An index of all the articles in the series before this one is shown at the foot of this article.
By Tony Attwood
By the summer of 1975 Bertie Mee’s image was seriously tarnished. From the peak of his reputation in 1970 with the Fairs Cup Win, and then the Double in 1971, he had sunk to being a manager of a team that had slipped from 2nd to 10th to 16th in the league in just three seasons.
From being at least in the semi-finals of the FA Cup for three years they had gone out in round 4, while in the league cup the club at dropped at the very first hurdle two years running.
The crowds were going down as well – by 1974/1975 the average crowd at Highbury was down to 28,315 from a high of 43,776 in 1970/1.
For three years running, the crowd had stabilised on 40,000 plus, but the response to Mee’s talk of football being in retreat and the decline of Arsenal’s performances, was that the crowd had now slipped back…
In fact in 1974/5 the Highbury crowd average was the lowest since 1929 and took Arsenal down to mid-way in terms of the crowds of teams in the first division.
Just to give an idea of what was happening in football attendances here are the top figures derived from EFS . In the list below…
- The Top Club is the club with the highest average attendance in the country.
- Top Av shows the top average attendance of any club
- Lg Av shows the average attendance of first division league games
- Arsenal av shows Arsenal’s average league attendance for the season
- AFC Lg pos shows where Arsenal ended up in the league.
|Season||Top club||Top av||Lg Av||Arsenal av||AFC Lg pos|
By way of historic comparison, in Arsenal’s first season at Highbury (which of course was only partially built upon opening) the average attendance was 34,485. Thus by 1973/4 we had slipped back below that, while paying the players far more money.
This fact in itself was particularly alarming for the club, as the club’s prime source of revenue was money through the turnstile. Highbury had been built to attract big crowds and this is most certainly what it did in its early days. But now the club not only had decline in its own relative numbers, there was a gradual decline in the numbers attending games.
This decline in itself was for multiple reasons. The press coverage of football was awful, and anyone who never went to a match would be inclined to believe that the whole area for five square miles around a ground was a battle zone. True there was crowd trouble, but there had been crowd trouble since the start of the league, it was always hyped up by the media, and in essence it was focussed around a tiny minority of clubs – of which Arsenal was not one.
But the insistence of the leagues in not showing football on TV for most of the year meant that the broader pattern of games was not shown.
The decline also set in because football, ruled by men who looked back to some sort of mythical past, was not developing. Facilities in the grounds were not changing, access to the ground could involve massive queues, lots of the ground was not under cover, and the food and the toilets were by and large best avoided. There was no one around like Henry Norris who could take a club and have an all-encompassing vision for it involving a new ground, or at least a very much improved ground.
And all this can be said before one considers the cultural changes sweeping the country. The late 60s and the 70s were nothing like the 1950s either in terms of what people expected from life, nor the amount of money young people had. The country was moving on, and football was not.
Thus it needed clear thinking to deal with this situation, both on and off the pitch. Arsenal’s football record thus far in the 70s was one of decline. Arsenal in terms of visionary thought both on and off the pitch had been in decline since Tom Whittaker passed away.
Here’s the history of Arsenal’s fall from grace…
In 1974/5 Arsenal gained just 37 points in the league compared with 62 points in the double season. Goal scoring was down from 71 in 1970/1 to 47 in 1974/5.
The one thing the club had got right for the forthcoming season however was finding a goalscorer – with Kidd getting 23, only three short of Kennedy in 1970/1.
But this success gives us a view of Mee’s failure. He clearly was able to meld the original team of the late 60s and early 70s into a winning unit. But as the individuals in that team emerged from his authoritarian regime to express their desires, wants and demands, Mee was unable to cope. Meanwhile tactically he wandered from talking about Total Football, to a retreat into a defensive game, and he never seemed to be able to handle star players and winners.
In short it looks very much as if on the personnel side he was great at handling the players in a club which had never won anything, and motivating them to believe that they could win. But he wasn’t much good at taking the team of star players he had created, rebuilding the unit and then going on to win some more. Tactically he was single minded, hence his inability to build a team around the unique talents of Brady. And in terms of his broader perspective of football he was a doom-monger.
