If You Know Your History 1975/76

Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault’s treatise on power relationships and structures within the French penal system, was published in 1975 and while it’s fair to say that the book was probably not required reading at the FA’s head offices, the titular themes dominated the concerns of football’s governing body at the beginning of the English game’s 96th competitive season.

Despite repeated attempts to get clubs and players to toe any kind of disciplinary line (see IYKYH’s passim), the FA was once again moved to issue stern statements, as reported in The Daily Telegraph in June 1975: “The Football Association yesterday brought a heavy disciplinary foot down on those players and clubs who have been flouting the appeals system. Next season, any player accumulating 20 penalty points will be banned…A club will be called before an FA commission, should their players accumulate 100 penalty points.”

After Leeds’ ban from European competition, confirmed in June, Ipswich took the unusual and very sensible step of introducing their own rules for fans travelling to Europe: no under 18s unless with an adult; no alcohol and no unpleasant banners or flags; damage waivers were to be signed by all fans going under their own steam, releasing the club from responsibility; and club-issued European travel cards to be revoked in instances of violence or anti-social behaviour.

This set of rules was deemed so helpful by sports minister Denis Howell that he ordered other clubs travelling abroad to follow suit; he also ordered the implementation of the Wheatley report, which made numerous recommendations for improved crowd safety, including the licensing of stadiums by the local authority. It wasn’t enough, though, as hooliganism continued to plague the game at home and aboard all season: in Nottingham Forest’s opening fixture, Brian Clough himself ran onto the pitch to try to stop an invasion, albeit with less aggression than he showed a few years later. Trouble was so bad that in September, there was even a general train and bus strike in London to hamper the marauding efforts of Manchester United fans away at Q.P.R.; suffice it to say, in the face of almost every measure, hooliganism again blighted the season from start to finish.

The season started with the usual managerial keys-in-a-bowl with the most significant change seeing Johnny Giles, the man Don Revie had earmarked as a successor (see the previous piece in this series) taking over at West Bromwich Albion as a player-manager. Players were on the move too. Charlie George had been due to cross the North London divide from Arsenal to Spurs but the deal hit a snag when Derby County decided they wanted the mercurial forward even after Spurs had conducted a medical on the player. Terry Neill, the Spurs boss, was perturbed but stated, philosophically, “I don’t think anything can be gained by going mad. It could still work out.” It didn’t, and George joined Dave Mackay’s reigning champions for £90,000. In a divide-crossing swoop that did work out, former Chelsea skipper John Hollins joined QPR, which would prove significant for the Hoops.

The Charity Shield, such a resonant fixture the season before, saw a 2-0 win for Dave Mackay’s Derby County over West Ham, with George doing well. Early season momentum was with the Hammers, as well as surprise package QPR. The Rs beat Liverpool at home and then walloped champions Derby 5-1 away with Stan Bowles scoring three. Manchester United started well too, beating Wolves 2-0 and Birmingham 2-0 on their return to the top division.

United’s former hero Bobby Charlton left Preston North End in August after a dispute over transfers. Aside from a caretaker role in 1983, it would be his only dalliance with management. Nobby Stiles initially refused an offer to take over as a matter of principle, (well, that’s what he said) but then mislaid said principles and took over four days later.

By the end of September, only West Ham and QPR remained unbeaten, but that ended in October at the hands of Everton and Leeds respectively. Leicester, strangely, failed to win any of their first 11 league games, but managed seven draws. Manchester United continued their good start to the season with a 1-0 win over Norwich, a game so poor that it prompted the United manager Tommy Docherty to complain that Norwich “play parasitic football, living off other people’s mistakes.”

Defending champions Derby finally took top spot in the league in November, but the chasing pack, Liverpool, Manchester United, West Ham, and QPR, were all within a few points; indeed, at the end of November, only four points separated the top eight clubs in the top division. The division’s lead changed hands repeatedly over the next months, with Liverpool and Manchester United both holding it before the New Year.

