72 Classic: Lessons from Europe for English football

AT the start of 1971-72, England’s football fraternity was still clinging to the idea that the nation was a major power in the game. The 1970 World Cup defeat at the hands of West Germany was mostly seen as an aberration and partly attributable to the rustiness of poor old Peter Bonetti, the outstanding Chelsea goalkeeper. There was little suggestion that perhaps the English method was outdated and the product of a stubborn manager, although Sir Alf Ramsey was starting to lose friends among the media.

English clubs had won seven of 12 European competitions in four seasons, including Manchester United lifting the European Cup in 1968. As soon as the World Cup was over in 1970, Bobby Charlton and Bonetti said farewell to international football and Ramsey started to introduce new faces: Peter Shilton, Roy McFarland, Martin Chivers, Joe Royle, Colin Harvey, Peter Storey, Chris Lawler, Paul Madeley, Tommy Smith, Larry Lloyd and Tony Brown all won their first caps for England in 1970-71. England had a relatively easy European Championship group that included Malta, Switzerland and Greece. They made hard work of Malta in Valetta but beat them 5-0 at Wembley, and won 3-0 at home to Greece.

England were well placed to qualify for the quarter-final stage as they went into 1971-72. There was nothing to suggest that normal service could not be resumed, even though Ramsey stuck loyally to 1966 acolytes like Geoff Hurst, who  had his least effective season for his club, West Ham, in 1971-72.

Into Europe

Meanwhile, English clubs were having mixed fortunes in European competitions. Arsenal, who had won the “double” in 1970-71, were embarking on their first European Cup campaign and many people felt they were one of the favourites.  They had won their first European trophy in 1970, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Anderlecht in the two-legged final. On the way, they had beaten Ajax in the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate, a team that included the emerging Johan Cruyff and would win the Dutch league by 15 points and lose just one Eredivisie match. Bertie Mee, reflecting on the fact that Arsenal had brushed Ajax aside with relative ease, commented that the Dutch champions looked somewhat “amateur”. Mee’s comments were a little hasty, for Ajax, within a year, were European champions.

Arsenal had two relatively unchallenging rounds to start with, beating Norway’s Strømsgodset 7-1 on aggregate and Grasshopper Zurich 5-0. The quarter-final draw, which included no less than five previous winners, paired Arsenal with Ajax. Celtic, Feyenoord, Benfica and Inter Milan also possible opponents so it was no surprise that the last eight was tough.

Ajax had certainly moved forward since 1969-70 when the two teams met in the Fairs Cup. Although Rinus Michels, their innovative coach, had moved on and was replaced by Stefan Kovacs, Ajax were in their pomp and would win the “double” in the Netherlands and half of their team – Cruyff, Keizer, Hulshoff, Mühren and Neeskens – would feature in the European Footballer of the Year voting, a prize that Cruyff had won in 1971.

Ajax were rock star footballers, all flowing hair, beads and trendy attire. They were a team that reflected the times and they played a progressive brand of football that became known as “Total Football”.

Arsenal’s own style had not convinced the critics – “sorry lads, you’re bores” was one headline on the day they won the FA Cup final in May 1971 – and they had found it hard to defend the prizes they had won in 1970-71. Arsenal signed Alan Ball from Everton just before the halfway stage to add an extra dimension to the midfield, paying over £ 200,000 but he was unavailable for the European Cup.

Ajax won the first leg in Amsterdam by 2-1, Ray Kennedy putting Arsenal ahead after 15 minutes but Gerrie Mühren scoring twice (25 and 70 minutes). The away goal had given Arsenal a good chance of getting through – a 1-0 victory would be enough. However, Ajax were gifted an early goal at Highbury, an own goal by George Graham and that was enough to send the holders through. There was absolutely nothing “amateur” about Ajax this time. Brian Glanville, in his book, Champions of Europe, said Arsenal looked “clumsy and naïve” compared to the sleek Ajax side.

Out cheaply

London, as a result of the capital’s fine season in 1970-71, had three representatives in European competitions – Chelsea and Tottenham were also deeply involved. Chelsea were defending the European Cup-Winners’ Cup they had won in Greece in May 1971. The Blues had almost lost their manager, Dave Sexton, to Manchester United in the close season, but the bid to try and lure him north had been played down. Sexton was convinced his talented, but often inconsistent and ill-disciplined squad could win the title, but they were, essentially, a team for the big occasion rather than one that could grind-out results week-in, week-out.

