The grueling English season ended badly for three clubs: Sunderland, Stoke City, and Tottenham Hotspur. They finished at the bottom of the table and relegated. Well, one of the best qualities of the English game was precisely in that: no one, big or small, was safe. Glory went hand in hand with peril and often it was impossible to trace a pattern of real decline – a team may have been champion one season and bottom last the next. Yet, there were patterns – Sunderland was a likely candidate for relegation, for the club moved between 1st and 2nd Divisions most of the time. Unsettled, not quite strong and consistent, Sunderland were the usual suspects and generally battled for survival when in 1st Division. No surprise here – they finished 18th and went down.
To a point, Stoke City were no big surprise either: they were modest midtable club, lacking core of great players. Their biggest star was the goalkeeper – Gordon Banks at the beginning of the 70s, eventually replaced by Peter Shilton. How long a goalie can keep a club afloat? It was not that Stoke City did not fight – they finished with only 4 points less than the 13th placed Birmingham City, but in the fierce race for survival these 4 points were the whole difference between life and death.
At the very bottom finished Tottenham Hotspur. Only few years back the Spurs looked great, winning UEFA Cups. Most of the players were still in the team and perhaps precisely that was the reason for the decline: it was typical English problem during the 70s, although not uniquely English or spesiphic characteristic of this decade. It is classic problem: how to replace a team of great stars, who inevitably aged? Hesitation leads to decline. The English clubs were particularly bad at replacing squads getting old – Manchester United suffered from that and went down, but by 1976-77 there were more following the disastrous example: Leeds United, Manchester City, the Spurs, West Ham United, Chelsea. On paper, they looked fine, but results were increasingly meager. Someone retires and familiar reserve, not very young by now, becomes a starter – but reserves were not going to sufficiently replace the outgoing stars and eventually big crush happens, requiring total makeover. Time was needed to build new efficient team – Manchester United was good example – but there was no guarantee – Chelsea went into a long painful slump. The Spurs evidently came to the point of no return, the crush occurred, they were down, big names and all. The only question was for the future – were they to follow Manchester United's path or Chelsea's? The Spurs had to find the answer in the 2nd Division.
Standing: Jones, Armstrong, Walford, Daines, Burkinshaw – manager, Jennings, Young, Hoddle, Osgood.
Keith Burkinshaw failed in his season with the Spurs. Glen Hoddle, 19-years old, was to experience 2nd Division well before European fame and glory. Poor Pat Jennings...
Up the scale life was brighter: West Bromwich Albion finished 7th, starting a spell of strong years. Aston Villa was getting stronger too, ending at 4th place and scoring the most goals in the league – 76.