The 1970/1971 season is one which lives strongly in the memories of Latics’ supporters. There was hope, there was promise; there was success, there was glorious defeat, and there was bitter, bitter disappointment caused by 92 pens.
Latics had entertained Russian side Metallist Kharkov, which according to rumour included Mikhail Gorbachev in the party (click here for more info) and although missing out on election into the League, being pipped by Cambridge to take Bradford Park Avenue’s place, Latics did poll one more vote than the unfortunate Yorkshiremen.
Crowd numbers grew at Springfield Park, and on Boxing Day the game against top of the League Stafford Rangers drew 8,107. Latics won 4-1, and the end of the season saw them Northern Premier League champions, losing only two games in the whole campaign.
The third round draw pitted them against Manchester City away at Maine Road. City at the time were holders of the League Cup and European Cup-Winners Cup and were doing well in the League. Their team that day, 2 January 1971, was full of star names: Joe Corrigan in goal; Tony Book, Arthur Mann, Mike Doyle, Tommy Booth, Alan Oakes, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Neil Young and Derek Jeffries, with Frank Carrodus on the bench.
Latics had in their line-up Dennis Reeves; Alan Turner, Billy Sutherland, Gordon Milne, Doug Coutts, Ian Gillibrand, Derek Temple, Bobby Todd, Geoff Davies, Jim Fleming and Graham Oates with sub Ian Ledgard.
The referee was one of the top officials of the time, Pat Partridge from Middlesbrough.
Both teams changed their strip, City into their renowned (at the time) black and red striped shirts with black shorts – the colours they’d worn to victory in both the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1970. Latics wore all white with blue trim. But best of all, BBC’s “Match of the Day” cameras were there to record the scene.
It is said that club chairman Ken Cowap gave each of the voting representatives a Parker pen – valued at two pounds each. And this was considered by many to be an attempt to influence the votes, and backfired. Whether this is true or not we will probably never know. Certainly the following year when Hereford were voted in on the back of their famous Cup win against Newcastle, they gave everyone a china bull without detriment.
Whatever the reason – it was another seven years before Latics’ knocking on the League door became too loud to ignore. But 1970/1971 certainly was some season!