Last time out we examined just how difficult it has proved to win the domestic ‘double’ of league and FA Cup over the years, and in particular during the twentieth century. We examined some of the glorious failures of sides to secure both trophies in the same season in the 1970s, and perhaps those of us of a certain vintage took particular pleasure in recalling the ultimate ability of Don Revie’s Leeds United sides to snatch failure from the very jaws of victory.
In this second and final instalment, we will conclude our look at sides that came so near and yet so far in the 70s in the quest for ‘the Double’.
1974 – 75: Ipswich Town
The 1974-75 season was one of those rare ones whereby there was no outstanding team but rather a collection of very good ones, all of which could have won the title. As well as eventual champions, Derby County, who secured their second title in fours seasons, both Merseyside clubs were strongly in contention throughout the season, as were Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town.
Even sides such as Stoke City, Burnley, Sheffield United, and newly-promoted Middlesborough were in or around the mix as the season reached its business end.
With such a wide range of teams involved in the title race, it was perhaps inevitable that at least one side would have a crack at the Double too.
As the season progressed, the leadership changed hands several times but coming into the Easter period it looked as if Everton would prevail. With nine games remaining they sat three points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand. Their closest rivals at this point were Stoke City and Burnley with Ipswich back in fourth place.
It was now that the Toffees went into freefall and promptly lost four of their remaining games to fall away and eventually finish fourth. Liverpool couldn’t take advantage of their neighbour’s slip as they somehow managed to draw six consecutive matches.
Ipswich, meanwhile, were battling away on two fronts. A steady season in the league saw them tucked in just behind the leaders while progress was being made in the FA Cup. A run to the quarter-finals had seen a titanic struggle take place against Jimmy Armfield’s Leeds United with victory being secured at the third time of asking.
So, with the season’s end closing in, Ipswich were up against West Ham in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. A dour goalless draw meant a replay four days later at Stamford Bridge and this time the crowd was at least treated to some goals.
A first-minute own goal by West Ham’s Billy Jennings seemed to set Ipswich on their way, but a goal from Alan Taylor, a recent signing from Fourth Division Rochdale, put the Hammers level.
It was then that the man of the match took over. Step forward referee Clive Thomas who inexplicably disallowed two seemingly perfectly good Ipswich goals.
Robson was incandescent with rage after the game and called for an FA enquiry. He believed to his dying day that Thomas had cheated Ipswich out of a Wembley place.
Still, with four league games to go Ipswich had the chance to make amends by taking the title. The title race was so tight that although Ipswich were in fifth place after 38 games, they were only a point off the top and had a game in hand.
A 2-1 home victory over QPR kept Robson’s men on track, but then a disastrous 2-1 defeat at Leeds was followed by a 1-1 draw at Manchester City and the gig was pretty much up. A final day 4-1 victory over their cup conquerors was scant consolation and Ipswich finally finished third, two points behind Derby and level on points with Liverpool but with an inferior goal average.
1975 – 76: Manchester United
After Sir Matt Busby stepped down as Manchester United manager in 1969, they went through what could best be described as ‘a difficult period’. This eventuated in United’s relegation in 1974, eighteen months after the appointment of Tommy Docherty as manager.
Sticking with Docherty and buying into his philosophy of attacking football, the United board was rewarded with an immediate return to the top flight as the 1974-75 Second Division title was secured at a canter.
Although Docherty’s exciting young team were tipped to return to the First Division in much better shape than they had departed it, few anticipated a serious run at the game’s top trophies, and yet that is exactly what transpired in the 1975-76 season.
An exciting, vibrant brand of football saw United in the top three pretty much all season and into the latter stages of the FA Cup. Victories over Oxford United, Peterborough United, Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers after a replay pushed them into a Hillsborough semi-final against reigning league champions Derby County.
The match was played on April 3, 1976, and goals in each half by Gordon Hill saw United prevail by a 2-0 scoreline in a match Docherty famously described as ‘the real final’.
This remark was in respect to the other semi-final taking place the same day at Stamford Bridge between Second Division Southampton and Crystal Palace from the third. A match Docherty labelled ‘a bit of a joke, really’.
Oh dear, Tommy.
