Arsenal’s 1970 pre-season. Preparing for the impossible


By Tony Attwood

Arsenal played the 1969/70 season as a club had not won a major trophy since 1953.  In both 1968 and 1969 Arsenal had thought they might end the drought, but on both occasions lost in the League Cup final – the second time to the mighty Swindon Town.

So with the league season not offering much, and no real thought of a European trophy (since Arsenal had never ever won one) there was a feeling of the need to rebuild, and from the start of 1970 this occurred.

Indeed right at the start of the year, on 2 January Arsenal paid £100k for the first time for a player.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the right player.  History does not record Peter Marinello as one of our great transfer budget busting success stories.   He did however score on his debut on 10 January.  But it was his only goal in 14.

Meanwhile the big clear-out under Bertie Mee was under way.  On 15 January 1970 Terry Neill made his last appearance, as did Jimmy Robertson – the first man to score for Tottenham against Arsenal and for Arsenal against Tottenham.

One month later on 14 February we witnessed the last senior appearance of Bobby Gould and the following weekend on 21 February 1970 Derby 3 Arsenal 2 made it 10 league games without a win.  This moment – the forthcoming European win and the subsequent triumphs showed perhaps more than any other, how fast things can change in football.

A week later on 28 February David Court played his final league game.  He went to Luton Town but returned to Arsenal in 1996 as Assistant Head of Youth Development.

And still the changes were not over.  On 13 March 1970 Jimmy Robertson transferred to Ipswich.  In his two seasons he had started 45 first division games and scored seven goals.

Then, for no particular reason things started to turn around.  28 March 1970 we saw Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton 2, not spectacular in itself but it meant we had four games without defeat – something to celebrate in 1969/70. George Graham got both goals.

Two days later Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0 made it four league wins in five.  Radford and George got the goals.  Quite something!

We had meanwhile managed to get into the Fairs Cup final, but the first leg on 22 April 1970 ended Anderlecht 3 Arsenal 1.   Although Ray Kennedy’s goal gave us hope, the story in the press was that Anderlecht would see out the second leg to take the trophy.   (See also here for details).   But on 28 April 1970 a different story unfurled as Arsenal won the Fairs Cup – the first European success and the first Arsenal trophy in 17 years.  It was Arsenal 3 Anderlecht 0 (4-3 overall). Kelly, Radford and Sammels scored. 

The league wasn’t over however and there was a feeling that Arsenal were still celebrating their Euro triumph on 2 May 1970 as they played Tottenham away and lost 1-0.  Arsenal finished the season a disappointing 12th. (Extraordinarily, one year and one day later the game was repeated, and the score was repeated, except in reverse as this time Arsenal won the match and the league).

Transfer moves inwards continued to be thin on the ground after the obvious failure of Marinello.  27 May 1970 saw Brian Hornsby join Arsenal as an apprentice, having been a scholar from the year before.  He became a full professional in September 1971.

But the departures kept on rolling, as Bobby Gould transferred to Wolverhampton.  In all he played for ten clubs, and the 65 league games he had with Arsenal was only beaten by the 82 he had for Coventry.  David Court went to Luton Town having missed out on the Fairs Cup final games through injury.  He played 168 league games league games for Arsenal, and in 1996 he returned to Arsenal as head of youth development.

The pre-season friendlies

These games hardly stretched Arsenal, but they still managed just draws in the last two.  Without a major transformation of the side, we feared that the European dream might have been just a one off.

  • 22 July: Arsenal 2 Watford 1 (Sammels, George)
  • 28 July: Gothenburg Alliance 2 Arsenal 4 (George (2), McNab and Graham)
  • 31 July: Kungsbacka BI (Sweden) 0 Arsenal 5 (Sammels 2 Kennedy George 2)
  • 4 August: Copenhagen Football Alliance (Denmark) 1 Arsenal 1 (George)
  • 7 August: Crystal Palace 2 Arsenal 2 (Radford 2)

The season begins

15 August 1970: The start of the first Double season.  Everton 2 Arsenal 2 (George and Graham scoring).  Charlie George broke his ankle, and the press called the game “trench warfare.”

17 August 1970: Match 2.  WHU 0 Arsenal 0 thus making it played 2, drawn 2, showing that one should never draw too many conclusions from the opening games!  (Note to impatient fans in 2015).

22 August 1970: Arsenal 4 Manchester United 0.  The first win of the season.  (Radford 3, Graham)

25 August 1970: After what was reported as a long stalemate Bob McNab accepted a new pay offer.  He stayed until 1975 playing 278 league games.

25 August 1970: Arsenal 1 Huddersfield 0.  Match 4, making the tally thus far Won 2 drawn 2.   Kennedy scored in front of just 34,848.

29 August 1970: Arsenal lost 2-1 away to Chelsea – the first defeat of the season in game 5.  Andy Kelly scored for Arsenal in front of 53,722 spectators.

1 September 1970: Arsenal 0 Leeds 0.  League match 6 and Arsenal were sixth.

5 September 1970.  Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0 to make it 3 wins 3 draws and a defeat.  Armstrong got both goals.  The return match was played on the last day of the season and won Arsenal the league.

So overall expectations were modest at this stage and indeed overall I think it took quite a time for the reality of this season to sink in.  And by this I don’t mean that Arsenal were going to win the league but rather that there was something different going on.

Indeed if you had suggested on the evening of 26 September that Arsenal would win the the league I suspect you would either have suffered an array of abuse, or else be put out of the way in a corner of the room where you could do no harm, for on this day the result was Stoke 5 Arsenal 0.

No, I think what began to be noticed was something else: that the team was unchanging.  Indeed from 1 September to 14 November this was literally true – 12 matches using exactly the same players.  Indeed if we omit Marinello who made one start, and Nelson who made two, only fourteen players were used as game starters.  Quite a feat, and undoubtedly a major part – perhaps the major part – of what followed.

From the Pre-season files


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