Arsenal in the 70s, part 14. Jan to June 1975 – trying to send Tottenham down

By Tony Attwood

The story so far…

January 1975

We left Arsenal at the end of the last article sitting 19th in the table  having won one of their last five league matches.  It was therefore undoubtedly with some relief that on January 4 1975 the club turned its attention to the FA Cup.  Unfortunately the relief didn’t last and the match ended Arsenal 1 York City 1 in front of just 27,029.   The team that took the field was Rimmer, Rice, McNab, Kelly, Mancini, Powling, Storey, Ball, Armstrong, Kidd, Cropley.

York had risen from the fourth to the second division in the years since 1971, as Arsenal had sunk from Double winners to relegation candidates over the same time.  But even so…

With no Radford or Simpson Arsenal looked unbalanced and were reliant on Ritchie Powling to break up the York raids, which were organised along the lines used by the 7th century Vikings who had occupied their city.  As a result of this novel style of play York took the lead after mistakes by Kelly and McNab allowed Holmes to race through as if on his longship from 60 yards out before passing to Seal who could slot home.  They never even had to raise their swords.

Kelly redeemed himself seven minutes later with a strong volley which gave Arsenal the equaliser.

After the match it was announced that the York manager, and architect of their rise up the leagues, would be leaving to work at Huddersfield.  Arsenal fans clutched at the news hoping it might upset the York players in the replay.  In a season like this it was a case of clutching at anything.

The replay was on 7 January and ended York City 1 Arsenal 3, 15,362 packing into the ground.

In fact there was very little attention given to this game as the media turned as one to Walsall, who had beaten Manchester United 3-2 in a replay at Fellows Park.  It just shows, disasters didn’t only happen to Arsenal at this time.

Arsenal could therefore be relieved to be out of the press, not least because the game had gone to extra time, although Kidd, who got a hattrick might have welcomed more recognition.   But truth be told, one of the Arsenal goals was fortunate, one was as a result of goal keeping error, and two of the three came in extra time.  It was not that good a show from the Gunners.

However with the first goal coming in seven minutes, Arsenal had steadied their nerves, and Kidd looked set to push the game forward with the Kelly, Cropley, Kidd manoeuvre that for looked as if they had practised it enough on the training ground to be able to deliver in the game.

Rimmer at the other end was on form and York’s 70th minute equaliser to the early Arsenal goal was not really expected.  But in extra time  fitness told as Arsenal in general and Kidd in particular took control.

On 11 January 1975 Arsenal got a little revenge on Carlisle with the result Arsenal 2 Carlisle United 1 although the attendance of 21,538 must have been given the club’s accountants palpitations.

Arsenal moved five points clear of the bottom three, and Carlisle appeared to be confirming their fate as they sank to the foot of the table.   But the first half was anybody’s and the fact that this can be said for a game in which Arsenal was playing a team that last season came third in the second division, shows how far Arsenal had sunk.

Radford’s first half goal came from what was just about Arsenal’s only good move, and Carlisle’s equaliser came about because Arsenal’s defence acted as if they could not possibly believe that the visitors could even dream of mounting an attack, let alone scoring.

But in the second half Arsenal finally remembered who they were, and Carlisle became overawed by the occasion, as Cropley in his sixth game with the number 11 shirt, got his first goal for the club.

On 13 January 1975 Graham Rix signed as a professional for Arsenal although he had to wait until April 1977 to make his first appearance.  He went on to play 388 games for the club.

The following weekend, on the 18 January Jeff Blockley was sold to Leicester.  Replacing the captain of the team that won the Double was never going to be easy – and the crowd rarely took to him, so his departure was no surprise, but it was clear that Mee was still following the procedure of keeping the squad at a minimum level – something that clearly hindered progress as injuries mounted.

On the same day Middlesbrough and Arsenal played out a goalless draw in front of 27,996 – a significant number since it indicated the Middlesbrough could now get bigger home crowds on occasion than Arsenal.

There was mud and rain, rain and mud, and so low had Arsenal’s status slipped (what with this being the 10th match so far this season in which Arsenal failed to score) that the newspapers didn’t even bother to report on this game.  It was however the match in which the main issue was that the recently arrived Cropley was injured.

On January 26 Arsenal returned to the FA Cup drawing 1-1 away to Coventry with a crowd of 31,165.

