Italy 1977-78 Cup

The old guard saved face in the Cup tournament – Napoli perhaps outdid itself by reaching the final. Inter did better – they won it. It was not easy, but Inter prevailed at the final in Rome 2-1.

For Inter, it was great… kind of. Great, because they were starting to forget the taste of victory in the 1970s. On the other hand, to be constantly left behind and empty-handed was more than painful – winning the Cup was good, but not quite satisfying. As for why Inter was unfit for anything bigger and perhaps must have been incredibly happy with a trophy, any trophy, in their hands, the team pretty much says it all: it was incomparable to Juventus. Rather disjointed and hardly promising better future. Facchetti was at his last legs – may be one, two at best, seasons. Retirement was his future. Anastasi was also nearing the end… well, certainly past his peak. Bordon, Oriali, Altobelli were the players to shape the future, but they were not leaders yet and even did not look like possible superstar of the caliber of Facchetti and Anastasi. The rest… the rest looked like journeymen. Certainly not a team of mighty winners. Rather, a team on the brink of starting rebuilding – uncertain, making faulty choices, searching for talent. There was no skeleton of new successful team – sadly, it looked like the moment Facchetti retired Inter was going to collapse. At least they won the Cup – which may be was best for Facchetti: stepping out in style, as a winner.

Italy I Division

Finally to the bright side of Italian football. The big surprise of the season was a small club just coming back from Serie B exile.

Lanerossi Vicenza finished second, their best ever achievement. Familiar name back in the 1970s, but just a name. The club was founded in 1902, but success was not really on the table. After the Second World War they played regularly in first division, just making the numbers. Then financial troubles started and in 1953 a woolen firm from Schio bought the club. The firm, called Lanerossi, included its name into the club name and for many years it was Lanerossi Vicenza. With fresh money, the club came back to first division in 1955 and steadily stayed there until 1975. They fought nobly, but were never successful – the best years were 1963-64 and 1964-55, when the club finished 6th. Not much to write about in the history book. In 1975 they found themselves in the relegation zone again. Managed to win Serie B in 1976-77 and returned to top flight. Nothing much was expected of Lanerossi Vicenza – the biggest news about them was in 1976, when they bought young player called Paolo Rossi from Juventus for a record fee of 2.6 billion lire. How much was that in more meaningful currency is not even interesting: it was a big transfer and curious one too – on one hand, Vicenza paid a lot for a second division club. On the other, it was suspect transfer: Rossi was a talent, no doubt about it, but he never played even a single match for Juventus and was already involved in another transfer and technically was not in Juventus. May be he was loaned, for Vicenza paid to Juventus. Big money were spend – but was the spending justified remained to be seen. With Rossi in the squad, Vicenza won the second division title, but nobody thought they would be very strong in first division. But what a surprise! The modest newcomers gradually established themselves at the top and competed strongly to the end. Thank to better goal-difference they finished at second place. Their best ever performance in the league. And there was more – Vicenza finished as the highest scoring team this season with 50 goals. Paolo Rossi was the prime culprit of the crime – he scored half of the goals.

There was no longer any doubt about the billions spent for Paolo Rossi – he delivered! 24 goals – not only the best scoring record this year, but best by far – the next highest scorer, Savoldi (Napoli) managed only 16! Fifth best scorers – Bettega (Juventus) and Graziani (Torino) – had only 11 goals each. During the 1970s 11 – 16 goals were normal… low scoring, defensive Italian football hardly provided opportunities for more. Natural scorers like Savoldi and Bettega were unable to find openings in the tight defenses – but Rossi did. Vicenza was hardly a trend-setter, suddenly introducing attacking style, but still it was more attacking football they played, creating opportunities for the young maverick. Rossi was included in the national team immediately. With his help, Vicenza edged Torino and got silver medals. However, the title was well out of their reach.

The surprise disturbers of the status quo – modest newcomers finishing with silver medals. A very rare event in Italian football, which may have been possible only because of the general decline. May be so, but Vicenza deserved their medals. Since this is not a club to get mentioning often, another photo is perhaps justifiable:

Apart from Paolo Rossi, nobody else was or became famous, including the coach Fabbri. Just a typical small club with players almost automatically ‘placing’ it somewhere in the lower half of the league table. Other clubs, with well known names and having a few stars in the squads, suffered, so what made Vicenza successful? Perhaps the surprise, surely the scoring talent of Paolo Rossi, but most likely collective play and determination. May be more open than usual football – 50 goals do not come by playing catenaccio. There was a little lesson in all that – Lanerossi Vicenza seemingly tried something different: trusted young talent, based its game on him. No more stiff tactics and dependance on veterans from the 1960s, who even if they wanted, were hardly able to change their crusted habits. The only change was possible with new, young players – that was the lesson of Lanerossi Vicenza. Unfortunately, they were too small of a club to remain at the top for long. And because they were small, no big attention was paid to them. May be they were not innovators, but only had a lucky year, accidentally finishing at the top… may be, but nevertheless it was great to see them above Milan, Inter, and the rest of the league. The greatest ever season of Lanerossi Vicenza!

Great season for Vicenza, but a greater one for Juventus. There was both domestic and international success. By winning the UEFA Cup in 1977, Juventus at last got an even footing with Milan and Inter, and also made their bid for real international recognition. At home ‘the Old Lady’ was quite amazing – they took the first place from Milan in the 13th round and kept it to the end, shrewdly collecting point after point and leaving everybody else in the dust. At the end, Juventus finished 5 points ahead of L.Vicenza. Ironically, their last match was against Vicenza in Torino – a grand finale of the championship. Juventus were already unreachable, but they finished in style, winning dramatically 3-2, after Vicenza equalized twice. Rossi scored his 24th goal, as if to show what a player Juventus thought unfit. Roberto Bettega, perhaps in his finest form, also distinguished himself, scoring the third and winning goal for Juventus. Perfect ending of excellent season.

