This is part of a series of articles not just on what happened to Arsenal in the 1970s but why it happened. There is an index to the articles published thus far at the foot of the page, and the index is updated on the site’s home page.
By Tony Attwood
Arsenal approached the 1974/5 in a state of decline. In the league they had dropped from 2nd to 10th in 1974. In the FA Cup they had dropped from being knocked out in the semi-final in 73/4 to being dismissed in the 4th round. In the league cup they had gone out at the first time of asking to Tranmere.
In other words the club had gone backwards in all three competitions. Worse, some of the displays in the league had been poor, and the league cup exit was particularly unconvincing. Something had to be done for 1974/5 to reassure the fans.
There were some new players on the horizon as this table of appearances (with substitute appearances in brackets) shows…
|Nelson||2 (4)||18 (1)|
|Price||0 (1)||3 (1)|
That we had urgent need of something new could be seen not just from the declining results but from the goals scored. Here’s the list of top scorers for 1973/4…
- Ball 13
- Kennedy 12
- Radford 7
- George 5
- Horsnby 3
So we had the hard evidence of the club’s declining ability on the pitch, the declining number of goals scored (79 in the double season in the league down to 49 just four years later), and the ever-growing number of disputes involving quality players such as McLintock, George, McNab, Graham and Marinello.
Behind the scenes we had the stories of Mee’s authoritarian approach and the philosophy of reducing the number of players – indeed seemingly of shrinking the whole club. What became increasingly clear was that Don Howe as coach of the double side had been invaluable to Mee, and that subsequently Don’s magic had not been fully replaced. Further it is reported that the man who took over from Don Howe was Steve Burtenshaw who was not liked by the team. Also it was said (although I can’t verify this) that when Don Howe left he took two other members of staff with him, and that the replacements were not of the right quality.
Whatever was going on Steve Burtenshaw resigned after taking Arsenal to second in 1972/3 in the early days of the 1973/4 season (an odd time to resign and another indicator that all was not right) and was replaced by Bobby Campbell.
So the coaching staff had changed, but not, it seems, the philosophy of shrinkage, nor of moving players on without first thinking what else could be done about them.
Arsenal had made this mistake with Geoff Strong, letting him in 1964 and not seeing him as a great utility player, and now they made the same mistake with selling Ray Kennedy to Liverpool on 12 July 1974. He had played 158 league games for Arsenal, but went on to play 275 for Liverpool (before moving onto Swansea and finally Hartlepool, retiring from football in 1984).
On the same day Brian Kidd was purchased from Man U for whom he had played 203 league games and scored 52 goals, after Manchester United were relegated to the second division and felt they could no longer afford his services.
Overall the squad was not expanded. Arsenal had got away with using a small squad for years, but all it would take would be a raft of injuries to transport Arsenal into difficult territory. And that is exactly what happened.
On 31 July Arsenal played their first friendly of the campaign – it ended Cardiff 1 Arsenal 2 and marked Brian Kidd’s début. He went on to play 77 games for Arsenal before moving to Manchester City. Brady was now included in the team from the off, Rimmer obviously had his place in goal. Kidd scored – along with Pat Rice.
After this the club went on a three match tour of the Netherlands with a game also in Yugoslavia. Here are the results…
- Haarlem 3 Arsenal 0 (5000)
- Dodrecht 1 Arsenal 1 (6000) Brady.
- AZ67 Alkmaar 0 Arsenal 2 (10000) (Kidd, OG)
- Partizan Belgrade 1 Arsenal 0 (6000)
Then on August 17 the season proper began, with the result Leicester City 0 Arsenal 1 and a crowd of 26,448.
The team was
Rimmer, Matthews, Nelson, Storey, Simpson, Kelly (Price), Armstrong, Brady, Radford, George, Kidd.
The players in bold played a significant part in the double winning side of 1970/1. Additionally Pat Rice was out injured and would surely have played had that not been the case. Which means that the club had seven players in the opening game of the season who were in the 1970/1 side. Which raises the question – if 64% of the team were still there, had they gone past their sell-by date?
Now here I am (not for the first time) contradicting myself – suggesting that perhaps some of the Double side should have been moved on, while also commenting that the sale of Kennedy to Liverpool was clearly wrong, given his subsequent success.
