by Tony Attwood
Eddie Kelly spends an evening talking with members of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association.
Eddie Kelly is what you might call an unreconstructed Glaswegian. The accent is as thick as ever and there are occasional lapses into the vernacular. And both somehow emphasise his passion for football and his passion for Arsenal which come through as strong and undiminished as ever.
And I return to Eddie once again, for this week Edward Patrick Kelly joined members of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association for an evening of reminiscence, taking his spellbound audience on a journey through time from when he played with Kenny Dalglish as a junior through to his arrival in London aged 15 on the grand salary of £3 a week – rising to £4 a week at the age of 16.
Eddie was born 7 February 1951 and at Arsenal found himself among a growing group of Scottish players including Ian Ure, Frank McLintock and George Graham.
He turned professional in February 1967 and got a signing on fee of £250 plus a weekly salary of £18. He also asked for a three piece suite for his mum and dad, and as a result of that request being taken amiss by the hierarchy spent two days convinced that he had been sacked by the club for making an inappropriate suggestion. But the club relented and he stayed.
Much of his story has been told elsewhere, including on this site, and I won’t repeat all the bits we already know, but one interesting fact that we discovered was that later in the season of his first team debut (which was 6 September 1969 against Sheffield Wednesday; Eddie says he had a nightmare game) he was told by Bertie Mee that he would play the next ten games to see how things went.
Frank McLintock became his mentor, and according to Eddie showed a real interest in the young lad’s development. Indeed Eddie returned time and again through the evening to praise every aspect of Frank’s work at the Arsenal.
This was a time when the fans were prone to pick on players and jeer and boo, sometimes for perceived mistakes, sometimes for no reason at all; Jon Sammels was one of several players who suffered in this way. But Eddie confirmed what many of us remembered, the crowd never got on his back. I think he was always a favourite.
Eddie also confirmed some of the tales that have been told over the years – such as the story of Bertie Mee getting the fire brigade in to water the pitch for the European Fairs final against Anderlecht to reduce the effectiveness of their quick passing game. And the fact that the players didn’t know until the day of the second leg of the final that away goals would indeed count double.
Plus of course there were the stories about the match against Tottenham at the end of the 1970/71 season, when a win or a 0-0 draw would give the club the championship, but a scoring draw or defeat would give it to Leeds. Yes, he said, the crowds were so great that the players had to walk the last part of the journey to the ground. Eddie also told us how most of the squad were in the White Hart pub until 7.00 the next morning.
Additionally there was much praise for Don Howe in Eddie’s talk to the assembled fans. Not only was he described as a brilliant coach, but also as the man who kept Eddie and Charlie George in order. One particular phrase of Don’s still resonates with Eddie. “You can be one of the best,” Don once said, “but your attitude is crap. You have ten times more ability than Peter Storey but his attitude is ten times better than yours.” It was an exaggeration of course, but it had an effect.
Eddie’s conclusion is simple: “Don and Frank won us the Double,” he said, and it was in making this point that Eddie went to to ask, “Why is there no statue of Frank McLintock? The players,” he added, “still talk of Frank, and he’s still got the same enthusiasm and fanaticism.” We could all tell, the lack of statue is still an issue for Eddie.
Asked about his greatest achievement at the club however Eddie didn’t talk about the cup final, or winning the league, but rather about being captain of the club for six months. He lost the captaincy when injured, and upon his return from injury found Bertie Mee had taken the captaincy away from him for good. We could all tell, even after all these years, that still hurt.
Of the present crop of players Eddie singled out Jack Wilshere as a particular talent. As others have said before him, he commented, “If only he could stay injury free, he could become captain of Arsenal.”
As for the FA Cup final, Eddie confirmed that yes, he still has that medal, and the other two he gained with Arsenal, and noted with a wry smile that George Graham got man of the match. “John Radford is still wondering why,” he added mischievously.
In response to a question from the audience he confirmed that no, he doesn’t re-watch the films of his old matches, and he’s never watched the cup final again, but as did tell us, “I wouldn’t change it all for anything.” That surely is the way to feel when one retires.
Eddie played 175 league games for Arsenal – 222 games in all including the cup matches, his last game being on Boxing Day 1975. The following year he was sold to QPR. Here’s his record of league games across his career.
|1976–1977||Queens Park Rangers||28||1|
Meeting Eddie was a great privilege and pleasure for me, and I’m sure for every member of AISA who was present.
If you want to know more about AISA, and indeed if you want to join us, all the details are at www.aisa.org
You can read more about the work of the AISA Arsenal History Society here.