GLF75: Geoff has great memories from season 1975/76.
The Longest Time
Season 1975/76 was probably my most involved season as a supporter. I attended more games that year than any other. I had the advantage of cheap, or even free, rail travel and had every weekend off as I was still at school. As well as that there was the small matter of Motherwell playing more competitive fixtures in 75/76 than in any other season. We have crept over the 50 game mark a few times and as recently as 1987 we played 52 times including 44 league matches. In 75/76 we played a total of 54 competitive games and I reckon I attended almost forty of those. This was the first season of the Premier League.
Fans and teams had long complained of the amount of meaningless fixtures in the old 18-team set-up. The Premier League was supposed to end these fixtures and provide excitement for supporters. We are now approaching full circle and looking at extending the league again but that’s another story. Motherwell crept into the top ten with a last day home win the previous season and would were looked upon as relegation favourites. But a certain Willie Pettigrew had burst onto the Scottish scene in the last six months and we were a different team.
Our season started with two Anglo-Scottish Cup qualifying ties against Dundee and a 2-1 aggregate win saw us proceed. Then came the League Cup, in its previous format, with six games played, home and away in a group of four, with one team progressing to the knock-out stage. With Rangers in our group this was no easy task but we acquitted ourselves well against them with draws home and away (incidentally in the Ibrox game I witnessed a rarity when I saw Joe Wark pick up a yellow card). Clyde were beaten in both legs but the result that cost us was a 2-1 defeat at Airdrie. Then it was down to league business and we made an undefeated start (glass-half full) as we drew our first five games. In the midst of these we travelled to Blackburn in the Anglo Scottish Cup. Guess what? We drew again, an efficient but drab 0-0 in front of 18,647 fans including me. Pettigrew had made a slow start to the season and by this stage had managed a mere 7 goals in 15 games. Nine goals in his next seven games was more like it, beginning with one in the 2-1 return game against Blackburn. Defeat at St Johnstone was followed by three league wins, Willie P scored in every game and topped it with four against Dundee in a 6-3 win at Dens Park. Three days before that he had got the better of Bobby Moore to score in a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage, yes I saw that too as I successfully dogged off school and hopped onto a train to London. A train that carried the Motherwell team and officials to the game.
We were now challenging near the top of the table but a poor 2-0 defeat at Ayr cost us top spot. Then came the return game against Fulham and Fir Park had 13,085 spectators in to see Moore and Allan Mullery lead Fulham to a 3-2 win and put us out. We made Aberdeen pay a few days later as we soundly beat them 3-0 to climb to the top of the table. Even though Pettigrew got a double to beat Celtic 2-0 at Parkhead in our next match we conceded top place to a higher scoring Rangers team. The next week a 2-1 win over Dundee United put us back on top for the last time that season, and for a while, as Rangers faltered at Hibs. Now we only had the League to see us through till the Scottish Cup arrived. Our next eight games included defeats to both Old Firm teams and to Hibs and we settled into fourth place in the table.
Then came two great performances. Firstly a stunning 4-1 win over Dundee United at Tannadice and a week later a fondly remembered Scottish Cup tie at Fir Park. 25,000 squeezed in to see Celtic cruise to a 2-0 half time lead and frankly it could have been a lot worse as I recall Dixie Deans missing a couple of sitters. Celtic would pay for those misses as Bobby Graham and Ian Taylor pulled us level before Willie P turned on the afterburners and sprinted clear to net the winner. A fabulous day and never forgotten by those who witnessed it.
Two league wins later and we were off to Cowdenbeath for the next round. The official attendance is given as 8,650 and 8,000 of those seemed to have come from Motherwell. The game wasn’t great but the 2-0 victory was comfortable. Home defeats, both 0-1, to Hibs and Rangers (another 25,000 Fir Park crowd) killed off any vague title hopes and drawing Hibs in the Scottish Cup gave us a hard task to progress. The first game at Fir Park was a niggly hard encounter with squabbles breaking out, taunting and even darts being thrown. On the pitch it was similar, without the darts, and ended 2-2. This meant a midweek replay at Easter Road and another late night for this schoolboy. Another even game, in front of 25,658 went into extra time goal-less and then Bobby Graham put us ahead only for Pat Stanton to equalise. This meant a third game, no penalties in those days, and it was decided that it would be held at neutral Ibrox. The five days leading up to the game saw Motherwell struck by a flu outbreak and we pleaded for a postponement but Hibs chairman Tom Hart (funny how you remember some names) said we were just scared of facing his team. As you can imagine, revenge was sweet as our patched up team went through 2-1.
A win over Aberdeen and a heavy 4-0 defeat at Parkhead preceded another match still spoken about amongst older fans. 50,000 were at Hampden for our semi final against Rangers. First half goals from Stuart McLaren and Pettigrew had us coasting with only about twenty minutes left. Then Peter McCloy launched an enormous kick and Derek Johnstone tumbled to the ground with Stuart Rennie somewhere in the vicinity. Did he touch him? Was the ball even in the area? Referee JPR Gordon of Newport on Tay (funny how you remember these things) had no doubts from his vantage point of half a pitch away. The subsequent penalty and two more goals saw Rangers turn defeat into victory. Oh, and also the small matter of John Greig clearly tripping Pettigrew in the box and nothing being given helped. Even our mild mannered assistant manager at the time, a certain Craig Brown recalls the events of that night with distaste and wrote about it in his autobiography 27-years later.
“The penalty decision knocked the stuffing out of us. It is what is politely called a harsh decision – but there are other words to describe it. We left the pitch feeling shellshocked. I don’t think Rangers were helped by divine intervention, but I do feel they had more than eleven players on their side.”
Yes, Craig Brown wrote that! I think that gives you an idea of the hurt we felt. I left the ground cursing Mr Gordon and our luck with referees in Scottish Cup semi finals, the previous season Rollo Kyle penalised Stuart Rennie for too many steps, a very rarely used rule, and cost us a final place. Imagine my joy a few years later when JPR was done by UEFA for accepting gifts when refereeing in Europe and was struck off. Oh ,and so were his linesmen including a certain Rollo Kyle. Karma.
A few days later we faced Dundee United at Fir Park and the team received a prolonged standing ovation of several minutes as they came onto the pitch and they repaid us with a 3-2 win in our favour. Our season would dwindle to an end and we lost four of our last five games and lost out on a European place by three points.
It was a long season but, as you can see, a very memorable one. Fifteen players formed the basis of our first team with while another six played less than a handful of games. Stuart Rennie played in every game while Pettigrew and Joe Wark missed just one, Gregor Stevens and Vic Davidson also playing 50 or more games. Pettigrew scored 22 league goals and nine cup goals for a total of thirty one for the season as well as four for the Scottish Under-23 team.
With six European games under our belts already this year and a guaranteed 38 league games to come we would still need to play a further eleven cup games to take us to a new record of 55 games for a season. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be beating that for a while yet.
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