In practical terms if we look at the number of goals scored in the league in 1974/5 we can see the problem:
- Kidd 19
- Ball 9
- Radford 7
- Brady 3
- Hornsby 3
Kidd’s dominance in the goal scoring department was what helped the club stay together. If he were injured, who on earth would step up? Kennedy had gone, and Radford was in decline.
Changes had been made to some of the squad, and there were some exciting youngsters on the way through, but if Mee knew this season was his last throw of the dice (as he must have known) he singularly failed to come up with tactics, man-management, or philosophy that could turn the club around.
In essence his time and his glory had come and gone.
Indeed with the benefit of hindsight we can see that rather than the 1970s marking the end of football as a mass-market sport, the golden age was yet to come. What football needed to do was not retreat into its shell and cater for the dedicated few but rather open out to engage with a much wider audience.
Mee (and to be fair he was much like most of the football hierarchy) had no vision, and 1975/6 turned out to be his last – but not before he could do yet more damage to the club that he had, just a few years before, so gloriously raised to new heights.
The first disaster came on 7 July 1975 when Charlie George was sold to Derby County for £99,000 deal. Charlie became a firm favourite at Derby and played 106 league games for them. His loss to Arsenal and to Arsenal fans was devastating.
Although not noticed with anything like the same intensity, on 8 July David O’Leary became a full professional. He played his first game in the league aged 17, and went on to play 27 games in 1975/6, his first season.
On 10 July Bob McNab (who had played 18 times in the previous season for Arsenal) was given a free transfer to Wolverhampton. He played 13 league games for them before moving to the US league, and then finished at Barnet. He managed Vancouver and Tacoma, was caretaker manager of Portsmouth in 1999 and then worked as a property developer in Los Angeles.
As for the football, the pre-season games began on 28 July with a 2-1 win over Notts County, Hornsby and Kidd getting the goals. Then, in a further sign of cutting back, and the decline in Arsenal’s esteem, rather than go to Europe, the club did a three match tour of Scotland.
On 30 July the result was Hearts 0 Arsenal 2 in front of 11,000 fans. And to be fair it looked good, apart from the injury to Kidd on 20 minutes who was replaced by Radford, but not before putting Hornsby through to score. Eddie Kelly ran the defensive side of the team excellently and Hearts hardly had a chance to get anywhere near the Arsenal goal.
On 2 August Arsenal however lost 2-1 to Dundee with 6950 in the crowd. Cropley, who was present in all the games of the tour, scored the Arsenal goal.
But matters were redeemed two days later with the score Aberdeen 0 Arsenal 1, with 10,500 in the ground.
Just how far Liam Brady had developed during the summer was revealed when he scored out of nothing just before the final whistle. Brady took a pass from Armstrong just outside the penalty area and with the defence backing off while waiting for him to make another pass, he simply lobbed the ball into the corner of the net as the Aberdeen keeper looked on helplessly.
It was no more than Arsenal deserved as the defence had dealt with Aberdeen’s attack easily, and only some good fortune for the Aberdeen defenders prevented Arsenal taking the lead much earlier. Cropley and Armstrong from the start had a perfect grip on midfield and John Radford and Brian Kidd looked an ideal partnership up front.
With the preliminaries out of the way the season began on 16 August 1975 with a goalless draw at Burnley in front of 18,603. The team was…
Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Kelly, Mancini, O’Leary, Armstrong, Cropley, Hornsby, Kidd, Brady.
It was of course O’Leary’s first league match, and a league return for Cropley who had been seen as a part of the re-birth of Arsenal before he broke his leg in the previous season.
But despite the somewhat promising pre-season tour, the reporters at this game called the Arsenal team “the most featureless since the war” and in truth only Rimmer in goal, Kidd with the occasional hard shot and Brady with a couple of defence breaking passes, really showed the sort of talent which was in such abundant display five years ago.
Burnley had added Willie Morgan and Mike Summerbee to their squad but neither made that much impression on the game. However it was Burnley who had the greater chances and only Rimmer’s fine form stopped this from being an opening day defeat for Arsenal. Brian Kidd did hit the post once with a viscous shot, but that was about it.
