Ray Illingworth’s tenure of the England hot-seat came to an abrupt end after an embarrassing defeat by West Indies in the Third Test at Lord’s. The Yorkshire man, who led the team for 31 of his 61 Tests, was given the boot after the West Indies won by an innings and 226 runs.
Illingworth could offer no excuses. “We were outbatted, outbowled and outfielded” he said. The tourists dominated the series, ending a 20-match run without victory in the first Test with a 158-run triumph.
The second Test was drawn. The West Indies were in ascendancy, the English in decline. The West Indies captaincy had been handed from Gary Sobers to Rohan Kanhai and most of the party were familiar with English conditions, having honed their skills on the county circuit. Sobers and Kanhai signed-off in their last Test in England by scoring 150‘s at Lord’s. A crowd of 28,000 packed the ground on the Saturday afternoon only to find themselves evacuated after a bomb hoax during the height of an IRA bomb campaign.
Jackie Stewart won the world championship, pulled out of the last race of the season when his teammate was killed and quit driving for good. Stewart had won 5 of the year’s Grand Prix when his colleague Francois Cevert was killed in practice for the United States GP at Watkins Glen on October 6 and the Tyrrell Team immediately withdrew.
Crisp was going to win the Grand National. There was no doubt about it. He was at least 20 lengths clear at Becher’s on the second circuit and jumping like a stag. It was no matter that he was not really a ‘stayer’ and he was carrying top weight. He was cruising and the fences just flew by.
It did matter. Two fences from home he started to slow. Richard Pitman, Crisp’s jockey was anxiously looking over his shoulder and Fred Winter, his trainer, feared the worst. Even then, though, it looked as if his lead, although shrinking by the second, would be just enough. There was only one fence to go and Crisp, the best jumper in the land, hit it hard. He lurched on and, still, he was not beaten.
But inexorably Brian Fletcher was catching up. As Crisp looked like he was sinking in quicksand, the gap narrowed and in the final strides Red Rum squeezed past him by ¾ of a length in record time.
DOGSLED RACING - Dick Wilmarth was the first winner of the Iditarod Trial from Anchorage to Nome in Alsaka.
FOOTBALL - Jackie Charlton retired for the game on April 28. On the same day, his brother Bobby played his last game for Manchester United.
TAEKWONDO - South Korea dominated the first world championships in Seoul.
TENNIS - Australia broke the United States’ 5-year domination of the Davis Cup, winning 5 - 0 in Cleveland in the first indoor final.
Stewart had little else to prove,. He was a three-time world champion and out of 99 starts he had won 27. When he won the Dutch GP he had surpassed the late Jim Clark’s world record of 25 wins and had survived a bad accident in 1966.
“I told you I would do it, but did you listen? He was scared, he was humiliated. I told you I was the greatest heavyweight of all time”.
Muhammed Ali outfoxed the bookmakers, George Foreman, and the entire world to recapture his heavyweight crown in his greatest, perhaps the greatest, title fight in Kinshasa, Zaire.
On October 30, Foreman was 3 - 1 favourite. Boxing writers around the world had not given Ali a prayer, and even his supporters were doubtful. How was a dancing counter-attacker at 32 going to handle, let alone beat, a champion seven years younger who attacked with relentless two-fisted barrage that had destroyed every opponent he had met. Ali knew how. For eight rounds Foreman had Ali banged up against the ropes, hitting him with everything he had, but although the champion was belting away at Ali’s body, connecting with his rib-cage and arms, he was singularly unsuccessful with blows to the head.
The challenger was cleverly, almost wickedly using the ropes to his advantage, sliding and slipping punches and crucially avoiding any serious damage. He was not dancing as usual but flat-footed and static, conserving his energy. By the fifth Foreman began to look a little weary. With less than 20 seconds remaining in the eighth round Ali exploded off the ropes, hit Foreman with a left hook, a right to the jaw and another left hook. The champion hit the canvass as if the roof had caved in. With only two seconds left Foreman was counted out, and Ali was Champion again.
Sir Alf Ramsey was never going to survive as manager after England was eliminated from the World Cup finals by Poland at Wembley. Ramsey had never been a popular manager with the public or press. He was diffident, stand-offish and uncommunicative. By 1974, his myriad of critics had forgotten the euphoria of the 1966 World Cup triumph and the knives were out.
Sir Harold Thomson vice-chairman of the FA, was adamant that Ramsey should be sacked and he was on April 21, although the decision was not made public until May 1. Joe Mercer the former manager of Manchester city, was appointed as caretaker manager.
On July 4 Don Revie of Leeds, and the outstanding English manager of the day, was appointed England manager. Alan Hardaker, League Secretary, was furious and wrote “Revie as England Manager is a classic case of poacher turning gamekeeper”.
England ruined the farewell party for Rohan Kanhai and Gary Sobers in Port of Spain, Trinidad on April 5. Everything was set up for a grand send-off for one of the worlds greatest batsmen and the sport’s greatest all-rounder. The West Indies were 2 - 1 up in the series and heading for another victory when they began the final day at 30 without loss chasing 266 to win.
