new frontiers (issue 8)

Look Back: 1984/5. Liverpool And Beyond

"Anyone except York at York". That is who Bill Shankly the legendary former Liverpool manager once hoped for in the FA Cup draw.

Frost threatened City's FA Cup 5th round tie with Liverpool. But thanks to a combination of straw, polythene and bricks the game went ahead on schedule on a sunny but bitterly cold day. A temporary scaffolding construction was built to cage the Liverpool fans in at their end of the ground.

For the game, City sold a special commemorative programme. City showed one change from the Arsenal tie. Hero Keith Houchen failed in his personal fitness battle, stalwart Derek Hood taking his place. Liverpool, the current European and Football League champions, fielded 10 players who won international caps.

City kicked off attacking the Shipton Street end. From an early Grobbelaar clearance, 2 crisp passes put John Wark clear, he shot narrowly wide. To young Martin Butler reputations counted for nothing. After 7 minutes he had a goal disallowed for offside. TV replays failed to show Butler offside, and he was the player furthest forward.

The first half settled into a pattern. Every time Liverpool had the ball, they looked a class side, City having to work hard to contain them. City struggled to make much headway at the other end. As half time approached, City started to come more into the game. The nearest they came was when Keith Walwyn was fouled near the left hand side corner flag and from the free kick, Walwyn won a clean header which Ricky Sbragia headed straight at Bruce Grobbelaar when unchallenged.

After 7 minutes of the second half, Liverpool went in front. A Gary Gillespie free kick, from inside his own half, was headed down and Ian Rush, on edge of the penalty area, turned in an instant. 1-0. From behind the goal it was a top class strike. One second, Rush had his back to goal, there appeared to be no danger, the next, the ball was in the back of the net.

City were struggling. Liverpool were on top. Every time Liverpool attack they looked threatening. From a Kenny Dalglish cross, Steve Nicol's far post header was fumbled by Mick Astbury, John MacPhail made a desperate goal line clearance. Although not at their best, Liverpool looked dangerous every time they had ball. At the other end, City made few chances. The best came from a free kick when Keith Walwyn outjumped the defence and headed just wide from 12 yards out. City attacks were becoming more frantic but with little success.

They reached a crescendo after 84 minutes. From an Alan Pearce free kick, the ball was cleared to Gary Ford just outside the penalty area, he shrugged off a Dalglish tackle and went round the outside of the Liverpool defence, his cross was met by Ricky Sbragia whose shot cannoned against the angle of post and bar, from the rebound, Keith Walwyn headed against the bar, John MacPhail got a shot in, it hit Derek Hood. It seemed that about 21 players were in the box, Ricky Sbragia beat Walwyn in the scramble for the ball, and from 3 yards, he shot home.

The game wasn't over. As City's thoughts turned to an Anfield replay, Liverpool stepped up a gear and went on the offensive. They won a free kick near the corner flag. The ball was driven in and Ronnie Whelan shot home in front of the Shipton Street enders who were still celebrating Ricky Sbragia's goal.

Our hearts sank.

Liverpool had clinched the winner. We hadn't noticed a linesman flagging. The goal was disallowed. At the match, it was hard to see who was offside. TV replays showed John MacPhail to have been on the goal line throughout the incident so it was hard to see who was adjudged offside.

Whatever, the same linesman who had mysteriously adjudged Martin Butler's early effort offside, now decided to wipe off a Liverpool goal. City earned a replay at Anfield.

Anfield. How would City cope? That's what almost 10,000 City fans asked ourselves as we made our way over The Pennines 4 days later. City made just one change from Bootham Crescent. The hero of the Arsenal victory, Keith Houchen returned adding flair to midfield at the expense of the industry of Derek Hood. How we could of done with some industry as City were overrun.

Wave after wave of Liverpool attacks assaulted City. It wasn't that City were playing badly, just that Liverpool were on superb form that night. They would have beaten the best of the real Division One sides by 7-0 that night so well did they play. City kept plugging away. I remember when we went 5 down, straight from that kick off, Martin Butler dribbled the ball about 20 yards, past a couple of Liverpool players before blasting a shot over the Liverpool crossbar. City weren't downhearted, they were still trying to play football. It was just that, on the night, Liverpool were superb.

The biggest disappointment of the night? On the journey home, tuning into the radio we heard the result of the Rugby League Challenge Cup tie. York had lost at lowly Rochdale. In those days, I harboured ambitions of seeing a York side at Wembley, rugby league offered the best opportunity, 4 wins and you were there. I wasn't disappointed with a 7-0 defeat, City had played well. So well in fact, that on the journey home, I decided to go to Gillingham on the following saturday.

The Anfield game was Ricky Sbragia's last of the season. A back injury curtailed the rest of his season. Keith Walwyn struggled on for 2 more games before his achilles injury eventually got the better of him. Rest was the only cure.

The Gillingham game was a desperate affair. With Keith Walwyn lacking his usual mobility and power, City struggled as both sides employed frustrating offside tactics. Gillingham won 1-0 with a last minute goal as City vainly appealed for offside.

