Arsenal in the 70s, part 7: The remains of 1971/2, revival and defeat.

By Tony Attwood


Derby literally took the fight to Arsenal with O’Hare at one stage punching and kicking Graham repeatedly.  As players tried to pull O’Hare off, the referee checked with the linesman and then spoke to Gemmill and Simpson.  It was that sort of display.


The story so far…

Arsenal started February 1972 unbeaten in nine league games and having safely made their way through the third round of the FA Cup.  Thus on 5 February the away cup match at Reading offered little concern, and indeed Arsenal duly won 1-2 in front of 25,756

However after gaining an own goal when Morgan headed into his own net in panic, Arsenal left it until the 83rd minute for Pat Rice to score the winner against the fourth division side.  Reading had struggled to get past Blyth Spartans in the last round, but they still played as if they believed they could win this one.

Reading’s aim was to shower in as many crosses as possible, while countering Arsenal’s passing game through the high energy levels from every player on the pitch – in fact the tactic introduced by Derby in October.

The home side were aided by a pitch that was slippery and muddy, and by Arsenal’s players who looked unwilling to risk injury by going too far too fast.

However when Graham in particular could get the ball he was always subtle, threatening and clever, but with Reading willing to run at and for anything, they, on the other hand, had the most possession.  But inevitably fitness and skill eventually told and as the second half wore on Arsenal began to dominate.  But suddenly McLintock and Wilson confused each other and Wastaffe was clear to chip the ball over Wilson’s head.

However a quick throw in by George then sent Rice free, and he scored with a left foot drive in off the post.  Arsenal were through.

The following saturday it was back to the league and the result on the 12th was Arsenal 2 Derby 0; 52,055 in attendance.  Clearly this was what the fans wanted: an Arsenal team which was at least not being beaten.  Although the league record of won five drawn five in the last ten, was by no means perfect but it was better than the first half of the season.

Derby however were looking ready to remove Arsenal’s crown, and as a result both sides gave the game everything from the first to the last.  The pitch was a muddy mess following heavy rain, but neither side looked for excuses.  If a pass went astray, the players re-grouped and worked forward again.

For Arsenal, Ball and Armstrong shone through, George and Kennedy were endlessly determined, Graham eternally probing.  George hit the post with a header, as both sides continued to push forward until in the second minute of injury time in the first half  Graham found George unmarked two yards from goal.  George headed in.

Both sides pressed in the second half.  Armstrong hit the bar with a looping cross-shot, George had a left foot shot tipped over.  Then with six minutes to go Ball took the ball in the area, and waltzed round the keeper only to be pulled down.  He took the penalty himself and made it 2-0.

Unbeaten in 11 in the League; the feeling was most certainly that Arsenal were on the move once again.

Next up was Ipswich away on 19 February, and the unbeaten run continued with an another win, 0-1.

Arsenal scored on six minutes as McLintock moved forward on the right, put in a deep probing cross and George headed in with a brilliant goal.

From then on Arsenal’s intent was to hold onto the lead, and this they did sometimes efficiently, sometimes beautifully, in the face of a fairly poor attack which made the mistake of trying to play through the middle.  Simpson and McLintock were not to be moved.

That Arsenal scored no more was as much due to Kennedy’s continued a poor run of form (he had scored just one in the last ten league games, while Graham and Ball looked as if the game against Derby had used up all their inventiveness.  Overall Ipswich looked an inexperienced side, and Arsenal looked like a team doing just enough to see them off.

There was however a moment’s humour at the end when Hunter took a free kick three times.  The first time George was judged to be too close.  The same the second time, and George was booked.  The third time he stood in the same spot yet again, and the game was allowed to continue.

If playing Derby in the league had drained the team, somehow they had to find new reserves of energy as on February 26 1972 Arsenal once more played Derby away in the 5th round of the cup.  In front of 39,622, the result was a 2-2 draw.

