Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Great Escape - Bristol City 1976-77

The season is 1976-77 and the club in focus is Bristol City.  They’d made it to the big time when they gained promotion the season before from the old Second Division, along with Sunderland and West Brom.  Their last game in English football’s top tier was in April 1911 and so a wait of 65 years was finally over.


Alan Dicks, aged 42.  After a playing career at Chelsea and Southend, he joined Coventry as assistant-manager to Jimmy Hill.  In 1967 Bristol City was Dicks first management job.  He finally left in October 1980, moving to Greece and Qatar before returning to manage Fulham in 1990.  

Ray Cashley, aged 25 (8 games) – Local born, he joined the club as a youth player making his debut in 1970.  Was a regular during their promotion season and eventually moved to Bristol Rovers in 1982 after over 260 appearances for City.
John Shaw, aged 22 (32 games) – Scottish born Shaw began his professional career at Leeds United but before making a league appearance he joined City on a free transfer in 1974.  Eventually, got his chance during this season in the home defeat to Birmingham in October. He played every match from then on.  Stayed with the club until his move to Exeter City in 1985.
Len Bond, aged 22 (2 games) – Born in Somerset he joined City as an apprentice in 1971.  He was always understudy to Cashley and Shaw before he moved to Brentford in 1977.

Gerry Sweeney, aged 31 (42 games, 2 goals) – Began his career at Morton before moving south to City in 1971.  Became a regular during their promotion season and beyond, he left the club in 1982 having made over 400 appearances for the club.  He later managed them in 1997 in a caretaker capacity after Joe Jordan was sacked.
Gary Collier, aged 21  (42 games, 1 goal) – Born in Bristol he made his debut for the club in 1972. Formed a solid defensive partnership with Geoff Merrick and then Norman Hunter before leaving for Coventry in 1979.
Geoff Merrick, aged 25 (39 games, 1 goal) -  Born in Bristol he made his debut with the club in 1967 and ended up playing over 360 times for the club before he left in 1982.  Was club captain for many years and was a transfer target of Arsenal’s just after he helped City to promotion.
Norman Hunter, aged 33 (31 games) – Part of ‘the great Leeds side’ of the 60’s and 70’s, he earned a reputation for tough tackling and was subsequently nicknamed Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter.  Won League title and FA Cup winners medals at Leeds and after 540 appearances, he joined City in 1976.  Remained with the club until leaving for Barnsley in 1979.
Brian Drysdale, aged 33 (11 games) – Durham born, he spent 10 years at Lincoln and Hartlepool before joining City in 1969.  Made 280 appearances until moving to Oxford in 1977 as he was a regular in their promotion season.
Brian McNeill, aged 20 (1 game) – Made his debut for the club in 1975 but only ever came on as a sub for the club before he moved to Plymouth and then onto Hearts.
David Rodgers, aged 24 (1 game) – Born in Bristol he made his debut in 1970.  Always found himself understudy to Merrick and then Collier he eventually left the club in 1982 having made 192 appearances.

Trevor Tainton, aged 28 (38 games, 2 goals) – Born in Bristol he first played for the club in 1967, playing an important part in both their promotion season and their First Division spell.  Left the club in 1982 having played more than 480 times.
Gerry Gow, aged 24 (30 games, 1 goal) – Born in Glasgow he made his debut as a 17-year old in 1970.  Became in integral part of their midfield during promotion push and remained at the club until his move to Manchester City in 1981, where he won an FA Cup runners-up medal.
Jimmy Mann, aged 24 (30 games, 1 goal) – Began his career at Leeds in 1969 and made the move to City on a free transfer at the same time as John Shaw in 1974.  Left the club in 1982 after playing over 200 times.  Later played for Barnsley, Scunthorpe and Doncaster.
Clive Whitehead, aged 21 (41 games) – Joined City in March 1973 and became an important part of their promotion side.  Remained with the club until his move to West Brom in 1981, having played almost 230 times for City.
Don Gillies, aged 25 (37 games, 3 goals) – Another Scot, Gillies began his career at Morton then signed for City in March 1973.  A crowd favourite he played over 240 games for the club before moving across the city to Rovers in 1980.
John Bain, aged 19 (2 games) – Born in Falkirk, he joined City in 1974.  Struggled to get into the first team and ended up carving a decent career for himself in America mainly in their indoor league.

