Back to the 70s: 1977 and there’s no future – part one

Football in 1977

“There’s no future,” they sang.

Well, back in 1977 was the legend that is the Sex Pistols right? In some ways they were – just ask Tommy Docherty – but in others, they were somewhat off the mark.

Join us in our latest journey back in time as we revisit the Silver Jubilee year of 1977 and take a peek at the footballing and social issues of the calendar year. It was to prove a big year for Bob Paisley, a promising one for Brian Clough after a couple of years in the relative wilderness, one of mixed emotions for the afore-mentioned Tommy Doc, and one of light but fascinating bewilderment for one particular Essex eight-going on nine-year-old schoolboy.

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Following the heat wave that was much of the summer of 1976, the weather soon got back to normal as the winter nights drew in, and as 1977 popped its head above the parapet, the usual catalogue of snowfalls, waterlogged pitches, postponements and orange balls were once again a mainstay of the English game.

Come 1 January 1977 and League Champions, Liverpool were once again making a good fist of challenging for the title, with Ipswich Town, led by Bobby Robson, and Manchester City, under the leadership of ex-player, Tony Book, seemingly their closest rivals. The previous season’s surprise package, Queens Park Rangers, who had come so close to taking the 1976 league title, had fallen away dramatically and lay mid-table as the New Year was ushered in. Also not pushing on quite as expected was Manchester United, who had gone close to securing the league and FA Cup ‘double’ in 1976 before ultimately falling short in both competitions.

The year kicked off to the sound of Johnny Mathis’ warblings at number one in the charts with his yuletide offering, ‘When a Child is Born’ and would culminate some twelve months later with the McCartney Clan and their buddies extolling the virtues of a rather nondescript and windswept Scottish outpost simply titled, ‘Mull of Kintyre’. James Callaghan, the leader of the Labour Party sat at the top of the table as Prime Minister, having succeeded Harold Wilson the previous April, while Queen Elizabeth moved into the year of the twenty-fifth anniversary of her ascension to the throne, and the country and her subjects geared up for Silver Jubilee celebrations.

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One of those subjects was yours truly who some of you may have guessed was the eight-year-old alluded to above. By now enjoying the fifth year of my full-time education, football was an all-consuming passion and I recall being a rather annoying ‘know-it-all’ when it came to footballing stats and figures at this age. Whenever time allowed and I wasn’t playing the game, I would be spending hours reading about it and absorbing information at the rate and quantity that I never seemed to emulate in my school lessons.

On ‘the box’, New Year’s Day was celebrated by the BBC marking the occasion with the TV premiere of the 1971 film, ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ starring Gene Wilder, while ITV hit back two days later with the first British airing of ‘Charlie’s Angels’, starring – if that’s the word to use in the circumstances – Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith.

Football quickly got underway and the FA Cup third round saw last season’s finalists, Manchester United and Southampton, overcome Walsall and Chelsea respectively. Also safely through to the next round were Ipswich Town and Liverpool, who were made to work hard by Third Division Crystal Palace who secured a goalless draw at Anfield before succumbing to the odd goal in five in the replay.

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England were managed by Don Revie, who had been in the post since the summer of 1974 but had seemingly begun to hit rocky waters. Non-qualification for the 1976 European Championships had not been on the agenda and a 2-0 defeat against Italy in November 1976 had seriously dented England’s World Cup qualification process. In a group that also contained Finland and Luxembourg, high-scoring victories over the two so-called ‘minnow’ nations were going to be imperative if England would have any chance of making it through to Argentina in 1978, but a scrambled 2-1 Wembley victory over Finland did little to raise anybody’s hopes.

As the winter continued to play itself out the ‘punk’ group, The Sex Pistols, continued to court controversy and new followers in almost equal measures. Having had what amounted to nothing more than a minor hit with a delightful ditty titled, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ at the tail end of 1976, the group made what would become an infamous appearance on the ITV Today programme resulting in a four-letter outburst that would ultimately lead to EMI terminating their record deal.

No matter, the group, managed by the charm bucket that was Malcolm McLaren, was soon snapped up by A&M, only to last just two weeks before, once again, they found themselves without a contract. Finally settling down with Richard Branson and his fledging Virgin Records label, the SP would enjoy the rest of 1977 by having a string of hits. These included a ‘reworking’ of the national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’, that rather than praising her maj, suggested that she was, among other things, ‘a moron’ and the leader of a ‘fascist regime’.

Ah, well.

