By Tony Attwood
There is an index to this series of articles at the foot of the page.
Arsenal finished the 1970s in fourth, not only eight points behind the leaders, but also with a significantly lower goal scoring rate than the clubs above.
The decade before Arsenal had entered the new year in 10th, 13 points behind the leaders. And maybe in comparison with the achievements of 10 years before, this team was not doing too badly, since the table on 1 January 1970 showed Arsenal having scored 31 in 27 games, rather than 27 in 23 games.
1980 began with a wholly unexceptional game on New Years’ Day, away to Southampton. 22,473 turned up to watch realising after a short while that this was one of those games in which everyone knows they would have been better off staying at home.
Arsenal’s team was still missing three players who normally might have been considered fundamental to the team: Brady, O’Leary and Nelson. As a result the Arsenal line up was: Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot, Walford, Young, Gatting, Sunderland, Stapleton, Hollins, Rix, Young getting the goal.
Without Brady Arsenal looked like a team who remembered how it once went, but can’t find do it any more. Arsenal kept trying to move down the left, but then remembered Brady was not there.
But at least there was a goal – which was more than could be said the following weekend as Arsenal ventured once again into the FA Cup 3rd round, playing another goalless draw, this time at Ninian Park against Cardiff on January 5. 21,972 were in attendance.
Arsenal persisted with the team that had, not very inspiringly beaten Southampton, and those watching might well have concluded that the magic of the FA cup was little more than an imaginative phrase created by the advertising and newspaper men willing and able to fill a few column inches for the price of a train ticket and a couple of double scotches in the pub.
Once again without Brady Rix did his best, but it wasn’t enough. Sunderland looked like a man who was not willing to lower himself to lower league standards or stadia, and the eleven man Cardiff defence had studied the TV films of Smothering Football and learned how to do it. Thus they got the replay and the money that brings while one journalist called the game “pure incoherence,” and for once a Sunday paper contained the truth about the reality of where football was going.
But by and large the press didn’t want to know, and so turned to the upset of the day wherein Fourth Division Halifax Town beat Manchester City 1–0.
The Cardiff replay was on 8 January at Highbury and Arsenal won 2-1, with 36,155 in the crowd. Nelson returned at full back but there was still no O’Leary and no Brady.
For much of this game it looked as if Arsenal had decided they’d had enough of this nonsense of goalless draws, pure incoherence and smothering football. Sunderland awoke from his slumbers and scored in the first minute, and then Arsenal basically sat back and said, “come and attack us”. Cardiff didn’t (it wasn’t in their game plan) so Arsenal repeated the trick on 36 minutes and then said it again.
Showing his skills in the absence of Brady, Rix found Sunderland waiting patiently in the penalty area gave him the ball and allowed him to score. Cardiff claimed a penalty in the second half but even the appeals were half hearted. They had gained their second income from a decent crowd, and returned to south Wales able to focus on staying in the second division for another season. Arsenal had now gone 13 FA Cup games without defeat.
But then, of course, came the let down, and this time it was Arsenal 0 Leeds 1. 35,945 turned up to see the return of Brady, and with Rice and Nelson settled in defence and Sunderland, Stapleton and Rix all ready in the forward line, what could go wrong against the team we beat 7-0 last season?
“Vapid” was one judgement. “Artificial” was another. “Prosecute them under the Trades Descriptions Act” was a somewhat more intellectual protest (in that it contained seven words rather than one). But each was equally valid for a match in which the visitors pulled everyone back in defence most of the time, Smothering Football became Suffocating Football and Arsenal showed a stunning inability to remember either how to unlock it, or the basics of the game.
Young nearly scored from 30 yards out but Lukic, getting his first public notices, tipped it round the bar. The fact that the Leeds goal came from a Guananan player, and that Lukic was Yugoslav (plus an unsettling discussion by Geoffrey Green on the colour of players’ skins which even by the lax standards of 1980 journalism was excruciating in the extreme) took up more column inches than any of the play. There was no excuse for Green’s rascist commentary, but there was little football to talk about.
Matters were however put right, at least to some degree, on 19 January when Derby County came to town and lost 2-0
Cold weather took its toll on the English game as 35 matches in the league programme were postponed and only four First Division matches (including that at Highbury of course) were played. Leeds, fresh from beating Arsenal went on to beat Tottenham 2-1, so we felt slightly less aggrieved about their style the previous weekend. But only slightly.
22,091 turned up for the game against Derby, which was not bad considering the conditions, but in truth watching the by-now famous Pools Panel, would probably have been more entertaining a watch than this. In the end perhaps Derby County went to sleep or perhaps they were so embarrassed by the paucity of the fare that they had to do something, but whatever the cause, on the hour Webb gave away a penalty when it was easier not to.
Then on 66 minutes Willie Young advanced with the ball, the Derby players headed for the touch line and for once the crowd made more noise than the players.
Brady’s penalty that preceded Young’s effort ended the fans’ chant of “We are boring, we are boring, we are boring, Arsenal” (to the tune of Sailing, of course) but then, to show them what he could do Brady did manage to lob the ball onto the roof of the north stand, and get it stuck behind the Arsenal crest. Clever that.
Of course we didn’t know it but the game represented the start of eight without defeat and 19 with only one defeat. Things were about to perk up – although first there was the most disturbing news.