Tom Ritchie, aged 24 (30 games, 7 goals) – Another Scottish born player who was signed by Dicks in 1969.  An important player in their promotion success as well as their First Division spell, scoring 77 goals in just over 300 appearances before he moved to Sunderland in 1981.  Returned to City in 1982 during a difficult period for the club.
Chris Garland, aged 28 (21 games, 7 goals) – Local boy, he joined the club in 1965.  Spent 6 years at the club, including making an appearance for England at under-23 level.  He moved to Chelsea and then onto Leicester in 1974.  Dicks brought him back to City in November 1976 and he was a big part of their battle for survival.
Keith Fear, aged 24 (26 games, 6 goals) – Born in Bristol, he first played for the club in 1969.  Eventually left in 1978 after 150 appearances and 32 goals.  He later joined Plymouth after a couple of loan spells
Paul Cheesley, aged 23 (3 games, 1 goal) – Unlike all the other local boys in the squad, Cheesley didn’t start at City.  He made his debut for Norwich City in 1971.  In late 1973 Norwich offloaded him to Bristol City.  He formed a lethal partnership with Tom Ritchie during their promotion season, scoring 33 goals between them.  After scoring the winner against Arsenal in the opening game of the 1976-77 season he was injured against Stoke, 3 days later and never played again.
Peter Cormack, aged 30 (20 games, 6 goals) – Edinburgh-born Cormack started his career at Hibs, where he made his debut in 1963.  In 1966 he earned the first of his 9 international caps.  In 1970 he moved south to Nottingham Forest and when they were relegated, Bill Shankly signed him for Liverpool.  He won League and UEFA Cup winners medals in 1973 and was part of the squad which lifted the title again in 1976.  Surplus to requirements at Anfield, Dicks bought him to Ashton Gate in November 1976.  Remained at the club until he moved back north to Hibs in 1980.

An opening day win at Highbury followed by draws against Stoke and Newcastle had given the Robins a dream start.  That win at Arsenal was all the more sweet as the home side had spent big during the summer bringing Malcolm MacDonald from Newcastle and he’d spent the run-up to the match boasting how many goals he was going to score.  After 29 minutes he clashed with Gary Collier and went off with broken ribs.  Not so super-mac.

ARSENAL   (0)   0
BRISTOL CITY   (0)   1   (Cheesley)

Arsenal: Rimmer; Rice, O’Leary, Simpson, Nelson; Ball, Ross, Cropley, Armstrong; MacDonald (Storey), Radford
Bristol City: Cashley; Sweeney, Merrick, Collier, Drysdale; Tainton, Gow, Whitehead; Ritchie, Mann, Cheesley

When Sunderland came to Ashton Gate and were beaten, 4-1 City were in the heady heights of 2nd place.  But they then went 9 games before they won again, including a run of 6 straight defeats.  Back-to-back wins against Tottenham and Norwich gained them some reprieve, but by the end of the year they were in the bottom four and fighting for survival.

The new year really illustrated their Jekyll and Hyde qualities as January saw them complete the double over Arsenal, before losing to bottom club Sunderland and then beating title-chasing Manchester City.  They followed this with 3 straight losses which saw them hit rock-bottom.

Bristol City now had 10 games to save their First Division status.  Having waited so many years to feed off the top table again, they were desperate for the dream to last.  In November, Alan Dicks was alerted to the fact one of the club’s ex-players was not securing a regular place in the Leicester City side.  So Dicks bought Chris Garland back to Ashton Gate.  He left the club in 1971 to join Chelsea and then moved to Leicester where he formed a good partnership with Frank Worthington.  No longer a starter at Filbert Street, City bought him for £110,000 at the end of November.  It would prove to be a shrewd piece of business.

