UP WHERE WE BELONG – Promotion to Division One, 70s style……..

In this era of parachute payments football followers have become accustomed to relegated teams making a swift return to the Premiership, in the process creating a cabal of clubs involved in a perennial quest to either attain or maintain top flight status.

Having become familiar with the notion of seeing any one of an established number interchange pursuit of promotion for endeavors against demotion, it is interesting to note that during the 1970s, a decade when the game in England is perceived to be at its most competitive, only one club was twice promoted to Division One; the irony not lost on you, me or anyone else with an interest in English football of the 70s that it should be Norwich City – a club identified as one of the present day boomerang brigade, who spend their time going back and forth between the Premiership and Championship.

Crystal maze: Palace second division champions 78/79;

Indeed, of the twenty five teams to be promoted between 1970 and 1979 many made a decent fist of adjusting to life upstairs. Top half finishes were not uncommon, staying out of trouble the rule rather than exception and in the ten seasons stretching from ‘Moondance‘ to Madness only four went straight back down, two of those in the same campaign.

Manchester United, Norwich City (on one occasion), Wolves and Spurs each bounced back at the first time of asking, but most astounding of all was Nottingham Forest who on being promoted not only took Division One by storm but ended 1977-78 as worthy league champions.

Repeating the remarkable early 60s achievement of Ipswich Town in winning promotion and the league title in successive seasons, success at Portman Road had been overseen by Alf Ramsey, who in 1966 with a number of world class players at his disposal, guided England to World Cup glory. In contrast when Brian Clough steered Forest from the second division to the summit of English football inside 12 months, the Football Association would show world class intransigence in not giving him a crack at managing the national team.

Beside the point, perhaps, but what Ramsey and Clough achieved in making instant league champions of their charges will never be repeated and in these days when the expenditure and income of high-ranking clubs is of out of this world proportion, the peak of the Premiership looks as distant from say Fulham or Norwich as the far side of Neptune – stepping on and off the merry-go-round as commonplace for some clubs today as white-knuckle rides were in the 70s for those needing a season or two to grow into their first division attire.

Yet back then the likelihood of surviving longer than one season was far greater for the two (three from 1973-74) promoted clubs, although all this time later the points requirement for securing top division status has significantly increased. The average number gained by second division champions of the 70s is 59 (two for a win), which equates on a three for a win basis to roughly 82 – but only in one instance during the past ten years has a side been automatically promoted with fewer.

During the same period there has only been one case of all three clubs staying up in the season after winning promotion, something their counterparts managed on half a dozen occasions way back when. On one hand that points to it being harder to reach and then stay in the top division now than it was then, yet on the other going down with a war chest to finance a quick return has distorted the picture, Championship promotion places now determined to a large extent by wealth – the pitches of the 70s were vastly inferior to what they are today, but the playing field far more level.

But in accepting overwhelming evidence of the gulf that now exists between the top two divisions – in both a financial and footballing sense – is not the same as admitting things have changed for the better. Shaped by a decade when two clubs won the FA Cup from Division Two, the hopeless football romantic within your genial host laments the day when clubs in the second tier decided to pay only lip-service to the FA Cup and stake everything on catching the Premier League gravy train.

Frank Worthington – promoted to Division One with Huddersfield and Bolton during the 70s;

Reality is such a generation of supporters have been nurtured to believe having a foot on the money mountain defines achievement, although recalling the moment the first payment from the Premiership hits the clubs’ bank account is not the same as being able to say ‘I remember the day we won the cup in 1976 as if it was yesterday.’

So harking back to a time when realism and romance were doing the rounds, recalled are days when teams made a splash rather than splat on being promoted.

JOY DIVISION – Making the top flight 1970-1979:

1969-70Huddersfield Town 1st (60 pts); Blackpool 2nd (53): Returning to the top division for the first time since 1956, Huddersfield took the title with something to spare. Manager Ian Greaves called on just 15 players (seven of whom played in every league match), their impressive points tally – bettered only four times during the decade – was built upon formidable home form, the Terriers’ losing just once at Leeds Road and 17 goals from a fledgling talent named Frank Worthington.

Seven points behind them were Blackpool who returned after three seasons away. Their cause was helped by former England international centre-forward Fred Pickering finding the net 17 times and admirable consistency that saw them go undefeated through December, January and February – the Seasiders’ then suffering just one defeat in the last eight games.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want‘ – Blackpool mustered just 23 points the following season and made an immediate return to the second division, Huddersfield around for two before finishing bottom of the pile in 1971-72.

