Arsenal in the 70s part 2: preparing to do the impossible.

By Tony Attwood.

(Amended 1 June 2017)

Although Arsenal entered 1970/71 season on a high having won a European competition for the first time, they were still often reminded by a belligerent press that they had not won any major domestic competition since the league trophy of 1953.  Worse, they were the nearly men, the team that “bottled it” at the last minute, due to the League Cup final defeats to Leeds (the league’s new stellar team, according to the press) and Swindon (the biggest shock of the century, also according to the press) in the two previous seasons.

Everyone supporting the club was delighted, indeed overwhelmed, by the Fairs Cup win, but I think we all wanted more – we wanted to build on that success.  We wanted a domestic trophy.

But if we expected new major signings to bolster the team at the start of the season, they were not there.

On 8 July 1970 David Court was sold to Luton Town having missed out on the Fairs Cup final games through injury.  He had played 168 league games league games for Arsenal, and in 1996 he returned to Arsenal as head of youth development.  

And this transfer reminds us of a rather interesting point: nothing else was happening.  This was the era of year long transfers (except for the last six weeks of the season, after the “transfer deadline”).  And normally Arsenal were no slouches at buying and selling players during the season.   

But there was not one significant transfer inwards during the rest of 1970.  Arsenal had their squad, and they used it.

So, with David Court departed, we moved on to the pre-season games.

  • 22 July 1970: Arsenal 2 Watford 1 (Sammels, George). This game was played at London Colney as three sessions of 30 minutes each.  There are no details of the team beyond the two scorers.
  • 28 July 1970: Gothenburg Alliance 2 Arsenal 4 (5,069) (McNab, George 2, Graham)
  • 31 July 1970: Kungsbacka BI 0 Arsenal 5 (Sammels 2, Kennedy, George 2)
  • 4 August 1970: Copenhagen Football Alliance 1 Arsenal 1 (5700) (George)
  • 7 August 1970: Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2 (2000) (Radford 2)

This final game was played at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, on behalf of the National Sports Development Fund.

The playing of the game at a non-football ground, on the Friday night before the Charity Shield match may not in retrospect have been a very clever move.  Indeed looking at a picture of the Norwood ground suggests that the tiny crowd that did turn up must have just gathered in one stand.

Unfortunately there seems to be little information around on what the National Sports Development Fund in England actually was.  Certainly it is not to be confused with the much higher profile National Sports Development Fund in India.

And so the season began… and it did so to a backdrop of what became known as “The Troubles” – rioting on a significant scale began to take place in Northern Ireland with British troops on the street and the Republic of Ireland asking the UN to send in peace keeping forces.  It was also the era of the Isle of Wight Festival in which Bob Dylan appeared, and the Beatles released their final album.

15 August 1970: Everton 2 Arsenal 2 (George and Graham scoring).  Charlie George broke his ankle, and the press called the game “trench warfare,” which was pretty much the going rate for comments on Arsenal games.  It was almost as if the journalists were out to get their own back at the club for having the temerity of winning something.

The team for this first game, in numerical order was Wilson, Rice, McNab, Kelly, McLintock, Roberts, Armstrong, Storey, Radford, George, Graham.  When Charlie George was injured Marinello came on as a substitute (only one sub per game being allowed).

For the second match on 17 August, Arsenal’s record signing, Peter Marinello took over Charlie George’s number 10 shirt and Ray Kennedy came on to partner Radford up front.   Storey dropped back to right back to replace the injured Pat Rice.  

The game ended West Ham United 0 Arsenal 0 thus making it played 2, drawn 2, showing that one should never draw too many conclusions from the opening games – but lessons were learned.  Marinello (Arsenal’s record signing at the time) returned to the subs bench for the next game, but was then seen no more, until he got a brief run of eight league matches in 1971-72 and thirteen in 1972-73.  

The reason for his demise was a combination of knee injuries, and a lifestyle that did not enhance his ability to play, and certainly did not meet with the approval of the austere club management. Bertie Mee was a disciplinarian who focussed on the players’ health.  Marinello did not fit the bill and eventually left Arsenal in July 1973 for Portsmouth.  

