On this day thirty-five years ago, two matches took place in English football which both created headlines in their own contrasting way. Apart from their own unique position in history, one of the reasons for focusing on them is down to the equally contrasting fortunes of each club now thirty-five years later.
Derby County met Fulham in a game which could decide one of the promotion spots. Now both clubs are fighting it out in the play-offs to again try and get into England’s top tier.
Manchester City and Luton Town battled it out in a winner-takes-all clash where the loser went down. Thirty-five years later, Manchester City is one of the richest clubs in the world, winning the Premier League breaking a host of stats records, whereas Luton Town, yet to play in the Premier League despite being a founder member, have just won promotion from the fourth tier on their long road back from being a conference club in 2009.
The one common denominator between these two matches was the invasion of the pitch of non-footballers afterwards. The images have lingered on even to this day.
Saturday 14th May 1983
Derby County v Fulham
Fulham had not been seen in England’s top division since 1968. Between 1971-80 they had been in the Second Division, until relegation at the end of 1979-80 season saw them lose patience with manager Bobby Campbell, after 4 years. His replacement was Malcolm MacDonald.
MacDonald was one of the most explosive centre-forwards in English football during the 70’s. He started his career at Fulham when Bobby Robson signed him, but later went onto enjoy successful careers with Newcastle and Arsenal. He still holds the record for scoring five goals in an international match for England (v Cyprus, 1975), and these performances earned him the nickname ‘Supermac’. Fulham was his first managerial appointment having recently finished his playing career.
Within two years MacDonald had returned them to Second Division football. The following season saw Fulham blaze a trail in their bid for promotion back to the First Division. Fulham were in financial difficulty and MacDonald made no secret of the fact he had assembled a competitive side without buying a player and had relied on youth players and free transfers.
Players such as Ray Houghton and Paul Parker began to make their mark under MacDonald. They played alongside players such as Gerry Peyton (Republic of Ireland), Gordon Davies, Jeff Hopkins (both Wales), Kevin Lock and Tony Gale.
By the beginning of February Fulham were third, 3pts behind leaders, Wolves. They were also 11pts ahead of Leicester City in fourth place. But Fulham then started to wobble. They won just five of next fifteen games and lost three in a row, including losing at home to Leicester, 0-1.
Ian Wilson scored the only goal of the game for The Foxes and the lead was down to just 2pts. Leicester’s fifteen game run from February was eight wins, six draws one defeat and unbeaten in fourteen. Their strike-force was two young players who went onto win many honours in the game, Gary Lineker and Alan Smith.
Fulham lost their next two matches, Leicester could only draw theirs, but this was enough to take them above The Cottagers on goal difference.
For Fulham’s final home match against Carlisle, MacDonald took the unusual step of addressing the crowd before the game through the public address system. It seemed the pressure beginning to tell on Fulham as MacDonald called the game ‘the most important match in post-war history of Fulham Football Club’. Fulham won 2-0. Leicester also won at Oldham which set up a dramatic final day.
Leicester were at home to bottom club Burnley, and Fulham had to travel to Derby. Derby County were under the guidance of Peter Taylor, who as assistant to Brian Clough, had guided the club to their first ever League Championship in 1972. He was back at the club on his own and trying to return them to their glory days. He’d bought ex-Forest players, Kenny Burns and Archie Gemmill, along with installing Roy McFarland as his assistant. McFarland was Derby’s captain in their title-winning season a decade before.
Mid January Derby were 9pts from safety at the bottom of the table, then fifteen games unbeaten helped them climb away from the relegation zone before two defeats had them worrying about who was below them. They approached the final game of the season needing a win to guarantee their safety. A draw, and they may stay up on goal difference, but were they prepared to take the chance?
For Burnley, they too needed a win. They had managed to put a mini-revival together with one defeat in their previous seven matches, but they were staring down the barrel. They had to travel to Filbert Street and try and come away with a win, not easy given Leicester were on a run of losing just one in their last twelve home games.
The drama was centred purely at The Baseball Ground.
The atmosphere at ground could be considered ‘poisonous’. Clough used to use this to his advantage when he was manager of Derby, the fact the proximity of the crowd could intimidate opponents. Early on, Fulham striker Gordon Davies was bundled over in area but no penalty. Davies didn’t really protest. At the other end, Mike Brolly headed Paul Emson’s cross and it looped onto crossbar and fell under Peyton’s legs. He could easily have gone in, but it didn’t.
During the first half, Fulham full-back Jeff Hopkins was booked for kicking Derby’s Bobby Davison in the ribs as he went up for a header. This immediately incensed the home crowd. Fulham went close again when Davies seemed to be pushed in the area but his header was deflected for a corner. The only other chance of note was when Derby winger Paul Emson took on Hopkins down the left and his cross just went over the bar onto the roof of the net.