Mid-April and Tottenham arrived at Ashton Gate.  Spurs were struggling just 4pts ahead of City and with a defence which had shipped more goals than any other team in the Division.  Peter Cormack scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot to give them a vital 1-0 win.  Defeat was a calamity for Tottenham who dropped 4 places into 21st.  City were now 2pts adrift at the bottom behind 5 clubs on 27pts.

TOTTENHAM   (0)   0
BRISTOL CITY   (0)   1   (Cormack)

TOTTENHAM: Daines; Naylor, Osgood, Perryman, J. Holmes (Keeley); Pratt, Hoddle, McNab; Armstrong, Jones, Taylor
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Collier, Hunter, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland (Fear), Cormack

Bristol City now had 9 games to try and save their First Division future.  It would start with a run of 4 away games, including trips to Stoke City and Queen’s Park Rangers, both of whom were not safe.  They only had three more matches to come at home and to make things tougher, two of them were against teams in the top five, Liverpool and Manchester United.  As things stood they still faced the prospect of the final day clash at Coventry, who by this stage were 19th.

Saturday 16th April 1977

NORWICH CITY   (1)   2   (Reeves, Peters)
BRISTOL CITY   (1)   1   (Cormack)

NORWICH: Keelan; Ryan, Powell, Jones, Sullivan; Neighbour (Evans), Suggett, Steele, Peters; Reeves, Gibbins
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Collier, Hunter, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Gillies (Mann), Whitehead; Ritchie, Cormack

City travelled to Norwich City who were lying in 13th.  Norwich won 2-1 to put Bristol City under further pressure.  Tottenham and Sunderland played out a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane.  QPR went to Middlesbro and came away with a vital 2-0 win.  West Ham weren’t so fortunate as their trip to Newcastle ended in 0-3 defeat.  Coventry City played host to Aston Villa but also went down 2-3.  Stoke also lost away to Birmingham, 0-2, and certainly couldn’t be considered safe.

Midweek fixtures saw QPR gain a priceless win as they beat Man Utd, 4-0.  Coventry also earned a point at home to West Brom.  The next night saw Bristol City at Stoke City.

Wednesday 20th April 1977

Stoke were 7 places ahead of Bristol put only 5pts better off and just 2pts above the drop zone.  Their away record was the major reason for their lowly position but they weren’t easy to beat at the Victoria Ground.  Bristol City hadn’t won away from home since their victory at White Hart Lane back in November and had gained just 2pts in the 9 games since.  Tom Ritchie gave them a first half lead, but early in the second half Alan Bloor equalised.  Denis Smith, Bloor’s defensive partner, put the home side in front before Chris Garland grabbed a crucial equaliser and Bristol had earned a point.

STOKE CITY   (0)   2   (Bloor, Smith)
BRISTOL CITY   (1)   2   (Ritchie, Garland)

STOKE CITY: Shilton; Dodd, Bloor, Smith, Marsh; Robertson, Salmons, Mahoney, Ruggiero; Tudor, Crooks
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland, Cormack

On the same night Derby County (18th) and West Ham (21st) played out a 1-1 draw.  Tottenham did little to improve their position, going down 1-2 at Aston Villa

The following weekend was the Easter holiday and on the Saturday Stoke (16th) and Tottenham (20th) meet and play out a 0-0 draw, and Sunderland (18th) and Derby County (17th) play out a 1-1 draw.  Coventry (19th) were well beaten at Arsenal, 0-2 and QPR (15th) missed the chance to pull away from the danger zone as they gave up a lead to lose 1-2 at home to Newcastle.

On the Monday Coventry and Derby were again in action as they met at Highfield Road.  Goals from Mick Coop and Mick Ferguson gave the home side a 2-0 win.  This ended a run of 13 games without a win for the Sky Blues.