They had started the 1971-72 season abysmally, with one or two players a little thick around the girth, suggesting two successive years of winning trophies had been well celebrated. Chelsea were gifted an easy tie to start their European campaign, Jeunesse Hautcharage of Luxembourg. This was a village team of steelworkers, hairdressers and butchers. There was player with one armand another with taped-on spectacles. Little wonder that over two legs, Chelsea won 21-0 with Peter Osgood, who had been placed on the transfer list by Sexton after the first two league games for a bad attitude and “not trying”, scoring eight over the two games.

Chelsea’s fans must have thought the path to the 1972 final was charmed when their heroes were drawn against Swedish part-timers, Atvidaberg. The first leg in Sweden demonstrated there would be no repeat of the previous round’s goal-fest and it ended 0-0. Sexton was confident of victory in the second leg, but Chelsea were still not playing well.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were wasteful and didn’t go ahead until the 46thminute through Alan Hudson. They had a golden chance to extend that lead on the hour, but John Hollins, normally so dependable, sent a penalty kick against a post. Five minutes later, Atvidaberg silenced the 28,000 crowd when the blond and athletic Roland Sandberg scored a shock equaliser. Despite the pressure, Chelsea couldn’t score and they went out on away goals. They were jeered by the fans and the players were just as stunned. It seemed to shake Chelsea out of their early season malaise, for they soon went on an impressive run and eventually reached Wembley again.

Liverpool were also in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, but they too, went out in the second round. They beat the Swiss side, Servette in round one but then came up against Bayern Munich, a team packed with players who would become household names in the years ahead – Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeneß, Paul Breitner and Gerd Müller. Liverpool were held at Anfield but then lost 3-1 in Munich, with Müller, Der Bomber, netting twice.

So both Arsenal and Liverpool were dismissed by two teams that would be representative of the era of Total Football and two years later, would form the backbone of two World Cup final teams.


In the UEFA Cup, England had a strong quartet: Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton. Leeds, after two seasons of heartache where they fought on all fronts and ended with very little, had won the last Fairs Cup in 1971. They won their first round first leg in Belgium, beating Lierse SK 2-0. In the second leg, they fielded a weakened side and came unstuck, losing 4-0 at Elland Road. Did Leeds decide to sacrifice the competition after running their squad into the ground over the past few years? They had another year of near-misses, winning the FA Cup but losing their chance of the league in the final, controversial game. Southampton also fell at the first hurdle at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.

Tottenham and Wolves, though, provided the first all-English European final in the UEFA Cup’s first season. Spurs enjoyed a roller-coaster ride to the final. Keflavik of Iceland were no problem, Spurs winning through to the tune of 15-1 on aggregate over the two legs. Then came Nantes of France, who gave Spurs two tough games and only went out 1-0 on aggregate, Peters scoring the only goal in the second leg at White Hart Lane.

Two bruising encounters with Romanians Rapid Bucharest followed, with Nicholson incensed after the second meeting that his team had been kicked and punched for 90 minutes. But Spurs won 5-0 on aggregate, so the last laugh was on them.

Another Romanian side, UT Arad, were next, with Spurs doing all the hard work in the first leg, winning 2-0 away and overall, 3-1 on aggregate. It set them up with a semi-final against Italians AC Milan. This was a severe test for Nicholson’s side. Perryman was the hero at White Hart Lane, scoring twice as Spurs beat the Serie A aristocrats 2-1. Mullery, who had been out on loan to Fulham to aid his recovery from a pelvic injury, came back to score at the San Siro in a 1-1 draw. The fires were burning on the terraces as Spurs hung on to claim a famous win.

Wolves, meanwhile, had worked their way through against some very decent teams. Académica de Coimbra and Den Haag were both beaten 7-1 on aggregate and “crack” East Germans Carl Zeiss Jena were disposed of by 4-0. Then came a memorable 3-2 aggregate victory against Juventus, a team that would win the Italian league in 1971-72.  Finally, Wolves overcame Hungary’s Ferencvaros. Their team included experience and the very experienced Derek Dougan, a player who always attracted attention.