1970-71Leicester City 1st (59); Sheffield United 2nd (56): Finishing third the previous season, Leicester improved to the tune of two places and eight points. Despite a bleak mid-winter when they dropped as low as seventh, a 4-1 January reversal at Birmingham would be the last league defeat Frank O’Farrell’s men would suffer – the Foxes keeping top spot to themselves after hitting the front in early March.

Sheffield United brought a three year first division exile to an end, a team containing the exceptional talents of Tony Currie and Alan Woodward finishing a memorable season at Bramhall Lane with an 11 match undefeated trot.

The Long and Winding Road‘ – Sheffield United stayed four seasons in Division One, their best, (sixth in 1974-75), followed by a bottom of the table disaster 12 months later. Leicester lasted two longer before being relegated after an abject showing in 1977-78.

1971-72 Norwich City 1st (57) Birmingham City 2nd (56): In a season where the first division title race went to the wire, likewise occurred in Division Two, Norwich City, under the shrewd stewardship of Ron Saunders, promoted and becoming champions on the last Saturday – a 2-1 win at already relegated Watford ensuring Carrow Road would host top flight football for the first time in 1972-73.

Three days later Birmingham clinched second place with a dramatic 1-0 win at Leyton Orient where striker Bob Latchford scored his 30th goal of the season – a campaign that had seen Blues’ beaten just once after New Years Day and that an FA Cup semi-final loss to eventual cup winners Leeds.

Victory in front of a Brisbane Road crowd of over 33,000, (an amalgam of home, Birmingham and Millwall supporters, who saw their side pipped for second place by the St. Andrews outfit), took Blues into the promotion frame for the first and only time during the season, Freddie Goodwin’s men emerging through a pack where only three points separated the top four.

Tumbling Dice‘ – In their first season Norwich survived by two points in finishing third bottom, but in 1973-74 were racing certainties for the drop long before it became a mathematical certainty. Back in Division One for the first time since 1965, Blues finished a commendable tenth on their return, but thereafter fortunes fluctuated, the final season of the decade resulting in a meagre points tally and second bottom finish.

Vintage Claret(s) – 1972-73 Second Division Champions;

1972-73Burnley 1st (62) Queens Park Rangers 2nd (61) – If securing a Division Two promotion place in 1971-72 had been a close run thing, the following season became a procession where Burnley and QPR were concerned – the Turf Moor men prevailing by just a point with the rest of the field a long way distant.

Built upon the nucleus of their 1967-68 Youth Cup winning side, manager Jimmy Adamson cultivated a talented, tight-knit team who scored plenty and conceded few. Two years out of the top flight allowed talents such as midfield linchpin Martin Dobson, Welsh winger Leighton James and England U-23 goalkeeper Alan Stevenson to blossom, Burnley recording nine wins and a draw in their last eleven games to pip QPR for the title – whose points tally would have secured top spot on several occasions during the decade.

With 81 goals Rangers easily outscored everyone else (54 at Loftus Road was the highest managed by any second division side on their own patch during the 70s) and had made steady progress since their one top flight season to date four years before – future England internationals Phil Parkes, Dave Clement, Ian Gillard, Gerry Francis and flamboyant attacking midfielder Stan Bowles, mainstays of a side who would become greatly admired in the years ahead.

Let’s See Action‘ – QPR went up to become the highest finishing London club for the next three seasons – failing by just a point to lift the league title in 1975-76. They fared less well as the decade came to a close, Rangers slipping back to Division Two in 1979. Burnley impressed in each of their first two campaigns back in Division One, which made their third season slump all the more mystifying, relegation in 1976 bringing an abrupt end to something which looked so promising three years before.

1973-74Middlesbrough 1st (65) Luton Town 2nd (60) Carlisle United 3rd (49) – The first season of three up/three down brought with it the dual irony of the highest points total amassed by a second division team during the decade and also the fewest gained by a promotion winning side.

Carlisle United 1973-74 – big story/smallish points total;

Sixteen separated miles-out-in-front Middlesbrough and third placed Carlisle, Luton worthy of admiration for an excellent tally in finishing second. With Jack Charlton taking his first dart at management, Boro gave their supporters and the statisticians a season to remember; a club record 24 match unbeaten run, only thirty goals conceded, the story fleshed out with successive 4-0 away wins in April followed by an 8-0 shellacking of Sheffield Wednesday in their final home game.