Tuesday 26th April 1977

QPR   (0)   0
BRISTOL CITY   (0)   1   (Ritchie)

QPR: Parkes; Clement, McLintock, Webb, Gillard; Francis, Hollins, Masson (Thomas), Kelly; Eastoe, Givens
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland, Cormack

In front of just 14,576 at Loftus Road, Bristol City earned a priceless win when Tom Ritchie scored the only goal of the game as City closed the gap at the bottom.  It was a crucial victory and meant the bottom eight clubs were separated by just 4pts and the bottom four clubs separated by a single point.  City also had games in hand on the three clubs immediately above them and hope was returning to Ashton Gate.

Saturday 30th April 1977

LEEDS UNITED   (1)   2   (Thomas, E. Gray)
BRISTOL CITY   (0)   0

LEEDS: Stewart; Stevenson, McQueen, Madeley, F. Gray; Thomas, Cherry, Currie, E. Gray; McGhie, Jordan (Harris)
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland, Cormack (Fear)

Inside the opening 10 minutes and Gwynn Thomas pounced on a John Shaw’s inability to hold onto his initial shot, to score on his debut.  The goal was really of City’s own making and the kind of goal you concede when you’re battling against relegation.  In the second half Tony Currie’s free-kick was headed on by Gordon McQueen and Eddie Gray turned the ball in at the near post to complete the victory for the home side.  It was a blow for City, but it would be the last time they savoured defeat that season.

Worse news was to follow as the five clubs immediately above them all picked up points.  West Ham earned a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough, but Tottenham, Sunderland, Derby and Coventry all won.  Tottenham ended a run of 1 win in 9 when they produced a rare highlight by beating Aston Villa 3-1 at home.  Sunderland pulled off a surprise as two goals from Tony Towers helped them to a 3-2 win at West Brom (7th).  Derby hosted Manchester City, who were second only to Liverpool on goal difference.  Goals from Gerry Daly, Archie Gemmill, Peter Daniel and Kevin Hector gave Derby a surprising 4-0 win.  Coventry (18th) put Stoke (15th) back into trouble as they thumped them 5-2, thanks to a hat-trick from Ian Wallace.  QPR were unable to repeat their performance against Man Utd 10 days previously as their return match at Old Trafford saw them lose to a Lou Macari goal.

Bristol City were back to 2pts adrift at the bottom with the next 7 clubs separated by just 2pts.  Tottenham looked to be in most trouble with just 2 games left, despite their win over Villa.  City needed to take advantage of their games in hand.

Midweek matches saw Derby earn an important 0-0 draw at Arsenal and then West Ham (21st) beat Coventry (16th), 2-0 with goals from Geoff Pike and Bryan Robson.  This win propels the Hammers out of the relegation zone to 18th but they have just 3 games to go.

Saturday 7th May 1977

BRISTOL CITY   (1)   1   (Garland)
MANCHESTER UNITED   (0)   1   (J. Greenhoff)

BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick; Tainton, Gow, Gillies, Whitehead; Ritchie (Mann), Garland
MAN UTD: Stepney; J. Nicholl, Buchan, B. Greenhoff, Houston (McIlroy); Coppell, Jackson, McCreery, Albiston; Macari, J. Greenhoff

Over 32,000 packed into Ashton Gate for City’s first home game in a month.  A feisty match which saw Stewart Houston suffer a broken leg, which put him out of the FA Cup Final, and then Gow and McIlroy were sent-off for fighting.  Another Chris Garland goal gave City a vital lead at home to Man Utd, but they couldn’t hold on and Jimmy Greenhoff equalised in the second half.  But a point was still welcome, especially as 5 other clubs around them did the same.  West Ham and Derby drew 2-2 to earn another point each.  Coventry also picked up a point as Tommy Hutchison equalised Bruce Rioch’s goal at Everton.  Stoke drew 0-0 at home to Norwich, and QPR held the leaders, Liverpool to a 1-1 draw.  The biggest beneficiaries were Sunderland as Mel Holden scored the only goal of the game to give them a 1-0 win over Birmingham.  It was the second successive victory for the Black Cats who were now unbeaten in 8 and looking like survivors.