Ray Hankin at the other end had two headed goals disallowed, and a third Burnley effort was kicked off the line by Sammy Nelson.
It was an opening day for Arsenal to forget and proof if needed that the pre-season actually wasn’t as promising as some had made out.
But things could only get better, and they did on 19 August with a second away game – this ending Sheffield United 1 Arsenal 3 with a crowd of 23,344.
The game was peppered with Sheffield appeals for penalties from the third minute onwards – at which point it was maintained that Mancini tripped Woodward. Brady ignored the fuss and gave Arsenal the lead on the 34th minute with a shot from 30 yards that completely baffled the United keeper Jim Brown. On the hour Brady once more was pivotal as he set up Pat Rice for the second goal.
On the 43rd minute David O’Leary handled in the area to give United a penalty, a goal and a brief period of self-belief which increased when Sammy Nelson was sent off for handball in the 72nd minute, but Sheffield could not pull back a second goal and Kidd made the game safe seconds from the end.
Then came the first home game, and the first sign that maybe it was not going to be as straightforward a journey back to the top as had been hoped, for on 23 August 1975 it ended Arsenal 0 Stoke City 1 with 28,025 willing to give Arsenal another chance to show that things had changed.
To be fair, Arsenal played the sort of attacking and entertaining football that befitted a club that had started the season with a win and a draw both away from home. And indeed the magnificent Brady carried on this way, showing himself to have become the ultimate all round player. He ran, he dribbled, he shot – he did everything except tackle back in defence
Eddie Kelly (the new captain, taking over from Ball who had handed in a transfer request) and Alex Cropley provided excellent support, and overall the press gave a thumbs up for Arsenal’s youngsters. But all that positive feeling was undone by a backpass from Kidd which allowed Stoke a chance – and they took it. A poor result, but still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, at least not yet.
Also Arsenal could be relieved that the main talking point after this defeat was a completely different match, as on the same day Derby County were beaten 5–1 by Queens Park Rangers at the Baseball Ground in their first home League match of the season.
The second home game however proved better for Arsenal as on 26 August the result was Arsenal 2 Norwich City 1. So a better result, but not a better crowd, with on 22,613 turning up.
Eddie Kelly proved his worth in goalscoring as well as in organising the team, with a wonderful strike on 85 minutes to give Arsenal the points. Ball opened the scoring on 18 minutes with a penalty after Duncan Forbes body-checked Brian Kidd.
Bond, lacking somewhat in both linguistic originality and insightfulness called the decision “a joke”. But after Kidd had failed with an easy chance Norwich hoofed the ball up the other end, Martin Peters collected the subsequent pass, and rounded three defenders to score. In reply Storey crossed for Armstrong, Morris cleared, it went to Kelly and he scored from 25 yards. Then Kelly popped up with the winner leaving John Bond free to strike another sour note saying, “If you cant take advantage of an Arsenal team playing that badly then you probably don’t deserve to win anything.”
The opening month of league football ended on 30 August with Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 0 in front of another poor crowd, of 18,144.
Despite the final score this was actually a very entertaining match with Arsenal pressing forwards throughout and having no less than 13 goal scoring opportunities. In an era when two men up front was the dominant mode of play, Arsenal moved into what was probably one of the first versions of 4-3-3 seen in the 1st division.
After the match Bobby Campbell confirmed that attack-attack-attack was the new policy. As for the defence Mancini took complete control and stifled any Wolverhampton attack worthy of the name. Rimmer had no more than two shots to save in the whole game. All that was lacking was a goal down the other end.
Thus August ended with Man U, so recently of the second division, top of the league.
|2||West Ham United||5||3||2||0||9||6||1.50||8|
|3||Queens Park Rangers||5||2||3||0||11||5||2.20||7|
September started with the sad news on the 4th that Walley Barnes had died aged just 55. Towards the end of his playing career he was also manager of Wales, and then moved on to work for the BBC, and was commentator on the very first edition of Match of the Day in 1964.
But as always football continued and on 6 September Arsenal had another home game ending Arsenal 1 Leicester City 1. The attendance was again poor, just 22,005.
