Remembering the 1971-72 Season: Another Tight Race In English Football

After today’s Boxing Day results, a five team log jam sits atop the Premier League table. This is the most competitive the top flight has been in the Premier League era. But in the 1970s, an era when each win was worth just two points, there’s a remarkable story to tell.

Derby County, under manager Brian Clough, had stormed the First Division (the old top flight in England), winning promotion to the First Division in May 1969 and finishing fourth in 1969-1970. The Rams were denied a place in the UEFA Cup due to “financial irregularities,” which prevented the club from making its European debut for a few more seasons.

Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester City were among the great teams of the era. And Leeds, as immortalized in The Damned United, in particular irked Clough. It was also an era when Spurs and Chelsea were very strong, though neither contended for the title this particular season.

Leeds United of the Don Revie era was a slicker side than many of their critics claimed, and were led by the dynamic trio of Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner and Peter Lorimer. Revie’s sides were physical but also very adept at getting the ball forward and taking on the opposition with their largely Scottish core.

League table after Boxing Day 1971

Liverpool, towards the end of Bill Shankly era, were in the process of developing Kevin Keegan into one of the greatest footballers England has produced. Welshman John Toshack was the side’s leading goal scorer but Keegan provided the excitement and often times the killer balls to free Toshack. The Reds were in the midst of a six year major trophy drought at this time and had fallen behind the likes of Leeds, Manchester City, Spurs and Chelsea in recent seasons. This season would prove to be a near-miss for Liverpool but one that foretold the era of dominance that was to come in the very near future.

In March of 1972, cruising atop the table with a seven point lead and led by the unstoppable goal-scoring force of Franny Lee, Manchester City Assistant Manager Malcolm Allison (who was acting the de-facto Manager as manager Joe Mercer had taken the wrong side in a takeover fight of the club) thought that signing Rodney Marsh from QPR would seal the title and an era of blues dominance. Manchester City had won four trophies in three years culminating in 1970 but had gone trophy less in the 1970-71 season, and Allison in his colorful style had promised Blues supporters big success in the 1971-72 season.

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