The day following the Derby game it emerged that Terry Anderson had been found drowned. His body had been in the sea for some time, and the exact date of his death is not known.
Terry had joined the Arsenal ground staff at the age of 15 in 1959. The following year the football apprenticeship scheme was inaugurated and Terry was offered just such an apprenticeship which he readily accepted.
He was a player for the England youth team and so obviously a young man of exceptional skill, and he played for the first time for Arsenal on March 2, 1963 against West Ham in a 4-0 win (Baker got 2, McCollough and Strong scored). It was one of five appearances Terry made that season – scoring one goal away to Sheffield United, this being during the Billy Wright years – those years of The Long Sleep when we went year after year winning nothing, and not even getting to a final.
He was a winger, and as it was an era of wingers at the club – most notably the long serving George Armstrong, and the emerging Alan Skirton, he was always a reserve player waiting for a chance. Overall he played 26 games and scored 7 goals for Arsenal before joining Norwich City in February 1965 having made 10 appearances and scored two goals for Arsenal that season.
On September 23 1973 he scored twice helping Norwich to a 3-2 win over Arsenal, putting a dent in our championship ambitions. We came second that season.
Meanwhile at Norwich he became a central part of the side that won promotion to the first division for the first time ever in 1972. They also reached the final of the League Cup in 1973, knocking out Arsenal en route.
But after leaving Norwich, things don’t seem to have worked out so well, as Terry played for Colchester for 20 games across two spells, 36 times for Baltimore Comets in two separate spells, 10 times for Scunthorpe, and four times for Crewe – and all that in 1974-6.
Beth Anderson, Terry’s daughter, very kindly wrote to the Arsenal History site to fill in the final details. She told us that after leaving football Terry was involved in charity work and ran a pub for a while with his wife Cheryl. The couple were about to open the small hotel they had bought in Yarmouth – he went training on the beach but with a middle ear infection and toppled into the sea. He was, Beth told us, “an extremely good sport, hilariously funny and much loved.” Even through this distance in time we send our regards to the family, and once again may I give many thanks to Beth for getting in touch.
On 26 January we were back playing Brighton And Hove Albion yet again, this time beating them 2-0 at Highbury in the FA Cup 2-0 with 43,202 in attendance and we were back to what most would consider the first team:
Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
Arsenal had enough chances to reach double figures, but took pity on the visitors and gave Moseley in the Brighton goal the chance to do the traditional FA cup thing and have the game of his life. On the half hour Rix crossed and Nelson pushed through a pack of players to head home. Talbot hit the bar, Brady was denied an obvious penalty twice.
Nelson managed to injure himself in the face while scoring, but the highlight was that Brady and Rix were back to their old selves, running the match and taking total control of anything in the centre.
Stapleton was fouled wriggling his way through just outside the area, a lobbed free kick was taken wide when everyone was expecting a shot, and Talbot had great goal ruled out for reasons that no one except the ref could understand and some of us had doubts as to whether even he understood. But Talbot got his own back shortly after, receiving the ball in the centre and repeating the trick, just to show it was no fluke.
It was, everyone agreed, infinitely better than the last two games and it left Arsenal in third, although still five points behind the leaders, having scored 20 goals fewer and with a goal difference 24 goals inferior to Liverpool. The title race was not over in January, but it would require a monumental collapse by both Man U and Liverpool, with a constant run of success by Arsenal for matters to be resolved in Arsenal’s favour.
On 8 February 1980 Rhys Wilmot turned professional. He eventually became second choice keeper and did play eight league games for Arsenal in goal and then later played for Hereford, Leyton Orient, Swansea, Plymouth, Grimsby, Crystal Palace and Torquay Utd.
The following day saw Arsenal once more at home, this time taking on and beating Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,816. Everyone had survived the bad weather and thus once more the first choice XI was on the pitch, and it certainly told.
“What’s it like to be outclassed?” rolled out of the north bank but those with the longer memories recalled Liverpool singing that to Arsenal in the Charity Shield match at Wembley.
But still, the match was fun. Rix Stapleton and Sunderland tore into the visitors from the start and so overwhelming were Arsenal there wasn’t that much to say about the game. Instead the journalists by and large abandoned their duties to focus on the latest rumour of Brady going to Roma (which of course he didn’t do). Rix, Stapleton, Sunderland and of course Brady were the stars, while for Villa it was Rimmer in goal.
For the first goal Stapleton passed to Sunderland who flicked the ball past Rimmer. For the second Rix scored in off the post from 30 yards out. For the third Rix found Brady, who went round McNaught twice just for the hell of it before giving it back to Rix. Rimmer saved and Sunderland put in the rebound. The ref allowed the Villa goal despite a foul by Glasson but disallowed three legit Arsenal claims for penalties. It was ever thus.
The following weekend it was the fourth round of the cup, away at Bolton Wanderers on the 16th February. 23,530 turned up to see the 1-1 draw with once again the first XI in action.
As a thaw set in the pitch was mud and soon the players were covered in it, and the tactics became simple: boot the ball as hard as possible in what was generally although sometimes vaguely, the right direction.
But the trouble with mud is that it can make you slip over as the Bolton centre back found. He did, and Sunderland ran in, knocked the ball temporarily out of the mud for a moment and Stapleton scored on 18 minutes. In reply Bolton got a corner, and Allerdyce (who some journalists insisted on calling the “strapping Allardyce” – whatever that was supposed to imply), jumped upwards and headed ball and a fair amount of mud into the net. Some of the mud hit Jennings in the face. It didn’t seem a very sporting thing to do.
