Neil Wallace on the year Bolton hit a ton, Man City managers came and went, and the players' union threatened a strike
The long-term significance
Expanding revenues from television became a source of conflict, with footballers pushed towards industrial action for the first time since the abolition of the maximum wage. In the summer of 1996, the Football League sought to reduce the share of the new TV deal that would go to the PFA. With over 90 per cent of the union’s members voting for a strike in October, the League finally agreed to their demand for five per cent of the income; the Premier League came to a similar agreement a year later. In 2001, however, strike action was threatened again before the PFA succeeded in holding on to five per cent of the next, hugely increased, Sky deal. And with the figures becoming ever greater, the strike threat of 1996 could recur again and again.X
Story of the season
Barnsley won their first five matches, but were then overhauled by Colin Todd’s Bolton, who were top from mid-September. Ipswich and Palace vied for second with Barnsley in the autumn; Wolves, managed by Mark McGhee, overtook them all after winning 3-1 at Oakwell in February, but dropped out of an automatic spot after three successive defeats in March.
With John Hendrie and Neil Redfearn prolific from midfield, Barnsley clinched their first-ever promotion to the top division with weeks to spare. Palace, under Steve Coppell, beat Howard Kendall’s Sheffield United in the play-off final, thanks to a long-range David Hopkin curler in the final seconds of normal time.
Lou Macari’s Stoke had been in contention early on, but finally placed below city rivals Port Vale for only the second time in 40 years – Vale finished in a higher League position for the next four seasons, too. Portsmouth ended in a flattering seventh after a turbulent season during which they had been bought by Terry Venables for a token £1 from the unpopular former owners, the Gregory family. QPR also acquired a new owner, record company boss Chris Wright, under whom they went into administration in 2001.
Man City finished in their lowest ever League position having hovered around the relegation area for a couple of months; they went down the following year. After six weeks without a manager following Alan Ball’s sacking in August, City appointed Steve Coppell, who lasted just 30 days before resigning, “on medical advice”. He was back at Palace by the end of February.
For the record books
Bolton just failed to become the first team in this division to get 100 points, conceding an injury-time equaliser at Tranmere in the final game. But the two goals they got in that match completed their century. John McGinlay was the division’s top league scorer with 24 and netted a hat-trick in a 6-1 League Cup victory against Spurs. In September, Palace had two successive 6-1 wins in which six different players scored. Attendances at this level were up by five per cent on the previous season, but still a long way short of the current boom – only Man City and Wolves averaged more than 18,000, compared to 13 Championship clubs in 2005-06.
Same place today
Ten of these teams are in the Championship this season, but all have either moved up or down in the past decade.
Moved furthest away
Oxford went down in 1999 then 2001, and were relegated from the League in 2006. Swindon and Grimsby are in the fourth division; Southend spent seven seasons there before being revived by Steve Tilson, a player in their 1996-97 relegation team.
Went on to greater things
Bradford City ~ Chris Kamara’s side avoided relegation with a win on the final day. Two years later, under new manager Paul Jewell, they returned to the top division after a 77-year absence. Kamara went into television.
Brian Laws ~ Sacked from his first managerial job at Grimsby in November, Laws was to enjoy nine years at Scunthorpe, winning promotion twice (with a relegation in the middle) before moving up to Sheffield Wednesday in November.
Arjan de Zeeuw ~ The Dutch defender was in his second season with Barnsley. Currently in the Premiership with Wigan and soon to qualify as a doctor.
Disappearing from view
Lou Macari ~ The Scot had been in more or less continuous managerial employment since 1984, with time at Swindon, West Ham, Birmingham and Celtic. Since his decision to end his second spell at Stoke at the end of the season – which coincided with the last match at the Victoria Ground – he has had just one further stint as a manager, 18 months at Huddersfield.
John Wark ~ A key player in Ipswich’s glory years, he retired aged 39 after his second spell with the club.
Stewart Houston ~ Became QPR manager in September 1996, with his former Arsenal boss Bruce Rioch as his assistant. Dismissed a year later.
From WSC 243 May 2007. What was happening this month