If there was disappointment, it was because the final was between two English clubs – it just didn’t seem like a European final. The first leg at Molineux was won 2-1 by Spurs, which almost killed the tie. Chivers was on song, scoring both goals (his tally reached 44 in 1971-72). In the return, Mullery headed Spurs in front early on and David Wagstaffe levelled for Wolves, who then battered the home defence. Spurs held out and won their second piece of European silverware.

End of an era

On the international stage, England received another lesson from the West Germans in the quarter-finals of the European Championship. On April 29, 1972, Günter Netzer tore England apart, driving West Germany to a 3-1 win at Wembley in the first leg. During the game, the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder had brushed aside the English – one move saw him outpace Bobby Moore, dismiss Francis Lee like a ghost and side-step the usually agile Martin Peters. Sir Alf Ramsey had made a career-changing mistake in ignoring Netzer’s threat and power and had paid dearly for it. In the second leg, with England’s hopes all but gone, Ramsey fielded a team of “cloggers” to neutralise Netzer. The game ended 0-0, but England had avoided humiliation. For Ramsey, it was the beginning of the end.

While England had lost their World Cup crown in Mexico, there was an underlying feeling that the game at Wembley in 1972 was really closure of an era. The balance of power in Europe had shifted and the new darlings of the football media were the Dutch and Germans. In little under 18 months, another nail was hammered into the coffin when Poland knocked England out in the World Cup qualifying group. Then Ramsey was sacked and, in 1973-74, after a six year period in which English clubs had won nine European trophies, the sequence ended with Tottenham’s fans rioting in Rotterdam.

The question was whether England could learn from the free-flowing football of Ajax, who won their second successive European Cup and Bayern Munich and the West German national team, who were crowned European champions in the summer, playing superb and intelligent football. English clubs suddenly looked a bit stodgy and over-reliant on function over form. There would be some very difficult, and sometimes dark, days ahead for the country that gave the world association football.


Photos: PA

72 Classic: Lifting Leeds

AFTER winning the 1969 Football League Championship, Leeds United pursued every trophy possible in the only way they knew how – with intensity, with total focus and with little regard for how the rest of football saw them. They were supremely “professional”, using every trick in the book to gain an advantage over their rivals. Some considered them a “dirty” team, sly in their approach and capable of employing underhand tactics that were more frequently seen in continental teams. It was true that the likes of Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles were hard players, but they were also gifted individuals.

Leeds’ lack of popularity may also have owed much to the fact they were “Johnny come latelies”, a club that had enjoyed very little in the way of success before arriving in the first division in 1964. Football rarely welcomes teams that challenge the status quo and Leeds, a young side built by Don Revie, were just that, and they upset the established leaders of the English game. Along with Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea, they represented a new order that was confronting the likes of Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United.

Leeds’ title win in 1969 was notable because they won more points than they scored goals – 67 points, 66 goals. They won 27 of their 42 games and lost twice, conceding just 26 goals. They epitomised an era that had drawn influence from clubs like Inter and AC Milan of Italy and also England’s 1966 World Cup winners. Revie based his team on an iron-clad defence, which didn’t win many friends, but it was ruthlessly effective.

For the next season, Leeds changed their approach, as evidenced by the signing of the coveted Allan Clarke, for whom Revie paid £ 165,000 to Leicester City. Clarke had been instrumental in Leicester reaching the FA Cup final, but his team was also relegated to the second division. He was not going to hang around long at Filbert Street.

Accompanying this bold acquisition, Leeds adopted a passing style that hinted at the so-called “Total Football” movement being championed by the Dutch, and provided a more entertaining style. Leeds went into the European Cup and reached the semi-final where they would face Celtic. At the same time, they fought their way to the FA Cup final. Everton had proved too strong for Leeds in the championship, but fixture congestion did little to help Revie’s side. They scored 84 goals in 42 games, but finished nine points behind Everton. Between April 1 and 29, Leeds played eight games and won just one, losing twice to Celtic and finally capitulating to Chelsea in the FA Cup final replay. Leeds, after initially chasing a treble, ended with nothing. It was heartbreaking for a team that had given everything, but fighting on multiple fronts arguably needed a squad with greater strength in depth. Revie knew this and started fielding weakened teams in the league as he threw the towel in, a strategy that earned the club a fine from the Football League and aggravated the relationship between Revie and league secretary Alan Hardaker.

