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.

England II Division

Blackpool, Mansfield Town, and Hull City lost their places in Second Division. Blackpool tried hard to escape relegation – 8 clubs finished with 38 points, Blackpool was unlucky with 37. If they got one more point, they would have been safe – especially with their amusing for relegated club goal-difference of -1 goal: 59-60. There was no club with 38 points with even close goal-difference. One point – the whole difference between life and death. Mansfield Town and Hull City had no bite and took 21st and 22nd places in the final table.

 

Dead last, Hull City distinguished themselves as the only second-division club finishing with less than 10 wins in the league – their measly 8 victories were precisely three times less than the wins of the league champion.

The season was harsh for almost every team in the league – 18 clubs were more concerned with survival than easy life. At the end 8 points divided Blackburn Rovers, 5th, and the relegated Blackpool, 20th. Blackburn ended with negative – and worse than Blackpool’s – goal-difference. In fact, Blackpool had better goal-difference than 13 clubs, 11 of which were better placed at the end. Of the bulk, only three teams finished with positive goal-difference – Sunderland, 6th, Stoke City, 7th, and Crystal Palace, 9th. Fulham, 10th, finished with neutral record – 49-49. Adding the clubs at the very top, only 8 clubs – 1/3 of the total – finished the season on the positive side. With most of the league fighting for survival, only four clubs were concerned with promotion – they were high above the rest: their was 12-point chasm between 4th and 5th at the end. The battle for promotion was fierce – 2 points divided 1st from 4th, and goal-difference decided who was to go up and who was to stay for another year down. Brighton & Hove Albion were the losers, although they had the second-best defensive record in the league. Scoring was not their forte, however, and they finished 4th. Lucky were Tottenham Hotspur – relegated the previous year, the Londoners stayed only a single season in Second Division.

Tottenham obviously were determined to return to their usual place among the best, but it was not easy – to the last moment promotion was not secured. The team lost only 6 matches – the least in the league – and scored the most goals – 83 – but their defense was leaky. They allowed 49 goals in their net – 10 more than the rest of the top clubs and the only top-4 team receiving more than a goal per match on average. The photo is not really the squad of the year, although normally is given as ‘1977-78 picture’ – here is Pat Jennings, who left after the disastrous 1976-77 season and joined Arsenal. Tottenham was one more victim of the eternal problem of replacing great, but inevitably aging team – the transition was not smooth and the club suffered. Three players of the great early-70s squad still remained – Terry Naylor, Steve Perryman, and Ralph Coates – but the manager Keith Burkinshaw was still trying and hardly had even a small group of new players with strong potential. More or less, he had only Glenn Hoddle – 20-years old and at his third season in professional football. No wonder Tottenham barely qualified for promotion, but still they did.

At second place finished Southampton – with a point more than the Spurs, but also a point less than the champions. Southampton was relegated in 1973-74 and so far was unable to reach promotional finish. It was strange, for unlike other relegated clubs Southampton did not lose its stars – Mike Channon in particular, who was essential national team player. Nor they had declining team like Chelsea or Tottenham. Yet, Southampton seemed settled in Second Division – but this year they finally were on the move up. Successfully too.

The winners of the championship were a surprise – Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton missed promotion by a hair in 1975-76 and 1976-77 – both seasons they finished 4th, one point short of the coveted third promotional place. Obviously performing well and getting ambitious – third time lucky – but really the club was climbing up since 1972-73, when they won the Third Division and moved to Second. As for top flight, the last time Bolton played in First Division was 1963-64, when they finished second to last and were relegated. By now they were more or less forgotten and it was even a bit strange they were to play with the best.

 

Although Bolton won most matches during the season – 24 – and had the best defensive record, allowing only 33 goals, they did not look like a team able of surviving in First Division. Three fading by now stars – Willie Morgan (formerly of Manchester United), Peter Thompson (formerly of Liverpool), and the 36-years old Irishman Tony Dunne, formerly of the great Manchester United squad of the 1960s – and hardly anything else. Thompson, 35-years old by now, actually retired after the end of the season. Dunne did not last either, except in ManUnited history, where he still is one of leading players with 414 matches for the team. Frank Worthington arrived from Leicester City and scored important goals, but… he was Worthington: women and booze were more important to him than football. Sam Allardyce perhaps rings some bells today, but that is the name of the coach, not of the player. Allardyce had no fame in his playing days. For the sake of diversity, it was great to see a modest club going up, but winning Second Division was clearly to be their major success – Bolton had no strength to survive in the First. Not for long anyway. But hope dies last, especially for devoted fans – it was great so far and may be better in the future.

