People On The Pitch #10: Coventry City vs Nottingham Forest, Football League Division One, 22/04/1978

Last time in People On The Pitch, we looked at a fiery Italian affair in which Salernitana’s hopes of promotion in 1996 were dashed. We now turn to another end of season episode from a couple of decades earlier in England, but one with quite a different vibe.

Background:

In January 1975, Brian Clough became the manager of English Second Division side Nottingham Forest. This came off the back of a disastrous 44 day spell as Leeds United manager the year before, but Clough had already won Second (68/69) and First Division (71/72) championships with Derby County, as well as victories in the prestigious Watney Cup (1970) and Texaco Cup (71/72).

A 16th place finish was followed with an improved 8th in the manager’s first full campaign the next season, before the trajectory continued with 3rd in 76/77. The position meant automatic promotion for Forest, as this was before the days of play-offs when the top three finishers would go up.


A goal and celebrations in Nottingham Forest's City Ground, vs Hereford United, as the home side head towards promotion, 76/77.

By the time 1978 rolled around, Clough’s team had only been defeated three times in Division One, with the latter of these – away to Leeds on November 19th – ultimately turning out to be their last league loss of the season. With two points awarded for a win at the time, a trip to Coventry City’s Highfield Road in April would see Forest take an amazing league title for the first time in their history with only a draw.

In terms of the fan scene, England was swiftly hurtling toward the hooligan hey day of the 1980s. But of course the 70s had also it’s share of chaos, as fighting and pitch invasions became more and more common.

As the decade had progressed, joyful, celebratory invasions (such as this or this) were joined with deliberate attempts to stop matches when the result was not going your team’s way. With organised hooligan firms already in places since the late 60s, at least in proto-form, violent encounters became more and more usual too, as demonstrated by a famous clip of a Chelsea fan outnumbered by flare and platform boot wearing Tottenham supporters in 1975.


A section of the fighting on the pitch between Tottenham and Chelsea fans, 74/75 season.

The activity of making your way on to the pitch went “viral”, with many young, mischievous fans seeing it as a marked target. By the 80s, this would manifest in menacing fencing in many grounds around the country, with disastrous results later. But until then, it remained easy for larger and larger numbers to leave the terraces and hit the grass, as that April day in Coventry would show.

The Match:

22/04/1978: Highfield Road is packed, as 36,881 supporters fill the ground for the game that could decide Forest’s title. A win could be important for the home team too, as a UEFA Cup spot lay within their grasp:

As the away team emerge from the dressing room, we can see the shiny, futuristic Adidas shirts they have acquired since the Second Division, although interestingly goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s jersey is made by Umbro:

As for Clough himself, a characteristic yellow jumper is employed, along with a classic Adidas tracksuit top on his assistant:

A chance for City in the first-half triggers a mini-avalanche in the home end:

Shilton turns out to be the hero of the day for the visitors as he makes a sensational point-blank save in the second-half, much to the adulation of the Forest supporters behind him:

It’s a save that wins them the championship, as soon after the final whistle is blown and Nottingham Forest, having just come up the year before, are champions of England. The fans sing:

For the second time in his career, Brian Clough had taken a Second Division team, gotten them promoted, and swiftly won the league, but this time in even quicker succession than with Derby:

But we still haven’t gotten to our people on the pitch.

The first sign of it is one away supporter, clearly in a state of euphoria at his team’s inaugural championship, who in the clip below can be seen breaking the police line just as the camera zooms in on the raucous terrace. His goal, once on the pitch, is unclear, but presumably the need to burn off some excess energy made a sprint around the grass the most obvious thing to do:

Surprisingly, however, it is from the home end that a leak is sprung. Perhaps due to the polic being busy with the Forest fans, Coventry supporters enter the pitch en masse and head towards the other end of the stadium:

What happens next, though, is a bit of a let down for those expecting all-out carnage. Clearly not knowing quite what they wanted to achieve, the young mob stops short of the penalty box. Corralled by only a hand-full of police, a few Nottingham nut-jobs (they won’t mind us calling them that) do make it on to confront the Sky Blues fans:

Most of the away support continue to sing and hold up scarfs, while the coppers on the pitch move the invaders back towards their own end:

With the constables happy to contain them around their own penalty box, the Coventry fans conduct their own sing-song. The sight of scarfs in the air is one that would become obsolete in the following decade, as casual culture took over:

Just when the situation seems under control, the inverse of the earlier scenario takes place. With the police occupied at the other end, the Forest fans seize their chance and, in large numbers, stream out of their enclosures:

