Apart from the arrival of ‘continentals’, there were other interesting events in England this season. For the first time 1 million pounds were paid for a player – Trevor Francis was the first player costing that much. Nottingham Forest paid the fee to Birmingham City. The announcement was not great moment: annoyed Brian Clough appeared in front of excited journalists in training suit and racquet in his hand – he was on his way to play squash and delayed, he did not appreciate that. To a point, the record transfer was feast in time pf plague – English clubs were getting deeper and deeper in debt. Bankruptcy, not prosperity, was the future… There was also mild feeling that English football was becoming like everybody else’s: a group of desperate outsiders, a few clear favourites, and vast group of clubs in between. Hooliganism was the only thing rising – higher and higher. The newly imported ‘ continentals’ were hardly to be blamed for most of the problems.
Three teams sunk at the bottom of the table. It was sadder more than anything. Chelsea was last with 20 points.
Hardly a surprise… Chelsea was in trouble since the early 1970s. For some reason, players with good names hardly lived up to expectations. With time, their numbers decreased… the team for 1978-79 campaign was obviously weak. And money was short – not something new either… Peter Bonetti left during the season to end his long career with Dundee United. Ray Wilkins went to Manchester United after the end of the disastrous season. Hope? What hope? David Hay and Ron Harris were going downhill for some time and to build a team around Micky Droy and Ian Britton was idea to laugh about.
Chelsea finished with the worst defensive record in the league and Burmingham City with the worst offensive. They got two more points than Chelsea – 22. 21st place in final table, second to last.
Like Chelsea, Birmingham had a big current star – Trevor Francis. They added the world champion Tarantini. But it was weak team for years, may be weaker than most in top flight, and that was no news. Tarantini was no help. As for Francis… he was not even with the team, for he was loaned to Detroit Express, a NASL club. In February 1979 he was sold to Nottingham Forest for a record fee, but even money did not help Birmingham, already at the bottom of the league. Relegation was expected for quite some time, though.
The third outsider was also London-based club – Queens Park Rangers. Only three years ago QPR was one of the brightest teams in England. Now they down – 25 points, only 6 wins, 20th place.
QPR was something between Chelsea and Birmingham – like Birmingham, the stars were not enough to save the club, for there was little quality support. Like Chelsea, the stars were aging and underperforming. Gerry Francis was the leader of the team, but he was no longer called to play for England – a big step down for one, he captained England no long ago. Stan Bowles, the crowd favourite, was getting a bit old and no longer the same, although he was erratic player to begin with. Phil Parkes was also out from the national team, without prospects of returning. Shanks, Clement, Goddard, Gillard… their names were no longer made headlines. Rashid ‘Peter’ Harkouk… young hopeful perhaps, but hardly a star. He was the only one to make news eventually – in 1986 the Chelsea born player became the first non-African born player to play for African national team – for Algeria at the World Cup finals. Nothing to do with the present season, though… QPR went down without much of a fight, and the stars followed the example of the stars of the other relegated teams – like Wilkins, Bonetti, Trevor Francis, and Tarantini, Parkes, Gerry Frances, and Bowles moved to other clubs after the end of the season.
How bad those three were can be seen by the difference between them and the club rigth above them in safety – Derby County finished with 31 points: 6 more than QPR’s.
And it was not just points – Derby County was also in sharp decline. Yet, they were much stronger than the outsiders. Similar to Chelsea… by names, they should have been better: Ron Webster, David Webb, Gordon Hill, Bruce Rioch. And a major star – Roy McFarland. It was clear that the stars of the first half of the 1970s were no longer making a difference… Same was the case of Woolverhampton Wanderers, still keeping a good chunk of their exciting team of four-five years back: they finished 18th. Manchester City, also declining, was 15th. Yet, insignificant clubs managed to play quite well, helped by singular star already over the hill: Bolton Wanderers with Frank Worthington was 17th, Norwich City with Martin Chivers – 16th. Perhaps from the lower half of the league Bristol City was the most pleasant team and prime example of the new kind of English team: two great veterans plus two ‘continentals’ were good mix for 13th place in the final table.
Norman Hunter (b.1943) and Peter Cormack (b. 1946) came in 1976 from Leeds United and Liverpool.With them modest Bristol kept itself in First Division. One Dutch striker – Geert Meijer, from Ajax, and one Finnish player – Pertti Jantunen, from IFK Eskilstuna (Sweden) were added during 1978-79 season. Neither was a star, neither stayed long with Bristol, but both were in their best years and Bristol City was propelled up to their best league achievement in this period. Evidently, a combination of aging stars and ‘continentals’ worked… all four left one after another the next year and Bristol City sunk.
Tottenham Hotspur kept everybody focused on their performance – they made the big news signing ‘continentals’ first.
Critics were perhaps satisfied – with Ardiles and Villa, the Spurs finished 11th. Yet, one has to keep in mind that Tottenham was just coming back from Second Division and did not have strong team – they were just at the beginning of building of new team. Perryman and Naylor remained from the great old team of late 1960s-early 1970s, but their days were numbered. Glen Hoddle was still too young, still only a promise. The rest of the team was not much – new players were needed for sure. However, Ardiles played more than well.