I’ve never managed a football club and even with hindsight I can’t resolve that one, but the results show that in 1974/5 the majority of the side that won the Double took the club to the edges of relegation. That does suggest to me that something was missing (most likely Don Howe) and that some of the players were getting complacent. They’d done it all, knew it all, and perhaps needed a bigger shake up than they got.
In such circumstances authoritarian discipline from on high is not always the answer.
But back to the 1974/5 season and its opening match against Leicester.
Brian Kidd scored in the 48th minute against the club he very nearly joined and there’s no doubt that had luck been with him he could have had a couple more on the day.
Kidd was therefore the man the press wanted to talk to, and he spent much of his post match conference discussing how awful life had been at the now relegated Manchester United – although he then blotted his copybook by saying how close a call it had been in deciding whether to come to Leicester or Arsenal.
Beyond that the press ignored the game itself and showed themselves more interested in their own invented rumour of Peter Shilton moving to Arsenal (Jimmy Rimmer who had a fine second league game for Arsenal said he knew nothing of it). Otherwise the media was full of reports concerning by far the worst rioting London had seen in relation to a football match as Man U launched their latest second division career by playing The Orient. A huge part of north east London was affected by the trouble, but Man U argued that they had no control over their notorious travelling support and the FA took no action. (The official “London Branch” of Man U supporters association was formed the following year as a way of trying to deal with the situation).
The talk in the press was still of the destruction by the Man U fans when Arsenal played their midweek game on August 20, the first home game of the season, but this did not go so well, ending Arsenal 0 Ipswich Town 1 with 31,027 in attendance.
Having come fourth in the league last season, and having just beaten Tottenham in the opening match of their campaign, Ipswich clearly felt confident in their established game plan.
For 80 minutes they scored minus 20 on a chart of 1 to 10 for entertainment, giving the crowd an early version of “rotational fouling” every time Arsenal moved forwards. Then as the match wore on Arsenal became increasingly frustrated and Ipswich increasingly cynical, and it was not hard to see why the papers were (when not discussing rioting) full of the decline in the number of fans on the terraces.
Eventually after 80 minutes in which Rimmer’s main task was to find a way to stay awake, Ipswich mounted their first attack. With Radford, Armstrong, Kidd and Brady along with both full backs stranded up field, Ipswich saw the gap. One shot one goal. 0-1, the end. If it had been on Star Trek it would have been “Football Jim, but not as we know it.”
But the third match cheered things in the red part of north London as on August 24 we had Arsenal 4 Manchester City 0, 27,143 coming along to seek an improvement.
Curiously for a 4-0 victory one main contender for the man of the match was Jimmy Rimmer, who seemed to be intent on showing everyone interested that Arsenal did not need Shilton, no matter what the papers made up. Bertie Mee could have course given full praise to his keeper and boosted morale, but instead he refused to be drawn beyond saying that he thought that Rimmer was indeed doing well. It was typical Mee.
The feeling among press and fans was that aside from a very sound keeper, Arsenal had two young geniuses on the pitch – Liam Brady and John Matthews. Time would tell who would be most remembered, but for the moment everyone could agree that the goal-a-game average from Kidd made his purchase well worth the money.
And with Radford and George returning to form it was possible to think that the defeat against the utterly negative Ipswich was just a blip. The team was looking strong, Manchester City looked hopelessly outplayed and revenge on Ipswich could be gained in just three days time.
But it wasn’t for on August 27 the score was Ipswich Town 3 Arsenal 0, with 28,036 in attendance.
To prove just how long a week is in football, Arsenal’s victory against Manchester City was set aside and suddenly the press could not stop praising Ipswich who went to the top of the league with this win.
Being two up after nine minutes and three up after half an hour, Ipswich once again retreated into defence restricting themselves to just four more forays for the rest of the game. But truth be told even those occasional adventures could have produced something as Arsenal failed to get to grips with the Lambert, Whymark, Beattie, Talbot combination. It might have been non-football for much of the time, and a prime reason why crowds were going down, but Arsenal still needed to find a way to stop it.
Robson claimed it was the best his side had ever played under his management, although the main contributory factor was that Arsenal never recovered from the opening salvo, and nor did they look as if they had the means to do so.
The month ended with a suggestion that it was the Ipswich results, not the Man C game that heralded the future as on August 31 it ended Everton 2 Arsenal 1.
