If You Know Your History (1980/81)

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett says to Mr. Darcy, “You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” It’s a bittersweet observation for any Aston Villa fans reading this week’s instalment of If You Know Your History, because in the 1980/81 season of English football, this year’s lacklustre failures won the Championship for the last time. In 2015/16, of course, they are almost certain to be relegated; in 1980/81, Leicester City, who will likely win this year’s Premier League, suffered that fate. How times change!

While Aston Villa seized the league, Ipswich Town were in the hunt for three competitions until the season’s wane; unlike Arsenal’s 1979/80 campaign, though, the Tractor Boys did not blow all of them and managed to bring the UEFA Cup to East Anglia, the obvious home of European success.

Liverpool also tasted victory on the continent, winning the European Cup in what was described by the Rothmans Football Yearbook as “another tediously boring final”, while Tottenham Hotspur brought a slash of glamour to the proceedings with an FA Cup victory over Manchester City, a replay needed to divide the sides in the competition’s centenary year.

Off the pitch, the predominant concern for the footballing establishment was the moribund state of fandom, as high ticket prices, against a backdrop of recession and austerity, as well as the increasing availability of TV coverage, meant that more and more fans were staying at home rather than attending stadiums. How times don’t change!

Indeed, the 1980/81 season saw attendances fall by almost 2.75 million to a new post-war low, many of those leaving examples of what the Rothmans Football Yearbook called “genuine followers…they have been driven away by modern annoyances, including hooliganism, obscene language, the spiralling cost of attending matches and the realisation that the game probably no longer represents the one they once knew.” And you thought AMF was a new phenomenon?

Of course, for all the reactionary rhetoric going around, some of it with good cause, the game’s governing bodies could always be relied upon to become vexatious over the little things, too. Shirt sponsorship, which had reared its ugly head the season before, continued to be an issue, with Brighton’s refusal to remove advertising lettering from their shirts causing the withdrawal of cameras from their game with Aston Villa in October. UEFA fined Nottingham Forest for displaying sponsor’s material on their shirts in February, but they flouted the rules again and were fined, this time by the FA, in March for the same offence, along with Bolton and Newcastle. Coventry even attempted a move that would surely pique the interest of Mike Ashley, mooting that they might rename themselves Coventry-Talbot as a nod to their sponsors, Talbot, a local car manufacturer.

The FA said they would not be allowed to, and FA Secretary Ted Croker went so far as to suggest the government should put Football Pools money back into the game to prevent players from becoming “mobile billboards”. It seems odd to rail against sky-high ticket prices and then deny teams a good source of revenue, and, indeed, even the Football League realised in the 1980/81 season that the League Cup would benefit from sponsorship.

And why was all this revenue needed? As the last season had shown, the shackles were off where big money transfers were concerned. Clive Allen moved from Q.P.R. to Arsenal for £1.25m in June, Ian Wallace from Coventry City to Nottingham Forest a month later for the same sum, and Forest then recouped that with the £1.25m sale of Gary Birtles to Manchester United. Oddly, Allen was sold by Arsenal just two months later to Crystal Palace for £800k plus Kenny Sansom. Indeed, Allen, who finished Palace’s top scorer in a poor season with nine league goals and two in the cup, then moved again at the season’s end, back to Q.P.R., as part of a deal that saw Steve Wicks move the other way. Money was flying all over the place, with even Brighton shelling out £800k on Rangers’ Gordon Smith and Mike Robinson of Manchester United before the season’s start.

Recalling Oscar Wilde’s observation that “No man is rich enough to buy back his past,” it’s worth noting that for all the money spent by Arsenal, Nottingham Forest and others, Aston Villa did not make any signings until after they had won the Championship; indeed, they only used 14 players in total, seven of whom were ever-present. Money can’t buy you love and it is no guarantee of winning England’s top-flight either.

What does win the top flight is scoring lots of goals and not conceding many (I know, right?), and Aston Villa excelled at both. Peter Withe scored 20, joint highest in the division with Spurs’ Steve Archibald, and the Villains only conceded 40 goals in total, three fewer than Ipswich Town. Villa started solidly with wins against Leeds and Norwich, who would eventually be relegated, but after losses to Ipswich and Everton, they went on a 12 match unbeaten run that was only ended with three defeats in five games, away at Liverpool, Middlesbrough, and Brighton. The rest of the season only saw Aston Villa suffer three more defeats, though, away at Spurs and at home to Ipswich, and on the final day against Arsenal.

Ipswich Town side pushed Villa all the way, going unbeaten in their first 15 games. The lead chopped and changed, before Manchester United managed to beat the East Anglian side 2-1 at Old Trafford with goals from Mickey Thomas and James Nicholl with six games left to run in the season. Ipswich then won at home to Sunderland, but despite losing away at Leeds and West Bromwich Albion, they seemed to have gained the upper hand with their win in mid-April that guaranteed the double over Villa.