Juventus’ record is not very impressive on paper – rather typical Italian: the champions tied almost half of their matches – 14. Ten of them were away games. Typically iron defense – Juventus received only 17 goals this year – but goalscoring apparently was not their forte – 46 goals in 30 matches. Third highest record in the league, but compared to English or German football it was nothing at all. Especially because Juventus won exactly ½ of their total games – 15. Looked like Juventus preferred traditional approach in the championship – measly 1-0 wins at home and preferably scoreless ties on the road. Yet, they were the club playing most modern football in Italy, so the final results most likely came from careful balance between traditional Italian football and the total football’s attacking style. Italian defenses were very difficult to play against anyway. Juventus was obviously above the rest and almost unbeatable – they lost a single match in 1977-78. Astonishing achievement in Italy. The only loss happened early – in the 4th round. Lazio won 3-0 in Rome. This was t also the only match Juventus allowed 3 goals in their net. A tragic event happened in the 6th round, when Juventus played away match against Perugia – during the game Perugia’s player Renato Curi collapsed and died of heart attack. Players were dying on the pitch in the past as well; people somehow forgot that in the recent years. All kinds of drama for Juventus, but with excellent result. Death may be affected the match, but Juventus got their point anyway from a scoreless tie. No matter what, Juventus were the best Italian club and continued to dominate the league. One more title and European cup – what could be better?

Looking at the team, it is easy to understand why Juventus dominated Italian football: all starters were national team players! Not at the same time, of course, but every single one played for Italy. It was excellent blend of grizzled veterans (Zoff, Boninsegna, Benetti, Spinosi, Morini), stars at their peak (Bettega, Causio, Furino), and young talent (Tardelli, Gentile, Cuccureddu). Cabrini was pushing his way as well. Scirea is not in the picture, but he was regular, not Spinosi. Virdis was also very promising at that time. So was Fanna. And don’t forget who was coaching them – Giovanni Trapattoni, rapidly becoming a star coach. He found the right balance between old and young players and was not afraid to push young talent ahead. Juventus was establishing itself as a great club, there was nothing incidental about it, and there was room for further development too. Unlike any other Italian club, Juventus did not keep veterans for ever and transition of generations was smooth. Every year the team appeared to be stronger – and hungrier. Already there was more than a feeling that so far Juventus was only going up, getting a taste of success, but not reaching its peak – greater things were still to come. Very, very soon.

Italy I Division

Serie A was a copy of Serie B – one clear outsider and one outstanding leader. Was the Italian football improving or deepening its crisis was a question open for interpretations. It was still defensive football, scoring was low as ever. Not a single team came close to 2 goals per game average. Only sic clubs finished with 10 or more wins. One club ended with 50% wins and it is not difficult to guess where this club finished. Just two clubs had fewer than 10 ties and both were relegated. On the other hand the number of ties slightly diminished: only two clubs, Atalanta and Genoa, tied 50% of their total games. Positive changes were very few… Milan and Inter were clearly in crisis, yet finished high. Ten clubs were engaged in the bitter fight for survival, not concerned with medals at all – the difference between 6th and 15th placed was only 5 points. The signs of change came from the very top two clubs and the national team – not much, but somewhat more than the previous few years.

Pescara finished last – they were obviously below everybody else, finishing with 17 points, 8 less than the 15th placed.

Pescara was one of the lowly clubs, there was nothing surprising in their relegation. Hardly anything to say of them: lovely kit and exotic looking goalkeeper. Who was perhaps the best known player of the team and also sharp example of why Pescara was dead last: Massimo Piloni played 8 years for Juventus . If ‘played’ is the right word… Piloni amassed a total of 12 matches for Juve – for 8 seasons he wormed the bench. Yet, he was three times champion of Italy… just because he was a member of the team. His three years with Pescara were by far the best in his career – as far as actual playing was concerned. With relegation, his career plummeted further – he went to Rimini in the summer of 1978 and eventually finished his playing days with even smaller club in 1981. Since Piloni was the best known player of Pescara, is there any wondering why they finished last?

Above them were the bulk of 10 clubs trying nothing more but escaping relegation. Three clubs ended with 25 points and goal-difference decided their fate. Fiorentina was lucky – strange to see the club of already one of the best European midfielders – Giancarlo Antognoni – at 13th place and lucky to end there, but the squad was really nothing much.

Foggia had the worst goal-difference among those with 25 points and took the 15th place.

Contrary to their logo, Foggia were no devils, but one of the usual candidates for bottom places. Nothing surprising about their relegation – they had no strong team. Franco Bergamaschi was perhaps the best known player in the squad, but he was getting old and declining already for years. The other recognizable name is familiar now, but not at all in the 1970s: Nevio Scala. If anything, one more example of the strange development in football – lousy players tend to become great coaches. Perhaps playing often in second division builds character and teaches how to make a team, but Scala, as a player, was not much of a help. Genoa’s goal-difference was bad – 28:43 – so it was more than bad luck for them.

Bad luck was the fate of Genoa – they were just one goal short of survival. Fiorentina finished with -9; Genoa with -10. One goal difference between life and death… the lesson was to score more, really.


