Tuesday, 25 November 2014

1980-81: Anglo-Scottish Cup

By 1980 it was clear to all concerned that the Anglo-Scottish Cup was on its last legs. A distinct lack of concern south of the border had reduced interest in the competition, with the Scottish League understandably unimpressed with the lack of quality teams entered by the English Football League, and as early as September 1980 the rumours began to circulate that this would be the last Anglo-Scottish Cup. Indeed the 1980/81 edition did prove to be the last knockings of the tournament, yet along the way it did provide a few talking points, including a rare moment of glory for a Derbyshire club, a debut for a 14-year-old, and an embarrassing episode for a Scottish giant.

Following on from the Texaco Cup, the Anglo-Scottish Cup had been established to provide a competition between teams from England and Scotland who did not have the distraction of European football to contend with. At first, some top flight English clubs took part, but as the years progressed more and more lower league clubs were participating in the tournament, due to a reluctance on the part of the Division One clubs to enter teams.

Brian Clough may well have credited the Anglo-Scottish Cup as a trophy that gave his players the taste of glory that left them wanting more in 1977, but generally the English attitude towards the tournament faded. In the same season that Clough's men won the cup, Newcastle were fined £4,000 and kicked out of the competition after they had played a weaker team in a 3-0 quarter final loss at Ayr, their stance highlighting the apathy felt by English clubs when it came to the tournament.

A glance at the English and Scottish entrants tells us a little more about the state of the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980/81. Of the eight Scottish teams, six were Premier League clubs (Airdrie, Hearts, Kilmarnock, Morton, Partick and Rangers, with two Division One clubs in East Stirlingshire and Falkirk), but it was a vastly different tale down south. The English First Division was not represented, with eight clubs from Division Two (Blackburn, Bristol City, Grimsby, Notts County, Oldham, Orient, Preston and Shrewsbury), seven from Division Three (Blackpool, Burnley, Chesterfield, Carlisle, Fulham, Hull, and Sheffield United), and a single Fourth Division club in Bury taking part. With no disrespect - it's amazing how you can write or say that before stating something slightly disrespectful - the English representation was hardly a list of clubs to get the pulse racing.

The format of the competition had remained untouched through the years. The sixteen English clubs were to be split into four groups, each team playing three matches before the group winners progressed to the quarter finals. The last eight is where the Anglo-Scottish bit finally kicked in, as the winners of the four two-legged knockout matches in Scotland were drawn against the English group winners, and from this point on there would be home and away cup matches. One innovation saw English clubs that scored three or more goals in a group match awarded a bonus point, although in 1980 the four eventual group winners were the teams that would have progressed regardless of this.

There was certainly no danger of Preston troubling the bonus points system, as they failed to score in any of their group matches, a sign of things to come in 1980/81 with the club suffering relegation to Division Three. Preston's 1-0 defeat against rivals Blackpool at Deepdale saw the victors edge out Blackburn for top spot, player manager Alan Ball enjoying three wins and bringing hope for the forthcoming season. By February though these aspirations were in ruins, Ball had gone, and Blackpool were hurtling towards Division Four.

Sheffield United and Hull City would join Blackpool in dropping into the basement, and both would be eliminated at the group stage of the Anglo-Scottish Cup, as Third Division Chesterfield pipped Second Division Grimsby for the sole qualification place. Bury surprised higher league opposition in Shrewsbury, Burnley and Oldham, their 3-2 win over the latter achieved after going behind twice, the Fourth Division club then grateful that Oldham bounced back immediately to defeat Shrewsbury 4-1, a result that sent Bury through.

Another team to qualify were also reliant on a helping hand to ensure their progression. Notts County, a club that would eventually gain promotion to the top flight in May, topped their group after Bristol City lost 1-0 at Orient, the sad plight of the West Country side showing no signs of abating in 1980/81, a season that saw them suffer a second relegation in two campaigns, with a third to follow a year later.