Arsenal hit the post in the second half and forced the Bolton goalkeeper to make saves but in the end there is only so much mud you can take.
The replay was on 19 February, and Arsenal duly won, thus making their way into the quarter finals for the third year running. There was talk of three successive finals…
40,504 turned up, Price joined the team and in Arsenal’s first attack Price sent the ball across the field, Young helped it on and Sunderland bent in half to head in from six yards.
After that something more akin to bravado and a swashbuckling style took over which was fun but was to be had at the cost of more goals until on 34 minutes. Greaves of Bolton mistakenly passed perfectly to Sunderland who for a moment looked bemused but then realised his duty and scored.
Either side of half time first Allerdyce went off and then Gowling who was knocked over by McDonagh, one of his own team mates. Thereafter it was incredibly simple for Arsenal, and they were pleased to take the win, knowing who would be at Highbury on Saturday.
And thus it was that on 23 February Bolton Wanderers came back to Highbury, for their third match in a row, and Arsenal beat them 2-0, but this time only 24,383 turned up. Price kept his place in the team, and Vaessen made a rare appearance, coming on as a sub for Rice.
If anything the pitch was worse than before and the scorers were Young and Stapleton.
This result meant that Arsenal had played four games in February, one against Aston Villa, and three against Bolton (two in the cup one in the league). It also meant that Arsenal had won five and drawn one of the last six.
But the league table by the last day of the month – the 29th this being a leap year – hardly reflected the progress, not least because Arsenal had managed just two league games in February, with the other two being postponed.
Ipswich and Southampton, whose grounds had missed the worst of the snow, were still playing home matches, while other teams were losing out. The table on leap day looked like this…
Arsenal were now six points behind the leaders on the same number of games, and that goal difference was as inferior as ever. But Ipswich were not only still playing their home games, they were unbeaten since the beginning of December, and had moved from third-bottom to third-top in under three months.
Bolton Wanderers who had had enough of Arsenal remained bottom, with just one League win from their first 27 matches.
March began with the sad news that Dixie Dean, the well-remembered Everton striker had died from a heart attack. On the same day Man U who had continued to talk up their championship chances were beaten by Ipswich 6-0.
Arsenal were at Stoke, on 1 March a team who had caused the occasional upset against Arsenal in the 70s, and with whom we had had some memorable FA Cup matches. This time Arsenal gained their four consecutive league win, the result being Stoke 2 Arsenal 3, that making it ten goals in four league matches.
The crowd as usual for Stoke was poor: 19,752, but the defeat of Stoke was so comprehensive that Alan Durban admitted that even if Stoke had gone another goal then Arsenal would immediately have scored a fourth.
And yet despite the score the first half was dull, although in the second, everything changed. On 46 minutes Stapleton crossed to Rix, the Stoke defence watch both of them, and Sunderland was left free to score. Cook equalised at once for Stoike, but then first Price then Brady put the home team in their place. Lee Chapman eventually got one back, but Arsenal then held the the game in a solid grip.
The new positive spirit of the club (five straight victories if one includes the cup win over Bolton) continued on 5 March 1980 with the result Arsenal 5 Gothenburg 1 in the Cup Winners Cup, Sunderland 2, Price, Brady and Young getting the goals).
36,323 turned up which was not bad considering the weather (it was astoundingly cold, perhaps arranged so by the Almighty to make the visitors feel at home) and the fact that the opposition were not highly regarded. Brady started the game but was substituted by Hollins, while Sunderland was replaced by McDermott. By the time Stapleton was injured, there being no more subs left, Arsenal played on with ten men.
Goteborg actually took the lead after some serious misfiring from Arsenal, but after five semi-attempts Stapleton found Brady, Brady found Sunderland and in it went. Then a Brady, Talbot, Price combination gave Arsenal the second.
Next it was Sunderland again (getting his injury en route) before Brady scored a magnificent goal on the hour after receiving a chip from Devine. For the next Young jumped with the goalkeeper, possibly impeded him, but the ref let it stand.
And still the wins kept coming as on 8 March 1980 we had Watford 1 Arsenal 2. Arsenal were in the semi-finals again as they were in 1971, 72, 73, 78 and 79, which was not a bad cup run for a team that had, prior to 1971, not been in the FA Cup semi-final since 1952 when Tom Whittaker was manager. 19 years without a semi and then six come along in nine.
Fortunately, no one around at the time could tell the future, and so no one realised just what was going to happen next.
27,975 packed into the Vicarage Road ground. Rice was missing, as was Hollins, but the other injured players from the CWC game were now back.
By now, as might be expected, Arsenal’s away approach to the cup was well prepared and well rehearsed. Lock the game down and then hit on the counter. Until half time this was very successful in terms of the lock down, but the counters were not working. It was deadlocked with the accent on the first syllable.
In the second half Arsenal changed approach moved forward and took the advantage of the difference in quality Rix and Brady started to push the ball around, and then Brady, Rix, Price and Stapleton combined with the latter scoring. Ten minutes after they did it again. Price to Brady, a square pass to Stapleton and it was too easy. The bad news was that Sunderland went off injured and the whole side looked unbalanced from that point on.