Back to footy, and Liverpool chased the treble. Still going well in the league, Uncle Bob’s men made the last eight of the FA Cup and European Cup with Anfield bearing witness to two massive games in the space of four days in March 1977.

First up was a clash with French champions, St. Etienne, in the second leg of the European Cup Quarter-final. The French side held a slender 1-0 advantage from the first match played a fortnight earlier, but Liverpool were perhaps slight favourites to go through in front of a capacity Anfield crowd. Kevin Keegan scored early doors to put Liverpool ahead but when the French side equalised early in the second half, Liverpool needed two more or they were out.

Ray Kennedy pulled one back with 30 minutes still to play, but with less than ten minutes left, Liverpool were still holding onto a 2-1 scoreline but heading out on the away goals rule. With just a few minutes remaining, flame-haired teenage substitute, David Fairclough wrote himself into Anfield folklore when he latched onto a Kennedy pass and ran half the length of the field before slotting home and sending Liverpool into the last four.

Four days later Graeme Souness turned in the first of what was to be several hundred sterling Anfield performances with a man-of-the-match showing in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. Unfortunately for the lad for Edinburgh, he could do nothing to prevent his Middlesbrough side from being defeated 2-0 as Liverpool kept on course for pretty much a clean sweep of trophies.

Ipswich Town were not giving up the fight easily, though, and as if on cue, neither was David Soul, of Starsky and Hutch fame. Just as nobody is quite sure who is ‘Ant’ and who is ‘Dec’ in the current day, memory does not serve which of the titular characters in the show Soul played but the fact remains he enjoyed the first of two spells at the top of the charts with, erm, ‘Don’t Give Up’.

Although he might have felt like doing so, neither did Don Revie. A 5-0 home victory over the European soccer hotbed that is Luxembourg just about kept England in the World Cup hunt.

More murders of women out alone late at night in the streets of northern towns and cities were reported. These would be attributed to the same man – the tastelessly-monikered ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ who had been terrorising that particular part of the country for more than two years now.

The economy was not in particularly good condition (when is it ever?) with strikes once again crippling both the economy and the general mood of the nation, and as a result, Callaghan was hanging on as PM thanks only to some fancy footwork and a deal with the Liberal Party.

Meanwhile, a young manager by the name of Ron Atkinson was making a bit of a name for himself down in the Fourth Division as he was busy leading Cambridge United to promotion in his first league post. At the same time, Terry Venables was getting over Crystal Palace’s FA Cup defeat at the hands of Liverpool by grabbing third place in the Third Division and also gaining promotion at the first time of asking.

Although he had been in the management game rather longer than Vennables and Atkinson, recent experiences for Brian Clough had been mixed, to say the least. After the success enjoyed alongside Peter Taylor at Derby County from 1967 to 1973, Clough had made a series of bad choices.

The first was to resign from Derby in a show of brinkmanship that saw his and Taylor’s bluff called by the Derby board. The next had been to agree to manage Brighton and Hove Albion in the Third Division almost directly afterwards, and then the biggest one had been that which had led to the ill-fated forty-four-day sojourn at Elland Road as manager of Leeds United.

Now he was busy getting back on the horse at Nottingham Forest and reunited with Taylor once more. A late-season run saw the City Ground side sneak into third spot and so promote both Forest and Clough back into the top flight.

The season then came to a close both domestically and in Europe. In the league, Liverpool just about had enough to fall over the line a solitary point ahead of Manchester City, with Robson’s Ipswich in third place. At the other end of the table, Sunderland and Stoke said farewell to the top flight to nobody’s great surprise, but the side finishing bottom certainly raised some eyebrows. Tasting defeat 21 times throughout the 42-game season were Tottenham Hotspur, led by Keith Burkinshaw who had taken over from the Highbury-bound Terry Neill the previous summer.

When Liverpool overcame Everton in the oft-described Maine Road ‘Clive Thomas’ FA Cup Semi-final, and Manchester United defeated Leeds United at Hillsborough in the other last-four coming together, a clash of the titans was lined up at Wembley on the 21st of May 1977.

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This would be the first of two of the biggest games in the history of Liverpool as just four days later they were due to meet West German champions, Borussia Monchengladbach in the Italian city of Rome in the final of the European Cup. With the league title already firmly secured, and professional Scotsman Rod Stewart atop the charts with ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ the question on everyone’s lips was ‘Could Liverpool make it a double of some sort, or even a treble?’

In our next look back at the year that was 1977, we will look back at what those long-ago days had in store for Bob Paisley and his men, and, indeed, Tommy Docherty for that matter.

Until then, here’s Rod.