Stapleton played his second game for the club, in the place of the injured Radford, and showed great promise. But aside from that Arsenal had little coherence and looked like a club in transition. Indeed Leicester did not expect Stapleton to be grown up enough to do much, for they hardly bothered to mark him at the start of the game. He scored in five minutes from a Brady cross, and it was only a total reorganisation which led ex-Gunner Jon Sammels shooting home from 10 yards, 13 minutes from time.
On 9 September Arsenal turned to the league cup second round and played in a 2-2 draw with Everton at Goodison Park in front of a modest crowd of 17,174.
It was Frank Stapleton (who came on as a substitute with 80 minutes gone), who scored the equaliser with only seconds to go. By the half hour mark Everton had already scored their second to give themselves a comfortable lead and it was not until the 65th minute that Arsenal woke up. Ball passed to Brady who as always was having an excellent game. Brady passed to Radford who nodded down for Cropley to score. Then, for the second goal Brady was involved again, dropping the ball into the penalty area where inexplicably everyone left it to bounce before Stapleton pounced.
The following weekend, on 13 September 1975, Arsenal were again away but this time the result was disappointing: Aston Villa 2 Arsenal 0 with a Villa Park crowd of 34,474.
From the start of the season there were doubts as to the ability of Villa to stay in the first division, but this victory was reported as being proof that they would indeed retain their place in the top league. Arsenal showed far more footballing skill and flair than Villa but what Villa lacked in the finer points they sought to make for with those old stand-bys: aggression and work rate. xx
Alan Ball was quoted after the game as saying , “Villa are going to be a hard side to beat at home. They’ve got some useful players, and the two front men kept the pressure on.” But for three quarters of the game it seemed Villa had been playing for a draw but then the Arsenal defence opened up obligingly and Leighton Phillips scored.
Arsenal then retaliated but left themselves vulnerable at the back and eventually Keith Leonard headed in from a cross. Villa might have felt they were doing ok, but Arsenal certainly didn’t. They had now gone four games without a win, and things were not looking that wonderful.
While awaiting the replay in the league cup Arsenal took on Everton in the league on 20 September the game ending Arsenal 2 Everton 2, with another poor Highbury crowd of 24,864.
“Same old Arsenal,” said the Express in reporting this game, their point being that no matter what happens to them, Arsenal, seem to be incapable of changing. Having built a team on efficiency and hard work rather than flair, Arsenal now appeared to be in trouble as the level of work went into decline.
Across Fleet Street various writers concurred: the team seem to have no way out of the doldrums. At half time Everton were once again two goals up, and looking as if they could easily hold onto their lead. But in the second half Kidd and Stapleton got the two goals back in the space of three minutes.
There was no more skill but there was a lot more hard work which was good to see. Everton spent the rest of the game using the back pass as if it were a creative ploy. No one was impressed.
Three days later it was the same ground and the same two teams, but a different competition and a different score. Arsenal 0 Everton 1 in the League Cup second round replay put Arsenal out of the competition at the first hurdle, with 21,813
Everton’s put their reserve keeper in goal, and just before the end he produced a stunning save (some compared it to Banks’ save from Pele in the world cup!) to deny Mancini. Ball had put in the corner, and Mancini pushed forward, anxious to make amends for the error that had given Everton their goal.
Meanwhile Stapleton, during the closing quarter hour put on a master class that belied his age, and could and indeed should have had three. Everton’s goal came when the referee inexplicably over-ruled his linesman to change an Arsenal throw into an Everton free kick. Everton thanked the ref and duly score.
Meanwhile transfer listed Ball engaged in a series of unpleasant exchanges with members of the crowd and his own manager; hardly befitting a player of his experience. The fact that this happened reflected badly on Ball, of course, but also on the club as a whole. This, we all knew, was not how Arsenal players behave, no matter what the score.
There was not much optimism therefore for the final game of the month, the first division match on 27 September against Tottenham, which ended as a goalless draw.
The crowd was tiny for such a confrontation, just 37,092, but those who stayed away were undoubtedly the wiser.
