Monday, July 18, 2011

To a point, 1974-75 season was the Second Division season – perhaps the most successful ever season for those not at the top. Manchester United won the first place and returned to First Division after one year of exile. It was just return: the squad, pretty much the same as the one relegated in 1973-74, was too good to play lower league football. Tommy Docherty finally managed the team right after the original disaster, but still it was difficult to judge this squad on its own merit. How good it really was? Certainly not as good as the glorious team of 1968 – of which only Alex Stepney still played. Giants like Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles, George Best, Denis Law casted too big a shadow – no matter what Steve Coppell, Sammy McIlroy, etc, did, they were unable to measure up to the recent past. And it was the young brooms, who went down to Second Division for the first time since 1938! The shame of it!
Yet, it was not a bad team – by talent and depth, it was a squad strong enough to be among among top ten English clubs. Going down was a momentary slip, but who can forgive a food team playing mediocre football? At least they managed to come back quickly.
It was clearly non-English team: 7 Scots – Arthur Albiston, Martin Buchan, Alex Forsyth, Jim Holton, Stewart Houston, Lou Macari, Willie Morgan; 3 Irish – Gerry Daly, Mick Martin, Paddy Roche; 3 Northern Irish – Jimmy Nicholl, David McCreery, Sammy McIlroy; 1 Welsh – Ron Davies; and only 2 English players – Alex Stepney and Steve Coppell. Managed by Docherty, one more Scot – Manchester United, traditionally having strong Celtic flavour, looked like going entirely Celt and Scot. Most of the players were also regulars in their respective national teams – hardly ever a Second Division team had so many players from so many national teams. And after winning promotion, United fortified itself for the new challenge by getting two additional strong players: Brian Greenhoff and Gordon Hill – both English and no strangers to the national squad. Looked like the boys were alright.
Bellow Manchester United, yet still winning promotions to First Division were Aston Villa and Norwich City. But they did better than Manchester United, reaching the League Cup final! Norwich were hardly great, so this season were more or less one of their best ever seasons – finishing 3rd in Second Division and going to the League Cup final.
Hardly a famous squad, except for local fans, and good enough to put a fight, but at the end Norwich lost the final 0-1.
The League Cup went to Aston Villa.
Ian Ross and Chico Hamilton with the League Cup. Happy boys.
For the old club from Birmingham the season was great – going to First Division and collecting a cup as well… end of suffering. And how they suffered! Aston Villa went down in 1967 and not only stayed down, but plummeted to Third Division! Finally, almost ten years later, one of the original founders of the Premier League returned to their historic place.
Top, left to right: Frank Pimblett (?), Sammy Morgan, Chris Nicholl, John Findley, Keith Leonard, Jim Cumbes, Leighton Phillips, Frank Carrodus, Bonny MacDonald (?), Roy McLaughlin (?) – coach.
Bottom: Charlie Aitken, John Gidman, Ian ‘Chico’ Hamilton, Ron Saunders – manager, Ian Ross, John Robson, Brian Little, Ray Graydon.
Not as great as Manchester United – more likely a strong Second Division squad. Eventually some players acquired fame – Chris Nicholl, for instance – but mostly local heroes: Aitken, Ross, Hamilton, Carrodus. Brian Little today is better known as a coach, rather than as a player. Carrodus recently complained that contemporary players care only for themselves, not for the club. He may be right – he stayed with Villa many years. Also he may be not right – he was never a big star tempted with fat transfers. Yet, pretty much unknown in 1975, these Villa players became the backbone of the team which eventually moved up – much higher than First Division. It was due to the manager Ron Saunders: he built eventually a great team, starting with this relatively modest squad. No wonder Saunders is a Villa legend – and rightly so! So far – promotion and League Cup! Imagine the future! From the lean 1970-71 season only Aitken and Hamilton remained – certainly the team was getting stronger and stronger, wiping up the bitter memories of Third Division.