Division Two, 1983-84
Jonathan Baker recalls a season when Howard Wilkinson refined his managerial tactics and Kevin Keegan had a glimpse of what his would be
The long-term significance
This was the season that launched the careers of two influential modern managers – Kevin Keegan and Howard Wilkinson – with radically contrasting footballing philosophies. In the north-east Keegan, in his last playing season, was inspiring a Newcastle team managed by Arthur Cox to adopt the swashbuckling passing game that would become his managerial hallmark. He was ably assisted by two rookie local-born forwards, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle.
Meanwhile, in Sheffield, Wilkinson was fine-tuning the dour style that would eventually see him win the Division One Championship with Leeds. With Wednesday, his no-nonsense approach, with the emphasis on work rate and organisation, enabled a squad lacking in talented individuals (speed merchant Imre Varadi partnered battering-ram Tony Cunningham up front) to become greater than the sum of their parts.
Story of the season
Huddersfield, Carlisle and Grimsby each made brief tilts for unlikely glory, with the Mariners still lying third in February – but by springtime only the four big guns were vying for the three promotion places. Billy McNeill’s Manchester City were the ones to fall short, defeat in an Easter Monday five-goal-thriller at home to Huddersfield sealing their fate.
Newcastle and Wednesday finished third and second respectively – but it was Chelsea who pipped the Owls to the title. John Neal had performed a minor miracle in turning round the fortunes of the club, who in the previous campaign had flirted with relegation. Two inspired new signings combined to particular effect: Pat Nevin supplying a steady supply of crosses to the free-scoring Kerry Dixon, just arrived from Reading, who were in Division Four.
Among those escaping the drop were Leeds, who were 19th at New Year before the return of veteran Peter Lorimer inspired a recovery to mid-table. No such luck for fellow fading giants Derby, who, along with Swansea and the spectacularly hopeless Cambridge, were doomed with matches to spare. Before a freakish 1-0 result over Newcastle put them out of their misery in late April, the rock-bottom Us manage 31 games without a win – a record within a season for all divisions that still stands.
For the record books
Top scorer: Kerry Dixon netted the first 28 league goals of his eventual 147 for Chelsea. Top attendance: 41, 767 saw Manchester City host Newcastle United on February 18.
Same place today
Only Derby, Brighton, Leeds and Cardiff are playing this season at the same level as they were 21 years ago. Leeds have been promoted and relegated just once each in the interim; Brighton’s journey has been a roller-coaster ride by comparison.
Moved furthest away
Chelsea are operating one league – and one footballing stratosphere – above their level of 1984. Eight other clubs join them in the Premiership. Carlisle have moved furthest the other way; they are currently trying to escape the Conference.
Went on to greater things
Pat Nevin ~ Signed from Clyde, the winger announced himself to Chelsea fans with a famous pitch-length mazy dribble against Newcastle. Went on to play for Everton, and appear 28 times for Scotland.
Denis Irwin ~ The youngster was struggling to make an impression at Leeds and was soon shipped out to Oldham Athletic – what odds on this unspectacular full-back becoming a European Cup winner?
Andy Sinton and David Moyes ~ Cambridge’s rookie Geordie winger Sinton went on to play for QPR, Spurs, Sheffield Wednesday and England, while clubmate Moyes made it as a manager.
Disappearing from view
Eddie Gray (Leeds), Archie Gemmill (Derby) ~ Two diminutive Scottish scorers of famous solo goals bow out.
Derby County ~ Just nine years after their second championship win, the Rams fall into the lower divisions. They will return to the top flight, but are unlikely to aspire again to the game’s top honours.
Welsh clubs ~ Wrexham had dropped to Division Three in 1982, now Swansea suffer the same fate. Neighbours Cardiff will follow just a year later, as the game in the principality enters a lean time: by 1987-88 all three plus Newport County will be in the basement.
From WSC 217 March 2005. What was happening this month
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