The Curse Of The 1976 FA Cup Final
Monday, 22nd Oct 2018 11:22
As the exhibition at the Sea City draws to a close this week we take a look at how the FA Cup Final in 1976 proved to actually be a burden for many of those players taking part rather than a springboard.
After Saints won the FA Cup in 1976 it was said that the 12 players on duty that day would never have to buy another drink in the City, that may have been the case, but the truth was that for many of that team they barely played for the club again and in some cases it virtually ended their careers.
As Southampton went mad on May 1st 1976 celebrating the winning of the FA Cup the 12 players on duty that day would have had good reason to believe that their careers were about to get even better.
But the reality was far different, perhaps even as the team celebrated Lawrie McMenemy had realised that if promotion was to be achieved then a major overhaul of the team was needed.
When he first started to think that is unknown but what is known is that a quarter of the team would have played their last game for the club before the end of the year, they would be joined by another 5 by the end of the 1976/77 season and by the time that Saints won promotion in 1977/78 two years after the cup final, only 2 of the 12 would be part of that team.
Of course some of the team were at the veterans stage of their career's, in truth if a footballer made 31-32 years old back in those days and was still playing he was in a small minority, nowadays advances in medicine and diet etc means players can go on longer than they used to, but back then it was different.
So lets take a look at the most famous team in the club's history and how it so quickly disbanded.
In goal was Ian Turner, he was just 23 at the time of the final and already had a lot of experience both for Saints and at Grimsby where he had also played for McMenemy.
Sadly for Turner he injured a cartilage in the opening league fixture the next season and although he would return from that, he found that Peter Wells was now first choice, although he stayed at the club till 1978, indeed he played 12 times in the promotion season, he would depart for firstly a summer in the fledgling US soccer league and then a career at several lower league clubs, playing his last Football League game at the tender age of 28, a young age for a keeper even then.
He moved back to the Southampton area played for a number of local non league clubs well into his mid to late 30's , but like several from that he had every right to think his career path would have been far different.
Peter Rodrigues was certainly a veteran, he had already turned 32 when he captained the side at Wembley but he had played in every game that season bar one missing just the one league game out of 42 and in all 8 FA Cup games and 1 League Cup game.
Ironically early in the following season he suffered a knee injury and before the first anniversary of the Cup final he had played his last game for the club and retired from football initially running the King Rufus pub at Eling, he still lives locally.
Jim Steele had always been a lively character, still only 26 when he played at Wembley he had played approaching 200 games for the club including over half of those in the top flight, he was another who might have expected more from his career, but the following season he found himself out on loan and on his return his final games for the club in March 1977 were not ones he will want to remember, a sending off against Manchester United in the FA Cup and then a mistake that cost Saints a goal against Anderlecht just about finished his time at the Dell and he would play only 1 more game a week after his 27th birthday, his final appearance in English football, moving to the USA and settling there for a while before returning to the Southampton area where he has lived on and off since.
Mel Blythe was a quality player, on researching this it was a shock to find he was the same age as Peter Rodrigues, and he would be the 7th player of the squad to play his final game for the club in 76/77 after a hamstring injury. He was still there for the following season, but had fallen out with McMenemy who had replaced him with Chris Nicholl and he went out on loan to former club Crystal Palace and then left for good.
David Peach was one who prospered after the cup final, indeed he would score at Wembley in the League cup final in 1979, but strangely his career faltered after that, the following season injury restricted his appearances, but it was a surprise that at only 29 he dropped down to the third division with Swindon Town and played out his final years at there and also Orient.
Paul Gilchrist was another solid professional who had played in the top flight for Saints and was a vital part of the Saints squad and at only 25 must have thought that his career would only go in one direction, but he had played his last game for the club four months after the final and by March 1977 he had joined Pompey and then Swindon and Hereford, he was ever present in 79/80 season but in the 1980 pre season he snapped a cruciate ligament and in those days there was no coming back from that.
Nick Holmes needs no introduction, he went on to play for the club for another decade, scored at Wembley alongside David Peach in 1979 and with 535 competitive games for the club in all competitions is rightly regarded as one of the all time legends of Saints.
Mick Channon or to put it rightly Mike Channon as he was more widely called then should have been the man who lifted the cup, but in that season he stepped down as skipper because of speculation that he might leave the club during the season, again another club legend who athough had played his final game in his first spell only a year after the cup win, returned in 1979 to enjoy several more seasons and even another Wembley win with Norwich City before blotting his copybook by playing for old mucker Alan Ball at Pompey, we have forgiven him for that though and he remains a club legend.