Charlie George played in what was only his ninth start of the season and after 30 minutes he went off with a ligament strain, and that was that.  With Cropley already out, the injury voodoo which Arsenal had by-passed Arsenal in the years around 1970/1 was now back with a vengeance.

It is an interesting reminder of the era and the paucity of forethought in football at the time that Brian Kidd was called upon to help carry Charlie off.  There were no stretchers available at Coventry, and no one seemed too bothered.

George was replaced by John Matthews playing in a much more forward position than his normal role demanded, and his discomfort showed.  Coventry took the lead with a superb shot from Alderson, but Ball equalised two minutes later.  And that was that.

Thus for the second round running Arsenal needed a replay and this occured on January 29 1975, ending with the very satisfactory score of Arsenal 3 Coventry City 0, and an improved crowd of 30,867.

George Armstrong had last scored on 13 January 1973 in an FA Cup match against Leicester, but he went some way to making up for the wait by knocking in two in one night to take Arsenal through.  And all this despite the fact that the Arsenal game plan was mostly to put nine men (including Armstrong) behind the ball, even when Arsenal had possession.

For the first goal Kidd found Rice who centred for Armstrong. Mathews lunged, sent the keeper the wrong way and Armstrong knocked it in.  For the second Mathews crossed, the defence failed to deal with it, and again George Armstrong just put it away.

For the third Ball sent Kidd racing through, who knocked it square to Mathews.  Matthews side stepped the defender and Arsenal had an easy victory.

Thus January came to an end with Arsenal still in the FA cup, and the league table looking like this…

Quite extraordinarily in the space of one month and two games Arsenal had risen up to 16th.  It wasn’t what Arsenal expected in the normal course of events but it was a psychological boost.

And maybe it was this, or maybe it was pure luck but on February 1 Arsenal played Liverpool, the club just two points off the lead, and won 2-0 with 43,028 looking on.

Trevor Ross came on as a sub for Alan Ball to make his first league appearance against Liverpool.  He later reported that after he tackled Tommy Smith, Smith said to him,  ”Son, tackle me like that again and I will break your leg,” which is in retrospect not very surprising given the man and the context.

But whatever the harassment or the impunity with which Liverpool players felt that they operated within, Arsenal made it a double over Liverpool and four league matches without defeat for only the second time in the season.

On 4 February 1975 a most unexpected game occurred at London Colney, Arsenal’s training ground.  It ended Arsenal 0 England “B” 2.  England were due to play a European Championship qualifier in Cyprus but this was postponed due to political unrest on the island, and so the squad were moved to north London for a prolonged training session.

This was the first of two games which were played.  The B team’s goals came from Kidd and the other an own goal by Mancini.  Later in the day England A Team played Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

On February 8 the recent good league and cup form ran out however and Arsenal lost away to Wolverhampton 1-0 with a paltry crowd of 19,807 in attendance.

Perhaps someone told Arsenal that it was actually eight games in all competitions without defeat and they got a little cocky and forgot that attacking was part of the plan.  Maybe it was the knowledge that Wolverhampton themselves were on a run of five consecutive defeats.

Either way, neither side looked bothered, and even when Wolverhampton got their second half penalty, no one was particularly roused.  Indeed even the penalty kick only made it into the goal off the post.

Arsenal did have two attempts at goal – both from Kidd, but one of those was a free kick from just outside the box.  Maybe it was the thought of the next match in the Cup that distracted Arsenal – but really for a team with Kidd, Radford, Brady and Armstrong in the side, it should have been possible to attack somewhat more often.

And so back to the cup on 15 February in a game that ended as it started, Arsenal 0 Leicester City 0, 43,841 coming along for this 5th round tie.

Jeff Blockley returned to Highbury where he was so disliked by some in the crowd, and inevitably never put a foot wrong throughout the game.  In fact his only mistake was made in his interviews after the game, where he stated that Leicester would now look likely to go through to the quarter finals.

Jimmy Bloomfield the Leicester manager spoke of Blockely’s confidence, control and organisational skills, and although most Gooners would not have gone that far this was certainly a different Blockey from the one that had “entertained” the crowd when he played in red and white.  Quite why he had never flourished at Arsenal one can’t say, but he was good before and good after the Gunners – so it rather looks like Mee has to take some of the blame.