England IIIrd Division

Elton John going up to replace Port Vale, Hereford United, Bradford City, Portsmouth in Third Division. The foursome tried to escape relegation as much as they could, but gave up at the end. No big loss even for third-level football, save the fans of the unlucky clubs. Up the table 13 clubs were more or less satisfied with their mid-table status. May be Gilingham, two points above the best of those lacking ambitions, was more like them than as well. Six teams fought for three promotional spots – at the end, Walsall, 6th, trailed 8 points behind the champions, but only 3 points behind the third placed. Goal-difference decided third place – Peterborough United and Preston North End finished with 56 points each, mirroring each other in wins, ties, and losses, but Preston North End scored a lot and thanks to that ended with better goal-difference. Up they went, Peterborough United took 4th place cursing their luck – or their strikers.

One can’t tell much about a third division club, but Preston is familiar name because the club is so old and among the original founders of the English league. Good days ended also many years ago… by 1977-78 the club was just happy to reach second league.

So were Cambridge United, clinching second place. The University is famous, but not the football club – same with Oxford United. Going up to second division was just about the best happening to CU.

Champions of Third Division were Wrexham. Looking just at the final table, they appear comfortable champions – 3 points above Cambridge United. But it was not overwhelming victory, but one achieved largely at the end of the season – the race was tight.

For what it is worth, Wrexham was the only promoted club with some promise – more or less, they were on the rise. True, Welsh clubs played minor role in English football, but Wrexham won the Welsh Cup and participated in the Cup Winners Cup – they did not last in Europe, but still it was unique achievement: a third division club playing in European tournament. This also suggested some strength and may be improvement, and may even bigger ambitions. So far – up to Second.

Of course, no big names here. Not even familiar ones. Perhaps the players with Polish names – Cegielski and Niedzwiecki – appear strange, but they were not imports, just local boys. Immigrants settled in Wales, working in the mines, and as a result their kids often played for Welsh clubs. Think Peter Rodriguez, Giorgio Chinaglia… and add these two to number of Welshmen with foreign names.

England IVth Division 1977-78

England – may be not the strongest league anymore, but still the most unpredictable. Still entertaining too. Something happened down at the very bottom of professional football, which was not noticed at first – after all, 4th division football is not trend-setting. Also, momentary success hardly tells anything about future developments. In retrospect, it was the beginning of meteoric rise of not one, but two clubs . Four teams were promoted to the Third Division, the honours contested by 8 clubs. None was impressive club – may be Barnsley was the only one of some sort of faded glory, but they finished 7th. The 4th, clinching the last promotional spot was Brentford.

Old boys, founded in 1889, and nothing more.

Second finished Southend United.

Cute logo, many swords, just like Brentford’s, but no cutting edge really. The lobster is nice…

Third finished Swansea City, one of the few Welsh clubs in the English leagues. Which was good for novelty and amusement, for Welsh Cup winners played in the European Cup Winners Cup and thus were constant representatives of low divisions. Often lower than Second Division.

The Swans knew better days, but they were long gone. Climbing to Third Division was quite a success.

First finished Watford.

Another club which had nothing to brag about and may be happy to move a tiny bit up. As a London-based club, they had no chance of catching the eye, but they did in 1973 – Elton John, a life-long fan, became the President of the club. Thanks to his fame, the club was mentioned now and then – Elton John went not only to Watford’s matches.

Two rock-stars crazy about football – Elton John and Rod Stewart training with Watford. Look in better shape then the players at the left… Such novelties were the biggest news about Watford for awhile. In 1876 Elton John became more ambitious and was elected Chairman of the club. Now with real power in his hands, he immediately made a big signing – not a famous and inevitably aging player, but a coach.

 

Graham Taylor and Elton John, all smiles and promising victory. Wise move – the new manager was good and quickly turned around the small club. It was hard to tell what the idea was at first: on one hand Elton John did not invest money in players – which probably angered some fans. A manager without a team did no mean much, may be just a cheap move for a year or two. On the other hand getting a good coach may bring some positive results in a long term. Which was Elton John’s idea, it seems – Taylor changed the team immediately: Watford had strong season and finished first, 11 points ahead of Southend United. They lost only 5 matches – there was no other club in the 24-team division with less than 10 losses. Watford distinguished themselves in winning too – they won 30 out of their 46 championship games. Southend United trailed behind with 25 wins. Strong season by all means – and Watford was going to play 3rd Division football next year.

Nice – Elton John leading Watford to the pitch. Leading by example, so to say. Nice, but… take away the rockstar and there was nothing else. Or so it appeared back in 1977-78. It was different a few years after, when Watford was playing not only in the First Division, but in the European Cups too. They climbed up very quickly – but not as quickly as Swansea City did. Both clubs went together at first, but the meteoric rise of the Swans was faster. And all started in 1977-78, when both clubs won promotions. The beginning of fantastic climbs up, and up, and up. As for Elton John… usually running a football club is difficult job, causing the loss of hair. He went the other way – growing hair. Anyway, 4th division smiles so far.