The mud was far worse than for the league match at Highbury (a bog was an apt description), the tackles fiercer that two weeks before, the rule-breaking more extensive, and the referee totally out of his depth for this type of battle.  It was exhilarating (each side scoring their second in the last 11 minutes) and so tough that strong men in the crowd were said by the ever unimaginative newspaper correspondents to go white with shock.

Derby literally took the fight to Arsenal with O’Hare at one stage punching and kicking Graham repeatedly.  As players tried to pull O’Hare off, the referee checked with the linesman and then spoke to Gemmill and Simpson.  It was that sort of display.

Four minutes before the break Nelson crossed, Robson’s clearance hit his goalkeeper, it went to George and he volleyed in superbly.  Derby equalised through a penalty given for a foul by Simpson.  With 11 minutes left Ball found George in acres of space, and Charlie duly scored. Derby launched one final attack at the end as everyone crowded into the Arsenal area and managed to squeeze the ball home.

Replays were always arranged at once in these days, no waiting for the police to find their barriers and ask for overtime, and so on Leap Day, it was all done again, ending Arsenal 0 Derby County 0 (after extra time).  63,077 turned up, and most were probably quite disappointed.

If the supporters expected another battle, they didn’t get it, probably because no one had any energy left from the game three days earlier.  They did see over 50 free kicks, but the fouls looked for all the world as if the players were going through the motions, rather than launching the wholesale assaults that had marked the match at the weekend.

The ground was much better than Derby’s mud heap, and players able to keep their footing and play football.  Wilson hardly had a save to make.  For Derby Gemmill ran the show but McLintock and Simpson were as always resolute.

Arsenal could have won the game several times over at the start of the second half as both George and Ball shot wide from clear chances.  17 minutes from the end Radford came on, but it made no difference and there was no breakthrough.

So the month ended with yet another replay needed, and Arsenal’s long running unbeaten sequence intact.  The league table looked like this.

Four points off the leaders but with a game in hand and still in the cup.  For a moment it almost felt like the previous season.

But only for a moment for on 4 March the bubble burst as Arsenal lost 0-2 away to Manchester City 2 watched by 44,213 at Maine Road.

For half an hour it looked like Arsenal could win the game with Ball and George combining brilliantly.  Radford and Ball missed by inches, and it seemed positive for Arsenal, until that is the 35th minute.  Wilson having done one of his trade mark magnificent dives to pick the ball from the feet of Lee, threw the ball to Rice standing in the penalty area.  The ball bounced up and hit Rice on the arm, and the referee gave a penalty.  Arsenal protested, Lee scored.

It was a nonsense of course but the referee had obviously been told to come down hard on players – handing out five bookings in the first half alone (McLintock and Graham for Arsenal, three for Man City) – after a range of rabid articles in the press claiming that the behaviour of players on the pitch was causing the problems on the terraces.  No evidence of course but it was a theme that was to continue for another 14 years until the Heysel Stadium disaster proved once and for all that some supporters didn’t need the players to be able to riot.

But in this game against Man City, the behaviour of the ref took the stuffing out of Arsenal who began to show the effects of the epic battles with Derby, and it was no surprise that all the second half belonged to City.  Lee finally shot from outside the area, the ball ricocheted around the defence, leaving Lee himself free to sprint forward and knock the ball home.

And it didn’t get easier for Arsenal as four days later they had to play Ajax away in the third round 1st leg of the European Cup.  In front of 63,000 it ended 2-1, but with away goals counting double, Arsenal were far from out of it.

In the run-up to the game McLintock had collected his MBE from Buckingham Palace, and as if to celebrate he played a blinder of a game, holding Arsenal together.  The outstanding Bob Wilson was even more outstanding than usual.

Graham, Armstrong, Simpson and Storey were magnificent and Arsenal left knowing they had only been beaten by a debateable penalty (in which van Dijk went down in a group of players, seemingly more because he lost his footing rather than anyone pushing him) and a goal diverted past Wilson by Simpson on 26 minutes.   Charlie George had the best chance in the second half as his shot went just wide with the keeper stranded.