Ray Kennedy on the other hand was a revelation, and perhaps we can contrast the life of Marinello who had it all on a plate, and Kennedy who was told by none other than Sir Stanley Matthews when manager of Port Vale that he was not good enough to play as a professional (and who thus went back to working in a sweet factory).    While Marinello (it is said) found solace in alcohol, Ray Kennedy took over the number 10 shirt and stayed as the second centre forward through the rest of the season, becoming one of eight (yes eight!) players to play 40 or more league games out of 42.  An astonishing record.   Kennedy ended the season with 19 goals from his 41 games. 

22 August 1970 saw our first win: Arsenal 4 Manchester United 0.  It was match 3 and the first win of the season.  A Radford hattrick and a goal from Graham secured the victory.

This was quickly followed by the second win on 25 August: Arsenal 1 Huddersfield 0 and it made the tally thus far won 2 drawn 2.   Kennedy scored his first goal of the season and the second overall, in front of a fairly average gate for Arsenal of 34,848.  Also on the same day, after what was reported as a long stalemate, Bob McNab accepted a new pay offer.  He stayed until 1975 playing 278 league games in total.

On 29 August Arsenal lost 2-1 away to Chelsea – the first defeat of the season in game 5.  Eddie Kelly scored for Arsenal in front of 53,722 spectators.  Thus the month ended with 2 wins, 2 draws and a defeat and the table now looked like this…

Imagine saying after a start like that, “I think we’ll do the double this season”.  Probably best to keep quiet.

The next match however gave a slight bit of hope.  On 1 September the score was Arsenal 0 Leeds 0.  This was one of only three draws at home that season – every other home league match was won, and not at all bad against the league leaders who had thus far scored 12 goals in five games.

Overall the record books simply show that Leeds lost their 100% record at Highbury, but stayed top of the league.  Arsenal dropped their first home point of the season and suffered their second 0-0 (despite the return of Radford).

But behind this is the fact that Eddy Kelly was sent off in the 22nd minute after what the press chose to call a “tussle” with Billy Bremner.  “Tussle” is perhaps putting it rather politely and it was almost certainly never a word occurring in Bremner’s vocabulary.

After the sending off Leeds attacked with even more ferocity and Arsenal responded with what one journalist called “heroic resistance”.  That the Arsenal team felt outraged by the referee’s decision was clear, and they gave heart and soul to keep last season’s runners up at bay.

Rice and Armstrong shone as the classic Leeds team including Clarke, Jones and Cooper not to mention Bremner failed to find a way through.  It was a draw, and Arsenal were still 7th, but it felt like a victory.

With six games played Arsenal had seven points, and Leeds 11.  Not insurmountable, but even this early on a prolonged challenge for the title seemed unlikely.   So now after six games played Arsenal were sixth. having become the first team to take a point off Leeds.

On 4 September Jim Furnell was sold to Rotherham  for £8,000 having played 167 league and cup matches for Arsenal. He moved to Plymouth Argyle in 1970, retiring from playing in 1976.   In 2003, Jim Furnell was named as the goalkeeper in Plymouth’s greatest all-time team, by the club’s supporters.

The following day the result was Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0, Armstrong getting both goals.  The return match was played on the last day of the season exactly as it was in 1969/70, and became rather famous in its own right.

Three days later on 8 September Arsenal offered £125,000 for WBA midfielder Bobby Hope but the deal came to nothing and Hope stayed at Albion until 1972, when he moved to Birmingham City.  All things considered it didn’t seem to affect Arsenal too much.  On the same day the club drew away 0-0 with Ipswich in the league cup.

12 September 1970 saw another win: Burnley 1 Arsenal 2 in front of just 12,675, the lowest league crowd to see Arsenal during the season.  Kennedy and Radford scored to make it four wins, three draws and one defeat thus far.

Then, as holders as the Fairs Cup, Arsenal began their defence of the trophy on 16 September.  The first leg of round 1 ended Lazio 2 Arsenal 2 with Radford scoring both goals, but it was not so much the game that was remembered but rather the fact that after the match the two teams went to have a meal together and a fight broke out, with most of the players joining in.  The newspapers went berserk on the issue.  

