Back to the 70s: Things go pear-shaped at Old Trafford – 1972 part three

Gordon Banks 1972

…And, we’re back!

The first half of 1972 had seen the culmination of the 1971-72 football season which eventuated in Derby County triumphing in a thrilling five-way battle for the title, Leeds United consoling themselves on missing out on ‘the double’ by taking the FA Cup, and Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City experiencing cup joy in the UEFA and League Cups respectively.

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The Summer Olympics in Munich had been and gone, and while the tragic deaths of those murdered by terrorists there would never be forgotten, the world kept spinning and life carried on much the same as normal for most people.

The summer ended all too quickly and the 1972-73 football season was soon upon us all again. On 5 August 1972, with Donny Osmond topping the charts with the all-time classic, ‘Puppy Love’, the season kicked off with the FA Charity Shield.

League Champions, Derby County, and FA Cup Winners, Leeds United, were due to face off against one another but to be frank neither club could give a proverbial one about the game and so both blew it off. Instead, Third Division champions, Aston Villa, agreed to meet Manchester City, who had finished fourth in the First Division, at Maine Road. A fairly healthy crowd of 34,859 turned up to see City prevail, courtesy of a Francis Lee penalty.

The following week the season proper kicked off in earnest with defending champions, Derby, getting off to a slightly unsatisfactory start when they could only draw 1-1 away to Southampton. Leeds United were even more out of sorts, going down to a thumping 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, while the previous season’s third and fourth-placed teams, Liverpool and Manchester City, met at Anfield with the home side prevailing by a 2-0 scoreline in front of a full house of 55,383. 

British sides in Europe

The European competitions kicked off that autumn with Derby County and Celtic representing England and Scotland respectively in the European Cup. Derby sailed through the first round against Željezničar of the old Yugoslavia by a 4-1 aggregate victory, while Celtic were 5-2 aggregate victors over Norway’s Rosenborg. The second round saw Derby up against Benfica, and on a never-to-be-forgotton evening in front of a packed Baseball Ground, Cloughie’s men triumphed 3-0 in the first leg to set up a comfortable cushion for the return a fortnight later in Portugal. A goalless stalemate in the Stadium of Light thus saw Derby through to the last eight.

Celtic, unfortunately, could not match their English counterpart’s feats and bowed out of the European Cup in the last sixteen, going down 4-2 on aggregate to Hungarian side, Újpesti Dózsa.

In the European Cup Winners’ Cup, Leeds United made hard work of defeating Turkish side Újpesti Dózsa 2-1 on aggregate in the first round and Carl Zeiss Jena of East Germany by a 2-0 scoreline in the second. Meanwhile, Hibernian, who had been defeated 6-1 by Celtic in the previous season’s Scottish FA Cup Final but still qualified for the ECWC courtesy of Celtic completing the double of league and cup, defeated Sporting CP of Portugal 7-3 on aggregate in the first round and Albania Besa Kavajë of Albania 8-2 in the second to join Leeds in the last eight.

In the third of Europe’s major competitions, the UEFA Cup, England was represented by Liverpool, Manchester City, Stoke City and the holders, Tottenham Hotspur. While Manchester City and Stoke bowed out at the first time of asking at the hands of Valencia and Kaiserslautern respectively, Liverpool glided past West Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, AEK Athens of Greece and East German side, Dynamo Berlin, while Spurs made it past Lyn of Norway, Greek side Olympiacos, and Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia.

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Scottish teams Aberdeen and Partick Thistle failed to get through the first round of the UEFA Cup.

Back to the league and the big guns are struggling

Although doing well in Europe, Brian Clough’s men were not making a very good fist of defending their championship as the autumn nights started to draw in. The slightly flat opening day draw against Southampton was followed by a bleak run that saw the Rams in 16th place after just 14 games, with defeat being tasted in exactly half of those matches.

By this point, the table was being led by Liverpool on 21 points ahead of Arsenal who were a point behind having played a game more. In third slot were Chelsea, ahead of Leeds United on goal average and a further two points behind the Gunners.

The Manchester duo of City and United, which had both looked like shoo-ins for the title at different points the previous season, were struggling somewhat. City, now managed completely by Malcolm Allison, were in 17th place, a cool ten points behind Liverpool, while United were faring even worse down in 21st position and mired in a relegation battle just four years after winning the European Cup.

If Manchester United manager, Frank O’Farrell, was feeling down in the dumps at his and United’s plight, he presumably only had to turn on his radio to instantly give himself a lift, for sitting at number one in the charts was the unforgettable tones of “Mouldy Old Dough” by Lieutenant Pigeon.

What do you mean, you’ve never heard of it?

In the news, the raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 came into operation, while Mastermind was shown on British TV for the first time.

Were the two events linked, do you think? Probably not, eh?

Gordon Banks, the England and Stoke City goalkeeper, took his place between the sticks for Stoke’s crucial away game at Anfield, where he was his usual formidable barrier. Liverpool were delighted to scrape a 2-1 victory, with Ian Callaghan netting the winner in the last minute. Tragically for Banks, this would be the last first-class game he would ever play as just days later he was involved in a serious car crash and lost the sight of his right eye.

England and Scotland get off to good starts

The qualifying stages for the 1974 World Cup to be held in West Germany also got underway in the autumn of 1972, and following a disappointing 3-1 aggregate defeat to West Germany in the quarter-finals of the European Championship, the pressure was on Sir Alf Ramsey to secure safe passage to the finals. On the face of it, his and England’s task did not look the most onerous of obstacles to overcome, being drawn in a three-team group alongside Poland and Wales, but Ramsey knew England could not afford to be complacent.

Scotland also found themselves with just two opponents to overcome in the shape of Czechoslovakia and Denmark, while Northern Ireland prepared to do battle with Bulgaria, Portugal and Cyprus.

The first round of games saw England get off to a good start with a 1-0 victory away to Wales, while Northern Ireland were trounced 3-0 in Bulgaria and Scotland started strongly with a quick-fire double over Denmark, winning 4-1 away before triumphing 2-0 at home. Scotland at this point were managed by former Chelsea and Aston Villa manager, Tommy Docherty, and were already looking good for qualification.

It’s ‘goodbye’ from Frank, and ‘hello’ from Tommy

Meanwhile, back in the First Division and things were not looking up for poor old Frank O’Farrell at Manchester United. Just a year previously he had seen his new side sitting pretty at the top of the table, some five points clear of the chasing pack, before watching in horror as everything went pear-shaped. This time out things were going from worse to horrific as United were trounced 5-0 by relegation rivals Crystal Palace the week before Christmas, and time was finally up for Frank.

The Manchester United board had seen enough and so the man poached from Leicester City just 18 months earlier was now ushered out of the door and in his place came Tommy Docherty, the Scotland manager.

So, the end of the year was upon us and as Liverpool continued to lead the way and had further adventures in Europe to look forward to in 1973, it was time to once again take stock of the year just gone.

Socially, 1972 had been a tough year with terrorism prevalent in many spots around the globe, unemployment and financial hardship doing similar rounds of destruction, and a general air of slight depression with not much to look forward seemingly hovering over most of the population.

Football-wise, it had been an exciting twelve months with a title chase for the ages going down to the last kick of the season and some enthralling matches being played, but even here there was a sense of change in the air – Manchester United were struggling, their city rivals were also going off the boil, and Sir Alf Ramsey was feeling the pressure as the national side were under the spotlight like never before since 1966.

With our friend ‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond closing out the year at number one in the charts with his ‘legendary’ hit regarding hairstyles, romance and Merseyside, one thing was for sure: 1973 was going to be an important year for all concerned.