When every fan was an expert in long division!

The 1964/65 Football League Division One Season – the last to be decided on goal average.

Since the start of the 1976/1977 season, goal difference has been the standard measure of separating two teams level on points. If the two teams are level on points it is a very simple mathematical process to decide who should be the higher placed team. Simply subtract the number of goals conceded from the number of goals scored to produce goal difference. The answer is always a whole number. The team with the biggest goal difference comes out on top.

However, prior to this, teams level on points were subjected to a more complex mathematical calculation, called goal average. This involved dividing the number of goals scored by the number of goals conceded, quite a demanding task in pre calculator times, to decide which team would finish higher. So in the 1952/53 season, this formula was used to separate Arsenal and Preston North End who had both finished level on 54 points at the top of the league. Arsenal had scored 97 and conceded 64, producing a goal average figure of 1.516, whereas Preston North End had scored 85 and conceded 60 producing a goal average figure of 1.417. Therefore as Arsenal’s goal average was superior, by a margin of 0.099, they won the league. By a tenth of a goal!

Prior to this, the only other occasion in which a team won the Football League on goal average was in the 1923/ 24 season when Cardiff City and Huddersfield tied on 57 points. However, the League title remained in England as Huddersfield had a superior goal average and won the league by 0.024 of a goal, the narrowest ever margin of victory! If goal difference had been used, the title would have gone to Wales!

The 1964/65 season was decided by goal average and was the last ever Football League title to be settled in this manner.

A wind of change was starting to blow through the Football League at the start of this season. A new breed of manager was starting to emerge who placed the emphasis on coaching, tactics and training. The likes of Alf Ramsey, Tommy Docherty , Don Revie, were at the forefront of this movement. When Stan Cullis, the old school style manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, was sacked despite having guided the team to three league championships in the previous decade, the established order was shaken. Football was starting to enter a new era where the winning team was honed on the training ground. However, Wolves were rewarded for the dismissal of their most successful manager ever with relegation at the end of the season!

No team had managed to dominate the 1960’s in the way Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United had in the 1950’s and no side had managed to retain the title , which went from Burnley to Tottenham Hotspur to Ipswich Town to  Everton to Liverpool in five consecutive seasons. Liverpool as reigning champions were strongly fancied, as were Manchester United who had finished runners up. Everton had finished third but with having lost their midfield dynamo Tony Kay to a lifelong F.A. ban were undertaking a period of transition. Tottenham had finished fourth but the Double winning team of 1961 was starting to break up and tragically their star inside forward John White had been killed by a lightning strike  a month before the season was due to start. Many punters predicted that this might be Chelseas’s season. Tommy Docherty’s young side had finished in an impressive fifth position in their first season after promotion and were becoming the team to watch.

One side that did not really come into consideration was the newly promoted Leeds United. They had gained a reputation as a very methodical team with hardly any star players and a crop of youngsters who had never played in the top division before. Leeds United were a football team playing in a rugby league stronghold and had little footballing tradition to speak of. On the other hand, they had a very innovative manager in Don Revie who was way ahead of many of his contemporaries in terms of organisation and tactics and had his team playing a brand of high energy football which many opponents had found difficult to overcome. The true football cognoscenti may have noticed some parallels with the Ipswich Town side that Alf Ramsey had taken to the league title in 1962, one season after promotion.

The season kicked off on the 22nd of August  1964 and Manchester United with their free -scoring forwards , Best , Charlton and Law led the table from the start. They lost only 2 of their first 20 games, scoring 48 goals , culminating in a 7-0 victory over Aston Villa in November. Everton , Liverpool and Tottenham swiftly lost ground to Manchester United and by the start of December ,it was becoming clear that only two other team had a realistic chance of challenging them, Chelsea and Leeds United. Manchester United, because of their ability to dominate teams were also conceding few goals.

Chelsea had also made an excellent start to the season. They had lost only 3 of their first 20 games , scoring 46 goals in the process. In the space of 7 days in November , they beat Everton at  Stamford Bridge 5- 1 and then won 6-1 away at Birmingham , with George Graham scoring a hat trick. They had a prolific goalscorer in Bobby Tambling , but Bert Murray and Barry Bridges were also finding the net regularly.

Chelsea had an opportunity to make a firm statement of their title winning potential when they played Leeds United and then Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in consecutive home games in September. Chelsea were top of the table as they met Leeds United who were lying in second place.