As a result on 19 September the talk was still about events in Italy and the club was not at all impressed.  Indeed in a move that is very unlikely to be seen again, the Arsenal programme published a letter seriously and directly criticising the Evening Standard’s reporting of the club.  

Overall however it didn’t do Arsenal any harm, for Arsenal won the game on this day against West Brom 6-2 – the highest score of the season.  During the rest of the season the club scored four goals in three games, otherwise it was three or fewer goals per game.  Arsenal were third.

On 23 September Arsenal played the second leg of the 1st round of the Uefa Cup against Lazio, and Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Radford and Armstrong.  There was no collective meal afterwards.

And then, just as things seemed to be going rather satisfactorily (if not reaching title winning standards), everything fell apart on 26 September 1970  with a totally unexpected score of Stoke City 5 Arsenal 0.  

18,153 turned up to watch – a poor attendance given all the talk in the press about Arsenal’s new exciting style and their unconventional eating habits, and with Arsenal having let in only seven goals in the nine League games thus far a 2-0 win would have seemed more likely than anything else.

In goal there was Bob Wilson who was getting the plaudits not just for his ability to dive at the feet of oncoming forwards and get out uninjured but also because he was so interviewable.

Yet the reality on the day was that the score-line could easily have been worse, with Stoke missing a couple of simple chances.  It was in short the collective bad day for the defence, who spent the game giving the ball away again whenever they did manage to get possession for more than a second or two.

The fourth goal epitomised the problems – Wilson went for a bouncing ball, which really could have gone anywhere, but the bounce on the uneven pitch took it to Jimmy Greenhoff who had the simplest of chances to convert.  The fifth came from a shot that Wilson parried straight to Alan Bloor who scored.

The press felt the mighty had truly fallen and following Arsenal’s attack on the Standard in the programme over the Lazio affair, they turned on Arsenal to a man.  Such plaudits as they had got from beating Lazio in the second leg just three days before, now counted for nothing.   Winning the league was not on anyone’s mind after this display.

And yet the game didn’t affect Arsenal’s immediate response, for what is often forgotten is that just two days later Arsenal beat first division Ipswich in the second round League Cup replay, 4-0.   Kennedy got 2, Radford and Roberts the others.

Arsenal were doing ok in the league, but their away record read won 1 drawn 2 lost 2, five goals for, 10 against.  Those of a more negative approach to life said that Arsenal needed to do much better away from home.  Those of a positive persuasion noted the club was still in all three competitions, with the fourth (the FA Cup of course) awaiting them in January.

September ended with Arsenal in the third round of the league cup, and with Leeds United still top of the First Division, two points ahead of their nearest rivals Manchester City. The challenge at the top remains a close one, with Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea all level on points.  But the 5-0 defeat to Stoke had dented the goal average.

And so into October, the month in which the first ever episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was shown on TV.   On 3 October Kennedy scored his first hattrick as Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 4-0 in league match 11.  Armstrong got the fourth goal and the resulted started a 14 match unbeaten run.  I can remember the guy standing next to me at the end shaking his head in amazement at the fact that Arsenal had scored “another four”.   This was not what we were used to.

We had seen Arsenal 4 Manchester United 0, Arsenal 4 Ipswich 0 and Arsenal 6 West Brom 2.  Where on earth would this end?

Then it was a case of the League Cup as on 6 October 1970 we had Arsenal 1 Luton 0 in League Cup with David Court playing for Luton.  Strangely, no one remembers the league cup – but Arsenal were through to the fourth round.

10 October saw Newcastle 1 Arsenal 1.  George Graham got the goal.  It meant Arsenal had won exactly half of their league games thus far.

By and large things were going quite well, and in the league a lot better than in recent seasons.   But then on 17 October something rather unexpected happened.   We had yet another game with four or more Arsenal goals, the result being Arsenal 4 Everton 0.  Kennedy got two, Kelly got one and Storey the penalty.

This meant that Kennedy – the player who hadn’t even been picked to play in the first game of the season – had scored eight goals in his last six games, as well as a couple in the league cup match during this spell.  It started to make us wonder.

As for the game, this was a match of considerable importance.