Anyway, before those words were ultimately shown up for the folly that they were, United had the chance to take the title. Six games to go with two games in hand, they were three points behind both QPR and Liverpool.
A 3-0 defeat at Ipswich wasn’t fatal to United’s aspirations, and successive victories over Everton and Burnley kept Docherty’s men in the hunt. Liverpool and QPR, meanwhile, kept winning and thus cranking the pressure up.
Something had to give, and an awful single goal defeat at home to Stoke City on April 21 meant the title was now a long shot, to say the least. This was confirmed courtesy of a 2-1 defeat at Leicester three days later.
Defeat at Wembley in the FA Cup Final against ‘joke’ side Southampton merely compounded United and Docherty’s misery as the season came to an end.
A consolation of sorts was to come the following season, though.
1976 – 77: Liverpool
22 years before Alex Ferguson earned himself a knighthood based upon Bayern Munich’s ability to hit the bar twice rather than the back of the net, Liverpool came within 90 minutes of becoming the first English side to complete the treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup.
That it was Manchester United’s 1977 FA Cup Final victory that prevented Bob Paisley from being the first manager to achieve such a feat is perhaps ironic.
Fergie, of course, was knighted on the back of United’s 1999 achievement, while Paisley had to settle for a ‘mere’ OBE in his lifetime. Perhaps if Ray Kennedy had scored in the final rather than hitting the post, Bob may too have become a ‘Sir’. We’ll never know.
Anyway, the 1976-77 race for the title was another close one with a Kevin Keegan-inspired Liverpool and Ipswich Town doing most of the running. Although Docherty’s United were expected to once again challenge in the league, they lacked the consistency to keep pace with the leaders and instead it was noisy neighbours Manchester City that ultimately ended up pushing Liverpool closest.
At the conclusion of the season, Liverpool clinched their second successive title and tenth in total by the margin of a single point, with City in second and Ipswich a further four points behind in third.
The race for the title came amid the two cup campaigns, and victories over Crusaders of Ireland, Trabzonspor of Turkey, France’s Saint-Etienne and FC Zurich from Switzerland, had paved the way for Liverpool’s first-ever appearance in the final of Europe’s premier competition.
Similarly, progress in the FA Cup had been constant with Crystal Palace, Carlisle United, Oldham Athletic and Middlesbrough duly dealt with before an all-Merseyside coming together in the semi-final at Maine Road on 23 April 1977.
On a day that has gone down in infamy, particularly at Goodison Park, the two teams shared four goals. Twice Liverpool led and twice they were pegged back by Everton equalisers.
Those bare statistics only tell half the story, however.
(Re)enter Clive Thomas.
Two years earlier he had broken Ipswich Town hearts by penalising them for infringements nobody else in the stadium or watching on TV had seen. Now, on a rainy Manchester afternoon, he was to repeat the trick. With the scores tied going into the 88th minute, Everton thought they had won the game and booked a place at Wembley,
A cross into the Liverpool six-yard box wasn’t dealt with, and Bryan Hamilton steered the ball over the line to send the blue half of Merseyside into raptures.
Their joy was shortlived. Seemingly apropos of nothing, Thomas blew his whistle and disallowed the goal. To this day nobody, probably not even him, knows why.
Thomas has never really explained his decision and some believe even now that he did so just because he could.
Liverpool duly won the replay 3-0 and thus a place in the cup final against the previous year’s beaten finalists, Manchester United, with the second leg of the Double and Treble both at stake.
A fairly entertaining match ensued with Liverpool perhaps enjoying the better of possession and what few chances existed before three goals in five second-half minutes turned the match on its head.
First, Stuart Pearson scored to put United ahead only for Jimmy Case and Liverpool to reply immediately. Then came the moment that was to leave Liverpool’s Double and Treble dreams in tatters.
Liverpool failed to deal with a long ball over the top and with Emlyn Hughes doing battle with Jimmy Greenhoff, the ball fell to Lou Macari who tried a speculative shot. The ball was heading off somewhere towards the corner flag when it struck Greenhoff in the chest and diverted past Clemence in goal. On such turns of fortune are trophies, accolades and, indeed knighthoods won and lost.