But the deeper truth was that Ajax showed the benefit of not having to face the sort of battles Arsenal were forced to endure each week (and mostly twice a week) in the first division.  Arsenal’s triumph was to hold the score to 1-1 in a first half in which Arsenal had two goal attempts to Ajax’s 17.

On Saturday March 11 it was back to the league, and Arsenal most certainly needed to pick up the pieces and recover from successive defeats to Man City and Ajax.   But sadly it ended  Newcastle United 2 Arsenal 0 in front of a very poor Newcastle crowd of 31,920.

It felt like the end of their attempt to retain the League trophy.  Arsenal looked tired and it took them over 20 minutes to launch even a single attack.

Newcastle should have noticed sooner that only Armstrong looked lively for Arsenal, and it took them until the second half to up the pressure.  With George retiring to be replaced by Batson (Arsenal’s first black player), Ball needed to step up and take control.  He tried, but missed two great chances, while Newcastle started to hammer the Arsenal goal.

Only Wilson, as ever, was truly on form and with Kennedy continuing to look off the pace and Ball missing when it was easier to score, Newcastle broke in the 70th minute and Macdonald scored from 10 yards.  The second came in the third minute of injury time as Arsenal pushed forward for an equaliser.  Simpson was disposed, and with Arsenal caught forward Smith ran on to tuck the ball way.

Interestingly, Brendan Batson himself was was awarded an MBE 29 years after coming on in the match, and an OBE in 2015.

However with the disappointments of these three defeats still fresh in the memory Arsenal had to pick themselves up for a third attempt to resolve the FA Cup tie against Derby, and on March 13 at Leicester’s ground it ended Arsenal 1 Derby County 0 in front of 36,534.

After five minute McGovern, attempted a back pass from the half way line.  The ball landed near Kennedy who finally chose this moment to show his form had returned.  One nil to the Arsenal and Arsenal then focussed on keeping the defence in order.  Gemill, Hinton and Hector did what they could but Arsenal took it all, either retreating totally into the area, or coolly playing the ball out and waiting for Derby to attack them again.

This was the Arsenal of last season, cool and commanding, assured and certain, held together by McLintock, with Graham and Armstrong filling in the gaps where ever they occurred.

Arsenal looked quite happy for Derby to have most of the ball, waiting instead of the occasional break.  Clough tried one of his famous tactical switches which involved removing McGovern and pushing McFarland into attack, and it did result in their best effort – but effort was all it was.  Arsenal were through.

The two replays meant that Arsenal were immediately plunged into the next round of the FA Cup, and thus faced Orient (previously and since known as Leyton Orient) on March 18 1972.

Orient, the third club in North London, had won the 3rd division in 1970 but had then struggled to get much above the bottom third of the second tier, which is where they were at the time of this match.

31,768 packed into Orient’s tiny ground, not least because Orient had beaten Leicester (looking for promotion from division 2) and Chelsea (of the 1st division) on their way to the sixth round, and for one glorious moment nine years before they had actually been a first division club.  They played with the confidence of a team who knew that upsets were always possible.

Three times Orient hit post or bar – but Arsenal delivered a professional performance which basically said, “no matter how much pressure you deliver, we’ll see this one through.”

Yet Arsenal were wasteful – Simpson had only the Orient keeper to beat when he shot wide, and Armstrong hit one over that should certainly have been on target.  But Ball’s distribution was of the highest order, and Kennedy menaced continually in the centre.

In the end Orient made a mistake.  George received a Ball free kick, headed back across goal, Goddard in the Orient goal dropped the ball as Kennedy pressured, and Ball tapped it into an empty net.    Orient threw everything into attack after that, and Arsenal retreated, waiting for the breaks – but in the end they didn’t need them.