Despite three draws and a defeat in their final six matches, Luton had already done the heavy lifting, their most eye-catching early season result a 6-1 walloping of Carlisle, who were one of several candidates for third place when the finish line came to view.

After losing heavily at Bloomfield Road during the run-in the Cumbrians appeared to have blown their chance but successive victories in the last two games while Blackpool and Leyton Orient dropped points brought Carlisle what they needed – Saturday 29 April 1974 creating the seemingly unthinkable scenario of Brunton Park staging Division One football the following season, while Old Trafford welcomed second division guests.

Now I’m Here‘- Middlesbrough acquitted themselves well in Division One, perhaps the only surprise from a run of satisfying seasons was a League Cup or FA Cup did not come their way before a much changed club dropped out of the top flight in 1982. On the way down they passed Luton, who were returning after their mid-70s elevation lasted just one season, a fate that also befell Carlisle – but in the process they gave English football one of its most enduring post-war stories.

1974-75Manchester United 1st (61) Aston Villa 2nd (58) Norwich City 3rd (53): Almost 50 years after the fact, it is still hard to convey the seismic shock waves that went through English football on Manchester United being relegated. Just six seasons on from Bobby Charlton lifting the European Cup on behalf of a George Best inspired team, the deterioration in their fortunes began soon after and although in 1974 they had a clutch of international class players along with an experienced manager in Scot Tommy Docherty, reputations had proved no safeguard against going down.

Back in the high-life – Manchester United wave goodbye to Division Two;

In the event Manchester United followers of long-standing have come to view the 12 month second division sojourn with enormous affection, a team billed ‘too good to go down‘ quickly proved too good for most in the unfamiliar surroundings of Division Two.

Despite a late winter chill when they exited the FA Cup at the hands of third division Walsall, lost out to Norwich in a two-leg League Cup semi-final and suffered three defeats in four league games (one of which, a reversal against Bristol City proved their only loss at Old Trafford), United responded with nine wins and two draws to win the title by three points.

Playing in a positive, expansive manner they scored freely while for long-serving goalkeeper Alex Stepney it proved the quietest campaign of his United career as they returned the best defensive record – the home win over Sunderland in front of over 60,000 and 4-4 draw at Sheffield Wednesday two defining matches of the era.

United, however, like everyone else in the division were outgunned by Aston Villa, who under the auspices of Ron Saunders, completed a notable League Cup and promotion double. Brian Little (20) and Ray Graydon (19) accounted for over half of the 77 league goals accrued and were particularly prolific in a home straight that yielded eight consecutive victories – Villa, after languishing in Division Three earlier in the decade, returning in triumphant style to the top flight where they had last played eight years before.

In his first full season in charge at Carrow Road, ebullient manager John Bond molded Norwich into an easy on the eye, hard to beat ensemble, an impressive first half to the campaign resulting in only three league defeats and League Cup scalps of Sheffield United and neighbours Ipswich. Recovering with style and determination from their League Cup Final disappointment, there was no sign of the faltering on the league front – four wins and a draw in April securing promotion with a game to spare.

Thunder Road‘ – The most successful intake of the decade, Norwich established themselves as a solid Division One entity, while on their return Manchester United would finish third and reach the next two FA Cup Finals, playing in a third before the decade was out. But the true long-term gains were all made by Aston Villa, whose League Cup triumph of 1977 preceded league title success in 1981 and the crowning glory of becoming European Champions 12 months later.

1975-76Sunderland 1st (56) 2nd Bristol City (53) 3rd West Bromwich Albion (53): In a rare instance of 70s football symmetry, the three teams who finished 4th, 5th and 6th the previous season gravitated upward to occupy places one, two and three the following year.

Sunderland 1975-76 – Home is where they’re smartest;

Three years on from their remarkable FA Cup triumph of 1973, Sunderland, still in the charge of cup-winning messiah Bob Stokoe, were outstanding at Roker Park recording nineteen wins and two draws in their 21 games on home soil – which due to indifferent away form (10 defeats, 6 draws), was just as well. Promotion was secured against Bolton in the penultimate home match with the title ensured against visiting Portsmouth in the last, fixtures that drew a combined attendance of almost 100,000.

