When Bingham’s Robots Malfunctioned: Everton’s 1974/75 Season

In my opinion the 1974/1975 season was a turning point in Everton’s history, from which they took a decade to recover and handed Liverpool the chance to become the dominant team of the decade.

Between 1967 and 1974, seven different teams had won the league title, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Arsenal, Derby County, Liverpool and Leeds United. At the start of the 1974/75 season, only Arsenal had the same manager who had led them to the title in charge. Matt Busby had departed from a Manchester United team now facing a season in Division Two. Joe Mercer had left Manchester City leaving Malcolm Allison in sole command. Brian Clough was no longer in the hot seat at Derby County.

More significantly, Don Revie exited Leeds United at the end of the 1973/74 season to take up the England manager’s role and to the unbridled joy of Evertonians everywhere, a certain Bill Shankly had suddenly announced his decision to leave Liverpool, after winning the League title and F.A. Cup in successive seasons. There was now an opportunity waiting for an Everton manager to create a title winning side and establish a presence in European competition, whilst their rivals across the park were entering a period of uncertainty. Everything was coming together to make the 1974/75 season that moment in time.

Since winning the League in 1970, Everton had undergone a period of steep decline. At the end of the 1972/1973 campaign, Harry Catterick was relieved of his managerial position after Everton finished in 17th place in the table, lost at home in the F.A. Cup to Third Division Millwall and attendances had slumped to as low as 21,806 for the visit of Norwich in April. Drastic action was needed and John Moores, the Everton Chairman, was ready to make a sensational high-profile appointment to restore Everton’s fortunes.

Moores had decided to make Don Revie the next Everton manager and the rumours started to surface of his impending appointment. Revie was allegedly seen near Liverpool asking a passer- by for directions to Freshfield where Moores resided. Revie, not untypically, held out for more money to the extent that Everton were prepared to offer an eight-year contract with the added bonus of a £50,000 signing on fee. Once again Everton became the victims of circumstances beyond their control as they were caught out by the Heath Government’s Pay and Prices board which clearly stated that “recruits to existing jobs should not be paid more than the people they replaced”. The deal collapsed, Revie stayed at Leeds and won the League the following season.

As a side note, many middle-class Everton fans had developed the habit of giving their homes names to indicate their rise in social status. A popular choice at the time was “ Notreve”, sure you can work that out. Many of their Red supporting neighbours delighted in changing that overnight to “Notrevie.”

Moores finally settled on former Everton player Billy Bingham as the new manager who was in charge at the start of the 1973/74 season. To most Everton fans, this was a rather underwhelming choice. Bingham had achieved a degree of success at Fourth Division Southport and had also undertaken the role of manager of Northern Ireland at the same time, but had failed to achieve anything of note when he moved to Second Division Plymouth Argyle, apart from a relegation to the Third Division. After leading Linfield to the Northern Irish league Championship in 1971, he was head hunted by the Greek F.A. to lead their qualification campaign for the 1974 World Cup. They finished bottom in their group and Bingham was relieved of his post.

Bingham had never been a manager in the top flight of English football, yet somehow, because of his eclectic experiences in football , he had earned a reputation as both an innovative coach and a strong disciplinarian. Perhaps these were just the qualities that Everton needed to re-establish themselves as a force in football again. Also, the fact that Bingham was an ex- Everton player and had a deep affection for the club persuaded Moores that he was indeed the man.

Bingham did not make any significant changes for the start of the 1973/74 season but he immediately set about changing the culture of underachievement which was undermining the club. He changed the coaching staff, replacing the aging Tommy Eggleston with the younger Ray Henderson from Reading. Training methods were radically altered, using new scientific methods which involved combining running and gym based routines, even on match days. He was a strict disciplinarian and players were now fined for breaking curfews.

Undoubtedly, the 1973/ 74 season was one of measurable progress. Everton finished the season in seventh position, ten places higher than the previous season and attendances were improving again. Bingham was involved in two notable transfers that season. In September he purchased David Clements, whom he had made captain of Northern Ireland, from Sheffield Wednesday, who assumed the place of the injured Howard Kendall. However, Bingham had realised that if Everton were to sustain a challenge for the title he needed to add a proven goalscorer to his squad. Everton’s recent forays into the striker market had not been encouraging. Catterick had purchased Rod Belfitt from Ipswich, a player who is possibly the worst one ever to wear a blue shirt. He never played once for Bingham and was swiftly moved on to Sunderland. Joe Harper, an expensive purchase from Aberdeen was also allowed to leave in February 1974 for Hibernian. An indicator of how problematic goal scoring had become for Everton is clearly highlighted by the fact the top scorer for the 1973/74 season was a certain Mick Lyons with a paltry nine goals.

