With the new season underway in the Football League, and with the Premier League starting on Friday, we asked some of our contributors to tell us what they believe to be the greatest ever season. Whether it is because it was full of trophies, defeats of bitter rivals, or just brings back wonderful memories, please enjoy below some of examples of writers came up with.
Pete Spencer- Liverpool 2000/01
No team before, or since, has achieved what Liverpool did in 2000-01. They won every cup tie. Entered into three cup competitions they won them all.
The League Cup (or Worthington Cup, as it was known) was secured first in March 2001. They’d beaten Chelsea (2-1), Stoke (8-0), Fulham (3-0) and Palace (1-2, 5-0) to meet Championship side Birmingham City in the Final, at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. The cup was won on a penalty shootout, Sander Westerveld making the decisive save from Andy Johnson.
Their FA Cup run saw them beat Rotherham (3-0), Leeds (2-0), Man City (4-2), Tranmere (4-2) and Wycombe (2-1) to take on Arsenal in the Final, again in Cardiff. Two late goals from Michael Owen won it, after going a goal down.
Four days later they travelled to Dortmund to take on the Spanish side, Alaves in the UEFA Cup Final. They’d reached the Final after seeing off teams like Roma, Porto and Barcelona. Another thrilling game was won 5-4 with Delfi Geli heading into his own net from a Gary McAllister free-kick in extra time. Under the golden goal rule, it was the last kick of the match.
The game went down as the greatest European Final ever. That was until Istanbul ’05 came along.
James Edginton- 1977/78
Nottingham Forest had scraped promotion from Division Two in 1976-77 by the skin of their teeth with a measly total of just 52 points.
Their team consisted of underachievers, journeymen, and untested youngsters. The consensus amongst most pundits was that Forest would struggle in the First Division. However, if anyone could perform miracles with this Nottingham Forest side, it was Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.
Their achievements with Derby County were phenomenal as they turned an average Second Division side into First Division champions. However, despite Clough and Taylor’s magic, to replicate that success in their maiden season in the First Division with Forest would simply have seemed unplausible.
But Clough and Taylor had defied expectations before and were more than happy to do it once more. Their summer signings of Archie Gemmill, who had been part of their Derby County title-winning season, and Peter Shilton, who was widely regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the country, showed Clough and Taylor’s intent to have a successful first season in the first division. However, it was the signing of Kenny Burns from Birmingham City, a notorious ‘wild man’ or put more simply ‘thug’, that epitomised Forest’s success. As Clough and Taylor converted him from a centre-forward to a centre-back and by the end of the season, Burns had proved all his critics wrong and had been voted footballer of the year.
Forest began their campaign with three consecutive victories to top the table and confound their doubters from the outset. A 3-0 defeat against Arsenal ended their 100% record but Forest would bounce back with three more victories and ended September second in the table and level on points with leaders Manchester City. However, at the beginning of October, their crushing 4-0 win over Sir Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town restored their place at the top of the table. Despite this, many so-called experts felt that Nottingham Forest’s fine start to the season was a fluke. After Forest’s win against Ipswich, BBC pundit Bob Wilson wrote off Forest disregarding them as a ‘bubble that will soon burst.’ A line that has become truly iconic in hindsight. Forest remained in top spot for the rest of the season.
A slight blip in November saw Forest lose to Chelsea and Leeds United in quick succession. But there was no suggestion that this would burst Clough’s bubble and Forest went unbeaten in the remaining 26 league matches of the season. The performance that made everyone truly believe in Forest came in December when they travelled to Old Trafford and produced a stunning performance – dumping the 1968 European Cup winners 4-0 in their own backyard.
Nottingham Forest’s imperious league form meant that on 22 April, they only needed a point against Coventry City to be crowned First Division champions. A 0-0 draw sufficed to complete Forest’s miraculous season. Clough and Taylor’s side became the first team since Ipswich in 1962 to become champions directly after promotion from the Second Division and Brian Clough became the first manager since Herbert Chapman to win the Football League championship with two different clubs.
Forest were also victorious in the League Cup that season beating Liverpool over two games in the final to complete a shock double-winning season. The unlikely league triumph laid the foundations for Forest’s back-to-back European Cup triumphs of 1979 and 1980. They played with style, with courage, and with bravery and their 1977-78 title-winning campaign is a fine example of believing in yourself and proving the critics wrong and there was no one better at proving people wrong than Brian Howard Clough.
Graham Hollingsworth – Ipswich Town 2000/01
Ipswich Town’s first Premier League stay is remembered by most for the 9-0 thrashing they suffered at the hands of Manchester United in March 1995. After being relegated that year, they had a few flirtations with promotion via the playoffs, before finally sticking the landing in May 2000, after defeating Barnsley 4-2 in the last domestic game at the old Wembley.
The pre-season predictions weren’t kind to George Burley’s side; most pundits predicted they were ill prepared for life at the top table, and would be sent back to the Championship at the earliest possible opportunity. As a 9 year old, none of this mattered to me. I was beyond excited to see the likes of Michael Owen, David Beckham, Dennis Bergkamp and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink do their thing down at Portman Road.
The first home game was against United, who were the reigning Premier League champions. Instead of cowering, Ipswich rose to the challenge, taking a 1-0 lead through right-back Fabian Wilnis. United through all their big guns on, eventually grabbing an equaliser through David Beckham. The side from Suffolk held on for a valuable point, and in doing so showed everyone that they weren’t to be taken lightly.
A number of other impressive results from that season included a 1-1 draw with Arsenal, a 1-0 at Anfield against Liverpool, a 2-1 victory over Leeds at Elland Road, a 2-2 draw with Chelsea and a 3-0 win over Tottenham. With a few games to go, they weren’t fighting for their lives to avoid relegation, they were vying for a third place finish and a Champions League spot.