Leicester played the defensive game throughout, generally placing no fewer than eight men in the penalty area if ever Arsenal came forwards with intent.    Both sides got the ball in the net – Arsenal’s “goal” was disallowed for a handball in the build up, Leicester’s for off side.  It was that kind of a game.

The replay at Leicester was on February 19 and ended Leicester City 1 Arsenal 1, 35,009 at Filbert Street.

Another day, another cup draw – perhaps neither side really wanting to play West Ham in the next round.  With nothing much happening in the 90 minutes Radford eventually headed Arsenal in front in the 98th minute, only for Birchenall to equalise.

The Gunners returned to their own nine-man defence, and the forty yard back pass but with Mancini having a rare off day and Arsenal reliant on Rimmer to save the day on several occasions, Leicester clearly thought they must eventually have a chance.

John Matthews back from suspension was taken off with a leg injury, and Liam Brady replaced him which at least meant that Arsenal had some forward passes too, but otherwise it was a highly forgettable affair between two teams that were each determined not to lose.

After the match the clubs tossed for home advantage in the replay.  Arsenal lost.

Also on 19 February West Ham played out a goalless draw with Liverpool.  The press became utterly fixated with this game after it was suggested that Liverpool took only 14 away fans to the match.  The papers wanted to know why, and explored all sorts of bizarre explanations, in their attempts to follow up their year long message that because of rioting on the one hand and boring defensive football on the other, not even Liverpool fans would go to see football matches.

The Liverpool Echo claimed that Lawrenson’s Coaches had to cancel coaches a few days before as they had received no bookings. Five ‘specials’ were put on by railway services, however only one left the station. When it arrived at London for the game only 14 fans left the train to meet the police escort (that was now a requirement for all fans with a tendency to violence, and Liverpool fans were certainly in that grouping, having had their ground shut once already).

Some proposed the outlandish story that Liverpool fans were protesting against how the club were treating ex manager Bill Shankly, others said that the poor Liverpool fans were intimidated by the hooligans of West Ham United.  Some, more realistically pointed out that the game was played on a Wednesday, but none added that one thing that no one was allowed to say: that Liverpool were not that good.  Indeed in their 14 away games Liverpool had scored 10 goals and won four.  Worse Liverpool had lost their last four away games, and not won any of the last seven.  That seemed a more likely explanation, but then, as now, if the press were not constrained by an unwillingness ever to criticise Liverpool they were by and large too lazy to work such figures out – and they didn’t have computers to help them back in the 1970s.  Although adding up to 14 ought to be possible, even after a couple of pints.

Arsenal meanwhile had a league game to attend to, away to Derby.  And it was indeed a bizarre game on February 22 ending Derby County 2 Arsenal 21 with 24,002 in the Baseball Ground with a lorry load of controversy thrown in.

John Yates was the ref, and for most of the players that was enough to tell them that this match would be a disaster.    Having recently booked seven Chelsea players in one match at Everton he responded to open criticism of his approach in the press by deciding to send off Alan Ball and Bob McNab for arguing over a booking.  If this approach were to have been replicated across the league, most games would have ended up as five-a-side matches.

Arsenal’s anger was increased by the fact that when Todd deliberately handballed he was not cautioned.  Yates saw it, because he gave a free kick, but nothing more.  Even Dave Mackay was forced to admit that the referee scared him.

Derby’s first goal was Arsenal’s error – Rice let the ball go past him thinking that Rimmer had it covered – when he didn’t.  Ball was sent off on 15 minutes and Radford scored an equaliser on 24. Powell restored Derby’s lead three minutes later, McNab was sent off on 65, but Arsenal never stopped looking for the equaliser.

After all that downright bias, or if not that, then utter incompetence, on February 24 it was back to the Cup and this time Arsenal went through with the score, Leicester City 0 Arsenal 1, in front of 39,025, the game played once again at Filbert Street, this decided on a toss of a coin.

Radford scored in what was cumulatively the 325th minute of this contest, – five minutes from the end of extra time.  Blockley fouled Radford 25 yards out,  Ball tapped the free kick sideways and Radford blasted it home.

The victory was formed on the back of possession-possession-possession football with back-passes galore from both sides.  Arsenal effectively invited Leicester to come at them, and had the look of a team who would take as long as necessary to get the final result.

