On This Day In History - 29th April 1978 Promotion Clash With Spurs
Wednesday, 29th Apr 2020 11:40
At least one of the two sides who met at the Dell on 29th April 1978 would go up to the top flight, possibly both, it would be a memorable day!
Right back almost a year earlier when the fixtures for 1977/78 season had been released, the final fixture for Saints stood out, both teams were firm favourites for promotion, would this be a day of celebration for both sides ?
Interest in the game was high long before the actual day itself and so the game was made all ticket a rarity back in those days, tickets were sold out almost as soon as they went on sale with Spurs being allocated the whole of the Archers Road terrace, around 5,000 places.
Spurs fans had a bit of a reputation in the 1970's and the Saints board were rather hoping that the promotion places would be sorted by the final day and that this would be a double promotion party and not a riot.
As it became clear that there would be something on this game, it was decided to erect fences at the front of the Archers Road terrace to prevent a repeat of Manchester United's visit in the FA Cup a year earlier when their fans had spilled on to the pitch both before, during and after the game.
By now the Dell had several areas that created noise, the Milton end had all but been abandoned by the singing element by the end of the season and you now had four distinct groups.
The first was at by the players tunnel in the West Stand, the second was over in the East Stand terrace, but the two main areas where now the Archers Road and under the West stand next to the Archers.
As that end was given to the Spurs fans most of the Barmy Archers Army joined the West Stand brigade for this game.
Safety modifications had reduced the capacity slightly at the Dell, but sometimes back then a sell out didn't always get near capacity for some reason, there wasn't a ticket available for this game yet the 28,846 attendance was around 1,000 short of the official capacity and there wasn't an inch of space in the ground to be had and as I say tickets had been sold out two weeks before the game and were changing hands at double the price more if you were a Spurs fan.
Therefore fencing in the away fans meant sense, with Brighton playing Blackpool who were in freefall and Saints having lost only twice in the League since early December the most likely outcome on the day was that we would win and Brighton would go up and Spurs would stay down and that would mean trouble.
Getting into the ground on the day early you could sense the tense atmosphere, not in the home sections where we were all but up barring a total collapse and a Brighton goal fest, but in the Archers Road where Spurs fans looked out menacingly through the fences which in places were already showing signs of vandalism.
The questions about this game still linger 42 years later, a point for both sides would mean that both would go up and Brighton miss out, the game was tense but it was unexciting with few chances, just about the only one we had fell to Tony Funnell who had been deadly in the past month or so, from close range he hit the post, a bad miss some said, he had been aiming wide and he had nearly scored.
On reflection it seemed that Saints were opting to take a point and see Spurs go up and in doing so still have a stadium to play in the next season, and indeed still have fans alive to watch it, there could be a lot of truth in that.
The only evidence to the contrary is that if we had won then we would have won the title on goal difference, but during the game we would not have known that Bolton were themselves drawing 0-0 at home to Fulham we would have assumed that this was a game they would win.
When the final whistle went both sets of supporters went mad with both joy and especially for Spurs fans relief, they had watched knowing that a Saints goal would have seen them miss out on promotion, the final minutes saw neither side want to do anything that might upset the apple cart so to speak.
In his autobiography future Saints manager Glenn Hoddle claimed that this game in terms of pressure exceeded the cup finals he played in, perhaps he never forgave us.
Saints fans poured on to the pitch at the end, since 1976 this had become a tradition on the final day and now there was something to celebrate, the team appeared in the directors box and took the acclaim from thousands of Saints supporters both on the pitch and still on the terraces.
At this point I nipped up into the upper West Stand and managed to get the red & white striped shirt that Peter Wells had worn under his keepers jersey, I still have it today.
It was here I learned from Steve Williams that Bolton were champions and not us, after the players had left the directors box some Saints fans turned towards the Archers Road end, by now the fence now had large chunks kicked or ripped out of it, indeed it would only be there for this game afterwards it was beyond repair and had to be replaced for the next season.
Some Spurs fans managed to scale the fence and the odd skirmish on the pitch took place, but a combination of the remaining fence and the police made sure that nothing major happened.
Afterwards it was not a party atmosphere amongst the visiting supporters whose way of celebrating was to try and terrorise the Saints fans in Hill Lane, back the the pubs didn't open till 6pm so after the game we usually headed home for tea etc and then out in the evening, sometimes popping into town after the game for an hour, this wan't one of those games, we crossed Hill Lane and got the number 17 in Shirley, if you want to know what it was like getting across the Berlin Wall, then 5.15 ish on this day would have been a good day to find out by trying to get across Hill Lane by the Archers Road traffic lights, you had a better chance of not being killed or maimed in Berlin.
But Saints were up and that is all that mattered, all that was left to do was get back into town for about 8pm and have a few beers ending up in the Centre Inn which subsequently became the Dog & Duck and was were the entrance to West Quay is near the Saints store.
Was this game the subject of a Gentleman's agreement for a draw, I have to say I have never spoken to a Saints player from the time who has admitted that, but I have spoken to older players who spoke of end of season matches seeing teams going easy if the opposition were on an end of season bonus and would offer a "drink" to the other side to go easy.
But most of those stories are from the 1950's or earlier and after that era with betting etc now officially allowed through bookmakers and some high profile cases prosecuted, it doesn't seem to have gone on much after that, however it must have played on both sets of players minds during the game and neither seemed to want to do anything that would upset the other side and kick the game into a competitive match.
Photo: Action Images
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