The upper part of table was typical Englsih mix at first glance: Arsenal maintained strong position,without being a real factor – 7th at the end. Aston Villa was 8th – improving team, still raising, and still not ready for something big. Leeds United finished 5th, giving some hopes that decline was over before the club hit rock bottom. It was false impression… the team depended on 8 veterans, but the old team was already years beyond its prime. There was not a single new star. The good season was more or less an accident. So was the 4th place for Everton. Not a bad team, but nothing exceptional either – Bob Latchford, Martin Dobson, Duncan McKenzie, Mike Pejic… well known for years, not getting better, only older. They kept the strong from of their previous season, when they were 3rd, but… came close to relegation in the next season. It was a squad with no future really. Unlike Ipswich Town – they slipped down to 18th place the previous season, but compensated by winning the FA Cup. Ipswich was steadily going up since 1972. Except 1977-78, they were always among the top 5-6 teams – and ended 6th this year.
Ipswich was slowly ripening – perhaps the slower ever team to reach its great peak. The final touch came this season, with the arrival of two Dutch players – Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen from Twente (Holland). It was the finest creation of Bobby Robson: Mills, Mariner, Brazil, Burley, Butcher, Beattie, Wark, Osman, Muhren, Thijssen, and reliable Cooper between the goalposts. Still, the best season of this team was yet to come.
But the group of teams above was well behind the top three – there was a 8 points gap between Everton and the bronze medalists, quite unusual for English football. West Bromwich Albion was noticed since they returned to top flight in 1976, playing better and better. This was their best so far – third place with 59 points, leaving the next team 8 points behind, and missing silver medals by a point.
To a point, WBA was similar to Ipswich of the early 1970s – a bunch of excellent youngsters, quickly becoming known and getting better. Yet, there was a slight difference – instead of young talented coach, growing with the team, as was the case of Ipswich with Bobby Robson, WBA had well known and respected coach – Ron Atkinson. They also had a great veteran, famous with another team in his best years – Paddy Mulligan. But the real strength of the team followed the pattern of early Ipswich: young, bright talent. The Scottish striker Willie Johnston, added by two black Englishmen – Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis and the best of them all – Bryan Robson, only 22 years old, but already a star in midfield. It was a team for the future – few additions were needed to make it really stronger, a few more years were needed for the peak… if the young stars stayed with the club, of course. Which was somewhat doubtful… Laurie Cunningham was the first to go – right after the end of this great season, he made unheard of move: went to Madrid, knocked on the door of Real and said he wanted to play for them. He was tested and hired.
Nottingham Forest, the sensation of the previous season, did not disappoint. They were much in the news, indeed. Especially after the new year began. Record transfer fee for the top English striker was more than news and so were the exploits of Forest abroad. However, they finished 2nd in the league, a point ahead of WBA, but 8 points behind the champions. But they were the team losing the least games during the campaign: only 3.
The picture shows the team winner of the League Cup in 1978 – Peter Withe left for Newcastle, but he was not to be forgotten: he just won European fame with another club. The rest were rapidly becoming very well known around the continent. The squad was getting stronger – Brian Clough was determined to make exceptional team and his transfers were huge: Peter Shilton, followed by Trevor Francis, and he had an eye on other big names as well (Stan Bowles arrived in the summer of 1979). Although they finished far behind Liverpool, it was clear that Forest was becoming a mega-club. It was not to everybody’s liking.
Liverpool took big revenge on Nottingham, which left them 7 points behind in 1976-77 – now they left the offenders 8 points behind. The rest of the league did not even count: the 4th placed WBA was 17 points behind! Liverpool scored 85 goals – a record for the decade. More goals were scored in quite distant days – Manchester United scored 89 and Manchester City – 86 in 1967-68. Even more astonishing was their defensive record – 16 goals allowed. One had to flip pages of league statistics to find something similar: yes, there was a better record. Preston North End allowed 15 goals in the very first league season – 1888-89. However, the league was small then – only 12 clubs, 22 seasonal matches total. Liverpool played 42. They reigned supreme.
Any need of introduction? By this time it was easier to count the players who were relatively unknown reserves… a very easy count: Steve Ogrizovic and Kevin Sheedy. The small inserted photos are of yet future players: the Israeli defender Abraham ‘Avi” Cohen and the Scottish striker Frank McGarvey joined Liverpool in the summer of 1979. It was business as usual for Liverpool… 11th title. Routine…
This was perhaps the season when fears that English league was becoming like the dreaded ‘continentals’ were most justified: outsiders, unable to keep pace with the rest and super-clubs dominating the championship. Liverpool was head and shoulders above the league. Nottingham Forest was rapidly becoming like Liverpool. It looked like these two clubs were able to get all the best players . Even their reserves were stars. The rest, lacking money and keeping with traditional ways, were simply unable to compete. The top players were eager to join the winners. It was coming to the point the championship to be a battle between two clubs, like in most European countries and contrary to English traditions. The championship was becoming predictable and that was not fun.