Bingham had identified Bob Latchford from Birmingham City as the answer. The problem was that Birmingham were in a relegation struggle and were understandably reluctant to sell their prize asset. Eventually, Bingham and the Birmingham manager Freddie Goodwin came to a compromise. Goodwin needed a top class midfielder and a reliable defender to improve his side. A unique deal was struck, Everton were to pay a record breaking £350,000 for Latchford with Howard Kendall and Archie Styles transferring to Birmingham as part of the deal.

As with the departure of Alan Ball two years earlier, the departure of club legend and captain did not go down too well with the Everton fan base but Bingham had calculated that David Clements could assume Kendall’s role and the captaincy, and was prepared to weather the storm. Latchford swiftly repaid the manager’s faith in him by scoring seven goals in thirteen appearances.

With the news of Shankly’s shock departure from Liverpool, most Everton fans approached the 1974/75 season with a renewed sense of optimism. Bingham’s methods had undoubtedly created a more organised and fitter team who played to their strengths and were difficult to beat.The manager had little time for individual creativeness and insisted all players conform to his strictures. Now it seemed that Bingham had assembled a team who were ready to mount a serious title challenge.

Bingham had purchased the Scottish forward Jim Pearson from St. Johnstone for £100,000 in the summer, perhaps calculating that the injury prone Joe Royle was not part of his long-term plans.A few weeks into the season, Bingham used John Moores’ finances again to excellent effect with the purchase of Martin Dobson, a midfielder from Burnley for £300,000, a record fee for a midfield player at the time. Bingham had already demonstrated his ruthless streak with the sale of Howard Kendall, now with the purchase of Dobson, he allowed another legend in Colin Harvey to depart for Sheffield Wednesday. The next home game a banner was unfurled on the terraces – “ £65,000 for Colin Harvey, the White Pele, a disgrace”.

Everton played their first game of the 1974/75 season at home to Derby County. The new chant from the Gwladys Street End was “Hey rock’n’roll, Shankly’s on the dole” to the tune of a popular Showaddywaddy song of the time. A goalless draw with the League Champions of 1972 showed that Bingham’s team was going to be hard to beat. Everton made a positive start to the season. From the start of the season until Christmas they only lost one league game out of twenty-one. This run included twelve draws but in the days of only two points for a win, this was not as damaging as it would be today. Everton hit a hot streak of form in December, culminating a statement of real intent with a one nil away victory to Derby County, one of their strongest rivals, courtesy of a trademark Bob Latchford header. The win placed Everton on top of the table for the first time that season. The League was now theirs to lose.

The little known Derby County assistant manager, Des Anderson, was not impressed with Everton’s Stakhanovite style. He disparagingly compared Everton’s playing style to that of a team of robots. These words were probably music to the ears of Mr Bingham. The London media were highly critical of Bingham’s methods. Due to Everton wearing an amber away kit at the time, they were mockingly referred to as the “Clockwork Orange” team citing a highly controversial film of the time. Unlike any Everton manager before him, Bingham’s first priority was always not to lose the game with the emphasis in training being on what the side did when they didn’t have the ball. This defensive mentality meant that Everton only conceded twenty goals in twenty-one games and with Latchford having scored eight goals in that period. By staying in the game Everton always had a chance of snatching a win. In fact, at this stage of the season, Everton had never lost when Latchford scored. This also encouraged Bingham to accept a bid of £200,000 from Manchester City for Joe Royle, as he considered they were too similar in style to play together. Many fans felt Royle should have been kept on to provide cover for Latchford.

Everton’s next home game was on Saturday 21 December 1974 against bottom of the table, relegation certainties, Carlisle United. This was a golden opportunity for Everton to extend their lead at the top. Carlisle were on an appalling run of form, having lost seven out of their last eight league games. Everyone in the crowd was in a festive mood. Local radio “personality” Billy Butler made a pre-match joke over the tannoy system that some sensational football news had just come through that Derby County had sacked their assistant manager Des Anderson and replaced him with ………… a robot!

The first half went accordingly to plan as Everton’s superior skill and technique produced two first-half goals for Bob Latchford and a comfortable lead. Everything was in place for Everton to go top of the table at Christmas. Except it wasn’t. In fourteen of the most bizarre minutes ever seen at Goodison Park, Carlisle staged an amazing, improbable comeback. Joe Laidlaw scored for Carlisle in the 51st minute and then equalised five minutes later. Then in the 65th minute, they took the lead through Les O’Neill and despite Everton creating chance after chance, they held on. Everton fans left the stadium shell shocked.

