by Tony Attwood
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On 12 February 1977 Arsenal lost 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. It was the fourth consecutive league game without a win, which seemed a bit ominous.
But worse, it was also the start of seven consecutive defeats in the league – the worst ever run of defeats, beating the six “achieved” under both Chapman and Knighton, and worse than anything in the relegation season in 1912/13.
Matters continued in this vein on 15 February with the result Middlesbrough 3 Arsenal 0, and an attendance of 26,083. In the last four league games Arsenal had scored nil, let in six, won nil, drawn one and lost three. Quite how this could be in a team that included Stapleton and Macdonald was simply beyond belief.
Four days later on 19 February 1977, Brady and Stapleton did at least get a goal each, but the match ended Arsenal 2 West Ham United 3 meaning that Arsenal had now gone six without a win. But that run had included matches against the three teams who had made up the bottom three positions in the league at the start of the month.
This was a game of passes that simply could and did go anywhere, but to be fair it must be said that West Ham managed to score three fine goals that put Arsenal to shame. There was a feeling that if only Alan Hudson could get the ball, something might go right for Arsenal, but he wouldn’t go looking, and no one wanted to pass it to him, so effectively Arsenal played one man short.
Trevor Brooking stole the show with a display of through balls, free kicks and intricate passing movements of which he was at the heart throughout. That Brady and Stapleton did score was no more than Arsenal deserved – but to win games like this they need another player of quality and vision in the middle and Hudson was increasingly looking to be not that man.
It was with some relief that Arsenal and Arsenal fans turned back to the FA Cup on 26 February with the long trip to Middlesbrough and revenge for that 3-0 away defeat on the 15th.
But incomprehensibly it ended Middlesbrough 4 Arsenal 1, 35,208 in the ground and Arsenal out of the Cup.
“How bad can it get?” everyone asked, and the answer was, “As bad as you can imagine.” Having looked lost, Hudson now shone out above the rest offering short, subtle passing, but now everyone else had a day off and whatever Terry Neil had said after the previous game on this ground, just 11 days before, it had not worked.
When Macdonald headed a goal to pull the game back to 2-1 (Boro having scored two in the first quarter-hour), Arsenal might have had some hopes. But Mills, Brine and Souness stepped up and dominated the game and their third goal on 50 minutes marked the end. But the time of the final goal just on the final whistle Arsenal had long since thrown in the towel.
By the end of the month two successive defeats for Ipswich Town had allowed Liverpool to regain top spot in the race for the title. At the bottom, Tottenham Hotspur now propped up the table. It was the only thing to bring a smile to a desperate Arsenal fan’s face.
But March brings hope, winter comes to an end, and surely Arsenal would win again soon (we hoped). But not on 1 March when it ended Everton 2 Arsenal 1, with 29,802 inside Goodison.
That made it seven without a win and the fourth consecutive defeat. Macdonald scored, but otherwise it was fairly horrible; the sort of match that leaves everyone without much to say.
It was perhaps with some sadness that the following day, 2 March, we heard that Peter Storey had left the club and was transferred to Fulham. It was clear his ability had been declining with age, but many of us still held the hard man close to our hearts.
On the same day, Willie Young joined Arsenal from an increasingly doomed looking Tottenham Hotspur. He had played 54 times for Tottenham, had suffered various suspensions, including a life ban from playing for Scotland and now was brought in to shore up Arsenal.
But it didn’t work – at least not at first, for his first game, on 5 March 1977, the result was Arsenal 1 Ipswich Town 4. Despite the recent results, 34,688 came to Highbury, perhaps because Ipswich still had hopes of winning the league.
Arsenal set out to contain them, and in the first half did so. But in the second the tight reign was loosened and Ipswich knocked in three within the first 15 minutes of the half. Willie Young in his first appearance and gave away the penalty for the third. Arsenal themselves got a penalty which Macdonald scored, and Ipswich got a fourth with a minute to go.
Brady created what he could but Ross and Mathews were not in the game at all. The simple fact was that nothing went Arsenal’s way and there were too few men in the team who could change that. The lack of belief showed from the moment of the first Ipswich goal.
Still, it was mid-table WBA at home next, and surely the problems surrounding Arsenal had to come to an end sometime.
That of course was true, but some time was not 8 March, for the result was Arsenal 1 WBA 2. And there was an ominous warning from the crowd: only 19,517 turned up.
It is worth at this point, showing the whole team: Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Price, Young, Howard, Brady, Powling, Macdonald, Stapleton, Armstrong. That was not a bad side, and yet with this result, it was now nine without a win and six consecutive defeats.
12 March 1977 saw Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Arsenal 1, the 7th and final consecutive defeat – the worst run in Arsenal’s history – ever.
26,191 came out to see it. The team who played in this utterly unwanted record was Rimmer, Rice, Nelson, Powling, Young, Howard, Brady, Hudson (Price), Macdonald, Stapleton, Armstrong.
Then, finally, Arsenal got a point. It came at Stoke on 23 March with the result Stoke 1 Arsenal 1, a mere 13,951 supporters in the ground.
For thoughts on Arsenal today please see Untold Arsenal
100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.
Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever
Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.