Alas, Tony Greig, who had taken 8 for 86 in the first innings, captured five for 70 to help England to a 28 run victory with an hour to spare. Kanhai was out for 7 and Sobers for 20. But the pair had played their part in an eventful series. Kanhai the captain, blended the young and old in his side to lay the foundation for the most successful era in west Indian cricket.
Although he had a disappointing series with the bat, the Guyanese right-hander displayed his characteristic sweep, which usually ended with him lying on his back and the ball in the stands. Sobers contribution with both bat and ball was the swansong on an unparalleled career.
Jack Nicklaus had seen young pretenders to his throne come and go. The latest was Tom Watson, a 25 year-old who had won his first title in the Western Open the previous year but was still wearing the scars of missed opportunities in two US Opens and a Masters when he headed to Carnoustie, Scotland.
Watson’s first experience of links golf went largely unnoticed until the final hole of the Open. He played steady golf while the leaders were wayward, and a 15-foot putt at the last earned him a play-off against the Australian Jack Newton. Watson won the play-off at the 18th when he made a par and Newton dropped a shot.
An horrific crash at Daytona nearly cost Barry Sheene his life and appeared to have ended his career. But Sheene was not about to give up. The son of a motor bike fanatic and the nephew of a speedway driver he had racing in his blood.
He was soon back on his bike and won the 500cc world championship for the next two years and he had learned one thing from sliding down the tarmac at 180mph on his backside - “Just do not move your foot - it may snap off”.
Arthur Ashe was on a winning streak. He played blackjack in the Playboy Club until after midnight and won. A little more than 12 hours later he played Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon men’s singles final and won.
Spectators at both venues were surprised. They need not have been. Ashe had been winning against the odds all of his life. His toughest battle was against the prejudice he faced in a sport that was the exclusive preserve of white, middle-class Americans. The triumph against Connors was the icing on the top.
It was also a victory of precision over power. Connors was all brawn. He had a strong serve, an even stronger return and a two-handed backhand that fired shots down the line like bullets. Ashe found the perfect riposte, he slowed the pace with angled returns wide of Connors and mixed his play with soft, short shots, slices and top-spins. Connors had no answers until a supporter shouted “Come on Connors” His reply was “I’m trying for Crissake!”. But Ashe was having what he described as a serene high. He won the first two sets 6 - 1, 6 - 1, then he stuttered. Connors took the next set 7 - 5 and went ahead 3 - 0 in the fourth. But like a phoenix, Ashe rose to take six of the next seven games and the applause for the victory was deafening.
CRICKET - Gary Sobers was knighted on New Years Day.
FOOTBALL - Brian Clough took over at second division Nottingham Forest on January 5. His first match in charge was a 1 - 0 FA Cup third round replay victory at first division Tottenham Hotspur.
MOTOR RACING - Lella Lombardi of Italy became the first woman to pick up F1 points when she finished sixth in the Spanish Grand Prix in a March on April 27.
Sue Barker became more famous for dating Cliff Richard than for her tennis. But it was her much-improved backhand that kept her on song in the French Open. She was the first English player since Ann Jones in 1966 to win the women’s singles title in Paris, beating Renata Tomanova 6 - 0, 6 - 2.
Olga Korbut, the heroine of the 1972 Olympics took a back seat while her unsmiling rival attracted a record crowd of 18,000 people to the women’s finals. Comaneci won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. Korbut shared in the Soviet team victory and took the silver medal on the beam.
Wimbledon was prepared for a battle of fire and ice. The tempestuous Illie Nastase against Bjorn Borg. For the men’s singles crown. But after four games the fire was extinguished by the stoic Swede, who surprised even himself by taking the title without dropping a set.
Ice Borg, as he became known, had worked four hours a day on strengthening his weak serve and it paid off. He won 6 - 4, 6 - 2, 9 - 7 despite needing pain-killing injections for a stomach muscle he injured playing doubles. He never competed in a major doubles tournament again, and instead concentrated on winning five successive Wimbledon singles titles.
Sunderland had prepared everybody for this result three years earlier. If a second division side could topple Leeds and win the FA Cup, why not second division Southampton? All giants were for the slaying. Lawrie McMeneny’s astute blend of youth and experience obliged.
Southampton overwhelmed Tommy Docherty’s young Manchester United and captured the FA Cup for the first time. United never got back into the game when, after early pressure, Sammy McIlroy’s header hit the woodwork. Southampton worked tirelessly and never let the occasion unnerve them, as it did United. With eight minutes remaining Bobby Stokes scored the only goal from a pass by Jim McCalliog, whom Docherty had sold to Southampton
Nadia Comaneci earned better marks in gymnastics than in school. The little 14 year-old Romanian earned the first ever perfect score to catapult her sport on to the world stage. Her faultless performance on the asymmetrical bars captivated a world-wide television audience, who watched the sensation of the Olympic Games score another six ultimate marks of 10.0.
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