1978/79 RECORD: 49/2
You’d been at the club for six years before the promotion season, could you sense something was brewing?
I made my debut in 1973 when Malcolm Allison first arrived but it was a time of struggle as we were relegated twice to the Third Division. It was certainly a culture shock because Malcolm gave the club such a high profile. He bought in Terry Venables and Ian Evans which coincided with us reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in 1976, and Terry had been doing a lot of the coaching before going on to manage the team when things went from good to very good, and then even better as we worked our way back to the First Division.
A lot of that promotion side came through the club’s ranks, could you believe the talent being produced?
Having watched the youngsters win the FA Youth Cup in successive years I had no doubt about their ability. We already had myself, Paul Hinshlewood, Nicky Chatterton and Dave Swindlehurst who’d come through the youth setup, but then suddenly we had Vince Hilaire, Jerry Murphy, Peter Nicholas, Billy Gilbert, Ian Walsh and Neil Smillie. It was an unbelievable group to work with each day. Bearing in mind their age and how good that group was, obviously the saddest thing for the club was that we didn’t keep that group together.
Terry Venables is deemed as being revolutionary with his tactics at the time, do you feel that way?
Looking back at that 1976 FA Cup run, I played as a wing-back as we played with three at the back, five across the middle and two up front. I hear people talk about it now as though it was invented 20 years ago, but Terry did it 40 years ago!
We worked hard in training at different formations and Terry was always keen to ensure that in a game if the formation had to change for any reason then everyone would know what they had to do. This meant a lot of planning and organisation on the training pitch but it was worth it. He didn’t really worry too much about what the plans were of the opposition, he drilled into us that if we played our game, we would win.
Who do you think were the key men in that 1978/79 title-winning season?
Kenny Sansom was a revelation; he played for England when the club were in the Third Division. We all remember the mercurial Vince Hilaire, Swindlehurst and Walshie up front and Peter Nicholas went on to play just over 70 times for Wales. In those days squads were very small and we only used around 13 or 14 players, but our camaraderie was probably stronger than it would be nowadays where you have squads of 25.
You only conceded 24 times that season, so how big a part did John Burridge play in goal?
You could never predict what you were going to get with him! Mike Elwiss once told me that after he moved from Preston he was staying with Budgie and one day Mike was sitting downstairs when suddenly John came into the room in his full goalkeeper kit, including his gloves.
On the table in front of them was a bowl full of fruit and Budgie wanted Mike to start throwing the apples and oranges across the room as he tried to catch them, smashing into whatever was in his way! He is the most amazing character I think I have ever come across. He was a really good goalkeeper but quite an individual and a nice person to have around.
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On October 14th, 2010, football lost one of its largest characters: Malcolm Allison.
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