First, it was a match of swagger and style and a thumping win over the reigning champions in an era when pundits were suggesting that London clubs would find it hard ever to win the league again.  London life was “too soft”, there were “too many distractions” and “too many London derbies”.  True, Everton were not having much of a season thus far, but still, they were from the north, and they were champions.

Second it was the fifth match since the awful 0-5 defeat away to Stoke; and those three results were

  • Beat Ipswich 4-0 (home)
  • Beat Nottingham Forest 4-0 (home)
  • Beat Luton Town 1-0 (away)
  • Drew with Newcastle 1-1 (away)
  • Beat Everton 4-0 (home)

Now this in itself was important because the press, always keen to knock Arsenal, had been saying that the 0-5 reverse to Stoke had shown that Arsenal thus far had been flattering to deceive.  The three 4-0 results in the space of five games plus a creditable away draw against a Northern Team showed this was not the case.

Third, as time went by it was clear this was just the beginning, for it was the start of four successive wins as we beat Everton, Coventry, Derby and Blackpool.

Fourth it was part of a 14 match unbeaten run in the league which included 11 wins and just three draws.

And fifth it was a period when goals came from everywhere.  In addition to those scoring in this match Armstrong, Graham and Radford all knocked them in, and it looked like even if more injuries came (Charlie George as we have noted did not return to the side until February, but it didn’t seem to matter) Arsenal could score from all parts of the pitch.

The crowd believed in Arsenal too.  50,012 turned up for the Everton game and 43,013 for the next home game against Derby.  These were high numbers for a club that but a few years earlier had been used to 20,000 more than 40,000

So a hammering of the champions served notice that there was something special about this team.  Besides it was League match 13 and Arsenal were up to second.

But now the doom mongers started to find another issue.  This was a season like last when Arsenal were playing in four trophies, and in none of them would Arsenal put out the young or reserve players – it was the first team all the way.  And when the result on 21 October of Sturm Graz 1 Arsenal 0 came in from Austria there was some nodding of old heads as the immediate demise of Arsenal was predicted.  “Too many games,” was said with a shake of the head.  Nothing more, that’s all that needed to be said.

But then the nodding of heads turned to the scratching of heads on 24 October as Arsenal struck again in the league, as indeed Kennedy struck again.  The result was Coventry 1 Arsenal 3.  Kennedy, Radford and Graham scored and it gave Kennedy nine goals in the last seven games.  It seemed the trip to Styria had not dented the club after all.

So it was, with a fair amount of excitement about the League building among Arsenal supporters (although not much among the press who had tipped Everton to retain the title, Leeds to challenge and Tottenham to be the top London club) there was a return to the League Cup.  The result was what must be seen as a bit of a disappointing 0-0 away draw on 28 October with Crystal Palace who were languishing towards the foot of the table.  And it must be remembered that the regular league team played – in fact all the regular league team played.

But the matches kept on rolling, and on 31 October Arsenal were back in action in the League – their 8th game in a month, their 19th game since August 15.   And were the players tired?  Not a bit.  The result was Arsenal 2 Derby 0 with goals from Kelly and Radford in front of 43,013.  It was one of four successive games in which Radford scored.

Leeds United remained top of the First Division with Arsenal seen as the challengers.  The surprise package of the moment were Crystal Palace who were sixth in their second season in the top division, having only just missed relegation the previous season.

November started with the return match in the Fairs Cup second round, on 4 November and it ended Arsenal 2 Sturm Graz 0  in front of 37,667.  Yet again Kennedy scored and Storey got a penalty to wrap it up.

Then we were straight back to the league on 7 November with a trip to the seaside for Blackpool 0 Arsenal 1. This was League match 16 and Arsenal’s fourth consecutive league win, but it still left Arsenal second, one point behind Leeds.  Radford scored in a game that was part of a sequence of four consecutive scoring matches for the centre forward.

Two days later the same players played their third game in six days and it resulted on 9 November in Arsenal’s only home defeat all season: 0-2 to Crystal Palace.  It was the League Cup round 4 replay after the 0-0 away draw on 28 October and it was proof, if proof were needed that ending a three games in six days sequence with a competition that really didn’t mean too much for Arsenal, was not a good idea.