No goals in either game by half-time and at this stage it was Leicester who were going up. They’d had been relegated from the First Division back in 1978 when Frank McLintock was in charge of a team who scored just twenty-six goals and only won five games all season. They bounced back up as Second Division Champions in 1980, only to go straight back down again. Players such as former Man Utd midfielder, Gerry Daly, former Partick striker, Jim Melrose, Kevin MacDonald (future double winner with Liverpool), Steve Lynex and Mark Wallington were combining with Smith and Lineker to put them on the brink of promotion once again.
Early in second half, Derby midfielder, Paul Hooks had a swing at Hopkins and Kenny Burns also stepped in. It started to get a bit nasty and the crowd was whipped up further. Neither side was able to make the breakthrough until fifteen minutes to go, Emson’s right footed cross from the left found Brolly on the far side of the area. He headed it back to Davison on the penalty spot and he volleyed into roof of net. Cue invasion of the pitch by the vociferous crowd.
The home fans started sing ‘staying up’. As the game was moving into the final ten minutes police horses were seen on the touchline, which appeared to be a bid to stem any trouble. Gradually fans climbed over advertising boards & stand on touchline. Right behind Steve Cherry in the Derby goal fans were several rows deep around the net, almost encroaching over the line onto the pitch. Davies had a chance when he headed straight into Cherry’s hands and then a fan walked on to pat the keeper on the back.
In the last couple of minutes, Houghton had a shot from outside the area and was just tipped over by Cherry. Again, a pat on back from a fan. Lewington went to take the corner and had to move fans out of way just so he could take the kick. By now fans were filling the touchline all the way round the pitch. Terracing at one end of the ground was completely empty as fans were all around pitch. It seemed the police were helpless to be able to do anything about it, despite being in evidence in the ground.
In the final minutes the ball was out on the Fulham left wing. Robert Wilson ran down the wing, twisted and turned a Derby defender and then was suddenly kicked by one of the supporters. Wilson stopped, linesman flagged but nothing was done about the fans. Fulham players complained to the ref, as the game was held up for a few minutes, before the official decided to solve it all with a drop-ball. The public address system then called for fans to retreat, but they weren’t listening.
Fulham keeper, Gerry Peyton then kicked the ball down field and the ref blew for a free-kick, but the crowd were convinced it was the final whistle. There is another invasion and the whole pitch is covered, but there is still time left to play. Apparently, there were still another seventy-eight seconds left. The players struggled to get off pitch, as Derby fans were ecstatic their team has avoided relegation. For the Fulham fans, news came through of the result in the other game and their hopes were dashed.
Leicester drew 0-0 with Burnley and had looked as if they’d confirmed promotion. It also looked like relegation for a Burnley team who included a young Lee Dixon, just making his way in the game.
The controversy soon began. Fulham made an official complaint and appealed for the game to be replayed. Manager MacDonald was particularly angry. After the game, he said the Derby chairman ‘intimated he would be prepared to play a replay’. He went onto say the referee had ‘stated 90 minutes hadn’t been completed’. When asked why they didn’t try and get the ref to play the extra minutes, he replied ‘we couldn’t field eleven players if we’d come back out, Jeff Hopkins was badly assaulted, his shirt ripped off his back and he had been punched. The lad was in total shock’.
So by that evening it was unclear who was going up. The FA announced they would have an enquiry to look into the events at The Baseball Ground. Ironically, the result had been irrelevant after Leicester’s draw and some even scoffed at the idea of them scoring two goals at the end of the game, as this was pre-1999 with Sheringham, Solskjaer etc. What was certainly true is the impossible atmosphere the Fulham side had to endure in the final moments of the game and that some of the players were attacked as they left the pitch.
What Happened Next?
The following week The FA decided to uphold the Derby result and deny a replay, and so Leicester were promoted. Fulham were unhappy about it and it’s not certain whether MacDonald ever got over it. The following season they finished mid-table and MacDonald resigned, the team was broken up and finished bottom of the table in 1986 and by 1994 they were in the fourth tier of English football. It wouldn’t be until 2001 when Fulham finally returned to England’s top division.
Leicester remained in the First Division until yet another relegation in 1987, but by then Smith had left for Arsenal and Lineker for Everton and then Barcelona, before returning to English football with Tottenham.
Looking back it seems inconceivable as to why the game wasn’t stopped until the crowd returned to the stands. Also with such a visible police presence it seems odd why they were completely powerless to stop the invading fans. But these were days when football authorities were scared of groups of supporters intent on causing trouble. There was still plenty more pain for English football grounds to endure before the collective strength would force that kind of behaviour outside.
Saturday 14th May 1983, Second Division, Baseball Ground, Derby. 21,124
DERBY COUNTY (0) 1 (Davison)
FULHAM (0) 0
Derby: Cherry; Barton, Foster, Futcher, Burns; Brolly, Gemmill (McAlle), Hooks, Emson; Wilson, Davison
Fulham: Peyton; Hopkins, Brown, Gale, Lock; Wilson, Lewington, O’Driscoll, (Reeves) Houghton; Coney, Davies