42,438 came along, perhaps because Arsenal hadn’t won at Goodison since 1958, but with Rimmer in superb form, and Kidd scoring nearly a goal a game, it felt before the game as if there was hope in the club despite the Ipswich reversals.
But no. Kidd did score his fourth for the club in five games, but the rigid defensive formation the Gunners adopted didn’t allow Arsenal a chance to get forward once they did go behind, and the misery continued.
The truth was that with a keeper in lesser form than Rimmer at this moment, Arsenal, despite all the experience of Rice, Nelson, Storey, Simpson and Blockley, would have been over run and could have suffered another 0-3 reverse – if not worse. Plus there was growing discontent among the Arsenal support over Blockley’s performances.
As it was Everton realised Arsenal’s weakness and just threw everything forward in the second half. Worryingly the simple tactic of pressure and then more pressure paid off.
Although it was amusing to see Leeds, the champions now under the management of Brian Clough, almost in the relegation zone and Tottenham actually in it. But Arsenal’s position was not that clever as the first month of the season drew to a close.
|10||Queens Park Rangers||5||1||3||1||4||4||1.00||5|
|18||West Ham United||5||1||1||3||4||9||0.44||3|
September opened with the side show of the turmoil at Leeds Utd. With the club 19th in the table and talk of open revolt (Clough on arrival having made his speech about the fact that everything Leeds had won thus far had been won by cheating – a reference in part to the constant suggestion that Revie had fixed games) Clough himself was relieved of his duties 44 days into his reign on 12 September 1974. One wonders what on earth the directors of Leeds had expected. This was after all Brian Clough.
Meanwhile if Arsenal were hoping for an improvement at the start of September we didn’t get it as on September 7 there was another home defeat: Arsenal 0 Burnley 1. Only 23,586 showed up and now we knew we were in trouble.
Burnley were at best a middle-of-the-table club, the sort Arsenal would normally swat aside without a thought. But a low crowd and a third defeat in a row against a team that simply patched together a side, suggested this was going to be a long, hard season.
For it wasn’t even a full-strength Burnley side that turned up at Highbury as they moved players around to make up the numbers and on the pitch offered no pretence to be anything other than first division makeweights.
While the talk after the game should have been the growth of Liam Brady’s talent, the flair of George, and the resurgence of Kidd, it was instead about Peter Noble who Burnley had signed from Swindon as a forward. Such were their depleted resources Noble had played last season at full back and now was playing in midfield. Such was the space that Arsenal gave him that he ran the show and scored the goal.
The feeling was that if things didn’t improve at once then within a short while 23,586 would look like a good crowd at Highbury.
Next up on September 10 we had the League Cup which last season proved to be such an absolute disaster, and which this season turned out to be the first of a seemingly endless stream of games against Leicester. It ended Arsenal 1 Leicester City 1.
League Cup crowds were often low, but the attendance of 20,788 should have raised serious alarm bells.
After just one goal in the last three games Arsenal needed to find a way of scoring again. And given that the last goal was scored by Kidd, it was to him that they turned. Kidd duly obliged and as a result the ever shrinking Highbury crowd did not have to endure another defeat.
However although Kidd’s goal on 25 minutes made his record six in seven, it only looked fine if one failed to notice that the only other goals for the team both came from Radford in the defeat of Manchester City. Add the fact that this goal was an equaliser to Leicester’s 7th minute strike. Enthusiasm, if there was any left, was dampened still further.
The good side of the story was that Liam Brady has clearly decided that if no one else is going to sort out the mess, he’d have a go. But it is always impossible to run a team through one youngster, and Leicester looked far more likely to win the game than Arsenal. A depressing night.
Even though the next game wasn’t a defeat it didn’t lift the gloom as on September 14 those 34,596 at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0. It was perhaps salutary to remember that the first match between Chelsea and Woolwich Arsenal in 1907 brought in a crowd of 65,000 – which was just about all that Stamford Bridge could hold at the time.
The game was billed as a “bottom of the table clash”, and having created the name the gentlemen of the press hardly bothered to turn up and instead continued their focus most of the sports pages on the ills of the game, which in addition to hooliganism was now deemed to include the upcoming battle between players and clubs over freedom on contract. Somehow it was felt that these men should not be allowed to negotiate their own salaries for their own well-being, as most other people could. The end of football as we know it was predicted, even by those not watching the game.
