Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Football League: Goals galore, Sept 25, 1982

Whilst browsing through my Telegraph Complete History of British Football book recently – I really, really must get out more – I stumbled across a section in the 1982/83 season that got me interested. It soon became clear that Saturday September 25 was something that I should be looking into. A day that would see 50 goals in the First Division alone, 151 in the whole of the Football League at an average of 3.35 a game, six hat-tricks, thrashings, outfield players in goal, and one player scoring four and ending up on the losing team. Football wasn’t always exciting in the 1980s, yet the events of this day in 1982 were refreshing to say the least.

That's entertainment

Where to begin during this manic weekend? Well for pure drama, incidents and accidents, and general chaos, the Victoria Ground was the place to be. Any 4-4 draw is normally eventful, yet Stoke City v Luton Town crammed in enough entertainment to last a season. Eight goals, one of them a belter, a keeper sent off leading to two outfield players taking turns to don the green jersey, and a last minute penalty miss on an extraordinary afternoon.

Mark Chamberlain would earn rave reviews for his display on the day, setting up George Berry twice as Stoke took a 2-1 lead, although Paul Walsh's thunderbolt from 25 yards would also get the press salivating. But the mayhem really kicked in when Stoke's keeper Peter Fox left his box, misjudged the flight of the ball, and was harshly sent off for handling the ball, even though it wasn't all that clear that he had committed the offence, and if referee Gilbert Napthine had played the advantage, Paul Walsh would have had his second goal of the day and a tearful Fox would have been spared his subsequent anguish that resulted in him threatening to quit the sport.

Paul Bracewell was the first stand-in keeper for the day, conceding an equaliser to Brian Stein, before resuming his midfield duties and putting Stoke back in front after he had been replaced by Derek Parkin. Stein scored his second leveller of the day past a second different keeper, and when Mal Donaghy then looped a header over a stranded Parkin the match seemed over. But you had to expect the unexpected that Saturday. Brendan O'Callaghan's strike after 85 minutes put Stoke level once more, and to cap the day Luton's Dave Moss struck the post with a last gasp penalty, to send the Stoke fans into raptures and leaving everyone in the ground breathless.

"If we go on like this we will have scored 100 goals, conceded 100, and I'll be gone because I can't stand the strain," said an exhausted Luton manager David Pleat come the final kick off, with The Times' Clive White singing the praises of both teams by stating "It was the sort of match you wished your friends had seen". But what better way to describe the occasion than to use the words of monkhousestokie on this board. "My favourite ever Stoke game. And we didn't even win!"

Greedy hornets

And so to another match with eight goals, although they were not shared quite so evenly in Hertfordshire. The game well may have turned out differently had Sunderland's Ally McCoist not missed two sitters before Watford got going. "It was one of my worst days ever in football down at Vicarage Road," McCoist would admit after Sunderland's 8-0 loss to Southampton in 2014. His misses would prove to be ever so slightly expensive.

That Chris Turner had a blinder emphasises just how good Watford were on the day, with the home team also hitting the woodwork four times, as Sunderland simply folded. Luther Blissett scored four goals, his first competitive hat-trick, with Ross Jenkins and Nigel Callaghan each scoring twice, as Watford continued their fine debut season in the top flight, a campaign that would see them finish as runners-up to Liverpool. Sunderland would recover to finish 16th, but the shame of that day remained. Manager Alan Durban locked his players in the dressing room for an hour, McCoist likening the mood to that of experiencing a death in the family.

Blissett would continue his good form, and later in the year would score a hat-trick on his full international debut in a similarly one-sided contest (England 9 Luxembourg 0), as his amazing journey from the Fourth Division to Serie A rolled on. With 27 League goals in his first season in Division One, it was hardly surprising that new England manager Bobby Robson came calling, or that Chamberlain also received a call-up due to his fine early season form. 

The hits keep on coming

In Robson's absence, his former team were struggling. Ipswich had not won any of their opening six League matches, were rock bottom, and had received a written transfer request from Eric Gates before a trip to Meadow Lane on September 25. Surely things could only get better?