The semi-finalists were thus West Ham (of the second division), Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal.
With that business done and dusted, we were back to the 0-0 draws. Now to be fair we hadn’t had one of those since 5 January, but that had been the eighth of the season, and it seemed all a bit much.
At the moment of kick off the foot of the table looked like this
Bristol City’s away record was won two, drawn four, lost nine, scored eight, let in 25. Their last six results home and away had yielded four defeats a draw and a win.
So going for a 0-0 was predictable, but Arsenal’s failure to break them down was hardly what fans of a club on the edge of the title race wanted. Yes it was the fifth game without defeat in the league but the crowd of 21,599 showed that there was still a lack of belief in Arsenal even though Arsenal’s last six games in the league were five wins and a defeat. It really should not have been 0-0 but once again the same old issues were there: if Brady was leaving that would be a huge loss, and we still had not properly replaced Macdonald. Sunderland and Stapleton were scoring, but no more than adequately.
And that was the key issue, for by 11 March, after this game, Arsenal had scored 38 goals in 30 games. The three teams above them had scored 47, 53 and 62. Only 10 teams out of the 22 in the league had scored fewer than Arsenal. Even Brighton and Hove Albion in 16th had scored more than Arsenal.
But it wasn’t as if there was nothing to play for. Third spot would take Arsenal back into Europe. True there was winning the Cup Winners’ Cup, but third was also a route, and it would give more feeling of progression in the league.
But 0-0 it remained, Bristol were dogged in defence, Arsenal uninventive. The cup, and the cup winners’ cup, were more on their minds.
However March wasn’t all doom and gloom, as on 15th of the month Arsenal went away to Manchester City and won 3-0, with 33,792 in the crowd at Maine Road. Devine and Vaessen made the team.
It was said that Tony Book used to come to post match press conferences but had stopped doing that (in these days there being no requirement he should be there). The reason apparently was that it was too embarrassing since no one knew what questions to ask.
In this game the questions might have been, “why did Man C give Brady so much space?” or “how come Stapleton and Vaessen could take over half the pitch on their own?” Perhaps it was Arsenal’s surprise at the space they had that left it 0-0 at half time. Then Reeves tripped Devine, and Brady scored the penalty. Talbot shot from 30 yards, the ball hit the bar, Stapleton hit it in. Brady took on what passed for the Man C defence and scored. Arsenal celebrated, briefly. It was all a bit embarrassing.
19 March 1980 saw the next CWC game and the next goalless game as it ended Gothenburg 0 Arsenal 0 in the quarter final 2nd leg with a very sound attendance of 40,044 despite the humiliation handed out to the Swedish team in the first leg. Devine and Vaessen kept their places.
This was billed by the English press as a case of Arsenal showing their Swedish fans what they were all about but it was a poor match and the fans were highly disgruntled, throwing cushions onto the pitch not to protest about the referee but about the whole quality or rather lack of it.
Gothenburg played the long ball game but Arsenal showed that they could deal with that all day long. Gothenburg also played a tight defence which kept its shape and that did work; they had clearly been at the Bristol City game. In the end it was stalemate. 4-4-2 might be ok for a home side if they want to snatch a one goal victory, but not when you need four. It wasn’t a good match.
So we all hoped for a little better on 22 March with Crystal Palace visiting Arsenal. Palace had settled into a solidly mid-table position, and were clearly resolute on going nowhere much, as the scoreline of 1-1 showed.
Vaessen lost his place in the starting lineup and we were back to the standard first team with the exception of Rice being missing, and Devine taking his place.
As for the game, the consensus was that sleep would have been preferable in the early spring sunshine to this. The only excitement came two minutes from the end when Palace got a penalty, and Francis duly plonked it straight into Jennings hands.
Arsenal unbeaten in 13, still in both cups, were not making friends. As for the crowd, given the poverty of entertainment on offer, they responded with the Sound of Silence. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; it was nothing like exciting football.
Arsenal could argue they were fourth in the league and in two semi-finals. What more do you want? Entertainment and effort most of the fans would reply. Arsenal were hard to beat but Arsenal were also hard to watch. Brady scored with a wonderful free kick Stapleton and Rix struck the post. Kenny Sansom passed to Hinshelwood and Palace equalised. Yawn yawn, except, that Sansom at full back looked rather good. One for the notebooks.
But poor as that game was, on 28 March 1980 Everton 0 Arsenal 1 still made it six wins and two draws in the last eight. Gatting scored the winner and like Marinello eight years earlier to the day it was his only goal of the season. 28,184 were in the crowd.
Meill was clearly in the mood to start mixing up the team a bit, and the XI he put out was Barron, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Gatting, Sunderland, Vaessen, Price, Rix.
So no Brady, no Stapleton, no Jennings, and Arsenal won. And we wondered, maybe things are ok after all. Rix passed to Gatting on the hour, and Gatting scored from 30 yards out. Everton looked on as if to say, “I thought we’d agreed on a 0-0 draw. That’s what you do isn’t it?”
Barron was assertive, Sunderland experimental, and Arsenal looked as if they had a production line of youngsters coming through, not least when Vaessen shot and the result just glanced off the post. Everyone knew Everton were no longer a top team, dicing occasionally with relegation, but even so, this win seemed to say more about the future than anything else. As if to say, OK Liam we can do without you. But no one really believed it.