Perversely, this result seems to have precipitated something of an implosion, like Arsenal in the season before, as Ipswich’s success bit them back: Manchester City needed extra-time to beat them in the semi-final of the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup final also loomed large on the horizon. The fixture pile-up took its inevitable toll, and Ipswich were only able to win one further league game, a 1-0 at Portman Road over Manchester City; before that, they lost at home to Arsenal and away to relegation-doomed Norwich City, which guaranteed the title would be decided on the last full day of the season.

Ipswich, with a game in hand, travelled to Ayresome Park to take on Middlesbrough and Aston Villa travelled to Highbury to face Arsenal. At half-time, Ipswich were 1-0 up away at Middlesbrough and Villa were 2-0 down to the Gunners. In a stunning and unexpected reverse, though, Middlesbrough’s Yugoslav striker Bozo Jankovic scored twice in the second half, condemning Ipswich to a defeat and meaning that Villa’s loss at Arsenal was wholly academic.

The title went to England’s second city and Ron Saunders’ achievement was hugely impressive, not least because it was Villa’s first title in 71 years and was done without any new signings and in the face of some expensively assembled, competitive opposition.

At the other end of the table, Crystal Palace, who were relegated from the top flight after winning only six games, set a precedent for their future off-field confusion and also created the need for clarification around the rules of club ownership. In December, Fulham’s chairman Ernie Clay announced that he had tried to buy Palace, and the Eagles’ chairman Raymond Bloye admitted this, but stated he had no intention of selling. This proved to be a gross inaccuracy, as Wimbledon’s chairman Ron Noades then announced he had bought Bloye’s 75 per cent share for £600,000 in January. The Football League hastily convened a meeting to agree to the admittedly rather obvious statement that no chairman could own more than one club, and Noades stated he would give up his control of the Dons. He changed his mind, but then said he would give up any say in Wimbledon’s affairs; this was accepted, and he stayed as chairman and owner of Palace until he sold the club to Mark Goldberg in 1998.

Noades left Wimbledon having installed Dave Bassett as manager, a move that would herald the club’s greatest period of success. Palace, on the other hand, had four separate managers in the 1980/81 season, Terry Venables, Ernie Walley, Malcolm Allison (yet again), and Dario Gradi, who moved from Wimbledon to take the job. Noades eventually stabilised things at Palace, but that will have to wait for another instalment.

The other teams to go down, Leicester and Norwich both won only 13 games each all season and were relegated despite a host of mediocre competition, including big-spending Brighton, Wolves, and Sunderland. Leicester did, however, manage a league double over Liverpool and ended their 85 match unbeaten home run, which probably didn’t count for much in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, Leicester were in the bottom three from November onwards, while Norwich were out of the relegation places with two games to go, but then slid as Brighton escaped at the death with victories over Sunderland and Leeds.

In Division 2, West Ham, fired by 22 league goals from David Cross, were effervescent, taking top spot in Division 2 on November 16 and not relinquishing it, eventually finishing on a club record 66 points; Notts County were almost as good, dropping no lower than fifth all season and holding second spot from February 1 onwards. Swansea were also promoted and their ascent under John Toshack was nothing short of remarkable, having risen from Division 4 to the top-flight in four seasons. The 1981/82 season would be the first time the Swans tasted Division 1 football. At the other end of the table, it was a bad season for Bristol, as City and Rovers both went down, along with Preston North End. Bristol City suffered the ignominy of back-to-back relegations, having been dumped from Division 1 in the preceding season, whereas Preston were returning to Division 3 after only three seasons in Division 2.

The third Division was won by Rotherham, despite Charlton Athletic holding first place almost entirely from November until March. The Addicks finished third, with Barnsley sneaking second spot. Despite only finishing in 11th place, Exeter City boasted the highest goal scorer in the Football League, with Tony Kellow netting 33 (including 6 FA Cup goals), ahead of Robbie Cooke of Peterborough United on 29 (Division 4) and Portsmouth’s David Kemp (Division 3) on 28.

In the fourth Division, Southend United took the top spot in early October and did not release it from their sweaty grip all season (EDITOR’S NOTE: *dances*), despite being pushed all the way by the fearsome Lincoln City; ultimately, two points separated the top two, with a nine-point gap to third place Doncaster Rovers.

In Europe, English teams dominated, with Liverpool winning the European Cup and Ipswich making up for their title-race stutters with a UEFA Cup win. Liverpool, who qualified by virtue of their fourth title in five years the previous season, had an easy start to the competition with a 11-2 aggregate win over Finnish side OPS Oulu (or Oulun Palloseura, to give them their proper name; they currently play in the third tier of Finnish football), followed by a 5-0 aggregate win over Aberdeen. The quarters and semis saw wins over CSKA Sofia (6-1 on aggregate) and the Bayern Munich of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, 1-1 after both legs on away goals. For fans of trivia, Bayern’s Jan-Einar Aas was signed by Nottingham Forest at the end of the season, thereby becoming the first Norwegian to play professionally in both Germany and England. 