The press generally considered the negotiations relating to players’ freedom of contract far more worthy of consideration than this tedious north London draw. Some history was made – it was the first ever goalless draw between the sides – but otherwise the press were right, there was little to write about. Pat Jennings equalled Ted Ditchburn’s record of 418 games in goal for Tottenham, but on the pitch only Brady (who came on with 15 minutes left) showed that he remembered how to shoot. Ball tried but faded away, Kelly did his best, and O’Leary once more confirmed that he was one for the future. But as for the present, there wasn’t much to shout about.
So September ended with Arsenal having played five without a win, scoring eight goals in nine games, and three in the last five. Winning their game in hand would have lifted Arsenal a number of places up the table, but no one was fooling themselves. Only the bottom two clubs had attacks less potent than Arsenal, and the worries about having just one scorer in the team were looking justified.
|1||Queens Park Rangers||10||5||5||0||15||6||2.50||15|
|2||West Ham United||9||6||3||0||16||9||1.78||15|
And then it got worse, as on 4 October 1975 Arsenal lost at home 2-3 to Manchester City. It left Arsenal with just one home win in the first five games at Highbury in the season. In the face of such a record it made 24,928 seem a fairly decent crowd.
What made it worse was that with this result Manchester City gained their first victory of the season, as the press made as much of Arsenal’s declining attendances as they did of the team’s performance.
City took a 3-0 lead and Arsenal fought back with a 25 yard lob from Ball, and a wondrous goal from young Cropley. In fact in any other game Arsenal could have claimed the draw as Brady hit a blinder from outside the box, only to find that the ref insisted that he had blown the whistle for a foul on Rostrom, as Brady collected the pass. It was a ludicrous decision, but Arsenal’s position of decline, just four and a half years after winning the double was now the talk of football.
So what did Arsenal do in reply? The came out and beat mid-table Coventry City 5-0 in the next match at Highbury on 11 October 1975.
Joe Mercer, Coventry’s general manager, had the courtesy to comment after the game: “Arsenal were brilliant. And what about Ball? What a player!” One could only be grateful he had not seen Arsenal’s seven previous games which had gone by without a single victory.
But Mercer was right. Ball masterminded the whole game, and saw Arsenal move into a 3-0 lead within half an hour. Brady and Cropley were equally stunning with electrifying bursts through the middle as Kidd finally rediscovered his form and stopped for all the world looking like a member of the crowd who had strayed the wrong side of the barrier. Ball’s goal was a 35 yard rocket propelled shot and indeed three of Arsenal’s goals qualified for goal of the season with Bryan King also making a series of top class saves to keep the score moderately respectable. And there was pleasure in the development of Ritchie Powling who gave a polished and secure display.
So surely this must be the turnaround Arsenal needed. But unfortunately the next match was against a Man U team who had crept up to being equal on points with QPR at the top of the table. It ended Manchester United 3 Arsenal 1, in front of 52,958 in Old Trafford.
Stuart Pearson was the star of Manchester United’s win, which in fact took them two points clear at the top of the first division. Arsenal played a slow patient game out of defence, and Man U allowed them to keep the ball until they got about ten yards beyond the half way line. Then United stepped up a gear, retrieved the ball, and got on with the main business at speed.
In fact they did it so often Arsenal fans began to wonder why a change of tactics could not be employed. Even Arsenal’s goal moved at half pace, with Kelly’s shot beating Stepney, hitting the post and then rolling along the line until it hit Stepney’s back, gently ricocheting into the goal.
Arsenal then had another friendly to contend with match at White Hart Lane that ended 2-2 with 17,346 in the crowd. Nelson and Kidd got the goals.
Arsenal now needed to pick themselves up quickly to show that the defeat of Coventry was not just a blip, and they club did it on 25 October with a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough. The new modestly low crowd numbers were maintained with just 23,591 turning up.
Middlesbrough relied on what the paper’s euphemistically called “organisation” – an organisation that resulted in one journalist describing the game as so dull that it made potato picking seem like profound rapture.
For Arsenal it was Stapleton who caught the eye, finding a way around the defence no matter what tricks, legal or otherwise Middlesbrough’s back ten employed. Overall it was a remarkable display by the 18 year old – all the more remarkable for the fact that his striking partner Kidd seemed content to do very little running indeed. Stapleton it was who scored the first, and could have had two more, but Arsenal won thanks to a last minute strike from Cropley.
