Ajax, Barca, Bayern among Europe’s great treble winners

BAYERN MUNICH’s 2019-20 side joined the illustrious list of teams that have won the treble of domestic league and cup and Champions League.

The Bavarians’ success was remarkable given they changed their coach earlier in the campaign, appointing Hans-Dieter Flick as head coach. Flick had been the number two at Bayern and had filled similar roles with RB Salzburg and the German national team. Prior to that, he was coach of Hoffenheim in the regional league. While Flick inherited a team, he rekindled the fire at Bayern and won three major prizes. Bayern Munich joined eight previous winners of the “treble”:

Bayern Munich 2020

IT should be noted that Bayern Munich had won the previous seven Bundesligas when they clinched the title so there was already strong momentum at the club. Bayern started 2019-20 a little out-of-sorts and after a 5-1 defeat in Frankfurt, coach Niko Kovač was sacked. Hans-Dieter Flick took over, initially on an interim basis, and Bayern transformed their season. The CV-19 pandemic disrupted football but by the time the lockdown came into effect, Bayern were top of the table and had made their mark in Europe, including a stunning 7-2 win at Tottenham. Goals were not a problem for Bayer, especially with Polish forward Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life. After lockdown, Bayern won all nine of their league games, averaging three goals per game. In the DFB Pokal, they beat Bayer Leverkusen in the final 4-2. Meanwhile, their UEFA Champions League campaign saw them win every single game, scoring 24 goals in six group games and then beating Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate in the round of 16. The quarter-final with Barcelona resulted in a phenomenal and seismic 8-2 victory against one of the favourites. After Lyon were comfortably beaten in the semi-final, Bayern’s 1-0 win in the final against PSG confirmed their status as Europe’s best team in 2020.
Games played: 51 (Lge, Cup, Europe) – win percentage 84.31%
Team: Manuel Neuer, Niklas Süle, Benjamin Pavard, Javi Martinez, Jérôme Boateng, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernandez, David Alaba, Thiago, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Perišić, Leon Goretza, Serge Gnabry, Corentin Tolisso, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski.

And here’s the others…

Celtic 1967

Jock Stein’s team actually won five cups in 1966-67: the European Cup; the Scottish League; the Scottish League Cup; the Scottish FA Cup; and the Glasgow Cup. Critics will look at Scotland today and say, “so what?”, but in 1967, the best Scotland had to offer was every bit as competitive as south of the border. Celtic in 1967, including the excellent Jimmy Johnstone, beat Inter Milan, the dark princes of catenaccio, to become the first British side to win the European Cup. Back at home, Celtic lost just twice in 34 league games and beat Aberdeen 2-0 in the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park in front of 126,000 people. For good measure, they disposed of Rangers in the Scottish League Cup final. Some might say that in the European Cup, they had an easy run to the final, beating Zurich, Nantes, Vojvodinia and Dukla Prague, but Inter Milan, coached by the godfather of defensive football, Helenio Herrera, were a tough nut to crack. Sandro Mazzola gave Inter the lead after seven minutes from the penalty spot. Tommy Gemmell levelled just after the hour mark and six minutes from the end, Steve Chalmers scored the winner. Legend will tell you that Celtic fans are still arriving back from Lisbon after celebrating this unlikely triumph.
Games played: 49 (Lge, Cup, Europe) – win percentage 77.55%
Team: Ronnie Simpson, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, John Clark, Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Wallace, Steve Chalmers, Bertie Auld, Bobby Lennox