Having dealt with the FA Cup it was straight back to the European cup, and although Arsenal started with great optimism because of the away goal from the first leg, on March 22 there was only disappointment as Arsenal lost 0-1 at Highbury with 56,155 in the crowd.

Arsenal had a brilliant opportunity to draw level after just three minutes following an error in the Ajax defence.  Marinello, who had made one appearance as substitute thus far in the league this season, was unmarked and unchallenged, but shot straight at the keeper, when a placement of the ball anywhere else would have resulted in a goal.

The moment seemed to take the stuffing out of the team, and they never recovered.  On 15 minutes Johan Cruyff took a quick throw in to Neeskins.  Wilson ran out of his goal to intercept, Graham tried a back pass, and the ball ran into the unguarded net.

A minute later Graham took a quick free kick and Charlie George blasted inches wide.  And that was that.  Arsenal kept moving forwards, but they looked like men who believed that Ajax were invincible, and that destiny was against them.

(Ajax went on to beat Inter in the European Cup final, and the following season made it three victories in a row, in beating Juventus.  It was the last time any team won the European Cup three times running).

Seemingly letting the league drift away, and out of Europe, Arsenal now had to play that other major force of 1970/71: Leeds Utd.  The match on March 25 1972 was the final confirmation (as if it were needed) that Arsenal were not going to retain the league trophy as it ended Leeds United 3 Arsenal 0 in front of 45,055 packed into Elland Rd.

Leeds presented Arsenal with a silver tankard in recognition of the club’s Double last season – and perhaps as a way of taking some of the tension out of the fixture which had been so troublesome a year ago.   Then, pleasantries done, Leeds destroyed Arsenal with three first half goals.

The scoreline could have been far higher had Leeds not eased up.  Indeed having scored seven against Southampton on 4 March, the crowd were expecting far more in the second half – but thankfully for Arsenal it was not to be.  (That victory over Southampton is still called “the greatest ever Leeds performance” on some web sites).

Leeds in the first half were on top of their game, and utterly unstoppable.  The final goal from Lorrimer was shot from 35 yards out – and Wilson never had a chance.

For Arsenal Ball kept trying throughout, and hit the post, while George hit the crossbar with a fierce header had another kicked off the line. But there never looked like being a way back.  As for a repeat of the anger and anguish of last season, there was not a sign.  Ball and Rice were booked, but it was far from being a dirty game.

The month’s football ended on March 28 with a tiny amount of relief as Arsenal beat Southampton 1-0 but the crowd of 27,172 reflected the mood in north London.

Peter Marinello played his first league game in 19 months to score the winner, leaving journalists at the game predicting that he was the most valuable asset the club had, as they eulogised over his close control, increased physical strength, and his neatest of neat touches.   Indeed on the day his finishing looked more certain than Charlie George, his passing skills better than Alan Ball!

As the game approached half time, and with Arsenal having had a dozen good chances without getting any return,  Armstrong hit the bar and Kennedy skimmed the post.   Then suddenly, Kennedy flicked the ball on to Marinello whose header was blocked, but who continued forward and forced the ball into the net.

In the second half Marinello continued to play the game of his career, Charlie George took inspiration but there were to be no more goals.

With only one more full month of the season to go the table looked like this…

Tottenham’s form in March had hardly been spectacular with two wins, two draws and a defeat, but it was enough to carry them above Arsenal and with the general decline in Arsenal’s league form, that was far from welcome.  Not every fan had expected the league title to be retained, but 8th, and below Tottenham with Chelsea edging closer, was not welcome news.

But then, on All Fools Day, there was an upturn with Arsenal 3 Nottingham Forest 0.  The big crowds had gone – only 33,895 turned up to see Arsenal against a side looking a certainty for relegation and Arsenal were expected to saunter through this game, which they duly did.  But they were unable to convert many of the chances they had, as Bob Wilson probably wished he could have emulated Arsenal’s notorious keeper from the Edwardian era Leigh Roose, who famously chatted to spectators behind the goal when there wasn’t much doing up his end of the pitch.