And for Arsenal it got worse as for the second year running, we were knocked out of the league cup in the second round, the replay on September 18 ending Leicester City 2 Arsenal 1, in front of a mere 17,303.
By the second half of this poor game Arsenal appeared to be working to a plan of holding the game at 1-1 and then nicking something in extra time. Unfortunately with five minutes left Leicester got a second, and thus there was no chance to relieve the doom and gloom.
Kidd (who else?) must have thought he had scored heading in a cross from Armstrong but the Leicester keeper performed the sort of save he was known for. Then Brady got a goal, but after that instead of making the game safe, Arsenal slowed the tempo down so much that for a while it looked like no one on the pitch was interested on playing, let alone scoring.
Seeing their chance Leicester picked up their own tempo, and it was clear that Arsenal’s attempt to copy Ipswich’s awful tactics of a few weeks earlier was dangerous beyond measure. The small group of Arsenal fans who made it to the game were appalled. And quite rightly so.
We imagined perhaps that some end to the gloom must come from a home game with Luton on September 21, but no. It ended Arsenal 2 Luton Town 2 with 21,629 hard core fans making it to the game.
The Daily Express headline was “Arsenal are confused” and Bobby Campbell said as much, suggesting that this Arsenal team defended when they should attack and attacked when they should defend. But for those of us there even that seemed too organised a notion.
What Campbell was talking about was his attempt to change the entire style and approach of Arsenal, and the fact that it was taking him longer than he anticipated to get the message home. He spoke of the need for a “consistently aggressive mood”, and from this match it looked like all three attributes were missing. No consistency, no aggression, and with just 21,000 at Highbury, no mood.
Luton, without a win all season, looked like they fancied a draw against a team that hadn’t won in their last six. Kidd, naturally, got both Arsenal’s goals, but with the defenders all looking to attack at the wrong time, it was only the poverty of Luton that kept goals against column down.
Kidd spoke after the match of having a target of 25 goals for the season, which looked like it meant Arsenal might have to try and survive with an all time low league goal tally of around 30 – given that no one else looked much like scoring.
Would we win a game in September? The answer was no, for on September 28 the last game of the month ended Birmingham City 3 Arsenal 1, 25,584 in the Birmingham ground.
Another defeat – but at least someone other than Kidd scored. And Arsenal at last had Ball back in the line up, although in truth it didn’t really make that much difference.
But chirpy as ever the captain took the opportunity to talk up the positives of Arsenal’s position blaming injuries rather than the spirit in the side for the declining league position.
As it was, George got a fine goal on 69 minutes, but it was Trevor Francis in the Birmingham side that really took Arsenal apart. With Nelson out Storey moved to full back, while Kelly occupied the left back position, Blockley and Simpson defended in the middle. Mathews playing at number six simply didn’t look the part and Blockley had one of his increasingly common ineffective days.
And thus Arsenal slipped into the relegation zone. It was unthinkable but the table showed that is where the Gunners were along with two other London clubs.
|12||West Ham United||10||4||1||5||20||18||1.11||9|
|22||Queens Park Rangers||10||1||4||5||8||13||0.61||6|
Just imagine what would have happened if the this table had appeared in the 21st century!
The next game offered a slight break from the decline – a testimonial game for a Reading player, on 2 October, with just 6987 in the crowd. It ended 2-0 to Arsenal, and is notable for being the first game for O’Leary, Ross, and Rostrom. Radford and Kidd got the goals.
On 4 October nearly a month after sacking Brian Clough, Leeds United finally appointed his successor, naming Jimmy Armfield of Bolton Wanderers as their new manager. On 5 October Leeds United celebrated by beating Arsenal.
This was the last game for Jeff Blockley, having played just 52 league games for Arsenal. After this match he was dropped and placed on the transfer list and sold in January 1975 to Leicester for half the fee Arsenal paid for him. Arsenal lost 2-0 with a crowd of 32,784 present.
It was a case of another day, another defeat, and now the unthinkable was getting worse. With neither first choice full back available, and a central defensive pairing that looked completely wrong, Arsenal sank to the very foot of the league with this defeat to Leeds.