Tuesday 10th May 1977

BRISTOL CITY   (0)   1   (Garland)
LEEDS UNITED   (0)   0

BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick; Tainton, Mann, Gillies, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland
LEEDS UNITED: Stewart; Stevenson, McQueen, Madeley, Hampton; Thomas (Harris), F. Gray, Currie, Cherry; McNiven, E. Gray

With 4 games to save their bacon, it was time for experienced, cool heads to stand up and be counted.  Chris Garland was that man.  He scored his third goal in 5 games and City hung on this time to pick up a crucial win.  They had lost just once in their last 5 and picked up 3pts from their two recent home matches giving the Ashton Gate faithful some real hope.  This win now took City off the bottom as Tottenham were unceremoniously dumped there.  On the same night Derby beat QPR 2-0 to shoot them up to 13th and they looked safe.  QPR, on the other hand, still had work to do as they were still in the bottom three, albeit with games in hand.

Coventry and Stoke both earned points which may well make them safe, in only just safer than others.  Coventry held the league leaders, Liverpool, to a 0-0 draw.  Stoke City were involved in an exciting battle with Manchester United where Garth Crooks scored twice in a 3-3 draw.

Realistically, the three relegated clubs would come from the bottom seven with Stoke and Coventry 2pts clear of the drop zone.  Sunderland and West Ham were nervously looking over their shoulder as the two clubs below them, QPR and Bristol City, both had games in hand.  Tottenham looked doomed.  They only had one game to go and had a goal difference 5 goals worse than West Ham.  QPR were the biggest surprise as 12 months earlier they’d come 15 minutes away from lifting the League title, yet here they were contemplating Second Division football.

Bristol City now had a crucial week to save their skin.  At the weekend they would travel to Middlesbrough, then back home for a Monday night game against the league leaders, Liverpool, before a trip on the following Thursday to Coventry.

QPR are away to Leeds on Saturday, then home to Ipswich on the Monday before a Friday journey to Aston Villa, culminating in a home game against Birmingham on the Monday

Saturday 14th May 1977

The last Saturday fixtures of the season and things were reaching a conclusion.  City were up at Ayresome Park to meet mid-table Middlesbrough.

BRISTOL CITY   (0)   0

MIDDLESBRO: Platt; Craggs, Maddren, Boam, Bailey; Mills, McAndrew, Souness, Armstrong; Wood (Boersma), Hedley
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Sweeney, Hunter, Collier, Merrick (Gow); Tainton, Mann, Gillies, Whitehead; Ritchie, Cormack

Chris Garland missed the match and City missed his firepower.  The hosts had little to play for and the game ended as a rather drab goalless draw with City nervous not to make any mistakes.  It was another point and in a relegation battle so tight, that was important.

Elsewhere, at White Hart Lane Tottenham had to try and overturn a 5-goal deficit in their goal difference.  But a win might not even be enough if West Ham or Sunderland didn’t lose.  Goals in each half from John Pratt and Jimmy Holmes gave Tottenham a 2-0 win over Leicester but it just was too little too late.  West Ham held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw, handing the Championship to Liverpool and giving West Ham hope of staying up.  Sunderland were at Norwich and Gary Rowell and Bobby Kerr earned them a point in a 2-2 draw.  Tottenham were relegated.

Coventry lost 0-1 at home to Manchester City to cause them further grief and Stoke City were well beaten, 1-3 at West Brom.  QPR managed to end their poor run when Peter Eastoe first half goal was enough to win 1-0 at Leeds.  QPR had gone 5 games since they last won and this was a welcome change in fortune.

Tottenham had been relegated with Stoke, West Ham, Coventry and Sunderland all on 34pts with one game remaining.  QPR had given themselves a chance with their win over Leeds as they had 3 games to go.  Bristol City may still have been bottom but they had 2 games to try and gain at least 3pts.  However, next up for them were the League Champions, Liverpool.

