Season in brief

Verona were the last team outside the provinciale to win a Scudetto. But, as Luca Ferrato explains, referees had a big say

The long-term significance
This was the last time to date that the Serie A title went to a provinciale rather than one of the big city clubs. “It’s a Scudetto on leave,” Gianni Agnelli, the owner of Juventus would comment, joining the one won by Cagliari in 1970. Verona’s triumph was a watershed between the domination of Juventus and Roma in the early 1980s and the AC Milan-Napoli rivalry at the end of the decade. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but this was also one of the few seasons in which match referees were selected by a random draw. Usually they are assigned to specific games by a technical committee, which has prompted claims that the big clubs get the officials they want, rather than those who might not be “pliable”.

Derby won the title with a low 53 points, as the title fight was between a mish-mash of "town" teams. Roger Titford reports

The long-term significance
If there was a remake of this season it would be called “What Happens When Big Clubs Go Bad”. For the last time, possibly ever, a variety of “town” teams – Ipswich, Burnley, Derby and Stoke among them – contested the League title deep into the spring. It was an unusual year in many respects: miners did relatively better than stockbrokers in the economic crisis, glamrock was dying and punk not yet born, and England’s big three suffered like never since. It was Liverpool’s only trophyless season between 1973 and 1984. Arsenal spent some time bottom of the table, which they haven’t done since. Manchester United weren’t even in the top flight. Revie, Shankly, Nicholson, Greenwood and Sexton had all followed Sir Alf Ramsey out of long-occupied managerial seats in 1974 and a chance emerged for the lesser lights to shine. It sounds now like an impossible feast of equal opportunity, but at the time they said it was dismal, mundane, violent and “the death of football”.

This may have been Real Sociedad's first title but, as Phil Ball reports, their victory reflected a change in the country as a whole

The long-term significance
This was the first of only two league titles won by Real Sociedad in their 96-year history. More generally, their last-gasp victory signalled a radical shift in Spanish football that mirrored the changes that had taken place in the country since Franco’s death in 1975. Between the arrival of the enormously influential Alfredo Di Stéfano at Real Madrid in 1953 and Sociedad’s first title, there had been a three-pronged hegemony. During those 28 seasons, Real Madrid won the title on 18 occasions, Atlético Madrid on five, with Barcelona on a mere four. The only other team to have a say were Valencia in 1971. Real Madrid’s imperious strut in this era brought about an upturn not only in their own fortunes but of the country as a whole, thus reviving and consolidating a weakening military dictatorship. Subsequently accused of being the “regime team”, Madrid’s ceding of the title to a Basque side was seen as evidence that a new democratic period was opening up in the footballing arena as well as the political one. Sociedad’s win began a period of four consecutive Basque titles between 1981 and 1984, shared out evenly with Athletic Bilbao. It seemed like a new dawn.

Sheffield Wednesday were promoted along with Champions Oldham Athletic and West Ham United. Saul Pope reports that Big Ron also added another trophy to the cabinet as well as their promotion

The long-term significance
The first full season following the Taylor Report saw the beginning of a change in attitude towards football fans. A landmark Home Affairs Committee report published in 1991 called for fans to be treated with more respect by the authorities, for lower-profile policing and for limited desegregation of rival fans. In response to Football League proposals for a joint board to control the game, the FA produced its blueprint for a new Premier League of 22 clubs. Of course, we all knew such folly wouldn’t come to anything…

The MLS was formed two decades after the NASL finished. Graham Hughes reports that it's still going strong ten years on 

The long-term significance
Twelve years after the North American Soccer League (NASL) had fizzled out, a new professional league was launched in the United States. As part of the agreement to stage the 1994 World Cup, FIFA had insisted on a “Division One” league being formed. Despite persistent financial losses and a failure to make a major impact in the American sports world, MLS has enjoyed far more stability than its chaotic predecessor and approaches its tenth anniversary in reasonably healthy shape.

Manchester Utd equal highest ever winning points margin. By Neil Rose

The long-term significance
Unlike Chelsea the previous season, Manchester United refused to bow to Football Association pressure not to compete in the fledgling European Cup after winning the league. However, on May 15, 1956, Birmingham City became the first English club side to compete in Europe, taking part in the International Inter-City Industrial Fairs Cup, for cities that hosted industrial and trade fairs. Games coincided with fairs and thus the tournament took three years to complete. In 1957 Birmingham lost in the semi-final to eventual winners Barcelona after a play-off in Basle in the days before the away-goals rule (which would have benefited Barça anyway). The competition evolved into the UEFA Cup. In a game dubbed “Old World meets the New”, England beat Brazil 4-2 at Wembley, during which the Brazilians – two years away from their first World Cup win – briefly walked off the pitch in a dispute over a penalty. Stanley Matthews, recalled at the age of 42, gave a virtuoso performance. His opponent on the flank, Nilton Santos, whom the Brazilians had said was unbeatable, reportedly told him at the end of the game: “Mister Matthews, you are the king.”

Communism may have been collapsing around them, but Russian football was healthier than ever writes Saul Pope

The long-term significance
By the time the season ground to a halt in November, football was not the first thing on most people’s minds. During August, President Gorbachev had been held under house arrest for three days as his (and Soviet) power ebbed away. A few weeks after the end of the football season, on Christmas Day, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time and the USSR was no more. The turmoil that followed spawned a corrupt economic and social system that would soon lead to one former Soviet citizen being able to buy a leading English team and overnight become the richest man in football.

Roger Titford takes us back to a time before the days of Sky, the offside rule and the prawn sandwich brigade, to the inaugural League season, when Preston North End reigned supreme

The long-term significance
On April 17, 1888, the Football League was founded as the first professional league in the world. So obviously a powerful idea, its first imitator, the Combination, was launched only 10 days later. The League set the template for such structures all around the world for a century or more.

Bolton's final day defeat was enough to hand Forest promotion and set them on their way to their first league championship, writes Geoff Wallis

The long-term significance
Ian Greaves’ Bolton narrowly missed out on promotion for the second season running, this time on the last day. Third-placed Forest learnt of Bolton’s defeat to Wolves as their holiday-bound plane landed in Palma, Mallorca. Within the next two years Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s team would win the League championship for the first (and probably only) time, win the League Cup twice and become European champions. Bolton finally went up in 1978.

John Chapman recounts the year Wigan Athletic won promotion via the ballot box

The long-term significance
Before 2004-05, this was the last time Wigan Athletic finished second in their league. Like last season they went up, but on this occasion the champions didn’t. Despite winning their fourth title in six years, Boston United’s ground was failed by the Football League inspectors, just four years after it had hosted Derby County and 11,000 spectators. So Wigan, 12 months after their worst ever season but on the back of a good FA Cup run, got put forward for election to the League. After tying 26 votes all with Southport in the first ballot, they won the second 29-20. They were to be the last side promoted to the league in this way.

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