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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
It’s the summer of 1980, and a decade that started with England as the champions of the football world has just ended in a manner that few would have predicted ten years earlier. The national team’s arrival back in tournament football had ended in every conceivable flavour of defeat at the 1980 European Championships. The team itself found itself eliminated from the competition with a game to spare, and rioting supporters who faced tear gas in Turin as the team drew its opening match against Belgium. Perhaps the only consolation that could be taken from the whole dismal episode was that, having missed out on the previous two World Cups, at least the team had managed to find its way there in the first place.
The club side of English football, on the other hand, had offered its fair share of excitement, even if the spectre of hooliganism continued to hang heavy in its background. English clubs – Liverpool in 1977 and 1978, and Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980 – had won the last four European Cups and the previous season’s First Division Championship race between Liverpool and Manchester United had gone to the final day of the season before Liverpool finally lifted the trophy. The 1980 FA Cup, meanwhile, had been won by West Ham United, who had beaten Arsenal at Wembley by a goal to nil, and four days later Arsenal’s end of season misery continued with a penalty shoot-out defeat in the European Cup Winners Cup Final against Valencia in Brussels – the first team to lose a major European final by that means. It was the end of a season that saw the club play seventy matches.
The new season also started with another trophy for Liverpool a one-nil win against West Ham United in the Charity Shield at Wembley. It was a fairly dry performance from the champions and, as it turned out, this would come to be something of a characteristic of their season. Still, though, the cameras of Granada Television were at Anfield on the opening day of the season to see Liverpool comfortably beat a Crystal Palace team which had been promoted at the end of the previous season from the Second Division under the managership of Terry Venables and had, somewhat unfortunately as things turned out, been christened “The Team Of The Eighties” by the press in doing so. Palace would go on to endure a torrid season at the top level.
Two weeks later, Liverpool were featured on the BBC’s Match Of The Day for a home match against Norwich City, but they took second place billing behind the North London derby match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal had been further deflated during the summer of 1980 by the departure of Liam Brady to Juventus, while Spurs, who had only been promoted back to the First Division two years earlier after a year away, continued to see Glenn Hoddle blossom whilst the arrival of two new strikers, Steve Archibald from Aberdeen and Garth Crooks from Stoke City, gave them a new edge up front. On this occasion, however, it was to be Arsenal’s day. Meanwhile, Liverpool comfortably beat a Norwich side that would go on to concede the seond most goals in the entire division that season and would join Crystal Palace near the bottom of the table.
It was a comfortable start, then, for the defending champions, but this was about as good as things were going to get for Bob Paisley this season in the First Division. For success this season he would have to look towards European competition, while domestic honours in England would end up being played out between a club from the Midlands without a league title in seven decades and one of English football’s rising stars of the late 1970s.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.