BY STEVE MITCHELL
12 months ago, who would have envisaged that the curtain raiser for the 1978-79 campaign would take place between First Division champions Nottingham Forest and FA Cup winners Ipswich Town? Brian Cloughâ€™s unfashionable side from the East Midlands, who scraped into the top-flight behind Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea, captured the nationâ€™s hearts last term winning the title by seven points from Liverpool in their first season back at English footballâ€™s top table.
The ebullient Clough, whose achievement mirrored what he did with Forestâ€™s great rivals Derby County several years earlier, assembled a side good enough to knock the Merseyside giants off their perch and who now look forward to taking on Europeâ€™s best in the European Champions Cup. Relatively unknown players such as winger John Robertson, striker turned centre-half Kenny Burns and midfield star Martin Oâ€™Neill have become household names along with more established stars such as goalkeeper Peter Shilton and midfield dynamo Archie Gemmill.
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Built on a solid back-line, which equalled the First Division record set by Liverpool of conceding only 24 goals in a season, Cloughâ€™s team compounded critics who tipped them to go straight back down to the Second Division. Indeed, it was double delight for Forest last term who also beat Liverpool in a replay at Old Trafford to win the League Cup and make it a truly memorable campaign.
Usually so outspoken, Clough let his team do the talking on the field and the man who many in this country believe should be the national team boss, gets ready to defend his domestic crown whilst mixing it with Europeâ€™s elite.
Down in Suffolk, a different revolution was taking place and despite a lowly finish in the First Division, Bobby Robsonâ€™s Ipswich Town side finally fulfilled their potential by winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Over the past six years, the Tractor Boys have been the â€œnearly menâ€ of English football. In 1975, they suffered FA Cup heartbreak losing in the semi-final to eventual winners West Ham United and last season, they squandered a 3-0 first-leg lead in the third round of the UEFA Cup to finally succumb on penalties to Spanish giants Barcelona.
Now Robson is a winner at last after upsetting the odds to beat Arsenal in May and lift the most famous cup trophy in the world. A Roger Osbourne goal 13 minutes from time gave Ipswich a deserved victory against an overwhelming favourite despite being without key players for the big Wembley occasion.
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Robsonâ€™s penetrative long ball style is in complete contrast to that of Saturdayâ€™s Charity Shield opponents which should make for a fascinating game in the Wembley sunshine, with both teams looking to lay down a marker for the season ahead. Visit NetBet to check the odds for the coming campaign.
The weekendâ€™s encounter is only the fifth time the seasonâ€™s opening showpiece has been played at the famous old stadium, and it will seem strange not to see Liverpool involved as the Reds have been present at three of the four that have been played there.
So can Forestâ€™s Burns and big Larry Lloyd nullify the threat of Paul Mariner and Eric Gates, and can England star Mick Mills and Russel Osman cope with the attacking flair of Robertson and Tony Woodcock? The 1978-79 campaign is almost ready to go and Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town are ready to get football fans across the country in the mood for the new season.
FOLLOW THE WHOLE 1978-79 SEASON IN THE ENGLISH FIRST DIVISION WITH STEVE MITCHELL HERE ON THE FOOTBALL PINK. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @barafundler