The situation in Scotland was a bit more straight forward, with four two-legged knockout ties deciding the teams to make it through to the quarter finals. Kilmarnock managed to overturn a 3-1 first leg loss against East Stirlingshire, winning the second leg 3-0 to see off the Division One side. Andy Ritchie scored in both legs for Morton as they cruised past Falkirk 7-3 on aggregate. Airdrie defeated a Hearts side that come the end of the season would drop out of the top tier after only winning six league games. And the biggest fish in the pond, Rangers, saw off Partick Thistle 5-4 over the two legs, new signing Colin McAdam particularly impressive in the 3-1 win at Ibrox.

The participation of Rangers in the Anglo-Scottish Cup did add a bit of prestige to the tournament, although for the club itself the embarrassment of missing out on European qualification hardly made the competition attractive. The start of the 1980/81 season promised so much though, as the club embarked on a 15 match unbeaten run in the league, but a woeful display in the Anglo-Scottish Cup was just around the corner, which if not immediately ruining the season, certainly planted seeds of doubt regarding John Greig's squad.

It would be Chesterfield who would face the daunting task of tackling Rangers in the two-legged quarter final in October. Confidence was flowing through the Frank Barlow's team though, the side sitting proudly on top of the Third Division table, before the first leg at Ibrox took place. A few hundred Chesterfield fans made the journey and witnessed a fine performance from their side, Phil Walker putting them in front direct from a corner, and although Rangers equalised through Gordon Dalziel, the tie was intriguingly poised ahead of the second leg at Saltergate.

Faced with the prospect of thousands of Rangers fans making the journey to Derbyshire, club officials and local police forces met in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the type of trouble that had seen a friendly match with Aston Villa abandoned in 1976. Pubs were closed in Chesterfield, alcohol was banned from coaches, supporters' club trips were instructed to follow given routes into the town, and 500 police were drafted in to cope with the arriving hoards. As an extra measure, John Greig and some of his players met the fans before the match and gave away goodies, in a PR exercise aimed at quelling any potential aggravation. Come the end of the match it would be safe to assume that the 5,000 travelling Rangers fans would not have been quite so welcoming of Greig and his squad.

A crowd of 13,914 watched on as Phil Bonnyman came back to haunt his former club, his two goals after 15 and 18 minutes, both from Walker corners, stunning the Scottish Premier Division high-flyers, during a first half in which Chesterfield should have been awarded a penalty for the clearest handball imaginable, and also struck the bar. When Ernie Moss added a third on 64 minutes, Rangers' misery was almost complete, and a terrible evening was rounded off aptly when John Turner saved a McAdam penalty ten minutes later. "Obviously we thought we could win," commented Barlow the morning after the night before. "I would have settled for 1-0. I'd have settled for no score and win on away goals. I'd have settled to just win the tie, but to win 3-0 is really out of this world".

It was left to Kilmarnock to fly the flag for Scotland, their 5-4 aggregate win over Blackpool guaranteeing that the tournament lived up to its name for at least one more round. Blackpool won the first leg 2-1 at Bloomfield Road in a match notable for the fact that 14-year-old Eamonn Collins made his debut for the Seasiders.

Speaking in 2007, Collins revealed in this Irish Independent article the extent of the hype surrounding his debut: "By Tuesday, RTE, the Evening Herald and the Evening Press had begun to take an interest. I was live on John Craven's Newsround on the BBC. Lots of stuff happened before the game. It was all new to me. I had just left school and I wasn't getting a lot of guidance because I didn't have my family with me."

Kilmarnock's 4-2 win at Rugby Park saw an Archie Gemmill style goal from Gordon Cramond and Kilmarnock race into an early 3-0 lead from which the visitors never recovered. But elsewhere there was little to cheer for the Scots. Notts County won 3-1 on aggregate against Morton, and when Fourth Division Bury knocked out Premier Division Airdrie - Steve Johnson scoring twice in a 4-2 win in Scotland - the Glasgow Herald bemoaned Scotland's image and record in the tournament.

It was fast becoming apparent that the competition was struggling to survive, with relatively low attendances and a general lack of interest bringing about the first murmurings that the 1980/81 Anglo-Scottish Cup would be the last. But before the final nail was officially hammered into the coffin, the four remaining teams would do battle in November and December in order to reach the final, which would take place in March 1981.

