Upon reflection the seventies were arguably the most brutal, and physical of decades Association Football has endured. At the beginning of the decade, Leeds United under the stewardship of Don Revie rose to the fore, with their own brand of hard-tackling and some would say intimidation, which led them to their spoils. Some quarters even branded them no more than a bunch of thugs who are playing the wrong game, maybe Rugby League might be more appropriate. But it wasn't just Leeds who were part and parcel to this ideology, many clubs had very tough players who took no prisoners, and seemed determined to snuff all creativity and beauty out the game. Baring this in mind, it was surprising any player could provide exciting, attack-minded football that would thrill and entertain the masses. Amongst the rare few at the time, was a certain scouser who played his trade on the wing for Manchester United.
Steve Coppell appeared in the early-seventies at Tranmere Rovers, and quickly caught the attention of bigger, First Division clubs. Come the mid-seventies, he joined Manchester United (then in the Second Division), and assisted in helping the club win the second tier championship and promotion back to the top flight. Coppell became one of the highlights of seventies football. He played in consecutive FA Cup Finals, losing the first in ’76 to Southampton, winning the second a year later against his own boyhood idols, Liverpool. Possessing a very ‘cultured’ right foot, Coppell became a dead cert for the England team, assisting in qualifying for the 1980 European Championships in Italy, and the World Cup Finals in Spain two years later. However, it was during an encounter with Hungary in late 1981 leading up to the ’82 World Cup which effectively ended his playing days. On the wrong of a very fierce challenge, the United player was in trouble immediately – his left knee ligaments were smashed in several places. After several operations and much rehabilitation, Coppell did play on - even participating in the Spanish hosted World Cup - but after several ‘breakdowns’ and further treatment, he had to accept the heart-wrenchingly obvious. His career as a professional player was over. He was twenty-eight years old. However, much like Brian Clough, Coppell moved into management. He took over at Crystal Palace in 1984, getting the Eagles promoted into the First Division in 1989, and to the F.A. Cup Final against his old club, Manchester United the following year. During this successful period at Palace, the former Manchester United winger launched the careers of future England stars Ian Wright and Gareth Southgate, amongst many others. After a very brief spell with Manchester City, Coppell returned to Palace for several seasons to stabilise the ship so to speak, but was not quite able to keep the London club consistently in the Premier League. Coppell moved on to first Brentford joining the former Palace chairman Ron Noades, then onto Brighton. After looking like he was going to gain promotion out of the Second Division with the south coast club, Reading approached Coppell to take charge of their team, to which he accepted. The scouser achieved a repeat of his Palace days, taking an unfancied club from mid-table Championship up into the Premier League, and within a hair’s breath of qualifying for a UEFA Cup spot. After being relegated back into the Championship, Coppell moved onto Bristol City for a period, and is currently Director of Football at Portsmouth.