Ultimately they had to ‘settle’ for a 5th place finish, with the final home game of the season a comprehensive victory over Manchester City, who themselves were set down to the Championship. Players such as Marcus Stewart (who finished second in the golden boot race) Matt Holland, Richard Wright and Martijn Reuser had the season of their lives, played out of their skin to give the Portman Road faithful some unforgettable memories to cherish. While recent seasons have become increasingly hard to watch, those nine months between August 2000 and May 2001 will always be cherished
James Bolam- Bristol City 2014/15
In 2008 Bristol City lost the Championship play-off final and then went into a slow decline after. Following several seasons of struggle and several managers, the club was relegated to League One in 2013. The next season saw the continuation of bad results and the club found themselves in a mess when Steve Cotterill was appointed in December much to the disappointment of the fans. How wrong we were
.It looked like we were staring relegation in the face but eventually, Cotterill steadied the ship and we finished in a final position of 12th. Ashton Gate was about to be redeveloped and so relegation to League Two would have been catastrophic. In the close season, Cotterill made some interesting signings, after a chance meeting in a Gym in Dubai Arron Wilbraham joined on a free. He finished top scorer with 21 goals. Sam Baldock departed but Kieran Agard came in. Luke Freeman, Luke Ayling, Wade Elliott, Mark Little and Korey Smith all joined.
City pretty much looked like champions from the first game. Away at title favourites Sheffield United, City completely outplayed the Blades and won 3-1 live on Sky. Even when going behind, the belief in the side was so strong that as a fan I almost always knew they would come back and win the game.
Captain Wade Elliot gave the ball away at home to Deli Ali’s MK Dons, who were also flying high and his mistake led to the equaliser. From kick-off, like a man possessed, Elliot picked the ball up in midfield slicing through the dons to score the winner. It was as if he decided to atone for his mistake by being the hero, not the villain and that no one could stop him.
City went into the Westcountry derby against Swindon unbeaten in the first 16 league games. Swindon was also at the top of the table. Wade Elliott was sent off following some awful theatrics after only three minutes. The captain couldn’t believe it and nor could the fans. Despite a gallant fight with ten men, Smith scored the winner on 78 minutes. Swindon celebrated like they had won the title there and then. Nathan Thompson ran to the packed away end and goaded the City fans. There were also scuffles in the tunnel. It was an awful display and a complete lack of respect from Swindon, but revenge would be sweet at the business end.
Before that, though the FA Cup 4th round was reached losing 1-0 to Premier League West Ham despite playing well, and in March City won the Football League Trophy for a record third time. It was then that sights were set on making it a double with some of the teams also fighting for promotion to come. City faced Swindon in the revenge match at Ashton Gate on 7th April. Despite one end of the stadium now resembling a building site, the atmosphere was electric.
City dispatched Swindon easily 3-0 and damaged their promotion hopes. Those celebrations back in November now looked rather silly. Nathan Thompson was regularly asked for the latest score from the crowd. At the end of the game former Swindon defender Aden Flint, now a key member of the City side was asked if he hoped if his old club could go up with City as the Swindon fans chanted dogs abuse at him. He responded with ‘Just listen to them. No no no’. He got his wish. Swindon lost the play-off final
.A point was secured at promotion rivals Preston that meant that City went to Bradford on 14th April needing a win to secure promotion. They gave an emphatic performance and a 6-0 win with the goals coming from six different players. The title was secured the following Saturday, after a 0-0 draw at home to Coventry. The last game of the season was at home to Dean Smith’s Walsall. A day to receive the trophy and just enjoy the occasion whatever the result. We won 8-2 with Aden Flint getting a hat-trick one of which was a rabona. A hat-trick from a centre half and one of them a Rabona. You just couldn’t make it up.
City hadn’t won a title since the 1950s. Sure we had won promotion a few times but had never won any division since then. I’d seen so many sides run away with the league before both home and abroad and had no idea how that felt until that season. I knew we were going to get promoted in October of that season. I’ve never had that feeling before or since and that’s why for me it was the greatest season. Ever.
Pete Spencer- QPR 1975/76
QPR’s greatest league season saw them come within five minutes of winning the title.
Manager, Dave Sexton, had assembled a squad of youth and experience. Their talisman was the outrageously talented Stan Bowles. Frank McLintock (ex-Arsenal) and Dave Webb (ex-Chelsea), with a combined age of 65 gave them strength and nous at the back.
They were lead by Gerry Francis, strong and combative in midfield, he captained England eight times. Dave Thomas, socks around his ankles, prowled the wings providing ammunition in the air for Irish striker, Don Givens.
The full-backs, Don Shanks and Ian Gillard dealt with opposition wingers turning defence into attack. In goal, they had Phil Parkes, who would go on to become the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.
They began the season in style, with a 2-0 win over Liverpool. Francis’ opening goal was bettered by no one as it was voted goal of the season.
They were top of the table by September and never out of the top five. After losing at West Ham at the end of January, they won 11 of their next 12 to lead Liverpool by a point.
An Easter defeat to Norwich saw them lose their advantage. But wins over Arsenal and Leeds had them top again by a point. Liverpool’s UEFA Cup Final meant their last league fixture was delayed. Rangers had a nervous 10 days to wait before Liverpool travelled to Wolves.
A goal down early, they didn’t level things till 75 minutes. Liverpool had to win, and with five minutes remaining, they were still level. But John Toshack and Ray Kennedy broke Rangers’ hearts and Bob Paisley had his first league title.
This Second place remains QPR’s highest finish in their history.