Indeed with five defeats and two draws in the last seven games Arsenal looked utterly colourless, lacking in ambition and timid. It was still Arsenal, but you had to look carefully to check.
There were of course odd moments, and as always the old warhorse Eddy Kelly refused to give an inch, no matter where he was asked to play. Rimmer put in another exceptional performance, but without a good defence in front of him, there was a limit to what he could do.
Bertie Mee’s decision to cut back on the club’s youth policy as well as restrict transfers was not cited by anyone as being directly responsible for the position the club found itself in, but it could not have helped. For a player to be bought a club has to want to sell – and the player has to want to move. And who, at this moment, would want to go to a club facing such a monumental decline?
The one tiny chink of light was that Ritchie Powling looked promising when he came on for the Blockley, although typically he was only given five league starts in the whole campaign.
On October 12 the result was again disappointing, ending Arsenal 2 Queen’s Park Rangers 2, with a crowd of 29,690. Having played 10 of the 12 opening games of the season John Matthews was made the fall guy for poor results and was dropped. Kelly, and then Simpson took over the number six shirt.
Arsenal rose one place off the very foot of the table through this draw. Off the pitch Bertie Mee looked to buy Terry Mancini from QPR for £20,000 (having been arguing for a month or more after having had their £16,000 offer turned down). It seemed the deal was almost done.
If there was a further bit of relief it was because of the news that Alan Ball was making some progress in the recovery of his old form, both with the ball, and in terms of baiting the opposition – in this case mostly Stan Bowles.
But as it was, Bowles scored one and won a penalty after being fouled in the box by Storey. For Arsenal Kidd got another goal, and at last Radford scored – his first since the demolition of Manchester City in August. How long ago that seemed.
Next up was Man City away on October 16. The result was disappointing, being Manchester City 2 Arsenal 1, the crowd a paltry 26,658.
This was a terrible night to be a follower of north London football and the only relief was to know that your main rivals were having just as hard a time of it as you were.
Both Arsenal and Tottenham looked relegation in the mouth in which Tottenham recorded its lowest home crowd since the second world war (12,813, for the draw with Carlisle) while Arsenal went back to the bottom, after nine games without a win. At least our crowd size had not (yet) shrunk as low as theirs.
Arsenal actually took the lead on 15 minutes, but then yet again made the classic mistake of doing an Ipswich and pulling everyone back into defence. Richie Powling did his best in the centre of that defence, but he didn’t look up to the task, and it was not surprising that Manchester City were able to seek some revenge for that second Saturday of the season when everything had looked so different.
There was worse to come with a north London derby up next. For this game the foot of the first division looked like this before the match on 19 October.
The crowd was poor: 36,194, and the result completely awful from our point of view: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 0.
And really it showed that the trouble with football is that the moment it looks like it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. Quite when Arsenal last played Tottenham while being bottom of the league no one could remember – if it had ever happened before that is.
After the game the bottom six in the first division read, Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham, QPR, Luton, Arsenal – it was not the time to be from the south. Worse, with Man U having gone down last season, the notion that somehow Arsenal, in the top league longer than any other club, could be “too big to go down” was clearly a nonsense.
Alan Ball changed his tune from just a few weeks before and suggested Arsenal were just “not good enough”, but it wasn’t that simple. The injuries to George, Armstrong, Rice, Kelly, Nelson, Ball, and McNab, plus the poor form of Blockley, were all part to blame.
But also so was the policy of Mee, and presumably the board, of keeping the number of first teamers low. He had got away with it, when in seasons like the Double Season, they could use a tiny number of players. But injuries do come around, and the club knew that the good run of few injuries would not last forever. A good management and directorial team prepare for what can happen, and in the case of injuries they most certainly did not do that.
Perryman and Chivers scored for Tottenham from far post headers, and Tottenham found it easy to work through Arsenal’s newly attempted open and positive style, but they won’t have fooled themselves. They were in trouble too.
On 24 October Arsenal announced they had finally Terry Mancini bought from QPR with Arsenal reportedly offering far more than it would have taken to prize Mancini out of west London.
And with Mancini in the team finally relief came on October 26 as Arsenal beat West Ham 3-0 at Highbury. That 41,004 turned up was really something of a surprise. Maybe we all just thought it could never be that bad again.
So, after 12 games in a row without winning and a month sitting in the relegation zone Arsenal finally got a result – and a decent crowd as well. McNab came back, and Mancini made his debut. They both made a difference.
