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A Moment In Time Part 2 - When Tottenham Were Relegated

Wednesday 18th January 2012

The season was 1976-77. Tottenham had won the League Cup in 1971 & 1973, the UEFA Cup in 1972 and finished losing finalists in 1974. They'd become the first English club to play in three major European finals. They had not been out of the top division since they came up in 1950. They had not suffered relegation since 1935.

In the previous season (1975-76) they finished 9th, but in 1974-75 they stayed up by just 1pt.

Manager, Terry Neill resigned from the club and made the short journey to Highbury, during the summer. The club appointed Keith Burkinshaw, then First Team Coach.

The season started badly with a 1-3 loss at Portman Road against Ipswich.

4 days later they were beaten at home 0-2, by Newcastle. The following weekend they were again goalless in a 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough. Oddly enough, they were unlikely to be too concerned with 1pt from 3 games, as the team immediately below them was QPR, who'd missed out on the title by 1pt barely three months earlier.

The following weekend, Spurs were involved in a ‘Match of The Day' classic against Manchester United. 0-2 down at half-time, Ian Moores, Ralph Coates and John Pratt gave them a famous victory.

This was followed by a 1-0 home win against Leeds. Only 5 games in and 13th place didn't seem too bad. However, they were to win just once in the next 10 matches.

0-2 defeat to Liverpool and 2-4 defeat to West Brom came either side of a 1-1 home draw with Norwich. Along with a humiliating loss to Wrexham, 2-3 at White Hart Lane in the League Cup. Then came their worst nightmare.

Derby v Spurs, 16th October 1976

Derby County, twice winners of the title during the previous 6 seasons, had yet to register a win in this particular season. They'd been in the running for the title the year before, yet had only managed to find the net 7 times in 8 matches. Bruce Rioch scored 4 goals in an 8-2 win.

Remarkably, Spurs bounced back to beat Birmingham at home, 1-0, but picked up just 1pt from the next five matches. Some of the results during that period were significant. They lost at home 0-1 to Coventry, and drew 3-3 at home to Everton, but the next three results hurt the most.

West Ham, Bristol City and Sunderland were all in the bottom four, along with Spurs. Spurs lost all three matches. 3-5 to West Ham, 0-1 to Bristol City and 1-2 to Sunderland. They were lying 2nd from bottom, with just 9pts from 15 matches (only 2pts for a win in those days). The signs weren't good as they'd conceded 34 goals already.

During December they mounted a recovery, losing just once in five matches which included a 2-1 revenge over West Ham.

At the end of 1976, Tottenham were 3rd from bottom, just behind Bristol City on goal difference and 1pt behind QPR.

Spurs problems centred mainly around Terry Neill's insistence on selling off the family jewels. Mike England, Martin Peters Alan Gilzean and Martin Chivers had all left. Yet, players like Keith Osgood, Jimmy Neighbour, John Duncan and Ian Moores just weren't good enough. One of the benefits of this clear-out, though, was that it allowed young players like Glenn Hoddle and Chris Jones to emerge.

1977 didn't bring the turnaround they'd been hoping for. Dumped out of the FA Cup in the Third Round at Cardiff City, they were then beaten at QPR in the league. Losing to relegation challengers was becoming a habit. Peter Taylor grabbed the only goal of the game at home to Ipswich at the end of January. Spurs then went on a disastrous run of 4 successive defeats. By the end of February, Tottenham were rock bottom, although just 2pts separated the bottom 5 clubs, West Ham, Derby, Bristol City, Sunderland and Spurs.

Amongst the dross were some decent performances, such as when they went to mid-table Norwich and won 3-1, but that would turn out to be their last win away from home. The highlight of a pitiful season would have been on 9th March 1977 when Liverpool were the visitors to White Hart Lane. Liverpool, defending champions, were 2pts clear of Ipswich at the top, but a Ralph Coates goal won it for Tottenham, 1-0.

Spurs had now risen to the heady heights of 18th place. Perhaps they could escape the drop as they'd done two seasons previously. A slight blip when they were beaten at home 0-2 by West Brom, but they then travelled to St. Andrews and beat Birmingham, 2-1. Their mini-revival had resulted in 3 wins from 4 matches.

