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Division Three 1975-76

Ed Upright looks back on the season Hereford were promoted and Palace weren't thanks to Cup distractions

The long-term significance
At the end of this season goal difference replaced goal average, under which system teams level on points were separated by goals scored divided by goals conceded. Goal difference made standings much easier to calculate, but the rival systems could also reach different conclusions. Huddersfield won the 1923-24 title on account of their 1.818 goal average, fractionally better than Cardiff’s 1.794. Had goal difference been in place the title would have gone to Wales for the only time – equal on a goal difference of 27, Cardiff had scored 61 goals to Huddersfield’s 60.
The 1975 Safety of Sports Grounds Act set new standards on crush barriers, access routes, lighting and surfacing. In an era of dilapidated stadiums, rising costs and no thought of ground relocation, this meant huge expenditure. The League created a mutually beneficial deal with the pools promoters – spot-the-ball competitions would remain untaxed in return for a percentage of profits going to a new body to help clubs, the Football Grounds Improvement Trust.

Story of the season
In only their fourth season as a League club, John Sillett’s Hereford were promoted to the Second Division. A decent autumn was followed by a poor December, but starting in the New Year they had a run of 22 points from a possible 26, Dixie McNeil scoring in the first seven games of the run. They reached the top with a 4-1 defeat of Cardiff in early February, then stayed there.
With three games to go Cardiff moved up to second, courtesy of a 2-0 home win over Hereford, whom they also beat to claim the Welsh Cup. By doing well against the sides around them, Millwall returned to the Second Division at the first attempt.
Yet one of the biggest stories centred on a side that stayed down. Malcolm Allison’s Crystal Palace were top until February but dismal home form, not winning at Selhurst from November 29 to March 16, cost them promotion. The fatal distraction was a run to the FA Cup semi-finals, beating Leeds, Chelsea and Sunderland, before losing to Southampton. In the third round Swindon were beaten by Tooting & Mitcham of the Isthmian League. They had been 2‑0 up until the last six minutes in the first game, then lost the replay in the last five minutes.
This season saw the beginnings of a rivalry between the two best-supported clubs in the division – Palace and Brighton, with average attendances of 20,000 and 15,000 respectively. Brighton did the double, winning 1-0 in south London and 2-0 at home, in front of more than 33,000. Though running second in March, Brighton’s promotion hopes were dashed by a 3-1 defeat at The Den.
Mansfield made an impressive escape from relegation; bottom from October to March, they won 12 of their last 19 games. Sheffield Wednesday, a top-flight side five seasons earlier, escaped relegation to the bottom division in their last match by beating already doomed Southend to send down Aldershot.

For the record books
A minimum admission charge of 65p was introduced at the start of this season, but it didn’t impact too much on crowd numbers. Two Hereford players achieved significant feats: star striker McNeil finished as the top scorer in the entire Football League with 34 goals, and their player-coach Terry Paine broke Jimmy Dickinson’s record of 764 League appearances.

Same place today
Six of these teams will be at this level in 2007-08; Brighton and Millwall have spent some time in the top division, while Gillingham, Port Vale, Southend and Walsall have all been both promoted and relegated from this division since.

Moved furthest away
Like Brighton and Millwall, Palace, Wednesday and Swindon have been to the top flight; Hereford, Shrewsbury, Chester and Colchester have been down to the Conference. Aldershot went bankrupt in 1992. Reformed as Aldershot Town, they have since climbed four divisions from the Isthmian Third Division to join Halifax in the newly renamed Blue Square Premier.

Went on to greater things
Mark Lawrenson ~ After three games at the end of the previous season, the 18-year-old local lad returned for Preston in November and was an ever-present from early February. Moved to Brighton in the summer of 1977 and thence to Liverpool and the BBC.
Substitutions ~ Numbered placards were introduced in the Football League – the first step on the way to the electronic boards of today.
Barry Silkman ~ Now an agent and criticised in the recent Stevens enquiry, he was in the second season as a player at Hereford.

Disappearing from view
Joe Kinnear ~ The former Tottenham and Republic of Ireland full-back retired as a player with Brighton. The future Wimbledon and Forest manager earned his coaching spurs in Sharjah and Malaysia.
Halifax Town ~ This was their final season to date at the third level and they have since been relegated to the Conference twice.
Ron Davies ~ Once the First Division’s top scorer while at Southampton, the prolific Welsh international striker ended his career at Millwall.

From WSC 246 August 2007

 


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