Once again, though, anyone expecting full scale war watching on from the main stand will have been heart broke, as the Forest fans police themselves by stopping around the half-way line, showing an “innocence” still of the age that would quickly fade:

At last, some brawls do actually take place, although the authorities successfully keep the two bodies of humanity away from each other from the most part. Perhaps with two teams of more sinister reputations, a critical scene would have developed. :

Back in the terrace, the remainder of the away fans continue to celebrate their brilliant season and league win:

And so concludes our story. It may not have been a particular aggressive incident – more like young people showboating and taunting each other than hardened hooligans fighting – but the sheer astonishing scale of the invasions clearly displayed that the amount of police deployed would not be equipped to deal with any potentially explosive situations in the might occur in the future, as things got even more out of control.

As for the two teams involved, Clough’s Forest would go on to make even more history with back-to-back European Cup wins in 1979 and 80. Meanwhile, Cov’ would finish in 7th that 77/78 season, one place off the UEFA Cup spots. They would not go on to make history with back-to-back European Cups.

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YouTube Links:

Nottingham Forest vs Hereford United, 76/77
Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea, 1975
Coventry City vs Nottingham Forest, 1978
Coventry City vs Nottingham Forest, 1978
Coventry City vs Nottingham Forest, 1978

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Supporter Snap Back #4: Leeds United away to Oxford United, Football League Second Division, 10/03/1990

So far on the site, we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the rich history of football related chaos in England from the 1970s to the 1990s. One side that will pop up more than once in this era, both for player and supporter malfeasance, is Leeds and starting now we shall be seeing more of them. For previous entries in this fan-focused series, including some UEFA Cup ties and a Scottish trip to Switzerland, click here.

Leeds United’s golden age began around 1964, when the team were promoted from the Second Division and the following season finished second to Manchester United. They would win two league titles in the following nine years while finishing runners-up a further four times, as well as FA Cup, League Cup and Inter City Fairs Cup x2 victories (the last ever holders in the case of the latter).

Renowned for their hardmen players and style of play, the nickname “Dirty Leeds” was as apt for the the team as it was for the swathes of the support who, like clubs the country over, were playing their own new game on the terraces. Leeds’ hooligan element first made a name for itself internationally at the 1975 UEFA Cup final in Paris against Bayern Munich, throwing ripped chairs after dubious ref calls, clashing with police and invading the pitch.

As a results, Leeds were granted the honour of being the first English club to be banned from European competition, with a four year sentence later reduced to two. The ban would turn out to be inconsequential, however, as the golden age on the pitch ended, ultimately resulting in the team’s relegation at the end of the 81/82 season.

Throughout the club’s 80s run in the second flight, supporters incidents around the country continued to haunt Leeds’s public relations department and terrify regular opposition fans and unfortunate third party onlookers alike. Their firm, the Leeds United Service Crew (formed the same year as the trouble in Paris), became so feared by 1987 that tiny Telford United understandably refused to host an FA Cup 3rd round fixture against the Yorkshire club, with the game moved 30 miles from Shropshire to West Brom’s Hawthorns.

In order to contain the likes of the LUSC, most grounds around the country (a noticeable exception being Highbury) had menacing, but often ineffectual, fencing around the pitch to keep wayward rouges in the stands. The aftermath of the disaster at Hillsborough in 1989 would see the end of fences and terracing in the top leagues, but it would take a few more years for the full transition.

After years of upper-mid table mediocrity, the 89/90 season set the scene for Leeds to finally make it back to the First Division. A great start to the season was followed by a new year dip in form, with only one win in six going into what had become a must-win game away at Oxford in March.

Match File:

  • Oxford United vs Leeds United
  • Football League Division Two, 89/90
  • 10/03/1990
  • Manor Ground (Oxford)
  • 8397 spectators

With the away fans filling the steep terrace behind the goal to the left, the main thing of note is the imposing fence in appropriate Leeds blue and yellow, also the colours of their hosts Oxford. It is a striking visual for a post-Hillsborough world:

While we don’t have much footage of the home supporters, there are one group of standing “lads” in the corner adjacent to away end. Although these could very well be a group of Leeds:

And we can see that the main stand opposite the camera is divided into at least three roofed parts at this time in the Manor Ground:

In the first half, the main traveling contingent can only watch on silently as the home team score twice, their side’s bad run looking set to continue:

Shooting towards their own fans in the second half though, Leeds pull one back to reignite the terrace:

Buoyed, the smell of a comeback is in the air:

Soon after (we don’t have exact times, hence the vagueness) the equaliser comes, queuing cascading chaos behind the goal:

The visiting supporters are now collectively purring like kittens as they suckle from the mother cat that is Leeds United:

Next comes the most epic moment, as the Oxford ‘keeper can do nothing about a beautiful looping header that makes it 2-3 Leeds. The result: pure, high grade terrace carnage, including one fan who ungracefully launches himself through the air in joyful abandon:

Feeling a euphoria like no other in life, more that a few bruises and cuts will have been sustained among the “lunatic” Leeds faithful (they won’t mind us calling them that) in the orgy of triumph, not least for our flying Yorkshireman.