Only Marinello put in a qualify shift as he taunted and tormented the Forest defenders, undoubtedly seeking to show the Arsenal management what they had been missing all this time.

Ray Kennedy having scored the first on 50 minutes seemed on the other hand to have lost interest in the whole affair, and he was replaced by Graham, who took it upon himself to “liven things up” as he said in the post-match interview.  A minute later Charlie George converted a penalty after Hindley finally got fed up with Marinello’s skills, and Graham himself scored the third on 82.

Chances of the league title may have gone, but Arsenal supporters expected the club to make every effort to get above Tottenham and so on April 4 in front of a sparse Leicester crowd of 27,431 with goalkeeper Peter Shilton and several first team defenders out of action, Arsenal were expected to sail through this game.  However it ended 0-0 and City’s 19 year old replacement keeper Mark Wallington played the game of his life to keep out shots and headers from Marinello, Armstrong, George and Ball.

Shots were pushed round the post, cleared off the line, and interceptions were simply booted upfield as mid-table Leicester sought to survive with their patched up team.  Birchenall had Leicester’s one and only chance, as McLintock endlessly urged his team forward, but Arsenal were unable to find a route through the massed defence.

The victory on April 8 by 2-1 against mid-table Wolverhampton Wanderers at Highbury was a welcome escape from the drudgery.  38,189 saw Arsenal get a small amount of revenge for the 5-1 hammering that they took in the reverse fixture back in November.  Wolverhampton initially looked as if they knew they had a chance of doing the double over the Gunners, playing well for much of the game.  But in the end their focus, concentration and indeed composure all vanished.

Richards put Wolverhampton in front on 28 minutes, and then held the lead for most of the game.  But as time wore on it became clear that the visitors were increasingly holding on, waiting and waiting for the final whistle.

But the fact of football is that although most sides can play out time for five minutes few can do it for 25, and ultimately it was no surprise that  George Graham nodded in two headers on 78 and 80 minutes to give both points to Arsenal.

With Arsenal’s only hope of silverware now resting on the FA Cup, the game on April 11 against Crystal Palace had little of the flavour of a London derby.  It ended 2-2 with 34,384 at Selhurst Park.

Palace approached this match looking likely candidates for relegation (not least because they had not won a home league match since December), and hailed the draw as a triumph.  Arsenal however knew that they were just a few days away from playing their cup semi-final with Stoke, and clearly no one wanted to risk injury.

As it was George suffered a cut above the eye – but otherwise everyone was fine.  Arsenal scored twice through Radford and Ball in the first four minutes to make the rest of the match look like a formality – and so inevitably took their collective feet off the accelerator.  But a penalty to Palace half way through the first half, and a goal from Craven on the hour turned everything upside down.

George Graham was booked for the second time in two games, and with a disciplinary hearing scheduled for four days hence following three previous indiscretions talk turned to him being banned from the cup final, should Arsenal beat Stoke in the semis.  The media’s fanatical negativism with all things Arsenal was rampant even in the early 1970s.

This being Arsenal it seemed inevitable that the cup semi final on April 15 1972 would end Arsenal 1 Stoke City 1 in a match played at Villa Park in front of 56,576.  It meant Arsenal had to play Stoke four times in two seasons in the semi-finals.

But the big news was that Bob Wilson suffered a serious injury to his left knee as he fell awkwardly after beating Ritchie to a high free kick in the 58th minute and collided with a post  He stayed on the pitch for a further 15 minutes – during which time Simpson scored an own goal, so enforcing a replay – before going off hurt.  John Radford went in goal, and Kennedy came on as an outfield sub.

But long before the injury to Wilson, war had been declared with Bloor attacking George’s groin with his boot (and getting a booking as a result).  Bernard then repeated the trick on Storey (a brave thing to do!) but the ref felt that no further writing of names was needed at that moment, although a few moments later he booked Smith.