Once upon a time Genoa was strong, winning club. Once upon a time… so many years ago, that it was questionable there were still living witnesses of the glory years. In the 1970s Genoa were firmly… weak. Of course, nothing great about the team, but scoring was mentioned for a reason: Genoa scored a total of 23 goals this season – only two clubs scored less then them. Strange, for Genoa had Roberto Pruzzo and Giuseppe Damiani. True, they were the only noticeable players, but with them more goals should have been scored. Damiani was already declining – his best years were between 1972 and 1975, when Juventus noticed him, wanted him, and got him from Vicenza. Damiani played relatively well for Juventus, but not as great as hoped, and in 1976 he was sold to Genoa. He was 27-years old and perhaps able of more than he did, especially when having a bright, younger, and rapidly rising partner to play along with – Roberto Pruzzo. Only 22-years old and already captain of the team, Pruzzo was even considered for the national team, but evidently he was unable to save Genoa. And his big fame came later and with another club – Roma was quick to get him after the end of the disastrous year. Genoa was painfully close to safety – but went down. Yes, Pruzzo and Damiani did not score enough… but was it possible at all, since scoring depends on opportunities created by midfielders. There was no one to do that in Genoa and as a result the city was left without first division team for the next year – the local derby between Genoa and Sampdoria was to be played again, but in Serie B.

Genoa and Foggia joined Pescara, going down, and half of the league finally breathed easier. Among the bulk of threatened with relegation Napoli finished highest – at 6th place.

A prime example of the ills most Italian clubs were suffering – three aging stars, fading away – Juliano, Savoldi, and Chiarugi – supported by… nobody. It all depended on them and as far they managed relatively well, the club was able to edge the small fry. Napoli finished with almost perfect 50-50 reacord: 30 points, acquired from 8 wins, 14 ties, and 8 losses. 35:31 goal-difference. At home they won 5 matches, lost 3, and tied 7. Away they lost 5, won 3, and tied 7. Only Perugia, a place below them had ‘better rounded’ record: also 30 points, 10 wins, 10 ties, 10 losses, 36:35 goal-difference. At home – 8 wins, 5 ties, 2 losses; the reverse away – 2 wins, 5 ties, 8 losses. Napoli and Perugia were the triumph of the stingy, point-oriented, defensive, scheming Italian football. If everybody was able to achieve their dreams, all teams were to end with exactly the same records and no one would have been relegated. Of course, in a perfect Italian world, there was not be any champion either… In the imperfect world most of league fought for survival… Napoli and Perugia were 6 points behind Inter.

Inter finished 5th, a point below Milan. Both clubs suffered greatly – aging, late to start building new squads, perhaps not even knowing how to start. Facchetti and Rivera were the untouchable leaders, although it was clear for years that they were the past, not the future. Then again, how to replace gods? Fading gods, but gods.. the only way was to wait for their retirement… and no wonder neither Inter, nor Milan were much of a factor. Both clubs were followed a curve going steadily down – relatively strong at the beginning of the season, gradually dropping out of the race for the title and finishing relatively high only because of the good start. Milan led the league until the 13th round – after that it was over for them. Inter did not last even that long… yes, both teams were difficult to beat, but both were not really capable of winning. Defense was their strongest lines. Teeth they had only for the small clubs. And no wonder Torino edged them and finished with bronze medals.


Well balanced squad, full of players in their prime. Torino was in its best years still, perhaps the only thing lacking was really outstanding leader, a mega-star. Won the title few years back and continuing to be among the best. Alas, no more than competing for second place… once again, the defense got the upper hand and no wonder they lost even the second place. Bronze medals were not bad after all, but unfortunately Torino was not becoming really great team.

Italy II Division

Second Division attracted little interest outside Italy perhaps of the nature of the clubs playing there – it was a large league, 20 team strong, most of which played in the First Division often. Of all 1977-78 second division clubs perhaps only Rimini and Sambenedettese never played top flight. The rest moved up and down frequently, most never making any strong impression. Two names were interesting – Cagliari and Sampdoria. Some hard luck, some unwise decisions, may be money problems. Sampdoria was not exactly famous club yet, but still one normally to be found in the first league. As for Cagliari… they were champions of Italy at the down of the decade. The great Riva led them. The national team included quite a large group of his teammates. But… it was already in the past. The club gradually went down, finally to second division. Sampdoria finished 8th this season, but Cagliari was way down – 12th and only 4 points above relegation zone. As for relegation itself, in a league consisting of small clubs, it was equally possible some playing first division football only a few seasons ago to be really weak by now and vice versa. Modena was the absolute outsider this year, finishing last with 20 points – 11 points less than the 19th placed Como. Como lagged three points behind Cremonese, which was the only club trying to escape relegation to the end. The drama of the second division was relative parity – there was no great point difference between neighbours. Practically 8 clubs fretted over relegation and at the end Cremonese got the short stick by a point, but curiously went down with better goal-difference than 5 clubs above them. Cagliari also finished with curious goal-difference: they managed to escape relegation, which itself does not speak for great performance, yet, they finished with positive goal-difference and were the second highest scoring team in the league. Unfortunately, second they were in the other department too – only Modena allowed more goals in their net than Cagliari.

