1983 pre season: the horrors of being an Arsenal supporter

By Tony Attwood

Oh the horrors of being an Arsenal supporter in the early 1980s!

1982/3 was part of the era of Liverpool dominance  – they won the European Cup, League Cup and the First Division.  It was also the era in which all players who qualified to play for England played in England.  And yet, curiously, during the period we cover here England was as useless as ever.  On 21 September 1983 England lost 1–0 to Denmark in a European Championship qualifier at Wembley, making qualification for the Finals unlikely.  It seems the arrival of foreign imports really had nothing much to do with England’s inability to make progress in international football.

With such development there was little point putting on the radio or TV, or indeed picking up a newspaper in the hope of gathering any news about Arsenal – there wasn’t any.  If you weren’t interested in Liverpool or England, there was no other debate to be had.

The previous season ended badly or appallingly, depending on whether you were there or not for  on 4 April 1983 we had Tottenham 5 Arsenal 0.  It was the first time since Christmas Day 1911 that Tottenham had scored five against Arsenal.  It was however also the last time that Tottenham scored five against Arsenal in a league match so that was something to be thankful for subsequently.

Our remaining hope for the season by then was the FA Cup.  Arsenal had been knocked out in the semi-final of the League Cup, including a terrible 2-4 defeat at home in the first leg, and on 16 April lost 1-2 to Man U in Arsenal’s 16th Cup semi-final appearance, played at Villa Park.  Woodcock scored for Arsenal.

I recall the time particularly keenly as I had been working in association with the BBC TV series, Blake’s 7, and as the season came to an end was doing a tour of radio stations talking about my work, but invariably seemed to end up being questioned about the demise of Arsenal live on air, which I didn’t really want to do at all.  I think I stopped being quite so willing to do local radio after that.

And it still didn’t get better.  On 20 April 1983 we had Norwich 3 Arsenal 1.  It was the league debut of Colin Hill, and the last game for George Wood.  Hill went on to have just one season for Arsenal as a regular full back, while Wood ended a three year spell totalling 60 league games with a move to Crystal Palace.

On 14 May the score Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 1  left Arsenal 10th at the end of what we later found was to be Terry Neill’s last complete season as manager.  It was also the last appearance of Vladimir Petrovic and in a post season friendly on 17 May we had the final appearance of John Devine.  On 13 June 1983 John joined Norwich on a free transfer having been out of the side with a long-term injury.  He had played 112 league games for Arsenal and continued playing for another eight years.

John Hollins also moved on having played 123 league games for Arsenal, across four seasons.  He moved into coaching in a curious career which more or less took him in a downward spiral of the hierarchy of British football: Chelsea, QPR, Swansea, Rochdale, Raith, Crawley and Weymouth.  Quite a journey.

Elsewhere in football Chelsea who had been lingering near the foot of the second division were sold to Ken Bates for £1.

Here’s how a dismal league season ended…

Pos Club P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 42 24 10 8 87 37 +50 82
2 Watford 42 22 5 15 74 57 +17 71
3 Manchester United 42 19 13 10 56 38 +18 70
4 Tottenham Hotspur 42 20 9 13 65 50 +15 69
5 Nottingham Forest 42 20 9 13 62 50 +12 69
6 Aston Villa 42 21 5 16 62 50 +12 68
7 Everton 42 18 10 14 66 48 +18 64
8 West Ham United 42 20 4 18 68 62 +6 64
9 Ipswich Town 42 15 13 14 64 50 +14 58
10 Arsenal 42 16 10 16 58 56 +2 58

Serious measures were needed and on 22 June 1983 Arsenal signed Charlie Nicholas.  He had played 84 times for Celtic scoring 48 goals, and when Terry Neill wrote his autobiography he made the signing of Charlie the first chapter of his book.   Unfortunately for Terry, the signing, which was seen as a triumph at the time, didn’t work out and in December 1983 Terry Neill was sacked.

The other major signing (in fact just about the only major signing) of the summer came on 25 July when John Lukic signed for the first time for £75,000 as a replacement for Pat Jennings.  He stayed at Arsenal until 1990 returning in 1996 for a second spell.

But there was one other arrival – a man who actually had quite an influence on Arsenal. On 15 August  Ian Allinson signed for Arsenal on a free transfer following an administrative error by Colchester in which they offered him a salary less than his previous level of payment, thus allowing him to leave without compensation.

The pre-season games…

  • 31 July 1983: Meppen (W Germany) 1 Arsenal 4 (Woodcock, Nicholas 2, Chapman); the first game for John Lukic and Charlie Nicholas.
  • 5 August 1983: VFL Bochum (WG) 1 Arsenal 0.   This was the last game for Peter Nicholas.  He had two full seasons as a regular for Arsenal but a series of injuries in the 1982/3 season reduced his potential and he left in October 1983 to re-join Crystal Palace for £150,000.
  • 13 August 1983: Aberdeen 0 Arsenal 1 (Talbot)
  • 20 August 1983: Portsmouth 2 Arsenal 1 (Nicholas)

Interestingly, and unremarked at the time, on 18 August 1983 as the pre-season came to an end a certain Mickey Thomas signed as an apprentice having joined the club in 1982.  He became a pro aged 17 in 1984 and went on loan to Portsmouth.  He made his first team début in February 1987.

After the pre-season

By the end of August, after two games of the new season, four teams (Notts County, West Ham United, Aston Villa and Arsenal)  were on maximum points.   All except West Ham were beaten in their next game on 3 September.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for on 29 October 1983 Tony Woodcock scored five against Villa in the first 48 minutes of the match.  The final score was 6-2.  And although we had no idea of the importance at the time, on 1 November Tony Adams played his first Arsenal match in a testimonial game against Chelsea.   Four days later he made his league debut against Sunderland.

And then the manager moved on.


When did we last win every game pre-season?

From the Pre-season files

2 Replies to “1983 pre season: the horrors of being an Arsenal supporter”

  1. “It was also the era in which all players who qualified to play for England played in England.”

    Except for Trevor Francis, Luther Blisset, Tony Woodcock & Laurie Cunningham.

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