May be Koln was infavourably judged so far – their 1977-78 season was truly fantastic: not only champions, but winning the Cup as well. A double! Does not happen every day. Cup and regular championship always differ, which looks like surprise – but these are fundamentally different competitions. Underestimate, negligence, unlucky mistake, and a might team would be gone. Bayern did not even reach the ¼ finals. Borussia (Moenchengladbach) was eliminated in the ¼ finals by Werder (Bremen), a team having miserable season otherwise. Schalke 04 and Fortuna (Dusseldorf) were unable to beat each other after overtime in Gelsenkirchen and had to play a second leg in Dusseldorf – Fortuna won at home, but minimally: 1-0. Koln had it much easier… they hosted the worst team in the Northern Second Bundesliga, Schwarz-Weiss (Essen). Worst, but not in the Cup, where they heroically reached a level Bayern was not able to reach… but the team was very weak, unfortunately. Koln easily won 9-0. No mercy, just hunger. Koln had it tougher in the ½ finals – they still had lucky draw: hosts again. Werder, however, was not easy and Koln clinched 1-0 victory. Fortuna destroyed MSV Duisburg 4-1.

The final opposed two of the top German clubs this year. Similar in a way – not having exceptional cluster of big stars and depending on collective play and spirit – both were ambitious enough. Fortuna was so far climbing up for a few years and perhaps it was time to finally blossom and begin winning. Koln had enough motivation of their own. They won 2-0.

 

Flohe proudly lifting the Cup. Now, this was familiar… Koln won it in 1976-77 too. They just kept it in their hands.

Sad day in Dusseldorf, but still it was not a bad season for Fortuna – they finished 4th in the Bundesliga and Cup finalists. They were one of the most stable teams during the 1970s, and actually improving year after year. Not long ago Fortuna was seen as possible third great German club in making. Perhaps 1977-78 made clear they were not going to be great… by now it was very experienced team, but actually reaching the peak of their potential and most likely decline was coming, if not started yet. The club somehow did not add great new talent to already familiar for years squad – and it was clear by now that Daniel and Baltes were not going to become better players, let alone stars. Zewe, Seel, and the Austrian Hickersberger were getting too old to build a team around them. Neither was first-class star – Zewe and Seel were second-echelon: even when they played for the national team, it was clear that they were not going to be influential regulars, but replaced at the first moment younger talent was at hand. The only player for the future was Allofs – which meant that a new team had to be started. Fortuna were brave, but… no more.

Koln had perhaps their best ever year. A double! May be they were also a great team? 2 Cups and 1 title in two years – hard to be dismissed. Hard to ignore.

Cup winners! What a season for the Billy Goats! What a year for a club very young by German standards – 1. FC Koln was found in 1948, as a merger of two hardly remembered local clubs – Kolner Ballspiel-Club 1901 and SpVgg Sulz 07. The ‘baby club’ quickly started winning and distinguished itself as the first Bundesliga champions – hence, the constant hopes and longing for another title. Finally wish came true and who was the prime mover and shaker? Who was the reason for the great success? Hennes IV the Great, of course! To enemies it was a joke, for it sounded as a joke… back in 1950 the owner of a circus brought a gift to the club during Koln’s Carnival – a goat. It was presented to Hennes Weisweiler, a star player of the club and very young coach. Hard to tell who was more surprised – the man or the goat: the animal immediately urinated on the shirt of Weisweiler, trying to keep him in his hug. This was seen as significant omen and the goat was named Hennes. He became the live mascot of the club, always present at games and traveling with the squad to away games. The goat was incorporated in the club’s logo, rather strangely stepping on the Koln’s famous cathedral. The club was nicknamed ‘the Billy Goats’. But it was not just a fancy whim… the goat had luxurious life by goat standards, but he was expected to work. To influence and win games and trophies. The pressure was big . Goat life is short. By 1977 already the forth Hennes was reigning.

Hennes IV was honest – he worked hard and delivered. He won the Cup in 1976-77. Now he aimed higher – and produced a double. No other Hennes managed so much – immediately Hennes IV became Hennes IV the Great. Certainly he had the look and appearance of greatness. Forget Hennes Weisweiler and players – it was Hennes IV the Great who led the club to a double. He won it. But it was tough and difficult life with such responsibility: Hennes IV the Great did his best, worked hard… until his heart burst from the pressure. Hennes IV the Great died from cardiac arrest a few years after his great success. He is fondly remembered and set as an example to every new Hennes. Later ones also perished from heart attacks, alas, without victories. The greatest of all goats set very high standards indeed.