It was at this time that colour TV finally came to the UK – although most people didn’t have colour TV sets (as Arsenal fans later reminded those at Tottenham, that they won the league in black and white).

But that wasn’t the end of Crystal Palace because the following Saturday Palace were back at Highbury and the result on 14 November was something of an improvement. Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 1.   Radford scored for the fourth consecutive game, making it seven without defeat in the league since the 0-5 loss against Stoke.  It was Radford’s 8th for the season, with Kennedy on 10 having not scored in the last three games.

As the league table for the end of October (above) showed, Arsenal were firing on all fronts, which meant endless uses of the word “gunner” in newspaper headlines as the journalists tried to ignore their earlier predictions.

The next league game came against the team Arsenal had already beaten in the league cup: Ipswich and on 21 November League match 18 of the season ended Ipswich Town 0 Arsenal 1 with a goal from George Armstrong.   The result meant Arsenal were now four points behind Leeds but with a game in hand.  

However there was also for the away game to Ipswich a major change in the team – or at least major in the context of 1970/71.

Until this point only 14 players had been used.  Charlie George had had just one match, being injured in the very first game, and Marinello had just had his one start and two games as a sub.  Ray Kennedy has replaced Charlie George and after Marinello by and large the 12th man wasn’t used.   When we did bring on a sub it was Sammy Nelson.

But now suddenly there were two changes: with Peter Simpson and Jon Sammels playing their first games of the season.  Both were regulars – Simpson having played 39 and Sammels 36 in the previous season.

These two became the 15th and 16th players (including subs) of the season to be used by Arsenal – and they were the last two to be introduced.  It was the lowest number of players used in an Arsenal season and equalling the 1968/9 all time low.   If Bertie Mee owed his success in part to luck, it was the luck with injuries at this time that can be cited.

In fact Sammels kept his place in the team for 13 games, playing first at number 11, the shirt that George Graham had had, and then at number 8.  There was a certain irony in the shirt number change since it was the combination of an ankle injury and the development in the view that George Graham had a central part to play in the team that caused Sammels to lose his place after being so prominent in the Fairs Cup victory.

Simpson, who had missed the opening part of the season with cartilage trouble,  stayed for the rest of the season playing 25 games and replacing John Roberts.  Although of course we didn’t know it at the time John Roberts had just played his 82nd and final league game for Arsenal.  He did play in the league cup matches the following season (which I believe was the first season in which Arsenal experimented with varying the regular team for the league cup) and played his final game for the club on 3 October 1972 in that competition against Rotherham.   On 11 October 1972 John was transferred to Birmingham – but he could take with him a league winners’ medal having played 18 consecutive games at the start of the 1970/71 season.

Dropping out of the team at this point , in addition to Roberts, was first George Graham for two games, and then for the rest of the season Eddy Kelly.   Eddie Kelly was injured in the game against Liverpool on 28 November, and was replaced by George Graham who made his timely comeback.

Now, with no more league cup, and with no Fairs Cup games in November the tiny squad was able to get a break and once again have a week to recover before the next game against Liverpool.

Liverpool had last won the league in 1966, but had been a top five team ever since, and were clearly getting agitated over their neighbour’s success last season.  But like Everton were yet to hit their stride in this campaign.   So it wasn’t too much of a surprise on 28 November that the result was Arsenal 2 Liverpool 0.  George Graham got his seventh league goal of the season while Radford scored the other, closing the gap on Kennedy a little.

With no more changes following Eddie Kelly’s departure the team now settled down (in numerical order – the players being numbered 1 to 11, not with squad numbers).

Wilson, Rice, McNab, Storey, McLintock, Simpson, Armstrong, Sammels, Radford, Kennedy, Graham.

The month ended with Leeds United still First Division leaders. They now had a four-point lead over Arsenal. Blackpool and Burnley were  still occupying the relegation places, as they did for the rest of the season.

December opened with the 3rd round of the Fairs Cup, and Arsenal duly beat Beveren Waas 4-0 in the third round on 2 December at Highbury.

Then on Saturday 5 December there was a trip to Manchester City which Arsenal won 0-2.  Armstrong and Radford score in League match 20.

The following weekend saw Arsenal reach the half way stage in the campaign, and on 12 December the result was Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton W 1, making it seven goals in the last eight games for Radford. 