Team

 

1.Chelsea

2.Leeds United

……………………

10.Manchester United

Played

 

8

8

 

8

Points

 

13

11

 

09

It was a fierce tussle between two teams determined to win. The Chelsea full back Eddie McCreadie , produced a vicious tackle that led to Johnny Giles being stretchered off. According to many pundits , this was the start of the deep enmity which grew between the sides over the decade. With numerical advantage, Chelsea went on to win 2-0 with goals from Terry Venables and John Hollins.

Eleven days later, Manchester United were the visitors. Chelsea were now leading the table with 17 points from 10 games , whilst Manchester United were 4 points behind in fourth place. However, with goals from the dynamic duo of Best and Law, Manchester United prevailed and then went on a run of 8 wins in their next 9 league games.

Leeds United had started the season well ,winning their first 3 games but then proceeded to lose four of the next seven , including a humiliating 4-0 defeat away to Blackpool. However, they were unbeaten in their next 10 fixtures, so after 20 games played, they had lost 4 and scored 44 goals. In the process , they had climbed from mid-table to a top three spot and were clinging on to the coat tails of the leaders, as they found that they were able to out run teams and unsettle them with their determination to win, led by their inspirational captain, Bobby Collins.

So as we entered the month of December, the table looked like this:

Team

 

1.Manchester United

2.Chelsea

3.Leeds United

Played

 

20

20

20

 

Points

 

32

29

28

 

Manchester United were due to host Leeds United on Saturday 5th of December. It was a bit early in the season for a title decider but many were calling it thus. A win for Manchester United would have taken them six points clear of Leeds. This was certainly going to be a clash of styles. Manchester United were in a superb run of form, having dropped only 1 point from their last 14 games.

Leeds United, as ever, were superbly organised. They defended in depth and allowed Manchester United to have territorial supremacy. Jack Charlton dealt with any crosses into the box and Gary Sprake had an outstanding game in goal. Ironically, it was the Manchester United goalkeeper, Pat Dunne, who had the “careless hands”, allowing Bobby Collins to score the winner 10 minutes from time when he dropped the ball. Brian Glanville, the respected correspondent of the Sunday Times summed the game up thus:

“At their best, Manchester are the most brilliant side in the country but they are not remotely the best organised and if Leeds have one thing, organisation is it”.

The victory at Old Trafford seemed to inspire Leeds United and they then went on a 16 match unbeaten run. The defeat seemed to have the opposite effect on Manchester United as they won only 2 of their next 9 games. Chelsea had also maintained their challenge and from Boxing Day onwards they won 7 out of their next 9 league games.

On Saturday 13th of March , Chelsea were due to visit Old Trafford in yet another potential title decider. At this stage, Chelsea had established themselves as the new favourites as the league table showed, although they had played two more games than their rivals. The Chelsea manager was buoyant about their title hopes and felt that Chelsea had their hands on the title. A look at the league table shows how Chelsea were the team to catch.

Team

1.Chelsea

2.Leeds United

3.Manchester United

Played

33

31

31

Points

48

45

43

Manchester United went at Chelsea from the start. George Best scored after 6 minutes and David Herd added a second 20 minutes later. Herd and  Denis Law made the final score a convincing 4-0 win for Manchester United. Chelsea’s hopes had been severely dented and Manchester United had once again demonstrated their ability to score goals when it mattered.

As the season approached the crucial Easter weekend, with fixtures being played both on Easter Saturday, 17th April and 2 days later on Easter Monday, Leeds led the way, after 3 wins in their last 3 games.

Team

 

Leeds United.

Chelsea.

Manchester United.

Played

 

37

38

37

Points

 

56

53

53

 

The visit of Manchester United to Elland Road looked like being the tittle decider. A win for Leeds would have put them in a commanding position. Manchester United simply had to win. George Best was having a brilliant season for the Reds but in the previous encounter at Old Trafford after a “ collision” with Leeds defender Paul Reaney his effectiveness had been somewhat limited. As the teams came out of the tunnel, Best felt a terrific pain in his right calf from a kick. He turned around to find the Leeds captain, Bobby Collins snarling  at him “ That’s just for starters”. However Best was not one to be intimidated easily but Collins hit him again with a waist high challenge which left Best sprawling in a heap. Collins turned around and shouted to his team mates “You’ll have to get him again – he’s still moving.”

But Manchester United had players who could stand up for themselves as well. A certain Nobby Stiles made certain that Collins would not have things his own way. Stiles laid into Collins with a crunching tackle that left him crumpled against the perimeter wall. Stiles leant across and said “ Every time you kick George , I’m going to hit you like, that only harder!”. When a football game eventually broke out, John Connelly scored for the visitors after 14 minutes and they held on for the win . A crucial factor was that Billy Bremner was suspended for the match and that cost Leeds dearly.

