Second Division. Orient finished last – the league’s outsider with 39 points. Eight clubs were preoccupied with mere survival – two Welsh teams were unlucky.
Bolton Wanderers, Shrewsbury Town, and Grimsby Town finished with 46 points each. They survived. Bolton was 19th.
Hard to think that Bolton was playing first division football only two years ago… Relegation was blamed for their fate: they were hit hard by dismal gates, having in the same time players on first division salaries. Money crisis plummeted them down. Dusan Nikolic had to go – and he returned to Crvena zvezda (Belgrade). Aging, but expensive Mike Doyle and Steve Whitworth were more bruden than help. There was no money for strong reinforcement. That was the reality… so 19th place was just fine.
Grimsby was 17th, but deserves a note: a fantastic ascent gave them the unique chance to be the first club climbing from 4th to 1st division in four years. Small and modest Grimsby was at the bring of making significant historic record. That was before the previous season started and they had only to finish it with promotion. But it was only a wishful thinking – Grimsby was not up to it, although they tried hard. 1981-82 was another and much more realistic story: the boys fought to escape relegation and managed to do it.
The last three clubs involved in the battle for survival were different… they all finished with 48 points, but two of these teams appeared weird in the company of Grimsby and Shrewsbury.
It was not so long ago when Derby County was one of the strongest in England, yet, it may have been some ancient story… The Rams lost their way, to put it politely. They were much more involved in controversies than winning matches after 1975 – and the rapid decline lead them not only to Second Division, but to the bottom of it. 16th this year and happy to be at this place – they survived.
And so did Crystal Palace – 15th. One is more used to see them in First Division, but Crystal Palace was notoriously shaky and unstable: one year up, the next down. Now they were just down and, by the roster, were going to stay down. A company of Shrewsbury, Grimsby, Cambridge, not of Liverpool and Arsenal.
Speaking of Cambridge United, they were 14th this season – the highest placed of the lowly survivalists. 48 points, but better goal-difference placed before Crystal Palace and Derby County. Not bad, though – not bad for a modest club.
Charlton Athletic was in solitary position – 13th with 51 points. Well bellow the comfort zone and closer to the lowly, yet, not in danger. Nothing special, but nothing unusual either – a typical season for the club at that time. Alan Mullery managed them – one of the recently retired stars, who was trying to establish himself as manager. The new decade brought new young crop of managers – the playing stars of the 1970s. There was hope in that – new blood. And as anything new, there was doubt: a great player is one thing, a great manager – something else.
The ‘comfort zone’ started right above Charlton, but went all the way up to the 3rd placed team, so it was not really ‘ a comfort zone’, where disinterested clubs existed in tranquility, but was a race for promotion. A race too much depending on money – rather, the lack of money – and current team’s shape.
Chelsea was the perfect example of the financial problems English clubs were plagued with at the time. They were fittingly at the bottom of the ‘comfort zone’ – 12th with 57 points. Impoverished, Chelsea was unable to build a strong team – the team was unbalanced, new players were badly needed, but without cash it was mission impossible. Hence, the strange squad – a bunch of experienced, but second-rate at best, players like Droy, Britton, and the Yugoslav goalkeeper Borota, surrounded with nobodies. Enough for Second Division mid-table position and nothing much. Take away the known names and… third division would embrace Chelsea. Keep the veterans and first division is out of question. And no other options… Chelsea was not yet hitting the bottom, but was heading fast to it.
Blackburn Rovers, a place above Oldham because of better goal-difference, but, like Oldham – their usual. Blackburn faded away long time ago, settling into mid-table second-division club. First division was not even a dream.
Newcastle United – 9th with 62 points. A sad story of decline. Money were a factor, surely, but not the decisive one – the Magpies made huge policy mistake, neglecting their youth system more than decade ago. Their area was fertile on football talent, but Newcastle, reputed to have one of the best youth system in the country once upon a time, failed to put to good use its own talent. The result was slow decline of the first team, marked by the exodus of Malcolm Macdonald, Terry McDermott, Alan Kennedy, and Bobby Moncur back in the 1970s, without finding them suitable replacements. Meantime parents lost confidence in the club and thinking of better future for their kids started sending them to train elsewhere. Newcastle slowly sunk to second division and seemingly settled there without hopes and ambitions. The squad shows that, although the Hungarian Imre Varadi is missing and he was just just bought to add some flair to the attacking line. Chris Waddle is here, but he was still a nobody – and like many other local kids will move to better club soon.