The return match with Beveren in Belgium was something of a foregone conclusion given the result of the first leg of the tie, but it had a particular significance because 16 December was Charlie George’s first game since his injury on the opening day of the season.  The game ended 0-0, the crowd 16,000 – and that was it as far as the Fairs Cup was concerned until March, when Arsenal would come up against much sterner opposition in terms of FC Koln.

On 18 December the death penalty was abolished in the UK and as Christmas approached, 19 December 1970 saw Manchester United 1 Arsenal 3, making it five consecutive wins in League match 22.  Charlie George suffered an injury set back however and did not make an immediate return for Arsenal but instead had to wait until February, thus leaving the team throughout December as

Wilson, Rice, McNab, Storey, McLintock, Simpson, Armstrong, Sammels, Radford, Kennedy, Graham.

But despite the victories that had kept piling up, Arsenal’s progress was matched by Leeds who still led Arsenal by two points.

Then the glorious run in the league came to an end, not with a defeat but with a goalless draw on Boxing Day, at home to Southampton.  The story that has forever become attached to this match is that in the dressing room George Armstrong is reputed to have said to his team mates, “I bet we win the Double”.

On the same day Derby County and Manchester United played out a 4-4 draw which drew the commentators attention.  Derby were occupying 17th place in the First Division in their second season since promotion, while Man U were one place below them, two years after being crowned by the press as one of the greatest teams England had ever seen by winning the European Cup. 

Boxing Day concluded the year’s first division football.  Football did not return until 3 January for the FA Cup.   And as much of Britain (at least the part that didn’t work in retail) enjoyed a prolonged break from work, the league table from an Arsenal point of view continued to make fairly pleasant reading.

Arsenal were indeed three points behind Leeds with a game in hand, but these two teams were streaking away from the rest.  With just two points for a win Chelsea’s game in hand over Arsenal would not make much dent in the five point gap, and it was clear that even if one of the two front-runners were to suffer a winter or spring collapse, the chances of both of them faltering was unlikely.

It is also interesting at this stage to look that goal average (again, unlike today, a different system for calculating positions in the league.  It was calculated by goals scored divided by goals conceded (thus 44 divided by 17 for Arsenal).  This system always favoured teams with lower goal scoring achievements, as was the case in this league table.  Arsenal would have needed to have scored three more goals to have a better goal average at this stage.

Very academic of course, but interesting, given the calculations that were being done by the time the league season ended.


Arsenal in the 70s: the complete history

This series of articles is part of the work of the Arsenal History Society.  Full details of all our series of articles appears on the home page of our website.

The Arsenal History Society has also published “Arsenal in the 30s” – again covering every match and every event in the decade.



4 Replies to “Arsenal in the 70s part 2: preparing to do the impossible.”

  1. A great article, to bring back many memories.

    A couple of additional points: George Graham’s return to action after his first period on the bench, when he came on against Liverpool is memorable for the first goal, which he volleyed in in front of the North Bank after a slick exchange of passes with Sammels, and the second, which he set up for Radford with a subtle headed pass which opened up the Liverpool defence.

    Also John Roberts played in the League in the following season, away to Leeds, unusually wearing No. 11 shirt, having been selected in preference to Graham, presumably to reinforce the defence. It didn’t work, as we lost 0-3.

    I was at both these games.

  2. I saw that 5-0 defeat by Stoke and had the miserable task of driving back to London in my VW Beetle with my mate. What I remember about the trip is missing the turn off for Stoke on the M6 and having to drive 21 miles up to the next slip road before turning back down again. No sat navs in 1970.

  3. I was taken to the 6-2 home win against West Brom as an eleven-year-old by a work colleague of my mothers. My first ever game. As soon as we arrived on the north bank, he shot off to the back to be with his mates and told me to bugger off down the front on my own.
    When Arsenal scored the fourth goal, I was pushed down about thirty steps of terracing and had my glasses broken. I remember watching the rest of the game holding the broken specs up against my face.
    My parents were less than happy about this but I managed to persuade them to allow me to go to more games and I ended up attending most of the remaining home games and a few away.
    What a first season, happy memories!

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