Peter Osgood was still in his peak years when he joined Saints although his bestyears where behind him at Chelsea, but he played a vital part at Wembley and remains a favourite of the fans of that era, he always retained great affection for Saints and lived in the area till his death. He played in the first part of the promotion season and left in November 1977 his last act being to headbutt Blackburn full back John Bailey and walk off the pitch before the ref could send him off properly, Saints fans hated Bailey with a vengeance because of this.
Sadly Ossie died on 1st March 2006.
In many respects Jim McCalliog is the least remembered of the Saints side that won the cup, although that is strange as he played a bigger part than most in the entire run, it washis two goals that won us the replay in the 3rd round at Aston Villa and it was his volley at Bradford that was the only goal of the game in the quarter finals and of course it was his pass to Bobby Stokes that meant history changed.
Jim was still only 29 when he played at Wembley, but he was one who McMenemy thought needed replacing and although he played fairly regularly in the first half of the following season, he had played his last game by January 1977, like several other members of the team he initially went to the States and then the lower leagues.
What can we say about Bobby Stokes, the scorer of the most famous goal in the clubs history suffered what was then truly a curse, the number of players who scored FA Cup winning goals at Wembley only to find it ruined their career back in the 1960's & 70's was many, Mike Trebilcock for Everton in 1966, Neil Young for Manchester City in 1969, Alan Taylor in 1974 and Roger Osbourne for Ipswich in 1978 are all examples of players in their prime who found that scoring the winning goal would not be helpful to their career.
Bobby was still only 25 when he scored at Wembley, he had a fine pedigree for the club, he had played nearly 150 games in the top flight for the club, almost 250 in total , yet after Wembley he would start only 8 more games plus 3 as sub and only 23,006 would see his final goal scored against Nottingham Forest in September 1976, his final game coming in March 1977 on a cold Friday night at Fulham.
Like others in the squad he headed off to the USA playing several summers there and in between he signed for home town club Portsmouth where he was not a success, still only 26 and with Pompey in the then Division 3 he should have done well, but 24 games and only 2 goals tell a different story although Pompey were struggling themselves and were relegated to the bottom tier of the football league at the end of the season.
Bobby played again in the states and then at several non league clubs but the sad fact was that he had played his last game in the Football League by age 27, at a time when he should have been at his peak and with a good pedigree it's not easy to say why it al went wrong.
His tale gets sadder, his marriage failed as did a business and he was granted a testimonial by Saints in 1994 as by that time he was working for his cousin in her cafe in Pompey, sadly he died before the game could be arranged, leaving us on 30th May 1995.
The final member of the squad was Hugh Fisher the sub on the day and who did not get in on the action, ironically without his goal in the final minute of the 3rd round game at the Dell that took us to what had looked an unlikely replay, history would have been far different.
Fisher was a great servant to the club joining in March 1967 from Blackpool, it is sometimes forgotten now that for the semi final at Stamford Bridge he would have started the game ahead of Paul Gilchrist, but he knew he had an injury niggle and was honest enough to tell Lawrie McMenemy that he wasn't 100%, Gilchrist played, scored and he played at Wembley not Hugh.
At 32 Hughie's days were always going to be numbered, he played a few times in the following season but left in March 1977 to become player manager of Southport who were then in the 4th division.
The following year they were not reelected to the League despite not finishing bottom and were replaced by Wigan.
Hugh moved back to Southampton where he played for several Southern League clubs before hanging up his boots in 1980.
Hughie is perhaps the one member of the squad that truly never had to buy a drink as on his return to the City he worked for many years as a brewery rep, he still goes to watch the club and last week was part of a team that entered the Saints Foundation quiz at St Mary's.
The 1976 team had some great players in the squad, but it is strange that so many of them saw their career stall rather than prosper in the aftermath of what for most of them was their greatest hour.
This club does not honour it's past enough and as the exhibition at Sea City nears the end of its run, surely it is time that the club itself did something a lot more permanent to honour and remember its past, it is a sad testament to Southampton Football Club that I have been in pubs outside Anfield with more memorabilia and glorification of their football club than there is in the entire stadium at St Mary's.
Ralph Krueger should take note, those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it endlessly, the great football clubs around the World respect and glorify their past, they know it is what defines them, the lesser clubs are afraid of their's, sadly I know what category we seem to fit in at present, it has to change.
NB. With thanks to Duncan Holley, Gary Chalk, David Bull, David Juson, Chris Newman and others who have written books about the club and who try to document its history as without them there would be little permanent evidence left.
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