The month ended with Graham Rix making his debut in a testimonial game on 28 October at Charlton. Arsenal won 4-1 in front of a very disappointing crowd of just 4,589. Ball, Stapleton, Kidd and Hornsby scored the goals.
There were now three teams equal on points at the top of the table, with two of them being from London. Unfortunately neither was Arsenal.
|1||Queens Park Rangers||14||7||5||2||22||9||2.44||19|
|3||West Ham United||13||8||3||2||20||15||1.33||19|
With Arsenal having the classic mid-table set of results (an equal number of points to the number of games) there was hope that there could now be a little bit of building up of momentum. But the game on 1 November put pay to that notion, as it ended Newcastle United 2 Arsenal 0, with 32,824 at St James Pk.
And in reality any positive thoughts were quickly ended by the recognition that Arsenal had entered November still unable to record consecutive wins in the League. Only one player stood out on the Arsenal team: Liam Brady, who looked as if he might as well have been playing on his own. Newcastle didn’t have as much skill as Arsenal, but it looked like they had a greater desire for the victory, and eventually that’s what they got. For much of the time the two midfields faced each other, each waiting for someone to make a mistake, while Brady tried to unlock both the opposition midfield and defence at the same time with his endless subtle flicks and passes. Gowling and Nattrass got the goals, and Arsenal hardly had a shot on target.
After this Arsenal had another friendly, this time away to Fenerbahce on 4 November. Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Powling and Ball
One week on, it was a case of another game, another defeat – this time 0-1 at Highbury to Derby County on 8 November 1975. At least the crowd was up, with 32,012 wanting to catch a glimpse of Charlie George.
Charlie took the game at a saunter, did a V sign to the Arsenal management (which the crowd thoroughly cheered) and generally ran the show revealing every aspect of his astounding talent, including the occasional utterly accurate sixty yard pass – sometimes to set his attackers going, sometimes to give his goalkeeper something to save.
As for the goal, George set up a through pass for an off-side Hector. The linesman ignored the technicalities, and allowed Hector to score. Arsenal were reduced to shooting from way outside the area, and never really troubled Derby at all. Everyone could see (as if they didn’t know it already) that selling Charlie was a dreadful error of judgement.
And still it got worse with Birmingham 3 Arsenal 1 on 15 November, 21,652 in the crowd. It was Arsenal’s third successive defeat and it saw the club slip down to 16th in the league.
Alan Ball formally withdrew his transfer request before the match, but that was lost in the news that the FA had asked companies to provide tenders with a view to put up an eight feet high security fence around the pitch at Wembley. Also keeping Arsenal out of the media (thankfully for once) was Don Revie who told the press that he thought England’s way of preparing for internationals showed that we were effectively amateurs at the game.
On the pitch, transfer-listed Trevor Francis gave one of his best performances, single handedly taking Arsenal to pieces. He scored from the spot on the 46th minute and then fourteen minutes later put Peter Withe through for the second. Stapleton had a wonderful shot ruled offside before Ball finally got one goal back. Bertie Mee concluded the affair by admitting he was very disappointed with his team. The fans indicated they were very unhappy with the team’s management.
They were also worried about the fact that the next match, on 22 November, was against Manchester United, who were sitting third in the league, one point behind the leaders, and with the best goal scoring record in the division, were the next visitors to Highbury.
40,102 turned up, and by and large everyone was amazed by the final score of Arsenal 3 Manchester United 1
Arsenal’s Irish trio of O’Leary, Brady and Stapleton gained praise from the press, who also took time out to note that England’s failure of late was probably due to the fact that too many “foreigners” were playing in “our league”. (Yes that was the story even in 1975).
A revitalised Alan Ball scored on 12 seconds, and ran the show, allowing Arsenal to make the most of goalkeeping errors by United including one in which a free kick seemed to by pass everyone, bobble around and then end up in the net (it was given as an own goal). The Man U keeper also gave a poor account of himself with the third where he fumbled the ball over the line from Armstrong’s corner.