Leeds remained totally focused in 1970-71 and fought-out a title race with Arsenal. But every setback seemed to be amplified and enjoyed by Leeds’ opponents. In the FA Cup, they were surprisingly and dramatically beaten by Colchester United of the fourth division and then in mid-April, they were victims of a dreadful refereeing decision by Ray Tinkler, which allowed West Bromwich Albion to win 2-1 at Elland Road. The incident resulted in a pitch invasion, for which the club was punished at the start of 1971-72. Despite beating Arsenal in the penultimate game of the season, Leeds were denied the title by a single point. The Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup was won, but it was scant consolation for a team that, for two seasons, had deserved far more.

The question was, how would Revie and his backroom team lift a team that must have felt the whole world was against them? This was, after all, the 1970s, when men were men and emotions were never discussed. The psychological damage done by two seasons of near misses was considerable, but few would ever admit it. Revie would argue that in order to fail, you had to be involved in the latter stages of a competition and that’s all his team could do – keep fighting, keep trying and keep together. And nobody could ever deny that Leeds United were a tight unit. Team spirit was never a problem and that was down to Revie and his all-consuming approach to building a club. His players loved him and the affection was mutual. They were his lads, hence when he departed in 1974, many found it difficult to function.

Leeds had to play their opening home games away from Elland Road, the punishment for the crowd trouble against West Bromwich in April 1971. This undoubtedly affected their early season form, but they were not the only club who had been forced to play away from their home ground – Manchester United had to play their first two home games at Liverpool and Stoke after knives were thrown at fans in the away section at Old Trafford during the 1970-71 season.

While United picked-up maximum points from their travels, Leeds stuttered a bit in the early weeks of the campaign, winning one of their first four and drawing two of their “home” fixtures at Huddersfield and Hull. They were also beaten 3-0 by newly promoted Sheffield United, after which the local media asked the inevitable questions about the decline of Revie’s little changed side. “Are they growing old?”, asked one scribe, pointing out that both Jack Charlton and Johnny Giles were getting long in the tooth. Just before the season kicked-off, other segments of the press had also cast doubts about Leeds’ ability to win the title – Goalmagazine, for example, predicted Tottenham to win the championship and added that the 1971-72 season might be the final throes of Leeds’ current team.

Certainly, the enforced exile meant it was hard for Leeds to set the early pace. That role went to Sheffield United, who were inspired by players like the head-banded Trevor Hockey, future England star Tony Currie, Stewart Scullion and Alan Woodward. Nobody really expected the Blades to make such an impact in those early weeks, but their results were no fluke. Unbeaten in their first 10 games, they had played four of the top six of 1970-71 and beaten both Arsenal and Leeds United. They were three points clear at the top of the table, with Manchester United breathing down their neck.

It was something of an “Indian Summer” for two of United’s star names, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, while George Best, still in his prime, had netted seven goals in 10 games. In fact, between them, United’s holy trinity had scored 15 goals in the league already. After three fairly miserable seasons, United fans were hoping that under Frank O’Farrell they were on the march again.

Talk of a title challenge were a little premature, however, and far more solid teams were waiting to pounce. United ended Sheffield United’s unbeaten start to the campaign with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on October 2, with Best in irresistible form. Apart from a home defeat at the hands of Leeds, United established the momentum to top the table and at the turn of the year, they were three points ahead of neighbours Manchester City.

Sheffield United’s early season effervescence had started to go a little flat, although they did beat Ipswich Town 7-0 at the end of November. If nothing else, Sheffield United’s first half of the season provided the cushion they needed to ensure survival in the first division. When 1971 became 1972, the Blades were still in fourth place, ahead of more celebrated teams like Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool, the latter showing signs of rejuvenation thanks to the arrival of the relatively unknown Kevin Keegan.

Arsenal had started the season well against an out-of-sorts Chelsea, but the tough underbelly had somehow been pierced, possibly because their ultra-efficient coach Don Howe had departed for West Bromwich. In 1970-71, Arsenal had lost just six games and were unbeaten at their Highbury home. In the first half of 1971-72, they had already been beaten eight times, including home setbacks against Sheffield United, Stoke City and Manchester City. Arsenal, perhaps due to the gargantuan efforts made in winning the “double”, were showing signs of burn-out and needed fresh impetus.

