In this article, we look at Chichester City’s great escape from relegation in 1978/79, through the eyes of some of the people involved. Tomorrow on the 40th Anniversary of the title we examine the season with some of the main participants.
By 1978/79 the fortunes of the two teams who would be challenging for the title the following season were very different, Southwick had just secured the league runner-up spot just missing out on the title by 4 points to Peacehaven & Telscombe, while City in comparison were by February second to bottom with eight points, and in real danger of being relegated.
Chichester City manager Dave Luke had informed the City committee that he intended to step down so the club could search for a replacement to save the season.
City goal scorer Terry Vick remembers that time. “Dave Luke was responsible for putting some of the title-winning side together, by drafting in the youngsters from the reserves which had a really good side, at a time which was difficult for the club both financially and with players constantly drifting away”.
“Dave was a nice bloke, and he had been around a lot, had a lot of ability, but was probably too nice to be a manager, he recognized his shortcomings and offered to step down in the best interests of the club”.
City also had their first bit of good luck in an awful season, with the signing of Duncan Clough, who would become part of the bedrock defence that played a crucial part in securing their first title for nearly a decade.
Trevor Wallis explains “It was January 1979 and the club were looking for players, when out of the blue Duncan Clough walked into the club asking if Chichester needed any players. Duncan had just moved to the area after accepting a teaching job at one of the city’s Schools, he had played at a higher level and was looking to get into a team. Ernie Stevens, the club Secretary signed him up on the spot”.
The search started to find a new manager and it wasn’t long before Richie Reynolds, the former Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth midfielder was appointed. The appointment came about through City’s left-back Tony Grundy, who also worked at Radio Victory in Portsmouth.
“I had met Richie at one of the charity games I had played in and we got on well, so I thought he would be ideal. I phoned him up and asked him if he would like to come and manage Chichester City”.
Richie recalls the phone call he received from Tony.
“I was playing at Carshalton and was offered the manager’s job at Yeovil Town on the understanding that I lived in Yeovil. But both my Daughters were doing well at school and we decided we couldn’t uproot them, so I turned it down”.
“A good friend of mine Tony Grundy, got wind of me turning Yeovil down, phoned me up, and said what are you doing messing about at Carshalton, why don’t you come and run Chi-City”.
“I thought at that time the Sussex County League was a bit lower than I wanted to go, as I was playing in the Devon County League at 14, but he set up a meeting with City Chairman John Hutter who offered me £20 a week for players expenses…….how could I turn down an offer like that!”
Richie Reynolds took the manager job at city and set about his first training session to meet the players.
City midfielder Greg Brown remembers that training session well.
“We were training on a Tuesday night; it was chucking it down with rain and a very smart brown Ford Capri turned up and a figure started walking towards us. In those days, the floodlights were rubbish and you could not see anything, but as he got closer to us, we realized by his distinctive walk that it was Richie Reynolds”.
“For me as a Pompey fan since 1967 (Richie played from 1971-75), it was unbelievable, he was only about 30 and had just had his career cut short by a knee injury. He had a few words with us and took training and of course, we were hanging on his every word”.
Defender Neal Holder, affectionately known at the club as “Noddy” also thought the appointment was a good one.
“Richie was an ex-professional footballer, and at 17 years old when he arrived at the club I just wanted to learn from him. He was very hands-on he didn’t say to us you’re not good enough go and play in the reserves, he was very supportive of the young players, mix that with us wanting to learn and It made us better players”.
“He was also I good man-manager, he knew exactly the right time to pick you up and encourage you to go out and be better, but also If you needed a rocket, he’d give you that too. He knew how to look after players”.
After the training sessions, the first test was away at East Grinstead. Richie recalls that game.
“We had a couple of training sessions, then straight into the first game which was away at East Grinstead on an awful pitch, we won 4-1. That first game did them the world of good, to go away from home, knee-deep in mud and get a result like that, it gave them so much confidence.”
Greg Brown agrees.
“The East Grinstead game away from home, raining heavily and on a marshmallow pitch, and winning 4-1, we couldn’t have had a better start. Although we were half-decent footballers, Richie inspired us and brought a professional edge to our approach to the game”.
“He coached us in what were then much more modern ways, we hardly did anything without a football at our feet, except in pre-season when you would run up hills, etc. But even then, it would be kept to a minimum. He made me Captain at 20 years old, basically because I talked a lot!”.
Of the ten games left from the 1978/79 season when Reynolds took charge, City won seven and drew three, gaining 17 points, finishing the season in 12th place with 25 points, and stayed in the first division.
Richie sheds some light on how the team turned it around.
“I Just made them better organized really, everyone knew what job they had to do, they were a very quiet team, so I worked on making them a lot more vocal and I made Greg Brown captain for that reason. But it worked, they were a good bunch of lads, a couple weren’t good enough, but we got through. Then the for the next season I only brought in a couple of players to go with what we had”.
The next season would definitely surprise a lot of people!