 

Lucky title for 1.FC Koln, but not undeserved. At home, it was great success, waited for since 1964, when Koln distinguished themselves as the very first Bundesliga champions. The club remained strong, but not a title contender – strong enough to end among top 8 teams, that was all. But in 1976 Hennes Weisweiler returned to the club, where he was a legend long before the world knew of him, and immediately got results: Koln won the German Cup in 1976-77. Of course, the fans wanted more… which was not likely to happen, judging by the transfers between the old and the new season: Overath retired. Along with him, another great veteran quit – Wolfgang Weber. Not a single impressive name arrived and, on the surface, Koln appeared weaker than the previous year. Overath out and some obscure guy from Japan in… did not look good at all. The beginning of the season proved skeptics right – Koln lost 1-5 their first match of the season. But skeptics were quickly refuted: Koln became a leader, leaving everybody else except Borussia (Moenchengladbach) far behind. The fascinating race kept everybody on tiptoes to the very end of the championship. Koln needed a victory in the last round and got it with style: 5-0 was a precaution against possible crooked victory of Borussia by more than 11 goals, but nevertheless was impressive, categorical ending of the campaign. It was great for long suffering fans to see their club at the top. It was great and significant victory in another, larger aspect, as well: it was the first time since 1968 West Germany had champion not called Bayern or Borussia (Moenchengladbach). It was the end of long – and getting boring – duopoly. It did not matter that Koln won only on better goal-difference: the reality of German football was redefined at last.

Of course, the new champions were full of famous names: Lohr, Flohe, Cullmann, Dieter Muller, Schumacher, the Belgian striker van Gool. Respectable names like Konopka, Zimmermann, Gerber, Strack, Glowacz. A new Danish player called Preben Elkjaer-Larsen… familiar names, but largely from the distance of the time. In real time, the team was rather strange mix of few current national team players – Flohe, Cullmann, and Dieter Muller – one respectable foreign player at his peak – Roger van Gool – and bunch of promising, yet not exceptional players. One relic from the 1960s was still here: Hennes (or Hannes) Lohr, but he was no longer influential key player. It may be right to attribute the victory to Hennes Weisweiler: he managed to motivate and use whatever players he had at hand. The exotic Yasuhiko Okudera was great discovery: the Japanese became a regular. Perhaps the other right decision was trusting Tony Schumacher – only two years ago Schumacher was generally a flop, sharing goalkeeping duties with similarly unstable Slobodan Topalovic. Topalovic was considered more promising of the two… Weisweiler however chose Schumacher and made him firm starter. Topalovic was dismissed in the summer of 1977, which left Schumacher without competition – apparently, it was better for his confidence, for the rise of the great goalkeeper really started in 1977-78. Yet, Weisweiler had few choices – the attack was reduced to two-men line, something rare in the 1970s: Dieter Muller played 33 matches and scored 24 goals. Van Gool played 32 games, scoring 12 times. Lohr, already 35-years old, appeared only 8 times and scored a single goal. Elkjaer-Larsen did not appear even once! The defense, depending of standpoint, was either very reliable or there were no options: Harald Konopka (31/3), Roland Gerber (34/2), Gerhard Strack (32/2), and Herbert Zimmermann (32/2). A mid-table club’s line really… competent, hearty, but lacking a pillar like retired Woldgang Weber. Midfield, in a way similar to Bayern, carried the season: Heinz Flohe, the star player and captain now, and Herbert Neumann did not miss a single match – Flohe was replacing Overath and was the playmaker, but although he had strong season and scored 14 goals, he was not very imaginative player. Certainly not a second Overath… Okudera played 20 matches and scored 4 goals – good debut, but more was to be expected from him next season perhaps. Heinz Simmet, hardly a big talent, appeared in 23 games. Another unknown – Dieter Prestin – played 14 matches. Holger Willmer – 11. Jurgen Glowacz, either because of injuries, or bad form, appeared in only 5 games – and he was likelier choice than anonymous Willmer, Prestin, and Simmet. In part, lack of enough quality players led to high rotation. In part, short defense and attack inevitably was compensated by midfielders. To a point the second 1974 World champion in the team – Bernhard Cullmann – was used as an emergency player, plugging holes in other lines. Nominally a defender, Cullmann was used in ’emergency’ roles in the national team – he was reliable and versatile enough, if not particularly bright and creative player. Cullmann played 27 games, scoring 6 goals. Not bad for a defender… yet, he was not the key defender of the team. With such limited squad, the best solution was disciplined collective play – and Weisweiler achieved precisely that. Koln was not a team praised for exciting football, nor it was found innovative – to a point, it was over-achieving team. And given its limitations, nobody saw Koln as building a dynasty: it was quite sure that another title was unlikely. But this was evaluation of potential – for the moment, Koln won the title – a fantastic success.