Tottenham and Chelsea had also started to look a little stale, although Spurs had signed Ralph Coates from Burnley and had focused their efforts on the UEFA Cup. Chelsea, who started the campaign poorly and even placed their talismanic striker Peter Osgood on the transfer list (a game of bluff if ever there was one), had cheaply relinquished the European Cup-Winners’ Cup they had won so impressively in 1971 and had signed Chris Garland and Steve Kember from Bristol City and Crystal Palace respectively. Neither side could be considered title contenders, but their reputations as cup-fighting teams were still intact for now.

Leeds, meanwhile, had regained their mojo and were next in line, increasingly playing an exciting, more expansive brand of football. There were still occasions, such as in a bruising encounter with old foes Chelsea in London, where they would take no prisoners.

Aware that some of his squad were not as nimble as they once were, Revie tried to add some younger talent and a midfielder in the mould of Blackpool’s Tony Green was on his shopping list. Other players, such as Nottingham Forest’s Ian [Storey) Moore and Burnley’s Steve Kindon were also linked with Leeds. After two years of disapapointment, Leeds needed to bolster their squad, especially after losing one of their key back-up men in Terry Hibbitt, who had decided that he was no longer prepared to live off scraps from the top table. Hibbitt, a skilful player, moved to Newcastle United. Other players, such as goalkeeper David Harvey and England full back Paul Reaney, had also expressed a desire to leave, but both were persuaded to stay at the club.

Revie opted for West Bromwich Albion’s 21 year-old Scottish midfielder Asa Hartford. This took some people by surprise and Revie and his colleagues kept the target a closely-guarded secret, securing the deal in a quiet, out-of-the-way café. The fee was £ 170,000 and it was all settled subject to a medical. And that was where the deal fell apart after it was discovered that Hartford had a hole in his heart. He went back to the Midlands and resumed his career, the condition did not prevent the diminutive Hartford from enjoying a full career at club and international level. Arguably, Leeds made a big mistake in letting him go so easily, but medical knowledge in 1971 was not as advanced as it is today. There were echoes of the aborted attempt to sign Alan Ball a few years earlier when Revie could not get approval from the Elland Road suits. Revie later warned the Leeds public that his team needed rebuilding and tried to manage expectation. He spoke of a possible lean period as the club sought-out three or four world-class players in their early 20s. Revie’s words were quite prophetic, for once the current Leeds squad started to drift away, the club entered an era of steep decline rather than a hiatus.

Leeds in 1971-72, though, were clicking into form, even though their UEFA Cup campaign had ended early in a dramatic collapse at home against Belgium’s Lierse SK and their Football League Cup run was curtailed by West Ham United. It was clear that in 1971-72 they were concentrating their efforts on the league title and the FA Cup.

Leeds ended 1971 by beating Derby County 3-0 at Elland Road. The fans were chanting “Champions, Champions”. The eventual title winners were on the pitch that afternoon, but sadly for Revie’s team, it was not Leeds United – it was Brian Clough’s Derby, who were challenging the old order as much as Leeds had a few years earlier. When the two teams met later in the season, the situation would be very different.

Photos: PA

Coming soon: Enter the little big man

For Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, 1971 wasn’t half bad

DAVID HEPWORTH is a fine journalist and an excellent chronicler of popular culture. His highly readable book, 1971: Never a Dull Moment, accurately recalls the year as a pivotal 12 months in the history of rock music. He’s absolutely spot-on, although like almost everyone, Hepworth is playing the “better in my day” card. We all become our grandparents at some point in life.

But 1971 was also an engaging year for football. It spanned two seasons – 1970-71 and 1971-72 when England still had claims to being among the best nations in the world. Or so we thought. Both seasons gave us riveting championship races – in 1970-71, the saga of Leeds allowing a workmanlike Arsenal to win their first title since 1953, and the titanic struggle involving four or five teams in 1971-72. And oh yes, Leeds United, arguably the best team around, capitulated again, letting in Brian Clough’s Derby County in 1972.

