There is a date in the diary for Stoke City’s old Victoria Ground which stands out like a sore thumb.
And imagine the look on Longton Chief Superintendent Irwin Sargent’s face when the Football Association told him its plan.
Manchester United’s punishment for hooligans who had thrown knives into the away section at the end of the 1970/71 season was to play their first two home games of the next campaign away from Old Trafford: one at Anfield and one in the Potteries.
So on Friday, August 20, 27,649 turned up at Liverpool to see Man Utd play Arsenal – and win 3-1. There had been pitch invasions and reports emerged of windows of houses being smashed in and “600 skinheads” throwing bricks at fans who were being marched to Lime Street station.
And on the Monday three days later, Frank O’Farrell brought his side and thousands of supporters to Stoke to take on West Bromwich Albion.
Special “beat the soccer bad boys” arrangements were laid on, including more than 200 policemen who were drafted into town along with a dozen dogs.
And it wasn’t just the police who were getting prepared.
Louis Johns, landlord at the Old Swan Inn, in Hartshill Road just up from the Vic, summoned his own protection: a big, black Alsatian pet, Lady.
He took the dog into the pub and said: “If there are any signs of trouble we’re ready for it.”
But trouble, there was none – or, at least, only four arrests – two inside and two outside the ground, for which Chief Superintendent Sargent cut a relieved figure.
He said: “It really was like a dream come true – everything went so smoothly.
“I congratulate the fans. This has been one of the nicest surprises I have had, considering the trouble at other United games.”
British Rail had made plans to keep opposition supporters apart as they arrived in the city and after the last of the “soccer specials” ferried them home, Stoke City chairman Albert Henshall took a deep sigh of relief.
“I’m a very happy man,” he said. “I was worried and a bit hot under the collar before he game… but the police were there in real force and they have done a marvellous and wonderful job.”
Stoke were given 15 per cent of the gate receipts from a 23,146-strong attendance and West Brom received compensation for missed income. Gate receipts were shared until 1980.
On the pitch, it was all about George Best.
Peter Hewitt wrote for the Sentinel: “Best held centre stage with a 90-minute solo spot that brought a standing ovation that even referee George Hartley and his linesmen joined in.
“As soccer’s entertainers come into the own under the new disciplined regime (of O’Farrell), Best emerged as the top man. At times it was though his though his Old Trafford colleagues were just making up the supporting cast.
“It takes more than one man to take a team to the top of the First Division but this was Best in the mod to tease and torment any defence and shattered Albion had no one to touch him.”
Best scored two and set up the other for Alan Gowling as Hewitt wrote “the anticipated night of terror from the fans never materialised. Instead it was Best running riot”.
He stroked home the first from a Bobby Charlton corner after 10 minutes and, five minutes before the break, he sent in a left winger corner “so accurately that sturdy Gowling never had to move as he powered a header past Jim Cumbes”.
Best then streaked forward in the 55th minute to hammer in the third.
Alistair Brown made it 3-1 with virtually the last kick of the match but that was that, Man Utd returned home and the Best-inspired title charge lasted until mid-December – and ironically, an away game at Stoke.
O’Farrell had overseen 14 wins and four draws from his first 20 games in charge but a 1-1 draw at the Vic was the start of an 11-game winless streak either side of Best deciding to take a week off to spend with Miss Great Britain 1971, Carolyn Moore.
He didn’t get a standing ovation for that.