Preston promoted, Torquay saved by ground rules, Bosman blew the game right open. Ed Upright looks back
The long-term significance
There were signs of things to come everywhere. The FA Cup third-round draw was turned into a 20-minute peak-time show and the Premier League signed a £743 million TV deal. Jean-Marc Bosman won his restraint of trade claim, changing the transfer market for ever. More than 100 full international players born outside the UK played in England, prompting Rothmans to include a list of foreign players. In the bottom division, Wigan became the first English club to field three Spanish players. This certainly worked in Wigan’s favour – Isidro Diaz and Roberto Martínez finished as the club’s leading scorers.
Story of the season
Preston went top at the start of November, then stayed in the top three. Second-placed Gillingham, managed by Tony Pulis and inspired by a defence that conceded only 20 goals, did not fall out of the top three for the whole season and were top from Boxing Day to late March. Bury succeeded in a late dash for the automatic places, snatching third on the final day of the season by beating Cardiff 3-0. This vindicated the September sacking of manager Mike Walsh, replaced by his assistant Stan Ternent.
Darlington, despite being unbeaten in their last 11 games, missed out on an automatic place on the final day, when held 3-3 at Scunthorpe. Their play-off final against Plymouth watched by a record crowd for the Division Three game of 43,431. With both teams playing at Wembley for the first time, Plymouth won 1-0 – manager Neil Warnock’s fourth success at Wembley. Hereford, beneficiaries of a goal from his own half by goalkeeper Chris MacKenzie on the opening day of the season, won eight of their final ten games to reach the play‑offs, but lost to Darlington.
Towards the bottom, Lincoln sacked Sam Ellis in September and replaced him with Steve Wicks – their seventh manager in eight years – but Wicks himself only lasted 41 days before he was replaced by John Beck. Cambridge manager Tommy Taylor banned his players from nightclubs after midfielder Russell Stock fractured his eye socket and they endured a run of 11 games without a win. This was only eclipsed by Fulham, who went 14 games without a victory before beating Division Two side Swansea 7-0 in the first round of the FA Cup.
Torquay hit bottom on November 4 after Scunthorpe claimed a club record, winning 8-1 at Plainmoor. The Gulls were spared demotion, however, as Conference champions Stevenage did not fulfil ground criteria. Borough issued a High Court writ against the Football League and Torquay, but were denied promotion.
For the record books
On October 21 Rochdale won 4-0 at Barnet. This was their first ever away win in London. When Colchester won 3-2 at Torquay on New Year’s Day 1996, their first goal was exactly 15 seconds from the start and their last exactly 15 seconds from the end. Former Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson was an unused sub for Mansfield in their draw against Cardiff in December. Finishing 17th and 22nd respectively, Fulham and Cardiff had their worst ever seasons; Cardiff’s average attendance dropped to 3,420.
Same place today
Darlington have been the only ever-present team in the bottom tier. Hartlepool spent three seasons in the division above while Lincoln, Mansfield and Torquay all managed a season each. Barnet and Chester both spent four seasons in the Conference and Hereford only returned to the league in 2006-07 after nine years out of it.
Moved furthest away
Wigan and Fulham are now in the Premiership, while Cardiff and Preston are competing at the top of the Championship. Colchester and Plymouth are also in the second tier.
Went on to greater things
Aidy Boothroyd ~ Scored two goals from the penalty spot for Mansfield this season, before injury ended his playing career with Peterborough at the age of 26.
Kevin Kilbane ~ Played for his hometown club Preston and, despite manager David Moyes’ reluctance, was sold to West Brom in 1997.
Micky Adams ~ Moved into management with Fulham in March 1996. The current Coventry manager got Fulham promoted as runners-up in his first full season, only to be discarded by new owner Mohamed Fayed a few months later in favour of Kevin Keegan.
Disappearing from view
Roger Stanislaus ~ The first professional footballer to test positive for cocaine in one of a number of high-profile drug cases this season. The FA suspended him for a year, their longest ban since the match-fixing cases of the 1960s, and the defender was sacked by Leyton Orient. His professional career was at an end.
Linesmen ~ Renamed, officially at least, as referee’s assistants during the following season.
Glenn Cockerill ~ Nearing the end of the three years he spent with Leyton Orient after leaving Southampton. A series of free transfers saw him play for Fulham, Brentford and Woking.
From WSC 239 January 2007. What was happening this month