As the month drew to an end however one quirk was noticed. Bolton Wanderers had managed three League wins in March. They were still bottom, eight points adrift of safety. But even so it was quite an anchievement after what had gone before.
Arsenal were eight off the top with a game in hand over the leaders and two over Ipswich. The latter was important – only the top three played in Europe the following season.
And so onto April and a game against Norwich placed in 15th. They were not really in relegation danger, but everyone was aware that Norwich had not won in 11 games. They might have been aware however, that they still were not totally free from trouble and a sudden run of bad form from them and a good run from Derby could turn things around.
Arsenal meanwhile still had two cup semi-finals on their mind, and that must have been the excuse as they lost 2-1 at Carrow Road, 16,923 scattered around the terracing.
The team however had a more stable look: Jennings, Devine, Nelson (Vaessen), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix. And thus when Arsenal got a penalty Brady took it, and … saw it saved. The lead however had been taken by Arsenal in the ninth minute with a stunning, brilliant shot from Rix. Norwich equalised on the half hour and then on 66 minutes with Price carelessly lost the ball to Fashanu who scored.
It should never have been like this – at least that’s how it felt in the ground, as Arsenal should have been gobbling up teams like Norwich with their small crowd and lack of skill against a team including these top players. It simply should not be, but it was and the players’ frustration was felt as Nelson and Sunderland were both booked in the second half.
Of course this being April, and with Arsenal in the cups, the games would come thick and fast and on 5 April 1980 we had Arsenal 1 Southampton 1; one of five games in 12 days. 34,593 turned up, and Vaessen got another run out, this time as a sub for Price.
Arsenal scored on 20 minutes through Stapleton after an interchange with Sunderland. Southampton’s response was to keep the ball close – and that included the keeper Katalinic who didn’t seem to want to kick it far outside of this box in case he lost track of it. In response there was a lot of messing around from the Southampton keeper who practiced doing sky kicks quite regularly. Our old hero Charlie George joined in the nonsense but then got booked for applauding the referee. It didn’t worry him too much however since he had just scored.
Two days later Arsenal were due to play Tottenham – on 7 April 1980. Arsenal asked Tottenham to rearrange the derby at WHL to help avoid this pile up in games – not least because two days after that Arsenal were due to play a Cup Winners Cup match against Juventus.
While Arsenal were looking at five games in 12 days, Tottenham had five in 15, so could have done with a bit of a break themselves but no, helping Arsenal was not their style at the time which was a shame, because despite the fans’ antagonism the clubs had actually been quite friendly towards each other since the little spat over the removal in 1913.
Whatever the reason, Arsenal then went to WHL on 7 April, and beat Tottenham 2-1. sending Tottenham down the table to 14th. In fact the slide continued as Tottenham only won one of their last six of the season.
Arsenal’s victory came despite resting numerous players, and the match was noteable for a début for Paul Davis. He later won the league, the league cup (twice), plus the FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in a 16 year career with the club.
41,369 came to the Lane and saw an Arsenal team that looked like this…
Barron, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady (Sunderland), Devine, Vaessen, Hollins, Davis.
Were the players going to be distracted by two upcoming semi-finals? No, not a bit of it. Tottenham were on the lethargic side of capitulation, Arsenal flooded the midfield and started to advance. As the end neared, Tottenham themselves created an advance, and did ultimately score on 88 minutes. Trouble was, Sunderland and Vaessen had scored on 84 and 86 minutes. And it was only after that, that Tottenham looked like a team who had only just realised that scoring was part of the deal.
So that was Tottenham done and dusted, and then it was Juventus at home two days later on 9 April with 51,998 in the crowd.
The team was Jennings, Devine (Vaessen), Walford, Talbot, O’Leary (Rice), Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
On 34 minutes Tardelli, after committing virtually ever crime in the book against Brady, tried the one he hadn’t committed, and got himself a red card. Relief all round. For one, because we were playing 10 men, and for two, it would show Brady just what sort of treatment he would get if he was silly enough to go to Italy.
But there was worse. Bettega raised his boot to shin level and O’Leary had to go off. The ref who had made it plain that his copy of the rule book still indicated that shirt pulling and hand tugging were acceptable, waved a finger.
For the Juve goal Walford lobbed back to Devine who misplaced his pass. Talbot fouled him, Cabrini scored after hitting the penalty straight at Jennings. With five minutes left Brady lifted a free kick over the wall. Bettega challenged Stapleton in the air, and bounced into the net.
Then, while authorities in other countries were already regularly re-arranging matches so that their teams were helped when Euro games came along, on 12 April 1980 we had Arsenal 0 Liverpool 0 in FA Cup Semifinal number 15 at Hillsborough. We didn’t know it at the time but this was going to be the second season running that Arsenal needed four or more games to win an FA Cup tie.
And to add a tiny twist to it all, the previous year’s five match marathon had started at… Hillsborough, with a 1-1 draw against the home team Sheffield Wednesday. The results of that saga were 1-1, 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 2-0.
Going into the 1980 series, Liverpool were four points clear of Man U, but had lost two of their last four games. They were out of Europe, but didn’t want a long set of replays any more than Arsenal.
The attendance for the semi-final was 50,174, and the Arsenal team: Jennings, Rice, Nelson (Walford), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
This was cup tie number 22 for Arsenal having not only battled through to the semi-final of the CWC but also played seven in the league cup before going down to Swindon, and six in the FA Cup to get to the semi-final.