While Radford and Brady ran the show, Kelly and Mancini made light of the club’s plight with a comedy routine – the dribble of the ball round one’s own keeper, the ball tucked up the shirt… every trick in the book the lighten the worries.
Whether it was the jokes or the assurance that Arsenal suddenly found, West Ham just looked on in amazement. Radford’s goal was a powerhouse that hit the net before the keeper moved. Brady then did a trade mark left footed curling ball around the keeper. Then for the third Brady actually shot with his right foot, Day palmed it out, Kidd headed home – although he subsequently missed two more sitters.
Ball had a fine game, but was taken off on a stretcher near the end. That, and the realisation that Arsenal were still in the bottom two, spoiled what was otherwise a nice afternoon out.
|11||West Ham United||15||5||4||6||25||25||1.00||14|
|19||Queens Park Rangers||14||3||5||6||13||17||0.77||11|
November 2 saw a disappointing draw – Arsenal 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0, 27,572 paying customers seeing the game.
Eddy Kelly asked for a transfer, Jimmy Rimmer asked for an assurance that Shilton wasn’t going to be signed, and Arsenal managed to avoid defeat for two matches running for the first time since getting a couple of draws in September.
Bobby Campbell said that the team was very close to a breakthrough in terms of form, and it is true that Arsenal should have beaten Wolverhampton, Having played brilliantly for Ireland in the defeat of the USSR Brady continued his fine form here and people talked of “building the team around him”. Accurate 50 yards passes while still not ten a penny were becoming more frequent, and all Brady needed was players who could see them coming and get in the right position to receive the ball.
Wolverhampton almost scored through Alan Sunderland – and earlier in the season Arsenal would have lost this match. But there was something out there that made it seem that a corner had indeed been turned.
On 6 November there was a testimonial match for John Hollins against Chelsea which ended in a 1-1 draw. As well as his 127 league games for Arsenal he had two stints at Chelsea playing 465 league games for them. Sadly for John only 9,153 in the crowd.
Then on November 9 the most extraordinary thing happened. Liverpool went into the game having won all but one of their home games in the season, and Arsenal had only won one away game. And yet the result was Liverpool 1 Arsenal 3.
43,850, including a smattering of Arsenal supporters looked on in amazement and by and large agreed that the score was inexplicable. Arsenal were in a revival, true, but not that much of a revival. Liverpool were top of the league with a game in hand. The only explanation offered was that with Europe occupying their thoughts and their position in the table being accepted as a divine right, Liverpool just assumed Arsenal were there for the taking.
Brady was perfection, with Kidd and Ball on song to receive his offerings, and maybe that was the point. Brady had grown into a fully rounded player – but just needed recipients of his skill – now he had them. Kelly and Rimmer held their lines in defence, and once they had got the taste of a possible victory, everyone dug in (which is why Simpson Storey and Kidd were booked).
In the 16th minute Kidd centred and Ball hit the ball with perfection. On 65, Arsenal gifted Liverpool an own goal but four minutes on Ball got his second, heading in unmarked. Two minutes from the end Radford squared to Brady who made the ball move in a way that defied all known laws of physics. The script writers of Star Trek were said to have taken note.
Despite the media’s endless pro-Mersey propaganda both in footballing and musical contexts, some journalists noticed the missiles thrown, including the bottle from the Kop that hit a policeman, but action either from the League or the constabulary for such activities was there none. Liverpool had had their ground closed once, and the FA were not going to do it again.
The following weekend perfection got better and although 32,286 would have been a disappointment five years before it was gold dust now as on November 16 the result was Arsenal 3 Derby County 1.
This, it was generally agreed, was fun. Two wins and a draw in the last three; the best form of the season… No one expected it, which is what made it all the more exciting.
Alan Ball looked as if he was trying to play himself back into the England team, and did no harm to his cause with a stunning volley for the first goal and a penalty for the last. He also had a hand in Kidd’s goal – watching the Derby defence as it played for an offside, and then perfectly slipping the ball through so that Kidd had only the keeper to beat.
But much praise must also go to Mancini who now in his fourth game looked solid and consistent at number 5. It was as if he had been there for ever and Blockley was just a passing nightmare.