Monday 16th May 1977

Liverpool arrived at Ashton Gate for a league game for the first time since they were both Second Division sides in 1959.  Liverpool had just won the league and were on course for the treble with the FA Cup Final to come on the Saturday.  But their run-in had seen them grow tired and weary as they’d had to fight for three successive draws against relegations candidates, QPR, Coventry and West Ham.  Their final league match was against the bottom club, Bristol City.  Ashton Gate’s biggest crowd of the season, 38,688 turned up to see if the home side could pull off the impossible.

BRISTOL CITY   (1)   2   (Garland 2)
LIVERPOOL   (1)   1   (Johnson)

BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Gillies, Collier, Hunter, Sweeney; Tainton, Gow, Mann, Whitehead; Ritchie, Garland
LIVERPOOL: Clemence; Neal, Smith, Hughes, Lindsay; Case, McDermott, Kennedy, Callaghan; Fairclough, Johnson

David Johnson gave Liverpool the lead on the half-hour as he was keen to force a place in the upcoming Cup Finals.  As half-time approached the home fans got their reward and it was that man, Chris Garland who got the equaliser.  Level at half-time and there was a growing belief amongst the City faithful they could pull off a shock.  Liverpool clearly had their minds on other things and with 15 minutes to go, Garland was again the hero as he scored the winner.

Liverpool’s FA Cup Final opponents, Manchester United were at West Ham, who needed the points.  Gordon Hill put Man Utd in front after just 25 seconds to give them a half-time lead.  On the hour Frank Lampard equalised and then ‘Pop’ Robson and Geoff Pike sent the home fans into raptures before Stuart Pearson grabbed one back for the visitors.  Robson then completed the scoring and West Ham won 4-2.  This secured West Ham’s survival.  The three teams below them couldn’t all reach 36pts as two of them were playing each other.

Not so, Stoke City.  They were at Villa Park where Andy Gray scored the only goal of the game and Aston Villa won 1-0 and Stoke were relegated.

QPR took one step further to First Division safety when Don Givens goal earned them a 1-0 win at home to Ipswich.

So, two down and one to go.  Coventry, Bristol City and Sunderland were all on 34pts.  To add to the drama Coventry and City were to meet next three days later.  On the same night Sunderland travelled to Everton.  If Skysports had been around they would’ve either thought up a title for this dramatic Thursday night in May, or they’d have moved the fixtures to a night more convenient.  But the English fixture list still valued the FA Cup Final, to be played on the Saturday and then Liverpool were in the European Cup Final the following Wednesday.

Thursday 19th May 1977

It couldn’t have been scripted any better.  Three clubs on the same points and one of them was going to be relegated.  Two of those clubs were meeting each other.  Unfortunately, things didn’t seem that good for Sunderland as Coventry and Bristol City could just play out a draw and if Sunderland didn’t earn at least a point, then they’d be down.  Sunderland’s goal difference was the superior of the three and if there was some collusion at Highfield Road then Sunderland could still be safe with a draw at Everton.

The following description of that night has been garnered from various areas, some factual, some mythical, some strewn from memories long draped in a hue of the Robin.

Highfield Road was besieged with Bristol City fans as this was one of the biggest away games for the club in their history.  When Liverpool arrived at the same ground the previous week, a crowd of 38,032 turned up.  For this game between two sides battling against relegation a crowd of 36,903 were there.  Bristol City fans talk of queues outside the ground as these the were the days where you turned up to buy a ticket rather than went online the summer before.  Bristol filled the terrace behind one of the goals and the main stand was a sea of red too.  Local legend has it that a Crown Court jury was let off early to join the hoardes of Bristolians making their way to Coventry.  Thousands of schoolkids had been joined by their teachers in bunking off school in Bristol and there were suggestions the turnstiles were opened to let thousands of people in to avoid crushing outside.  Coaches were getting stuck in traffic around the ground and for anyone who remembers Highfield Road they will be able to sympathise.  Due to the congestion, kick-off was delayed by 5 minutes.  It is not certain whether this was done on request of Coventry Chairman, Jimmy Hill, or whether the police ordered the referee to do so.  Conspiracists would prefer it to be Hill and indeed he has endured some pretty unpleasant vitriol for what transpired, as a delay in proceedings would give his team a slight advantage of finishing after the Sunderland game.