As for the refereeing, it seemed to take the Yates approach as a blueprint rather than a warning.  When, for example, Kidd slipped past Cross in the second half and headed towards goal Cross simply ran behind Kidd at full speed and pulled the Arsenal forward over.  The referee did not even wag a finger.

It was not pretty from either side, and not at all adventurous from Arsenal, but in the end the result was achieved.

The league table for the end of February read…

Five points clear of relegation, and with three games in hand over Tottenham in 19th.  Things were looking a little safer.  But note Chelsea’s position – it is relevant to later events.

Mind you, if Arsenal’s safety was the thinking, those who thought it were brought down to earth by the visit of the league leaders on the first day of March, which ended, Arsenal 0 Everton 2, with an attendance of 32,216.

Sitting 18th in the league Arsenal had 12 league games scheduled for March and April – plus the FA Cup match next weekend.  Consolidation was the name of the game, but this game didn’t offer it and the crowd went home with the feeling that the players were saving themselves for the Cup – their only hope of fame and fortune in this dismal season.

With Everton contesting the title with Liverpool, Ipswich and Derby, players and management at Arsenal must have known this was going to be a tough match, so there really was no excuse for the feeble display.

After the match Campbell agreed that Arsenal never really got into gear (a euphemism if ever there was one), and agreed that his men could find no way to counteract the smooth passing of Everton.  Ball, perhaps mindful of his origins felt that this Everton team was comparable with the Arsenal double winning side.

For Arsenal only Brady looked capable of finding a way through, but inevitably, he was unable to do it all by himself.

It then got worse, for Arsenal had on this occasion two home games in a row, and dutifully lost the second one as they did the first, the score on March 8 being Arsenal 0 West Ham United 2 in the FA Cup 6th round.

56,742 came to Highbury, and most agreed mid-table WHU should not have been too strong for Arsenal but perhaps the manner of the defeat last week at Highbury and the desperation of the crowd, players and even management to get something out of the season, was just too much.

Bonds and Brooking took control of this game and Alan Taylor emerged as West Ham’s new young star.   Arsenal failed to respond, perhaps because in so many games this season the defence had taken over from adventurousness as the Arsenal model.

Billy Bonds won the game for West Ham, as they became second favourites behind Leeds to win the Cup.  For Arsenal, there was just the plod through March and April left, picking up enough points to ensure that 1st division safety was assured.

For those who could raise themselves above this misery, on 12 March Alan Ball captained England and Macdonald scored one of England’s goals.  The result was England 2 West Germany 0, and the press were full of the fact that England would win the next World Cup.  It was ever thus.

Arsenal’s next match was their third home game in a row, and on March 15 the home side did at last manage to get a draw the game ending Arsenal 1 Birmingham City 1

But the size of the crowd told the directors what they thought – if the directors didn’t already know.  17,845 turned up, but even this wasn’t the lowest home crowd of the season.  Highbury had become a ghost ship.

That the players felt the absence of atmosphere was beyond doubt, and only Kidd really seemed able to lift himself.  In fact he lifted himself so much that he got the equaliser with a stunning overhead kick, totally out of context with the rest of the match.

Birmingham too were distracted with the news that Trevor Francis was back on the pitch – although in Birmingham, playing in a reserve game.  That seemed to cause more interest (and nearly as big a crowd) as this match.

Arsenal stayed 18th as a result of this draw, with safety still by no means assured.   A win in the next match (the fourth home game in a row) was deemed essential, both for the nerves and for survival itself.

That the crowd continued to decline surprised no one as on March 18 just 16,540 came to an Arsenal first team home match – the lowest since the notorious end of Billy Wright’s reign.  The result however was better: Arsenal 3 Newcastle United 0.  After 32 league games that was Arsenal’s 9th win.  Kidd, Ball and Rostron scored, (but as it turned out) the game was followed by another three without a victory.

Wilf Rostron made his debut at number 4, and hopefully someone told him that Highbury was not always this empty for league games.  Nor always such a mudheap.  Nor (in case he hadn’t noticed) does it always snow in March.

But if the player ever looks back to his debut he’ll remember making the first goal for Kidd on 18 minutes by foraging down the left.   And he’ll recall that moment on 30 minutes when he scored his first goal – in his first match.

At the other end Macdonald, having scored nine in his last six games, and what with being on target for England in the “historic” victory, went hell bent for his 10th, and he got it.  But unfortunately for him it was at the wrong end.  He slipped a back pass which went to Kidd rather than his own man.  Kidd was fouled by the keeper.  Ball scored the penalty.

