the tie attracted 14,313 spectators and again Hereford more than matched their more illustrious First Division foes. On a quagmire of a pitch, the teams were deadlocked at 0-0 until the final eight minutes of the match when Malcolm Macdonald converted a header from a Viv Busby cross to seemingly put an end to the non-leaguers’ fun and games.
Hereford had other ideas, however, and just three minutes later came the pivotal point in the club’s history. Ronnie Radford, who had once been on the books at Leeds United, won the ball in a tussle with Newcastle’s John Tudor and then played a one-two with team-mate Brian Owen before slamming home a 30-yard worldie past Iam McFaul in the Newcastle goal to force extra time.
If Newcastle thought the additional thirty minutes would take its toll on the part-timers, they were to be sorely mistaken as Ricky George popped up with two minutes of the first period remaining to put the home side ahead and on their way to a fourth-round clash with West Ham.
Although the Hammers would squeak past Hereford after another replay in the next round, good news was awaiting the non-league side at the Football League AGM come the end of the season as they were voted into the league at the expense of Barrow.
Although Hereford’s cup victory over Newcastle was one for the romantics, there was something slightly unsavoury about their election to the league on the back of that victory. Not only had Barrow finished third from bottom of the league some eight points ahead of bottom-placed side, Crewe Alexandra, but Hereford had not even gone on to win the Southern League, finishing second two points behind champions Chelmsford City, who, inexplicably, did not even apply for election to the football league for the only time in ten seasons.
Anyway, eventually there were two: Leeds United and Arsenal, and on a dull day in North London, a single Allan Clarke goal was enough to divide the sides and bring the cup to Elland Road for the first and to date only time.
While Celtic ultimately fell in their quest to reach a third European Cup Final in six seasons, losing to Inter on a penalty shoot-out following two scoreless draws in the semi-final, Rangers headed off to Barcelona to do battle with Dynamo Moscow in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
When Rangers raced into a three-goal lead early in the second half, the game looked done and dusted, but the Russians hit back with two goals to set up a ‘squeaky-bum’ finale. When the final whistle blew to signal a 3-2 victory to the Ibrox men, the Rangers contingent in a relatively small crowd of 24,701 was ecstatic.
An All-England Affair
With ‘Amazing Grace’ as performed by The Pipes and the Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards booming its way around the nation as a four-week chart-topper, Spurs and Wolves did battle for the UEFA Cup.
In the first leg at Molineux, all the goals came in the second half as Spurs took a 2-1 advantage back to White Hart Lane where the sides cancelled each other out by scoring a goal apiece in the first half and nothing thereafter. This all meant that Tottenham had secured a second major European trophy following success in the 1962-62 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
All of these cup campaigns were of high calibre and quality but what of the league, I hear you collectively gasp. Well, the culmination of the 1971-72 Football League Season will be covered in Part Two of our look back at the calendar year that was 1972.
Until then, heeeeerrreeee’sssss Jimmy.