Astonishingly, despite on-field discipline issues and the horrific violence that stalked so many games, the FA found time in January to tell players that “kissing and cuddling and making gestures to the crowd when a goal is scored should be stopped and players who continue to act in this way should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.” Fortunately, someone quickly realised how stupid this sounded and the suggestion was dropped within weeks. Liverpool regained the top spot in February, but QPR and Derby remained hot on their heels, as did Manchester United. The race remained of rizla-thin margins right to the end. As late as the end of March, Liverpool were down in fourth and QPR were top with Stan Bowles in superb form, despite his desire to move back to Manchester. At one stage, his homesickness even resulted in a transfer request, though he later rescinded it. Manchester United’s interest in the title was ended by Stoke at Old Trafford in April and QPR won their final game against Leeds on April 24th 2-0. But Liverpool, sidetracked by UEFA Cup commitments, weren’t due to play their final league game for another ten days. Anything less than a win and the title would go to West London. But Liverpool won. 

Bob Paisley’s side beat Wolves 3-1 with goals from Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, and Ray Kennedy after the Midlands’ side had taken the lead. The result sent Wolves down. QPR had exceeded all expectations under Dave Sexton and this was their highest ever league position. Sadly, it still is. The following season they would spend just a week in the top half of the table and eventually finish 14th. 

The FA Cup saw third round history, with both of the previous years finalists, West Ham and Fulham, knocked out, something that had not happened for 43 years. Bradford City also beat Norwich 2-1 in a replay to become only the third fourth division team to reach the competition’s quarter-finals. The Bantams were put out in the next round by Southampton, but Crystal Palace become the first third division side to reach the semi-finals since 1959.

Tommy Docherty attracted ire when he described the Manchester United versus Derby semi as the ‘real’ final, saying that Southampton against Palace was, “a bit of a joke really.” Southampton had the last laugh. Lawrie McMenemy’s team beat Palace and then, thanks to a Bobby Stokes goal in the 83rd minute, beat Manchester United too. Saints, who finished 6th in division 2, had never won the Cup before, but McMememy had stern words for the team’s naysayers: “We’ve won the Cup because we deserved to. Everybody called us homely and hospitable. What they forgot to say is that we were also professional, ruthless, determined, and have a lot of ability.” Docherty was graceless in defeat, saying, “We lost because they scored so late.” Manchester City won the League Cup 2-1 against Newcastle United, with Dennis Trueart netting the winner in front of a record-grossing crowd (just under £300k was taken in gate receipts).

In Europe, West Ham came close to winning the Cup Winners’ Cup. They had faltered in the semi-finals, losing 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany. However, by beating them 3-1 at the Boleyn Ground in what manager John Lyall hailed as “our best display in the club’s history”, the East Londoners progressed to the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Anderlecht. Sadly, it was a game too far for Lyall’s men and they lost 4-2 at the Heysel Stadium, the first time a Belgian side had won the competition. 

Liverpool also had Belgian opposition in the final of the UEFA Cup. Bruges were no mugs. They’d beaten Ipswich 7-0 on aggregate earlier in the competition and they took a swift 2-0 lead in the first half at Anfield. But three goals in five minutes turned the tide and a 1-1 draw in Belgium was enough to secure the cup. A title and a European win in Paisley’s second season settled any nerves over the succession from Bill Shankly and kicked off the reign of one of the most successful English managers of all time.

Just as the season began with a familiar refrain, it ended with one that would, in time, also become familiar: the importation of foreign talent. Spurs manager Terry Neill wanted to sign Johann Cruyff from Barcelona saying, “I need a player of great individual skill, both to improve my team and to add an extra element to our matches for our public. Such a man is not available anywhere in the English league.”

Across North London, Arsenal were also looking to Johnny Foreigner, but in the dug-out; Denis Hill-Wood, the chairman, unsuccessfully attempted to pre-empt David Dein’s capture of Arsene Wenger by luring Miljan Miljanić from the Real Madrid job. Bertie Mee retired at the end of the 1975/76 season after 10 years in charge, saying that, “the pressures on an Arsenal manager are sometimes intolerable” (everything changes; everything stays the same).