Ajax Amsterdam 1972

Ajax provided the perfect antidote to catenaccio, “total football” – a fluid system that called on any member of the team to play anywhere at any time during the game. An emerging Ajax reached the final of the European Cup in 1969 and were cruelly exposed by AC Milan, but a year later, Ajax’s rivals, Feyenoord, won the competition. In 1971, Johan Cruyff and his team-mates won the cup and a year later, they retained it by beating Inter Milan. Dutch football was in the ascendancy and Cruyff was becoming Europe’s – if not the world’s – top player. Ajax scored 104 and conceded 20 goals in 34 Dutch league games, and Cruyff scored a quarter of them. On May 11 1972, they made it “Double Dutch” as they won the KNVB Cup, beating Den Haag in Rotterdam. Twenty days later, they returned to the Dutch port to beat Inter Milan 2-0, both goals scored by the irrepressible Cruyff. On the way to winning the competition for the second time, Ajax beat Dynamo Dresden, Marseille, Arsenal and Benfica.  There was a wonderful liberated feel about the way Ajax played, in many ways, they were highly representative of the era itself, all long-haired, bead-wearing and trendily-dressed. If ever a football team was “cool”, it was Ajax. Games played: 48 – win percentage 87.5%
Team: Heinz Stuy, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Horst Blankenburg, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Gerrie Muehren, Sjaak Swart, Johan Cruyff, Piet Keizer

PSV Eindhoven 1988

PSV Eindhoven, the team linked to electronic giant Philips, became Holland’s top side as Ajax declined. They were not as glamorous as the Amsterdamers, and they relied a lot on the Danish national side that threatened to steal the show at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. Four of that squad – Ivan Nielsen, Jan Heintze, Soren Lerby and Frank Arnesen – were in the PSV team that reached the European Cup final. PSV beat Benfica on penalties in the final after a goalless draw. Also in the team was Ronald Koeman and Wim Kieft. They comfortably won the Dutch league, finishing nine points ahead of Ajax. And they beat Roda JC in the KNVB final.
Games played: 49 – win percentage 73.47%
Team: Hans van Breukelen, Eric Gerets, Ivan Nielsen, Ronald Koeman, Jan Heintze, Søren Lerby, Berry van Aerle, Gerald Vanenburg, Edward Linskens, Wim Kreft, Hans Gillhaus, Willy van de Kerkhof, Anton Janssen

Manchester United 1999

There have been fewer more dramatic European finals than United’s 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, with two goals in a matter of seconds – from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunar Solksjaer  – breaking the hearts of Bayern. United’s team, including the home-grown talent of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and of course, the evergreen Ryan Giggs, was one of the most successful in the history of the British game. They finished one point ahead of reigning Premier champions Arsenal, thanks to a 20-game unbeaten run to the end of the campaign, and beat Newcastle United in the FA Cup final. In Europe, they beat Juventus and Inter Milan and had earlier played Bayern and Barcelona in the group stages. If ever anyone had it hard on the way to the final, it was United.
Games played: 59 – win percentage 57.63%
Team: Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Denis Irwin, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, Jesper Blomqvist, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Henning Berg, Jaap Stam

Barcelona 2009

You would be forgiven for believing that Barcelona have won everything for the past few years, but they’ve only achieved the treble twice – in 2008-09 and 2014-15. In 2008-09, they won 27 of their 38 goals in La Liga, scoring 107 goals in the process. In the Copa Del Rey, they thrashed Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final. Meanwhile, in Europe, they beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome with goals from Samuel Eto’o and the rising talent of Lionel Messi. Games played: 62 – win percentage 67.74%
Team: Victor Valdés, Gerard Piqué, Yaya Touré, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Sylvinho, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Rafael Márquez, Dani Alves, Éric Abidal, Seydou Keita, Bojan

Inter Milan 2010

Jose Mourinho picks up prizes wherever he manages, and in his two-year stint with Inter, he won everything in his second season. Inter won Serie A in his first season by a street mile, but in 2009-10, they were run close by Roma, who finished just two points behind. Inter also beat Roma in the Coppa Italia, with Diego Milito netting the only goal. The Argentine striker was the matchwinner in the Champions League final, scoring both goals as Inter beat Bayern Munich 2-0. It provided Mourinho with the perfect farewell.
Games played: 56 – win percentage 66.07%
Team: Júlio César, Maicon, Lúcio, Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder, Samiel Eto’o, Diego Milito, Goran Pandev, Dejan Stanković, Thiago Motta, Suleyman Muntari, Mario Balotelli