But all good things must come to an end, and in terms of 1974 that meant coming to an end after three weeks. On November 23 the result was Coventry City 3 Arsenal 0, 15,669 bothering to turn up.
Having climbed from 22nd to 18th following their four match unbeaten spell Arsenal slipped back. This time the culprit was the man who had been one of the few heroes of the season – Jimmy Rimmer. Having heard that the club would not sign Shilton he celebrated with his worst display of the season, including a first goal that slipped through his hands. Arsenal never recovered from the shock.
But it wasn’t all Rimmer’s fault. Both Kidd and Radford had great scoring chances in the latter part of the game, and a goal from either opportunity could have allowed Arsenal to push forwards for a draw.
Yet, if anything, the game showed that the defence was still not right. But still two of Coventry’s goals came from penalties with the ref seeing fouls from Brady and Powling in the box which in calmer times would have seen the players take the ball away cleanly.
But the month that had seen the mini revival was not totally lost as on 30 November Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 2-0 at Highbury in front of 25,283.
With Middlesbrough 12th and Arsenal 19th in the league the visitors might have felt they were onto something in this match, but if that was so their tactic was strange, for they tried to bore Arsenal into submission at a moment when Arsenal still believed the Coventry result was a blip.
As a result Rimmer developed an interest in the patterns of mud to be found on English football pitches in the autumn, and glanced up in slight amusement as the visitors tried just two shots in the whole match.
But elsewhere Kidd and Ball were off-song, Radford tried for a goal but couldn’t get his range right, and Brady was reduced to running in circles in a (thankfully successful) attempt to avoid having his legs broken, undoubtedly having noted that last season’s runaway division 2 champions were still managed by Jack Charlton.
For the first goal George passed to Radford, whose cross was hacked at by Platt. Brady tucked in the rebound. In the second half with Middlesbrough upping the physical, the yobbish Taylor chopped George in half in the box and Ball stroked in the penalty.
Sadly after the match it was revealed that Brady had indeed been injured in the game, and would be out for about a month.
Arsenal were out of the relegation zone, but greater interest was expressed by the new league leaders – one of the founders of the Football League who had never one the league…
|6||West Ham United||20||9||5||6||37||28||1.32||23|
|17||Queens Park Rangers||20||6||5||9||22||27||0.81||17|
December opened the transfer of midfielder Alex Cropley to Arsenal from Hibernian, followed shortly after by a “relegation battle” between Carlisle and Arsenal on the 7th which ended Carlisle United 2 Arsenal 1, with 12,926 present. Alex Cropley made his debut.
Despite the paucity of the crowd this is still one of those matches that they speak of with awe in the far north west, not least for the notoriety it brought to the club with press headlines concerning an “8 man brawl.”
Carlisle United, in their first ever season in the top division, were looking ready for an early return from whence they came after six successive defeats, and needed to start winning some games quickly if they were going to survive
But with Rice and McNab now firmly restored to working order and Mancini playing well alongside Simpson, Arsenal must have thought they had every chance – but they had not catered for the local habit of bringing the local constabulary on the pitch. Ray Train attacked Kidd, and Kidd (who later said that Train had hooked his fingers up the Arsenal player’s nose) fought to get away from the assault (the “8 man brawl”). The bobbies thought otherwise and intervened while the ref looked on uncertainly.
Certainly both the Carlisle police and the referee’s approach was eccentric to say the least. Rimmer was so obviously fouled in the build up to the home team’s first goal Arsenal players hardly bothered to protest, so sure were they that the ref would give a free kick in their favour. Even the Carlisle centre forward Frank Clarke admitted as much to the press, agreeing that before the ball went in he had “whacked the keeper”.
From that point on Arsenal knew they were beaten and their prime object was to leave the ground with all limbs in tact – a task in which they ultimately succeeded.
In mid-week the press moved on to their concerns about the fact that Leeds were left as the only English team surviving in Europe. Arsenal had other thoughts on their minds however and knew that they would need to be digging in deep as they once more played Leicester on December 14, this time at Highbury, the league game ending in a goalless draw, the crowd in this pre-Christmas match dropping to 20,849.
That the players were cautious after the insanity of Carlisle was not surprising as they faced yet another “relegation battle.”
And they should have had more than a point, but now sitting in 18th and with Luton and Carlisle looking increasingly doomed, every point was to be seen as another small step in the right direction. Nothing would be won this season – survival was the key.
