Carrying on with our series of games chosen by patrons of the site, we’re moving on to Dave Wilkinson’s pick, back in September 1972.
We’re going back to before my time, sadly, so I am going to lean rather heavily on the newspaper reports of the day. City were seventh going into the game, with six points from six games, but this was under two points for a win. Also, we were top of a group of nine teams on the same points, separated by goal average, not goal difference. Bury, our opponents that day, were one of the teams also on six points, albeit through four draws and a single win, but they were 14th.
Manager David Herd had declared that the Fourth Division title was the aim, something you can read all about in Malcolm’s piece on the season here. However, in the shorter term, a poor start (defeats at Sincil Bank against Aldershot and Hartlepool) had been put behind us, with wins against Workington (3-0) and Hereford United (4-1), with new recruit Brendan Bradley impressing. Along with Dixie McNeil up top, City had two goalscoring machines, something Dave Wilkinson remembers fondly; “they marked those two out of the game”, he said when requesting the match. Sadly for the Shakers, it left another threat very much free to do as he pleased.
Very few teams had been able to do as they pleased at Gigg Lane – they were unbeaten on their home ground since the previous October, when the Imps won 1-0 in a smash and grab raid that sounded very much like our recent wins against Barnsley and Ipswich. Since then, 21 matches had passed without a home defeat for the Shakers. This was not to be number 22.
The Imps lined up: Eric Hulme, Mick Bloor, Graham Taylor, Derek Trevis, Terry Branston, Frankie McMahon, Terry Cooper, Brendan Bradley, Percy Freeman, Dixie McNeil and Dave Smith, with John Worsdale the sub. Among the Bury ranks was future Liverpool man (and three-time European Cup winner) Terry McDermott, John Connelly (who played in one of England’s 1966 World Cup games) and former Manchester City defender George Heslop, a Cup Winner’s Cup winner in 1970.
Bury started the brighter, with John Murray, who played First Division football with Burnley, headed over Eric Hulme‘s goal. Hulme, on loan from Nottingham Forest, would later sign a deal that saw him remain with the Imps for two years.
After that, the Imps took control, despite what one report called Bury’s ‘steamroller’ tactics of hoofing it to George Jones, hoping he would get somewhere. He didn’t, and on seven minutes, City took the lead. The Big Three (as they were termed in multiple reports) all combined for the goal – Freeman chipped a ball to McNeil, who flicked on for Bradley to burst through the defence, round keeper John Forrest and score.
Bury had a chance to level not long after, a cross from the right was headed over by McDermott, but after that, it was all City. Cooper set up McNeil for an effort; his shot was parried by Forrest, but it came back to Freeman. He’d been on a goal drought but rifled in the rebound. 2-0 City after 22 minutes, and Bury’s proud record was on the ropes.
Mick Bloor ended the first half on a stretcher, but he came back out for the second period and played a part in the rout. Bury didn’t have an answer to what was described as brilliant attacking football, and shortly after the half time break, the game was put to bed. Bloor’s free-kick was nodded down by Trevis, and Freeman lashed an unstoppable volley past the despairing Forrest, which bounced in off the underside of the crossbar. Coach Graham Taylor, shortly to become manager, was credited with creating the set piece in some reports.
It could have been better for Big Percy – he fired wide not long after when it seemed easier to score. However, he was always going to get another chance – Bury’s back four were focused on McNeil and Bradley, meaning Percy had plenty of space. He found 40 yards of it to run into after a McNeil pass on the hour mark, which he did before finishing calmly to make it 4-0. The natives were not happy.
Despite their long unbeaten run, they turned on their chairman, William Allen. Fan started chanting Allen out before a group of youths moved in, seemingly intent on pressing home their message. It was later reported he was struck by a toilet roll, which sounds pretty nasty.
City ended the day in fifth and must have been dreaming of a possible promotion. Indeed, that terrifying front three scored in every league game through to October 28th – a run of nine more matches. However, results were not always favourable, and when the goals slowed, the Imps tumbled. After October, the trio scored just three times in 18 games, and David Herd left the club during that run.
By the time May arrived, a young John Ward had taken Percy’s place in the team, Bradley had returned to Finn Harps for a nominal fee and star man Dave Smith spent time out injured. After a promising start, it was a poor finish for the Imps. City ended the season tenth, Bury 12th, and neither were able to press on. However, with Dennis Leigh, Ward, Freeman, Smith and Cooper, the early foundations for the record-breaking 1976 team were being put firmly into place.