And for the whole of normal time in this game Arsenal looked as if they didn’t have much idea how to win it. Liverpool completely dominated the game for 90 minutes but wasted their domination by simply playing high balls down the centre. Perhaps they wanted to catch O’Leary out, as he played despite being carried off four days earlier.
Overall there was not a shot on target. Near the end Talbot tried to chip Clemence from the edge of the penalty area. It only just failed to come off – hitting the cross bar on the way down. It looked like a tactic the team had been working on.
In fact this season both FA Cup semi-finals ended in draws – leaving Arsenal unsure whether they would face Everton or West Ham United should they go through. There was of course no doubt what the press wanted. A Merseyside derby would be a classic for them. A London derby would be, well, just something they put on TV with the hope that the chirpy cockney east enders would win and they could do pictures of Pearly Queens.
On 16 April one of the finalists did emerge however as West Ham United beat Everton 2–1 at Elland Road. But for Arsenal and Liverpool things were not that simple. This time the teams went to Villa Park and played out a 1-1 draw, 40,679 forking out the money for the game. Jennings, Rice, Walford, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix made up the team – Nelson not yet recovered.
Arsenal went at Liverpool from the off, but it was Liverpool who scored first, on 51 minutes, through Fairclough, while Arsenal equalised 11 minutes from time. Walford deputising for Nelson showed his nerves and Jennings picked up the pieces – and indeed he was aided by Liverpool not making the best of the scraps they got.
Then Price gave Sunderland possession. He lobbed it over Clamence and the ball simply dropped under the bar and into the net. Even then, Clemence, the keeper who loved always to bawl at his defenders and remind them of their errors, looked ready to blame everyone except himself, but ultimately thought better of it. Extra time produced no more, and another replay was ordered.
But of course this being the 1979/80 season before that we had Liverpool v Arsenal in the League.
Arsenal had played Bolton on February 16 and 19 in the Cup and then February 23 in the League. And Arsenal had played Leeds on August 29 and September 4 in the League Cup and in between those two on September 1 in the League.
And just to show this was not at all coincidental but actually neatly planned, Arsenal played Brighton on October 30 and November 13 in the league cup, and November 3 in the league.
So, 19 April 1980: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1, in the League; 46,878 at Anfield. Nelson was still out, Gatting came in for Brady, and Vaessen came off the bench for Stapleton.
Arsenal felt they had found a way to deal with Liverpool in the last match, and saw no reason to change. They attacked the Liverpool back four in a way that every other club had been frightened to do for the past five years. And it worked up to a point, but just as in the last game, Liverpool scored first, this time after 11 minutes. Dalgleish passed to Kennedy and the ex-Arsenal man scored.
So maybe everyone has had been right – attacking Liverpool only serves to annoy them. From then on Arsenal couldn’t get a shot in. Kennedy picked up an old newspaper fluttering in the wind and read it briefly. Clemence did exercises to pass the time of day when he wasn’t shouting abuse at his defenders. And then when all the old Liverpudlian arrogance had built up and overflowed Sunderland crossed to Talbot who scored. Liverpool players then had a new approach: they all shouted at each other from then to the end. It was not a very effective response.
Next just to rub salt into tired limbs the club packed its bags and went to the Stadio Comunale “Vittorio Pozzo” (previously Stadio Municipale “Benito Mussolini”) for the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final 2nd leg, against Juventus. And thus it was that on 23 April 1980 with press having declared that Arsenal had done nowhere near enough in the home game two days after the Tottenham away match, Arsenal became the first British club to win at Juventus in a competitive match.
What’s more the scorer was Paul Vaessen who gained immediate fame but was sadly unable to develop his career due to injury, and whose subsequent tragic life was captured so vividly in the book “Stuck in a moment”.
The attendance was 66,386, and the team immortalised at that moment was
Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot (Hollins), O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Vaessen), Rix.
Much was made after the game of the fact that Arsenal were starting the 1980s as they started the 1970s – with a European final. But it was no easy deal, and Juventus clearly expected to win this tie. However then, as the world came to know, with just two minutes to go Vaessen, who had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes, scored to give Arsenal a most unexpected victory.
In Juve looked as if they were happy to see through a 0-0 draw, but maybe someone had slipped them a few copies of the English press that had proclaimed loudly that Arsenal did not have a chance. That of course always gave Arsenal the chance of snatching victory from the jaws, and that’s what they did.
Chances were few, although Juve regularly broke menacingly. But in the final quarter hour, Young moved forward, Price and Talbot moved back, and Rix pumped in the crosses – and as we know, it worked. At the end Arsenal applauded their travelling support, which so infuriated the home support that a hail of missiles descended on the fans.
Of course what really made the story in the press was that on the same night Nottingham Forest lost the second leg of their European Cup 1–0 to Ajax, but reached the final for the second year in succession with a 2–1 aggregate victory. Arsenal were through but it was only the CWC. It wasn’t your actual real European Cup. And besides Forest had Brian Clough.
On 26 April 1980 Clough’s first team triumphant, Derby County, were relegated from the First Division with one match remaining. One wonders what the Derby directors made of it all. They had refused to give Clough the money to continue turning Derby into a powerhouse, and so he had gone a-wandering, ended up at near neighbours Forest, and taken them to another European cup final, while Derby went down. Elsewhere Liverpool’s goalless draw at Crystal Palace put Liverpool on the verge of retaining the title.
