Saturday, 31 August 2013

News of the World Football Annual 1974/75

I've often argued that British football had far more in the way of strong personalities in the 1970's, and this little book proves my point nicely. It was published on the eve of the 1974/75 season and everywhere you looked there was an important someone somewhere doing something of note.

Frank Butler, Sports Editor for the News of the World was first up to sing the praises of Joe Mercer, one of the acknowledged nice guys of the domestic game in England. Mercer, nearing his sixtieth birthday, had just completed his spell as caretaker manager of England. With three wins and three draws from his seven games in charge (not to mention a shared British Home Championship with Scotland in 1974), some were wondering whether there was any need for Don Revie to take over permanently.

Certainly the players in the England squad at the time were happy to acknowledge his casual style of leadership. 'Uncle Joe' merely wanted them to enjoy playing and to express themselves with flair and skill on the pitch. "The side played with a new freedom" said Butler, "without tension and even England's most severe critics agreed the team would have done well in the World Cup."

Commendable though his reputation was, it's dubious to suggest that Mercer would have made a better job of qualifying for the Finals in West Germany than his immediate predecessor, Sir Alf Ramsey, or even his successor, Don Revie. For all that, the FA wouldn't have made many easier decisions than picking the former Leeds United manager, given his brilliant record with the Elland Road club. "[First Division] Champions in 1969 and 1974, they were runners-up on five occasions - 1965, '66, '70, '71 and '72" the Annual told us, "and never, during the last six years of the Revie regime, did they finish out of the top three."

Interestingly, the Annual was quick to point out Revie's acknowledgement that he'd been prejudiced against international football while at Leeds. "It was rarely easy for the last manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, to secure Leeds players for England games, and even Revie now admits that on the question of releasing players for the national team: 'Nobody has been more guilty than me personally at Leeds.'"

Revie's former club captain Billy Bremner wrote of his eagerness to take part in the European Cup, but even he couldn't have foreseen the eventful season that was to come. To begin with, he'd have to face the indignity of being sent off in the Charity Shield match along with Kevin Keegan in Brian Clough's first game in charge. Bremner's new manager would also face dismissal, only 44 days after replacing Revie, and with Jimmy Armfield finally picked to replace Clough, Leeds were almost eliminated in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup against non-league Wimbledon. Though they eventually reached the quarter finals, it was the European Cup that ultimately proved their main shot at glory. Sadly for Bremner, Leeds Unitedwere defeated 2-0 by Bayern Munich in what can only be described as a contentious Final for any number of different reasons.

Back on the international front, Scotland were having to regroup after a disappointing World Cup during the summer of 1974. Patrick Collins, writing for the News of the World, was philosophical about what lay in store for the Scots. "The next stage will be the important one, for it will tell us if they mean to learn from their experiences of Dortmund and Frankfurt, or if they are content to be known as the side which might have made a real impression if only goal average had been kinder."

He went on: "But, as events in West Germany demonstrated, there are genuine signs that they intend to live in the real world where games are not decided by tanner ba' players, and where they do not reward you with the World Cup because you happened to beat England. It may just be that Scottish football is about to set off in a new and exciting direction... the season ahead will show us how they are preparing for that journey." The records show that Scotland went on to win only three of their next nine games, and it wouldn't be until late 1975 that Willie Ormond's team would return to some truly convincing form.

A quick look through the statistical pages of the News of the World Annual provides the usual fascinating snapshot of who was at the top and bottom of their game as the 1974/75 season was about to start. Manchester United were gearing up for life in the Second Division after finishing 21st of 22 teams in 1973/74. Heading in the opposite direction, Luton Town and Carlisle United were set to begin a rare campaign in the First Division, and though they were both relegated at the end of it, they did at least bring a fresh feel to top flight football that season.

As for the previous season, 1973/74, the Football Diary feature in the Annual provides a great summary of the events that took place and the state of the English game. Here are a few highlights:

6 Sept 1973 - "George Best returns yet again to Manchester United, promising never to run away again and revealing that his return to football was prompted by a visit by Sir Matt Busby."

26 Sept 1973 - Scotland qualify "for the World Cup Finals for the first time since 1958 with a 2-1 win over Czechoslovakia"

15 Oct 1973 - "English football begins its most traumatic week for many seasons with the news that Brian Clough has resigned as manager of Derby County."

17 Oct 1973 - "England go out of the World Cup. Despite making all the running in the decisive Wembley match against Poland, they can only manage a 1-1 draw. Sir Alf Ramsey says: "If I could play the match again, I would do the same. The team played as well as it could have played.""

21 Oct 1973 - "Poland are beaten 1-0 by the Republic of Ireland in Dublin."

22 Oct 1973 - "Ipswich manager Bobby Robson turns down the vacant managership of Derby and Derby players deliver a letter to the directors demanding the return of Clough and Taylor."

23 Oct 1973 - "Astonishing scenes at Derby as the players demand to see the board, then Dave Mackay, manager of Nottingham Forest, is appointed new manager."

2 Nov 1973 - "Brian Clough becomes the new manager of Third Division Brighton at a reported £15,000 a year."

21 Nov 1973 - "Derby players pull back from the brink of another threat. They had threatened to boycott training sessions at the club before their match with Leeds."

29 Dec 1973 - "Leeds draw 1-1 at Birmingham and establish a new record First Division start to a season of 23 games without defeat."

3 Jan 1974 - "The first big shock of 1974 - Chelsea place Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson on the transfer list after a training row. George Best fails even to make training and goes missing from Manchester United again."

6 Jan 1974 - "The great Sunday soccer experiment - prompted by the power crisis - gets under way. Four FA Cup ties are played and each club attracts its biggest gate of the season."

20 Jan 1974 - "Sunday League football gets under way - and nine of the twelve home clubs are rewarded with their largest gates of the season."

24 Jan 1974 - "George Best, transfer-listed by Manchester United, decides to give up the game for good."

23 Feb 1974 - "Leeds lose their first League match of the season, by 3-2 at Stoke. Their run had stood at 29 unbeaten games."

14 Mar 1974 - "Bobby Moore leaves West Ham and joins Fulham for £25,000."

24 Apr 1974 - "Leeds are the League champions, securing their title by virtue of Arsenal's success over Liverpool at Anfield."

1 May 1974 - "Sir Alf Ramsey is sacked as manager of England. Joe Mercer takes over as caretaker manager."

...which neatly brings us full circle. 1974/75 would have to go a long way to match the rollercoaster of events of the previous season, but with the likes of Revie, Clough, Bremner and Keegan constantly in the spotlight, it would never be far away from the headlines.


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