After falling just short the season before an additional three points carried Bristol City into Division One for the first time in 65 years. Six wins and two draws through September and October had established their credentials as challengers and even as nerves jangled through a jittery finish that returned only one win from the final five games, the goals of top-scorer Tom Ritchie (18) remained constant.

In contrast West Bromwich Albion, under the stewardship of player-manager Johnny Giles, found timely momentum – a side of experienced campaigners such as John Wile, Ally Robertson and Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, now bolstered by emerging talents such as future England captain Bryan Robson, suffering just one defeat in their last nine matches.

Bristol City and West Brom were both aided by the late season collapse of Bolton Wanderers, who missed out by a point after winning just three of their last 12 games.

Simple Twist of Fate‘ – Despite a respectable points tally by lower-reach Division One standards (34 enough to stave off relegation in the two seasons before and three after), Sunderland fell straight back through the trap door. Bristol City stayed up four, ironically passing the Roker Park side when they returned to the first division in 1980. Under Giles and then Ron Atkinson, West Brom became renowned for an attractive style of play that merited a trophy, but silverware proved elusive – those times becoming a distant memory by the time Albion were relegated in 1986.

1976-77Wolves 1st (57) Chelsea 2nd (55) Nottingham Forest (3rd) 52: In some respects the stand out second division season of the decade. Closely fought title race, each of the top four scoring over 70 goals and little matter of the third placed team going on to win the first division then European Cup twice in the next three years.

Molineux May 1977 – points and prizes for Wolves & Chelsea:

For much of the time it appeared Chelsea, in Division Two for a second season, would be returning to the top flight as champions, although Bolton and Wolves were on their tail for most of the campaign – the Molineux men, relegated the previous season, losing just twice in a 22 game run that saw them ready to pounce when Chelsea lost London derbies to Fulham and Charlton over Easter.

When the sides met in the West Midlands on the first Saturday in May the resulting 1-1 draw gave the home side the title and Chelsea promotion – but arguably the stand-out game of the entire season was a 3-3 Stamford Bridge encounter between them in December.

In a season when they netted six at Hereford and then 72 hours later conceded six at home to Southampton, Wolves scored a second division decade-high return of 84 goals, while for their part Chelsea hit a half century at home, a hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Hull seven days after the Molineux visit taking the personal tally of striker Steve Finniston to 24.

On a day when over 43,000 were in celebratory mood at the Bridge, at Burnden Park Bolton needed to beat Wolves in order to claim third spot. But the champions-elect ran out 1-0 winners, a result that paved the way for Nottingham Forest to finish third, taking the last spot by virtue of a home win over Millwall. For Forest the signings of Larry Lloyd and John McGovern had been key along with 16 goals from Peter Withe, but Brian Clough persuading Peter Taylor to rejoin him in management the previous summer had been the true masterstroke.

Complete Control‘ – On going up Forest quickly began an unstoppable march toward the league title and if that gave English football a jolt, the game was turned on its head when they went on to win successive European Cups. During the same period Clough and Taylor also guided them to three consecutive League Cup Finals, but triumph in the first two was followed by defeat to Wolves in 1980, for whom it proved something of a false dawn as two years later they were back in Division Two. Wracked by financial woes created by costly redevelopment work at Stamford Bridge, coming in 16th with a young side on their return was a decent effort, but cracks could only be papered over so long – Chelsea finishing bottom with just 20 points in 1979.

1977-78Bolton Wanderers 1st (58) 2nd Southampton (57) 3rd Spurs (56): Neither was there any shortage of drama in 1977-78. Only two points separated the top four with virtually the entire shooting match decided on the last day.

To overcome their set-backs of the previous two campaigns Bolton manager Ian Greaves invested in charismatic striker Frank Worthington (whom he had once signed for Huddersfield) and in partnership with Neil Whatmore (19 goals) they made hay from the promptings of England U-21 international Peter Reid. Beginning the season in fine form, after a rare pre-Christmas defeat Bolton emphasised their attacking threat in the next game, responding with a 6-3 trouncing of Cardiff.

There were moments of anxiety as the curtain began to come down, dropping points to each of the sides around them, but Bolton regained their bearings with four wins in April. The title was won with a last day goalless draw against visiting Fulham, this after clinching promotion on winning at Blackburn the previous Wednesday.