Arsenal however now had to set aside the dreams of a CWC final, and play West Brom at Highbury on 26 April 1980. The score was Arsenal 1 WBA 1. The attendance: 30,027.
Stapleton scored his 13th of the season and better league form could have given Arsenal 3rd instead of 4th at the end of the season, but Arsenal, what with one cup final already secured and a second just one victory away from being secured, had their attention elsewhere. In fact Arsenal had won just one of the last five league games. And they might still need third place to get into Europe.
Although changes were made from the Juventus game, Vaessen kept his position in the team. Barron played in goal, and Devine and Walford also got games, with Gatting coming on for Willie Young.
The hero of West Brom was Peter Barnes who was talked up as being the man to give England more trophies. He scored on the 19th minute but then West Brom made the mistake of trying to hold onto the narrow margin. They almost did but Arsenal were not taking defeat lightly at this moment and three minutes from the end a Brady-Vaessen-Stapleton combination resulted in Stapelton’s headed goal to give Arsenal a point they richly deserved.
On 28 April 1980 the second replay of the FA Cup semi-final occurred with the result Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1. Once more they played at Villa Park and as in the previous replay Sunderland scored this time in front of 42,975. The team was: Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
There was talk of this run of matches being an “epic battle”, a tie that would produce the most replays ever, and even of the need for the cup final to be put back if a winner cannot be found, although the FA themselves said that was not possible. There was then even talk of penalty shoot outs to prevent endless replays.
But it was a balanced game, at least in one respect. Sunderland scored on 16 seconds, Dalgleish equalised in the final minute of normal time. From the kick off Brady slid a square pass to Rice who played it forwards to Stapleton who headed it down to Sunderland who shuffled left and right and scored. The first Liverpool player to touch the ball was Clemence, picking it out of the net. He was not amused.
Arsenal pushed forward for another ten minutes before Liverpool recovered and returned to their normal tactics. Souness took out Talbot with his elbow; Brady remonstrated and had his name taken Liverpool pushed but had few chances. Arsenal ended looking the better team.
The month ended with Arsenal 11 points behind Liverpool and Man U but with two games in hand on Liverpool and three on Man U. The chances of Arsenal catching up were very slim, but the chances of overtaking Ipswich in third and so getting a European spot if they won neither cup, looked slightly better, although at three games and six points needed it and with a much inferior goals difference and cup matches still to play, it still looked a big problem.
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In the final game of the FA Cup semi-final series on 1, May Liverpool’s much vaunted attempt to emulate Arsenal’s Double was defeated as Kennedy the ex-Arsenal man gave Talbot the goal that won the game.
By this time crowd weariness has hit and only 35,335 showed up, although with the game played at Coventry City’s ground it was not surprising. Arsenal’s team was Jennings, Rice, Devine, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
Liverpool’s claim that they could no longer field a team as too many players were injured was dismissed for the nonsense it was and Arsenal won the game on 11 minutes. Liverpool, this time around, had but one tactic, high centres into the box, which was odd as O’Leary and Young gobbled them up all night. True, for the last half hour the game was played in Arsenal’s half but Arsenal looked like they could play such a tactic all night long. Overall Arsenal were composed where Liverpool were not, and after Talbot had got the goal they held on readily.
Two days later Arsenal went to Coventry once more and beat the locals 1-0 in the league on 3 May 1980 Cardiff 0 Arsenal 1. It was the last game for goalkeeper Paul Barron. He had played just eight times for Arsenal. He moved on to Crystal Palace in August.
The crowd was just 16,817, and those who didn’t make it missed another goal from Vaessen, plus Paul Davis coming on as a sub.
That it was game number 64 was shown through having and six reserves in the team, and it was a mark of the self-belief that had grown in the team that Arsenal still won. The wind was difficult, the ground was difficult, but still Howe and Neill got their team through it, before dashing to the airport and flying to Valencia to watch their CWC opponents. Barron came through the test ok, but Arsenal’s forward line did little.
Paul Davis missed a sitter, but then with only a minute to go, Talbot passed to Vaessen, and his joy was unbounded.
At the same time Liverpool clinched the league title in their penultimate league game of the season by beating Aston Villa 4–1, while Man U were beaten by Leeds. Of greater interest to Arsenal however was that Ipswich were beaten.
Arsenal were still continuing to play games every other day, and on 5 May the result was Arsenal 0 Nottingham Forest 0, with 34,632 in the ground. Neither team was bothered in over extending themselves what with Forest heading for the European Cup Final, and Arsenal for no less than two cup finals in the next nine days.
It was the sixth goalless league game of the season at Highbury, but that didn’t really matter, for thoughts of both crowd and players was on what was yet to come. Such was the insignificance of the game to both sides that Don Howe and Terry Neill only appeared for 20 minutes. O’Leary and Young tuned up well for what was to come Jennings was dependable as ever, and most importantly no one was injured.
And so on 10 May 1980 Arsenal appeared in their third successive FA Cup final, but made it two defeats in three. It was the last Cup final until the Cup Double season of 1993.
