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4 May 1976: Bertie Mee leaves Arsenal

On this day Bertie Mee left his post as manager at Arsenal.

He managed 539 league games – the largest number of any manager until Arsene Wenger.  Mee won three major trophies, as did both Chapman and Allison before him.  But his win percentage of 44.71% made him only the 10th best manager, worse than not only Chapman and Allison but also Howe and Neill.

The reason for the low win percentage was that after the years of comparative success from 1966/7 to 1972/3 Arsenal went into deep decline.

His first year was average – 7th in the league and going out of the FA Cup in the 5th round, but then we had six years of comparative success which included two League Cup finals, winning the Fairs Cup, winning the League and Cup double, and another Cup final

But then, after being runners-up in 1972/3 everything went into a tailspin – Mee’s final three seasons seeing us flirting with relegation and ending up 16th and 17th in the final two years.

During the period of decline, he attempted to reform the club by introducing strict discipline measures for the players, winding up the youth teams, and suggesting that the club could survive on just 18 full-time professionals.  Each of these shown to be completely the wrong policies and totally out of step with the modern-day.

He was born in Nottinghamshire and had a very modest and short career with Derby County and Mansfield as well as appearing for Southampton in the wartime league of 1940/1.

He trained as a physiotherapist in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he became a sergeant (something that seemed to influence his approach to players) and then worked as a remedial gymnast with disabled servicemen for 12 years.

Mee took over from Billy Wright as a caretaker manager initially.   One story is that he asked for a clause in his contract that would allow him to be the physiotherapist once again if things did not go well in the first year.

It is perhaps a further measure of the man that he made no secret of the fact that his hobby was ballroom dancing.  Now I come to think of it I heard Mr Wenger say that he was a very competent dancer – maybe that should be a question when we interview prospective managers.   But Bertie could also swing a left punch – there is a story that when the restaurant fight broke out in Rome after the Lazio game he waded in with the rest of the team.

Bertie Mee brought in George Graham and Bob McNab as early signings and worked with Don Howe and Dave Sexton as his assistants.  (Don left to manage WBA after the double).

After leaving Arsenal he joined Watford as general manager, working with  Graham Taylor and Elton John, with special responsibility for scouting, and was appointed an OBE in 1983.  He retired in 1991 and died in London in 2001.

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.

100 Years: 100 Years in the First Division

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