But that was as good as it got. The next 9 matches yielded just 1 win. They only scored in 4 of those matches too and their deficiencies up front were blatantly evident. Their one success was at home to QPR as they enjoyed a 3-0 win with 2 goals from Chris Jones. An apprentice at Spurs, Jones had been thrust into a first team role, with the departure of players like Martin Chivers. He was battling for the striking role with Gerry Armstrong, John Duncan and Ian Moores. Jones ended up top scorer, but his tally of 9 was never going to keep a club in the top division.

That win over QPR, saw Spurs move above them into 17th, but they'd played 4 games more than Rangers. They had 8 games left to maintain their First Division status, but they only managed 2 more wins, and again in 4 of those games they failed to score.

They lost the North London derby at Highbury, 0-1, then the next day they went to Ashton Gate and lost 0-1 to Bristol City. The Easter programme had seen them drop back into the bottom three, Bristol City were bottom on 25pts, then Tottenham were one of 5 clubs on 27pts, and they'd played more games than everyone else.

Draws at home to Sunderland and away to Stoke came either side of a defeat at Villa Park. By 23rd April, Spurs were in 19th on 29pts. The two clubs immediately below them, Coventry and West Ham were only 1pt behind but had several games in hand. So much so, that by the time they came to their next match, Spurs had dropped into the bottom three again. They were at home against Aston Villa, who were chasing a UEFA Cup place. Goals from Hoddle, Jones and Taylor gave Spurs a 3-1 win.

Unfortunately, Sunderland had gone to 8th placed West Brom and come away with a surprise 3-2 win. Tottenham were on 31pts with Sunderland and QPR, but had played more games than both of them. 7th May proved a disastrous day for Tottenham Hotspur. They travelled to Maine Road to meet Manchester City, who themselves were in 2nd place and pushing for a title they hadn't won almost 10 years.

The game wasn't even close. City won 5-0

Worse news was to come as the Spurs players sat in the dressing room listening to Sports Report. QPR had held Liverpool, 1-1, Sunderland had beaten Birmingham, 1-0, West Ham had drawn 2-2 with Derby. Stoke drew 0-0 with Norwich and Coventry gained a point at Everton. Even Bristol City managed a 1-1 draw with Manchester United. That meant everyone around them had gained at least a point.

Spurs now needed snookers. They were 2pts adrift from safety with just 1 match to go and a goal difference of at least -5 to make up. Their final match was at home to Leicester City, but whether it would mean anything would depend on results elsewhere.

Bristol City (2pts behind Spurs) then beat Leeds United, 1-0, but QPR lost 0-2 to Derby. Coming into their final fixture, Tottenham were now bottom of the table again. They needed to beat Leicester by loads, and hope that West Ham didn't pick up, at least, a point from their final 2 matches. There was still a faint hope as West Ham had to travel to Anfield, with Liverpool just needing a point for the title, and then they were at home to Manchester United, in 6th.

Suddenly Tottenham seemed to have some fight in them. John Pratt and Jimmy Holmes scored and Spurs ran out 2-0 winners. This triggered incredible scenes as fans streamed onto the pitch. There were banners of defiance, such as ‘We Will Return' and the mood was fairly upbeat. Odd when you consider that West Ham had gone to Anfield and pulled off a 0-0 draw that would mean Tottenham were relegated. It also meant that Liverpool retained their title as Champions.

Tottenham eventually ended bottom of the table, going down with Sunderland and Stoke City. West Ham had pulled off a miraculous escape, something they would later become famous for. So too had Bristol City, who had remained unbeaten in their final 5 matches, including a win over the Champions.

For Spurs fans the story improved from there. They came straight back up and then won the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982 and the UEFA Cup in 1982.

Another significant factor about this league season was who Tottenham were replaced by in the First Division. Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, but we'll leave that story for another day.

Another remarkable aspect of this period is that Tottenham went down and came back up again with the same manager, and largely the same team. How times have changed

Differences - The top division was called the First Division and consisted of 22 teams. 2pts were awarded for a win.
Pete Spencer
I first started following football in '75-'76 season and have been an avid follower since. I support Liverpool. I am also a Football Manager addict, writing many articles and stories around the game.

Total articles: 8

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