The drama of second division football is specific anywhere, simply because there are not really great teams playing there, but in Italy it is almost impossible to grasp it: the long tradition of defensive football made it both simple and difficult to judge – clearly, the ‘philosophy’ was aim at winning at home and try for a tie on the road. But this was the general approach of the whole Italian football for almost 20 years, so unlike other countries, here it can’t be easily said how good or bad were the clubs. The number of the draws can safely tell one thing only: a team with less than 10 ties would be either at the very top or at the very bottom. Only two clubs ended with fewer than 10 ties this year: Modena, dead last, and Ascoli, first. And both clubs built vast chasm between themselves and the rest – Modena 11 points behind the next weakest club; Ascoli 7 points above the second placed team. Everybody else had plenty of ties – from 10 (Pistoiese, 16th) to 17 (Brescia, 14th) – but there was not a single club with 50% or more of their games ending in a tie. Which may have been a tiny sign of changing the dreadful catenaccio mentality. Fierce competition, however: from the 11th placed at the end, half of the league had a chance for winning promotion – 6 points divided the 11th (Taranto, 38 points, ending there because of worse goal-difference) and second placed Catanzaro with 44 points (also getting their place thanks to goal-difference, but better one). Since the number of ties was pretty much equal, the difference came from numbers of wins and losses – no matter how defensive one’s game was, still wins counted most. Monza and Ternana won 14 matches each and finished just outside promotion zone – 4th and 5th, each with 42 points. The lucky ones also had equal points – 44. Avellino got the third place – they had 15 victories and second-best record of losses – only 9 – but weak goal-difference: 34-29. Avellino scored less than a goal per game on average – only in Italy a team with so weak striking record can be a winner. Let’s face it – out of 20 clubs, only 5 scored a goal per match or more this year.

But they clinched promotion spot, although the only teeth they had were on their logo.

Nobody worth mentioning in the squad, but they went to Serie A and it was great. The fans did not care for criticism – they were happy.

That was the day! Avellino got promotion for Serie B in 1973 for the first time. Five years later they went even higher!

Similar was the mood in Catanzaro, the small town in Calabria.

Second place after grueling season, thanks to 16 wins – the second best number in the league. Third best attack, but rather weak defense – 5th worst! But winning and scoring propelled them up, edging Avellino at the end.

So far, the greatest season ever for Catanzaro was 1965-66, when they reached the Italian Cup final. Their first promotion to First Division came in 1971 after play-off with Bari. Did not last long in Serie A… just a season. Bounced back up in 1976, but were relegated again. This time they came back right away, hoping to stay a little longer among the best at their third attempt.

The best of all were Ascoli.

No luck, no questions, no doubts – Ascoli were clearly supreme. 26 wins was astonishing number – the next best record was 16! Ascoli lost only 3 matches – the next best was Catanzaro with 9. They also tied only 9 games – it was clearly attacking team, well prepared and head and shoulders above the competition. The strikers scored 73 goals – 21 more than the second best attack, Cagliari. The defense was not exceptional, yet not bad at all – they allowed 30 goals in 38 championship games. Five clubs had better record than the champions, but it did not matter at all – the strength of h team was lethal attack. With 61 points, Ascoli left the nearest clubs 7 points behind.

One more small club trying to fit in Serie A. This was their second attempt – they debuted in 1974, but were relegated in 1976. To date, 1977-78 was their most successful year – winning Serie B for the first time ever. Small clubs have little to brag about, so second division champions was great success. A trophy at last.

Happy winners, although it was clear that the promoted clubs were not going to be great addition to the top league. Fighting for survival was their future – but it was future. Presently, it was just bliss.


Third rank goes to Italy. Perhaps the Italian football was still not all that great – but Spanish was not either at the time. The strength of Italian football was really Juventus, the most interesting club in terms of adapting elements of total football, and the national team, which became one of the best surprises at the 1978 World Cup. Not much… the Italian clubs were still miserable in the European tournaments, Milan and Inter were clearly in decline, goal-scoring was minimal as ever. Nevertheless, there was a great surprise this season – which may be interpreted two ways: as a sign of the general decline of the big clubs, which suddenly made them equal to the small fry or as a sign of improvement, bringing more clubs to the fight on top, if they had young talent at hand. So it may had been at the time, but later it turned out to be just a momentary surprise and nothing more. Certainly not a big reshaping of the football map of the country. Which, from the outside, was one and the same – the First Division. Second level was known largely as a final table and what was beyond was foggy assumption that, of course, other leagues existed. How many and what for perhaps was never wondered about, but there were those playing somewhere in the fog. Clubs which used to be familiar names years ago and barely remembered by the late 1970s.

Triestina, for instance. Third division? Most likely. Never really great, they used to play First Division in earlier decades. There were even formerly old strong clubs like Pro Patria. There were also the entirely unknown, the bulk.

Parma – one of the ‘bulk’. Everybody knows Parma today – thanks to their great exploits in the 1990s – but back in the 1970s it was unheard of club. First division was well beyond the scope of their dreams – the dream was Second Division and as almost all dreams it was just a dream… may be in some distant future… one day, if lucky… third level was the familiar surrounding. Nice kit, though. Otherwise, only a reminder that such club existed back then for those unable to find a trace of it. Admittedly, third division football is almost entirely different sport, but lower levels are the true backbone of the sport – down there new talent emerges and builds character. Could be said that the more clubs play in the lower divisions, the better is the football at the top – Italy had many leagues, going down to seventh level. Speaking of passion for the game. A little tribute to those countless clubs playing down is very much needed now and then.

