Division Two, 1976-77
Bolton's final day defeat was enough to hand Forest promotion and set them on their way to their first league championship, writes Geoff Wallis
The long-term significance
Ian Greaves’ Bolton narrowly missed out on promotion for the second season running, this time on the last day. Third-placed Forest learnt of Bolton’s defeat to Wolves as their holiday-bound plane landed in Palma, Mallorca. Within the next two years Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s team would win the League championship for the first (and probably only) time, win the League Cup twice and become European champions. Bolton finally went up in 1978.
Story of the season
The first half was a five-horse race and, by early January, Chelsea had a two-point lead over Bolton with Wolves, Forest and Blackpool three points behind on 27. However, the table was badly distorted by a relatively harsh winter and numerous postponements. Some three months later a mere five points separated leaders Wolves from Blackpool in seventh and both Notts County and Luton, fourth and fifth respectively, had entered the fray.
Inspired by Willie Carr and Steve Daley in midfield, Sammy Chung’s Wolves drew on goals from numerous sources (including ten from Bobby Gould in just 11 games) while Chelsea’s relatively young side (excepting goalkeeper Peter Bonetti) was often intimidated away from Stamford Bridge by more physical opponents. This was enough to give Wolves the title and an instant return to Division One. Chelsea boss Eddie McCreadie was to resign in the summer after a row with the board.
Forest’s success was irrevocably linked to the transformation of a pudgy midfielder, John Robertson, into a devastating playmaker. But their success was only settled when Kenny Hibbitt scored the winner for Wolves at Bolton in that final game. Peter Taylor had also been in Mallorca when Clough’s Derby side were confirmed as champions in 1972.
At the bottom it was doom for Hereford almost from the outset, despite Dixie McNeill’s efforts up-front. With five games to go Plymouth looked relatively cosy, but secured just one more point. Needing to beat Cardiff on the final Saturday, Carlisle drew 1-1, but were still safe if Orient lost to Hull the following Tuesday. Another 1-1 draw meant the Os had a rare local derby with Spurs next year. Wolves reached the FA Cup sixth round, while Bolton also fell just short in the League Cup, beaten by Everton in the semi-finals. Forest won the Anglo-Scottish Cup, beating Orient 5-1 on aggregate in the final after they had beaten Ayr and Partick, respectively, in the semis.
For the record books
Blackpool’s Mick Walsh top-scored with 26 goals, closely followed by Bolton’s Neil Whatmore (25). Southampton’s 6-0 win at Carlisle was the biggest victory of the season. Chelsea were the only side able to claim an unbeaten home record, while Orient managed just 18 goals at Brisbane Road all season; that was still seven more than Blackburn’s suffering fans witnessed on their travels.
Same place today
Nine of the 22 teams are playing in the Championship in 2005-06.
Moved furthest away
Hereford’s brief sojourn in Division Two remains the team’s highest League position. Like their relegated comrades Carlisle (who had briefly led the First Division just two seasons previously) they eventually slipped into the Conference, although Carlisle regained Football League status this year. Astonishingly, only seven of the remaining 20 teams have not spent some time in the League’s bottom tier while Charlton, Chelsea, Blackburn, Bolton and Fulham are currently members of the Premiership.
Went on to greater things
Laurie Cunningham ~ Signed for West Brom from Orient in March 1977; two years later, Cunningham joined Real Madrid.
Paul Mariner ~ Scored eight goals in ten games for Plymouth before being snapped up by Bobby Robson for Ipswich.
Viv Anderson ~ Played more than 300 games for Forest, becoming the first black player to be capped by England, before moving on to Manchester United.
Ray Wilkins ~ One of the three brothers on Chelsea’s staff, Ray had won the first of his 84 England caps in the summer of 1976.
Disappearing from view
Bobby Moore and George Best ~ Both bade farewell to English football, spending their final season helping Fulham stay up with one game to spare.
Peter Thompson ~ The erstwhile Liverpool favourite retired following just six appearances in his last season with Bolton.
Eddie McCreadie ~ The former Chelsea full-back, who had been in charge of the club for just over two years, never managed another League club. He was replaced by Ken Shellito, another ex-Blues full-back.
Tony Waiters ~ The former England keeper was sacked as Plymouth manager.
From WSC 224 October 2005. What was happening this month
You must be logged in to comment. Please register if you don't have an account yet.