Heroes all round

In 1971, you could easily name the line-ups of most Division One clubs. Every club had their local hero that could have played in most of the top outfits. While teams like Leeds, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City and United had their household figures, smaller, less successful clubs had “names”, albeit fewer of them. For example, Burnley had Ralph Coates, Southampton had Ron Davies, Newcastle Wyn Davies, Nottingham Forest Ian Storey-Moore, Wolves had the “Doog”, Derek Dougan, Stoke City benefitted from the safe hands of Gordon Banks and West Brom enjoyed the services of Jeff Astle and Tony Brown. In 1971, big names were not concentrated among two or three clubs.

There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, provincial clubs would “look after” their prize assets. Don Rogers at Swindon was well paid and comfortable, not to mention the toast of the town – why go elsewhere and become a smaller fish? Rodney Marsh, arguably, stayed too long at Queens Park Rangers, finally moving to Manchester City in 1972 at the age of 27.

There was also geography to consider. London and the North were worlds apart. A good example of this is was when Ralph Coates moved from Burnley in 1971 to join Tottenham. He looked out of place, unfashionable and drab compared to his long-haired, wide-trousered team-mates. I was a fan of Colin Bell and urged Chelsea manager Dave Sexton to sign the England midfielder. It was only years later that I realised there was little chance of Bell coming south to London. It was a major upheaval for a player to relocate from South to North and vice-versa.

It did happen, of course, but just consider the transfer activity of Chelsea between 1966 and 1972. Of 11 main signings, seven came from London and the south, while only one came from the north of England – Alan Birchenall. This was fairly typical of the time.

At the start of 1970-71, there were three clubs that featured in debates about the destination of the main prizes: Everton, Leeds United and Chelsea. Everton had won the title in 1970 in style, Leeds had reached out for everything available and ended with nothing and Chelsea had won the FA Cup for the first time. Arsenal were not considered strong enough to mount a title bid, although they had won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, ending a silverware drought that exceeded Arsene Wenger’s lengthy pursuit of the Premier League. Tottenham were still coming to terms with not being the “double” winners of 1961. Liverpool were dull by their standards, despite the hyberbole of Bill Shankly, and Manchester United were in decline as Best grew weary of propping up a team of yesterday’s men, Charlton’s influence began to wane and Law struggled to maintain fitness. Manchester City, meanwhile, had emerged as a cup team, despite the presence of Francis Lee and Bell.

By January 1971, a month blighted by the Ibrox Park disaster, in which 66 people died, it was clear that Everton would not be retaining their title. At the same time, the nation’s eardrums were assaulted by the sound of Clive Dunn’s Grandad at number one. Everton had certainly dropped from number one, and had become decidedly mid-table – their malaise eventually resulting in Alan Ball, their talismanic and white-booted midfielder, leaving the club in 1971-72 for Arsenal.

Capital capers

Leeds, predictably, led the table with 39 points from 24 games, three ahead of Arsenal, who had a game in hand. While it was “business as usual” for Don Revie’s well-drilled charges, Arsenal had unearthed a new striking partnership in John Radford and Ray Kennedy. Chelsea, in third place, had not been as exciting as in 1969-70, largely because their own front-line pair, Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson had fired less prolifically. Osgood took his time to get going in 1970-71 and his season was punctuated by ill-discipline. Hutchinson, a hapless figure, was injury prone and never fulfilled his promise. Chelsea ploughed away in Europe, but they were never a real contender in the league, eventually falling away to sixth place.

But over the other side of London, Tottenham were resurgent. Bill Nicholson had spent heavily in previous years to bring fresh talent to White Hart Lane, but it had not always proved to be well invested. Martin Chivers, bought in 1968 from Southampton for £150,000 and West Ham’s Martin Peters, a cash-plus-player swap with Jimmy Greaves, had not yet clicked in the white shirt of the Spurs. But in 1970-71, it started to come good and Chivers became one of Europe’s hottest strikers. Spurs won the Football League Cup in 1971 and were tipped by many to win the title in 1971-72.

Greaves’ new club, West Ham, continued to under-achieve, despite the presence of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. Moore, always seen as mild-mannered and conformist, looked to be heading away from Upton Park in January 1971 when he fell-out with manager Ron Greenwood following a night of drinking before a FA Cup tie at Blackpool. The Hammers lost 4-0 and the story broke that Moore, Greaves, Brian Dear and others had been on a bender. Apparently, the relationship between Greenwood and Moore was never the same again.