England FA Cup

Remarkable English season, because of the extraordinary successes of Nottingham Forest, but it was not all. The FA Cup final added more historic significance. Lowly Orient, 14th in the Second Division reached the ½ finals. Amazing that, but they met Arsenal and lost 0-3. The other ½ final opposed rising West Bromwich Albion to suffering Ipswich Town. Championship and cup tournaments do not share the same logic, yet it was more likely WBA to prevail. But the Tractor Boys won confidently – 3-1. Arsenal vs Ipswich Town at the final. Both eager to win – Arsenal were strong, but had no chances for more than bronze in the championship. The League Cup was also out of their reach – they were eliminated at the ½ finals by Liverpool. Now they had a third chance for victory and naturally wanted it bad. So Ipswich, who had disastrous season and tried to avoid relegation. Their weak season tipped the scales in Arsenal favour – Ipswich had wonderful squad, but underperformed so far. Arsenal on the other hand were in very good form. But predictions do not matter much at English cup finals: whoever plays is determined to win. Terry Neill vs Bobby Robson. Excellent Arsenal players – David O’Leary, Liam Brady, and Frank Stapleton almost at their peak, still rising. Pat Jennings between the goalposts. Grizzled fighters with tons of experience – Sammy Nelson, Par Rice, and David Price. Guys still considered to capable of climbing up to true greatness – Alan Sunderland amd Malcolm Macdonald. Young hopefull Graham Rix at the bench. And Alan Hudson, who was still expected to get his mind on football and fully reveal his talent. Ipswich had largely promising players, who needed to blossom yet and, therefore, to win something at last. Paul Mariner, Brian Talbot, Kevin Beattie, George Burley, John Wark, Roger Osborne (sometimes written Osbourne). Add the constant national team defender Mick Mills at his prime. Bad season they had, but Arsenal were not for a breezy walk against these boys. In front of another 100 000 crowd at Wembley, Arsenal had it tough.

Osborne clears the ball from speedy Brady. However, Ipswich was on the defensive, as the picture may suggest. Same Osborne excelled in attacking too:

Osborne shoots and David O’Leary can’t do anything about it.

Pat Jennings can’t reach the ball either and it ends in the net.

Triumphal players in blue jerseys: Ipswich -1; Arsenal – 0. No other goal was scored and Arsenal finished on their knees.

Mick Mills and Roger Osborne enjoy the Cup. Osborne has all the rights of smiling – he was not a big scorer, but this time he scored – perhaps the most important and memorable goal in his career. He did not finish the match – Robson substituted him in the 78th minute – but he was the great hero of the day nevertheless.

Ipswich won the Cup, completing the extraordinary year with another new name: new champion, new League Cup winner, new FA Cup winner. Ipswich never won the trophy before. They were quite similar to Nottingham – so far, they had a single trophy: the championship title won in 1961-62. First cup and second ever trophy! And what a strange season on top of it – their worst and their best at the same time. Barely escaping relegation, but winning the Cup. Amazing. They saved the season and their victory was well deserved. And to complete the confusion, they left a picture remarkable for its wrongness:

Here are the heroes displaying the Cup. The photo appeared in many publications and somebody made a mistake, which is often repeated to this very day:

Same team, photographed a moment later. This picture was published in Czecholsovakian sports magazine – either Stadion or Start – with the names of players. When exactly was published cannot be established now, but must be shortly after victory. The names are entirely wrong – Osman, Brazil, Butcher, Muhren, and Thijssen did not play at the final. The Dutch imports – Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen – were not in the team yet, but still played in Holland. This is actually a squad of the future… circa 1980. Certainly not Cup winners. May be it was the team of another victory? There is no other victory – the only FA Cup Ipswich ever won was in 1978. If the photo was published shortly after the final, the big mystery is where the names of the Dutch came from? There was no indication yet they will play in England, for no foreigners played in England for many years and actually many people still think England had a ban on imports, lifted in the summer of 1978. Not true, but even if it was, it would be still unknown in May-June. The Dutch were not the only ones prematurely included, but are most representable of the fake which still circulates as truth. A novelty, worth mentioning, but not all that important.

Here is the actual squad for the 1977-78 – no Dutch players, of course, and no Terry Butcher and Alan Brazil either. Happy cup winners, happy to escape relegation and add a trophy to their still very modest collection. To a point, unlikely winners. To a point, the careful team-building of Bobby Robson finally brought fruit. And complete rounding of one of the most unusual English season – all winners were new, all unexpected, all hardly had a history of success.

England League Cup

And it was not all – before winning the title, Nottingham won another trophy. Now, this was really their first victory ever. Nottingham reached the final of the League Cup , where they faced Liverpool. Nottingham was quite confident in the ½ final, where they won both legs against Leeds United – 3-1 and 4-2. Liverpool had it tougher against Arsenal – 2-1 and 0-0. The final opposed the mavericks against the strongest team in Europe. Attacking vs defensive style. Stars vs wannabees and oldish second-raters. Paisley vs Clough. At Wembley, in front of 100 000 fans, nobody scored and after the overtime a replay was scheduled. Which produced nothing too… mean Foresters’ defense killed Liverpool’s efforts, but in the same time Nottingham was not able to penetrate the opposition. It was tactical game, perhaps not to the taste of almost 55 000-strong crowd at Old Trafford. The first half ended painfully familiar – 0-0. Then in the second half Phil Thompson committed professional foul (the term was already becoming familiar, although really menaced the 1980s) against John O’Hare. The referee’s call was disputed immediately, debated for a long time, probably still is objected: it looked like the foul was outside the penalty area. Replays on TV were convincing… depending on what one wishes to be convinced of. Pat Partridge called a penalty. Suspect call, but in the same time it appeared to be the only way to break the tie. Nottingham’s defensive style did not provide for many scoring opportunities for either side. John Robertson stepped in and scored.