Tommy Hutchison gave the home side the lead which they held to half-time.  At Goodison Park, Bruce Rioch put Everton in front and both games were 1-0 at the break.  At this stage, Bristol City were going down.

Into the second half and further despair for the Bristol fans just 7 minutes after the re-start as Hutchison grabbed his second to double Coventry’s lead and it looked desperate for the visitors.  Bob Latchford then scored for Everton and they too were 2-0 up and cruising.  Then, Gerry Gow got a goal back for Bristol City almost immediately after a knockdown by Gillies and there was renewed hope amongst the travelling masses.  It was Gow’s 30th league appearance of the season and what a time to score his first goal.  Bristol City were now throwing everything at Coventry and finally gained their reward as long free-kick into the area found Garland who nodded it down and Don Gillies had time to steady himself and fire the ball into the net for the equaliser.  The place was rocking.  On the scoreboard was the Everton v Sunderland scoreline of 1-0.  To add to the drama, the crowd watched as the words ‘correction’ lit up.  “You could hear a pin drop waiting for the revised score to go up”, recalled one spectator.  Eventually, the scoreline was confirmed as Everton 2-0 Sunderland, and there were still 5 minutes of play to go at Coventry.

Various supporters have pointed to memories of players being told to stop trying to score as a draw was enough for both sides.  In the end the game ended 2-2 and both Coventry and Bristol City fans celebrated as they would meet again next season.  Indeed both managers, Alan Dicks (Bristol City) and Gordon Milne (Coventry City) shared the champagne.

COVENTRY CITY   (1)   2   (Hutchison 2)
BRISTOL CITY   (0)   2   (Gow, Gillies)

COVENTRY: Sealey; Oakley, Coop, Holton, McDonald; Beck, Powell, Yorath, Hutchison; Wallace, Ferguson
BRISTOL CITY: Shaw; Gillies, Collier, Hunter, Sweeney; Tainton, Gow, Mann, Whitehead (Cormack); Ritchie, Garland

For Sunderland it was a bitter blow.  They were relegated barely 12 months after winning Division Two.  It was also their first defeat in 9 matches and certainly seemed cruel.  But they paid the price for their awful form in the first half of the season when they’d only picked up 9pts from their first 23 matches.  So a run of just 3 defeats in 19 wasn’t enough to save them.

Bristol City rejoiced in an amazing escape.  The dream would live on.  They were unbeaten in their final 5 matches including games against Liverpool and Manchester United.  They’d picked up 12pts from their last 10 matches and they’d taken their supporters through every kind of emotion.

There were many heroes for Bristol City that season and one of the undeniable contributions came from Chris Garland who returned to the club he joined as an apprentice in 1966.  Garland would remain with the club until he became one of the Ashton Gate Eight in 1982 (but that’s for another story).

Tragically in 1998 Garland was diagnosed with Parkinson ’s disease.

Another sad story from that season was Paul Cheesley.  “The Big Cheese” formed a lethal striking partnership with Tom Ritchie during their promotion season as the two shared 33 goals.  Cheesley scored the only goal in their famous win at Highbury on the opening day of the season.  Three days later Stoke City came to Ashton Gate.  Cheesley went up for a cross to challenge Peter Shilton, and although he got there first the clash would have disastrous consequences for the young striker.  He landed badly, ripping his cartilage, tearing ligaments and chipping a bone in his knee.  He was taken off and would never play professional football again.  At the age of 23 he had a promising career ahead of him, having been named in the Second Division team of the year in 1976 and had caught the eye of national manager, Don Revie, but it all ended on 24th August 1976.

City finished 3pts clear of the drop the following season too, and in 1978-79 finished 13th.  But in 1979-80 the dream came to an end and they were relegated.  This preceeded an alarming fall from grace as they suffered three successive relegations before they were virtually bankrupt in 1982. 

But that is for another story.

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