But the wounds wouldn’t be stopping there as a while later as a fourth goes in to confirm the comeback victory. More mayhem and climbing of the fence ensues as the Leeds support erupt, while goal scorer Lee Chapman admirably attempts to elevate himself up towards the fans on an advertising board, but the hoarding proves weaker than first thought forcing Chapman to celebrate with his teammates:

Wild celebrations continue as more fan avalanches are triggered. With the impending transformation of English stadiums, it is a scene that would soon be obsolete:

The jubilation that day in Oxford was not in vein as Leeds United went on to win the Second Division title, with a huge invasion of Bournemouth on the last day of the season (a toxic affair that we will come back to). Following promotion, it would only be two seasons before another league championship as Leeds won the last English First Division before it became the Sky-backed Premiership, making them the final winners of an irrelevant competition in many modern eyes for the second time in their history.

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Credit to the YouTube uploaded: Oxford vs Leeds, 1990

*****

People On The Pitch #5: Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers, Football League Division Two, 04/02/1978

It was a beautifully dull and dreary 1978 day in Lancashire for the Division Two derby between Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers. We have dubbed it “The Battle of The ‘Blacks’ Where Neither Team Wear Black”.

The ‘burn’ part of Blackburn means stream and the ‘pool’ part of Blackpool means pool, so both names are descriptive of dark water features. The rain and mud that February day were therefore appropriate, along with the sparsely covered, windswept terraces which stood as an appropriately unglamorous poster child for everything that was glorious about old school football.

***For a fine Belfast battle covered in our previous edition of People on the Pitch, click here.***

Background:

The two towns are separated by Preston in the middle (along with some classically named English places such as Ashton-On-Ribble) and Preston North End are in fact Blackpool’s main local enemies. This rivalry apparently started in the quaint 1950’s with quaint arguments over whether Stanley Matthews was better than Tom Finney, but had sinisterly evolved by May ’78 (a sinister time) to the stabbing and death of a Preston fan during clashes between supporters of the two clubs at a Vibrators gig (a popular musical variety troop of the day).

The rivalry with Blackburn progressed similarly. In the simpler days of quaintness, the crowds at football matches looked very different to what you would soon come to expect of the terraces. This is evident by a 1960 crowd shot of Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road at a game against Blackburn where we see a selection of respectable gentleman, and even ladies, standing happily and politely:

But “the quaint” was already dead when the two sides met at the same venue eight years later. It is well known that the events of the 1966 World Cup final, where some people were on the pitch, single-handedly robbed the innocence from English supporter culture and unleashed a sort of demon that would writhe uncontrollably for the next few decades, and while most people associate hooliganism with the 70’s and 80’s, there were already many in the late 60’s who were going to games not for the football. This was certainly the case for the Blackburn supporter(s) who threw ammonia at the Blackpool Spion Kop during an October 1968 game sending several people to hospital. Further incidents occurred after the match outside the ground and the events of the day were deemed “alarming and frightening developments” in football hooliganism.

The demographic of football supporters at games changed drastically over the coming years as the presence of disaffected youth at games grew and the stern, calming older crowd phased themselves out as society evolved. It soon became commonplace for large mobs to rove through the open terraces and increasingly onto the pitch in search of adventure, mischief, trying to get games called off when their side was losing, and fighting each other. But like at the World Cup ’66 final, and the Wales-Scotland game the same year that we covered in People On The Pitch #2, some pitch invasions were just spontaneous expressions of pure joy. While our featured match contains just that rather than poisonous terrorist attacks, it also does a good job of highlighting the normality of supporter disobedience at the time.

The Match:

The first shot we get from the game shows the aforementioned Spion Kop end of Bloomfield Road. The home Blackpool supporters are on the left, visiting Blackburn supporters on the right. Although you wouldn’t know it from the footage, a roof covered a large part of the terrace further back up which may explain the open spaces at the front of the Blackpool section on this rainy day. Presumably the ammonia incident from ten years earlier hadn’t been forgotten, but enough that the two sets of fans don’t seem particularly interested in each other (although I’m sure there was plenty of unreported activity beyond our limited footage).

