April/May 1980: an era starts to move to a close

April and May 1980 didn’t seem like the end of an era.  Far from it in fact with Arsenal grinding their way to another FA Cup final, fighting in the Cup Winners’ Cup and also looking for a place in Europe next season.

But in essence, it was.  Terry Neill had three more seasons to go, gained and third place in the league and so qualified for the Uefa Cup, but the failure to win anything in 1980 and the failure to qualify for Europe, can be seen the end.  After that it was a matter of fighting on.

So here’s the story of those last games in 1979/80. We were the cup holders, and a fighting force, and looking to retain the trophy – and perhaps do even more than that…

  • 2 April: Norwich City (A) 1-2
  • Attendance: 16,923
  • Jennings, Devine, Nelson (Vaessen), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: Rix.

Norwich had not won in 11 games.  Brady came back and took a penalty, and saw it saved.

The lead however was taken by Arsenal in the ninth minute with a stunning brilliant shot from Rix.  Norwich equalised on the half hour and then on 66 minutes with Price carelessly losing the ball to Fashanu Norwich scored on 66 minutes.

It should never have been like this – Arsenal should have been gobbling up teams like Norwich with their small crowd and lack of skill against a team including Jennings, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young Bradn, Sunderland Stapleton and Rix.

It simply should not be, but Nelson and Sunderland were both booked in the second half.

  • 5 April: Southampton (H) 1-1
  • Attendance: 34,593
  • Jennings, Devine, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Vaessen), Rix.
  • Scorer: Sunderland.

Arsenal scored on 20 minutes through Stapleton after an interchange with Sunderland.  Southampton’s response was to keep the ball close – and that included the keeper Katalinic who didn’t seem to want to kick it far outside of this box.    In response there was more messing around from the Southampton keeper who practiced doing sky kicks quite regularly, but then George got booked for applauding the referee.  He didn’t worry however since he had just scored.

  • 7 April: Tottenham Hotspur (A) 2-1
  • Attendance: 41,369
  • Barron, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady (Sunderland), Devine, Vaessen, Hollins, Davis.
  • Scorers: Sunderland, Vaessen.

With Juve and a cup semi final just days away this was a Tottenham game Arsenal didn’t need Arsenal had asked Tottenham to postpone the game.  Tottenham declined.

Paul Davis played his first game while Stapleton and Sunderland were given time off at least at the start.

Tottenham were on the lethargic side of capitulation, Arsenal flooded the midfield and started to advance.  As the end neared, Tottenham themselves created an advance, and did ultimately score on 88 minutes.  Trouble was, Sundlernad and Vaessen had  scored on 84 and 86 minutes.  Two minutes later Tottenham looked like a team who had only just realised that scoring was part of the deal but it was too late.

  • 9 April: Juventus (Italy) (H) Cup-winners’ Cup 1-1
  • Attendance: 51,998
  • Jennings, Devine (Vaessen), Walford, Talbot, O’Leary (Rice), Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: own goal.

On 34 minutes Tardelli, after committing virtually ever crime in the book against Brady, tried one more, and got himself a red card to the relief of the fans, and the Arsenal players and bench – and not least (or so we imagined) because it would show Brady just what sort of treatment he would get if he was silly enough to go to Italy.

But there was worse.  Bettega raised his boot to shin level and O’Leary had to go off.  The ref waved a finger, and thus also made it plain that his copy of the rule book still indicated that this along with shirt pulling and hand tugging were acceptable.

For the Juve goal Walford lobbed back to Devine who misplaced his pass. Talbot committed a foul to retrieve the situation and Cabrini scored after hitting the penalty straight at Jennings.

With five minutes left Brady lifted a free kick over the wall.  Bettega challenged Staplton in the air, and bounced into the net..

  • 12 April: Liverpool (Sheffield Wednesday) FA Cup 0-0
  • Attendance: 50,174
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson (Walford), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.

This was cup tie number 22 for Arsenal and for the whole of normal time they looked as if they didn’t have much idea how to win it.

Liverpool completely dominated the game for 90 minutes but wasted their domination by simply playing high balls down the centre.  Perhaps they wanted to catch O’Leary out as he played although he had been carried off four days earlier.  But there was not a shot on target.

Near the end Talbot tried to chip Clemence from the edge of the penalty area.  It only just failed to come off – hitting the cross bar on the way down.  He looked like a man who might try the same trick again a bit later.

  • 16 April: Liverpool (Aston Villa) FA Cup 1-1
  • Attendance: 40,679
  • Jennings, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: Sunderland.

