1985 pre-season: it was most certainly not the best of times

By Tony Attwood

This article continues our series on pre-seasons.  There is an index to all the articles at the end.

1985 was football in crisis – at least according to the media – and in one major instance because of the media.

Millwall fans created some havoc at Kenilworth Road, which led to highly inflammatory comments the chairman of Luton who claimed ludicrously that Luton would never play Millwall again.  Much, much, much more serious was the death of a young supporter in a fight between Birmingham City and Leeds United fans, and both of those incidents came before the utter tragedy of 56 fans dying at Bradford because a) the club could not be bothered to clean out the rubbish under the seating, and b) the health and safety inspections were so woeful that no one cared.  And there was of course the Liverpool fans attack at the Heysel stadium.

The press were full of the end of football and the need to bring in capital and corporal punishment for offenders.  But somehow football continued.

11 May 1985 saw Brian Talbot’s last game. He then played for Watford, Stoke, WBA, Fulham and Aldershot, and was for four years chair of the PFA.

Then on 29 May 1985 at the Heysel Stadium 39 died as Liverpool fans moved to attack Juventus fans and trapped them against a concrete wall, while waiting for the start of the European Cup Final.  

Although only Liverpool was involved in this, such was the feeling following the other incidents noted above all English clubs were subsequently banned from playing European football.  In 1989, after a 5-month trial in Belgium, 14 fans were given 3-year sentences for involuntary manslaughter

The ban prohibited Arsenal from playing in the Uefa Cup in 1988 and 1991 even though Arsenal fans had not been involved in any European crowd trouble.

On 6 June 1985: Fifa extended Uefa’s ban on English clubs in Europe to a worldwide ban lasting an indefinite amount of time but excluded from the ban the England national team.

But still in the midst of this domestic football continued.  On 10 June 1985 Brian Talbot was sold to Watford after 254 league games and 40 league goals for Arsenal.  

There were five pre-season friendlies

  • 30 July 1985: Windsor and Eton 0 Arsenal 1 (Woodcock)
  • 2 August 1985: Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Arsenal 2 (Robson, Marriner)
  • 4 August 1985: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 1  (Glenn Hoddle testimonial) (Robson)
  • 7 August 1985: Reading 0 Arsenal 3 (Robson, Woodcock, Rix)
  • 10 August 1985: Arsenal 1 Portsmouth 0 (Allinson).

Arsenal started with one win in four, but then successive wins against Luton, Leicester, QPR and Coventry without conceding a single goal gave some hope, but thereafter Arsenal’s season was unimpressive, although there were new players arriving.  For example 28 September 1985: David Rocastle made his debut in 0-0 draw with Newcastle.  

And moving further into the season on 23 November 1985 we saw the last game for Chris Whyte, but the first game for Martin Keown.  It ended WBA 0 Arsenal 0.   Then finally on 1 December 1985: Paul Merson signed a professional contract.  He was still some way away from playing for the first team, but it was a step in the right direction.

What actually took everyone’s attention was Manchester United who won their first ten games of the season to go nine points clear of Liverpool.  But then after 15 games the run stopped and they fell back.


Also of interest was the fact that the clubs decided to dig in their heels and demand more than just £17m that ITV and BBC together had offered for televised rights. The deal was not resolved until the New Year which meant half a season without football on TV.

By December there was much chatter about a breakaway Super League and plans were announced to reduce the 22-team top flight and introduce play-offs.

In the end Arsenal came in 7th, 19 points behind Liverpool who won the league.  Man U came in fourth.  Arsenal scored three goals in four games, but never once more than three.  On the other hand on 9 November 1985 Everton beat Arsenal 6–1.   At the end of the season (on 14 May) George Graham took over from Don Howe as manager after Don Howe had resigned in March.

It was not the best of times.

When did we last win every game pre-season?


One Reply to “1985 pre-season: it was most certainly not the best of times”

  1. Apart from not being able to play in the UEFA Cup, which I think Arsenal could have won in 1991, perhaps more important was the 1990 European Cup 🙂

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