Unfortunately for Notts County, Ipswich chose this particular weekend to finally give Bobby Ferguson his first League win, inflicting a 6-0 defeat on their hosts, Paul Mariner helping himself to two goals. It was not the only thrashing in the First Division that weekend. Liverpool's 5-0 demolition of Southampton was typically ruthless, with Irishmen Whelan and Lawrenson both grabbing a brace. "If I wasn't involved I'd have enjoyed that," admitted Saints boss Lawrie McMenemy, who in truth had Peter Shilton to thank for limiting the damage.

Manchester City's visit to Upton Park proved to be a microcosm of their season. Alex Williams starred in goal, saving a Ray Stewart penalty, yet even he was unable to prevent West Ham winning 4-1 in a match that saw the visitors reduced to nine men, as City's slide to Division Two continued. "The nice thing about it is, you have won 4-1 and you think you will get all the headlines," commented West Ham manager John Lyall. "Then you look at the rest of the First Division results and it becomes an average performance. Football has stolen our thunder today and I think that has got to to be a good thing." It was that kind of weekend.

Hat-trick heroes

Unsurprisingly on a day of goals galore, there were a number of notable scoring feats to celebrate. In total there were six hat-tricks, three of them in Division One. Along with Luther Blissett's fun in the sun against Sunderland, Cyrille Regis bagged three at Norwich, and Coventry's Jim Melrose enjoyed a dream home debut, scoring a hat-trick as the Sky Blues beat Everton 4-2.

Stewart Evans scored a first half hat-trick as Wimbledon brushed aside Torquay 4-1, the Dons on their way to the Fourth Division title, accruing 98 points and 96 goals along the way. But for another tale highlighting the crazy nature of that Saturday, look no further than Doncaster v Reading at Belle Vue.

Doncaster's 7-5 win would normally have provided plenty of talking points, yet on September 25, 1982, there was an extra twist in the tale. Doncaster's Ian Snodin would score the one and only hat-trick of his career, but spare a thought for Reading's Kerry Dixon. Not only did he score four goals away from home and still end up on the losing team, but he was also denied taking the match ball home by the quick thinking Snodin.

"On that day a young Doncaster lad called Ian Snodin also scored a hat-trick and he had taken the ball from the referee while we were getting a dressing down from our manager," Dixon recalls in this article. "By the time I found him, he had already had it signed by all of his team-mates!"

Any other business

There were many other high-scoring matches that deserve a mention. Gary Mabbutt scored twice as Tottenham hammered Nottingham Forest 4-1. Not wanting to let the family down, brother Kevin also notched a double in Crystal Palace's 3-0 win over Middlesbrough. Chester put five past a Hereford side that would prop up the other 91 clubs come the end of the season, with Blackpool losing 4-1 away to Colchester. And on a day of general discomfort for goalkeepers up and down the country, a special mention for Fulham keeper Gerry Peyton who helped Fulham defeat Leeds 3-2 despite having 23 stitches in his head from an injury gained in his previous match.

The smallest League crowd on the day of 1,202 witnessed Hartlepool's 4-0 win over Tranmere, this unfortunately reflecting the general problem facing the sport. For all the action that the weekend provided, the fact could not be hidden that the total attendance in the Football League was down 52,599 on the corresponding weekend in 1981, a drop of 13% on the overall figure from 1981/82. Decaying grounds and crowd trouble were hardly a thrilling prospect at the time, so you can understand the absence of many.   

But let us not end this blog on a negative note. Let's ignore the low attendances, and celebrate the fact that those who did pay good money were lucky enough to enjoy such drama (apart from those at the Manchester United-Arsenal and Darlington-Port Vale matches, who sadly didn't see any goals). A weekend where the quantity might have been greater than the quality but at least English and Welsh football could forget about their troubles and relax amongst a rush of goals. And the sport was being written about for the right reasons for once, and that had to be a bonus.

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