Everton recovered from this setback. A productive run of three wins saw them, temporarily regain top position at the start of February. In a League in which no team could appear capable of remaining at the top, Everton had dropped to third by the 22nd of February but then they hit a rich vein of form which meant they held on to the leadership for the next six games. This started with a goalless draw at Anfield and a rare Everton victory at Arsenal.

After drawing 0-0 away to current League Champions, Leeds United on the 15th of March 1974, Everton were three points clear at the top with nine games remaining. After the Leeds game, Johnny Giles came into the Everton dressing room to tell the players, “Just keep going …. you’ll win this”. Even Billy Bingham was prepared to make a bold statement about Everton’s chances saying “The chase is almost over, the prize is almost won. We are not cracking at the crunch”. On paper, Everton appeared to have the easier run -in compared to their rivals.

The following Tuesday, Everton surprisingly lost two- nil away to Middlesbrough but after a home draw with Ipswich on the Saturday, Everton were still top. Next up was Carlisle United away. Since their sensational win at Goodison, Carlisle had only won two of their last thirteen league games and were firmly rooted at the bottom. Most Everton fans were reassured by the fact that lightning could not strike twice as a huge continent of Everton fans travelled north up the M6 on Easter Saturday to witness a routine victory.

Most travelled home totally bemused as lightning did indeed strike twice. Before the game, Bingham had commented that Carlisle had played good football but their weakness was “an inability to put the ball in the net”. Some things are better left unsaid. Everton appeared to have learned from that 3-2 defeat at Christmas. They kept the game very tight and allowed Carlisle few opportunities in the first hour of the game, perhaps hoping that they could snatch a victory. Then Peter Scott, making a rare appearance at fullback, gave away a penalty from which Carlisle scored. Steve Sargeant, the other fullback, gave away a needless free kick and Carlisle went two up… Three minutes from time Carlisle grabbed a third, inflicting Everton’s heaviest defeat of the season. Even worse this result meant Liverpool were now top.

Amazingly, two games later, after beating Coventry City and drawing with Burnley at Goodison, Everton were back on top with four games to go. Four wins and the title would be heading to Goodison. Next up was a trip to the already relegated Luton Town. Everton dominated proceedings but Luton, who had nothing to play for, scored two goals in two minutes before half-time and despite constant Everton pressure held on to their league. Everton dropped to fourth position, with Derby now leading the table, but still had a chance of the title.

Everton won away one- nil at Newcastle and climbed back to third place. Everton played their final home game against Sheffield United and strolled to a two -nil lead at half time. Results from elsewhere indicated that they still had a chance of winning the league. Unbelievably, as they had against Carlisle, Everton relaxed in the second half and allowed Sheffield United to come back and win three- two. The dream was over, the title was lost. Frustratingly for Everton with Liverpool losing and Derby drawing, Everton would have been one point behind with one game to play. But it wasn’t to be. Derby ended up being crowned Champions the following Saturday. Everton finished in fourth place, only three points behind Derby.

This had been Everton’s chance to win the first league title in the post -Shankly, post -Revie era and they blew it. If Everton had won the league that season, Bob Paisley, the new man at Liverpool would have been under increasing pressure to win a trophy and Everton would have been competing in the European cup again. The next season Liverpool won the League and Everton slumped to eleventh in the table. The opportunity had not been grasped, Bingham’s robots had malfunctioned.

Players and fans who remember that season, still cannot believe how Everton contrived to throw away their golden opportunity of winning the League and re- establishing themselves as the top team on Merseyside. Some claim that Bingham’s failure to sign a top-class goalkeeper to replace the erratic Dai Davies was the reason. Others that Bingham’s defensive tactics stifled the team and prevented them scoring the goals necessary to win rather than draw matches. Bob Latchford, to this day, is still frustrated that Everton blew the title. As he said “the 74/75 Championship was the one we should have won… It would have set the tone for the rest of the decade.”

Everton have played 114 seasons in the top division, more than any other team. However, there is only one team that Everton have played in the top flight who they have never beaten, a record that still holds to this day. That team is Carlisle United and the failure to beat them ultimately cost Everton the chance of being League Champions in the 1974/75 season. As Mick Lyons clearly stated, “If we’d have beaten Carlisle twice, we’d have won the league”.