There was then a brief pause for the internationals with England drawing 1-1 with Portugal on 19 November and thus having no chance of qualifying for the Euros unless Czechoslovakia failed to beat Cyprus It seemed unlikely and it was, Czechoslovakia beating Cyprus 3–0 to confirm England’s elimination from the European Championships.
The break however did England no good, as they returned to action on 29 November 1975 losing away to WHU 0-1, with 31,012 in attendance.
The result ended Arsenal’s best run of the season although the home team’s goal appeared to be offside to much of the crowd, to most of the Arsenal players, and ultimately to The Big Match audience on ITV on Sunday. However the referee was probably distracted by Keith Coleman of West Ham going down while pretending that Kidd had punched him. It was a clever if wholly ungentlemanly ploy.
In between West Ham, to be fair, didn’t stop running, although their victory had nothing to do with the style of football that the press seemed to imagine they had. All of Arsenal’s effort and energy came from Ball and Brady. They were both superb but in the end, they could have done with much more from the rest of the team.
The table now looked like this…
|2||Queens Park Rangers||19||9||8||2||28||13||2.15||26|
|3||West Ham United||18||11||4||3||30||20||1.50||26|
Arsenal were not relegation favourites by any means, but they were, for the second season running, looking over their shoulders. And it did not escape the fans’ notice that the team at the top of the league had Charlie George in their side.
December started with a 2-2 away draw at Liverpool on the 2nd in front of 27,447.
It was a game of three penalties as Liverpool attempted to keep pace with Derby at the top of the table, and Arsenal fought to avoid slipping further into the mire. Arsenal adopted the approach of putting two players on Keegan, and then hoping for the best with the spaces that this left. Eventually Keegan did get away, but everyone save the linesman saw that he was offside. Nevertheless when Rimmer dived at his feet, Keegan went down and got the penalty.
Two minutes later it happened at the other end with Stapleton being pulled down by Hughes. 1-1. In the second half O’Leary pulled down Toshak and it was 2-1. Then on 90 minutes Kidd scored from Armstrong’s header as Liverpool looked around as if wondering if a goal from open play was actually allowed.
On 6 December Arsenal took on Leeds at Highbury with 36,003 in the crowd, watching another Arsenal defeat: 1-2.
Duncan McKenzie stepped up as the man to unravel Arsenal, not for the only time this season, and Arsenal found his sheer unpredictability made him almost unstoppable. In return Arsenal had no real answer save for Brady although for once Arsenal did not have their own poor play to blame.
As Leeds approached Arsenal’s goal Jimmy Rimmer collapsed, suffering (it was later revealed) a sudden excruciating pain in his knee. McKenzie, took the ball around the prone keeper, and tapped it in. Peter Storey went in goal for seven minutes and during that period Brady scored. Leeds’ winner was a cross that hit Pat Rice and bounced in.
On 9 December we had the final friendly of the year: Arsenal 2 Feyenoord 1, for Peter Storey’s Testimonial. It is said that the follow-up celebration in Storey’s pub lasted two days and included a range of interesting guests. Brady and Ball (a penalty) got the goals, in front of 18,813.
How many people attended the party is not known, however it did include a number of Arsenal players (according to “reports”) and that might explain why on 13 December Arsenal lost 1-2 at home to Stoke in front of a paltry 18,628.
But Storey was there, and having collected £10,000 from his testimonial he celebrated by running 25 yards in the middle of this game in order to aim a kick at John Mahoney, leading Bertie Mee to deliver a typical talk about the need to keep up Arsenal’s high standards of decorum and discipline. He also noted how Storey deserved to be sent off, for breaking the letter of the law and the spirit of the game.
Storey explained himself by saying that Mahoney had been having a go at Alan Ball, and that the little fellow needed assistance, so he gave it. Tony Wadington – Stoke’s manager – said that the ref did well, and the incident was the worst he had seen in football. As to the football, having gone ahead Arsenal then failed to order their forces and allowed Stoke to score twice. The press made the point that from 1925 to 1965 Arsenal had one player sent off In the ten years up to this match they had 10 players sent off. The same argument, it might be noted that was dragged out during Arsene Wenger’s early years at Arsenal.