Due to the intransigence of the Football League , Leeds now had to play 4 games in  8 days. They won 2 out of the next 3 games whilst Manchester United hitting form at the right time were on  a run of 6 straight wins.

Chelsea lost a key game at Liverpool on  Easter Monday, the 19th of April but were still in with a chance until events off the field conspired against them.. After the defeat at Liverpool, Docherty took his team straight to Blackpool to prepare for their remaining 2 fixtures away at  Burnley and Blackpool. It was to be a fateful decision.

On the Wednesday evening a group of 8 Chelsea players, broke Docherty’s curfew, slipping back into the hotel via the fire escape in the early hours of the morning. The group included captain  Terry Venables, Barry Bridges, Eddie Mc Creadie, George Graham, Marvin Hinton, John Hollins, Bert Murray and Joe Fascione, all with the exception of the latter , key components of the regular starting eleven. Whilst some managers may have taken a more pragmatic approach, it was 3 days before their next game, Docherty chose to make a stand. The players were sent back to London on the train the following morning and were dropped from the team to play Burnley. On Saturday, a weakened Chelsea side lost 6-2 and gave up any hopes they had of winning the league.

The League Title would be decided on Monday 26th April. Leeds were 1 point ahead of Manchester United but had played a game more. Crucially, Manchester United’s goal average was superior to Leeds. Leeds had a relatively easy looking away game at relegated Birmingham City. Manchester United were facing Arsenal at Old Trafford. A win for Manchester United meant Leeds United had to win to stand any chance of claiming top spot and force the Reds to have to get at least a point from their final game away at Aston Villa.

There was a tense atmosphere at Old Trafford, especially as many in the crowd knew that forward Denis Law was playing with seven stitches in a gash on his right knee and was heavily strapped. In front of a crowd of almost  52,000. Best scored after 7 minutes to settle everyone‘s nerves and the news filtering through from Birmingham via the scoreboard at the ground could not have been better.

At St. Andrew’s, Leeds United season appeared to be on the point of disintegrating. Although Birmingham had nothing to play for, they turned on their best performance of the season. City scored after 4 minutes and despite going down to 10 men through injury, in the days of no substitutes, they were more than a match for the out of form Leeds.

In the second half, despite effectively playing on only one leg, Denis Law put Manchester United 2 up in the 59th minute and soon after added a third. Meanwhile, over at St. Andrew’s, things could not have been any worse for Leeds. With an hour gone, they were trailing 3-0 and the league challenge was over. Don Revie accepted the fact and shouted to Billy Bremner to tell the team to take it easy and to save themselves for the F.A. Cup Final v Liverpool on Saturday. As the scoreboard at Old Trafford updated the Leeds score, the celebrations were starting.

Just as Revie was resigned to defeat, Leeds United were suddenly given a penalty in the 65th minute and Giles scored. In the 75th minute, Paul Reaney pulled another goal back for Leeds. At Old Trafford, the players and crowd became aware of the fightback as the scoreboard changed. A palpable air of tension developed.

With just 4 minutes to go, Leeds grabbed a sensational equaliser at St. Andrew’s. The players at Old Trafford looked horrified as they became aware of the comeback. Leeds threw everything at Birmingham in the dying minutes of the match, playing with 8 forwards and 2 defenders, but it wasn’t to be. Birmingham held on for a draw and the title was on the way to Manchester.

So, with one game, still to go Manchester United were crowned as League Champions by virtue of having a better goal average than Leeds. They had a goal average of 2.282, whereas Leeds had a goal average of 1.596. Therefore, Manchester United had taken the title by 0.686 of a goal. They lost their final game away to Aston Villa. It made no significant difference to their goal average.

So the top four positions in the final league table were as follows:

Team

 

Manchester United

Leeds United

Chelsea

Everton

Played

 

42

42

42

42

Goals Scored

89

83

89

69

Goals Conceded

39

52

54

60

Points

 

61

61

56

49

Goal Average

 

2.282

1.596

1.648

1.224

Although Manchester United’s free scoring forwards, Best, Charlton, Herd and Law took much of the credit, in reality it was Manchester United’s defence that was the difference , conceding 13 less goals than the supposedly defensive Leeds United. Leeds total of 61 point would have been enough to have won the league in 17 of the previous 20 seasons.

In a bizarre coincidence, the Scottish League was also decided by goal average as well. Kilmarnock won the title by having a superior goal average of 0.04 compared to Hearts.

Although the change to goal difference was welcomed by most fans, many Maths teachers felt a pang of regret that the only mechanism by which they could gain the interest of bored pupils in  the intricacies of long division had now been taken away from them.