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When 4,554 turned up to watch Arsenal, and a reign ended.

by Tony Attwood

I have called the era of Swindin and Wright, in which after an initial success we had no cup finals, and no top four finishes, The Darkness, and I have written bits and pieces about it because generally other people don’t write too much about that era.

The series on that period is not finished, but even I can’t take that much doom and gloom, so I am jumping ahead to Bertie Mee’s 10 years, before going back to Billy Wright.

The Wright era ended in May 1966, just before England won the world cup through the simple expedient of playing every one of their matches at Wembley.  Arsenal’s build up to the Big Event was less auspicious: Wright’s final four matches were three 0-3 defeats and a 1-0 victory.

It was a terrible end to a terrible reign, and even in the 1-0 victory (at home against Leicester) no Arsenal player scored – it was a Rodrigues own goal.   Worse the crowds for the last two games were 4,554 for a 3-0 home defeat against Leeds, and 16,435, for the Leicester match.  (The Leeds game was special as there was a European match the same night, and having “been there” is now something of a badge of honour).

To put the 4554 in context, the final match at Plumstead in 1913 had a crowd of 3000.  The first match at a half built Highbury also in 1913 had a crowd believed to be about 20,000.

Wright’s final team in 1966 was:

Furnell

Court  McGill

Storey Ure Walley

Nelson Simpson Radford Eastham Armstrong

To give some idea of the chaos, Ure had played the previous match at centre forward, and Court was actually an inside left and left half.

On April 28 1970, after two defeats in cup finals Bertie Mee won his first trophy, and by then the team was:

Wilson

Storey McNab

Kelly McLintock Simpson

Armstrong Sammels Radford George Graham

The question therefore arises, how did Mee find these players?  Were they already there during Wright’s era, but not yet old enough to play, or did Bertie go out and find them?  Was Bertie Mee’s success down to scouting?

My aim here is to look at some of these players, and see where they came from, and how they made a difference to the club.

But I also want to look at what happened after.  In a six year period we won three bits of silverware and were runners up in league and cups four times, but then it all slipped backwards again and our league form dipped horribly, with us coming 10th, 16th and 17th.

(This is incidentally what annoys me so much about people who complain about Arsenal in the 21st century, with our not winning a trophy every season.  I was there when we were coming 16th and 17th, and there is nothing like that to make you realise that success is never guaranteed nor available on a plate.)

So we’ll start with Bob Wilson – one of the great heroes of the double season – a man whose name was in every newspaper report as the saviour of Arsenal in match after match.   That’s the next article.

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

The trophies, ballroom dancing, left hook and OBE

The First Double: a series of five quizzes to test your knowledge on 1971

Full index to series

3 comments to When 4,554 turned up to watch Arsenal, and a reign ended.

  • Brian Dawes

    Are you sure that’s the line up for Wright’s last team? Gordon Neilson not Sammy Nelson at right wing surely? And Court played a number of games at number 2 that season.

  • Andy Kelly

    Well spotted Brian, it was Gordon Neilson on the right wing.

  • Jim Carroll

    I was one of the 4,554,standing on the north terrace(don’t think it was known as the north bank then) a guy behind me had a bugle and played the last post. The following Saturday against Leicester, I remember John Radford rounding Gordon Banks and as he was about to put it into an empty net the referee blew for half-time.

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