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22 March 1976: Bertie Mee finally agrees to leave the club

Day by Day: the videos – An Arsenal video for (almost) every day of the year in order. 

By Tony Attwood

Despite a wholly unexpected 6-1 defeat of West Ham two days before, on 22 March 1976 to everyone’s relief, Bertie Mee announced he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season.  In the remainder of the season Arsenal won one, drew one and lost five in the league to finish 17th.

The Billy Wright era had ended in May 1966, his final four matches were three 0-3 defeats and a 1-0 victory. It felt like we had gone round in a circle.

Indeed it was a terrible end to a terrible period, and even in the 1-0 victory (at home against Leicester) no Arsenal player scored – it was a Rodrigues own goal.   Worse the crowds for the last two games were 4,554 for a 3-0 home defeat against Leeds, and 16,435, for the Leicester match.  (The Leeds game was special as there was a European match on TV the same night, and having “been there” is now something of a badge of honour among those who were there).

To put the 4,554 in context, the final match at Plumstead in 1913 as Arsenal were relegated, had a crowd of just 3000.  The first match at a half-built Highbury also in 1913 had a crowd of around 20,000.

Wright’s final team in 1966 was:

Furnell

Court  McGill

Storey Ure Walley

Nelson Simpson Radford Eastham Armstrong

To give some idea of the chaos, Ure had played the previous match at centre forward, and Court was actually an inside left and left half.

Going back over his era in office we can see that on April 28 1970, after two defeats in cup finals, Bertie Mee won his first trophy, and by then the team was:

Wilson

Storey McNab

Kelly McLintock Simpson

Armstrong Sammels Radford George Graham

Although the last few years of his management of Arsenal were awful, Bertie he did provide Arsenal earlier in his reign with five cup finals in ten years, our first Euro trophy and of course the first Double.   But what is sometimes forgotten is how things sank away after that.

After being runners’ up in the league and cup finalists in 1973, his desire to run an authoritarian regime seemed to outweigh his understanding of how to keep players happy, and in his last three years Arsenal came 10th, 16th and 17th, with the last two seasons including a real flirtation with relegation.  Indeed in 1974/5 Arsenal spent part of the season at the bottom of the league.

In 1974/5, after two wins and a defeat in the first three games, Arsenal then had a ten-match run without winning a game.  Seven defeats and three draws, giving us an opening start in the first 13 games of eight defeats, three draws and two wins.  Relegation form.

Our regular players were Rimmer, Matthews (later replaced by Rice), Nelson (later McNab) Storey, Simpson, Kelly, Armstrong, Brady, Radford, George or Ball, Kidd.  So, hardly a poor team, but this is the team that took us to the bottom.

In game 10 (a 0-2 defeat away to Leeds) we did indeed hit the bottom and hovered in the relegation zone until game 16 – a 3-1 away win at Liverpool.  A little good spell in December / January saw us achieve two wins and two draws and get up to 15th, otherwise, it was all doom and gloom – but of course not relegation.

Naturally, the crowds were low as well, with only 17,845 turning up to see a 1-1 draw with Birmingham in March, followed by just 16,540 being at Highbury for the 3-0 win over Newcastle.  But he still stayed another year, and then seemingly had to be persuaded to call it a day.

Arsenal today: If Arsenal had been treated as Liverpool, where would we be now?

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