While West Ham were generally concerned with events at the bottom end of the table, the top end became a two-horse race with Leeds In command. Arsenal, who had been doggedly chasing Leeds, gained fresh impetus from the return of Charlie George to the team. George had the knack of scoring winning goals as Arsenal closed the gap of Leeds. He also helped propel the Gunners towards the FA Cup final.

Leeds had shown signs of vulnerability in the FA Cup and much to the joy of the nation – sadly, they were never popular outside of the West Riding – they were giant-killed by fourth division Colchester United and veteran striker Ray Crawford.

Colchester were beaten 5-0 in the quarter-finals by Everton, who succumbed to Liverpool in the semi-final. In the other semi, Arsenal were seconds from losing when Peter Storey scored from the penalty spot to take the tie to a second game. Eventually, they would win through and suddenly, talk of the “double” emerged in the media.

Not everyone was convinced by Arsenal, however. They were a “safety-first” team, coached by Don Howe. They were also hard and often uncompromising. Leeds also had those same qualities, but they had a shade more flair. “Sorry, lads, you’re bores” was how one Fleet Street hack described Arsenal on the eve of the FA Cup final.

You couldn’t fault Arsenal’s commitment or refusal to give up the chase, though, and after trailing Leeds all season, they were now one point behind with a game in hand. Leeds had finished their programme on 64 points. Arsenal, just a few days before the Cup final, travelled to – of all places – Tottenham and a Ray Kennedy goal have them the title.

On May 8, Arsenal completed the “double”, beating Liverpool 2-1. Charlie George scored the winning goal and promptly fell to the ground in a faux-messianic pose. Arsenal had created history, but few people gave them much credit. Ironically, the biggest selling single in the UK as the Gunners lifted not one, but two, trophies, was Double Barrel by Dave and Ansil Collins!

Leeds, for the second season running, had run out of steam, but at least they won the Fairs Cup, beating Juventus over two legs. And there was another European prize for England when Chelsea beat Real Madrid 2-1 in Athens in the European Cup-Winners Cup. London had swept up.

The tide would soon turn, however. While the capital’s clubs celebrated, Liverpool signed a young striker called Kevin Keegan. More telling, on June 2, 1971, Ajax Amsterdam won their first European Cup and the world started to realise just who Johan Cruyff was. “Total Football” was born.

Meanwhile, Tottenham spent lavishly on Ralph Coates and a loud-mouthed Londoner called Malcolm MacDonald joined Newcastle United for close to £200,000 from Luton Town.

When the 1971-72 season got underway, Leeds and Manchester United were both playing “home” games on unfamiliar grounds due to crowd trouble at Elland Road and Old Trafford respectively . But there was an unlikely name at the top of the Division One in the opening weeks of the season – newly promoted Sheffield United.


They were unbeaten in their first 10 games and at the end of September, three points clear at the top. Behind them were Manchester United, who looked to have found renewed vigour, despite George Best’s off-pitch path of self destruction. The London trio of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham had not clicked in gear and at Chelsea, there was some unrest as Peter Osgood, the fans’ idol, was placed on the transfer list. At Liverpool, Keegan was an instant hit and people started to talk about an England call-up for the former Scunthorpe forward. Sir Alf Ramsey was never one to bow to public pressure and Keegan had to wait 12 months before getting his first cap.

Ramsey was always loyal to the men that had served him well and in 1971, the luster of 1966 was still influencing team selection. Bobby Charlton had finished in the Mexico World Cup, but when England resumed their European Championship qualifying campaign in October 1971, Banks, Moore, Hurst, Ball and Peters were still integral to the squad, and from 1970, Emlyn Hughes, Alan Mullery, Terry Cooper, Lee, Bell and Paul Madeley were all still involved. After England’s World Cup capitulation in 1970, players like Chivers and Roy McFarland started to make an impact.

McFarland was skipper of Derby County, Brian Clough’s team that had now become credible title contenders. As 1971 ended, comedian Bennie Hill topped the record charts with Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west, and Manchester United stood astride the first division, three points better off than neighbours City, who had rediscovered their mojo in the league. Leeds, now recovered from their nomadic early months, had recovered and closely behind were Derby, Liverpool and Arsenal. Sheffield United fell away alarmingly after their autumn flourish. As the year turned, football fans would be treated to one of the most intriguing title chases in history. As if 1971 had not been enough.