1977 – 78: Nottingham Forest (kind of)
If Manchester United enjoyed a successful debut season back in the First Division following promotion in 1975-76, it was nothing compared to that experienced by Nottingham Forest just two years later.
Led by the indomitable Brian Clough, and his trusted lieutenant Peter Taylor, Forest had clinched promotion to the First Division in 1977 by one point, finishing third in the 22-team table.
A season of consolidation was probably the most that the wise old sages in the footballing media were predicting for Clough and Taylor, yet immediately the two of them set about proving everybody wrong.
After being defeated on 19 November 1977, Forest went the rest of the season unbeaten in the league. The title was secured with three games remaining and a seven-point margin between them and runners-up Liverpool was evident by the season’s end.
It was a remarkable accomplishment for a newly promoted side and it remains unarguably one of the greatest footballing achievements of all time.
Not satisfied with taking one trophy, Forest added the League Cup to their name, defeating Liverpool by a goal to nil following a scoreless draw at Wembley.
Until the middle of March 1978, Forest had even looked odds-on to achieve the first-ever domestic treble of major trophies as they swept past Swindon Town, Manchester City and QPR on the way to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Highly expected to beat Ron Atkinson’s West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns, Forest had a very rare off day and were defeated by two goals to nil, thus ending their dreams of a clean sweep.
1978-79: Liverpool (again)
The Liverpool side of 1978-79 is considered by many to be amongst the finest ever to wear the famous red shirt, and yet still the famous Double eluded it.
Determined to prize the title back from Forest, Liverpool started the ’78-79 season impressively with ten wins and a draw in their opening eleven games before suffering a first defeat of the season.
Only two more defeats were experienced before the turn of the year, and just one after it as Liverpool set a new points record of 68 from 42 games under the old two points for a win system.
Unsurprisingly, this consistency resulted in the title being won pretty much at a canter from Forest who finished runners-up some eight points behind.
With the league all but wrapped up by early spring, Liverpool once more turned their attention to trying to secure the FA Cup and so the coveted Double.
Early round victories over Southend United, Blackburn Rovers, and Burnley saw the Anfield men safely through to the last eight and an away tie at cup holders, Ipswich Town.
Watched by a crowd of 31,322, Liverpool prevailed on the back of a single Kenny Dalglish goal netted early in the second half. The draw for the semi-finals saw Arsenal paired with Wolves at Villa Park on the same day that Liverpool did battle with Manchester United at Maine Road.
Liverpool went into the match in fine form and confidence, sitting five points clear at the top of the First Division with two games in hand. Meanwhile, Manchester United were down in seventh place, a distant 15 points behind.
This fine vein of form had Liverpool going into the match as clear favourites, but as is often the case in cup football, the form book went right out the window.
In a truly cracking game at Maine Road honours and four goals were shared. An early Kenny Dalglish goal was wiped out by Joe Jordon just two minutes later, and then a Brian Greenhoff strike early in the second-half put United ahead for the first time.
With the seconds ticking away and Liverpool turning the screw, Alan Hansen made a sortie upfield and was able to hook the ball over the line after a cross had been poorly dealt with by the United defence.
Four days later the two sides met again in the replay, this time on Merseyside at Goodison Park, the home of Everton. Unlike the first match, this was a game of few chances and it was not until 12 minutes from the end that the deadlock was broken.
A Liverpool attack broke down and the ball was quickly switched forward by United. In a poor piece of defending, Emlyn Hughes and Graeme Souness were both pulled badly out of position and Jimmy Greenhoff was left free to head home the only goal of the game.
Liverpool’s pursuit of the Double once again ended in not-so-glorious failure, and Emlyn Hughes paid a high price for his culpability in United’s victory as he never pulled on a Liverpool shirt again.
In summary, the pursuit of ‘the Double’ in the nineteen seventies was largely a frustrating one with only Arsenal in ’71 bringing the bacon home, so as to speak.
Some sides, most notably Liverpool and Leeds, had multiple stabs at it without ever managing to quite get over the line, and as the decade flickered out and the nineteen-eighties began, more attempts were made.
Once again, the vast majority were to fail, but perhaps that’s a tale for another day!