Throughout the season, the reserve side, in their first Central League season, were an exciting side to watch. Games had been enlivened by the skill of City's young forward line. None of the regular forwards had made a first time appearance at the start of the season. Martin Butler made his senior debut in the FA Cup. The last 3 months of the season saw 3 of his colleagues make their Division 3 debuts. The future looked good. Schoolboy Steve Tutill was making 8 appearances for England during the season. In the programme notes that season, the Youth Coach, Ian Hope hoped that Steve would keep his feet on the ground. I've yet to see a good centre half who kept his feet on the ground!

Early March, Brentford visited Bootham Crescent. Making his debut in goal for the visitors was Gary Phillips, later of Barnet (and Sumo!) fame and certainly a lot slimmer than today. He had a fine debut, thwarting City's attack on numerous occasions. He was beaten just once. Making his debut for City was an amateur player. Tony Canham, still working in Leeds and playing for Harrogate Railway Athletic, he had been a regular for City reserves throughout the season. His long runs and fine shooting had been among the high points of the reserve side that season. Promoted to the first team, he scored on his debut with a header from a corner. He played a further 2 first team games during the season and signed as a professional that summer at the age of 25.

Without Keith Walwyn, the side failed to score enough goals to consolidate their promotion push.

March turned into a disappointment with defeats against Bristol City, Millwall and Bradford City, all promotion rivals. City's complaints to the Football League over the date of the Millwall game fell on deaf ears as confusion over cup and league dates reigned supreme. On the thursday, 2 days before the game, Denis Smith gave the squad a long weekend as everyone thought the game was off, Millwall having cup business with Luton. However, the Football League insisted the league game go ahead when the cup tie couldn't which meant Smith having to recall his players from around the country at short notice. Incidentally, when the cup tie was played, it was to capture much media attention for all the wrong reasons.

Whatever, City took their usual contingent of supporters to The Den. One fan remembers it well. Knowing of the reputation of the home fans, he decided to go in the home end, keep quiet and hope City didn't score. As the teams came out for the pre match kick about, a City full back, he had better remain nameless, spotted the fan in the crowd, waved at the fan and shouted something along the lines of, "Hi, Frank". The fan pretended not to notice, the full back thought his wave had gone unnoticed so tried again, "Hi Frank". Frank sheepishly waved back and then spent the next 2 hours anxiously looking over his shoulder. But as he said afterwards, "fortunately there wasn't anything to get too excited about during the game" as City lost 1-0.

A week later, 10,442 saw City lose 1-2 to Bradford City, the league leaders and eventual champions. City, without Walwyn, struggled to match the visitors. Effectively, our promotion challenge was over. Despite games in hand and being just off the pace, that final promotion push was just beyond City as we commenced a run of 9 games which yielded one win and 3 draws. The permutations of Keith Houchen, Dale Banton and Martin Butler looked good on paper, on the pitch we badly missed Keith Walwyn. One bright spot was the home game against Bolton. We went 2 down against a very mediocre Bolton side. In the second half, City introduced Marco Gabbiadini for his first taste of first team soccer. Although City were to eventually lose 3-0, Gabbiadini showed all the style that was to net him 50 goals in reserve and intermediate games that season. Three times he got into good scoring positions through his skill and strength. Three times he missed. A foretaste of what was to come.

As league form dipped, hopes for a bright end to the season rested on the Freight Rover Trophy. It offered Division 3 and 4 clubs a viable route to Wembley. Having disposed of Doncaster, a Martin Butler goal beat Chesterfield in Round 2. The visitors, who a couple of months later were to succeed City as Division 4 champions fielded Chris Marples and Steve Spooner in their side. The Northern Area Quarter Final against Lincoln looked to present a good opportunity of progressing. After all, just 2 days before the game, City had beaten a very poor Lincoln side in the league at Bootham Crescent by 2-1. Lincoln hadn't looked like scoring until a dreadful mix up between Roger Jones and Chris Evans presented a goal on a plate to Lincoln. Somehow, with City way below their best form, Lincoln managed to contrive a 3-2 win. City's season was effectively over.

Back to the league and City had one more ace to play. Warren Ward made his debut against Rotherham. He marked his debut with 2 goals. In the Rotherham side that night was a certain Ray Warburton. The other side of the weekend saw City visit Boothferry Park. Hull were already celebrating promotion, City dominated the game to win 2-0. Warren Ward notching another goal.

City finished in 8th position having played a club record 60 games during the season. John MacPhail was voted 'Clubman Of The Year'. Roger Jones announced his retirement returning to Stoke where he continued to play local league football, at centre half, until receiving the call from Denis Smith at Sunderland. Gary Nicholson, Hugh Atkinson, Brian Chippendale, Steve Richards and Warren Ward were released at the end of the season. The most contentious was probably Warren Ward who had scored 3 goals in his 4 league games together with a bagful throughout the season for the reserve side. He looked a useful understudy to Keith Walwyn. Tony Canham was offered a professional contract.

Club accounts showed a small profit of 6,552. Profits from the cup run saved the club from a huge deficit as 197,000 was spent on essential ground improvements. However, the item of most interest in the accounts was the fact the one employee, believed to be Denis Smith, earned over 30,000 in the year. At the time, a figure that was one of the best salaries outside the top division, indeed, probably better than a few in the top division.


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