As early as the 10th minute the crowd demanded an appearance by Charlie George who was sitting on the substitutes bench, but he was never called up, and at the end the boos rang around Highbury – not for the first time this season.
As for the game – it was so utterly forgettable at every level that even the journalists were hard pushed to write a match report based on what happened.
But there was still one game left before Christmas, and on December 21 it ended in Arsenal’s favour – and not only that, in Arsenal’s favour at the ground of the team hovering at the top of the league: Stoke City 0 Arsenal 2 with 23,292 in the crowd.
The Christmas gossip was that having spent £200,000 on Cropley, Arsenal were going to get their money back by selling George, Blockley and (perhaps more surprisingly) Alan Ball. Ball said that he was hoping to see the manager in the coming days.
On the pitch Stoke took Christmas giving to a new level deciding to let Kidd have the penalty area to himself on a couple of occasions in order to score the softest of goals. Peter Storey meanwhile chose this day to remind everyone of just why he came to fame in the Arsenal team.
The new approach also involved putting Radford and Kidd out on the wings whenever Stoke expected to see them in the middle, and then letting the two men come in to take the opposition by surprise. It worked at Stoke – but as a long term plan didn’t really seem sophisticated enough for the 1st division.
As was traditional, football returned on Boxing Day, and Arsenal’s up and down month took another turn with a 1-2 home defeat to Chelsea in front of 33,784.
Sitting in 19th position in the league this was not a home defeat Arsenal wanted, and the crowd size reminded everyone that with both clubs at the wrong end of the table, modern folk could find something better to do on Boxing Day.
Arsenal could have been three up in 20 minutes but were two down by half time. Then having pulled one back with a penalty the Gunners hit the woodwork three times and were denied such an obvious penalty six minutes from the end that questions had to be asked of how much Christmas spirit the ref had had.
Indeed Arsenal had the possession, but with Chelsea having studied the Ipswich approach they just drew back everyone into defence once the goals had gone in. Arsenal needed another tactic in the face of this approach but the management didn’t seem to have any ideas.
There was even a whistler in the crowd who blew as Radford beat the keeper and had the empty goal before him. However this being London, and not Cumbria, neither the police nor the ref took action.
Near the end Ball McNab and Cropley eventually pushed up, but Chelsea’s “kick anywhere” approach with 11 behind the ball was enough to see them through.
Arsenal’s year ended with Sheffield Utd 1 Arsenal 1 on December 28 1974 with 19,967 present.
It was cold and it was windy, and Arsenal were still lurking dangerously close to the bottom of the table, and yet Arsenal still tried their luck with a mix of long passes (which occasionally found their target) and a neat passing game (which got the passes across, but made little progress).
However the approach did have the virtue of taking Sheffield by surprise, but even that benefit petered out after the home side quickly rearranged their defence, opting to protect the middle while leaving the wings free for Arsenal.
When that approach left gaping holes on the wings Sheffield tried to reorganise again, but as they did Simpson charged down the middle amazed at the space. His shot was palmed away, but George was there to knock it in.
United retaliated by using the wind to take the ball past the defence and then hope for the best. Their luck was in, and Field happening on one lob across and in and got the equaliser.
And so the end of year table looked like this…
|6||West Ham United||25||10||8||7||42||33||1.27||28|
|13||Queens Park Rangers||25||10||5||10||32||33||0.97||25|
Arsenal were three points above the relegation zone and the three big London clubs occupied places 17, 18 and 19 in the first division.
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 1: the re-birth of the club. 1969/70
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 2: preparing for the impossible. (July to December 1970)
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 3: The Golden Treble
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 4: What went so right in 1971, and why did it then go wrong?
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 5: After the double, double doubts.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 6: The winter of blossoming hope. Nov 71 to Jan 72.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 7: Revival and defeat. Feb 72 to June 72
- Arsenal in the 70s part 8: The lessons learned and the lessons ignored. 1967/73
- Arsenal in the 70s part 9: July to Dec 1972. Indiscipline and invasions.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 10: Being screwed by the league and the prelude to decline
- Arsenal in the 70s part 11: July to Dec 73, the world falls apart and Arsenal sinks.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 12: Jan to June 74. Farewell Bob, hello Liam.