With Brady, Matthews and Hornsby all on the pitch this was a new look Arsenal, and at last, something to take a little of the gloom away from the rest of the season.

After so many home games the team may have forgotten what an away day was like, but they did get another one on March 22 when an Arsenal-like small crowd of 17,539 turned up to see Burnley 3 Arsenal 3.

Rostron and Hornsby inevitably kept their places after their mid-week display, and both did themselves no end of good by scoring the goals in this game.  The experience will have done them no harm as they could both witness referee decisions so curious and erratic that neither side could quite follow them – including the awarding of a penalty to Burnley for reasons that were beyond the understanding of all, except perhaps the ref (and even then, maybe not him). And since he chose not to explain, we were all left in the dark.

What actually made Arsenal pulses race however was not just that Rostron and Hornsby scored – it was the fact that they actually combined well together.  Was this, we all wondered, the true face of the brand new Arsenal?

However this Arsenal, in this season, would always bring everyone down to earth quickly, and so it was on March 25 when the result was Luton Town 2 Arsenal 0, 22,101 cramming into Luton’s ramshackle little ground.

Rostron, Hornsby and Brady were all on the pitch – but a defeat to the relegation near-certainties that was Luton was not what was ordered.  The only good news was that this win for Luton put Tottenham in deeper trouble, and relegation for the neighbours now looked a real possibility.  The bad news was that Arsenal themselves were not out of trouble.

Four minutes after the break Luton scored from a penalty and seven minutes later they got a second, this from open play, to give themselves their third victory in a row.  Arsenal in contrast had only one league victory in seven.  The Hatters, unthinkably, were now just 3 points behind Arsenal.

Luton inevitably played the ultra defensive game, and that was where Arsenal’s youth came unstuck.  Not being used to seeing a home team pull everyone back, the youngsters ventured too far forwards and were caught on the break.  And yet it could have been different with Nelson’s diving header just shaving the woodwork on 10 minutes

But despite the defeat, Rimmer continued to get the plaudits, while Harry Haslam predicted that Luton would avoid relegation.  One relegation spot was taken on the night – by Carlisle.  There were two more to go.

March 29 saw a return to Highbury and Arsenal 1 Stoke City 1.  The crowd was up, at 26,852.   This was the last league game for Bob McNab the first game for Stapleton (who went on to play 225 league games for Arsenal).  He played in the number 9 shirt until that old head (!) Liam Brady, came on for him.

Stoke took the lead, but faded seriously after Brady joined the fray.  Gradually Arsenal started to awaken and with Kelly snapping at every chance under the sun, Brady’s through balls were just too much for Stoke.  Indeed in the last 20 minutes it looked like Arsenal could win the game.

The last bout of March football came on the last day of the month and ended Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 0, with 24,338 at Highbury.  That was better but it still meant the ground was little more than one third full.

However Arsenal’s first league win in four edged the club a little further away from disaster, but resulted in a tirade of abuse from the United boss Ken Furphy who spoke of the Gunners “fighting among themselves”, “wasting time” and “indulging in foul tactics”.  His wild rant included a statement on his need to get back to the “fresh air of Yorkshire”, his desire to “throw away” a scrap book of Arsenal in the 30s that he claimed he always carried around with him, and a determination never to let his club “sink to Arsenal’s levels.”

He even claimed Storey and Rice squared up to each other.  Interviewed afterwards they said they were having a discussion about defensive tactics.

Kidd scored the vital goal from a free kick.  The Sheffield wall was badly organised, and he simply slotted  the ball home.  All in all it was probably the simplicity of the goal that led to Furphy’s outburst as he tried to cover for his own team’s failings.

If an Arsenal manager had ever let out such an undignified rant he would have been condemned.  But from a Sheffield manager the papers seemed to let it pass.

Also on 31 March Everton beat Coventry City 1–0 to move back to the top of the table, as Liverpool lost 2–0 to Stoke City. Tottenham Hotspur slipped back into the relegation zone alongside Carlisle United and Luton Town.  At least there was something to make the hapless Arsenal fan smile.

As April dawned the reality was that there were six games to go, and Arsenal could still be drawn into the relegation mix.   On April 8 however the result of Arsenal 2 Coventry City 0, made life better, although the accountants would have been unhappy with only 17,291 in the ground.