Ray Clemence guessed where the ball will go, but was unable to reach it – Robertson (#11) scored. It was practically the end of the match... fair-unfair, the Italians won trophies for years that way and no matter what, victory is decided exactly by the difference between scoring and no scoring. Liverpool did not score and lost. Nottingham lifted a trophy for the first time in their history.
Game over and two heroes look more exhausted than happy – Brian Clough and John Robertson. 

 Things improved soon, at least for the players... Kenny Burns all smiles with the Cup. 'The uggliest player I ever signed', quipped Brian Clough, but footballers are not recruited for looks. 

Cup winners – victory at last! In retrospect, Nottingham deserves more appreciation, despite their unattractive style: Liverpool was in full force, fielding all their stars. Not so the Foresters – their captain McGovern had to be substituted in the first match and did not appear at all in the replay. Gemmill did not play at all. And Shilton was absent too – Chris Woods, 18-years old and without a single championship match, played both final matches. Nottingham were underdogs, compared to Liverpool – but they won. The Scots in the team – Burns, O'Hare, and Robertson distinguished themselves. Too bad the other too missed the glorious moment – may be too bad for McGovern more than Gemmill, who at least had his greatest moment a few months later, when he scored his fantastic goal against Holland in the World Cup finals. Too bad for Shilton too, but great for Woods! When two months later Nottingham won the championship, their trophies not only became two, but became legendary – not many clubs won championships immediately after promotion anywhere in the world. Even fewer ended with a double. Fewer still won trophies for the first time in their history right after promotion. A double? Well, it was really a triple, for Nottingham won the FA Charity Shield as well. And since inevitably time passed, their success remains even more important now – so far, no other club did the same after 1978. Legendary stuff, only to become bigger soon. 

England I Division

At the top of the table was where the real action was, of course. The English league, tough, exciting, and unpredictable as ever, was still as every other league – outsiders, bulk of middle of the road teams, and few really strong and ambitious. West Bromwich Albion was still rising and finished 6th, a place better than the previous year. Arsenal kept strong performance, good enough for 5th place. Arsenal were strange – they tried to build strong team, but somehow failed to really shape a squad. Yet, unlike the rest of London’s clubs, Arsenal was not going down, but up – this season was their best since 1972-73. They had Liam Brady really blossoming and they added a great goalkeeper – Pat Jennings. But they did not look as potential champion – there was something missing, hard to put a finger on what exactly the missing thing was, but ‘it’ was there. A place above them finished Manchester City. They were hailed before the start of the season:


Of course, they were considered ‘challengers’ because of their excellent 1976-77 season, when they finished second, with a single point less than Liverpool. They looked mighty by names, but, to a point, the team was running strong on inertia. It was aging squad, with players already pass their peak. Colin Bell, Mike Doyle, Gary Owen, Tommy Booth, and Joe Corrigan were the last remains of the great team from the late 1960s. All were nearing retirement and surely were no longer national team material. Brian Kidd somewhat never fulfilled the great promise he was around 1970 – he moved from club to club after that, but did not improve really and certainly did not become the superstar he was expected to be. Dennis Tueart, Asa Hartford, Joe Royle, and Willie Donachie were slowly getting older without really becoming great – it looked like their best years were already behind them. Dave Watson, although a regular national team player by now and one of the best central defenders in the country, seemingly reached the top of its potential – reliable, hearty, strong, uncompromising defender, but hardly extraordinary one. Peter Barnes was the great promise for the future, but… there were already signs that probably he was to be only a promise and nothing more. Yet, the squad looked mighty on paper and the former defender Tony Book seemed effective as a manager. Hard to object the facts – Manchester City finished second the previous year, they were strong in the Cups… may be they were possible contenders. But they were not – rather, they were on their way down. This year was pretty much their last hurray.

Third place was won by Everton. Great season for Everton, yet somewhat strange. They challenged their neighbours Liverpool and came close, very close, but… two points behind. Liverpool was flying high and to come close to them was a sign of improvement, not simply of wounded pride. But Everton was no Liverpool…


Everton somehow never made big news. Solid may be, steady, but hardly trend-setting club. And in the shadow of their great neighbours since 1970 , when they won their last title. Even as champions they were not considered a great team and even less so by 1977-78: the current big stars were elsewhere, most of them playing for Liverpool. The biggest transfer news came from other clubs too. The brightest youngsters were not Everton players either. Everton depended on somewhat fading players… Bob Latchford, Mike Pejic, Martin Dobson – respected names, but gone were the years when the trio was called to play in the national team. Mick Buckley, Roger Kenyon, Day Davies, Jim Pearson, Mick Lyons… solid, but no stars. Duncan McKenzie was of the ilk of Latchford, Dobson, and Pejic… he just came back from Anderlecht (Belgium), where he failed to impress. Bruce Rioch was perhaps the best player they had. Hardly a squad of champions, but experienced and proud enough for occasional burst. A team really for mid-table place, but this was their year, something clicked, Everton played strong season, came close to Liverpool, and finished with bronze medals. Which was wonderful in itself. On the other hand, it was clear Everton was not a contender even when playing strong – at third place, they were 9 points behind the champions. As a compensation, Everton ended with the best striking record in the league – 76 goals. Mighty Liverpool scored only 65.

Liverpool finished second – not really troublesome performance, considering the nature of the English league and their great European season. Was not even a slip – after all, in England there was still no way one and the same club to win every year. The only strange thing was the point difference between Liverpool and champions – Liverpool was 7 points behind, not really in the race for the title. It was strange not that much because of Liverpool’s weaknesses, but because of the champions.