Nelson was injured  so Walford started at full back and ultimately.   This was a loss for Arsenal and Walford showed his nerves but Jennings picked up the pieces when Liverpool were not themselves wasting the chances.  But eventually Liverpool took their opportunity and scored on 51 minutes  through Fairclough.

Arsenal equalised 11 minutes later. Price gave Sunderland possession.  He lobbed it over Clamence and the ball simply dropped under the bar and into the net.

Clemence, a keeper who loves to bawl at his defenders and remind them of their errors, looked ready to blame everyone except himself, but ultimately thought better of it.  Extra time produced no more, and another replay was ordered.

  • 19 April: Liverpool (A) 1-1
  • Attendance: 46,878
  • Jennings, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Gatting, Sunderland, Stapleton (Vaessen), Price, Hollins.
  • Scorer: Talbot.

Arsenal found a way to deal with Liverpool in the last match, and saw no reason to change.

They attacked the Liverpool back four in a way that every other club had been frightened to do for the past five years.  And it worked until Liverpool scored after 11 minutes, Dalgleish passed to Kennedy and the ex-Arsenal man scored.  So maybe everyone had been right   From then on Arsenal couldn’t get a shot in.  Kennedy picked up an old newspaper fluttering in the wind and read it briefly.  Clemence did exercises to pass the time of day.

And then when all the old Liverpudlian arrogance had built up and overflowed Sunderland crossed to Talbot who scored.  Liverpool players shouted at each other from then to the end.  It was not a very effective response.

  • 23 April: Juventus (Italy) (A) Cup-winners’ Cup 1-0
  • Attendance: 66,386
  • Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot (Hollins), O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Vaessen), Rix.
  • Scorer: Vaessen.

Much was made of the fact that Arsenal were starting the 1980s as they started the 1970s – with a European final.  It seemed a decent omen.

Juventus clearly expected to win this tie – but then with just two minutes to go Vaessen, who had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes, scored to give Arsenal a most unlikely victory.

Juve were happy with a 0-0 draw, but that always gave Arsenal the chance of snatching victory from the jaws, and that’s what they did.  In the final quarter hour, Young moved forward, Price and Talbot removed and Rix pumped in the crosses.  At the end Arsenal applauded their travelling support, which so infuriated the home support that a hale of missiles descended on the fans.

  • 26 April: West Bromwich Albion (H) 1-1
  • Attendance: 30,027
  • Barron, Rice, Devine, Talbot, Walford, Young (Gatting), Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Hollins, Vaessen.
  • Scorer: Stapleton.

The hero of West Brom was Peter Barnes who was talked up as being the man to give England more trophies.  He scored on the 19th minute but West Brom made the mistake of trying to hold onto the narrow margin.  They almost did but Arsenal don’t take defeat lightly and three minutes from the end a Brady-Vaessen-Stapleton combination resulted in Stapelton’s headed goal to give Arsenal a point they richly deserved.

  • 28 April: Liverpool (Aston Villa) FA Cup 1-1
  • Attendance: 42,975
  • Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: Sunderland.

There was talk of this run of matches being an “epic battle”, a tie that would produce the most replays ever, and even of the need for the cup final to be put back if a winner cannot be found.

There was even talk of adopting penalty shoot outs to prevent endless replays but such a move was said to be going too far and would damage forever the “spirit of the world’s most famous cup competition” etc etc.

Sunderland scored on 16 seconds, Dalgleish equalised in the final minute of normal time.  From the kick off Brady slid a square pass to Rice who played it forwareds to Stapleton who headed it down to Sunderland who shuffled left and right and scored.  The first Liverpool player to touch the ball was Clemence, picking it out of the net.

Arsenal pushed forward for another ten minutes before Liverpool recovered  Souness took out Talbot with his elbow Brady remonstrated and had his name taken  Liverpool pushed but had few chances.  Arsenal ended looking the better team.

  • 1 May: Liverpool (Coventry) FA Cup 1-0
  • Attendance: 35,335
  • Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
  • Scorer: Talbot.

Last season’s mammoth affair against Sheffield Wednesday was not repeated as the round ended on the 3r replay and Liverpool’s much vaunted attempt to do the Double was defeated.

Kennedy the ex-Arsenal man gave Talbot the goal that won the game on 11 minutes.    Liverpool’s claim that they could no longer field a team as too many players were injured was dismissed for the nonsense it was and Arsenal won the game.

Liverpool had one tactic, high centres into the box, which was odd as O’Leary and Young gobbled them up all night.  For the last half hour the game was played in Arsenal’s half but Arsenal looked like they could play such a tactic all night long.  But Arsenal were composed where Liverpool were not, and held on readily.