Two goals from Kidd and another faultless display from Rimmer (both of whom were rejects from second division Manchester United) gave Arsenal the win, and more assurance that they would, barring some very bizarre results not be going down for the first time since 1913.

Ball and McNab were both suspended, and Rostrom now given a break.  Thus it was once more a case of mostly fairly established faces in the side – and for once the change around worked.

For the first goal Nelson crossed, Hornsby headed on, Kidd slotted home.   On the hour it was Simpson’s turn to cross, and Kidd again did the business.

It was all over, Arsenal would almost certainly not go down, but no one was particularly impressed.

With three going down and just two points for a win, Tottenham still had the chance to overtake Arsenal, but they had to win at least three of those games and have a goal difference in those games of around +15, while Arsenal had to lose each game and help with reduce their own goal average.  It was possible, but extremely unlikely.

Inevitably Arsenal did their bit to help Tottenham a little on April 12 by losing 1-2 at Highbury to Leeds in front of a much improved crowd of 36,619.

Some of the missing had come back for the game – but Leeds hardly had to break into a canter to take Arsenal apart and remind the Gunners that they might be just about safe, but they were still not particularly adept as a first division side.

Bremner, Hunter and Giles did their stuff and showed what football had become in the few years since Arsenal did the double.  Efficient – with a warning: don’t get too close.  In two weeks time Leeds would face Barcelona in the European Cup Final.  They treated this as a warm up and there was little Arsenal could do.  Tottenham however did not help their own cause, losing 2-3 away to Burnley.

As a result the league table at the end of the game showed that two out of Luton Tottenham and Chelsea would go down with Carlisle – and that fact produced more excitement for Arsenal fans than most of this match.

And so the season’s end came inexorably closer as on 19 April Arsenal were away to QPR while Tottenham were at home to Chelsea.  Most Arsenal fans, who made up a part of he 24362 were also listening to transistor radios (mobile phones with constant connections to everything still being some 35 years in the future) to catch the Tottenham score.

Indeed they probably got more entertainment that way for while it ended QPR 0 Arsenal 0 the score at WHL was Tottenham 2 Chelsea 0.

On the final game of the previous season Arsenal had played away to QPR.  Liam Brady scored his first goal for Arsenal, Alan Ball was seriously injured and Bob Wilson played his final game.  This season it was as if the players remembered that match and felt that having offered so much excitement one year before there was no need to offer any more.

Clearly most of the crowd got the message, for they had gone long before the end.   Arsenal had enough chances to win, but without Brady operating in midfield, the invention was simply not there.  Ball had an off day, Kidd can’t be expected to score in every match, and sad to say Armstrong was looking a little older every time he appeared.

This was Arsenal’s sixth goalless draw of the season and if the lesson of 1974/5 was needed to be made plain this game did it.  The current Arsenal was not good enough.

The table now read

In terms of who would go down it was getting rather exciting – at least we could feel that way since although Chelsea could still equal Arsenal’s points, they would now need all time record League scores of 25-0 in both their games to even equal Arsenal’s goal average.  And they’d need Arsenal to lose three games in a row – which although possible, was not totally likely.

In fact such imaginary possibilities came to an end on April 23 when Chelsea drew 1-1 at home to Sheffield Utd while Arsenal were busy losing 3-1 away to Newcastle in front of a 21,895.

The previous week Macdonald had scored all five goals for England in the delayed game against Cyprus – the first England player for 37 years to achieve this feat.Thankfully here he only got one – and that with the last kick of the game.  But it was still a demoralising affair for Arsenal as he outstripped the whole Arsenal defence time and again, endlessly prompting and persuading his colleagues to keep going for the jugular.

For Arsenal Rostron was back, and it was he who put a perfect cross in for Hornsby to slip the ball into the net to put Arsenal ahead.  But then a slip from Mancini let Craig through for Newcastle’s first.  After that it was the black and white stripes all the way.

If there was any hope for the Arsenal fan it was that having gained a safe position themselves they were saving all their efforts to help send Tottenham down.

The table now read

Carlisle were long since buried.  Now it was still a case of any two of the four above Carlisle to make the drop.  Tottenham looked safest with two to play, and the next game was on April 26 1975 against… Arsenal.  It ended Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0, with 43,752 at Highbury, mostly hoping to send Tottenham down.