Now, this was unusual even in England – the champions were newcomers, just promoted to First Division. It was also a club which was relegated in 1972 and since then appeared comfortably settling in Second Division – so much so, that their promotion in 1976-77 looked almost a temporary mistake. It was not spectacular promotion – this club barely clinched third place in the Second Division, the last promotional spot, only a single point better then the next candidate and not exactly challenging the better two clubs above. It was modest club without great history. But to everybody’s surprise the new boys not only played fantastic season, but gradually built big advance and were out of even Liverpool’s reach. Unexpected, unusual champions. Who would have considered Nottingham Forest champions back in 1977?

Third row, from left: Ian Bowyer, Viv Anderson, Tony Woodcock, Kenny Burns

Middle row: Jimmy Gordon (coach),Frank Clark, Larry Lloyd, Chris Woods, Peter Shilton, Colin Barrett, Brian Clough (manager)

Sitting: Peter Withe, David Needham, John McGovern (captain), Martin O´Neill, John Robertson

First time ever champions! Always fantastic for a club, always great for football. Even better when nobody saw it coming. Nottingham’s victory is one of those making history of football exciting – legends are built on such events. It was unlikely winner in almost every aspect. Brian Clough is a legend, of course, but he made ‘weird’ decision back in 1972 – he just made Derby County champions and generally made the team which stayed strong for the next 3-4 years, and… left. Clough was not an easy man, yet, leaving the top club for the moment and going to modest Second Division club is more than rare. Clough was considered the best man to coach the national team of England by many, but he went to Second Division instead. And there he stayed until 1977, seemingly not improving the club. To a point, when Nottingham returned to top flight, the squad did not attract atttention. Some not really great players, already over the hill – Larry Lloyd, John McGovern, John Robertson, Martin O’Neill, John O’Hare. Getting Peter Withe from Newcastle did not look as big improvement either. Youngsters like Viv Anderson, Tony Woodcock, and Ian Bowyer nobody heard of yet. One big purchase – Peter Shilton from Stoke City. Impressive, yet, not all that much – Stoke was just relegated and it looked natural the second-best goalkeeper of England to be eager to move. It was also understandable that Stoke would be keen to sell. The purchase made news, but Shilton so far played for small clubs (Leicester and Stoke City) and once again he did attracted mighty club. It looked like Nottingham Forest was aiming at survival… somewhat competent and experienced squad, hoping on some safe place above relegation zone, but hardly, even with luck, ending among the top 8. On the other hand, it was typical Cloughie selection – workers, not stars, experienced, loyal. Clough brought to Nottingham some of his former Derby County players – O’Hare, McGovern, and Archie Gemmill. And his faithful assistant Peter Taylor, naturally. He knew what he wanted, but it did not look very promising to outsiders. The strange team delivered – Clough was right. Clough was great – this team finished with the title, high above the best team in Europe. And it was not all – the winners played un-English football. Seemingly outdated… based on defense. It was careful, dull, defensive team, looking Italian in its approach. No doubt, Nottingham surprised every opponent, for English clubs were used to open, fast, attacking game, but Nottingham was slow, closed, defensive, saturating midfield with fighters, no open space for speedy attacks, patiently waiting for mistakes, and striking back with counter-attacks. English teams were comfortable with such tactics, they did not what to do, and Forest was winning match after match by one goal. As for Clough, perhaps this was the evidence how really great coach he was – his Derby County played very different, open and attacking game. Using deliberately different tactics is rare – but a testimony of great coaching abilities. Clough utilized the players he had, creating a tactic suitable for their limited skills, but great discipline, experience, and endurance. The scheme worked perfectly – Nottingham lost only 3 matches. Less than that achieved Leeds United in 1968-69! Liverpool always finished with more lost matches than that, but it was remarkable record in the all-time history of the league – only two clubs finished with less lost matches in a season: Leeds United – 2 losses in 1968-69, and Preston North End – 0 in 1888-89, the very first championship. As for the virtues of Nottingham’s defense, there was nothing to compare with: they allowed only 24 goals in their net during the season. Only ones a team finished with fewer goals – Preston North End allowed 18 in 1888-89, but almost 100 years ago the league had only 12 members. Preston allowed 18 goals in 22 matches; Notthingham – 24 in 42 games! With defense like that, scoring in the opposite net was not the prime concern – Nottingham did not score a lot, but enough to win. Still, they ended with 69 goals – forth best record in the league this year, but better than Liverpool’s. Nobody was really excited with Nottingham’s kind of play, but it was effective. Like in Italian football, stiff defensive strategy opened opportunities for strikers – and the talent of Bowyer and especially Woodcock was quickly noticed. So were the skills of right full-back Viv Anderson. New stars emerged – and stayed! Clough obviously had great eye for talent. Extraordinary champions in every sense. Beloved? No… they were so un-English. But who can criticize winners? Results speak for themselves. And no matter what, a new champion is always great. Brian Clough had no intention to stop with this victory either. The competition had to figure out how to stop Nottingham, which meant thinking of new tactics, enlarging horizons. But the sweetest part of all this was for the fans – champions at last. Unbelievable!