The final saw Liverpool play Real Madrid, last season’s semi-finalists. Los Merengues boasted Laurie Cunningham, the first Englishman to play for Real after a £950,000 transfer from West Brom who had won the League and Cup double in his first season, but mysteriously never won more than six full England caps. Cunningham failed to make an impression against the solid Liverpool backline, marshalled well by Ray Clemence in his final game for the club. Left-back Alan Kennedy scored the only goal of the game, and would go on to score the winning penalty in the 1984 final too.

Ipswich, with John Wark scoring 36 goals in all competitions, drove their tractor straight through European opposition to claim the UEFA Cup. Wark, remarkably, was a converted left-back turned deep-lying midfielder, but still managed to score at a rate absurd by anyone’s standard. Ipswich’s superbly elegant midfield also featured Dutchmen Arnie Muhren (who added the UEFA Cup to his European Cup with Ajax won 1972/73 and went on to win the Cup Winners’ Cup back at Ajax in 1986/87, making him the one of the few players to have won three different major European cups) and Frans Thijssen, who was crowned Footballer of the Year for his efforts. Wark also won the European Young Player of the Year and the PFA Player of the Year. Having beaten Aris Salonika, Bohemians Prague, Widzew Lodz, and St. Etienne, Ipswich faced FC Koln in the semi-finals and secured two 1-0 wins, with goals from Wark and Terry Butcher. The two-legged final, against AZ Alkmar, saw a 3-0 home win for the English side, with goals from Wark, Thijssen, and Paul Mariner. The away leg was a closer affair, with the Dutch side winning 4-2, Wark and Thijssen again scoring. It was their first European trophy in only their fourth entry into European competition, and a huge triumph for manager Bobby Robson, who would go on to be a giant of English management.

Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup after a replay was required to settle the final outcome with Manchester City. The Cup, in its hundredth year, saw almost two hundred thousand spectators attend the two matches that compromised the final, the attendance for the replay only falling to 92,000 because the game happened on a Thursday. City had beaten Ipswich 1-0 in the first semi-final after extra time, with a goal from Paul Power, while Tottenham had needed a replay to see off Wolves; the first game finished 2-2 after extra time, but two goals from Garth Crooks and one from Ricky Villa guaranteed their place in the final as the replay finished 3-0 at Highbury. The final finished 1-1, with both goals coming from Tommy Hutchison, who scored at the right end for City in the first half and then conceded an own-goal with 11 minutes to go at the wrong one.

The replay was the first in an FA Cup Final since 1970 and the first to be staged at Wembley, and it will be remembered for one of the great goals of the competition. The score was 2-2 after a Ricky Villa goal put Spurs one up, before City overtook them with a goal from Steve Mackenzie and a penalty from Kevin Reeves. Garth Crooks then netted an equaliser, before a mistake from Tony Galvin gifted the ball to Villa. The Argentine waltzed past four City players, surging first left, then right back towards the centre of the goal, before slotting it under a despairing Joe Corrigan, still surrounded by City defenders. It was voted the Wembley Goal of the Century in 2001 and was a fitting end to the 100th instantiation of the FA Cup.

The League Cup was won by Liverpool and again needed a replay to decide it, after West Ham, who let us not forget were also quarter-finalists in the Cup Winners’ Cup and in Division 2, held them to a 1-1 draw in the first final. The Hammers had beaten Coventry in the semis and Liverpool had seen off beaten FA Cup finalists Manchester City to book their place. The replay saw goals from Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen for Liverpool, with Paul Goddard scoring once for West Ham, and Bob Paisley’s men had won the first half of their domestic and European Cup double.

Elsewhere, in Bury to be precise, a match against Stockport County on April 25 was almost snowed off. County could only field nine players for the first half as others were stuck in the bad weather; they then put out a full eleven for the second half and won 1-0, a result that allowed them to avoid the spectre of re-election. Fulham created a Rugby League team, taking advantage of the fact that Second Division games were played on a Sunday, and opened their season with a 24-5 win over Wigan, winning promotion to Division 2 by the end of the season; the team still survives as the London Broncos, playing in Rugby League’s second division, but are now homed in Ealing. And as the season drew to an end, Charlton and Coventry responded to the growing malaise and fear among fans of hooliganism and cost by beginning work on all-seater stadiums.

But while Liverpool’s Cup double was hugely impressive, Aston Villa’s league triumph was astonishing. Elizabeth was right. Sometimes it’s best to think only of the past. 

Well…that was unexpected. Still, it’s probably just a flash in the pan. There’s no way that Aston Villa will do something like that again. Isn’t it about time Leeds United did something noteworthy? Find out next week when we move on to 1981/82

IF YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY: 1969/70; 1970/71; 1971/72; 1972/73; 1973/74; 1974/75; 1975/76; 1976/77; 1977/78; 1978/79; 1979/80

You can follow Alex Stewart on Twitter (@AFHStewart)

If You Know Your History (1980/81)
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