As always in those days the crowd was given as exactly 100,000 and the team was Jennings, Rice, Devine (Nelson), Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
Two years before, Arsenal were the firm favourites and lost. In 1978 Man U were favourites and lost. Here West Ham were the underdogs, which should have made everyone expect the result – West Ham, as you will know, won the cup. Arsenal fans had to live not only with two FA cup final defeats out of three, and the imminent departure of Brady, but now also a media which lauded West Ham to the skies, raved over Brooking, noted how Devonshire had been discarded by Palace, and that Paul Allen was the youngest player to play in a cup final and had nothing to say of Arsenal and their marathon season.
But the fact was that the marathon against Liverpool combined with the games against Juventus finally took their toll. To Arsenal this was another match, with another cup final to come four days later. To WHU there might well be another big match, but probably not for another ten years.
For Arsenal the final feeling was, “stuff happens” (or an idiosyncractic version of the same). For West Ham as with Ipswich two years before, it was the greatest day in their history.
We perhaps need dwell little on the match and instead move on to 14 May 1980: Arsenal v Valencia, the cup winners cup final. After a 0-0 draw (another game not to dwell upon) the game went to penalties. Rix was the man whose penalty was saved to lose the tie, but it was Brady’s miss at the start of the round of spot kicks that put Arsenal into that position. The attendance was 40,000 and the team was
Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O’Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Hollins), Rix.
“To lose one cup final, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” as the saying goes.
Careless? But no, probably not. The issue was that the squad wasn’t big enough to cope with this number of games, and most specifically was missing a centre forward who could rotate with Sunderland and Stapleton.
Of course most clubs would be overstretched by going for two cups in one season, with all these replays as well as the usual demanding league programme. And yes there were reserves that could be used, but not that many who would be given the responsibility of important matches.
Arsenal had strength and character, but this was match 67 said it all. There were walking wounded – Talbot and O’Leary reportedly suffering, but Arsenal held Valencia and Valencia held Arsenal. In the end it was in reality nothing more than a toss of a coin.
And after all that the league programme had to be concluded. Arsenal had to play two games, both against top ten teams, and they had to win both to get into Europe.
The first game was on 16 May and Arsenal did indeed do the business beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 away with a crowd of 23,619. All the regulars of recent weeks were there: Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, Walford, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price (Vaessen), Rix.
Walford and Stapleton got the goals in a game in which it looked like Wolverhampton were quite content with their season, and were more than happy to oblige by trying out a few youngsters. But with the press still hyperventilating on the win of West Ham on FA Cup Final day, this game was ignored. Not one of the nationals covered the game. That is what they thought of Arsenal.
But Arsenal had the win, and the win meant third place was still on. And so on 19 May 1980 more than two weeks after the planned final day of the season, the First Division fixtures were finally completed, but the dream wouldn’t happen. Arsenal lost 5–0 to Middlesbrough. The result left Ipswich Town one point ahead of Arsenal in third and there would be no European football at Highbury. It was also Liam Brady’s last match for Arsenal. In the end this most magnificent of players had won just one thing: the FA Cup.
A mere 15,603 bothered to show for the match, with the team of Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, Walford (Vaessen), Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix.
Armstrong of Borough played his 350th consecutive match and looked like he would carry on celebrating forever, which gave the home team everything it needed Even regularly reliable players like Rice and Young began to show signs of it all being too much. And we had one of the first occasions when it looked palpably obvious that the referee seemed unwilling to give Arsenal anything at all, as when Johnston pushed Talbot for an obvious penalty one yard inside the area. The ref gave a free kick outside the box – one of many odd decisions delivered on the day.
Seven minutes before half time Middlesbrough were three up . When Arsenal did get a penalty the keeper saved brilliantly, and there was clearly no way back. Throughout the season Arsenal had competed, but in the end this was just one step too far.
So where did Arsenal slip up in the league in a way that made third place impossible? A look at the home and away form gives a clue.
But there is was, another season over and no more trophies. Arsenal’s form in their last six games was two wins, three draws an a defeat. Ipswich had four wins, one draw and one defeat. It mad all the difference.
No Arsenal player made it though all the 42 league games; Stapleton played in 39. In terms of goals the 20 goal a season man was still absent but Stapleton and Sunderland each got 14, but the third highest scorer was Brady with seven, and he was off.
Vaessen had started 8 games and made six sub appearances scoring two goals, and looked very good, but elsewhere the team was good, but not quite good enough.
As for the late spring and summer, on 28 May 1980 Nottingham Forest retained the European Cup by beating Hamburg 1–0 in the final in Madrid. And on 13 June 1980 Clive Allen at the age of 19, became the most expensive teenager in Europe in joining Arsenal from Queens Park Rangers for £1,250,000 deal. But what happened then is another story.
- 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 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
- Arsenal in the 70s part 15. When we thought it couldn’t get worse… July to Dec 1975
- Arsenal in the 70s part 16. Jan to June 1976: the end of Mee
- Arsenal in the 70s part 17: The summer of 76. New manager. New superstar.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 18: July to Dec 1976. Neill takes control
- Arsenal in the 70s part 19: Jan to June 77. Arsenal’s worst ever run. Jimmy Hill stoops low.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 20: July to Dec 77. Signs of recovery.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 21: Jan to June 78. A cup final.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 22:Life without Macdonald.
- Arsenal in the 70s part 23. At last another trophy. Jan to June 1979
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 24 July to Dec 79. One forwards, one back.