Wolves ended a disastrous run of three successive relegations by taking the Division Four crown, as Hugh Larkin recalls
The long-term significance
In May, Scarborough had become the first team to join the League after automatic promotion from the Conference, while this was also the second year of the play‑offs, for the last time involving a team from the higher division. Newport County had a disastrous campaign, departing the League never to return, but there was double success for Wales with Cardiff and, more controversially, Swansea winning promotion.
Wolves were champions, beginning their climb back from near oblivion after three successive relegations in 1984-86, fired by a hat full of goals from the Steve Bull/Andy Mutch partnership. Bolton, meanwhile, bounced back after their one and only season in the basement by the skin of manager Phil Neal’s teeth.
Story of the season
Scarborough’s opening fixture at home to Wolves was marred by rioting, including one fan falling through the stand roof. On the pitch it finished 2-2, with Bull on the scoresheet, a familiar feature of the season, though it took until the end of October for him to lead them into the promotion spots.
Scarborough, in fact, led in September and October, though dreams of another promotion were dashed by a poor turn of the year and they had to settle for 12th. It was Cardiff who finished runners-up, but the final automatic spot went to the last day. With a week to go Torquay seemed to have it in the bag, but lost at Burnley then, in their last match, were beaten and overtaken by Scunthorpe. However, Bolton, who had been relegated under Neal a year earlier, won 1-0 at Wrexham to finish ahead of both by one point.
Swansea, meanwhile, sneaked past Peterborough into the play-offs on the last day of the season via goal difference. Finishing seven points adrift of Scunthorpe and Torquay, the Welshmen eliminated Division Three side Rotherham then saw off Torquay in a thriller ending 5-4 on aggregate. Veteran Tommy Hutchison and Wales striker Robbie James provided the know-how in the Swansea midfield.
Torquay, who had lost 2-1 at home to Scunthorpe to miss out on automatic promotion, then beat them by the same score in the first leg of their play-off semi-final, but still didn’t go up.
For the record books
Steve Bull scored 52 goals, 34 in the League. Wolves added the Sherpa Van Trophy, watched by a Wembley crowd of 80,841, against Burnley. Wolves have won the championships of all four divisions of the Football League plus Third Division North. Newport County’s 33 defeats is a record total. This was the first occasion County had finished in 92nd place.
Same place today
Only Rochdale have remained in the bottom tier ever since. Mud and Showaddywaddy were top of the charts the last time Spotland fans saw anything other than Fourth Division (or League Two) fare.
Moved furthest away
Bolton are an established Premiership club, Wolves tasted the promised land for one season and Dario Gradi has kept Crewe punching above their weight. Six were outside the League this season, while Colchester and Darlington have left and come back and Halifax, uniquely, have been out, come back up and been relegated again. Newport, reborn, are in Conference South.
Went on to greater things
Neil Warnock ~ Today’s Sheffield United boss took Scarborough into the League and gave up chiropody.
David Platt ~ Played 134 games for Crewe before moving to Aston Villa, Bari, Sampdoria, Juventus and Arsenal and becoming an England star.
Dean Holdsworth ~ Played four games on loan for Carlisle from Watford, scoring once.
Darren Peacock ~ The Newport County defender went on to Hereford, QPR, Newcastle and Blackburn.
Chris Coleman ~ The Fulham boss started out with his hometown club Swansea.
Disappearing from view
Frank Worthington ~ The much travelled striker and Elvis impersonator ended his long career at Stockport, gathering more material for the after-dinner circuit.
Peter Barnes ~ The former England winger made two loan appearances for Bolton from Man City.
Alan Kennedy and Joey Jones ~ Wrexham boasted two ex-Liverpool European Cup-winning left-backs.
Phil Neal ~ The Bolton manager, like his former Anfield team-mates, was still playing, making eight appearances.
Leighton James ~ The former Wales international winger was in his third spell with Burnley; the first had mainly been in the top flight.
From WSC 220 June 2005. What was happening this month