1973/4 Review - Canny Scot (Part 2)

In 1974, Tom Johnston's City side won promotion to Division 2 (now The Championship). No other City side has reached this level. A season earlier, we'd avoided relegation by goal average on the last day of the season.

No one looked forward to the 1973/4 season with any real optimism. We had avoided relegation from the real Division 3 (now Division 1) on each of the 2 previous seasons on goal average (The Football League being forerunners of the government's dumbing down policy replaced goal average with goal difference in 1976, making subtraction, not division being the required skill). Entering only our 5th ever as season outside the basement division, another long hard season loomed on the horizon. There had been no significant departures over the summer, indeed we had no really significant players. Our joint top scorers had finished with 7 goals a piece. Joining the squad were another journeyman striker, Chris Jones, from Walsall, veteran Ian Butler the Hull left winger, who a few years previously featured as a part of the Hull City attacking triumvirate who were perpetually knocking on the door of the top flight and Ian Holmes, a young reserve midfielder from Sheffield United.

The opening day saw us romp to a shock 4-2 win at Charlton. Even more surprising was that John Woodward scored twice, a light weight, some would say nondescript, others underrated, midfielder signed from Arsenal whose only claim to fame was being thrown over a parked car a few years earlier during a fracas between the teams after an Arsenal European encounter in Rome. Normal service was resumed with 2 1-1 home draws and a 4-0 away defeat in our next 3 games.

Reinforcements were needed. In came Barry Lyons, a veteran right midfielder, initially on loan from top flight Nottingham Forest.

The turnaround was instantaneous, 7 points (still 2 for a win) in the next 4 games. Barry Lyons made his loan move permanent for a club record £12,000 fee, smashing the previous record set by Ian Butler just a few months earlier.

The good run got better. Over the next 11 league games, City kept a clean sheet in each game, equalling a Football League record as we surged up the table. The back 4 of John Stone, captain Barry Swallow, Chris Topping and Phil Burrows proved a tight defensive unit, on the rare occasions our goal was threatened, Graeme Crawford provided a more than capable last line of defence in goal. The 11 games resulted in just 10 goals and six 0-0 draws, a sign of where our strength lay. During the 11 games, our opponents missed 9 penalties.

The clean sheets coincided with a Football League Cup run, defeating Aston Villa and Orient, both from the division above City.

In Round 4, City held top flight Manchester City to a 0-0 draw in a Wednesday afternoon game, the 3-day working week preventing the use of floodlights for an evening kick off, before going down 4-1 in the replay. Read More - (Man) City Till I Die.

With Barry Lyons and Ian Butler providing guile and leadership in the middle of the park, the likes of Brian Pollard and Ian Holmes provided the attacking thrust with powerful surging runs from midfield, ably supported by Cliff Calvert and John Woodward.

Upfront, Jimmy Seal and Chris Jones (later of Radio York fame) vied for the top scorer prize netting 35 league goals between them. Both had their best ever season and never reached the same heights again but proved equally as important to City as the "Smash and Grab" double act of Bannister / Warboys strike force at Bristol Rovers.

Having entered the promotion places in November, City were to remain there for the rest of the season.

March was to be a crucial month. 8 games, including 5 against promotion rivals awaited City. It started with our first 5 figure home league gate of the season and an impressive 4-1 win over promotion rivals Bournemouth and ended with a memorable southern away journey.

Before the southern trip, Bristol Rovers visited City in a crunch game. Rovers seemed content with a draw and the game was heading that way as injury time approach. Clearances straight out of the ground and niggly fouls broke up the game, the referee wasn't having it and sent off 2 Rovers players (and numerous more were booked). The second dismissal resulted in a penalty for City. A commotion followed before Ian Holmes calmly slotted the spot kick home to give City a 2-1 win as 7 minutes of injury time were played (when the norm at the time was just one or 2 minutes). That win meant promotion was now a real possibility.

A week later, playing at Southend on Sunday afternoon, City found themselves 3-0 down at half time. In the dressing room, Tom Johnston said nothing. Total silence. Just as the team prepared to return to the pitch for the second half, Phil Burrows rolled up his sleeves (although I always visualise him wearing short sleeves - Ed) and said, “I’ve not come all this effing way to lose to this f@@@@@@ shower”. City recovered to draw 3-3. (Ed - This is a story that Graeme Crawford told to YCS, checking back, we we not 3 down that day). Staying in the south, they journeyed onto moneybags Bournemouth 3 days later and effectively end the host's promotion hopes with an impressive 3-1 win on Wednesday night. In was first time that City’s squad truly believed that promotion was there for the taking.

Key wins over promotion rivals Bournemouth (twice), Grimsby 2-1 and the televised 2-1 feisty win over Bristol Rovers were crucial and cemented our top 3 place and effectively ended the promotion hopes of some of our key rivals.

An Easter weekend double over Huddersfield took City to the brink of promotion. It was mathematically sealed on April 27 when City drew 1-1 in a home televised game against Oldham (6 mins 50 seconds in) who were to be crowned Champions.

City had 2 re-arranged game still to play. 3 days later, City visited Halifax and went down to a 2-1 defeat, the game being memorable for a dubious Halifax goal, Graeme Crawford chasing the referee back to the halfway line remonstrating about whether the ball was over the goal line. Many agreed with Crawford and felt it wasn't over the line. A week later, City won their final game of the season at Plymouth.

Alongside Oldham, Bristol Rovers and City, both just one point behind Oldham were promoted, Rovers piping City on goal average for the runners up spot. The rest of the teams were 5 or more points adrift of City in the era of 2 points for a win. It was the first season of 3 up and City finished 3rd. That might do City a disservice as we somewhat struggled over the finishing line, 10 points from the last 10 games, if March's form had continued into April, then we'd surely have been champions.