Two minutes after the resumption Armstrong sent a long pass to Charlie George.  His shot hit a defender and was cleared but only as far as Armstrong once again, who scored from 20 yards out.   Radford made two fine saves to see the game out.

The replay took place on April 19 at Goodison Park and ended Arsenal 2 Stoke City 1 with only 38,970 in attendance.

To say Arsenal had an off day is putting it mildly, as George Eastham orchestrated Stoke’s performance against his old club.  When Stoke took the lead from a penalty after Barnett brought down Greenhoff it looked like this should be enough, so disorganised were Arsenal, but in the second half Ball decided to show Eastham he could do all the old master had done – only more so.

Arsenal had a legitimate penalty turned now, scored from one they were awarded, as Armstrong and George tore at Stoke in a way that made the spectators wonder why it had not been like this from the start.

George scored from the spot after Armstrong had been pushed in the area, and in the 77th minute George centred for Radford to score the goal that took Arsenal to their fifth cup final in five years.

At such times of course the league becomes a diversion from the task of trying to get a cup final ticket.  But the league goes on and on April 22 1972 the result was Arsenal 2 West Ham United 1, with 45,251 in Highbury.

Perhaps surprisingly, after all the huff, puff and violence of the semi finals Arsenal and West Ham returned to football , and produced a relaxed and ordered run out.  Arsenal thought about Wembley, West Ham thought about doing better next year, and no one got too excited.  On 15 minutes Radford crossed from the right, Graham headed on and Ball sneaked in to tap home.

On the hour, McLintock went off and Batson came on, leading the Observer’s Bob Ferrier  to comment that this meant there were four “coloured boys” on the pitch.  Even for the 1970s it seemed a distasteful and unnecessary comment to make in a paper with such claims of a liberal outlook.

Brooking equalised after 38 minutes but Arsenal regained the lead straight after half time with Ball firing through a ruck of players, and from then on no one really seemed bothered to take things any further.

At the turn of the year Manchester United had topped the table, but they had long since fallen away and on April 25 a scoreline of Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0 didn’t raise any eyebrows, least of all among the notorious Man U Supporters Club (London Branch) who swelled the crowd of 49,125.

Thus Man U continued their slide with no part of their team looking remotely capable of playing even half-decent football.   Arsenal changed the side around with McLintock and McNab able to return after injuries and the only problem was Barnett, who had so little to do he was unable to get in any practice ahead of the cup final.

Arsenal thrived, with Graham and Armstrong probing at every moment, Kennedy and Radford were in dominating form and even Simpson had the occasional stroll forward.

Armstrong’s free kick was back headed by Graham for Kennedy to score.  Next Kennedy took the ball off Charlton and let Simpson have a shot – which cannoned into the net.  Radford got the third with a free headed from an Armstrong free kick.

The league title had gone, but Arsenal were again top London team (at least for the moment), and with the club unbeaten in seven league games (11 league and FA Cup games) things were starting to feel a little brighter after the disappointments of March.

The run of good form continued on May 1 1972 with Coventry 0 Arsenal 1 and an attendance of 23,509.

Alan Ball’s goal made Arsenal’s fifth position in the league more secure, and made a UEFA cup place a possibility if the FA Cup was not retained against Leeds.

Arsenal rested no one and once again played like a team who desperately wanted to avoid injuries.  Indeed it almost looked as if Coventry were willing to oblige in this regard as both sides hardly put in a tackle all game.

Bobby Graham and Willie Carr both came very close for Coventry, but otherwise there was little to cheer the home fans.  Charlie George had a couple of fine shots, missed a sitter and chased everything that moved (sometimes too vigorously for the ref’s liking).

The goal came on 75 minutes.  McLintock took the ball wide to Armstrong who crossed to Radford, who in turn let it run to Ball, who scored off the foot of the post.