Much ado about Nothing (Nothing) – Saints and Spurs attempt to look busy;

Two years on from their shock FA Cup triumph Southampton finally made the return most had been expecting them to make since going down four seasons before. Signing England World Cup winner Alan Ball had a galvanising effect and although it was not all plain sailing a six match unbeaten run as things came to the boil took them into the final game of the season, a home fixture against Spurs, needing a point to be promoted.

Spurs, meanwhile, retained the services of manager Keith Burkinshaw after their exit from Division One the previous season. They scored 83 times in attempting to keep their first time out of the top division since 1950 brief, although three draws and two defeats during the final weeks kept matters on a knife edge. The pressure was increased by Brighton storming through spring, one defeat in eight games taking them to the brink – and given their final game was at home to struggling Blackpool, losers of the Southampton v Spurs clash would face another season of second division football.

According to most accounts there ensued a tepid goalless draw – a result giving both sides what they required. Along the south coast Brighton recorded a 2-1 win that saw them finish on the same number of points as Spurs, but with a goal difference inferior by nine – thoughts automatically turning back to October when Bristol Rovers were hammered 9-0 at White Hart Lane.

While joy emanated from The Dell, the Goldstone Ground was shrouded in despondency and not just on behalf of the home side – defeat sending Blackpool into the bottom three for the first time that season and with it came relegation despite the presence in their ranks of Bob Hatton, whose 22 goals made him leading scorer in the division.

Life in the Fast Lane‘ – Spurs and Southampton encountered few problems on returning to the big stage, Saints reaching the League Cup in their first season back, the early 80s bringing Spurs two FA Cup triumphs and a UEFA Cup success. Bolton, however, suffered an acute case of ‘second season syndrome’ relegation back to Division Two in 1980 the start of a long period in the doldrums.

1978-79Crystal Palace 1st (57) Brighton & Hove Albion 2nd (56) Stoke City 3rd (56): The end of the decade brought no cessation of the tension attached to climbing out of Division Two – a couple of points all that separated those moving on and others who just missed the bus.

Under ambitious young manager Terry Venables, Crystal Palace built on a ninth-placed finish the previous term to take the title in the very last match. Strictly adhering to the joint principles of a) not conceding soft goals and b) not losing on scoring first, Palace went unbeaten from Boxing Day, embarking on a twenty game unbeaten run where they kept 13 clean sheets. Despite only scoring 51 (relegated Sheffield United hit more), at the back they were almost impenetrable – 24 goals conceded the lowest by some margin of any promoted second division side of the 70s.

Programme to receive – Palace prepare to check out of Division Two;

After going so close the year before Brighton were in the thick of things all season, one defeat in the last 16 testament to their consistency – a 3-1 win at Newcastle on the final day of the season not only clinched a first-ever promotion to Division One but saw the Seagulls finish their fixtures on top of the table, although old rivals Palace still had one game to play.

While Albion were defeating one team in black and white Stoke were overcoming another, a late Paul Richardson header brought the visitors victory at Notts County and with it a return to the top flight – five wins in the first six games and only two defeats after Christmas enabling The Potters to reclaim the top flight status they had lost two seasons before.

The final day saw Sunderland in third spot following a 2-1 win at Wrexham, but costly April home defeats to bottom of the table Blackburn and mid-table Cardiff meant their fate also depended on what happened when Palace completed their fixtures with a visit from Burnley six days later.

With the home side needing a point for promotion but knowing victory would also land the title, a record Selhurst Park attendance of 51,482 saw Burnley hold out until the closing stages, only for late goals from Ian Walsh and Dave Swindlehurst to precipitate a reshuffle of the top four as Palace climbed into top spot. Brighton and Stoke each dropped a place but remained in the promotion zone, not so Sunderland who fell out of the picture in being pushed down to fourth – thus Crystal Palace would end the 70s as they started it being members of Division One, although since being relegated from the top flight in 1973 they had also spent two seasons in the third division.

Bright Side of the Road‘ – On being promoted Palace were dubbed ‘the team of the 80s‘ but for them, initially at least, the decade only lasted two seasons and they were relegated in 1981. During a four year first division tenure Brighton reached the FA Cup Final in 1983 but went down in the same season. Stoke survived without undue alarm for six seasons before finishing rock bottom in 1984-85.

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NEIL SAMBROOK is the author of ‘MONTY’S DOUBLE‘ – an acclaimed thriller available as an Amazon Kindle book.

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