Back to the 70s: 1977 part 3 and mixed emotions for Cloughie

Brian Clough 1977

And…breathe. With the football season finally upon us again, what better excuse than to go back 46 years in time to the onset of the 1977-78 season and in doing so conclude our look at the calendar year that was 1977.

Last time out, we signed off with the year in Jubilee mode, happily celebrating Queen Liz’s twenty-five years on the throne, and while it’s doubtful that Tommy Doc was feeling full of the joys of summer, he was at least ‘feeling love’ along with the rest of the nation humming along to the dulcet tones of Donna Summer’s hit of the same name.

Embed from Getty Images

The England national side headed off on a jaunt around South America, supposedly in preparation for the following year’s World Cup being held in Argentina, and were probably left wondering if it had been worth the effort. Three matches against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay yielded no wins, no defeats, one goal, a red card, and a lot of bruises.

Oh, and it also heralded the end of Don Revie’s fairly miserable three-year reign.

A dull goalless draw against Brazil was followed by a war of attrition with Argentina where Stuart Pearson’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Daniel Bertoni’s strike for the home side some twelve minutes later. There then followed a seventy-five-minute battle which resulted in Trevor Cherry being sent off for having the termity to allow Bertoni to punch him.

Goodness me.

Watching from the sidelines was England manager, Don Revie. Revie had missed the opening game of the tour against the Brazilians, ostensibly due to a ‘scouting trip’. It later became apparent, however, that Revie had been waylaid by a trip to Dubai to discuss an offer to take over as manager of the United Arab Emirates side.

Embed from Getty Images

Revie wanted to leave England and asked the FA to release him from his post, but the FA refused and – publicly at least – gave him their full support. This was despite Bobby Robson being supposedly approached to take over. When the FA refused to ‘let’ Revie go, he resigned and was promptly banned from English football for ten years! The truth of the matter was that Revie almost certainly jumped before he was pushed and the FA overreacted out of spite rather than anything else.

It was a ludicrous response and when Revie challenged it in the law courts, it was not surprisingly overturned. As it happened, though, Revie never did return to the English game.

Ron Greenwood was installed as ‘caretaker’ manager of England while the FA ostensibly searched for a full-time successor to Revie. The general idea was that Greenwood would remain in charge while England’s World Cup qualification chances lay in the balance, with a final decision being made once the nation’s fate either way was known.

Practically Greenwood’s first decision in the blazer with the Three Lions was to select Liverpool’s 35-year-old stalwart, Ian Callaghan, for his first England cap for eleven years alongside five of his Liverpool colleagues for a friendly match against Switzerland.

Embed from Getty Images

The ‘Anfield Experiment’ was less than a resounding success as England could only grind out a goalless draw at Wembley. A narrow 2-0 victory in Luxembourg kept England with a mathematical chance of qualifying for the World Cup, but to all tense and purposes, the final match against Italy was nothing more than academic.

A 2-0 England victory over a slightly disinterested Azzuri who knew they could afford to lose resulted in misplaced optimism being placed in Greenwood, and although he never actually applied for the job whilst the likes of Bobby Robson, Lawrie McMenemy and, most notably, Brain Clough, most certainly did, Greenwood was appointed full-time and permanent manager in the December of 1977.

Brian Clough never forgave the FA for overlooking him in 1977, but in all reality, he was always going to be considered an outsider at best for the position at that time. While it was true that his Forest side had made a good impression in the early months of the 1977-78 season following promotion back to the First Division, he had yet to set the world alight with the City Ground club. Had Revie stayed in situ until the end of his contract in the summer of 1978, then with Forest by then sitting as league champions, the call for Cloughie to take over as England boss would have probably been too loud to ignore, but as it was, in December 1977 Clough still had too many enemies in the FA – enemies who had long memories of some of the controversies he had been involved in over the not-so-distant past.

So, what else was happening in the autumn and early winter months of 1977, I hear you collectively ponder.

Well, in the summer Elvis had gone to the great recording studio and concert hall in the sky unfortunately, and now the charts were being clogged up with a mixture of opportunistic ‘tribute’ records and releases of the Great Man’s work.