Bayern Munich 2013

Bayern had been an emerging force for the past few years – beaten Champions League finalists in 2010 and 2012, so their dominance of European football in 2012-13 was no great surprise. Only Bayer Leverkusen beat them this season, 1-2 at the Allianz Arena. They finished a massive 25 points ahead of second-placed Dortmund and scored 98 goals.  VFB Stuttgart were beaten 3-2 in the DFB Pokal final. The Champions League saw some stunning performances – a double over both Juventus and Barcelona, and a memorable display in London as they put Arsenal in their place. This Bayern side had flair – Robben and Ribery – as well as the traditional German qualities of power and strength in Schweinsteiger.
Games played: 53 – win percentage 84.91% 
Team: Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Jérôme Boateng, Dante, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribéry, Mario Mandžukić,  Mario Gómez

Barcelona 2015

With a spectacular forward line that included Lionel Messi, Neymar and new signing Luis Suárez, who scored 122 goals between them in all competitions, Barcelona were a fearsome attacking force in 2014-15. They were pushed all the way by rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but finished two points clear at the top. In the Copa Del Rey, they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1. In Europe, they disposed of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages before meeting Juventus in the final. In Berlin, Barca won 3-1, thanks to two goals in the last 20 minutes.
Games played: 60 – win percentage 83.33%  Team: Marc-André ter Stegen, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitić, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Neymar, Xavi, Rafinha, Pedro.

Other clubs have won a European prize and completed the double at home: IFK Göteborg (1982), Porto (2003 and 2011), Galatasaray (2000) and CSKA Moscow (2005).

So, according to our data, Ajax 1972, with a win rate of 87.5% were the most impressive champions!

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.

All-England

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.

@GameofthePeople

Photos: PA

72 Classic: Clough, Allison, Keegan and co. – why it was special

MALCOLM Allison, one of the pivotal figures of the 1970s, once said that the period between 1967 and 1972 was one of British football’s golden ages. Anyone who lived through that half decade of action will doubtless recall some outstanding players and personalities, memorable teams and the outlandish fashion and hairstyles of the age.

This was, after all, a period that desperately clung to the “swinging Sixties” and introduced the excesses and decadence of the early 1970s. It was played out against an economic background that was deteriorating weekly, culminating in the candle-lit days of power cuts in 1973-74 and the three-day week. From a footballing perspective, England still had enough self-confidence to believe that Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad was still capable of competing at the highest level. 1971 was just five years after the 1966 triumph and some of its key figures were still stubbornly hanging onto their place in the national team.

But if the end of the Sixties, from a cultural point of view, was signalled by the break-up of the Beatles, 1971-72 really killed-off the period with the decline of England, the ageing of some of its icons and the conclusion of the post-66 attendance boom. 1971-72 was two years on from the last football season of the 60s, but football’s two standard bearing groups of the decade – Best, Law, Charlton and Moore, Hurst, Peters, were coming to the end of their time of influence. By the end of 1972-73, the Manchester United trio were no longer at Old Trafford, for various reasons, and only Moore was still at West Ham.

The 1971-72 season looked like the final flourish of the man that epitomised the 1960s, George Best. He scored 26 goals in domestic football and provided some brilliant football, but it was the last we saw of the genius that was the Irishman. As Manchester United declined in the second half of the season, Best lost heart and by the middle of 1972-73, he had retired.

United’s fall from the pinnacle of the game really started in 1970 and their impressive first half of 1971-72 merely papered over the cracks. Within two seasons, they were relegated, although in hindsight, it was the short, sharp shock the club needed to acknowledge that things had changed since the days of Sir Matt Busby.

Even without United, though, English football served up an exciting championship race, possibly the most tense and open for years. Arsenal went into the campaign as double winners in 1970-71, but they were never really involved in a bid to retaining their title, although they returned to Wembley for the FA Cup final. However, Arsenal’s pursuit of European success suggested that there was a degree of stagnation settling in across English football. In 1970, when the Gunners won the Fairs’ Cup, they beat Ajax over two legs with some ease. Two seasons on, Arsenal were beaten twice by the Dutch team, who were holders of the European Cup. Something had changed and the spirit of progressive football wasn’t to be found in England, it was across the Channel.