Firsts during the season were our first:

  • Sunday game, a 2-2 draw with Watford
  • Appearance on Match Of the Day, a dull 0-0 draw at Hereford.

Tom Johnston

Much of the praise for our success was laid at the door of our manager, Tom Johnston who had been appointed manager in October 1968 and saw us improve our league position in each season he was with us. Never the most popular of managers (the players' mantra being, “we’ll win in spite of him (Johnston))”, his time at York was marked by a player uprising, virulent dressing room infections and a tough stance to contract negotiations as well as 2 promotions thanks to a series of clever, free transfer signings.

In his book, Chris Jones makes some interesting observations about Tom Johnston and his coach, Colin Meldrum. He attributes the foundations of City's success to Meldrum's meticulous pre season coaching drills with the midfield instinctively knowing the runs that Seal and Jones would make.

The biggest league crowd to see City that season was the 16,017 who witnessed our 0-0 draw at Brighton (and Brian Clough's first game as Brighton manager in November) whilst at home, 15,583 witnessed our promotion clinching draw against Oldham in April, a couple of hundred more than saw the League Cup game at Bootham Crescent with Manchester City.

What Came Next?

Phil Burrows never played again for City. A contract dispute saw Tom Johnston allow him to leave for £12,000. No City left back has come even close to matching him since.

On the playing side, Brian Pollard later enjoyed brief success with Watford as they went through all 4 divisions during the Elton John / Graham Taylor days and returned to York to play in our next promotion winning side in 1984. Cliff Calvert left City for over £30,000 and enjoyed a brief top flight career with Sheffield United. The sale of Chris Topping to Huddersfield apparently saved us from bankruptcy in 1978.

Johnston resigned in January 1975 for a post at Huddersfield as General Manager.

Our momentum carried us through our first ever season in the second tier (then known as Division 2, now The Championship). Largely the same squad carried us to 15th position having been as high as 5th in the autumn. First time league opponents included Manchester United, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland, Fulham and Nottingham Forest. We earned a FA Cup replay by drawing away to Arsenal at Highbury before going down 3-1, after extra time, in a replay at Bootham Crescent. Tom Johnston's resignation was announced between the games although he stayed on for the Southampton league match on the following Friday.

Wilf McGuinness, the ex Manchester United manager succeeded him. He inherited an ageing squad that had played above itself and he could not sustain our position. Successive relegations followed in 1976 and 1977.

History was to repeat itself as both our 1984 and 1993 promotion sides, achieved initial success at a higher level before dropping back into the basement. The curse of City continuing to strike. A team side put together cheaply could not re-generate itself when faced with needing to pay higher transfer fees and wages in a higher division.

Graeme Crawford was an ever present for City in Division 2, but fell out of favour with McGuinness and was allowed to leave, although he did return for a second spell.

The pull of York saw many of the team settle in York after their football careers finished.

As per the picture, Crawford and Burrows still follow City, as do the likes of Chris Topping, Jimmy Seal and Chris Jones, Radio York's City match summariser.

John Stone, Dennis Wann, John Woodward and Ian Holmes live a little further afield but are still in touch with their ex colleagues.

Barry Lyons became distant from the club and his former colleagues believing he'd been badly treated following his spell as City manager. Still living in York, he attened LNER with many of his 73/4 colleagues for the Spennymoor game on Good Friday 2022.

Barry Swallow's post playing career has been well documented.

The Team - Where Are They Now?

Little Known Facts:

  • Graeme Crawford wanted to be a Formula 1 mechanic with Lotus
  • Barry Swallow's dad played in the longest ever game in English football, lasting 206 minutes between Stockport and Doncaster in 1946. The opposition included Albert Burrows, father of Phil
  • As well as the well documented Summerbee family who had 3 generations playing League football, so did Phil Burrows, both his father and grandfather, both called Albert, had played for their home town club Stockport and others. Grandfather Albert featured in the Stockport game that attracted a record low attendance of just 13
  • Next season, our squad featured Mickey Cave and Jimmy Hinch who had had good games against us for Bournemouth and Hereford in our promotion winning season
  • Rodney Marsh ran out for the Football League Cup game against City at Bootham Crescent minus his shorts (fortunately he was wearing tracksuit bottoms)
  • Our 11 league game run without conceding a goal was bookended by games against Aldershot with Jack Howarth goals marking both the start and end of the clean sheets
  • Chris Topping made a club record 355 consecutive league games for City (not all in that one season!)
  • Cliff Calvert later became Keith Usher's son in law and a fireman in Canada
  • Ron Hillyard, our reserve keeper later became the player to feature in the most games for Gillingham. He was last seen at Bootham Crescent in a professional capacity as Ebbsfleet's goalkeeping coach. He was also told by Brian Clough to get his hair cut.
  • Colin Meldrum left in November 1974 to become manager at Workington (but returned briefly to City in 1982).
  • The 3 day week and energy crisis meant that clubs were allowed to play on a Sunday. City rearranged 2 home games for Sundays but licensing laws meant spectators couldn't pay for match admission. "The Robins Club" was City's way to get around the sunday licensing laws. Day membership of "The Robins Club" allowed admission to the ground and was used for the 2 sunday games that winter. A few weeks later, when City visited Southend on a Sunday, the home club asked spectators to pay normal admission prices for a team sheet. Generally, the novelty of Sunday football saw increased crowds. As a nicknamed, "Robins" had had its day, City having discarded red shirts in 1967.

Also see:

City Pics 1970/1 thanks to York Press

Tom Johnston

Season 70/1 (Promotion #1) - Review

Season 73/4 (Promotion #2) - Review

Season 74/5 (Division 2) - Review