The Daily Express voiced the opinion that “Tottenham are simply not equipped in terms of either personnel or tactical development to face another season in the top flight”.  It was music to Arsenal fans’ ears after such an awful Gunners season.

This home victory for Arsenal – only their third since the start of February – gave Tottenham the need to get something out of their last match (against Leeds) in order to guarantee safety.  Their team boasting such notables as Perryman, Knowles, Jones, and Jennings looked lost.  Arsenal were not stunning, but were good enough.

The press’ verdict in general was the Brady, Rostron and Hornsby represented the future for Arsenal.  For Tottenham no future could be seen.

Chelsea had drawn their last match and were down to division two.  Tottenham just needed a draw to avoid the drop on goal difference.

On April 28 1975 the 15th and 16th clubs played out their meaningless game and it ended West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0, 30,195 at the Boleyn Ground.  The team was:

Barnett, Storey, Nelson, Kelly, Mancini, Matthews, Ball, Brady, Hornsby, Kidd, Rostron.

Although it was a meaningless game some of the papers still covered it, but only to express excitement about West Ham being in the cup final where they would play Fulham.

Tottenham beat Leeds Utd 4-2, and so saved themselves.  But as for Arsenal and the question of what next, these last few games gave no clue.  All that one could say was that they looked relieved that the season was over.

Storey, Radford, Simpson and Armstrong had looked through much of the season to be fading.  Were Rostron, Hornsby, Mathews and Stapleton really up to the standard set by Brady?  We waited to see.

Thus the season ended…

Arsenal had finished 16th, their lowest position since 1924/5 – which itself was the season which caused Leslie Knighton to be sacked as manager, and Herbert Chapman brought in.  There was interest as to whether the once feted Bertie Mee would actually be in his job at the start of the next campaign.

In the Double season Arsenal had used 14 players who made more than two starts in the league season.   In 1974/5 there were 20 such players – a 42% increase caused by injuries, lack of form, and transfers in and out.  Arsenal were unlucky with injuries – particularly with Cropley, but it was up to the club to cover for such situations.

Particularly worrying was that the top scorer was Kidd with 19 goals, followed by…

  • Ball 9
  • Radford 7
  • Brady 3
  • Hornsby 3

Kidd played 40 league games in the season – if he got an injury in the year to come, then what?

On 24 May 1975: Alan Ball played his 72nd and last game for England as England beat Scotland 5-1.  He was captain of England 30 times.

Arsenal followed up the season with four games in the Far East

  • 10 May 1975: Malaysian Select XI  2 Arsenal 0
  • 14 May 1975: Malaysian Select XI 1 Arsenal 1 (Kidd)
  • 17 May 1975: Singapore National XI  2 Arsenal 3 (40,000) (Kidd, Cropley, Radford)
  • 20 May 1975: Thailand National XI 0 Arsenal 3  (Kidd 2, Cropley).

In England, Derby County won the title for the second time in four seasons.  The League Cup Final was the first ever between two second division teams (Villa beating Norwich, with both clubs also promoted).  Leeds lost to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final, and inevitably their fans rioted.   The club was banned from Europe for four years, reduced to two on appeal.

Malcolm Macdonald was the top goal scorer with 21.

On 25 June Steve Gatting signed as apprentice professional.  He became a professional two years later and played his first game with the first team as a sub versus Lokomotiv Leipzig on September 13, 1978 which Arsenal won 3-0.

There was one other item of news: at the end of the season George Male left the club he had joined in 1929 as an amateur, and gone on to play 285 league games for Arsenal, winning a league winners’ medal five times, and one FA Cup winners’ medal.

George became a coach at Arsenal after retiring from playing, and worked with the youth and reserve teams, as well as being a scout, and he in turn discovered Charlie George.  He was also present to watch the double victories in 1971.

Having retired he moved to Canada where he had family, and died in February 1998, aged 87.   He was not however the last of the Chapman players to pass away, because Ray Bowden lived a few months beyond George Male and died aged 89 – that was truly the end of the era.

For anyone who noticed outside the club, the retirement of George was a strong reminder of what Arsenal and where it had ended up.

Something serious needed to be done.

Index to recent series



One Reply to “Arsenal in the 70s, part 14. Jan to June 1975 – trying to send Tottenham down”

  1. To say that Cropley was injured against Middlesbrough is something of an understatement.

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