This commentary showed another aspect of the problem Mee had. He acted like a disciplinarian, yet couldn’t control his players on the pitch, and then decided to side the with media and opposition teams by blaming the players. As a result the players felt betrayed and unloved by their own manager, and we may compare this with the stance much later of Arsene Wenger who never spoke against his player, and became famous for not seeing certain incidents from the dugout. The team knew that no matter what was said in private, the boss was on their side when it came to the public debate.
The game was also the last of 49 for Geoff Barnett. He then moved on to Minnesota Kicks, later managing the Kicks for a while, before returning to England to run a pub. After that he went back to Minnesota where he worked as a “Starter” at a golf course.
Next, as the fog swirled around Highbury, and a mere 16,459 paid to go into Highbury as Arsenal finally won a game beating Burnley 1-0 on 20 December 1975.
John Radford played his first game in four months and Burnley didn’t enjoy the occasion, accusing the referee after the game of making “disgraceful decisions”. The specific accusation was that John Radford grabbed hold of the Burnley keeper’s arm, held the keeper down, and simultaneously scored from Pat Rice’s cross which when you think about it, would have been quite an achievement had it been true.
Burnley’s Keith Newton would not let the matter go and was quoted in the press as saying, “The ref was a blatant homer. He said the linesman gave nothing and so he gave nothing – and then said we couldn’t talk to the linesman. People like them should go around in peaked caps – they are more suited as traffic wardens. We are supposed to have the best refs in the world – I have seen better refereeing in the central league.” The League was supposed to be clamping down on such wild accusations, but this was a northern club, so no action was taken by the League.
With the form Arsenal were in, many of the players would probably have been happy to end the month there and then, but there were still two more games to play.
On Boxing Day we had Ipswich Town 2 Arsenal 0, with 28,457 in attendance. It turned out to be the last game for Eddie Kelly, the Double winner, who had played 168 games for Arsenal despite upsetting Bertie Mee upon his arrival with his request that the club buy something for his parents as part of his signing on fee. He moved on to QPR in September 1976.
This result made it just one defeat in 12 for Ipswich – the sort of record that Arsenal would have taken as normal at the start of the decade. But Robson, (never a man to give compliments to Arsenal), used his press conference to speak only of how Ipswich should have “wrapped it up a lot sooner”.
In fact Ipswich dominated most of the match although for one moment it looked as if Arsenal could have sneaked an unlikely win as an Armstrong header in the 70th minute was “miraculously” saved. Ipswich scored in the 7th and 77th minute, and apart from that one header, Arsenal had nothing to offer.
The next day, the 27th, Arsenal’s most miserable year since 1922 ended with a rare win: Arsenal 2 Queen’s Park Rangers 0. 39,021 turned up – a surprisingly good number although undoubtedly encouraged by QPR’s good form and a chance to get out of the house.
The singing on the terraces was for Brady, for although he didn’t score he once more ran the whole game.
The wonderful Ted Drake, now a scout for Fulham, was at the match and said afterwards, “I spend most of my time watching third and fourth division matches. Coming here today makes me realise what I am missing. Brady was superb, world class. He has looked good in spells in the past but today he was outstanding right the way through. That sort of consistency can only help Arsenal get better and better.”
Ball scored from close range and Kidd added a second with a dipping drive. A QPR player was anonymously reported in the press as saying that 36 year old Frank McLintock, now with Rangers, had a burning ambition to win the league again. The press as a man mocked this desire, but in truth QPR did come close.
And so another year closed with the table looking like this…
|5||Queens Park Rangers||24||10||10||4||31||18||1.72||30|
|6||West Ham United||23||12||4||7||35||30||1.17||28|
By way of comparison the end of year table in 1922 looked like this…
|17||Preston North End||23||6||7||10||31||37||0.84||19|
The difference was that in 1922 Arsenal were in their third year back in the first division. In 1975 Arsenal were just four seasons away from winning the double.
The series continues.
The earlier articles in the series:
- 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.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 13: July to Dec 74. Flirting with relegation.
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 14. Jan to June 1975 – trying to send Tottenham down