  • 3 May: Coventry City (A) 1-0
  • Attendance: 16,817
  • Barron, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, Walford, Young, Gatting, Sunderland, Vaessen, Price (Davis), Hollins.
  • Scorer : Vaessen.

Back to Coventry and more success for Paul Vaessen, after all that he did in the Cup Winners Cup game  It was game number 64 and six reserves were in the team, but Arsenal still won.    The wind was difficult, the ground was difficult, but still Howe and Neill got through it, before dashing to the airport and flying to Valencia to watch their CWC opponents.  Barron came through the test ok, but Arsenal’s forward line did little, Paul Davis came on as a sub and missed a sitter, but then with only a minute to go, Talbot passed to Vaessen, and his joy was unbounded.

  • 5 May: Nottingham Forest (H) 0-0
  • Attendance: 34,632
  • Jennings, Devine, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Vaessen, Stapleton (Hollins), Price, Rix.

With Forest heading for the European Cup Final, and Arsenal for no less than two cup finals in the next nine days no one expected much, and not much was what was served up.  It was the sixth 0-0 of the season at Highbury, but that didn’t really matter, for thoughts of both crowd and players was on what was yet to come.

Such was the assumed insignificance of the game to both sides that Don Howe and Terry Neill only appeared for 20 minutes in between watching West Ham and Valencia.  O’Leary and Young tuned up well for what was to come Jennings was dependable as ever, and most importantly no one was injured.

  • 10 May: West Ham United (Wembley) FA Cup 0-1
  • Attendance: 100,000
  • Jennings, Rice, Devine (Nelson), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.

Two years before, Arsenal were the firm favourites and lost.  In 1978 Man U were favourites and lost.  Here West Ham were the underdogs, which should have made everyone expect the result.

As a result Arsenal fans had to live not only with two cup final defeats out of three, the imminent departure of Brady, and a press which lauded West Ham to the skies, raved over Brooking, noted how Devonshire had been discarded by Palace, and that Paul Allen was the youngest player to play in a cup final.

And they had nothing to say of the Gunners.  But the fact was that the marathon against Liverpool combined with the games against Juventus finally took their toll.

To Arsenal this was another match, with another cup final to come four days later.  To WHU there might well be another big match one day, but probably not for another ten years.  For Arsenal the final feeling was, “stuff happens” (or an idiosyncratic version of the same).  For West Ham as with Ipswich two years before, it was the end of the season of a lifetime.

  • 14 May: Valencia (Spain) (Heysel Stadium, Brussels) Cup-winners’ Cup 0-0
  • Attendance: 40,000
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Hollins), Rix.

To lose one cup final, Mr. Neill, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Careless?  Well, the side were overstretched by going for two cups in one season, as well as the usual demanding league programme and that gruelling run against Liverpool.

Yes there were reserves that could be used, but not that many who would be given the responsibility of important matches, and the truth was that players had not been rested enough in the league matches around the cup finals.

Rix was the man whose penalty was saved after a 0-0 draw, extra time and the first five kicks, but it was Brady’s miss at the start of the round that put Arsenal into that position.

Arsenal had strength and character, but this was match 67 said it all.  There were walking wounded – Talbot and O@Leary reportedly suffering, but Arsenal held Valencia and Valencia held Arsenal.  In the end it was in reality nothing more than a toss of a coin.

And still it wasn’t over.

  • 16 May: Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) 2-1
  • Attendance: 23,619
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, Walford, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Vaessen), Rix.
  • Scorers: Walford, Stapleton.
  • 19 May: Middlesbrough (A) 0-5
  • Attendance: 15,603
  • Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, Walford (Vaessen), Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.

The win at Wolverhampton meant that Arsenal needed victory in their final game to secure a Uefa cup place

Armstrong of Borough played his 350th consecutive match and looked like he would carry on celebrating forever, which gave the home team everything it needed  Even regularly reliable players like Rice and Young began to fail.

Meanwhile in a foretaste of the 21st century the ref seemed unwilling to give Arsenal anything at all even when Johnston pushed Talbot for an obvious penalty one yard inside the area.  The ref gave a free kick outside the area.

By seven minutes before half time they were three up .  When Arsenal did get a penalty far too late for it to matter, the keeper saved brilliantly, and there was clearly no way back.  Throughout the season Arsenal had competed, but in the end this was just one step too far.

So Arsenal finished with two runners’ up places in the cups, 4th in the league and an ignominious exit from the league cup to Swindon earlier in the season in a quarter final replay on December 11 1979.

Finally, it was over.

The Books

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