The Dutch, with Johan Cruyff in his pomp, may have been leading the way in club football, but the West Germans had emerged as the team to beat on the international stage. There were signs that an irresistible force was in the ascendancy in Mexico in 1970, but in 1972, the Germans were European champions and they had signalled the end of Ramsey’s England in the quarter-finals, winning 3-1 at Wembley. West Germany had their own dynamic playmaker to rival Cruyff in the form of Günter Theodor Netzer, and he made England’s own midfielders look very pedestrian. That tie was, effectively, the end of Geoff Hurst – he left West Ham in the summer of 1972 – but also struck at the heart of English confidence.

Derby County players show off their League Championship medals aas they pose with the trophies won by the club during the 1971-72 season: (back row, l-r) ?, John McGovern, physio Gordon Guthrie, trainer Jimmy Gordon, Ron Webster, John Robson, Terry Hennessey, Alan Hinton, John O’Hare, Colin Boulton, Alan Durban; (front row, l-r) Peter Daniel, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector, ?; (trophies, l-r) Central League, Football League Championship, Texaco Cup Photo: PA

In terms of self-confidence, Derby County’s outspoken manager, Brian Clough, had few equals, although his style wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Nobody predicted that Derby would become genuine title challengers, although Clough had assembled an exciting team at the Baseball Ground. Leeds United, who had become serial bridesmaids in 1970 and 1971, were most people’s idea of champions, although they remained unpopular. Don Revie had instilled in his squad something of a siege mentality, largely built on the “us and them” philosophy and the desire to create intense loyalty and togetherness. It worked, but Leeds never had the strength in depth required for a campaign fought on multiple fronts and accompanying their intensity was high drama – a Leeds defeat was invariably greeted with schadenfreude by the rest of English football, which only served to bond Revie’s troops even closer. This often clouded the fact that Leeds were a extraordinary footballing team and in 1971-72 they produced some of their best performances. They won the FA Cup and were beaten at the death by Wolves in their final league game when the double was at stake. Once more, they had fallen short at the final hurdle.

Returning to Malcolm Allison, his Manchester City team had the title within their grasp, but to some extent the signing of Rodney Marsh, the coveted Queens Park Rangers forward, cost City the title. Signed in March 1972, for a record £ 200,000 fee, March joined a team that was four points clear at the top of the table. Marsh himself admitted that the transfer was a mistake and that it had been detrimental to City’s championship credentials.

While Marsh, despite his skill and charisma, upset the shape of Allison’s team, a new and relatively unknown forward had injected fresh impetus into Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. His name was Kevin Keegan and he would become British football’s hottest talent and the successor to George Best as the face of the game. Keegan was a different proposition to Best, though. He didn’t have Best’s natural virtuosity, or his maverick tendencies, but he made the most of his attributes and he knew his worth. Keegan was wholesome, reliable and energetic and Liverpool’s Kop loved him.

Liverpool were one year away from beginning their ruthless pursuit of silverware, but in 1971-72, they had enough to finish painfully close to the top spot. That belonged to Derby County, but not before no less than four teams stake a claim to the title, right up until the final week. Derby were, perhaps, the least likely to finish in first place, but there could be no denying the quality of their football. Players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Kevin Hector and John O’Hare would become household names, while Clough, with his emphasis on skill and hard work, would go on to prove that his success was no fluke.

The party was not quite over, but the guests were gradually leaving. Within a decade, attendances in division one had fallen by 10,000 per game. Clough left Derby in 1973-74, Allison resigned from City, Revie took on England in 1974 (after a second title with Leeds), Shankly retired in 1974. United were relegated, Chelsea followed them in 1975 and Tottenham lost that doyen of managers, Bill Nicholson. And to cap it all, England failed to qualify for World Cup 1974 and Ramsey was sacked. In 1971-72, who would have predicted such a chain of events, even in the unpredictable world of football.

Coming soon: Chapter 2 – Lifting Leeds