Notts County ensured that the last ever name on the trophy would be English, after a 2-1 win in Kilmarnock - Rachid Harkouk scoring the winner - and a crushing 5-2 win in the second leg at Meadow Lane finishing the job. Chesterfield found things a little less comfortable against Bury, winning 2-1 at Gigg Lane, with goals from Danny Wilson and Alan Crawford, and when John Stirk stretched the lead further in the first half of the second leg, all looked easy for Barlow's team. But a Steve Johnson goal after 65 minutes made the evening a tense occasion, Chesterfield players and fans relieved when the final whistle went, as they could now celebrate reaching their first senior final since their formation.

And then the inevitable announcement. Shortly before the first leg of the final, English and Scottish league representatives met in London to discuss the future of the tournament, and it was concluded that the Anglo-Scottish Cup was to be scrapped. "We asked for a guarantee that the English representation would consist of first division clubs," stated Scottish League Secretary Jim Farry. "This could not be given, so it was a clear-cut decision taken by both leagues to suspend the competition".

So the Chesterfield-Notts County final was to be the last ever Anglo-Scottish final, providing a dramatic finale and a fairytale conclusion to a competition that had clearly run its course, but would leave an indelible mark in the minds of those Chesterfield fans fortunate enough to have witnessed the triumph. A 1-0 win at Saltergate in front of 10,190 gave Chesterfield something to hold on to, Ernie Moss' goal separating the teams, but with Notts County well on their way to promotion to Division One, they were still favourites when the two teams met again eight days later.

Nearly 13,000 fans turned up for the return leg, Chesterfield bringing a reported 6,000 plus to Meadow Lane, on a memorable night for the club and young Paul Gregory in particular. The 19-year-old keeper was drafted in for an unforgettable debut due to injuries to Chesterfield's first choice stopper John Turner, and his back-up Phil Tingay, and on a night of constant Notts County pressure, Gregory's display helped keep the visitors ahead on aggregate. Eventually the domination told, and when Don Masson levelled the tie after 73 minutes, there only looked one winner.

Enter Alan Crawford. As the match reached extra-time, Crawford entered the fray after 112 minutes, Chesterfield's second substitute of the night - another innovation of the Anglo-Scottish Cup on the domestic scene - and it would be Crawford's back heel in the final minute that would see Chesterfield keep the trophy forever more. As the thousands of Chesterfield fans celebrated Crawford's goal uncontrollably, County supporters fled the ground, knowing that their side would not be able to find two goals to answer Chesterfield's away goal. The Spireites had their hands on silverware at last.

"I'm delighted," said Barlow, after the trophy had been won. "If you enter a competition, you enter it to win it. Tonight we had a wee bit of a struggle, but in the end we got there". After receiving the cup from Football League President Bob Lord, the players were unable to celebrate on the pitch after it had been flooded with jubilant Chesterfield fans. But at least the players and fans could carry on the party before the next home match against Fulham, as the trophy, that still lives in Chesterfield's cabinet today, was paraded for all to see.

Could the competition ever come back? It's extremely doubtful. If English clubs are not willing to field full strength sides in both the FA Cup and League Cup then the thought of restarting an Anglo-Scottish style event is a complete non-runner. The lack of interest shown by the English towards the original competition was bad enough, so could you imagine what it would be like in this money-mad era? So it looks as if Chesterfield's claim to fame of being the last winners of the Anglo-Scottish Cup will last a few more years yet, something I am sure the club and its supporters are pretty proud of.

3 comments:

  1. It was interesting that the reason for the competition ending was the lack of quality amongst the English sides. Rangers were humiliated by third tier Chesterfield with a side that man-to-man turned out and beat Celtic 3-0 the next weekend.

    If arguably the strongest Scottish side struggled to this extent I wonder what mid-table top-flight teams would have done to them?

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  2. Rangers weren't "arguably the strongest Scottish side" - they finished 3rd in 1980/81 (and 5th the previous season).

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  3. Also, Chesterfield at that time were a far better team than their league status suggested in the third tier.

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