A fairly standard rock number from The King, titled ‘Way Down’, would probably not have bothered the top twenty had Elvis been alive but now sat atop the charts for five weeks in autumn before being replaced by Starsky or Hutch – AKA David Soul – who by warbling his way through a little ditty titled, ‘Silver Lady’ hit the top for the second time in the year.

Embed from Getty Images

On television, just as ‘The Krypton Factor’ was making its debut on ITV, the BBC were waving goodbye to the highly popular comedy, ‘Dad’s Army’ which aired its final episode a week after Bonfire Night.

In the news, another poor unfortunate soul was found dead in the north of England and ascertained to have been murdered by the animal tastelessy-monikored by the media ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’. The Queen continued her Jubilee celebrations by becoming a grandmother for the first time when Princess Anne gave birth to a baby boy in November and her maj then followed this up by opening the new extension to the London Underground Piccadilly Line.

Back to football, and Tommy Doc fell on his feet as he took over as manager of Derby County following the sacking of Colin Murphy who had been in charge at the Baseball Ground for less than a year. Meanwhile, his old club, Manchester United, were finding things not going all their own way without him. Drawn to play French cup winners, St. Etienne, in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, thugs in red and white ran amok in France and UEFA acted swiftly and decisively by throwing United out of the competition.

United appealed – of course, they did – and UEFA relented, reinstating Dave Sexton’s side with the proviso that their next ‘home’ European game took place at least 120 miles away from Old Trafford. With that stipulation in place, United arranged to play the second leg against St. Etienne at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park stadium where Sexton’s side prevailed 2-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. Unfortunately for United, the next round saw them eliminated 6-5 on aggregate by Porto.

While United were bowing out of Europe all too quickly, reigning league and European champions, Liverpool, were getting on with attempting to defend their titles. In Europe, Paisley’s men had a bye in the first round and so went straight into the last 32 where they were drawn against East German champions, Dynamo Dresden. A convincing 5-1 first-leg victory at Anfield seemed to have killed the tie off in one swoop, but in the return leg, the Germans absolutely flew at Liverpool in such a gung-ho manner that they raced into a two-goal lead and were in danger of pulling off the most remarkable of all comebacks. A Steve Heighway goal on 67 minutes finally knocked the wind out of Dresden, and Liverpool proceeded to the quarter-finals on a 6-3 aggregate.

In the league, however, Liverpool were not making a very good fist of defending the title they had won in each of the past two seasons. Just one defeat in the opening 11 games saw Liverpool on 17 points from a possible 22 and in second place, but then a poor run of just two wins and two draws in the next eight games saw Liverpool fall well off the pace and so come Boxing Day they were in the unusual position of being sixth in the table, six points behind the leaders they were due to pay a yuletide visit to.

Since scraping into the top flight courtesy of a third-place finish in the Second Division the previous May, Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest had surprised everyone by racing to the top of the table and staying there. An opening day 3-1 victory at Everton had shown to be no flash in the pan, and with the astute signing of Peter Shilton shoring up the defence, Forest were making all the running. A 1-1 draw at the City Ground consolidated Forest’s six-point advantage over Liverpool and perhaps provided Clough with some small comfort for being overlooked for the England job.

Embed from Getty Images

As Christmas bounded around once again and ‘Super Mac’ and his clan prepared to ‘entertain’ the nation through the utilisation of several dozen bagpipes to extol the virtues of a God-forsaken Scottish outpost named, ‘Mull of Kintire’, this budding wannabe made his competitive footballing debut.

Rolling out on the left wing for Rayne County Primary School against neighbouring school, Chappel Hill, ( a 5-0 defeat if you must know) this nine-year-old pulled on a ‘proper shirt’ for the first time. More than forty years later, Covid finally put an end to that particular nonsense.

Anyway, as the year finally came to a close, it was time for the usual reflections and recriminations. One can only muse as to the mixed emotions men such as Bob Paisley, Tommy Docherty and Brian Clough were experiencing at the time, all of whom had ridden the rollercoaster of glorious success and crushing disappointment in 1977.

Until next time.