The first of many goals for the day, Blackpool score early on (a fine goal but since this website isn’t about the actual football, I refuse to comment on that). But the main thing here to observe is the activity in the Blackburn section, as we see a mini surge from what I can only assume was a firm of lads ether arriving late or just casually causing ructions:

After another Blackpool goal, we get a nice look at the elated abandon of some young terrace goers in the background as the players celebrate:

There are also some interesting things to note around the side of the pitch. By the corner of the ground in the Kop end there is a random alphabet which would make more sense if it corresponded to rows of seats or something, but not in a small corner of a terrace:

A magnificent photo of Blackpool playing on front of a packed Kop in the 60’s shows that the alphabet corner was in existence then, probably for many years before that, and only extends to letter P. Despite my feigned bafflement, I am sure there is a perfectly logical reason for all of this.

Edit: And we have our answer. Many thanks to reader Nicholas Young, among a couple of others, for supplying this perfectly logical reason for the letters:

I think the letters in front of the Kop are for giving out half-time scores. The back of that match program would give that days fixtures a corresponding letter. Then at half time man in white coats would come out and put the scores next to each letter. They used to do the same thing at Everton. In the days when all the games kicked of at 3pm on a Saturday and PAs didn’t work very well.

In the other corner of the same end we get something even better in the form of a series of luminous orange posters, advertising something called Klix System. This seems like a very modern name for a 1978 company, suggesting some sort of time travel back and forth between then and 2001. A copper dutifully stands guard:

A Google search reveals that Klix remains in existence today as a successful vending machine company who in fact still use the same font style for their logo as in 1978. Eccentric billionaire Mr Klix himself probably still laughs to himself reminiscing about the old, amateur adverting posters, which just appear as a confusing orange blur when the camera pans across that section of the ground:

But enough about unfinished alphabets and enduring vending machine companies, you’re here for some people on the goddamn pitch. By half time, Blackpool were 3-0 up and the onslaught continued as they shot into the Bloomfield Road South Stand in the second half. Unlike the Kop, the South Stand did not feature a containment fence at this time and as striker Bob Hatton scores his and his side’s fourth and victory is all but assured, some eager young supporters take advantage of this fact. We only get a brief, split second of this in the footage (as if a split-second could be anything but brief, unless you’re on acid), but we get definite person-to-pitch contact:

You’d probably feel robbed if this was all there was here, but of course there’s more. Blackburn pull one back to make it 4-1 and offer some glimmer of hope to their traveling support. This triggers some heroic scenes on the terrace including a one young man in a beige trench coat who immediately turns and sprints back up towards his colleagues:

But soon afterwards (to be honest Ive no idea of the exact time frame here) Blackpool were on the offensive again and put in number 5 to put the game beyond doubt. This time the South Stand supporters are poised to stream on en masse, or should I say POOL on, as soon as the goal goes in and do so with striking ease:

We get the beautiful image of wide eyed, supple, young supporters rushing towards their tangerine heroes with pure dopamine coursing through their brains. Several years later, many of these children would no doubt go on to be wild eyed, unfit, older supporters rushing towards opposing equivalents with pure cocaine coursing through their veins:

I’m not going to say that this was in the days before kids had video games and smart phones and such, because that’s bleedin’ obvious. But in a time before easy entertainment and general coddlement, moments like this meant something different. Just look at that joy from the lad on the left, bless (plus he’s got a nice coat on which to be fair probably also brought joy to his perhaps otherwise dull existence):

Blackburn would pull another one back through a late penalty (again, I have no actual idea of score times but it would have had to have been late in the game, right?) before the game finished 5-2 to the hosts. “Revenge for ammonia!” some may or may not have shouted, even though they had already played each other ten times since then. With countless episodes like the above at many games, ranging from innocent to devilish in spirit, it is no wonder that soon containment fences would be implemented fully in most grounds in the Football League. But not everywhere, as we shall soon see.

But the main thing I took away from this game is how good it would have felt for both players and supporters to get home and into a hot bath or shower. The thought reoccurred to me several times in fact. This would have been waiting for the players of course as soon as they entered the dressing room. But then, imagining myself a supporter, I realised with horror that this was in the days before people had power showers, or even smart phones to ring someone at home to turn on your water heating. My heart sank.

Youtube link