Leicester City, pretty much similar to Newcastle, was 8th with 66 points. The exciting players of the early 1970s squad were gone long time ago. There were some fairly well known names in the current squad, but aging and past their peak. Gary Lineker was the only hope for the future, still trying to make impression, but still caged in second division.
Rotherham United was one of the nice surprises this season – Rotherham was one of the three newly promoted teams to the league and did not play second level football since 1973. Not much of team, but the work was the young manager Emlyn Hughes was impressive. Not having classy players made Rotherham erratic and clearly new players were needed to make the team consistent, but they finished 7th with 67 points, which was more than admirable.
Barnsley, the third newcomer this season, finished 6th, edging Rotherham on goal-difference. Like Rotherham, Barnsley was mediocrity for so long, that its mere return to second division was great success. But suddenly they run for promotion to the top league and were good at that for big part of the season. Then they dropped out, paying the price for having insignificant team. Still it was very strong season, largely due to yet another young manager – Norman Hunter.
QPR – 5th with 69 points. Well, here is a different team, perhaps showing why the likes of Barnsley and Rotherham had no real chance. Hardly well rounded squad, but having more strong players than most teams in the league – starting with veteran star Tony Currie and finishing with the up and coming Terry Fenwick. Perhaps not very well balanced team and still shaping to win promotion, but otherwise QPR had splendid season – for a second division team, that is.
Shefield Wednesday took a huge step towards full recovery this year – the squad was good, played well, and they were one serious candidate for promotion. But finished 4th with 70 points at the end – one point short of promotion… Then their manager said something sounding very strange today and even quite unusual in that distant past: losing promotion was a good thin for the club. The team was not ready yet for first division and one more year in the second division will give them a good chance to mature. A manager, preferring to stay in second division… and name was Jack Charlton. One of the bunch young managers making impression – Hughes, Mulligan, Hunter. Charlton was older than them, therefore retired earlier than the others, thus having more managerial experience, but he was still young manager – and doing well. Have been quite right about his squad too.
Norwich City clinched the third promotional spot with 71 points. Norwich had announced its aim to get promoted, but the road was more than rocky. The ambitions of the governing board clashed severely with the new manager Ken Brown from start. Even before start, for he was told at first that he was not going to be hired. And soon after the season started he was almost fired. The club sold its prime stars – Martin O’Neil and Justin Fashanu – a deal in exact contradiction of declared intentions. Dave Watson suffered from injuries – and he was not alone. Everything was against Brown, but he persevered and managed to add at least one classy player – Willie Donachie, bought from Manchester City. The season was difficult and the squad not really convincing, but at the end Ken Brown fulfilled the unseemly aim. Catching 3rd place a bit by chance, but promoted they were. Norwich was going back to top flight after been relegated in 1973-74.
Rock’n’roll rules! Elton John’s Watford was 2nd with 80 points. Promoted! Let’s step back just for perspective: in 1973-74, when Norwich City was relegated from First Division and Luton Town was just promoted to it, Watford had a relatively strong season – 7th in Third Division. The next year they were relegated to Forth Division. Nothing strange, nothing surprising – a club like Watford was not making news, it was enough to know they existed. Somewhere low. Then Elton John came on board and steady climb up followed, crowned by promotion. This was not a club spending money on big names, so the players were relatively unknown, but together for quite some time. Well, some names were going to become very well known soon. A great moment in the club’s history.
Luton Town – unquestionable champions of Second Division: 88 points from 25 wins and 13 ties. Only 4 matches lost. The best scorers – 86 goals. Their defense was not that strong, but that clearly suggested attacking approach and hunger for winning. Good work of their manager David Pleat, but the squad was not so great and suffered from inconsistency. Wonderful season anyway. But… there was a big ‘but’. Luton was promoted in 1973-74 only to be relegated back to second division an year later. They were seemingly best adjusted to second division football. There was talk the club are frightened of life in first division – and it was not just journalistic speculation: Luton clearly needed stronger additional players, but real class was out of their reach. They had to do with little and little was not going to be enough among the big boys. What possibly they could get? Raddy Antic, an aging and not a first rate Yugoslav. And it was difficult to keep even him… So, the best was just to enjoy winning the Second Division title – it was their biggest success. So far, Norwich had only this slim line of trophies: champions of Forth Division in 1968 and champions of Third Division in 1937. Meaning 1981-82 was their best season ever!