And so with two league games still to play and with a mid-week game played just before, we came to the Cup Final on May 6 1972 which ended Arsenal 0 Leeds United 1 in front of the inevitable 100,000.

By the time the final was played the league table had changed again:

Man City had already finished their league campaign, Liverpool had slipped up, and the door to the league title was open.  Having destroyed Arsenal in the league at the end of March Leeds outplayed Arsenal by more than the cup final score suggests, and finished the game looking as if they would emulate Arsenal’s Double of the previous season, needing just a draw at Wolverhampton the following Tuesday to secure the League alongside the Cup.

Indeed even leaving the score aside it was by no means the memorable cup final of the year before.  The first half was truly grim, with more passes going wildly astray than finding the man.  Ball kept up the prompting and the pressure, including a perfect header from an Armstrong corner, which was scrambled off the line, but Graham found it impossible to get anything from the game, and McNab and Storey found their defensive roles stopped any surging forward.

After Leeds scored from a header off the post in the second half, Arsenal pushed forwards but there was to be no breakthrough.  Barnett, replacing Wilson in goal, played his fifth game for the club, was not disgraced – this was in fact his first defeat.  But it was a terribly poor game, as bad indeed as the notoriously awful league cup final of 1968, and the score was the same.

Certainly it was not the game the FA wanted, for 1971–72 marked the centenary of the FA Cup.  As a result the most memorable moment of the 100th year of the FA Cup was not the final, but the fact that Hereford United of the Southern League knocked out Newcastle United 2–1 after extra time in the 3rd Round Replay.

But with the cup gone, two days later, on May 8 1972, Arsenal were back at Highbury and it is a mark of their support that with both trophies now lost the attendance was still 39,285.  What they got however was a 0-0 draw.

Liverpool had slight hopes of winning the League, should both Leeds and Derby slip up at the last, but to do so they needed a victory here.  However Arsenal were resolute, even though the results of the evening left Arsenal with no chance of a consolation prize of a place in Europe next season.

Liverpool got the ball in the net from Toshack who everyone in the ground could see was off-side, except of course Shankly who made up bizarre reasons why the goal should have stood.  It was ever thus.

Keegan and Hughes played a high energy game, but Radford and Kennedy found their own style – which was needed as George and McNab had not recovered from injuries in the cup final and so could not play.

Barnett continued his fine form in dealing with the repeated Liverpool assaults, and Kennedy had a certain goal cleared off the line.

On the same evening Leeds lost Wolverhampton 2-1 away and so failed to get the one point they needed to win the league.

That left the league complete apart from one detail: for the third season running Arsenal completed their campaign by playing Tottenham.  This time the game was on May 11, but the result was a 0-2 home defeat, making it two end of season wins to Tottenham, one to Arsenal.  The consolation was that Arsenal won the game that mattered.

42,038 at the game were however encouraged by the news that Leeds had failed to win the Double, leaving the two north London rivals the only teams to do the Double in the 20th century.

But the wind and rain, plus Arsenal’s impossible schedule, diminished any real enthusiasm, and with Ball and Storey away on England duty even the crowd was down on the normal expected for this fixture.

Playing Leeds, Liverpool and Tottenham in six days, was too much for Arsenal, as Alan Mullery’s goal in the 61st minute showed.   The second came from virtually the last kick of the season as Coates collected the ball 10 yards from his own area,   With Arsenal pressing forwards in the search for an equaliser and his team mates still in defensive positions, he started to move forwards on his own running 70 yards down the touchline.  Home and away players set off in pursuit,  Barnett rushed out to stop Coates, but his shot squeezed in and the match and the season were over.

Sammy Nelson, playing in midfield, was Arsenal’s best player, perhaps because of the lighter schedule he had endured during the season,   Tottenham still had the Uefa Cup Final to look forward to, but Arsenal took just a little comfort from the fact that even with this win, Tottenham were unable to overtake Arsenal in the League.

