1979 pre season: Cup holders looking for a bright new era.

By Tony Attwood

1979/80 is the season that is remembered for starting out with the optimism of being Cup Holders, and ending with the ludicrous number of games the club played getting to the CWC final and the FA Cup final, and the defeats in both – and indeed the failure to get into Europe the following season.

The end of the old season

On 8 February 1979 Brian McDermott – a man associated with Arsenal through much of his life –  became full professional.  This was at a time when Terry Neill was having his best run as Arsenal manager, for on 13 February 1979: QPR 1 Arsenal 2, made it just 1 defeat in 16. 

But then the league form declined with just one win in eight.   By the time Brian McDermott played his first game for the club (10 March 1979: Arsenal 2 Bristol City 0 – Rix and Stapleton scoring the crowd of just 24,288 showed that in the league at least, the club had lost the interest of many local supporters.  Given that Arsenal had lost to Rotherham in the second round of the league cup, there were already lots of murmurings.

However on 31 March 1979 Arsenal beat Wolverhampton W (managed by John Barnwell) in our 14th FA Cup semi final.  For the second year running we were in the FA Cup Final.

As a note in passing, on 7 April 1979 Steve Brignall became the Arsenal player with the shortest ever career at that time – a 0-3 away defeat to Liverpool.  This was his only game (as a sub) and his contract was cancelled the following December.

Inevitably there were moments of light relief as on 10 April 1979 with the result Arsenal 1 Tottenham 0 in front of 53,896 (Stapleton scored) but in the remaining seven matches in the season Arsenal had only one more win… 5-2 against Chelsea.

By April the fixtures were piling up, and Arsenal played nine games in 32 days ahead of the cup final on 12 May 1979 which had the result Arsenal 3 Man United 2.  Having been 2-0 up, Man U scored two late on before Alan Sunderland scored the most dramatic of winners at the death. (For more see: We win the cup against Man U.  Also the game by game summary is here.)  

It was a wonderful moment – a “where were you when we beat Man U” moment – enhanced by the fact that it was the first trophy since the Double in 1971, and as it turned out, the last until 1987.

Two days later, on 14 May 1979 we had Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1 and  Paul Vaessen’s league debut. He went on to play 32 times for Arsenal, in a career cut short by injury. Macdonald scored in what was his last ever game, as Arsenal ended the season in 7th – two lower than the season before.

The pre-season

18 June 1979: Paul Davis signed professional forms for Arsenal having signed as an apprentice in 1977.  He made his debut in 1980 and played 447 league games for the club.

15 July 1979: John Hollins joined from QPR.  He played initially for Chelsea (including a spell as captain) and in 12 years knocked up 436 appearances including 167 consecutive games and then had four seasons at QPR before moving to Arsenal aged 33.

28 July 1979: First game for John Hollins (friendly v Munich 1860).  Hollins came on as a substitute for David Price in a 1-1 draw.

29 July 1979: Malcolm Macdonald announced his retirement from football.  There is no doubt that without his injury he could have helped Arsenal to greater things and his loss was a major blow.  He did come on and play in the final game of the 1978/9 season – a 1-1 draw away to Chelsea in which he scored our goal.

The pre-season friendlies

  • 28 July 1979: Munich 1860 1 Arsenal 1 (Stapleton)
  • 31 July 1979: Duisburg 1 Arsenal 1 (og)
  • 3 August 1979: Ajax 0 Arsenal 0
  • 5 August 1979: Hamburg SV 0 Arsenal 3 (Rice, Sunderland, Stapleton)

On 11 August 1979 Arsenal lost 3-1 to Liverpool in Charity Shield.  The crowd of 92,000 was Arsenal’s highest ever for a charity shield game.  It was also Arsenal’s first appearance in the Shield since 12 October 1953 (having failed to take part in it after winning the Double).

18 August 1979:  Brighton lost their first ever first division game 4-0 to Arsenal as Arsenal won an opening match under Neill for the first time after four attempts.  Sunderland 2, Stapleton and Brady

4 September 1979 saw Arsenal’s biggest league cup win beating Leeds 7-0 after a 1-1 draw at Elland Rd.  Alan Sunderland got a hat trick and Liam Brady scored two penalties, Nelson and Stapleton the other scorers.

11 September 1979: Paul Davis’ first appearance for Arsenal, in the Ted Drake’s testimonial against Fulham.  It ended 2-2.  But after eight league games Arsenal had only won two.  It wasn’t looking that hopeful.

And so the season worked its way through.  Arsenal ended up fourth, and had their third successive cup final (losing to West Ham after a four match semi-final marathon against Liverpool).

From the Pre-season files


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