Division Four 1971-72

A surprise quartet won promotion from the bottom division, remembers Simon Willis

The long-term significance
The season began with referees being instructed by the Football League to clamp down on foul play, especially the tackle from behind. As a consequence, bookings and dismissals reached record levels, as did players’ appeals against their cautions – a disciplinary points system was introduced the following season. Some club chairmen demanded the resignation of League secretary Alan Hardaker, saying they hadn’t been consulted over the new interpretations. “We are getting away from common sense and instead finding chaos,” said PFA chairman Derek Dougan. Many referees duly became more lenient as the season went on, but the days of blatant clogging were slowly coming to an end. A transitional era for the game was to be recorded by the alternative magazine Foul!, launched by Cambridge University students in October 1972.

Story of the season
A great year for Lincolnshire, with three clubs in the top five of an extremely competitive division. All four promoted sides had finished in the bottom half in 1970-71; none of those relegated from Division Three sustained a challenge, with Bury the highest placed in ninth.
Propelled by the goals of veteran Scottish striker Matt Tees and winger Stuart Brace, Grimsby were firmly set in the promotion places from August; a crowd of 22,484 saw the trophy presented at their final match, against Exeter. Scunthorpe, who had sold Kevin Keegan to Liverpool in the close season, slumped after topping the table in February and didn’t win any of their last six games. However, their pursuers, Lincoln City, drew 0-0 at home with bottom club Crewe in the penultimate match and missed out by a point. With crucial contributions from the strike partnership of Billy Best and the Chelsea‑bound Bill Garner, Southend cemented their position with six successive wins in March. For Brentford, who hit six goals three times, a surprise promotion offered some respite from the financial crisis that had almost caused a merger with QPR a few years earlier – but they were to be relegated straight back down again.
In June, the re-election process for the bottom four clubs saw Barrow narrowly voted out (after two ballots) in favour of Southern League runners-up Hereford United. Barrow had not been perpetual strugglers – they were in Division Three two years earlier – but their geographical isolation was said to have counted against them. Later on in the decade, Workington and Southport were the last two clubs to be ejected by a vote.

For the record books
Table-propping Crewe got the season’s lowest crowd, 1,028, for their final match, against Newport. Five teams from Division Four lost to non-League opponents in the FA Cup, including Scunthorpe, beaten 3-2 at home by South Shields in a first-round replay. Colchester United won the first trophy of the season, defeating West Brom on penalties in the August final of the Watney Cup, contested by the two highest scoring clubs in each of the four divisions.

Same place today
Eight clubs were playing in League Two this season, though Hartlepool have now been promoted. Darlington have played the most seasons at this level since, 31 in total.

Moved furthest away

Reading are having their first-ever season at the top level and are about to have their second. Seven clubs are in non-League football and another four have been down to the Conference and come back, including Colchester United, currently in the top half of the Championship.

Went on to greater things
Lawrie McMenemy ~ Grimsby’s title-winning manager quit the following season to join Southampton, with whom he won the FA Cup in 1976.
Phil Neal ~ Wore eight different shirt numbers for Northampton Town this season, but settled at right‑back. Joined Liverpool two years later, winning seven championships and 50 England caps.
John Motson ~ Did his first football commentary for the BBC on Hereford’s FA Cup victory over Newcastle, which had a big influence on their being elected to the Football League.

Disappearing from view

John Connelly ~ The former Burnley, Man Utd and England winger, who played in the 1966 World Cup finals, was winding down his career at Bury.
Workington ~ Let in fewer home goals than any other League team, but poor away form hampered a promotion push. Went into a steep decline after this season and failed to win re-election in 1977.
Dennis Violett ~ Star striker for Man Utd in the 1950s. Sacked by Crewe, the only club he managed, after a home defeat by Blyth Spartans in the FA Cup.

From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month