Thus it ended with Arsenal’s fifth cup final in five years.  They had won two (the Fairs Cup and the FA Cup) as well as the league during that five year spell.  Arsenal’s one other claim to fame in this season was having achieved the highest away win of the 1st division with the 0-5 beating of Sheffield Utd.

Brian Clough, at the age of 37, won the first major trophy of his managerial career by taking Derby County to their first ever league championship. They only won it once more – in 1975.

But a third successive year in Europe was denied Arsenal.  Tottenham Hotspur however did qualify for the UEFA Cup 1972–73 as winners of the inaugural UEFA Cup 1971–2.   In the final  they beat Wolverhampton 2–1 in the first leg at the Molineux.  The second leg, played on 17 May at White Hart Lane, ended 1–1.

Stoke City meanwhile won the 1972 Football League Cup Final: the only major trophy in their history, having been one of the founders of the original football league.

Arsenal had just one end of season match to play on 31 May away to Miami Gatos (USA).  Arsenal won 3-2 in front of a crowd of 4,725.    George, Radford and Kennedy scored.  Quite what the point of the game was, I don’t know.

But there were rumblings that something was not right in football.  Not just the crowd behaviour, but something else as well, and in 1972 the Sunday People newspaper claimed that three unnamed Wolves players were offered £1,000 apiece to throw what would have been a title decider with Leeds.  However if there were bribes they obviously didn’t work as Wolverhampton had won and neither police nor FA investigations found evidence of wrongdoing.

The Daily Mirror however subsequently alleged continuous match rigging by Revie, but again nothing was proven, although interestingly Revie did not sue the Mirror.

That summer the ex-Arsenal player Geoff Strong retired from football in the and went on to run a hotel-furnishing company and co-owned a pub.  After leaving Arsenal in 1964 he had moved to Liverpool where he had become a major star, and is considered by the club and its supporters to be one of their all time great players.

Had he stayed at Arsenal, he could have made quite a contribution during this five year spell of cup finals but the failure of the team prior to this period under Mee, meant that it was hard to keep talent at Arsenal.   In later life Geoff Strong suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, but continued to be seen at Anfield.  However he maintained no connection with Arsenal, and it was as if his time with us had never been.  He died on 17 June 2013 

As a final postscript to the season on 26 June 1972 Frank Stapleton signed from school as an apprentice (having tried his hand first with Man U).  He played his first game in 1975 against Leicester in a 1-1 home draw in what was to be Mee’s last season as manager.

However for now, thoughts of Mee’s departure was not on anyone’s mind.  Five cup finals, and a league trophy was an astounding upturn from where Arsenal had been when that run started.  There were hopes for the future.

For an index to this series see the top of the article.  For an index to all other series, and the Anniversary Files please see the home page.

2 Replies to “Arsenal in the 70s, part 7: The remains of 1971/2, revival and defeat.”

  1. Tony,
    Thanks so much for this series, I really enjoy reading about AFC history. These articles convey the feel of a season unfolding. I’ve been especially looking forward to part 7 which is the 71/72 season. I wasn’t long out of university and working for a NYC television station when an assignment landed us in London for 5 weeks in April/May. One of the really top, top crew was a sound recordist from Hamstead – an Arsenal fan. Before you know it, I’m at Highbury, 22April72, for Arsenal 2 West Ham United 1. My first English football match. It was the greatest sports experience of my life and I’ve been to championship games in this country. The excitement and anticipation in the crowd was palpable. The songs. The banners. The scarves! The non stop action. I was hooked. And I’ve been a gooner ever since! Thanks for helping me relive the moment.

  2. The game against Derby where 63,077 attended was a midweek game played in the afternoon due to power workers strike. Highbury Grove school was closed for the afternoon (but I would have gone anyway).
    It is referenced in Fever Pitch and I remember that a crowd barrier collapsed in the north bank causing some supporters to sit on the edge of the pitch

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