Miljanić had won ten trophies as the gaffer of his boyhood club Crvena Zvezda (that’s Red Star Belgrade to you and me) and gone on to secure a La Liga title in his debut season with Los Merengues. Hill-Wood said, “I suppose we could find an Englishman now to help us win matches. To be a great team you need something else, something extra. I was hoping that, by signing the man who rebuilt Real Madrid [and would go on to win a second successive La Liga trophy], I could import new ideas to Arsenal. I have to admit I could not see anyone available in England who might have done as much.”

Hill-Wood ultimately secured none other than Spurs’ own Terry Neill, who still didn’t manage to sign Cruyff.

Brian James, a Daily Mail football writer and editor of the influential Rothmans Football Yearbook for the 1975/76 season, quotes in his editorial an unnamed manager speaking on the eve of the European Champions Cup final between St. Etienne and Bayern Munich: “I’ll tell you now I’d buy a couple of Continental players this summer if I got the chance. Not because they’ve got skills we haven’t, but because they are prepared to use those skills, even in the tightest matches.” James goes on himself to say that “Formation and tactics, though, are easy to copy…this other matter, the mental attitude of players who seem unafraid to apply their skills, cannot be carried back through customs on paper or in a package. We need the men themselves.” Just as well we put that debate to bed, right? Oh. 

Elsewhere, history was made on 6th February 1976 as Jenny Baseley became the first woman to referee a football match between men, taking charge of a game in Thornton Heath. Stockport nearly went bust at the season’s outset, but somehow fended off creditors and managed to secure George Best’s signature on a free after FIFA lifted his worldwide ban from football. He only played three games for the side, though, scoring twice, before joining Cork. Best would go on to play for another twelve clubs (two twice) in the next ten years, but he never again hit the heights despite briefly flourishing at Fulham. Jimmy Hill became Saudi Arabia’s football supremo, in charge of hiring coaches and organising the nation’s nascent game. The FA decided that from the following season on, goal difference rather than goal average would be the deciding factor in league positions. 

In other news, comedian Eric Sykes joined the board of Oldham Athletic, comedian Eric Morcambe resigned from the Luton board, and Terry Paine, player-coach at Hereford, established a new league appearance record, playing his 765th game on 25th October 1975. Kettering became the first club to carry a sponsor’s advertising on their jerseys in January and League Secretary Alan Hardaker was not amused, saying “Those who go to soccer want to see a game of football, not to be reminded every time they look at a player that they must go home and tell the wife to change her soap powder.” Or choice of tyre, Kettering’s sponsors being a local supplier of said items.

And, just for this site’s editor, Southend announced in July 1975 that they would be printing their own programmes in-house, passing on the savings to their fans and charging a mere 5p per programme. Sadly, this innovation didn’t save Southend from relegation to the basement division. I bet Division Three winners Hereford United didn’t print their own programmes though. 


1. Liverpool – 60pts

2. Queens Park Rangers – 59pts

3. Manchester United – 56pts

4. Derby County – 53pts

5. Leeds United – 51pts


Wolverhampton Wanderers, Burnley, Sheffield United


Winners: my very own Southampton

Runners-up: Manchester United


Winners: Manchester City

Runners-up: Newcastle United


Winners: Bayern Munich (third in a row)

Runners-up: St. Etienne


Winners: Anderlecht

Runners-up: West Ham United


Winners: Liverpool

Runners-up: Bruges


Pat Jennings (Tottenham Hotspur)

Is this Liverpool’s success a flash in the pan? How will Keith Burkinshaw get on in his first season with Tottenham? And just how happy is Don Revie in the England job? Find out next week when we roll into 1976/77. 

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

You can follow Alex Stewart on Twitter (@AFHTwitter)

If You Know Your History 1975/76
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