England I Division

The bulk of the league performed more or less as expected – traditional mid-table clubs like Middlesbrough, Birmingham City, Norwich City, Coventry City, mixed with teams at different stages of decline – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea, Derby County, Leeds United – occupied the vast space between 7th and 19th place. Grey area, difficult to judge, because seasonal performance is not a clear indication of long-term stability, improvement, or decline. Aston Villa was slowly rising, for instance, but still was at mid-table level. They finished 8th, and just behind them because of worse goal-difference was slowly sinking Leeds United, still having enough inertia from the good years to stay away from real trouble. Others underperformed a bit – more was expected from Manchester United, but they finished 10th. The most difficult team to judge was Ipswich Town – they had the best and worst in a single year. After years of climbing up and establishing themselves among the top clubs, they suddenly plummeted down. Since the team was pretty much the same as before and not old at all, it did not look right. Was it a case of a team reaching its limits and inevitably sinking? After all, Ipswich played well, but did not become a real title contender. Besides, they had terrible year in the league, but in the same time achieved their greater triumph this very same season too, winning the FA Cup. Tough case… Ipswich did not just drop a few places: they barely escaped relegation. They finished 18th , only 3 points away from relegation zone. Their attack was terrible – only 4 clubs ended scoring less goals than Ipswich. They lost even the battle for 17th place – lowly Bristol City edged them with better goal-difference.

Bristol City came to First Division in 1976 and finished 18th in their first season with 35 points. In 1977-78 they earned again 35 points and finished 17th. Clearly, the only concern of the modest club was hanging in the league, mere survival. It was equally clear they were not going to last for long. And now Ipswich Town was at that level, compared to Bristol? Finishing lower than Bristol…

Yet, Ipswich had much better squad – 18th place looked unreal. And it was – what Ipswich Town suffered was fairly common: a good team, still rising, but getting perhaps too experienced before time and temporarily slipping down. As a reminder, in a sense, that the job was not done yet, that greatness is still out of reach and work is needed. In real time – impossible to be sure of that: after all, Ipswich came dangerously close to relegation – but they recovered quickly. And the season was not lost after all , but what a rollercoaster.

England I Division

Of course, First Division was the most interesting. There was the novelty of the brown kit, unforgettable forever.

What were Admiral, the makers of the kit, thinking is irrelevant – the brown second kit of Coventry City was hated, ridiculed, and… with time passing, the atrocity became a cult. As for those wearing it, they mostly played in their usual colours.

Little brown here, but Coventry were hardly remembered for anything else – they finished 7th, more or less, as usual. Nothing great, no worries about relegation, just solid mid-table performance. Everybody was used to that for years.

Others had to worry: Leicester City, gradually losing the players of their good early-70s team, inevitably sunk to the bottom.

May be survival was an issue in the first half of the season, but hardly in the spring – the only concern was whether the team will be last or a place above. Goal-difference was not in Leicester’s favour and ended 22nd. No wonder – the team won the least matches in the division: only 5. They also had hard time scoring – measly 26 goals in 42 games! The next weakest attack still scored a goal per game on average. No wonder… by now Leicester was nothing. Mainly, the team depended on three very suspect players – Chris Garland, who never fulfilled expectations in Chelsea; Jeff Blockley, who also was promising years back, but nothing came out that promise; and mercurial Frank Worthington, huge talent, but… loving fast life and his drink too much. Wasted talent already, no matter the legends and fan’s admiration. One of the long line of players who were expected to be superstars, but chose the bottle and other things instead – George Best, Rodney Marsh, Alan Hudson… by 1977-78 it was absolutely clear that Worthington was not the man leading the team up, but down. And down they went. As for Worthington, he was already gone – to Bolton Wanderers.

Just above Leicester finished Newcastle United. A big slump for them – in 1976-77 they finished 5th! Such is the English league – high place one year does not mean anything and may be followed by disaster. Newcastle have been typical mid-table club for many seasons and such clubs normally go down, not up, at some point. Newcastle had long stretch in the middle of First Division – since their promotion in 1964-65. They even had European success, but never became a force in English football. The fall was inevitable, it was just a matter of time – and the crash came in 1977-78.


Looking at the squad, it was not surprising they finished 21st. The selection was more typical for Second Division club. The team photo is suspect on top of everything – more likely the squad of 1976-77 than 1977-78, contrary to what Football Magazine said. Peter Withe was not Newcastle player in 1977-78 – but his presence here is a fine example of Newcastle’s troubles. True, the bearded striker achieved a lot – English champion twice, European champion, national team player. But he was never a star and in fact had shaky career – he moved from club to club almost every year and did not last anywhere. Ordinary player at best, may be even less, for no club so far cared to keep him. He did not last in Newcastle either and if the club based hopes on him, they were quickly disappointed. The rest of the team was not much better – journeymen, not a single star, and hardly anybody with some leadership potential. Newcastle were reduced to competing with Leicester… for the 21st place in the league table. They won it… 10 points behind the 20th team.

There was fierce – may be fierce – battle for the last safe place in the league, the 19th, between Queen’s Park Rangers and West Ham United. It was more than just too teams trying to avoid relegation – London clubs suffered greatly since 1974, most of them declining either because of inability of replacing strong, but aging, squads made in the 1960s, or suffering financial troubles. Chelsea was relegated, followed by Tottenham Hotspur, and now it was time for West Ham United. And QPR, who escaped relegation by a point, were going down – if not this year, surely soon (soon it was – the next season).

As for unlucky Hammers, they were not all that unlucky – they were far cry from the great team of the 1960s. Once again, transition went wrong and good new team was not built. Some players failed to develop, as hoped – like the very promising a few years ago goalkeeper Marvin Day. Trevor Brooking was there, true, but he was more or less alone, and although the best English midfielder, he was not enough for saving the Hammers. Instead, the club joined the dubious fame of Second Division clubs providing key players for the national team – practically unprecedented situation, but it was becoming a tradition in the 1970s. As for Hammers fans… blame the unusual kit their club used.